Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Zine Review: D12 Monthly Issue #4

Cover: D12 Monthly Issue #4
Art by Dean Spencer
D12 Monthly is ©2021 YUM/DM

: YumDM
Marketplace : YumDM.com
Engine: Edition Agnostic Dungeons & Dragons

 I have made it a point to review every issue of D12 Monthly thus far as a way of showing my support for Russ over at YUM/DM, and I'm always happy to do the same for other content creators. If you're interested in reading my reviews of the previous issues you can find them here: zero, one, two, three.

D12 Monthly issue #4 is themed around magic users and arcane magic. It is a clear evolution of the magazine, and I like the direction I see it heading in.

Like previous issues of D12 Monthly, issue for includes a couple of familiar features. The Location, Location, Location column regularly features a new place in YUM/DM's campaign setting. It has fused with some of the earlier columns as well, now always featuring a number of interesting NPCs, and usually a dungeon location to explore as well as or settlement.

Other features in this issue include:
  • An article on how to keep track of spell components in Dungeons & Dragons
  • An article on using alternate Spell components to amplify spells
  • A spotlight on the quarter staff as the primary weapon of magic users in most editions of D&D
  • An article on the effects of age on magic potions
  • Some alternate lore for the slaad to make them usable in a wider range of campaigns.
  • A set of magical mishap charts along various themes.
  • A feature article on the world of Bhakashal, which has been under development on Dweller of the Forbidden City for some time now and is always an engrossing read.

So far, this is being my favorite issue of d12 Monthly, and that is saying something. Issue zero and issue two were remarkable and said a very high standard.

What I Loved

Increasing Cross-blog Involvement

D12 Monthly has in the past featured a few items from guest writers such as Tale of the Manticore. In this article we got to see Black Dragon Games / Dweller of the Forbidden City give us a detailed overview of his setting. You also see a sponsored ad from Stephen Grodzicki for Lowlife 2090, and some energetic calls for people to get involved. I'm glad to see this, because I think that D12 Monthly has the potential to become a great forum for OSR gamers to share their ideas.

The Spell Components Article

Spell components of always being a sticky wicket in D&D. They are fiddly and can be frustrating at times to set up. However, part of the fun of Dungeons & Dragons is being prepared and managing your resources to make exploration feel more urgent. Suggesting the use of depletion dice and categories to handle it is a great idea.

Unearthed Arcana (3rd. Ed.) Cover Art
by Matt Cavotta. ©2004 Wizards of the Coast
The Alternate/Metamagic Spell Component Article

One of my favourite ideas for tweaking arcane magic in Dungeons & Dragons is using rare and unusual spell components to amplify spells. The idea had appeared a few times in Dragon magazine and being obliquely hinted at in entries in the first edition Monster Manual where it discusses the value of various monster body parts. The concept didn't really come into its own until Dungeons & Dragons 3e's Unearthed Arcana, which is my second favourite Dungeons & Dragons sourcebook of all time.

Thanks to the Feats approach to metamagic, 3rd Edition had a clear vocabulary for different ways to modify and enhance the effects of spells. A section in D&D3e's Unearthed Arcana gave a huge table of Spell components for spells in the player's handbook that would give the player a free application of a single metamagic feat on a spell as it is being cast, without needing to prepare it with metamagic first. For example, coffee beansgrown carefully tended by a druid could extend haste, doubling its duration. A fire opal sacrificed during the casting of Fireball with guarantee maximum damage. A leather strip from a cured bulette hide would increase the armour bonus from mage armour by using the  Empower feet, Etc.

I used this feature in almost every campaign I ran once I got my hands on Unearthed Arcana. Alternate Spell components were also a great item to put into treasure hoards, hands to put in the inventories of villainous spellcasters. It made the magic in my campaign settings of the time far more interesting.

This article in D12 Monthly attempts to break down the combination of the metamagic system from 3e and the concepts behind using alternate spell components to get free uses of metamagic so that they can be used in any edition of Dungeons & Dragons.

This is a worthy effort because it is something that makes magic far more interesting and flavorful. The article itself is unfortunately burdened by the fact that it has to explain these concepts and terms in terms neutral to edition of Dungeons & Dragons. Covering the mechanics didn't leave much room for examples, which is something that the article really needed.

"Red Slaad" from the Monstrous Compenium
©1990 TSR, Inc.
Making Slaad More Interesting

The Slaad are conceptually cool but poorly executed villains in D&D. They seem to have been created to fill the obvious niche for a purely Chaotic outsider that is neither good nor evil, but I don't think either TSR or Wizards of the Coast ever quite knew what to do with them. The only place where Slaadi ever became particularly interesting was in the Epic Level Handbook, which offered variety of Slaad that were ascended, super-powerful beings, but who required great tasks to reach their next evolutionary states.

(A recurring villain in one of my epic campaigns was a White Slaad called the Crashbang the Ruinous, who has become an inside joke in my household. His war on the peace and order of Arcadia was fuel for several Adventures for characters between levels 28 and 30 --which was no mean feat to supply.)

Finding alternate Lore to make Slaad more interesting and more usable is it worthwhile goal, and Russ succeeds beautifully at it. It is also a cool feature idea: I hope we will see more alternate monster lore articles in the future.

The Overview of Bhakashal

I've been watching Black Dragon Games develop is setting both on Twitter and on his blog, Dweller of the Forbidden City for some time now. I've even helped him come up with one of his classes, and did some play testing for him. It's a setting I have watched with a great deal of interest and enjoyment. Seeing it laid out in one place so I can get a better overview was really helpful. It would be amazing to see other settings that OSR bloggers have been developing like the World of Weirth or The Hill Cantons shared in the magazine. It would also be a great way to cook some extra contributions. 

The Lob Gang

Possibly one of the most entertaining and Gonzo things I have yet to see on D12 Monthly, the Lob Gang is a group of villains that launch murderous halflings onto flotillas of Brandy barrels headed from the distillery in Riverbend (from Location, Location, Location) to their buyers downriver. 

Villains who turn the trope of the tossed halfling into a modus operandi, especially in the pursuit of stealing booze is a brilliant and hilarious concept.

Growth points

Why Riverbend?

The town of Riverbend it's a pretty cool setting. I certainly think it was worth sharing, and the Lob Gang is brilliant. I'm just curious as to why they ended up in this issue which is otherwise focused on Arcane Magic. 

This might have been the opportunity to present a Wizard's Tower and the community that supports him by growing rarefied alternate spell components, or the site of some ancient magic battle that still bears scars to the very fabric of reality. Riverbend might have been a great article to feature in an issue on thieves because of its two interesting crime syndicates.

In other words, this is an excellent article that is in the wrong issue of the magazine; at least from the standpoint of a unified theme.

The Issue Needed Room to Grow

This issue was jam-packed, and it was clear that there was some editing that needed to be done to conserve space. This shows insofar as we don't have many examples of alternate spell components. And the layout of the magical mishaps table. Specifically the fact that we aren't given a very clear idea of how these magical mishaps might be used. Given YUM/DM's writing style, I expect that some suggestions on how and when to handle magical mishaps probably preceded those tables originally, and I would have like to seen it.

This is one of those points where it might have been a good idea to add four more pages, so that we could have had that last little bit of content. Creating something like one more magical mishap table, an update to a magical monster like the tatterdenanimal, or even a call back to previous articles by mentioning where cool arcane magic ideas were presented in the previous issues of D12 Monthly might have been worthwhile.

Most of the time it's better to cut out extraneous material. But sometimes the article is better for that one or two things you want to cut out. And if you're finding that you're doing that consistently, it may be time to add another quire instead.


This issue of D12 Monthly had some excellent content, clever ideas, and a cool, if slightly off-topic location. It also sets a great direction for future issues of the Magazine; alternate lore, world spotlights, promotions of indie RPG projects, and a little weirdness are all things that make me excited to see what comes next.


  1. Thanks heaps for another review. As always you give me a lot to think about.

    1. Then I have done exactly what I set out to do! For me it is all about encouraging others to keep creating and helping them to find the strongest version of their voice.