review

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.

Dragon #355

Dragon #355

Publisher: Paizo Publishing
Publish Date: 04/2007
Volume: XXXI, Number 12
Pages: 98
Rating: 6 out of 10
Retail Price: $7.99

Greetings, ladies and germs. This month the Internet blew up with the news that Paizo will no longer be publishing Dragon or Dungeon. Concerned readers can find all the information they need in WotC’s press release, Paizo’s transition page for subscribers and, of course, right here at the D&D Archive where there is plenty of intelligent debate over the future of Paizo, the OGL and D&D in general. Moving on&

José Montero kicks it off this month with “iDragon: Modern Music in D&D.” The article breaks down the process of finding a suitable MP3 device or media player, songs to play on it and ways to incorporate this soundtrack into your game (all while deftly avoiding the touchy subject of music piracy). Suffice to say it is simultaneously a solidly written and completely out-of-place article; it really has almost nothing to do with D&D, with only the last page and a half actually discussing reasons to use music during your game and ways to do it without distracting the players from the action. I don’t have much else to say about this.

A swing and a miss, and Hal Maclean steps up to the plate to compensate with “Seven Saintly Domains.” Observant readers will recall the seven deadly sins were incorporated into this central class feature of clerics as domains back in Issue #323 (and, as a sidebar promptly reminds us, were later released in the Spell Compendium). With the advent of 3E, players of clerics had an unprecedented new trick up their sleeve when portraying the essence of their characters using crunchy mechanics: it became possible to actually select superpowers that relatively few other clerics possessed, since there were so many to choose from.

This article allows players interested in incorporating Judeo-Christian philosophy into their games with these “saintly” domains, from Charity and Patience to Humility and Zeal. Helpfully, the article also suggests a few deities from the Greyhawk, Eberron and Forgotten Realms who might offer said domains to their faithful worshipers. At the very least, this article completes the ensemble, but perhaps it is most useful in explaining what the virtues represent and the spectrum of possible interpretations a cleric might need to keep in mind, as well as roleplaying tips for a cleric who, in selecting one of these domains, is committing to a specific, saintly lifestyle.

Next we have “Creature Catalog VI” from the ensemble cast of (take a deep breath) Kevin Baase, Jason Bulmahn, C. Wesley Clough, Thomas M. Costa, John Flemming, Nick Herold and Eric Jansing. Some of these baddies debuted in earlier editions of the game and this is their first (official) makeover for 3E, while others are brand new juggernauts designed to rack up your PC kill count. We run the gamut here from faerie serial killers to giant slugs, giant dragonflies to magic leeching and memory stealing moss.

Of special note are the rot giant, if only because it reminds me of the Boomer in Turtle Rock Studio’s upcoming Counter-Strike replacement Left 4 Dead; and the scarecrow, which as you might suspect is like a golem but specifically designed either to discourage loiterers or specifically track people down and murder them. It is unclear to me why anyone would need to use monsters not included in this article ever again.

Next, our old friend Own K.C. Stephens brings us “The Ecology of the Devourer.” Of special interest here is Peter Bergting’s artwork, evocative of a certain 2E boxed set that starts with “Return” and ends with “to the Tomb of Horrors.” Anyway, as you know, devourers are giant undead that linger in the Astral Plane and capture the souls of the unwary. Particularly awesome is their ability to draw on these souls, which reside in their hollow chest cavity and can be seen floating around, screaming. This article “fleshes out” (I promise at least one pun per review until Dragon is cancelled!) the devourer, explaining their origins in the dark depths of githyanki history and possible reasons for individual devourers to cause problems for the PCs.

Let me amend my earlier statement: it is unclear to me why anyone would ever need to use monsters again that are not either in “Creature Catalog VI” or are, in fact, Devourers. This article gets bonus points for being about Undead, spotlighting a monster appearing in the core Monster Manual and having some of the coolest, Dia de Los Muertos-esque artwork appearing in Dragon in a long time.

“Savage Tidings: The Market is Bad,” by James Jacobs and Richard Pett, continues the winning streak with what amounts to a guided tour of Scuttlecove, a pirate trading hub which features prominently in the Savage Tide adventure path. Pirate cities are always neat but this one happens to have been founded by “godless cannibals who fled persecution for their wicked crimes,” as Jacobs and Pett explain. The article goes on to suggest connections between the local aristocracy and archfiends (and Vecna for good measure). Yuan-ti also live here; in other words, buy this magazine.

The article emphasizes Scuttlecove’s usefulness to PCs as a mercantile center, providing bios on prominent merchants and their special wares, including plenty of serpent and anti-serpent themed alchemical and magic items. A few new poisons, some of which specifically affect (or are at least more potent against) yuan-ti. The one drawback is that not enough space was provided to really expand on the settlement’s history or government system, although there is enough here to extrapolate a nice backdrop for a few adventures. So, you should find everything you need here if you intend to use it in conjunction with the adventure path in Dungeon but if you’re looking for a generic pirate city, Scuttlecove may take some work.

“Volo’s Guide: Demon Cults of the Realms” by Eric L. Boyd is a mixed bag. The problem is that it focuses on demon princes already covered in prior installments of the “Demonomicon of Iggwilv” but emphasizing the activities of their cults in this specific campaign setting. It describes in great detail individual plots hatched by specific cultists, concerning particular geographical regions of Faerûn. At least it’s only three pages long.

Nicholas Logue concludes this issue with “Dragonmarks: Way of the Shackled Beast.” The article tells the story of a shifter monk in Eberron (shifters are like a diluted bloodline of lycanthropes that can take feats to regain more and more of the power of their ancestors, featuring prominently in the Eberron Campaign Setting but also appearing in Monster Manual III) who was martyred during that world’s period of inquisition against shapechangers and now inspires other shifter monks with their own fighting style.

The plus side is this article features five new feats, an artifact, a new fighting style for monks and a new material from which to forge weapons. Unfortunately, considering shifters are not a core race, only one of the feats is of much use to anyone not playing in Eberron and the new material is basically alchemical silver but better. The artifact, however, called the Amulet of the Twelve Moons, is actually pretty neat and has nothing to do with shifters. All in all I’d say this is a pretty crummy way to end an otherwise awesome issue.

Actually, that’s not where the issue ends, is it? Until now I’ve not given much coverage (or any at all, in fact) to the “Class Acts” section of the magazine. For anyone who mysteriously reads my review even though they don’t regularly buy or subscribe to Dragon, this is where you can find things like a comprehensive two page run-down of all the spells in the Player’s Handbook that don’t require somatic components, or alternate class features for druids to make them more suitable in an urban environment. I thought I would say a few words about “Class Acts” this month because one element in particular, “Eldritch Warriors,” was so well done. Scott Noel offers up a handful of new class features for fighters (meant to replace a few of their billion bonus feats) that help make them more magical.

I guess the premise here is that it’s one of the only classes that has no magic abilities whatsoever, so to compensate why not take “Armored Savant” at 1st level, lowering the arcane spell failure chance and negating the encumbrance from your armor? Or how about “Eldritch Juggernaut,” granting you Spell Resistance as long as you’re wearing medium or heavy armor? Not only do many of these features scale up as you gain more fighter levels (encouraging people to stick with a class that is perhaps most notorious for running out of steam in a campaign’s endgame), a few of them offer interesting spell-like abilities that really level the playing field for what is supposed to be an iconic character class but in reality comes up short under the core rules.

Dragon #356

Dragon #356

Publisher: Paizo Publishing
Publish Date: 05/2007
Volume: XXXII, Number 1
Pages: 98
Rating: 5 out of 10
Retail Price: $7.99

Hello again, beautiful people. I hope everyone had a great Mother’s Day. Let’s get right to it! Erik Mona, Editor-In-Chief for Dragon Magazine posted a great piece in this month’s issue, chock-full of information on Paizo’s Pathfinder project, potential material for the last few issues of Dragon and positively confirms reports that WotC intends to move forward with its plans for online facsimiles of the sister publications Dragon and Dungeon, though as the esteemed Mr. Mona admits “details are hazy.” I mention all of this because it is timely and relevant to many discussions taking place now here at the Archive.

What is particularly striking about this issue’s “Scale Mail” feature are the first two letters posted, one from a sailor due for service on the USS Ranger and the other from a prison inmate (both of whom comment that they appreciate having real magazines they can hold in their hands because when you’re cut off from the rest of the world, any gaming content -even the crappy content- is a godsend). I assume the decision to post these letters is Paizo’s way of rubbing WotC’s nose in it for ending their partnership.

Another blurb worth talking about is Dragon’s coverage of Ziggurat Con. It is nice to see so many publications bringing attention to this worthy cause and, more importantly, so many companies as well as private citizens donating gaming gear to our military personnel in Iraq. Ok, onto the good stuff.

Tim Hitchcock and Nicolas Logue start July off with “Top 10 Most Wanted Dragons in D&D.” This is a trip down Memory Lane for some of us and mystifying to the rest as obscure references to dragons young and old, some of whom made their debut in 3E but plenty of which are from adventures and sourcebooks decades old. There is absolutely zero useful content here except that the “Reported Sightings” of these draconic outlaws double as “first appeared in” citations, which I suppose might be handy if what you read piques your curiosity. This is not a positive way to begin an issue.

“Ferrous Dragons: The Return of Heavy Metal Dragons” by Kevin Baase and Eric Jansing (both prolific monster designers from issues past) is a step up but, really, how many new types of dragons do we need? The scoop here is that chromatic dragons are evil, metallic dragons are the good guys and ferrous dragons (chromium, cobalt, iron, nickel and tungsten& and yes, the authors know not all of these are strictly ferrous metals) are lawful.

If you guessed that an article detailing the statistics, personality types and sample stat blocks for five separate breeds of dragons would take up a lot of space, you were right: thirteen pages. This is absolutely outrageous and is made even more so because the material isn’t technically bad. In fact, it is very well written and a few of the breeds even have neat special abilities and breath weapons but there simply isn’t enough room in each issue for material that will only be marginally useful to a majority of DMs and players. Moving on.

Sean K. Reynolds wins the “Savior of July” award for his “Core Beliefs: Hextor.” This is a sister piece to his work a few months ago on Heironeous and was just as awesome. The old standbys you expect from this feature like names and content from holy texts, Hextor’s historical relevance in the Greyhawk setting, neat sayings and battlecries for Hextoran clerics, new spells and magic items, etc. are all here but the real gems are the nuggets of lore about the god of tyranny’s relationship with his half-brother Heironeous. This was hinted at in Issue 334 but here we get the other half of the puzzle, so to speak, and it was a treat to pore over. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, some months the content in Dragon is mediocre overall but “Core Beliefs” and the “Demonomicon of Iggwilv” features almost make up for it single-handedly.

It’s been a long time since any short stories appeared in this magazine and to be honest I had my trepidations before reading through it. I may not have even bothered were I not writing these reviews but I am glad I did! Paul S. Kemp’s “Confession: A Tale of New Dineen” was riveting and at only six pages, far too short. From its innovative approach to the “Does a wizard need his staff to cast spells?” question to the fractured narrative style courtesy of a madman’s journal, this is the real deal folks. I encourage everyone to drop by Mr. Kemp’s personal forums and tell him what you thought once you’ve read it.

Jacob Frazier follows up these heavy hitters with “The Ecology of the Linnorm.” Linnorms draw heavily on Norse myth and have their 3E origins in the Monster Manual II. Aside from being more like snakes than lizards linnorms are actually fairly similar to “True Dragons” in that they have breath weapons and hoard treasure, but Frazier expands on the differences and, as usual, it is one of the highlights of the magazine.

It’s all here: Knowledge (Arcana) check results, the linnorm’s place in Norse mythology, psychological quirks and physiological explanations for some of the linnorm’s special abilities, and finally some variant forms not featured in MM2 were crammed into just a few short pages. I’d be happier if the same attention was paid to monsters from the first Monster Manual but aside from that, this article was golden.

Robert J. Schwalb wrote this month’s Savage Tidings installment, “Into the Abyss.” The heroes’ trek takes them to the 88th Layer of the Abyss, home to Demogorgon. Reasons are given for why replacement PCs might be there in case (read: when) someone’s character dies in the Lower Planes, plothooks from the various organizations the characters might belong to and a handful of magical items useful to anyone battling fiends. My favorite is the “brilliant jewel” which, when a spell is cast into it sheds light out to 60ft. Any spells of the same school you cast until the light runs out are at a higher caster level. A few of the others have similarly innovative mechanics, so rest assured you won’t just find six new variations on the +2 evil outsider bane sword (even though there is one of those).

If you’re running a mid- to high-level campaign featuring at least a few Outsider antagonists, this article is useful to you even if you aren’t running the Savage Tide Adventure Path (or “STAP” as the hipsters are calling it now). Otherwise, it was well written but ultimately too specific.

Longtime readers may remember the old monthly feature by Ed Greenwood called “Wyrms of the North.” That man’s ability to generate names, histories, interesting items in each treasure hoard and a list of dragons each dragon was friends or enemies with on a monthly basis was absolutely staggering. Anyway, the title itself begs the question: why are there only Northern wyrms? What about the dragons living elsewhere? “Volo’s Guide” this month brings us “Wyrms of the West, East, and South,” courtesy of Brian Cortijo. The title leaves much to be desired but the article isn’t half bad.

To be more specific, mercifully the author only detailed three dragons in all. Each of them was relatively interesting and if a fledgling DM were scratching his or her head trying to come up with ideas for a draconic NPC, this would be ideal inspiration. This article like every other installment of “Volo’s Guide” is specific to Forgotten Realms but the content this month is fairly adaptable, if a bit bland.

Finally, we end with “Dragonmarks: The Gathering Stone” by Tim Hitchcock. In Eberron, a sprawling goblinoid empire, the likes of which could only be undone by an alien invasion, once ruled the continent on which a majority of the action takes place. There is a place where the memory of this Golden Age for goblins is still alive and well, and it is called The Gathering Stone. It’s basically a giant rock in a blasted canyon around which a bunch of tent cities have sprung up from the various goblin tribes. As a symbol of what once was, it is an important tool for the people trying to resurrect the empire.

Unfortunately, none of that has anything to do with most campaigns. If you’re running an Eberron campaign and wonder what goblins are up to now, this is a great article for you except that it is light on political machinations and heavy on setting flavor. If not, I’m sorry to say the content isn’t adaptable at all, despite it being so fun to read. One might be encouraged to pick up a copy of the Eberron Campaign Setting after reading a few of these “Dragonmarks” articles but plenty of people don’t care so it’s just a waste of space. I hope Dragon quits screwing around in the next two issues because it would be a shame to end on a sour note.

Dragon #357

Dragon #357

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dragon #358

Dragon #358

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kobold Quarterly 1

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Kobold Quarterly #1

Publisher: Open Design
Publish Date: Summer 2007
Volume: I, Number 1
Pages: 32
Rating: 3 out of 10
Retail Price: $5.99

What’s a gamer to do? Not one but two announcements this year rocked the D&D world to its very foundation: not only would Paizo be handing back control of Dragon and Dungeon to Wizards of the Coast, but now plans for 4th Edition have been unveiled, scheduled tentatively for a May ’08 release. Well, one gamer in particular, already famous within the industry for returning to the patronage system of publishing at his personal website, simply decided to put out his own magazine. Thus, the “small but fierce” Kobold Quarterly was born.

Let’s talk about some of the things KQ is and some of the things it most certainly is not. First, Wolfgang Baur’s latest project is NOT a replacement for Dragon. Not only does that publication still technically exist, albeit in an online format on WotC’s website, KQ only musters roughly a third of Dragon’s page count. Consider also that except for two articles in this first issue (accounting for six pages in total), the entire issue was written and edited by Baur himself. This is a labor of love and not yet ready to contend with the big dogs, if that is even the publisher’s intent; that said, because it comes on the heels of Dragon’s departure from the paper market, in this initial review I will often compare the two for ease of reference.

On the other hand, because it such a small affair as Mr. Baur explains in the editorial, “kobolds may not have the big marketing dollars or the massive staff of a multinational corporation, but we’re also free to do as we please” (2). It is not an official D&D publication so you aren’t going to see articles about campaign settings like Eberron or Forgotten Realms, but that isn’t really so bad. At the very least, an emphasis on generic, Core material will be a breath of fresh air for me to review. If you’re wondering who KQ’s intended audience is, picture a handful of collaborators on a designer’s private website who publish material they would be interested in playing, and which they think might also be useful to the greater gaming public. You needn’t worry about any of their credentials: Castle Shadowcrag, an adventure privately designed by Baur and his Open Design patrons, received an ENnie nomination this year even though it still isn’t available to the public. As for the editor, if you don’t recognize Wolfgang Baur’s name maybe this will refresh your memory.

So, let’s get down to the nitty gritty. The magazine is currently priced at six dollars an issue, which is two dollars less than Dragon. Then again, as I said before KQ only boasts 32 pages, which if you’re like me is a pretty big deal (it’s not like we’re all made of money so we really have to pick and choose what we spend it on). Alternatively, you can subscribe only to quarterly PDFs at $16 a year, but if you’re going to spend four bucks a pop don’t you really want to spend six and actually hold something in your hands? The most economical option is a paper/PDF subscription at $36 a year within the US (shipping included). That’s what I did, but if you want to know more consult Baur’s subscription policies.

The cover is thick, sturdy paper, not glossy but high quality. Likewise, the paper inside is clean and strong but if you’re used to the sleek shiny interior of Dragon and other magazines I guess this is another strike (for me, not smudging the articles with a thumbprint will be a relief. I never did like that about Dragon).

More important than the paper quality, though, is the distinct lack of editing. This is so prevalent throughout the magazine I thought I would mention it here instead of the individual blurbs on each article: that the editor-in-chief is also the guy who wrote over two thirds of the magazine is a significant problem and one I assume will be amended as soon as possible. If any one thing is likely to convince you not to purchase KQ #1 it is that the editing is so jumbled not only are there multiple typographical errors per page, but in one case the pages actually appear out of order. Pages 28 and 29 should be swapped. As Baur explained to me in an email, the paper copy “has a B&W interior rather than the full color of the PDF, and it features a number of corrections and a fine-tuned layout.” Well, this is definitely the sort of thing someone should have caught before KQ shipped off to the presses.

There are a handful of one- or two-page pieces sprinkled throughout the publication the editor recognizes may be of limited use to the reader. With thirty pages it’s not like Baur has a lot of room to screw around here, so for instance when it comes to a list of over 150 monsters you are most likely to run into while exploring the Underdark (organized by Challenge Rating, no less), the editor made every effort to conserve space and present the material as clearly and efficiently as possible. On the other hand, it may be possible to try too hard to conserve space: the book each monster was drawn from is abbreviated but the key was left out, to be posted online.

We start things off this month with “Ecology of the Derro.” To my knowledge the derro enjoyed their debut alongside other classic monsters (like the behir and bodak) in Gygax’s 1E module S4: The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth. These tiny dwarven mutants suffer a form of racial madness but according to Wolfgang Baur, this is not genetic but cultural. Not being very strong or clever the derro were forced to make dark pacts with unspeakable horrors from other planes, and although this won them their freedom from the likes of aboleth or drow it cost them their minds. Today, derro youths are indoctrinated very early on in the cult-like society of their parents, forced to endure special rituals that are often fatal. Those who emerge arguably benefit from newfound abilities but are mentally never the same.

The article makes reference to several things that don’t appear anywhere in this issue, like clockwork magic or incantations using Knowledge (forbidden lore) (only one of these is explained in detail, the aforementioned “Parting the Veil” undertaken by derro children). This shouldn’t impede your understanding or use of the material here but it does make me wonder whether it’s the sort of thing we can expect in future issues, or if it is already available in some of the Open Design projects published by the patrons at his personal website. Overall I’d say this is pretty solid work and we even get our first glimpse of Baur’s stat block: it is quite reminiscent of 1E modules with simple bold arial text and is even a similar size of print. Minor typographical errors aside this is very retro and thus very cool.

My suspicion is that this next article is the first of several in a series called “Princes of Hell.” The first infernal bureaucrat KQ introduces us to is Titivillus, who it may interest you to learn was first mentioned by name in John of Wales’ Tractatus de Penetentia in 1285. He is the patron devil of contracts and the Scribe of Hell. Through a series of misadventures and clever ploys he has denounced and trumped his rivals and, although the nature of devils and their obsession with record keeping makes someone like Titivillus extraordinarily powerful, he has somehow managed to remain in the shadow of big names like Mammon. Wolfgang Baur explains: “It is a subtle, hidden form of power, the ability to add or remove the word “no” from a document& the power to smear reputations and create evidence to support his plans and destroy his rivals” (10).

In addition to a stat block roughly comparable to the strength of the archdevils who appear in the Fiendish Codex, this bio on Titivillus also provides readers with a new form of imp called ink devils. With the ability to curse opponents so they are more vulnerable to the special powers devils wield, disrupt spellcasters and curse scrolls, ink devils perfectly capture the essence of what it means to be from the Nine Hells: they embody the philosophy that the letter of the law is more important than the spirit, but that since letters can always be edited what really matters is that you have friends in low places.

Next is “It’s Not (always) About the Gold: Eight Great Non-Monetary Rewards.” The premise here is that the first time the heroes defeat all of a dungeon’s inhabitants and topple the local villain from his throne of tyranny, and finally gain access to the treasure vault piled high with coins, gems and other phat loot, it is unquestionably thrilling. It is not quite so thrilling when the PCs are 20th level: nobody wants yet another longsword +1 or potion of cure moderate wounds so creating your own art objects or magic items works for awhile, but the root of the problem is that all magic items are basically the same in that they provide a handful of bonuses in the abilities that allow PCs to kill more monsters and seize more magic items.

Baur thinks he has the solution in non-monetary rewards. Whether it’s a book that gives the reader a few ranks in a handy, underutilized skill or some kind of magic boon that gives the recipient extra hit points or another 4th-level spell slot, this article is all about stuff people will be grateful to receive even if they’re technically worth less according to the DMG than a comrade’s magic breastplate. The author is right on the money here and his tips on social rewards like knighthood or tracts of land are sometimes specific to a feudal setting but generally applicable to all games.

Until last month Erik Mona was the Editor-in-Chief of Dragon but retains his post as publisher of Paizo. In “Mordenkainen’s Apprentice” Wolfgang Baur interviews him for Kobold Quarterly, a conversation in which they talk about everything from Mona’s D&D roots, to his time with Dragon and the RPGA, to his views on Greyhawk and finally what he intends to be doing with his time in the near future. If you’re the type who can’t get enough of stuff like this for any word from an industry insider on the future of gaming, you’ll appreciate the interview. If you think, as I do that this is the sort of thing Baur should have put up on his website and kept the eight pages (that’s 25% of the first issue!!!) open for something else, you will probably be disappointed.

Sigfried Trent brings us “The Ups & Downs of Tripping: Knock ‘Em Down and Keep ‘Em There.” This is effectively an expanded, two page explanation of the sometimes-complicated rules presented in the PHB. You won’t find anything new here but you might find it helpful that someone spelled out every aspect of tripping for ease of reference, like the obscure “Can I ‘trip’ a flying creature” problem. I think it’s fair to say this article was pretty handy but not exactly the sort of thing you may have been anxiously awaiting in the debut issue of a quarterly magazine.

Next we have Scott Gable’s “The Far Darrig: Red Hats and Arcane Fetishes.” The far darrig are a reclusive race of fey whose entire culture revolves around the concept that the entire world is just an elaborate illusion, ostensibly one so elaborate and methodical not even natural-born illusionists like them can succeed on the Will save. As iconic as their philosophical beliefs is the ubiquitous red cap, which although identical to the ones worn by the murderous little troublemakers of the same name is not dyed in the blood of their enemies and is actually the focus for many racial spell-like abilities.

At only four pages this article really covers a lot of ground. Here you can find information on the far darrig’s tribal society, why their red hats are so important, physical characteristics, tips and tricks on how to run them in combat, a 5HD paragon class progression, and even a full 20-level core class which is sort of a hybrid between the sorcerer and illusionist (although unfortunately bereft of any information on HD or skill points). Unfortunately, here we see a distinct lack of continuity: the stat block for the far darrig is actually the revised one first appearing in the DMG II, not what Wolfgang Baur used earlier in the article. This is one more area that will undoubtedly receive more attention as the editor becomes more comfortable in his role but the real question is, how many inconsistencies and goof-ups will readers put up with?


I mentioned at the beginning of this review that Baur isn’t publishing an official D&D magazine so he doesn’t really have any duty to WotC to publish material for official settings (indeed, there would be a series of legal hoops to jump through even if that were his intention). On the other hand, within the context of Kobold Quarterly it seems perfectly reasonable to have some sort of baseline assumptions about the setting articles refer to, and to that end Baur closes KQ #1 with “Steam and Sorcery: A Visit to the Free City of Zobeck.” Zobeck is a tiny, independent city-state in a steampunk setting but because of its relative political isolation from its neighbors, it can readily be plugged into any setting with rivers and mountains. It is easy to see the influence of authors like China Miéville in Zobeck’s clockwork robots, arcane university and filthy non-human miners (kobolds, anyone?). While the information is woefully sparse and leaves you wanting more of everything, this is a great initial glimpse of Zobeck and hopefully a hint of more to come.

Well, that’s it. I would be remiss in my duties as a reviewer if I told you to overlook all of the marks against Kobold Quarterly I mentioned here. Again, unless you’re rolling in money you’re probably pretty careful how you throw it around and only want to make a purchase (particularly in a hobby like ours where expensive sourcebooks, rules supplements and modules all compete for your dollar) you can feel good about later.

My suggestion to you is that while it is more economical to subscribe for the year and get a PDF of every issue to go along with the copy you receive from the postman, you will be most pleased if you stick with individual PDFs. With no shipping costs you won’t get raked over the coals for not subscribing, and you’ll only pay for the stuff you actually want (it is my hope you rely on reviews like this one before you spend your hard-earned coin). As for this issue in particular, many will feel compelled to buy it and get in on the ground floor of what promises to be a very compelling publication, albeit a labor of love. If you are not one of those people, regretfully I have to tell you to pass.

Kobold Quarterly 2

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Kobold Quarterly #2

Publisher: Open Design
Publish Date: Fall 2007
Volume: I, Number 2
Pages: 40
Rating: 8 out of 10
Retail Price: $5.99

Hello again, faithful readers. Those who read my previous review know I voiced several concerns about our first taste of KQ and that I feared these were not just first-night jitters but a sign of things to come. Rest assured there are better days ahead! A 20% increase in page count, contributions from industry heavyweights like Greenwood and Logue, an interview with Wayne Reynolds (!!!) and much more all practically make this a different magazine. The quality of editing has likewise made a complete 180°.

Tim and Eileen Connors bring us “Belphegor, the Prince of Laziness,” the second installment of KQ’s “Princes of Hell” feature. This devil made his real-world debut way back in Numbers 25 from the Torah and is best known for convincing mortals to procrastinate and take frequent naps, while also inspiring them to create fantastic inventions that allow people to sit around and do nothing. It is not a sin to be content with what you have but Belphegor hopes to ensnare your soul by convincing you to be complacent.

It’s all here, folks. Full stats for running an encounter with Belphegor (check out his aura that just makes people want to ignore the Baron until they leave), information on his cults in the Prime and what he hopes to accomplish there, a run-down of his friends and foes in the Nine Hells, how he came to the position he now holds and, finally, information on his specialized followers: comfort devils. These are basically imps whose training and power emphasize getting people to take the day off, or stop going to church, or charge customers as much as they can get away with, etc. This is the sort of information that you expect to find in a magazine dedicated to D&D but are still pleasantly surprised to discover in each issue.

Next up is the esteemed Ed Greenwood himself with “On the Street Where Heroes Live.” Not every settlement in a fantasy setting can be a magical, sprawling metropolis chock-full of drug lords, devil worshipers, greedy and manipulative aristocrats, tavern owners and other wildly interesting NPCs. There are dozens, if not hundreds of tiny hamlets that may not have the luxury of interesting geography, historical footnotes, famous residents or deep reservoirs of plothooks. Hell, most of them probably don’t even appear on the DM’s map. But they are there, and what if the PCs, instead of just passing through or stopping for supplies then moving on, decide to stay for awhile?

Greenwood comes to the rescue here with step-by-step instructions of how to breathe new life into the town and its inhabitants. With only an hour or two of work even the most remote backwater thorp can suddenly become the place to be. By the author’s admission, “veteran GMs have been doing it for decades. . . and every roleplayer knows or senses it” (14); but even some of us veterans could do with a refresher course, and for those without years of experience under their belts informative tips like this could make the difference between a decent session and a memorable one.

“King of All Monsters” is this month’s interview, courtesy of the Open Design team. Its subject is Wayne Reynolds, whose snazzy logo “WAR” appears in many illustrations throughout the tomes and supplements of the current edition of D&D. When I first started playing the game back in the mid-90s Tony DiTerlizzi was “that guy.” Reynolds is the new up-and-comer, though, and it’s a treat to be able to hear directly from him, particularly for readers who don’t know much about the guy (he’s a soccer fan). I guess it’s kind of weird, though, to interview someone in the industry for a publication about Dungeons & Dragons and not ask him specifically about the game or how long he’s played (if he even does).

Robert J. Schwalb brings us “The Assassin,” which the editor informs us is a teaser from Green Ronin’s upcoming Freeport Companion. It is true that there is already a prestige class by that name in the DMG and it is also true that what you’ll find here is actually not very different from it. But what is special about Schwalb’s piece is that it is a full 20-level base class that anyone can take levels in. Some of the PrC’s quirky abilities like poison use and its knack for skulking around in the dark have been expanded on which means you get a cool new ability or at least an upgrade literally every level. I mean they even get blindsense!

This is one of those “take it or leave it” articles. Maybe you really like the idea of a contract killer in D&D but don’t like prestige classes. If a class anyone can multiclass freely into but that accomplishes what the Assassin always did sounds like your cup of tea, look no further. If, on the other hand, the concept of a hitman is interesting but not really suitable for player characters, consider Schwalb’s mechanic of Contracts and Reputation. The assassin makes simple d20 rolls, based on his level and previous successes or failures, to adjudicate not only how much money he’s making with each hit but also how his reputation waxes or wanes. This allows the assassin to do his job on the side without taking the spotlight from the rest of the party: as much or as little time can be spent on each contract in-game as the DM likes and the player still gets all the cool class features of a shadowy murderer. I’m sold.

Anyone heard from Skip “The Sage” Williams lately? I found him hiding right here in Kobold Quarterly. “Ask the Kobold” is his new column and each month he will not only address confusing or controversial topics in the Core rules but also provide some insight into the how’s and why’s of game design as only an industry insider can. If you’ve ever wondered about the rationale behind percentile chances for missing due to concealment, or always wanted to hear someone who actually worked for Wizards of the Coast say “Charisma is your dump stat” (24), this installment is for you.

Moving on, we have Nicolas Logue and “Ecology of the Barghest.” Longtime readers will know I am a huge fan of monster ecology articles and always have been. This one in particular is awesome for a few reasons: first, it has everything we have come to expect from these gems both in the pages of the slain Dragon and in this magazine. There’s a sidebar with possible results of Knowledge (The Planes) checks. We also have in-depth analysis of how barghest packs are formed, what it’s like in barghest society back on their home plane of Gehenna, the various physiological states of the barghest and even a few new feats to really make barghests in your game “pop.” To top it all off, a short etymological history of the word itself and some specimens from European myths and folktales has been provided as further inspiration. If you’re still on the fence, need I remind you that barghests are wolf-goblin shapeshifters that eat people? They are awesome, and so is any article written about them.

Last month Sigfried Trent wrote a short blurb on the Trip rules in D&D. Now he has been kind enough to offer a how-to for character creation& but not the crunchy bits like feat selection or agonizing over how many points to put in this or that skill. “From the Outside In, Creating Vibrant Characters” delves into the esoteric realm of themes, motivations, funny accents and even what the guy or gal looks like. This information is critical for players and DMs alike and was so well-written that, frankly, I have to wonder why something like it did not appear in the PHB. Here’s hoping someone at the top is reading Trent’s work.

John E. Ling, Jr. is next with “A Kingdom for My Horse.” Most DMs have had a player or two who expressed interest in playing a paladin but was concerned a special mount would be inappropriate for a game featuring extensive dungeon crawls. I recently ran a Night Below campaign and if you are unfamiliar with that module, suffice to say that unless the player in question was interested in riding a cave lizard a mount would have been simply out of the question.

One or more alternate class features are a great idea but it can be difficult to adjudicate what the paladin should receive instead, especially because the mount’s versatility and power grows over time. This article offers three possibilities: another take on holy weapons (yawn), the services of lantern or hound archons or a small measure of elemental resistance. None of these is particularly interesting but the material seems well-balanced and the special feats paladins are eligible for when they choose one of these provide some neat options for the player.

D&D heavyweight Jeff Grubb offers up “Joining the Noble Classes,” a discussion on what levels in the NPC class Aristocrat actually mean for the people who have them. He makes the argument that the number of levels in this class should reflect an NPC’s status in the noble court, and offers ways for local rulers to hand out “free” levels of aristocrat not only to PCs who perform heroic deeds and deserve knighthood but also to loyal noble supporters. At first blush the system Grubb proposes may seem rules-heavy in a part of the game where DM fiat is normally all that is needed. But his ideas imply a world where it makes sense to have a bunch of high-level NPCs running around doing the king’s bidding and sets up an arena in which “free” levels of these classes can be handed out as rewards to players without breaking the game. For my game it seems like more trouble than it’s worth but the average DM might find something valuable here.

I spoke briefly about the design system of patronage in my last review. Essentially, Wolfgang Baur brings home the bacon by writing material directly for specific people: these patrons not only have significant input during a product’s development, they are also involved directly in playtesting and receive first dibs when the project is completed (sometimes the Open Design patrons are the only people who ever get a chance to see the finished product). The most recent Open Design project, Empire of the Ghouls, is unavailable to the general public but we do get a small sample of what Baur has to offer here in “The Avatar of Hunger.” Darrakh was a fearsome cave dragon in life but he fell to the claws of a pack of savage ghouls. Their disease mutated in him and any ghouls he creates are much more powerful than the average specimen represented in the MM, which explains quite a bit about how his followers have managed to carve out and dominate huge territories in the Underdark (defending their home even against the likes of Drow and Aboleth). The article alone provides plenty of inspiration and even includes stats for Darrakh, “Father of Ghouls,” but also serves as invitation to donate to the Open Design project and score your copy of the finished product. I’m considering it.

Last issue we got our first glimpse of Zobeck, a steampunk city of Wolfgang Baur’s creation. The city is fairly ethnocentric if not xenophobic, and so requires quite a bit of protection. This installment of “The Free City” explores the “Griffon Towers of the Margreve:” once the first line of defense against hostile neighbors but which in recent years have fallen into disrepair, the griffons gone feral. Backstory, quirky geography, more insight into Zobeck and a handful of plothooks, all on one page! You can’t ask for much more than that.

This issue of Kobold Quarterly is 110% better than the last. If you purchased either a PDF or a paper subscription to KQ and the quality is at least this good each quarter, you will definitely be getting your money’s worth. If you have not, what are you waiting for?

Kobold Quarterly 3

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Kobold Quarterly #3

Publisher: Open Design
Publish Date: Winter 2008
Volume: I, Number 3
Pages: 58
Rating: 7 out of 10
Retail Price: $7.99

Happy Holidays, readers; and a happy New Year as well! Wolfgang Baur, the editor of Kobold Quarterly, is trying to start the year off right with a bigger issue (58 pages), great insights from industry titans like Keith Baker and Ed Greenwood, a higher production value and some breathtaking cover art courtesy of Cris Griffin.

Richard Pett launches the issue with “Ecology of the Lich.” Being undead and lacking any ecology in the true sense of the word, the article mainly covers the “unlife cycle” of the notorious spellcasters-turned-skeletal madmen: Pett describes numerous methods one might consider when transforming into one of the undead and moves on from there. The author also talks about great quests and schemes undertaken by liches in order to stave off the inevitable mental decline that comes with eternity; this is sort of like Alzheimer’s patients playing card games and watching People’s Court every day to keep their synapses firing, albeit on an obscene, greatly exaggerated scale. The traditional Knowledge check results, feats, sample liches and examples of phylacteries and other magic items crafted by liches can all be found here.

This article unfortunately began with the potential for greatness was very poorly executed. Multiple grammatical errors and changes in tense are compounded by mechanical errors and oversights (one feat intended for liches, “Undeath Familiar,” makes no mention of prerequisites nor does it really explain the game mechanics involved with killing and animating your former familiar). Pett begins with a short narrative describing the last living thoughts of a druid pursuing lichdom, and later in the article the Great Druid Croglin makes another appearance along with details about his home, a cursed swamp. The entire piece would have benefitted from this character featuring more prominently, with examples being taken from Croglin’s story to flesh out the concepts explored by the author.

Wolfgang Baur comes to the rescue with “Star & Shadow Magic.” Referenced in previous issues as a strange field of research unique to the city-state of Zobeck, the school of Illumination includes spells that might otherwise fall into other schools like conjuration, enchantment or necromancy but all fall under the umbrella of magic that might be developed in a star-gazing culture. The really neat part about Illumination spells is that their save DCs, predictably, are influenced by the ambient light in the area around the caster. Curiously, utter darkness makes this magic very difficult to resist but you won’t get a lot of mileage out of a spell like Prismatic Fist in broad daylight.

My favorite spell from the selection has got to be Star’s Heart. The force of gravity in the area of effect is greatly enhanced, crushing everyone down into the dirt and forcing all but the strongest creatures to their knees. Other neat options are Flickering Fate (a divination that lets you make predictions about everyone else’s actions during the next round of combat) and Summon Star, which basically calls down a badass angel to shoot lightning bolts at your enemies. I think the chart detailing how spell DCs are affected by illumination could use some work but this was a treat to read and almost all of the spells presented here are immediately useful to practically every adventuring wizard.

Ari Marmell presents us with the latest installment (and, according to the editor, the last one for the time being) of KQ’s Princes of Hell, “Arbeyach, the Prince of Swarms.” Created from the first mortal soul to descend into the Nine Hells, Arbeyach’s rebirth was a cosmic accident and this, along with his alien demeanor and very un-devilish behavior set him apart from the rest of the plane’s nobles. Arbeyach is primarily interested with rigid hierarchies and the systematic, relentless consumption of all sentient life. To this end, he sympathizes most not with devils or sophisticated mortals but with insects.

The author is perhaps most famous in recent years for co-authoring Heroes of Horror with C.A. Suleiman and James Wyatt, and the same somber, sinister tone from that text can be heard throughout this work. A few minor mechanical errors aside (the prince freely chooses which stat his poison damages, Strength or Constitution, but no mention is made elsewhere in the text about the damage or Fortitude DC of said poison), the article is beyond reproach. Particularly interesting is Arbeyach’s fatal flaw& the infernal prince is said to have thousands of contingency plans for all of his schemes, because even he knows he is utterly incapable of adapting to change. The character is as “dialed-in” to his role in the hierarchy of all things, as single-minded in his dedication to his goals as the lowly insects he admires. If you’re looking for a creepy, unconventional diabolical enemy to drop into your game, Arbeyach might be right up your alley.

“Hardboiled Adventures,” by Keith Baker, recalls the noir genre of graphic novels, dimestore books and 50s crime dramas about grumbling gumshoes and damsels in distress who are not at all as they appear. This is a fantastic vein of storytelling but is a fairly radical departure from medieval, Western European-inspired, “traditional” fantasy (though the author achieved no small success with it in his Eberron Campaign Setting), which is why some helpful tips from someone who’s done it before are encouraged.

Similar to a horror campaign, noir storytelling emphasizes a world where the heroes are gritty and tarnished but are still significant not because they are more powerful than commoners around them or because they routinely “save the day,” but rather simply because they still self-identify as good guys. Baker provides plenty of advice on how to flesh out characters in a dirty noir world; suggest ways to reduce the amount of “phat lewt” in the game and replacing it with other, less tangible rewards; and discusses the possible removal of Alignment from the game in a world where the distinction between Good and Evil just doesn’t make as much sense anymore. This stuff isn’t for everybody but taking a break from vanilla D&D once in awhile is never a bad thing.

Next we have “Edtime Stories,” an interview with the legendary Ed Greenwood. As far as interviews go, this one was fairly predictable but the answers from the creator of the Forgotten Realms were interesting nonetheless. Greenwood talks about his involvement with the setting in 4E, tips he might offer to novice writers and designers just entering “the biz,” and his thoughts on why D&D has persevered over multiple editions and decades. I would be surprised to hear anyone say they picked up a copy of this issue for the interview alone but it was nice, if a bit long.

Jonathan Drain is up next with a staggering two and a half pages of math on “Optimizing Power Attack.” Apparently the feat (and any other option where you trade attack bonus for damage output) is extremely complicated, or at least you can make it so with the instructions provided here. The author explains how to use your chance to hit against a target AC and average damage per hit to calculate the precise amount of Power Attack to use each round for maximum damage potential. It isn’t clear to me how you would do this at the game table without already knowing the AC of each NPC or monster, but Drain points out you can just do all the math beforehand, pick an AC you guess might be close to the target’s and work from there. Personally, he lost me at “have a clever spreadsheet drawn up,” but stuff like this is probably why so many people enjoy D&D purely as a number-crunching exercise.

“More than Dragon’s Blood,” by John E. Ling, is the latest in a long line of attempts to make the sorcerer cool. It refers to a classic conceit of the class that the sorcerer’s innate magic comes from a dragon in the character’s family tree; but, as this article (and all the others like it) point out, dragons are not the only magical creatures walking around sexing it up with mortals. This class feature replaces the sorcerer’s familiar (as many other homebrew fixes for the class recommend) and basically gives the character a spirit guide that gives advice, tempts or prompts him to perform great or terrible deeds and, when pressed, gives bonuses to Knowledge checks and divination spells. To be honest, this article was timely: I am starting a new campaign soon in the Odyssey setting from 2E, and one player’s sorcerer would benefit greatly from Ling’s take on the subject. It’s just that there are so many other articles that practically say the same thing, which makes it hard to get excited even when the author gets it right.

“Eight Ways to Up the Action!” by Benjamin Hayward offers numerous tips on how to spice up fights, chases and other cinematic moments in your D&D game. Altering the rules for improvised weapons to encourage people to do crazy and funny things with everyday objects, new rules for climbing up on top of giant monsters to stab them in the head and running on walls are all discussed here. As the author observes, too often a game becomes stagnant when even the combat or other “action” encounters, traditionally the most exciting moments in a session, devolve into mindless dice rolling and number games. While the precise mechanics offered here are a little fuzzy, the problem is real and the solutions offered are intriguing.

Stephen S. Greer shifts gears with a peculiar article called “Dangerous Doors.” It is what it sounds like: this is a collection of doors that can be placed anywhere that basically function as traps. There are doors that spit out gouts of acid or flaming oil, doors that handcuff people who try to pick the lock, doors that burn your hand when you touch the knob, etc. My favorite one isn’t a door at all but an animated skeleton half-embedded in a stone wall. When you get too close, it reassembles and attacks you; it quite reminds me of a classic scene in Cordell’s Return to the Tomb of Horrors. I was not aware of any pressing need for more interesting doors in D&D but I guess the “stout wooden door” common throughout every dungeon is as dull as the featureless 10’x10’ rooms of old.

Finally, Baur closes us out with “The Flying Traders of Sikkim.” In his homebrew setting with the aforementioned city-state of Zobeck, there are a handful of flying metropolises from a secluded plateau called Sikkim in the desert. Being only a page long, this monthly column; entitled The Free City; isn’t really intended to offer specific game mechanics or in-depth analysis of any subject. I’d wager people probably get more out of it as a source of inspiration (“Wouldn’t it be cool to have flying cities with sultans and stuff in your game?”) than any real insight into Baur’s world.

The material in this issue wasn’t as universally fantastic as #2 but the quality of paper and typesetting continues to improve every few months. A subscription is still by far the most economical option for purchase because the raising cover price is in the early stages of outstripping the page count. If this continues, buying Kobold Quarterly at the newsstand or from the website will be cost-prohibitive, no matter the quality of the publication.

Kobold Quarterly 4

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Kobold Quarterly #4

Publisher: Open Design
Publish Date: Spring 2008
Volume: I, Number 4
Pages: 70
Rating: 7 out of 10
Retail Price: $7.99

Hello again, faithful readers! What a great time to be a gamer: WotC’s 4th Edition Core rulebooks hit store shelves in June; playtesting has begun on Paizo’s new Pathfinder rules; and our own D&D Archive has set into motion plans to meet the growing demand of loyal v3.5 players in new and exciting ways. Of course, not everything is changing. I know most of you only ever visit this website to read my reviews and I would hate to disappoint adoring fans. With that said, let’s hop to it!

Wolfgang Baur and Joshua Stevens launch this issue with “Gangs of Zobeck.” Faithful readers will recall previous articles about the steampunk city-state; over the course of the past year Mr. Baur has provided insights into how the city is run, what sorts of people live there or come to visit and the things someone might see in and around the city. This time, as the title suggests, we are treated to an in-depth analysis of the various organized criminal syndicates that make up the top tier of Zobeck’s underworld.

I have two complaints about this article, one minor and the other more substantial. First, the authors thought it more relevant to emphasize the relationships between each of the five major gangs and their leadership than to delve into how these groups interact with the populace or government. One notable exception is the entry on the Spyglass Guild which uses the intel it gleans from the mean streets not only for its own nefarious purposes but also shares it with the local constabulary, functioning almost like a “secret police” force. My other beef is that articles like this are VERY useful for people interested in using Zobeck in their own campaigns but might be more trouble than they are worth to convert if the reader is only interested in taking bits and pieces. Consider also that the breadth of this information is spread out among all the magazine’s issues and its utility is reduced even further, because not everyone reading is a subscriber. Still, it is among the best material in the magazine and worth checking out.

Next up are Tim and Eileen Connors with “Adriel, Angel of Hope.” In our own world’s mythology Adriel is an angel of death, not hope, which is accounted for in this article’s narrative. Adriel was one of four angels assigned to punish and purge the wicked, and the authors attribute all sorts of Old Testament-inspired calamities to her. But when they were captured in Hell and endured centuries of torture, Adriel’s three fellow angels were corrupted and fell. Only Adriel remained, and despite her hosts’ best efforts she not only endured; but inspired many devils to seek their own redemption. Today, the Cult of Adriel Reborn on the Material Plane is comprised mainly of former sinners which means some of the methods they use to convert or battle evil are controversial, to say the least.

In my opinion there is not enough written about Good Outsiders. I understand the rationale that the vast majority of games feature player characters of good or neutral alignments, so angels are unlikely antagonists, but that doesn’t mean they can’t still play a role in the campaign. The thing this article did very well is that it emphasizes not Adriel herself but her followers, and why they cherish her so dearly. These, particularly mortal cultists, are the most likely NPCs to interact with the heroes so it makes since they take center stage. I hope to see more articles like this in the future.

Paul Leech continues this winning streak with “Ecology of the Cloaker.” I don’t know about you but I’ve never actually used cloakers in any of my campaigns; when I cut my teeth on D&D we played 2nd Edition and back then they were basically described as monsters that perfectly resemble black cloaks. The idea here was that characters would find a cloaker lying on the ground in a dungeon, foolishly try it on without further investigation and promptly be devoured. In this way, cloakers occupied the “things to spring on players when they do not thoroughly describe their players’ paranoia.” I’m not a big fan of arbitrary punishment so I never gave these monsters a second look.

But of course, as it turns out with all Ecology articles, if you did not think cloakers were the bee’s knees before you should definitely reconsider. Here we get all kinds of neat trivia about the internal organ cloakers use to produce the sonic attacks they are famous for, enable flight, heal severe wounds and even metabolize external vibrations in their dungeon environment when real food is scarce; Knowledge (dungeoneering) check results; an evil specimen with venomous natural attacks and special powers linked to the Plane of Shadow; and finally, tips for heroes on how best to combat these weird subterranean menaces. I’ve never had anything bad to say about Ecology articles in the past, for either magazine, and I won’t start now.

Next we have “Redefining Heroes,” an interview with William O’Connor (incidentally, the cover artist for this issue of Kobold Quarterly). Although Wayne Reynolds’ work graces the covers of the three Core rulebooks due out this summer, O’Connor was responsible for the artistic vision behind the iconic characters of the new edition. Here he tells the Kobold-In-Chief a little bit about what inspires his work, how he first got into the industry and what working on 4th Edition has been like, but as interviews go this is unfortunately not a very good one. It is not terribly informative nor is what O’Connor has to say very interesting to hear. Moving on&

“Dragons Without Belly Buttons: Spontaneous Generation in Fantasy Campaigns,” by Derek Kagemann, is a humorous but interesting take on abiogenesis (life that just spontaneously forms on its own from inorganic material). The article explains how in the real world we have long since discredited the notion that life could originate all on its own without being reproduced from a living parent organism, but in a fantasy setting abiogenesis could be a very real (and very important) part of the way ecosystems function. Consider that perhaps spontaneously generated life forms carry the traits of their environment and may offer clues about what explorers can uncover there, if they only know where to look: the article gives the example of red-skinned frogs that spring up near a ruby deposit. Well-informed adventurers looking to score big would pay closer attention to the flora and fauna in a setting like this.

The best part about this article is that it didn’t try to come up with ways to shoehorn in new “crunchy” material like feats or spells dedicated to the topic. Fluff recipes for assassin vines, crocodiles, ghouls and even dwarves are included and tips on how to come up with your own are also provided. If nothing else, I think Kagemann provides an easy solution to the question of “Where do all the monsters down here get their food? And where did the MONSTERS come from?”

Jaye Sonia contributed “Lessons from Arabia: Language and Gaming.” The author speaks from real world experience about an American traveling and living in a foreign country (Kuwait, to be exact). When applying these experiences to the game table, Sonia realized that while adventuring parties often consist of people from many different cultures and races (and have dealings with many more); the use of the Common language negates the difficulty of even the most complicated verbal exchange. But what purpose does Common serve? If it is meant to facilitate trade and simple diplomacy, characters using it should only be able to convey the most basic ideas to their audience. From there the article dives into how people in their native environment communicate, even to mixed audiences, and even offers some helpful tips to both DMs and players on how to incorporate these roleplaying challenges into their game.

The problem is that Common is intended specifically to avoid problems like that. It may be true that in a real world no one would be able to talk to each other without saying the wrong thing or losing something in the translation but realism doesn’t necessarily make the game more enjoyable. Your mileage may vary, of course, and if you disagree this article is definitely for you. If nothing else it at least provides a counter argument to the tricky subject of linguistics in D&D.

Next up is “Better Gnomes and Gardens,” courtesy of David Schwartz. The premise: gnomes suck. I vehemently disagree and wonder why halflings didn’t get the boot from the PHB in the new edition instead; gnomes, who have all kinds of interesting powers and a unique cultural identity, are shunted into the Monster Manual and halflings are rewarded with arbitrary bonuses to compensate for being exactly like humans, but three feet tall. Anyway, for those who DON’T disagree, this article provides four alternate “fluff” entries for gnomes to replace the material found in Chapter 2 of the Player’s Handbook.

Nothing mechanical needs to change to be able to implement these alternate versions of the gnome in your game. The objective here is to find a fresh way of explaining the gnome’s racial traits and modifiers that isn’t so jumbled up as the technology-loving, subterranean hippies we see in most settings. My favorite is the Mustelids& tiny mole-men!

Scott Gable brings us “Cluracan: Bottom’s Up!” The cluracan (or clurichaun) appear in Irish folklore, similar to leprechauns but characterized by perpetual drunkenness. Although sources differ on whether cluracan are “mean drunks,” Gable’s depiction of them is very jovial, if a little dangerous to mortals (which is true of most Fey anyway). These little guys are always naked and always plastered, forever looking for the next good time. To describe a cluracan as alcoholic is an understatement: they need no food or drink but without booze, they shrivel up and die.

Within the past year or two we have seen a renewed interest in monster supplements in Fey, which is a very good thing. But aside from the vanilla dryads, nymphs and satyrs, which are generally good hearted but might pose a real threat to unwary humanoids, these Fey are mostly of the Evil persuasion. It is very refreshing to see Fey who are not particularly interested in helping or hurting mortals, particularly if the material is as well written as this article on the cluracan. Even if you don’t use the cluracan in your game, though, the author has provided no less than seven feats that provide various bonuses to the user while inebriated. My favorite is Under the Table, which lets drunks delay the effects of anything you ingest (poison, potions, tainted food, etc) for a number of hours. The material here would be a great starting point for any DM interested in incorporating mind-altering substances in their games.

It’s a tough act to follow but Phillip Larwood continues with “Might and Mastery: Alternate Class Features and Feats for Fighters.” If you aren’t familiar with alternate class features, the way they work is the designer identifies a specific cool thing characters should be able to do thematically but currently do something else instead. But the classes as they exist today are supposedly balanced against each other so you can’t just add abilities. Something has to go: so, a paladin might sacrifice his special mount ability and gain access to Weapon Specialization and Greater Weapon Specialization in his deity’s favored weapon.

I guess the fighter is one of those classes you don’t take past 5th or 6th level: it is not very flavorful and the only thing the class really offers is feats (a lot of them, but who needs and qualifies for over 15 of them?); people usually end up taking their business elsewhere. But trading in some of those bonus feats for an ability like Surge of Adrenalin (spend a swift action for a few temporary hit points or an extra move action) or Master of Strategy (make a level check at the beginning of every fight to earn a bonus on attack and damage rolls) might make the class more tempting. And if not, Mr. Larwood was generous enough to provide six new feats perfect for martial characters of all stripes. This article was all-crunch, but mechanically solid.

Mike McArtor closes us out this issue with “The Mithral Dragon.” It is what it sounds like: three pages of material about a new breed of true dragon based on the special metal of the same name. The premise here seems to be “a very dangerous dragon, almost impossible to kill” (even moreso than the other breeds). Energy resistance to practically everything, eventual immunity to critical hits or sneak attacks, fast healing, defensive spell-like abilities and claw attacks that cause bleeding wounds all add up to a pretty nasty opponent.

But aren’t all dragons nasty? I could see this monster working as a template for an iconic wyrm if it were the only kind of dragon you used, mechanically, in your campaign; but adding the mithral dragon to the roster seems unnecessary and uninspired. I also don’t like powers that basically strip the characters of their ability to contribute to the fight, or that arbitrarily defeat the players’ well laid preparations before combat begins. So, while the bleeding wounds are fine (if frustrating for PCs), the mithral dragon’s claws automatically overcoming any kind of DR based on special metal (like adamantine or alchemical silver) is a little cheesy. On the other hand, the mithral dragon does have a far lower effective sorcerer level at every age category than his peers (ostensibly for game balance), which is a step in the right direction.

That’s it, folks. This issue concludes the first year of Kobold Quarterly and in retrospect I just have to scratch my head in wonder at the dramatic turn-around from #1 to the magazine we’re reading today. Production value, page count, tasteful advertising from companies whose products the reader might actually be interested in purchasing (unlike obscene two page blurbs about the latest Final Fantasy installment without a shred of justification about how it applies to D&D& from a publication I will not name here)& KQ is where it’s at. If you have not yet subscribed, I encourage you to do so: finding back issues in print will be a challenge but you can always pick them up in PDF format from Open Design on the cheap.

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