Sunday, 29 January 2017

Review: & Magazine, Issue 13

And Magazine Issue 13, a free resource for AD&D and OSR RPGs
Yesterday's review of &12 was so enjoyable I couldn't help but go straight on to issue 13.  & Mag suffered a bit of the "2016s" itself, so - to the satisfaction of triskaidekaphobes everywhere - &13 was their only issue out last year.  On the bright side, this issue is fully loaded with great articles.

In the past, I've started talking about the feature articles in & magazine first and mentioned the maps as an afterthought.  However, the feature articles in &13 are mostly about elves so this review will begin with M.W. Poort's lovely map for a good, solid Dwarven mine.  Three levels of doughty greatness, featuring hidden passages for the defence of the mine, minecart tracks and an elevator for moving ore, a kitchen to keep hungry miners active, altars, a grand tomb, and a warren of living quarters.  It's like something out of Dwarf Fortress and could see years of use and re-use at anyone's gaming table.  There's also a very graceful plug for Greg Daley's Stele of the Silver Thane.  I'd seen the module up on Dragonsfoot already and made a mental note to review it, but seeing that the folks at & Mag had a hand in the Stele pushes it up a few places on my list.

Alright, enough stalling, I'll talk about this elf stuff.  The first featured article in &13 is Brown Elves by the Goblin's Henchman.  The title called to mind some of the peculiarities of how "elves" have come to RPGs from Norse myth.  However, Goblin's Henchman sticks more closely to the Gygaxian source material and the Brown Elves in this article are a hybrid of Grey Elves and renegade Drow, with sylvan variations on Drow magic and a culture driven by fear of She.

Leonard Zucconi's article on the Canaer is grounded in more recent material.  Sources cited are the AD&D 2e Complete Elves Handbook and Bethesda's Elder Scrolls video game series.  Now, that's not a problem in itself but it does mean that Mr. Zucconi is using a system of alignment to which I do not subscribe - namely, the idea that alignment is personality rather than simply alignment with metaphysical forces.  Mr. Zucconi also remarks that he considers racial limits pointless and does not use them.  These framing assumptions limit the usefulness of the article for me, but those who share the writer's perspective might get more out of it.

I have very mixed feelings about Andrew Hamilton's Aquatic Player Character Races.  Most articles in & Mag leave me with something I want to use in a game, or something that I feel deserves a reply.  Mr. Hamilton's article is very good but not in my interests.  To those more interested in aquatic or amphibious AD&D campaigns, I heartily recommend this guide on how Merman, Locathah, and Selkie might be used as player characters in AD&D.  In the same vein, Ralph Glatt brought a smile to my face by invoking the Elves of Black Shadow and reminding me of 1990s collectible card games, but I already have all the elves I want - maybe more.  (For those with a greater love for the fair folk, the implementation is sound enough.)

Turning to the other articles, Bill McDonald offers up The Ecology of the Monster Hunter, an alternate class pitched somewhere between AD&D 1e and 2e.  It's not badly implemented - if you're OK with a class with a vast array of special abilities - but I just don't see "Monster Hunter" as a character class.  Andrew Hamilton brings his four-part series on the faerie to an end with Faerie Magic.  There's a handful of new spells, another handful of new magic items, and some advice on how the Greater Fae might make use of more familiar magic - good stuff!  Duane VanderPol's Persistent Paladin Problems is asking for trouble, arguing that all the hiss and roar about the behaviour of the class is "99%" created by referees.  Although some good points are made about the need to clarify the interpretation of alignment in a campaign, Mr. VanderPol's belligerent tone gets a little grating.  (It's also unclear to me which edition he's talking about in the discussion on Detect Evil.)

I recommend giving a close read to Leon Baradat's Seeing in the Dark, an attempt to unravel various forms of night vision.  Mr. Baradat makes use of scientific understanding to try rationalising the vaguely described "infravision" and "ultravision".  The discussion on active and passive infravision reminds me of something I read decades ago about Drow eyes emitting infrared light that could be seen by other creatures with infravision.  Ultravision fares much worse and is basically ruled out as a means of nightvision, though there's an intriguing suggestion that it could be a viable counter to invisibility.  Even if one settles for the "it's magic!" solution there's a great deal of food for thought here.

Seeing in the Dark would be good enough as a high point for most issues, but for me &13's real gem is Setting up a Proper Dungeon by D.H. Boggs.  This is a serious investigation of the background and method for creating the mega-dungeon, mainly focused on 0D&D.  Before examining methods, Boggs works through the contrast between a campaign based on episodic adventures (i.e. modules!) and a campaign based around a mega-dungeon as recommended in the rules and public statements.  The second section "Creating the Thing" is a bit prosaic but I think the advice to not worry about trick layouts and instead focus on the overall size and shape is correct.  Boggs' next two sections, discussing stocking dungeons with monsters and treasure, are fairly comprehensive.  However, surprisingly for an article in & Mag, it was a little light on attention to AD&D 1e.  (I was particularly concerned when Boggs seemed to suggest that the Appendix C method for stocking doesn't allow for "wild card" entries significantly above or below the dungeon level.  This isn't right: Dungeon Level 1 might see Level III monsters, and from Level 16 on down it's still possible to generate entries from the Level I table.)  The advice on setting themes for levels of the dungeon is very good, and Boggs follows up with a sound section on Lairs.  The points made about treasure types, circumstances, trips and traps, and dungeon dressing are good enough, but their main strength is to be placed into a systematic framework.  Boggs concludes the article with a step by step summary of his recommended procedure.  This is a great article, even for those not playing 0D&D, as the general method described can be used with the rules for other editions.

Smaller features in &13 include; the Monitor Class (a hybrid druid-ranger by Lenard Lakofka), John Frederick's rules for The Carven (a wooden construct people somewhat reminiscent of 3E's Warforged), Dan Rasaiah's horrific Woodland Wyrd, a spellbook on desert magic (Dan Rasaiah again), Ian Slater's rules for an Enchanter complete with unique spells, a checklist on properly describing taverns from Timothy Connolly, fresh hexes to be crawled, original fiction and artwork, and not a single recipe including meat!

As might be clear from the length of this review, I found &13 to be a very strong issue of that excellent publication.  Even if you don't normally read & Mag, check it out!