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:* *

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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:* * *

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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:* * * * *

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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:* *

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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:* * *

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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:* * * * *

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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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