Game: Signs & Portents #2
Publisher: Mongoose Publishing
Review Dated: 29th, August 2003
Reviewer’s Rating: 7/10 [ Good ]
Total Score: 7
Average Score: 7.00
This is a review of the second issue of Mongoose’s d20 magazine Signs & Portents. I knew it couldn’t last. The first issue was incredibly cheap. It was less than US $5, it was in full colour, was about 70 pages long and came with a free Slayer’s Guide. I knew prices would have to rise. I was expecting a price hike. I wasn’t expecting /this/ level of price increase. It’s tiny. A dollar jump in price is hardly a jump at all. It’s only the absence of the attached Slayer’s Guide to Minotaurs that allows for unfavourable (and probably unfair) price-per-page comparisons.
Signs & Portents #2 is very much the same magazine as the first one was. This is Mongoose mania. A magazine devoted entirely to the British company’s impressive array of d20 products. There are a few adverts in between the shiny covers but Mongoose must still be taking 3d6 damage to their wallet in return for this advert-cum-faq-cum-magazine production.
Mongoose released another spoof Slayer’s Guide this month, the Slayer’s Guide to Games Masters made it out of the warehouse and this sort of humour is clearly the flavour of the month. Signs & Portents #2 offers rules for the Quintessential Ranger Mongoose. If you want the Loyal Mongoose Prestige class, Mongoose familiars, Mongoose spells, racial stats, abilities and skills then they’re here! I didn’t notice a spell that enables authors to convert caffeine into d20 rules and game supplements but I suspect there must be one.
I think its d20 rules that are Mongoose’s specially. In one of the “is it an ad?” sections Signs & Portents introduce us to the Rulesmasters. We’re invited to send any of our rule questions to [email protected]. It doesn’t explicitly state d20 but I suspect I’ll not be thanked for throwing the email address some of my questions about the old Dragon Warriors RPG.
Signs & Portents #2 kicks off nicely. At least it’s a good start if you’re a Mongoose fan and, like me, are actually interested in what will be escaping Swindon and reaching RPG hobby stores this month. The Quintessential Halfling, for one, The Slayer’s Guide to Demons will be another and I think both will be quite popular. They’re in good company, Encyclopaedia Arcane: Tomes & Libraries enjoyed a preview last month, The Earth Alliance Fact Book is going to be a large hardback and possibly the” must have” supplement for Babylon 5 players. Strongholds & Dynasties is going to have version 2 of the Open Mass Combat System.
This month the important (and selling point) Question and Answers section looks at Armageddon: 2089. I can see the newly announced Rulesmasters question and answer service being used to populate this section in the future and common problems meeting quick solutions.
The Tales From Mongoose Hall section describes the second half of the chaotic playtest of the B5 adventure The Fiery Trial. It’s worth a read if you’re not going to play the adventure. GMs might not thank Mongoose for including it though. Later on in the magazine there’s a page of designer insight on the very same book.
There’s a good look at Encyclopaedia Arcane: Blood Magic. There are Collector Series style character concepts for Blood Mages and a new prestige class in the form of the Blood Patriarch.
I was confused by the Interceptor stats in the core Babylon 5 rule book and was pleased to see them re-printed here. The re-occurrence of the +40 and +10 damage reduction rules confirm those numbers are correct (even if they’re very scary). It means the laser protection shield the Interceptors can create is tougher than hiding behind the armour of two Sharlin warcruisers.
Johnny Nexus tells us why we he hates monks. It’s a funny article – but no doubt some D&D fanatics will send him hate mail. Poking fun at the D&D class system is like shooting fish in the barrel, the only thing easier is poking fun at the alignment system, and so it’s the tone of this article that makes it a winner.
What did I just say about the alignment system? Using Mongoose Publishing’s “Head Honcho” Matthew Sprange’s awkward Paladin as an example, the very same Matthew Sprange asks, “How Good is Lawful Good?” It can be a tricky question. Signs & Portents invites feedback. Mongoose have brand new forums and so I’m sure questions like this will keep them busy. Here’s my opinion: since the rest of the group is never sure what the Paladin is going to do next – he can’t be that lawful, sounds more chaotic to me. Good is entirely subjective. Telling the voice of his god, or his custos’ advice, to ‘shut up’ must be the final, blackguard straw. With a bit of luck we’ll see Mongoose strip out the alignment system for upcoming main rules like the Conan RPG.
The Mek of the Month is the Marshal unit from Moore Limited. I felt like hyperlinking Moore Limited just then – perhaps Mongoose should buy some more domain names! I can see Signs & Portents quickly becoming a stable for avid Armageddon players. If the magazine is going to release a new WarMek each month then there will be people who buy it just for that.
Hmm. Susan Ivanova. Not my favourite sci-fi babe ever, no, but I’m allowed to grin at the title “Handling the Lady”. Handling the Lady discusses the best ways for B5 GMs to deal with Ivanova in their game. The especially useful advice here, I think, is the tips on preserving the canon story arc while using her. This is true even though some of the advice is rather obvious; shy cannot die, we’re reminded. Really! We have her season 2 stats. Mongoose are releasing their B5 supplements in season order and so I suspect we might well see Ivanova again. We’ve several more seasons of stats to get for her.
As a preview from the forthcoming Book of Dragons we’ve a few pages on how best to battle dragons, or, if you’re so included, how dragons can best battle groups of PCs.
Signs & Portents has what it claims is an early preview of the Street Punk Catalogue for Judge Dredd. There’s no preview tag on the corner of the page, nor sign of Street Punk Catalogue on Mongoose’s website – but I suspect this is an honest to goodness preview of a forthcoming book, just not an immediately forthcoming book. If your MegaCity One criminal needs a false set of teeth (fooling those dental scanners, etc) or an expand-o-matic Pole-a-tron then this is the shopping list for you.
Bizarrely, only a hair’s breadth away from being classified as entirely spoof and not just silly, there’s a section entitled “Cooking… For Mayhem and Profit”. Want to turn your crockpot into a magical mine? Slaughter your enemy with carrots? Hmm. Yes. Find that here.
The Conan RPG preview is entirely workable and clearly central to the game itself. We’re given the Barbarian class! This should be enough to whip Conan fans into a frenzy.
The Quintessential Half-Orc is the Collector Series book that I’m most looking forward to. I fear the poor old half-orc is all but neglected by d20 writers these days. The decent sized preview keeps me on the edge. There’s not quite enough to reassure me that the book will do this downcast race justice but there’s enough to suggest that this will probably be the case. Half-orcs, we’re told, are sometimes fostered by an entirely different race. A half-orc raised by halflings will be different from one raised by elves. Elves racing a half-orc? It might happen. Maybe.
This month Signs & Portents includes a full, pre-written, scenario for four 3rd level characters. White Queen’s Gambit is heavy on the chess analogies. It’s the standard linear adventure with things to fight and riddles to solve. I’d grumble like anything if someone tried to sell this to me as a book but it seems rather more appropriate as a magazine offering.
There’s another caption competition – but what happened to the first? Who won? I want a reminder of last month’s image with the winning caption added to it.
Signs & Portents remains good value for money – if you’ve enough interest in Mongoose and can use most of the magazine. If you’re fairly neutral then encourage someone in your gaming group to buy it and then share. In fact, at about US $5, the price is about right for a GM to buy and bring along to a monthly weekend of gaming. It’s the sort of reading that can be flicked through in a long break, a dinner for example, that still counts as a break but doesn’t throw players out of their gaming mindset. If you’re not a Mongoose fan then there’s nothing at all in the Mongoose magazine for you – but what did you expect?