dragon magazine

Dragon #345

Dragon #345

Publisher: Paizo Publishing
Publish Date: 06/2006
Volume: XXXI, Number 2
Pages: 98
Rating: 6 out of 10
Retail Price: $7.99

I began my love affair with D&D back in 6th grade, which for me was in 1996. True to form, shortly after discovering this game I subscribed to Dragon Magazine because back then, at least among my friends, it was customary for everyone to take turns as DM in the group. This meant one had to be versatile and proficient not only in game design but also in the fine art of character survival. Unlike its sister publication Dungeon, Dragon accommodates both components of the gaming group.

Although the magazine has admittedly changed quite a bit over the last ten years, despite the ebb and flow of various trends (and the transition from AD&D 2E all the way to D&D v3.5) the generally high quality of the publication has been maintained. In this, what I hope is the first in a long series of monthly reviews of Dragon, we’ll take a look at Issue #345. If you’re a subscriber, this information may only be useful as another interpretation of the material. If you haven’t forked over your hard earned cash yet, though, maybe I can help you decide if Dragon is right for you.

“First Watch” is the latest incarnation of a concept that has been around for years. This is your standard series of advertisements for upcoming products in the gaming industry, for everything from the latest and greatest in the D&D Miniatures line to the re-release of Princess Bride (sweet action!) on DVD to a blurb for the 2006 ENnies, an award event sponsored by the gaming website ENWorld. Sprinkled here and there in “First Watch” are also previews of what’s happening next month in both Dragon and Dungeon, as well as some pertinent info for those RPGA members out there. Frankly I’m not sure I know anyone who knows anyone in the RPGA but lately the magazine has been making a big deal out of it so it must be worth looking into.

My only complaint about this feature of the magazine is that one might have assumed when Paizo took the reins from WotC, they would be freed of the obligation to advertise for them anymore. Not only is Dragon still a fairly reliable way to learn about the upcoming product line for Wizards of the Coast, Paizo has taken the opportunity to advertise for every other gaming company, too! Doesn’t anyone use the Internet anymore? Information about future products can change at a moment’s notice anyway, printing it just seems like a waste of space. You would think now that Dragon has so many ads one could mistake it for a fashion magazine it would cut down on some of this junk.

The latest jewel in Dragon’s crown is the “Demonomicon of Iggwilv,” a monthly biography on one of the infamous demon princes from the Infinite Layers of the Abyss. Ol’ Iggy has yet to disappoint and this issue’s pick is no exception: Kostchtchie. It’s ok if you can’t pronounce his name, I’m sure he can’t either. In the “Demonomicon” articles you get it all: a full history of where the demon prince has been, a brief explanation of his most notorious schemes, where he lays his head at night and what some of his latest ambitions are. Dragon also uses this opportunity to introduce more material into the D&D universe, like new monsters, feats, Prestige Classes and magic item properties. Not only that, but if there is any real-world inspiration for the demon in question, this article is where to find it. Here we learn that Kostchtchie made his debut back in the Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth module by Gary Gygax in AD&D 1E. If you’re curious, Kostchtchie was inspired by a Russian legend about a typically lecherous old coot whose soul was hidden inside one of those sets of dolls that you stack up inside each other. So not only is he the Prince of Wrath, he’s also pretty handy with arts and crafts! Aside from the whole “Lord of Frost Giants” thing, one might draw an eerie correlation between Kostchtchie and Martha Stewart.

Unfortunately, sometimes this article can get a little carried away. I wasn’t exaggerating when I was giving the skinny on what sorts of stuff you might find in the “Demonomicon,” there’s a lot going on here and with only so many pages available, Dragon had to sacrifice 13 for Kostchtchie alone. That’s over 10%! Still, the author maintains the juggling act reasonably well between “fluff” material for those interested in the lore behind NPCs and unique monsters, and the “crunchy” bits like a PrC for cult leaders in the Prince’s name (not to mention the ginormous stat block for Kostchtchie. Actually, he’s so important he has two or three of them!).

One has to wonder, however, how useful all of this junk is to the average gamer. I would argue that the number of games utilizing demons and devils as the primary antagonist is relatively slim, since most games probably start and conclude at the lower levels before ever reaching that upper tier of challenges. A sidebar in the article assures the reader the recent publication Fiendish Codex I has plenty of rules for how to ADVANCE Kostchtchie and other Demon Princes, but nothing at all about how to water these beasties down. I mean geez, he’s already CR28.

“The Giants of Xen’Drik: Dark Elves and Giants Clash” is up next, and yes, it’s Eberron-specific. One could argue that the material here is easily adaptable to non-Eberron campaigns but the article references a book called Secrets of Xen’Drik at several points and, although the authors try to find replacements for various feats, items, PrCs and templates a perfect match isn’t always possible. The reader is left with the sense that he or she is really missing out without that extra book, and it has always been my philosophy that a magazine like Dragon should strive to meet as many of the needs of as many gamers as possible. Sure, you could salvage enough of this material using the sidebars in the article as a guide. But unless stone giants in your campaign are descended from an ancient, advanced and peaceful civilization and dark elves are primitive jungle folk, most of it is worthless.

Next we have “Excursion: Four Ways to Travel the World.” This article is pretty neat, finding ways to inject real-world nautical terminology into the text. You could probably guess we’re talking about a variety of ways to facilitate overland travel; there are a few charts here and there in the Core rules but unless you make use of the various terrain supplements like Frostburn or Stormwrack, you’re pretty much in the dark about how the actual vehicles function in their environments. Actually, this article tackles that challenge specifically: the “four ways,” here, are four separate vessels over (and under!) the sea, land and air. Included are blueprints on 5-foot square grids in case the inevitable happens and your PCs have to draw cold steel while cruising over the Wild Blue Yonder; information about the crew and a brief bio about the captain; and a detailed description of the vessel, what it can and can’t do and its various defensive capabilities. Of particular note here are a zeppelin, submarine and what is actually over a dozen multiple vessels: a trade caravan. The vehicles themselves are ho-hum but there is plenty here that could inspire even those with no engineering experience at all. That’s what makes a good Dragon article: even if what is actually presented is mediocre, as long as it sets the imagination on fire the reader can connect the dots on his own.

What a great segue (you know, “segway,” like that contraption Dubya couldn’t operate without almost cracking his head open)! Next we have “Sea Serpents: Dragons of the Briny Depths.” Essentially, sea serpents (according to this article) aren’t some vague, generic threat beneath the waves. They’re analogous to the dragons we know and love, though one has to wonder why dragons (some of whom are aquatic themselves) really need or could possibly have a salt-water counterpart. I’m sorry to say this is pretty much crap. The monsters themselves are cheesy and ill conceived (c’mon, an angler fish dragon?) and the only way a reader might possibly find inspiration here is if they were already trying to think of ways to expand the basic format of a dragon’s power progression.

The wyrms in the Monster Manual, save for different lists of spell-like abilities and slight variations in power per HD, are pretty much all the same. Here we have one new creative feature in a monster’s repertoire: fluctuating Save DCs. The Crested Sea Serpent has what looks like a triceratop’s frill on top of his head and uses it to whistle through water. Actually I’m not sure how it works, exactly, the article is a little short on details. What matters is that Perform (Crested Harmonics) is treated as a class skill for this guy and whenever he uses any of his hypnotic spell-like abilities, the sea serpent also rolls a Perform check to determine the DC. This isn’t unbalanced and it may not seem revolutionary but it is a slightly different approach, something only seen before in non-Core material or in optional rules in the DMG. So, even if the article is trash, the debate of Non-Static vs Static AC/DC (get it?) is worth having.

Here we come to the beloved “Ecology” installment, and this month it’s about the Annis Hag. In each Ecology article you get the scoop on psychology, physiology, culture (if any) and maybe even a few new magic items of the monster in question. This article gives a brief explanation of how the Annis reproduces (unless you’re into nasty old ladies twice your size and with a libido to match, maybe this isn’t for you) as well as an interesting sidebar on the Hag Goddess Cegilune. I always get a kick out of stuff like this because it’s a veritable goldmine of possibilities. Who can’t use another ancient but waning Evil Power with dastardly servants of darkness? Articles that contain all you need to pretty much launch a whole new campaign get an A+ in my book.

Ah, the infamous “Bazaar of the Bizarre.” Some hate it and others hate it a little bit less, depending on the topic this month. This article, for those who don’t know, basically takes a theme like “dragon slayer” or “necromancy” and gives you a wish list of magic items under that category. Here we have, as you might have guessed, magic items for Giants (though it is important to note that stuff like rings and bracers magically alter in size to fit the owner so even the typical adventurer can make use of some of this stuff). I don’t know about you but I’ve always been content to equip my Giant NPCs with much larger versions of the stuff any other NPC would use of that level. To tell you the truth I’ve always been a little vexed by the Giant type, period. What are they? Aren’t they just really big people who can inexplicably see in the dark? Shouldn’t something that big actually receive some sort of penalty to vision regarding objects sized for Medium creatures? I guess I just don’t get it. Anyway, the real gem here is the obligatory golden talking harp. Strumming it can put your foes to sleep but the harp is an intelligent item and doesn’t like non-Giants very much (I don’t imagine we’d get along). The rest of the stuff is pretty lame and, I suspect, filler.

Egads, another Secrets of Xen’Drik-inspired article! Now we come to “Artifact Spells: Magic of the Giants.” The author basically assumes you don’t have access to that book (which is awesome, the others should have done that with the one about dark elves and stone giants!) and spends half a page explaining what “Artifact Spell” means. It’s a spell so powerful it must be inscribed on an immovable object like an obelisk or the wall of a tomb or something. Y’know, where ancient spells are always inscribed in all those bad movies. You spend a period of time, make a Spellcraft check and for up to one year you can memorize that spell once (or spend a slot, if you’re a spontaneous caster) and only once. As you might expect, the stuff presented here is a little over the top for its listed level but not necessarily so high you would place it more than a level or two above its station.

That’s the trade-off, I guess. Of particular interest is life spring, an alternative to raise dead. This 6th level Artifact Spell rezzes the willing subject without level loss or Constitution drain, and although he is stunned for 1d6 hours he comes back completely healed of disease, ability score damage and HP loss! The concept that the spell can only be memorized at a specific location means those interested in controlling access to it need only control that real estate. It’s an interesting piece of ammunition for the argument made by those who feel the recent incarnation of the game feels a little too much like some console RPG where characters die in almost every battle and the barrier between life and death is paper-thin.

A standard feature for Dragon today is a series of one or two page blurbs entitled “Class Acts.” Each gives a clever twist on one of the Core classes (although in recent months they have been increasingly dedicated to classes from splatbooks like Complete Warrior), like new Fighter feats or a more powerful alternative to the Psion’s psicrystal (which is sort of like a Wizard’s familiar, for those who don’t know, except way cooler and made of crystal). This feature is typically a crapshoot: there’s no way any one campaign could use all the suggestions offered by this article from month to month. In fact, unless you really hated the classes as they are presented in the PHB it’s unlikely you could even use all the stuff from one issue. Then again, that’s true of every feature in every issue and you never know! You may find just what you’ve been looking for, articulated perfectly and ready to plug into your game tonight.

I specifically left out mention of “Scale Mail,” “Sage Advice” or “Comics.” It goes without saying that the comics are generally hilarious, Scale Mail is and has always been a waste of space and Sage Advice, even when Skip Williams (who is actually known as “THE Sage”) was at the helm, can actually sometimes do more harm than good. Anyway, I hoped you enjoyed this review and found it informative. It’s difficult to meet the needs of so many gamers, all with such varied tastes, and Dragon doesn’t always succeed. This month is an example of the tendency to cater to a specific few, wasting pages that could be used for more general, helpful information.

Dragon #346

Dragon #346

Publisher: Paizo Publishing
Publish Date: 07/2006
Volume: XXXI, Number 3
Pages: 98
Rating: 5 out of 10
Retail Price: $7.99

Last month I included I my review some tidbits about sections of the magazine like “Class Acts” or “First Watch.” Note also that the review was something like 4 pages long! So, this time around I think we’ll jump right in.

“Core Beliefs” is a semi-regular installment in which a single deity is showcased. Similar to the “Demonomicon” or “Ecology” articles, this bad boy has it all: lesser deities associated with this one, ways different types of divine spellcasters fit into the church hierarchy, interesting holidays and legends, and even a few new spells or magic items (and who doesn’t need more of those?).

This month, Sean K Reynolds gets an A+ for his biography on Pelor, god of the sun. Of special interest is information on how Pelor’s portfolio has evolved in recent years, which is a fluffy way of saying “clerics aren’t just combat medics anymore so the god of healing needed a facelift too.” The only complaint one might lodge against Reynolds is that the article is very skimpy on crunchy bits this month. A sample planar ally and two new cleric spells may not be enough to satisfy those who want to give their Pelorian faithful a little extra “oomph.” Regardless, if you run a game using the core deities in the PHB and would like to flesh them out a little, “Core Beliefs” is where it’s at and August’s piece is no exception.

Ok, if you’re reading this I assume you have had a debate of “Rolling vs. Point Buy” at least once in your gaming career. For those who don’t know, the jury is still out on whether you should be able to choose your character’s ability scores or if the random element of rolling dice is more organic (here, I think “organic” means “a crapshoot but realistic”). For those who fall somewhere in the middle on this issue, the next article is for you! Craig Shackleton offers up “Three Dragon Readings: Character Generation Through Fortune Telling.” Three Dragon Ante, a cardgame associated with D&D released earlier this year, is fun, fast and very easy to learn. And now, with Shackleton’s article, you can spend about five minutes with a deck to determine your character’s stats. You only get so many points, so everyone in the group will get roughly equivalent results; but the cards are literally the luck of the draw, which is the reason people like rolling dice.

One complaint, of course, is that the article requires you to purchase a stand-alone product which has almost nothing to do with D&D. The author does explain how to simulate the Three Dragon deck using normal playing cards, but admittedly the effect isn’t quite the same. Also, some of the rules of this “tarot reading” are a little ambiguous, and different interpretations lead to completely different stat arrays. Still, it’s an interesting idea and if you happen to have a deck lying around (I actually picked one up for this article alone, which I don’t regret now because it looks like a pretty fun game in itself), give it a try.

How timely! This month, the topic of what sorts of tavern games adventurers might find themselves playing came up here in the Archive and Aladdar actually posted an article on the subject, entitled “Rattle of Dice.” And now, Seth Irvin Williams brings us “Games of Chance,” which is pretty self explanatory: with some poker chips, dice and playing cards you can really get into character while the heroes gamble their hard earned coin away. If you’ve ever asked your DM what kinds of card games your character learned growing up and he drew a blank, this article is perfect for you.

If, on the other hand, you prefer actually completing quests, spending loot and saving the world when you play D&D, maybe you’ve never wanted to play a game within a game. Another fair observation against this article is that a lot of the games are games people in the real world played, but with a hint of D&D flavor thrown in. What, poker doesn’t exist in D&D but something called “wyrm poker” does? That said, a little extra flavor never hurt anyone and if you’ve ever found yourself saying, “I go to the bar and play some cards” but actually wanted to play some cards, you’ll agree this piece was a nice effort.

Next we have “Supporting Cast,” courtesy of Michael Trice. This article assumes you use the optional Leadership feat from the DMG, but even if you don’t the advice on what sorts of henchmen a leader needs might prove useful. This is especially true of DMs who agonize over the variety of lackeys a particular villain will need. The core assumption of the article is a fair analysis: a hero or villain needs followers who complement or emphasize his own strengths. From barbarian to wizard, Williams explains the type of people who will not only be drawn to a charismatic individual of a particular class but also the skills they must have to really get the most out of Leadership.

Not only that, but those looking for a little extra crunch are treated to a variety of feats that tweak the way Leadership works to your advantage. For instance, one lets you avoid the unfortunate penalty to your score if a cohort bites the big one in your service, and another lets you attract way more 1st level followers than your score would normally allow. Unfortunately, many feel that D&D v3.5 is specially suited for skirmish combat and a bunch of henchmen following the party along not only complicates the DM’s job of number crunching but also violates the spirit of the game. If you share this attitude, steer clear of “Supporting Cast.”

George Krashos brings us “Impiltur: The Forgotten Kingdom.” It’s a little known slice of the Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting, and according to the article that is largely due to Impiltur’s foreign policy of distrust and xenophobia. This article has just about everything you need to plug the region into your game: imports, exports, geography, a sidebar on Impiltur’s names for various coinage, a detailed map and about 1,500 years of political history.

Of course, if you play in Forgotten Realms you may already have access to some of this information. In fact, Krashos explains that if you want to learn more you can consult no less than five FR sourcebooks. On the other hand, if you don’t play in FR it may not be likely that you have an empty corner in your setting ready for Impiltur to call home (and if you did, good luck on adapting what you find in this article to a homebrew). I imagine the target audience here is anyone thinking of starting up a new FR campaign but who doesn’t quite know where to begin. Otherwise I don’t suppose you’ll get much mileage out of this article.

Well, it’s a good thing the editor decided to end on a strong note! Nicholas Hudson and Nicolas Logue knock it out of the park with “The Ecology of the Rust Monster!” Last month I explained the hallmarks of a great “Ecology” article and this month does not disappoint. With theories on the monster’s origins, results for Knowledge (dungeoneering) checks, mating habits and an example of a rust monster advanced to Large size, this puppy is five pages of smokin’ success. What really seals the deal, though, are testimonials from gaming juggernauts like Gary Gygax and Wolfgang Baur, both on DMing these baddies and playing against them. If you’ve ever wondered what inspired Gygax to create such a funky monster or if, like me, you just get a kick out of folks taking a trip down D&D Memory Lane, these sidebars are great. Finally, check out a recent installment of “Design Development” on the official D&D website by Mike Mearls, in which he describes how he would give the rust monster a makeover if its stats were up to him.

In closing, I have to say this issue was a little disappointing. The theme was “Adventuring,” and I think perhaps that’s a little too broad a topic to tackle in less than 100 pages. Furthermore, the same epidemic still festers in the heart of Dragon: having established it is impossible to satisfy everyone all the time, Paizo apparently thinks ideas like “Games that resemble games we all play but aren’t” or “an obscure part of a single campaign setting that not everyone likes and, in fact, many people hate” are subscriber gold. Maybe the answer lies in tried and true features like “Ecology” or “Core Beliefs,” which produce quality material every time they grace these pages. Anyway, this month Dragon scores a tentative 1d10: if I picked up a copy at my favorite local gaming store I wouldn’t be sorry for buying it, but I probably wouldn’t purchase a subscription based on this issue alone.

Dragon #354

Dragon #354

Publisher: Paizo Publishing
Publish Date: 03/2007
Volume: XXXI, Number 11
Pages: 98
Rating: 6 out of 10
Retail Price: $7.99

April Fools, everyone! Or not? As Editor-in-Chief Erik Mona explains at the beginning of this issue, the cherished tradition of Pepsi Oozes and spoof pieces sung to the tune of Britney Spears tracks may be a thing of the past. Instead of goofy stuff that isn’t really funny, this month we get 16 pages of modrons, which should please Planescape fans out there (I’m talking to you, Mr. Stewart). I guess modrons are funny.

The esteemed Sean K. Reynolds kicks it off today with “Core Beliefs: Heironeous.” I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, this series of articles goes a long way in clarifying the scarce, sometimes ambiguous text we have in the PHB regarding Greyhawk deities (since WotC in their infinite wisdom have decided not to pursue Greyhawk as an actual campaign setting in 3E). We get it all right here: sidebars detailing how different cultures from the original setting perceive the Archpaladin, holidays, myths, magic relics unique to the religion, how clerics of Heironeous interact with servants of other deities and even a rudimentary paladin’s code of conduct; or, more specifically, the texts paladins’ codes are based on.

About the only thing Reynolds has not provided us is information about how Heironeous and his half-brother Hextor grew up, what their mother was like, how the two young men eventually ascended to godhood and other tidbits about how the god of honor and chivalry came to be. Then again, I don’t suppose “Core Beliefs: Hextor” would reasonably have much more information in this arena either, which only leaves me to hope Dragon publishes an article soon dealing solely with the dysfunctional siblings (and, perhaps more pertinent to most D&D campaigns, how their churches interact).

Ken Marable follows this hole in one with a hit of his own, “Return of the Modrons.” For those who don’t know, back in 2E the setting of Planescape dealt specifically with the weird ins and outs of the Great Wheel cosmology. Modrons can be traced even further back than that, however, and they were basically the generic lawful neutral race in a core setting. Consisting of a geometric shape like a sphere or pyramid with arms and legs and boasting a rigid caste system that defined not only a modron’s specific place in the hierarchy but also how intelligent it was and detailing its responsibilities, these little guys had it made. Unfortunately, the formians showed up and cleaned house, taking great swaths of territory in Mechanus from our tiny robot friends.

Be that as it may, they still exist and their history is more interesting than one might suspect. The article is a tome of information for anyone interested in using modrons in their campaigns or even using one as a player character. Perhaps the most awesome part of the article, however, was a sidebar written by Tony DiTerlizzi, the man who turned D&D 2E art on its ear. If you’re a nostalgic junkie like me or just looking to flesh out Mechanus as an outer plane, this article will be invaluable to you.

Back in December Hal Maclean wrote an article about magic pollution. While I wasn’t very impressed with that piece he certainly redeemed himself this month with “Ancient PCs: Playing Elders in D&D.” This article is all about playing characters that have practically lived forever, or at least might given the chance. It gives DMs the tools they need to reasonably pull this off, including a new special quality for monsters and characters (appropriately called “Endless”), feats to approximate the boons centuries or millennia of existence grant you and a spell with which someone might gain the “Endless” quality.

Many DMs balk when someone asks, “Can I play a human who’s been around for hundreds of years?” or, “Why don’t elves in your campaign live forever?” but this is the first effort I’ve seen to practically and thoughtfully tackle the issue. It includes a handful of ways someone might stumble into immortality as well as a few words on reasons the character who gets the green light in response to either of the two questions above should not also automatically have 20 character levels.

Next we have “The Ecology of the Kopru” by Tito Leati. These are fish/eel/generic aquatic manbeasts who worshipped Demogorgon long ago and have since suffered a cataclysmic cultural decline. Reduced to little more than tribes of deep sea savages, a few among them strive to recapture the potency of their lofty heritage and are taking steps to reclaim the world beneath the waves. This is relevant in current D&D campaigns because among these ambitious kopru are those in and around the Isle of Dread in the Savage Tide Adventure Path.

Neat magic items, cool body modification (I’ve always found Maya skull shaping particularly alluring), devotion to the Prince of Demons and an ancient Mesoamerican inspired culture and numbering system all add up to one smokin’ race; and by extension, one smokin’ Ecology article. If you don’t like this article you are not a man.

Speaking of the latest Adventure Path, “Savage Tidings: Heart of Darkness” by Greg Vaughan describes a new Prestige Class that may be of use to heroes adventuring in the Isle of Dread. In past articles (and, I’m sure, throughout the adventures in Dungeon) we’ve learned about the Church of the Whirling Fury, devoted to the noble eladrin Gwynharwyf; these guys basically run around killing the servants of evil, which syncs up nicely with the ambitions of Olman warrior-hunters who defy the forces that would consume their civilization. These natives believe the central plateau of the Isle to be cursed or tainted in some way, assuming the evil which has taken root here to emanate from that location.

Enter the Totemic Demonslayers. These fellows enjoy the best of both worlds, combining a paladin’s resistance to evil with a uniquely tribal perspective and the ability, in a pinch, to call on their ancestors for aid. At least, that’s what the author was going for. What we really end up with is a clunky druid/paladin hybrid with tattoo magic. As far as I’m concerned, we don’t need any more Prestige Classes but if we did, I’m certainly opposed to those that require almost four pages to explain how to use without counting roleplaying tips or guild affiliation. It’s not that the class wasn’t well written; but paring it down to a five level class without divine spells or tattoos would have made a world of difference.

The latest installment of “Volo’s Guide,” courtesy of Eric Boyd, is entitled “Cormanthor: War Amidst The Trees.” If you know anything about Forgotten Realms, you know the elven lands adjacent to the famous Dales are host to almost perpetual conflict. Recently such novels as those in the Last Mythal or War of the Spider Queen series (as well as the supermodule City of the Spider Queen) have covered exactly this. It is customary for the product line-up (including the novels and graphic novels tied to modules and sourcebooks) to advance a setting’s constantly evolving storyline, and FR is no exception.

Of course if you play in Forgotten Realms and have somehow managed to avoid this massive bombardment since the setting’s makeover for 3E, you may not have any clue what’s going on in that forest. It’s a good thing Volo is here to clear things up for us, presenting the reader with a run-down of various military and terrorist factions currently active in Cormanthor as well as a timeline that stretches over two and a half years and takes over two full pages of text (not including the nice map of the lands surrounding Myth Drannor, for which we have the talented Rob Lazzaretti to thank). It goes without saying though that if you don’t play in Forgotten Realms there is nothing in this article you can’t find in any good history book to inspire you for your own campaign. It’s all or nothing with Paizo these days: either the material is exactly what the doctor ordered or the reader is left wondering why they paid eight dollars for this issue.

Disappointingly, “Dragonmarks: Boromar Clan” by Nicolas Logue isn’t much better. If you play in Eberron (and, specifically, your game centers around the metropolis Sharn or the machinations of its inhabitants) it may help to know a little bit about the most influential and dangerous crime family in Breland. If you don’t play in Eberron it’s not as if the information is totally useless but so much of the text is campaign-specific it will take some work to get some mileage out of the article.

I don’t have a lot else to say about this except that I would like to see more about halfling gangsters who ride dinosaurs. I just think it’s a neat concept, but that doesn’t make up for the crummy downward spiral at the end of this month’s issue. What gives? From the first article on things couldn’t have been more promising& oh wait, I know what happened. The culprit is the omnipresent campaign-specific material. It only amounted to about 15 pages this time but since the magazine effectively ends for many readers before they even get to “Sage Advice” or “Class Acts,” those were 15 pages we couldn’t afford to squander. I still recommend this issue to my readers but I feel another angry letter coming on if things don’t improve.

Dragon #347

Dragon #347

Publisher: Paizo Publishing
Publish Date: 08/2206
Volume: XXXI, Number 4
Pages: 98
Rating: 8 out of 10
Retail Price: $7.99

Welcome back to our monthly review of Dragon. Before we begin I’d like to clarify a research error on my part from my review of the July issue. I incorrectly reported that Fiendish Codex I doesn’t provide a version of Kostchtchie with a lower Challenge Rating than what we see in the Dragon article. In fact, the demon prince (CR21) can be found on pp68-9 of that work. My apologies to the readers and to Mr. Jacobs, but in brighter news I just spelled “Kostchtchie” right without looking it up. Now, on to business!

James L. Sutter kicks it off this month with a tour of the WotC RPG R&D Department. Gaming icons like Bill Slavicsek, Chris Perkins and Jesse Decker all chime in to give the reader an unprecedented look at the daily grind inside the Seattle offices. Not only does Sutter’s piece, “Off To See The Wizards,” show us what a typical day at Wizards looks like, it also offers some insight on what exactly takes place at each stage of the development process. And if that doesn’t pique your curiosity, there is of course the obligatory answer to the age-old question: “How do you guys get a salary for doing what you’d be doing for free at home?” More specifically, “How did you get hired by WotC?”

Admittedly, this piece has nothing to do with D&D itself. Normally I condemn any article that doesn’t improve the quality of the average DM or player’s game sessions. This time, however, I have to say it was a quick, informative read; and as Chris Perkins observes, “every fan feels, to some extent, like a game designer.” So, it’s likely more than a few of you will find this article interesting, if not inspiring.

Next up we have “Princes of Elemental Evil,” by Eric Jansing and Kevin Baase. For those who don’t know, in Core D&D mythology there are of course deities with varying degrees of power as well as Outsiders like angels or demons in the Outer Planes. Among the Inner Planes, however, there are places like the Elemental Plane of Fire. The Archomentals call these elemental planes home. These entities (some good, some evil) behave much as you might expect: the bad ones conspire to amass more power and the good ones try to keep their counterparts in check. This article is about the bad ones.

As far as Challenge Rating goes, the evil Princes run the gamut of the low 20s. While I suppose any of these villains would suffice as a campaign ender or perhaps an antagonist in early Epic play, the real value of this article can be found in the fluff. Jansing and Baase have given us a treasure trove of plot hooks and campaign concepts, from Blood War politicking to struggles for dominance of the various elements. So, I would suggest this article to anyone whose games even remotely involve extraplanar activities because who can’t use more megalomaniacal bad guys? In all fairness, though, one has to wonder why some beings who were around to see the birth of the Multiverse still can’t hold a candle to a Great Gold Wyrm.

Continuing with the elemental theme, next we have “Elemental Hazards: An Exploration of the Inner Planes,” courtesy of Chad Dickow, Duncan Hanon and Mike McArtor. Ever wonder what vegetarians eat on the Elemental Plane of Air, or where oxygen comes from on the Elemental Plane of Earth? This article answers these questions and many more; in fact, it is not so much a collection of hazards as it is a variety of interesting things that you can see or that may happen to you. My personal favorite, however, actually is a hazard: the vacuum vortex, which is basically a black hole that forms spontaneously on the Elemental Plane of Air. Nothing says “Make another character” like portals to the Negative Energy Plane.

This article has a lot of things going for it. First of all when I initially saw the title and flipped through the pages I wasn’t thinking about the Inner Planes at all. What I really liked is that some of this stuff is perfect for “The world is ending and weird planar junk is bleeding over into this world” scenarios. Since something very much like that may happen at the end of my current campaign, this piece was a real prize. Adaptability is a big deal but equally important is ease of implementation: if you have an awesome idea but the rules are clunky or break precedent, you’re asking for a headache. For example, the aforementioned vacuum vortex relies on the tables in DMG v3.5 for random weather and wind strength. If you’re familiar with that stuff, using the vacuum vortex will be a breeze (no pun intended). Finally, each of the hazards stands alone and, indeed, the reader doesn’t even need to skim through the whole article. One really gets the impression this information was pertinent to the Core rules but simply didn’t make the cut for the original Dungeon Master’s Guide. It’s easy to use and perfect for when your group is trekking across one of the Elemental Planes and you need a few interesting encounters to liven up the journey.

Many of the hazards in the piece we just reviewed are the volatile consequences of planar boundaries eroding. The obvious question remains: how are elemental creatures affected where Air and Water, for example, collide? Eric Jansing returns with a second article entitled “Paraelemental Paragons” to address this very issue. If the concept of an ice elemental or magma element dire bears sounds familiar, it’s because paraelementals made their debut five years ago in the Manual of the Planes. Jansing advises the reader to update that text using the 3.5 Conversion Guide.

Moving on, in this article one can find everything from paraelemental monoliths (CR17 behemoths introduced in Complete Arcane) and a 9th level spell to summon these bad boys, to the templates necessary to populate the fringes of the planes with ooze fruit bats, ice bugbears, magma centipede swarms and smoke sharks. If Earth, Fire, Water and Air are a little too tidy for you (or you just like new monsters), paraelementals are the way to go: for added fun, try rearranging the Summon Monster spell lists with creatures you make using this article.

Ok, remember in Monster Manual II (or even further back than that for some of us) when we had things like water and fire weirds? Michael Trice does and this month he threats us to “Ecology of the Elemental Weird.” All you really need to know to enjoy this article, even if you don’t have access to MM2, is that weirds are elemental creatures who usually come to the Prime Material Plane to announce prophecies. If you want your palm read, don’t go to the shady quack in the back alley shop. Instead, you want someone (or something) with supernatural credentials of divination, and that means you need a weird.

I’m conflicted this month. This “Ecology” installment has all the right stuff: sidebars detailing Knowledge check results, a sample lair of a fire weird, stats for weaker versions of these classic monsters (back in 1E what was referred to as a “water weird” would now more accurately be called a “lesser water weird,” in case anyone remembers that nifty Choose Your Own Adventure D&D book where you make friends with the cowardly halfling), a spell useful for summoning them and even a few sample prophecies made by some of the most famous weirds. On the other hand, the subject is a non-core monster and that doesn’t sit well with me. Decide for yourself whether that’s a deal breaker but in all fairness, a weird really is just an elemental with Divination spell-like abilities and a portal to its aligned plane. Maybe a statblock isn’t such a big deal after all.

In this month’s “Bazaar of the Bizarre,” Greg Marks shares -you guessed it- elemental items. From a lacy choker that grants its wearer the captivating song of the Sirens to gloves that let you burrow like a badger, here you can find a handful of novelty items (grossly overpriced though they may be) that give any adventurer a few more tricks up his sleeve.

The problem, of course, is that no one is willing to spend almost 20,000gp on an earring that makes the wearer fluent in Aquan and lets him talk to dolphins. Furthermore, one gets the impression this is just filler space to round out the thematic content of the issue; some of the items are neat but frankly, I would have preferred three more pages of “Ecology.” Still, slingstones that turn into boulders mid-flight are pretty awesome.

Finally, D&D juggernaut Owen K.C. Stephens offers up “Scripture of Elemental Evil.” The article showcases a new feature from Player’s Handbook II, dual-school spells; normally this would incur my wrath, as faithful readers will recall I can’t stand articles that require a bunch of outside sources to use it effectively. However, in this case, Stephens provides a sidebar, literally two sentences long, explaining the new mechanic.

Do you like Evocation spells? Of course you do. How about anything with the (Evil) descriptor? Silly question, I know. Ever wonder what’s better than a bunch of undead minions? Undead minions engulfed in flames, of course: flames that turn the subject into a grenade when it reaches 0hp. If that’s not your cup of tea, how about covering the enemy’s body in fungus that prevents healing? Still not interested? You can always subject your opponent to shock torture& torture he knows will end instantly if only he submits willingly to a Charm Monster spell. Seriously, this is the stuff we should have received in the Book of Vile Darkness. If your villain is looking for a few diabolical new treats to round out his spellbook, or maybe a player is interested in dabbling in evil but not “vile” magic (whatever that means), the search is over.

If I may be so bold, this last article by Stephens is so good it would almost be worth picking up a copy of Dragon #347 just to give it a read. The various monster and magic item articles may or may not be of use to you and typically, I place new spells in the same category of “hit or miss,” but these are simply so well done they deserve special attention. This issue shows a marked improvement from what we’ve seen in the last few months and I recommend it to -well, just about everyone.

Dragon #349

Dragon #349

Publisher: Paizo Publishing
Publish Date: 10/2006
Volume: XXXI, Number 6
Pages: 98
Rating: 3 out of 10
Retail Price: $7.99

Greetings, mein freunds! We have a lot to cover and, sadly, November is not quite as interesting as October, so I’ll forego the usual introduction and jump right in. Joshua J. Frost starts us off with an inexplicable two-page advertisement for Final Fantasy XII. I don’t really have a lot to say about this except that I hope it’s the last time Paizo tries to sneak in something like this under the pretense it has anything to do with tabletop gaming just to pay the bills. D&D is only mentioned in the last paragraph as an afterthought. With fewer than 100 pages each month it would just be nice to see more material on everyone’s favorite pen-and-paper RPG, and less space devoted to games whose only link to D&D is that they also happen to fall within the fantasy genre. Moving on&

Next up is “Hitting The Bull’s Eye” by Eric Cagle. Ever wanted a bow that does more than 1d8 damage? How about no fewer than four ranged weapons that negate the difficult choices when a melee opponent accosts your archer? If that doesn’t pique your interest, what say you to over a dozen new varieties of arrows and bolts?

Ok, let’s get serious. By the author’s own admission, most (if not all) of this material is available in other splatbooks. And if you’re thinking, “Wait a second! Making archers worry about melee is an important balancing factor for bows and crossbows,” it gets worse. There’s also a tiny, hand-held bow that is mechanically identical to the hand crossbow at only 15% the price (oh yeah, and it doesn’t require an Exotic Weapon Proficiency). I could go on but suffice to say I was not pleased about 8 pages of cheesy, redundant garbage. Still, tanglefoot arrows do sound pretty neat.

Finally, something with substance! The esteemed James Jacobs updates the Demonomicon of Iggwilv this month with “Dagon: Prince of Darkened Depths.” Get out your pens and paper, class; it’s time for a history lesson. Before the Tanar’ri made it their own as only they can, the Abyss was home to a breed of evil known as the Obyriths. Most of these foul beings were destroyed or driven into hiding as the demons swept in but one remained unchallenged, and his name is Dagon. The 89th layer, an infinite ocean dubbed the Shadowsea is his homeland; as for what he wants or what he does with his spare time, creatures as old as the Multiverse itself are generally weird and crazy and, if Dagon is any indication, like to hang out and eat souls all day.

Dagon is indisputably awesome: so awesome, in fact, he is probably best suited as a plot device rather than a direct antagonist. He is listed at CR23 in Fiendish Codex I: Hordes of the Abyss and advanced to CR30 in this article, but the real reason Dagon isn’t ideal as a villain is that the Shadowsea is fairly hard to get to and even harder to escape from. It’s just so remote a locale and Dagon so unconcerned with the goings-on outside his realm that a campaign culminating in an epic aquatic duel with the Lovecraftian demon prince is unlikely. However, the article provides full information on the Obyrith subtype, Dagon’s various cults on the Material Plane (including a ten level Prestige Class for the Thralls of Dagon) and even a new demon specimen. You can even learn a little bit about various real-world historical references to this bad boy. I think it’s fair to say this article more than makes up for the crap preceding it.

Edward Bonny, Brian Cortiso and Laszlo Koller follow this homerun with “The Horde: Barbarians of the Endless Waste.” For those who don’t know, the Endless Waste is a vast steppe region in the Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting and the aforementioned Horde is an amalgam of tribal horse people modeled after Genghis Khan’s Golden Horde.

Normally I would say we don’t really need any more campaign-specific material but there are 14 pages here including sidebars on regional history, racial information like regional feats, a map and gazetteer on various settlements and even stats for a three headed dragon! Of course, the Hordelands collectively amount to 2.4 million square miles of rugged terrain so non-FR DMs may have trouble squeezing the region into their campaigns but if you’re a fan of non-Conan flavored barbarians this article might be what you’re looking for.

Tim Hitchcock brings us “The Ecology of the Ogre Mage” this month, a timely topic given that monster’s recent appearance in WotC’s “Monster Makeover” web article. No matter which version of the ogre mage’s stats you use this one is a doozy: a full history, the typical physiological/psychological breakdown of how an ogre mage looks and thinks (and why), racial variants, sample results from successful Knowledge (nature) checks and even a sidebar about the role ogres and their mystical kin play in our own world’s mythologies. In short, if every article used its space this efficiently, your gaming group should drag you into the street and stone you for not picking up a copy.

Next up, F. Wesley Schneider and James Sutter update Dragon’s coverage of the Savage Tide Adventure Path with “Beyond Sasserine.” You may recall my only real complaint with last month’s “Savage Tidings” was that they didn’t give us a map of the city. Well, that day may never come but at least now we can take a gander at the local geography within about 40 miles in every direction of Sasserine. Ever wonder which varieties of humanoid lurk in the Amedio Jungle? Need some inspiration on colorful and (apparently universal) criminal NPC personalities? Interested in massive black pyramids crawling with the Undead? Then your search is finally over!

Whether you play the Savage Tide or not, articles like this are adaptable enough just about anyone could find something useful here. If you want crunchy bits like feats or spells this won’t be of much use to you but if a steamy southern stretch of your campaign world needs some fleshing out, the information provided here is ready to plug-and-play.

I’m sorry to say Dragon really dropped the ball this month. Filler and campaign-specific stuff just isn’t useful enough to enough people to justify the cover price. If you can browse a copy for the “Ecology” or “Demonomicon” articles, do so; otherwise, purchase at your own peril. In fact, I’m so disappointed the first thing I do after submitting this review will be to write a letter to the editor.

Dragon #350

Dragon #350

Publisher: Paizo Publishing
Publish Date: 11/2006
Volume: XXXI, Number 7
Pages: 98
Rating: 3 out of 10
Retail Price: $7.99

Happy Holidays everybody! I hope you’re all still with us after last month’s discouraging content. This month’s opening act is Sean K. Reynold’s “Core Beliefs: Wee Jas.” Wee Jas isn’t just the goddess of death magic; it would be more appropriate to call her the goddess of death AND magic. The article also touches on the Ruby Sorceress as a goddess of love, and tries to explain how her deft management of cosmic politics allows Wee Jas to compete with Boccob, Nerull and other deities for pieces of their respective portfolios and still remain a major deity. This information is of limited use to DMs with campaigns outside the setting of Greyhawk but it still made for an interesting read.

Of course, in typical fashion, Mr. Reynolds brings the goods. If you want a sample planar ally of Wee Jas, you have it in Zem’Jil, a converted lawful evil succubus. If you want more creatures for your cleric’s summon monster lists, the Witch Goddess offers some undead and dragons to throw into the mix. There are also the obligatory new magic items and spells but the meat and potatoes of this series has always been the “fluff,” and this issue delivers it in spades.

Next up, Hal Maclean brings us “Magical Pollution: Arcane Afflictions and Augmentations.” The concept here is that in much the same way as America digs giant holes in the ground and fills them with trash which could easily be recycled, what goes around comes around and in an advanced magical culture (like the traditional, medieval Western Europe-inspired fantasy setting of a D&D campaign) pollution is as much a problem as it is for us in the 21st century here on Earth. The difference is that toxic waste and millions of tons of plastic are replaced with what is left over after artificers and arcane researchers have finished or abandoned their experiments.

The article provides us templates that simultaneously make creatures more dangerous but also provide some sort of drawback (which can be alleviated with a new feat, provided here for our convenience); special locations that are superficially dangerous but may be of use to those who know how to exploit their features; and magical hazards that basically make life miserable for everyone around. I’m not sure what to say about this article. I think it was well written but it clearly ties in with material from WotC’s new release, Cityscape: A Guidebook to Urban Adventuring. Those who tend to think of cities as places where adventures do NOT happen, but instead where the heroes can rest up between dungeon crawls will find this article to be of limited use.

Jake Manley and Jason Bulmahn follow suit with “Creatures of Corruption: Monsters of Magical Mishap.” I’m a sucker for alliteration. Anyway, you can probably guess what this one’s about: we have a new undead creature, a new type of ooze and a template that can be added to just about any living creature to represent what happens when magic goes awry. Think Chernobyl but with meteor swarm instead of a nuclear meltdown.

This is pretty lame, frankly. Just about anything would have been a better use of these six pages; does anyone really need new monsters? I think almost every ooze is an example of magic having gone horribly wrong; we don’t need a specimen actually described as being toxic. The material isn’t badly written but I think the readers had enough mediocrity last month. Moving on&

Eric L. Boyd follows with “Legacies of Ancient Empires.” The aasimar and tiefling are not the only examples of planetouched; in fact, there are more of them than there are planes of existence. Take the azerblood, for example: if you want to play a character who isn’t quite an azer but is clearly not a dwarf, this was written with you in mind.

I think you get the picture. Maybe there are a lot of people out there wondering, “What happens when a goblin and a barghest do the deed?” but I certainly wasn’t and I honestly don’t know what purpose these new player races serve except to continue the mindless policy of flooding the market with new material most people just don’t need. It’s one more symptom of the same disease responsible for new base classes, PrCs, monsters and feats. I, for one, would be ecstatic if WotC limited their product releases to one or two per month, at least, substituting quality for quantity. Failing that, it would be nice to see less useless drivel in Dragon.

Eric Cagle saves the day with “The Ecology of the Clockwork Horror.” For those who don’t know, Monster Manual II introduced four examples of this new Construct menace: essentially, Clockwork Horrors are like sentient, self-replicating robotic ants. Thankfully for the Prime Material Plane, the raw materials needed for large-scale production are scarce; unfortunately, these are copper, gold and other precious metals, meaning the horrors are a logistical, economical threat as well as an environmental one.

This month’s “Ecology” article is much the same as all the others: high in quality, though if you don’t use MM2 you may not get a lot of mileage out of it. Still, “mechanical beetles that destroy all life” is a relatively simple concept to adapt, so if you don’t have access to that book, just make it up!

Next we have “Savage Tidings: Journey to the Isle of Dread,” courtesy of Stephen S. Greer and Gary Holian. Without giving too much away (and admittedly because I don’t have a clue what the “Savage Tide” adventure path is about), if you’re playing “Savage Tide” you will, at some point, leave the city of Sasserine and sail to the aforementioned Isle of Dread. As you might suspect, this requires a boat and a journey over the seas. The article explains the types of people that call the coast home, as well as offering a smattering of regional feats and a new guild affiliation, as per the rules in the Player’s Handbook II.

Even if you don’t use the “Savage Tide” material from Dungeon, this article may help your game. The feats aren’t bad and the authors also include answers to the age-old question: if the PCs get into a fight with pirates over the open sea and lose a member, is there any way to replace their mate before reaching a friendly port? I recommend at least giving the article a once-over for this reason alone. It also bears mentioning that you can find a Play by Post “Savage Tide” campaign on our very forums here at the D&D Archive, courtesy of Astute1.

James Lafond Sutter opens up shop in the Bazaar of the Bizarre this month with “Wizard’s Workshop.” An uninspired title, to be sure, but the material he offers isn’t half bad. Have you ever wished you had a summoning circle but, being an adventurer, the logistics of a permanent one in a single location have left you stymied? Well, bring it with you! There’s also a pair of goggles that lets you instantaneously overcome the normal 1 hour casting time of the identify spell as well as a magic eyeball that reminds me quite a bit of the movie MirrorMask.

Ok, you got me: that was forced enthusiasm. I’m as sick of new magic items as I am of monsters or spells. But these are actually pretty decent, of similar quality to the stuff in the back of the DMG, which is unusual for this monthly feature.

Christopher Wissel rounds out this issue with “Chronomancy.” The focus of the article is on a magic tome called the Chronocorsa, a discourse on time travel with mysterious origins. A spellbook that travels through time unbidden is pretty convenient for DMs who only want to incorporate chronomancy into their campaigns in short, (relatively) controlled bursts.

The article also has a sidebar describing different ways DMs might introduce elements of time travel to their game and reasons not to do it. Of special note is the spell time shield, creating a radius centered on the caster that makes all spell effects eat up their duration twice as fast. This is typical of the article: if you want spells that let you travel into the future or back to the time when aboleth ruled the antediluvian mists of prehistory, you’re out of luck. But if, instead, you want spells with practical applications that also mention time travel in their flavor text, Wissel’s contribution is for you.

This issue is a mixed bag. As always, “Core Beliefs” and “Ecology” bolster what might have otherwise been a dismal failure but these should just be icing on the cake, not reason enough to disregard crummy writing. We can only hope the fallout from last month’s issue will encourage the Dragon staff to think differently as we move into 2007.

Dragon #351

Dragon #351

Publisher: Paizo Publishing
Publish Date: 12/2006
Volume: XXXI, Number 8
Pages: 98
Rating: 2 out of 10
Retail Price: $7.99

Season’s greetings, everyone! I hope you all had a safe and happy holiday. I would very much like to report that I have something special for my readers this month but sadly, January’s issue roped in my lowest rating thus far. Annually, Dragon offers a treat to those of us who rabidly support now-defunct campaign settings: every January they put out an issue chock-full of articles from such favorites as Spelljammer, Ravenloft and Hollow World. Ok, maybe we’ll never see anything from that last one but even if you don’t get an article in your stocking this year from that setting you’ve nostalgically put on a pedestal, the writers probably at least paid lip service to it; anyway, there’s always next year. The problem, as you will see, is Paizo’s approach to the time-honored tradition this year.

Before we talk about the first article I need to expound on the editor’s design philosophy this year. Apparently one magazine, Dungeon, where adventures and other DM-specific material are showcased, was not enough; we need a double helping in January, and in keeping with the annual Ghosts of Campaigns Past theme, every adventure hook is set in a different world. This seems to break my cardinal rule of publishing (that Dragon should shy away from campaign-specific material and seek the center), and in fact it does, but Paizo has a trick up its sleeve! OP1: Tales of the Outer Planes, published nearly twenty years ago, introduced the concept of the World Serpent Inn. In Eric L. Boyd’s article by the same name, we learn more about this mysterious tavern and its implications for individual campaign settings. In short, the World Serpent Inn is a planes-hopping bar that appears in only a handful of locations in each setting and doesn’t stay for long. If you want to tempt the players with adventure hooks in other worlds, this is very convenient because they can just get their feet wet and there is a strong incentive to be back before dinner.

“World Serpent Inn: Gateway to the Planes” tells us all about the bartender, waiting staff and (in)famous regular patrons who all call the tavern home, and also gives roughly enough information to at least run an encounter or two inside, if not a full adventure. Paradoxically, this single article contributes to how frustrating the ones that follow are but it is also the least offensive in the whole magazine. The core concept of an inn that you can use to go anywhere is fun and cool, and actually something like this is appropriate to include in the pages of Dragon. Unfortunately, the rest of this issue consists of ideas which have yet to be developed into full adventures, and thus do not belong in Dungeon, all under the blanket excuse that “It doesn’t alienate anyone if we explain how to sneak it into your game earlier in the magazine!”

Next up, Wolfgang Baur offers “Al-Qadim: Magic and Intrigue in the High Desert Tribes.” The premise is simple: if you arrive in that setting through a portal somewhere in the dark and winding hallways in the back of the World Serpent Inn, you appear close to a gathering of multiple tribes of who are called the Enlightened. The article goes on to explain some of the political games each of the tribes has to play with the others and introduces a few hooks like a rampaging Dao war party, a phoenix and a bunch of ghosts on undead camels.

This article is heavy on flavor, which is great because Al-Qadim is a really cool setting. Unfortunately, what appear at first glance to be a handful of separate interesting things for PCs to do while in the Land of Fate are actually all part of the same quest. One plus is that the article includes a new spell and a few uses for a phoenix’s tail feathers but this piece, like most of the magazine, is really all over the place and would have benefited from a more focused writing approach.

Chris Flipse brings us “Dark Sun: Athas and the World Serpent Inn.” For those who don’t know, Dark Sun is a sort of post-apoc world where magic has gone horribly wrong and now, most wizards are reviled for the destruction their arcana wreaks on the environment. To make matters worse, the few remaining pieces of real estate capable of supporting life are lorded over by Epic-level despots. It’s a blasted desert world that incorporates all your favorite D&D races but in new and interesting ways, which is great if your group is looking for a change of pace.

Here, again, we have a few plot hooks that assume the PCs are all off-worlders, revolving around a refugee camp founded by a band of ex-slaves. Mr. Flipse does a really good job of capturing the essence of the setting but it isn’t clear what we’re supposed to focus on here. Is the article about the escaped slaves? Only one of them is mentioned by name and we aren’t even given his alignment. The article demonstrates very well that elves are different, magic is bad and psionics is a bigger deal on this world than magic is in the Forgotten Realms but any one of those concepts would have been enough to take up these four pages, and instead we’re rushed through all of them.

“DragonLance: Scavengers of Istar,” courtesy of Cam Banks, is the best of the “Run a one-shot in a different world this week” articles from Issue 351 but maybe I’m biased. Ok, time for a history lesson. While campaigns run in “contemporary” Krynn emphasize different aspects of the setting, for a very long time there was no divine magic and this is because the gods largely abandoned the world. An egotistical fellow, lord of a city swollen with nearly half a million souls, called down the wrath of the guys upstairs and they basically broke the planet for his hubris. The article explains that while it is normally impossible for even the most powerful clerics and wizards to hop to or from the DragonLance setting, the event which would later become known as the Cataclysm was so pivotal that this is the only Where and When accessible via the World Serpent Inn: three days before the end of the world.

I said above that this article is the best in the magazine and the reason is simple: it’s very well-written, the key NPC and important locations are fairly well explained (as well as can be expected given that the writer only had five pages) and the plot hook, while mediocre from a design perspective, is popular and familiar to most DMs: the task of the heroes is to find a handful of magic items scattered around town because if they can’t or won’t, they’ll die along with everyone else when the fiery mountain from the sky grinds Istar to dust. Unfortunately, as I mentioned, Istar has a population near 500,000; the article wouldn’t have been long enough even if it was only about the city and didn’t include an adventure seed at all.

Speaking of articles that focus solely on a city and don’t have much in the way of plot hooks, “Irongate: City of Stairs” by Gary Holian and Denis Tetreault does a lot of things right but more things wrong. It’s set in the Greyhawk setting, which is technically Core although publications about that world have been scarce since 3E’s release. The city is a cliffside technological wonder, developed by both human and dwarven engineers to extend even further underground than its towers loom over the surface. It’s a pretty cool place and, one can imagine, lots of secrets for PCs to uncover.

Sadly, we have absolutely no information on the population, demographic make-up or even why it’s so remarkable that Irongate managed to win its independence over a hundred years ago. You would think the authors, once they had made the decision to limit the plot hooks to a single sidebar, would have expanded more on the city’s history but there’s not much they could have done anyway, since (yet again) the editor only allotted them four pages.

Edward Bonny and Brian Cortijo follow with “Kara-Tur: Cham Fau and the White Tiger Monastery.” Although Oriental Adventures in 3E is set in the world of Legend of the Five Rings, back in 2E it introduced Kara-Tur, which became so popular it actually became “the East” of Faerûn. Ironically, while the flavor of Kara-Tur is the least like medieval Western Europe, the material in this article is the most easily adaptable in the whole magazine because monks, since 3E, are Core. The beginning of the article is about Cham Fau, a port city along the Hungtse River. Cham Fau seems a little bland but the real meat of this piece is in the detail given to the White Tiger Monastery: although I don’t use monks in my games, I at least have an inkling that we’re supposed to incorporate them into our games using monasteries which dot the countryside and are bristling with Asian-flavored NPCs. However, I’ve never been to a monastery, Asian-flavored or otherwise, so my understanding of the topic ends there.

Here, though, I have a locale I can pretty much insert into my game as-is. A manageable population of monks, a few hooks to work with about important NPCs, the typical daily routine around the White Tiger Monastery and even a map of what the place looks like. Toss in a few cool kung-fu magic items and a handful of reasons the locals are fearful/curious about the World Serpent Inn and you have a pretty solid article in an otherwise crummy issue.

“Planescape: The Gatetown of Ecstasy,” by Todd Stewart, not only hints at the weirdness of Planescape but also helps to clarify some of the wonky aspects of a planehopping campaign in general. We all know that Sigil, the primary location in any Planescape campaign, is set in the Outlands (if the Multiverse is a Great Wheel, this place is the hubcap); but what is the rest of that plane like? Well, it’s filled with portals to the rest of the planes roughly equidistant from the central spire Sigil squats on top of. Given that planes influence planes they mingle with, it makes sense there is a city that has sprung up around each of these portals which shares the traits of both the Outlands and the plane in question. In the case of Elysium, a happy neutral good world filled with Redwall-esque angels, the city around the portal is called Ecstasy and, true to form, it’s basically a glimpse of what Elysium has to offer.

The merit of this article is that it explains how the planes work and why it’s important that Ecstasy remains faithful to the ideals of Elysium without being absorbed by the plane entirely, while at the same time making sense of a population center where people are basically hippies. It doesn’t seem like a happy sunshine world could be possible but even the dead people in Ecstasy are friendly and well mannered, and somehow that doesn’t seem strange in Planescape. The other cool thing about this piece is that Ecstasy, unlike the other places mentioned in this issue of Dragon is actually accessible in the core D&D setting.

Next we have James Lowder’s “Ravenloft: The Shadows of Sithicus.” If you have no idea what Ravenloft is, it’s basically a cool Gothic Horror world where each province is ruled over by a despotic super villain, all of whom are malicious, undead or worse. A key theme of the setting is despair, emphasized by the inability of anyone to escape once they’ve arrived. This is problematic in the framework presented by the World Serpent Inn: you can go in and out of the inn all you want but if you aren’t back inside by sunrise, the tavern vanishes and you’re stuck in what is fondly referred to as the Demiplane of Dread.

This article has little to do with Ravenloft as a whole and is really just about Lord Soth, transplanted from DragonLance to this realm after becoming a death knight. Specifically, the article is about what happened after he left Sithicus, but again, space limitations (and the conflict between “We only have a few hours to get back home” and “The only adventure the author provided will take longer than that to complete”) make this piece less than useful to the average DM, and not useful at all to the average player.

Jacob Frazier treats us to “The Ecology of the Isle of Dread: The Journal of Larissa Vanderboren.” As faithful readers and those playing in Astute1’s PbP Savage Tide game know, the Isle of Dread is a supercool place with dinosaurs, tribal humans and little raccoon people. Combine that with the smash hit of “The Ecology Of&” articles and you have Mr. Frazier’s contribution this month. The cherry on top, of course, is that in the spirit of the old-school Ecology articles about the monster hunter guild, this one is written as a narrative.

According to a sidebar on the first page, the aforementioned journal is uncovered in “There Is No Honor,” the first installment of the Savage Tide adventure path. In addition to fleshing out some of the more pertinent entries in the journal to the task at hand, this issue also offers a foldout map of the island. Maybe it’s just because this was the only article I was looking forward to but I don’t have a bad word to say about it.

Appropriately enough, Jason Bulmahn, Steve Greer and Gary Holian follow that homerun with “Savage Tidings: Dread on the Isle,” uninspired though its title may be. This is a regular feature so I can just hit the high points: this installment is all about animal companions, mounts and familiars your characters have access to once they make it to shore. In addition, if the worst should happen and someone’s character needs to be replaced, the native humanoids are briefly described and a new race is offered up, the Phanaton. A Small sized mix between raccoons and flying squirrels, the accompanying artwork suggests their tails are prehensile but, alas, this is not the case. C’est la vie.

Weirdly, in addition to all of the discontinued settings in this year’s Campaign Classics issue, the editor saw fit to include a blurb on both the Forgotten Realms and Eberron campaign settings, too. In this month of paradoxes, while these are right on the money as far as target audience is concerned (at least compared to the other articles, these will find a home with proportionately gaming groups) they’re also out of place in an issue dedicated to campaigns that are out of print. I fail to see why WotC’s publishing juggernauts had to tag along, too. I wouldn’t even bother mentioning them but sadly, both pieces promise to be semi-regular features.

Eric L. Boyd introduces “Volo’s Guide” this month with “Lost Regalia of the North: The Toppled Thrones.” The premise here is that in the Savage Frontier on Faerûn, the rate at which monarchies and empires rise and fall is fast-paced even by human standards. Of course, all those kings and queens needed places to sit, and oftentimes (according to the long-winded Volo), these thrones are enchanted. Long after the lords and ladies of those realms are dust, their literal seats of power still carry potent enchantments that might be of use to heroes lucky and bold enough to uncover them.

I tried my best to make it sound cool but this concept is so specific it will be very difficult for anyone to incorporate the material into their games. At least a few of the thrones are portable but that isn’t the only problem with the article: not only would FR fans be hard pressed to find a use for this stuff in their campaign, there is absolutely no mention made of the World Serpent Inn here. If you want to make the most material useful to the greatest amount of people, why not use every tool at your disposal?

Keith Baker brings up the rear this January with “Dragonmarks: Sorcerers in Eberron.” In a nutshell, inexplicably sometimes people develop something like tattoos that grant them magical powers in the Eberron Campaign Setting. These are called dragonmarks and the people blessed (or cursed) with them are considered to have a special place in the prophecies dragons around the world are currently piecing together. Sorcerers, who in many campaigns can boast draconic or otherwise supernatural ancestors, may be even more important to the prophecies: some of them might even be able to trace their family trees all the way back to the three draconic deities who created the world. By virtue of alternate class features, these sorcerers, for better or worse, have a stronger connection to the fate of the world than most.

I was less annoyed by this article than you might suspect because a friend of mine is currently planning a new Eberron campaign but I’m still pretty steamed about the whole issue. From an editor’s perspective, almost none of the material this month made any sense and what’s worse, the publication seems to be headed in exactly the wrong direction: more campaign-specific material each month, not less. I don’t really recommend this issue to anyone.

Dragon #352

Dragon #352

Publisher: Paizo Publishing
Publish Date: 01/2007
Volume: XXXI, Number 9
Pages: 98
Rating: 7 out of 10
Retail Price: $7.99

There is a little known contemporary fantasy author named China Miéville. He is part of a movement called New Weird: authors known for their attempt to put a new spin on what fantasy is and can be. Miéville’s novel Perdido Street Station introduced his readers to the world of Bas-Lag, which is vaguely Victorian-era steampunk with a dash of real magic and fantastic races thrown in. Top it all off with capitalism and democracy and you have something that is definitely not Tolkienesque, but which can still be called fantasy. Mieville’s work was honored in February’s issue of Dragon but before we start things off, I’d like to point out an area of the magazine we rarely discuss here. “Scale Mail” is where the editor-in-chief fields questions, comments and requests from the readers and a certain Archive devotee’s critique of Issue #349 made it to the front page. If you can’t wait to see what I’m talking about, a copy of the e-mail this intellectual juggernaut sent in can be found here.

A majority of this issue comes courtesy of Wolfgang Baur who claims he worked for more than a year on the Miéville project. First up is “Runagate Rampant,” an interview session with the author himself. Here we gain important insights into his background as a gamer and his love of monster design. We also learn something about his view on technology: specifically, that he doesn’t feel the need to distinguish between it and magic, nor does he view it with the pessimism and paranoia of many post-modernist thinkers.

There is nothing really D&D-centric here (although Miéville does mention a fondness for umber hulks). The Q&A does, however, introduce the reader to some of the concepts and themes of the author’s work, which is good because the next forty plus pages are an attempt to adapt some of it to the v3.5 rules. Anyway, it’s always interesting to hear what a fellow gamer and DM (albeit retired) thinks about the genre and gaming in general.

Next we have “Bas-Lag Gazetteer: A Guide to Perdido Street Station & the World Beyond.” New Crobuzon, the major industrial center on its continent and “the greatest city-state of the world,” features heavily here, and in fact the material presented would make it a simple thing to incorporate the city into your campaign. Maybe a far continent with strange monsters and more advanced technology exists, waiting to be “discovered” by the PCs. The world of Bas-Lag has electricity, trains, “torque bombs” (think atomic energy, but if you visit the blast site before the radiation dissipates you risk magical cancer and other hazards) and other aspects of the modern world but it also offers bird-men, beetle women and spiders that can see the future.

One reader commented on the Paizo boards that this issue would not be of much use to readers unfamiliar with Miéville’s world. My readers will likely assume I agree, but I myself have yet to read Perdido Street Station and after reading Issue #352 I already feel like an expert on Bas-Lag. That said, the article most would find least relevant to their games is this one.

Mr. Baur follows up with “People of Bas-Lag,” offering a few playable races. It should be noted that not all sentient races are featured here, but those with only a +1 or +2 level adjustment do make an appearance, and anyway you can find practically everything you need to populate the streets of New Crobuzon here without dipping into the monster article that follows. As for my favorite race, it’s a toss-up but I think I have to go with the Khepri. It probably speaks to my deep-seated neuroses but I can’t help it, ladies with bug heads are irresistible.

Possibly the least useable (although still very cool) part of this piece is the template for the Remade. These poor souls are political dissidents, petty criminals and general ne’er-do-wells who have been tortured and magically or surgically augmented with machine parts. The idea is really cool and reminds me quite a bit of the Combine from Valve’s Half-Life 2 (which is always a good thing), but the system of Benefit vs. Penalty they use doesn’t seem to mesh well with the concept of Level Adjustment. Not only is it still just +1 no matter how many enhancements you add, I fail to see why a drawback is necessary to balance it out if you’re just going to add LA anyway.

“Monsters of Bas-Lag” is more of the same good stuff, with plenty of goodies that can be dropped into your game as-is. What DM ever said, “No thank you sir, I think I have quite enough aberrations, outsiders and monstrous humanoids?” From the scabmettler (barbarian humanoids with magical blood that can actually wrench a damaging weapon from the attacker’s grasp) to the handlinger (parasitic hands who take over the minds and nervous systems of any creature they graft onto), what struck me most about this article was that all of it would fit quite nicely in a post-apocalyptic setting. I could easily see a bunch of mosquito people buzzing around trying to suck everyone’s blood out after a long nuclear winter.

Yes, I’m normally against new monsters but since Paizo seems dead-set on giving us more of them, I figure it can’t hurt to praise the ones that are actually worthwhile. These are, even if you don’t know the first thing about the setting they’re derived from.

If you’re tired of hearing about Miéville, I promise that was the last of it. Next up, Erik Roelofs gives us a crash course on “The Ecology of the Yrthak,” about everyone’s favorite dinosaur with super hearing. Not only is the monster featured this month from the Monster Manual, which is a huge plus, illustrator Peter Bergting was kind enough to give us a crosscut of the yrthak’s head, demonstrating exactly what happens when the monster uses its sonic lance attack.

In my opinion, the yrthak doesn’t see a lot of play because it’s 1) Very weird and 2) Near the back of the book. This is a sad mistake because apparently they’re totally awesome. I don’t actually have anything constructive to say about this article, except that it’s an Ecology piece and the high standard these are held to lately means you’re bound to glean something useful from its pages.

Nicolas Logue brings us this month’s installment of Savage Tidings, “Braving the Isle of Dread.” Given that the Olman are the island’s only native humans, it begs the question: what’s up with them? What is their culture like, and how can outsiders best impress them? The general thrust of this article is that the PCs would do well not to alienate the seven tribes, and in fact may stand to gain from befriending them. A few brief words about each tribe and what makes them stand out and then the author springs into action, giving us a few new weapons, new feats that allow you to make use of the Olman’s unique unarmed fighting style, and a new faction affiliation (we’re seeing a lot of those these days). As always, Mr. Logue also offers a few ways for PCs to be replaced using the material presented in this issue, and he even offered some advice on NPCs the heroes could look up (based on their prior affiliations back in Sasserine) as well as ways the party could make themselves useful to the colonists of Farshore.

What more could you ask for? Plot hooks, NPC contacts, crunchy bits like weapons and feats and even a few famous monsters from the Isle of Dread to hunt. I don’t play Savage Tide so I am speaking from inexperience but I think this is the best update yet.

We follow that homerun with “Volo’s Guide to the Forgotten Dead,” courtesy of Brian Cortijo. Much like “Monsters of Bas-Lag,” the Undead featured here are really high quality. From the ubiquitous “graveyard come to life” titan to a totally gross but cool liquefied swamp zombie, these baddies are hardcore and, fortuitously, DMs are given a few tips on where in Faerûn one might find a specimen of each. Four pages, three monsters, and only one of them is questionable. It may be setting-specific but Undead are so universal you shouldn’t have any trouble injecting some Skuz or Charnel Custodian goodness into your game.

Finally, the esteemed Mr. Logue returns to give us “Dragonmarks - Warforged: Fierce and Furious.” If you aren’t familiar with the Eberron setting, the Warforged are sort of like the Terminator but more autonomous. They were created near the end of the Last War by House Cannith and sold to the highest bidder, and after the war they were awarded their freedom, finally acknowledged as sentient beings. That said, they were certainly never mass-produced and even if they had been, every forge couldn’t have been exactly the same so shouldn’t they all look slightly different? If not, wouldn’t it be cool if they did?

What you find here are a few sample tables like “Body Types,” “Head Types” and “Personality Quirks.” The player or DM can roll randomly or choose the result he likes the best; I suspect the most convenient use for this information would be during the game when introducing a Warforged NPC. The article also features some new components, which are similar to magic items but built into the warforged’s body, and (you guessed it) a new faction affiliation. I must say, this is the least useful article to a mainstream audience this month, but fans of the setting will likely find it very entertaining.

This is a complete 180º from last month. Even though the first half of the magazine was devoted to material based on novels yet to be incorporated into a campaign setting, and allowing that the oldest in the trilogy was published only seven years ago, it was so well-written and the concept behind Miéville’s work is so fresh that it would be a mistake to dismiss it out of hand. In fact, I’m proud to say that since reviewing this issue I’ve purchased Perdido Street Station myself and look forward to reading it. There were a few rough spots but this was easily one of the best issues in the past six months.

Dragon #353

Dragon #353

Publisher: Paizo Publishing
Publish Date: 02/2007
Volume: XXXI, Number 10
Pages: 98
Rating: 4 out of 10
Retail Price: $7.99

Hello again folks. I’d like to get right to it this month, but first I would like to draw everyone’s attention to the advertisement on this issue’s back cover: the folks at Paizo have put together a collection of my favorite installment ever! Dragon: Monster Ecologies is billed as 128 pages of awesome and starting in April, will be available through their website or your favorite local gaming store.

All right, down to business. The esteemed James Jacobs kicks it off in March with the latest installment of the Demonomicon of Iggwilv, “Malcanthet: Queen of the Succubi.” One of the great things about the Demonomicon articles is that, piece by piece, through tales about the various demon princes you get the same lore offered from the pages of Fiendish Codex I: Hordes of the Abyss, and this month is no exception. Jacobs explains how when mortals capable of consciously choosing evil came onto the scene, a whole new kind of nastiness starting cropping up in the Lower Planes. Succubi are the manifestation of the sin of lust, and Malcanthet was one of the last standing after what amounted to a civil war between the “sisters.”

As per usual, this article features a version of Malcanthet advanced using the rules from FC1 all the way to CR28. You’ll also find updated rules for weapons like the scourge and whip dagger, of particular interest at the Archive as questions about the whip dagger popped up on the forums. The article is filled out with a new type of demon (the incubus; and no, they aren’t just succubi in male form), a Thrall of Malcanthet PrC and some info about her cult on the Prime as well as her home back in the Abyss. There isn’t much I can say about these articles except that if you like demons, or any villains with plenty of flavor and background for that matter, you won’t be disappointed.

It’s a tough act to follow but Todd Stewart and Oliver Diaz are up to the task with “Multiple Dementia: A Guide to the Demiplanes.” For those who don’t know, demiplanes are a DM’s way of designing a world as big or as small as their adventure requires without it needing to be connected to anything else. All you need is a portal or some other way to get to the place (and, preferably, a way to get home) and voila, you can make up weird junk to your heart’s content. You can find a handful of them in the 3.0 publication Manual of the Planes, and this article features a sidebar with almost thirty in addition to detailing three.

The real gem here is a blurb on Moil, “the City that Waits.” Moil plays a prominent role in the events of Bruce Cordell’s 2E module Return to the Tomb of Horrors but is quite a cool place even if you’ve never played that adventure. Here and there throughout the article are references to other modules and boxed sets in D&D’s history, which is a treat for the old guard as well as inspiration for the newer generation. My only complaint about this piece was that at six pages it was far too short.

Back in #347, Eric Jansing and Kevin Baase collaborated to bring us an article about the Princes of Elemental Evil. For those who know a great deal about D&D mythology, these baddies were around to see the sundering of the Rod of Seven Parts. Well, although they were around first, the Princes of Elemental Good quickly followed suit and this month we’re treated to some information about them.

“Treat” may be the wrong word to use. I understand the stats provided here hover around the low 20s in CR because that’s where most campaigns either culminate or start off, but it doesn’t make a lot of sense to me that immortal beings as old as Fire or Water are less powerful than some creatures in the Monster Manual. Furthermore, aside from a handful of spell-like abilities each of the four “archomentals” is essentially a really powerful representative of that element; Ben-Hadar, Prince of Good Water Creatures, is a souped up water elemental who can use Horrid Wilting once per day. If you happen to be planning a campaign featuring the Good and Evil archomentals, this is the article you’ve been waiting for but I’m pretty sure you aren’t, and haven’t.

Next we have “The Ecology of the Keeper,” again by Todd Stewart. First appearing in the Fiend Folio (3E, not 1E), Keepers wear black goggles to conceal the fact they don’t have eyes (or many other aspects of human anatomy, either). Named for their obsession with secrets (and killing those who know them), Keepers basically fill the niche of “creepy bad guy to hound the heroes when they learn too much.”

Being an Ecology installment, the article goes a long way toward explaining what makes the Keepers tick but some questions are left unanswered. However, this seems appropriate given the subject matter and there is certainly enough here to run an encounter or even an adventure featuring them as the primary antagonists. The real problem with this is that, like in recent issues, the monster featured is not from a Core book and may not be very useful to most people. Anyway, for added fun, note the section on the names of various groups Keepers congregate in and compare some of the titles to places in Stewart’s article on demiplanes.

Jason Bulmahn returns this month with the next installment of “Savage Tidings: Advancing the Wyvern.” At various points during the Savage Tide campaign, the ship you use to get around is bound to take a beating. The Sea Wyvern will likely eventually need repairs; so if you’ll have to replace part of the ship anyway, why not enchant it or use fancy materials? The last page of the article offers more new ways to introduce replacement PCs into the party as well as interesting tidbits about the island the heroes might glean using Gather Information checks.

The problem I see with the material presented here is that the cost is so prohibitive. To magically negate the speed penalty as you weigh the ship down with cargo will set the party back 12,000gp& I’m pretty sure that will never happen. Last month’s “Savage Tidings” installment featured numerous plothooks that gave the PCs plenty to do while exploring the island and making contacts in Farshore and I think the author would have done his readers a great service here by providing ways for the DM to reward the players with enhancements for the ship instead of treasure. Anyway, as the article suggests if this stuff tickles your fancy more material like it can be found in Stormwrack.

Thomas M. Costa gives us “Volo’s Guide: Outsiders of the Forgotten Realms.” In a Core D&D campaign, the Multiverse is organized roughly like a wheel (and is in fact called the Great Wheel Cosmology) but in Forgotten Realms that isn’t the case. If the Outer Planes are different, so must the Outsiders who live there be, right? There are some pretty neat creatures detailed here: my favorite is the Harmonious Choir of the Words. It’s basically a floating mask with runes coming out of its mouth, capable of casting a lot of bard spells and even possessing creatures. The name sounds angelic but the Choir is Neutral, being a manifestation of the Words of Creation used to form the Multiverse.

Normally I would swear up and down that articles like this are wastes of space and that we need new monsters even less than we need new feats or Prestige Classes, let alone campaign-specific ones. However, while aside from the above creature the material is somewhat lacking, Mr. Costa kindly provided a sidebar explaining where these creatures could be found in the Core cosmology or in the Eberron Campaign Setting.

Amber E. Scott of Giant In The Playground fame closes this month’s issue with “Dragonmarks: Manifestly Strange.” In Core D&D, some planes are far removed from others and some are so close they are only a hop, skip and a jump away (relatively speaking). In Eberron, some planes move so close to one another they start to “bleed through,” creating what are called manifest zones. These manifest zones may be anything as simple as a volcano connected to the plane of fire to a really dark room on nights when the plane of shadow is coterminous.

The material presented here is a goldmine for idea-starved DMs for the same reason the demiplanes article earlier was so great: the theory behind it is that you can make up pretty much whatever you want and the effect is self-contained. One of the manifest zones in the article is a ruined castle where time flows more slowly, letting you play with the concept of time in various parts of the dungeon passing at different rates (useful if the party is split up). When the group gets tired of this, it’s a simple thing to just leave the dungeon behind and go somewhere else. Even though the locations presented in the article are Eberron-specific, the idea is still so good I recommend it if you’d like to experiment with extraplanar stuff.

Some of the articles this month were fantastic, others were lukewarm and still others, while not being badly written were still pretty awful. The magazine as a whole suffered because of the wide variety in quality but the upshot is that there is likely something for everyone here, so I still recommend you at least thumb through it at your local newsstand.

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