Magazine Review: Kobold Quarterly – Winter 2012 Issue 20

What is it with the kobolds and Kobold Quarterly magazine? Do they have a stash hidden somewhere in the wilderness where they can just pull out a few choice morsels of game lore, ideas, interviews, and reviews and just throw them together for we outsiders to enjoy? All I know is that Kobold Quarterly 20 manages to pull together yet another outstanding collection of thought-provoking ideas and tips alongside those glimpses behind the curtain at how some of the best and brightest in RPGs today put their works together.

Now there are plenty of reviews of KQ20 floating around in the blogosphere, so I’m not going to bore you by going page by page through this issue. As always, the issue features general gaming articles as well as articles for D&D 4e, Pathfinder, and AGE. Instead I’m going to focus on three or four ideas that really hit the spot for me. (For a few of those other reviews, check out the articles at Flames Rising, tenletter, ENWorld, and Lou Agresta’s RPGAggression.)

Let’s start with “Putting the Band Back Together” by Stefen Styrsky, which offers some tips and techniques for playing a campaign with middle- or old-age adventurers. Though I’ve heard of some of these campaigns that have gone on for decades with characters that grow old, retire, and are replaced by their descendants, I’ve never been lucky enough to play in a game with that amount of longevity. I have often wondered however at the mechanics of such an endeavor.

Styrsky simply adds a few new feats related to aging and offers a few tips on how to get a group of characters out of retirement and back into hero duty. Perhaps the major menace a party thought they vanquished from the lands has come back to seek revenge. (Revenge is always a good motivator.) But by dusting off some older characters and adding fun feats like “Battle Scars” (skin is tougher due to all your scars) or “Ornery” (“Old age has made you bitter and spiteful. Others better watch out.”).

If you’re lucky enough to have played with a group long enough to have retired adventurers and want to investigate what happened in the twilight of their lives, this sounds like a great way to do just that. I might be tempted to simply play a group of retired heroes in the spirit of the movies RED, Gran Torino, or Harry Brown where you see heroes or folks with a distinguished military or public service career having to step up to keep themselves alive or help others in trouble… I wonder if the Styrsky has any adventures written along those lines. They might make great one-shots! (Future issues of KQ perhaps!?)

Now let’s move on to “Small Spirits – Nature Spirits for Any Campaign” by Matthew J. Hanson. Here’s another great idea for working some of fickle qualities of nature spirits into your campaign. Many of the ideas Hanson includes feel a bit like fables (such as saving the river of the Laughing Maidens from being polluted in some way), which might seem a bit too much like a fairy tale for some gamers. But that said, the adventure hooks for the different spirits – the Ancient Turtle, the Laughing Maidens, The Lurker in the Caves, the String of Grandfathers, and the Green Stag – definitely offer some different rewards for players.

For example, if a party should save a portion of untouched forest from clearcutting by farmers or being destroyed to build a mighty war machine, the Green Stag may grant a boon upon them. Imagine if your PCs had the power of a “Stag’s Bound” with the ability to shift a number of squares equal to their Speed. Or perhaps it would grant the recipient a competence bonus when performing nature-related skills… There’s a ton of flexibility here.

And I couldn’t help but remember some of the gods’ patronage in Clash of the Titans (the original, not the remake) and in the Sinbad movies. Imagine what might happen if PCs began gaining boons from the gods as opposed to the more divine powers of typical clerics and priests. Or perhaps a holy person might use boon-based magics instead of traditional clerical abilities to heal the sick or destroy the undead.

Next we’ll shift to “Bardic Charisma Meets Crunch and Chickens – Interview of Christina Stiles” by Jeremy L. C. Jones. Quite honestly I’m awed by this great interview. I’ve done a few at Game Knight Reviews over the last year or more, but Jones really got Stiles to open up about how she got into gaming in the first place and transitioned to becoming a freelancer in the industry editing others’ work as well as writing her own. I’m very excited to read more of the new Zobeck Gazeteer (it’s in my queue!) and see what she’s done there in addition to the ongoing work on Journeys to the West and the upcoming Rogue Mage RPG.

Lastly we’ll look at “Make Haste! – How to Design
and Adventure with Time Pressure” by Ron Lundeen. There was a time when I wondered if 24-style of one-hour-per-episode would translate to a game environment. But Lundeen manages to build an elegant solution to adventures where time needs to play a factor. He proposes the concept of “haste points” to track the progress of a series of encounters so that you can tell when the shit hits the fan how bad it’s going to be for the PCs and adjust accordingly.

In the example he provides, there are eight encounters total and the PCs can earn haste points for the first 6 if they keep the end goal in mind and make some hard choices along the way. By the crisis point you as GM would know how well they’ve done earlier and that gives you a rough measurement to see how things play out. If they get 2 or 3 points, it’s going to be a more difficult final battle than if they’d earned all 6. Honestly this is a brilliant way to structure your time-sensitive adventures to have the greatest impact. I wouldn’t want to overuse this technique, but it’s a great tool for the toolbox.

Every time I crack open an issue of Kobold Quarterly, I feel like the Joker in 1989’s Batman movie from director Tim Burton and starring Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson… I’ll paraphrase just a touch… “Where do they get those wonderful toys?” Except in this case I’m not sure if the kobolds are insane psycho killers running rampant in Gotham City and the “toys” in question happen to be great gaming content!

Like always you can find issues of Kobold Quarterly at the KQ online store, at RPGNow/DriveThruRPG, and at fine game stores everywhere. KQ #20 is the first issue I’ve received at home as a printed copy through my subscription and I have to say I greeted it like a kid at Christmas. Whether you read it as a PDF or on paper, you won’t be sorry!

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