Friday, May 1, 2009

Review: Goodman Games Level Up

When I read that Goodman Games was going to be releasing a new magazine called Level Up covering Dungeons & Dragons 4th edition exclusively I was pretty stoked.  I decided to subscribe to the magazine as it is easier for me than remembering to get out to the store and buy it.  The magazine is published quarterly and costs either 1.99 in stores or 4.00 per issue including shipping.

I received issue number one in the mail yesterday and quickly opened it up and read it.  I am going to go into some detail in a bit, but I wanted to make mention of a few overview points.  First, the magazine shipped in a white envelope.  This is nice as it keeps the cover in nice shape and keeps the magazine from becoming to bent.  The magazine has a glossy full color cover (front and back), and has 56 black and white pages inside.  The majority of the magazine is content.  There are about four full pages of advertisements along with a number of smaller 1/4 or 1/2 page ads.  The ads are not obtrusive in anyway and even just leafing quickly through the magazine you will get the feeling that it is about the content.  One of the nicest things about this magazine is the decision to offer an electronic copy for everyone who purchases the paper magazine.  The magazine includes a code that allows you to download the e-version from RPGNow.

So what is inside this magazine?  The table of contents shows 5 columns and 9 feature articles.  The column from the editor lays out what we can expect from the features in this and future issues.  Each magazine will include a couple of adventures, including the "A Picture Tells 1,000 Words" feature where they write a 1,000 word adventure from a single picture.  There is also a beastiary brought to us by Blackdirge, based on the 4e monster book that Goodman has published.  This is combined with other articles useful for both players and DM's.  Ok, lets look at each of the April 2009 articles.

Wizards Corner: This issue starts out with a brief column about not splitting up an adventuring party, and the negative effects that can happen if you do.  It is OK for what it is.

Roads to Adventure:  The main adventure this month features a journey to a cave crawling with dinos..I mean behemoths, a few ogres and a Hill Giant.  The adventure is for 7th level characters and would actually make a nice diversion.  The adventure has 7 adventure areas and makes great use of the monsters in this months beastiary.

PC Pearls: Focus here is on three paragon paths that allow players to specialize in a particular weapon type. I particularly like the Arbalester.  They even include rules for an Arbalest which makes the whole PP worthwhile.

Blackdrige's Beastiary:  This is  great article presenting seven brand new dinosaur monsters.  Four of them are listed as behemoths and the other three are listed as lizardwolfs  These run the gambit from 3rd to 24th level.  Each entry has a full set of stats, a nice description as well as an associated picture.  I think that this is one of the sections I will most look forward to with each issue.

Deities of Aereth:  This section is only really useful if you game in Aereth which is the setting that all of th Goodman Dungeon Crawl Classics is set in.  The article itself though is very complete.  The article covers all of the needed background information and great detail on the followers of the god.  Vestments, relics, symbols and temples are all covered in detail.They also include a Divinity Feat, a special magic item and a paragon path devoted to the god.

Azagar's Advice or Adventurers:  This section introduces new feats specific to using a particular weapon.  They cover axes, flails, hammers and maces in this issue.  The article provides a single feat for each tier and each weapon.  The flail options look particularly fun.

GM Gems:  This issue introduces some new fiendish foes for DM's to torment their players.  This section is focused on some new templates to create creatures with a demonic slant to them.  The Demon Knight option is quite nice, reminding me a bit of something out of Warhammer.

Power Skins:  This is an interesting section, they have taken the first level fighter powers and re-written them to be a bit more violent.  For example, they have replaced Cleave with Hewing Strike.  Interesting idea, although I don't think I would make much use of these.

1,000 Words: This is such a great little section.  One picture, 1,000 words and a nice short encounter.  This one has a party working through both skill challenges and a potential combat.  he skill challenge sets the battle grid for the combat part of the encounter. I found the skill challenge part a bit difficult to understand on the first few readings, but I think it is a pretty good idea once you get what they are meaning.

Jacks Ultrashort Reviews: This section contains seven short reviews.  Four of the reviews are for Goodman Games products which is a bit silly, but the reviews get the point across.  Almost everything reviewed gets 5 stars which is also a bit silly.  I think this is my least favorite section of the magazine.

d20 questions: Nope not a reversion to an older version of D&D, this is just 20 questions asked of a gamer.  It is a nice interview.

4e Toolkit:  A simple set of lists to help you create more 4e like names for custom monsters.  About all there is to say about that.

Dear Archmage Abby:  This is the obligatory letters section.  Meh.

So there it is.  I have tried to give an overview of the content, and I sincerely hope it interests you enough to pick up a copy.  The magazine is well produced, and I am looking forward to the next issue.  Here's hoping the sales are strong enough to keep this magazine going for a long time to come.