I’m one of those who loves the printed word. PDFs are handy, but when it comes right down serious reading, I want my books and magazines culled from dead trees. As such, I was happy to see a review copy of Dragon Magazine Annual show up in my inbox.
Although my D&D 4E playtest campaign has long since given way to an ongoing Star Wars game, I like to dabble in 4E. Not enough, however, to warrant getting a regular D&D Insider subscription, although I’ll happily admit that if they were still publishing Dragon and Dungeon in print, I’d still be a subscriber.
The Annual is for gamers like me, gamers who might read the occasional free article on Insider, but have been content to live offline for the most part. It also serves as a “best of” compilation, gathering together the most memorable and useful articles from the last year’s worth of articles.
The end result is an un-themed hodgepodge that’s going to hit or miss depending on your interests and campaign. “Demonomicon of Iggwilv: Yeenoghu” continues the long running series on demon lords, and gives us an avatar, exarch henchmen and the always-handy cultists. “The Ashen Covenant” is a world-spanning cult of undead dedicated to Orcus. I always enjoyed using undead cults and this one ties into a classic D&D bad guy, so that’s a win/win. “The Bloodghost Syndicate” is band of humanoid assassins, thieves and other scum operating in a major metropolis. It offers a nice twist on the standard goblins-in-a-dungeon setup, and decent heroic level adversaries.
My favorite chapters by far were those dedicated to gladiatorial combat: “Fight!” talks about introducing gladiatorial combat into your campaign, and how to keep it from devolving into mono-e-mono combats, be it via team combats or allowing other players to influence the fight from outside of the arena. Meanwhile We Who Are About to Die… D&D Gladiators” brings the crunch to gladiatorial combat, introducing arena fighting feats, weapon mastery feats, the Arena Champion paragon path, and a smattering of new equipment (savage weapons, battle harness, etc.)
The “Fight!” chapter in particular had me brimming with ideas on how to use it gladiatorial combat in my Star Wars campaign: I can easily see an arena fight fitting into our upcoming Mandalorian Wars arc.
All That Glitters is Not Residium
“Mithrendain, Citadel of the Feywild” is a fortress secreted away in the depths of the feywild. They had me until the mention of residium storms depositing the dust in the city (for later collection and use in magic item creation). I’m not a big fan of residium to begin with; this made the substance feel even more mundane than the melted down magic item variety.
“Intelligent Magic Items” continuing the lackluster nature of D&D 4E magic items, which never seem to want to upstage players or their powers. Intelligent items have a long and storied tradition of ego conflicts as they try and compel a character down a particular path. But 4E ignores that tradition and loses something in the process.
“The Longest Night” is just odd. It’s a short adventure about a religious red dragon terrorizing a number of small villages. It’s the sole adventure in a book, and seems like something that would have been better in a Dungeon compilation than a Dragon one.
The book also introduces two races: Shadar-kai, who are humans who migrates to the Shadowfell, and now live life to the extreme in order to combat its dour environs, and the Dhampyr, which is actually a template that can be applied to characters to turn them into half-vampires. I can see how these entries would appeal to some players, particularly those who like to play edgier, thriller-seeker types, and could fit into planar or vampire-inspired campaigns.
Is the book worth picking up? If you’re a D&D Insider subscriber, probably not – you could just as easily (and more cheaply) browse through the archives for the articles mentioned in the table of contents. It’s a better value for game masters who don’t use D&D Insider or who are nostalgic for the days of the print magazine, but nothing in the book that screams “buy me”.
- Dragon Magazine Annual, Vol. 1
- Edited by Torah Cottrill, Miranda Horner and Chris Youngs
- Published by Wizards of the Coast
- 159 pages
- MSRP $29.95
- Buy it from Amazon.com.