Thursday, November 3, 2011

Augury - Kobold Quarterly #19



Kobold Quarterly #19 opens with a new Pathfinder character class: the White Necromancer. It’s an old concept (constantly recreated), although this version is probably the most different so far. It’s a spontaneous spellcaster (no spellbooks). In fact, the class doesn’t look much like a necromancer. It seems more of a mystical healer, mixed with a 19th century spiritualist vibe. Unfortunately, its abilities don’t help to pinpoint its concept – at a certain level the white necromancer can create undead, but they’re “free willed” so to speak and require Diplomacy to be commanded (even if they’re unintelligent undeads). While I can understand the mechanic, it’s just too odd for me. Grasp of the dead is another class ability that would fit better with your classical black necromancer. Verdict: good mechanics, but strange fluff. However, I must point out that at least the white necromancer can cast healing spells.

Bottled Hubris brings new alchemical discoveries for Pathfinder. The article presents a nice mix of abilities, like bombs that dismiss enemies or dimensional anchor them. The metalwork discoveries are pure badassery while the plant discoveries allows you to play Swamp Thing (without the bad looks). We also get new archetypes, all very flavorful and with intelligent twists to the class’ base abilities (my favorite is the Calligraphist).

Magic Shops: What’s In Store? talks about the importance of magical items sellers in a typical Pathfinder campaign, presenting 4 sample stores. These described stores are simple and easy to insert in ongoing campaign, each with a distinct flavor to help fixing it in the players’ mind. The article also presents a magic item availability table and information regarding Zobeck’s magic shops.

Welcome to the Dragon Empires is a small preview of the new races and nations of Golarion’s oriental regions (to be presented in Dragon Empires Gazetteer). Very little is actually revealed here (especially regarding the new races), but we do get a list of new lands and nations. Some will probably rise questions (for example, the land of Jinin – do we really need oriental elves? – and the realms that seems to be fantasy analogs of modern oriental nations, like Po Li and Bachuan). Dragon Empires has the potential to be this generation’s Kara-Tur, with interesting locations like the hobgoblin nation of Kaoling, the aasimar kingdom of Tianjing, the dragon-ruled Xa Hoi and the bizarre vistas of Shenmen and the oriental Darklands.

The next article details Golarion’s first oriental arch-devil – Làu Kiritsu, Lord of Absolute Obedience. This new infernal duke has a strong pulp feel (Fu Manchu) and it’s hard not see its mysterious followers invading Avistan through shady opium cartels. Unfortunately the article doesn’t explain how these “eastern” devils (and outsiders and gods in general) interact with the setting’s official “western” cosmology. We also get 4 new magic items.

Archetypes of the Death introduces 4 new archetypes: Deathrager, Grave Druid, Master of Worms and Zombie Master. The Deathrager’s benchmark class feature – Indomitable Soul – allows a raging barbarian to stand fighting even after killed. Grave Druid is a little trash, but do provide an viable undead-aligned primitive priest. Despite the name, the Master of Worms is a cool undead-slayer monk, while the Zombie Master is a very fun and intelligent take on the summoner, granting the ability to command undeads and new eidolon evolutions based on famous undead powers.

Courting Adventure is a systemless article with explains in a simple and easy way the courtier  and political ranks of old societies – like detailing what a Seneschal, a Lord Equerry or a Palatine Lord do. It’s an excellent article, perfect for adding more variety and complexity (besides complications) in games where player character interacts with nobles and rulers.

Land of Horse and Bow  bring 6 new Midgard backgrounds for Dragon Age’s rule system (AGE) – the Kariv Wanderer, the Cazzaki Nomad, the Free Tribe Centaur, the Steppes Shaman, the Vidim Boyar and the Windrunner Elf –, besides presenting interesting information on cultures from Open Design’s new fantasy campaign setting (the yet to be launched Midgard). Articles like this make me wish that others campaign settings detailed not base races (like “human” or “elf”), but full cultures (like “Chelaxian human” and “Janderhoff dwarf”). And talking about AGE, Green Ronin’s new system strikes twice, with a second article introducing 4 backgrounds for Midgard’s Western Wastes. Here we get details on the Bemmean Arcanist, the Bourgundesse Noble, the Dust Goblin Dune Trader and the Tintagerian Hellborn. Once more an excellent article, pinpointing some of AGE’s strongest points.

We get an article with 10 tips for improving traps, followed by examples about what to throw at your fresh and naive dungeoncrawl party. Although the article makes reference to Disable Device skill checks, it’s systemless, with good tips for any game.

Gordian Knot is the winner artifact of the Relics of Power web contest. This minor artifact is different because – to my account – it must be the first item whose most cool power is activated only after you destroy it.

Bark at the Moon is this issue’s first and only 4th Edition article, revealing the clear ascendancy of AGE as Kobold Quarterly’s second rules system – an interesting trend. Bark at the Moon is about werewolves PCs and, instead of designing a new race or class (like the Heroes of Shadow’s vampire), it cleverly presents our most beloved lycanthrope as a new theme.

Balance Free-Bonuses is the best article written by Monte Cook in the last years (and the best so far for Kobold Quarterly). It brings back the idea the not all character’s traits should be about mechanical effects. In table-top RPGs the elements of description, flavor and – this may sound shocking – roleplaying are as much important as mechanical bonus.  Monte suggests simple but fun ideas to individualize and highlight the concepts behind some races and core classes. Colorful things like:  elves never get dirty, dwarves require twice more alcohol to get drunk, wizards can make their eyes glow with magical power etc. Some of these flavor-based benefits are quite strong – as the one where halflings only count as “half target” for the purpose of beneficial spells (others are clearly based on Arcana Evolved, a variant D&D written by Monte). The article is a wonderful and refreshing reading in these times of character builds and obsessive optimization.

Kobold Quarterly #19’s interview is with John Morningstar, the author from Fiasco and others really cool games.  We also get a new stand-alone adventure – Aneela, Human Cleric (Part One). Zobeck’s one-page material this time is about the Order of the Undying Sun, a powerful martial order dedicated to Khors, the Sun God, whose Commander at the Clockwork City choose the wrong site during the Revolt against House Stross.

Kobold Quarterly keeps increasing its Challenge Rating and is today, without a doubt, the hobby’s greatest magazine. The 19th issue brings excellent material for Pathfinder, Dragon Age RPG and D&D 4th Edition, with the occasional systemless article making it a valid purchase even if you don’t play the triumvirate above.