Monday, November 12, 2012

Augury – Kobold Quarterly #23

Let’s see what Kobold Press cooked for this Autumn.

This issue opens with an article on Dispater, one of the Nine Hell’s Archedevils. The new bits of lore regarding the ruler of Dis are my favorite part – like the information about his wives and his Empyreal Lord son (yes, he has one). Great stuff for adventures and campaigns. The new manifestations are, as usual, awesome.

Slithering in the Moonlight is a peculiar article not because it’s about lamias but because it’s about playing with lamias. You don’t get to play with the classical monster, but with its lesser kin – the lamia commoner (from the waist up a beautiful young woman, from the waist down a snake). Lamia commoners are wicked, sadistic and greed man-eating things – just like ‘normal’ lamias. Actually, I don’t see the point of providing rules for them, as the entire race is evil to the bone, but I must admit that the mechanics are sound and the new racial feats (and oracle mystery) are neat.

Pages from Asmoedus is an Ed Greenwood’s article about an eldritch tome written by the Prince of Darkness himself. As everything wrote by Greenwood the good parts are the flavorful description of the tome and legends surrounding it (indeed the devil is in the details). The grimoire has various proprieties, including changing to an animate cloak (with, of course, 666 hps). The new variant spells suggested by Greenwood are excellent – and yes, they’re just hinted, with gives plenty of room for the Gamemaster. This article is an amazing source of adventures, and not just more ammunition to a spellcaster’s arsenal (though you do get 5 new and traditional-looking spells at the end). One of the best takes on a grimoire so far.

Mechuiti, our next article, is about the Midgard’s Demon Lord of Cannibals, although you could easily call him Demon Lord of Apes, Lost Islands and Cannibal Pygmies. Think of him as a Half-Fiendish version of King Kong and you’re not far off the mark. The Demon Lord’s background is a little over-the-top for me (he seems as dangerous and powerful as Demogorgon). However, the article truly shines when it addresses the mask-hidden gods of Midgard, besides it provides full stats for Mechuiti (CR 25), its behtu servants and a new demon ape creature (CR 7). Pulp awesomeness of the best type.

The Gauntlet Witch is a new (duh!) witch archetype where, instead of getting mojo from a familiar, the spellcaster gains her powers from an eldritch gauntlet (an intelligent magic item). It reminds me of the Withblade comic, but without all those absurd powers.

Steve Winter, at his Howling Tower column, shows some techniques for creating a horror atmosphere at fantasy games. You get the usual advices of low lights, candles and such, though Winter address more advanced topics, things that I remember reading from top-notch books like Bearers of Jade (from Legend of the Five Rings).

After that we get Monte Cook talking about world building. The article isn’t insightful – if you’re like me and devours gamemastering guides and books one after another, there’s nothing new here. Nevertheless, Mr. Cook manages to write in a clear and pragmatically way that I found refreshing. His examples using Tolkien’s Middle-Earth and even Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen are great. The second part deals with settings created with player input and deserved a Game Theories of its own.

The Devil’s Food is a small 6th-level urban adventure (actually it plays more like a big encounter) for Pathfinder using Midgard’s infernal gnomes of Niemheim. It reminds me of the first adventures for Warhammer Fantasy – sinister and grim, but always with a subtle dark humor.

Crossroads Crowned presents us with the winners of the 2012 Zobeck Tin Crown and Art Contests, detailing two fully-stated NPCs.

Selling your Soul is an AGE article about, well, selling souls. Actually, this is a complete subsystem for summoning, negotiating and making pacts with demons. You get all kind of benefits and powers, although the costs are high. Another excellent article, and the rules are so good that I wished we also got a d20 adaptation.

A Few Suggestions is devoted to the suggestion spells, commenting on its various uses.

The Devil Smiter is a 3.5 article (yeah, D&D 3.5, a surprise) with variant class features for paladins, all aimed at fighting devils.

Simplifying Sunder is a Pathfinder article that addresses on of those system’s last clunky leftovers: the sunder maneuver. I never liked the way the maneuver worked or its consequences. In my game experience sunder is either utterly abused by all at the table (including the Gamemaster) or simply banished. It fails to simulate the dramatic nature of shattering an enemy’s main weapon, besides dealing with lots of numbers that are rarely at hand. While the author’s suggestion is excellent in regard to bookkeeping and it brings up sunder back to the level of other combat maneuvers, it does so at the cost of verisimilitude (by using the target’s CMD as the target number, the authors links a weapon’s resistance to sundering to its wielder).

The Fruits of Friula details the City of Secrets, from the Midgard campaign setting, where any secret or hidden lore can be found (and bought for a high price). The article details new exotic poisons, narcotics, inks and other substances at sale in the city.

Monk of the Glorious Endeavor is a variant monk that focuses all his training in solely one weapon.

The Urge to Evolve is a Pathfinder Society Quest, a short adventure that can be used in Organized Play campaigns. It deals with the nefarious deeds of a barghest at the city of Magnimar.

Living Gods of 13th Age is about one of my favorite aspects of Pelgrane Press’s new game: 13th Age – a mix of D&D (mainly 4th Edition) with indie mechanics. Two examples are the Escalation Die (already mentioned at the pages of Kobold Quarterly) and the Icons. Icons are archetypal NPCs that are the movers and shakers of a campaign setting. However, instead of just watching (and suffering) these powerful characters’ actions, each PC has a connection with one or more of them since 1st level. This adds a lot of depth (and dynamics) to a 13th Age game and strengths the PC’s role in the setting in ways that other d20 games usually don’t experience. But I digress; this article gives advice on using traditional deities instead of Icons on your 13th Age games. The PCs can pledge themselves to a specific God and gain Boons (or Banes) by acting accordingly (or against) the divinity ethos.

Our next article is a small surprise: material from the Earthdawn setting of Barsaive to Pathfinder. In his case, a Named Horror called Mindtrap (CR 6) and the background surrounding it (including information on the city of Parlainth).

Sign of the White Bat briefly described the derro goddess of madness, for Midgard.

Kobold Quarterly #23 has, thus, a heap of high-standing material for your perusal. The infernal cover nailed perfectly the issue’s stronger points – the articles on Dispater, Asmodeu’s tome and the AGE subsystem for devilish bargains.