Dragon #354


Dragon #354

Publisher: Paizo Publishing
Publish Date: 03/2007
Volume: XXXI, Number 11
Pages: 98
Rating: 6 out of 10
Retail Price: $7.99

April Fools, everyone! Or not? As Editor-in-Chief Erik Mona explains at the beginning of this issue, the cherished tradition of Pepsi Oozes and spoof pieces sung to the tune of Britney Spears tracks may be a thing of the past. Instead of goofy stuff that isn’t really funny, this month we get 16 pages of modrons, which should please Planescape fans out there (I’m talking to you, Mr. Stewart). I guess modrons are funny.

The esteemed Sean K. Reynolds kicks it off today with “Core Beliefs: Heironeous.” I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, this series of articles goes a long way in clarifying the scarce, sometimes ambiguous text we have in the PHB regarding Greyhawk deities (since WotC in their infinite wisdom have decided not to pursue Greyhawk as an actual campaign setting in 3E). We get it all right here: sidebars detailing how different cultures from the original setting perceive the Archpaladin, holidays, myths, magic relics unique to the religion, how clerics of Heironeous interact with servants of other deities and even a rudimentary paladin’s code of conduct; or, more specifically, the texts paladins’ codes are based on.

About the only thing Reynolds has not provided us is information about how Heironeous and his half-brother Hextor grew up, what their mother was like, how the two young men eventually ascended to godhood and other tidbits about how the god of honor and chivalry came to be. Then again, I don’t suppose “Core Beliefs: Hextor” would reasonably have much more information in this arena either, which only leaves me to hope Dragon publishes an article soon dealing solely with the dysfunctional siblings (and, perhaps more pertinent to most D&D campaigns, how their churches interact).

Ken Marable follows this hole in one with a hit of his own, “Return of the Modrons.” For those who don’t know, back in 2E the setting of Planescape dealt specifically with the weird ins and outs of the Great Wheel cosmology. Modrons can be traced even further back than that, however, and they were basically the generic lawful neutral race in a core setting. Consisting of a geometric shape like a sphere or pyramid with arms and legs and boasting a rigid caste system that defined not only a modron’s specific place in the hierarchy but also how intelligent it was and detailing its responsibilities, these little guys had it made. Unfortunately, the formians showed up and cleaned house, taking great swaths of territory in Mechanus from our tiny robot friends.

Be that as it may, they still exist and their history is more interesting than one might suspect. The article is a tome of information for anyone interested in using modrons in their campaigns or even using one as a player character. Perhaps the most awesome part of the article, however, was a sidebar written by Tony DiTerlizzi, the man who turned D&D 2E art on its ear. If you’re a nostalgic junkie like me or just looking to flesh out Mechanus as an outer plane, this article will be invaluable to you.

Back in December Hal Maclean wrote an article about magic pollution. While I wasn’t very impressed with that piece he certainly redeemed himself this month with “Ancient PCs: Playing Elders in D&D.” This article is all about playing characters that have practically lived forever, or at least might given the chance. It gives DMs the tools they need to reasonably pull this off, including a new special quality for monsters and characters (appropriately called “Endless”), feats to approximate the boons centuries or millennia of existence grant you and a spell with which someone might gain the “Endless” quality.

Many DMs balk when someone asks, “Can I play a human who’s been around for hundreds of years?” or, “Why don’t elves in your campaign live forever?” but this is the first effort I’ve seen to practically and thoughtfully tackle the issue. It includes a handful of ways someone might stumble into immortality as well as a few words on reasons the character who gets the green light in response to either of the two questions above should not also automatically have 20 character levels.

Next we have “The Ecology of the Kopru” by Tito Leati. These are fish/eel/generic aquatic manbeasts who worshipped Demogorgon long ago and have since suffered a cataclysmic cultural decline. Reduced to little more than tribes of deep sea savages, a few among them strive to recapture the potency of their lofty heritage and are taking steps to reclaim the world beneath the waves. This is relevant in current D&D campaigns because among these ambitious kopru are those in and around the Isle of Dread in the Savage Tide Adventure Path.

Neat magic items, cool body modification (I’ve always found Maya skull shaping particularly alluring), devotion to the Prince of Demons and an ancient Mesoamerican inspired culture and numbering system all add up to one smokin’ race; and by extension, one smokin’ Ecology article. If you don’t like this article you are not a man.

Speaking of the latest Adventure Path, “Savage Tidings: Heart of Darkness” by Greg Vaughan describes a new Prestige Class that may be of use to heroes adventuring in the Isle of Dread. In past articles (and, I’m sure, throughout the adventures in Dungeon) we’ve learned about the Church of the Whirling Fury, devoted to the noble eladrin Gwynharwyf; these guys basically run around killing the servants of evil, which syncs up nicely with the ambitions of Olman warrior-hunters who defy the forces that would consume their civilization. These natives believe the central plateau of the Isle to be cursed or tainted in some way, assuming the evil which has taken root here to emanate from that location.

Enter the Totemic Demonslayers. These fellows enjoy the best of both worlds, combining a paladin’s resistance to evil with a uniquely tribal perspective and the ability, in a pinch, to call on their ancestors for aid. At least, that’s what the author was going for. What we really end up with is a clunky druid/paladin hybrid with tattoo magic. As far as I’m concerned, we don’t need any more Prestige Classes but if we did, I’m certainly opposed to those that require almost four pages to explain how to use without counting roleplaying tips or guild affiliation. It’s not that the class wasn’t well written; but paring it down to a five level class without divine spells or tattoos would have made a world of difference.

The latest installment of “Volo’s Guide,” courtesy of Eric Boyd, is entitled “Cormanthor: War Amidst The Trees.” If you know anything about Forgotten Realms, you know the elven lands adjacent to the famous Dales are host to almost perpetual conflict. Recently such novels as those in the Last Mythal or War of the Spider Queen series (as well as the supermodule City of the Spider Queen) have covered exactly this. It is customary for the product line-up (including the novels and graphic novels tied to modules and sourcebooks) to advance a setting’s constantly evolving storyline, and FR is no exception.

Of course if you play in Forgotten Realms and have somehow managed to avoid this massive bombardment since the setting’s makeover for 3E, you may not have any clue what’s going on in that forest. It’s a good thing Volo is here to clear things up for us, presenting the reader with a run-down of various military and terrorist factions currently active in Cormanthor as well as a timeline that stretches over two and a half years and takes over two full pages of text (not including the nice map of the lands surrounding Myth Drannor, for which we have the talented Rob Lazzaretti to thank). It goes without saying though that if you don’t play in Forgotten Realms there is nothing in this article you can’t find in any good history book to inspire you for your own campaign. It’s all or nothing with Paizo these days: either the material is exactly what the doctor ordered or the reader is left wondering why they paid eight dollars for this issue.

Disappointingly, “Dragonmarks: Boromar Clan” by Nicolas Logue isn’t much better. If you play in Eberron (and, specifically, your game centers around the metropolis Sharn or the machinations of its inhabitants) it may help to know a little bit about the most influential and dangerous crime family in Breland. If you don’t play in Eberron it’s not as if the information is totally useless but so much of the text is campaign-specific it will take some work to get some mileage out of the article.

I don’t have a lot else to say about this except that I would like to see more about halfling gangsters who ride dinosaurs. I just think it’s a neat concept, but that doesn’t make up for the crummy downward spiral at the end of this month’s issue. What gives? From the first article on things couldn’t have been more promising& oh wait, I know what happened. The culprit is the omnipresent campaign-specific material. It only amounted to about 15 pages this time but since the magazine effectively ends for many readers before they even get to “Sage Advice” or “Class Acts,” those were 15 pages we couldn’t afford to squander. I still recommend this issue to my readers but I feel another angry letter coming on if things don’t improve.