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Sunday, 1 May 2011

Villains Never Get Even


After a change of straplines with the last issue, Kobold Quarterly returns to its ever faithful, “The Switzerland of Edition Wars.” Which is a little odd, because this edition also happens to contain material for Green Ronin Publishing’s’ Dragon Age: Dark Fantasy Roleplaying, and that is yet to get involved in the fraternal squabble that is Dungeons & Dragons. Nevertheless, there are enough articles in this edition to satisfy devotees of Dungeons & Dragons, Fourth Edition and the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game alike. As to the theme behind this latest issue of Open Design's Kobold Quarterly, it is one of villains and villainy, and since villains never truly get even, it seems appropriate that the issue number is seventeen.

Getting under villainy’s hood begins with Michael Kortes’ “So We Meet Again!” Written for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, this gives optional extra powers called Adversary Abilities to both player characters and NPCs when they become sworn enemies, such as Ears to the Ground which grants a Diplomacy bonus when gathering information about your nemesis. Adversary Abilities are graded, so that initially only Returned Foe abilities can be gained, but after surviving subsequent encounters with each other, both will learn better ones, right up to Arch-Nemesis abilities. This is a neat idea that progressively gives an edge to the player characters whilst still making the villain more capable and more likely to survive a meeting with his foe. With “The Right Way to Do Wrong,” Brandon Hope switches scale in describing a nonet of cons and tricks that can be pulled by player character and NPC rogues alike. Although again written for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, the article is relatively light in terms of rules and mechanics, so they can be adapted to most games.

Stefen Styrsky’s “The Scourges of Vael Turog” describes the results of villainous efforts long in the past of Open Design’s forthcoming Midgard Campaign Setting. Derived from magical research the three diseases have mutated over the years, one being transmitted by handling magical items, another actually becoming a physical hazard and one last has gained a certain sentience. Although possible encounter groups are listed and a potential adventure detailed, what flavour the article has is lost under the mundanely mechanical rules of Dungeons & Dragons, Fourth Edition. Complementing all of this practice is “The Value of the Monster,” Monte Cook’s exploration of the monster and the villain in his regular Game Theories column, which nicely puts the meaning back in monster.

It is my heartfelt belief that every issue of Kobold Quarterly should include an adventure, so issue seventeen has given me no cause to grumble. “Ambush in Absalom” by Mark Moreland is an Official Pathfinder Society Quest, so is specifically designed for use as part of Paizo Publishing’s Pathfinder Society Organized Play campaign. This is a quick, and since it takes place in a sewer, a dirty affair that has the player characters attempting to locate a lost messenger who took a shortcut underground. Their instructions are that if they cannot find the messenger, they should at least find the message and deliver that. A mostly combat orientated affair for low level characters, this could be slipped into a game set in the Free City of Zobeck. Likewise, “The Black Goat,” the Zobeck tavern famed for its mundane magic show as fully described by Richard L. Smith II is located to a locale of the GM’s choice, along as the horror in the basement goes with it, of course.

From its title, it is clear that Matthew J. Hanson’s “Elf Needs Food Badly” has been inspired by one computer game at least, though with recipes as diverse as Candied Spider and Gnomesalt Taffy, it could just as easily been influenced by a more modern MMORPG. Anyway, this article for Dungeons & Dragons, Fourth Edition, describes fifteen magical foodstuffs and a Feat with which to cook them. When eaten during a rest, each provides a bonus to any Healing Surge plus an extra effect such as Poysenberry Pie’s poison resistance. This could be a fun addition to your Dungeons & Dragons, Fourth Edition, but tastes will vary. Candied Spider anyone…?

“Secrets of the Four Golden Gates” by David Adams provides support for the monk in Dungeons & Dragons, Fourth Edition with four new societies and their associated items. For example, adherents of the Path of the Singing Sparrows greatly value nature, and sparrows and songbirds in particular. Their bamboo flutes are capable of inflicting damage when played, and each day, will grant a listener extra Hit Points. The items are themselves well done and nicely supported with plenty of background.

For anyone with a penchant for pyrotechnics, Jonathan McAnulty offers up “Magical Squibs, Crackers, and Fireworks” for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game. Often just as dangerous for the user as they are for the target, these offer something a little more than just bangs and bedazzlements. For example, a Blinding-Goblin Cracker explodes in a blinding flash, whilst the sparkles from a Guiding Rocket always drift to the North. Anyway, these can add pleasing bang to your game, and would be sure to fascinate any overly curious Halfling.

Completely ignoring the Edition Wars, Quinn Murphy’s “On the Streets and In the Books,” which details two new sets of rules for Dragon Age: Dark Fantasy Roleplaying, both of which come with their own Stunt Tables for when the players roll well. As the title suggests the second of these sets covers research, whilst the former handles chases and fights in chases. Both new rule sets are useful, but there is an imbalance between the two, the rules for chases being more detailed, but have fewer options on the Stunt Table, whilst the opposite is the case for the research rules. It is the concept behind the Stunt Tables in Dragon Age: Dark Fantasy Roleplaying that Jeff Tidball discusses in “Feats of Stunning Might and Brilliance,” looking at how they work and why they are fun before suggesting how concept might be applied to Dungeons & Dragons. As a bolt on feature this does not add much in the way of complexity to earlier iterations of the game, but to later versions that have Feats, it does and in part, would it actually being doing that existing aspects of the Dungeons & Dragons rules are meant to be doing already?

Tom Allman’s “Lackeys, Hirelings, and Henchmen” and “Group Concepts” by Mario Podeschi all but complement each other. Both are generic articles, although the latter is written for the Midgard Campaign Setting suggesting as it does ways, means, and reasons as to why the player characters come together. It gives several campaign frameworks under which they can do so, from all playing members of the same race or species, profession or organisation to being from the same family or on the same quest. Accompanying each framework is a number of examples particular to Midgard, though there is nothing to stop a DM adapting them to his campaign setting, each of which shows how a framework can give a campaign direction. Once a group concept and its particulars has been decided upon, the player characters are going to want some hired help and the DM some interesting NPCs, to which Allman’s “Lackeys, Hirelings, and Henchmen” provides a serviceable introduction. Plus, if the characters want a four legged friend, Skip Williams describes everything that you might want to know about owning a guard dog in “The Barking Kind of Party Animal” for column, “Ask the Kobold.”

“Getting Ahead” is about as bad a title you could get for an article devoted to the power of the severed head, but fortunately, there is a deliciously evil streak to relish in Ben McFarland’s article for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game. The Craft Shrunken Head Feat is one that every tribal shaman or necromancer should consider taking. Lastly, should an adventure result in character death, then “It’s Not Supposed to End This Way” by Scott A. Murray describes six ways to avoid it, though not without consequences, which should be entertaining to play.

As we have come to expect, this issue of Kobold Quarterly is rounded out with its usual supporting features. There are the cartoons, the letters page, the book reviews, and the regular column that ends every issue, Free City of Zobeck. This is in addition to Monte Cook’s already mentioned theories about monsters, but there is also another interview with “If You're Having Fun,” this time with Jeff Tidball, author of supplements for RPGs as diverse as Ars Magica, All Flesh Must Be Eaten, and The Edge, and co-publisher of the excellent Things We Think About Games.

After the previous issue, Kobold Quarterly #17 is as a whole, not as interesting an edition. Understandably, Kobold Quarterly #16 had more of focus and more of a reason for that focus in the announcement about the Midgard Campaign Setting, but it also had more energy to it. This is not suggest that there is any one bad article in this issue or that it being an odd numbered issue that it is suffering from Star Trek movie curse, but rather as a whole this issue is not quite as satisfying. Nevertheless, the articles are themselves good, with “Getting Ahead,” “Group Concepts,” and “The Right Way to Do Wrong” all being excellent, making Kobold Quarterly #17 another solid issue.