Sunday, December 19, 2021

'Zine Review: D12 Monthly Issue #5

Cover for D12 Monthly #5
Art by DbaldriArt
: YumDM
Engine: Edition Agnostic Dungeons & Dragons

Until a few months ago, I made it my mission to review every issue of D12 Monthly as a way of boosting Russ over at YUM/DM, for no other teas than I like his writing and I live to boost the signal.

I'm always happy to do the same for other small-time and OSR TTRPG content creators. 

You can read my reviews of the previous issues you can find them here: zero, one, two, three, and four.

But around September, I got tied up writing content in a new schedule with a different Modus Operandi  now I find myself behind by three issues oh, and I hope to pick up the slack before the new year.

Issue #5 of D12 monthly is dedicated to Divine Magic and characters, particularly clerics. It started strong with an article on designing a Pantheon for a homebrew campaign setting, and then goes on to offer an article on thinking through how the rules of clerics in society, what their rituals and rites ought to be like. There are also articles on what happens when clerics fall into disfavour, an alternate turn on dead ruleset, and an article featuring alternate powers for paladins dedicated to Gods that don't fit in the standard law and Valor profile that we tend to associate with Paladin characters. 

By way of regular articles, we have a Weapon Spotlight article on maces, and an expanded location location location article detailing the religious community of Riverbend. The Twisted Tables offering this month is a selection of an alternative ways to start a campaign the usual tavern or slave pit.

What I Loved

Making the Old New Again

Russ is a historian of D&D rules, he is deeply versed in the nuances and marginalia of how Dungeons & Dragons has expressed itself since the 80s, and is very good at selecting absolute gems in previous editions, and polishing them up for a new audience.

The alternate paladin powers takes the rules for Clerics of specific deities in the Deities and Demigods of AD&D2e and using them to create paladins with flare that are flavored for God's with different portfolios than Law, Justice or Valor.

The Weapon Spotlight on Maces reminds us that there were a lot of mace options in AD&D, and makes suggestions about how we can use rules in a previous issue to create simple but impressive variations on the Mace in any edition.

The alternate Turn Undead rules offers us a variant on the old AD&D table, but with inflicted status effects for undead that are not fully turned using a list of effects from D&D3e, which offer a lot of granularity and gradiation compared to the effects of Turn Undead in early editions or the bland damage done in D&D5e.

Holy Symbols

I had never thought to make Holy Symbols a sort of magic item. For me they have always been icons. The holy symbols proposed and the examples offered in this article serve as signs of divine authority: living bough wands, indestructible scrolls, etc., that offer minor 1/day effects.

This is an idea that blew my mind. It gives clerics a lot more gravitas and offers an opportunity to express the favor or disfavor of their deity and can make them appear like holy men to the common folk. It also makes faking Divine favor a lot more difficult.

It is going in my next campaign!

Campaign Starters

This post by Tale of the Manticore was funny and clever at the same time; it borrows great introductory adventure ideas from all over gaming culture, made setting-agnostic. It is great for low-level adventure fodder even beyond the opening adventure.

Growth Points

Signpost Previous Issue References

If I am comparing you to The Dozen
Dooms, you should feel well-complimented
D12 Monthly is slowly growing a body of clever house rules. From its own pantheon to minor variations on most of the classes, we are slowly seeing an entire retroclone evolving before our eyes. In many ways it reminds me of Baldrage's The Dozen Dooms, it gives you heaps of modular options that suggests a new system.

Because the various rules often work well together, such as the simplified weapon type vs. armor rule from Issue #3 being referenced in the spotlight on maces, D12 Monthly has to reference previous articles more frequently. I think it would be exceptionally helpful to make references stand out with formatting, maybe highlighting them, to make finding the previous reference a little easier, and let readers skimming ahead to grab the referenced issues.

Riverbend Could Use More Tension

Riverbend is already a busy town thanks to previous issues, but you can never have too many problems for the PCs to stick their noses into. This issue's Location, Location, Location! shows us where the local temples are in Riverbend and introduces the community's clerics, but while we learn about the clerics' motives, we don't get any big adventure ideas this time around. A feud between two clerics or a lost relic might have made this issue that much richer.

Maybe an Extra History Lesson?

The Spotlight on Maces tells us about how they developed. But when the article discusses the early-edition weapon restrictions, it doesn't mention the historical roots of the restriction from the Crusades. Personally, I always welcome an extra history lesson. Don't be afraid to pepper your articles liberally.

The Pantheon Article is Built on D&Disms

Krolm makes me stronger!!
Okay, I will admit I'm the last one who should be talking about Pantheon building. Most of my campaigns have used either the grayhawk deities, or I have recycled deities from the video game Majesty: The Fantasy Kingdom Sim with the numbers filed off. But the beauty of those days he said they have enough lore that they're not just the God of X 

Dungeons & Dragons tends to treat dead he says if they have a single portfolio. Like saying that Odin is the god of law, for example. In reality, dad he's our complex. They tend to build up based on the place and value of several communities as they interact. 

Odin only became the chief of the deities in the Norse pantheon when both Thor and Tyr fell out of favor for political reasons. And, his complex role in the Eddas means that he is the deity of a mixed portfolio of thought, memory, sacrifice, prophecy, leadership, mysteries, and heroes. None of which fit neatly under one title.

Likewise, Athena was the patron of Athens, and as the role of Athens changed in the Greek world so to did her portfolio. She started out to some extent as a patron deity of olive farmers. When the Athenians entered the Peloponnesian wars, the militaristic side of Athena was suddenly emphasized, where it had been mostly neglected before, for example. Her patronage over reason became important as the Athenian identity became tied up with philosophy and intellectualism. Calling her the "Goddess of Knowledge" is a poor interpretation. In fact, the only thing you can clearly say she remains the goddess of throughout her entire worship was the goddess of Athens.

Most of the myths we have - and base D&D interpretation on - of these deities are composed late in the history of the cultures that worshipped them, and represent, to some degree, an attempt to make sense of what these gods have come to mean over centuries.

Starting from making your gods based on a specific portfolio will create a pantheon that works well in the D&D milieu, but will certainly not feel like a living Pagan society. At least not without adding some quirks 


I know that this issue was a struggle for Russ, which led to a late release, but he ought to be chuffed with the end product, as it gives a lot of smart, actionable ideas for building campaigns and fun rules variants. I could have, if anything, used a little more in places. Overall a satisfying addition to the D12 catalog.

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