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Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Dungeons & Dragons - Dragon Plus Issues 1-5

In this article, I am going to go through the first five issues of Dragon Plus. Or.. Dragon+. I just feel funny typing that. 

When Dragon Plus came out, I had heard it was mostly a "house organ". I tried to check it out, but I couldn't find it for my kindle so I didn't bother. Now I can access it on my laptop, so I decided to dive right in.

Let's go through the first 5 issues and see if we can pull out any useful stuff for our campaigns. I am going to focus on content for the tabletop game. I don't really care about the board games and video games, and from what I can tell, the content focusing on that stuff is pretty superfluous anyway.

Issue 1

Mighty Chris Perkins tells us what Dragon Plus is:

"Dragon+ is a free app that provides articles and interviews on our current D&D storyline and its related products, as well as glimpses of future storylines."

Elemental Evil: There's a bunch of stuff about Elemental Evil. There's a section where you can click on the artifacts (Drown, Windvane and etc). But when I clicked on them, nothing happened. Every issue is like that on my laptop. Stuff acts like I can click on it, but nothing happens.

Further down in this elemental evil article, there's an image gallery that does work, and it provides really great art from Princes of the Apocalypse. I had a heck of a time finding the elemental evil art online back when I was writing about PoTA. This would have been very useful.

Profile: Goliaths: This article gives player details for one of my favorite PC races, the goliath. It has a fantastic piece of art of a female goliath. This is easily the best piece of art depicting a female goliath. The artists had a lot of trouble with them in 4e, for whatever reason.

Know your Enemy: Black Dragons: We get details on a dragon living in the Dessarin Valley. Nurvureem is a black shadow dragon who breathes necrotic energy, doing 12d8 damage! Yikes.

This is a weird article, also detailing a black dragon from the board game (using board game stats) and a dragon from the Neverwinter MMO that has over 3 million hit points. It is very jarring to look at when you're in a tabletop mindset. My brain exploded a little.

Temple of Elemental Evil: We close out the issue with stories from people who played through the original Temple of Elemental Evil. Almost all of the stories are written by people from a site called dungeonbastard.com. They're all really short anecdotes. I think whoever put this together should have included the story about Rob Kuntz tearing through the temple when Gary Gygax ran it for him.

I am guessing there's a million better stories out there on the internet. I think that they probably should have solicited the broader fanbase on this one.

Issue 2


Pretty cool cover, right? I am old, so I prefer painted covers of more traditional stuff. But I understand things are simply different now, and that we are in this weird time where magazines as we knew them are dead, and so we're trying to figure out what is the best way to approach things.

I think that this cover image would appeal to people who know nothing about Dungeons & Dragons, so that makes it a good choice. As much as I like Clyde Caldwell, I know that boobs and gems aren't for everyone:

She would make a badass NPC, though, right?

Interview: Ed Greenwood: Ed talks about how he was writing about the Realms in the '60's as a little kid before D&D was invented. The stories featured a hefty conman named Mirt the Moneylander.

Ed talks about his home D&D campaign and says:

“It literally took them 20 years of real-world playing time to rise to an average of ninth level as characters. We quite often spent four-hour play sessions negotiating and exploring, without ever drawing weapons, although both the Venturers and the Knights had their shares of epic dungeon crawls, too."

He also designed the town of Red Larch, which was in Princes of the Apocalypse. I found that place to be really boring. He says that he created far more for it that couldn't fit in the book.

You know, I wish they had put that material in dragon plus. That's something useful to tabletop players and it would have at least drawn me and a few other DMs to check Dragon+ (ugh, I typed it) out a lot sooner.

Issue 3

The cover of this one is a sculpture of Zuggtmoy. In the past, some artists made her look cool, others not so much. This one's pretty good.

This issue is overloaded with video game stuff, mostly for Neverwinter and Sword Coast Legends.

Introducing Rage of Demons: We are told the basic story, which is that a wizard's spell goes wrong in the underdark which creates open portals to the Abyss. Apparently actual demon lords are now stomping through the underdark spreading madness.

We get some cool art. I really don't like how they changed the appearance of orcus. To me, Wayne Reynolds did such an awesome job on the 4e MM cover, why would you change it? Look:

The head of Orcus is now a cow skull. It wasn't broke, so why did they try to fix it? The wand also looks much, much worse.

Sword Coast Adventurers Guide: Steve Kenson talks a bit about this book, which is basically a guide to the Sword Coast. It has some player options. Honestly it is not very thrilling.

Adventurer's League: We get a link to a free download of Harried in Hillsfar, the first Rage of Demons expedition adventure. This right here makes the entire magazine worth it.

I still can't believe they use hand-drawn maps in these expeditions. I don't mean Doug Kovacs hand-drawn maps, I am talking about a map that looks like your DM drew it on a piece of blue graph paper. Take a look at this comparison:

DCC RPG is made by Goodman Games, a tiny little company. Look at how badass that map is. That map is from Glipkerio's Gambit, which was an awesome FREE adventure to those who ran DCC RPG in a store in 2014.

D&D is owned by Hasbro. Is there seriously no budget for Expeditions at all? Shawn Merwin's level one adventures in Expeditions are freaking awesome. They really can't help the guy out by paying an up and coming mapmaker to cook up some maps?

Issue 4

The cover is pretty cool. I hear it has 10 gigs of porn stored on it, too. They are really going to great lengths to create unique covers for this thing. How long can they keep it up?

Winning Races: Duergar: These guys have always been tricky. They often feel very dull. Their section of 4e's Thunderspire Labyrinth almost killed my campaign. But in 5e, their power to enlarge is really cool.

We learn that they were dwarves enslaved by mindflayers who eventually escaped. They are "...indifferent to anything but work..".

They can enlarge themselves at 3rd level, and they can cast invisibility at 5th level. The author is quick to point out that the DM might not allow a duergar PC, and that duergar have sunlight sensitivity (disadvantage to hit during the day!).

We learn a bit about Gracklstugh, the City of Blades. There, the duergar make steel weapons and ride around on spider steeders.

Travel Talk: Dare to Descend: This is a sort of in-character trip into the Underdark. We learn about the faerzress, a type of radiation which creates unusual rock formations and impossible, enormous spaces.

If you remember, in 4e it was explained that there was this hideous entity named Torog, The God That Crawls. Torog created the Underdark by tunneling through the world, oozing blood. I assume Torog is no more in 5e.

Demonomicon of Iggwilv: Belaphoss: Wow. The Demonomicon articles of the Paizo era by James Jacobs were some of my favorite Dragon articles ever. The 4e ones were good, too.

Here, Dragon Plus is actually doing one of the bad guy from the Sword Coast Legends video game!? Part of me resents their hubris. Let's see what we learn:
  • He is a balor who wants to become a god.
  • He is a lieutenant of Demogorgon and commands a demon army.
  • He wields a flaming greataxe in one hand and a fire whip in the other.
  • He lives in Demogorgon's plane of Gaping Maw
  • He plans on betraying Demogorgon.
You can go mad looking at him. We get a snazzy little chart:

And we get a full stat block! Check out the free .pdf here.

You know what? I was expecting a lot worse. While this certainly doesn't reach the heights of older articles, and Belaphoss is pretty generic, there is nothing wrong with this article at all.

Also, if you're like me and like to make "dad jokes", you could jokingly refer to this guy as "Fella Boss." That frees you up to make a bunch of "Like a Boss" jokes which will certainly make your younger players groan and slap their foreheads (but secretly kind-of like it).

Tavern Tales: We get a link to another free adventure! Shackles of Blood. Again, this alone makes checking Dragon Plus worth it.

Issue 5

The cover has a kind of old school 70's scene involving a dragon and a wizard. The full version, which is shown above, is much, much cooler than the cropped version used for the official cover of this issue.

Community: Insanity of the NPC: Readers submitted NPCs for people to use in Out of the Abyss. The best one is probably Chuff, the insane flumph.

I think that they need to do more of this. They should have DMs send in side quests they used when running Out of the Abyss, fixes for things that didn't work quite right, that kind of thing.

Tavern Tales: Yes, we get another free adventure - The Occupation of Szith Morgane. Awesome.

Sage Advice: Jeremy Crawford answers rule questions. On the wizards site, there's articles like this that just kind of disappear off the front page into the ether. Seems like a smart idea to put that stuff in Dragon+.

One interesting answer Jeremy gave in this is how surprise is supposed to work. Check this out:
  1. Bad guys jump out of the woods. The heroes are surprised.
  2. Roll initiative like normal.
  3. On the PCs turns, they can't move or act.
  4. On the bad guys turn, they act normally with benefits of surprise.
  5. In round two, surprise is done and we fight like normal.
Also, you can only knock a creature unconscious with a melee attack or spell, not ranged.

Interview: Rainn Wilson: He is Dwight Schrute from The Office. He played D&D when he was younger. He tells a story about how he submitted a monster to TSR and they rejected it. It was a cloud of air leeches. That's pretty awesome. Then, he says 6 months later Dragon magazine had a monster in it - "Oxygen Vipers". They ripped off his idea!

Overall

This thing is free. It is hard to really complain about it, even though we are on the internet and that's what you do on the internet.

I like that Dragon Plus has tons of art and a number of free adventures. Overall it is a pretty breezy, harmless thing. It is ideal for reading while you're going to the bathroom (sorry, but it's true).

What I don't like is that this thing could be so much more. It's so light on real content. I understand that its purpose is to make you aware of new products, but there's not a lot of insight or bonus content. I forget what I read almost instantly. Not only do you not get excited when a new issue comes out, you don't really care.

Check out Dragon+ here.

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