I’ve always been fascinated with the idea of role-playing in the Biblical era (and, to be honest, with role-playing in any historical time period before the AD system came into use). As such, I quite enjoyed Testament and similar d20 RPGs set in ancient times, and was quite happy when I heard about Targum magazine. I have every issue so far, and the fourth one delivers just like its predecessors.
The product comes in a zipped file just under ten megabytes in size. The PDF of the magazine is forty-eight pages long, with a full-page front cover and five full-page interior ads. Interior bookmarks let you easily zip around to whatever article you want, which is nice. However, there is no printer-friendly version, which can be quite disheartening as this is a very colorful book. In fact, like previous issues, the fourth release of Targum is resplendent with art. Beyond the ubiquitous pictures that accompany each article, the first few pages of the articles have a background that looks like a tan, slightly crumpled parchment. In short, this is a magazine that is very easy on the eyes, but printing it out might be a bit of an issue.
There are six articles covered in this issue, and I’ll touch on each one here. The first is the Ostraca column, this month detailing how two Biblical kings apparently show up twice in pre-history. The article attempts to reconcile two kings with same names, ruling very close geographic areas, around the same time. The article meticulously goes over the accepted history, and then posits reasons for why that history may have intentionally been misconstrued. Endnotes pepper the article, which closes out with a few game ideas for this scenario. I found this part fascinating, but perhaps a bit too obtuse for me to truly understand – I can’t rule out that that’s likely due to my not knowing Biblical history very well, however, and serious groups looking for new opportunities for role-playing in that area may find this invaluable.
The second article covers the Kalevala Mythos, listing out ten Finnish gods described in the Kalevala (the epic Finnish tale). Each god is listed by name, along with their divine level and alignment, followed by a (translated) passage about them from the Kalevala, and then some metagame description of them. The rest of their information is given in the style of WotC’s listings for gods, with their portfolios, domains, favored weapon, cleric training, quests, prayers, temples, rites, and herald and allies all given. The article closes out with a minor artifact (also from the epic saga) and some ideas for using the Kalevala in your game. I personally liked this article a lot, as I always enjoy seeing new gods detailed. However, it felt slightly out-of-place to me. While Targum is for all ancient-world settings, virtually everything we’ve seen to that effect so far has been for the Biblical area; that is, the Mediterranean/Middle East area set over two thousand years ago. Something set so far north, and potentially much later (the Kalevala was first written down in the late 17th century, though it was already quite old by that time) seems to break from that idea. Still, it’s a very well-done article, and could be useful for a change of pace (particularly if the PCs decide to go exploring some of the wider world during that time).
The third article is the second of a two-part series covering Akhenaten, the monotheistic pharaoh from Egypt (part one was in the second issue). Not quite four pages long, this article briefly touches on various parts of Akhet-Aten, Akhenaten’s capital city, as well as art in his empire, adventure ideas, and stat blocks for common NPCs. A sidebar also gives three new feats. While this article was brief overall, it’s much longer taken together with the preceding article, which paint a great picture of Egypt during the time of this unorthodox ruler; by itself though, this article feels like it’s over just a bit too fast.
The Legions vs. Hordes article is meant to deliberately bring together disparate sourcebooks that focus on the same general time and place, something I very much enjoy seeing. In this case, various Roman legions and barbarian hordes (indicative of the Eternal Rome book) are given statistics so that they may be used with the Battlefield Resolution System in both Testament and Trojan War. It’s likely that this will be useful to anyone who purchases this magazine, since you’ll likely have one of the two latter books already. This is a great way to bring Rome into play as a major power in battlefield campaigns. A few new battlefield feats also help round out differentiating Roman soldiers from others at the time.
As per usual, Arion Games has included several fold-out minis with the magazine. In this case, there are four minis of Roman legions. Each mini has the front of the depicted characters on one side, with the back on the opposite side, and are in full color. Also included are flipped versions of each mini (as though looking in a mirror), allowing for a nice bit of customization.
The final article in the magazine is perhaps the one that will draw the most attention, especially from people who play Testament. This issue is part one of the official 3.5 Testament update. The author briefly talks about how this is indeed an official conversion, and not just a fan-made one. Further, this is not just an update, but also fixes several points of errata in the Testament book. Going on for almost twelve pages, this is what many Testament players (myself included) have wanted for a long time now. It’s just a pity that this is being given to us at the twilight of the 3.5 era. This first part of the update covers up through the first eight chapters of Testament, leaving the rest for the next part.
Altogether, I felt this issue of Targum lived up to the high bar set by the preceding issues. It has some minor issues (lack of a printer-friendly version, how the Kalevala article felt off, etc.) but is still a very high-quality publication. If you’re at all interested in role-playing in the Biblical era, purchasing Targum isn’t just a good idea, but a very-nearly necessary one.