Our statement of ownership occupies a fairly prominent place on the contents page. It shows this hasn't been a great year for them, numbers-wise. With an average of 86k, but a last issue result just over 80k, they've shed readers about as badly as they did in 86-87, with a higher proportion of losses being from the newsstands than the subscriptions. This means that despite the big celebrations this issue, they're probably actually running on a tighter budget than they used to. Oh well, got to speculate to accumulate. I suspect they're hoping this'll win some people back, and maybe even draw in a few new readers with it's spiffy attention grabbing cover. Good luck to them.
Letters: A complaint about Allen Varney's reviews in issue 197. It became a little too much soapboxing about wider issues, and not enough about the product at hand. This is a very interesting topic indeed. A review cannot help but have aspects of the reviewer's personality bleed through into it. (I'm sure you could figure out a good deal about me through proper analysis of this writing, and even more from the video stuff, since so much of communication is tone as well as actual words.) Indeed, to completely do otherwise would negate the opinion part that makes a review valuable. Similarly, products don't just spring into existence from a vaccum. Knowledge of the people producing them, the fashions of the time and place they were made, these are important in making an informed judgement about a product. Likewise, knowledge of a reviewer will help you know if their opinions are likely to be in accord with yours, so you can make an informed purchase. Nevertheless, Allen concludes that he might have gone a bit too far, and he'll try to avoid repeating that mistake.
A letter from someone who's uncovered their old character sheet, and wants to know what their old magic items do. However, they can't seem to find descriptions of them in any official products. This is because your DM was liberally stealing from mythology, giving you overpowered literary items that haven't got official incarnations yet. Monty haulism like this is perfectly normal in young games.
Speaking of young games, our next letter is from someone who has recently had two tweenage girls join the group, with the real possibility of a third coming along soon. This has seriously cramped the style of the older people in the group. Oh suck it up and get to teaching them to roleplay properly. The sooner you do, the sooner they'll cease to be a problem. We were all amateurs at some point.
A letter by someone interested in getting into PbM due to their recent article. A move approximately akin to getting into britpop in 1997 fashion-wise. Oh well, I'm sure someone, somewhere is still doing it the old fashioned snail mail way.
Editorial this month is done by Kim, Roger and Dale working in concert. It wouldn't be a century celebration without a good look back at the story so far. Again, the fact that this is a quite well co-ordinated changeover compared with Kim's abrupt departure in 86 is made pretty clear. Everyone is still in touch with each other, and working in the same buildings, even if they're doing different jobs now. All the acrimony can remain focussed on the accountancy people. (who probably aren't happy at this issue being bigger without having a corresponding price increase to gouge the rubes. )
Kim is full of nostalgia about his early years at the magazine. Really, he was tremendously lucky to get on board the magazine just as it started to really rocket upwards, and that he was one of the few people applying who was primarily an editor rather than a gamer. That's not to downplay his contribution at all, as it was that experience that played a big role in pushing the magazine up to a new level of professionalism. In return, he got to enjoy the experience of working on stuff a lot more interesting and varied than newspaper journalism, and get the experience of being a celebrity for a few days a year, just enough time to really enjoy it without getting a bloated ego. It really is a very good life for him. He should feel very lucky he got not just one, but two chances to do this.
Roger's reminiscences are less personal, and more concerned with the great articles he's got to preside over during his tenure. There really are rather a lot, particularly from the early years. Just as with Kim, he got to be around when they tried out a lot of new things. But even more than Kim, he had to work ridiculously hard, as he became editor of two magazines just as the magazine's readership was starting to shrink again. He managed to turn that around for a while, but he must admit it's worn him down over the past few years, and he's glad for the change of scenery. It can never really be as special as the first time, can it.
Dale's section is relatively short, as he is still the junior member by comparison. Most of it is actually comprised of his side of the hiring process, and thanking the rest of the staff, with little information actually about him. He's still very much just one of the crew, no time to grow an ego. And with the top layers of the company still young enough that they won't be retiring any time soon, he'll also have to work very hard and be quite patient to advance further. The company is ossifying a bit, isn't it.
We started off this year with some african stuff and new kits, and it looks like we're going to end it that way as well. Technically, this lot are all wizard kits. However, the strict distinction between arcane, divine and psionic power sources isn't really source material appropriate, so a lot of them have limited access to cleric spells amongst their special benefits. Which definitely alters their focus, without having to deal with the massive XP penalties multiclassing inflicts.
Baule Diviners get access to the elemental sphere, and lots of social respect for absolutely no penalty beyond all their initial proficiency slots being chosen for them. Bit of a no brainer, providing you have the wis to specialise as a diviner in the first place. But then, people do frequently neglect the humble diviner and their puzzle solving powers. Knowing they can also flame strike their way through problems goes some way to making them more glamorous.
Bokor are one of the most interesting kits I've seen in a while. Both benefits and hinderances are pretty significant. Bigger Hit dice. Access to the chaos sphere. Automatically getting to become undead after death. Uncontrolled shapeshifting. And being pariahs in most places for being weird and satanic. They aren't going to get to live a normal life anytime soon, at least until they have enough spells to be able to polymorph themselves back on a daily basis. (and even then, the wild surges'll keep things from being too safe. ) One could certainly be a valued member of a party, but you couldn't really rely on them. Their powers will be troublesome sooner or later.
Houngan are ye old african voodoo stylee wizards. Which means lots of dealing with the spirits. This means they get access to the clerical Necromancy sphere to supplement their wizardly necromantic specialisation. Since this puts stuff like remove paralysis, neutralize poison and resurrection in their grasp, that takes quite a bit of the pressure off clerics to hold back and play support, for the party isn't so totally screwed if they're lost.
Mambo are the feminine form of spirit-talker. They get the same extra necromantic access, plus a moderately stereotypical charming power that'll do a bit to compensate for the schools restricted by their specialisation. Their advantages seem to well outweigh their hinderance.
Zande Witch Women are the african inquisition, rooting out Bokor and other spiritual nasties wherever they may be. As with our own inquisition, they look pretty scary, and often go too far, making them not hugely popular amongst the public. But with cursing, access to the Combat sphere (which again goes some way to compensating for their forbidden schools) and the ability to have a human bonded "familiar", their bonuses once again significantly outweigh their downsides. Aside from being very stingy with bonus proficiencies, these are a pretty badass lot, quite possibly capable of outshining less interesting character builds. Allow into your game with only with caution and an appropriate backstory.
It's only the 4th instalment, and this is now cemented as one of the most eagerly awaited parts of the magazine. No surprise that it's appearing here, in this epic special issue. This time, they get down to business relatively quickly, trading more spells than they've managed before in a single sitting. 9 of them are new, and I'll examine them in more detail in a minute, while one is a bit of cross-promotion for their supplements. (gotta collect 'em all!) Not that it's devoid of drama. Mordenkainen is revealed to be fully aware of Ed's presence, the Simbul makes a guest appearance, and Dalamar gets taken down a peg by the others yet again. He just can't catch a break, can he. No matter how powerful you get, there's always a few people even better out there.
The spells are as useful as ever. Shadow bolt inflicts minor damage, plus various penalties on their actions due to pain. Since there is a shortage of good offensive 2nd level spells, this might just be the one to fill that slot.
Slowspell is an interesting little metamagic effect that delays when spells take place. This can inconvenience enemies, and be used tactically to benefit your own spellcasting if you plan ahead.
Acid Bolts are another basic blasty effect. Aside from the greater damage and different type, they're just a variant on magic missile, with no special effects to mark them out from the crowd.
Mordenkainen's involuntary wizardry sees him dip into his personal library and once again get metamagical. Make them waste a random spell. Way to ruin the careful plans of your adversaries.
Bonebind gives you another method for incapacitating undead, with the potential for comical applications as well. Just the thing for players who still hold a grudge about being aged or level drained.
Bloodstars give a wizard 7 orbiting orbs that let them kick the asses of a whole party like a fully powered up ship in R-type or Gradius. Just the thing for a villain about to face a climactic battle who doesn't have any minions near to split party fire.
Lightning Storm is pretty weak for it's level, with the only real selling point being the fact that it leaves you unscathed. Really, any combat spell more than twice the level of fireball should be substantially bigger or more damaging. Someone didn't roll well on their spell research attempt.
Alamanther's return lets you play mimic, casting any wizard spell you've ever seen, but don't know personally. Fill all your 9th level slots with this, and you could almost be a spontaneous spellcaster, eschewing study for mischievous improvisation. If you've made it that far, you deserve a little relaxation.
Tempestcone is a more offensive variant on Ed's own Spell Engine from issue 100. How very appropriate a callback. Instead of turning them into harmless light, it absorbs any magic energy cast at you and turns it into magic missiles. Truly a godspell, letting you change the whole nature of a fight in one fell swoop. Beware fighters though, since you can't cast out of it any more than people can cast in.
Looks like Ed has brought the awesome here, just as he has many times before. There may be a few balance issues, but that's standard with experimental magic, and it seems they're as often overpowered as under. Just exercise the usual caution and make sure they have to actively hunt down the rare and powerful spells on an individual basis. I wonder if he'll have anything to contribute to issue 300. Certainly seems like there's no end to his popularity at the moment, but we know how quickly that can change. Good luck.
Reskinning and type substitution. Two fairly valuable ideas that still need a bit of pushing onto the public. Remember, everything in a roleplaying system is an abstract idea, not a reality. This means you're free to do all kinds of things to said ideas. Do not listen to the literal-minded people who want to make massive twists to the system in the name of realism, or those who insist that the rulebooks are holy writ, the letter of which is to be adhered to over the spirit of adventure and creativity contained within. So this encourages you to create many many spell variants that are basically identical mechanically to existing ones apart from the way they look, and the types of immunities and vulnerabilities they are subject too. This includes four sample characters and the specific quirks of their magical education. From fire to spider themed, it all looks pretty easy to implement, and will make plundering the spellbooks of the defeated all the more fun for players. And so we move a step closer to highly abstracted indie games and effect based universal resolution systems being common design elements. I find myself rather approving.
Looks like David Howery has a bit to contribute to this feast of articles as well. Familiars are certainly an, um, familiar topic in the magazine, with lots of big names having contributed articles on them in the past. Stephen Inniss's wide ranging creature contributions in issues 84 & 86, P. N. Elrod's roleplaying advice in issue 147, and Len Carpenter's upgrading spells in issue 181. David's contribution is less about adding new stuff, and more about making the most of the existing rules. There's quite a few normal animals, and several monsters from the monster manual that would make appropriate familiars, but don't have a place in the PHB table. Instead, you can roll on this d% table, which includes lots of natural animals, and a couple of kyoot mini dinosaurs to grab the jurassic park fanboys. There are separate tables for if you try your summoning on the sea or in the underdark, and another one for users of the Complete Humanoids Handbook. It's all very easy to use, and probably won't upset the balance of your game, but isn't as impressive or imaginative as Stephen and Len's contributions. I may have to whip up an even more expanded table integrating all of these bits and pieces. So overall, this is neither brilliant or terrible.
Ooh. An item that has plenty of potential for magical variants, but hasn't been exploited yet. Magical keys. A little harder to think up new versions of than magical figurines, but certainly not insurmountable. What will they hide or reveal?
Keys of Inquiry force you to tell the truth. Not a particularly surprising power, really.
Map Keys are a lot more interesting, revealing details the original cartographer knew about but left off. This could mean nothing, or be incredibly valuable from adventure to adventure. Certainly a valuable thing to acquire if you're a treasure hunter.
Courier Keys are another solution to the problem of transmitting secret messages. Like Johnny Mnemonic, they lock the info in your head where no-one can get at it until another key opens it up. No torture will help get the info out, although you may wish it could.
Keys of Reunion come in pairs, and always point towards the other one. Splitting the party is rarely a brilliant idea, but this makes it a little more survivable and solvable.
Saddle Keys lock you into one so you can't fall off. Course, if you drop the key, things'll become very awkward, since you're stuck on the back of your mount. Better have at least one member of the group who doesn't need this kind of help.
Shapeshifter keys lock anything it's turned on into their current form. Another one that'll be very useful indeed in certain situations, and not at all in others. Remember, it's just as valuable used on you as on your enemies, and some creatures are pretty scary even with those powers removed.
Grave Keys can unlock any crypt, and bring the dead out to serve you. I'm sure adventurers'll find plenty of use for that, even though it seems somewhat morally dubious.
Keys of Silence lock up your vocal chords, like the speak no evil monkey from the last bazaar. There's more than one way to shut up an annoying blabbermouth, and a good thing too.
Spider Keys part webs and protect you from spider poison. Another one you won't use in that many adventures. Perhaps you should put all these keys on a single chain. After all, they wouldn't take up much space, and would be much more convenient for one person to carry than magical rings.
Rogues keys boost your lock-picking skills. No surprise something like this turned up in the collection.
Keys of Translation are another one that'll be very useful some of the time. Every party needs something to help with languages, really. Otherwise you'll have to fill up your valuable spell slots, and that will reduce your adventuring effectiveness.
Dowsing Keys unlock any groundwater that may be beneath you. Course, the more you need a drink, the less you're likely to get it, but such is life. At least it won't break an athasian campaign like a Decanter of endless water would.
Wizard's keys boost your chances of learning spells. Good luck figuring that one out if you don't have identification magic. So lots of quirky and useful, but not hugely powerful items this month, as well as a few formulaic dull ones. Now, where do we fit them into our random tables?