Categorized | RPGs

Kobold Quarterly 16 Review

Posted on February 11, 2011 by Megan

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    The Editorial opens with the promise of a great treat: Wolfgang Baur’s own home campaign is to be written up for publication! Apparently Kobeck is part of it, but the rest of the setting is now to be subject to the Open Design process and brought into the light of day. Wolfgang’s words show his excitement… now I’m looking forward to it as well.

    And so to the first article, Ecology of the Gearforged. They started off as an act of desperation, Kobeck’s craftsmen and wizards collaborating to create something, anything to stave off the House Stross forces during the rebellion that saw Kobeck free – but they have matured to more than mere war machines. The price is high, to make a gearforged someone living has to abandon their flesh and see their spirit, their soul transplanted into a living construct which although powerful, tireless and long-lived is limited in many important ways: no sense of smell or taste, unable to cuddle up to someone, love becomes an intellectual pursuit. The Ritual of Soulforging is explained in detail, along with the mechanics for both the Pathfinder and D&D 4e rulesets. If successful, the new gearforged can be played as a character; if not you may have a ghost or a wraith on your hands. Assuming success, we then find out about the appearance and components in a typical gearforged, including the incredibly useful ‘memory gears’ that store the memories these creations accumulate – effective, gearforged remember everything! They also share knowledge with a devotion bordering on the religious. Some stick to basically humanoid form, others go for bolt-on accessories. Then there’s a look at their faith, they all revere Rava, the Gear Goddess, whilst many still hold true to whichever deity they worshiped before becoming gearforged: however most are not particularly devout. Their place in society is explored, as well as the nuances of their everyday life. People who keep pet rust monsters are unwelcome visitors! Overall, if you fancy playing a gearforged or they feature much in your campaign, there’s plenty here to bring them to life.

    Next – and this is a sneak view of some of Midgard’s lore – comes an article, Odalisques and Assassins: Courtesans of Zobeck. Here we learn about the practice of the ‘oldest profession’ and how a well-trained courtesan can provide a lot more than a quick roll in the hay. Ambassadors, assassins and more have all got their start as ladies (and perhaps gentlemen, too) of negotiable affection. Connoisseurs of the courtesan’s art have much to revel in here, as the styles and nature of the entertainment provided in different parts of Midgard are detailed. Many practitioners include Bard amongst their classes, as skill in performance or storytelling often enhances the entertainment that they provide. Sorcerer and Rogue are also popular. Rules additions include adding the art of conversation to the Perform skill, those Bards who take it gain extra options for class abilities, likewise there are other options for those who choose storytelling as a Performance skill. There are also some new spells, which could become quite amusing – enhancing your beauty or causing a target to become obsessed with you! Or perhaps you’d like to craft the magic item called a Pillow Book – not as you might imagine, the Karma Sutra but a collection of salacious gossip about notable individuals. The article rounds off with feats, weapons and mundane items that may also be of use to the professional courtesan.

    This is followed by an interview with Robin D. Laws, who has written or contributed to more games than you can shake a stick at, and still delights in it all. An interesting approach has been taken, in not just talking to Laws himself but gathering thoughts from several others with whom he has worked over the years. This neatly reflects in Laws’s own words as he talks about the meticulous structural planning that underlies his work. Fascinating stuff!

    Next, a treat for Pathfinder players, a collection of magic items collected from entries in Paizo’s ‘RPG Superstar’ writing competition. Revel in the delights of the Cacophonous Monkey, which looks like a wind-up toy but animates to enhance bardic performances… and if that performance doesn’t go to plan you might care to use a Snapleaf, a one-off aid to running away which activates both invisibility and featherfall spells. There are 10 more innovative items, many of which could inspire a whole adventure or provide hours of innocent fun for the GM if not for the character who has them – actually, they’re all of the useful and beneficial nature, a refreshing change from the cursed items that frequently see the light of day.

    More Pathfinder follows, the Clockwork Adept prestige class. Suiting a spell-caster – wizards are best – with a fascination for the mechanical, there’s plenty of scope here for an interesting development in a character’s career, provided the world you operate in has discovered clockwork mechanisms. The adept can design, build, control and analyze such mechanisms skillfully, as an adventurer or as a craftsman plying his trade for hire, for the common good or to whoever will pay!

    Next, for Dungeons & Dragons 4e, The Royal Order of the Golden Fox is presented. It is a society dedicated to the hunt, celebrating those who track and kill all manner of dangerous beasts. Once a high-profile organization that posted rewards and hung trophies on the clubhouse wall, various trials and tribulations have caused it to go more or less underground. Some urban branches have even evolved into bounty hunting rather than the original monsters and wild animals that used to be their targets, tracking wanted criminals in an Old West ‘Dead or Alive’ style. There’s a wealth of information of how to bring the Order alive in your game, including what happens if one of the characters looks a likely prospect for membership as well as some good ‘crunch’ – powers, weapons and armor, and rumors that you might hear on the street.

    Back to Pathfinder and a neat adventure called The Curse of the Blue Titchyboo, an urban low-level (2-3) scenario. It is strong in investigation and role-playing, the characters (for whatever reason, and several hooks are given) finding themselves investigating what round here would be a primary school. It’s Open Day and they’re welcome to come and look around. But are the 3 R’s all the skills that the students are learning? Neat, novel, a bit of fun… and that’s before I tell you all the children are tengu! I want to play… but seeing as I’ve read it, I’ll settle for running it.

    If you really like to mess with your players, the next article is for you: Monte Cook on The Ring of Rule Breaking. How do you create something they really won’t expect? And how much fun will you have with it before they work it out? Skip Williams follows with his Ask the Kobold column, delving into the nuances of illusion and detection magic.

    Next back to the construct theme, with Dancing Brooms, Skittering Stones which looks at the best ways to create animated mayhem, whether it’s found object or something you have made especially for the purpose. Replete with ideas, from ‘traits’ you can give your construct to battlefield tactics, there is a lot here to consider if animation magic appeals. It’s the sort of article you could well imagine appearing in an scholarly peer-reviewed journal in the library of the local college of magic. For the clerics amongst you, the following article Places of Sanctuary discusses how a holy place can be made into a place where devotees may be protected physically as well as spiritually… along with several adventure seeds to enable you to make practical use of the information within your game. Both these articles are aimed primarily at Pathfinder players, while the next – Potion Miscibility – is written with D&D 4e in mind, although in all instances the material is transferable to the game system of your choice provided you can make the necessary modifications to the game mechanics. Mixing potions is probably not a very good idea, but can produce interesting results.

    The next article, for D&D 4e again, is The Minion Academy – all about making the most of minions within your game, or at least, when in combat. Excellent if massed battle with hordes of combatants are required, with new minion powers to make their use – and almost inevitable sacrifice – advantageous to the Big Bad Evil Guys who tend to use them. It’s not just powers, though, intelligent tactics can also play their part. This is followed by True Hit Location, again a tactical discussion for D&D 4e, looking at how to give monsters hit locations and then administer combat so that their opponents can target them if they wish. It adds complexity, to be sure, but can make a climatic combat a bit more exciting than just bashing the monster until it falls over. Useful ideas especially if you like the structured approach rather than coping with characters who say “I’m going to cut its head off with my axe” on the fly without some mechanics to back up your resolution of events.

    A Pathfinder adventure, Beerlands by Christina Stiles, follows. It’s a 5th-level adventure set in the frozen north, where the characters brave all that the weather can throw at them in search of beer. What better treasure, after all? And stealing it from some giants is sure to work up a thirst. A neat, short caper with a new giant type; but you will have to come up for a good reason for the characters to be there at all.

    Next comes a piece on Clockwork Monsters for D&D 4e, giving ideas for mechanically-driven powers which can be applied to any construct or living construct monster. There’s even a quick ‘technobabble’ generation chart to help you come up with convincing descriptions of your weird creations! Finally, after a handful of book reviews, there are some fine descriptions of the Banners of Zobeck, not so much the heraldry but an outline of the armed forces at the city’s disposal.

    Overall – as usual! – it’s a fascinating collection of ideas and inspirations, all easy to incorporate into your campaign and even better if you use the Zobeck (soon to become the full-blown Midgard) setting. Kobold Quarterly is still what a role-playing magazine ought to be.

    Review by Megan Robertson

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