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  1. #2511
    Dragon annual 2001


    part 6/7


    Firearms in freeport: Ah yes, Chris Pramas. Another WotC alumni that founded his own company, and enjoyed a fairly substantial amount of success over the years, with stuff like Blue Rose, Mutants & Masterminds and True20 taking the d20 system in quite an interesting, slightly rules-lighter direction. But he started off with a relatively generic adventure series, that gradually evolved into a full setting of it's own. The aptly named Freeport, a rough and tumble seaside city full of opportunities for you to make your fortune or die trying. You can easily plonk it in your campaign world, and introduce elements from any culture by saying a trading ship has just come in and their goods are the next new hot thing.

    So anyway, enough exposition, let's look at guns in Freeport. Not too surprisingly, it's all a gnome's fault. And equally unsurprisingly, he wound up in freeport because the established power blocs in his old country were not amused by this destabilising new idea. So far, so cliche. Thankfully, it manages to transcend that with a rather good implementation, making firearms more powerful than regular weapons, but also requiring a exotic weapon proficiency to use, and a very real possibility of amusing misfires. On top of that, he also stats out their creator, gives the individual guns amusing names, and details their forge in a way that makes it a decent adventure location, making it less generic while not removing it's ability to be dropped into other worlds. So it looks like this is his attempt to follow in the Forgotten Realm's footsteps, creating material that can be used by anyone, but also makes a setting of it's own, with the big difference being in the personality of the writers. It's an idea that was immensely popular once, and now anyone can try it. In hands like this, we'll get good material. In not so talented hands, we'll just get people telling us about their own characters. Just got to keep our ears to the ground to figure out who's delivering the goods.

 

  • #2512
    Dragon annual 2001


    part 7/7


    Head to head - Mini adventures: We finish up with an absolute ton of mini-reviews (not to be confused with minis reviews) of equally small adventures that AEG and FFG have been pumping out recently. 16 page, half width little things, they seem designed to scratch that itch that TSR stopped satisfying sometime in the 80's, as modules grew longer and more tied into specific worlds and complicated plots. It's an excellent case of multiple companies being able to meet demand where a single one wouldn't. However, it's also a good example of an area where a glut of poor quality material will eventually oversaturate the market again, killing off demand once people have more than they'll really use. And since they've both produced more than 16 in a year, they're probably already starting to see diminishing returns.

    So the sensible thing for us to do would be to buy the best few and leave the rest. The Heart of Amun Khonshu gets top marks, with a nice egyptian themed dungeon crawl that also covers the trek too the tomb decently. Meanwhile the Dragon's wish by vocal forumite Justin Bacon (who also gets poor reviews on quite a few more of his modules) gets bottom marks, being railroady, mechanically rubbish, and nonsensically set-up. A lot of emphasis is put on if the adventures are actually appropriate for the level they say they are, with many of them being vastly over or underpowered, or easy to break by application of common D&D spells. On average, AEG's products have better writing, but FFG's have higher production values. (and cost more) So this is a very refreshing way to finish off this issue, given how long it's been since they did reviews in the magazine, and shows that they're taking the many d20 products out there with a grain of salt. Don't feel you have to spend all your money trying to keep up, just because it's there.


    There is indeed some pretty high quality material here, and using different contributors to the usual issues is nicely refreshing. So my main complaint, as at the start, that this issue is way too short. Given the amount of dreck the d20 boom produced, I suppose that's laudable, and it means they're only recommending those companies they actually like. But it does leave me feeling unfulfilled, especially as I know this is all I'm getting unless I were to do that Polyhedron reading thread as well. Oh well, I guess as this is the last annual, each year will seem to go by a little quicker yet again from now on. I guess I'd better see what new material 2002 has to offer, and how much effort it'll be to read and analyse it all.

  • #2513
    Unfortunately, my life grows increasingly hectic at the moment, so it looks like I'm not going to be getting through the next year quicker after all. So I'm forced to slow my schedule down to 3 issues/month at the moment and hope that I won't be forced to slow down any further, as I do want to finish this, not slow down to fractions so fine I never hit the target, like an arrow shot at a tortoise in a greek philosopher's mind. Ironic how the more stable and boring your life is, the more you actually get done.


    Dragon Issue 291: January 2002


    part 1/10


    92 (116) pages. As they promised last year, gnomes finally get an issue all to themselves. Hopefully they'll get round to half-orcs sometime, and then we'll have covered all the core PHB races. In the meantime, let's see what they have to offer our short, illusion loving friends. Will they retain the whimsy of their old incarnation, or like halflings, will the writers try to modernise them to mixed success? Let's penetrate any deceptions they try to throw up and see what else this year has in store.


    Scan Quality: Excellent, Indexed, Ad-free.


    In this issue:


    Wyrms turn: A monosyllabic gnome? Well, that's certainly bucking stereotypes. but it is relatively easy to play. After all, it's easier to do less than normal than it is to do more. So this editorial is about creating interesting and consistent dialogue for your character. If you can't extemporise soliloquies in iambic pentameter, then you need to work within your limitations when roleplaying characters. Often, the simplest gimmicks for defining your character will turn out the most effective, especially if the character gets transferred to another player or has to be played by the DM because you're absent that week. So this is a reasonable enough bit of roleplaying advice, that also hints at their approach to the theme this issue. They'll be doing their best to fiddle with the stereotypes, make them a little less irritating. Whether they'll succeed or not is another matter.


    Scale Mail: We start off with a short letter of praise for issue 289. It had some stuff that's both cool and amusing, and that deserves credit.

    Of course, this is just a warm-up. There's always someone who's not so enchanted, and given the number of fans of Oriental material, there's bound to be some who think they've Done It Wrong. The new Samurai sucks, and how dare they not include a Ninja base class! Well, it looks like you've already found third party alternatives. Feel free to use them in your game.

    Another thing that's making long-term readers unhappy is the lack of continuity in the comics. More multi-part stuff would indeed be welcomed by me.

    And finally we have another person who's sick of the excess of Forgotten Realms material, especially the stuff that's not useful to other campaigns like the huge maps. As usual, there's a constant tension between those who want more, and those who want less that seems impossible to resolve.

  • #2514
    Dragon Issue 291: January 2002


    part 2/10


    Forum: Scott Hamilton thinks that the fun in an evil campaign is setting them concrete goals and seeing how they achieve them, just as with good ones. Killing stuff just for fun soon palls. A little subtlety makes for far more interesting long-term games.

    R. McGuire thinks that whether characters are selfless or selfish is a better, and certainly easier adjudicator than good and evil. Otherwise you end up with them being treated as just sides in a game far too often. And we've had plenty of talk about that before.


    Nodwick isn't suffering for a change. This is very suspicious.


    Previews: From a sidebar to a strip along the bottom of the page. And once again, the number of releases hits a new low. Lord of the Iron Fortress sees our official adventures reach 15th level. Course, getting characters into adventures requires fairly impressive plot hooks. And apparently, this doesn't quite have that. You're probably better off making your own. Our book this month is another anthology of short stories for Dragonlance. The Best of Tales, volume 2 keeps us in whimsy and little setting details for another few months. Man, who keeps buying this stuff? You hardly ever hear about it on gaming fora anymore.


    Profiles returns one last time, after several months absent, to give us one on Robin D. Laws. He's most famed for his work on improving game design, both from a GM technique advice and experimenting with creating new, different systems such as Heroquest, Feng Shui, and Rune. But he's also created a CCG, done fiction for All flesh must be eaten, and still finds plenty of time to actually play, testing out the design experiments he creates. And he still does stuff for D&D. D20 is now a broad enough umbrella that even Swine like him are now contributing to it's rules development. Another interviewee with an impressive resume, that will get more so over the years. But will it actually make games more fun? Very good question. It's as much up to you as him, if not more so.

  • #2515
    Dragon Issue 291: January 2002


    part 3/10


    Up on a soapbox: In a game where it's much easier to die than it is to lose, but survive, the players have to be lucky every time, but the DM only has to be lucky once. Given that, it's surprising how many stories of player humiliation Gary has. I suppose part of this is due to playing fast and loose with the rules. After all, there were no rules for if a black pudding can destroy magic items with their acid until he decided on them. He got to do things that stripped players of their stuff without killing them, and left them tiptoeing around certain sections of castle Greyhawk, aware that there were challenges they weren't equipped for. Once again, the victories they did win were made more triumphant by contrast with the times they failed, often in humiliating manner. It's a lesson we've had before, but certainly bears repeating. Indulge your sadistic side and let the dice fall as they may sometimes. Let your players know they can't walk all over you. They'll respect you more, and your gameworld will last longer.


    Zogonia has to deal with class prejudice. I assure you sir, those behaviours are merely that of an unrepresentative minority. Carson the muskrat wonders why the cool option is not the tactically viable one.


    Study & jest: So, what can they do to make gnomes interesting, but not annoying? A fair chunk, it seems. While they might engage in pranks on a regular basis, it's for good reason, and they don't take it too personally amongst each other. A fair amount of effort is gone to show how their innate magical abilities affect their society, (and how those who don't have the intelligence to develop them are definite second-class citizens) and both the positive and negative aspects of being a gnome. As fairly long-lived creatures, they will have to put up with their pets dying repeatedly, although this doesn't affect them as badly as elves. All the various gnome subraces get looked at. (apart from tinker gnomes, which are replaced with the somewhat more general and less annoying arcane gnomes) In an extra amusing touch, the author goes into plenty of details on their pointy hats, and how the sizes and colours are used to reflect education and social status. So this is easily my favorite of the new racial writeups, able to stand up with the old one by Roger Moore from 1982, and add stuff that fits with both the modern rules and old flavour. Once again James Jacobs is definitely proving to be one of their best new writers, being both imaginative and able to work within an existing framework. Let's hope they keep giving him the right assignments.

  • #2516
    Dragon Issue 291: January 2002


    part 4/10


    The little-limpics: While James tried to balance the whimsical and serious sides of gnome life, Robin Laws embraces the playful, with this fluff piece on gnome athletic games. Tracking burrowing animals, boffer games, trying to pick up balls on unstable platforms while being pelted with fruit, this is amusing stuff that owes a fair debt to the Gladiator TV show that was popular in the 90's. As such, it's an entertaining read, but not likely to get as much use as the last article. If your players spend some time in a gnome community, they might try them once or twice, but otherwise, you're not going to miss not incorporating this article at all. Still, nice to see them still doing niche stuff that could never support a whole product.


    Abuse your illusions: This one isn't gnome specific, but we all know what their favored class is. (at least, until 3.5 changes that) And it looks like we won't be seeing the same kind of interminable debate that surrounded illusion powers in previous editions. While there's still some ambiguity over exactly when you can justify making will saves to disbelieve an illusion, everything else is a lot clearer. Plus many illusions produce semi-real effects that make the whole disbelief thing less significant anyway. So this old problem becomes less so, but creating subtle spellcasters is somewhat harder. When you have this many options, even illusionists get to mix plenty of real with the trickery. It's another little sign of the decrease in sense of wonder as time goes on. The new spells are also very specific in their mechanical effects, leaving the GM with no worries about adjudication, but the players with little opportunity to use them cleverly. So despite this article's title, your opportunities for abusing illusions get smaller and smaller. Where's the fun in that?

  • #2517
    Dragon Issue 291: January 2002


    part 5/10


    Bazaar of the Bizarre: Gnomes finally get their own magic item collection to themselves, instead of having to share like they did in issue 262. Expect whimsy, misdirection, and small burrowing animals. Course, they could buck the stereotype, but given the previous articles this month I doubt it.

    Badger Armor lets you turn into a badger. See, what did I tell you? Better get digging.

    Warfox Harnesses let you turn a regular little woodland animal into a dire fox for the riding. Just the thing for fighting goblins riding wolves. Once again you get to show them who the real brains of this operation is.

    Mushroom Caps let you turn into a mushroom, which has obvious stealth applications in underground situations, but may also result in you being picked and eaten. The usual risk of making yourself small to spy then.

    Neuroshield helms not only shield you from illithid mind blasts, but can store them and reflect them back later. I suspect gith would pay quite highly to get their hands on some of these.

    Blasting Pellets are another basic magical explosive. They seem designed to create neat chain reactions like bombs in zelda games. I'm sure this will reward clever players suitably.

    Doppleganger Armor is another shapeshifting trick that has quite substantial provisos attached. T-t-t-t-t-touch me. I wanna feel dirty.

    Portable breaches are basically your own personal passwall spell. Just go through, and pull it off the other side. Way to wreck nearly any dungeon's linear flow

    Bracers of Wands are an excuse to have far too many belts on your character. Just slot a whole bunch of wands in and you can use them with but a word, without even having to waste a few seconds drawing them. Nice to see they're not neglecting the techy side of gnomes.

    Reading Snuff makes obscure languages comprehensible when sprinkled over it. What happens if you apply it nasaly is not specified. I guess I'll just have to use my imagination.

    Alad's Fire Extinguisher is another one that shows blatant real life imitations aren't dead. Spray it on fire elementals or down the throat of a red dragon for handy results. Yawn.

    Trapfinder Armor reduces your need for a rogue. Unfortunately, it doesn't do so by setting off all the traps in a spectacular but harmless way, but that doesn't keep me from making a variant that does.

    Spellfast Medallions are a nasty method of triggering spells. Slap them on an enemy, and watch them suffer. Heat, cold, speed, gravity, all can be ed with to your pleasure.

    Flash-bangs are of course perfectly normal fireworks. So a dull end for rather a mixed bag of items. I wonder if you could pick out which writer wrote which ones.

  • #2518
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    Quote Originally Posted by (un)reason View Post
    Portable breaches are basically your own personal passwall spell. Just go through, and pull it off the other side. Way to wreck nearly any dungeon's linear flow
    Wait, ACTUAL Portable Holes? I can't believe I forgot about this. Or that I never played a 3rd ed character with this item.

  • #2519
    Dragon Issue 291: January 2002


    part 6/10


    You can pick your friends: But you can't pick your family? With random tables so the GM can determine it for you? Yeah, heard that one before. After all, we got a pretty extensive bit of Oriental Adventures devoted to randomly deciding what kind of ancestors you had, and how they've influenced your reputation. however, the world is big enough for multiple takes on an idea like that, and this manages to do so by concentrating on the forest where the other one focussed on the individual trees, as it were. A relatively small number of rolls to determine the overall size and shape of a character's family, and lots of potential adventure hooks that you can pull out easily enough make this one of those articles you can drop into your campaign pretty easily in bits and pieces. After all, many of your players will have already thought about their family when creating their character. All these articles to direct your thought are just for those who haven't thought them through already.


    Water, water everywhere: Skip Williams continues to create official add-ons to the rules above and beyond Sage Advice. Such as an expansion on the rules for underwater combat, showing just how inconvenient it is for landlubbers pulled in, but also how you can prepare to mitigate these problems. There's a very good reason why fishermen use spears and harpoons rather than axes or hammers to hunt fish, and although their range still isn't great, crossbow bolts fare better than regular arrows underwater. Visibility ranges are dramatically lower than in air, especially when the water is full of muck. Fire is mostly a waste of time, unless you have a knowledge of chemistry that very few D&D characters can access. Lotsa boring realism stuff a la the old Wilderness survival guide, basically. Not the kind of thing I've seen for a while, since they went to the effort to make the new core rules more comprehensive, and the kind of thing that's always going to be a niche market. So this feels like health food, necessary, but not really that welcome. Is the real reason many sailors never learn to swim because they don't want to go to the bother of dealing with the underwater combat rules?


    Fiction: Troupers by Neal Barrett jr. Ah, time for a good old-fashioned bit of whimsy where we find out how creatures in other dimensions live, and how hard it is to relate to them, even despite good old rule 34 coming into play. When you find yourself in a universe where all the rules are different, you can either adapt, or blunder around in perpetual befuddlement and get nowhere fast.
    And so we find ourselves in a alice-in wonderland situation, only with a slightly smarter protagonist, who manages to get out and bring one of the creatures from the other world with him. Which means he can look forward to enjoying the culture shock thing from the other side as well. Could definitely be worth a follow-up.


    Nodwick goes up against the internet and wins. Shock horror.

  • #2520
    Dragon Issue 291: January 2002


    part 7/10


    Elminsters guide to the Realms: This column covers a slightly larger adventure location than usual, with a full cave complex full of adventuring opportunities. Most of the individual caverns have cool names as well, and each has their own interesting bits of history and adventure ideas put in. If this were doubled in size so he could put a few stats in, it'd be a great little module, and even as it is, it's another good example of just how much information you can cram into a few pages, and how good he is at whipping up cool little plot hooks. There's more here than many old modules, and each could be expanded out quite a bit. As usual, it seems like he has a mainline to amounts of inspiration that none of their other writers can come close too, and can use it on throwaway articles like this without worrying about running dry. I do envy him quite a bit.


    Class acts: Yet another specialist fighter type this month, (well, I guess they do need more customization love than the spellcasters ) the Gnome Giant killer. Distinguished from the dwarf giant killer, which is an equally viable archetype, by their love of being a taunting who skitters around being nearly impossible to hit. From a roleplaying perspective that seems like a good deal of fun. But I do fear these guys may be a little too specialized, with no abilities that also have some applicability to monsters outside their speciality. Still, at higher levels you generally do face lots of really big monsters, so unless the DM deliberately screws you by sending monsters your characters are weak against, they should be useful.


    Campaign News: The RPGA news this month has lots of little bits of information, but the one that really stands out is an amusing bit of errata that ensures any PC's permanently crippled by a particular adventure get that problem retconned out sharpish. I'm guessing there were probably quite a few complaints about that, as this kind of screwage become much less popular when your tournament adventures aren't one-shots with pregens. Other than that, it looks like business as usual, with new adventures, incorporation of new feats & prestige classes from splatbooks, tedious little rulings about how often your character can change regions in game, and italian translations showing that they have a fanbase around the world, who are busy pushing the limits of what you can do within the framework and the designers are responding accordingly. As long as they keep on responding, the game can't get too broken.

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