I had a chance to read Kobold Quarterly, a D&D magazine believed by many to be the spiritual successor to Dragon Magazine (in its print version pre-4th Ed.) and I can see why that is. It is a nicely put together mag with tons of D&D content, whether you’re playing 3.x, Pathfinder or my system of choice, 4th Ed.
The current issue out now is issue 11, the Fall 2009 issue, with this nice color cover:
Just from the cover, the two things that stood out the most for me were the articles on 4th Ed. wishes, and the designer round table. Wishes because I’d like to see how they created that without breaking the game, and the designer round table because of some of the names attached to it. I had an issue with this article, and I’ll get into that later on in the review.
I won’t spoil all the articles so you have an element of surprise when you pick up the magazine. You should pick it up if you are running a game and would like to sample other stuff outside of the WOTC published material. Here now are a few words on some of the articles:
A Broken Mind: Sanity and Mental Disorders by Scott Gable
Right off the bat we get an article filled with alternate rules for a sanity system in 4e. The article assigns a new ability score to your character, “Mind”, and based on this score you have a “Sanity” pool of points. Different factors affect how and when you lose points from you sanity pool, reading forbidden tomes or running into aberrant creatures are two examples that would force you to roll a sanity check to see if you are affected. There are then effects that take place depending on how many points you’ve lost, etc… The article is well presented and it’s obvious that some thought went behind the design of the system. If you are a DM that would find this sort of thing interesting, then by all means go for it. It doesn’t seem to be too complicated, and the author does a good job of laying it out there in a simple enough manner.
Running Across the Screen, a GM Roundtable
The cover of the magazine calls it a designer roundtable, yet the article refers to it as a GM roundtable. A minor point, sure, but it stood out for me. Either way, this is a very nice article that includes 16 DM’s, with such names as Monte Cook, Chris Pramas, Robin Laws, Mike Mearls, Chris Perkins, and James Wyatt. The article includes the DM’s input on what it means to them to be a DM and other stuff like encounter design and player free will. It’s good to read what other DM’s think, specially those so close to the game that their names are on the books, so it is an interesting article. My only gripe, and it’s a minor one, is that for me a roundtable would have everyone in the same room playing off each others’ answers, while this clearly reads as an article combining emailed answers. Doesn’t mean it’s bad, I love the article, but it’s not a real roundtable in how I see the meaning of one. Either way, as a DM you can get some good insight out of this.
Wishing Well by Garrett Baumgartner
Wishes have been a controversial part of D&D, and I believe their exclusion in 4th Ed. was a deliberate attempt to get away from the more game breaking aspects of the game. In this article, the author attempts to bring back the Wish as a system revolving around the three tiers of play, and based on the tier the impact and effect of the wish becomes greater. The wishes are given out as if they were treasure based on the 4th. Ed. treasure parcel system, and they immediately reminded me of the alternate rewards mechanic in the DMG2. In fact, the Heroic Tier wish is called a boon, which if you’ve read the DMG2, you’ll immediately recognize it as a reward handed out as if it were treasure as well. Wishes can be used for things as renewing an encounter power, granting instant success on ability checks, and even changing your race at Epic tier. To be honest, I’m not sure that I’d use the Wish mechanic as written in this article. Wishes are out of the game for a reason, and this article does nothing for me to justify their existence.
Farragum, the Howling City by Dan Voyce
This is a neat article detailing an underground city populated by the Derro, and even includes a new disease to throw at your player, “Madness of the Wailing Wind”. The Derro, which I didn’t know and had to look up, are an evil race that’s a combination of man and dwarf, something the article omits but I would have found useful to know. Sometimes authors should not assume every reader is a knowledgeable about every D&D thing out there, just a thought. The article highlights important locales and includes a nicely rendered color map of the city. It seems easy enough to place this in any generic campaign world, although I’m not sure of there are Derro’s in 4e., making their inclusion in this article a little puzzling. Perhaps a city of Duergars? In all fairness it was both a 3.5 and 4e article, which leads me to my one negative thing on the magazine…
Maybe I’m getting blinder as I age, but I had a real hard time finding the reference on the article headers that described if it was a 3.x, Pathfinder or 4th Ed. article. Once I found it I had an embarrassing moment of “how stupid of me“, but I still feel it could be a little bit more prevalent, or perhaps written into the introduction of the article itself. Also, the table of contents doesn’t detail what edition the article is for, and I think that would be a good thing to include on there for faster flipping to the sections that may interest me.
My other very minor gripe was the inconsistency with the GM/Designer roundtable article, which seems like an editing mistake more than anything else. I think it could lead someone who’s looking for designer advice to find something else when they read the article.
The magazine is very nice, very well put together, and for its price it is a good value. At $5.99 for the PDF, or $7.99 for the print version, you really can’t go wrong. I think the points I touched on regarding the edition references would go a long way towards making it a little more user friendly, at least for me. Would I recommend it to someone who has never read it? Sure. Extra content for your game is never a bad thing, and sometimes it’s good to go beyond the books and writings of the same designers you keep buying and reading from over and over again. So yes, I recommend it, even with those minor flaws (to me) that I singled out.