Game: Gaming Frontiers: 2
Publisher: United Playtest
Series: Gaming Frontiers
Review Dated: 3rd, April 2002
Reviewer’s Rating: 8/10 [ Really good ]
Total Score: 9
Average Score: 4.50
Issue one of Gaming Frontiers was warmly received. Issue two marks the start of the real fight. Gaming Frontiers is a big and colourful magazine, it’s also a rather expensive publication that will press you for $17.95 (here in the UK I’ve seen it go for ~£14). There are dozens of small d20 companies out there in the wild now and each one is busy churning out publication after publication. Gaming Frontiers provides a forum for the best of those companies and freelancers to present exclusive, expanded or sneak previews of their work and it gives us, the humble consumer, the chance to decide which interests us the most. The clutter of publishers in the current market is discussed in the interview with Gary Gygax, an interview that’s bundled along with Troll Lord’s new release The Canting Crew. Gaming Frontiers itself is well placed to weather the rise and fall of d20 companies but this will count for nothing if it runs out of steam or falls flat on its face itself. I said issue two marks the start of a fight for Gaming Frontiers and by that I mean this and the next few issues should tell whether the magazine is going to make a decent run of things or not. Issue two is a success. Issue two has plenty of punch and gives the impression that there is lots of gaming treasure to come still.
Yes, I own a copy of The Slayer’s Guide to Amazons and I promise you it had nothing to do with the four page pull out of Nympha. You can decide for yourself because the first of the Uncharted Territory explored in Frontiers is extra material from the Guide that was chopped from the inexpensive supplement in order to make the 32-page count. There is a range of nasty new weapons and items as well the Path Seeker prestige class. There’s information on Shaosai, the Amazon tribe of the High Plateau and their fight against the weaklings of the jungle. Oh, there’s a picture of Nympha too.
The first of the monster sections looks at the Denizens of Avandnu. Never heard of Avandnu or Inner Circle Games? Neither had I. That’s why I like Gaming Frontiers as much as I do; it not only tells me about these new d20 companies but it gives me a good sample of their work too. It’s worked as well. I’m now waiting with much anticipation for the dark fantasy game that Violet Dawn promises.
One of the true gems from Gaming Frontiers #1 was the Uncharted Territory sections – where you’d find all this new or exclusive writing from publishers – and I think there might be even more of it in issue two. Previously, the people at Bard’s Productions had given us a lovely and long (so very long!) poem but this issue they flick into practical mode and present the “Instant Guard Post” sheet and creation system. The idea is that if the players go off and do something mid-game that you, as GM, weren’t expecting that you are able to quickly cobble together realistic guard post information! A nice idea. Keeping a photocopy of their Instant Guard Post Sheet (permission to copy is given) seems like a wise move but I’d be more interested in their quick list of traps, doors and locks. If you do have to wing guards on the fly then I wouldn’t bother with naming them all, though. You just take what you want from this offering; which is eight or so pages out of a hundred and sixty.
I quite enjoyed this issue’s Mac’s Corner. Mac Golden lets you know which of the various d20 companies want what from you in your attempt to become a famous RPG writer and their attempts to be the ones to publish said famous RPG writer’s work. If you’re interested in this sort of thing then it’s a useful section, Fantasy Flight Games refuses to accept unsolicited submissions but Monkeygod Enterprises has an open submissions policy for example. I might disagree with some of the comments in the Mac’s Bookshelf section but was a quick and interesting read. He thinks it was a mistake not to name every Dreadlord (darklord?) in Ravenloft whereas I think it was another example of the brave strokes of genius the makes the game. Why do you need the Dreadlord’s names? So you can kill ‘em? Have tea with them? Bah. You’ll want the hit dice of the Mists next. :)
The adventure of Jacob’s Haunt, all 15 pages of it, is great. It’s one of the very best pre-written adventures I’ve read in a long time. This is how adventures should be designed. There’s a back story, there is a list of cast who each have their own goals and interests and will react to what one another do even if the players weren’t there… and then, of course, there is loads of room for the players to come in and move things about. The caveat at the start says it might not suit those players who prefer the hack’n’slash style of play. One golden day adventures will come with the warning that they’re little more than a series of combat encounters chained together. Jacob’s Haunt is not. The adventure is penned and designed by much of the Gaming Frontiers crew!
We explore more Uncharted Territory with the Forsaken of Glimm and the name Joseph Carriker sprang of the page at me. That man gets everywhere. There’s a total of three writers for this piece though, one of who doubles up as the artist. This orc invested bit of uncharted territory is an offering from Skeleton Key Games and is a nice back-story for a rather powerful group of orcs. Well. It’s their story and the matching stats and pictures. It’s well written and presents orcs as something more than meat for grinder but for some reason the illustrations didn’t seem to appeal to me.
Thunderhead Games provide a treasure chest full of, well, “One adventurer’s trash is another monster’s treasure”. If you ask me though, each item in the chest can be used by an adventurer as well. Carefully used – or briefly used, that is.
The last issue introduced 0one Games and the Seven Avengers to me for the first time. In this issue you’ll get everything about the Shadow Academy of Nath Rex that didn’t find space of its own in the forthcoming The Twenty Sides of Evil adventure from 0one Games. Swiftly on the heels of the Academy the Uncharted Territory continues with psionic dinosaurs. I think Goodman Games have published so much of their Dinosaur Planet: Broncosaurus Rex through Gaming Frontiers that you could almost play the game without buying it. It’s a strange world, one set in space, in the wild west of the American Civil War and with intelligent, psionic, tool using, cool looking dinosaurs! There’s a bunch of psionic powers here, so you can have a Protceratops try Reptile Mind on one of your players. Then there’s psionic weapons for when the mind mess doesn’t work.
A Sailor’s Tale is another Freeport inspired story from Green Ronin (a company that every D&D guru seems to want to work with). Freeport took a bashing back in Mac’s Bookshelf earlier in the magazine so this is your chance to check out the writing style yourself. You’ll also find part two of the graveyard story of the death of three brave heroes in a campaign-busting scenario at the end of the story here. I’d like to know how on earth the party managed to get resurrected after that! There’s also then a quick blast from Mr Carter about the weird and wonderful pricing structures employed (or ignored) by d20 publishers. Did I mention that Gaming Frontiers costs $17.95?
Spycraft is one of the forth-coming “modern day” d20 games. This one is being pushed by the mighty AEG and introduces itself to us in a cunning way. If you’ve ever played one of Steve Jackson’s Fighting Fantasy games then you’ll know all about the play by numbers solo adventure. For example, “If you ambush the sentry, read entry 9. If you sneak into the vent, read entry 10. If you’ve alerted the guards, read entry 11”. I think you’ll be defeated by the maze of numbers before the plot gets you though, I went from drowning to suddenly talking to someone in a corridor and I finally gave up when I couldn’t decide whether my d20 roll was x or better. There is a bonus Prestige Class though, the infamous “Cleaner”. It’s actually a good one to put out in Gaming Frontiers because the “Cleaner” of the spy world is one of the obscure terms that we all know from watching too many movies and yet still think we’re one of the few people who know the term. This way AEG shares a secret without offering any spoilers.
The Monster Lab appears again, not content with scaring us with snippets from Violet Dawn, Gaming Frontiers adds to its collection of creatures a tally of five new water based terrors from Mystic Eye Games. The underwater section actually appears just before the Spycraft game (in which I drowned!) and then completes its flanking of the solo-adventure with the assistance of yet more monsters, this time from Atlas Games on the other side. Nyambe: African Adventures is a collection of, yup, African myth inspired monsters that I got a laugh out of. It’s not supposed to be funny, I just got my kicks out of swarms of vampire moths getting the better of PCs and of giant magical monsters with a challenge rating of 11 – being harmless herbivores – but by being curious, likely to come over and have a look at the heroes and having a fatal dread gaze as well!
Woot. There’s an ever so tantalising snippet of Mongoose Publishing’s eagerly anticipated Judge Dredd RPG too. Forget the film, read 2000AD. There’s a nice feature along with the basic rules for the all mighty Street Judges in that we get a few words from the CEO of Rebellion, the company who bought Judge Dredd and 2000AD to make computer games out of and who wisely let Mongoose do the tabletop. Move along creep.
There’s more Uncharted Territory… or should that be Uncharted Waters since we dip into the dangerous realms of Privateer Press and their Iron Kingdoms setting to pick up the low-down on Pitt’s Pistols, the best place in the City of Ghosts to purchase an extremely expensive and rare double barrelled pistol. There’s a long but flavour setting intro story before you get to the mechanics meat but it’s worth reading. The interview with the crazy three from Privateer Press is certainly worth reading. It’s the New School interview that compares nicely to the Old School interview of Gary Gygax. Whereas GG talks about smoking cigars on the porch while roleplaying with his sons and how he avoids eating during games, the crew of Privateer Press explain how watching a marathon of Back to the Future inspired them to build a time travelling machine so they could see the outcome and success of their Witchfire Trilogy. Besides, any one who specifies time in “Earth Years” deserves to be read.
After pirate craziness we calm down on the home front to talk about death and how to make it more than just “role up a new character” in your games. The whole article has a strong anthropological bent to it and examines various different real culture’s perspectives on death. We range from the Zoroastrianism of Persia through old favourites in the Greek and Egyptian mythologies.
If attacking your players with herds of mutant hydra is your cup of tea then you’ll probably enjoy the Adventure for Level 20 characters from Hammerdog Game. It’s not my cup of tea but in a magazine as diverse as Gaming Frontiers that is to be expected. The story of Unquiet Dreams by James Lowder and fantastic artwork from Patrick Keith certainly are my cup of tea though. Keith’s drawn two of the cutest goblins ever. Between the two you’ll find a chunk of history in the form of the infamous Templars. It’s a fair and concise history of the most famous order of warrior-monks ever and, then, of course, rules to d20 them! The rules here aren’t in the Avalanche Press style where everything is ultra real. Instead you’ll find the Templars are a prestige class where your d10 hit points per level warriors have access to first level divine spells too.
Long review, huh? I’ve not even mentioned the game reviews, the cartoons (magic Princess Shampoo!) the quality of the artwork… so I’ll just do that briefly there. Sure, it’s expensive but it’s also very good. I continue to recommend Gaming Frontiers and do so with increasing conviction in my belief that they’re in for a good run.