Friday, 11 November 2011

review: kobold quarterly 19

Metric: Kobolds.  The little guys deserve your respect - this is year four and they've survived and prospered.
DISCLAIMER: Review based on PDF copy provided by Open Design
Overall: 4.5 kobolds
This issue is a challenge.  It picks areas I've got instinctive and experiential biases against and delivers considered, playable articles on those subjects.  In addition, there's some really good Pathfinder and AGE stuff here.  The layout is good as ever and growing increasingly colourful.  With expansion in mind, the kobold goes from strength to strength.

Contents: 4.5 kobolds (a varied feast of magic, horror and adventure)
This month's editorial announces an expanding magazine.  More stuff?!  This can only bode well.
The White Necromancer (Mark Radle; Pathfinder, 4.5 kobolds)
A niche class for the connoisseur - challenging and done with finesse.  While the spell list and removal of evil spell descriptor ability makes me twitch, considered mechanics and new spells make this fit for odd-ball players without entirely disenfranchising clerics.  Potential campaign arc material.
Bottled Hubris (Jerall Toi, Pathfinder, 5 kobolds)
A serious expansion to the alchemist class, building on Advanced Players' Guide and Ultimate Magic. The new specialists offer interesting directions.  My particular favourite is the calligraphist archetype, which just begs to be introduced into a game.
Magic Shops, What's In Store (Christina Stiles/Spike Y. Jones, Pathfinder, 4 kobolds).
Getting past my misgivings on this subject, this is a good article arguing for why they exist (and the magical missile weapon argument is a fair point.  I'm less convinced about Kieran's or Melysium's shop or the table at the end of the article which suggests population centres have plenty of magic.
Welcome to the Dragon Empires (James Jacobs, Pathfinder, 4 kobolds)
A preview of the lands of Tian Xia and the Dragon Empires Gazetteer.  This whistle-stop tour gives you a flavour of what's coming up.  Exotic lands and strange races provide intriguing glimpses into an excellent setting - shame it shares a name with a bit of Midgard.
Làu Kiritsu (Richard Pett, Pathfinder, 5 kobolds)
The absolute obedience and hierarchical customs demanded by this archdevil and his servants offers a different, exotic flavour to the traditional hellish foe.  Adventure hooks, magical torture items and a puzzle box round out this intriguing article.  Pett at his best, a mix of whimsy and horror.
Archetypes of Death (Phillip Larwood, Pathfinder, 4.5 kobolds)
Something a bit Hallowe'en-worthy, a death-themed archetype each for barbarians, monks, druids and summoners gives a twist on the traditional.  Of particular interest is the grave druid (suitable choice for a battlefield) and the master of worms (a monk inspired to fight undead).
Courting Adventure (Rick Hudson, system neutral, 5 kobolds)
A tour of the noble titles and the courtly figures who keep vigil over the kingdom.  These aristocrats do more than just attend balls, they perform functions.  A useful map for end-games where the high-level characters looking to carve out a barony of their own. 
Land of Horse and Bow (Simon English, AGE/Midgard, 5 kobolds)The Rothenian Plains in Midgard offer a mix of steppe warrior, gypsy tribes, shamans, centaurs and kite-riding elves.  Background options for these characters and variant rules for Arcane Lance spells provide more flavour for Open Design's Midgard setting.
Balance-Free Bonuses (Monte Cook, system neutral, 4 kobolds)
The new lead in Dungeons & Dragons offers some thoughts on how to make the traditional races and  classes stand out with some simple traits without having to worry about bonuses or modifiers.
Morningstar, Monkey Marrow and Ice Cream For Dinner (Jeremy L.C.Jones, interview, 4 kobolds)
An insightful interview with indie designer Jason Morningstar, brain behind Fiasco and The Shab-al-Hiri Roach.  If you don't have these games, check them out. 
10 Ways to Turn Dull Traps into High-Stakes Encounters (Britian Oates, Pathfinder/4E, 4 kobolds)
A list for trapsmiths to consider when placing their engines of destruction.  Introducing complexity in it's execution and/or disarming is only the beginning.
The Gordian Knot (Mario Podeschi, Pathfinder, 5 kobolds)
The winning entry of the Relics of Power competition, an extradimensional knot from the tapestry of the universe which offers magical insight and the ability to evade detection and scrying.
Scions of Terror (Josh Jarman, AGE/Midgard, 5 kobolds)
Four more background options for Midgard in AGE, this time for the Western Wastes, which earns a mention in the Midgard Bestiary.  Players may choose arcanist, nobleman, goblin trader or hellborn.
Aneela, Human Cleric (Matthew J. Hanson, Solo player, 4 kobolds)
A novice cleric faces some difficult choices against undead.  This is a simple introductory adventure for a solo player, requiring battle skill, savvy and some luck.
Bark At The Moon (Brian Liberge, 4E, 4 kobolds)
Another Hallowe'en-themed article, allowing characters to gain useful powers from lycanthropy and becoming a shapeshifter.  A theme and various attack powers provide intriguing options.
Book Reviews (various, 4 kobolds)
Gearing up for the primary gifting period reviews of Heaven's Needle by Liane Mercel, Low Town by Daniel Polansky and the latest Pathfinder Tales, Death's Heretic by James L. Sutter.
Order of the Undying Sun (Wolfgang Baur, Pathfinder/Midgard, 5 kobolds)
A thumbnail sketch of a knightly order of Khors, a solar deity that is slipped from courtly favour but serving the Magdar Kingdom with loyalty and links to Divine Favor: The Paladin.

Art & Layout: 4.5 kobolds (an increasingly colourful selection of excellent pieces)
The cover by Malcolm McClinton is an evocative piece, showing an archer with flaming arrow astride a sinuous oriental dragon.  Interior artwork is a mixture, ranging from high-quality, colour pieces like Jason Rainville and Mark Smylie's piece for the White Necromancer and Steven Wood's piece for Bottled Hubris and Matthew Jaecks' piece for Làu Kiritsu.  Colour pieces are more prominent, notably in the Midgard articles by Mark Smylie.  Eva Widerman and N.C. Wyeth also deserve mention for their work.  Monochrome sketches like Hugo Solis' piece for Aneela, Human Cleric stand alongside woodcuts, which are in the significant minority now.  The cartoons are amusing and themed apposite to preceding articles, from the necromantic antics of Stan!'s 10x10 toon to the alchemical ennobling of d20 Monkey and noble aping of Bolt & Quiver.  Legend of Bill resorts to low-brow and falls short(s) because of it.  The layout is crisp and cohesive, something that it's draconic ancestor failed to achieve at year four (and later).

In conclusion, this is a strong issue.  While some articles are challenging because they proposed things I disagree with, there's still plenty of quality content.   Even the ads make you smile while pushing the envelope, Zombie Sky Kickstarter projects appear alongside 3rd party ads and The Kobold Scroll of Holiday Wishes 2011 edition.  Things have changed for the better, and KQ has dominated the niche of  a print zine for tabletop RPG.  Wonder what's next? 

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