A place wherein this Dwarven Cleric can share his love of maps, dice, miniatures, and all things involving gaming and general geekery--not to mention the occasional witty non-gaming observations--whilst escaping from the humdrum existence of his routine Terran existence.

Hail and Well Met, fellow traveler! May my Stronghold provide a place for enlightenment and amusement, and somewhere to keep your dice dry. Enter and rest awhile.

23 March 2012

[Review] Infamous Adversaries: Slogar the Uncaring

This review is of the recently-updated (January 2012) version of Total Party Kill Games’ Infamous Adversaries: Slogar the Uncaring. The product is available free of charge from DriveThru RPG. The file comes with a .pdf book, a .pdf map, and Hero Lab files. Unfortunately, I do not use Hero Lab; thus I cannot speak to the quality or usefulness of the included files. I therefore limit my review to the actual “printed” matter.

The .pdf is 20 pages long, including: 1 page front cover, 1 page title page, 1 page portrait, 1 page editorial, 1 page “How to use” explanation, 1 page Hero Labs advertisement, 1 page d20 PFSRD advertisement, 1 page TPK advertisement, and 1 page OGL. This leaves 11 pages devoted to Slogar.

Slogar was TPK Games’ first product and has been updated and revised based on feedback from readers and fans, as well as earned experience in the industry. TPK Games indicates that they want to give this treatment to all of their Infamous Adversaries characters, although it is unclear whether this means new Adversaries only, or whether they will revisit the already-published Adversaries and give them the same updating treatment.

So, how is the product itself? Keep reading....

Content: The first page-and-a-bit consists of a short fiction piece related to Slogar. It provides some interesting flavor and could easily be used by a DM as a scene and/or conversation with a character or party to help increase tension and suspense around Slogar. The statblock is hefty, as are all 3.x Edition statblocks. Unfortunately, it comes with the territory, but anyone familiar with 3.x or Pathfinder will be able to follow the stats quite easily.

Slogar is an 8th-level half-orc cleric of the Lord of Murder. He is described as “a wandering missionary of his faith,” who is, understandably, misunderstood by outsiders. Where others see murder, slaughter, and mayhem, he sees a divinely-inspired calling through which he gains enlightenment into the will of the Lord of Murder. Other than his deity, the only other creature that has earned his care and – dare I say “love”? – is his zombie horse, Daisy Pusher.

Plenty of background, history, description, and motive is presented, which I think saves Slogar from being a presentation of another murderous villain. Instead it gives the DM a way to present Slogar in almost a sympathetic way; indeed, after reading this material, one gets a better understanding of the opening short fiction and it becomes more clear how a community could actually rally around and protect this fiend. His tactics and practices are also detailed, which aids the DM in presenting crime scenes and evidence left behind, all of which can heighten anxiety and anticipation in the players’ minds.

I especially like the inclusion of both a small and large version of Slogar’s lair. You all know I love maps. Let me say that again:

Well, this one not only provides you with a nice setting in which the players can confront, ambush, or be ambushed, it also provides a nice neutral map that could be used in any of a number of different encounters. My one complaint is that TPK does not provide a legend or a breakdown of the buildings, rooms, or surroundings. In fact, very little description of the lair is provided beyond the expected: a grayed wooden shack, ramshackle and covered with mold; corpses throughout the nearby swamp; and grim trophies fill the shack. One problem? The map shows three distinct structures without explaining what they each are, what they layout is, or descriptive fluff to use on the fly. In fact, it seems kind of odd, given the amount of description and detail found in other places in the book. I wouldn’t ask for a lot, maybe only a full page rather than the couple of paragraphs devoted to the locale. I’m looking for just enough to be able to drop it into any campaign while still retaining sufficient “Slogarian” flavor as necessary. TPK Games’ seeming goal is to make the DM’s life easier by providing as much as possible and doing as much advance work for the DM as possible. When it comes to Slogar’s lair, however, they stumble in that regard.

Presentation: The .pdf is nicely hyperlinked with the PFSRD. Most of the feats and traits for both Slogar and Daisy Pusher are hyperlinked, which enables a DM to quickly reference the rule-books as a refresher or, in the case of a new DM, to help learn the rules. Many of the details for the new Equipment and new Spells are also hyperlinked. Unfortunately, the skills and most of the Special Abilities for the half-orc and his steed are not hyperlinked. While this may not be an issue for an established or experienced DM, if a new DM wanted to use this, he would still face some page-flipping and research. This being said, I think that TPK Games settles at a happy medium between the two extremes. A beginning DM should be warned, however, that everything will NOT be handed to him gratis in this book.

One other point that could have improved the product is in Slogar’s advanced levels. The book presents one statblock for Slogar as an 8th-level Cleric. It also gives a very nice description of his potential progression, setting him up as a repeat guest-star villain. It also sets up a nice set of consequences if the characters fail to subdue or overcome Slogar at one point or another in his “proselytizing” career. However, it would have been nice to have additional statblocks – even if they were somehow truncated – to allow a DM to drop a 12th-level Slogar on the party, or an 18th-level Slogar, depending on the level of the party. This product almost assumes that the party will be around 8th-level or lower when they first encounter Slogar. Again, I realize it may only take a little bit of work on the DM’s part; however if the intended goal is ease of use for the DM, this would be a nice feature.

Editing / Formatting: Formatting is very nice: two-column presentation and nice artwork throughout. I will complain about the grey background; on the .pdf it adds a nice artistic touch. However, when printed out, it simply darkens the page and uses up a little more ink than is probably necessary.

I also have to say, as far as editing, the work is fairly clean; much cleaner than some third-party products out there. However, there were a few typographical errors – mostly related to punctuation – and one glaring mistake with a repeated sentence. In my first read-through, I only caught one or two spelling errors; again, much better than some third-party products (and in some cases even “slick” products from those Spellcasters on the Northwest Beach).

One other point, as far as the .pdf structure itself? Bookmarks.

Especially ones that hit the high points of the Table of Contents, to aid in pinpoint information retrieval. It doesn’t generally take that long to bookmark a .pdf, and one would think that a product this short could be easily bookmarked. The book does come with six bookmarks. However, they point to: the cover, the title page, the Hero Lab advertisement, the d20PFSRD advertisement, the TPK Games advertisement, and the OGL page. None of these are things that I would necessarily bookmark in my own work, but they may have their own reasons for doing so.

Conclusion: After all is said and done, I really like this product. I’ve recommended it to three other friends who DM for their respective groups and I’ve made several other TPK Games purchases on the strength of Slogar alone. When I first downloaded the product, I ran into some technical issues with the included map .pdf. TPK Games responded quickly and efficiently to my concerns; they resolved the issue within a couple hours with terrific customer service and product support. They won a customer-for-life with their service.

I hope that TPK retro-fits their other already-published Infamous Adversary products in the same way. Adding so much detail (although many call it “fluff”) in background, motives, tactics – not to mention lairs and maps – significantly increases the utility of these products. Sure, I could do the same thing on my own...given time. But for me, as a DM, time is a precious commodity. In all honesty, I’d rather be gaming than statting.

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