Product Review – Dungeon Magazine Annual 1

Standard apology. But! I have several orders for D&D crap in the loop: More item cards, more maps, more books, and, of course, ORCUS. Expect new posts. If not my humorously slanted opinions, then you can at least look forward to product reviews.

Like this one! I was reluctant to review it, because any review of the current annuals would require a review of Dungeons & Dragons Insider as well.

But you know what? Screw it.

Dungeons & Dragons Insider, or DDI for short… What do I say about this? For starters, I really don’t like it. This was the format that was supposed to revolutionize the game and change the way we played it. It made big promises… all the while laying off their coding staff. And its promise was to change the way we looked at magazines. It changed it, all right: By making them download only. As such, I have yet to buy a DDI subscription, and I doubt I ever will. Maybe something will change my mind someday (after all, I once said the same of PDF downloads), but I doubt that. Really, I’m still sore at Wizards for taking Dragon Magazine and Dungeon Magazine out of Paizo’s hands.

Paizo Publishing… Well, if you’ve been reading my blog, you know a good quarter of the posts are a love letter to them. This is due in no small part to the fact that they once employed a lot of the writers who once worked for Wizards. Under Paizo, the magazines went from anemic home organs to powerful and rich resources for campaign information. Even the Ecology articles, which I’d come to despise (mostly due to the fiction…) became something intriguing and useful under them. They even found solutions to the spectre of campaign-specific content near the end of their run. Many say that the Paizo era was almost the best the magazines had ever been. I omit the “almost.”

So, Wizards of the Coast knew all this, right? I mean, they HAD to know that, by going to online publishing alone, they were alienating thousands of loyal subscribers. They simply HAD to know that, if they wanted promising early DDI subscriptions, they were going to need to hit the ground running, going to need to come out with content that not only lived up to the Paizo era, but justified the move to paperless publishing. They had to know this, didn’t they?

… Didn’t they?

Well, apparently not, as a lot of their earliest offerings left me cold. It’s taken them almost two years to realize that maybe just maybe, their audience DOES care about story more than they do killing things and taking their stuff. And by that time, I didn’t care.

Now, to be fair, if the Dragon Magazine Annual and Dungeon Magazine Annual are any indication at all, I may have misjudged the new era badly. Forgive me if I’m not wracked by guilt, though. I still can’t quite get over the fact that I can’t hold the magazines in my hands anymore…

Isn’t it incredible that you can kind of tell how I’m going to judge based on my intros? Anyway…

Hardcover, color, 159 pages, edited by Torah Cottrill, Miranda Horner and Christ Youngs. Its contents include five adventures, which will be covered in brief below.

“Menace of the Icy Spire” by Sean Molley: 2nd level adventure in the Forgotten Realms, involving an unnatural winter. A p[owerful spell sealed a tower in ice, and now someone is trying to use that spell to freeze the entire Gray Vale in permanent winter. An interesting setup with some unique monsters, it, like most of the adventures I’ve seen post-Paizo, does its job and little else. Still, doing its job isn’t a bad thing, and the background info is fairly rich. Not a bad start, but…

“Winter of the Witch” by Stephen Radney-MacFarland: … Did we really need TWO of these? An adventure of 22nd level characters, involving an unnatural winter that threatens to engulf the entire world. It is the work of the archfey Koliada, the Winter Witch. Starring the aforementioned archfey (a level 26 Solo Skirmisher) and featuring new monsters (the rather badass Angel of Prophecy being the highlight of a decent group), this adventure… once again does its job. Koliada gets a pass, though, as they do some extra work to make her more of a character than simply an obstacle to overcome. It’d certainly come in handy if I were running an epic level game still, and it’s better than the E1-E3 series, so this adventure, again, is fine just doing its job.

“Throne of the Stone-Skinned King” by Logan Bonner: A Scales of War adventure for paragon levels. I know nothing about Scales of War, so I can’t really offer insights into how this figures in. This adventure… Actually does a little more than its job. It has some nice encounters, and tries to give its NPCs life beyond being walking bull’s-eyes. Things like this make me wonder why the other published adventures don’t have this kind of meat to them. I don’t know if I’ll ever run this, but it’s a decent romp overall.

“Storm Tower” by Christopher Perkins: An adventure written by Perkins for Wizard’s self-aggrandizing podcast, with horribly out-of-place art by Mike Krahulik, of Penny Arcade. I don’t know, maybe it’s just the iconoclast in me, but I don’t like this adventure much. I never cared much for Perkin’s style- and no, it’s nothing I can pinpoint past “It just bugs me”- and as much as I like “Gabe’s” art, I think the cartoony style really doesn’t “fit” D&D. That said, this 3rd level adventure… Does its job. Not useful to me, may be useful to you. Overall does not detract from the work… Once you get past the ART…

“Heart of the Forbidden Forge” by Luke Jonson: 7th level adventure, set in Eberron. Here’s the real winner. A trek into an abandoned House Cannith forge, haunted by… A Warforged Dragon. Oh hell yes. Definitely has some unique encounters, and a new monster in the Forgewraith… Though I’m fairly certain that one existed before, but had yet to be statted for 4e. Overall, a fairly nice adventure that only suffers for being in Eberron. And frankly, a good DM can get over that readily. Admitted, it becomes neigh on impossible if you’re not planning on using Warforged in your game, but I do. At some point, I plan on commenting on adapting cross-setting material, but until then; This adventure is worth owning the book for.

Overall, it’s a good mix, and a promising start to the Annuals for Dungeon. And a good start to the stuff I preordered. Can’t wait for Orcus…

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