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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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Making the Legend
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Arcane Lore

Arcane lore returns after more than a year off, to give them another place to fit in new spells. Not that I've missed it with the Wizards Three taking up the slack. And since this is another collection of elemental and energy based stuff, it seems pretty obvious they haven't been getting any cool new submissions in the department lately. Like the ecologies, things sure aint what they used to be round here. Send more stuff in!

But enough pessimism. Let's talk about the good aspects of this article. For a start, it's fluff is set in Greyhawk, rather than the more usual FR stuff. Also, there's a decent amount of planes related stuff too. And all the spells are pretty handy for an adventurer. The worst that you can say about it is that it's a little formulaic. And that's hardly a surprise at this stage.

Frostfire lets you make your torches and bonfires heatless or actively cold. This'll keep you safe, or allow you to bypass many monster's energy resistances. That'll intimidate those red dragons.

Proficiency lets you use weapons you don't know how to, even violating class restrictions. (although gods'll still throw tantrums if their clerics break the rules. ) This is of course most useful to the wizard who casts it. Don't think you can go toe to toe with a fighter though. Hubris will get you.

Bands of Ice are your basic unpleasant magical imprisonment method, which'll also give the captive frostbite. Ahh, the joys of bend bars/lift gates rolls to escape. If anything says they don't actually want you to succeed, it's them.

Lightning Curtain is basically the electrical variant of wall of fire, with it's own variant on being drawn to metal, and being more dangerous to those wearing it. Another one to help wizards be smug in their lair when facing fighters.

Lightningcloak is a little more inventive and a lot more versatile, serving as both offence and defence for it's wearer. There is a compromise in that the protection ends when you discharge all the energy, but that's no biggie as you're unlikely to run out of other spells to blast in the interim at this level.

Death Shroud taps into negative energy for a similar, but even more powerful bit of garb that has a pretty decent chance of killing anyone who touches you. It does have rather expensive and hard to find material components though. Not one for casual use.
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Making the Legend
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The whistling skeleton

Now this really shows how much they're pushing the boat out. We get our first adventure in here in over 5 years. It's only a 3 pager, admittedly, but it's still refreshing. It's another Ed contribution, full of delightful whimsy and very clever use of magic indeed. It could be just a flavour encounter, or it could lead into a whole set of additional ones, with the characters within becoming recurring villains. It's certainly designed to lead on to another plot with a much bigger bad, and has surprisingly well developed characters given the amount of descriptive space they get. I suppose that's one of the secrets to his success. He leaves loose ends, but in such a fashion that you really want to investigate them, maybe to find a solution somewhere else in the many realms books out there, maybe to just make it up yourself. Either way, it makes for fun games, and just as crucially, lots more money for TSR, which is a pretty effective combination. Unlike certain other would be supplement mills, the Realms never seemed inherently scary, bound by a single author's vision, or set above you, which is probably a big part of why it lasted. So anyway, this isn't going to fill a whole session unless you expand upon it, but it's likeable, well done, and has a new spell in it too. Another real winner that makes this issue extra special to me.


Making the Legend
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Santa's little helpers

Another crossword. Not a huge one, but with lots of little words to figure out, it'll take quite a bit of work. One for those long post-christmas days where you're lying around, trying out all your new stuff and getting bored of the computer games already.


Making the Legend
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The known world grimoire

The known world grimoire comes to an end as they prepare to migrate to AD&D. But Bruce is doing his part to ensure this issue really goes off with a bang. What is on the arm of the immortals? It's been a mystery for years. What can top cat people, dog people, turtle people, scorpion people, australian chameleon people and secret spiders? Flying elves and minotaurs? Actually, that's pretty good. And the geographic reasons why they would be there, but not have much to do with the rest of the Known World are better than usual as well. As we've come to expect from Bruce, these new races are available as PC's, although their advancement is somewhat slow compared to ordinary classes to make up for their powers, and their flight requires them to remain fairly lightly encumbered to avoid painful crashes. They might be a bit overpowered at 1st level, but things'll soon balance themselves out. This is indeed a pretty cool sendoff, although I again find myself wondering how it would have gone down if it had been Haldemar & co discovering them. Probably make some embarrassing faux-pas, get captured, and have to get away again. It also serves as a reminder that there are still big chunks of setting still lacking info, presenting hints at what is even further west (which of course, is wrapping round to the far east on the main global map. ) A nation of Ogre-blooded humans? There's some interesting unexpanded history there. So this is a goodbye, but certainly not a tying up of loose ends. Have fun figuring out what to do with the thousands of miles of territory still free to you.


Making the Legend
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Libram X

Another comic series starts here. And whadya know, it's another cosmic romance. Someone must be really eating them up. That or they really want to get more girls into roleplaying. With Twilight Empire obviously reaching it's conclusion at this point, this overlap'll hopefully help prevent them from losing more readers. It starts off in media res, with our narrator, Ace Bloodrunner, ( I bet that's not his real name) being pursued by something large and undeadish, for committing crimes as yet unknown. The girl is of course dragged into this, and I suspect she'll actually wind up being the primary audience identification character, as the normal person dragged into a universe stranger than they ever imagined. Man, it's a lot easier to see the formulas this time around.


Making the Legend
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Making the most of a module

Guess we're not completely devoid of filler, even here. Advice that you need to tailor existing modules to your players, and read them through properly so you're prepared, knowing what things are in there, how they relate to each other, and what tactics they will employ against the players? Issues 190, 157, and lots of other tangentially related articles say hi. This isn't a new topic at all. And with the use of modules as integral parts of people's campaigns fading somewhat, it does feel somewhat old skool in general, trying to lure people back into using and reusing the old stuff. This does not spark my interest at all, and feels like a bit of a letdown compared to the onslaught of special features we started off with. Oh well. We had to put up with things like V&V charisma in issue 100. We can breeze casually over this as well. Waiter! Serve up the next course!

Eye of the monitor: Last issue we saw Sandy give us his position on sex and gore in video games. This time, it's piracy's turn on the soapbox. Unsurprisingly, as someone who makes their living from the computer game business, he's against it. And to discourage us from it, he tells the story of the demise of the Atari ST, one of the most pirated systems of all time. With games so easy to crack, people had no hesitation in doing so, and eventually companies lost interest in making games when they could get more profit elsewhere. This reminds us of several things.

1: People will usually pay for things if you make doing so more convenient than stealing them, and those who don't probably wouldn't have become customers anyway.

2: What is and isn't considered acceptable behaviour is far more dependent upon social pressure from the people around you than what some rules and regulations say. (This probably contributes a lot to the general lawlessness of the early internet, as a lot of the time, it's hard to think of people you only meet on the net as real people. )

3: The asymmetry of production costs to reproduction costs is one of the great dilemmas of the information age, that we still have yet to come to a satisfying conclusion upon. The markups on things like computer games, CD's, movies, etc, compared to the cost of making the physical object are quite horrendous. Compare this to food, where they're often selling things for less than double the cost of production and getting to market, and some things, such as bread, are even loss leaders, and you can see another strong reason to consider the markups for easily copied luxuries somewhat unfair. And this is only going to get worse as more things become pure data, while the costs for gigabytes of storage space drop exponentially. This is hitting the music industry hardest, (probably because they were one of the slowest to react to the new distribution media :p ) but everything that can be turned into pure data has to deal with it. And when we really get the hang of 3D printers, even that distinction will get pretty blurry. Raw materials will always have a market, but capitalism will have real problems when most finished products can be copied in your own home for negligible costs. I seriously hope we can get there without vested interests suppressing advancement for their own profit, and find a way of organising society so the average person can live free of soul destroying drudgery yet still have something constructive to contribute to society. Normally I would have cut a soapbox piece like this off long ago, but hey, it is a special issue. If ever there was a time to indulge a bit of transhumanist utopianism, this is it.

Lands of Lore: The Throne of Chaos see Westwood strike out on their own with a rather good fantasy adventure. The usual class suspects, albeit without the cleric, must foil an evil witch via violence, magic, and puzzle-solving. Sandy isn't too keen on the amount of searching required, and you can do some sequence-breaking if you're cunning, but overall it's quite satisfying work.

Dangerous Dave is almost shockingly primitive for the era, and so gets poor marks. Get with the programming, man. You can't make a profit if the graphics don't grab casual shop browsers.

Monster Bashes 1-3 get a very short batch review. More so-so platformers, with sometimes fiddly controls. This is one genre consoles do a good deal better than PC's.

Soul Blazer seems to be somewhere between Zelda and Gauntlet in it's proportion of roleplaying to action. You play an angel saving the souls of people from monsters. As you do, the world outside the dungeons gradually fills up, which is a pretty neat way to go about it. It's not without it's flaws, but they seem forgivable this time. Make sure you save regularly and do a bit of grinding to level up.


Making the Legend
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The centrefold of this issue is a big flowchart of the books you want to get to run a particular type of game. Splatbooks aplenty. Give us all yer money. This is then followed by similar charts for the various AD&D worlds. It's certainly not impossible for them to keep track of all the books they've released, even if you might find it so on the receiving end. Greyhawk and Dragonlance are notable by their absence though. Dragonlance is now pretty much novel only, while Greyhawk is falling into disrepair post-war.

Planescape! This makes this issue extra special. Our first hint that they're planning on really fleshing out the AD&D cosmology. And they already have the covers of 7 products to show us. (some of which are not the same as the final product.) The supplement mill is going to hit hard and fast with this one. People must have been sending them a lot of letters asking for more planar stuff.


Making the Legend
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The even more complete psionicist

A second set of kits to fill out obscure character options. The overall themes of the year are still being served quite nicely. Add these to the 4 from issue 191 and the 2 from 197, and we have 13, nearly as many as an actual complete handbook. If they add a few more sometime next year, they'll almost be caught up with the regular classes in terms of options. In any case, we probably have more options now than any one person will wind up playing, which is the important thing. Happy comparison shopping.

Mountebanks pretend to be wizards or clerics for profit and not being lynched by idiosyncratic inquisitions. Their kit has no mechanical benefits or penalties though, even on the proficiency level, making it pretty pointless to take though. Anyone'll have to fake it occasionally, no point specialising in it unless you really are in an oppressive regime full time.

Crystallites foreshadow next edition's psionic quirks. They bond with their crystal, giving them minor general boosts to their powers, at the price of having a focus object that can be stolen or broken, which results in penalties a lot more severe than the plusses. Whether this is a net benefit depends on how often you have intelligent opponents who do research and try tactics other than straight violence.

Dowsers get extra divination powers with their little rod, but suck at psychoportation and metabolism. As before, this will only be a net benefit if you're careful, and your DM doesn't put you in situations where you wish you had stuff from the interdicted disciplines.

Empaths get emotion sensing powers, but are sensitive to people's pain, and far more vulnerable to mindfucking in general. If you're playing in a psionics heavy campaign, this is another one that may well be more penalty than benefit. Plus you'll probably have to deal with Deanna Troi jokes on a regular basis, which is the kind of thing which gets tiresome fast.

Manipulators are larcenously inclined psychics who get boosted ability to mess with the composition of objects, including psychic lockpicking. They aren't so great at the mental manipulation stuff though, but hopefully someone else in the team'll be covering that. Another one that's pretty well balanced, only becoming a net benefit if you play to their strengths.

Psychic Surgeons, on the other hand, get a massive boost in using said power, and no particular penalties apart from having their focus tightened. Since part of their bonuses is increasing the odds of others getting wild talents, this is one that'll be very popular amongst adventuring parties as a support guy.

Spiritualists contact the dead by ouija boards and the like. This gives them some decent extra powers, but very unpopular anywhere necromancy is regarded as weird and dangerous. They may have to do a little disguising of their nature as well.

A very tightly balanced set on the whole, with the bonuses neatly cancelling out the penalties. Only one real free ride here, the rest, you'll have to actually work to reap the benefits of selecting. So I have few objections on both the twinkery front, and the underpowered one. Well done for treading that tightrope with only a few minor wobbles.

Sage advice changes their header again, to a more blocky italicized shape. Skip likes to remodel every now and then. Keep the punters keen. Guess we had some extra budget for him to splurge as part of the special.

How long will it take to escape from the astral plane. Can you survive there. (Time works very slow there. Food will not be a problem. But there are soooo many other things that might be. Muahahahaha! )

What happens to a dual classed character who's original level is artificially boosted above their second one ( Complicated stuff. Don't worry your head over it. It's astronomically unlikely to happen in actual play. )

Can you film your adventures with a mirror of retention. Can filmed sunlight hurt undead ( No, you've gotta keep it in the diary room. No blogging on location with this device.)

What happens if you cast mirror image where there's not enough room for the duplicates (They overlap. Doesn't stop them from working.)

How many spells do dragons know. (Only what they can cast, apart from gold dragons. This is why they get associated with sorcerers next edition.)

What happens if you have two items which give you magic resistance (Take the best. On a 100% scale, the whole thing would break if they stacked.)

What's the chance a fireball has to hit (if you're in the area. It hits automatically. Wizards kick much ass. )

How do you make holy water. (recycled question. Kinda like the holy water ;) Watch the colour. )

Do you lose a point of con if you die while regenerating (No, because you never died, just got hacked up for a while. Regeneration is nifty stuff. )

Do clerics automatically know all their spells (More recycling? Haven't had that in a while. Funny time to reintroduce it. Yes, they do. )

How long do powers from the wand of conjuration last (An hour. Level dependencies strike again! )

What can stop a wall of fire (Any solid barrier that won't be burned away. )

Can you cast a flaming sphere in the air (yes indeed. Useful little piece of kit.)

You're messing up words in your greyhawk products ( Well, isn't that the shame. Skip does apologize for the incompetence of our writers. It's been hard maintaining a consistent vision for greyhawk, with Gary gone. But we try. Yes sirree, we give it our best shot. :doffs hat: To make it up to you, here's the extra spheres for both the chinese and celtic pantheons. )


Making the Legend
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Minion matters

Some advice on how to run large battles using minis? It's hardly on the scale of the experimental reaching out in issue 100, where we saw both a whole new boardgame, and an article about LARPing. it is, however, handy in showing us how you can organise your army statistics better. Instead of one centralised bit of paper, little chits placed under the minis can be a lot quicker and easier, especially if you aren't operating a system using large numbers for hit points and the like. Which I seem to recall being one of the primary rules quirks of Savage Worlds that makes it the Fast, Furious and Fun game it is. It's particularly good for large quantities of mooks, where you may well have to put out many identical minis that move semi-independently. Grab all those goblins from your Heroquest set, it's time to make those high level characters work for their supper! How often do name level fighters actually get to use their ability to mow down ≥ 1hd creatures to it's full potential in actual play? I guess it's another good reason to use Dragon Mountain. (not that they'll have an easy time getting to do that kind of head-on fight in there. ) So I think this is actually a surprisingly influential little article, moving on gaming design a little further. We have plenty of kudos to spread around this time, you can have your fair share.
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