Review of Kobold Quarterly Issue #20 (Winter 2012) by Open Design
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    Review of Kobold Quarterly Issue #20 (Winter 2012) by Open Design

    Here we are at the beginning of a new year, and the fantasy role-playing game community is buzzing with news about yet another new edition of Dungeons & Dragons, and about a ton of new releases announced for the Pathfinder RPG system. And in the midst of all this, we have the first Kobold Quarterly for 2012 – Issue #20 has been unleashed!

    Open Design’s independent fantasy role-playing magazine, Kobold Quarterly covers not only 3rd and 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons, but the Pathfinder and Dragon Age RPGs as well. KQ has offers a wide range of content articles drawn from authors and gamers in all these role-playing game communities, and has been touted as the “Switzerland of the Edition Wars” for being open to all types of FRPG systems.

    As I have done in my previous reviews of the Kobold Quarterly issues, each article will be rated on its usefulness for the game system it covers, and it will also be weighed for both its “crunch” and “fluff” content.

    Kobold Quarterly Issue 20

    • Editor: Wolfgang Baur (Kobold in Chief)
    • Illustrations: Richard Clark (cover), Fred H. Ball, Hablot Knight Browne, Storn Cook, Katy Hargrove, Blake Henriksen, Rick Hershey, Michael Jaecks, Jeremy Mohler, Jeff Preston, Jason Rainville, and Frank Walls (interior)
    • Publisher: Open Design LLC
    • Year: 2012
    • Media: PDF (84 pages)
    • Price: $5.99 (PDF available from the RPGNow.com)

    Kobold Quarterly Issue #20 is the first installment of Open Design’s independent fantasy role-playing game magazine for 2012. The magazine is available in both print and PDF format, and contains 20 articles for use with Dungeons & Dragons, Pathfinder RPG, and Dragon Age RPG, including an editorials, interviews, book reviews, and a game theory discussion by Monte Cook.

    The PDF is nicely laid out, and comes with both a table of contents and bookmarks for ease of navigation. The cover art this issue is a reprint of Issue #11’s cover entitled the “Snow Queen” depicting a regal fey lady wielding icy magic, which is quite appropriate for the season. And this new issue of Kobold Quarterly opens with an anecdotal editorial by Wolfgang Bauer, discussing his love of feudal sports, particularly archery, which is the theme of several articles in this issue.

    The Articles

    The Elven Archer by John E. Ling, Jr. is a new Pathfinder article which introduces a specialized new class for elves and half-elves. Similar to the Ranger, the Elven Archer offers more skirmishing skills and powers, as well as the ability to enchant arrows and cast ranger spells. While interesting, the class seems a bit redundant considering its similarities to a ranger, but some players might find the differences significant enough to insist upon playing one in their game.

    Fluff: 3
    Crunch: 3

    Arrows of Arbonesse by Jarrod Camiré, who incidentally is the chief author of Taurus Twelve gaming products, offers Pathfinder players a selection of magical and masterwork arrows. These arrows are purported to be crafted by the elves of Arbonesse in the Midgard campaign setting, and provide a range of effects from acid attacks to obscuring mists.

    Fluff: 2
    Crunch: 4

    Derro Ooze Magic is a Pathfinder article by Nicholas L. Milasich which offers new powers and spells for Alchemists of the Transmutation school. There are also new ooze type familiars, an ooze bloodline of powers, and some decent fluff material to make for a very creepy alternative to the standard Alchemist class – assuming one really likes oozes!

    Fluff: 4
    Crunch: 4

    Servants from Beyond features a selection of ready-to-summon, and quite detailed Lesser Planar Allies to use in a Pathfinder RPG adventure. Author Mario Podeschi provides four new unique allies that come complete with personalities, including a Pegasus, a fire mephit, a ghost, and an angel.

    Fluff: 4
    Crunch: 5

    Night Terrors is a bestiary of four new Pathfinder monsters by Jack Graham, all of which are meant to inspire horror in the heroes who must defeat them. The creatures are nicely designed, and include an interpretation of a mythical undead creature know to haunt the Peruvian Andes. The author also provides a sample adventure hook for how the monster might be used in a Pathfinder adventure.

    Fluff: 3
    Crunch: 4

    Monte Cook’s Game Theories column in this issue of KQ features a discussion on The Power of the Game Master. He presents to two possible roles of a Game master in a gaming group – God-like vs. Player-like – and offers some observations on how to work within a gaming groups’ particular dymanic.

    Fluff: 4
    Crunch: NA

    Captured in the Cartways is a Pathfinder adventure for 5th Level characters, which is set in the mean streets of Zobeck of the Midgard Campaign Setting. This gritty urban style adventure by Christina Stiles is a bit linear, but features some decent writing and encounters enough to make it a pretty good dungeon crawl.

    Fluff: 3
    Crunch: 3

    Putting the Band Back Together is a Pathfinder campaign idea by Stefen Styrsky which suggests playing older heroes coming back together in order to restart their glory days of high adventure. The author offers a selection of special feats for use specifically in this style of campaign, and many of them have age pre-requisites of being Middle-aged or older. A very cool concept tapping the popular trope we’ve seen recently featured in movies like The Expendables and RED.

    Fluff: 4
    Crunch: 4

    Fey Hunters & Shadow Hounds is a Pathfinder article by Christopher Bodan for the Midgard Campaign setting. It features campaign material to create a “wild hunt” in the Margreve and Shadow Plane, including items used by the fey hunters against their PC quarry, as well as a template to turn any creature into a fey hunting beast.

    Fluff: 3
    Crunch: 4

    AGE of Specialization is a Dragon AGE RPG article by Randall K. Hurlburt, and offers five new character options for players to use. These include the Battle Captain, Elementalist, Master Thief, Marksman, and Skirmisher, complete with new Novice, Journeyman, and Master traits for each.

    Fluff: 3
    Crunch: 3

    Bardic Charisma Meets Crunch and Chickens is an interview of Christina Stiles penned by Jeremy L. C. Jones. In this interview, Ms. Stiles discusses the highs and lows of being a freelance game designer, as well as offers optimistic advice to new writers who one day hope to see their works in print.
    Fluff: 5
    Crunch: NA

    The Bardic Arts is a 4E article by Aaron Infante-Levy which details a new Bardic Class feature called The Bardic Arts. While the nine new Arts are interesting, they are potentially unbalancing by providing up to four new utility powers to the Bard class during the Heroic tier. While the author suggests that gaining access to these is equivalent to replacing the Bardic Ritual Casting feature, DMs should seriously scrutinize these Arts which provide wizard cantrips, free hirelings, bonus languages, or substantial add-ons to skill check rolls as unwarranted freebies.

    Fluff: 3
    Crunch: 1

    Ask the Kobold is a regular column by Skip Williams which provides 3.5/Pathfinder answers to GM and Player submitted questions like the Sage Advice articles of olde tymes. This installment discusses details on poison and disease effects in characters and how they might be better handled by GMs.

    Fluff: NA
    Crunch: 4

    Small Spirits is a Pathfinder and 4E combo article by Matthew J. Hanson discussing the use of five unique nature spirits in fantasy adventure campaigns by primal based characters. These nature spirits can be contacted via commune with nature, or possibly through shaman powers (4E), and provide specific boons as gifts depending on the benevolence of the spirit.

    Fluff: 3
    Crunch: 4

    Unearthed Ancestry by Jerry LeNeave is a 4E article providing new utility power substitutes for minotaurs, tieflings, and gnomes. While the offering of powers covers all tiers of play, many of them are designed like bonus encounter attack powers dealing out damage, rather than the promise of utility powers as the article suggests. Granting bonus attack powers is inherently unbalancing when added to any character, and is a real game changer when they can be substituted for a lackluster class or skill power utility.

    Fluff: 2
    Crunch: 1

    Make Haste! is a generic FRPG article by Ron Lundeen about creating an adventure with time pressures, where heroes must reach goals quickly or face greater dangers for idling too long. The article provides a framework for creating time-sensitive adventures using a hast point system, and haste points can clearly be worked into any RPG system with only a little effort by the gamemaster. The author provides sufficient examples to make a good case for trying a hasty-style adventure, at least once in a while.

    Fluff: 3
    Crunch: 3

    Fish of Legend is a feast of fishy delights which provide magical benefits for the diner. The article is designed for Pathfinder RPG by Crystal Frasier, but could readily be adapted to other FRPG systems with a little effort. These re-skinned magic items of haut cuisine include imaginative descriptions of the fish themselves, as well as their legendary (and in game) properties.

    Fluff: 4
    Crunch: 3

    Book Reviews is a regular feature in KQ, and are penned this issue by William Banks, Ben McFarland, Wade Rockett, and Pierce Watters. The reviews include The Magician King by Lev Grossman, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, Wings of Twilight by Hans Cummings, Designers & Dragons by Shannon Applecline, and Mountains of the Moon by Mark Hodder.

    Fluff: 5
    Crunch: NA

    The Ruins of Arbonesse is a Midgard article by Jeff Grubb, detailing features of the history and current lands of Arbonesse. The information is system non-specific, and useful to any gamemaster using Open Design’s Midgard as a campaign setting.

    Overall Score: 3.4 out of 5

    Conclusions

    Overall, Kobold Quarterly is off to a running start this year with a solid selection of articles for use in Pathfinder and Dragon Age RPG. The writing quality is good, although the artwork is a bit mediocre, but overall it is a good piece of literature for fantasy roleplayers.

    But while the quality of the Pathfinder articles in recent Kobold Quarterly issues seems to be on the rise, the 4E articles have been a real disappointment lately, and there seems to be a real lack of editing involved in making sure that the 4E content actually represents the D&D 4th edition game system and rules. One can only conclude that the number of 4E GSL authors continue to decline, and KQ is scraping the bottom of the barrel to find some sort of article to put into the magazine so it can continue to represent the current edition of Dungeons & Dragons.

    If you play Pathfinder or Dragon AGE, then KQ is definitely worth taking a look at for some fresh new ideas. But 4E gamers will undoubtedly find the lack of content and poor quality of D&D content very disappointing, and not worth the price paid.

    So until next review… I wish you Happy Gaming!

    Author’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: 3.5
    • - Design: 4
    • - Illustrations: 3
    • Content: 3.35
    • - Crunch: 3.4
    • - Fluff: 3.3
    • Value: 3.5
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  2. #2
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    Thanks for this review! I think it is fair to say that the 4E submissions have been few and far between lately; many of our regular 4E writers have moved on to other things.

    As always, we can only print what we have. On the bright side, though, both the qualilty and quantity of Pathfinder and Dragon AGE system articles submitted has been growing.

    Maybe we should ask Rich Baker or Steve Winter to send us something?

  3. #3
    Quote Originally Posted by Monkey King View Post
    Maybe we should ask Rich Baker or Steve Winter to send us something?
    I think that'd be a great idea! I'd love to see articles by either.

  4. #4
    Quote Originally Posted by Monkey King View Post
    Thanks for this review! I think it is fair to say that the 4E submissions have been few and far between lately; many of our regular 4E writers have moved on to other things.

    As always, we can only print what we have. On the bright side, though, both the qualilty and quantity of Pathfinder and Dragon AGE system articles submitted has been growing.

    Maybe we should ask Rich Baker or Steve Winter to send us something?
    I completely agree - the Pathfinder and AGE articles are getting very good, and showing some real innovation. However, my disappointment with the two 4E articles could have been alleviated if the content would have adhered to acceptable character design parameters, of which we have ample enough examples after three PHBs, a half dozen Powers books, Dragon articles, and "Heroes of the..." sourcebooks.

    For instance, the article on Bardic Arts could have been designed as a theme, allowing power substitutions at appropriate levels. And the article on Minotaur, Tiefling, and Gnome racial powers could have worked by having the utility powers containing attacks changed into more appropriate buffs and debuffs. Recent rules from Heroes of Shadow and Heroes of the Feywild demonstrate the sorts of powers one expects to see in a racial utility powers.

    The point is that the editorial process could have fixed these, or at least guided the authors into making voluntary changes in order to bring the content in line appropriate to the 4E ruleset and precedence. Sadly, the process failed, and so did the articles.

  5. #5
    It may be self-serving, but one of the novels that was reviewed (Wings of Twilight by Hans Cummings) was written by a member of EN World who sometimes even posts here!
    ENnie Awards Submissions Coordinator & Publisher Relations
    Author/Publisher - VFF Publishing
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