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RPG Superstar 2015

Kobold Quarterly 20

***** (based on 5 ratings)
OPDKQ020E

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Kobold Quarterly #20 takes a look at archers, with an elven archer base class for Pathfinder RPG, a shadow fey hunting party on the prowl, and new arrows carrying acid, fog, and razor filaments.

KQ #20 also features Jeff Grubb on the lost elves of Midgard, a Q&A with designer Christina Stiles and a new Zobeck adventure—plus vile derro ooze magic, planar allies, veteran PCs, how to design ticking clock scenarios, and much more!

Here’s the full 84 pages of RPG goodness:

  • The Elven Archer Class
  • Arrows of the Arbonesse
  • Derro Ooze Magic
  • Servants from Beyond
  • Putting the Band Back Together: Veteran PCs
  • AGE of Specialization
  • The Bardic Arts
  • Unearthed Ancestry
  • Night Terrors: 4 horrors
  • Captured in the Cartways adventure
  • Fey Hunters & Shadow Hounds
  • Small Spirits: Nature Spirits to Reckon With
  • Make Haste!

And that's just the special features—there's also our regular columns, and they are a notch above for sure.

  • The Power of the Game Master by Monte Cook
  • Ask the Kobold by Skip Williams
  • Q&A with Christina Stiles
  • The Ruins of Arbonesse by Jeff Grubb
Twang!

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OPDKQ20


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Product Reviews (5)

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***** (based on 5 ratings)

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*****

Following the three column standard, formatting appears to be top notch, with the occasional grammatical fumble, nothing really worth noting though. Artwork ranges in quality from decent to HOLY CRAP!!!!!!!! but if you've been reading Kobold Quarterly, you expect no less.

I've never been a huge fan of Archer classes, but I can still recognize quality writing and design when I see it. The Elven Archer will very much please fans of this niche class, and it accomplishes staying balanced for the game. Of course, any class that spends three years in playtest had better make it's designer proud when released to the masses.

Following the Elven Archer, we're presented with a selection of fancy arrows, both mundane and magical, with options ranging from glass blown arrowheads filled with acid, to silent flight arrows and razor wire equipped arrow shafts. Useful enough items for the bow wielder in a party.

Derro Ooze Magic.....yeah, let that sink in for a minute......no, take your time, I'll wait..........
Ok, now that that horrifyingly excellent concept has cemented itself, let's discuss, shall we? With a new school and bloodline, a healthy handful of new spells to support both of them, and...wait for it......
A new feat granting an Ooze Familiar...YES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Oh, there's so much ooziness in this article you can't help but want to write up a Goblin Ooze Mage and his little companion, Gloop, the gelatinous cube. Goblin?? Why yes folks, we're not limited just to the Derro, oh no, other deranged humanoids have seen the light of ooze.

Servants From Beyond introduce us to four fully fleshed out unique Planar Allies just waiting to be called upon. Included with each statblock are full mechanics for the negotiations with each potential ally, as well as costs. The allies include celestial mounts eager to once again carry hero's into righteous combat, an advanced fire mephit with a jones for joining an efreeti's harem, a paladin's ghost who will only join if there is one willing to allow their body to be possessed, and an owl headed angel walking his own path through the stream of time.

Night Terrors equips us with four new creatures with which to torture our players. Including a sneaky giant moth that charms others into raising it's young, a dire naked mole rat (bet you never thought you'd see those words together in a sentence did you?), a parasitic infection that will leave you with a second head running the show, and an eater of human fat known as the pishtaco (am thinking a pronunciation guide for this one would have gone a long way, cause I kept thinking Fish Taco in my head).

This is followed by an article from Monte discussing with whom the power in a playgroup should lie. I've seen this discussion kicked back and forth more times than I can count, and there really are no fresh points of view to this conversation.

Following the musings of Monte we have an adventure for 5th level Pathfinder players entitled Captured in the Cartways. Longtime readers of the Kobold Quarterly, or at the very least fans of Zobeck will be happy to see that elements of Vralgor Szarn's gang are present within this adventure. The characters find themselves the prisoners of a gang, and essentially have to do some dangerous grunt work for them to earn their freedom.

Getting the Band Back Together....hauling those geriatric characters out of retirement ala R.E.D. style. Supported with several different hooks and ideas, as well as feats and a wizened creature template (I guess Old Geezer wouldn't have sounded as good).

The article Fey Hunters & Shadow Hounds reminds us once again that not all Fey are silly little pixies, and not all Fey like us....between their hunting tactics and the tools at their disposal, a hunting party could easily decimate a playgroup or two.

Age of Specialization provides 5 new character options for the AGE system including the Battle Captain, Elementalist, Master Thief, Marksman and Skirmisher. Having never even looked at the AGE system, I couldn't even hazard an opinion on this article, as I wouldn't know what I was talking about.

An interview with freelance game writer Christina Stiles gives us a look into her world, how she got into gaming, her process for game design and playing styles.

The article The Bardic Arts, offering material for 4E, also falls outside of my realm of knowledge, as my time spent with 4E was very short. It appears to present a few new class features for the Bard though.

Ask the Kobold covers Poison and Disease, giving us an excellent breakdown of what being poisoned actually means. Written for the Pathfinder rule set, this article looks to answer several vague concepts about poisoning with some clarity, and succeeds in my opinion.

Small Spirits gives us 5 Nature spirits presented with rules for both Pathfinder and 4E. Described with both fluff, and hooks, the five are presented with boons that the spirit can impart upon a recipient, a boon acting as a magic item that requires no slot, nor has a physical form.

Unearthed Arcana again takes us into 4E territory with racial utility powers for gnomes, tieflings and minotaurs.

Make Haste...How to Design an Adventure With Time Pressure. The article is presented system free, and introduces the concept of Haste Points. Several ideas within the article have merit, and could seriously help many campaigns.

Next up we dive into magical seafood with Fish of Legend. A literal aquarium's worth of strangeness abounds in this article.

A handful of book reviews ties us up. Of course there were ads and such as well, but I figure you already knew that. Overall, there's a lot of material here, a lot of really good material. Kobold Quarterly again proves why folks say that this magazine has picked up the mantle dropped when a particular game publisher was forced to stop publishing two particular magazines a while back....Honestly, this is everything a game magazine should be. Yes, there is an obvious slant towards the Pathfinder rule set, at least in this issue, but as a Pathfinder player, I'm OK with that. Massive value for the price, more new material than you can shake a stick at, I'm giving this one a solid 5 stars.


Value on every page

*****

When I saw that the premier article in KQ #20 was “The Elven Archer” I was a bit disappointed. I’ve seen Elven Archer classes before and none of them ever really thrilled me. Still, KQ has always come through in the past, so I read on to see if the author (John E. Ling Jr.) had found some startlingly fresh approach.

He has!

Right on the first page Mr. Ling presents simple and quick ways to adapt this class into three excellent new variants: the Halfling Knife Thrower, the Human Archer, and the Crossbowman. Humans who are good with longbows? Who would have thought? Even though Robin Hood predates Legolas by about half a dozen centuries, it’s been way too many years since I’ve seen anyone writing about human longbowmen. As for crossbows, I can’t recall anyone ever paying any attention to this weapon before - even though it’s what brought fame to William Tell. (That’s right; William Tell used a crossbow, not a longbow! Google it if you have doubts.) As for the Halfling Knife Thrower, that one is going into my campaign right away.

Within the first dozen pages we get four articles for the price of one. Kobold Quarterly comes through again!

Dovetailing nicely with “The Elven Archer” is “Arrows of the Arbonesse”, which details nine new types of magical, mystical, and masterwork arrows. Now that “The Elven Archer” has gotten my creative juices flowing, it will be a snap to re-skin some of these arrows as throwing daggers for my new Halfling Knife Thrower.

The imagination level stays high with the next article, “Derro Ooze Magic”. This article gives us nine gooey new spells of levels 1 through 6. Oh, and it also delivers four types of slimy, blobby, mucus-covered familiars. I never would have thought of anything even remotely like this on my own. But now that someone else has thought of it for me, I know where I can use it in my game.

“Fey Hunters & Shadow Hounds” is possibly the most wicked article I have ever read! Author Christopher Bodan must truly be the Stephen King of dungeon masters. If you want to show your players what horror is really like, let them encounter this Shadow Fey wild hunt. Although written to match Open Design’s “Tales of the Old Margreve”, this adventure idea can be dropped into any deep mysterious forest you happen to have lying around. Run, little rabbit, run!

“Captured in the Cartways” is a great little adventure, set in the City of Zobeck but written in a general enough style that it would be equally at home in any fantasy city. It is a nice, compact, old-school dungeon crawl written by Christina Stiles, an experienced game designer. However, it has one serious flaw: It starts by requiring the entire party to be captured. In my experience, players will fight to the death rather than submit to a total-party-capture. So even though I like the main body of the adventure, I will have to totally replace the opening sequence before I can use it.

It also has one typo: The two undead kobolds in the crypt are described as wraiths on one page and as wights on the next page. This is not really a problem since context makes it obvious which they are supposed to be. Interestingly, this only adds to the old-school feel, since modules published by TSR often had similar little errors.

In “Putting the Party Back Together Again” Stefen Styrsky suggests a very unique approach to who the character are and how they know each other. While the theme explored in this article is common in adventure literature, I do not believe it has ever before been written about in connection with FRPG’s.

There are more than a dozen other articles, and they are all range from “very good” to “excellent”. Like “Small Spirits” by Matthew J. Hanson, one of my favorite articles in this issue. Why oh why didn’t I write about “Small Spirits” first, when I still had a whole blank page in front of me? It deserves so much more than a brief mention at the tail end of the review!

In short, there are no “skip over” articles in this issue. Even though not every article was 100% perfect, I found value on every page - either for use in my game or simply from the joy of reading about new ideas for my favorite hobby. This may be the best KQ yet. I can’t wait to see what the next issue is like.


An RPG Resource Review

*****

As we have come to expect, a wealth of resources for fantasy games - what with archers (and arrows for them) heading up the character-based resources for players, adventures for GMs to run and ideas to help them hone their skills. The focus is on Pathfinder, but there is material for other rulesets (and much can be translated with little effort, provided you are reasonably familiar with the game mechanics of the system of your choice).

The Editorial introduces the issue focus on archery, with an account of how fictional archers inspired the editor, Wolfgang Baur, not only to play archer characters but to learn how to use a bow himself. He asks for our archery stories... um, well, I used to have a line manager who practised archery and occasionally threatened to shoot the site manager and told me that he reckoned he could hit him out of his office window... hmm, let's get on with the review!

For those seeking to play really good archers, the best place to start is an elf. Archery kind of goes with elves, and so there's a whole new racial base class, the Elven Archer, for Pathfinder. Suggestions are offered for ways in which the class could be varied: perhaps you don't want pointy ears, or prefer to use the crossbow - the underlying mechanics can be readily amended (and you are shown how) to make the class work as well for your concept as for the original suggestion. There are also notes to help you embed your elven archer into Open Design's Midguard campaign setting, even if your game is not set there the ideas can be modified to suit your campain world instead. If the new feats are not enough, the next article Arrows of the Arbonesse adds a wide range of arrows beyond your standard clothyard arrow with bodkin tip. Fill your quiver with the glass-tipped and magical acid splash arrow, fire a fisher's filament arrow over the next battlement you wish to scale or play really nasty with the razor's filament arrow or the silent night one (that flies so quietly it is hard to notice the archer who fired it). These and others enable the archer to do more than just shoot the opposition or bring down a deer for dinner.

If your characters prefer a more scholarly approach, the next article on Derro Ooze Magic is aimed at alchemists and mages seeking to improve their spell components by somewhat dubious means... the Ooze School of magic, complete with its associated powers and spell lists. But you may need to 'harvest' eyes or bile or other body parts from halpless humanoids to get it all to work properly. Sorcerers can take an Ooze Bloodline to access the same powers. If you have faced off against an ooze or similar and been jealous of their capabilities, fret no longer. You too may have them... and specialists in this magic may even attract one to become their familiar! I think I'll stick to my owl, but it could be an interesting choice... just imagine having a gelatinous cube or an ochre jelly trundling alongside you.

If that's too tame, the next article - Servants From Beyond - suggests some very unusual allies you might care to summon from the Lesser Planes, showing how you can engage with them to good effect. Each one is presented in full detail, not just stat-block but background, personality and motivations so that they can be role-played properly once summoned. Astute GMs can mine this for ideas for featured adversaries or at least beings that might be encountered, or they can go to the next article, which presents four creatures from nightmare, the Night Terrors of the changling moth chrysalis, the dire naked mole rat (escaped from Ron Possible's pocket, no doubt!), the cephalic parasite, and the pishtaco - four monsters right out of the worst nightmare brought to life for your campaign, complete with ecology, life-cyle and a wealth of detail to enable you to make them an integral part of events, rather than just the next monster.

On to game theory, as Monte Cook talks about The Power of the Game Master. It's something I've noticed, particularly as most of my games are now run online with people I don't know outside of the gaming community on whatever site we are playing, how they regard their GM as someone special, rather than just another gamer who happens to be running the game rather than playing in it. This may be commonplace in groups where one person habitually GMs, but my local tabletop groups all consist of people who are equally happy either side of the GM screen. Is the GM God? Just another player but with a different role? Or is the GM God but only as long as the other players let him? Thought-provoking, and no real answer, at least not in the right or wrong sense - consider what works for the particular group and that's the right answer for you.

Now, the first adventure, Captured in the Cartways by Christina Stiles (Pathfinder, 5th-level) based in the tunnels under Zobeck and letting the characters bargain their way out of trouble by undertaking a small task... Naturally, you could transplant it to any city with a sub-surface counter-culture if Zobeck's not in your game world. A nice short jaunt to spring on characters who thought that merely exploring the Cartways was dangerous enough!

Back to game ideas... and are all adventurers fit young men and women out seeking fame and fortune? Putting the Band Back Together is an intriguing article about what happens when retired adventurers decide, for whatever reason, to get back into action... or have it forced upon them. One interesting thought is that you could dust off old adventures - particularly if you are using a party of characters that have actually been played by the group and since retired - and see how the locations and inhabitants have changed over the 20 years or whatever since the party last was there. Whilst older characters may now be less physically vigorous, they can draw on experience in ways that younger adventurers cannot: and several feats are presented that seek to codify the advantages that veterans have over their younger and more nimble counterparts. More ideas follow - fancy a hunt that takes you through the Margreve woods and beyond? Then read Fey Hunters and Shadow Hounds, finding that just who is the hunter and who the prey may be open to debate. Those fey have plenty nasty ideas and tricks to play, with spells, items and exotic poisons in their arsenal.

There's a brief article about character specialisations for the AGE system, and an interview with Christina Stiles - fascinating, particularly as I once had the pleasure of co-authoring a book with her but have never actually met her! This is followed most appropriately (Christina and I both love the character class!) by The Bardic Arts, a piece about honing the abilities of your D&D 4e bard with some tangible rule mechanics built around the performer/entertainer aspect of being a bard, often left to the role-playing abilities of a bard's player (I had a DM who made me sing at the table...) rather than made an integral part of the ruleset itself.

In Ask The Kobold, Skip Williams takes a detailed look at how poison actually works, then there's a piece Small Spirits: 5 Nature Spirits for Any Campaign, some enchanting primal nature spirits that your characters might encounter if they are really observant. A nice touch is that good ideas are backed up by game mechanics for both Pathfinder and D&D 4e, and adventure hooks abound. If you are a gnome, tiefling or minotaur, there follows some racial powers (D&D 4e stats) that may be discovered by those ready to delve into their ancestral heritage. Next, back to game design theory with an article on how to create 'time pressure' in an adventure and use it to good effect with a haste point mechanic that can be applied whatever ruleset you are using. Now it is not pure GM fiat that determines if the characters arrive in time! And if hurrying makes you hungry, how about some magical seafood? No really, there's an article on Fish of Legend (and yes, you can cook and serve some of them, if you catch them!).

This packed journal rounds off with a page about The Ruins of Arbonesse... and if you are a fantasy gamer, you are going to find at least one thing of interest within this issue. Me, a cheerful song whilst preparing a seafood dinner for a party of veteran adventures I'd like to coax out of retirement...


Another Win

*****

KQ is (as someone famous said) what a gaming magazine should be.
There is so much useable content, including some wonderfully wicked stuff such as truly horrific monsters and Derro alchemist options. Plus this issue has a great interview with Christina Stiles--her gaming history, her passion for the hobby and how she's turned her passion into game writing.
If you aren't a subscriber, you should be.


Elven Archer.... Oooh!

*****

I LOVE the new Elven Archer class. It'll become a staple of many campaigns, I'm sure. Using the ranger spell list, some magus/Arcane Archer style benefits, and you've got a lovely Archer class... probably the best distance warrior I've ever seen. Add in the magic arrows, the awesome middle age feats, and a host of other great articles, and this issue alone was worth the cost of the the subscription. Buy it!


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