Dragon #359


Dragon #359

Publisher: Paizo Publishing
Publish Date: 08/2007
Volume: XXXII, Number 4
Pages: 130
Rating: 5 out of 10
Retail Price: $10.99

All good things must come to an end. Paizo is finally closing Dragon’s doors and while the future may be uncertain (I needn’t direct you to any fears or criticisms about WotC’s plans for 4th Edition because it is hardly possible to avoid any of that wherever you go on the Internet these days), the staff decided to go out with a bang. 130 pages! Of course, you’re not really getting a deal& this issue costs three dollars more than usual. Oh well, at least you get a poster: courtesy of Wayne Reynolds we get to see the clash between the Githyanki and human paladins, popularized in Paizo’s first big adventure Incursion. On the flipside we are treated to the covers of every Dragon and Dungeon issue published during what has been referred to as the “Paizo Era, 2002-2007.” Classy.

At this point I should probably tell you that the issue is mostly a nostalgic trip down Memory Lane, with very little (if any) new material for players and DMs. If you haven’t been playing the game for ten years or more you may not get a lot of mileage out of #359: heavy-hitters Tim Hitchcock and Nicolas Logue, for instance, kick it off with “The Top 10 Issues of Dragon: 30 Years of Fabled Tomes.” Only four of these ten were published later than the 1980s. On the other hand, if you’re interested in hearing about Ed Greenwood’s two-part “The Nine Hells” (released in July and August of 1983) you can find a few words about it here. If you’re wondering if there are more articles like this one that, while interesting and quaint, never would have made the cut were this not the final print issue of the magazine, the answer is a categorical “yes.”

The editors of both magazines teamed up to bring us “Unsolved Mysteries of D&D.” This piece is an exception to September’s rule in that you won’t just find pages of esoteric lore relevant only to the gamer generation decades ago. There is plenty of that but also some new stuff, like queries to Keith Baker of Eberron fame about some of the more mysterious aspects of that settings. Without giving too much away, I’ll toss you a few spoilers: Ed Greenwood is NOT Elminster. The spaceship from Expedition to the Barrier Peaks came, predictably, from another planet. T.H. Lain (the guy who wrote a bunch of D&D novels back in 2003 starring the iconic characters from the PHB) is actually nine different people. Finally, while certain deities have an easier time of it, if you’re interested in hopping across the planar boundaries from this world to one of your favorite campaign settings, I suggest riding a lot of roller coasters.

Next up we have Mike McArtor’s “Time Dragon: A Wyrm for the Ages.” The concept for epic dragons came originally, as you might suspect, from 3E’s Epic Level Handbook: also as you might suspect epic dragons are basically bigger, more powerful dragons (never mind that all true dragons can already be advanced in hit dice past the threshold for Great Wyrm to whatever CR you need). Time dragons, in particular, have special abilities by virtue of their ability to manipulate the time stream, like being able to cast time stop whenever they want even as wyrmlings.

My beef with this article is twofold. First, I have never met a DM whose primary complaint about 3E was that there aren’t enough dragons. They’re everywhere! There are ten varieties in the Monster Manual alone! There are psionic gem dragons, weird and evil species only found in the Underdark, dragons from the Orient and tons more. Now there are dragons about which it could be said their most significant trait is that they are intended for epic level play even though the most majestic, iconic specimens from the Core rules already accomplish this. Second, great wyrm time dragons can actually travel back and forth through time. Even if time travel wasn’t stupid, D&D’s rules are woefully inadequate when tackling a headscratcher like this; although I suppose by the time your PCs can threaten a CR90 creature the rules don’t really make sense anyway.

James Jacobs has heard my call for sanity and comes to the rescue with “Demonomicon of Iggwilv: Apocrypha.” The author explains some sections of this notorious tome have questionable origins, either confusing points made earlier by Iggwilv or contradicting her outright. On the other hand, the witch is sort of a shapeshifter with multiple personalities so it makes sense the book reads like it was penned by a lot of different people. Either way, this article comprises a variety of notes that never made it into the original text but might still be helpful to scholars in the D&D world and players around the table.

Jacobs begins with a few words about what Iggwilv considers to be the six classifications of demonkind in the Abyss. Included here are the ghostly loumara and terrifying obyriths, both of which feature heavily in the Fiendish Codex; these two types not only have separate origins from the tanar’ri but also are sufficiently different to warrant their own subtypes. Next, he provides six new demon lords ranging in CR from 25 to 30 along with rules on how to make demon lords for your own game using any base creature.

You heard it here first, folks: this article is designed to accomplish two things. First, the epic conclusion to the Savage Tide Adventure Path (or “STAP”) may result in one or more current princes of the Abyss taking an extended vacation, and these spots will need to be filled. Second, considering all the coverage they’ve received in the last year, loumara and obyriths will likely appear right alongside the tanar’ri in the 4E Monster Manual so it behooves the developers to familiarize us with them now.

No fewer than seven writers joined forces to bring us “1d20 Villains: D&D’s Most Wanted; Preferably Dead.” This article provides the latest scoop on twenty of D&D’s most memorable antagonists from the most recent edition and those of years gone by, from current official campaign settings and those that have fallen by the wayside. Not only does each villain’s entry contain a bit of background information and hints on his or her current activities, it also provides titles of source material (like the Sunless Citadel for the esteemed kobold Meepo) and a new feat, magic item, artifact or undead horse.

I really liked this piece. Not only is it another nostalgic look back on iconic characters from everyone’s favorite campaign settings and modules, it serves as a mini-primer in D&D lore for beginning players and DMs because interested parties are pointed in the right direction to learn more for themselves. Plus, Iggwilv appears as a villain in her own right and is mentioned in Orcus’s and Graz’zt’s entries too, which is great because she is a total fox.

Gary Holian and Rick Miller follow with “Treasures of Greyhawk: Magic of the Company of Seven.” The Company is made up of iconic names like Tasha, Quaal, Murlynd and Heward; epic-level characters come and go but only the really special people ever get mentioned by name in the Player’s Handbook, and these folks certainly qualify. Of course, the catch here is that almost nobody knows who the Company of Seven were or why they’re important; they certainly don’t feature as prominently in Greyhawk’s recent history as the Circle of Eight. On the other hand, Murlynd, most famous for his magic spoon, wore a cowboy hat and had a pair of magic six-shooters so that counts for something.

Some of the items are pretty neat, like Keoghtom’s Spidery Map, useable once per day to cast find the path. Others are not so neat, like a suit of armor designed by the ranger Quaal bearing the “twilight” special quality. Because this isn’t explained in detail it is difficult to extrapolate it from the entry and use “twilight” on other items.

“Goodbye and Hello, As Always: One last Evening With the Wizards Three” is Dragon’s final visit with the likes of Mordenkainen, Elminster and Dalamar at their semi-annual meetings in Ed Greenwood’s apartment. Although technically fiction it would be inappropriate to call these gems “short stories,” since there isn’t really a story at all: a bunch of wizards from different campaign settings teleport to our world to talk smack about each other, and make humorous but cheesy observations about Earth’s popular culture, technology and political philosophies. If you appreciate or even know who the three aforementioned characters are, and if you like reading dialogue between bookish characters with absurdly high Intelligence scores, “The Wizards Three” is for you and I’m sorry if this last installment was your first taste.

Cam Banks continues the trend of mildly-amusing-for-old-hats-but-ultimately-a-waste-of-page-count with “Elminster versus Raistlin.” Complete with commentary from authors Ed Greenwood and Margaret Weis, this stinker covers the strengths and weaknesses of both archwizards then explains how each would totally kick the other’s butt. It was not very informative or entertaining and was similarly pointless to that “Knight versus Samurai” article a few years ago. Moving on&

Holy crap! Ed Greenwood and Johnathan M. Richards bring us “The Ecology of the Tarrasque,” complete with a few paragraphs of the old narrative style when these articles reflected conversations about various beasts among members of the Monster Hunters Association. This installment musters the high quality we’ve all come to expect from this series, covering the legendary behemoth’s psychology and unique physiological traits (the latter helping to explain how the tarrasque is able to digest artifacts) as well as results on Knowledge (arcana) rolls. Of course, what the article doesn’t tell you is how to make the tarrasque a viable threat to 20th level characters who should, by this point, be able to fly out of reach for at least as long as it takes to lay the beast low. Oh well, maybe next year.

Next up is Wolfgang Baur’s “Savage Tidings: Demon Days.” This is a short history of the STAP up to the present day with its conclusion in this month’s issue of Dungeon. I’m not actually sure who the target audience here is& people who have already played through Savage Tide should at least be able to recall things with the vague details Baur provides here, and people who never played the adventure path will likely not find this very useful (and probably feel, as I do, it had no place in Dragon over the past months and only served to encourage people to buy copies of Dungeon). If you are anxiously awaiting the adventure entitled “Prince of Demons,” one part of the article may be worth checking into which is a handful of ways new characters might join the party for their last big push against Demogorgon. It’s kind of hard for heroes to meet like-minded souls in the Abyss.

Eric L. Boyd treats us to “Volo’s Guide: Myth Drannor, City of Song.” Myth Drannor is a pretty important place in Faerûnian lore and politics despite the fact it was ruined and abandoned to fiends over six hundred and fifty years ago. Two significant series of novels, the Last Mythal and War of the Spider Queen books, have at least touched on Myth Drannor in recent years and three adventures including the supermodule City of the Spider Queen have also affected the city and its neighbors, so if you haven’t played or read any of those supplements or novels and would like to, you probably shouldn’t read the article.

Then again, maybe you shouldn’t read it anyway! While it provides a short history lesson on the city and its leaders as well as a map and a description of the local terrain, the information provided here simply isn’t very useful or even adaptable unless you play in Forgotten Realms. It’s the sort of arguably quality work that never should have been printed we have come to expect from the setting-specific articles in the past.

Keith Baker closes the door this month with “Dragonmarks: Echoes of the Mourning.” In Eberron, a terrible war lasting nearly a hundred years ended only after some sort of magical cataclysm consumed an entire nation and snuffed over a million souls. This event was called the Mourning and Cyre, the country it destroyed, became known as the Mournland. The article covers a number of different theories on what the Mourning is and how someone might try to figure out how to do it again. There are many artistic reasons Baker has never revealed the “true” cause of the Mourning but the most significant is simply that another conflict like the Last War is unlikely as long as people worry what happened to Cyre could happen to them, too. The uncertainty keeps swords in their sheathes.

On the crunchy side, a handful of interesting and deadly encounters are provided while adventuring in the Mournland as well as a new feat reflecting mutations survivors have manifested and a flavorful new player race. Again, though, this sort of thing is almost useless to anyone not playing in Eberron and really never should have been introduced in the pages of Dragon. Frankly, it’s exactly the sort of article I won’t miss.

Well, boys and girls, it’s about that time. This concludes my monthly reviews of everyone’s favorite D&D publication: while the magazine technically continues in October as part of WotC’s new D&D Insider program, and although I will offer my thoughts and rants here at the Archive’s forums for as long as it’s free to read online, for me Dragon #359 is the end of the road. I think the sorts of articles you’ll find in this month’s issue indicate designers old and new agree with me, giving it an overall tone of a fond but bittersweet farewell.