Kobold Quarterly #8…one issue from two full years, and this magazine has matured wonderfully.
The cover is gorgeous, but a little busy. I wouldn’t have had R.A. Salvatore’s name cut across the dragon like it does, but then I don’t have my own magazine.
It has a smattering of advertisments in the first few pages, but I’ll echo a comment I saw on one of the boards—I like the ads, I want to know about more places and new things, and honestly, that was one of the things I missed with the disappearance of its paper predecessor.
There are fourteen articles in this issue, and it’s rolling in at 70 pages. It feels like KQ is hitting a stride on the length and amount of material it can provide. The breakdown of pieces is:
11 OGL articles, 1 4E flavor article, 1 Interview with RA Salvatore, 1 Book Review, or more appropriately, set of reviews. For those who fear that the magazine is going to slide into the dark grasp of the GSL, rest easy. For those who want more 4E material, there are at least three additional articles where the flavor and advice translate to any system and the map is system neutral and gorgeous. The authors run the gamut from magazine regulars like Josh Stevens, to established industry veterans like Tim Connors, Andrew Hind, Phillip Larwood, and John Ling, to new initiates properly acquiting themselves like Derek Kagemann and Maurice deMare.
The first article on glyph magic presents an interesting school of magic with established and new spells running from 1st to 6th, with the bulk in the 2nd to 5th range. They’re defensive, offensive, and deceptive—a nice mixture. The flavor ties back into issue #1, a reference that may pique some readers’ interest, but I think it needed a little more explanation. (Titivillus is the Arch-Devil of infernal scribes. His hellish nature might not be immediately apparent.) One of the more inspiring suggestions comes with the idea of Eschew Materials and tattoo’d spells.
The horrors article builds on the ideas from issue #7’s ecology of the phantom fungus, giving us a whole new creature type and providing an avenue for lovecraftian horror that is, thankfully, not far realm inspired. The horizontal sidebar is a bit disconcerting, but given the subject matter, I can see the reasoning for the layout choice. The article has a conversational tone, as if you were hearing the material over an ale in a dark tavern, which is unusual, but works here.
Ross Byers, of Paizo’s 2008 RPGSuperstar fame, brings a nice look at the Golem in an ecology article that’s equal parts engaging background and variant stat-block goodness that doesn’t forget the golem’s real-world roots. There are four new golem types and an awakened golem cleric, all of which provide good material for adding spice to a campaign with new foes and an exotic ally.
The Salvatore interview touches all the topics you would expect it to, looking at his worldbuilding efforts, a certain drow warrior, and the directions he’s moving in now. This is a must-read item for any fan.
Phillip Larwood’s article on Medieval Medicine covers an interesting look at a topic usually ignored, or at least given short shrift in worlds where disease is a 5th level cleric away from being a non-issue. The spells and items are intriguing and Ars Magica fan in me smiled to read the material, thinking of humors and chirurgy.
A quintet of intelligent swords from John Ling does an excellent job of showing how a weapon can act as a story hook, an NPC, an enemy, or a story in and of itself. Detailed intelligent weapons are a great boon for a GM, providing an ally that characters have to use, but doesn’t prevent the GM from participating. John’s flavor text provides great histories to complement the weapon stat blocks and make campaign integration that much easier.
The article on barroom brawls is nice for adding the sort of mechanics far too many GMs have wished for in the past. What sorts of improvised weapons are there? What kind of tactics will the brawlers use? What kind of battlefield and environmental considerations are there? This article does a good job of considering the strange and unusual tactics that might be employed with a barroom battle and provides the insight to make it much more memorable.
New character races tend to pop up every so often, and at first glance, the roachlings look like just another take on the OGL dromites. These work well as a non-psionic alternative, providing something different to worlds tired of the standard fare. The addition of a roachling god and some evil rites makes for an excellent, very creepy, potential foe.
“Traps of the Mind” is bit of psychological warfare against the rogues and paranoids in a group. While this article is technically OGL, there is nothing that would prevent this from functioning equally well for a 4E game except a few DC adjustments. I like the premise of this article—that not all the traps are deadly, and that forcing a group to spend time and resources checking false traps can make engineering an ambush much easier.
Many have argued that 4E is light on the roleplaying elements, and the piece on Warlord battlecries does a nice job adding to those elements. The quotes and flavor are great, and I plan on stealing a few for my characters, regardless of their role. This article has no crunch, which is unusual for 4E material, but I think it’s useful despite that.
This series of book reviews focuses on new material, all of the novels are from August 2008 and later, one even yet unreleased—another indication that Kobold Quarterly is growing in reputation and prestige. There’s a sidenote from Ken Scholes, one of the authors, which is a nice tip of the hat to the hobby. All five reviews are concise looks at contemporary fantasy, good for feeding that muse between sessions.
Prestige classes are a tough sell for me; often they’re packaged as a collection of powers and a loose theme. That always seemed to sidestep the potential for roleplaying and just alter the tricks available in combat. The Flagellant embraces that potential wholeheartedly and while the crunch is great, the pure flavor of this class is outstanding for that method actor or storyteller in the group who’s looking to explore the concept of a devout and ascetic holy servant. The additional gear provided gives that perfect finishing touch.
The Frostrift Oracle provides a “Side Trek” sort of piece that most have missed since Dungeon closed its doors. The map is very nicely rendered and the suggestions for monsters provide a GM with options; will this be a horribly guarded oracle, or just a remote one? This is the second instance of these “Maps of Fantasy,” (with the first in KQ#6) and honestly, I don’t think anyone would complain if there were two per issue.
The issue closes with an article about the Cults and Heresies of Zobeck, Baur’s default setting for the Open Design projects. It has limited utility for those not interested in the Clockwork City, but the intrigues and machinations have good flavor, and devils and shadowfey hungering for a town populated with dwarves, men, and kobolds is, at the very least, a cool image. This article also has no crunch, and therefore the material could easily provide story seeds for a campaign in any system.
Overall, KQ continues not to disappoint!