Friday, August 21, 2009

No more Ultrashort Reviews

Hello all

I just wanted to let you all know that there will be no more reviews coming from me. Truth is, it has been feeling quite a bit like a grind for a while. And I have little tolerance for grind.

So, instead of spending time reviewing products, I will hopefully spend some more time designing products - or failing that, I will spend more time on my own campaign. I am sure my players would like that.

I hope you guys enjoyed my reviews.


Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Mentalist (Dreamscarred Press)

While this might not come as a shock to some people, I honestly believe that the Mentalist is by far the best and most flexible controller made for 4e - Mike Mearls (or however wrote it), eat your heart out, because the Mentalist eclipses the Psion by far.

Then again all this might have something to do with me being the author. So take the above as a highly subjective opinion ;)

I set out to create a flexible controller that actually controlled. When I started writing the Mentalist, only the wizard was out and I was very far from happy with the wizard as a controller. Sure, he had some awesome dailies, but often it felt as if many of the spells would have been better off doing no or less damage, all while inflicting harsher or more conditions to the target(s).

That was the goal. A more controllery controller. I think that both sub-builds of the Mentalist (Empath and Kinecist) fit that description, although the Empath is (IMO) quite a bit more controllery than the kinecist. Speaking of the builds: With different class features and a clearly defined "red line" through all the powers, you will hopefully experience two builds that feel very differently.

Anyway, I am starting to ramble. I just wanted to invite anyone with questions of feedback or flames to post as an answer to this article. And I am not kidding. If you have bought the Mentalist and hate it, stop by and flame away ;)

Buy this PDF now (RPGnow)

Monday, August 10, 2009

Immortal Heroes (Goodman Games)

The Arch-fiend (Like the insta-skill challenge, but complexity 1 is 4 wins before 3 failures, love the real summon and really like the the flavor), Bladewind Dancer (a few editing issues which leads to powers that are easier misunderstandable, love ability to always target dex or increase die for SA, but WTF is up with basing duration of a power on the amount of SA-dice - can you even deal anything but 5 die at level 26?), Champion of Slaughter (Kinda weak, with his level 30 power being a tad most and only working when he kills monsters that are higher level - but on the other hand, slaughtering strike is just brutal. Brutal i say. On a crit, target saves with -7 penalty or dies. Simple and brutal), Chosen of Mother Hyena (Awesome flavor of the gnoll out to save gnolls from the big bad demons, but sick broken with allies gaining your wis bonus to all their attacks against your quarry. Pack frenzy will get lethal too, giving allies free action attacks as a minor every round.. And Scavenger's Soul, the level 26 power is just broken, seriously? Who doesn't want an easy 400+ temporary hit points?), Knight of the Unfettered Path (Pretty sick that he cant die except by the hand of an unaligned - not quite sure what to think about that - but otherwise a very flavorful destiny), Radiant Master (Undeads, you better stay the hell away), Sidhe (Sweet and nasty), Winterheart Warlock (like the recharge mechanic of the power, just like monsters, but Wintry blast might be too rough - Eldritch Blast which slows and weakens is a tad much for an at-will I think) and finally Wyrm Brother (crazy stuff here too) make up the epic destinies in Immortal Heroes.

Epic destinies are over the top in general and so are these, and yet I am not quite sure what to make of this product. There is some nice innovative (read different from average) mechanics such as the recharge of powers (first used by Dreamscarred Press afaik), the increase in SA-dice and the summoning of real monsters, but there are also some weird stuff, like durations based on stats and a few totally broken powers. Overall I am gonna risk my neck and say that it's overall worth the $5 cost. The flavor of most of the destinies is great, although you might need to tweak a couple or 4 of the powers/abilities presented in this product.
Rating:* * * *

Buy this PDF now

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Ultrashort Reviews - now with links!

Lately, I have been receiving quite a few PM's from both readers and publishers. They want links to the products that I review. I have started with the front page, and I will slowly work my way backwards whenever I have time. The links will always be found at the bottom of a review, and either look like this:

Buy Dungeon Master's Guide 2: A 4th Edition D&D Core Rulebook

Or like this:

Buy this PDF

I hope you find these links helpful in purchasing the products you want. And if you like my reviews, feel free to use the links, that way, I get a little something as well.

Jack99 aka Chris

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

What's Mine's Yours (Unicorn Rampant Publishing)

This short 8-page, 1st-level adventure, supposedly the first in an AP, sees the heroes of the story be hired by "The Guild", a consortium of merchants, to investigate have the players be hired in Fort Wood to do the Guild's work. They need to investigate a mine that has been taken over by some kobolds. As it turns out, the kobolds are in reality slaves of "The Guild", and when the heroes return to Fort Wood to collect, they find themselves about has popular as lepers.

Before reading it, I would never have bought this if I had noticed in time who was publishing it. After reading it, it's pretty much the same. There is just too many annoying things to ignore (DC15 endurance checks to stay awake at night; NPC's with unknown curses and diseases; use of wrong monster names in text, while using the right ones in xp-overview; poor editing with half of sentences missing; maps lacking legends, use of non-4e words like "DC17 agility checks", skill challenges that almost look like a parody, etc etc). Now, if the story/plot was great, one could overlook such things, but as it is, it's otherwise fairly below average with straightforward flavored combats without any cool cream or strawberries on top. One of the encounters even makes the Irontooth one look like a walk in the park.

It's a pity, because the idea of small linked adventures is good. But no one should use this as is. Might work as framework for a quick introduction for some.
Rating:* *

Buy this PDF now

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Temple of Outsiders (Fanig Entertainment)

Temple of Outsiders is the first part of the God War Adventure Path. A small community of druids gets wrecked when the war of the gods goes native and an ancient artifact lands in a temple in the jungle nearby. The players are hired to go to the temple for a_random_reason and then proceed to hack their way through the temple as they find amulets that (conveniently) open the next wing of the temple.

ToO is a very simple dungeon crawl which leads the heroes of the story from room to room, each with different challenges. Gnomes, shadow monsters, plant people, talking turtles, demons, etc etc - The Temple has every monster you can imagine, living next to each other.

In many ways, I guess you can compare ToO to the worst of WotC old adventures (from the previous edition). A lot of different monsters thrown together in a random dungeon with a flimsy story background holding them together. That's not saying there is nothing good in ToO, because there is. There are a few really interesting combats (poison-trap + gold-swarm and imp fight stand out) and in general a lot of info to be gathered via skills. It's just too little.

Maybe you will like this combat-heavy module with a fair amount of solos, some of which are classics that have been deleveled a lot (lvl 4 Marilith), and pages of random fluff that I have trouble connecting to the module, but to be honest, I didn't have much positive to take away from this module.
PS: 100 inhabitants does not make a city ;)
Rating:* *

Buy this PDF now

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Flaws and Merits (Alea Publishing Group)

Even though this type of quid-pro-quo feats has existed since the 2e days (although they weren't feats back then), I have always avoided them like the plague. Mostly because I thought they were useless and for munchkins. Want a sick mage? Give him a low CON-score and roleplay the rest. Want a paladin that runs like a girl every time he sees a spider? Roleplay it. In fact, the whole idea of getting a bonus, for giving your character some character and perhaps a less than perfect personality, was very foreign to me. But things change...

One trap with such products is that it often becomes way too easy to grab a couple of weaknesses and acquire some flaws that almost never come up in the campaign. However, for Flaws and Merits, it looks as if the flaws (while not equal of course) still overall will matter if you take them - They are, for a lack of better word, general enough. I think it was a great idea to categorize them by role, instead of by class.

So, while the flaws seem fairly balanced out, the merits trail a bit behind. Eidetic Mastery (regain daily for AP) is a bit too awesome for that orb-wizard with sleep memorized. Rejuvenating (spend daily so that all allies in area can spend a healing surge) is a Merit that fits a controller poorly, or Prepared which gives you the ability to use any utility power before combat starts, even if surprised (pretty broken for a feat I think) or the big winner of course, Quick Study which gives you an extra At-will power - heh.

Unfortunately there is also at least one misconception about the core rules, which makes some flaws confusing - The number of death saves available to a character is not counted between extended rests but in between short rests.

Overall it started well, and almost had me hooked, but in the end, I am convinced that this kind of rules are neither my cup of tea, nor balanced enough to integrated into a (my) campaign. I am sure lots of others will like them.
Rating:* * *

Buy this PDF now

Monday, July 27, 2009

Divine Power (WotC)

Just as with Arcane Power; Divine Power serves as vehicule for the return of several old friends, including Divine Favor, Armor of Faith, Dismissal, Air Walk, Cure Critical Wounds, Heal, Mass Cure Serious Wounds, Righteous Might and Bless Weapon - All as dailies, of course, and quite powerful.

The Avenger, the paladin and the invoker all three get a new build (or two). They all look pretty solid in general (quite a few "fixes" for the paladin), but they also look about as exciting as Mlle Rousseau, my French teacher when I was a kid. Nothing wrong with them, and I might even play the invoker, but nothing that makes me stand up and scream odd things out loud in my native language.

No, the real gems are hidden within the cleric-chapter and within the fluff. The cleric gets a new build as well, and this one is a winner. Well, actually the build in itself is fairly irrelevant, but the powers made to support the build (which can be taken by any cleric) will please the lot that have been bitching about the fact that just about every cleric spell (power) is a damage spell. At every level you have 1 or 2 (mostly 2) options of powers that do not deal any damage. Instead they provide bonuses to your allies and inflict status effects. This is a relative new way of balancing things, and of course they made a gaffe or two. Iron to Glass, I am looking at you! But overall, it looks awesome. I can't wait to play with one of those.

The other gem is as mentioned previously the sidebars. There are quite a few (around 25) sidebars in Divine Power, and most of them holds a lot of divine fluff for the implied PoL setting. Now they just need to collect all the fluff in a centralized place, and I will be a happy campaer.

The biggest (and only real) disappointment in Divine Power was the way they had chosen to handle spheres. Feats, feats and more feats. This could definitely have been done in a cooler way but it is not all bad. There is room for some fixing - at least I think so.
Rating:* * * * *

Buy Divine Power: A 4th Edition D&D Supplement

Eberron Campaign Guide (WotC)

Let me just come out and say it right away: The ECG is the new yardstick by which every future 4e campaign setting will be measured.

Comparing it to the FRCG, It is far superior. It has way better maps, better organization, better art and better writing, and last but not least, it paints a much clearer picture of the setting. Now, do not get me wrong. It is still a campaign book that sets the tone, that provides the framework for the campaign, it is not a book that tells you what zombies Lady Vol prefers, or what High Cardinal Krozen eats for breakfast.

It does however provide the DM with some awesome tools and pointers to really make Eberron feel like Eberron. In fact, there is 11 pages of it, at the beginning of the book, where the authors go over the campaign themes (last war, draconic prophecy, dragonmarked, urban intrigue & dungeon delving) of Eberron and how to implement them in the campaign.

All this before they dive into the setting and start describing the different parts, from the national threats to the gods and passing by the countries and the 13 houses. I won't go into any details regarding the content, except to say that it definitely looks (for a non-expert such as myself) as if the new fluff of Eberron is very compatible with the older fluff. So if you have a host of old Eberron books, they should convert just fine - most of the time anyway.

As I started out by saying, this will be the new yardstick. Go buy this book, because frankly, it has everything a campaign book ought to have. And I am not even an Eberron fan. Or rather, I wasn't an Eberron fan. I still do not like warforged and shifters, but I would definitely play Eberron now. And I am most certainly going to yoink a bucketload of great ideas for my own campaign. Go buy this book, because even if you do not like Eberron, it is so full of great ideas that it is very hard for me to even imagine how it couldn't bring a lot of inspiration to any DM.
Rating:* * * * * *

Buy Eberron Campaign Guide: A 4th Edition D&D Supplement

Friday, July 24, 2009

Seekers of the Ashen Crown (WotC)

In Seekers of the Ashen Crown, the heroes get caught in a race for the acquisition of an ancient goblin artifact almost by accident. In the race are at least two different factions of goblins, spies of the Emerald Claw (including the obligatory double-agent), an evil necromancer and perhaps many more.

Between the University connection, the weird clues, several puzzles and overall theme, this adventure does come with a bit of Indiana Jones-vibe. Too bad it's more Crystal Skull than Raiders. Not that is a bad adventure, not at all. It seems fairly solid based on my initial read-through. Decent spacing of the combats, a good deal of variation of encounter areas (caverns-> city-> wilderness-> caves-> city-> airship-> dungeon) and encounter level. Most enemies are humanoids, so thank god that humanoids actually play differently in this edition. There are a few gems around in this module (the random encounter with a dragon aboard an airship looks just as cool as it seems to be, and the solo trap seems like it just might work) but overall it never rises above the assembly line work that WotC excel in by now.
Rating:* * * *

Buy Seekers of the Ashen Crown: A 4th Edition D&D Adventure for Eberron

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Dave Arneson's Blackmoor (Code Monkey Publishing)

I must admit that I was never a Blackmoor fan. Not because I didn't like it, but simply because I never knew about it, until a few years ago. So my knowledge of Blackmoor comes from reading through a poorly scanned PDF more than a year ago. Unfortunately, that PDF went bye-bye when WotC pulled the plug on their PDF's *shakes fist angrily*.

Luckily for me, CMP had a trump up their sleeve in the form of a 4e version of Blackmoor. I bought this book for the fluff ($55 total worth of fluff, when you live in Denmark, although this was sort of balanced out by the fact that buying the dead tree product gets you a free download of the PDF-version) and even though it was expensive, I was not let down. It's just awesome (<3 style="font-style: italic;"> je ne sais quoi feeling that lurks on the edge of your mind, telling you that this is how D&D was intended to be played, at least back in the day.

The crunch is less impressive. The Arcane Warrior has a really poor ability to mark and thus to defend (he causes the marked creature to gain vulnerability vs an energy source). They also missed the memo on A&V-shaped class-design, which leaves us with a lot of classes that might have worked, but it is hard to say, when half of the powers use the wrong stat. In general, there are a few good (read new) ideas within the 6 classes, but overall, they would need a lot (and I do mean a lot) of work to be useful/balanced enough for use along with the core classes.

The most useful crunch in the book is by far the monsters (can't wait to swarm my players Sebilis-style with the frog-men), but even there, you need to be vary and consider balance carefully before using them (fix solo hit points + solo/elite damage output).

Overall this is a product to anyone that wants some cool, oldschool inspiration for his 4e campaign. If you are looking for cool new classes to add, remove at least a couple of stars.
Rating:* * * * *

Buy this PDF now

Buy this book now

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Witch Puppet (Alea Publishing Group)

While semi-interesting fluff (construct built to include a piece of burial site in order to pin a soul to it), pretty much the rest of this PDF leaves me cold. From the less than stellar editing (writing), passing by the boring attack powers (pretty much just straight damage and more straight damage), and ending with the really weird mechanics thought up to neutralize the puppets ("Pull out X item during combat" is great, but the fact that it can only be done (for example) when a puppet pops a surge is just too weird for me).

Actually, at first glance, the solo version of the puppet (a solo puppet heh) looks decent, until you realise that it could easily do 2d4+5+15d8+20 in a round by using an action point.. Sure it's an easy fix, but... we are more than a year into 4e. 3PP's should know these things by now.

As if this wasn't enough, the puppet also get a racial write-up *blink*. And feats. Most of which are more or less the same, just for the different tiers.

Overall it was (arguably) an idea with potential, but I am getting a strong rushed-job-vibe, or something along those lines from this PDF - a far cry for Alea's previous product, and I definitely can't recommend much about it.
Rating:* *

Buy this PDF now

Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Indomitable Fire Forest of Innenotdar (EN publishing)

The second episode in the saga of the War of the Burning Sky picks up where the first instalment stopped. The heroes of the story are heading south, towards the Forest of Innenotdar that has been burning for 40 years. On their way through the forest, they must discover the unusual circumstances surrounding the condition of the forest and its inhabitants who are also on fire - for perpetuity, unless the heroes intervene. But things are not as they seem, and players will soon find themselves with the opportunity to strike deals with some very diverse factions...

TIFFoI is a great adventure, especially for those who tire of dungeons, dungeons and more dungeons. The story is special (as in different from many "standard" plots), many of the parts are non-linear and the encounters are varied (between draining resources and advancing the plot), challenging and dynamic. Also, (which is very important for me at least), their crunch is solid. The few issues I have seem to boil down to me finding their DC's for skill checks and challenges a bit on the low side, one of the few solos seems a tad weak and.. well that's pretty much it. There are very few "mistakes" ( a monster that is labelled as soldier but really should be a skirmisher), but they are easily rectified or do not matter much.

The adventure offers more than one ending - it is truly an adventure driven by player choices, some of which are going to be tough choices. I am so looking forward to the next installment, but this one will be hard to top.
Rating:* * * * * *

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Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Fantasty Class: The Martialist (The Fantasy Cartographic and Radiant Spear)

Here we go again. The fourth incarnation of the monk/martial artist to hit my computer since the launch of 4e. The Martialist gives us three fairly distinct builds, two based on strength, one based on dexterity. There is a lot of fluff, a lot of powers, a lot of PP's and even epic destinies. In general, just a lot of everything. It is clear that the author is passionated about martial arts, and has made a labor of love. Each part of the body is a different weapon (or rather implement), with different powers tied to each part, although some powers can be used with any part of the body. This should help create very varied Martialist, which is good. It also means we get a lot of powers (around 6 per level, instead of the usual 3-4). Most of the crunch looks fairly solid on top of that, although with the usual encounter powers that have (save ends) conditions (Am I really the only person that believe it is no coincidence that the official encounter powers do not have (save ends) conditions?) and a few powers that are just too powerful (One Strike, One Kill, 6[w] + stun (save ends) with -5 penalty to save).

But the single biggest problem with the class is that these guys will be in for a world of hurt. With leather and low hit points, and few surges, they will constantly be under pressure - unless they take the chain proficiency - which kinda makes for a silly character IMO. That will help, coupled with the "armor of my being" class feature and bonus feats to AC. But I doubt that was the intend of the class. It's basically the same problem that the barbarian had during playtest, but at least he had hit points, good movement, the ability to gain temporary hit points to protect himself. The Martialist has neither of those, and not many powers that give shifting abilities. My (educated) guess is that all but the dexbased build will get raped quickly. On the other hand, the dexbased martial artist has the potential to get great AC, 5 better than a rogue of the same level. All in all, some will probably like it alot, but despite that the good ideas, the plethora of options and my initial intrigue (which is why I bought it), the Martialist just doesn't do it for me. It might for you though.
Rating:* * *

Buy this PDF now

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Forgotten Heroes: Scythe and Shroud (Goodman Games)

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by FH:S&S. So far, most 3pp classes have failed to wow me.

The assassin (striker), while indeed a sneaky fellow that fights you in melee and from the shadows is, despite similar powers, nothing like the rogue. The assassin acquires study points the longer he fights an opponent (yep, works exactly like the WoW-rogue), and the more study points he has, the more damage you can deal to that enemy, by expending some or all of the study points. Innovative and looks great on paper. Aside from the book missing the level 29 powers and one of the PP-powers being horribly broken (target unconscious even on a miss), the assassin seems very well balanced.

Deathwardens (leader) are death-sensitive people who protect the barrier between life and death. They use the shield as implement, focusing on melee and short range attacks. The fluff and concept for the class is just awesome, and I love the feel and fluff of the powers (which was a big surprise to me, I expected a filler class). The crunch is solid (Petitioners Vision is just too good though: + main stats to all saves of allies in aura 3), albeit there seems to be a bit of a powercreep as you to the paragon/epic powers. Some errors can be found (Is heavenly window a burst or a blast?; Onto the Block should be an attack power), but they are fairly rare. At least half of the 4 PP's seem very interesting, and one of the others will definitely make some people laugh (Captain America inc!)

The necromancer (controller) is (unfortunately) a mixed bag, quality-wise. There are a lot of very flavorful and fitting powers (fear, undeadcharm etc) and then the weird stuff, like sprouting 10' bone horns from your body. C'mon! Crunchwise, it's definitely a weird one too. I love how the necromancer can choose between a power (some of them anyway) being an area or a close burst. A great idea that gives an awesome flexibility to the class. But on the other hand, who the hell got the idea of giving him encounter class features that costs surges. Sure, it might be fitting, but for a controller that won't have that many, it will surely either 1) cause the party to move towards the 15 minute adventuring day or 2) cause the necromancer to rarely use his class features. Both options sucks IMO. Also, they use the conjuration keyword with something that looks a bit like the summoning rules, which makes it all very confusing. The biggest problem is however the conjurations (which should be summonings), which do not obey the economy of actions - so at epic level, your summoned/conjured monster does 4d10+modifiers+conditions as a minor every round. And since it is a conjuration, it can't be killed. Heh.

With the Spiritsworn (defender) you have a warrior sworn to the service of souls, a ghost-whisperer if you will, seeking to fulfill the wishes of the departed. Again, awesome fluff and flavor to the class, and the crunch is solid. His marking is a minor, that allows him to pull in a marked creature that hits his allies - by the help of ghostly hands from the beyond.

Obviously, there is a lot more in this PDF, from some great fluff concerning the soul journey, to feats, paragon paths, epic destinies, magic items and the other usual suspects, but this review is already running way too long for being "Ultrashort". Overall, 3 of the 4 classes look great on paper, with minor issues, so it's definitely worth buying, just too bad with the missing powers and the necromancer's many issues.
Rating:* * * *

Monday, July 6, 2009

100 reviews already


Just wow.

I just noticed that I hit 100 reviews with the Zeidian-review. I must admit that when I started doing the ultrashort reviews last year, I never expected to review that many products. WotC and Goodman Games make up 42% of my purchases. Even though 5-star rating is the most common (27 products) rating given, the average rating is only 3,6 stars, just above average. It seems that I am incurable OBE fanboy, since their 12 products get a whooping 4,91 average. Or maybe they are just that good ;).

A few days ago, I decided to migrate from ENworld to here. The purpose of the migration was simple. I felt I was losing track of my reviews, it became increasingly "difficult" to find reviews and compare them. I am pretty happy about this new format, and in time, I hope to add more labels, so that you can find all adventures (or all campaign settings, races etc) that I have reviewed with just one click. I hope you guys like the new site, and please do not hesitate to comment, advice or critize.

Jack99 aka Chris

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Races of Violet Dawn: Zeidian (Inner Circle)

The Zeidian is a new race of grey-skinned and dark-haired travellers, devoted to guarding people or places against the evil in the world. With stats that makes them born to be rangers, this is a perfect fit.

The fluff is intriguing and helps create Zeidians with interesting and distinct personalities. The race is balanced and has an interesting feature (save against being surprised)and the racial paragon path is spot on, amplifying the feel of the race. The racial feats further enhance the particularities of the race, without ever falling into the (seemingly common) 50' deep pit of brokenness. The crunch is solid (although you can't take immediate actions on your own turn, so Backhand Slash should be a free (or minor) action) but unfortunately holds no innovative ideas.

Overall the Zeidian is a well-made race which can easily fit into any campaign, either as is, or it should be very simple to file off a few serial numbers and make it a elven (sub-)race. Or you could change the +DEX into +STR, and the rest of the crunch/fluff could fit just as well for the Dragonborn in your campaign. This is a PDF, that I am definitely going to be using.
Rating:* * * * *

Buy this PDF now

DCC62 Shrine of the Fallen Lama (Goodman Games)

An ancient shrine, a force of good in a dark world, has been corrupted. PC's must enter and defeat both the corrupted guards and the new evil inhabitants. Thus is the setup for another classic hack'n'slash DCC. It starts off well, with an interesting back-story and a lot of hooks, but quickly turns into something much more problematic. First of all, it's full, and I mean choke full of insubstantial monsters, all of which has not been adjusted for being insubstantial, which means they have way too many hit points (grindy combats inc!). As if that wasn't enough, it has more elite and solo creatures than any other adventure I have read so far. In fact, by far the most fights are either multiple elites or a solo. Most of the solos suffer from way too low damage output and will thus just be boring grind-fests. There are a few points of light, like a power called "coldcock" and an interesting situation with a pregnant girl, but overall, I was very disappointed by Shrine of the fallen Lama. Definitely the weakest DCC so far.
Rating:* *

Saturday, July 4, 2009

The Witch (Svalin Games)

The Witch as presented in this PDF is an arcane leader, which can focus on healing or fear. The healing-based witch, or the white witch, is a really good leader at that, +secondary stat to all surges popped and ALL death saves rolled within a decent-sized burst. In fact, make a witch with starting 18 wisdom and your allies will have 25% chance per round to stand up, coming back from dying. That's really good. Maybe too good IMO.

The mystic word, the witch's basic healing, is interesting. You leach of your allies, gaining temporary hit points when they pop a surge triggered by your spell. The at-wills seem balanced and varied, but the real problem with the class comes with the dailies. All the witch's dailies are called curses, and give (apart from the usual damage + condition) another condition, one that can only be removed out of combat and otherwise stick for the rest of the day/month/year. It sounds like a good idea on paper, and it works well for some of the powers, because the penalties do not have much relevance in combat. Problem is when they do have relevance, such as causing the target to grant CA or be vulnerable to all attacks, the curses become extremely powerful. Just too-good-powerful, bordering on broken-powerful.

The rest of the powers is a mixture of decent stuff, with a few gems (love the one where you during initiative make yourself look like a monster, giving pause to your enemies (penalty to initiative rolls) and the usual stuff that annoys me to no end, such as encounter powers with save ends effects. There is a reason (IMO) why this stuff is reserved to daily powers by WotC.

Overall, While I like the idea of the witch, and I think it has some interesting ideas, it still needs too much work for me to use it. Also, I am still at a loss about what "Target: Whoever" means ;)
Rating:* *

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Morrigan (Alea Publishing Group)

The Morrigan (or is it Morrigna, both are frequently used in the PDF, without any mention of the two being the same) is a ghoulish creature that eats the dead. It is a woman who has died during childbirth and thus has gained power to determine the fate of others. It's a cool concept, and even if you do not like the crunch of the creatures presented in the PDF; you can easily use the fluff with other undead, such as some variant ghoul. I must admit that I like the crunch as well (what DM wouldn't like an aura 10 that gives -2 to death saves?) even though it's not perfect. The Morrigan/Morrigna is listed as a lurker, but it feels much more like a controller. There are a few other mistakes/editing problems, such as wrong hit points, and a power that only makes sense if it does the opposite of what it says, but overall the powers are interesting enough. One thing I really like is how they have added fluff to some of the monster powers. This gives a much clearer picture of what the author envisioned. It's definitely something I would like to see more often, especially from 3PP's.
Rating:* * * *

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Thursday, June 4, 2009

Monstercology - Orcs (Goodman Games)

The newest from Goodman Games takes us behind the scenes of one of our oldest and most common enemy. We get a new (?) take on the origin of orcs (they are the result of a failed attempt by the elves to kill all dark elves with a ritual). We learn about how orcs are, their coming of age rituals (the common orcsuperstitions are fun) and how they treat their old and young. The interaction amongst tribes and the different positions in a tribe (I like how they use the 4e orc names to do this, makes it easy to incorporate in your campaign) are also covered, as well as a few example tribes. We are also given a quick overview of how orcs interact with most other humanoid races and we get a look at the orc subspecies andhalfspecies (feral orcs, cave orcs, greater orcs and lesser orcs, including a few different half-breeds). There is some crunch as well, with new weapons, new armors and of course new feats andPP's. The feats look a bit boring but mostly balanced. Some of the PP's are pretty nasty. Bloodrage Alcolyte becomes the new de -facto must have PP for all rangers or tempest fighters. + 6 damage per attack against bloodied targets and +2 AC with light armor - yes thank you very much. The UnholyAmbusher is just nasty as well, since (from what I can see) you can get +7 to hit any creature you have CA against. Couple that with frost cheese, and you have a character that will ever never miss. There is a lot more in this 91-page PDF, including orcish religion and advice on how to implement orcs in your campaign and of course a lot of orcstatblocks . I was very much looking forward to this release, and while I can't put my finger on why, I must admit that the writing a several of the chapters didn't do it for me. Also it seemed a little light on new thinking. Overall, a bit disappointing.
Rating:* * *

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Codex Venenorum (One Bad Egg)

To use poison or not to use poison, that is the question. The latest product from OBE breaks down the poison creation process into easily followed steps, giving us a system to create an endless stream of poisons to use on our players (or our DM's monsters for that matter). The system is smooth, and absolutely open for abuse, but they admit as much. It's still a really good system, you just need to "check" and "evaluate" the poison as a whole before you use it. Along with the rules for poisons, we of course also get a long list of nasty new poisons (more than 80, from Arsenic to Blue Deception, new mechanics to end (save ends, short rest ends, extended rest ends - it's even better than it sounds - very cool mechanics there) the effects, new conditions (exhausted and muted), a long list of special qualities to make greater variations in our poisons and a lot of fluffy advice and knowledge about how to describe the very diverse poisons, the different poison families, how to harvest poison from poisonous creatures and the rules for it, exposure, decay and antidotes. We also get tables for creating cool names and determining things like process and components and much more so that they sound and feel like real fantasy poisons. Seriously, it's poison galore, and if you like to use poisons and are tired of just ongoing 5 or 10 damage and never get to "tick" more than once, this PDF is simply a must have. But Mr. Hicks, please add a list of the poisons indexed by level in the PDF, for an easy overview!
Rating:* * * * * *

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Kingdom of the Ghouls (Wizards of the Coast)

With the last instalment (E1 -Death's Reach) one of my complaints was that it didn't feel epic enough. Either the guys at WotC thought the same, or they read my little reviews (okay, I need to learn to keep that ego in check). Either way, they have totally redeemed themselves with KotG. Sure, at it's heart, it's still just another classic "Sorry, your princess is in another castle"-adventure, much like Thunderspire Labyrinth, but Kingdom of Ghouls is however in a different league than TL. Deal with an ex-exarch of Vecna, check; strike a deal with "Death", check; travel through an undead the size of a mountain, check; battle on the edge of the infinite vortex that is the Abyss (yep, if you fall, you FALL!), check; and last but not least, face of the exarch of Orcus and his pet Balor on top of a sea of ghouls, CHECK! Except for a non-rail-roady story, KotG has it all. Some very cool new monsters with nasty abilities. What looks to be very cool skill challenges (negociating with Vocar, travelling through the White Kingdom, travelling through the undead mountain and negociating the heart of a player with an ancient ghoul), awesome combats -The hydra on the lake of necrotic acid, the ghoul minions re-enacting Hamlet with a demilich(!), the surprise in Sigil where everyone on the market square turns out to be angels sent by Vecna and of course the final spout with Doredain, which as mentioned takes place on a sea of living (okay okay, undead) ghouls. Had the adventure been more sandboxy and had a few more of roleplaying opportunities, it would have been near perfection. But it's still darn good.
Rating:* * * * *

Eberron Player's Guide (Wizards of the Coast)

The EPG does it's job. It provides enough information about the world of Eberron for a player to get a general feel of the setting and enable him to make a character which aligns with the world. How useful the book will largely depend on whether you play in Eberron. Most people who play D&D most likely do not play in Eberron, and neither do nor will I. So just how useful is this book? Well, I guess it's usefulness to non-Eberron players is directly related to the artificer, the PP's and ED's, the new pantheon and the related feats, the 3 new races (2 really, since we already have warforged in eDragon). I must admit that in that regard, the book surprised me. I had only briefly looked at the artificer playtest, as the prior version never caught my interest. But I really like this new artificer. It appears to be a solid and flexible (a great mixture of weapon melee or ranged attacks, magical ranged attacks and summons) class, with lots of potential for roleplaying quirks (lunatic gnome tinkerer anyone?). The Pantheon is really awesome, and it's different from the core and FR pantheons, making it even more interesting. I am not quite sold on the Kalashtar (although it does have some interesting mechanics) and the Warforged (I doubt I ever will though), but the changeling is definitely becoming a permanent fixture in my campaign. Last but not least, the PP's are very flavorful and interesting (God I love the chameleon - was that you Ari?), especially those tied to Eberron. But it should be fairly easy to file of the serial numbers and use them in your own campaign. Overall, and even though I really like the swordmage and FR, I think that I will get more mileage out of the EPG than I have gotten out of the FRPG and it is thus a book that I am not afraid to recommend to any DM, whether he plays Eberron or not.
Rating:* * * * *

Monday, May 4, 2009

The Scouring of Gate Pass (EN Publishing)

The first installment of the War of the Burning Sky AP has arrived! The adventure kick-starts the saga with the heroes of the story being caught in a small mountain-pass town, which is about to be overrun by the army of the neighbouring empire. They are quickly embroiled in the resistance against the magic-user-hunting empire, when they are hired to help a local cleric leave the town. Before that is possible, they must hunt down vital information that is getting stolen back and forth amongst some of the factions involved in the coming war. All this an more happens while their town in under siege and crawling with bounty-hunters, assassins and other nefarious personages that are sympathetic to the other cause. There are plenty of non-combat skill challenges, lots of opportunities to roleplay with interesting NPC's and plenty of combats that are nicely spaced out, so that the heroes can catch a break once in a while, without straining credulity. It's just too bad that they chose to make most NPC's as classes NPC's instead of as monsters. There is just so much more freedom to make interesting powers when you make them as monsters (not to mention the saving of space - 2½ pages of various stat blocks seems a lot, even for an important NPC). Also, quite a few seem in the low end of the power scale (for example a solo with a 1d10+4 damage attack, and only a rechargeable attack to affect more than one creature), while quite a few make little sense (skirmisker that deals more basic damage than the brute, but has lower to hit). There are also a few places where the editing failed, with stat block calling the NPC's powers one thing (changed due to GSL reasons I assume?) while the text calls them their original name; slightly confusing. Overall SoGP is a really good adventure (that can easily be made great) to start a 4e campaign with, especially if you are not overly fond of dungeon-adventures.
Rating:* * * *

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Raiders Guild Player Guide (Axe Initiative Games)

The Raiders Guild Player Guide at first made me think two thoughts. First thought was:MMOPRG raid guild for D&D. The second thought was that this the fantasy version of Mongooses Wraith Recon. Luckily, when reading on, there is noMMORPG -vibe, and while there are definite similarities to Wraith Recon, Robin D. Laws doesn't go on and change the basic premise of the game, which is to kill monsters and take their stuff.RGPG is mostly fluff, explaining the inner workings of the guild, how to become a member, what kind of members there are, etc etc. It also sets up a furious competition with rival guild the Archivists, who due to a (purposely) misunderstood vision do everything in their power for dungeons to stay buried. It's well-written, settings-neutral and thus very easy to fit into any campaign. I love the little boxes with different inspiration for your charactervis-à-vis the guild. Sadly it ends poorly with a new race, the Skreek (bat-man) which is too weird for my tastes and has less than stellar crunch (awesome bonuses like darkvision and tremorsense 10 offset by penalties - becoming dazed when hit with thunder attacks). Just ignore the new race and you will have a great product. I for one am looking forward to the first Raiders Guild adventure.
Rating:* * * *

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Pact of Ghosts (Adamant Entertainment)

The idea of the ghost pact is great, and there is a good flavor to the powers. I could see myself tempted to use this for something. The problem is the crunch. I feel like a parrot at times, but it is really the same issues over and over again. Encounter powers that last and give bonus for the whole encounter - that's basically a permanent bonus, and not really a good idea to hand out like candy. Same with sustainable encounter powers that allow repeated attacks. Stuff like that is just broken. Pact of Ghosts however does have some very cool powers as well (I think I love Your Cold Hand in Mine); it does have some interesting mechanics vis-a-vis powers that grants options when using AP's and the PP included not only looks fun, but also fairly balanced. Also the pact has some new thinking. When you trigger your pact, you phase in an out of reality. 1 attack before the start of your next turn, you get a save against. if you make the save, you are not hit. The At-will very controllery - force enemy to roll twice on his next attack, and take lowest. Not quite as powerful as Illusory Ambush in one way (only 1 attack and until the start of your next turn), but in another, a good deal more powerful (re-roll is much worse than -2). Pact of Ghosts is one of the better "Pact of ..." for a while, but it still lacks a certain standard in the crunch to really make me happy. Good potential however.
Rating:* * *

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Alluria Campaign Setting Guide (Alluria Publishing)

The chronomancers messed with the time-space continuum and reality came crashing in on the world, in the form of the greymists, threatening to swallow up the world. The chronomancers managed to contain the mists, but they are still there, random portals in and out of reality. The setting is basically a framework to an idea on how to create a world that accommodates all the weird races that are accessible in 4e. There is a few decent ideas in there, although nothing stellar; less than you would probably get from a thread on ENworld. One thing that really stands out is the names of the countries and places - Necroria, Draconia, Malice, Tempest, Faehaven, Undinia, Zelorkia, Procket and Paradise are but some of the enormously imaginative names - seriously, I think even I could have figured out some better names (although I must admit that I probably couldn't, but then again, I pretty much suck at coming up with cool names). Overall, this was far from impressive.
Rating:* *

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Pact of the Dragon Lords (Adamant Entertainment)

Once again, a warlock pact that sounds interesting but fails bigtime to deliver. The fluff is uninspiring and the editing and layout is sloppy (what kind of keyword are "area" and ranges of "close touch" and "close blast 1", powers that last until the end of your next turn (save ends)). The crunch starts as being a bit underpowered and bland (just straight damage with weak or no riders) but as usual, they get quite overpowered as we progress through the levels. My short reviews are too short to list all the shortcomings, but here are the "highlights": Utility power gives +2 to hit and +4 damage all to hit and damage rolls until the end of the encounter - I think we have a new must-have multiclass utility to buy for all classes that have AE attacks or multiple attacks in general. A breath weapon power that is a ranged attack, an encounter utility that gives you flight as a move action and *drumroll* can be sustained throughout the encounter. A daily that gives (around) +7 AC, +2 to hit and +4 damage for the encounter (and a few other things as well), encounter attack power that deals damage, then ongoing damage (a no no for encounter powers) and (hang on tight now) 4 aftereffects, one after the other. Long story short, play a dragon sorcerer instead. Making a balanced and cool class (or part thereof) is really hard in 4e, but at this stage of the game, anything released should be better than this IMO.
Rating:* *

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Critter Cache: Daemons (Goodman Games and Blackdirge Publishing)

Just as I thought things couldn't be better, both on the monster front and on the critter cache front (MM2 is just out and Fey folk was awesome), we get us some daemon-love. And let me say this immediately. Daemons we need. Don't get me wrong, I love my demons and devils, but it's not always enough. The daemons are perfect to create a more dynamic relationship amongst the evil immortals. After all, a ménage-à-trois is just more fun. The lore sections getting longer and longer, and we are also treated with 5-6 pages of pure unadulterated fluff, explaining the origins of the newest arrivals on the immortal scene, as well as describing where they live. The crunch is the best I have seen from Blackdirge, with very few errors and those are quite negligible.There are some truly sick monsters and powers in there as well, especially Typhon, a 34 level solo, has some powers that will make your players cry. But I could also mention the cacodaemon has a breath that transform people it kills into larva, the chirodaemon that is immune to falling damage and thus attacks by literally kamikaze-crashing into players, the ferrodaemons that get your own sword to attack you, and the minions that explode and daze in a close 5 burst when they die, etc etc. If you like monsters, go buy this now.
Rating:* * * * * *

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Monster Manual 2

Arguably one of the most anticipated books of 2009 (for DM's anyway), MM2 has arrived in style and does not disappoint. In fact, it delivers in buckets. First of all, WotC "completes" the 4e monster list by bringing us all (or at least most of) the classic monsters who were lacking in the MM1. The barghest, Behir, good dragons, golems, cockatrice, couatl, djinns, firebolg, frost giants, nasty hydras (cause the ones in the original MM sucked), maruts., neogis, phasespider, remorhaz, rust monster, stone giants, will o wisp, duergar and the xorn. A few have been published in various adventures, but honestly, those classic monsters belong in a MM and I am happy they were included. Second of all, we get some nifty new guidelines for our combats. Solo monsters now definitely only get *4 hit points and 8 hit points per level, no matter which role it has. Some of the solos published between MM1 and MM2 left us wondering about the hit points per level. We also see solos (especially dragons) have had their damage upped considerably. At the other end of the power scales, minions have also received a boost, dealing more damage and many of them now create an effect when killed. That's just awesome. Third of all, the monsters in MM2 have a lot of new cool abilities. From the feeding powers of the barghest, to the 3 standard actions of the Behir (great way to handle solos if you ask me. You keep the damage per round high while toning down the spikes), passing by the Maw of Acamar who is just made of pure win, to the minion-spawning pod demon, going past the Couatl's radiance which allows it to pass through allies and foes, healing the former and damaging the later, to the bebilith's destruction of armor (-1 culmultative AC for the encounter, on each hit), to the neldrazu's teleport-hit-teleport-with-enemy power of abduction to the djinn's ability to get AP's when critted, to the total-sum hit point system of the ghost legionnaires and finally ending with the eldritch giant's consume magic. Those and many others should provide great moments at your table as well as great inspiration for creating your own monster powers. Nothing is ever perfect (Ankheg has the wrong hit points; there is a reference to a power that doesn't exist; the use of skill checks to tackle aura effects; a few too many pages devoted to monster versions of PHB1/PHB2 races) but honestly, those are very small issues. I love 4e and I love cool monsters, but any 4e DM would be better off buying this book. Heck, the awesomeness of Demogorgon should be enough.
Rating:* * * * * *

By Skill Alone (Adamant Entertainment)

By Skill Alone definitely has some sound advice, although a lot of it feels like I have read it before. I also feel the author is very limiting in his view of skill challenges - they are not only good for "crossroads" in the adventure, there are many other uses. The various (and quite detailed) examples of use of skill challenges are decent enough, but the DC's are very hard. Harder than the original WotC numbers. For example, a level 6 skill challenges with DC's at 20 and 28 will necessitate that players roll extremely high to make the skill challenge. At the end, we get some alternate uses of skills (some feel more alternate than others) and some new rituals, and one of them is definitely to be avoided. Rituals that give clear combat advantages/bonuses is a bad idea, since at higher level, they can be cast easily and without ever feeling the cost of the ritual. Overall, I think that if you have big trouble getting ideas on how to make skill challenges, this is a pretty useful product. If you do not "get" skill challenges, this won't do a big difference for you. If you are comfortable with skill challenges and use them already, there might only be a few good things to take from this product. On a completely unrelated note (and IANAL), I think that 3PP's should avoid using WotC IP (like Bane), just to be safe.
Rating:* * *

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3 Days Until Dawn (Alea Publishing)

The premise is simple. A vampire is trying to take over a small hamlet in the middle of nowhere, so that he can claim his new lair and gain access to the Feywild . The heroes arrive at the village and are embroiled in the plot. There are some decent ideas in this short adventure (decent use of skill challenges and a cute little plot with decent possibilities for role-playing and a fun cool set-up with a couple of doppelgangers), but the little crunch in it shows some holes in 4e knowledge. Now, this can be fixed by a DM familiar with 4e, so it's not a deal-breaker for me. The lack of any statted out monsters or traps is much worse. In fact, it's downright annoying. I know it's a GSL thing, but there are ways to deal with the GSL , and this is definitely the worst possible way of doing things. The other big turn-off to me was the ending. When the heroes finally get to confront theBBEG, it turns out he is a 11th elite vampire lord. Sure, he is bloodied and weakened until he has spent 3 nights in his new lair, but still - with regen 10 and defenses around 25-30, he will annihilate a 4th level party.The solution is to have an NPC appear and grant players +5 to hit against the vampire. Yeah, I can already hear the howls of rage from my players. Overall, I do not see myself using much if anything at all from this adventure.
Rating:* *

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Saturday, April 4, 2009

Death's Reach (Wizards of the Coast)

In the latest installment of the H-P-E-series, The heroes are headed to the Shadowfell to pay a visit to the Raven Queen, but when they arrive near her abode, they find it overrun by Orcus' minions. After liberating the place, they heroes meet up with RQ herself and are pointed towards Death's Reach, an ancient place in the Shadowfell, where gods can not go, where a horror from ancient times, the primordial Timesus is kept captive; Someone has penetrated Death Reach and is trying to unleash Timesus and his armies on the world. Yeah, guess who? I like that they tied the hooks to the adventure in with the epic destinies form the PHB - although the deadly trickster hook is mindblowingly silly - "Hey there Neighbour! I just heard that some guys are planning to attack the Raven Queen and I thought you could make something of that information" Another thing that annoys me to no end, is the seemingly random monsters that have been used to populate the dungeon in the adventure. I mean, we are deep in the Shadowfell, a place that has been locked up by the gods and the key thrown away. What are aboleths, githyanki, chuuls, rakshasas doing there? Sure, it's somewhat explained, but still. DR definitely feels epic. I mean, 2 liches and 1 dracolich in the same adventure, and none of them are even remotely near being the BBEG? This epic tier stuff might need some getting used to. That's not to say that it's a bad adventure. There is some very interesting opportunities for a lot of roleplaying and several pages dedicated to those encounters (also a lot of information to be gathered). First and foremost with the Raven Queen, and also with the angel who is not all what she claims to be. There is a couple of interesting skill challenges, and some very cool encounters (The one with a room and 4 traps and a SC to solve a riddle could be a classic I think) - and not to forget, probably the coolest monster designed for D&D yet - The Worm of Ages. Overall though, it's going to need a hand to satisfy my players and their DM.
Rating:* * *

Arcane Power (Wizards of the Coast)

Yeah baby, Grease and Glitterdust are back! When WotC remade D&D and published 4e, there were howls of outrage and nerdrage galore about the "new" wizard. He was no longer a god! I was one of those who really liked the new wizard, but still felt he could have been done better. More control, less damage would have been preferable. And some more varied magic. And now he is (finally) complete. Not only are some of the old-school spells brought back to life (although in more balanced versions) but he can finally summon and cast illusions (yeah yeah, I know about the Dragon Magazine article). The completeness is furthered by the inclusion of several interesting feats (I especially dig those that let a wizard improve his chosen implement), some cool paragon paths (I really want to play a summoner now) and some new builds. A very few things stand out as very unbalanced, most notably the new tome implement (Tome of Readiness + Improved Tome of Readiness) which allows a wizard to cast Sleep every combat. Might be really annoying with Second Implement (Orb). In general, I would say that this book is worth buying alone for the goodies for the wizard. This however does not mean that the rest of the book is bad. No sir.! While it seems that the Swordmage gets the short(est) end of the stick, the rest of the classes in AP (Warlock, Sorcerer, Bard) all get some great things. Aside from a plethora of cool powers and feats, an honorable mention goes to the new bard build (Prescient Bard, a ranged bard), the cosmic sorcerer (a good example of the increased complexity and flexibility of 4e classes) and the new warlock vestige pact (welcome back to the binder, just in a non-broken, non-silly form). Overall a great book that already is very popular with my arcane casters.
Rating:* * * * *

Adventurer's Guide to Cthonia (Alea Publishing Group)

I must admit, I have been waiting for this one for a while. A setting based on earth during the Dark Ages, but with magic. Not a ground-breaking idea (/wave TerraDave), but none the less a very interesting one. And if it is a campaign setting that you want, Chtonia delivers in spades. It's quite simply amazing how much great fluff they get crammed in there, despite all the crunch there is as well. They manage making abelievable setting, while keeping all the classic races and classes. I know I need to buy a thesaurus, but the tone and feel is just awesome/cool. There are also plenty of small gems in the mechanics (how druids become weaker the more urbanized the area they are in is, how arcane casters are hunted if they use powers in urban areas, some new keywords for weapons, a lot of flavorful and classic backgrounds, how to handle commands and last but not least, a very interesting pantheon and how nobility is handled as a magic item). Sadly, a lot of the crunch is quite broken. The noble multi-class is still good, but the possessed , while a cool idea, is quite useless if you strive for some sort of balance. Of all it's powers, only 7 have the appropriate implement/weapon keyword, or a scaling bonus to the attack. In short, they will be pretty darn useless. The PP's also suffer from a wide spectrum of issues, like missing keywords and one also breaks the economics of 4e. But then again, WotC managed to screw that up several times as well, so why shouldn't the 3PP's . Some powers are also quite broken (Weapon of the Inquisition for example), but it's perhaps among feats that you will find the worst of the offenders (Armor of the faithful: completely broken. every cloth-caster will multi into paladin (1 feat) and get armor of the faithful (1 feat) in order to get + 2 initiative, +2 all defenses and +2 speed). Buy this book (PDF), but beware of the bad crunch. I still think it is more than worth it.
Rating:* * * * *

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Advanced Class: Sorcerer (Silent7Seven Games)

This new PDF brings us a variant spellsource for the sorcerer - a Far Realm (Sorry, farthest realm, but really, shouldn't it be furthest realm? :)) infected sorcerer that spontaneously (well almost) bursts tentacles or mouths amongst several things. The Big C flavor is good and strong (iirc at least, its been 20 years since I played CoC and read the books), and we are presented with several new interesting options. From the switching of racial stats to CON (making more races better for this kind of sorcerer) to the aberrant growths (I mean, who wouldn't want to be sprouting mouths or tentacles), passing by the upgradable powers (that means you might be able to keep your favorite power, without it ever becoming outdated). The powers are complex (lots of circumstances) and powerful, but this is balanced by the fact that they are fairly circumstancial. Some are really cool (I <3 distortion field, pushing people away from you before you teleport and again when you arrive), while at least one is quite broken (yes, Sorcerous Rays, I am looking at you - auto effects like blind, immobilize or fear is just too good, even for a level 9 daily). Overall, it's solid, with some great ideas. Had a few more things been properly balanced, I would definitely have upped the rating.
Rating:* * * *

DCC61 Citadel of the Corruptor (Goodman Games)

The heroes arrive at an old remote fort in the mountains. There they find a lot of hostile (surprise!) orcs. The orcs however have nothing to do with the inhabitants of the fort being dead. After clearing the fort, they follow the clues to the BBEG, a psychopath evil dwarf who uses a demonic semi-sentient (props for coming up with that one) and poisonous gas to kill people, and thwart his nefarious plans. There are a few very nasty traps, and some of the encounter are really interesting - I especially like the one with the ghosts and wraiths, although I suspect some will be turned off by the whole subject of killing children - I think it's a great scene to show the horrific effects of the demonic gas. There is one (good) skill challenge in there, and in general, it seems as if skills are more frequent in this DCC. Overall, the crunch in DCC61 seems more polished, with very few errors (although a couple of the insubstantial monsters seem to have too many hit points - insubstantial monsters get around 2 hit points less per die than normal creatures). It also marks a change from the other DCC's. No abundance of elites many level higher than the party. No abundance of solos. In general just more polished, as I have mentioned before. But, somehow, it feels less nasty than the average DCC (although using the semi-optional tearing storm and the winter hags should remedy that). Except for the final encounter (of course), which can potentially be devastating, with players hacking away at each other - that should be good fun. Overall it's a good adventure, but it's lacking a certain je ne sais quoi in order to blow me away. Definitely usable though.
Rating:* * * *

Dark Assassin (Dark Emerald)

When I read the class abilities, I thought: Damn, this assassin is going to have to do a lot of [W] damage or ongoing damage (or something else) to keep up with the rogue. Basically, it's damage-based class ability is just a weak form of Sneak Attack. But, this doesn't happen, and overall, the Dark Assassin just comes off as a significantly weaker rogue with really bad powers. Except a few of course, because level 1 dailies that render the target helpless (save ends) is just broken of course. Is there any melee based character who wouldn't multi-class into DA and pick that? Anyway, the class is a series of bad design choices, from random ongoing damage to attacks based on strength, dexterity, wisdom, charisma and intelligence (can you spell M.A.D.?), passing by utilities that are really attack powers and ending with secondary attacks that are based on other stats the the primary attack and/or damage keyed to a stat different from the one that governs the attack.I know it's hard to write balanced and fun 4e classes, trust me, I know - I am writing one myself, which will (hopefully) soon be published, but this doesn't seem like the Dark Assassin has been thought through at all. Also, the editing is sloppy, with 2 of the 4 at-wills being the same. Do yourself a favor and play a rogue instead of spending your hard-earned money on the Dark Assassin.

Scarrport (Reality Deviant Publishing)

In the first of their Campaign Cutouts - locations to fit in any campaign - we are introduced to Scarrport, a seedy tradeport on the banks of where two rivers converge, and its inhabitants. The PDF is divided into 5 chapters and some appendixes. We have City-fluff and NPC's (38 pages), 3 new races (10 pages), 1 new class (the elementalist, 34 pages), New magical items (10 pages), new monsters and hazards (17 pages) and last but not least, the appendixes (12 pages), which include a short level 1 adventure, random encounters in Scarrport and same sample game of chance. For $11 (discount at the time of writing, won't last forever I presume), I think that's a steal - or almost. I am going to risk my online neck and say that Scarrport suffers from the same illness as many other 3PP products. Cool fluff, awesome ideas, but not that well implemented crunch-wise.The races are either overpowered (if not broken) or just plain weird (ie no real connection between fluff and crunch). The elementalist is (IMO) clunky, with all sorts of weird conditions that must be met in order get the most of the class. On the other hand, it definitely doesn't feel overpowered (why does it have to take a feat to gain implement on summons?). It has a good AC, but with a lot of short range powers, I think the elementalist will be in for a world of hurt.In short, it didn't appeal to me, but might to others. The decisions regarding level/type of the NPC's makes me shake my head (like guildleaders who are level 9, but every guard is apparently a level 12 soldier, with common thieves being level 8 minions? The monsters/NPC's have a good deal of errors (like weird tohits and wrong number of hit points - for example, the first 20 NPC's and quite a few of the monsters have incorrect hit points - Stone dog cultist on page 35 is the first one they get right unless I am mistaken). Now, I hope you are still reading, because despite the fact that the crunch needs a lot of work, I have got to admit that they sold me on Scarrport. Because when I read the first chapter, I really felt the city come alive, especially through the NPC's described. Lots of good ideas and potential there, and despite the rating, I would buy more about the city in a heartbeat - because I like the feel of the city. But I am going to have to "fix" all the crunch parts.
Rating:* * *

Creature Collection (Fiery Dragon Productions)

The newest monster book available, Creature Collections brings us the horrors that infest the Scarred Lands setting. The art varies from awesome (the breasts on that dryad are just perfection) to dreadful (some of the golems look like something out of a 80'ies Marvel Comic), but definitely more hits than misses, unless you hate old school black and white stuff. Then you will hate them all. Except the Dryad. Innovations are few and far in between, but there are some (disclaimer, while I have read everything published for 4e, I might have forgotten stuff, after all, there are already a lot of monsters and powers out there), although not all are for the better (just IMO). Endurance checks to resist auras, no thank you, the immediate save mechanics is there and works just fine already. Auras that give a bonus against attacks with a certain keyword; no thank you even more. Just give some resistance instead, and be done with it. I also do not need to see ritual magic in a stat-block. I can decide just fine when my monsters need to have access to ritual magic, without it cluttering up my stat-blocks. However, the Bloodmist Naga is a nice take on how to have elites do more damage without just upping the damage or giving it double attacks. Luckily, it is not a big part of the monsters who "suffer" from the things mentioned. A lot of monsters are actually cool enough, although a bit low on the power curve (especially their elites), much like those from the original MM. This is one place where I would not mind a little power creep. The lore/fluff seems more ample (sorry, can't get that Dryad out of my head) than what is in the MM, and there are quite a lot of flavor about the setting everywhere. Of course, not all monsters are equal, and some have awesome fluff, while others have some very sparse fluff. Some of my favorites include the Asaatthi (lizard-race), the Overghast (okay, sounds like WotC does not have a monopoly on bad names), the Legion of One (sheds of swarms during the encounter), Doom-mite Swarm (go home locusts), hags, rat-men (they are the new kobolds, just ... you know, more hip!) and lets not forget the Blood Moth Swarm - I mean, cute butterflies that drink your blood? That's like a cake of coolness with awesome-sauce on top (just a pity they didn't make a higher level version). Overall it's not the second coming of monster books, but it's a good book. I know I will be using quite a few monsters and some of the lore from it.
Rating:* * * *

DCC60 Thrones of Punjar (Goodman Games)

People are disappearing from the Devil's Thumb: When the daughter of a foreign ambassador disappears, things get even messier and the players are brought in the fix the international incident that is brewing. And it is all because an albino aboleth has made the severs of Punjar it's new home and made an unlikely alliance with a small noble house in a growing desperate situation. Thrones of Punjar is a good urban adventure. The module is filled with small goodies regarding Punjar (like the Whirling Death and the Stirgeskull games), and there are a lot of RP opportunities in it. In fact, I can't remember the last time a DCC had that many fleshed out NPC's - I think that part of the adventure is awesome. The story is solid without blowing me away, and while the fights do not seem as lethal as the normal DCC standard, the fact that players are on a deadline and can't just rest whenever they want might make it quite a bit harder than it looks at first glance. There are of course a couple of extremely lethal traps (3d10+6 + stunned (save ends) in close burst 3 which goes off every round a character starts on the trigger - well, you better hope that you make that save quickly and that the trap misses you) that should be fun for any DM to use against his players. The biggest problem (IMO) comes from several of the key fights, all involving solo creatures (and a couple of non-key solo fight - aura that weakens is a bad combi with solos). The two BBEG's both seem underwhelming as solos. Sure, they have guards and traps, but once those have been dealt with, you will be left with what looks like a big sack of hit points and no real danger. Luckily, this is a problem that is fairly easy to fix.
Rating:* * * *

Lunar Scrolls (Silent7Seven Games)

Lunar Scrolls presents us with a wealth of options for introducing a new power source into our campaigns: The Lunar power source. The fluff is decent, but to me, the core of thePDF are the lunar multiclasses , infusing your characters with lunar powers. The idea is intriguing, but sadly they suffer from various issues. First of all, they seem to "break" several of the normalmulticlass rules. Instead of taking an initial feat and then 3 separate multiclass feats, you take a multiclass feat, and then only take two feats to swap powers. The first gives you access to swap both an encounter and a utility power. Also, there are constraints as to which level of powers you can swap, seemsunnecessary to me. You also need to take all lunar multiclass feats in order to take a lunar paragon path. Again, why change what everyone else does? Another thing that "breaks" the usual rules, is the weird scaling of themulticlass encounter and daily powers that you can pick, if you have taken the appropriate feats. Instead, they should have made more powers, to swap in at higher level.Powerwise, there are a lot of things that are just too good. The first crescent striker multiclass feat enables you to remove 1[w] from an attack and daze instead daze the target until the start of your next turn. Even with the target getting an immediate save, it's quite powerful for a rogue using a dagger, since he only loses 1d4 damage. Also, there are a lot of possibilities for inflicting penalties to that save. The PP that grants -3 penalty to saves (at level 16) on all conditions that you inflict becomes a new must have PP for a lot of classes. Overall, a lot of powers seem fairly unbalanced, most of them leaning to the "overpowered" side, rather than the "underpowered" side. There are also a lot of clunky rules in there, for example the power that does X on a hit, unless it misses by more than 5, in which case it does nothing. Or regen that is granted that only heals up to Y times the target's healing surge value. Overall, the idea of a lunar power source was a good idea and could probably be great flavor for a campaign, but sadly, Lunar Scrolls would need a good amount of work before I could use it in my campaign.
Rating:* *

Book of Vicious Damnation 2 (Inspired Device)

Yeah. No thank you. I left alignment based spells back in 3.x, I do not what that back in my 4e. As for the rest of the powers, because, that is basically what we get, I do not see much that impresses me. I see missing keywords, clunky at-wills, encounter powers that requires healing surges to be spent (thus leading to the 15 min. adventuring day), encounter powers that give bonuses for the rest of the encounter, a power that can make a weapon daze on every hit for the rest of the encounter, etc, etc. Considering that the PDF is a god and 15 new powers, those 15 powers could have been balanced a lot better. Also, why are they CHA-based, if for a cleric? Seriously, the cleric is already screwed enough, with only ½ the powers to choose from, unless he wants to suffer from MAD.

The Arak (SuperGeniusGames)

I will make this short. The crunch is absolutely out of this world horrible. I must admit that I have to question if the guys who wrote this play 4e much. The races gets too many skill bonuses (small thing, I could live with that) but also gets an at-will power that enables him to deal 1[w] or 1d8 extra damage 1/round against a target he has CA against. Yeah baby, at-will.. /boggle. Some of the feats are pretty sick too, and will make it the de facto race for a lot of classes (deal one die higher with axes, bows and spears? yes please - I can already see the rangers dealing 5D8 on a twin strike at first level). Also, the Arak can get feats that grant him bonuses against primal effects and other feats that grant resist 5 primal. What the hell is that? Anyway, as bad as the crunch is, the fluff is just the opposite. Quite awesome. So buying this is definitely not a complete waste of money, but if you want to use it, it needs a little work.
Rating:* * *