Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Review: AC4 The Book of Marvelous Magic

"The D&D and AD&D games are actually different games." p.74, The Book of Marvelous Magic.
This was not the first time I had read this, and by 1985 I had moved away from the D&D game to AD&D, it was still interesting to read this.  Back then we freely mixed the two systems without so much as a care.
So it was with some confusion then that when I picked up AC4 The Book of Marvelous Magic that is proudly stated it was for the D&D AND AD&D games.  This was only emphasized more with the very first magic item listed, the Alternate World Gate.  AD&D was treated on the same level as Gamma World, Star Frontiers, and Boot Hill.

Confusion of compatibility issues aside, The Book of Marvelous Magic became one of my favorite and most frustrating D&D accessories.   Favorite because at this time I was serious into working on my witch class for AD&D/D&D and I was looking for guidelines on how magic items should be created.  I didn't find that here, but I did find a lot of inspiration.  Also, there were a lot of magic items in this book that later would become rather important in my own games for the next 2-3 years.
Frustrating because I never could get my gaming groups to embrace this book like I did.  I think it something to do with the punny names of the some of the items.  I now know that this was just something that was going on at the TSR offices back then (see I6 Ravenloft), but it made it difficult to take the book seriously at times.

The authors are listed as Frank Mentzer with Gary Gygax, but I think we all knew at the time that Mentzer did the lions-share of work on this.  The book covers the same span of characters (and same span of publication) of the Mentzer penned Basic, Expert and Companion Rules.  Living in my small town in Illinois I think this might have been the first reference I saw to the Companion ruleset.  Reading this book I am thinking that the Companion rules had just been written and the Master Rules had not. There are no references to the Master Rules and in places, the rules seem to put 36 at the top of the character achievement and in others, it was 26.

So what does this book have?  Well, there are over 500 new (at the time) magic items spanning 76 pages of text. The cover art is from none other than Clyde "I'll have the thigh" Caldwell and really grabbed my attention.  Not like that (though I was 15 at the time) but because she looked like a bad ass witch.

She even has a broom in the corner over there.  How could I NOT buy this book??

The magic items are divided by type, so for example under Armband there are five listed magical Armbands.  When a magic item needs to be listed, such a Bag of Holding, it is listed with a "see D&D Basic Set".  

The book did raise the question in our groups of who was creating all these magic items? That was never fully answered here or really anywhere for a couple more decades.  We opted that most of these were in fact fairly unique items.  So there were not a lot of "Buttons of Blasting" out there, but maybe one or two at best.

There are a few magic items here that I still have not seen in other (future) versions of D&D, so it is worth it just for those. It is also a great insight to the mid 80s D&D, a time when TSR was on top of the world, right before the big shakeup.  Also at the time I enjoyed tthis book, but largely ignored Mentzer's magnum-opus BEMCI D&D.  Reviewing both now as an adult I see I did all these books a large disservice.

What is in these books that gamers of today can use?  Well in truth, LOTS.
Really.  The book might as well say "Compatible with 5th Edition D&D" on the cover.  Hell. Change the trade dress and you could almost republish it as is with little editing.   Yeah remove references to Basic, Expert and Companion. Change some of the spell casting descriptions, but otherwise this is still a gem today as it was 30 years ago.

Time to re-introduce the Collar of Stiffness to my games!


JB said...

Yeah, we (my brother actually) got hold of a copy of this back when we only played AD&D and turned up our nose at anything "basic;" it got shuttered to the wayside. Even though I did end up using a bunch of Companion-level items (later) in our AD&D games, there was always something a little off-putting about the stuff in AC4. I don't remember what it was, though (was this the supplement with the "XP granting machine" that dropped rocks on a skeleton with every pull of a lever?).

I'll have to dig it out one of these days and peruse it again.

Zudrak (Michael G.) said...

This is one of those publications my brother & I bought twice because we lent it to someone, but forgot to whom it was given. I have not seen it in our gaming library we unearthed in 2000 when we began gaming again. Most of it is in my possession, but this gem has yet to turn up in the dwarven excavation efforts. Anyway, I have it in PDF form and it is still a beaut, in my opinion. I never used it liberally, but sprinkled in an item here and there. I could not recite which ones, as it has been some time since we used it in a game but this blog reminds me to 1) send the dwarves back to the mine and seek it out and 2) order it from the Amazonian warrior quartermaster should my diligent dwarves prove unable to divine the most recent copy we owned.

Nice article/summary, Timothy!

Dr. Theda said...

We had a copy in the 80's... and a hard cover (of similar Title) with a wizard / seer upon it cover... remember using many objects from them... Players would find something that they liked so,would work it into story-line of game... Thus, allowing me to add a thing or to to my Characters as well... We had a collection of Evil (mostly Undead) former "Villains"... then working for the former Mage of the Group..

Dr. Theda said...

JB... your "icon"... (Hot Toys) there is a new (1/6th scale) action figure of this Frazetta character available on "pre-order".. Hope that you and yours had a pleasant 4th...

Jonathan Linneman said...

Not having played during the era, I'm becoming increasingly intrigued by the differences that were perceived between Basic and Advanced D&D back in the day. I tend to blur it all together, but I know there's a large part of that due to my becoming familiar with these games through the OSR. This looks like an interesting book to check out.

JB said...

@ Doc Theda:

Thanks for the heads up. Cool, but a little out of my price range.
; )