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November 17th, 2012

Goodbye Kobold Quarterly

Last night I read the sad news from Wolfgang Baur that Kobold Quarterly magazine was folding after five and a half years and 23 issues.

I have been with Kobold Quarterly from the beginning and have every issue, some in PDF, some in print, a few in both. I remember as an Open Design patron on Empire of the Ghouls voting in a poll on which  little cartoon kobold I liked best – the winning design became Jiro, the kobold on the cover of issue #1. After Dragon and Dungeon stopped being proper magazines, KQ filled that gap – an entertaining quarterly read with great articles on a wide variety of subjects, fantastic art and interesting ads from all sorts of small press publishers. It had letters and an “Ask the Kobold” page, a game mastering column by Monte Cook and, one of my favourite bits – the regular interviews with famous game designers.



Kobold Quarterly managed to steer a course through the difficult waters of the Edition Warz, publishing excellent articles for d20/3.x, 4e, Pathfinder, AGE and 13th Age. Pathfinder was clearly the more popular system, but that was OK – many articles were usable in two systems or easily converted because, guess what, it’s all D&D. And, as well as publishing articles by established figures like Rob Heinsoo and Ed Greenwood, a lot of up and coming freelance designers got their first article published in the magazine.

KQ felt like a return to the “good old days of White Dwarf” that British gamers in our 40s will remember, and to when Dragon was a monthly print magazine. It’s a shame it’s gone and I’m really going to miss it. The silver lining, though, is that Wolfgang, Shelly and Kobold Press will continue to publish adventures and sourcebooks for Midgard and I know these will be great.

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Thoughts on Heroes of the Elemental Chaos

By the time Heroes of the Elemental Chaos came out, D&D Next had been announced, so I’m not sure this book got the attention it would ordinarily have received, despite being the first D&D book released in 2012. Since then, we’ve learned that this Player’s Option title is almost certainly the penultimate 4e book from WotC, so we’re unlikely to get a Heroes of the Astral Sea now.

The main reason I wanted to pick up this book was that the sha’ir was back. I loved Al-Qadim and so was very interested to see how 4e would handle what is a very cool but (tricky to execute) concept. There have also been several genasi in the Parsantium campaign (the infamous Juma Ji’ad, Margarita the watersoul warlord, El’em Terazz the stormsoul wizard and Mal’uk the watersoul swordmage)  and kb98 played one in Lands of Intrigue, so I was looking forward to some interesting options for that race. Finally, I’ve been thinking about trying to do something with the genies of the Elemental Chaos for a while. I’m not sure about the plane itself to be honest  – more about this in my post for If I Ruled The Multiverse – but I have a packed City of Brass boxed set from Necromancer Games and Wolfgang Baur’s Secrets of the Lamp on my shelf so have quite a bit of material for a genie-focused Arabian Nights-flavoured adventure.

So, on to the book itself. Heroes of the Elemental Chaos is a 160 page hardback book, following a similar structure to the earlier books on the Feywild and Shadow, beginning with a DM-friendly section on the nature of elemental power, then moving on to three chapters of player-focused content – themes, new powers and class builds, paragon paths, epic destinies, feats and rewards, all linked to elemental magic.

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The first chapter is my favourite, including lots of DM and player background on elemental magic, the elemental-touched races and the mighty primordials. There is a very interesting section on the Elemental Princes, first introduced in the original Fiend Folio, and brand new info on both bound and free primordials. There’s a handy roster listing the known primordials too – this two page list is full of great names from D&D history like Bwimb (Baron of Ooze), Ubtao (from the jungles Chult in the Realms) and the Queen of Chaos.

The player content starts on p.36 and, although there’s a lot of good content, I did start to wonder how many more themes, powers and feats we really need. Short sidebars on various elemental organisations and “viewpoints” from element-wielding characters are dotted throughout the pages of crunch to break things up a bit, and like the earlier two books in this series, there’s more focus on story, but I did feel at times like one page was blurring into the next.

Unlike the Feywild and Shadow books, there are no new races – I suppose the genasi and githzerai have already been done but maybe azer or mephits could have worked? As an aside, I wonder why we haven’t seen official mephits in 4e – there were a few in Halls of the Mountain King but these were unofficial 3.5 conversions. It’s always nice to see original Fiend Factory monsters transcend editions – oh well.

The 10 themes are mostly focused around the four elements but there’s also a Demon Spawn here which serves as a jarring reminder that the Abyss is in the Elemental Chaos too and not with the rest of the Lower Planes where it belongs! The other one that stands out for me is the Janissary – a PC taking this theme is branded as part of a genie’s entourage, fighting in service of his master, which strikes me as having a lot of adventure possibilities.

The classes chapter includes lots of brand new powers and other options for druids, monks, warlocks and wizards. Some of these powers are pretty cool – the druid gets the old favourite Chariot of Sustarre back again, and at level 25 gets to conjure a huge wicker man to trap his enemies in and set them on fire. Creepy! The new monastic traditions include the fire-focused Desert Wind, first introduced in 3.5’s excellent Book of Nine Swords. The sorcerer gets an elementalist build, the warlock gets to make pacts with primordials, and the aptly-named Horrid Wilting is back as a level 19 daily wizard power (9d4 + Int modifier damage as the moisture is pulled out of the target’s body, the enemy is slowed and weakened, and water creatures takes an extra 10 damage!)

The sha’ir is the highlight of this chapter. I’ve played one of these wizards at 1st level for a couple of sessions in ninthcouncil’s 4e Wilderlands campaign and I’m enjoying having an efreetikin sidekick helping me out in battle. The spell-fetching concept from 2e Al-Qadim has been retained – the gen can venture into the Elemental Chaos during an extended rest and bring back a different daily attack or utility power for you to replace one you have of the same level. This gives the sha’ir a lot of flexibility but there are now so many powers available for wizards that it will be hard to know what to pick each day! Fortunately at 1st level, the options are more limited, but there are still 21 daily powers in the Compendium to choose from! What has gone are the genie-summoning powers that 2e sha’irs got at higher levels – at 5th level, a 2e sha’ir could call upon the jann for aid (no jann in 4e!) and at 9th level she could try and summon a djinn, dao, efreet or marid. 4e genies are much higher level so this was clearly not going to work the same way. Instead, we get the Prince of Genies paragon path – the character finds a bottle with a genie inside which she can call upon for aid, including a limited wish at 12th level (to regain an expended encounter power, turn a hit into a miss etc). The text describing the paragon path is fairly dry but a good role-player should be able to have a lot of fun bringing their genie to life. The Favored Sha’ir is also a good paragon path option, allowing the sha’ir to retreat to an elemental safehouse in the heat of battle at level 11, and to unleash a powerful elemental monolith at level 20.

One of the epic destinies looks very cool too – the Emergent Primordial is well-named, allowing the character to turn into a Huge primordial at level 26. Next, we get plenty of feats including several Elemental Companion ones. These give a PC a fun elemental sidekick with flame serpents, magmin, mud wretches and pech among the options. There’s an odd picture of a pech in this section though – it looks much more fiendish than I imagined.

Rounding out the book we get a bunch of elemental rewards, including some very nice weapons, primordial shards and tomes, including a “lite” (incomplete) version of the infamous Demonomicon.

Overall, this is a good book for anyone wanting to add some new options into their 4e D&D game. It’s not as imaginative as Heroes of the Feywild but there’s a lot of solid content here, and the sha’ir and elemental companions in particular are great.

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