Monday, April 15, 2024

#AtoZChallenge2024: M is for Monster Manual

 Today is Monday. It is also "M" Day. Here at The Other Side, Mondays are used for Monstrous Mondays, where I talk about monsters. Since I am doing the A to Z of Dungeons and Dragons my topic for today was pretty much handed to me.  Today I am going to talk about the Monster Manual.

All printings of the 1st Edition Monster Manual
All printings of the 1st Edition Monster Manual

Monster Manual for AD&D 1st Edition

This is the book that got me into D&D and RPGs. Along with The Hobbit, this is where my journey began. 

The Monster Manual was the book for me.  The one that got me hooked.  The book I borrowed from a friend to read in "silent reading" back in 1979 at Washington Elementary School in Jacksonville, IL, was the one that made me the über-geek you all know today. How über? I used the freaking umlauts, that's my street cred right there.

Back in '79 I was reading a lot of Greek Myths, I loved reading about all the gods, goddesses and monsters. A particular favorite of mine was D'Aularires' Book of Greek Myths. So I saw my friend's Monster Manual and saw all those cool monsters and I knew I had to have a copy. Though getting one in my tiny near-bible-belt town was not easy.  Not hard mind you, by the early 1980s the local book store stocked them, but I was not there yet.  So I borrowed his and read.  And read.  And read.  I think I had the damn thing memorized long before I ever got my own game going.

D'Aularires' Book of Greek Myths and the Monster Manual

Since then, I have judged a gamebook on the "Monster Manual" scale. How close of a feeling do I get from a book or game compared to holding the Monster Manual for the first time? Some games have come close, and others have hit the mark as well. C.J. Carella's WitchCraft gave me the same feeling.

Also, I like to go to the monster section of any book or get their monster books. Sure, sometimes there are diminishing returns—Monster Manual V for 3.5, anyone? But even then, sometimes you get a Fiend Folio (which I liked, thankyouverymuch).

This book captured my imagination like no other gamebook.  Even the 1st DMG, a work of art, had to wait until I was older to appreciate it.  The Monster Manual grabbed op to me from the start and took me for a ride.

The Book (and PDF)
The Monster Manual's PDF has been available since July 2015. The book has three different covers from the various printings in 1977, 1983 and 2012.

Monster Manual 1977Monster Manual 1983Monster Manual 2012

Regardless of what cover you have, the insides are all the same. The book is 112 pages long and features black-and-white art from some of the biggest names to grace the pages of an RPG book.
This book was the first of so many things we now take for granted in this industry. The first hardcover, the first dedicated monster tome, and the first AD&D book.

The book contains 350+ monsters of various difficulties for all character levels. Some of the most iconic monsters in D&D began right here. Mostly culled from the pages of OD&D—even some of the art is similar—and the pages of The Dragon, this was and is the definitive book on monsters.

Eldritch Wizardry gave us the demons, but the Monster Manual gave us those and all the new devils.  The Monster Manual introduced us to the devils and the Nine Hells. We also got the new metallic dragons, more powerful and diverse undead, and many more monsters.  There were new sub-races of the "big 3". Elves get wood, aquatic, half, and drow.  Dwarves get hill and mountain varieties. Halflings get the Tallfellows and Stouts. So, there are not just more monsters but more details on the monsters we already know.

While designed for AD&D, I used it with the Holmes Basic book. The two products had a similar style and seemed to work great together. It was 1979, and honestly, we did all sorts of things with our games back then. The games worked very well together.



Flipping through one of my physical copies or paging through the PDF, I now feel the same sense of wonder I did 45 years ago.

Thankfully, you can get the PDF of the Monster Manual for just a little more than the hardcover cost 45 years ago.

Gary Gygax's Daughter with the Monster Manual
Gary Gygax's oldest daughter, Elise, with the Monster Manual

The original Monster Manual is still so popular today that Wizards of the Coast is still making minis for D&D 5th Edition in the style of the monsters from AD&D 1st Edition. Granted, those sets are not aimed at casual 5e players but rather old gamers like me with fond memories and more disposable income than we had in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

I feel it is difficult for me to truly convey how I felt when I first read this book. But I think I have approached explaining it.

One thing is certain. This is the reason I have been working on my own Basic Bestiary.

Tomorrow is N Day. I plan to discuss the infamous Appendix N from the Dungeon Master's Guide.

The A to Z of Dungeons & Dragons: Celebrating 50 years of D&D.


Sunday, April 14, 2024

#AtoZChallenge2024: Sunday Special, D&D 3rd Edition

This is another Sunday special to talk about another edition of D&D. Today, we are going to visit the year 2000 and the Third Edition of Dungeons & Dragons.

Dungeons & Dragons, 3rd Edition

Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition

Ok, let's get caught up. By 1997 I was married, had a new house, a new job and we were planning on starting a new family. I was also really, really burned out on D&D. I was tired of the nonsense that TSR kept pulling on their fans, I was tired of the infighting between the fans of different settings, and the power creep in the books was getting to be way too much. 

In April of 1997, TSR was not just in dire straits; they were failing life support and hemorrhaging money. In comes Wizards of the Coast, flush with cash from the success of Magic the Gathering. They buy TSR, and Dungeons & Dragons, and wipe out all of TSR's debt. 

For a while, things seemed, well, weird. Wizards ran TSR as an extension, and books were still produced using the TSR trade dress.  However, in late 1999, I got an email. I want to say it was December since that roughly corresponds to my 20th anniversary of playing. This email, which I was told was ultra-confidential, was the play test documents for the new Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition.

Then 2000 rolled around. On September 11, 2000 (not *that* 9/11) I went into my Favorite Local Game Store and bought a copy of the 3rd Edition Dungeons & Dragons Player's Handbook. 

This edition was new. So new that unlike the past editions this one was not very backward compatible. This was fine since Wizards of the Coast (now dropping the TSR logo) had provided a conversion guide. The books were solid. All full color and the rules had expanded to fix some of the issues of previous versions of D&D. Armor class number got larger as the armor got stronger, as opposed to lower numbers being better. Charts for combat were largely eliminated, the number on the sheet was what you had to roll against. Everyone could multiclass, all the species (races) could be any class without restrictions, though some were better at it than others, and everyone had skills. 

But the most amazing thing about 3rd Edition D&D was that aside from a few protected monsters and names, Wizard of the Coast gave the whole thing away for free! Yes the books with art cost money. But the rules, just a text dump, were free for everyone to download. It was called the System Reference Document or SRD. It was all the rules so that 3rd-party publishers could produce their own D&D compatible material. With these rules you could play D&D without the books. There was no art and no "fluff" text, but everything was there.

Eventually the system was updated to a 3.5 with various levels of compatibility with 3.0. It was I still say 98% compatible, except for where it wasn't.

Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 Edition - Special covers

The books were larger, and had some new art, but they were still largely the same. They were close enough that originally I did not feel the need to buy them. But when the "Special Edition" leather-bound covers came out, I had to have them. Plus I am a sucker for a book with a ribbon. 

D&D 3rd edition had a very solid run from 2000 to about 2008. 

The rumor I have heard was that the higher-ups at Hasbro (who now owned WotC) demanded a 4th edition because they could not believe that WotC was just giving away the game in the SRD. The way the license was written though they just could not pull it. They tried this back in December 2022/January 2023 and the fans and the publishers revolted. Hasbro's stock fell and subscriptions to their online tool, DnDBeyond, tanked so bad that Hasbro not only backtracked, they dumped the whole 5th Edition SRD into the Creative Commons.  I might to cover that in detail someday.

D&D 3rd Edition, though, still lives on. The Pathfinder RPG was created by people who worked with WotC on D&D 3.x and is often called "D&D 3.75." Pathfinder 1st Edition was published in 2009 and directly competed with D&D 4. By many measures, it out-sold and outperformed D&D 4. Pathfinder 2nd Edition was published in 2019. While not as backward compatible as the 1st edition, we are now at a point where the D&D 3.x (also known as d20) rules are approaching 25 years old.  That is some longevity. 

I still enjoy 3rd Edition. I played it a lot with my kids and had a great time. It rekindled my love for D&D, and that was no small achievement.

Dungeons & Dragons 3.x Edition was also the edition which Wizards really embraced PDF format. So to my knowledge nearly everything is available at DriverThruRPG.

Tomorrow, we will be back to regular A to Z posting. It is M day and Monday, so you know I am going to talk about Monsters!

The A to Z of Dungeons & Dragons: Celebrating 50 years of D&D.


Saturday, April 13, 2024

#AtoZChallenge2024: L is for Larian Studios

 I have been talking a lot about D&D history this month, but today I want to shift focus for a moment and talk about D&D's present. Honestly, the best Dungeons & Dragons content is not coming from the current owner and publisher, Wizards of the Coast (Hasbro), but from other companies. One in particular is Larian Studios, and the content is Baldur's Gate 3.

Larian Studios

It is not really hyperbole to say that Baldur's Gate 3 is the biggest video game of the last couple of years and might be the best video game I have ever played.  Larian is a smaller independent video game company located in Belgium. They have had a great track record of producing engaging, high-quality games for a small studio. Their big claim to fame prior to BG3 was their Divinity series. In their game Divinity: Original Sin 2, you can see the elements that would later be enhanced and perfected in BG3.  They are notable for their constant and rapid support, their desire to listen to their fans and give them what they want, and their games do not have microtransactions. These are little features in other games. Want some cool armor? Great, just $0.99 on your credit card. Cool sword? $1.99. For Larian, if you want those things, they are in the game for you to find somewhere.

They are a small independent studio producing games that rival, and in many cases surpass, the ones made by larger and more well funded companies.

Baldur's Gate 3

Baldur's Gate 3

Larian Studios shocked me with this. Baldur's Gate 1 was released in 1998, and Baldur's Gate 2 was released in 2000, with updates up to 2016. They had been rumors before of a Baldur's Gate 3, but nothing ever came from it.

Then in 2020 Baldur's Gate 3 went into "Open Beta" with little fan fare and almost no mention in the wider Dungeons & Dragons community.

In August 2023 it got its official release on PC and PlayStation with Mac and Xbox versions close behind.  To say it blew up is putting it rather mildly.

Right now, the game has an aggregate score of 96/100 from all reviews. I has also won pretty much every Game of the Year award for 2023 there is, including sweeping all five of the industry's top Game of the Year Awards. It even won more BAFTA awards while I was writing this post!

Like all the other Baldur's Gate games, this one takes place in the Forgotten Realms, but 120 or so years after the first two events (and a few months after the published book adventure Descent to Avernus). This corresponds to the published Forgotten Realms game books and novels, which had 100 or so years between the 3rd and 4th editions. This game uses some of the same mechanics and feel of Divinity: Original Sin II, and it is heavily influenced by the Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition rules.  It feels like a 5th Edition game. The classes, spells, magic, and combat are all from the 5th edition rules.

Want to know how D&D plays but don't have people to play with? This is not a bad substitute.

I am currently on my third play-through with an eye toward's completion. I am half way through Act II. In this one I am running as a "companion run" to my 2nd play through. Same basic outline with similar characters, only swapping who is the main character. 

My first full play-through was with Larina. This was followed by Sinéad. Now, I am mirroring my Sinéad run with Taryn. They were "NPCs" in each other's run.

Larina
Larina

Sinéad
Sinéad

Taryn
Taryn

I have incomplete runs with Kelek, Skylla, Rayne (Bloodrayne), and, of course, my Paladin Johan.

Rayne
Rayne

Kelek and Skylla
Kelek and Skylla on an "evil run."

Larina and Johan
Johan's run with NPC Larina

Johan
Johan

I have been using a combination of hirelings, "Withers" (an in-game guide), and the "Magic Mirror" to turn the various NPCs into previous playable characters. So my Johan run for example has Larina in it, She can't interact like Johan can, but game-play wise she is the same. 

Same with my Taryn/Sinéad runs. In my mind they are the same run, just from each character's point of view. 

This has also allowed me to try out different "romance" options. Karlach for Johan, Gale for Taryn, Shadowheart for Sinéad, and Shadowheart, Halsin, Wyll, Mizora, Sorn and Nym Orlith, (!) all for Larina. She is a lover. She is also a fighter, but mostly a lover.

Bloodrayne *might* go for Astarion. She is based on the video game character Rayne from Bloodrayne, after all. But I have never had my approval rating high enough with him in any run. My Kelek and Skylla runs are all about violence, not romance. Which come to think of it, might be what I need to do for Astarion. 

The game is bloody, violent, very often NC-17 and NSFW, and an absolute ton of fun.

I am just over 350 hours into all my runs and I am STILL finding new material. Both of my kids play it, and they tell me about things they found that I haven't! I even found another hidden door last night in Act II. So yeah, I have in no way exhausted all of this game's options. 

This is the most fun I have had with a video game in a very long time.

Sadly Larian will not be doing Baldur's Gate 4 despite their overwhelming success. They have been super gracious about it online, saying they loved doing BG3, but they want to do new things now. Reading between the lines, it was obvious that Hasbro was asking for a LOT more in licensing fees for the Forgotten Realms world, and Larina didn't want to lay people off to pay for it. So, kudos to Larian Studios.

Wizards of the Coast / Hasbro now has full rights again to all these characters. Back when Baldur's Gate 2 came out Wizards published game material to support it. Now? Nothing for Baldur's Gate 3. I hope they do something; otherwise, they are leaving money on the table. 

Tomorrow is Sunday, so there will be no A to Z post, but I will continue my Sunday Specials. So tomorrow is Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition.

The A to Z of Dungeons & Dragons: Celebrating 50 years of D&D.


Friday, April 12, 2024

Kickstart Your Weekend: Djinn Unboxed - NSFW Artbook LAST 48 Hours!

 I am sharing this one again. Why? Well, mostly because I want to, but I also think there will be images of my little witch Larina in it! At least I saw some in the previews. So I am quite happy about that!

 A very special one today! This is from my very good friend Djinn and she has a new art book coming out.

Djinn Unboxed - NSFW Artbook

Djinn Unboxed - NSFW Artbook

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/djinnintheshade/djinn-unboxed-nsfw-artbook?ref=theotherside

Djinn has been a good friend for a long time. She began doing illustrations of her D&D character, Solaine, a witch with a knack for all sorts of trouble, and they took off.

If you have seen her work in the past, you know what to expect here, and it should all be fun. She is in Italy, so the books will be shipped from there, which will cause extra charges for shipping and handling. 

I am hoping this is a big success. Djinn is a great person and we all want to support real human artists. Here she is!

Get on this one right away we are in the last 4845 hours.

Unless I am mistaken, this looks like a few of the images that will be included in the book.

Larina by Djinn

Larina Broom

Larina Bar fight



#AtoZChallenge2024: K is for the Known World

 Today I am going to talk about the Known World, or the campaign setting implied in Basic D&D.

the Known World

When the D&D Expert Set was introduced, it included a two-page map of part of a continent. This was described as "The Known World," and that was good enough for us back then. A lot of strange cultures were crammed into an area about the size of the North Eastern portion of North America. But hey, it was D&D, and we thought it was great. It was certainly enough for me. In fact my characters rarely left this area. There was plenty to adventure here.

At the time, I did not know the work already done here and where this world would go in the next few years.

The Schick-Moldvay Known World

Before working on the D&D Basic Set, Tom Moldvay had a game with future D&D heavyweight Lawrence Schick. In their games they had a campaign world they were calling "The Known World."

A while back, Lawerence Schick posted "The “Known World” D&D Setting: A Secret History" over at the Black Gate site.  A nice history of how he and Tom Moldvay came up with the Known World for their own games and then ported it over to D&D Basic/Expert.  It is a fascinating read if, like me, you are a fan of the Mystara world and/or of maps in general.



James Mishler (who also did the Mystoerth map) takes this one further and provides the above map for the Moldvay/Schick known world.

It is interesting how so many familiar names and even locations exist in different places. It is like looking at a world you know but through some sort of distorted lens. What is also quite interesting to me are the new lands—places, and names that are entirely new to me.

The Known World
The Known World Replica Map by James Mishler

There is so much here I can use and honestly I have yet to grow tired of exploring this map. BUT it is not the map we ended up with. No once the Known World left the hands of Moldvay and Schick it became a different world.  That world would eventually be called URT! (ok and then Msytara).

The Known World of Urt Mystara

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 to 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 B/X Known World only occupies the East-most lower gray box, this is the same as the very first map on the top of this page.   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, the early Cretaceous period of the Earth, 150+ Million Years Ago.

Long-time readers 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

At first, the Known World was known by Urt or even Urth by Frank Mentzer and was designed to be similar to Gary's Oerth of the AD&D game. We also learn in the Immortals Set that Urt did not look like Earth 150 MYA it WAS Earth at that time. 

Though I think (and I have nothing to support this) that the "Urt" version of the Known World was scrapped after Frank Mentzer left TSR. His good friend Gary had already been ousted. It seems like Urt was a casualty of that regime change. So "Urt" was out, and "Mystara" was in. 

Mystara 

The Known World of Mystara was later expanded and given more detail in the wonderful Gazetteer Series, Hollow World Series, and Challenger Series.

While delving into everything Mystara would take me another month or another year, there is still a 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.

Mystoerth

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 to 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 a merge was inevitable. I no longer have the original map my then DM made, but this one is a better rendition anyway.


Click for larger

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

Regardless of which version of the Known World I would use there is more than enough in any of them to last me another lifetime of gaming and exploration.

Isn't that what it is all about?

Tomorrow is L, and I will talk about Larian Studios and Baldur's Gate 3

The A to Z of Dungeons & Dragons: Celebrating 50 years of D&D.


This is also my next entry of the month for the RPG Blog Carnival, hosted by Codex Anathema on Favorite Settings.

RPG Blog Carnival


Thursday, April 11, 2024

#AtoZChallenge2024: J is for Jennell Jaquays and Judges Guild

Jennell Jaquays
A double one today, but related topics. You can't talk about the early days of Dungeons & Dragons and not mention the Judges Guild. And you can't talk about the Judges Guild or D&D and not mention Jennell Jaquays.  She was there at the start, but now sadly both have passed.

Judges Guild

The Judges Guild began in 1976 in Decatur, Illinois. Just on the other side of Springfield from where I grew up. Being situated between Chicago/Lake Geneva and Carbondale (SIU) with U of I in Urbana and Judges Guild in between put me on a pipeline of D&D materials that, honestly, I thought everyone in the country had access to. That was not the case, as I discovered later. 

I discovered the Judges Guild very early on. Back then they were one of the very few companies allowed to print D&D compatible products. Among their contributions were a set of Ready Ref Sheets to be used by Dungeon Masters (originally called Judges) and character sheets.  They began to expand out with their own journal and a series of adventures.  From the Judges Guild Journal I came across the Mystic and the Warlock classes. While I didn't like them as such, they convinced me that a Witch class was a viable option.  Though they would also do their own witches with the Psychic Witch and in the adventure Witches Court Marshes. There was also The Illhiedrin Book, which was a fun, if simple adventure. 

But what they are most well known for are two adventures. One is Dark Tower, which I will talk more about below, and the other is The City State of the Invisible Overlord. Both are considered among the best of all of the early D&D products.

I am using them in the past tense. Yeah, they are still around, but they have been dropped by everyone. You used to be able to buy their PDFs from DriveThruRPG, but they are no longer there.  Why?  Well blame it on the son and grandson of the late owner Bob Bledsaw, Sr. BBII and BBIII turned out to be rather racist and held some pretty awful beliefs. You don't have to take my word for it, but I did document it all in a couple of posts a while back.

So, yeah, they might still be around, but they are dead to me and many other gamers. Which is too bad because they once had some quality products.

Jennell Jaquays

Sadly, we lost Jennell earlier this year.  I had never met with her face to face, though we had spoken together many times online. She was a compassionate, understanding, and wonderfully funny soul. I had been looking forward to seeing her at Gary Con this year. BTW, they had a wonderful tribute to her and to Jim Ward, who had also passed this year.

Jennell was there in the beginning.  You can't go through the early days of our hobby and not see her name on something. Whether it was early Judges Guild material, articles in Dragon magazine, or her works, both as a writer and artist, for Dungeons & Dragons, Traveller, The Fantasy Trip, and Runequest.  Her work in the Judges Guild Journal and the Dungeoneer pages are still some of my favorites from the dawn age of RPGs.

While her work on Central Casting is justifiably lauded, it was her Dark Tower adventure in which she gained her highest accolades. It was so good that it not only made the list of The 30 Greatest D&D Adventures of All Time, it is the only non-TSR/WotC entry on the list. It was also updated for D&D 3.5 and again for 5e.  Though I admit, I am also rather partial to her TSR adventure "Talons of Night." Her adventures were so non-linear in their design that the style is now known as "Jaquaysing a Dungeon." With this being the proper spelling.

Her continued work in video games, like Quake, kept her close to RPGs. 

Her wife, Rebecca "Burger Becky" Heineman, has a GoFundMe. Initially, it was to cover medical expenses, which, sadly, she still has.

she created the adventure Dark Tower which 

Goodman Games (a good company) has been producing their Original Adventures Reincarnated series, and Dark Tower is again the only one in the series that is not a TSR adventure. They are also producing a line of material that Jennell had been working on prior to her death. Materials of hers she bought back from Judges Guild.

I don't have the new Dark Tower 3-book set yet. It is the only one I am missing.

Both these topics represent a loss. One, Jennell the loss due to her death. The other, Judges Guild, the loss because the current owners decided to burn up 40 years of goodwill and fandom in a week. 


Tomorrow is K, and I will talk about the Known World

The A to Z of Dungeons & Dragons: Celebrating 50 years of D&D.


Wednesday, April 10, 2024

#AtoZChallenge2024: I is for Imagination

 It has often been said that all you really need to enjoy Dungeons & Dragons is some rules, dice, paper, pencil, friends, and Imagination!

Products of your Imagination
TSR 1983 Product Catalog

This is pretty much true.

Unlike Monopoly, Scrabble, or even war games from which it is descended, D&D largely exists as the "theater of the mind." There is no board. Your character sheet is just a collection of items and numbers. Same with the monsters being fought. The Dungeon Master, DM, describes what is going on, and you have to picture it in your mind.

This was particularly true in the early days. Yes, there were miniatures, in fact, Original D&D recommends them, but they were only being made by a few companies, and they were expensive (relatively speaking), and you had to paint them yourself. As opposed to today where those options are still available and there are cheaper plastic minis and even ones you can design on your own.

There is no board. Today, we can get maps where 1" = 5', perfect for 25mm minis. If you wanted to see what was going on, you had to imagine, and that was pretty good, really.

Back in 1983 TSR, the company that published Dungeons & Dragons, had an ad campaign with the tag line, Products of Your Imagination. It worked really since by 1983 they had moved out to other types of games and toys as the 1983 Product Catalog above reveals.  

They also had a somewhat cheesy TV spot with a very young (Pre-Farris Bueller) Alan Ruck and very young (Pre-Lost Boys) Jami Gertz. It's a bit silly, but does capture the excitement well.

If you have been reading here since B-day, you will see that the actors are playing the Moldvay Basic set, but the ad appears to be for the Mentzer Basic set. Which tracks well with 1983.

Today we have all sorts of great things we can use for D&D. But there is something to be said about the whole use of your imagination to see how your adventure unfolds.

Tomorrow is J, so I will talk about Jennel Jaquays and the Judges Guild.

The A to Z of Dungeons & Dragons: Celebrating 50 years of D&D.


Tuesday, April 9, 2024

Mail Call: Black Magic Ritual Kit (1974)

 Well, I finally picked up another "Holy Grail" item. It makes me glad I didn't spend a lot at Gary Con.

This is the "companion" game (I am not sure that is what this really is) to the Witchcraft Ritual Kit (1974) I talked about back in 2020. Both are from Avalon Hill.

Black Magic Ritual Kit (1974)

Let me just start off with this. Man, the '70s were weird. 

This "game" has a board that looks like an altar set up from an occult bookstore's own manual of rituals. There are a lot of pieces here with various names of demons and angels on it. There is a "Rule book" and a "Manual of Interpretation," just like the Witchcraft Ritual Kit. It is also written by the same "Dr. Brooke Hayward Jennings," whom I still have found nothing of.

Manuals of Interpretation for Black Magic and Witchcraft

What I said about the Witchcraft Kit holds true here, too. It's 1974. The biggest movie in the world right now is "The Exorcist." Time Magazine is talking about the Occult Revival and the Return of Satan. An maybe, just maybe, Avalon Hill knows about a game featuring fantasy magic and wizards coming up. Well, they do know about it; they rejected it just a bit back.  Hippies have not yet become the Yuppies and they are searching for "alternative experiences."  What is a game company known for its war games and battle simulations to do?

Knock together some vaguely occult-looking games, put them into their standard "bookcase games" box, and slap some softcore porny covers on them. Next step...profit! 

Maybe. I don't think these games ever sold very well. There are so few of them on the aftermarket and the ones I do find are really expensive. I got this one from eBay from someone who I don't think knew what they had (based on their other sales), but I was bidding against someone who did know. Thankfully, the amount I set aside for this was much less than my final bid.

I got it just over the weekend.

What treasures are to be found here?

Black Magic Ritual Kit
I love it for the cover alone!

Black Magic Ritual Kit box contents

Black Magic Ritual Kit box contents

Black Magic Ritual Kit box contents

Black Magic Ritual Kit box contents

Black Magic Ritual Kit box contents

Black Magic Ritual Kit box contents

Black Magic Ritual Kit box contents

AND, as a special bonus (and one of the main reasons I like buying these used games), someone included their own spell!

Black Magic Ritual Kit box contents New Spell!

It has the same production values as the Witchcraft Ritual Kit and the same head-scratching "What do I even do with this?"

Witchcraft and Black Magic kits
"Hey babe, come back to my pad, and I'll show you some magic."

Witchcraft and Black Magic kits

You've got to love the covers, though. It makes me wonder what Avalon Hill product 712 was. (ETA doesn't look like there was one.)

According to BoardGameGeek, quoting the company history, "Top management decided to leave the realm of games and produce a couple of do-it-yourself kits entitled BLACK MAGIC & WITCHCRAFT." These were both advertised for a short while as a "Leisure Time Game." Neither come with, or need, dice (an Avalon Hill staple) and candles and incense are not included.

Both of these "games" are very strange, and I am not sure what events led to their publication, except for the ones I have outlined in speculation above. Neither game appears in the catalog included in the box.

Avalon Hill catalog

Long-time readers know of a condition called "Traveller Envy," where I am constantly looking for board games to supplement my D&D experience, particularly my campaign "War of the Witch Queens." This is certainly why I bought it, but I am still stumped on how to add it. 

I mean, the demons all seem to be taken from The Lesser Key of Solomon, so I have that working in my favor since so many other games do the same thing. 

Honestly, just reading through it all is fun. It also gives me some ideas for my 1976 and 1979 campaigns. Though in different ways.

In any case, it is a wonderful curiosity from the 1970s Occult Revival and is sure to confuse anyone who tries to clean out my collection after I am gone!