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Saturday, 7 August 2010

Definitely Bigger Than #13

Just in time for Gen Con 2010, Kobold Quarterly #14 hits our virtual door mats bigger and bolder than before. At one hundred pages, Open Design’s magazine continues its support for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game and Dungeons & Dragons Fourth Edition, along with articles aplenty that have a wider, though still no less specific application. By which I mean that the articles in question are specific in their contents, but can be applied to most Dungeons & Dragons variants. What you have in issue #14 then is another trove of advice, ideas, and support, which happens to be appropriate given that its theme is “treasure”!

Support for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game begins with James L. Sutter’s “Prince of Wolves,” a full write up of Radovan, the Hellspawn Bodyguard who makes one half of the central duo from the novel Prince of Wolves, the first in the Pathfinder Tales line that will make its debut at Gen Con 2010, and also happens to be reviewed in the “Books Review” column. To be honest I am more used to seeing such a write up after a book has appeared, so this is more advertising than a preview – since there are no excerpts from the book itself. The write up is not badly done though, especially as it includes one or two nice spells and magical items, and it would be nice if we could see it joined by an equally full write up of Radovan’s charge, the half-elf, Varian Jeggare.

This is issue’s “Ecology of...” article by R. William Thompson is devoted to the Tengu, the avian humanoids inspired by the Japanese monster-spirits. It’s an enjoyable read, full of little ideas that can be added to a game, the article being accompanied by a sidebar that discusses their place in Golarion, the default setting for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, from their home in Tian-Xia to around the Inner Sea, where they are found as thieves, mercenaries, and piratical mascots. They retain an oriental feel and can be excellent mimics – which is exploited by the Tengu Streetsinger Prestige Class which replicates the sounds around him to distract his opponents, both features that the GM can use to make memorable NPCs, and if the GM allows it, a player to create a memorable character. For devotees of the Free City of Zobeck setting, Wolfgang Baur devotes his regular column to the Tengu in the world of Midgard, providing a broad overview of where they can be found.

Paladins receive a double feature in Kobold Quarterly #14, first with James Graham’s “Healing Hands,” several new feats for the class that work with the Mercy class feature in the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game to enhance his Laying on Hands feature such that he can cure anything. Then with Dan Voyce’s look at alternative Paladin Codes in “Men of Honor,” that like the Paladin role itself, draws from history to provide codes of conduct drawn from Norse, piratical (!),ancient Chinese, and duelling traditions. Pure role-playing inspiration for anyone who likes to play a Paladin in any fantasy RPG.

The issue’s theme gets underway with “Perfumes of Bourgund” by Stefen Styrsky with another feature for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game. Set in the same world as Zobeck, with the appropriate feats an alchemist can become a Perfumer, capable of creating and identifying particular scents, whether to hide a stink, enhance a charisma, or create an allure or a lure. Michael Furlanetto’s “Hoard Magic” might be written for Dungeons & Dragons Fourth Edition, but the numbers are not all that far away from the Dungeons & Dragons variant of your choice that you could just as give that dragon or dwarf lord the enhancements that having a big stash of coins, jewellery, and other treasures would grant, such as a Liche Lord’s hoard enhancing necrotic damage and reducing the effect of healing magic. Just in their respective lairs of course, but it gives a hoard just a little more meaning than just being pretty.

With “Paper Treasures” John Baichtal gives us not just books, but a quintet of adventure seeds, while Adam Daigle gets all bourgeois with the type of “Middle Class Magic” favoured by the merchants of Zobeck. Want to enhance the flavour of your drink? Then the Spicebox Spoon contains the condiments you need, while a Tailor’s Clasp will scuttle across your clothing tightening buttons, repairing fraying hems, and so on, being just one the various little knick knacks that make the upwardly mobile man’s life that little bit easier.

Lastly, Phillip Larwood takes a big step up from the more mundane magical items to provide us with new “Figurines of Wondrous Power” each a small statuette of an animal that contains the bound spirit of the depicted animal. When summoned the creature faithfully serves you, usually as a mount or in battle. From the Citrine Toad (mobile storage device and battle toad) to the Tourmaline Crab (a battle mount that grants water breathing) the ten on show here could easily become objects of veneration or desire with a little effort upon the part of the GM.  An aid towards this is inclusion of Maker’s Marks that can add an extra power or a curse to the figurine.

Perhaps the least immediately useful article in issue #14 is Sigfried Trent’s “How to Create Feats” dissecting as it does what makes a good Feat. Unless getting under the hood of the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game is something that you like to do, the likelihood is that the contents of this piece will be too dry. It is at least worth reading the once, if only to gain an insight into the designer’s theories and practice on Feats.

From industry stalwarts Monte Cook and Ed Greenwood, there is excellent advice. The former discusses how randomness can improve your storytelling in “Dice versus Story” while the latter talks about “How to Create Memorable Characters.” It would be churlish of me to say that there little that is really new in either of these articles because the advice given in both is worth saying again. Another stalwart, John Wick gets together with Jesse Heinig to reinvent the last of the core races in the “Wicked Fantasy” series.  Here the race in question is us, the Humans. In this reinvention, the humans are the first race, a species predicated not on looking to the gods for their inspiration and insight, but on themselves and the human spirit, on learning, philosophy, and so. What is interesting here is that the authors pick up the explanation of a gaming element often used to balance the human race against the extra abilities of other player races and actually develop it into flavour and mechanics. So there is a reason for the human drive, resilience, and flexibility. Not only do the authors support it with a new racial profile, but with new racial Feats and an ideal or philosophy rather than a god. This ideal is the “Elevation of Man,” which for human clerics adds the Humanity and Philosophy domains. This might well be all too radical for some, but it nicely fits in with the previous three entries in the series and just what you would expect of Wick.
For Dungeons & Dragons Fourth Edition, the focus in issue #14 is skills. “Skill Battles” by Matthew J. Hanson shows you how to add skill checks to a battle or to make skills the focus of a battle, supported by examples that have the heroes attempting to preventing the opening of a dimensional rift, hunting for golden hares, and so on. Although they will not have the same name, “Skill Battles” are regular features of other RPG adventures, so their discussion here is a welcome addition to Dungeons & Dragons Fourth Edition and shifts its focus slightly away from one skirmish after another. Scott A. Murray finds new ways to use a character’s skills in “Art & Expertise.” He gives two or three suggestions for each skill, such as using the Acrobatics skill to determine the slight angle of a floor or to locate perfect vantage points for observation with the Perception skill. Most come with little pieces of flavour text that nicely enhance the suggestions just as these new skill challenges would add to a game.

Both articles could complement Mario Podeschi’s “Courtly Games of the Wizard Prince,” which looks at the types of games and competitions that a noble wizard would hold. Whether participating in Basilisk Baiting (played with mirror shields), the competitive weaving of illusions in Glamers, or Shoves, a ball game played with an adamantine ball and spells, these courtly games could add much to a game, whether that be simple competition, rivalries, or intrigue, with all fitting into a high magic setting.

Also for
Dungeons & Dragons Fourth Edition is “Aasimar: You Can’t Keep a Good Aasimar Down” by Kolja Raven Liquette which presents a new divine race descended from angels native to the Supernal Realms. It comes complete with the three Tier Feats and Path Features and should appeal to anyone who wants to play a character of divine origins with strong religious inclination. Lastly for fans of the game, issue #14 includes an enjoyable interview with its lead designer, Rob Heinsoo.

Of note is Jeff Tidball’s “Moral Choices That Matter,” an article not for Dungeons & Dragons, or variant thereof, but for Green Ronin Publishing’s Dragon Age: Origins. The latter game happens to be one of the better introductory RPGs to appear of late, and this article is certainly welcome. Although its subtitle is “Creating Serious Dilemmas for your Dragon Age Campaign,” the author is essentially using that game’s setting as the basis for his examples, because setting up situations in which a player’s decision has repercussions – whatever his choice – is just as applicable to Dungeons & Dragons or the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game. This should be excellent food for thought for any GM and done right, will add depth to both his game and the player characters.

Rounding out Kobold Quarterly #14, as is traditional, is a short scenario. This is “Amber Heart” by Tim and Eileen Connors, an adventure for third level characters that ties in with Open Design’s forthcoming Tales of the Old Margreve supplement. Just as easy to drop into any setting with a forest inn during the depths of winter, this sets up a fight for survival in a locked room situation with a nasty, gooey monster.

My grumbles about Kobold Quarterly still stand. A longer scenario, a Sterling price on the cover, no game reviews, and so on. Also, and given that it describes itself as “The Switzerland of the Edition Wars,” should it not also be devoting a few of its pages to “Edition 0” too? Grumbles aside – and they are just exactly that, because I just checked and I am repeating myself – issue #14 of Kobold Quarterly is another good read. Of this issue’s theme, the best of the treasure articles is “Middle Class Magic,” full of little items that add to the game, yet there are better articles still. “Ecology of the Tengu” is excellent, making me want to play one or add one as an NPC to my own game, while both articles on the Paladin make me want to play that class again. Once again then, Kobold Quarterly delivers lots of good articles, even the ones that are not written for the game that you play, that are all well written and all food for thought.