Dragon #348



Dragon #348

Publisher: Paizo Publishing
Publish Date: 09/2206
Volume: XXXI, Number 5
Pages: 98
Rating: 8 out of 10
Retail Price: $7.99

Let’s see: obligatory portrait of Vecna on the front cover? Check. New undead templates? Check. An ecology article about wights? Check; yep, it must be October! The Halloween issue is a time-honored tradition in the pages of Dragon and this year is no exception. Along with the April Fool’s gags and extra comics in Spring this is, for many, the most eagerly anticipated publication each year and 2006 does not disappoint. So, without further ado, on with the ghoulish festivities!

The esteemed Sean K Reynolds scores a homerun right off the bench with this month’s installment of “Core Beliefs,” co-authored by Samuel D. Weiss: and yes, the featured deity is none other than the aforementioned Vecna. For those unfamiliar with the history of Greyhawk, Vecna ruled without contest over his subjects until his right-hand man (no pun intended), Kas, laid him low. Now, Vecna has returned as a deity and his hand, eye and the sword that slew him are all artifacts. The most significant aspect of Vecna’s portfolio, both for the faithful and their enemies, is the concept of secrecy.

This article has a lot going for it. As with past issues, it gives explicit detail to prospective clerics of Vecna and what roles they serve in the church hierarchy as well as the world at large; additional detail is given to various holy texts and religious phrases. If you want to know more about the intricacies of a religious institution largely held together by fear and blackmail, this is right up your alley. If, instead, you just want a bit of flavor for a cult of Vecnates in your game and the holidays they might celebrate, you can also find it here. There is even a sidebar detailing Kas the Bloody-Handed as well as his vampiric progeny. I could go on and on and, admittedly, I’m biased because I’m pro-Undead but this is a fantastic article and more people should pick up a subscription just for the fantastic work on “Core Beliefs.”

Next up is Jonathan Drain with “Bestowed Curses.” Regarding the spell Bestow Curse, players are encouraged to “invent your own curse, but it should be no more powerful than those described above, and the DM has final say on the curse’s effect” (PHB, p203). Along with a sidebar detailing Greater Bestow Curse (it doesn’t have quite the same ring to it), this article is basically a big ol’ helping of nastiness to heap on your enemies. Some of the more interesting curses include stipulating the target must carry a specific object with him at all times or incur massive save penalties, and inflicting fatigue that can only be alleviated by drinking blood every morning.

My only real beef with this article is that some of the curses seem to belong in the “greater” category -for instance, everyone the target ever knew suddenly losing all recollection of his existence and even preventing new people from forming memories of him seems quite severe. But aside from possibly swapping one or two curses from one category to the other, this is solid stuff and should be a gold mine of inspiration.

That brings us to Michael J. Montesano and his article “Bloodlines: Three Variant Vampires.” Everyone knows Nosferatu or Bram Stoker’s Dracula aren’t the only archetypes for our favorite bloodsuckers and this article presents three new options for those who like to think a little outside the box. There’s a feral vampire with no coffin to call home, vamps with increased vulnerability to light of all kinds but with special mastery over darkness and shadows, and something I assume was meant to fill the last two and a half pages but really wasn’t very impressive. Although, a vampire with special illusion powers and the ability to appear and behave totally human may be just what the doctor ordered in a game of noble subterfuge and espionage.

Let’s be frank. I think sidebars on different cultural interpretations of the vampire myth would have done wonders for this article (or, better yet, no templates but an intellectual discussion on vampires, their symbolism and relevance to human storytelling) but in lieu of that we have three alternate vampires that, although quite different from each other, are only subtly different from the core vampire template. Still, this piece may be of use to those who love the Undead like I do but are looking for something fresh yet familiar.

Nicholas Herold rallies the troops with six new baddies in “Horrors of the Daelkyr.” Yes, Daelkyr are distinctly Eberron but as Herold reminds us, these abominations from Xoriat really aren’t so different from aberrations or maybe neutral evil outsiders. Also, the special material that bypasses most of their damage reduction, byshek, may be easily replaced with just about anything else; the article suggest silver or mithral but given its qualities and price range I really think adamantine is more appropriate.

I actually don’t have much to say about this piece. All of the monsters are freaky and kind of gross, which I guess is appropriate for a Halloween issue but when the whole article centers around a bunch of new monsters it’s easy to run out of steam. Then again, I’m a proponent of anything even vaguely shaped like a brain (or less-than-brain-shaped but famous for eating them); or sharks made of Jell-O, for that matter; and this month we’re treated to an example of each!

As promised, here we have “The Ecology of the Wight” by Graeme Davis. In addition to having a cool name, Mr Davis is quite the snappy writer. Of particular note (have you caught on that I love sidebars yet?) is the snippet of linguistic detective work tracing the roots of the D&D wight all the way back through Tolkien’s mythology to Anglo-Saxon and Norse sagas. Following the successful formula, this article explores physiological and psychological traits of wights as well as results from successful Knowledge (religion) checks at various DCs. A special treat this month is that, because wights are so closely associated with burial mounds, the author felt it relevant to discuss other possible lairs for these baddies.

Faithful readers will note that the “Ecology” and “Core Beliefs” articles rank among my favorites in Dragon and this month performed admirably in both categories. But in the interest of objectivity, the new feat Wightblade (allowing any creature with Energy Drain to inflict it even through melee weapons) really came out of left field, even if it offers a great alternative to the doldrums of Alertness and Toughness in the Monster Manual. Also, the information on other wights like the Dust and Winter varieties felt suspiciously like filler but maybe that’s because I’ve always felt “wight,” here, was being used liberally and that there wasn’t actually any link between them and the Core monster. All in all, a fine addition to the “Ecology” library.

Jason Bulmahn, James Jacobs and Dragon’s very own Editor-in-Chief Erik Mona follow with “Savage Tidings: The Adventure Begins.” Every now and then Dragon and its sister magazine, Dungeon, join forces to produce simultaneous coverage on the same topic, referred to as an Adventure Path. If you recall the series of adventures detailing the resurrection of Kyuss the Savage Tide will work the same way. To start us off the authors give us the 411 on Sasserine, a port-city of 15,000 bordering a vast jungle.

This article gives you pretty much everything but a detailed map of the place if Sasserine sounds like something you’d be interested in. Those who enjoy urban campaigns or just need a model for a bustling center of trade in a medieval fantasy setting will be pleased with this jackpot: 8 pages detailing everything from personalities and political leanings of the seven districts to full-page breakdowns on no less than six factions. Unfortunately, although the authors have given you a great deal of information, they assume you’re familiar with the format from PHBII. If you are not, you’re pretty much in the dark as to what “executive powers” or “scales” are. This doesn’t sit well with me but at least they explain where to investigate further. Although the article is skimpy on details as to what, exactly, Savage Tide is, if you want to learn more check out Dungeon #139.

“I am the Ancient, I am the Land. . . all goodness slipped from my life; I found my youth gone, and all I had left was death.” Thus spoke Count Strahd, the iconic villain from not only Module I6 but also the inspiration for the Ravenloft campaign setting. And now, with Expedition to Castle Ravenloft, Bruce Cordell and James Wyatt bring us Strahd v3.5. Why all the hubbub? Not only does it promise to be a kickass campaign (or Halloween one-shot if that’s what you’re looking for), F. Wesley Schneider provides “The Tome of Strahd.” This collection of spells penned in the vampire’s private journal is only the tip of the iceberg but it’s plenty for a four page magazine article.

Any other month and any other topic that tried to pass off only five new spells as sufficient for an article in Dragon would have earned my scorn. But the indisputable cool factor of summoning a rain of flopping frogs or bestowing the Curse of the Gypsies is enough to do Strahd proud. The cool thing about these spells is that they don’t just fall into the ho-hum categories of Cleric or Sorcerer/Wizard who, let’s face it, get the lion’s share of any new material just like they hog the back of the PHB; rather, bards and druids get a piece of the action too. For those interested in learning more about the new Ravenloft module, consult the latest Product Spotlight over at Wizards. Among tantalizing tidbits is the promise of an adaptation of the fortune telling system from the original adventure, this time using the new Three Dragon Ante rules.

We’re getting close, folks, to the golden day when I can call an issue of Dragon a slam-dunk and an absolute must-have. We’re not there yet: frustratingly the folks over at Paizo are interested in pandering to those with special interests like Eberron fans or people who inexplicably don’t have enough monsters or other crunchy bits for their campaign. But this issue is all about special interest; namely spooky Undead and other nastiness; which was delivered in spades.