Thursday, November 28, 2019

Mail Call: Old School Essentials

It's a great Thanksgiving for a lot of reasons.  But today I am thankful for getting my copies of Old-School Essentials.



The box is sturdy a heck. Very surprised by that.



The new books compare favorably to the  B/X Essentials books.


The only things the boxed set is missing is dice.  Luckily I had some that look like they would work great.


Really looking forward to playing this one!

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

New in Print: The Pumpkin Spice Witch Tradition

It's a little later than I wanted, but just in time for Thanksgiving!

The Basic Witch: The Pumpkin Spice Witch Tradition is now available in print on demand.


And if you act right now you can grab it for just $9.00 with DriveThruRPG's Thanksgiving weekend sale.

The cover ended up printing a little lighter than I expected, but not enough to make me want to go back and redo it.



The book look great and makes a nice addition to my recent series of Basic-era Witch books.



It also works great with your "Pumpkin Spice Flavored" adventures.


I hope you enjoy it.

Up next...The Pagan Witch for this:


Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Review: D&D Expert Set

December of 1979 was the time I was first introduced to Dungeon & Dragons via the Holmes Basic edition and the AD&D Monster Manual.  It was 1980 though that I got my hands on the Moldvay Basic Set and my love affair with B/X D&D.  But that is only the first half of the story.  The second half, the X of  B/X, was the Cook/Marsh Expert Set. 

D&D Expert Set
I am not exactly sure when I got the D&D Expert set.  I do know it was sometime after I had the Basic Set.  I know this because I have very distinct memories of going through the Expert book and just marveling at everything inside.  Just everything from the classes to all the new monsters.  The Moldvay Basic Set was the high mark for me at the time for what an RPG should be.  The Expert set lived up to that set and then blew me away.  That is getting ahead of my narrative.

For this review, I am going to look at the original boxed set, the mini boxed set from Twenty First Century Games S.r.i., and the newer PDF from DriveThruRPG.

On the heels of the Basic Set edited by Tom Moldvay, we have the first Expert Set edited by David "Zeb" Cook with Steve Marsh.  So we often call this the Cook/Marsh Expert set to distinguish it from the Frank Mentzer Expert Set.   This Moldvay/Cook/Marsh set of rules is often called B/X to separate it from the Mentzer BECMI versions.

The Expert Set came in a boxed set featuring cover art by Erol Otus. The art includes the art from the Basic Set; a wizard scries the female wizard and male warrior fighting the dragon.   It remains one of my favorite pieces of gaming art ever.  In fact, it is the current background for my phone.   Included in the boxed set was one of the greatest sandbox adventures ever, X1 Ilse of Dread and a set of 6 polyhedral dice; d4, d6, d8, d10, d12, d20 and a crayon. Note the PDF does not include dice (obviously).

The Expert book features the same cover art on a predominantly blue cover. The book is 64 pages of black & white art.  The cover is full cover and the interior covers are blue ink and feature the table of contents (front) and index (back).  The art features some of the Big Names of 1980s D&D art. Jeff Dee,  Wade Hampton, David S. LaForce,  Erol Otus, James Roslof, and Bill Willingham.  Some so iconic that they STILL define certain elements of the game for me.  Jeff Dee's halflingsDavid LaForce's giants, and Bill Willingham's vampire are to this very day the first thing I think of when any of these creatures are mentioned.

While we were promised "new classes" both in the Holmes Basic book and later by Gygax himself in the pages of Dragon magazine, we stick with same seven classes; four human (Cleric, Fighter, Magic-user, Thief) and three demi-human (Dwarf, Elf, Halfling).  While I had not really thought about the new classes when I got my Expert set, I was a little disappointed that halflings and dwarves didn't get more than they did.  BUT if that was the case I soon got over it since there was SO much more for the Cleric and Magic-users.

Part 1: Introduction. This book begins with some tables from the Basic game. Also we get some guidelines on how this book should be used and what to do if you have an earlier (Holmes edition) of D&D Basic.  Here we also note that the page numbers are X# compared to the B# number.  The idea here was for you to be able to cut up your Basic and Expert books and put them together in a three-ring binder.  Eventually, I did do this, but not with my actual books, but rather with the printouts from the DriveThru PDFs.


Part 2: Player Character Information. This deals with all the classes.  I thought, at the time, that the organization of this section was a vast improvement over the same section in the Basic Book.  Where Basic D&D went from 1st to 3rd level, this book continues on to 14th level for human classes and various levels for the demi-human classes.   Additionally, thief abilities extend to 14th level as does Clerical turning Undead and new, more powerful spells; 5th level for clerics and 6th level for Magic-users.  That was unheard of levels of magic for me.

Part 3: Spells. This section got about 90% of my attention back then.  New detail is given on Reversed spells for both Clerical and Magic-user/Elf spells.  Eight pages of new spells including the amazing Disintegrate spell, which was one of the spells outlawed in many of my local game groups back then.

Part 4: The Adventure.  Not only does this section open up the world of adventuring to the entire wilderness and beyond the dungeon, it gives us some of my favorite Erol Otus art ever. The Alchemist on page X21 defined what an alchemist needed to look like for me.

Part 5: The Encounter covers combat and includes morale, saving throws, and variable weapon damage. This also has all the necessary combat tables.

Part 6: Monsters. Ah. Now here are the pages of my memories!  I have mentioned before how much I love the Monster Manual for AD&D and how it was my monster tome for my time playing Holmes Basic.  But this.  This one was part of my new favorite rules and that made all the difference to me. The mundane rubbed elbows (or knees, or whatever) with the magical and the malevolent.  To this day there are still monsters here that I have not seen the likes of elsewhere. Well yes, I have, but you have to dig for some of them.  But let's be honest, when was the last time you pulled a Devil Swine out on your players? Some versions of monsters here I still prefer over their AD&D Monster Manual counterparts. Giants and Vampires as I have mentioned.


Part 7: Treasure follows.  While D&D lacked the infamous vorpal sword (for now), it made up for it by having better rules in my mind for Intelligent swords.

Part 8: Dungeon Master Information, is what it says on the tin.  We get rules for making ability "saving throws" and spell magic item creation rules.   What I had the most fun with were the castle and stronghold cost rules.  This chapter is chock full of goodness.  Handling players, NPCs, even the first bit of what was known as the "Known World" which later became Mystara.  To this day seeing the "haunted keep" fills me with ideas.


Part 9: Special Adventures this section covers waterborne adventures. 

This book is so full of great stuff and even though we were promised a "Companion" edition that would go to 36th level (unheard of!) there were still plenty of adventures to be had.
Let's be honest, 14 levels is a lot of levels even by today's standards.



The PDF of the Expert book includes the Ilse of Dread AND the Gateway to Adventure catalog.   All that for $4.99? That is a steal really.

The Twenty First Century Games S.r.i., mini boxed set is about 1/8 the size of the normal boxed set.  It came complete with a box, an Expert rule-book and mini copy of Ilse of Dread.  Twenty years ago it looked great! Today the font must have shrunk some because I find it really hard to read!






Monday, November 25, 2019

Monstrous Monday Review: Monster Manual II

Continuing my review of the monster books of my youth with what can be called the most polished of all the AD&D/D&D monster books, the AD&D Monster Manual II

This was the first book to feature the new "orange spine" and Jeff Easley cover art.   It is also one of the larger AD&D first ed books at 160 pages (save for the massive DMG).  Sometimes I wonder what an old-school cover would have looked like, something drawn by Tramp maybe.  That all aside, the cover of this book is great, but it doesn't quite grab you the same way that the MM1 or the FF did.  But inside is more than makes up for this "perceived" slight.

For this review, I am as usual considering the original hardcover and the newer PDF from DriveThruRPG.  There is no Print on Demand option yet for this title, but as a special feature, I'll also have a look at the miniature book from Twenty First Century Games S.r.i.

The book(s) and the PDF have full-color covers featuring art from Jeff Easley.  Inside is all black and white art from  Jim Holloway, Harry Quinn, Dave Sutherland, and Larry Elmore.  No slight to the previous book's artists, but the style and quality here is more consistent.  Some might see this as an improvement (I do) but others will point to this as a sign of the change from the Golden Age of TSR to the Silver Age.  Of course, it features the byline of Gary Gygax, though we now know that some of them were created by Frank Mentzer and Jeff Grubb.  In some ways, you can see this change in tone and feel that is happening at TSR in this book.

The Monster Manual II was the first hardcover after a year hiatus.  The book is better organized and layout than most of the AD&D hardcover books.  I have to admit I always credited this to TSR finally moving over to computer layout, but I have nothing to support this claim save for how the book looks.

There is a lot to this book too.  OVer 250 monsters there are a ton more demons, devils, and more from the outer planes, like the daemons, demodands, modrons, and even good-aligned creatures like the devas and solars.  We get a few more dragons and some giants.  We get a lot of monsters that feel inspired by the first Monster Manual. There are also many from previous adventure modules.  This book also gave us the Tarrasque, the Catlord, the Swanmay, the Wolfwere. and more.

This book also has nearly 30 pages of encounter tables at the end that covers all three books, very useful to have really and a selling point for the PDF. Get the PDF and print out the tables.

The Monster Manual II is still by all rights a classic.  While I don't get the same thrill from it as I do the Monster Manual or the Fiend Folio, but the monsters individually are great.

It remains to this day a lot of fun and a book I still get great enjoyment from.



The book from Twenty First Century Games S.r.i. is a great little reproduction. I picked this up back when it was new and paid $9.95 for it.  Now it goes for a lot more.  It is great to have but no way I can read it anymore.   The text is way too small.

Friday, November 22, 2019

BlackStar: Trek Videos

Been pretty busy with work and various projects.  But I am looking forward to doing some Trek gaming sometime soon.
To prep for this, I am watching a LOT of Star Trek videos made by fans for ideas.

Here is one that has a lot of ideas for me.
Since my Mystic Class is an NX or experimental ship, I figure it would be good to see some other failed Trek experiments.




And since the Mystic class also has the potential to be the fastest ship in Trek, but maybe not the deadliest, this one caught my eye.




For years I have been fascinated with the idea of Star Trek Phase II.  I am seriously considering having Xon show up in my game in some way.



I also wanted to learn everything I could about the Ambassador Class starship and the Enterprise-C




Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Review: AC1 The Shady Dragon Inn

Going through some of my favorite Basic-era books and games and I should really spend some time with another favorite, but one that became a later favorite.

AC1 The Shady Dragon Inn was one of the first accessories for the BECMI flavor of the D&D game.

This book also has the distinction of being one of the first Print on Demand books that Wizards of the Coast would release for the old TSR catalog.

The book also has special interest to me since it features the stats for one of my favorite characters Skylla.

I will be reviewing both the PDF and the Print on Demand versions.

The book is 32 pages with color covers and black & white interiors.  The print version is perfect bound; so no staples.   The scan is sharp and clean and PoD version is easy to read.

The book features the titular inn, but really the main feature of this book is the collection of NPCs.  Designed to be a bit like the original AD&D Rogues Gallery.  This product though is a little more robust.  The Shady Dragon Inn write-ups include some background on who these characters are, more than just a collection of stats.  Maybe indicative of shift between the AD&D and D&D lines.

The characters are split by class.   In each case, we get a dozen or so individual characters of Fighters, Thieves, Clerics, Magic-users, Dwarves, Elves and Halflings. with art by Jim Holloway and Larry Day.  While the art helps, each write-up includes a brief description.  This all covers roughly two-dozen pages.

There is another section of "Special" characters.  These are the ones with TM next to their names. Such notables as Strongheart, Warduke, Kelek and of course Skylla.

There is a bit at the end about the Shady Dragon Inn itself along with some pre-gen adventuring parties based on level.  A great aid for DMs that need some NPCs.

The Print on Demand version includes the maps to the Inn as part of the print.  The main PDF does not have them, but they can be downloaded as a separate file.   There are PDFs and image files to print out to use with minis.  So with some minor tweaks, you can use this with any version of D&D you like.  The characters inside can be converted to 5e easily enough.
Ignore the saving throws, and recalculate the base to hit as 20 - THAC0.  I find that 22 or 23 -THAC0 actually works out a little bit better for 5e.

The maps are set to 1" = 5', so D&D 3, 4 & 5 standard.
The Print on Demand versions do not come out to 1" exactly, but when you buy the pdf you get the maps as files to print on your own.

While this book lacks the numbers of NPCs the Rogues Gallery does, it is superior in every other aspect.  Starting in an Inn might be a D&D cliché, but a product like this makes you want to embrace the cliché anyway.

The Print on Demand version is fantastic really.







The maps are part of the book, not detachable, but that is fine really.





Here is the spine.  It is Perfect bound. No staples.



Various shots of the text.  It appears the same as the early editions.  Maybe a touch fuzzier, but nothing that I consider a deal-breaker.  Barely noticeable in fact.


How can you tell this is a new print versus a really, really well kept original?  This page. This is the same sort of page found in all DriveThru/OneBookShelf/LightningSource books.
Note how the bar code is not an ISBN one.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Merry Part, Witches' Voice

A non-gaming post today of sorts.

I just read the announcement that The Witches' Voice will be shutting down its service.
Witches' Voice, or Witch Vox, has been online serving the Pagan, Neo-Pagan and Wiccan community online since 1997.


Now to be clear, I am not a pagan, Wiccan or anything like that.  I have always been a pretty hard-core Atheist. But I liked Witch Vox and I like Pagans in general.

I liked going to WitchVox because it also kept me informed on what was happening in the community of Neopagans and Wiccans.  While my own witch books are what I like to think of a nice mix of myths, fairy tales, and legends, some of those myths are also modern myths.  See my Pumpkin Spice Witch book as an example.

Through WitchVox I was able to find several occult bookstores in my area, great back in the late 90s when I first moved out into the suburbs from Chicago.  I found a great little occult bookstore not too far from my Favorite Local Game Store.  Sadly that bookstore is gone. And much like WitchVox itself a lot of these places are closing due to people getting their materials online.  Amazon has replaced the occult bookstore and Facebook has replaced WitchVox.

I also used WitchVox as a starting point for research.  It was a crucial find for me back when I was putting together my first witch "netbook".   Prior to this, like all good little academics, I went through books and later journal articles.  WitchVox opened up new avenues of research to me.

Thankfully much of the original purpose of WitchVox can now be handled well with their Facebook Page, and potentially hit a much larger audience.

WitchVox may be shutting down their website, but the cycle of birth-death-rebirth is something that witches often believe.  So I am sure there will be a rebirth of WitchVox in some form or another.

Monday, November 18, 2019

Monstrous Monday Review: Fiend Folio

Last week I reviewed the penultimate monster tome ever created, the AD&D Monster Manual. this week I look at the second-ever produced AD&D monster book, and maybe one of the most loved OR most hated books, depending on who you ask; I mean of course 1981's Fiend Folio.

I will admit upfront, I enjoyed the hell out of this book.  There was something so different, so strange and so British about it.  I loved listening to Pink Floyd, The Who, The Beatles, and Led Zeppelin while watching Monte Python, the Young Ones, Doctor Who and more I was a died in the wool Anglophile.  In the 80s if it was British it was good was my thinking.  The Fiend Folio was all that to me.

Yes. I am 100% in the "I Loved It!" camp.

Now, that doesn't mean I was immune to the problems it had.  But I'll get into that in detail in a bit.

Fiend Folio Tome

First available as a hardcover in 1981.  Available as PDF ($9.99) and PoD ($11.99 or $13.99 combined) via DriveThruRPG.  128 pages, color covers, black & white interior art.
The Fiend Folio is something of the lost forgotten middle child of AD&D.  Don Turnbull, then editor of White Dwarf magazine had been collecting monsters for his magazine since 1976.   In 1979 He wanted to publish a book of these monsters through Games Workshop as a new monster tome companion to the then released Monster Manual.  Through various legal wranglings which included TSR wanting to buy GW and then starting TSR UK, the book came to be published by TSR in 1981.

The hardcover was the fifth hardcover overall, the second "in a series of AD&D roleplaying aids", the last to use the classic cover art style and dress, and the only AD&D hardcover never updated to a new Jeff Easley cover.    To cement the perception that this book was the "middle child" every book after it had the new Jeff Easley covers and about as many were published before it as after it.

When released the book caused a bit of a stir.  In Dragon Magazine #55 we had no less of a personage than Ed Greenwood blasting the book with his Flat Taste Didn't Go Away.  Ouch. That is a bit harsh Ed and the article doesn't get much lighter. I am sure there were plenty of old-school AD&D fans who were at the time saying "Who the hell is this Ed Greenwood guy and why do I care about his opinion?"  Sy though, Ed is no fan of this book and calls many of the monsters incomplete, inadequate and many are redundant.  AND to be 100% fair he is making some very good points here. The editing is all over the place, many of the monsters are useless or way overpowered in some respects.
Alan Zumwalt follows this with Observations of a Semi-Satisfied Customer.  An endorsement, but not the ringing endorsement one might want.
Not to be forgotten Don Turnbull,  Managing Director of TSR UK, Ltd. and Editor of the FIEND FOLIO Tome ends with his Apologies - and Arguments; his defense of the Fiend Folio.
All three articles make good points and overreach in others. In the end, I still love the Fiend Folio, not despite its weirdness, but because of it.  I have decided though that when I run a pure Forgotten Realms game that I will not include any of the monsters that Ed found objectionable.  I was going to say not include any from this book, but that includes Drow and we know that isn't going to happen!

There are some "translation" errors here too.  In particular when the monster was written for OD&D and then later updated to AD&D.  Others the art didn't seem to fit the description.  I still find it hard to see how the T-Rex looking Babbler is supposed to be a mutation of the Lizard Man.


That is all great and a wonderful bit of historical context, but none of that had any effect on the way I played and how I used the book.

Everyone will talk about how that is the book that gave us the Adherer, the Flumph, Flail Snail, Lava Children,  and my least favorite, the CIFAL.    But it is also the book that gave us the Death Knight, Skeleton Warriors, Revenant, the Slaadi, Son of Kyuss and more.

The D&D cartoon featured the Shadow Demon and Hooked Horrors.  The D&D toy line used the Bullywugs.  And creatures like the Aarakocra, Kenku, Githyanki and Githzerai would go on to greater fame and use in future editions of D&D.  Some even first appeared in other D&D modules that got their first-ever hardcover representations here; like the Daemons, Kuo-Toa, and the Drow.

Many monsters came from the pages of White Dwarf's Fiend Factory.  Even these monsters were a mixed bag, but there were so many.  So many in fact that there could have been a Fiend Folio II.

Flipping through this book I am struck with one thing.  For a tome called the "Fiend Folio" there are not really a lot of fiends in it.  Lolth, the Styx Devil, Mezzodaemon, Nycadaemon and maybe the Guardian Daemon.

While this book does not fill me with the deep nostalgia of the discover of D&D like the Monster Manual does, it fills me with another type of nostalgia.  The nostalgia of long night playing and coming up with new and exciting adventures and using monsters that my players have never seen before.



For the record, here are some of my favorites:  Apparition, Berbalang, Booka, Coffer Corpse, Crypt Thing, Dark Creeper, Dark Stalker (Labyrinth anyone?), Death Dog, Death Knight, Lolth, the new Dragons, the Elemental Princes of Evil, Drow, Errercap, Eye of Fear and Flame, Firedrake, Forlarren, Githyanki, Githzerai, Gorilla Bear (yes! I loved these guys), Grell, Grimlocks, Guardian Familiar, Hellcat, Hook Horrors (though I felt I had to use them), Hounds of Ill Omen, Huecuva, Kelpie, Kuo-toa, Lamia Noble, Lizard King (Jim Morrison jokes for D&D at last!), Meazel, Mephit, Mezzodaemon, Necrophidius, Neeleman (well...I didn't like the monster, I liked the SNL skit he reminded me of), Nilbogs (ok, no I didn't like these guys unless I was running the adventure), Norker, Nycadaemon, Ogrillon, Penanggalan (yes! loved these, but they should have been closer to the vampire as described in the MM), Poltergiest, Revenant, Scarecrow, Shadow Demon, Skeleton Warrior, Slaad, Son of Kyuss, Sussurus, Svirfneblin, the new trolls, Yellow Musk Creeper and Yellow Mush Zombie (Clark Ashton Smith for the win!).

The remainder of the book is given over to expanded tables.

The Future of the Folio

When I have talked about the Fiend Folio in the past most of the time I get a lot of positive remarks, so maybe the ages have been kind to the odd little middle child of D&D.

Since it's publication the Fiend Folio has seen a little more love.
The 14th (!) Monstrous Compendium Appendix for AD&D 2nd Edition was based on the Fiend Folio, though it would be almost 10 years after the hardcover version.   MC14 Monstrous Compendium Fiend Folio Appendix is available in PDF.

The 3rd Edition years gave us TWO different versions of the Fiend Folio.  The 3e Fiend Folio from WotC features many of the original Fiend Folio monsters, but also a lot more fiends; so living up to it's name a bit more.  Not to be outdone, Necromancer Games gave us the first of the Tome of Horrors books which feature many more of the original Fiend Folio monsters for OGL/d20.



Back in Print

So imagine my delight when I saw that the Fiend Folio on DriveThruRPG was now offering a Print on Demand option.  So, of course, I had to get it.  It was soft cover only, but I thought it would work nicely next to my Games Workshop printing softcover Monster Manual.
I was not wrong.



Other than one is a hardcover and the other is a softcover it is very difficult to tell the two prints apart.  Even the interiors compare well.

So maybe time has been kinder to the Fiend Folio. I still enjoy using it.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Kickstart Your Weekend: Maximum Mayhem Dungeons #7: Dread Swamp of the Banshee

Mark Taormino is living the dream.  He is working on producing his next module in the Maximum Mayhem Dungeons series, this time it's module #7: Dread Swamp of the Banshee.  This time the adventure is written by author Joe Pearce and it looks great!

Maximum Mayhem Dungeons #7: Dread Swamp of the Banshee


https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/marktaormino/maximum-mayhem-dungeons-7-dread-swamp-of-the-banshee?ref=theotherside

It looks like the same sort of insanity that his other adventures feature.  Old-school maps and adventures and way over the top gonzo fun.

Plus you can pick up all his past adventures as well.  Combined they make a great campaign that your characters will never survive.


Check out the review I did for his first five adventure and monster book.

Mark know his Kickstarters.  He gets them done and he gets them out to you. I trust Mark.
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