Magazine Review: Kobold Quarterly, Spring 2010, Issue 13

Hi everybody…

The good people at Kobold Quarterly are at it again, producing another fine issue of their roleplaying games (RPG) magazine. However, I have to warn you – perhaps this issue should have come in a paper wrapper because of the cover. The cover art features a scene right out of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, a forest clearing teeming with fae-looking folk, satyrs, unicorns, and other critters all getting ready to party. Now, there are some carefully placed shadows, hair, and arms, but it’s tough to ignore that a good number attending the revelry are stark naked.

Before anyone gets up in arms, I’m not a prude. But my concern would be for those game stores who carry KQ on their shelves and the pre-teen and teenage gamers who shop there. If we want our industry to be taken seriously, it’s tough if one of our best magazines (who have taken over for the once great Dragon and Dungeon publications from TSR/Wizards of the Coast/Paizo Publishing) is presenting Boris Vallejo-style pictures without properly warning folks first.

Yes, this issue does deal with sex and romance in RPGs, but you could warn a fella first. It’s funny, because I don’t typically object to magazine covers. Many of the KQ covers have been suggestive, but not objectionable. I guess it’s the pure… nakedness… that bugged me here.

That said, the articles inside this issue are the typical top-rate variety that you expect from KQ these days. And alongside the articles about sex and romance, there are articles about gnomish flying machines, magic weapons, and some darker material about creatures like the Shoggoth and using Lovecraftian Gods in 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons. Again, the mix of content is amazing and thought provoking as always.

Who knew the ecology and psychology of Shoggoths was a topic that needed exploration? These are vile creatures from H.P. Lovecraft‘s Cthulhu Mythos who can now be injected into your own RPG campaigns to add some additional “ick” factor if you need it. “Ecology of the Shoggoth” by Phillip Larwood describes shoggoths as an intelligent ooze that consume living tissue or material and add it to their bulk. But just because they’re intelligent doesn’t mean you can have a conversation with one if you see it sliming down the street. These grotesque creatures embody chaos itself and leave a path of destruction and insanity in their wake. Larwood introduces the concept of cults to these strange creatures who actually feed and worship them… not the kind of folks you want to take home to eat meet your mother.

And if that wasn’t enough to scare your players, Aeryn Rudel describes the properties of some of the Cthulhu elder god and some of the qualities of their worshippers in his article “Lovecraftian Gods”. These gods cover everything from chaos to true evil and I wouldn’t want to run into them in a dark alley. No goody-two-shoes gods here. I do wonder a bit at the game balance qualities of some of the powers the faithful get from these divinities. Things like the Veil of ‘Umr at-Tawil would drive me nuts as a GM or a player for example (a blue silk veil that gives the ability to see all possible actions an enemy may take and then interrupt them), but it’s nice to have additional options.

As a game designer contemplating a Steampunk setting, David Mallon’s article for Pathfinder – “The Arquebusier” – was intriguing. Introducing a class proficient with early firearms such as the Musket and Blunderbuss would certainly add numerous options to a game world. And some of the new feats included, such as Double Tap and Bulletcrafting make this class much more well rounded – giving such a character the ability to not only create such weapons and ammunition, but have proficiency in using them in combat.

By far my favorite article in the issue was Monte Cook‘s “The Thrill of the Unknown” – which cuts to the heart of game setting design, which is one of my favorite things to do. Cook suggests that instead of illuminating all the corners of every dark place in the world, the element of the unknown needs to remain ever present. As he says – “Remember… that the power of the truly unknown is that, because it is entirely undefined, we can never grow accustomed to it.” When you know what’s coming, you can prepare for it. And that’s fine most of the time, but leave a bit of mystery where you and your players can explore it together.

If you’re looking for inspiration as a player or a GM, look no further than an issue of Kobold Quarterly, past or present. Every time I crack open a copy I learn something new or find a new way to look at things… Be sure to pick up your copy of Kobold Quarterly, Spring 2010, Issue 13 at a gaming store near you or online at KoboldQuarterly.com. Even with the questionable cover of this issue, you’re bound to find something fascinating!

–Fitz

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