Dragon #358


Dragon #358

Publisher: Paizo Publishing
Publish Date: 07/2007
Volume: XXXII, Number 3
Pages: 98
Rating: 8 out of 10
Retail Price: $7.99

Hello beautiful people! I hope everyone is enjoying their summer. For some of you, the fall semester is right around the corner, which except for bringing the promise of potentially career-ending torrid student/professor relationships can be pretty lame and disheartening! Fear not, for I have plenty of awesome news about the latest issue of Dragon.

Before we begin, #1 of Paizo’s new Pathfinder publication releases in August. For those who don’t already know, this monthly soft-cover of 98 pages includes one adventure, six new monsters, an expansion of lore about the Pathfinder setting and a handful of additional articles (I suspect this is where they would, for example, formally introduce a new set of rules required to use a concept debuting in that month’s adventure). Industry titan James Jacobs authors the maiden voyage into this brave new world with “Burnt Offerings,” the first in a long Adventure Path entitled Rise of the Runelords. As a final reminder, anyone with money left over on their Dragon or Dungeon subscriptions at the end of August can, as one of their options, transfer the whole mess to a new Pathfinder subscription but I’m pretty sure this option is only available until Pathfinder #1 is scheduled for release so interested parties should hurry. Additional details are available here.

Sean K. Reynolds continues a long tradition of generally being elite with “Core Beliefs: Saint Cuthbert.” The patron deity of small, rural communities who value hard work, basic decency and honesty and the shunning of evil, Cuthbert is an all-around good guy (if a little rough around the edges). This article tells you all you need to know and perhaps quite a bit more to run adventures where the Cuthbertine clergy play a prominent role, including religious festivals, holy texts, deities Cuthbert gets along with and hates, different ranks within the church and, of course, new magic items and spells.

Clever readers can discern one way in which this installment of “Core Beliefs” differs from those that came before it: in the sidebar on p26, Reynolds writes “Saint Cuthbert is a lawful good deity with strong lawful neutral tendencies (due to his hard-line stance, many treat him as lawful neutral with good tendencies, but this opinion is a disservice to his faith and only originated with bookish sages who like to organize all things into simple and convenient categories).” What can we take away from this? Is it a simple, playful jab at the authors of the Player’s Handbook? Or is it, as I suspect, a precursor to 4E and a hint of further revisions to the Core rules to come? It seems unusual that only a month before Paizo’s rights to publish Dragon and Dungeon come to a close and at a time when WotC is failing to renew other contracts with third parties they would allow even a small alteration in official canon, unless it signifies a hint of change on the horizon. Stay tuned!

Rodney Thompson follows that intriguing piece with “Master’s Forge: Crafting Legends.” Question: how do you make weapons and armor seem more interesting and exciting without enchanting them? The masterwork quality doesn’t suffice because, for one thing, every masterwork longsword is just like every other, and for another this step is only one in the process to make the sword magical anyway. What if there were a set of rules for NPC craftsmen who specialize in certain techniques, like a master crafter renowned for sturdy, deadly spears specifically designed to resist a charge; or simpler techniques like special tricks to maintain a razor’s edge?

That’s what this article is all about. The core of the mechanics is a new feat called Artisan Craftsman, which lets you pick a Craft skill you have 4 ranks in and grants you a handful of neat little tricks associated with that skill. For instance, a craftsman with this feat and ten ranks in Craft (armorsmithing) could know the tricks of lightweight, reinforced and segmented, allowing him to apply a 20% weight reduction to a suit of armor, make it heavier but raise the armor bonus by +1 or raise the max Dex bonus by +1, respectively. Every time you take the feat it applies to a different Craft skill and although you can nitpick about individual pricing issues or DC modifiers here and there, in general the concept was well-conceived and implemented. This information would be particularly useful and something to expand on in low- or no-magic campaigns.

Monster maniacs Kevin Baase and Eric Jansing bring us “Checkmate! Chess Made Deadly.” Who hasn’t run an encounter or perhaps even an entire dungeon with a chess theme? Maybe you’re like me and have tinkered with the idea of a combat with ordinary D&D monsters on a chessboard-style floor, or even an encounter without monsters but with plenty of traps and special rules on how the PCs could move depending on which square they started in. What about a race of constructs from the Clockwork Nirvana of Mechanus? Enter the chaturani, roaming mercenary bands made of entities who can be summoned or called individually or as full opposing teams using artifacts and ritual chessboards.

The dilemma most people would face in coming up with stats for monsters inspired by classic chess pieces is that they are modeled after archetypes already in a Core D&D setting. Knights, armored footsoldiers and bishops already exist in most feudal Europe-inspired towns and kingdoms. This article succeeds in not only avoiding the temptation to simply make units like the bishop or knight creatures with levels in Cleric or Paladin (although there is a bit of that in the article), it finds interesting ways to incorporate the rules of chess into how an encounter with each unit might play out. Pawns, for instance, on their first move action of the combat can move at twice their speed, and kings cannot move into threatened squares (for fear of being “checkmated”). The monsters in this article will definitely find a place in my game even if only for one kick-ass combat.

The aforementioned and greatly esteemed James Jacobs follows up with “The Ecology of the Kaorti.” These baddies first appeared in 3E in the Fiend Folio and are basically what’s left over when the alien, corroding influences of the Far Realm touches humanoids (it is where the pre-deity creators of the aboleth come from: in a nutshell, if you travel as far as possible into the infinity of the bleak, dark cosmos, the Far Realm is just beyond that). If you’re into space aliens who need to create special suits out of their slime and saliva in order to breathe oxygen; creatures obsessed with terraforming the Prime Material Plane into an environment more like home; kaortis are the villains for you.

The article takes leave of the material featured in a handful of ways, most significantly the spell-like abilities available to them in the Fiend Folio entry. This is because some of the spells mentioned there don’t affect outsiders anymore in v3.5 so the list had to be changed. Also appearing in this article is a new kaorti thrall, the urquirsh, which is essentially a floating, fleshy portal to the Far Realm that constantly spews out the stuff necessary for the kaorti to survive without their special suits on the Prime; and a few new items which allow the kaorti to mutate their prisoners much more rapidly than normal.

Next up is “Savage Tidings: The River Styx,” by F. Wesley Schneider. This mythical river winds its way through all of the Lower Planes, starting in Pandemonium and freezing in the depths of Acheron’s lowest layer. In the Savage Tide Adventure Path, PCs are eventually confronted with Demogorgon, the Prince of Demons himself. For characters around 20th level this is understandably a little bit above their paygrade, so it behooves them to wander the Multiverse in search of allies. Short of spamming plane shift the easiest way to travel is along the River Styx, and this installment is a handy guidebook about places to avoid, hotspots for any tourists in-the-know and interesting NPCs one might encounter along the way.

This is a rare example of a campaign-specific article that is actually 100% compatible with the Core D&D rules. I don’t have a single complaint about “Savage Tidings” this month because assuming your campaign is high-powered enough to feature planehopping at all, any new info on the Styx would certainly be welcome. Kudos Mr. Schneider.

Moving on we have “Volo’s Guide: War Upon the Sands,” courtesy of Brian Cortijo. In the Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting two desert nations, Unther and Mulhorand, feature prominently in that world’s long history of the rise and fall of various deities and their pantheons. These countries share a border and, apparently, want nothing more than to grind the other into dust. The article talks about the hard times Unther has endured recently as well as describing at length the intricacies of the two nations’ surviving deities, their churches and how all the important nobility and organizations interact together.

Unfortunately, as is often the case with such articles, this information is practically useless to anyone not running a FR campaign. In fact, I would go so far as to say the lore presented in this article is so specific it is useless to you unless you are running a politics- and intrigue-heavy campaign set in Unther in the FRCS. I’m not sure how many people that applies to but I have to assume not enough to warrant a four page article on the subject, well-written and fascinating though it may have been (which, in all fairness, it was).

“Dragonmarks: Fragments of the Prophecy,” by Russell Brown, is another disappointment. The short version is that in the Eberron Campaign Setting dragons and other really smart people believe in something called the Prophecy. They insist the dragons responsible for creating their world have left signs for those who know how to read them, signs which when gathered and read together describe what the future may hold for the Multiverse. These signs also occasionally manifest minor magical benefits or hazards on their own, even if the people who find them don’t know how to read them.

Again, you would need to be running a campaign in ECS about the Draconic Prophecy, specifically, for this information to be useful to you at all. This isn’t necessarily a huge leap for the author to take, considering at the end of the article he cites for further reading seven or eight additional supplements, adventures and webpages; still, I fail to see why in the next to last month of a magazine dedicated to ALL D&D players eight pages at the end of the issue were dedicated to topics almost none of us will ever care about. Then again, like last month the rest of this issue was SO good it more than makes up for the bad parts.

That about does it. I’ll see you all again in a few weeks for the conclusion of my monthly Dragon reviews!