Game: Gaming Frontiers: 5
Publisher: United Playtest
Review Dated: 18th, September 2003
Reviewer’s Rating: 8/10 [ Really good ]
Total Score: 8
Average Score: 8.00
Wow, what a come back. The first Gaming Frontiers was something special. I remember thinking of it in terms of being more of a book than a humble magazine, of urging people to consider a wise collector’s choice, for the horrible cost and the certainty that it couldn’t possibility on in the same style. I was right. The subsequent Gaming Frontiers were still professional but each one less appealing than the previous. Gaming Frontiers #5 bucks the trend. This should be another strategic issue in the Gaming Frontiers collection.
The magazine is still quite expensive at US $19.95. But wait, there’s a trick, a success of lateral thinking that gives the issue incredible value for money. It’s a 144-paged magazine, that’s a good start, $19.95 for a 144-paged book would be good value. The key is in the 32 pages. The first section of the magazine, the 32 pages, is quite effectively a complete book. “Orcs” is a d20 supplement on… orcs. It’s good stuff. There are quite a few 32 paged “Guide” supplements for common D&D monsters in the market and they’re about $9.95, if not a few dollars more expensive. Suddenly Gaming Frontiers 5 becomes a really useful orc supplement for $9.95 and a 110-paged magazine $10.00.
So is this Orc supplement any good? It is! First off, after all this time, I still think orcs get the bum rush from most d20 publishers. They’re not glamorous and so they mustn’t sell. That may be so but they’re the bread and butter of many games and they’re the race most likely to need an idea injection. Orcs is written by a committee of writers, Ed Bourelle, Bret Boyd, Wil Upchurch, Joseph Carriker and Ben Mathiesen all have writing credits. It is illustrated by Bourelle and Jesse Mohn. This could have adversely affected the quality but it hasn’t. Instead the input of fresh energy keeps the whole (albeit short) book lively and entertaining. If it were a 32-paged book for US $12.95, it’d be worth buying.
“Into the Vortex” from Atlas Games It’s an exclusive outtake from En Route II: By Land or By Sea for Penumbra (d20 – Gaming Frontier is entirely d20). As the full title of En Route suggests, this is a scenario/encounter, for an underwater adventure. A horizontal vortex is sucking seawater and all sorts of creatures from a safe part of the ocean and flooding them into an area where there will be problems. It’s not easy for the players to short and GMs have nice little Vortex Storm encounter tables to chuckle evilly over.
The focus of the magazine moves sea to space. When the Sky Falls is an event book from Malhavoc Press. It deals with the impact, quite literarily, of a meteor hitting your campaign world. One of my favourite prestige classes from it was the sinister “Lord of Silence”. This is what you’re getting as the Malhavoc offering here. Nice.
I’m not going to say much about the “Loser’s Prize”. Why? It’ll ruin the adventure. GMs will need more d20 books than usual. I’m not going to say which. Why? It’ll ruin the adventure. I will say that at 12 pages long this is not a trivial chapter in the magazine. It’s written by Lee Garvin and illustrated by Eric Lofgren, I’m not quite sure whether these are names I should associate with a d20 publisher or not. I don’t – but I’m awful with names.
Similarly, the fact that I can’t place any other work to Greg Maybury doesn’t detract from the “From Shrine to Cathedral: Accoutrements of Faith”. Illustrator Jesse Mohn is easier to credit, having pencilled for orcs just a few pages earlier. This section, from Gaming Frontier’s Treasure Chest, asks why it has to be clerics who channel divine magic. Why can’t the incredibly impressive stained glass windows in a cathedral, a holy water fountain or, er, some floors in a church do it too?
Bastion Press is one of the big hitters to contribute to the magazine. “A Warlord’s Mind” is just a couple of pages long but it punches above its weight. It’s an outtake from Arena, the latest (August/September) Oathbound book.
I know of three really good cartographers in the d20 world, three sure-fire award nominees. There’s Ed Bourelle, who often appears of Mystic Eye Games products, Brian K. Moseley of Darkfuries who appears on this Mystic Eye Games product and the artists of 0one. Here, in the “Zigguarat of Ahemsa”, an outtake from Beyond the Walls we a ready to go, scenario seeded, location. It’s good stuff. The only catch is that Beyond the Walls has been out for ages; since February, and that’s forever in d20 lifespans. Oh. Todd Gamble. I thought of a fourth.
I’ve never seen hide nor hair of a Hammerdog Games product outside Gaming Frontiers. It’s probably my fault for living here in Scotland. This offering is a sequel to the Nearside Project scenario. It looks as interesting as the first issue. Photographs of real people are used for the NPC portraits and this somehow gives the whole section a very different feel from anything else in the magazine.
I have seen plenty of Goodman Games products outside this particular magazine though. I think we’ll see a lot more of them as they have the high profileBlackmoor and Morningstar campaign settings on the horizon. “Heroes of the Golden Age: The World of Morningstar is clearly a preview of the latter. It looks good – it was bound to be – being one of the semi-finalists in the Wizards of the Coast setting search. Hmm. Storm Dwarves. Bone Elves. Bloodfed halflings. Ooo.
“All For One” by Chris Hind attempts to address one of the problems of the D&D style game – the suspension of disbelief as to why the characters would work (and stay) together. If you escape the horrid “You’re in the inn when a noble offers to pay you to…” then this is a real problem, twice as tricky if you scoff at the idea of a campaign world dotted with dungeons improbably filled with monsters and treasures just to entertain dungeoneers.
We have a Mongoose Publishing submission and this is interesting since Mongoose now have a magazine of their own. We’ll have to see whether Mongoose stick with Gaming Frontiers to issue six. Their preview is of The Coming of Shadows, a name that just oozes B5 appeal. Mongoose have been generous, I feel, they’ve given out a real gem here; the prestige class for technomages!
Gaming Frontiers have been growing “World X” since publication. The idea is that readers use as much or as little of the map and history of World X in their own campaigns as they want. Participants in the project are then encouraged to send in their own ideas and campaign successes, the best of these will see print in Gaming Frontiers and make it into the official World X. World X is certainly rather more professional looking now. If people really are sending in their ideas and we don’t simply have the original masterminds inventing everything themselves – then it’s going very well.
“The Wages of Sin: Roleplaying your Criminal Past” is a second offering from Atlas Games and has the name suggests it discusses characters with a criminal past. This is rather nicely used to introduce Atlas Games’ take on the Character Flaw game mechanics. This chapter is a flavour piece for the hardback Crime & Punishment book from Atlas.
No issue of Gaming Frontiers would be complete without articles from Chris Hind and Andrew Hind. We’ve had Chris’ offering in “All for One” already and get something rather different in the form of “Dark Road to Gaeta” from Andrew. I’m sure Gaeta’s story is well known to you all. No? Didn’t you pay attention to your Wars of Italian Unification history classes at school? Well. Um. It makes a good game setting… in the sense that you wouldn’t want to sourcebook it but it suits a magazine article.
Some guy called Monte Cook tells us to get creative with our monsters and offers up some suggestions of his own. Who does he think he is? Monte Cook or something!
The trilogy of excellent cartographers I initially pointed out comes a full circle near the back of the magazine. “The Realm of Dream” is a Barbati/Guida collaboration from 0one Roleplaying Games. The article supports the Seven Avengers campaign setting, which is good, but we’re not treated to their map-making skills and that’s reason to sulk.
What? Eh? First off – if you’re actually going to publish an URL as embarrassing as an AOL Hometown one then you don’t need to include the index.html at the end. http://hometown.aol.com/blackarrow2525/ is bad enough. Black Arrow Games’ offering brings this issue of Gaming Frontiers to a close. It’s not bad. It’s just unfortunate that the associated website prevents me from taking the offering seriously.
Gaming Frontiers #5 is different. Including a complete sourcebook within a magazine was a great idea. A round of beer and pizza to whomever thought that one up.