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[Let's read] Dragon magazine - Part two: Gimme some Moore

So, how am I doing so far?


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Blizzardborn

Hiding in a snowdrift
Validated User
Off the top of your head, (un), how much longer until Roger departs? We're starting to get up into the New Thread numbers, and it would seem to be a good break point.

Oh, yeah, that giant scorpion article was teh bombiggity. We had those.........arachnid relations showing up every week for the rest of the year.
 

InfernalTeddy

Ursus Diabolicus
Validated User
Roger officially quits in issue 199, but was still assisting with 200.

I quite liked the politics article in 196, I still have a taste for "fantasy politics" thank's to this one and I must admit that the Organizing article was pretty helpful to me at the time.

197... hmmm, that was the one with the adverts back to back with the articles, right? Two pages Ral Partha just after an article about RP's AD&D Minis, and two ads for SSI's AD&D CRPGs followed by an article on how much fun it was to work with SSI, or am I misremembering a later issue?
 

(un)reason

Making the Legend
Validated User
Roger officially quits in issue 199, but was still assisting with 200.

I quite liked the politics article in 196, I still have a taste for "fantasy politics" thank's to this one and I must admit that the Organizing article was pretty helpful to me at the time.

197... hmmm, that was the one with the adverts back to back with the articles, right? Two pages Ral Partha just after an article about RP's AD&D Minis, and two ads for SSI's AD&D CRPGs followed by an article on how much fun it was to work with SSI, or am I misremembering a later issue?
You are absolutely correct. One of their high/low points (depending on your outlook) in particularly blatant co-ordinated self promotion.
 

(un)reason

Making the Legend
Validated User
Dragon Magazine Issue 197: September 1993


part 2/6


Perils and postage: It's been a couple of years since we had an article on play by post gaming. As is the case far too often these days, this article assumes you're a complete newbie, and tries to act as a reboot to the concept, bringing in people who've never heard of or thought about the idea of using mail to play long-term games. Of course, straight away we are reminded exactly why this medium never really became mass market entertainment. It's slow, expensive, and requires substantial organisational skills as a GM to make sure everything is communicated in a useful fashion to all the players. It does improve from there, but you're still putting everything into the control of a single person to a rather greater degree than normal (unless everyone sends mailshots to everyone else, which multiplies costs geometrically) On the plus side, you get plenty of time to write more polished prose and react to the actions of others than if you were running in real time. On balance, they still can't make it appeal to me, especially with technology developing at the speed it is. Like the attempts to revitalise wargaming and other RPG's, this is another bump in the road of their interests gradually closing in, and becoming purely D&D centric.


By mail or by modem: The eternal september begins now. Play by post's days are numbered. Nice of them to publish an appropriate article to say that at exactly the right time. Much shorter than the previous article, this points out the same problems, with a very different solution. It's not really that much cheaper yet, and BBS's still have a definite regional element that makes international communications slower, but it is already substantially more convenient in terms of making sure everyone has access to the same info, and don't go around splitting up abruptly or treading on each other's toes. And while PbP peaked in the early 80's, this stuff has been growing fairly substantially, and is just about to start rocketing up exponentially. It's a pretty strong reminder how the future comes in ways you don't expect, at paces even the smartest pundits can't predict. In this case though, I think I can rightly say bring it on, since I have fond memories of chatrooms around the turn of the millennium.


The dragon's bestiary gets four new Forgotten Realms monsters courtesy of Ed. All of these would go on to be printed in official monstrous compendia. That does seem to be becoming increasingly common these days.

Banelar are ridiculously similar to Dark Nagas in powers and fluff. Put side-by side they're virtually the orcs & hobgoblins of the mid-level, scheming serpentine creatures. Rather unnecessary, really. Give us something new!

Flameskulls are another reminder that Ed loves his irritating whimsy. They're near impossible to kill, and may well follow you around making smart-alec comments and being quirkily mentally unstable. Is there a particular novel of his actually featuring one of these? Or is he just setting another bad example which will lead to less skilled DM's annoying their players like hell?

Foulwings are winged, vaguely xenomorph like creatures, with their 3 mouths, vile breath, and hollow bloodsucking tongues. You really don't want one of these jumping out at you on a dark night. Much better than the last two.

Whipstings are also decidedly alien looking things, another of the Realms' strange predators lurking in odd corners and leaping out to trouble the players. Like Gambados or Bhaergala, they're both a decent fight and amusingly weird. So it seems we have rather a mixed bag this time round. Hmm. Could definitely be better.


Castles Forlorn! Another epic boxed set adventure for your players to try and figure out how to deal with. Not an easy one, but good for a wide range of levels, since so many of the problems are puzzle and role-playing based rather than straight combat.


The known world grimoire: Looks like Mystara is finally getting to play with the other boys and girls in the AD&D universe, instead of being on its own. Here we get the big announcement that they're shifting ownership, with Jeff Grubb taking on the developer's role. Bigger budget for books, more colour, and some "special features" coming with the books that are still left mysterious. Course, this may be a poisoned promotion. And what's going to replace it down in BD&D land? Nothing is mentioned here, which doesn't seem very promising. Like the computer columnists leaving last issue, this is presented as good news, when hindsight shows that it really really wasn't in the long term. Now we're never going to get decent amounts of info on Norwald, the arm of the immortals or the southern continents, because they'll be too busy trying to re-cover and update the parts of the world that are already familiar, just like the Forgotten Realms. Another slow step towards the circle closing, D&D starting to eat it's own tail. Man, this is depressing. The new crunch, weapon mastery lists for chakrams and bullroarers, does little to mitigate this feeling. The old guard are gradually being driven away from the magazine. What will replace them this time round?
 

(un)reason

Making the Legend
Validated User
Dragon Magazine Issue 197: September 1993


part 3/6


The role of books: The element of fire by Martha Wells mixes magic and swashbuckling, in a world where they are suitably balanced in power to make for stories full of derring-do and political intrigue. Combined with strongly written main characters, this one is pronounced a success.

Knights of the blood by Katherine Kurtz and Scott MacMillan wants badly to be the first book in a long series, but won't be if the poor plotting and worldbuilding doesn't improve sharpish. Vampire knights trying to remain honorable down the centuries certainly isn't a bad idea. But as ever, it's the implementation that's crucial.

McLendon's syndrome by Robert Frezza tries to meld sci-fi and comedy in a manner reminiscent of the Xanth books, only less irritating. The tendency of the characters to be full of quips and puns doesn't destroy the credibility of the worldbuilding or drama of the plot. You could have far worse guilty pleasures.

The ghatti's tale book 1 by Gayle Greeno feels like a blatant formulaic attempt at replicating the successes of several other recently popular novelists. John can trace the elements easily to certain other specific books, and does not feel they've ben integrated well here. The literary world equivalent of Menswear or Republica.

On basilisk station and The Honor of the queen by David Weber see Honor Harrington unleashed upon the world at high speed. These sci-fi age of sail pastiches have done pretty well for themselves over the years, and it looks like the praise is justified. The biggest danger, as for Star trek captains, is being promoted out of the adventuring life.


The shadow of Yserbius is a MMO that only costs 57 cents an hour at off-peak times. Isn't that a bargain? (5/6ths cost reduction in 4 years, the joys of exponential computer advancement.) Don't you want to play it now?!


Eye of the monitor: So welcome to the new computer column. As is often the case, the change in ownership also means a name change, to allow the new guy to draw a line in the sand and stamp their personality more firmly on things. Still, it's not all bad news. Sandy Petersen! Creator of both Call of Cthulhu and rpg.net! The hobby certainly owes a lot to him. This might be fun for a bit after all. He certainly seems more enthusiastic to be here and less formal than the Lessers were by the end of their run. On we go then.

Wolfenstein 3D does very well indeed. The look is strong, the difficulty is well-graded, the AI makes the enemies both clever and realistically dumb, and there's plenty of hidden bits to unearth and tricks to figure out. The fact you can download it for free on the web really is the icing on the cake. Despite that, the makers still probably made a healthy profit with console conversions and the like, giving the laugh to corporations who panic over piracy.

Commander Keen takes a slightly different tack to shareware, giving you the first installment for free, but then you've gotta pay up. Combining overhead map with side-scrolling action sections, it has a decent sense of humour and requires puzzle-solving abilities as well as reflexes. The computer format means you can have lots of similar games based off the same main character easier than you could with consoles, where you need a full-priced new cartridge for each game.

Cosmo's Cosmic Adventure also tries the trick of giving you the first bite for free. However, with the actual gameplay slow-moving and repetitive, Sandy can't recommend it. Even free stuff can be a waste of your time.

Waxworks gets a mixed review for being a bit too tricky and brutal for it's own good. Get used to saving after every encounter and dying frequently as you work your way through 1st person 3D horror. You'll certainly be scared regularly, if maybe not for the right reasons.

We don't seem to have a tips section anymore. However, Sandy does offer numbered hints for the games at the end of each individual review, which is probably the biggest format change. Whether he makes more as his confidence increases or not, we shall have to see.


Join the electronic warriors: Jim Ward does a second piece of pretty odious pure promotion, this time concentrating on their quite substantial number of computer games out now. Along with the large number of adverts for their own products, this is rather tiresome, and makes me wonder if they're getting enough external advertisers in to pay their bills properly. Still, they do seem to be expanding the scope of this department, with games for new campaign worlds, plus a generic one planned as well. Hopefully we'll at least get some good games out of this promotional dross, so they can make some more money. But they do need to cut down a bit on this kind of crap. Show, don't tell. Basic rule, you know. Along with the one against railroading, they're slowly forgetting it in their attempts to be more sophisticated.
 

(un)reason

Making the Legend
Validated User
Dragon Magazine Issue 197: September 1993


part 4/6


Forum: Clarissa Fowler points out an interesting conflict in the TSR camp, between Roger's support of GLB (but not T yet) gamers, and their code of conduct, which tries to sweep all that ickiness under the carpet. This looks like another topic likely to cause further debate now it's been exposed to the light. As well as that, she offers some more advice about how to make gaming more inviting to people of various minority groups. Things are gradually getting better, but only due to the hard work of people like her.

Kendal Miles encourages you to involve your players in creating backstories for their characters collectively, instead of sending them away to produce several page essays of pretentiousness. That'll help them find reasons to get the party together and all working on the same goals.

Erik Munne also encourages you to talk about what characters you and your players want when building a game, instead of working in a vacuum. Communication is integral to gaming, so of course improving your skills at that will help.

Les Bowman laid down the law when it comes to timekeeping and food during his game. He did lose a couple of players, but now the whole thing runs so much better. A little discipline is a very good thing. You wouldn't want the people who can't buckle down to it anyway.

Steven Cox brings the Complete book of Dwarves into the overpowered kit debate. As with the bard ones, it's the multiclass stuff that really brings the cheese. Another voice joins the list of people clamouring for a solution. Is it any wonder 3e overcompensated and wound up going the other direction with multiclass power levels.

Eyal Teler doesn't find psionicists overpowered. Course, that's because his wizards have houserules that substantially increase their versatility. In any case, you shouldn't expect them to work in the same way, as that gets boring. If you do encounter problems, he has some relatively reasonable sounding nerfs to keep them from getting too complacent.


Mage gets a rather odd byline. Truth until paradox. And there are ninjas with shades and people riding hoverbikes firing lots of guns with telekinesis. That'd certainly invoke lots of paradox in the actual game. Guess we have another unfortunate case of artwork disconnect. I suppose you've got to lure people in. A bit of false advertising never hurt anyone.


Role-playing reviews: The HERO system is Allen's choice of review material this month. Like GURPS, you can do a hell of a lot with it. But unlike GURPS, it has a definite focus, with the Champions game seeing the lions share of it's supplements. With it's effect based point buy design, it does stand out, and has some fanatical devotees, but not enough to keep it financially stable. As a result, we get a quick history lesson as well, telling us how ownership has shifted around over the years. It once again cements Allen's position as a good reviewer who knows the context of what they're talking about.

Dark Champions: Heroes of vengeance sees a decidedly mixed review, with Allen recognising it's quality, but also rather uncomfortable with the violent, nihilistic worldview it espouses, where the heroes are barely better than the villains. This may be just a reflection of the recent changes in comics, but it's a decidedly depressing one, and he wants no part in games based upon it. Fight the grimdark!

High tech enemies gets listed, but then almost forgotten about in the actual prose of the review. The only important detail is the sheer brutality of some of the enemies, who are quite capable of kicking the average parties ass. Better get accumulating those extra points then.

Champions Universe is a bit of a headache, as it tries to consolidate the work of all the previous setting books into one rather large unified supplement. Unfortunately, it's not nearly large enough to stand on it's own, and raises as many questions as it answers. You'll have to reconcile the inconsistencies exposed yourself.

Normals Unbound is the only supplement that gets serious praise, with character sketches that are both appropriate and fun. They may not have special powers, but that doesn't make them any less critical to the story. It's one of those areas where campaigns often struggle to emulate the source material, and this bunch of prefab example characters go quite a way in showing you how to do it.

Allen also mentions the monster book, adventures, official magazine, and online ventures by the community. There does seem to be the persistent theme of plenty of potential, but patchy implementation. Just can't get the staff, it seems, so they have to rely on the fans to keep the fires burning. I suppose that puts them in a good position to have their fortunes revived by the internet age.


The marvel-phile: This issue has been pretty light on new crunch so far. Here we get some rather unexpected new stuff for this game. The proportion of badass normals in comics has been increasing in recent years, and it's got to the point where they really need to represent this properly in the game. Steven Schend does just that, allowing you to generate characters who rely on skills and gadgets for any exceptional capabilities they have. On the plus side, they get more contacts than regular heroes, and a whole bunch of talents, which means they may not have the world changing powers, but they will be more versatile. Hopefully they'll be able to hold their own with the likes of Batman and Captain America. Not a bad article at all, even if it does highlight another area of growing conservativeness in the company, that of gradually backing off from high level coverage in their adventures and supplements. As usual, any actual play experience with these optional rules is welcome.
 

(un)reason

Making the Legend
Validated User
Dragon Magazine Issue 197: September 1993


part 5/6


Beyond the dark horizon: The start of our little Dark Sun section is a mix of new spells and magic items, meaning it doesn't quite fit into either of the regular columns for those. Still, lots of crunch will generally have a few gems hidden in it, ready for raiding whatever the campaign. Let's chomp like a starving sand howler on a juicy kank abdomen.

Erdlu claw is your basic hand to hand enhancer, probably better cast on the party fighter than yourself. Slash them to death like an animal, divert the attentions of detectives.

Giant Fur makes you ridiculously hairy, providing modest armour, although not the protection from cold it probably should. But this is athas. Who wants to know how something'll protect you from something you'll never experience.

Petrification makes wooden weapons as damaging as stone weapons. Only in athas would someone even consider developing a spell like that. Still, life and death, often you can't get anything better.

Boneiron & Bonewood do much the same, although as these are more powerful transmutations, they're a bit higher level.

Erdlu Hide brings your AC down to 6. Not that great really, but it is long-lasting and cumulative with a good Shield spell. And good armor is in short supply on athas. A wizard needs all the help they can scrounge.

Ranike Cloud drives away even the biggest bugs. This'll range from a minor convenience to absolute lifesaver. Don't use if there's a thri-kreen in your party.

Reverse fossilisation makes stone weapons work like bone ones. Once again, you can't see adventurers who take proper blacksmithing for granted bothering to fill slots with that.

Stoneiron & Woodiron give us another round of the sequential weapon material enhancers. This does feel rather like padding, and could easily have been compressed into fewer, better scaling spells.

Erdlu Egg give wizards a basic food creating spell, even if it can't compete with cleric's capabilities at this level. When you draw your power from consuming lifeforce, you don't get many free lunches.

Kank Shell is another armouring spell that's flavourful, but a bit weak for it's level. Once again, the poor scaling of these spells is very notable in a setting which is all about the high level characters.

Isolate Templar is our first real winner, fucking up their ability to memorise and cast spells via interfering with their connection to the boss. Still, this is another one that'll be no use at all on other worlds with different cosmological setups.

Heart Call finally does something cool, giving you an instadeath spell with great visuals. Indiana Jones won't get away this time. Time to really show them the meaning of pain.

Which brings us to the magic items. Ranike Rods are another bug-repellent, making sure they'll learn not to mess with you pretty sharpish. Ranike Staves do much the same, only with more options on how to apply the pungent smoke.

Erdlu Canteens give you just enough to survive off if very conservative. A whole party trying to rely on one will soon wind up with egg on their faces.

Petrified weapons & shields are the permanent equivalent of the earlier spells. Since they're still susceptible to breakage, this seems a rather inefficient use of a really high level wizard's time. Why not just give them more plusses?

Purple-leaf blades are made from razor-sharp grasses. They get bent out of shape easily, but it's just as easy to get them back in. Watch you don't cut yourself while doing so.

Bonewood Fossilized, Woodiron, Stoneiron & Boneiron weapons continue this formula, allowing you to bring stuff up to the level adventurers in other worlds take for granted. Yawn city. Man, there's a ridiculous amount of padding and dross in this one. They could definitely be using their page count in a more efficient manner.


Fiction: Ashes to ashes by Lisa Smedman. Man, it sucks being a templar. You have to deal with a god who is very much present, giving you specific instructions and often being very partial and petty. And unlike most other priesthoods, you don't even have any kind of unifying ideology. Instead, it's more like a modern business, dog eat dog, short term profits paramount, with everybody treading on everybody else to suck up to the boss. No wonder that some people wind up doubting their commitment to the boss, particularly the ones who ironically started out as idealists. If it weren't for the fact that everyone'd lose all their powers and no-one knows how to replicate becoming a sorcerer-king, they'd have been deposed long ago. This gives us a side-story to the whole business where Kalak fell and Tyr became a free state, as one of his templars discovers just how nasty her boss is, and finds out that maybe losing all your spellcasting isn't such a terrible deal after all. Sure, it's a sacrifice, but it's better than knowing you're a jailer in a gilded cage, likely to be sacrificed yourself in the future if you stick around. Like most athasian stuff, this has a hard edge, but somehow remains fundamentally hopeful. Things will get better, because it's hard to see how they could get worse. As gaming fiction goes, I've seen worse.
 

(un)reason

Making the Legend
Validated User
Dragon Magazine Issue 197: September 1993


part 6/6



The dragon project: ARS Magica gets a turn in the magazine this month. And in the process, we get to see Roger's editorial on evolutionary plots applied practically in another way, as this takes the big twist of Forbidden Planet and twists it to the point of near unrecognisability to fit it into their setting. The result is one of those adventures where there isn't really a proper good or bad guy, and it'll take a lot more work to solve the mystery than hacking and slashing. Unlike the GURPS one in issue 194, this'll take a moderate amount of work to convert to another system, heavily bound to Ars Magica's default setting as it is. I guess you'll have to practice those evolutionary tricks again. Should be fun. I definitely like this one, as it does manage to put a very distinctive spin on some familiar ideas, as well as once again introducing readers of the magazine to a new system.


Swordplay still has cash-flow problems. The drow still have Ogrek problems. The undead have serious paternity problems. Where is Yamara in all this? Dragonmirth has very contrasting art styles. Twilight empire also has multiple familial problems. She might help dad escape, but I don't think Becca would let him kill mum.


Through the looking glass: Minis continue to struggle onwards, with price increases and material changes frequent in this season's lineup. This certainly isn't business as usual, however much they'd like to pretend it is. But there's still more than enough choice for one little column. A vampire on the stairs, cape a-swishing. A princess with one of those silly conical hats that blow off at the slightest breeze. Some CoC deep ones, ready to lurk and rend. A rather emaciated looking minotaur. A nicely modular set of castle pieces. A gatehouse which might or might not mesh with the previous model. Another tank to add to your collection. A swarm of giant rats, one of those fantasy staples that's a bit under represented in minis. A suitably petite sylph. Some digitised monsters for Shadowrun games, looking suitably angular and polygonic for the era. A four-piece set of battletech mechs, some assembly required. A couple more mechs from Fantasy Force. Some polearms for those who want to mod their armies. An old skool paladin, judge Dredd style cops, and a trio of mad scientists, one of which is wheelchair bound. Affirmative action! Tons and tons of little things get tons of little reviews.


TSR Previews: The Forgotten Realms continues to move forward, quickly obsoleting a few elements of the new core set. FRQ2: The doom of daggerdale rips off sleeping beauty. But don't think solving it'll be as easy as just kissing someone. Meanwhile, R.A. Salvadore has a very good month indeed. His new novel, Starless night, sees Drizzt return to menzoberanzan to kick ass and lift curses. And his previous novel appears in paperback with a bonus chapter. This line is still very profitable indeed.

Ravenloft is also doing pretty decently. Castle Forlorn lets you explore this deeply messed up, vaguely scottish flavoured domain, experience serious time shifting weirdness, and try and solve one of the more intractable darklord's issues. Not easy, and definitely not a hack and slash one. Be ready to leave baffled, frustrated, and quite possibly dead if you can't find the clues.

Dark Sun gives it's clerics a splatbook too. DSS2: Air, earth, fire and water. More cool tricks for them, particularly at high levels to make them a half-decent challenge to those bloody Dragons and Avangions. Are you ready to get para-elemental and save the world? Or just find out once and for all how those fucking magnets work.

Our generic stuff this time combines the spectacular and the prosaic. The Book of Artifacts brings back dozens more ways to screw your players over while also making them think they're going to get obscene power. Most have extensive backstories, many tied into specific worlds. Use with caution. They also complete the first round of solo modules with HHQ4: Cleric's challenge. Tailored specifically to your talents, which means lots of undead. Get ready to roll.

D&D gets champions of Mystara, the compiled book of the princess ark adventures. Now you too can explore the savage coast in detail and fly airships. Bruce Heard has worked a lot on this over the past 3 years. Enjoy. They also complete the Penhalligon trilogy. Come on, they've gotta save magic, because otherwise, they'd have to publish a whole new game with different rules! (shh, don't give them ideas ;) )

And in our increasingly small completely unconnected to D&D bit, we have AM4: Magitech, our next Amazing engine world. So what happened to AM3? Is it late, or are there still more books coming out that don't show up in these previews for space reasons? Vaguely bemusing.


It's quite notable how computers are moving forward in this issue, which is pleasing to see, but the gaming stuff has some very ropey bits indeed, with official promotion getting far too big a part of the magazine. The rise of grimdark and street level stuff isn't particularly pleasing to me either, as it feels rather like a step down when you've already enjoyed truly epic adventures and know that you can save the world. The shine of the start of the year is long gone, and it's pretty obvious they're building up their big guns for the huge christmas celebration. The next two may well be pretty lean pickings as well.
 

(un)reason

Making the Legend
Validated User
Dragon Magazine Issue 198: October 1993


part 1/6


124 pages. Horror elements on this month's cover, but combined in amusingly goofy fashion. Goes to show, it's a tiny change from genuinely creepy uncanny valley stuff to harmlessly weird and back. Just the kind of melding of serious and playful Roger has got rather good at over the years. Lets see if the april spirit persists at the other end of the year this time.


In this issue:


Letters: Three letters from people having trouble getting hold of some of the smaller company games reviewed in the magazine. It's an object lesson in how much power the main distributors still wield in controlling what becomes big or not.

Another letter from someone who wants to become an Officially Qualified DM. That little rumour will not die, for some reason. I suspect some creepy gamers perpetuate it to gull the gullible.

A couple of questions about bonded weapons from issue 194. They aren't quite that special.

A letter asking for the sources used as references by the artists. We do have a lot of artists with different influences, but a few names do turn up again and again.

A letter wondering why they don't do more fiction. We tried that around issue 2. 1 piece of fiction per month has turned out about the optimum to minimise complaints from both sides of the fence. We are primarily a gaming magazine, you know.


Editorial: Well, Cons are still a growth industry, anyway. As has become habit over the years, it's time for Roger to recount our tales of Gen Con wackiness. TSR has increased the size of their booths, but they still look proportionately smaller when you account for all the other companies blowing up around this time. Once again Margaret and Tracey are right in the middle of any trouble that crops up, being captured by Klingons and then setting them on the rest of the TSR staff. (all for charity, of course. Jurassic park stuff was huge, George Takei guest starred with aplomb, and Roger consumed FAR too many M&M's over the three days. As usual, the whole thing was exhausting but fun. They've somehow retained enough immaturity and sense of wonder to really take advantage of events like that, despite this being a job to them for well over a decade. As is often the case, I am full of envy. It does get very tiring being the serious one all the time, but I just don't seem to be able to unwind enough to enjoy that kind of mischief anymore. Too much time spent writing alone, too little direct feedback for what I do leaves me perpetually insecure as to my value. It drives me forward, but it's not healthy by any yardstick. I wish I got to have more fun.


Pin back their ears: Lycanthropes get first place this year, unusually. However, it is not exactly to get more toys for the DM or players. It's actually mostly nerfs, with some optional clarifications as well. Handy for a low magic game where you have to figure out how to defeat them without the easy solutions, and especially if you've somehow wound up with a lycanthrope PC with a degree of control over their actions, and they've tried to run rough-shod over bit chunks of your campaign. A bit of mixed bag really in terms of opinions, but it does have some nice adventure seeds. They've done better, they've done worse. This doesn't set my world alight either way.


The false undead: Pseudo-undead were one of the more vague and irritating creatures of 1e, and for whatever reason, they never got converted over to 2e. But the idea of monsters that fake out the players is a well-established one, and always useful in dealing with overconfident players. Still, a surprise is only a surprise once, before you have to find a new one, so here's another instalment of things that look creepy, but you can't actually turn. Bunch of cheek really.

Skullriders are arachnoid creatures with a shell that looks very much like a human skull. They can attach themselves to a dead body and animate it temporarily, but are more a nuisance than a real danger to prepared adventurers. Just another strange add-on to D&D's dungeon ecology.

Goop ghouls are oozes that also like to use someone else's remains as a means of facilitating their mobility and ability to manipulate objects. They flow over a skeleton and animate it, looking like regular undead at a distance as they're semitransparent. Sounds like the kind of thing a Slithering Tracker might evolve into, given the right level of underground radiation. Both of these are pretty cool monsters, both from a conceptual and design point of view.
 

(un)reason

Making the Legend
Validated User
Dragon Magazine Issue 198: October 1993


part 2/6


Beyond the Grave: From Pseudo-Undead to the real thing, as Tom Moldvay returns after 3 years to provide some more alternative takes on the traditional AD&D undead. Tracing back their names to various cultures, he shows how they largely stem from the desire to guard graves, and humanities discomfort at the remains of their dead. A primal fear manifested in many different ways around the world, and it's no surprise that they'll have quite different power levels and abilities, even if most have much the same goal. So let's see what he has to say about wights, wraiths and mummies.

Ka are somewhat more benevolent than normal mummies, but still not to be trifled with. They can animate the statues from their tombs, and control people with magical glyphs. If you're including one, you really need to design a suitably cool tomb complex to go with them, for the extra resources, secret doors and traps are what'll really make the encounter special.

Angreden are based on an icelandic legend, and have quite an idiosyncratic appearance. Their special power, that of cursing the person who defeats them, on the other hand is a pretty common legendary one. This is another reason why full parties work better than the solitary heroes you find too often in legends. The tall grass gets the scythe, and winds up with all the drama of death curses and blood feuds. An anonymous bunch of heroes can save the world and move on.

King-wights take us to Norway for a little inspiration storywise, but mechanically they're pretty much what you'd expect, albeit with slightly more magical powers. They're load-bearing bosses too, which is awesome. D&D could do with a few more of those.

Wraith-kings are fairly obviously based upon tolkien's ringwraiths. With the power to drain levels merely with a gaze, enslave people with ease, and a penchant for Nightmare mounts, they're pretty darn terrifying, and can make for quite credible big bads in themselves. Anything with the power to assemble 9 of them as lieutenants is going to take some serious levelling up to fight head-on.

Vartha are essentially revenant variants, people reinhabiting and preserving their body because they have some important task that needs fulfilling. They can be of any alignment, so who knows what their goal might be. Probably best to get on their good side, for they're another creature with an extensive set of spell-like abilities with which to deal with you, many which are divinations for some reason. I doubt trying to trick them will go down well. This lot are well up to the standard of his previous instalments. When he finally gets round to finishing this series, it'll be a real standout of the middle years of the magazine.


The marvel-phile: Our final instalment of this column this month, as it slips unheralded into obscurity, after a year in which the company didn't release anything for the game. Still they're going out not exactly with a bang, but a roar at least, as they cover a trio of giant monsters from the comics. Grogg, a massive horned scaly firebreathing horror. Why not just come out and say the word dragon? Taboo, a near indestructible ooze creature cast out from another world. And The Glop, another alien scouting the earth for potential conquering. They really shouldn't bother, but there you go. The heroes will triumph in the end, and the villains will be defeated in an ambiguous way that leaves things open for a future return. For if they aren't, a future writer will have to concoct an implausible twist or retcon to bring them back. This neatly leads us into our final little bit of pontification, as they talk about some name changes that people and creatures have gone through over the years. It feels very much like business as usual, which is ironic. Did the licence expire naturally, or did it get pulled suddenly for some reason? Either way, it means that despite their attempts to cover non D&D stuff more in the Dragon projects, they're losing one of their longest running and most reliably covered games at this point. Bit of a shame, but they have been struggling to fill it of late, with the information getting increasingly obscure and/or new as the years went by. All things must come to an end, and this has sometimes felt like it outstayed it's welcome over the last year. So long, superheroics, it's been a blast.


Sage advice: How many slots does an out of group proficiency cost. (1 extra. If you want healing, that's gonna use up your whole selection )

Does call lightning really do that much damage. (Yes. Its powerful because the conditions you can use it in are bloody inconvenient. )

Why isn't undead turning disrupted when you're attacked. Does this apply to other granted powers ( Because the gods wish it to be so. Yes. Granted powers don't require the complicated supplications spells do. )

Do you still lose your spell if you save for half damage. (yes. Pain is painful. Don't get in fights.)

How many languages can priests of Deneir speak (all of them! It may sound awesome, but once you have a universal translator, they get treated like a commodity, rather than a person. Then again, you are a cleric, so you should be used to it. )

Also, Skip's generous contribution this month is the Aztec pantheon. Blood sacrifice. Rogar of Mooria approves.
 
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