NewbieDM Review: Dungeon Magazine 171

Posted on October 29, 2009 by

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Before I get to the review of the magazine, let me point out why I’m choosing to review Dungeon Magazine now. It occurred to me that I wasn’t seeing any reviews of this magazine (or Dragon) on any of the blogs that I typically read. If I’m wrong, please correct me, so I may add another blog to my list of reads. I figured this may be of interest to D&D players who may not be subscribers of the Insider service, and are looking for a little reading material to help them make up their minds as to whether or not to subscribe. Having said all this, here’s my review.

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The Raven Queen graces the cover of Dungeon 171 this month.

Dungeon Magazine has recently changed formats, and has become exclusively a  DM’s magazine. It not only includes adventures, but also articles that are useful for DM’s looking for extra materials for their campaigns. This change was recent on the part of Wizard’s, and as far as I’m concerend, it’s a welcome one. I’d much rather have one magazine to pick and choose from, than have to dig out stuff from two. So, what does this issue of Dungeon offer us DM’s for use in our game? Here’s a sample, let’s see.

Adventures

For DM’s looking for adventures, side trecks, or battles we get a varied lot to choose from, with the bulk of them geared towards the heroic tier of play.  The big picture item here this month is the introduction of the “Chaos Scar” campaign, or as the editorial in the magazine calls it, the “Caves of Chaos” campaign (?).   The Chaos Scar is a long narrow valley carved out by a meteor, dotted with caves and areas of adventures.  The campaign is a loose collection of adventures centered around this area, with enough plot holes deliberately left to allow the DM to fill with his own creations.

W e get two Chaos Scar adventures this month, “Stick in the Mud”, dealing with a tribe of Bullywugs who have taken residence in a long dead Wizard’s laboratory; and “Den of the Slave-Takers”, an adventure revolving around Gnoll slavers and an evil Halfling.  Both adventures are 1st level adventures, perfect to begin campaigning in the Chaos Scar.  I like the idea behind this series, and if I weren’t already involved in a campaign, I would have looked into running this one.

Continuing in the heroic tier of play, there’s a side trek called “Treed!” which deals with an Owlbear the party has to deal with.  Meh.  I wasn’t too impressed.  The adventure consists of a role playing encounter (and labeled as such, even given a level but no XP ?), and a combat encounter.  If you have nothing prepared for your 7th level party, throw this at them, otherwise,  I’d skip it.  What’s a role playing encounter anyway?  I don’t recall that being anything.  It’s not a skill challenge, it has no XP value, it’s just an encounter consisting of a series of Perception & Insight checks.  Weird.

Moving on to the paragon tier of play, we have an encounter that if I threw at my players they’d scream “Cheesy!”.  Not because it’s a bad encounter, but because of who’s in it.  My players are a bunch of cynical jerks anyway, so never mind them.  In this encounter, the players get to fight Drizzt, the world’s most famous Dark Elf, and a nasty 21′st level Solo Skirmisher, along with his panther Gwenhwyvar, also 21st level. The encounter provides the stat blocks, the battle map, and a Skill Challenge to attempt to get Drizzt to stand down.  It’s a neat encounter that I’ll never run, unless I re-skin Drizzt.  “Eh… you guys see a dark elf… his name’s, eh… Brizzt.”  “Brizzt?”  “Yeah, yeah, Brizzt.  Roll initiative.”

For the epic tier of play we get yet another adventure in the “Scales of War” campaign, “Grasp of the Mantled Citadel”.  I’d be lying if I said I knew anything about what’s happening in this adventure path.  I have no idea.  I tried collecting all the adventures as a single PDF and hit over 500 pages a few months ago.  I’ll never run it, so I’m not even reading it.  Either way, they are up to level 22, so it’ll soon be over.

Deities and Demigods:  The Raven Queen’s Misbegotten

This article, by Robert J. Schwalb (who is quickly becoming one of my favorite 4th Ed. authors), sheds some light on the Raven Queen and her followers.  There’s plenty of fluff here related to the goddess, and then it includes stats on several samples of her devoted followers, who belong to groups dedicated to serving her, as well as including details on sects that follow her as well.

It’s a cool article, and seeing as how the Raven Queen has become such a popular deity in D&D, I can see this article getting some use.   I know I may pick and choose certain things from it.

The Eye of Justice

This is a Forgotten Realms article detailing a group of corrupt vigilantes in the city of Westgate.  It includes an encounter, which to me seems a little incomplete due to lack of a battle map.  It also mentions some feats that players can learn for joining the group, but doesn’t include them.  It instead mentions they’ll be in an “upcoming” Dragon article. When?  It’s upcoming.  I don’t play in the Realms, although that shouldn’t necessarily matter, and I have no desire  in using this group as presented.  Plus, the lack of the battle map in the article threw me off.  One of many editing issues with the magazine this month.

The magazine also includes a Mike Mearls article where he answers mail related to Skill Challenges, and a “Save My Game” article on organizing tiles an minis.  This article isn’t even highlighted in the contents, it  gets a very generic sounding “… back with more advice and letters from the mailbag…”.  Meh.

Something happened when this magazine was put together.  The table of contents is all wrong.   The pages don’t match the articles, and page 90 shows up 3 times for three different articles.  There’s a missing battle map, and the editorial on the front page calls the new campaign one thing, while the adventures call it something else.  There are also 9 blank pages with a “Dungeoncraft” header, following such article, in the back of the magazine.  I don’t know, maybe the editor is on sick leave and an intern filled in, because this is sloppy work.  I hate to say it guys, but it is.

If you are a non DDI subscriber, and I had lent you this magazine to judge the quality on, you’d pass on it.  And understandably so, as it feels a little amateurish.  Although in their defense, it’s not a normal occurrence.  Something must have happened.  If these issues are fixed at some point please let me know so I can amend this review.

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