Showing posts with label 0e. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 0e. Show all posts

Monday, June 24, 2024

Monstrous Mondays: A Monster of a D&D Book!

The Making of Original Dungeons & Dragons
Something a little different today. Instead of talking about a monster, I have a monster of a D&D book. The Making of Original Dungeons & Dragons.

I picked up this massive 576-page book last week. The pages are glossy, full color on heavier stock so this book is massive. When I picked it up at my FLGS I was reminded to "lift with me knees."

This book covers the evolution of original D&D from its Wargame birth to the dawn of what would become the Holmes Basic set and the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons game.  

The book is divided into four large sections with a Preface, Foreword, and Afterword.  Let's look at those first.

Our Preface comes to us from Project Lead Jason Tondro. I freely admit I have no idea who he is. He gives us an overview of what this book is about. There is section mentioning that D&D originally catered to middle-class (and even mid-west) white men. This is not in debate really. He also mentions some of the more problematic issues with early D&D, from plagiarism to cultural appropriation to sexism and a bit of slavery. Look. All of this is true and things we have known for a very, very long time. To pretend they were not there, or clutch our pearls because someone brought it up is laughable at best. Acknowledge the past and move forward.  In truth this takes up less than 1/3 of a page of 576 pages. If this section bothers you, then you are looking for things to be bothered by.

The Making of Original Dungeons & Dragons

The Foreward, though, is far more interesting. It comes from Jon Peterson who has the credentials and bonafides to back up all his claims. While he is credited with the forward his fingerprints are all over this book. The sad truth is there are few of the original old guard left. Peterson's dedication to the history of RPGs and D&D in particular is well known and respected. 

Part 1: Precursors is very interesting. It covers the games and the correspondence between Gygax, Arneson, and others between 1970 and 1973. While some of this in well known, it is great to have it all in one place along with copies of the letters and drafts sent back and forth. One thing is obvious from the start that Tolkien and Middle-Earth DID play a pretty large role in the creation of this game. 

Part 1: Precursors

Among the treasures here are copies of the Chainmail Rules for Fantasy.

Part 1: Precursors

Part 1: Precursors

Part 2: The 1973 Draft of Dungeons & Dragons is also a treasure since unlike OD&D and Chainmail (both of which I am familiar with) this is the first time I have seen this. It is a fascinating read in and of itself. Is it a *playable* game? I don't know. But that is not important really. What is important in the nascent RPG game design going on here. The maps and note alone will be enough for someone out there to go and attempt to play some sort of Ur-D&D for their group. 

Part 2: The 1973 Draft of Dungeons & Dragons

Part 2: The 1973 Draft of Dungeons & Dragons

Part 2: The 1973 Draft of Dungeons & Dragons

Part 3: Original Dungeons & Dragons is the most familiar. I have owned the Original set for a while now and even played a few games with it. What is most interesting here are the sections on the 1973 Draft vs. the Published versions and the Brown Box vs. White Box versions.

Part 3: Original Dungeons & Dragons

The biggest feature of this part is the scanned version of the OD&D rules, complete with Hobbits, Ents, and Balrogs.

Part 4: Articles & Additions covers the evolution of Original D&D via the published supplements and articles in Strategic Review/The Dragon. I covered some of this history here as well with my coverage of the Owl & Weasel and White Dwarf Magazines. This one is also quite interesting because of give and take between Gary's vision and others' input. This includes other writers, such as Dave Arneson, and the public.  It seems inevitable that AD&D would rise out of all of this.

Part 4: Articles & Additions

This part, the largest, has complete scans of Greyhawk, Blackmoor, and Eldritch Wizardry along with selections from the Strategic Review and The Dragon.

Part 4: Articles & Additions

Missing from this history is Gods, Demi-gods and Heroes. No real reason is given for this. I speculate it is due to one of three reasons. 

  1. Space. at 576 pages and a MSRP of about $100, this is already a massive tome. 
  2. Copyrights. A lot of the material in the original GDH belonged, or now belongs, to other companies, and reprinting was a problem. Of course they did still print the Hobbits.
  3. Moral Grounds. It is possible that the editors did not want to include it since it had stats for gods that you could kill. Gods still worshipped and honored by people today. 
Gods, Demigods and Heroes

I suppose it is also possible that it was not included (much like Swords & Spells wasn't) since it did not further the central thesis of this book; the evolution of D&D. 

A bonus is an original D&D Character sheet. I never owned one of these, so I made a photocopy of it to see how it would work; both in black/white and color.

OD&D Character sheet

Not too bad really. Maybe I use this for a character someday.

So. Who should buy this book?

Well, I guess anyone who wants to read more about the history of D&D and is willing to shell out $100 for a coffee-table-like book about it.

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

#AtoZChallenge2024: O is for Original Dungeons & Dragons

 I can't properly celebrate 50 years of Dungeons & Dragons and not talk about where the game started. So let's go back to 1974 and the Original edition of Dungeons & Dragons.

Original D&D

This is the original 3-Volume set of Dungeons & Dragons, plus the Chainmail rules for fantasy minatures.

The rules...are arcane to say the least. These rules assumed that the player and the Referee (what would later be named Dungeon Master) already had a background in wargames or had access to those who did. Some have even gone as far as call the rules indecipherable, but I think that is obviously not the case. These rules say several reprints into the 1980s, with the 6th reprint being the most common. Mine is a mix of 3rd and 4th printings. You can still buy copies of it on DriveThruRPG if you are curious (it sells for the same price as it did back then), OR if you are super serious about it, score one of the collectible editions Wizards of the Coast did 10 years back

I will warn you, they are going for a lot of money now. But they are still cheaper than the OD&D rules from the 1970s.  Even the relatively common 6th printing goes for thousands of dollars now. I hate to think what 3rd printing would sell for.

Original D&D Reprint from 2013

Original D&D Reprint from 2013

Original D&D Reprint from 2013

There were only three character classes back then: Fighting Men, Magic Users, and Clerics. Races were humans, dwarves, hobbits/halflings, and elves, who had to decide whether to begin their day as Fighting Men or Magic Users.

Even the rolling of a d20 (twenty-sided die) was the "optional" rule for combat.

I did not start with this one. However, in 1987, I played a summer session with these rules. It was an educational experience, and I am certainly happy I did. I don't know if I will repeat it like that; I would add in more of the later supplements that made it into the game I know now. But it is something every gamer, especially every D&D player, needs to try at least once. 

These rules, though, were the absolute standard for gaming from 1974 to 1977, when TSR launched the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons line. Even other game companies mimicked TSR's approach.

A prime example is Traveller, the premier science fiction RPG, which began as a same-sized box with three books. If the D&D game books were called "The Three Little Brown Books, " the Traveller books were  "The Three Little Black Books." 

OD&D and Original Traveller

OD&D 3LBB and Original Traveller 3LBB

These little books are a very humble start to what would become a worldwide phenomenon. As the game grew and progressed, so did its players. We are now at a point where there is truly a game out there for everyone's needs and wants. And if the game you are playing doesn't do that, well there are thousands of choices. 

I still love reading these little books. They never get old to me. 

Tomorrow is P Day, and I'll talk about Pathfinder, the divergence of Dungeons & Dragons.

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

Tuesday, April 9, 2024

#AtoZChallenge2024: H is for Hobbit

The Hobbit
 "In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit."

A very unassuming start to an epic adventure. Not just the epic adventure that propelled the hobbit, Bilbo Baggins, and his dwarf companions from the quiet of the Shire to a dragon's hoard and a great battle, but also how it shaped what would become Dungeons & Dragons.

It doesn't take a scholar of either J.R.R. Tolkien or of Dungeons & Dragons to see the similarities between the two. Elves, Dwarves, Orcs, Dragons, Were-bears, Goblins, Trolls, Hobbits-er Halflings, and Dragons. Ancient underground areas, dark forests, and a grand adventure. 

It was enough that "Chainmail" and the first version of Dungeons & Dragons (often called the "Original Edition" or 0 Edition), had Hobbits, Ents, and Balrogs in it. Which got TSR a lot of threatening letters from the Tolkien Estate. So instead, we now have Halflings, Treants (Tree + Ent), and Balors (like the Irish Balor, but in name only).

Where it Began, Part 1: Chainmail

Prior to D&D there was Gary's first game, Chainmail, described as "Rules for Medieval Miniatures."  These rules were for War Gamers and not Role-Playing games, which did not really* exist yet.

*Yes there were and have been close games and others that were RPGs in all but name, but the term and the genre did not exist yet.

Chainmail allowed you to play medieval war games with minis. Most often made of lead and played in a large sandbox.  It was released in 1971, but there are claims that the rules in one form or another, existed in Gary's basement since 1968 after the first Gen Con. As people played with these rules, they expanded on them. One of the expansions was the Fantasy Supplement. Here, creatures like dragons, orcs, elves, Balrogs, Ents, and Hobbits were added.

OD&D 1st Print and 3rd Print with Chainmail

These additions proved to be very popular among some, and not so popular among older War Gamers. Yes. Even then the Edition Wars had their first salvos. 

This popularity and the notion that people wanted to play individual characters led to the first drafts of what would become Dungeons & Dragons.

The Tolkien Estate, of course, noticed. 

While sales stopped on TSR's "Battle of the Five Armies" (1975), copies of Dungeons & Dragons and Chainmail had to be edited to change to the more "Tolkien-approved" terms. My copy of Chainmail above still has Hobbits, Ents, and Balrogs. My 1st printing of OD&D has them, my more complete 3rd-4th printing does not.

Of course, there were missives in Dragon Magazine on how D&D was not even remotely inspired by Tolkien, but honestly they rang as hollow as the ones of D&D and AD&D being completely different games. Likely for similar reasons.

Years later on TSR had the chance to do a Lord of the Rings/D&D game and somehow managed to mess that deal up.  Competitor Iron Crown Enterprises (I.C.E.) would have their own Middle-Earth Role-Playing Game, and it was wildly successful. 

Where it Began, Part 2: Rankin/Bass

It is hard to think about a time when The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings were exclusive to literate geeks. We are far removed from the time when you could see patches on student's backpacks that proclaimed "Frodo Lives!" While today we have the massive Peter Jackson movies, back in the 1970s we had Rankin/Bass and "The Hobbit."

The Rankin/Bass Hobbit movie, appearing on TV in 1977, was my generation's gateway drug to D&D. I consider myself the 2nd (maybe a little on the 3rd) generation of D&D gamers. I did not come to this hobby because of wargaming. I came here because I read The Hobbit.  In fact, the book pictured above was the one I got for Christmas in 1981 along with my Moldvay Basic set because I was tired of borrowing other people's copies.  I had first read it in Jr. High and had already been exposed to D&D; this was exactly the right book at the right time in my life. I would later go on to read the Lord of the Rings and try to read The Silmarillion. I would finally succeed years later. 

For me, and many others, the Hobbit/Lord of the Rings and D&D are deeply linked. I have even joked that everyone is allowed one "Tolkien rip-off" character while playing D&D. Mine was a Halfling with the completely uninspired name of "Bilbo Perrin."

I reread the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings every few years or so. They are still among the best "D&D" tales out there, even if Gandalf only has the spell-casting power of a 6th-level D&D Wizard.


Tomorrow is I, and I will talk about Imagination.

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

Saturday, August 5, 2023

#RPGaDay2023 OLDEST game you've played

 Not sure if this means "This Year" or "Ever." Let's go with Ever.

The Oldest game I have played is Original Dungeons and Dragons.

Original D&D

Original D&D Reprint from 2013

Original D&D Reprint from 2013

Original D&D Reprint from 2013

Original D&D Reprint from 2013

I spent a summer after my freshman year at college playing in an OD&D campaign. It was an eye-opening experience to say the least!


Thursday, February 3, 2022

One Man's God: Gods, Demigods, and Heroes

If you pardon the play on words here, the book Gods, Demigods, and Heroes holds a place of strange honor in the pantheon of D&D books.  It was the last of the Original D&D Supplements, Supplement IV. The next thing to come out would bring the split in the D&D product line, the Holmes Basic would continue OD&D in a strange OD&D/AD&D hybrid and the Monster Manual would start the AD&D product line.   In many ways, my personal "Ur-D&D" is a combination of Holmes Basic, the Monster Manual, Eldritch Wizardry, and GD&H.  My copy is the 7th Printing from 1976 so it at least mentions all the above books on the back page. 

Gods, Demigods, Heroes, Legends and Lore

The book was certainly making the rounds in my schools' various D&D groups and it was used EXACTLY as Mr. Kask told everyone not to use it as; a high-powered Monster Manual.  I have a distinct memory of hearing a conversation in my 8th grade D&D club about how someone's character was now the head of the Greek Gods because he had killed Zeus with Stormbringer.  It was a different time.

But I am not here today to comment on the various merits of the GD&H book.  I am here to talk about what it has to offer in terms of a One Man's God feature.

To do that I first need to at least see what Gods, Demigods & Heroes has in common with Deities & Demigods.  

The Gods, Demigods, and Heroes

I am going to compare my original Gods, Demigods, & Heroes to my original Deities & Demigods.  Both books would later have various mythos removed.

The books have the following pantheons/mythos in common (in order of appearance from GD&H):

Egyptian, India, Greek, Celtic, Norse (the largest), Finnish, Melnibone, Central American, "Eastern Mythos" (Chinese)

And the only Mythos unique to GD&H: Howard's Hyborea.

If you grab the PDF or POD versions of GD&H now there are no Melnibone or Hybora sections.

In many cases, there are more entries for various gods, heroes, and monsters in GD&H than in the D&DG.  Largely this is due to the much smaller statblocks and the lack of any art.  I could spend a lot of time going over the various differences, but I am sure that has already been done elsewhere online.  There are people that live for that sort of in depth D&D scholarship.

This is a One Man's God post, so to stay on topic I am looking for demons.

Deities, Demigods, & Demons

This will be a bit harder to tease out since many of the entries do not have an alignment listed.   Yes you read that correctly one of the oldest D&D books does not even use alignment for gods or monsters.

Also, the aim of One Man's God is to cast various creatures in terms of AD&D Demons.  AD&D only existed in Gary's head at this point. Though the demons did get a jump start in Eldritch Wizardry.  So for this posting, I am going to see what monsters here could be classified as Eldritch Wizardry demons.  This is appropriate since so many of the entries here have psionic abilities.

Egypt, Greek, Celtic, Melnibone, Central American, Chinese: No new creatures.

India: The section on India gives us three fantastic choices.  The Rakshasas will later go on to appear in the Monster Manual and Lawful Evil.  The related Yakshas, called "The weaker demons" and two other possible ones in the Naga (also in the MM) and the Maruts, or the Wind Spirits. Maruts are likely to be good-aligned. 

Norse: While I commented in the past that the giants of Norse myth take the place of other myths demons, there are some creatures that could be considered more demon-like.  Garm the guard dog of the Gate of Hel is literally a Hel-Hound. The Fenris Wolf and Jormungandr are both either demi-gods or demons.  But these last two do not meet all the requirements I set out to be AD&D demons.

Finnish: The Finnish myths get a lot of expansion here and if anyone is a fan of these tales then DG&H is a superior take than D&DG. Likely to due space reasons.


This one is getting special attention as it is "new" and tales from Robert E. Howard really shaped the look and feel of D&D.  Interestingly enough, these gods have no psionic powers.

There are few creatures here named demons; Demon of the Black Hands, Brylukas (neither man, nor beast, nor demon but a little of all three), Thaug the Demon, Khosatral Khel the Demon, the Octopus Demon, and Yag-Kosha.

This section is really written for people who already know all of these stories as there is not a lot of description given for anything.  I know some of these stories but I am no expert by any stretch of the imagination. 

For this, I would need to defer to the expert on Conan and how to use REH in OD&D, Jason Vey.  He has done enough about this to secure his place even the official accounts of the DG&H write-ups.

Forbidden LoreAge of ConanSecrets of Acheron

And with this epilog I wrap up the original purpose of One Man's God.  
I have a couple of posts on Syncretism still to do and maybe a couple of other side quests.

Sunday, January 3, 2021

Character Creation Challenge: Dungeons & Dragons, Original Edition

Today is the start of the first full week of January and thus 2021.  So let's spend some time this week with the Grand-daddy of all RPGs, Dungeons & Dragons.  Every day this week I am going to do an edition of D&D.  Today I am going to start with Original Dungeons & Dragons. 

The Game: Dungeons & Dragons

D&D is arguably the first RPG ever created and certainly to first-ever mass-marketed.  Original D&D is a great game that is a lot of fun, if you can find a group that plays it correctly.  One summer back in 1987 I played in a summer-long campaign of OD&D using the Eldritch Wizardry rules.  I was already a HUGE fan of the Eldritch Wizardry supplement, having picked up a copy back in 1985.  I loved the demons, the druids, and the psionic rules.

To do my witch I thought I might do a druid, Rules as Written, but I think instead I want to use the witch class from The Dragon Magazine #5 (1977). Though that witch is more of a "monster" type than an NPC or class.  So I will also look at The Dragon Magazine #20 (1978).  This works for me since I like to consider 1977/78 the "end" of OD&D's run and the start of "Basic" D&D and AD&D's prominence. 

I will do the 3d6 in order, but I am also going to reorder as needed to get the numbers I need. 

In true OD&D form I am going to start her as a Magic-User and choose spells from The Dragon #5 & #20 witch lists.

witches in OD&D

The Character: Deirdre

Deirdre is a witch idea I had while reading Celtic Myths.  I know very little about her yet except she seems to be sad.  

1st level Magic-User (Medium) [Witch]

STR: 8
INT: 14
WIS: 13
DEX: 14
CON: 13
CHA: 11

Equipment: Dagger, 50' rope, staff, iron rations, 3 pouches (2 empty, 1 with spell components), spellbook, iron spikes, water skin w/ water, 4 darts.

Spells: Sleep

witch from The Dragon #5

I used the dice roller on Google for this. Not too bad really. If the rolls had favored it I would have made her a druid since that also works out nice.  I am sure there will be some druids in my characters this month.

Original D&D rules

Tardis Captain, who started this challenge, is keeping a running list of participating blogs on his site and people are posting over at as well.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Plays Well With Others: BASSH, Basic Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea

I love my Basic-era games, Holmes, B/X, and BECMI and their clones.
BUT I also love Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea.  The games are similar of course, drawing from the same sources, but there are also a few differences. 

Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea (AS&SH) is more closely aligned with "Advanced Era" D&D, but its feel for me has always been more OD&D, though over the last few years I have been treating it as another flavor of Basic.  

I have mentioned in the past that I see AS&SH as a good combination of B/X and AD&D rules.  Essentially it is what we were playing back in the early 80s.  Where I grew up it was not uncommon to come to a game where people would have an AD&D Monster Manual, a Holmes Basic book, and a Cook/Marsh Expert Book.  The rules we played by were also an equally eclectic mix.
AS&SH is like that. It favors the AD&D side more, but there are enough B/X influences that I smile to myself when I see them.

In fact, it works so well with Basic that I have featured AS&SH with other Basic-era books in previous "Plays Well With Others."
I find the game that useful and that inspiring.

Class Struggles: Which Each Game Offers
Originally this was going to be a Class Struggles post, but with the inclusion of the monsters below, I felt it had grown beyond just that.  

If Basic-era D&D lacks anything in my opinion it is class options. Yes. I know the classes are supposed to be archetypes to play anything.  A "Fighter" works for a Paladin, a Ranger, a Barbarian, a Knight, and so on.  But I like a little game mechanics with my flavor.  I also like to have choices.

AS&SH achieves this in a beautiful way that can be adopted by any Basic-era game, but in particular, ones that cleave closest to the original sources and of course Holmes, B/X and BECMI.

So we are going to go beyond the Basic Four (Cleric, Fighter, Magic-User, and Thief) here.  I'll talk about demi-humans in a bit.

In AS&SH we have our Basic Four; Fighter, Magician, Cleric, and Thief.  Each also gets a number of subclasses.  Fighters get  Barbarian, Berserker, Cataphract, Huntsman, Paladin, Ranger, and Warlock.  The Magician has the Cyromancer (a new favorite of mine), Illusionist, Necromancer, Pyromancer, and Witch (an old favorite of mine).  The Cleric has the Druid, Monk, Priest, Runegraver, and Shaman (see BECMI).  Finally, the Thief has the Assassin, Bard, Legerdemainist,  Purloiner, and the Scout.  Each subclass is very much like it's parent classes with some changes. Every class goes to the 12th level.

Looking over at the Basic side of things we have a few more choices.  Holmes, B/X, and BECMI all cover the Basic Four in more or less the same ways.  BECMI gives us the additions of Paladin, Avenger, Knight, Druid, Mystic, and the NPC/Monster classes of Shaman and Wicca/Wokani/Witch.

Advanced Labyrinth Lord gives us the Assassin, Druid, Illusionist, Monk, Paladin, Ranger in addition to the Basic Four.

Old-School Essentials' Advanced options give us the Acrobat, Assassin, Barbarian, Bard, Druid, Illusionist, Knight, Paladin, and Ranger.  It also gives us the new race-as-classes Drow, Duergar, Gnome, Half-elf, and Svirfneblin.

The B/X RPG from Pacesetter has the Druid, Monk, Necromancer, Paladin, and Ranger along with the Gnome and Half-elf.  (Yes, a review for this is coming)

AS&SH classes go to the 12th level.  Basic classes, at least B/X flavored ones, go to the 14th level.  I like the idea of splitting the difference and going to the 13th level. 

Additionally, AS&SH has different cultures of humans to provide more flavor to the human classes.

All the Basic-era books have demi-humans that AS&SH lacks. Lacks is a strong word, the game doesn't need demi-humans by design, but they are still fun to have.  Combining these gives us the best of all worlds! Kelt Elves? Dwarf Picts? Lemurian Gnomes?!  This could be a lot of fun.

Plus the mix of cultures in AS&SH is second only to mix found in BECMI Mystara in terms of "let's just throw it all in there!"

I might let people choose one of the Basic Four and stealing a page from D&D5 allow them at 2nd or 3rd level to take "sub-class."  I'll have to see what the various classes all get at first level vs 2nd and 3rd level.

Monsters! Monsters!
It's can't be denied that AS&SH has some great monsters.  Not only does it give us demons and devils (Basic-era is lacking on both) but also Lovecraftian horrors.  Sure, "At The Mountains of Madness" took place at the South Pole, who is to say there is not a similar outpost in the North? 

BECMI does talk about "The Old Ones" a lot and in the Core Rules is never very clear on who or what they are.  But it is not a stretch to think that those Old Ones and the Lovecraftian Old Ones have a connection.  

Oddly enough these things feel right at home in a Basic game.  If one goes back to the Masters and Immortals sets with the original idea that the Known World is our world millions of years ago this tracks nicely with some Lovecraftian mythology of our world.

I have talked about Demons in Basic/Mystara already, but AS&SH offers us "The Usual Suspects" and then some.  While Labyrinth Lord has always been good about opening the "Advanced" monsters to the Basic world, the monsters of AS&SH are of a different sort.

Maybe more so than the classes these require a bit more conversion.  Here is a monster we are all familiar with (and one I am doing something with later), drawing from the same sources to give us three or four different stat-blocks. 

Well. Not that different I guess. They are left to right, top to bottom, Advanced Labyrinth Lord, AS&SH, OSE, and B/X RPG.

AS&SH looks like a "best of" stats, combining features from both Basic and Advanced. Bite damage does a bit more on the average and the XP value is higher.  But nothing I am going to call game-breaking.

So the AS&SH monsters can be dropped pretty much "as is" into a Basic-era game. 

Anyone that plays these games should have no trouble with this really.

Putting it all Together and then Putting it in the North
It's settled then, AS&SH is part of my "Basic World" and where to put it is easy.
In the Known World of Mystara, there is already a Hyboria. It is one of the features of both D&D (Mystara) and AD&D (Hyperboria, Oerth) just as Blackmoor is (Mystara, Oerth). but Blackmoor is a topic for another day.

While none of the maps can be reconciled with each other to make one perfect Hyperboria, the concepts certainly can. This is something I have been considering since I first got the 1st Edition Boxed set.
I know that my family of witches, the Winters, come from the Hyperborean area.  Likely closer to more civilized areas, but not too civilized.  This became the basis for my Winter Witch book. 

BASSH is Born
So take what I love from AS&SH, mix in what I love from Basic and I have Basic Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea, or BASSH.  Yeah. This will be fun.

Friday, March 6, 2020

Iron Falcon Handbook of Monsters

I have talked a lot about Basic Fantasy in the past.  It is one of my favorites of the Retro-Clone movement and it in many ways reflects how I played back in the early 80s with a mix of Basic D&D and Advanced D&D.   Something I think that a lot of people did and something that creator Chris Gonnerman was keenly aware of.

A while back I discovered he had done ANOTHER game called Iron Falcon.
Iron Falcon, like Basic Fantasy, is a Basic-era Retro Clone, though more on the side of OD&D than AD&D.  Gonnerman is more explicit about this being a game not of the rules "as they were written" but more "as we played them."

That appeals to me.

You can get Iron Falcon in lots of places.  In particular the dedicated website, Lulu, Amazon and of course DriveThruRPG.   I hope to play around with it some more to see what it is all about, but so far it feels like a nice mix of OD&D feel and Basic D&D play.

But today I want to talk about the Iron Falcon Handbook of Monsters.  Or rather, let's let Chris Gonnerman talk about it and his plans for it.

The Cafepress shop can be found here,

There is a lot of cool merchandise here and like Chris mentions, the difference here between this and a Kickstarter is you get something right away.   I think it is a great idea. I am going to have to grab a t-shirt or two.

So check it out and come back every month to see what is new and different.

I'll try to get some Iron Falcon reviews up soon.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Class Struggles: The Alchemist

The Love Potion by Evelyn De Morgan
Thought a Class Struggles might in order today.  I have been thinking a lot about the Alchemist lately and thinking that of all the potential classes, this the one Old-School AD&D/D&D talks around the most, but never actually executes. My history with the alchemist goes back to when I was creating a bunch of new classes.  There was the witch (obviously), followed by the necromancer, the "sun priest" and finally the healer.  The alchemist was one that I mentioned in conjunction with all these other classes, but never had much more than an outline of it.

So let's have a look at how the Alchemist has presented to us over the years and what the class has become today.

The Dragon Magazine Alchemist(s)
I want to start here since these are the first alchemists. The ones that even predate the information in the DMG.
To claim there is one alchemist from Dragon Magazine is a bit of a stretch.  While a claim can be made for the Dragon Mag witch class, the alchemist has seen less cohesion.
The first alchemist we see, and one that predates AD&D, is the  "New D&D Character Class: The Alchemist" by Jon Pickens in Issue #2, page 28. This is a solidlyOD&D class.  Here we get 20 levels of the alchemist class which functions as a slightly weaker version of the magic-user.  It can create potions up to 6th level, like spells.  This alchemist though has some special powers to go with it. It can detect and then later neutralize poisons and paralysis. It can identify potions and can prepare various poisons.  The class is playable, but feels limited to a support role in some cases.  The Prime Requisite is Wisdom, though I think Intelligence is a better choice.

A few more years in and we get a combo of classes for Roger and Georgia Moore in Dragon #45, "NPCs For Hire: One who predicts... ...And One Who Seeks the Perfect Mix." This gives us two NPC classes, the Astrologer and the Alchemist. While the Astrologer looks like a lot fun, I want to focus on the alchemist now.  This is a pure NPC; no class levels or XP, no hp, just what they do and how they do it.  There is a bit on hiring an alchemist as well.  The assumption here must be that these are all older professionals likely past their adventuring years.  Fo me I can see both versions working at the same time in the same class.  Pickens' class for adventuring years and the Moores' for after that.

Separate, these classes feel a bit lacking by my standards but are likely fine by others.  Together though they combine rather nicely into a complete whole for me.

In "Recipe For the Alchemist" (Dragon Mag Issue #49), Len Lakofka presents, in very typical Len fashion, a very complete alchemist class.  Like many of his classes, this one is an NPC only and should be considered something of a more useful henchman.  In addition to the powers of detecting and making potions and poisons there are skills on glass blowing and pottery making.  Two useful skills for an alchemist to be sure.
There are XP per levels given, but they add up to be a little bit more than the magic-user if you consider the first couple levels are "apprentice" levels with little more than pottery making and glass blowing skills.   While the class is very complete it is a bit prohibitive as a PC class. I am certain that is by design.

There is a bit of a stretch before we get to another one, but it is worth the wait. "Better Living Through Alchemy" from Tom Armstrong in Dragon #130 has become in my mind the defacto article on alchemy in D&D.  Armstrong gives us not only an alchemist class but also a primer on Alchemy and how it could work in the game.  This is also the only alchemist I have played and playing the class though was hard. It had higher XP per level than the wizard and there was little they could do without their lab. The article is dense. That is in the sense that there is a lot here to read and unpack.
The article reads like a cleaned-up version of all the alchemists we have seen so far and this one also has the benefit of a few more years of play on it. 

The Alchemist in the DMG and D&D Expert
In between all of those we get some notes on the alchemist from the Dungeon Master himself in the DMG.  Though if anything this only makes me want to have an Alchemist NPC class, or better yet PC class, even more.

While the alchemist is not needed for higher-level magic-users, someone is going to need them.  Plus someone out there is creating all those potions.   If Jonathan Becker's recent deep-dive into the Illusionist class is any indication we could have used a magic-user sub-class of an alchemist more than the illusionist!

The D&D Expert set also has guidelines for an alchemist and maybe the most iconic alchemist art there is in D&D.

For 1000 gp a month you can have an alchemist on hire. Likely less for that sketchy guy above.

So how do we get there?  Well, let's see what the 3rd party publishers have to say.

Bard Games

I have gone on the record many, many times about my love of the books from Bard Games.  Their Compleat Spellcaster is still a favorite and particularly germane to today's discussion is their Compleat Alchemist.

While the Compleat Spellcaster is my favorite for obvious reasons, the Compleat Alchemist seems to be the most popular.  There are two prints from Bard Games, the Arcanum (which combines all three) and then another one from Wizards of the Coast long before their D&D years.

This was one of the most complete (it says so in the title) alchemist classes for some time to come. At 48 pages the book was huge for a single class.  By necessity, the class was written for "any FRPG" so a lot of the language is coded since they did not want to run afoul of TSR. But there is enough information here for you to read between the lines to figure out what to do. 

Some time is given to the art and science of alchemy. This includes the use of special symbols and language to communicate with other alchemists. Prices and rarities of ingredients and equipment.  And even a component sheet to keep track of the alchemist stores.
Potions and Elixers are granted by level as one would expect, only, in this case, it details what the alchemist can do at their class level. Not by let's say potion level (like a spell).

This alchemist really was the gold standard by which all other alchemists were to be judged for years.  Enough so that it appeared in several different books by a few different publishers over the years.  So much so that it still appears in the Arcanum 30th Anniversary Edition from ZiLa Games.

The OGC / OSR Alchemists
Not to be left out modern authors have looked back to the Alchemist and created their own versions using the OGL.

The evolution of the D&D game to Pathfinder has also given us an evolved alchemist class.  This is presented as a fully playable PC class. It is also so popular that while it was originally a "Base Class" in Pathfinder 1st Editon, it became a Core Class in Pathfinder 2nd Edition and the favored class of Pathfinder goblins.
I rather enjoy this version of the class since it more playable than previous versions of the class.  Good rationale is given as to why an alchemist would want to leave the lab and get out into the field of adventuring.   The class though does tend to be a little too "blasty" for my tastes and it seems that the 2nd Edition version has gone even more in that direction, but it is still a very fun class to play.

There is so much alchemist stuff  (over 300 according to DriveThruRPG) that there is even a product to collect all the OGC extracts into one place, Echelon Reference Series: Alchemist Extracts Compiled.

Pathfinder is not the only place though to find a "new" alchemist.  There are plenty of OSR/Old-school choices out there.  Here are a few I have grabbed over the years. In no particular order.

The Alchemist
Tubby Tabby Press
This is certainly one of the more complete alchemist classes I have seen. At 81 pages it is full of information on all of the class details, equipment, ingredients and everything the alchemist can create by level.  Designed for AD&D it can be ported over to any game. It is based on the Bard Games version.  There is only a small amount of art in this one and no OGL statements.  Despite that this is a very full book and plenty to keep players and GMs busy.

Basic Alchemist
Den Meister Games
This is a smaller product, but it is totally in line with the Basic-era games.  What makes this particular product useful is its flexibility.  Produced for Labyrinth Lord it is a solid B/X feeling class. The cover art even invokes the Erol Otus alchemist art from the D&D Expert book.  The alchemist can build potions, elixirs, and compounds and use them as magic-user spells.  Some examples are given and it has a great old-school feel. In particular, I love the alchemical failure table! 
At six pages it is not big, but it makes each page count. I do wish there more examples of spells though.

Supplement #1: The Alchemist
Vigilance Press
This is another smaller product. Five pages (1 cover, 1.5 OGL, 3.5 content) at $0.99.  It reminds me a bit of the Dragon magazine alchemists; Smaller XP per level needed, but only a few "powers" per level and some levels none at all. Slightly better hp and attacks set this off from other "magic-user" based alchemists.   I do wish this one had more to it than this, but it is a playable class.  If I were to use this one I might try it as a multi-classed Magic-User/Alchemist.  Get the advantages of the magic-user spells and the better hp/attacks of the alchemist.  Designed for OSRIC.

Old School Magic
Vigilance Press
This is an update to The Alchemist also by Vigilance Press. For another buck, you get more classes, another 23 pages and a better-looking layout. A good deal if you ask me.  The alchemist is very much like the one from the previous product.  Like the alchemist supplement, I might do a multi-class with this alchemist. Either as an alchemist-artificer or an alchemist-sage. 
The other classes include the artificer, conjurer, elementalist, hermit, holy man, naturalist, sage and seer.  Plus there are some new spells that I rather like.

The OSR Chymist
Jeremy Reaban
A slightly different version of the alchemist. Jeremy Reaban does some great classes and this one is no exception.  This chymist is closer in nature to the Pathfinder Alchemist but somehow this one feels more like an old-school class and manages to work well.   He includes some new formulae for alchemists/chymists and some sample NPCs.  Also there are tables for whatever old-school games you are playing. Sure conversion is easy, but this makes it all easier. 
It is PWYW, but my advice is to send him a buck or more. It is 16 pages so that is not bad for a dollar.

There are more, including many alchemists that are parts of larger books like Fantastic WizardryThe Crimson Pandect, and the previously mentioned Arcanum.