Thursday, July 23, 2009

Review of Kobold Quarterly #10

I was lucky enough to receive a review, PDF copy of Kobold Quarterly #10 recently. When the opportunity presented itself, I jumped at the chance. I've been very curious about the magazine since it launched. It's received great reviews, even being called the rightful heir to Dragon magazine. Part of my curiosity, though, comes from the fact that Wolfgang Baur is the "Kobold in Chief." Mr. Baur gave me my first official rejection letters when I first started working on getting published professionally. They were very nice, personalized rejection letters, which made it clear that yes, he'd read it, and thought it was pretty good, but my stuff needed some work. And he was right. Since then, I've kinda kept half-an-eye on what he's been up to. His patronage-run Open Design project is fascinating from an industry viewpoint and has apparently turned out some neat product as well.

But both the Open Design and Kobold Quarterly are primarily focused on 3.x and 4e gaming. So while I'm interested, I've been more focused on Knockspell, Fight On!, Green Devil Face, and the like. Having read Kobold Quarterly #10, however, I'm tempted to make it part of my regular reading.

The cover looks like Dragon from '90s. It's got that glossy, "high quality," you-are-there look that reminds me of Parkinson, Elmore, and their ilk. The artist is Malcolm McClinton. I've only a passing knowledge of his work, but I like what I've seen. Unfortunately, like Dragon in the '90s, Kobold Quarterly clutters the cover with blurbs about what you'll find inside. While I'm sure it increases the number of people who pick up the magazine, and Mr. McClinton clearly made allowances for this sort of blurbage, it still makes me want to take a ball-peen hammer to someone's kneecaps. ;p

Inside, you'll find a veritable who's-who of D&D, stretching back into the '70s. We've got articles from Ed Greenwood, Monte Cook, John Wick, and Mr. Baur, and an interview with Jeff Grubb. While the crunch is heavily focused on 3.x and 4e, there seems to have been some attempt made to reach out to the Old School community. Most of the articles are idea, rather than crunch, heavy, and Ed Greenwood's article on a dwarven goddess has stuff that's easily transferred to any fantasy game. Monte Cook launches from the controversy over his use of the term "old school" when discussing his Dungeon-a-Day project to expound on just what the Old School movement is about. It's a surprisingly clear-eyed article which gets to the bedrock of what Mr. Cook sees as two separate themes which make up the Old School Renaissance. It's also another nudge towards me realizing that, while I love the OSR and working with the folks who are making it happen, my heart truly lies in the sort of gaming Mr. Maliszewski terms "Silver Age."

To continue the old school themes is an ecology of the hill giant. There's also an article on the halberd, for those of you who were infected with Mr. Gygax's polearm fetish. ;)

The big draw this issue, however, is probably the teaser material from Paizo's upcoming Pathfinder RPG. We get a quick overview from Jason Bulmahn of Paizo, which includes discussion of the open playtest process they went through and a sneak-peek at the shadowdancer prestige class. There's also some very interesting stuff on their Proteans.

Overall, there's a strong emphasis on cross-ruleset appeal. They've apparently started adding 4e material and beefed up the page count of the magazine so the 3.x fans don't feel cheated. A lot of what's in the magazine is also just cool ideas, with a few mechanics tacked onto it. Michael Kortes' article on feats and flaws available to characters who have been brought back from the dead is just asking for the Jeff Reints treatment of being turned into a random table, in spite of it clearly being written with 3.x in mind.

Overall, I had fun with this magazine, but not the sort of fun I had with Dragon. Part of that has to do with the goals of the magazines. When I started reading Dragon Magazine, with #74 in '83, it was the voice and town square of the hobby. In the days before the internet, we feuded and shared and bonded over the pages of that magazine. There were others out there, but Dragon was the biggie, and it carried ads and articles for all sorts of RPGs, boardgames, genre literature, and the like. From those days, Dragon always had an air of seriousness about it, a certain gravitas necessary to maintain its position as the voice of a hobby that sometimes found itself under fire. This only became more so after the infamous "Angry Mother Syndrome" editorial by James Ward and the magazine later becoming a house organ for WotC.

Kobold Quarterly, by contrast, has no such responsibilities or pretensions. It is, first and foremost, a magazine about entertainment, and it seeks to entertain. Mr. Greenwood's article about the dwarven goddess Ninkash is a subtle paean to the social benefits of alcohol. Mr. Baur's article is entitled "Elven Lust and the Green Gods". Things don't quite delve into the sort of juvenile, titter-inducing nonsense mainstream comics wallow in these days; this is no T&A magazine. But, like Paizo, the Kobold Quarterly folks seem quite happy to poke at the envelope of what is considered "acceptable" material for RPGs. The magazine is also laced with a certain playfulness that only showed up sparingly in the pages of Dragon. That sense of daring and fun appeals to me. Even if I don't get a subscription, Kobold Quarterly is now on my radar, and I'll be sure to at least thumb through the next issue to see what Mr. Baur has assembled to tempt me with.


Matthew James Stanham said...

An article on halberds? Tempting!

Interesting review.

Chris said...

The halberd and ecology of the hill giant article piqued my interest, but KQ's online articles (notably 'Behind the Spells', the trap optimisation cheese series, their softball press release-cum-interviews, etc.) have generally left a sour taste in my mouth. I presume it really is worth gritting my teeth and ignoring those to get to the good stuff though?

AndreasDavour said...

I hear much positive about this rag, but when I bought a copy it didnät impress me much. I wonder if I got a dud, since this issue sounds more interesting.

trollsmyth said...

Chris and Andreas Davour: I haven't perused most of their online stuff, so I can't really compare the quality.

The halberd article is about a page long, stat-free, and mostly about the history of the halberd and how it was used, with a bit about how it can be useful in a fantasy RPG setting. Quite frankly, it reminds me of the sort of article I'd write for my blog.

The ecology article isn't like the ones that Greenwood wrote for Dragon lo these many years ago, with a big chunk of fiction and lots of footnotes. Instead, it starts off discussing the real world myths, then goes into a discussion of in-game culture and habits, heavily based on those myths.

While the vast bulk of the article is system-neutral, it is peppered with refrences to 3.x mechanics. Mention is made to their "non-existant Sense Motive skill" for instance.

The article is roughly 6 pages long. About a half-page is given to hill giant feats that could be interpreted as tactics in an old school game, things like snatching up a foe and using them as a weapon. There's another maybe half-a-page given to stats for a hill giant halfbreed. The rest is folklore, adventure and encounter ideas, variations-on-the-theme suggestions, and the other sort of stuff you'd expect from an ecology article. It's a fun article, with art provided by Arthur Rackham.

Frankly, yeah, at US $8, I'd feel I'd gotten my money's worth. Nothing felt obnoxious to me. The article about the Pathfinder RPG is written by one of Paizo's designers, so yeah, it's a big chunk of advertisement, but there's some interesting game design stuff in there as well, and I knew it was going to be a honkin' big adverttisement before I started reading it. An article entitled "Elven Lust and the Green Gods" is certainly a touch gratuitous, but Baur's riffing on northern European folklore, and I can enjoy that, and what he's done fits very well into some of the gaming I'm doing now.

In short, it's a good magazine that was fun to read, and would easily be a great magazine if I were a 3.x or 4e player.

lessthanpleased said...

I'm one of the editors at KQ, and I'm glad you enjoyed it.

I can explain the "Elven Lust" thing for you, since several people have commented on it.

Each issue we print a "Coming Next Issue" blurb in the magazine to (obviously) tease the next issue - only with the way deadlines fall on a quarterly, we don't necessarily know what will make the cut. So sometimes we have to use boilerplate or filler headlines.

Wolfgang's been using "Elven Lust" sporadically as filler text in the previews for a while now, and our readers noticed. And they commented on it. And several noted how much they'd like to read the oft-mentioned-but-never-materializing story.

So Wolfgang wrote it.


Malcolm said...

Any day my work is compared to Elmor or Prkinson is a good day. Both these artist played a role in the development of my style and love for fantasy illustration. But, my earliest art influence came comic book s and artist like Berry Windsor smith and Bernie Wrightson, Jeffrey Jones and Neil Adams. Man, these guys art was like noting else I had ever seen. So different from the steroid superheroes of Kirby and his imitators. To this day my favorite book covers are the half dozen or so Tarzan covers that were done by Neil Adams. I would urge any who love fantasy art to find them, they are absolutely amazing......

soon after that I descovered Art Nouveau, the Oreientalist and Pre Raphaelites --are all very strong influences on my art, both in terms of style and what I like to paint. I think that that is what makes my art a little un-hip. Every now and then I try to create something a little more cutting edge, but it usually fails. I comfort my self by the notion that as styles and tastes continually cycle some day me and my art will be hip--providing I live that long.