Kobold Quarterly #2
Publisher: Open Design
Publish Date: Fall 2007
|Volume: I, Number 2|
Retail Price: $5.99
Hello again, faithful readers.Those who read my previous review know I voiced several concerns about our first taste of KQ and that I feared these were not just first-night jitters but a sign of things to come. Rest assured there are better days ahead! A 20% increase in page count, contributions from industry heavyweights like Greenwood and Logue, an interview with Wayne Reynolds (!!!) and much more all practically make this a different magazine. The quality of editing has likewise made a complete 180°.
Tim and Eileen Connors bring us “Belphegor, the Prince of Laziness,” the second installment of KQ’s “Princes of Hell” feature. This devil made his real-world debut way back in Numbers 25 from the Torah and is best known for convincing mortals to procrastinate and take frequent naps, while also inspiring them to create fantastic inventions that allow people to sit around and do nothing.It is not a sin to be content with what you have but Belphegor hopes to ensnare your soul by convincing you to be complacent.
It’s all here, folks. Full stats for running an encounter with Belphegor (check out his aura that just makes people want to ignore the Baron until they leave), information on his cults in the Prime and what he hopes to accomplish there, a run-down of his friends and foes in the Nine Hells, how he came to the position he now holds and, finally, information on his specialized followers: comfort devils. These are basically imps whose training and power emphasize getting people to take the day off, or stop going to church, or charge customers as much as they can get away with, etc. This is the sort of information that you expect to find in a magazine dedicated to D&D but are still pleasantly surprised to discover in each issue.
Next up is the esteemed Ed Greenwood himself with “On the Street Where Heroes Live.” Not every settlement in a fantasy setting can be a magical, sprawling metropolis chock-full of drug lords, devil worshipers, greedy and manipulative aristocrats, tavern owners and other wildly interesting NPCs. There are dozens, if not hundreds of tiny hamlets that may not have the luxury of interesting geography, historical footnotes, famous residents or deep reservoirs of plothooks. Hell, most of them probably don’t even appear on the DM’s map. But they are there, and what if the PCs, instead of just passing through or stopping for supplies then moving on, decide to stay for awhile?
Greenwood comes to the rescue here with step-by-step instructions of how to breathe new life into the town and its inhabitants. With only an hour or two of work even the most remote backwater thorp can suddenly become the place to be. By the author’s admission, “veteran GMs have been doing it for decades. . . and every roleplayer knows or senses it” (14); but even some of us veterans could do with a refresher course, and for those without years of experience under their belts informative tips like this could make the difference between a decent session and a memorable one.
“King of All Monsters” is this month’s interview, courtesy of the Open Design team. Its subject is Wayne Reynolds, whose snazzy logo “WAR” appears in many illustrations throughout the tomes and supplements of the current edition of D&D. When I first started playing the game back in the mid-90s Tony DiTerlizzi was “that guy.” Reynolds is the new up-and-comer, though, and it’s a treat to be able to hear directly from him, particularly for readers who don’t know much about the guy (he’s a soccer fan). I guess it’s kind of weird, though, to interview someone in the industry for a publication about Dungeons & Dragons and not ask him specifically about the game or how long he’s played (if he even does).
Robert J. Schwalb brings us “The Assassin,” which the editor informs us is a teaser from Green Ronin’s upcoming Freeport Companion. It is true that there is already a prestige class by that name in the DMG and it is also true that what you’ll find here is actually not very different from it. But what is special about Schwalb’s piece is that it is a full 20-level base class that anyone can take levels in. Some of the PrC’s quirky abilities like poison use and its knack for skulking around in the dark have been expanded on which means you get a cool new ability or at least an upgrade literally every level. I mean they even get blindsense!
This is one of those “take it or leave it” articles. Maybe you really like the idea of a contract killer in D&D but don’t like prestige classes. If a class anyone can multiclass freely into but that accomplishes what the Assassin always did sounds like your cup of tea, look no further. If, on the other hand, the concept of a hitman is interesting but not really suitable for player characters, consider Schwalb’s mechanic of Contracts and Reputation. The assassin makes simple d20 rolls, based on his level and previous successes or failures, to adjudicate not only how much money he’s making with each hit but also how his reputation waxes or wanes. This allows the assassin to do his job on the side without taking the spotlight from the rest of the party: as much or as little time can be spent on each contract in-game as the DM likes and the player still gets all the cool class features of a shadowy murderer. I’m sold.
Anyone heard from Skip “The Sage” Williams lately? I found him hiding right here in Kobold Quarterly. “Ask the Kobold” is his new column and each month he will not only address confusing or controversial topics in the Core rules but also provide some insight into the how’s and why’s of game design as only an industry insider can. If you’ve ever wondered about the rationale behind percentile chances for missing due to concealment, or always wanted to hear someone who actually worked for Wizards of the Coast say “Charisma is your dump stat” (24), this installment is for you.
Moving on, we have Nicolas Logue and “Ecology of the Barghest.” Longtime readers will know I am a huge fan of monster ecology articles and always have been. This one in particular is awesome for a few reasons: first, it has everything we have come to expect from these gems both in the pages of the slain Dragon and in this magazine. There’s a sidebar with possible results of Knowledge (The Planes) checks. We also have in-depth analysis of how barghest packs are formed, what it’s like in barghest society back on their home plane of Gehenna, the various physiological states of the barghest and even a few new feats to really make barghests in your game “pop.” To top it all off, a short etymological history of the word itself and some specimens from European myths and folktales has been provided as further inspiration. If you’re still on the fence, need I remind you that barghests are wolf-goblin shapeshifters that eat people? They are awesome, and so is any article written about them.
Last month Sigfried Trent wrote a short blurb on the Trip rules in D&D. Now he has been kind enough to offer a how-to for character creation& but not the crunchy bits like feat selection or agonizing over how many points to put in this or that skill. “From the Outside In, Creating Vibrant Characters” delves into the esoteric realm of themes, motivations, funny accents and even what the guy or gal looks like. This information is critical for players and DMs alike and was so well-written that, frankly, I have to wonder why something like it did not appear in the PHB. Here’s hoping someone at the top is reading Trent’s work.
John E. Ling, Jr. is next with “A Kingdom for My Horse.” Most DMs have had a player or two who expressed interest in playing a paladin but was concerned a special mount would be inappropriate for a game featuring extensive dungeon crawls. I recently ran a Night Below campaign and if you are unfamiliar with that module, suffice to say that unless the player in question was interested in riding a cave lizard a mount would have been simply out of the question.
One or more alternate class features are a great idea but it can be difficult to adjudicate what the paladin should receive instead, especially because the mount’s versatility and power grows over time. This article offers three possibilities: another take on holy weapons (yawn), the services of lantern or hound archons or a small measure of elemental resistance. None of these is particularly interesting but the material seems well-balanced and the special feats paladins are eligible for when they choose one of these provide some neat options for the player.
D&D heavyweight Jeff Grubb offers up “Joining the Noble Classes,” a discussion on what levels in the NPC class Aristocrat actually mean for the people who have them. He makes the argument that the number of levels in this class should reflect an NPC’s status in the noble court, and offers ways for local rulers to hand out “free” levels of aristocrat not only to PCs who perform heroic deeds and deserve knighthood but also to loyal noble supporters. At first blush the system Grubb proposes may seem rules-heavy in a part of the game where DM fiat is normally all that is needed. But his ideas imply a world where it makes sense to have a bunch of high-level NPCs running around doing the king’s bidding and sets up an arena in which “free” levels of these classes can be handed out as rewards to players without breaking the game. For my game it seems like more trouble than it’s worth but the average DM might find something valuable here.
I spoke briefly about the design system of patronage in my last review. Essentially, Wolfgang Baur brings home the bacon by writing material directly for specific people: these patrons not only have significant input during a product’s development, they are also involved directly in playtesting and receive first dibs when the project is completed (sometimes the Open Design patrons are the only people who ever get a chance to see the finished product). The most recent Open Design project, Empire of the Ghouls, is unavailable to the general public but we do get a small sample of what Baur has to offer here in “The Avatar of Hunger.” Darrakh was a fearsome cave dragon in life but he fell to the claws of a pack of savage ghouls. Their disease mutated in him and any ghouls he creates are much more powerful than the average specimen represented in the MM, which explains quite a bit about how his followers have managed to carve out and dominate huge territories in the Underdark (defending their home even against the likes of Drow and Aboleth). The article alone provides plenty of inspiration and even includes stats for Darrakh, “Father of Ghouls,” but also serves as invitation to donate to the Open Design project and score your copy of the finished product. I’m considering it.
Last issue we got our first glimpse of Zobeck, a steampunk city of Wolfgang Baur’s creation. The city is fairly ethnocentric if not xenophobic, and so requires quite a bit of protection. This installment of “The Free City” explores the “Griffon Towers of the Margreve:” once the first line of defense against hostile neighbors but which in recent years have fallen into disrepair, the griffons gone feral. Backstory, quirky geography, more insight into Zobeck and a handful of plothooks, all on one page! You can’t ask for much more than that.
This issue of Kobold Quarterly is 110% better than the last. If you purchased either a PDF or a paper subscription to KQ and the quality is at least this good each quarter, you will definitely be getting your money’s worth. If you have not, what are you waiting for?