Game: Gaming Frontiers: 3
Publisher: United Playtest
Review Dated: 26th, September 2002
Reviewer’s Rating: 7/10 [ Good ]
Total Score: 7
Average Score: 7.00
I was fairly certain that Gaming Frontiers could not continue in the same quality and at the same cost as GF #1 and #2. I was right. The price has gone up from $17.95 to $19.95 and the magazine’s lost its colour. It’s not a disaster; the magazine is still jam packed with interesting articles and illustrations. It’s not a disaster but it is something you notice, especially the loss of colour but at least in these shaky times for the hobby United Playtest are doing what’s required to keep going.
Keeping track of everything that’s going on has become one of the main reasons to pick up a copy of Gaming Frontiers. The magazine’s always managed to introduce me to d20 companies I’d never heard of before and I’m in the business of keeping track of as many RPG companies as I can. Actually, “magazine” isn’t a very good word for Gaming Frontiers. This point was made before but now in the new format it looks even more like a 144-paged book than ever before.
Issue #3 begins with a Deadlands adventure from Pinnacle. “The Outlaw of Kumeyaay Canyon” really needs to be a Deadland or similar setting. The wild west (or weird west, rather) can’t easily be represented in a Tolkien-esq fantasy. It’s a fairly good adventure though; typical Pinnacle style insofar that’s NPC heavy and not particularly linear. In fact there three suggested adventure ideas through which to involve the PCs with the NPCs.
In the Uncharted Territory we’re given a couple of “Places of Interest”. The most interesting twist here is the guest writers are non-other than Thunderhead Games who not so recently became a part of Mystic Eye Games . So either this set of Interesting Places was submitted to United Playtest some time ago or the decision’s been made to actively maintain the Thunderhead brand name. Mystic Eye Games also featured in the previous section since Pinnacle made OGC use of the MEG’s Rusalka creature. Oh, right, the Interesting Places themselves; a familiar shop (cute idea), an orphanage, jail, sparring rooms and a shipyard. There are actually news feat tucked away in here: Blood Ritual gives the spellcaster a way to make the save test against their spell harder (and I think this needs to be capped) and Life Component which lets you replace material components by spilling more of your own blood.
Sovereign Press offers up an adventure too. “The Scorpion’s Tail” is a typical dungeon crawl. There’s a nice story wrapped around a scorpion shaped dungeon. It’s well written but make of yet-another linear beat’em up as you will.
The previous issue’s On the Home Front had an article on the Afterlife and this time round it’s all about burial rituals or varieties like cremation. It’s a nicely written essay style piece. It is more of an essay than pale excuse for morbid post-mortum relics and the game mechanics for the invariable power-ups. The article is all the better as a result. It’s nice to see a mixture of the more academic side of role-playing that “Grave Thoughts” represents with the mindless fun of dungeon adventures.
“Aliens from the Dinosaur Planet” is predictably a feature from Goodman Games. I’ve not had time to read their Dinosaur Planet: Broncosaurus Rex product yet and wasn’t sure that there were aliens. They are and it’s good that they’re not all manlike ‘StarTrek’ aliens. They’re inhuman in appearance and in culture. This is one of the better features in this issue. It’s a good read, I think you can convert the stats for the aliens to fit them into other d20 words without too much hassle and the illustrations are by Andy Hopp.
The “Making Magic Items” article from Monte Cook is a must read if you’ve not found the original web copy. The author of the Dungeon Master’s Guide answers a whole string of awkward questions about creating homebrew magical items. Even if you’re not a crunch fan the article is a good way to get a glance into Monte Cook’s train of thought.
The adventure which quickly becomes a battle against some orcs from Guildhouse Games has the rather unusual title of “In Pursuit of Magic”. I suspect you could swap out ‘pursuit’ and slide in precursor since Guildhouse Games wrote the article just before the release of their A Mage’s Tale. Although the adventure style of “In Pursuit of Magic” isn’t particularly suited to my tastes I was impressed enough by the overall quality to add Guildhouse to my “to check out” list. If it wasn’t for Gaming Frontiers I’d never have heard of these people and in this time round in GF #3 there’s a decent sample of their work. It’s this which in my mind helps pull back the rather sizable cost of the magazine-cum-book.
I don’t think there’s been much from Gaslight Press since the release of their first Sun Scale campaign setting adventure. In Gaming Frontier’s Uncharted Territory section they’ve produced “Beyond The fields We Know” as a Guide to the Fey. Gaslight have done well to pull back the look and feel of European fey. The fey rules here are clearly more of the celtic feel about them than many other similar attempts – and as a Scot I can say that. Fey are a popular feature in many campaign worlds. The elemental wood rules (ghostwood, darkwood, earthwood, windwood, etc) for the fey can be used in any d20 system with or without the fey. This article is the best thing I’ve seen from Gaslight Press to date. I got a strong Asian vibe from Gryphon’s Legacy where the Sun Emperor rules the great dynasty. We’ll have to see how and if this mixes with celtic fey.
The Asian vibe is strongly present in the Monster Lab. “Monsters from the East” is the works of Green Ronin and is described as supplementary material to their Jade Dragons & Hungry Ghosts sourcebook. There are five entries in this small beastiary and they include the scary Te-No-Me wandering undead.
I’ve not been making mention of the various illustrations or comic strips as they pop-up through the magazine. I’ll make an exception for “Smoke & Dagger” which is an Ernor comic strip. It’s an anthro comic and looks rather good.
Freelance writer Andrew Hind pens another article for Gaming Frontiers this month too. This time round in “Era of the Warring States” we’ve another oriental feature. The article offers a good chunk of ancient history and then some bold game mechanics. Bold game mechanics because they offer large attribute modifications (+2 at the highest) to different cultures of the human race. They also offer the Charioteering as a feat and not a skill.
The second Monster Lab is a quick offering from Troll Lord Games and features rules for Trottigen Giants. A strange lot of giants they are. They’re neither aggressive nor warlike and instead they’re intelligent and wise. The challenge rating is actually down in print as 1/10. I don’t think that’s supposed to read as one/tenth though.
Comic book heroes is a genre that’s been getting a bit of attention lately. “Validus Populai” (latin for ‘the hero people’) is a system from Heliocentric Studios that’s been put into print by United Playtest the company behind Gaming Frontiers. Hero artwork is often eye candy and that’s the same here. There’s also the introduction of “power feats”. This isn’t the game, it doesn’t come free with the magazine but it’s a good introduction. It’s something else to keep an eye on. If Gaming Frontiers does end up with a game of its own then there’s the risk of bias. On the other hand, a well supported d20 hero game is still a niche for the taking.
The adventure “The Lost Crypt of Shizaraht” is a dungeon crawl for four characters at 5th level. Actually, the term dungeon crawl is a little harsh this time round because in addition to crawling through dungeons there’s also a fair bit of NPC interaction (aka roleplaying) and problem solving. It’s really well written but I’ve come to recognise the name Wil Upchurch for that. The cartography also gets a credit. Whenever I see Ed Bourelle’s work I’m impressed. The maps are fantastic but it’s the Giger-esq art (page 94) of the stretched face is simply great.
There’s a long look at Monte Cook’s new Banewarrens “mega-adventure. It actually gives the rules for Latent Sorcery, letting you have the best bit from the whole book for “free”.
I’ve been using the term “dungeon crawl” an awful lot in the description of adventures and so you might guess how I’d describe Hammer Dog‘s “Darkspyre”. Hammer Dog describe it as “a short suicide mission into the tower of the world’s most notorious archmage!” It’s actually for 4-6 characters of 6-8th levels and so should be a walk in the park compared to even the brief look of Banewarrens. Hammer Dog do this thing where they present the stats for monsters and items in a table/card format with stats and library numbers on the side. It looked good in colour. It looks cheap in black and white.
In the third of five Uncharted Territory sections Living Imagination Inc provides the cute subtitle “There’s No Business Like Sail Business” for their “Broadsides!” offering. What you get is a couple of tables for oceanic encounters, trade goods and the costs for shipping and operation. There’s a lot packed into a small space and anything to help boost the forgotten frontier (the water) of roleplaying is a good thing.
Atlas Games‘s “Herbs” follows quickly as the next in the Uncharted Territory series. It does what you’d expect and is a quick botany lesson. The herbs covered have a wide range of in-game use and can be made into various magical concoctions or poison. Goblin Snot is a new poison made from Bog Fan.
The other commonly reoccurring feature in the magazine is the Monster Lab. The last visit to the lab is at the hands of Mongoose and gives us some scary trolls. It’s a supplement to the Slayer’s Guide to Trolls but you don’t need the book to make use of the new and fully statted trolls here. I’ll note the Shadow Troll because the picture is evocative and I think the creature really could scare the players (CR 6, though) and I’ll note the Eldritch Troll (smarter – Int 14) and spell slinging because it’s a crazy idea.
A rival to Ed Bourelle’s cartographical masterpieces can be found in the adventure “The Burning Tiger”. 0one Games set the short scenario in their Seven Avengers’ world of Arthad. It is a short scenario but I could use the temple map in it many times over. Turn to page 126 and enoy.
This month Mac’s Corner looks at issues around the SRD for new d20 authors and how the descriptive texts and illustrations for WotC’s monsters are not open and you can’t use them. As examples he offers up the Beholder and Mind Flayers (who’s normal appearance are clearly associated to D&D) and how they might look if you keep the stats and their design as implied by their powers (tentacles and eyes, etc). It’s well worth a read. It makes a nice article for a quarterly magazine.
Jeffrey S. Carter looks at a handful of RPG supplements and has some things to say about them. About half of the products covered in “Gear” aren’t explicitly for d20 gaming. In fact, the highest plaudits go to Palladium’s books on “Weapons & Castles” and “Weapons & Armour” and aside from inventing the first generic system using a twenty sided dice I don’t think Palladium are d20 at all.
Maps and cartography are one of the highlights in Gaming Frontiers 3. It’s good then that the Open Game Content map of World X reaches maturity in this issue.
The magazine closes with Uncharted Territory and another Andrew Hind piece. This time we’re looking at the evil “order of the Crimson Aba”. The order can be used as a villainous group in any given fantasy setting and comes with a detailed history. There’s also a new spell (Breath of Death), a new feat (Crypt Ears) and a new prestige class (Sons of Khast).
It’s still thumbs up for Gaming Frontiers despite the twin sets backs of the loss of colour and the slight price hike. This issue is worth reading and that’s the ultimate test. It would have been better if it was cheaper and came in colour but then it would have been better if it read itself to me or made the coffee. If Gaming Frontiers levels off at this stage and produces this quality consistently then I’ll be happy.