Tuesday, June 30, 2020

BECMI: Immortals Set Review

“I am glad you are here with me. Here at the end of all things, Sam.”
- Frodo to Sam, Return of the King


And here we are. 
June is drawing to a close and we are here in the last week of BECMI month.  Fitting too that the last week, as short as it is, is dedicated to the oddest set of rules in the set.  The Immortal rules set. We see some major changes here and in TSR as well.  So. Let's jump right in.


I am reviewing both my rather beat up and water damaged version of the Immortal set (I only have the books, not the box) and the PDFs from DriveThruRPG.

A couple of notes.  The set now lists Frank Mentzer as Author. No mention of Dave Arneson nor Gary Gygax here.  The year is 1986 and Gygax had been removed from TSR the previous October. Frank had been very closely allied with Gary so his time at TSR was also going to come to an end soon.  The Immortals rules and the module The Immortal Storm would be his last books for the company.  This had two rather obvious impacts on these rule books.  First, the art that had been getting more sparse with each set now hits an all-time low.  No in quality mind you! But in terms of amount. There is just not that much art in these books.  
Secondly, it also meant that the company focused more on its perceived cash cow, the AD&D line.  Gary had been talking about the AD&D 2nd Edition game, but now that project was turned over to Dave "Zeb" Cook of the B/X Expert Set rules.  Others have played the conjecture game of what might have been, so I will not go into that here.  What I will say though is it left Frank and the BECMI line alone for the Immortals set to go into some very weird directions.

If BECMI is the ultimate update of the OD&D rules, then the Immortals rules cover part of what Eldritch Wizardry and Gods, Demi-gods & Heroes.

Players' Guide to Immortals
32 pages, color covers, black & white art.
Your character, now 36th level and has pretty much done everything from dungeons to the planes hears the call to become an Immortal! Certainly, this was the goal of those quests and battles. Immortality.  But now the game, both actually and metaphorically, has changed.  Just like when you moved from Jr. High/Middle school or Grade school to High School you go from being the most powerful of mortal kind, to the least powerful of the immortals.
This book covers how your character now becomes an Immortal.  There are five spheres, four of which characters can access, detailed here.  These are the same spheres that have been hinted at since the Companion set and introduced in the Masters set; Matter, Energy, Though, Time, and Entropy.  characters choose one of the first four usually corresponding to the class they had in life; Fighter, Magic-User, Thief, and Cleric respectively.
Experience points gained will alive now become PowerPoints on a 10k to 1 basis.  We get our first hints at a proto-point buy system in D&D here since PowerPoints can be spent. Now the Initiate Immortal can begin to do some Immortal things. PowerPoints are used for a lot of things, but mostly for magical or spell-like effects.  Your sphere will determine which ones you can do easily and which ones are harder.
There are a lot of interesting rule changes along the way.  AC is now Ascending for Immortals; so Immortal AC 20 is the same as mortal AC of -20.  AC 0 is the same. Ability scores can be raised. First to a max of 25 (the AD&D max of the time) but also all the way to 100!   
In a lot of ways the PP mechanic is similar to what we see in other Point Buy systems used for super heroes.  It makes sense really.  
Though for all of it's detail there is very little information on what an Immortal should do. Right now they seem, at best, super-powered mortal characters.  There is some implicit ideas, but nothing spelled out yet.

DM's Guide to Immortals
64 pages, color covers, black & white art.
The DM's book spends some time covering the planes of existence.  While a lot on specific planes is left vague, there is a lot of details on how planes are designed.  The artwork and some of the notes appear as if the author and artists were checking on what the AD&D team was doing "down the hall" there is a unique feel to the BECMI multi-verse.  A lot of emphasis is given on "doing it yourself" including room for the DM to pencil in their own % for monsters occurring.
There is a bit more here about the planes, in particular the Prime plane.  We learn that the Known World doesn't just look like Earth from 150 Million Years ago, it IS Earth from then.  This explains the map a bit better. We also learn that this Earth is the predecessor to our lands.  Though, in the spirit of everything else in the book, this can be changed.  The Solar system is the same, save for a few notable differences. Mercury and Pluto are not in their orbits yet and between Mars and Jupiter where the asteroid belt is there is a planet called Damocles. Fitting named for a doomed planet but doesn't fit with the names of the Roman Olympians. Damocles will be destroyed and the two largest pieces will fly off to become Mercury and Pluto.  Imaginative to be sure!  But Mercury is only 35 million miles and Pluto is closer to 3 billion miles from the sun. The asteroid belt is roughly 300 million miles from the sun.  So Damocles is not really in the middle of that.  No big deal, this is D&D not Astronomy.  I DO however love the idea of a doomed planet in the current or future asteroid belt. Maybe a MiGo outpost or something like that.   I want to talk more about the Known World/Earth a little more in just a bit. Plus there is one more bit of information I want to collect.
It would be interesting to compare and contrast the multiplanuar mechanics and rules here with the various Manual of the Planes.
This is followed by the Immortal Campaign.  Or, what do Immortals do? There are some ideas given but for the number of rules on immortal characters and planes you would expect some more to be honest. 
Our "Monsters" section is now called "Creatures" since they "cannot be adequately called monsters."  All these monsters...creatures now have expanded stat blocks to cover their immortal statuses.  
One of the first things I noticed were the inclusion of demons to roster of D&D BECMI monsters.  I am not sure why this surprised me since these are the same demons from Eldritch Wizardry.  Well...same in name but these demons got a serious upgrade.  Let's compare.  A Succubus in AD&D is a 6+6 HD creature (average hp 33), her physical attacks are not great, but her kiss drains 2 life energy levels.  In BECMI a Whispering Demon has 15* HD and 70 hp! Oh and her AC is -6.  Orcus and Demogorgon have 39 and 40 HD with 620 and 660 hp respectively!  Yikes!  We do get some art of them. 




In addition to being able to summon other demons Orcus and Demogorgon can summon Gargantua. 

We get more inhabitants of the nightmare dimension like the Diabolus which are...checking the description...well they basically tieflings. And they can take any human class. So all the Grognards out there complaining about "monster races" have no ground to stand on. Here are the rules from 1986. 
The Dragon Rulers are updated to Immortal stats and so are some of the elemental rulers.  There is the Megalith and it is ... WHAT???  More on that in a bit!
A few more creatures and some, ok a lot, of tables on magic.

Crisis on Infinite Urts
So there are a couple of new-to-me bombshells in the Immortal rules.  First, the world of the PCs, aka the Known World is Earth of 150 mya. Secondly, this Earth is in actuality a creature known as a Megalith ("big rock") and it is known to the Immortals as "Urt."
It's tucked away in two different places, but this is a revelation really.  The Known World as living planet known as Urt.  Imagine what the "Mystara" line might have been about had this thought continued?  No Hollow World to be sure. Frank Mentzer pretty left TSR soon after this and the Immortal Storm were complete, so we never really got to see what his ultimate vision was.  We do know that Gygax considered his Oerth and later Aerth for his Dangerous Journeys to all be alternates of Earth. Aerth was a little more on the nose about it.  Frank was set to design parts of Oerth a few years back, but that project fell through.  It might have been the closest we would have seen to a fleshed-out Urt.  
At some point between 1986 and 1991 (the publication of the D&D Rules Cyclopedia) the world of Urt became Mystara.

So here at the end of all things what can I say about the Immortals rules? It is an inconsistent set of rules to be sure. There are a lot of really interesting ideas connected together with bits of fluff that may, or may not, work well.  The concepts of Immortals is a compelling one and D&D would come back to it in big ways at least two more times with Wrath of the Immortals and Dungeons & Dragons Fourth Edition where Immortally was the goal after 30th level. 

Still. One can be impressed with the scope of the rules and how it caps off a set of rules that began in 1983 but has roots going back to 1977 and to the dawn of D&D.  For that reason, it gets a few points more than it might have gotten on its own. 

Back in the day, I had only two characters gain immortality via a route similar to this. More like my DM read these rules and figured his own way of doing it. One would be my character Johan Werper the Cleric and bane of the Undead. 

Monday, June 29, 2020

Monstrous Monday: Demon Lord, Ahrimanes (BECMI)

We are coming to our very last week of BECMI month and it has been an education for me.  The biggest surprise was the inclusion of demons in the BECMI Immortal rules. It makes sense of course, demons are the ultimate in evil, chaos, and entropy in nearly every myth.

Let's start off Immortals week with a new version of the Demon from my home games.  Presented here in BECMI Immortal format.

Lord Ahrimanes (Immortal)
Sphere: Entropy
Status: Eternal
Power Points: 7,500
Anti-Magic: 90%
Armor Class: -5
Hit Dice: 35**
Hitpoints: 555
Move: 120' (40')
  Flying: 180' (60')
Attacks: 2 claws
Damage: 2d8+5, 2d8+5
No. Appearing: 1 (Unique)
Save As: Eternal 3
Morale: Special
Call Other: See below
Treasure Type: B, H, I
Alignment: Chaotic
XP Value: 6,405,000 (640 pp)

Lord Ahrimanes was once a servant of Law and Good (Thought) until he chose Chaos and Evil (Entropy). Believed to be one of the most powerful of the forces of evil, his own disgust for nearly all others leaves him alone and without allies. Even demons that would normally despise one another would join forces to defeat or thwart the plans of Ahrimanes.  There is a particular hatred between Lord Ahrimanes and Duke ʾIblīs.

He is a great admirer of science and knows all the natural sciences. When he writes his writing always appears upside-down. Some scholars point to the Demon Abraxas and note that he is master of all the magical arts and his writing always appears backward as a sign of the relationship between the two.
His realm is known as Ahriman-abad and it is said to lie “between the stars.” 

He can appear as a handsome man with a high domed forehead, inquisitive eyes, and thoughtful demeanor.  He will appear garbed as a scholar or philosopher of an earlier age but yet his physique is athletic.  When he is enraged, which happens easily and at the barest slight, his demonic form is revealed.  He stands 10’ tall with dark red skin covered in patches of thick, coarse black hair and scales.  His face becomes twisted in rage and seven horns grow from his head which now has numerous heads, eyes, and mouths.  His hands, which had previously looked like the hand of a scribe, now twist into giant claws.

Lord Ahrimanes attacks with claws, usually too enraged to consider using a weapon.  Due to his nature all magic has a 90% of failing when around him.  Any magic that does get past his anti-magic shield is still subject to a saving throw.  He cannot use magic himself.  Additionally, Lord Ahrimanes has all the resistances and vulnerabilities of all demons.

Lord Ahrimanes is so despised that he cannot summon other demons except for his seven “sons” which appear as Howling Demons / Type III / Glabrezu of the largest size and maximum hp. 

--

Not too bad.  A bit powerful for an AD&D or OSR game, but certainly great for a BECMI game.

Saturday, June 27, 2020

More BECMI Print on Demand

Another round of mail call for Print on Demand items.  This week a couple to help finish off some ones I have been wanting for some time.

I have something special planned for this one, so $18 for print and PDF I couldn't say no.




It looks fantastic really.  I might wait till July to do this one some more.

And I picked up the last X module I need.  X5 Temple of Death.






I already had a beat-up old copy of X4 Master of the Desert Nomads.


It is out in PDF but not POD.  If I need the maps from X5, I'll just print them out.


Friday, June 26, 2020

The Future of BECMI and Black Box Basic

We are getting to the end of what we can call "normal character" BECMI D&D.  For the next couple of days next week, I'll cover the Immortals Rules, but really when it comes to regular D&D play the series ends with the Master Set.

But that was not the end of "Basic" or BECMI D&D.  I reviewed into the Maelstrom yesterday and talked about how it had a real proto-90s feel even in 1985.  So let's look briefly into the future of the D&D Basic line to see what the 90s has in store.

In 1991 TSR was a very different place than when Gygax and Co. set out to create a new kind of game.  Most, if not all, of the old guard, were gone.  AD&D 2nd Edition was the house game of choice and the order of the day were the worlds and settings created for it.

At some point, and I have no insight on this, a new version of the D&D game was introduced. 
Like the previous games it was in a box and contained some basic information.  Unlike those previous games, this box was more like a board game box, the levels went from 1 to 5, and there were maps, dice, and game pieces included.  

The New Easy to Master Dungeons & Dragons Game (1991)
This new "Basic", sometimes called "Black Box Basic" was a new attempt at an introductory set of rules for D&D.


The design is by Troy Denning and the rulebook was written by Timothy B. Brown.
In what is sure to be a blow to old-school purists, Gygax, Arneson, and Mentzer are never mentioned in the book.  To add insult to injury Lorraine Williams is given a special thanks.

Outside of that and the gimmick of the boardgame style box the rules inside are very clean, easy to read and understand and play with.  Obviously, these rules are drawn from the BECMI core and this set is designed to be an introduction to the D&D Rules Cyclopedia

The box itself is a treasure trove, to be honest.


The rule book for players is quite attractive.


Dice, card stock characters and monsters, and a 1991 TSR catalog.


Zanzer's Dungeon.  The map is really nice and scaled for 1" = 5', so compatible with D&D 3.x, 4e and 5e.


DM's Screen and book.


The underside of the box displaying all the pieces.


A 1991 TSR catalog for the D&D line.  Let's have a better look at that Rules Cyclopedia...


Someone will have a cover mocked up of this by next week I am sure.


The DMs Guide and screen with the Players Book.  Both came in the Basic set and The Dragon's Den boxed set.





There were also three add-ons, called "Adventure Pack" for this.  
I only own The Dragon's Den and it has pieces that compliment the Basic set.  The DM's Guide/Screen and Player's Book are included in both.  All three are available on DriveThruRPG, but they are not as complete as the physical products. 




Although reading online I can't confirm if the Rule Book and the DM's Guide/Screen actually came with the Dragon's Den.

This is the future for the D&D line until the end of the decade.


Yes, that is the Rules Cyclopedia PoD.  Here they are all together.


When I decide to run a new Basic-era campaign (instead of a bunch of one-shots) I am going to be overwhelmed with choices.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Review: M1 Into the Maelstrom (BECMI)

In some ways, I do wish I had read M1 before I had picked up M3.  I had picked both modules up around 10-13 years ago while looking for a good epic level adventure for my kids then D&D 3.x game.  They were into the epic levels of D&D 3, with the lowest level at 24 and the highest at 29.  They were on this huge campaign against what they thought was the machinations of Tiamat.  M1 was very good choice since I love the idea of flying ships (D&D should be FANTASTIC after all) but the base plot didn't work for the adventure in mind.  M3, along with some other material, worked rather perfectly.  Plus I can't deny that the Carnifex played a huge role.  So M3 went on the table and M1 went back on the shelves.

Until that is Bruce Heard began producing material for Calidar.

M1 Into the Maelstrom is really a fantastic adventure for the D&D Master's Set that realizes that set's potential.  It is also a great lead-in to not just the Immortals Set coming up, but also the future of the Mystara-line and even pre-sages Spelljammer and the adventures of the 90s.   Additionally, and somewhat forgotten, this book introduces us to our first named Immortals and introduces demons to BECMI.  

There is a lot going on here.  Let's get into it.


For this review, I am going to consider my original print module and the PDF from DriveThruRPG.  There is a Print on Demand version as well, but I do not have it.

By Bruce and Beatrice Heard.  32 pages, color covers, black & white interior. Cover art by Jeff Easley, interior art by Valerie Valusek and maps by Dave "Diesel" LaForce.
Into the Maelstrom deals with the machinations of three Immortals, Koryis (Law), Vanya (Neutral) and Alphaks (Chaos), and are featured on the cover.  Alphaks is our focus here.  He is the focus of the next few adventures and is one of the "Big Bads" of the later BECMI and Mystara lines.  He was the ancient Emperor of Alphatia AND he is the first demon we see by the name demon in any BECMI book to my knowledge.  He is a "Roaring Demon" or what 1st Edition calls a Type VI or Balor demon.  We won't learn more about them till the Immortal set, but here they are. Demons in Basic D&D.

Our adventure starts in the Known World. We bring back King Ericall of Norwold and he needs the characters to investigate the source of some poisonous winds coming from the north between Norwold and the Island Empire of Alphatia (to the east).  The poisonous fog/winds are the result of Alphaks trying to reenter the world via a two-way portal from the Sphere of Death (call back to Death's Ride!)

The three immortals are essentially playing a game. Alphaks wants into the world, Koryis doesn't want him in and Vanya is going to side with the winner.  As the adventure progresses each immortal will earn points for the actions, successes and/or failures of the PCs.  The DM keeps track.  The PCs can also gain curses or boons as the adventure continues.

So another new addition is the "Sea Machine" or water-based battles as an addition to the War Machine.  Pretty nice bonus add if you ask me.

The first part of the adventure goes pretty normal. That is until the seagoing vessels encounter the titular maelstrom.  The PCs are sucked into the swirling vortex of death and spit out into a starry void with air they can breathe!  How's that for adventure?

Here this becomes a proto-Spelljamming adventure, there are several locations (Islands) that the PCs can stop at, but each has their own unique set of hazards.  

The PCs must navigate, in all senses of the word, the machinations of these three immortals.  There is even a giant battle with a navy of the dead controlled by Alphaks.

In addition to the new monster stats (the Roaring Demon), there are PC/NPC stats in back for characters to use in the adventure.

So for the first time, we get a BECMI adventure into the other planes.  Here the characters get a chance to travel the outer planes via a flying ship and even dip a toe into the Astral plane.  
Depending on the outcome the characters can also be set on the path to Immortality.

This adventure is "bigger on the inside" as has been described.  There is a lot here that can be expanded on to a near-infinite degree.  With a ship that can transverse the planes a good argument could be made about even returning to the Known World and Norwold.  

Let's also take a moment and talk about Diesel LaForce's maps.




These things are works of art really. I am not sure how as a DM you can look at them and NOT want to run this adventure.  "Dimensional Guide to the Star Kingdoms?" Hell yeah!

Into the Maelstrom, along with the other modules in the M series work not just as a Master's level set of adventures, but also our introduction to plane hopping and dealing with immortals in the D&D game.  Compared to the same treatments in AD&D, such as the H Series, the M series is more subtle in it's approach.  The H series is largely about kicking in doors, killing monsters and taking their stuff.  Only in the H series, the doors are planes, the monsters are gods and demons and their stuff are artifacts.


Going back to the beginning, if I had known more about the arc (let's call it the "Norwold Saga") then all of these adventures do tie into all the others in a nice, dare I say it, Adventure Path.  Maybe that is something that WotC could do to reintroduce Mystara is give us this for 5e rules.

Keep in mind that this "Adventure Path" or even meta plot was alive and well in the mid-80s. Long before the 90s that this sort of gaming is most associated with.  I might have to explore this idea further.

In the meantime, M1 Into the Maelstorm stands out as not only a great adventure, but a groundbreaking one in many ways.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Retrospective, Review and Refit: M3 Twilight Calling (BECMI)

If there is an "Alpha and Omega" to my D&D games with my kids then the title could be held by Gary Gygax, but most likely the titleholder would really be Tom Moldvay.

It has been his adventures that my family have enjoyed the most.

X1 Isle of Dread (w/ David Cook)

His Basic set rules are what really got me deep into D&D, maybe even more so than Holmes. 

So it is really not such a surprise that when I began to look for a "Big Finale" sort of adventure my attention would turn to the Master Series.  

While I initially thought that Bruce Heard's M1 Into the Maelstrom would be my choice (and it is still a fine choice, for something else I have in mind) it was quickly replaced when I discovered Tom Moldvay's M3 Twilight Calling

Twilight Calling is actually rather perfect.  It is a high-level adventure that feels like a high-level adventure. The main focus of the adventure is around a rising power among the Immortals, Alphaks the Dark.  He wants to release the ancient Carnifex race (more on them in a bit) who are sealed away in an extra-planar pocket dimension.  He can't do this himself, only Lawful creatures can enter the realms protecting it and thus break the seals.  The adventure begins all the way back in the "Broken Lands" of the D&D Expert Set (both B/X and BECMI) but soon the characters go on an extra planar romp through the "Seven Realms" to the final location, Carnifex Castle.

The Carnifex
Carnifex are an evil species akin to both lizards and dinosaurs.  We get a good insight to Moldvay's Pulp sensibilities here where evil lizard men with alien brains and cold-blooded evil are the bad guys.  For me, it works. Works much better than orcs or even drow.   They are described as lizard-like humanoids.
Not much more than that.  So given the adventures I had been taking the kids through a thought occurred to me.  What if the Carnifex are the progenitors of all the reptilian races of the D&D?  Lizardmen, troglodytes, Yuan-Ti, and others.  We learn very, very little about them in this adventure.
We know that Carnifex means "butcher" in Latin. It also translates also into executioner, hangman, tormenter, murderer, scoundrel, and villain. So yeah, these are not supposed to be nice guys. 
This all made me think about the Silurians from Doctor Who. An ancient race related to the dinosaurs.  This also made me think of the "Dinosauroid" or the "Dino Sapiens" that scientists have imagined as a humanoid descendent of the Troodon.


If you are thinking of a Sleestak you are not alone. 

This is fantastic really.  But for my Dragonslayers' game has no context for Alphaks the Dark.  And the Carnifex really could be anything.  So.  How do I take this adventure and make it work for my group?

Enter The Dragon. Well The Dragon #38 to be exact.

Dawn & Twilight: Dragon 38 (1980) and M3 Twilight Calling

Dragon 38, still called The Dragon then, was one of those issues that are just full of great ideas.  I had a copy on my Dragon Magazine CD-ROM, but I knew about it beforehand for the famous Gygax From the Sorcerer's Scroll article "Good Isn't Stupid, Paladins & Rangers."  I played a lot of Paladins back then so this was a must read.  BUT that article pales in comparison to what the rest of the issue gave me.
In the same article it is mentioned that dwarf women have beards.  Great. But I said dwarf witches do not. In fact that is the surest way to be called a witch in dwarven culture, if you can't grow a beard.
There is a story from Gardner Fox, a comic by Darlene that is better looking than most of the comics in Dragon before or since. But three articles in particular grabbed my attention.

Tesseracts by Allen Wells gave me some wonderful ideas for when I ran Baba Yaga's Hut and other crazy adventures.  It gave me the frame of reference of how I wanted to run M3.

Leomund’s Tiny Hut: The mighty dragon by Len Lakofka gave me the hook I was looking for, though not in the way I am sure he thought it would.  Len's article is a great one and it gives us out very first look at the Yellow, Orange, and Brown dragons.  Brown dragons, of course, would later appear in the Mater Rules as the Chaotic counterpart to the Gold Dragon.  I did a version of my own Orange dragon (really more of a Pumpkin Dragon) in my Pumpkin Spice Witch book.   The Yellow Dragon then was a new one. And it fit perfectly into a hole I had.  In M3 there are different color realms that all correspond to the color of a chromatic dragon; Green, Red, Black, Blue, White, and then Yellow.  But no Yellow dragon.  Until Len gave me one. He also has updated stats for Tiamat and Bahamut.
This got me thinking.  What if Aphaks was not just some rogue would-be immortal?  What if he/she were a third Dragon god?  The Master's set has four dragon rulers. The Forgotten Realms has more than two as well (IIRC). Or how about even a better idea.  What if Aphaks was Apsu, Tiamat's "dead" consort? The Carnifex could have been his creations.  The ancient evil enemy of the Dragonborn?

The Seven Magical Planets by Tom Moldvay can read a proto version of M3.  This article leans more on the alchemical aspects of the seven planets, the Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn. They do not line up as well with the M3 sequence, so I might change them a bit.  If I go with Babylonian/Summerian ideas then I would rename the planets to their Summerian names. Mercury with Nabu (Nebo), Venus with the goddess Ishtar, Mars with Nergal, Jupiter with Marduk, Saturn with Ninurta (Ninib), for the classical planets (and suggested by Moldvay in the article) and Sin/Nanna for the Moon and Utu/Shamash for the Sun.
I am not sure if the alchemical correspondences still line up. In the end it might not matter all the much as long as the feel is right.  This is a D&D game, not a Hermetic study on Alchemical principles. 

So where does this leave me?

Well, long ago Tiamat reigned.  She battled with the gods over her creations, the dragons.  Her blood was spilled and from that the Dragonborn were created including their god Marduk. Gilgamesh in this world view was the first Dragonborn King.  Enkidu was "like an animal" or human.

When the Dragonborn came into this world they encountered the evil Carnifex. They had been old even when the Dragonborn where new. They harkened back to a deep time of the world when it was a hotter place and populated by reptilian beasts and eldritch horrors. Their wars were long and bloody and they could only defeat them by sealing them up in a demi-plane of imprisonment.   I posted about this in my Dragonborn in Oerth

I have an evil, or at least corrupt, god, Apsu, who is murdered by his own children.  His former consort, Tiamat then gives birth to dragons to fight the gods that killed Apsu.  But maybe he is not dead in the same sense that humans consider.  Maybe he is now in the realm of death (like Aphaks the Dark). This helps explain the undead encountered in M3 (and there is a lot) and why he would want the Carnifex loose.  Destroy the world your children made by letting their ancient enemy out.  It's a good plan really. 

I might need to find a copy of Dragon #38 just to have really.  I'll have to check my FLGS.


Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Mystara, The Known World of BECMI

Spend any time here and you will know that the Known World of the Basic/Expert Sets (B/X) was the first world I played in.  While I would move on the AD&D and Oerth the Known World would also move to Mystara.  It would be the world introduced to us in the Companion Set and expanded on the Gazeteer Series, the D&D Rules Cyclopedia, and even into the 2nd Edition age and beyond.

But it was in the Companion and Master Sets that Mystara got its start.

The Known World of  B/X was based on the world of Tom Moldvay and Lawrence Schick.  He detailed it a bit over at the Black Gate blog. This was expanded on by James Mishler in a post on his blog Adventures in Gaming, The Original Known World. But that only leads us to the B/X known world, not the one in the BECMI Companion and Master sets.


The B/X Known World only occupies the East-most lower gray box.   The BECMI World, Mystara, is going to be bigger.  Even this is just the continent of Brun.

I am not sure who came up with the idea for Mystara to look the way it does but there are some obvious parallels.

From the Master DM's Book,



Here is Mystara, courtesy of http://pandius.com/





If it looks familiar there is a good reason.


That is the Late Jurassic, early Cretaceous period of the Earth, 150+ Million Years Ago.

Long time reader here already know of the Paleomap Map project of Earth History.  It has many maps of the different stages of Earth history and potential future maps.  I will admit when I first saw maps of the really old Earth it was disquieting to me.  I love maps and throughout all of human history, the Earth has been the same. Not so throughout ALL history and prehistory.

It's also kind of cool to see where the places of Mystara will line up to our world.

Mystara and the Lands beneath the Waves by Grimklok
The Known World of Mystara was later expanded and given more detail in the wonderful Gazetteer Series, the Hollow Earth series and finally the Challenger series.

While delving into everything Mystara would take me another month, or another year really, there is still vibrant and active community on the web to support this world.  In fact I would say it is far more active than most other worlds. Starting in the early days of the MPGN listserve lists run by TSR, the MYSTARA-L listserve was active back in the days when my access to the Internet was via a mainframe.  Many of the same people on those lists then are still active in the various Facebook groups and websites today.

For me, I always had a soft spot in my heart for Mystara. It was the world of my Basic era days and when I moved on AD&D I still kept the world as "my own."  It was understood that when I was a player it was in Greyhawk/Oerth but when I was a DM it was in the Known World/Mystara.  Eventually, right before college, we merged our worlds into one. I got the western half and my DM got the eastern half.  So you know I was thrilled when I found the James Mischler/Chatdemon Mystoerth map.  The worlds share a lot of details in common so that a merge was inevitable really.

Click for larger
This appears to be the original map.  While researching this I found an old post by Rich/Chatdemon that offers up an alternate name, Oerstara.  I kinda like that. A lot.  It sounds like Ostara, the pagan holiday that Easter comes from.  Oestara could have been an alternate name for the planet. Like Earth and Terra.

What I love about Mystara (Mystoerth) is that while so much of the world is "known" there are still many, many parts to discover anew. The communities are also very active in detailing new places, moving the timeline forward and adapting material from other sources.  I have already seen plans in place to adapt a new 5th Edition book to Mystara months before the book even hits the shelves.  That's dedication.

Would I like to see WotC produce new Mystara material?  Sure, but if they don't I know the world is in fine hands.

Links

Monday, June 22, 2020

BECMI: Master Set Review

Moving every up we are now at the apex of BECMI D&d Play for normal characters.  The journey that began at level 1 in the Basic set is now seeing its end at levels 26 to 36 in the Master Set.
This particular set was never on my radar and I only picked one up a couple years ago.  The box was beaten up and the contents were water damaged, but still readable.  The box also had an extra copy of the Immortal rules inside, so that was a nice bonus.  But this has always been something an "other" for me and my D&D game.

Today I look into these rules for the first time in detail.

The Master set covers levels 26-36, following right from the Companion rules.  I am going to say that in my reading of both sets I am convinced really that they likely should have been combined into a single set of rules.  Big set to be sure, but the overlap is often very significant.

D&D Master Set (1985)

As with the previous BECMI Sets, I am reviewing both my boxed set and the PDFs available from DriveThruRPG.

The Master Players' Book
This book is the smaller of the two at 32 pages. Color covers, black & white interiors.
There are some interesting things to note on page 1.  First, we are told this is the Dungeons & Dragons game by Gary Gygax.  Dave Arneson is no longer listed.  Also, this book is "compiled by" Frank Mentzer as opposed to "written by."   I am not going to try to read too much into this. Writing on the book was complete in Spring 1985.  It would be published that summer in July but it would soon be eclipsed in sales by the Unearthed Arcana for AD&D which had sold well.  Though in 3-4 months it would all change and Gygax would be ousted from TSR.  But that is a topic for another day.
Like the previous books, this one covers all the details needed for characters up to the vaulted 36th level.  Clerics and Magic-users see the most text devoted to them. Clerics gain additional turning abilities which include more monsters and the ability to affect more monsters.  They also get more spells but still top out at 7th level.  More druid spells are also presented here. Magic-users also get more spells including the most abused spell in D&D history, Wish. Again they top out at 9th level spells.  Even clerics get access to Wish if they are 36th level and have a wisdom of 18 or greater. Magic-users also get Heal. Which I admit seems a little odd to me.
Fighters get half of a column or 1/6 of a page for their updates.  Thieves get a page.  Dwarves, Elves, and Halfling get a page to share.
There are some new armor options, but the biggest inclusion is that of Weapon Mastery. This mimics the Weapon Proficiency we will see in the Unearthed Arcana and future editions of D&D.  Essentially fighters are better with a chosen weapon.  while I have heard and read that this can lead to fighters becoming too powerful at early levels, I don't think this is really a big deal. I like the idea that a fighter should be able to train with a weapon exclusively and become better at it.
We get expanded weapon and damage charts to include all the weapons that have been added since the Basic set. Plus some Pole-arms (maybe Frank was looking over Gary's shoulder a few times!)
There is even a section on siege weapons that can be used with the War Machine rules.
so a lot yes, but nothing that really screams Masters to me.  A lot of what is here could have been added to the Companion rules for a 48 page Player's book.

The Master DM's Book
This is the larger at 64 pages. Color covers, black & white interiors.
One of the neatest bit of this book is finally getting a map of the Known World.  It is so great that I am going to devote an entire post just to that later this week.



Like the books before it, this section is given over to Procedures first. First up is a ruling on Ant-Magic Effects.  Good to have really for any version of the game.  some detail on characters are also given including Character Background.  It is 1985 after all.  A couple of other things stand out.  We get our first taste of the Immortal rules here with the introduction of the idea of Immortals as the "next level up."
Monsters get an upgrade here with expanded to hit tables; Creatures to 33+ HD and Armor Classes from 19 (yes +19) to -20.  But that is not all.  Monsters also get an average Intelligence rating. All creatures from all four sets are covered.  Along with this intelligence rating, there is an optional change to charm based on intelligence.  It's neat, but I would rule that intelligence has no effect at all on charm magic.  No that is the realm of Wisdom.  In my copy I would cross out "Intelligence" and replace it with "Wisdom."
Included here for some reason is also the Mystic class.  Expect it is not really presented as a full class.  It is not the Mystic that Gygax was talking about in Dragon magazine, but rather a different version of the AD&D monk.  It appears again in the Monster section.
Another update to monsters, in particular, non-human monsters are spell casting monsters.  Dragons are discussed, but we also get the Shaman NPC class (Clerics) and the Wicca NPC class (Magic-Users).  There are some interesting ideas here and some level limits for a large variety of monsters.  I am curious as to why Frank choose "Wicca."  I am sure that the meaning here is "witch" and that is not just my biases.  If you look back over the various BECMI books Wicca, Witch, and Wokani get used failry interchangeably.  I discussed this in a recent Class Struggles post.
On the other end of the spectrum from Immortals, we also get Undead Liege Lords and how they can control lesser undead.  Also useful for any version of the game.

The next big section of the book belongs to the Monsters.  Like the Companion Set this one is broken up into Prime Plane creatures and outer plane creatures.
Here we get some very new looking monsters that would only later move on to the main AD&D/D&D lines.  We also get what I like to call BECMI versions of some others.  The Devilfish is essentially an Ixitxachitl. Blackballs remind me of Xeg-yi.  We do get new Dragons in name, Crystal, Onyx, Jade, Ruby, Sapphire and Brown. But they share stats with dragons we already know. We also get the four rulers of the Dragon kind, Pearl, Opal, Diamond and the Great Dragon.  There are Drakes which are not exactly like the Drakes of later D&D and closer to shapeshifters.  These could even pass for the elusive Mystaran Dragonborn.
We also get Faeries, Hags and Liches to round out what I consider some of the classical monsters.
Part 3 of the monsters listing includes stats from all sorts of B/X and BECMI monsters published elsewhere (other rules, modules) and then brought into the fold of the full BECMI rules.  So even the oddities like Brain Collectors and Lupins from X2 Castle Amber are here.
The last 20 pages of the rules cover magical artifacts; something we have not seen in BECMI to any degree yet.  There are detailed rules for artifact creation and a number of new artifacts. Many I have never seen before and none copied over from the AD&D DMG.
In fact, there is so much here that I am going to cover it all in a future post.
There are only a few "normal" magic items listed at the end.

Ok. So the Masters Rules feel very uneven to me after the Companion Rules.   I could see where it might have been better to instead take both sets and merge them into one and maybe top out at 25th or 30th level really.  We will see that re-organization in the future.

Fighters went from getting all the new fun details to nearly nothing in going from Companion to Masters.  Clerics and Magic-users get more spells, but that is about it. Thieves suffer the most for now having to have their abilities amortized over 36 levels.

There are some great new monsters in the Master's rules, very few save for the various "rulers" even have Master's level HD (26+).

The artifacts though are great and really gives a feel for what a Master's Level game could be about.

The art feels lighter in this set than the previous ones. The only Elmore art is the cover.

Monstrous Monday: Sasquatch (BECMI Special)

I am continuing my BECMI posting all month.
Saturday was the first day of Summer for 2020 and Summer and June usually meant one thing in my house back in 1983.  The local Public Library's Summer Reading program!

When I was younger I devoured books on monsters, aliens and all sorts of strange creatures.
I have detailed my interactions with some of these books that I was able to find more recent as an adult elsewhere here on my blog.

But today is special.  Today is the confluence of a number of topics in a perfect way.  Today I will post my review of the BECMI Master's set.  It is summer. It is a Monster Monday.  What better monster for today than the one that is really at the root of my monster love.

Bigfoot, or the Sasquatch.

Around the same time I was getting into D&D we also subscribed to Showtime, one of the first cable channels out.  The film Sasquatch, the Legend of Bigfoot was on heavy rotation on the channel then (that and Smokey and the Bandit). It was a pseudo-documentary, but it really set the stage for some of the games I would later play; the monster naturalist.

Here is a sasquatch I developed originally in 1986-87.  I used these stats later to develop the Almasti for Ghosts of Albion later on.

Sasquatch
Armor Class: 6
Hit Dice: 6*
Move: 180' (60')
Attacks: 2 fists or rock throw
Damage: 6-11 (1d6+5) / 6-11 (1d6+5) or 7-21 (2d8+5)
No. Appearing: 0 (1-10)
Save As: Fighter: 5
Morale: 7
Treasure Type: Nil
Alignment: Neutral
XP Value: 500

The sasquatch, also known as the "Bigfoot", is a large humanoid creature.  It is neither human, orc or even an ogre.  The creature is elusive and extremely shy. Very little is known about the creatures and most urban scholars doubt they even exist.

What is known is this. The sasquatch ranges from 7' to 9' tall, and weighing between 650lbs to 1,000lbs.  They have long torsos, long arms with massive hands, shorter legs but large feet which gives them their name.  They are strong, 22 Strength, have dark brown, reddish or black fur like that of an ape.  What is often most remarked about them is their strong odor which gives them their other common name, the "skunk ape." 

The sasquatch can blend into surroundings making them difficult to spot. They can only be seen on a roll of "1" on a d20.  Their odor makes it difficult for them to completely surprise. They can only surprise on a roll of 5 or 6 on a d6.

They are normally non-aggressive, preferring to hide, and stay away from all others save their own family units.  If pressed they will attack, or if they feel their family unit is in danger.

The sasquatch can attack with two fists or throw boulders, much like a giant.  The sasquatch can also howl.  This howl causes fear (as per the spell) to all that hear it who fail a saving throw vs. Paralysis.  Those that fail the save are too frightened to attack or move.

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I mentioned here before that my "first monster manual" was by Daniel Cohen and not Gary Gygax.



This plus my Moldvay set keep me going for a very long time.
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