Clockwork Gnome Publishing is one of the small 3pps for PFRPG that is very much about quality rather than quantity and thus, I'd like to introduce you to 2 small pdfs that you'll enjoy very much:
This pdf is 22 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving 18 pages of content, so let's check out this first installment of "The Virtuous and the Vile"!
This first installment of Clockwork Gnomes' new Virtuous and the Vile-series introduces us to the religion of the Maggot god Morithal, a slithering being of unceasing hunger. If you're now reminded of similar gods of gluttony like Aggramogg or Rovagug, rest assured that the first chapter presents us already with reasons why Morithal is worthy of your attention: The first basic concept is that Morithal essentially makes the word "ancient" feel positively like an understatement - the maggot god is a so-called Protogenoi, a deific remnant of a multiverse that has long since ceased to exist. Once a god of fertility, the Maggot God hid in the folds of time and space and weathered the unceasing collapse, transforming slowly from his initial portfolio when finding that the new multiverse not only deprived him of divine sustenance in the form of worship, but turned out to be rather hostile - the light of the sun and even the stars is bane to the maggot god who had slept too long in utter darkness.
The second basic assumption/concept introduced in the beginning, is that there is not one singular underdark, but rather a variety of underdarks - all the subterranean structures of caves and caverns, which are inhabited by a plethora of our most favorite depraved beings and species of all the planets are connected via unstable portals and perhaps even physical pathways created by the burrowing of Morithal, who ceaselessly hollows out the worlds, eating through them like a worm through an apple. Furthermore, the passing of the protogenoi sees him shed crystalline excrements, so-called Morthacite, which is responsible for the spontaneous creation of many a life form that is at the bottom of the food chain, thus enabling the vast amount of underdark civilizations in the first place. For people like me who always were somewhat discontent with "magic did it" as a rationale for the abundance of subterranean life, the ideas presented herein are gold indeed, but the pdf does not stop there:
Instead, we get information on the structure of his anything but unified variety of cults and their promise of the final days, when all will be consumed by the maggot god. Indeed, the church promises not damnation in the Abyss, but the act of being consumed and obliterated entirely by Morithal, a welcome prospect for nihilists and people who have lost everything and fear the damnation of the lower planes. Excerpts from his holy scriptures, the "Oaths to the Starving Coterie", are presented in compelling prose alongside a variety of sample prayers to recite for cultists and clerics. Holy feasts, the modus operandi of his cult, the new famine domain and 2 new spells ensure that encountering any parts of Morithal's often secretive cult should provide for a memorable session indeed.
And that's before going into what I consider a nice idea - with the absence of the Illithids due to being closed content, the Duergar have lacked a compelling and disturbing racial narrative and this pdf provides exactly that, almost as a second thought among the expertly-written prose herein - you can just ignore it or go with it.
The most compelling parts of Morithal's whole narratives were not the prayers or how his temples are batized/fitted out, though - at least not for me. For me, the true strokes of genius were the fluff depictions of his greatest champions: There is the shapechanging, incorporeal bing named Hollow Longing, which makes for his executioner in the guise of a ghoulish being that is not quite as one would expect. His highest servitor is the legendary first of the purple worms, the Morthacite-studded, self-aware and titanic dread Gothgor the Putrid, at the same time consumer and highest authority of all his creatures. And then there is a self-aware black pudding called Paranvoi, who has consumed the minds and bodies of his whole world, gaining their spirits and souls and blessed with perfect foresight of the future by the dread maggot god - the titanic ooze bubbles on its home-planet, covering all but one mountain where supplicants may ask for fractions of its probably mad, almost omniscient being for their temples. Such a fragment of this being, btw., clocks in at CR 12 and is one of the new creatures provided herein. The other is a genderless, all-consuming humanoid maggot being called "Endless Hunger" (CR 8), things that seemingly seem to spontaneously spawn near large concentrations of Morthacite and death. The latter get an awesome, stunning, full-color artwork.
Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn't notice any glitches. Layout adheres to a 2-column standard and features a nice greenish background. The full-color artworks all range at the upper tier of quality. The pdf is fully bookmarked and comes with an extra version that omits the background and all art apart from the cover and can thus be considered printer-friendly. the supplement also comes with Herolab-support, which should be another plus for many people.
All right, if you haven't guessed it by now: I LOVE this pdf. Why? Via some easy tricks and ideas, it fixes some logic bugs that have annoyed me for quite some time and furthermore enables you to finally reconcile dark tapestry-style beings with regular divinities. Also: Morithal is a being of terrible power, as deities should be. It is clear from the write-ups of his favored agents that they belong to the most powerful of beings. Thus, Morithal evokes a sense f primal dread by proxy that is enhanced by the fact that just putting a shard of Morthacite somewhere, you can remind your PCs of the enormousness of the threat he poses. Worse, it is his very being that can be considered one, if not the source of life, making evolution of some and perhaps all species connected to an intrinsic, atavistic dread. Add to that the expert writing, rock solid rules, cool new creatures, awesome prayers and you get an excellent sourcebook on a dark religion that may very well change how you think about evil gods, their motivations and all the slithers and crawls. Disturbing, genius, cheap, top production values, nothing to complain about - my final verdict will be 5 stars + Endzeitgeist seal of approval. Oh, one thing: I would have loved to see the epic-level stats of his favored servants, but I guess you can't have everything.
Want to spice up your Council of Thieves AP? Or do you need a truly badass Thieves Guild?
This pdf is 45 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC/SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with a total of a whopping 41 pages of content, so let's check this out!
The pdf kicks off by announcing its intent, which essentially is bringing a new and sinister twist to the old trope of the thieves' guild and then goes on to introduce us to the presumed default setting of Eorthe, the world of CGP. However, you should be aware that the content herein can easily be transported to just about any setting and is in no way too tied to campaign setting specific tropes. Aerendal, City of viridian princes, built upon 6 rocky islands, connected via bridges, makes for the default and we get a whole page describing the city, including a broad over-view map with color-coded districts. I hope we'll one day see an extensive gazetteer including excessively detailed maps on what could become a Venice-style den-of-sin metropolis and intriguing setting extraordinaire.
The Cloven Hoof Syndicate is an interesting organization not only because of its extensive history - reaching back towards a planar event involving Faerie and the realm of Abaddon, the syndicate and its twisted members are detailed in excruciating detail. To be more precise: From smuggling, to drug-dealing and prostitution, the kraken-like tendrils of the syndicate reach into all spheres of illegitimate businesses and describe the methods of the syndicate and its means to avoid detection in detail. Better yet, sample incidents involving key-members of the syndicate's operations are covered and, along-side interspersed seeds of crunch like a new drug etc. serve to paint a tapestry of sin most foul and subtle that not only makes the organization a believable threat, but also makes it clear that the paranoia necessary to uncover its operations will border on the insane, limiting (apart from the blackmailed officials) the options of prospective PCs even further and making this conspiracy a threat that is most definitely not to be trifled with unprepared - their capabilities to create so-called Star-motes, "gems" (complete with rules)with a more sinister origin, is also testament of this.
Of course, no organization can live only from a stellar frame narrative prefacing each chapter or the excellent description of the operations -it needs people to conduct said endeavors. From rank-and-file members (CR 2) to high-level assassins (CR 9), we get a selection of 6 sample statblocks before we get to know them also fully-stated key-members of the syndicate, from its instigator and commander-in-chief , who is a challenge rating 16 brute and comes not only with a full statblock and more than one page of concisely-written prose, to a half-orc brute and the mistress of the prostitution-racket as well as the insane derro alchemist (including 2 new alchemist discoveries) that refers to himself in the plural majestatis (or has MPD) to smugglers that not only are dark creepers, but also carry a cursed taint, the key-members all provide interesting statblocks, entwines, cool narratives and perform key-functions in the smooth running of the syndicate. Have I mentioned the rakshasa-blooded skeletal champion (magus) rogue/sorceress or the tainted nixie bard? You get the idea - the key-members of the syndicate are not only dastardly villains, they are truly intriguing characters of their own right and can play in the upper echelons of cool builds, their abilities reflecting well their status and role in the organization.
Even better, the two level-base of the syndicates operation, the halls of abandon, are portayed in excruciating detail as well, providing a cool location and a neat potential for an "into-the-lion's-den"-type scenario or even as a base that can be established for the underworld contacts of the PCs, slowly sowing seeds of the conspiracy...
Editing and formatting are very good, though not perfect - I encountered some minor typos in the text. Layout adheres to a greenish-tinted parchment look and the 2-column standard and the full-color artworks are nice: While city-scapes feature an almost impressionism-style standard and transport the taint well, most of the characters come with artworks I've seen before in other publications. The pdf comes fully bookmarked (though I would have enjoyed nested bookmarks for the statblocks) and with a printer-friendly b/w-version. This version, while art-free, has only removed the pieces of artwork, resulting in odd blank spaces in this version of the pdf -reformatting the text in order to save more space would have been the more prudent thing to do here. The cartography is excellent and while letters denote the functions of each room, as a DM you could hand out the maps to the players as is. The pdf comes with full herolab-support.
Clockwork Gnome Publishing as a company so far does not have a steady output, but oh boy, when they do release something, I look forward to it - after their last offering on the maggot god Morithal became my new benchmark for what to expect of cults and religion-write-ups, the Cloven Hood Syndicate by author Paris Crenshaw seeks to establish a new default of what to expect of conspiracies and secret societies - and let me assure you, this syndicate is not another tiefling organization, but something much more sinister - so sinister in fact, that they might make great replacements of e.g. Zobeck's Cloven Nine or similar guilds. The prose in this supplement is of a quality scarcely seen in rpg-products and makes the reading of the pdf an actual joy to do rather than a chore and the frame narrative of an increasingly alienated and desperate investigator also helps to convey a sense of the depth of this particular rabbit hole. Better yet, there are numerous side-bar, should you be so inclined, to inform you about CGP's upcoming world and some peculiarities regarding e.g. ethnicities. That being said, this pdf unfortunately is not perfect: There are some minor editing glitches and I would have loved to get a map of the stunningly enticing default city in which the syndicate is set. Furthermore, the sloppy b/w-version is a disgrace to the quality of an otherwise stellar offering. HOWEVER, even with these blemishes, I can't bring myself to rating this book low - I've read a lot of tribes/secret society sourcebooks and for the low price, this is definitely one of the best. Hence, I'm going to do something I seldom do - I'll rate this 4.5 stars, round down to 4 and still award the endzeitgeist seal of approval. I urge you strongly to check this out and hope the printer-friendly version will be revised to reflect the quality of the full color pdf.
As always, thanks for reading my ramblings and if you do buy one of these beauties, drop me a line on how you liked them!