Dragon #346


Dragon #346

Publisher: Paizo Publishing
Publish Date: 07/2006
Volume: XXXI, Number 3
Pages: 98
Rating: 5 out of 10
Retail Price: $7.99

Last month I included I my review some tidbits about sections of the magazine like “Class Acts” or “First Watch.” Note also that the review was something like 4 pages long! So, this time around I think we’ll jump right in.

“Core Beliefs” is a semi-regular installment in which a single deity is showcased. Similar to the “Demonomicon” or “Ecology” articles, this bad boy has it all: lesser deities associated with this one, ways different types of divine spellcasters fit into the church hierarchy, interesting holidays and legends, and even a few new spells or magic items (and who doesn’t need more of those?).

This month, Sean K Reynolds gets an A+ for his biography on Pelor, god of the sun. Of special interest is information on how Pelor’s portfolio has evolved in recent years, which is a fluffy way of saying “clerics aren’t just combat medics anymore so the god of healing needed a facelift too.” The only complaint one might lodge against Reynolds is that the article is very skimpy on crunchy bits this month. A sample planar ally and two new cleric spells may not be enough to satisfy those who want to give their Pelorian faithful a little extra “oomph.” Regardless, if you run a game using the core deities in the PHB and would like to flesh them out a little, “Core Beliefs” is where it’s at and August’s piece is no exception.

Ok, if you’re reading this I assume you have had a debate of “Rolling vs. Point Buy” at least once in your gaming career. For those who don’t know, the jury is still out on whether you should be able to choose your character’s ability scores or if the random element of rolling dice is more organic (here, I think “organic” means “a crapshoot but realistic”). For those who fall somewhere in the middle on this issue, the next article is for you! Craig Shackleton offers up “Three Dragon Readings: Character Generation Through Fortune Telling.” Three Dragon Ante, a cardgame associated with D&D released earlier this year, is fun, fast and very easy to learn. And now, with Shackleton’s article, you can spend about five minutes with a deck to determine your character’s stats. You only get so many points, so everyone in the group will get roughly equivalent results; but the cards are literally the luck of the draw, which is the reason people like rolling dice.

One complaint, of course, is that the article requires you to purchase a stand-alone product which has almost nothing to do with D&D. The author does explain how to simulate the Three Dragon deck using normal playing cards, but admittedly the effect isn’t quite the same. Also, some of the rules of this “tarot reading” are a little ambiguous, and different interpretations lead to completely different stat arrays. Still, it’s an interesting idea and if you happen to have a deck lying around (I actually picked one up for this article alone, which I don’t regret now because it looks like a pretty fun game in itself), give it a try.

How timely! This month, the topic of what sorts of tavern games adventurers might find themselves playing came up here in the Archive and Aladdar actually posted an article on the subject, entitled “Rattle of Dice.” And now, Seth Irvin Williams brings us “Games of Chance,” which is pretty self explanatory: with some poker chips, dice and playing cards you can really get into character while the heroes gamble their hard earned coin away. If you’ve ever asked your DM what kinds of card games your character learned growing up and he drew a blank, this article is perfect for you.

If, on the other hand, you prefer actually completing quests, spending loot and saving the world when you play D&D, maybe you’ve never wanted to play a game within a game. Another fair observation against this article is that a lot of the games are games people in the real world played, but with a hint of D&D flavor thrown in. What, poker doesn’t exist in D&D but something called “wyrm poker” does? That said, a little extra flavor never hurt anyone and if you’ve ever found yourself saying, “I go to the bar and play some cards” but actually wanted to play some cards, you’ll agree this piece was a nice effort.

Next we have “Supporting Cast,” courtesy of Michael Trice. This article assumes you use the optional Leadership feat from the DMG, but even if you don’t the advice on what sorts of henchmen a leader needs might prove useful. This is especially true of DMs who agonize over the variety of lackeys a particular villain will need. The core assumption of the article is a fair analysis: a hero or villain needs followers who complement or emphasize his own strengths. From barbarian to wizard, Williams explains the type of people who will not only be drawn to a charismatic individual of a particular class but also the skills they must have to really get the most out of Leadership.

Not only that, but those looking for a little extra crunch are treated to a variety of feats that tweak the way Leadership works to your advantage. For instance, one lets you avoid the unfortunate penalty to your score if a cohort bites the big one in your service, and another lets you attract way more 1st level followers than your score would normally allow. Unfortunately, many feel that D&D v3.5 is specially suited for skirmish combat and a bunch of henchmen following the party along not only complicates the DM’s job of number crunching but also violates the spirit of the game. If you share this attitude, steer clear of “Supporting Cast.”

George Krashos brings us “Impiltur: The Forgotten Kingdom.” It’s a little known slice of the Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting, and according to the article that is largely due to Impiltur’s foreign policy of distrust and xenophobia. This article has just about everything you need to plug the region into your game: imports, exports, geography, a sidebar on Impiltur’s names for various coinage, a detailed map and about 1,500 years of political history.

Of course, if you play in Forgotten Realms you may already have access to some of this information. In fact, Krashos explains that if you want to learn more you can consult no less than five FR sourcebooks. On the other hand, if you don’t play in FR it may not be likely that you have an empty corner in your setting ready for Impiltur to call home (and if you did, good luck on adapting what you find in this article to a homebrew). I imagine the target audience here is anyone thinking of starting up a new FR campaign but who doesn’t quite know where to begin. Otherwise I don’t suppose you’ll get much mileage out of this article.

Well, it’s a good thing the editor decided to end on a strong note! Nicholas Hudson and Nicolas Logue knock it out of the park with “The Ecology of the Rust Monster!” Last month I explained the hallmarks of a great “Ecology” article and this month does not disappoint. With theories on the monster’s origins, results for Knowledge (dungeoneering) checks, mating habits and an example of a rust monster advanced to Large size, this puppy is five pages of smokin’ success. What really seals the deal, though, are testimonials from gaming juggernauts like Gary Gygax and Wolfgang Baur, both on DMing these baddies and playing against them. If you’ve ever wondered what inspired Gygax to create such a funky monster or if, like me, you just get a kick out of folks taking a trip down D&D Memory Lane, these sidebars are great. Finally, check out a recent installment of “Design Development” on the official D&D website by Mike Mearls, in which he describes how he would give the rust monster a makeover if its stats were up to him.

In closing, I have to say this issue was a little disappointing. The theme was “Adventuring,” and I think perhaps that’s a little too broad a topic to tackle in less than 100 pages. Furthermore, the same epidemic still festers in the heart of Dragon: having established it is impossible to satisfy everyone all the time, Paizo apparently thinks ideas like “Games that resemble games we all play but aren’t” or “an obscure part of a single campaign setting that not everyone likes and, in fact, many people hate” are subscriber gold. Maybe the answer lies in tried and true features like “Ecology” or “Core Beliefs,” which produce quality material every time they grace these pages. Anyway, this month Dragon scores a tentative 1d10: if I picked up a copy at my favorite local gaming store I wouldn’t be sorry for buying it, but I probably wouldn’t purchase a subscription based on this issue alone.