Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/04/10/dragon-magazine-annual--
Whereas Dungeon Magazine focuses on pre-published adventures for the Dungeon Master whose skills don’t lie in the arena of adventure creation, Dragon Magazine is for the DM who is looking to expand his toolbox. Dragon Magazine is not for someone who is simply looking to crack open a book and run an adventure, but rather for someone who has a pretty good grasp of what is needed for a successful adventure and is simply looking for some new ideas to enhance what they’ve already come up with. The Dragon Magazine Annual #1 gives you fourteen articles to help you with your world-building.
Demonomicon of Iggwilv: Yeenoghu by Robert J Schwalb. The Demon Prince of Gnolls has been around since 1st edition and he’s gone through some rough times. This section of the book seeks to reconcile some of the contradictory elements of his lore and restore him to a place of power in the D&D universe.
Creature Incarnations: Kobolds by Mike Mearls. This section seeks to expand upon the race of monsters my players have always known as Cannon Fodder. You’re provided with some strategies to help the average Kobold become a little bit more imposing, helping to define them as crafty trap-makers and provide them with an assortment of job classes to make them unique. Most interesting to me was the Kobold Victory chart, a good idea wherein a roll of the die determines what kind of victory taunt/buff a Kobold might gain upon killing someone, but really, when is a Kobold ever going to kill someone?
The Ashen Covenant by Ari Marmell. Whereas most evil cults in D&D are stereotypically evil, seeking to murder people for pleasure, this subunit of the Cult of Orcus is aiming for bigger and better things. They want to create a world where everyone who dies is raised from the dead as a zombie. You’re given the full modus operandi of the cult, plenty of adventure hooks to get your party to go after the cult, stats for the cult, and a handful of magic items related to the dark magic.
Mithrendain, Citadel of the Feywild by Rodney Thompson. A basic city plan, although this city happens to be in the Feywild and has 40,000 inhabitants.
Wish Upon a Star by Bruce R. Cordell. This one is a primer on how to build a star pact warlock. Differing from a generic warlock (if there is such a thing), this type of warlock has sworn allegiance to questionable entities from another world. Included is a full complement of powers and feats for the class.
The Bloodghost Syndicate by Mike Mearls. It’s The Sopranos, as done by goblins, hobgoblins, and bugbears. The only map in the entire collection is found in this article, as the Syndicate’s base of operations is rendered as a dungeon in and of itself.
Intelligent Items: Smart Swords by Logan Bonner. Intelligent Items differ from most exotic items as they act more like sidekicks to the party rather than MacGuffins with special powers. Included are a sampling of intelligent items and directions on how to create your own. Perhaps most importantly, there are ideas how to get rid of an intelligent item if you introduce one into your adventures and realize how awful of an idea that turned out to be.
Fight! by Robert J. Schwalb. This article shows you how to set up arena fights, gives you a few sample arenas to use, instructs you how to use the crowd to your advantage (and, possibly, the player’s disadvantage), and gives you some victory conditions that move beyond the “kill them all” mentality.
We Who Are About to Die: D&D Gladiators by Robert J. Schwalb. This section provides background and feats for the gladiator class. It also provides you with ways to utilize your at-will powers with items that normally wouldn’t do any real damage (like a net or bola).
The Longest Night by Chris Sims. What if, instead of giving out toys on Christmas, Santa showed up and robbed you. And what if, instead of a jolly fat man, Santa was a red dragon that could burn your entire town to the ground. This section is basically just a scenario to set up Santa Dragon, and I am perfectly all right with that.
Playing Dhampir by Brian R. James. Feats, paths, and powers to play as a dhampir. The article goes out of its way to establish that the dhampir is adaptable to any race, provided they end up picking up the Vampiric Heritage feat.
Master of the Planes by Robert J. Schwalb. This section gives you a few epic destinies for those players and campaigns where travelling between the various planes are common. Some of the examples provided include feats and powers of a Keybearer (who slips between the planes at will), a Planeshaper (who can create matter from nothing), and a Punisher of Gods (about what you’d expect).
Playing Shadar-Kai by Chris Sims. If you’ve ever wanted to play a character who was Shadar-kai, here’s a racial build for you.
Art of the Kill by Robert J. Schwalb. The final article shows you how to be an assassin if you want to be someone beyond a mere rogue. Suggested builds are included for bounty hunters, guerillas, and revolutionaries, among others.
Your mileage here is going to vary. The annual is well made and beautifully illustrated, but if you have no interest in, say, dhampir, or if your campaign has no use for gladiatorial combat, large parts of this book may not be relevant for you. On the other hand, there’s Santa Dragon, which I am convinced every DM in the world needs to know about. There is a lot of potentially good information here, but you’ll have to peruse the article listing to see if this is truly something that you may want to pick up.