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Review of Kobold Quarterly Issue #19 (Fall 2011) by Open Design
As the seasons change, and with the year of 2011 nearly done in, it’s time for the final issue of Kobold Quarterly for this calendar year! Open Design’s flagship periodical has been going strong these past couple years, covering a wide range of role-playing material for not only D&D 3.5 and Pathfinder, but also D&D 4E, and the relative newcomer to the FRPG market, the DragonAge RPG.
The self-proclaimed “Switzerland of the Edition Wars” role-playing game magazine posts four issues per year, and offers the magazine in both a print format as well as a PDF format. Keeping up with the changing reading habits of the gaming community, Open Design offers Kobold Quarterly subscriptions for combinations of the formats, so that one can get either print, or PDF, or a combination of both.
As with my previous reviews of this magazine, I’ll rate each article on its own merit to the game it is written for, and rate it for both “crunch” and “fluff” content.
Kobold Quarterly Issue 19
- Editor: Wolfgang Baur (Kobold in Chief)
- Illustrations: Malcolm McClinton (cover), Jost Ammon, Hablot K. Browne, Storn Cook, Rick Hershey, Michael Jaecks, Chris McFann, Aaron Miller, Brian Patterson, Jason Rainville, Mark Smylie, Hugo Solis, Stan!, Otto Wilhelm Thomé, Steven Wood, N.C. Wyeth, and Maciej Zagorski (interior)
- Publisher: Open Design LLC
- Year: 2011
- Media: PDF (80 pages)
- Price: $5.99 (PDF available from the KQ Store)
Kobold Quarterly Issue #19 is the final installment of Open Design’s quarterly role-playing game magazine for the year 2011. The presentation of the PDF is very good, as always, with a solid reading format, and a wide range of advertisements for Pathfinder products, gaming conventions, and gaming support products. The PDF comes with a full table of contents, as does the print version, but there is also a handy set of bookmarks to each of the articles, making navigation through the PDF to be quick and easy.
The cover art by Malcolm McClinton is a spectacular piece depicting an oriental style dragon, with a rider firing a flaming arrow from a bow. Doubtless, this piece is in reference to the news article in KQ about the release of the new Asian-themed setting for Pathfinder, Tian Xia.
This new issue of Kobold Quarterly opens with the ubiquitous editorial from Wolfgang Bauer, who goes to great lengths to explain that the magazine has gotten better and larger, with more content, so therefore the price for the print subscription has had to get bigger as well – about 2 bucks an issue in fact. But those of us who enjoy the PDF version need not fear, as the PDF price per copy is still the same – and frankly, I’ll always prefer the PDF copy over the print any day.
The White Necromancer by Mark Radle is a new Pathfinder article which features an interesting new Core Class called the white necromancer. Unlike their evil counterparts, this class is meant for characters who study the bond between life and death, and is an interesting mix of healer and arcane practitioner. I rather like the idea, and it reminds me a bit of the White Queen from the recent Tim Burton rendition of “Alice”.
Bottled Hubris is a Pathfinder article by Jerall Toi to add more to the Alchemist Core Class. The author provides a collection of new Discoveries, some of which build on those previously offered in the Advanced Players Guide and Ultimate Magic. In addition, there are also three new archetypes for the Alchemist: Calligraphist, Evolutionist, and Specialist. Overall, it has some great ideas for the Alchemist class, and well worth consideration for a Pathfinder player looking to add more variety to his profession.
Magic Shops: What’s in Store? is yet another Pathfinder article, this one written by Christina Stiles and Spike Y. Jones. It gives the GM some tips on running better magic shops, and provides three sample shops and their shop owners to give some examples. In addition, there are tables for creating shops on the fly for a variety of town types (from thorpes to metropolis) as well as what products they have in stock. Very handy article for any GM to have at the table!
Welcome to the Dragon Empires by James Jacobs offers a preview into the new Asian-themed campaign setting for the Pathfinder world of Golarion. The article contains a listing of five new races which will be available to play, and a full color map of the new continent, with an abbreviated glossography of the lands. It looks like a very exciting setting for Pathfinder, and the preview provides some nice details, although almost no “crunch”.
Lau Kiritsu offers a new Pathfinder arch-devil for the Golarion setting by Richard Pett. This new lord of hell has an Asian-theme, in keeping with the new campaign setting, and is the patron devil of discipline, submissive duty, and seppuku. While the article does not give the arch-fiend’s stats, it does detail his worship, how he can be used in a campaign, and a selection of magic items attributed to his cause.
Archetypes of Death is a Pathfinder article by Phillip Larwood that features necromantic-styled archetypes for the Barbarian, Druid, Monk, and Summoner Classes. While the power substitutions for the Barbarian and Druid seem a bit forced, the Monk and Summoner powers seem to reinvent new and interesting versions of the classes, and does a good job of creating the Summoner as a Necromancer.
Courting Adventure is a system-neutral article on “Bringing the Royal Court to Life in Your Games”. Author Rick Hudson does a nice job of describing the various levels of a Middle Age to Renaissance court, and even offers some adventure hooks, and sites film and novel representations for inspiration.
Land of the Horse and Bow is a Midgard article by Simon English for the AGE system of the DragonAge RPG. The article offers a selection of six backgrounds for player-characters, all themed around the nomadic tribes of the Rothenian Plain. It’s a nice selection of Mongol, Scythian, and Persian like mounted warriors, and even includes one for a centaur background. There are some variation on the Arcane Lance spell for use by horse nomads, which offer some nice ways to differentiate a spell-caster from those cultures.
Balance Free Bonuses is a really fascinating game-design editorial by Monte Cook, discussing how it is possible to give bonuses to races and classes, to give them greater definition without unbalancing them with respect to the game. It’s great food-for-thought as to how to avoid handing out those generic +1 attack, damage, or saving throw bonuses, and can even add more role-playing flavor, while giving the race or class a mechanic that is really useful to call their own.
Morningstar, Monkey Marrow, & Ice Cream for Dinner is an interview with game designer Jason Morningstar, written by Jeremy L.C. Jones. The article is well-written and shows tremendous insight and humor from both Jones’ questions and Morningstar’s responses. A great read!
10 Ways to Turn Dull Traps into High-Stakes Encounters by Brian Oates is a decent game-neutral article that tells you what is in store from the very title onward. The author has some good advice and solid examples to back up the ideas he puts forth, and well worth a read for any Game Master looking to spice up a dungeon with tricky traps.
The Gordian Knot is the winner of the Relic of Power contest, won by Mario Podeschi. The article features a description of the powers and history of the Gordian Knot, which is designed for use with the Pathfinder system. Not a bad magic item, but a bit of an odd one, particularly given the lack of cohesion between the powers and the actual legend of the knot from our own world.
Scions of Terror is an article featuring four backgrounds for the AGE system by Josh Jarman for the Midgard Campaign setting. These backgrounds are set in the Western Wastes, which is a haunted land filled with horrors and dangers, and the backgrounds offered reflect that setting fairly well.
Aneela, Human Cleric is a Party of One solo adventure designed for a single player, and requiring no DM. It’s a fun little quest with some interesting plot twists, although the outcome can be quite a dark one if you make the wrong choices.
Bark at the Moon is a new Character Theme for D&D 4E, which allows players to add lycanthropy to their characters to become a werewolf. Although author Brian A. Liberge offers what is supposed to be a striker-type theme, the powers are more control style, with a wide range of secondary effects, and is, in my opinion, totally overpowered.
Book Reviews has a selection of three novels reviewed by Wolfgang Baur, Ben McFarland, and Pierce Watters. The novels are Heaven’s Needle by Liane Merciel, Low Town by Daniel Polansky, and a Pathfinder novel, Death’s Heretic, by James L. Sutter.
The Order of the Undying Sun is a Zobeck setting article which rounds out this issue, and is penned by the setting’s creator Wolfgang Baur. It details a famed group of knights, and their order, and this system-neutral article offers a fairly interesting group that could be adapted to a wide range of settings and systems.
Overall Score: 3.7 out of 5
While I think there is no doubt that Kobold Quarterly is publishing some great new material for the Fantasy Role-Playing community, I think it’s time they drop the self-proclaimed title of “Switzerland” with respect to the “edition wars”. With only one article written exclusively for D&D 4E, and one, I might add, that definitely needed a serious editorial pen to keep it in check, it is fairly clear that KQ #19 is hardly neutral anymore.
Of course, I don’t blame Open Design for the lack of 4E coverage. The GSL group of independent publishers has been dying a long slow death now for the past couple years, and there is just clearly not that much interest in the 4E community of players and DMs to warrant spending much page length on anything “3rd Party”. It’s a sad reality, but OGL was, and always will be, a much more pervasive market for 3PP writers, and both Pathfinder and AGE are seeing some great material come out in support of the game, without it coming only through “official” channels.
For Pathfinder and AGE gamers, the magazine has a lot of great new content however, and is worth taking a look at if you want to add some fun new content to your role-playing experiences. The PDF is still modestly priced, and the Open Design folks are still going strong supporting these two fantasy role-playing games with ground-breaking and fun new content.
So until next review… I wish you Happy Gaming!
Editor’s Note: This Reviewer received a complimentary copy of the product in PDF format from which the review was written.
Grade Card (Ratings 1 to 5)
- Presentation: 4
- - Design: 4
- - Illustrations: 4
- Content: 3.5
- - Crunch: 3.6
- - Fluff: 3.3
- Value: 3.5
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