Friday, 3 February 2012

review: kobold quarterly 20

Metric: Kobolds.  They've proven their worth even in these straitened times.  One of nature's survivors and what's this - next issue they can go into a tavern?  Must be doing something right.
DISCLAIMER: Review based on a PDF copy provided by Open Design.
Overall: 4.5 kobolds (the Kobold goes from strength to strength)
This issue shows the Kobold entering it's sixth year.  Next issue it gets to drink and given it's performance, I suspect that champagne may be the order of the day.  In this time it's managed to carve a niche out and surpass it's predecessors through quality and by moving with the times.  As a new edition of D&D hoves into view, the future is looking rosy for this small but fierce predator who appears large and in charge compared to other RPG-zines out there.

Contents: 4.5 kobolds (a mix of excellent and complimentary themed content)
After last issue's challenging content, this issue has things much more to my taste.  A mixture of archers, fun things to do with ooze, planar allies, nightmarish monsters and... fish supper too?  The advent of 5th edition has elicited a flurry of 4E articles it seems.  AGE support is still going strong and as KQ enters it's sixth year, it seems the quality of articles aren't slowing down and neither are the quantity!

Now, it's time for detail.

The Elven Archer by John E. Ling, Jr. (5 kobolds, Pathfinder) - This class is very well-designed, distinctive from a ranger and doesn't obviate the arcane archer prestige class.  The article is also well-written, concise yet expressive. Ideas to hack the class are well-thought out.  Elf-loving players will be rubbing their hands in glee, GMs won't find this class game-breaking.  Much to like.
Arrows of the Arbonesse by Jarrod Camiré (5 kobolds, Pathfinder) - This collection of magical and non-magical arrows offers a variety of options; from silent fletching through razor wire and acid tips to battlefield options needing multiple archers.  GMs will find plenty of new ideas for arrow traps or assassins.  Something for everyone here.
Derro Ooze Magic by Nicholas L. Milasich (4.5 kobolds, Pathfinder) - For those with Juiblex-cultists, degenerate drow or derro savants, this is terrific.  While billed as alchemist options, the spells cover numerous classes including witch and sorceror/wizard.  The miniature ooze familiars are wonderful.  While it's a bit niche, the content is excellent. 
Servants from Beyond by Mario Podeschi (5 kobolds, Pathfinder) - Four possible allies for those casting lesser planar ally.  This article offers allies players can call upon - providing individualised motifs and roleplaying guides as well as stats.  There's a real need for articles that can speed up play like this.  More would be a good thing..
Night Terrors by Jack Graham (4 kobolds, Pathfinder) - This quartet of monsters are distinctive.  The changeling moth offers a Ravenloft-esque horror, the giant naked mole rat will be useful for fans of BBC's Merlin.  The cephalic parasite is classic B-movie and the pishtaco is Stephen King-style horror.  Some tweaks may be needed to suit certain games, they're good stuff.
The Power of the Game Master by Monte Cook (4 kobolds, system neutral) - Monte considers the role of the GM and various points on the continuum of authority in a game.  This may seem obvious but there is nothing wrong with stating the obvious if it's a) true and b) relevant.
Captured in the Cartways by Christina Stiles (4 kobolds, Pathfinder, Midgard) - A subterranean adventure set in Zobeck's Cartways.  Your party needs to do a favour. It's not complex but it's fun and the end-level villain is excellent.  You don't need the Zobeck sourcebooks (though they are excellent) mentioned.
Putting the Band Back Together by Stefen Styrsky (4.5 kobolds, Pathfinder) - Re-uniting former legends back for one last gig is a recurring theme in action movies, now these feats let you wheel out your heroes for an epic showdown.  These may be better suited to traits than feats yet are a nice touch.
Fey Hunters & Shadow Hounds by Christopher Bodan (5 kobolds, Pathfinder, Midgard) - A look at the shadow fey hunts and their hounds.  Those with Tales of The Old Margreve and Court of the Shadow Fey will definitely want this.  The fey hunting hounds are a disturbing twist on the Wild Hunt.  Lycanthropy may almost be preferable.
AGE of Specialization by Randall K. Hurlburt (5 kobolds, AGE) - Some additional options for AGE RPG characters, the battle captain plays well with others, the elementalist channels primal forces but the rogues steal the show with marksman, master thief and skirmisher.  Well-balanced, worth your attention.
Kobold Diplomacy: Bardic Charisma Meets Crunch and Chickens by Jeremy L. C. Jones (4 kobolds) is an in-depth interview with Christine Stiles, whose resume is already impressive.  This interview has good advice if you want to get into the industry.  Also perhaps the silliest title I've seen in a while.
The Bardic Arts by Aaron Infante-Levy (4 kobolds, 4E) - A hack for bards in 4E, some additional options making the bard a social skeleton key.  While useful for courtly games and gathering information, the DM may need to create some situations.
Ask the Kobold by Skip Williams (5 kobolds, Pathfinder) - A breakdown on the effects of poisons and disease - essential reading for GMs.
Small Spirits by Matthew J. Hanson (5 kobolds, 4E/Pathfinder) - A collection of primal nature spirits, magic items and creatures.  Good stuff for those running games with shamanic or druidic influences.
Unearthed Ancestry by Jerry LeNeave (4 kobolds, 4E) - Race-based powers for gnomes, minotaurs and tieflings.  Combat crunch with some subterfuge for the gnomes; balanced and archetypal.
Make Haste! by Ron Lundeen (4.5 kobolds, 4E/AGE/Pathfinder) - Proposing a new mechanic (haste points) to vary the difficulty of encounters where speed is of the essence.  The slow get a harder time of things.  Nice if you've got a party that dawdles horribly.
Fish of Legend by Crystal Frasier (4 kobolds, Pathfinder) - A whimsical take on magical food, with a couple of classic legends and folklore thrown in.  Fishing may become a new preferred past-time.
Book Reviews by William Banks, Ben McFarland, Wade Rockett, and Pierce Watters (4 kobolds) - Fantasy light and dark, a history of roleplaying games and steampunk adventure get analysis.
Free City of Zobeck:The Ruins of Arbonesse by Jeff Grubb (4 kobolds, Midgard) - A look at the ancient kingdoms of the elves in Zobeck and how they have fallen.
Cartoons (4 stars) - Bolt & Quiver celebrates size differences, d20 Monkey wants fun with performance-enhanced snakes and 10x10 Toon cuts the cheese with a groan-inducing pun.  How else can I review them?

Artwork/Layout: 4.5 kobolds (excellent cover, strong interior art enhances articles)
The cover by Richard Clark shows The Snow Queen bringing seasonal chill to the proceedings.  Rick Hershey and Blake Henrikson provide excellent interior art, the elven archer firing sprays of magical arrows, the fey hunting hounds look horribly unnatural.  Jason Rainville, Storn Cook and Michael Jaecks provide excellent colour pieces.  Black & white pieces are good quality and less woodcuts or classic art appear.  Adverts haven't become too obtrusive yet though the smaller blocks make some articles page-turners - this is a minor gripe at best.  Overall, the magazine is a great example of how to do this right.

In conclusion, KQ20 shows no sign of slowing down.  It's bringing quality content, supporting 4E, AGE RPG and Pathfinder with equal facility.  Six years is a long time in the industry and to see a magazine supporting multiple systems without being a house organ for any of them is testament to it's quality.  If you haven't yet succumbed to the lure of the kobold, you can grab a free copy of KQ 14 (reviewed here) until 14 February 2012 by visiting the Kobold Quarterly store and using the voucher Kobold Welcome.

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