Dragon #356


Dragon #356

Publisher: Paizo Publishing
Publish Date: 05/2007
Volume: XXXII, Number 1
Pages: 98
Rating: 5 out of 10
Retail Price: $7.99

Hello again, beautiful people. I hope everyone had a great Mother’s Day. Let’s get right to it! Erik Mona, Editor-In-Chief for Dragon Magazine posted a great piece in this month’s issue, chock-full of information on Paizo’s Pathfinder project, potential material for the last few issues of Dragon and positively confirms reports that WotC intends to move forward with its plans for online facsimiles of the sister publications Dragon and Dungeon, though as the esteemed Mr. Mona admits “details are hazy.” I mention all of this because it is timely and relevant to many discussions taking place now here at the Archive.

What is particularly striking about this issue’s “Scale Mail” feature are the first two letters posted, one from a sailor due for service on the USS Ranger and the other from a prison inmate (both of whom comment that they appreciate having real magazines they can hold in their hands because when you’re cut off from the rest of the world, any gaming content -even the crappy content- is a godsend). I assume the decision to post these letters is Paizo’s way of rubbing WotC’s nose in it for ending their partnership.

Another blurb worth talking about is Dragon’s coverage of Ziggurat Con. It is nice to see so many publications bringing attention to this worthy cause and, more importantly, so many companies as well as private citizens donating gaming gear to our military personnel in Iraq. Ok, onto the good stuff.

Tim Hitchcock and Nicolas Logue start July off with “Top 10 Most Wanted Dragons in D&D.” This is a trip down Memory Lane for some of us and mystifying to the rest as obscure references to dragons young and old, some of whom made their debut in 3E but plenty of which are from adventures and sourcebooks decades old. There is absolutely zero useful content here except that the “Reported Sightings” of these draconic outlaws double as “first appeared in” citations, which I suppose might be handy if what you read piques your curiosity. This is not a positive way to begin an issue.

“Ferrous Dragons: The Return of Heavy Metal Dragons” by Kevin Baase and Eric Jansing (both prolific monster designers from issues past) is a step up but, really, how many new types of dragons do we need? The scoop here is that chromatic dragons are evil, metallic dragons are the good guys and ferrous dragons (chromium, cobalt, iron, nickel and tungsten& and yes, the authors know not all of these are strictly ferrous metals) are lawful.

If you guessed that an article detailing the statistics, personality types and sample stat blocks for five separate breeds of dragons would take up a lot of space, you were right: thirteen pages. This is absolutely outrageous and is made even more so because the material isn’t technically bad. In fact, it is very well written and a few of the breeds even have neat special abilities and breath weapons but there simply isn’t enough room in each issue for material that will only be marginally useful to a majority of DMs and players. Moving on.

Sean K. Reynolds wins the “Savior of July” award for his “Core Beliefs: Hextor.” This is a sister piece to his work a few months ago on Heironeous and was just as awesome. The old standbys you expect from this feature like names and content from holy texts, Hextor’s historical relevance in the Greyhawk setting, neat sayings and battlecries for Hextoran clerics, new spells and magic items, etc. are all here but the real gems are the nuggets of lore about the god of tyranny’s relationship with his half-brother Heironeous. This was hinted at in Issue 334 but here we get the other half of the puzzle, so to speak, and it was a treat to pore over. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, some months the content in Dragon is mediocre overall but “Core Beliefs” and the “Demonomicon of Iggwilv” features almost make up for it single-handedly.

It’s been a long time since any short stories appeared in this magazine and to be honest I had my trepidations before reading through it. I may not have even bothered were I not writing these reviews but I am glad I did! Paul S. Kemp’s “Confession: A Tale of New Dineen” was riveting and at only six pages, far too short. From its innovative approach to the “Does a wizard need his staff to cast spells?” question to the fractured narrative style courtesy of a madman’s journal, this is the real deal folks. I encourage everyone to drop by Mr. Kemp’s personal forums and tell him what you thought once you’ve read it.

Jacob Frazier follows up these heavy hitters with “The Ecology of the Linnorm.” Linnorms draw heavily on Norse myth and have their 3E origins in the Monster Manual II. Aside from being more like snakes than lizards linnorms are actually fairly similar to “True Dragons” in that they have breath weapons and hoard treasure, but Frazier expands on the differences and, as usual, it is one of the highlights of the magazine.

It’s all here: Knowledge (Arcana) check results, the linnorm’s place in Norse mythology, psychological quirks and physiological explanations for some of the linnorm’s special abilities, and finally some variant forms not featured in MM2 were crammed into just a few short pages. I’d be happier if the same attention was paid to monsters from the first Monster Manual but aside from that, this article was golden.

Robert J. Schwalb wrote this month’s Savage Tidings installment, “Into the Abyss.” The heroes’ trek takes them to the 88th Layer of the Abyss, home to Demogorgon. Reasons are given for why replacement PCs might be there in case (read: when) someone’s character dies in the Lower Planes, plothooks from the various organizations the characters might belong to and a handful of magical items useful to anyone battling fiends. My favorite is the “brilliant jewel” which, when a spell is cast into it sheds light out to 60ft. Any spells of the same school you cast until the light runs out are at a higher caster level. A few of the others have similarly innovative mechanics, so rest assured you won’t just find six new variations on the +2 evil outsider bane sword (even though there is one of those).

If you’re running a mid- to high-level campaign featuring at least a few Outsider antagonists, this article is useful to you even if you aren’t running the Savage Tide Adventure Path (or “STAP” as the hipsters are calling it now). Otherwise, it was well written but ultimately too specific.

Longtime readers may remember the old monthly feature by Ed Greenwood called “Wyrms of the North.” That man’s ability to generate names, histories, interesting items in each treasure hoard and a list of dragons each dragon was friends or enemies with on a monthly basis was absolutely staggering. Anyway, the title itself begs the question: why are there only Northern wyrms? What about the dragons living elsewhere? “Volo’s Guide” this month brings us “Wyrms of the West, East, and South,” courtesy of Brian Cortijo. The title leaves much to be desired but the article isn’t half bad.

To be more specific, mercifully the author only detailed three dragons in all. Each of them was relatively interesting and if a fledgling DM were scratching his or her head trying to come up with ideas for a draconic NPC, this would be ideal inspiration. This article like every other installment of “Volo’s Guide” is specific to Forgotten Realms but the content this month is fairly adaptable, if a bit bland.

Finally, we end with “Dragonmarks: The Gathering Stone” by Tim Hitchcock. In Eberron, a sprawling goblinoid empire, the likes of which could only be undone by an alien invasion, once ruled the continent on which a majority of the action takes place. There is a place where the memory of this Golden Age for goblins is still alive and well, and it is called The Gathering Stone. It’s basically a giant rock in a blasted canyon around which a bunch of tent cities have sprung up from the various goblin tribes. As a symbol of what once was, it is an important tool for the people trying to resurrect the empire.

Unfortunately, none of that has anything to do with most campaigns. If you’re running an Eberron campaign and wonder what goblins are up to now, this is a great article for you except that it is light on political machinations and heavy on setting flavor. If not, I’m sorry to say the content isn’t adaptable at all, despite it being so fun to read. One might be encouraged to pick up a copy of the Eberron Campaign Setting after reading a few of these “Dragonmarks” articles but plenty of people don’t care so it’s just a waste of space. I hope Dragon quits screwing around in the next two issues because it would be a shame to end on a sour note.