Review: GM Screen Inserts

GM_Screen_InsertRaging Swan Press has just released a new product, GM Screen Inserts. These are available in a portrait and a landscape version, purchased separately. Both versions have 4 pages, and contain the same information. The only difference I spotted was the fact that the Sense Motive skill table is missing from the portrait version.

Each of the four pages covers a different topic. First up is combat actions, which includes lists of the various types of actions and whether these provoke attacks of opportunity or not. These tables are grouped differently from the ones found in the core rulebook. There are also tables of movement rates, monster identification and what the main combat manoeuvres do.

Next up is combat modifiers, which includes a list of common conditions, penalties for two-weapon fighting, concealment miss chances and various other modifiers in handy little tables. These tables are particularly useful for reference.

The third page covers magic and treasure, including the DCs for identifying treasure and spells, concentration check DCs and diagrams of spell areas of effect – I can see these being of particular use in my games.

Finally there is a page of common skill use DCs, including acrobatics, perception, climbing, riding, bluffing and diplomacy. I know these will come in handy for my games as well.

Visually, these inserts look great, using the same clean and easy-to-read style of other Raging Swan products. In a couple of places it feels like there is not enough space between columns, but for the most part the pages are very well laid out.

I would definitely recommend these GM screen inserts to any GM who wants well-laid-out reference tables for their GM screen. I personally use a landscape GM screen (I found a portrait screen was too high), but mine has only three panels as that’s all that will fit on my table. I might experiment with printing two pages on one as I’m not sure I’ll be able to decide which page to leave out. Needless to say, I’ll be printing these tables out and using them for my next game.

You can pick up both versions of these GM Screen Inserts over at paizo.com.

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Review: Village Backdrop: Edgewood

PZOPDFRSP101502EThis Village Backdrop product from Raging Swan Press gives us Edgewood, a prosperous but troubled town with plenty of adventuring opportunities for characters.

Like other Village Backdrops, this one gives a general overview of the settlement, highlights important inhabitants and locations, lists items for sale and the general look and demographic of the townsfolk. There are also several rumours that heroes might overhear in town, as well as a map. All of this is mostly system- and setting-neutral, making it easy to slot the village into just about any game.

What made Edgewood of particular interest to me was the strange curse that plagues the inhabitants of the village. Though the town is very well-off in terms of its produce and so on, every year, about three villagers die in horrible and violent ways. Although several reasons for this yearly ‘culling’ are suggested, they are kept vague enough that a game master could come up with just about any explanation that suits their story. Plenty of ideas came to mind as I was reading through this PDF.

If you’re looking to add a mysterious village to your game, this Village Backdrop is for you. You can pick it up on paizo.com or various other websites.

Review: Alternate Dungeons: Mystic Ruins

AD_Mystic-Ruins_2201Alternate Dungeons: Mystic Ruins from Raging Swan Press is a short PDF packed with a wealth of ideas for a GM who wants to run a slightly different dungeon.

As the name suggests, this product is aimed at game masters who want something out of the ordinary. The PDF starts with an overview of what mystic ruins might entail, and then gives practical advice on how to design the dungeon by listing various effects and dangers that could be present in a location that has been infused with ancient magic.

Next up is the ‘dressing’ section, with a table full of strange and idea-inspiring things to make your mystic ruins unique and interesting (not to mention dangerous!) There are also some suggestions on how to handle characters who want to harvest magical artifacts or spell components from the dungeon itself. I probably wouldn’t have thought of something like that unless my players brought it up, so these kinds of guidelines are extremely helpful.

There are also a page listing a number of creatures that might be drawn to your magically-infused dungeon, and why they might be there. This is followed by a number of natural and magical traps or hazards that might be present in mystic ruins, as well as other strange magical effects that could occur in such a dungeon. Finally, there are a couple of adventure hooks for game masters to build upon.

The artwork complements the content nicely without taking up excessive space. As always, this product is laid out in Raging Swan’s clean and easy to read format, and both a print and screen version are included. I can definitely recommend Alternate Dungeons: Mystic Ruins to any GM who needs ideas on making that ancient wizard tower or other magical dungeon more interesting. Although the rules-related information that is given is Pathfinder-specific, I think most of the content could apply or be adapted to other games as well.

Review: Varisia, Birthplace of Legends

PZO9425_500It’s not exactly a new product, but it’s one that I have referred to extensively in my Rise of the Runelords campaign, so I thought I would write a quick review.

As part of the Pathfinder Player Companion line, Varisia, Birthplace of Legends is limited to the 32-page format used by all the products in this line. Nevertheless, it manages to pack quite a bit of content into those few pages.

As a GM, I have found this book extremely useful in preparing NPCs and general flavour for my Varisia-based campaign. Since there is no Campaign Setting book that covers Varisia as a whole (and I don’t really expect there to be one in the future), this is the next best thing to get a good overview of the types of people who live in the region.

The inner front cover provides a map of Shoanti territories, as well as the important totems, domains and oracle mysteries that are relevant to to each of the clans. There are two more pages later on that offer some names, traits and typical roles of the Shoanti people. These are invaluable if you want to play a Shoanti character, or if you want your PCs to interact with the Shoanti people. There are also a couple of pages detailing the native Varisian people, which are similarly useful for populating the region.

There are a couple of new feats and archetypes, with Thunder and Fang feat and the Thundercaller bard archetype really standing out to me as interesting and flavourful options. There is also a quick overview of arcane schools and major religions in Varisia, as well as region-specific equipment.

The two centre pages contain a rather cool-looking stylised map of Varisia. Perhaps the most useful feature of this map is the travel distances between the various towns, information which is handy for PCs and GMs alike. The inside back cover shows Varisian trade routes, and also has a useful distance and travel time table between the major settlements in the region.

The second half of the book briefly details the major settlements of Varisia, giving stats of the settlement, some traits for PCs who want to originate there, and some roles describing local characters. There are four pages at the back of the book listing adventure paths that take place in Varisia, with some traits for each, plus a brief player’s guide for the Shattered Star adventure path. These pages are a bit strange, and seem at first like advertising, but they are actually mostly made up of campaign-specific traits, so they make sense in a player companion for the region.

This book also looks good, with great cover art and some really nice interior pieces. I recommend Varisia, Birthplace of Legends for anyone spending significant time in the region.

Review: Urban Dressing: Slum Town

Slum_front_220Today I’ve got another Raging Swan Press product for review. This one, Slum Town, comes from their Urban Dressing line. You can pick it up at Paizo.com.

This 10 page PDF has 7 pages of tables covering just about anything you might expect to find in the slums. The first table is sights and sounds, providing 100 things your PCs might happen upon while wandering through your slum town. Some of these are just flavourful descriptions that will help your town come to life, while others might give you ideas that could be expanded upon.

The second table lists 50 businesses that might be found in the slums, each with a unique name, what type of shop it is, and something noteworthy about the business. The third table contains 50 NPCs that might be found in the town. Some of these clearly match up with the businesses in the previous table, while the rest are just persons of interest who your PCs might encounter or need to deal with while in the town. The final table offers 20 activities in the town that could serve to liven up the PCs’ visit, start them off on quests, and so on.

As I read through this PDF, it painted quite a vivid picture of a grim slum town. Besides giving life to a location, the descriptions also gave me plenty of ideas for missions and side quests, as well as a wealth of NPCs to help deliver the plot hooks. If you are planning to use some kind of slum town in an upcoming adventure, this product is a must-have. The descriptions are almost entirely system-neutral, meaning this supplement could be useful to any game master.

Review: So What’s the Hoard Like, Anyway?

Hoard_coverAs I mentioned in my previous review, Raging Swan Press has a number of useful resources for busy game masters. So What’s the Hoard Like, Anyway? is a product that focuses on treasure.

This little PDF covers levels 1 to 7, providing 12 treasure hoards with appropriate values for each level – that’s a total of 84 treasure hoards. Each level has a table where you can roll a d12 to choose an appropriate hoard for that level. The content of each hoard is described in detail, making it perfect for GMs who are tired of giving out generic gems, scrolls, rings, or other items. There is almost no repetition of items or descriptions, meaning this product contains literally dozens of unique item descriptions.

The foreword admits that using these hoards for every single pile of treasure could become overwhelming for players, and I’m in agreement there. The hoards detailed in this product are better suited to be given as rewards for defeating significant foes. While some of them are a collection of gems and other precious items, there are a few interesting items that aren’t actually valuable at all, like a stack of love letters. A few of the hoards are themed, such as a collection of royal garments or jewels, or dwarven items. A few items even present possible plot hooks in their descriptions, most of them open-ended enough to allow a GM to work it into their story.

Each hoard’s value is given, as well as the value of each individual item in said hoard. Even the DCs for identifying and appraising the items are given. In the case of magic items, the magic aura is listed as well. The rules for appraising and identifying items are conveniently included at the beginning of the PDF. All of this makes it easy for a GM to just drop the hoard into the game without preparation, or to mix and match items to customise a hoard. The actual descriptions of the items in the treasure hoards are system-neutral, making this a useful supplement for other fantasy systems as well.

You can pick up So What’s the Hoard Like, Anyway? over at paizo.com. There are two more products in this series that provide treasure hoards for higher levels, or you can grab All that Glimmers, which combines all three hoard products and several other treasure-related ones into one collection.

Review: So What’s the Riddle Like, Anyway?

Riddle_front_new_220I’ve recently been introduced to Raging Swan Press, who produce useful resources for Pathfinder. A lot of their GM resources are actually system-neutral, and as such would be handy for GMs of other systems as well. So What’s the Riddle Like, Anyway? is one such product.

At just $1.99, this little PDF offers several dozen ready-made riddles that you can drop into your game at a moment’s notice. As a GM, I find this sort of resource invaluable. The provided riddles are separated into wordplay and descriptive riddles. Wordplay riddles give clues for the actual letters in the answer, while descriptive riddles describe the object or concept.

There are also two pages about designing riddles and actually using them in a game. This may not sound like much, but I found it refreshing to have important concepts described so succinctly (rather than having to wade through a whole chapter on the subject). Between the short explanation and the sample riddles provided, So What’s the Riddle Like, Anyway? provides an invaluable resource to GMs who don’t have hours to come up with things like riddles.

The layout and formatting of this PDF is also top-notch. In fact, this clean layout was one of the first things I noticed across all of Raging Swan’s products (you can get free samples of most of their products via their website). As with all their products, this one comes with a screen-friendly and a print-friendly version and uses a simple two-column layout with clear, readable fonts. Its unassuming cover hides a wonderful gem of a product for GMs who want to use riddles in their games.

You can pick up this and other Raging Swan products over at Paizo.com, as well as Drive Thru RPG and more.