Thursday, August 16, 2018

Maximum Dragon 345: Excursions, Sea Serpents, Underdark Animals

I get the best gaming value-for-the-money out of old issues of Dragon magazine. No matter what edition the magazine was currently supporting, there's always at least three ideas worth the price of admission--and in almost every issue the density of ideas-to-dross skews in the right direction. In this series of posts I'm going to pick back issues at random, give them a read-through, and point out the things that (hopefully) illustrate why I think picking up old issues of Dragon for a couple bucks when you see them in the wilds is damned worthwhile.

This issue begins with a somewhat ominous editorial by Erik Mona about Dragon's difficulties in navigating the contemporary marketplace and the toll that has taken on the magazine's visual presentation. The covers of modern Dragon issues are crowed with tabloid-style cover lines and buzzwords because they magazine has to work harder to sell itself in the era of third-party d20 glut, free content available on the internet, and WotC's overly aggressive publishing schedule. The editorial ends with an almost-admonition to ask your local retailer to carry Dragon; the magazine would cease print publication the following year.

But on to the content.

"Excursion: Four Ways to Travel the World," written by Martin Ralya and illustrated by Jeff Carlisle, is one of those articles that gives you a full package of things you can use in your home games. (Wait a minute, Martin Ralya? I know that guy from online! Excellent.) The article details four conveyances, their crews, and their captains: a three-masted sloop, a submersible, a caravan, and an airship. The included schematics for the conveyances are super helpful (and easily re-purposed), and the included adventure seeds could be used as handily for a random encounter while en route or a full session of play.

It wouldn't feel like an issue of Dragon without a few new monsters being added to the mix. It's always seemed strange to me that D&D has a million kinds of dragons, but has traditionally done very little with sea serpents. "Sea Serpents: Dragons of the Briny Depths," written by Morgan and Tracey Peer and illustrated by Atilla Adorjany, aims to cross the streams by offering four draconic beasts of the deep sea. "Underdark Animals," written by Ryan Nock and illustrated by Tom Fowler, offers four mounts and beasts of burden that might be used by the drow of the Underdark. I dig the wild "hollow earth" vibe of these creatures; we've got a giant snake, an eight-foot tall velociraptor, an ebony lizard, and massive albino apes.

Although not particularly useful for any edition of D&D, it is interested that the "Equipment Array" article by Christopher Wissel, illustrated again by Tom Fowler, offers pre-priced packs of adventuring gear--a concept that would become heavily emphasized in 5e's core character creation rules.