Review: Kobold Quarterly #23

Kobold Quarterly

An issue of Kobold Quarterly #23 arrived at The Iron Tavern this week, the print and PDF magazine from the Open Design/Kobold Press group. I have been a steady reader of the magazine, but it has been several issues since I have done a review on an issue here. The last review I did was for issue #19.

With Wolfgang Baur at the helm as the Kobold-in-Chief and a complement of staff providing editing and graphic design services the magazine remains a premier periodical for the RPG market. Kobold Quarterly comes with the feel of the Dragon magazine of old with its production quality and articles covering many game systems, including Pathfinder, D&D, AGE, and recently 13th Age. This issue is no different.

Issue #23 is the Autumn 2012 issue and includes an impressive array of contributing authors. Monte Cooke, Ed Greenwood, Wes Schneider, and Wolfgang himself all contributed articles to this Autumn issue along with a host of additional authors. This issue of the magazine is appropriately themed Demons and Devils. A stunning cover by Emile Denis titled “Master of Demon Mountain” further reinforces the theme for this issue.

This issue contains 20 articles ranging from articles geared towards characters, design and DMing, Game Theory along with four feature articles. I will take a brief look at each of the feature articles and then highlight some of the other articles that stood out in my opinion.

Feature Articles

First up is Dispater by Wes Schneider. This article is a continued examination of the lords of Hell in the Golarion campaign setting from Paizo. Dispater is an archdevil who holds a reputation of Hell’s reasonable, rational and honorable overlord. The article goes into great depth about all things concerning this archdevil. Corruptions, Allies and Enemies, Souls and Servants, the Cult of Dispater and more are all covered. The article provides a wealth of information for the GM looking to bring Dispater to life in their campaign.

Next we have Slithering in Moonlight by Marc Radle. This brings the lamia to Pathfinder RPG as a player race. Details of physical description, society, relations, alignment and religion are all covered. Mechanics of playing a lamia including racial traits, a new oracle mystery, and new racial feats are also detailed. If you have players who prefer to play races out of the ordinary or as a GM you want more information for recurring NPCs, the lamia article will provide you with the information you need.

Of the four feature articles, Pages from Asmodeus by Ed Greenwood was my favorite. An article that covers the Vile Black Book we learn of an oversized spellbook with traps within its pages, spells that move about on the pages from one reader to the next and a wealth of new spells. Spellbooks is an area I consider an interesting area to play in. This article hits the mark quite well. Introducing this book into your campaign or using it for a model for other particularly notorious spellbooks in your game will cause players to use caution with new spellbooks they find.

The final feature article is Mechuiti by Adam Roy. Detailing the demon lord Mechuiti in the Midgard Campaign Setting. Lord of apes and cannibals this CR25 creature is not to be trifled with. History, allies and enemies, cults and followers are all described in this article. A full mechanical write-up of this massive beast is also detailed as well as some lowlier minions.  Whether you play in the recently released Midgard Campaign Setting or simply “borrow” this write-up for your own, there is something to keep your players on their toes.

Article Highlights

Continuing on into the magazine there are several other gems for GMs and players alike. The article Selling your Soul by Rodrigo Garcia Carmona was an interesting read. It outlines the process of striking a deal with the devil, covering research, summoning and negotiating for the deal. I found it an interesting look at this process that we often write off as “making a deal with the devil”. This article gives the GM some tools to add a little more to that transaction.

Sundering does not come up too often in my games, but the rules in Simplifying Sunder by R.C. Higgins brings an item condition scale that you move up as you attempt to sunder weapons. Also included are some additional modifiers for CMB and CMD stats for the weapons themselves. A good read and if I were to build a character with sundering in mind I would likely ask the GM if we could incorporate the ideas in this article.

Fruits of Friula by Christina Stiles provides more background of the city of Friula in the Midgard Campaign Setting and 14 inks and poisons. I sometimes think I am in the minority when it comes to enjoying reading about mundane or items just a touch above mundane items.  This article details poisons adding new descriptions and effects that Friula is infamous for. Rare inks and magical inks are also detailed. This is a strong article that can only add depth to your game as you incorporate these new poisons and inks.

Those are only a few of the articles in the magazine this quarter. Some will be interested in the Living Gods for 13th Age, or Ask the Kobold column or Monte Cook’s Different Kinds of World Building, and more.

The Art

Not to be overlooked is the art and graphic design of the magazine. A long list of artists’ work grace the pages of this magazine. All enhance the magazine really rounding it out and bringing things the articles talk about to life.

Wrap Up

The Autumn issue of Kobold Quarterly is again a stellar offering from the folks over at Open Design/Kobold Press. With articles to inspire, add depth to your game, and more it is well worth picking up. Even the system specific articles are easily ported over to your system of choice.

Kobold Quarterly is available from the Kobold Store in Print+PDF or PDF-only.

Tankard Rating
5 Tankards out of 5 Tankards

Note: The Iron Tavern was provided a review copy of this magazine, though that did not influence the review.

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Review: Midgard Campaign Setting

Kobold Press released the Midgard Campaign Setting earlier this week. For those unfamiliar with the Midgard setting , it started as the home campaign of Wolfgang Baur. The setting had been the home world for many of the books Kobold Press (formerly Open Design) has released over the past few years. Taking this a step further, Wolfgang Baur opened the campaign to supporting patrons resulting in the product available today.

Front cover design credits go to Wolfgang Baur, Jeff Grubb, Brandon Hodge, Christina Styles, and Dan Voyce. Cartography credits to Jonathan Roberts, Sean Macdonald, and Lucas Haley. There are many folks responsible for art in the book and included on the list are Storn Cook, Callie Winters, Hugo Solis, and more.

The book is available in hard cover format, soft cover format and PDF, ranging in price from $49.99 for the hardcover+PDF to $19.99 for the PDF only. The physical books are available from the Kobold Quarterly store and Paizo.com. The PDF is available at each of the above points of sale and at DriveThruRPG.

What is inside?

The book weighs in at 296 pages and uses the Pathfinder rule system for mechanic elements, though an appendix is included for the AGE system as well. The setting is described as a dark fantasy world with a European influence. Along with new “crunch” to support the more than 50 kingdoms detailed in the tome, there are new feats, traits, spells, cleric domains, and more. The book contains ten chapters, three appendices, and an index.

Chapter One is an introduction to Midgard providing the reader with information on the seven secrets of Midgard that make this campaign setting unique from others. A history of Midgard is included as well as information on time, planes, and dates. The Ley Lines of the campaign setting are defined and includes feats associated with Ley Lines and how to use a Ley Line. Read on for more information on Ley Lines below.

Chapter Two covers the people and classes of Midgard. The optional rule of status, a mechanic for tracking fame and notoriety within the world is also detailed in this chapter. In addition to the major traditional races such as humans, elves, dwarves, the setting adds other major races – dragonkin, gearforged, kobolds, and minotaurs. The chapter concludes with additional feats and traits for each of the major regions of the Midgard campaign world.

Chapters Three through Nine cover the regions of Midgard. These chapters provide a detailed look at each region, highlighting life there, regional differences, cities, and more. Each section also includes possible adventure hooks for a GM looking to run a game in that area. The regional chapters are quite detailed and do an excellent job getting a GM up to speed on characteristics for these regions.

Chapter Ten delves into the Pantheon of the world. The Great Serpent of the world is discussed, gods by various regional area, and new domains are introduced – including a beer domain (Oh, how many dwarven clerics I’ve played that could have used this)!

Moving on to the Appendices, we find the first dedicated to the AGE system. It introduces numerous backgrounds for AGE fans and specializations. This appendix comes in at 14 pages. Appendix two contains regional encounter tables and appendix three is a short section on what other Kobold Press materials have information that expand on topics in the campaign setting itself.

Is it any good?

Midgard Campaign Setting is an excellent release from Kobold Press. The book is very well organized and provides numerous regions, ideas, and even mechanics to borrow for your own campaign world.

My favorite item from the book is the ley lines. Ley lines are arcane and divine magic sources that can enhance the power of a spell if the caster is near it during casting. Ley lines are invisible sources of power to most, though some mages may have the ability to see them. Ley lines enhance spells by providing some meta-magic effect to the spell being cast. This could include heightening the spell, causing it to reach further, remove the need for verbal or somatic components and more. Very powerful mages can learn to control these sources of power more reliably. Ley lines can vary in power from.

Ley lines are handled mechanically through a variety of feats to learn to use them and in some cases control them. Several random tables are provided for the different powered ley lines for generating the random effects when tapping into a ley line’s power.

I found ley lines a very interesting portion of Midgard. Even if you have your own campaign world, ley lines are ripe for the plundering. I know I will be considering them for my campaign worlds even if I don’t run a game in Midgard.

There are many regions detailed in the book that will enable a GM to place a campaign start in a myriad of areas that best fit the feel they want. All of them were good in my opinion with enough information to give you a feel for the idea without them being so detailed that I would feel stifled running in this campaign world. That is a difficult balance to strike, but I think a good job was done here.

Elven regions, human regions, dwarven regions all have a place in Midgard. Beyond the traditional regions one would expect in a fantasy setting there several that bring new flavor as well. There are the Dragon Lands where the dragons rule supreme and humans are looked down upon. The minotaurs have their region to call their own. Even the ghouls have the Empire of Ghouls to call their own.

Even the predominant human regions have interesting twists to keep them interesting. I found the area of The Seven Cities quite fun. The regions here have made war a normal part of life. There is even a season for war with a strict set of protocols for declaring war, waging war, and more. This season even brings mercenaries down on a seasonal basis from other areas. The dwarven mercenaries of Ironcrag are notorious for raising free companies and heading south to participate in these wars.

Further to the west one finds the Wasted West. This land was obliterated in the Great Mage Wars scarring the lands forever. To this day monstrosities and rips in the fabrics of the planes themselves dot the land. Magic behaves differently, the storms are supernatural, and macabre landmarks are used by travelers to cross this land. There are so many adventure plot hooks here that a GM would likely never run out of ideas for their campaign just from this region.

The races that are added are also well-done and fit the world. Dragonkin, Gearforged, minotaurs and others have excellent backgrounds and a reason for being in the world. While I tend not to stray from traditional races in my games, the story behind the gearforged was interesting with the blending of ones soul with the clockwork mechanics. Well done.

The art and maps in the book are very good as well. With many full page art pieces at the beginning of each chapter and other inspiring works spread throughout the book. The maps are excellent and include many city maps. While not a part of this particular review, be sure to check out the Midgard iPad Atlas to really bring the world map to a unique medium. (Read The Iron Tavern’s post on the Midgard iPad Atlas).

This book is advertised as a Pathfinder compatible setting and an AGE appendix to bring that system to the mix. If those are not your systems of your choice, do not let that deter you. The mechanics in the core of the book are for the Pathfinder system, but there is a tremendous amount of material that is setting neutral that will serve GMs of other systems. I rarely run Pathfinder these days and will still find lots of useful ideas for my own campaigns.

My only complaint is more related to a technology factor. Paizo has spoiled me with their “lite” versions of PDFs for their more graphic intensive books. The Midgard Campaign Setting feels a little clunky on my tablet. Admittedly I am still using a generation 1 iPad for RPG PDFs, so I am on an older device. A “lite” version like Paizo releases would help with much smoother page turns while reading on the tablet. This is a minor nitpick, the PDF is usable on my iPad, I am just spoiled by the bar Paizo set with their “lite” PDFs.

The Wrap Up

I have only touched on some of the highlights from the book in my eyes. Even with this summary I am neglecting other gems in the book. There are surely to be things in this book that help inspire your game as well. I really cannot do the campaign setting justice in a single review.

The Midgard Campaign Setting is an excellent release from Kobold Press. If you are looking for a new campaign setting to start you next campaign in, look no further. If you have an established setting or you homebrew, you still owe it to yourself to pick this book up. There is a multitude of material to borrow to inspire your own campaign setting of choice. Great job Kobold Press!

Mini-Review: Midgard iPad Atlas

Today I received my regular Kobold Courier email from the now Kobold Press. Immediately catching my attention was the phrase ‘Midgard iPad App‘. With my attention caught, I hurriedly opened the email to discover that Kobold Press has released a Midgard Atlas application for the iPad. This sounded very cool.

For those that are unfamiliar with Midgard, it is Wolfgang Baur’s personal campaign brought to the masses via the Open Design Project. With Wolfgang’s notes as a basis and lead design work by Wolfgang Baur, Jeff Grubb, and Brandon Hodge the patrons of the project worked hard to bring this campaign world to fruition. With efforts to produce rulebooks from Midgard for Pathfinder, D&D, and AGE rule systems it strives to be a setting for groups regardless of rule system choice.

This application for the iPad brings the entire world atlas to the iPad in zoom-able form. The map was created by Jonathan Roberts, a name well recognized in the RPG map-making community. Here are just a few of the highlights from the product page in the iTunes store:

  • Detailed maps of 9 major cities
  • Animated clouds
  • Removable text
  • High-resolution

I have played with the map on the iPad and was very impressed. I had some concerns my generation 1 iPad might be a little laggy with this application, but it zipped right along. I was able to zoom and move about the map with almost no delay.

The resolution of the map is spectacular. I could zoom in quite close on any terrain feature I wanted to see and it was quite clear. As noted above nine cities are included with detailed maps. I could readily tap on one of the detailed cities and pop open the city map and also zoom in and see wonderful detail as well. The detailed city maps are keyed with numbers as well.

The animated clouds passing over the campaign world are a neat touch as well. The animated clouds can be removed from the map at a touch of the button. The same goes for the text that is placed on the map, a touch of the button and it is removed form the map as well. Tap it again and the text reappears with city names and other noteworthy landmarks.

My only wish for the application would be to include textual pop-ups when in the detailed city map. Key buildings will have a number on them to indicate what they are in a look-up table. I would like to be able to tap the number on the detailed map and have the name (and since I am wishing here, a short description of the place too!) of the building pop up in a text box.

I think Kobold Press has shown other RPG publishers the new standard in electronic campaign maps. The application is available for $3.99 from the iTunes store. Check it out, if you like maps I think you will love this app.

While several screenshots are available at the iTunes store, I took a few to show folks some of the areas from the Midgard Atlas. I tried to show non-descript areas to avoid giving too much away. I also scaled the images down some as well.