EZG reviews a piratey Smorgasbord

 

Perhaps you plan to run the Skull and Shackles adventure path, perhaps you’re a fan of Freeport or similar settings – no matter, today, I’ll take a look at some of the finest supplements 3pps have to offer to enrich your swashbuckling experience!

We’ll start the reign of piratey products with Zombie Sky Press’

 

Tattlebox #3 – A Pirate’s Life 

This installment of Tattlebox is 20 pages long, 1 page front cover, 2 1/2 pages advertisement, 1/2 page SRD, leaving us with 16 1/3 pages of content, so let’s check this out!

 

This episode of Zombie Sky Press’ Tattlebox-series is completely devoted to the topic of pirates, making it an ideal candidate for insertion into a given Freeport or Skull &Shackles campaign, so let’s check this one out! The pdf kicks off with a short piece of fiction on pirate life, Scott Gable’s “Briny Breath” before we are introduced to John Bennett’s “Shrieking Isle”, a ready to drop in location for your campaign, including gossip to learn about the location, the final resting place of infamous half-orc pirate Regar “Red Axe” Umar, who found his final resting place there. The island’s write-up includes two iconic dangerous haunts as well as a trap ties in well with Christina Stiles’ write up of the Red Axe’s Raiders, a dread organization of dastardly pirates of the very worst kind. Full stats for the weapon mistress of the Red Axes, bloodthirsty Anzajah Kree, is  also part of the deal.

 

Need a way to add a year’s worth of planar adventures or do you have to explain why a PC is absent (layer moving, irl issues etc.)? Check out the insubstantial ghost ship Black Silk, an artifact that takes foes it passes through hostage to carry them away. While it takes survival-skill checks to survive, the permanent benefits of serving on the ship are tangible and significant. And a return from serving on this vessel should be interesting indeed…

 

John Bennett also has undead aquatic variants for your perusal – useful not only in a campaign like the aforementioned, but also great t see for e.g. settings like Alluria Publishing’s Cerulean Seas. We get variants of the Baykok, a variant of a Giant Crawling Hand, one of the Dullahan, one of the revenant and one wight – and boy, these variants are neat – they all get at the very least one new signature ability, which is simply awesome! Great work there!

 

In the “Cracking the Whip”-article, we are introduced to a cool system that provides an easy way for the PCs (and their cohorts) to matter on board of a ship by listing tasks crucial for the functionality of a ship and providing benefits for manning such a post as well as a penalty if the post remains vacant. From the captain to the cabin boy, from boatswain to shanty singer, 11 such rules are provided and deliver nice, solid benefits for making decisions that should help making the decision for roleplaying the crew rather easy. Thomas LeBlanc, author of the former article, also has a nice one on swashbuckling: We get easily usable rules for swinging from rope to rope, attack while swinging and two feats to make swashbuckling attacks easier or use your expertise as a sailor to your advantage while swinging on ropes.

 

John Pingo’s Pirates and Powder provides us with 2 new archetypes for piratey gunslingers: The Deck Stormer, who uses Cha to determine his grit and can choose two new deeds, one to reduce two-weapon penalties and one to make an additional attack per round after a successful acrobatic check for a point of grit, but no more often than once per round. The second archetype is the cannoneer, for whom bigger is indeed better: A master of two-handed firearms, this one also gets 2 new deeds, one to better intimidate foes and add sonic damage to their deafening attacks. Better yet, they learn to apply their gunslinger powers to siege weapons -Hell yeah, now that’s neat! John Pingo has more up his sleeve, though: An Article on strange hazards of the sea (which is great – we just have not nearly enough good hazards!) that starts with the green flash: Gold for any dark horror-style campaign or simply to add a tinge of potentially cthulhoid horror, this flash from the depth has strange effect on those seeing it, driving them insane in various ways. We also get rules for mysterious St. Elmo’s fire and triangles of terror. Each of the respective entries comes btw. with its own aptly-written introduction from a diary of Bill “Deadlights” Harker.

 

Thomas LeBlanc delivers the conclusions to this issue of Tattlebox in the guise of two final articles, with the first deserving special mentioning: We get full stats for non-magical torpedos (alchemical and mechanical), naval mines (2 kinds) and 4 types of depth charges – very cool! If you can’t see the Pcs, in panic, fending off kraken tentacles while trying to bomb it with depth charges or send torpedoes into the maws of sea serpents…well, then I can’t help you. I love this chapter and wished it was longer. Finally, we also get the rules representation for the sailor’s malady scurvy and a devious, magical version of the infamous black spot that may actually slay the one condemned so by a pirate court.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn’t notice any glitches. Layout adheres to a vertical 3-column standard and the original pieces of full color artwork are nice, especially at this low price. The pdf comes fully bookmarked. The formatting peculiarity in issue #2 that had some tables appear on pages unrelated to their fluff is absent from issue #3 – kudos for listening!

 

As can be said about most things ZSP have done so far, the crunch in this pirate-themed issue of Tattlebox is solid to say the least – I had no balance-concerns whatsoever and the overall standard is very high indeed. From the new naval weaponry to the haunts, imaginative undead variants and onwards to the hazards – the amount of great content stuffed into these pages is awesome indeed and comes at an excellent bang-for-buck ratio. Thus, I’ll gladly settle for a final verdict of 5 stars –  a must-buy for pirate aficionados and a welcome addition to any pirate-themed campaign and even beyond this scope. The cannoneer would make for a cool archetype in military as well, for example…

 

Looking for a supplement for the naval combat rules?  LPJr Design has you covered with

 

Armada: Expanded Sea Combat & Rules Sourcebook

 

This pdf is 28 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/SRD,2 pages of advertisement, leaving 24 pages of content, so let’s check this out!

Intended as supplemental material for the naval combat material by Paizo, this sourcebook kicks off by providing 5 new types of ship: The Baochuán are giant 9-masted treasure ships, while catamarans, of course, should be a known type of smaller vessel and the two-masted, hard-to-ground coastal pirate dhows also get their own stats. Sailors from Osirion or similar Egyptian-themed lands may now sail forth on Khemetic Barques and finally, if you’re into steampunk/playing on the verge of an industrial revolution or just want to feature an insane gnomish ship, you’re in luck – the steamboat also makes an appearance here.

Now if that didn’t provide a clue: There are also new propulsion methods in here. To be precise, a steam engine and power by elemental fury: Each of the 4 traditional elements provides a unique advantage and disadvantage to a ship powered by them. Propulsion mechanisms are also included: Elemental fonts, screws, stern paddlewheels and midwheeels. After these new ways to outfit a vessel, we’re in for ship-templates:

A total of 10 different ship templates are provided and they are applied much like you’d expect them to be applied. Cargo-barges, heavily-armed bomb ketches, agile corvettes, dwarf-and elf-crafted vessels, cruisers, frigates and galleon merchant-ships can be created thus. If you want, you can also make your ship ironclad or even a luxury vessel.

If you want to, you can also modify your vessel with an adamantine bowsprit, brand it by the elements, include a bilge pump, weather-influencing sails, an improved armory, sickbays etc. and even make it (slightly)kraken-proof with spikes below (but I don’t get why they don’t make it easier to run aground…).
Specialized harpoons and the option to enchant cannonballs are also covered. 5 “piratey” traits are also included, though they felt not too exciting for me. 15 new feats are also part of the deal that range from lame bonuses to social skills when interacting with convicts (and penalties when dealing with agents of the law) and some birthright-feats available only at first level. These are sometimes a bit strange: One e.g. grants you knowledge whether one has killed via Sense Motive and whether the target is an assassin/executioner or has been sentenced to death. Weird and oddly specific. There’s also a feat that helps you when ramming foes with your ship and I would have much preferred more “captain’s”-feats like that to the other ones presented herein.

4 new diseases (including scurvy) seek to claim the lives of naval characters and about 3 pages are devoted to providing a glossary of nautical terms. There also are some mundane pieces of equipment including a price-list.
The pdf closes with a special ship-sheet.

RPGNow.com

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are unfortunately not the strongest suits of this pdf – I noticed both formatting glitches and quite a few editing glitches – another pass would have helped there. Layout adheres to a mostly printer-friendly two-column standard and artwork is stock. The pdf has no bookmarks, which is very unfortunate for a rules-supplement like this.

This supplement, at least for me, has a hard heritage – my frame of reference will be Mongoose Publishing’s “Seas of Blood” and take into account the fact that this pdf is, of course, intended as a smaller supplement. I really enjoyed the new ships, propulsion methods and ship supplements. The non-naval supplements like feats and traits, at least for me, didn’t keep up with this usefulness and feel rather like filler, as did the glossary of naval terms. Even after a vast amount of careful deliberation, I’m not entirely sure about my stance on the ship templates – several of them felt rather like ship types than templates to me and I think, I would have preferred more ships to the amount of templates. I was also rather astonished how cheap e.g. the luxury vessel template comes and e.g. with the Kraken spikes I also felt that the repercussions of some of the modifications have not been entirely taken into account. That being said, the pdf still provides some valuable pieces of crunch, even though not all of it is an absolute hit. For the amount of content provided, the pdf is not exactly cheap and especially when compared to the caravan handbook, feels a bit less imaginative. In the end, due to the glitches and aforementioned reasons, I’ll settle for a final verdict of 3.5 stars, rounded down to 3 for the purpose of this platform.

 

Are you looking for some options to create evocative character backgrounds? Take a look at Rite Publishing’s

 

101 Pirate & Privateer Traits

  

This pdf is 18 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 2 pages of advertisements and 1 page SRD, leaving 13 pages of content, so let’s check out these new traits for pirates and privateers, especially useful for the Skull & Shackles-AP or Freeport-campaigns.

Before I get into this review, I have to make something clear: I really like the basic premise of traits – further individualizing characters according to their backgrounds. What I personally always considered balanced, but oh so boring, was the execution of most traits: Let’s face it – a minor bonus of +1 or 2 to skills is nothing to write home about. This installment of the 101-series thankfully takes another approach to traits: Essentially, the design-goal of this pdf, according to a side-box, is pushing the boundaries and adding a bit excitement to traits. Essentially, traits in this book are often more powerful than usual for traits, but come with restrictions on their usability.

A neat example for this new approach would be the trait “Balance the Books” – a friend or allied NPC is indebted to you in such a way that they’re willing to lay down their life for the PC. This might have them take the place of the character in prison, resurrect the character once or do a similar, significant task on behalf of the PC – but only once. Another rather interesting case would be “Accursed Corsair”, which enables the PC to take an oracle’s curse, including all penalties and benefits. If you haven’t noticed by now, the traits not only go beyond what you’d usually expect, but also provide what I’d consider “background-hooks”. In my home game, I tend to give story-awards for good background stories and in-built character hooks and exactly as such can many of these traits be considered. One of my favorite traits assumes that you have made a dark pact that lets you summon a desolate ship/ghost vessel, usable only by you and your first mate, rise from the waves – which might, at least once, save your skin. While not worth anything, the iconic act of raising a ship from Davey’s locker is just too cool, even if you cannot sell it for gain.

Of course, more mundane traits are included as well: If you for example want a weaponized peg-leg there’s a trait for it, as there’s one for having depth-perception in spite of just having one eye and an eye-patch. “By Land or by Sea” is another smart trait, granting your merfolk character the amphibious subtype and the ability to change into biped-form. If you’re inclined to play rather a noble and cool commander, “Face Death with Dignity” might be up your alley: Once per week, when being under the effects of fear, you ignore the frightened condition and gain a modified version of the confusion condition, sans “attack self” and “attack nearest creature”, but with +2 to Str and Con and +1 to will-saves. The restriction to “usable once per week” is applied in more than one trait, making what would otherwise be too strong for a trait actually work well and more importantly: COUNT.

A trait that is integral part of your background story might actually make a DIFFERENCE. This is why I really like this book – it provides traits that deserve the name and re-imagine the rather bland basic concept of traits to a new level that makes them feel more distinct from feats, talents etc.

I also enjoyed a trait that lets you start play as a restless soul (from the excellent RiP-supplement or In the Company of Monsters) or start game with a curse that ensures you becoming one. My absolute favorite of the bunch, though, is the trait “Parrot Voice”: You are mute, but gain a parrot-familiar that squawks the somatic components of your spells while sitting on your shoulders. This is genius!

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are slightly worse than I’ve come to expect from Rite Publishing: Aforementioned Parrot-Voice trait e.g. suffers from 2 minor glitches. While not impeding my ability to understand the content, I think that another pass at editing would have been a good idea. Layout adheres to a 2-column standard and the classic stock-art pictures are fitting. The pdf comes with no bookmarks, which is another minor downer. I’m in a bit of a pinch here: On the one hand I absolutely LOVE the new approach taken to traits herein. On the other hand, this installment of the 101-series is not as stunningly awesome as its predecessor. While still a good book oozing usability and cool options for any Freeport or Skull & Shackles-game, I feel that this book could have used a bit more polish on the side of formal criteria. In the end, though, all my points of criticism have to be taken as nagging on a very high level. My final verdict will thus be 4 stars – a good book that falls a bit short of absolute excellence.

 

Finally, every pirate needs a place to call home – i.e. a ship! Raging Swan Press has you covered for variety with

 

So what’s that Pirate Ship like, anyways?

 

This pdf is 15 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page blank inside the front cover, 2 pages editorial and 1 page ToC and foreword, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement and 1 page back cover, leaving 7 pages of content.

Seeing that 2012 will be a very piratey year for PFRPG, this pdf provides the beleaguered DM with tables to create pirate ships on the fly: We get 100 ship names, 1oo descriptors for ships, 50 sample ship names, 20 sample names for male captains and 20 names for female captains. We also get 2 tables (DC 10 and 20) on knowledge about the ship with 10 entries each. For a DC 15 or 20-check we get 10 sample pieces of information on crew and captain and even 2 lists on past exploits of the crew. The pdf does not stop there, though and adds 50 pirate epithets, 50 figureheads and 50 sample flags.

In contrast to most “So what’s…”-pdfs, we get 3 sample statblocks for pirates – a CR 1/2, a Cr 1 Veteran and a CR 3 master-at-arms. Useful additional content!

 

Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn’t notice any glitches. Layout adheres to a 3-column standard for the tables and 2-columns for the more wordy sections. The pdf comes with a special version optimized for e-reader usage, but no collated statblocks in a single pdf – seeing that there are 3 and they take up one page, that’s not too bad. There is nothing wrong with this pdf and I really enjoyed the statblocks. However, I would have enjoyed more of the knowledge tables and e.g. a “special”-table containing bits of information like “the ship’s hull is plastered with sahuagin scales”, “fire-proof”, “crew-less golem-ship” etc.. That being said, this installment of the series is still a good buy and I’ll settle for a final verdict of 4 stars – a good pdf that could have been a bit better.

 

Raging Swan also has a cadre of villains specially made for you:

 

Villainous Pirates

This pdf is 49 pages long, 1 page front cover, 3 pages editorial, 1 page ToC/foreword, 1 page how-to-read statblocks for novice DMs, 1 page SRD, 2 pages biographical information on the designers and 1 page on how to use them and 1 page back cover, leaving a total of 38 pages of content, so let’s check this out!

Funny how synergies tend to go – here’s a pirate-themed AP and there we are: A solid selection of pirate-themed NPC-villains with the good ol’ Raging Swan-treatment. The pirates range from a CR of 3 to 13 and the pdf kicks off with a table that has them ordered by CR.

The pirates herein are not entirely conventional and you’ll soon see why: The very first pirate is actually a cassian angel bard, and we have halfling fighter/duelists, a xill expert/surgeon , half-orcish savage skalds, a samurai ronin, a brownie witch, a siren oracle, a SANDMAN (!!!!) transmuter, literally all of the NPCs herein have something going for them but if you’re in doubt, the NPCs also use neat5 class options: Take for example Oga Ogati, a barbarian (invulnerable rager)4/oracle (waves) 4 or take Old Benaz, the poltergeist sea singer bard 2 to a rare 4-armed miniature girallion and even a cloaker fighter, a kapoacinth rogue, an ettercap barbarian and even a grindylow monk, we get a stellar array of awesome characters, all with mannerisms, distinguishing features etc. to make them come easier to life. And if you’re thinking these characters might be too far out, rest assured that e.g. classics like a fully stated multiclassed tiefling assassin are also part of the deal – at least for me, though, the stranger pirates are the imaginative winners here. This chapter closes, as does the second, with a list of the pirates by alignment (CE to LN, btw.).

The second chapter deals with so-called pirates of renown: While the first chapter provided cool characters and solid stats to use, including short paragraphs and NPC-information, the expert fluff-writers of RSP go all out for the second chapter, providing at least one page of space for each character – take e.g. the devious quasit sorceror Cyllav Bellcroaker to Magus Banneus Pollar, who is afraid of his familiar – with reason and a lot of cool development potential for enterprising GMs. Have I mentioned the red-skinned mercane-slaver Insaelt, who is hunted by a zelekhut, making for a truly interesting and strange hook? Or take the driven Jessa Wavechaser, searching for her brother and sworn to the powers of the sea. Kalazabuil is one of my favorites: The giant advanced barghest captain of the Bleeding Edge comes with his very own poem called “Six Feasts of Kalazabuil”, which might make for a neat idea for a whole campaign or a dread prophecy the PCs should have to defeat. Rexal Urexin, the minotaur-captain is also notable for his three bullet-points style special crew-members mentioned and fans of freeport should rejoice that a serpentfolk magus has also found its way into the pdf alongside Vessa, the lizardfolk shaman queen. And then there’s Verdan Calanphon, the elemental kin treant barbarian-pirate who scours the sea to prevent artificial volcano-eruptions and defeat fire-giants and similar threats to forests. Oh, and he has the leader of the fire-giant’s hand grafted to one of his charred limbs as a gruesome source of barbaric strength. See the details? See the iconicity? This pdf is full of such. The pdf closes with pirates of renown by alignment.

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are, as I’ve come to expect from Raging Swan, top notch, I didn’t notice any glitches. Layout adheres to RSP’s printer-friendly 2-column standard and the pdf comes in two versions, one optimized for screen-use and one for printing, but no section of RSP-statblocks for the statblock library. It seems like RSP has abandoned that idea, which is a bit of a pity. The artworks are b/w and mostly nice and fitting, though I’ve seen some before. The pdf come with a plethora of nested bookmarks. See that complain about the missing RSP-statblock library file? Somehow it’s sad – that’s seriously the only gripe I could muster. After the stellar “Scions Of Evil” I honestly didn’t expect the pdf to live up to that standard. RSP listens, RSP improves. Villainous Pirates is a stellar selection of cool NPCs, that, while not an apex of complexity in their builds, shows that the respective characters are interesting, make for awesome weird crew-mates, enrich the settings into which they are introduced and may even spark off a campaign of their own. Were all NPC-books like this, I wouldn’t have to write reviews at all. Final verdict? 5 stars, endzeitgeist seal of approval and congratulations to John Bennett, Andrew Glenn and David Posener for delivering an excellent resource that sets the bar very high indeed.

 

And finally, should you require some additional armament, Super Genius Games has a nice file for you:

 

SGG Presents: A Brace of Pistols

 

This pdf is 15 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/SRD, leaving 13 pages of content, so let’s check it out!

After an aptly-written piece of in-character prose, we are introduced to a broad historic introduction of flintlock muskets and pistols, including an artwork as well as a step-by-step description on how they actually work – don’t fret, though: While interesting to read, the pdf loses no time to introduce us to a series of new early firearms: From 4-to 8-barreled Duckfoot-pistols (spreading out shots) to derringers, Jezails (long-barreled muskets with a curved stock that can be tucked under the shoulder) and short-barreled muskets (called musketoons), we get a neat selection of them – coolest among them, at least in my humble opinion, being the boarding gun – massive, made to be used as a stationary weapon, it takes a lot of time to reload and when not braced against a solid wall or something like that, damages the wielder with its massive recoil – the damage and spread, though, make this usually stationary weapon an interesting choice for adventurers nevertheless.

After introducing these new types of flintlocks, we are introduced to a selection of new firearm options: If you wanted to have a cane, a codpiece or a similar inconspicuous pistol concealed in a regular piece of clothing or jewelry, rejoice, for now rules are provided to do so. Creating gun traps for doors, chests etc. as well as adding spring-loaded bayonets and even axes/maces and all other kinds of melee weapons to flintlocks is also covered in this section, as is the option to add a second trigger (for sniping). My favorite, though, would be the mortar cup, which enables one to shoot bombs and similar alchemical items – very cool!

Of course, flintlocks are not only weapons and modifications – they also cover supplemental equipment: 3 new types of holster and belts that hold lead balls and prepared shots are covered, as well as silk patches and slow matches (which burn longer and can be woven into one’s beard for a bonus to intimidate) as well as cleaning kits. Cleaning kits? Yes, for two optional rules I personally enjoy are part of the deal: Catching fire with flintlocks as well as the influence of bad weather, dirt etc. – the upkeep of a flintlock, cleaning it etc. after all was a significant factor in their effectiveness and thus, these rules make for a cool, albeit wholly optional addition to one’s game. Speaking of additional rules: Another optional one is the one to allow rogues and similar characters to perform ranged disable device checks to shoot open locks.

And then there are 4 new feats: “Pistols at Dawn” makes you a master of formal dueling, “Get the Drop” enables you to get a bonus to initiative and make a single attack against an opponent instead of your regular actions and then there is “Powder Burns” and its “Improved” variant and damn are these two cool: If you shoot an opponent, you may make a secondary attack against an adjacent opponent, dealing fire damage and temporary blinding said foe. Cool tactical options that come with interesting rules and feel balanced. There are also two new spells, “Imbue shot” (lvl 5) and “Greater Imbue Shot” (lvl 7) that enable you to imbue spells into bullets and in the greater version, even have your shots deal no damage, instead delivering beneficial effects to the person hit. The tactical options these spells provide are rather interesting indeed. The pdf also contains two new magic weapon properties: Auto-loading, you guessed it, eliminates the reloading action, enabling you to make full attacks, while the Everdry-enchantment keeps powder-weapons, again, you guessed it, dry.

That’s a lot of cool crunch, but there’s also stellar fluff to go with it: The pirate game of Mahga-mahga, a brutal game of intimidation, torture and potentially death that involves a captive, a chandelier, a lot of grog, a cabin boy/girl, a charcoal stick, a lazy susan, rope, dice and an optional cleric. I’ll give you a hint: The captive gets some marks that indicate areas that are hard to hit and assign point values to them. The chandelier will be spinning. Powder burns and greedy grabbing for gold are also expected, as is the wanton consumption of grog. Better yet, the game utilizes the new powder burn feats to maximum capabilities and comes with rock-solid rules to handle this sadistic pastime in-game. Want to know how it works? Buy this pdf. 😉

 

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are very good, though not perfect: I noticed two minor typos. Layout adheres to a 2-column standard and provides nice full-color illustrations of most of the new weapons and pieces of equipment to further illustrate them. The pdf is fully bookmarked, which is a big plus in my book. First of all: Yes, I’m a sucker for firearms and deeply entrenched in the pro-gunslinger camp. However, if you take a look at e.g. my review of NNW’s take on the Gunslinger, you’ll realize that I’m anything but forgiving when it comes to faulty rules.
“A Brace of Pistols” is an interesting pdf – in just a couple of pages it gives a concise presentations on how the weapons worked, adds a slew of new ones to the mix (including rather innovative rules) and delivers stellar customization options for your gunslingers and scurvy pirates. It is said customization options that are, on my opinion, the star of this pdf – don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the optional rules as well, leaning more to a simulationalist style of gaming myself, but they can be easily ignored if you don’t like them. The spells are neat and especially the powder burn feats are awesome as well, but along the cool game, it is the option to finally have a codpiece (or even eye-patch)-pistol that made me grin like a shark. Louis Agresta has created an awesome little pdf that could just as well be used to depict steamwork-crossbows and steampunkish weaponry and succeeds in delivering a variety of new tactics that are guaranteed to enhance your enjoyment of flintlocks in your game. For fans of the gunslinger this is a must-buy and for everyone remotely into swashbuckling and some of its not yet covered aspects, this pdf is gold as well. If what I told you about even remotely intrigues you, take a look. My final verdict for this humble, yet incredibly useful little pdf will be 5 stars.

All right, I hope my reviews of all the piratey material were helpful!

Endzeitgeist out.

 

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Reviewer without a cause