Dragon #347


Dragon #347

Publisher: Paizo Publishing
Publish Date: 08/2206
Volume: XXXI, Number 4
Pages: 98
Rating: 8 out of 10
Retail Price: $7.99

Welcome back to our monthly review of Dragon. Before we begin I’d like to clarify a research error on my part from my review of the July issue. I incorrectly reported that Fiendish Codex I doesn’t provide a version of Kostchtchie with a lower Challenge Rating than what we see in the Dragon article. In fact, the demon prince (CR21) can be found on pp68-9 of that work. My apologies to the readers and to Mr. Jacobs, but in brighter news I just spelled “Kostchtchie” right without looking it up. Now, on to business!

James L. Sutter kicks it off this month with a tour of the WotC RPG R&D Department. Gaming icons like Bill Slavicsek, Chris Perkins and Jesse Decker all chime in to give the reader an unprecedented look at the daily grind inside the Seattle offices. Not only does Sutter’s piece, “Off To See The Wizards,” show us what a typical day at Wizards looks like, it also offers some insight on what exactly takes place at each stage of the development process. And if that doesn’t pique your curiosity, there is of course the obligatory answer to the age-old question: “How do you guys get a salary for doing what you’d be doing for free at home?” More specifically, “How did you get hired by WotC?”

Admittedly, this piece has nothing to do with D&D itself. Normally I condemn any article that doesn’t improve the quality of the average DM or player’s game sessions. This time, however, I have to say it was a quick, informative read; and as Chris Perkins observes, “every fan feels, to some extent, like a game designer.” So, it’s likely more than a few of you will find this article interesting, if not inspiring.

Next up we have “Princes of Elemental Evil,” by Eric Jansing and Kevin Baase. For those who don’t know, in Core D&D mythology there are of course deities with varying degrees of power as well as Outsiders like angels or demons in the Outer Planes. Among the Inner Planes, however, there are places like the Elemental Plane of Fire. The Archomentals call these elemental planes home. These entities (some good, some evil) behave much as you might expect: the bad ones conspire to amass more power and the good ones try to keep their counterparts in check. This article is about the bad ones.

As far as Challenge Rating goes, the evil Princes run the gamut of the low 20s. While I suppose any of these villains would suffice as a campaign ender or perhaps an antagonist in early Epic play, the real value of this article can be found in the fluff. Jansing and Baase have given us a treasure trove of plot hooks and campaign concepts, from Blood War politicking to struggles for dominance of the various elements. So, I would suggest this article to anyone whose games even remotely involve extraplanar activities because who can’t use more megalomaniacal bad guys? In all fairness, though, one has to wonder why some beings who were around to see the birth of the Multiverse still can’t hold a candle to a Great Gold Wyrm.

Continuing with the elemental theme, next we have “Elemental Hazards: An Exploration of the Inner Planes,” courtesy of Chad Dickow, Duncan Hanon and Mike McArtor. Ever wonder what vegetarians eat on the Elemental Plane of Air, or where oxygen comes from on the Elemental Plane of Earth? This article answers these questions and many more; in fact, it is not so much a collection of hazards as it is a variety of interesting things that you can see or that may happen to you. My personal favorite, however, actually is a hazard: the vacuum vortex, which is basically a black hole that forms spontaneously on the Elemental Plane of Air. Nothing says “Make another character” like portals to the Negative Energy Plane.

This article has a lot of things going for it. First of all when I initially saw the title and flipped through the pages I wasn’t thinking about the Inner Planes at all. What I really liked is that some of this stuff is perfect for “The world is ending and weird planar junk is bleeding over into this world” scenarios. Since something very much like that may happen at the end of my current campaign, this piece was a real prize. Adaptability is a big deal but equally important is ease of implementation: if you have an awesome idea but the rules are clunky or break precedent, you’re asking for a headache. For example, the aforementioned vacuum vortex relies on the tables in DMG v3.5 for random weather and wind strength. If you’re familiar with that stuff, using the vacuum vortex will be a breeze (no pun intended). Finally, each of the hazards stands alone and, indeed, the reader doesn’t even need to skim through the whole article. One really gets the impression this information was pertinent to the Core rules but simply didn’t make the cut for the original Dungeon Master’s Guide. It’s easy to use and perfect for when your group is trekking across one of the Elemental Planes and you need a few interesting encounters to liven up the journey.

Many of the hazards in the piece we just reviewed are the volatile consequences of planar boundaries eroding. The obvious question remains: how are elemental creatures affected where Air and Water, for example, collide? Eric Jansing returns with a second article entitled “Paraelemental Paragons” to address this very issue. If the concept of an ice elemental or magma element dire bears sounds familiar, it’s because paraelementals made their debut five years ago in the Manual of the Planes. Jansing advises the reader to update that text using the 3.5 Conversion Guide.

Moving on, in this article one can find everything from paraelemental monoliths (CR17 behemoths introduced in Complete Arcane) and a 9th level spell to summon these bad boys, to the templates necessary to populate the fringes of the planes with ooze fruit bats, ice bugbears, magma centipede swarms and smoke sharks. If Earth, Fire, Water and Air are a little too tidy for you (or you just like new monsters), paraelementals are the way to go: for added fun, try rearranging the Summon Monster spell lists with creatures you make using this article.

Ok, remember in Monster Manual II (or even further back than that for some of us) when we had things like water and fire weirds? Michael Trice does and this month he threats us to “Ecology of the Elemental Weird.” All you really need to know to enjoy this article, even if you don’t have access to MM2, is that weirds are elemental creatures who usually come to the Prime Material Plane to announce prophecies. If you want your palm read, don’t go to the shady quack in the back alley shop. Instead, you want someone (or something) with supernatural credentials of divination, and that means you need a weird.

I’m conflicted this month. This “Ecology” installment has all the right stuff: sidebars detailing Knowledge check results, a sample lair of a fire weird, stats for weaker versions of these classic monsters (back in 1E what was referred to as a “water weird” would now more accurately be called a “lesser water weird,” in case anyone remembers that nifty Choose Your Own Adventure D&D book where you make friends with the cowardly halfling), a spell useful for summoning them and even a few sample prophecies made by some of the most famous weirds. On the other hand, the subject is a non-core monster and that doesn’t sit well with me. Decide for yourself whether that’s a deal breaker but in all fairness, a weird really is just an elemental with Divination spell-like abilities and a portal to its aligned plane. Maybe a statblock isn’t such a big deal after all.

In this month’s “Bazaar of the Bizarre,” Greg Marks shares -you guessed it- elemental items. From a lacy choker that grants its wearer the captivating song of the Sirens to gloves that let you burrow like a badger, here you can find a handful of novelty items (grossly overpriced though they may be) that give any adventurer a few more tricks up his sleeve.

The problem, of course, is that no one is willing to spend almost 20,000gp on an earring that makes the wearer fluent in Aquan and lets him talk to dolphins. Furthermore, one gets the impression this is just filler space to round out the thematic content of the issue; some of the items are neat but frankly, I would have preferred three more pages of “Ecology.” Still, slingstones that turn into boulders mid-flight are pretty awesome.

Finally, D&D juggernaut Owen K.C. Stephens offers up “Scripture of Elemental Evil.” The article showcases a new feature from Player’s Handbook II, dual-school spells; normally this would incur my wrath, as faithful readers will recall I can’t stand articles that require a bunch of outside sources to use it effectively. However, in this case, Stephens provides a sidebar, literally two sentences long, explaining the new mechanic.

Do you like Evocation spells? Of course you do. How about anything with the (Evil) descriptor? Silly question, I know. Ever wonder what’s better than a bunch of undead minions? Undead minions engulfed in flames, of course: flames that turn the subject into a grenade when it reaches 0hp. If that’s not your cup of tea, how about covering the enemy’s body in fungus that prevents healing? Still not interested? You can always subject your opponent to shock torture& torture he knows will end instantly if only he submits willingly to a Charm Monster spell. Seriously, this is the stuff we should have received in the Book of Vile Darkness. If your villain is looking for a few diabolical new treats to round out his spellbook, or maybe a player is interested in dabbling in evil but not “vile” magic (whatever that means), the search is over.

If I may be so bold, this last article by Stephens is so good it would almost be worth picking up a copy of Dragon #347 just to give it a read. The various monster and magic item articles may or may not be of use to you and typically, I place new spells in the same category of “hit or miss,” but these are simply so well done they deserve special attention. This issue shows a marked improvement from what we’ve seen in the last few months and I recommend it to -well, just about everyone.