Thursday, March 22, 2018

This Old Dragon: Issue #69

January 1983, I was in the middle of 8th grade and transitioning my D&D B/X game over to AD&D because I was pretty sure the Companion book was never coming out.  I remember being very concerned with the idea of "playing right" back then and wanted to be sure I was not violating some rule that said I could not or should not mix D&D and AD&D.   1983 was also the time I wrote my very first draft of the Healer class.  So let's put on some Men at Work because this is issue #69 of This Old Dragon.

This Dragon is another one from the collection of Eric Harshbarger. So it is in much better shape than some of the ones I have.

We get another great Clyde Caldwell cover this issue.  I always enjoy his art and this evil wizardress summoning an army of darkness is hitting all my buttons.

Caldwell gives Elmore a run for his money in my mind as the most "classic" D&D artist of the "Silver Age".  Is this the Silver Age yet?  83 is certainly a transition year for D&D, we will be getting new covers on all the classic hardcovers and the new Basic sets are on the way.  We are in what James Maliszewski of Grognardia has called "The Hickman Revolution".  We see other changes in Dragon #69 too as it takes on the look it will have for most of the mid 80s.  The Silver Age/Hickman Age of D&D is the age I still consider more of my personal Golden Age; although it has a hard time competing with right now.

Opening up this issue we see a great ad for Star Frontiers.

Kim Mohan addresses some of Gary's recent "opinionated" (his words, not mine) editorial pieces, especially from issues #65 and #66.  Though Mohan here is defending Dragon's right to publish these and still claim not to be the "house organ" of TSR.  Personally I think they tread that line a little more than they think they do, certainly, at the time I didn't care.

Letters from readers cover some language and Illusionist spells from issue #66 (need to see if I have that one).

Big ad for Epyx computer game "Crypt of the Undead".  I remember wanting to play it and I was going to save up my cash for an Atari 600 or 800 personal computer.  I ended up buying a TRS-80 Color Computer instead.

Ok our big feature is all about Runes by Phil Taterczynski and Roger Raupp.  This is one of those articles that stuck with me for years! I can remember watching the Doctor Who episode "The Curse of Fenric" and remembering things from this article.  This and the companion piece by Ed Greenwood (featuring an early appearance of Elminster) Runestones cover 9-10 pages. All good reading.

Gary is up with From the Sorceror's Scroll. Here he presents us with our very first "split-class" (unless you count the bard), the Thief-Acrobat.  I had a thief-acrobat back int he day, but not till the class appeared in the Unearthed Arcana.

The fiction section is next, a sci-fi story this time.

Gary is back with the Deities & Demigods of Greyhawk.  Featured this issue, Istus (Lady of our Fate), Obad-Hai (The Shalm, whatever that is) and some Time Elementals.

Roger E. Moore has an article that appeals to my analytic desires. Charting the Classes compares the various AD&D classes.  He looks at average hitpoints by level and by experience points. As a former stats professor I could spend hours going over this data. I could even import it all into Excel/Google Sheets an play with the numbers.  I have done something similar in the past and ended up with tables that are pretty close to the stuff we would later get in 3e.

Gary is back again (!) with some Featured Creatures.  Here we get two more fungal creatures, The Ustilagor and Zygom. These would later appear in the Monster Manual II and became Underdark staples.  Well...they did in my games anyway.

Caped Crusaders and Masked Marvels is an essay by Roger E. Moore on the nature of Super Hero RPGs.  No RPG in particular, but I can't help but think that Marvel Super Heroes might be driving this a little. There is a list of "usuful games" at the end of the article.  I can't help but notice the prominent placement of the Villians & Vigilantes ad at the end of this.

Arrakhar's Wand is the centerpiece of this issue. Again it would be, if my issue had it.  That's fine I fully expect that most of the middle sections have been removed from nearly ever used Dragon I get. I can't really complain...but I also can't review it! So moving on.

Lenard Lakofka is up in Leomund's Tiny Hut with the Entertainer Class(es).  This includes such notables as Stagehand, Juggler, Acrobat, Troubadour, Showman, and Entertainer. At 8 pages it has some depth and there are a lot of interesting ideas here.  Naturally with the Thief-Acrobat from Gary I am curious to see what acrobat skills I could swap between them.  I am inclined to use this article whenever I next run a circus themed adventure.  In fact the one I am considering is from a group of professional acrobats that play at the local RenFaire, Barely Balanced. They have an adventure for Pathfinder called The Dead Gulch.  I think it would work better with AD&D/OSRIC myself.

Like last week, this week's issue is a Night of 1,000 stars.  Who is next? Hey look it's Lewis Pulsipher and he is up with Ready for anything! Be prepared to carry more than just a sword. AD&D and D&D has always been about resource management. Lew is here to help you figure out what you need and what you really need.

Ed Greenwood and Elminster are back again, this time with More Pages from the Mages.  This time we get four new spell books with some new spells. Back in the day I would go right for the spells, today I am more interested in the story behind the spell books.  Maybe the spells inside are some I have already seen, but that is not what makes it valuable to me now. It's the story, the history, maybe there is something really special about this book. Maybe the spellcaster is still alive. Maybe his/her enemies are and want this book.  My cup runneth over with ideas.

Merle M. Rasmussen and Allen Hammack are up with some more Top Secret material.  Here they are answering some rules questions and discussing what might be some rule inconsistencies.

Tony Watson reviews United Nations. He likes it.  Merle Rasmussen reviews the card game Jasmine. He likes the fresh approach on some old ideas and he loves the art.

Lewis Pulsipher is back with The Role of Books. He covers Life in a Medieval City by Joseph and Frances Gies, but not as a review per se, but more as an essay on how to use the book in your FRPG.

We get some ads.

Phil and Dixie try to beat the high cost of gaming.
Wormy is suprised by a giant fly panther.

Some ads and we end with a big ad for Middle Earth.

All in all quite a fun issue.  Lots of great material and some that I can still use today.

Want to know what I ws saying about White Dwarf from the same time?  Check out White Dwarf Wednesday for Issue #37.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Campaign Updates:2018

Work has me crazy busy, but this is a good thing.  The downside is I have not had the time to blog as much as I want or even get in the campaign prep in at night.  So I thought I would kill two birds today and see where I am in my games.

Active Games

The Dragon Slayers
A 3.x game that was briefly 5e and now fully converted to 1st Edition AD&D.  The characters were trapped in Baba Yaga's Hut for nearly a year. They freed the Old Crone and her daughter Elena the Fair.  Up next the final battle. I am using the Tom Moldvay adventure Twilight Calling for this.

Next are my three interlinked 5th edition games collectively known as Come Endless Darkness. Tharizdûn is returning to the multiverse and the PCs of the three campaigns need to stop him.

The Order of the Platinum Dragon
The Order has defeated all the giants and are now wandering the Underdark looking for the Drow. The big bads here are Lolth and Graz'zt.  Graz'zt is setting up Lolth much like he is described doing in Expedition to the Demonweb Pits (for 3.5e).  I try to focus on classic monsters in this one.

Second Campaign
The Treasure Hunters of the Second Campaign have just entered the Forbidden City. Here the big bad is Demogorgon.  Here the focus is on other creatures that might not see normal games.

Into the Netir Vale
Known by my kids as the Orcus campaign. This is my revived and converted 4e campaign brought over whole cloth. I might lessed the involvement with the Raven Queen and play up Shar since this is part of the Forgotten Realms in my house.

All three games will meet up at the Temple of Elemental Evil to battle it out with the risen Tharizdûn.  So roughly 18 characters of 18th to 20th level.  It's gonna be wild.

Inactive/On-hold Games
These games are all inactive for a number of reasons.

Star Trek: Voyages of the USS Protector
This game is will be using White Star with my own "Black Star" rules modifications.  I have the first adventures ready to go, "The Stars Are Right" and "These Are the Voyages".  I have two more nearly ready "Ghost Ship" and "Abraxas Down".  I want to do two more.  I have been scribbling notes on rule changes and feel like the rest I can do while the game is moving along. 
What is really slowing me down is the wiring of the LED lights I want to put into my USS Protector Model!

Spirit of '76
On indefinite hold.

Hero's Journey to Middle Earth
This one is requiring some significant reading on my part.  As my first REALY foray into Middle Earth as a game world I want to do it right.

Magic School 
This one is on hold till I am done with Come Endless Darkness. Since this one will use D&D Rules Cyclopedia and I really want it to feel like a separate game.   Plus things that happen in CED will change the world of the Magic School and I don't know what those are yet!

War of the Witch Queens
This is the higher level version of the Magic School kids.  What happens here will also be determined by what the PCs do in CED.  I have all the adventures for this, just not the end game.

The Incredibly Awesome (and Not At All Made-Up) Adventures of Booster Gold and Blue Beetle!
Huh...ok this one was a little bit of a joke, but I keep getting asked about it.  I do have one adventure worked out that introduces the PCs to the world. Called "Damn It Barry Allen!" it sets up Booster and Blue as the true heroes of the DC world, it's just that no one can remember them.

I still have to get my new Blue Rose campaign going.  I ran the first adventure, Kingdom of Rain, and it went great.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Weekend Gaming: On the Doorstep of the Forbidden City & Monster Monday

Worked in a couple of gaming sessions over the weekend.  Only about two hours each day, but the Treasure Hunters of the Second Campaign managed to sneak into the Forbidden City.  Here they had their first encounter with the evil Yuan-Ti.

Now for those of you that still belabor under the assumption that 5e is "easier" let me just say that Yuan-Ti under 5e are much deadlier and one Yuan-Ti Abomination and one Pure Blood nearly took out the entire party of seven. They are now hiding out and have no more potions of healing.

I have not even tricked out the Yuan-Ti at all.  These are by-the-book deadly.

This adventure will introduce a bunch of new monsters to my players.  If Order of Platinum Dragon/Come Endless Darkness game is about revisiting all the classics, this one is about the near classics.  So a lot Fiend Folio and Monster Manual II monsters.

I also considering having there be a lot more involvement by Demogorgon. To that end, I am going to re-import some of my ideas from the time I used Demogorgon for the WitchCraft RPG.

This will include the Blood Apes.

Blood Apes

One of the largest cults of Demogorgon is a cult of intelligent apes. They are often referred to as Blood Apes due to their habit of bathing in the blood of fallen enemies and comrades. These cultists actively worship Demogorgon as their god and attribute to him all spoils. The doctrines of the cult emphasize destruction and violence.  All blood apes are voracious carnivores and keep human or (where appropriate) chimpanzee slaves. It is even whispered among the human populations that some humans are kept in an attempt by Demogorgon's Hierophants to breed true a race that features the most terrible qualities of both ape and man. Others claim they have already succeeded.

Every tribe of blood apres will have a CR 5-6 tribal leader and a CR 6 blood ape, fiendish-pact warlock.
Stat block from Statblock5e.

Once they get out of the city then things will get REALLY dangerous.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

All Hail the Prince of Demons!

Wide on the wasteful Deep; with him Enthron'd
Sat Sable-vested Night, eldest of things,
The Consort of his Reign; and by them stood
Orcus and Ades, and the dreaded name
Of Demogorgon
— John Milton, Paradise Lost II. 961-965

Ever since I first picked up the Monster Manual way back in 79 (or 78, I started playing in 79) there were some names that jumped out at me as an invitation to use them in some way;  Orcus, Tiamat, Asmodeus, and Demogorgon.

Back when 4e was the new hotness I picked up the Orcus mini. No surprise, he is the bad guy of not one, but two campaign capstone adventures.  He is also the "mascot" of both Necromancer Games and Goblinoid Games. So yeah, he is pretty popular.

Before that, I picked up the Mage Knight Apocalypse Dragon to stand in for the full Tiamat.  Works well.

For Asmodeus, I figure just about any devil will do really. He doesn't even really need to be big.

I have my Tharizdûn and my Lolth.
What I didn't have was a good Demogorgon.

Until now.

Last year I picked up a Demogorgon last year at AdeptiCon. Earlier this year I grabbed the Classic Creatures Collection from WotC which had two Demogorgon figures; a full size and an aspect.

I was ok, though I wished all of them were bigger.  THEN I discovered the Loot Crate DX Demogorgon.   Well, I wished I hadn't because I became obsessed with finding one.

Finally, this weekend my quest ended.

He is huge!

As you see he compares nicely to 4e Gargantuan Orcus.

He compares even better to his smaller "aspects".  That is my demon-hunter paladin there.  I hope he is ready!

None are exactly the same and that is a good thing.  Demons, especially this demon, should have shifting forms.

Right now I have him hidden.  My kids know all about the older Demogorgons (and Orcus and Tiamat), but this one will be a surprise.

My wife saw it too and I told her what I was doing and she is very excited.  I can't wait to pull this bad boy out!

Now I all I need is a good Graz'zt mini.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

This Old Dragon: Issue #65

Dragon Magazine #65 from September 1982 might, in fact, be the very first Dragon I had ever laid eyes on.  It is, without a doubt in my mind, one of the more pivotable issues in my gaming career.  Given that it is a perfect "first issue" of a NEW collection of Dragons sent to me by Eric Harshbarger. Eric contacted me a few weeks back to ask about some extras and gaps in my collection.  I mentioned that most of the Dragons I have are collected from larger lots of game materials I buy and most times they are in pretty sad shape. So he offered to send me some.  There are some duplicates with my collection, but these are in much better shape.  So if you can pop on over to his website.  Thanks, Eric! Now it is time for your contribution to This Old Dragon!

Ok. Where to start with this one? First, of course, is that cover.  It is great to see it here next to me instead of having to go to my CD-ROM to get the PDF (which is good since the PDF scan is not as good).  It is a wonderful, and surprisingly thigh-less, effort by Clyde Caldwell.   I always loved Caldwell's work and this cover is no exception. I love that Dragon sneaking down on the cross-eyed fighter.  Ok, he isn't cross-eyed, but it always looks like he is when I first look at it!  At least the dwarf sees it.  But my attention is focused on the witch in the background.  Is she a witch?  Well to me she is and she was one of the subconscious elements I would later use for my own witch character Larina.

Witch by Clyde Caldwell, Larina by Jacob Blackmon
So the red hair, purple dress with cloak and hood, the necklace (though different), the bangles on the wrists. Pretty archetypical image items really. But that image stuck with me.  I'd say it was Larina's mother, but I always pictured her as a blonde!  Maybe my little witch is having adventures I don't know about!  So this is what I can say when I have a cover to actually look at!

We are not quite at that "golden age" of Dragon that I think everyone is nostalgic about.  OR maybe we are.  When I say "Golden Age" maybe you all have a different picture in mind. Anyway.  This is the time before I started buying Dragon.  I have no doubt however that this is the first one I ever saw.

Out on a Limb covers some letters on Ed Greenwood's article on Firearms a few issues back. Everytime I pick up an older Dragon my mental timeline of Ed's involvement gets pushed back a little bit more.  I REALLY did not give this guy enough credit.

Gary is up next with his Guest Editorial. Ok...what to say about this.  It is basically a 3-page rant against GAMA and Origins.   I am happy to say that things are better between GenCon and Origins, and in about a decade from this original publication Gen Con and Origins will host a co-Con, but for now Gary is really irritated.  I don't know what is going on behind the scenes at this point. Back then I would have read this and been firmly on Gary's side, but today it seems like an old man yelling at clouds (and to be 100% fair here, Gary at this point is younger than I am right now!)  Ok. Moving on.

Blastoff! gives us all the information we need to know about the brand new Star Frontiers game.  We get to see that iconic Larry Elmore cover for what I think is the first time. We learn the about the new races (Vrusk, Yazirians, and Dralasites), a bit on the new character creation system and some of the in-universe background.  We also get some background on the game itself.  Design work began in 1979 by Dave Cook and  Lawerence Schick and spent the next two years in design, development and playtesting.  I guess there was a more "hard core" version of the game at one point.

Gary is back and this time with a classic.  From the Sorceror's Scroll covers Character Classes to Consider.  We learn that there will be an expansion volume to AD&D.  This book will eventually become Unearthered Arcana but until then he gives us a sneak peak.  We know now that all of these classes did not make it to that book.  Some would later go on to be rumored for the 2nd Edition of the AD&D game; or rather the 2nd Edition as penned by Gygax himself.  This is one of the main articles that +Joseph Bloch would later use to build his "what-if" version of a Gygax 2nd Edition in Adventures Dark and Deep.

Rob Kuntz is next with another installment of Greyhawk's World.  This covers Events of the Eastern and Southern Flanaess. I always enjoyed these articles. It made me feel like the World of Greyhawk was a living place, even though at this point I was still very much entrenched in the Known World of the D&D Basic and Expert sets.

Feel like I am dropping names left and right here, but after that we have Len Lakofka's Leomund's Tiny Hut.  This issue Len is focused on Keep(ing) Track of Quality.  Or how the quality of the goods affect the price, time to make and how that can play out for the player character.  This article covers mostly sheilds, armor, and some weapons.  A bit of converting for AC and you have a good article you can still use today.

Almost the counterpoint to weapon quality is character quality.  Christopher M. Townsend presents a new proficiency system for use in AD&D in Weapons Wear Out, Not Skills. This system is neither as complicated as the ones will later get nor as crunchy.  In fact, this system is light on the crunch and heavy on the role-playing aspects.  Or at least insofar as training in general in AD&D was a roleplaying aspect.  Now your training has some other purposes and can take longer.   Rereading it now I can see using this as a guideline in my D&D 3.x and D&D 5 games.

Gary is back again with some new creatures. These Featured Creatures are considered to be official AD&DTM monsters, so that takes care of that argument (but opens it up for the next batch!).  We get two good-aligned monsters, the Baku and the Phoenix.  Both of these monsters will appear in the Monster Manual II due out soon.  But that is not what grabbed me about them.  Flipping the page something burrowed deep, deep into my psyche.

To me, the Phoenix was a god-like creature.  They were the natural enemies of darkness and chaos.  The mere look of one could destroy a vampire.  They were not some giant bird to be hunted for their feathers and beaks, they were divine agents of rightous wrath.  In many ways they were the opposite of the Dragons.  Yes, we have good Dragons, but the Phoenix (capitalization is mine and for emphasis) opposed the evil Dragons more.  I remember reading this issue from friends (sometimes many, many times) and at one point I wrote down "It was a time of great chaos. It was the time of the Dragon and the Phoenix."  Yes, yes I know there is a Chinese dish of the same name, trust me, growing up in the deep mid-west in the 70s and 80s the only Chinese I ever saw was "Chop Suey".  I would only later the myths and stories behind it.  The Dragon and the Phoenix became something BIG in my games.  So big in fact that I would later take some of those ideas and adapt to my Buffy the Vampire Slayer game and run a campaign I called The Dragon and the Phoenix.  Those games would later be the basis of my Ghosts of Albion RPG.

Ok, speaking of those dragons.  Richard Alan Lloyd gives us The Missing Dragons. Based on the "color wheel theory" he decides that there must be more dragons, the Yellow, Orange, and Purple.  Now few articles were as controversial in my early days as this one!  There were people that hated the idea of more dragons. There were people that hated the idea of these colors for dragons (this group though usually let the Purples in) and there were those that liked them but would not include them since they were not "official" AD&D monsters.  And of courses there those that liked them and used them.  Myself, I liked the idea. I thought the logic was faulty. I mean are there Draconic Evolutionary theorists of the RGB sort versus the CMYK ones?  I did use the Purple dragons once or twice.  I used an orange one once and I said the yellow had all died out.  The biggest issue with this article is Tiamat.  She has five heads, not eight. If we limit it to five, then the green head needs to become yellow.  Now there are many, many (MANY) other dragons in D&D now and Tiamat is still just five-headed.  So maybe I need to bring these back to my games.

An ad for the RPGA.

Dropping more names Lew Pulsipher is next with a new NPC character class, Timelords. These are not your two-heart, regenerating Time Lords.  These are more like Time Protectors or Time Guardians.   They are fighters with some basic time manipulation magic that gets more powerful as they go up in level. When I first read it I hated it.  I also used to have a pretty hard core rule in my D&D games of "No Time Travel!"  I have loosened up a bit on that over the years.

Next is Monsters of the Midway, BUT I don't have it in my copy.  So the rules state I must move on.

Ah, here is something else that wormed it's way into my psyche.  Robin Emrys Atkinson presents the Tuatha De Danaan, A revised Celtic Mythos.  With amateur drunk day Saint Patrick's Day in a couple of days, this is another reason why this is a good choice. This is designed to replace and add to the section on Celtic myths in the Deities and Demigods book. And it is much better.  It was here that I went into a HUGE Celtic myths kick that I never really got out of.

And the hits keep comming!  Ed Greenwood (I feel like I am the MC of a Night of Thousand Stars) is next with Law of the Land. A six page article on the legal system and political systems of the AD&D world.  Or as I like to think of it, the PCs do not live in a vacuum. Also a great system-free article and something to help curb the influx of Murder-Hoboism in your games.

Lew Pulsipher is back again (!) and takes a D&D (not AD&D) perspective on War! and how it can give the characters reason to "live".  Again this is a very system free sort of article and covers the types of wars that PCs might find themselves in.  Very usuful stuff.

Some Top Secret information from James "Pong" Thompson. It covers recon and assassinations.

An editiorial of sorts from Lew Pulsipher in Up on a Soapbox. In this, he discusses the difference between the Classical Role-player and the Romantic.  Lew is coming from a solid Wargamer point of view here.  I don't get the feeling that either of these types are bad, just they have certain ways of playing.  More the point in a Wargame if you can identify their style you will know how to defeat them since you know what risks they are likely to take.

The Dragon's Augury has some reviews including one of the first Computer games I can recall being reviewed.  WIZARDRY costs a then princely sum of $49.95 and you will need an Apple II computer with 48k and DOS 3.3. 
Tom Watson reviews some books for Traveller while Gary Gygax himself reviews Empire Builder by Mayfair games (he loves it).

Comics are next.
Phil and Dixie talk about how much Fantasy and SciFi are alike.
Wormy is only one page.

An ad for Chaosium's Trollpak takes half of Dragon mirth's page.  I always wanted that. It looked cool. 

Back cover has an ad for Grenadier Models and flip over for Gang Busters.

Wow. What a packed issue.  Not just name after name of the whos who of the early RPG scenes, but great content as well.

Want to know what I thought of White Dwarf from the same time? Check out White Dwarf Wednesday #33.  It was also a good issue.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

The Importance of the *Correct* Research

I have been fairly quiet here I know.  Not by choice, but I have some projects I want to get done and get out to you all.   Today is the tale of woe of one such project.

A few weeks back I had this GREAT idea. No, it really it was. It was a game that I really wanted to play and write.  I am going into a lot of detail about here now because the game will not happen now, or at least not in it's current draft. 

See I did my research.  I have a Ph.D. (two in fact, but I am ABD) so research is something I know well and love. And I did do my research.  I looked into economic issues of the time to try to get a good idea of a monetary system.  I reread news items that I thought would give me better insight.  I also put together a must-read list of fiction and a must watch list of movies that fit the genre.
I even prototyped some characters.

What I *DIDN'T* do was see if this game already existed.
Which, as you can guess, it does.

What really sucks is that this game is also really, really good.  They went with a different vibe than I was going for, but what they did is fantastic.

Well.  Shit.

So now I have notes, drafts and a cool name.  Some friends suggested I go ahead and make it, but I don't want to field questions of "Hey have you seen BLANK?" or "How is this not a copy of BLANK?" 

So the ideas will go into ... well, I don't know yet really.

After talking with my kids I think I have some ideas for this stuff, but the focus will have to change.  So goodbye economic data. Book lists will need to be revised. I think the movies are fine though.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Strange Brew: Skills & Feats

The next book in the Strange Brew series is now out.

Strange Brew: Skills & Feats is everything you need for your witch character in the Pathfinder game.

I will check with my editor, but I think this means the full book will be out soon.
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