Dragon #357


Dragon #357

Publisher: Paizo Publishing
Publish Date: 06/2007
Volume: XXXII, Number 2
Pages: 98
Rating: 8 out of 10
Retail Price: $7.99

Happy 4th of July, boys and girls. We are quickly approaching the end of Dragon, with only this issue and two more before Paizo’s rights to the magazine come to a close. I must say it’s pretty annoying that no one bothered to ask for my input because I could have told them this is a pretty silly idea. I would like to thank certain other Archivists, DeadDMWalking in particular, for championing the cause of “Stop being stupid fatheads, WotC” on both the Paizo and WotC forums. Clearly Wizards is unconcerned with what their consumers have to say but it is still refreshing to see the public rallying behind a cause.

Moving onto business! James Jacobs doesn’t waste any time this month and jumps in headfirst with the latest (and perhaps final?) installment of the Demonomicon of Iggwilv, “Demogorgon: Prince of Demons.” It can be difficult to compare demon princes in terms of nastiness; even the weakest among them are pretty hardcore. But Demogorgon indisputably takes the cake. Following precedent, this article’s history lesson goes all the way back to the initial formation of the Abyss and its stewardship under the first rulers, the obyriths. Jacobs tells the story of how Demogorgon, sort of a prototype for future tanar’ri, was nurtured but quickly rejected by the Queen of Chaos as “broken.” Ironically, after the tanar’ri rose up and cast down their former obyrith masters, it would be Demogorgon who returned millennia later to beat out the likes of Graz’zt and Orcus for the title of Prince of Demons.

As in previous issues, few could find fault with this article. 13 delicious pages detail the 88th layer of the Abyss, the Gaping Maw, where Demogorgon hangs his hat; the Prince of Demon’s cult on the Prime as well as his minions throughout the Abyss; pages of juicy details on what Demogorgon’s split personalities have in store for us next; and, of course, complete statistics on this demon prince at Challenge Rating 33, advanced from those found in the Fiendish Codex I. Of particular interest is the inside scoop on the Savage Tide, which of course features prominently in the Adventure Path of the same name.

Next up is Hal Maclean with “Features & Fur: A Guide to Flying and Fanged Animal Companions.” I’m not sure what prevented Mr. Maclean from choosing a shorter title but it was nothing if not informative. Have you ever thought the list of tricks under the Handle Animal skill in the PHB was pretty short? You can find a few new ones here, designed specifically for birds and hunting dogs. There are also a handful of new mundane and alchemical items including a spiked collar for Fido and “bird bombs,” little pouches of alchemical compounds designed to be dropped from above.

The real treasure, however, is in the new feats. Here are feats allowing your pet falcon to swoop in to block arrows and daggers for you, negate the penalties for firing into melee if your pet is the only creature threatening the enemy and lots more. The article concludes with a handful of new magical creatures, most of which are kind of weird but one, the shimmerwing, is totally awesome. It is a bird of prey whose feathers deflect ray attacks in different directions; originally bred by beholders, the shimmerwing would make an awesome candidate for the improved familiar feat, allowing a wizard to effectively shoot rays around corners by bouncing them off the bird.

Nicolas Quimby follows with “Defiled Monsters: Nature’s Revenge.” The premise here is the popular notion that Mother Nature is in fact sentient, or at least aware in a planar sense that the Prime is abused and neglected by humanoids. Occasionally, Nature decides she has had enough and decides to strike back using creatures just like these. What happens when a stretch of woods including a dryad’s oak is cut down? The deadwood revenant is born, basically a ghostly dryad that can throw fireballs and curse people.

Recent works introducing new monsters have followed a model I am very fond of. Although they all make use of the abominable new stat block format, aside from that it is now customary to include one or two sample encounters, examples of what sort of treasure the creature may possess and results on Knowledge checks, similar to what appear in the Ecology articles. This article follows these guidelines and reaps the benefits.

So far we’ve seen cool new tricks and gadgets for animal companions and examples of what happens when Nature goes horribly wrong. What about plants? Scott Noel steps up to the plate with “Arcane Botanica: Saplings, Sprouts, Spells and Seeds.” Sheesh, again with the alliteration! Aside from the absurd title, this was a pretty neat article. The magic plants featured here fall into one of two categories: those that grow wild on any of the four Elemental planes and those that wizards and alchemists have cultivated from natural plants on the Prime.

Each entry includes what the plant looks like, some of its uses, the skill checks and DCs necessary to cut and cultivate the plant and how much a specimen costs. There are vines whose blossoms give off illumination equal to torchlight between dusk and dawn, wood that grows hearty and strong enough to be crafted into items typically made from steel, orchids tied to the Plane of Fire that reduce the cost of crafting flaming and flame burst weapons, and even a type of lotus that produces pure water! If you’ve ever wondered why there aren’t more types of supernatural plants, this article is for you.

Question: What could be cooler than giant Greek dudes and dudettes dressed in togas? Well, if they had magical powers that would definitely help! Nicolas Logue sees the genius in this and has gifted us with “The Ecology of the Titan.” For those who don’t know, the creation myth for titans is essentially that shortly after the gods created the Multiverse, it occurred to them that it was totally empty. They created the titans to address this problem, entities nearly as mighty and blessed with the same arcane gifts of their deific mothers and fathers. The trouble, of course, is that the titans knew they were the bee’s knees and eventually rose up to challenge the creators of the cosmos. The gods won, locking up many of the worst offenders in Carceri and banishing the others across the Prime Material Plane.

Tragically, there isn’t actually a lot to say about titans. The secrets of their physiology can basically be summed up with “titans are perfect, being created by the gods themselves and all.” Similarly one-dimensional is their mindset, which boils down to “fickle and self-absorbed.” While in issues past the Ecology installments have clarified confusing aspects of the creature in question, this one falls short simply because they aren’t very mysterious at all and, having no real culture to speak of, have very little in common and rarely even speak to each other.

Eric L. Boyd is up next with “Savage Tidings: Gazing Into the Abyss.” As STAP takes the heroes into the Abyss, they will need every tool, trick and chance they can get to come out on top against Demogorgon. Some, perhaps, could be tempted to form pacts with demons or other entities, which is where Pact Magic comes in. Introduced in the Tome of Magic, the powers these gamblers wield come by virtue of bargains struck with spirits of varying strength, called vestiges. This article presents three new vestiges for your binding pleasure.

You should all know by now how I feel about stuff like this. Aside from the legends surrounding each vestige, which admittedly are described in great detail, the Pact Magic information in this article is useless unless the reader has Tome of Magic. However, Mr. Boyd also provides a few words on a handful of “demonic harlots.” These demons have been summoned or called so many times their prices, interests and services most readily agreed to are well-documented by mortal spellcasters; this is important because the proper sacrifice to win the allegiance of a particular demon is irrelevant unless you know it before you summon him. Frankly, this half-page of text could have been expanded to fill the whole article and would have been much more useful for the effort.

Moving on, George Krashos brings us “Volo’s Guide: Renegades of Darkhold.” This article details the backgrounds of and history between Sememmon and Ashemmi, formerly key figures in Zhentarim politics. If you don’t know what the Zhentarim is (it’s an evil organization of monsters and wizards trying to take over the world in Forgotten Realms, by the way) it is because your campaign isn’t based in FR and thus this article is useless to you. On the other hand, if you’re really interested in learning more about Sememmon, I guess this was written specifically for you.

Finally, we have “Dragonmarks: Spell Sovereign” by Tim Hitchcock. This is a new prestige class that, although connected to the Eberron Campaign Setting, could easily be used by anyone with the Living Spell template from Monster Manual III. I know I just railed on another article based on non-Core material but living spells are just so cool! They are exactly what they sound like: permanent, semi-sentient manifestations of spells, so you have fireballs flying around actively trying to blow people up and stuff. The Spell Sovereign PrC is available to arcane casters interested in creating and binding these oddities to their will, and even lets them permanently adopt one as a familiar! The Living Spell template is the sort of thing that really should have been in the first Monster Manual so it’s ok that I love this article. I’m not a hypocrite.

Well, that about does it. The articles in this issue ran the gamut from widely useful to practically useless, from just plain cool to kind of boring. The good ones were really good, though, and I think that counts for something, but I still hope Paizo gets its act together before September.