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