As we have come to expect, a wealth of resources for fantasy games - what with archers (and arrows for them) heading up the character-based resources for players, adventures for GMs to run and ideas to help them hone their skills. The focus is on Pathfinder, but there is material for other rulesets (and much can be translated with little effort, provided you are reasonably familiar with the game mechanics of the system of your choice).
The Editorial introduces the issue focus on archery, with an account of how fictional archers inspired the editor, Wolfgang Baur, not only to play archer characters but to learn how to use a bow himself. He asks for our archery stories... um, well, I used to have a line manager who practised archery and occasionally threatened to shoot the site manager and told me that he reckoned he could hit him out of his office window... hmm, let's get on with the review!
For those seeking to play really good archers, the best place to start is an elf. Archery kind of goes with elves, and so there's a whole new racial base class, the Elven Archer, for Pathfinder. Suggestions are offered for ways in which the class could be varied: perhaps you don't want pointy ears, or prefer to use the crossbow - the underlying mechanics can be readily amended (and you are shown how) to make the class work as well for your concept as for the original suggestion. There are also notes to help you embed your elven archer into Open Design's Midguard campaign setting, even if your game is not set there the ideas can be modified to suit your campain world instead. If the new feats are not enough, the next article Arrows of the Arbonesse adds a wide range of arrows beyond your standard clothyard arrow with bodkin tip. Fill your quiver with the glass-tipped and magical acid splash arrow, fire a fisher's filament arrow over the next battlement you wish to scale or play really nasty with the razor's filament arrow or the silent night one (that flies so quietly it is hard to notice the archer who fired it). These and others enable the archer to do more than just shoot the opposition or bring down a deer for dinner.
If your characters prefer a more scholarly approach, the next article on Derro Ooze Magic is aimed at alchemists and mages seeking to improve their spell components by somewhat dubious means... the Ooze School of magic, complete with its associated powers and spell lists. But you may need to 'harvest' eyes or bile or other body parts from halpless humanoids to get it all to work properly. Sorcerers can take an Ooze Bloodline to access the same powers. If you have faced off against an ooze or similar and been jealous of their capabilities, fret no longer. You too may have them... and specialists in this magic may even attract one to become their familiar! I think I'll stick to my owl, but it could be an interesting choice... just imagine having a gelatinous cube or an ochre jelly trundling alongside you.
If that's too tame, the next article - Servants From Beyond - suggests some very unusual allies you might care to summon from the Lesser Planes, showing how you can engage with them to good effect. Each one is presented in full detail, not just stat-block but background, personality and motivations so that they can be role-played properly once summoned. Astute GMs can mine this for ideas for featured adversaries or at least beings that might be encountered, or they can go to the next article, which presents four creatures from nightmare, the Night Terrors of the changling moth chrysalis, the dire naked mole rat (escaped from Ron Possible's pocket, no doubt!), the cephalic parasite, and the pishtaco - four monsters right out of the worst nightmare brought to life for your campaign, complete with ecology, life-cyle and a wealth of detail to enable you to make them an integral part of events, rather than just the next monster.
On to game theory, as Monte Cook talks about The Power of the Game Master. It's something I've noticed, particularly as most of my games are now run online with people I don't know outside of the gaming community on whatever site we are playing, how they regard their GM as someone special, rather than just another gamer who happens to be running the game rather than playing in it. This may be commonplace in groups where one person habitually GMs, but my local tabletop groups all consist of people who are equally happy either side of the GM screen. Is the GM God? Just another player but with a different role? Or is the GM God but only as long as the other players let him? Thought-provoking, and no real answer, at least not in the right or wrong sense - consider what works for the particular group and that's the right answer for you.
Now, the first adventure, Captured in the Cartways by Christina Stiles (Pathfinder, 5th-level) based in the tunnels under Zobeck and letting the characters bargain their way out of trouble by undertaking a small task... Naturally, you could transplant it to any city with a sub-surface counter-culture if Zobeck's not in your game world. A nice short jaunt to spring on characters who thought that merely exploring the Cartways was dangerous enough!
Back to game ideas... and are all adventurers fit young men and women out seeking fame and fortune? Putting the Band Back Together is an intriguing article about what happens when retired adventurers decide, for whatever reason, to get back into action... or have it forced upon them. One interesting thought is that you could dust off old adventures - particularly if you are using a party of characters that have actually been played by the group and since retired - and see how the locations and inhabitants have changed over the 20 years or whatever since the party last was there. Whilst older characters may now be less physically vigorous, they can draw on experience in ways that younger adventurers cannot: and several feats are presented that seek to codify the advantages that veterans have over their younger and more nimble counterparts. More ideas follow - fancy a hunt that takes you through the Margreve woods and beyond? Then read Fey Hunters and Shadow Hounds, finding that just who is the hunter and who the prey may be open to debate. Those fey have plenty nasty ideas and tricks to play, with spells, items and exotic poisons in their arsenal.
There's a brief article about character specialisations for the AGE system, and an interview with Christina Stiles - fascinating, particularly as I once had the pleasure of co-authoring a book with her but have never actually met her! This is followed most appropriately (Christina and I both love the character class!) by The Bardic Arts, a piece about honing the abilities of your D&D 4e bard with some tangible rule mechanics built around the performer/entertainer aspect of being a bard, often left to the role-playing abilities of a bard's player (I had a DM who made me sing at the table...) rather than made an integral part of the ruleset itself.
In Ask The Kobold, Skip Williams takes a detailed look at how poison actually works, then there's a piece Small Spirits: 5 Nature Spirits for Any Campaign, some enchanting primal nature spirits that your characters might encounter if they are really observant. A nice touch is that good ideas are backed up by game mechanics for both Pathfinder and D&D 4e, and adventure hooks abound. If you are a gnome, tiefling or minotaur, there follows some racial powers (D&D 4e stats) that may be discovered by those ready to delve into their ancestral heritage. Next, back to game design theory with an article on how to create 'time pressure' in an adventure and use it to good effect with a haste point mechanic that can be applied whatever ruleset you are using. Now it is not pure GM fiat that determines if the characters arrive in time! And if hurrying makes you hungry, how about some magical seafood? No really, there's an article on Fish of Legend (and yes, you can cook and serve some of them, if you catch them!).
This packed journal rounds off with a page about The Ruins of Arbonesse... and if you are a fantasy gamer, you are going to find at least one thing of interest within this issue. Me, a cheerful song whilst preparing a seafood dinner for a party of veteran adventures I'd like to coax out of retirement...
[5 of 5 Stars!]