Showing posts with label 2nd ed. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 2nd ed. Show all posts

Thursday, July 20, 2017

This Old Dragon: Issue #160

August of 1990 was my Senior year in college. I moved into an apartment in a very notorious neighborhood of my college town.  I was helping my roommate (one of four guys living in this place) put together this huge entertainment center. He sent me out to get a case of beer for the job. We lived next door to a liquor store.  I was back with the case (likely Keystone) in hand.  He didn't even know I had left.  We got so drunk that we named the entertainment center "The Ferderko" (after Bernie Ferderko). That was how the 90s began for me.  They ended with me three degrees later, married, living 300 miles away from that liquor store and the Ferderko, with a new baby son.  So yeah, I saw some changes.
Dragon, D&D and especially TSR saw a lot of changes in the 90s too.  But that was not obvious to us in August of 1990 when issue #160 came out.  So let's turn on some Star Trek TNG Season 4, fire up the 386SX and let's get going on Issue #160 of This Old Dragon.

The cover looks like it should be part of a Halloween issue, but it is actually for the special topic section of Urban adventures.  I was quite excited to see this, to be honest.  During the last couple of years of my High School AD&D game we focused largely on urban adventures.  My then DM and I even wrote up our own "Urban Survival Guide".  Kinda wish I still had that, would be cool to polish it up and use it.  At this point I should note that this particular Dragon, while not my original from then, is in surprisingly great shape.  The covers are still on it and it doesn't reek of mildew.

Inside we get an ad that would shape my entire 2nd Ed AD&D experience.  The first ad for the Ravenloft campaign world.  I bought everything for Ravenloft back then, when I could afford it, from the newly opened Castle Perilous Games in Carbondale, IL.  Ravenloft was my world.

First up is The Enemy at the Gates by James R. Collier.  This details some of the magical defenses a city must have to survive in the *D&D game worlds.  It's a good read, to be honest, and anyone with solid knowledge of the D&D spells or monster could likely come up with even more ways to attack a city.  Examples of +1 swords to Ents/Treants are given.  I also once destroyed a keep full of vampires with a charmed blue dragon in a game.  Likely right around this same time to be honest.  The article is good in describing all sorts of attacks, but not much in the way of defending against those attacks save for "fight dragons with dragons!".  The material though is still good after all these years and it can be used with just about any FRPG.  The article is also quite a long one.

The Last Call Inn by Willie Walsh is a sample inn and tavern with maps that can be used in any AD&D game.  Again, while it says AD&D on the tin, it could be used with any FRPG.  The article is more than just a map and room descriptions. It covers running the inn, prices, costs and setting up shop.   The economy is very AD&D 1st ed, though I think it was trying for AD&D 2nd ed.  Stats for NPCs are 2nd Ed.

Matthew J. Iden is next with a thieves' guild in The Touch of the Black Hand.  By this time we have seen a lot of Dragon articles on thieves' guilds and assassin guilds.    This one is good but doesn't expand much on the articles from the earliest days of the Dragon.  Maybe I should collect them all and have a look at them in that perspective.  I bet then I could find something unique and useful in each one.

Sage Advice covers some questions on Krynn and Greyhawk.

A big, garish, advertisement for Chill 2nd Edition.  The 90s were going to be about horror. I didn't know that then, but the writing is there on the walls as if it had been written there in blood by Anne Rice or Poppy Z. Brite.  I started the 90s with Ravenloft, ended it with WitchCraft. Had Chill and Vampire in-between.

The Forum handles the various "Is D&D Satanic" questions.  I guess the 80s are not quite over just yet...

+Bruce Heard is up with Up, Away, And Beyond: Space Travel in D&D a topic he is well versed in.  I'll even go as far to say as one of the two or three experts in it.  There are a couple of things in this article right away.  This is for D&D. Not AD&D.  So we are talking BECMI here.  There is even a bit on how the D&D and AD&D worlds are not linked. So you can't use space travel to get to one from the other.  Well, I tend to disagree, but that is the beauty of these games right.
There is a lot here really. Heard talks about different shaped worlds, odd gravity and how to work Spelljammer into all of this.  Fascinating read really.  A lot of this can also all still be used today, whether or not you use Spelljamer or Bruce's own Calidar setting.
Naturally, this is followed up by an episode of Voyage of the Princess Ark.

The Role of Computers is up next.  I could not help but notice it was Copyright 1990 by the authors.  Not too uncommon really, but will cause some problems for WotC when they try to re-publish these in ten years.

Nigel D. Findley is up with The Ecology of the Gibbering Mouther.  Did you know that creatures killed and eaten by the Mouther can not be raised, resurrected or reincarnated?  I don't think I did. Yes, this thing actually eats your soul too.

In the middle of the magazine, and still intact are some of the then new AD&D Trading Cards.
I really don't know much about these, to be honest.  I was never a collectible card guy. Are they worth anything?

Inside is also a poster for Dungeon magazine.

The fiction piece, Thief On  A String, features a scene that Mission: Impossible will steal in 6 years.

More ads...The Convention Calendar reminds us to get our tickets for Gen Con early. They had 10,000 people now two years running!

Another article that could see new life today is one from Mark E. Smith on There Are No Generic Black Belts: Defend yourself with a variety in TOP SECRETS/S.I.™ games.  I am not sure if the rules will match up with the new Top Secret coming out, but the advice is solid.   Several styles are covered here.  Interestingly enough, the one that I was studying at this time and into grad school, Isshinryu, is listed here.  I don't see it mentioned much.

Novel Ideas is more of an ad than it is an article. J. Eric Severson covers the Buck Rogers novels from TSR.

Also, more of an advertisement than an article is the Game Wizards detailing the new Ravenloft campaign setting.  I was very, very excited to see this.

We get a lot of ads and the comics.
And since I actually have one this time, the back cover features the Hollow World.

This is a nostalgic issue for me if only for the time it represents and not really for the content inside. Soon I would stop buying Dragon and eventually even D&D stuff completely.  Grad School makes for some difficult times for gaming.

I suppose it is good then that I don't have many issues past this one. I have no real insights to them having not read them when they were new and not even playing for much of the late 90s.  Still, it is fun to look back on these.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

This Old Dragon: Issue #150

Moving more forward in time to October 1989 and to one of my most favorite issues of all time, Dragon #150.  This issue was during the prime of the "themed issues" of Dragon magazine, where each month/issue had a theme.  October was always horror and always my favorite.  Plus this issue also features one of my all-time favorite bits of Larry Elmore cover art.
This issue had one of the articles that honestly had such far-reaching effects that I am STILL using ideas from it.   Issue #150 came out in 1989, and I am sure I picked it up right away. I would have been a Junior in university at that time.  I wasn't playing much since I was busy studying all the time, but I do know that I had at least a draft copy of the witch in text format on a floppy disk.

The Dragon's Bestiary is up first with a bunch of new mind-flayer related monsters from Stephen Inniss.   I remember reading this one over and over.  I really wanted to use these guys in my games and I still do.  I noticed while re-reading this recently that the monster stats are for 1st Edition, but the other parts of the magazine are fully 2nd edition.  This was the dawn of 2e and the magazine has a strong post-Gygax vibe about it.  This article though feels older, though there is also a pre-Dark Sun feel to it as well.  The article introduces the Illithidae, or natives of the same world of the Mind Flayers.  If we stick with the mythology they could have easily come in the starship from Expedition to the Barrier Peaks.  The monsters include the pack hunting Cessirids, the lone hunter and slow moving Embrac, the large Kigrids and the near-Illithid Saltors.  These monsters would later be updated to the Illithidae monsters for 3.5 in the Lords of Madness book.

Stephen Inniss follows this up with an article that is heavy on fluff, light on crunch and one that has stuck with me for years. The Sunset World deals with the world of the Mind Flayers.  The article is a long one and presented in the style of an academic symposium, which is likely what attracted me to it.
This article was the start of the idea of block out the sun as a plot device in my games.  I used it in the Dragon and the Phoenix for Buffy and currently in the Come Endless Darkness campaign for D&D 5.

Speaking of vampires and vampire slayers.  Fangs Alot! has the updated/corrected version of the Vampire listing for the 2nd Edition Monstrous Compendium.  If you recall the vampire had the same material printed on both sides of the page, the difference only being the "western" and "eastern" vampire pictures.  This version has the proper second page in place.

The Well-Rounded Monster Hunter details some skills every investigator should have in Call of Cthulhu.  I always read these articles with great interest, looking for things I could port over to my then-current (but sadly dying) Ravenloft game.

The Role of Computers covers some video games. The late 80s were an interesting time for computers, I felt he had hit something of a golden age; computers were getting more powerful and cheap and yet there was still enough of a hacker mentality that kept these machines (mostly) in the hands of nerds adn geeks like me.  In many ways if you were a teen playing D&D in the 80s you grew up to be one of the people playing around with computers in the 90s and part of the Dot.Com boom in the late 90s.  It is interesting now, rereading this, to see all the variety of computers software was made for then.  I know in my own case back then I desperately wanted to see more games fro my own Tandy Color Computer 3.  Mock it if you like, but that little computer got me through my undergrad degree in psychology.  I would need the help of an "IBM PC-clone" to finish up my grad school degrees.  Still, it is neat seeing some of these games.  I bet many would run well  on my phone with an emulator.

I still love looking at all these ads.  I actual had sent off a SASE once upon a time to get my own character art. Never sent it back with my payment; never had the money to spare. I always wanted one though. Maybe that is one of the reasons I love getting art now.

John J. Terra has a great article for the FASA Trek RPG, A Final Frontier of Your Own.  Rereading now I am impressed how much of it still applies for LUG Trek and new Trek playtests.  Sitting at my kitchen table re-reading this I sketched out an idea for a game.  I want to run a Star Trek game called the "Daughters of Kahless".  It would be a group of dishonored Klingon Women in a broken down D6 cruiser trying to regain their honor and for the greater glory of the Klingon Empire.  I remember at the time I wanted to do the adventures of a ship propelled to the far ends of the Universe.  I guess that why I have such a love/hate relationship with Voyager. Love the idea, hated the exicution.

In another article by Dean Shomshak we have another CoC article, Unspeakable Secrets Made Easy. This details a number of magical texts.   No spells are listed, but plenty of background information.

More ads follow including the ads for the then new Monstrous Compendiums.  Vol. 1 was out (I picked mine up at a game store in Harrisburg, PA while on vacation) and Vol. 2 was on the way.  The ad though looks different than the binder I picked up and I always wondered if it was because I picked mine up from a different part of the country than I typically bought my Dragons.  Turns out nothing so interesting, just a mock-up for the ad.

It's hard to see, but there is a red border behind the images of the monsters.

Again, this was a great issue that brought back a lot of great memories.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Monstrous Monday: 2nd Edition Monstrous Compendiums

So no new monster today.  Been pretty busy this last week or two.

But some things I am working are a couple of auction and Craigslist scores.

For all four binders, I think I have now paid something like $25.  They are not in great condition and there are a lot of duplicates.

Like so much of my D&D material, I lost my originals sometime in the 90s.  I have not picked these back up till now because 2nd Editon is the edition I am least likely to play anymore.

But I really couldn't pass these up and they are still compatible with 1st ed for the most part.

So I have a lot of sorting and digging through my own material to see if I have any other pages.  I think I keep all the demons and devils from the Planescape sets, and I have all (or at least most) of the Mayfair Demons ones.  Not sure if I'll try to complete the collection, kinda like keeping them like this.

Who knows maybe one day I'll play some more 2e.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Edition Changes as a Role-Playing Device

It is no secret that I am a fan of most editions of D&D (and many games in general).  Since I began back in 1979 I have played every edition of *D&D there is and have found something to enjoy in all of them.

Since I have been playing for so long, I have also had campaigns that have lasted years.  Sometimes these campaigns span multiple editions.  For example, my kids started with characters in 3rd edition, then those characters have kids that were started in 1st Edition and then we all moved to 5th edition.  With the occasional side step into Basic or OSR games for fun.   I have used different editions of the game for flashbacks, dream-sequences and general out-of-body experiences.

But looking at the larger picture of a longer narrative have you considered the actual rule changes to part and parcel of what is going on in the world?  Obviously, if you only play one edition this will not mean much to you or if your games have no continuity between editions.   But I have characters that started in Holmes Basic and they have descendants in my current 5e game.   Usually, it is one generation per edition, but how can I explain it when a cleric only has a mace a weapon and no spells till 2nd level when his grandson, who is also a cleric of the same god can wield a sword in some cases and his son can cast minor spells at will?

Some things I did work into a large narrative.
When I went from Basic to First Ed I explained the Class/Race Split by saying that elves in my original lands preferred to become fighter/magic-users due to tradition, but elves elsewhere in the world would choose other classes.

Going from First to Second had the biggest hurdle regarding demons.  First ed had them, second ed originally did not.  So since I had just done a huge war to finish off my "high school" games before college I just said that the war had blocked all demons from coming back into the world.

Second to third was a longer time span of inactivity for me, but the big issue was the birth of Sorcerers; people with spontaneous magic in their blood. Is this a remnant of the re-opening of the demon gates?  Maybe.   Hmm....I think I see and adventure idea!

Fourth has a slew of problems.  Mostly though the change in the nature of magic.  I have regarded this as an odd conjunction of the planes; something that altered the Cosmology.  Again, sounds like a cool thing to play out one day.

Fifth then is the return to the way things were before...with some things changed permanently.

I know there are some "in-story" and "in-universe" explanations for these changes in a lot of the Forgotten Realms material.  I will have to check these out someday and see if they track with my own ideas.

What have you done?

Thursday, May 19, 2016

A Treasure Trove! With Pics!

So no "real" post today.  I spent my writing time going through my latest treasure trove.

I joined a bunch of area online "Garge Sale" groups on Facebook and one panned out yesterday.  So cash in hand I drove to nearby Schaumburg, IL and picked up a couple of milk crates full of old-school goodness.   It was not till this morning that I discovered what I really had.

Lots of minis including a wizard's lab.

A D&D Electronic board game in working condition and from what I can tell all the parts.

Modules, Top Secret and even a few Marvel Super Heroes books and some Star Frontiers.

Two Greyhawk folios with maps.  They are in rough condition though, between the two I might be able to salvage one.

More character sheets!  Always need these.

No idea what these are.  But I can't wait to find out!

A lot of the books have water damage like this.  This was not a collector's collection, but a users and a player's one.  There are also a few duplicates.  This was because the husband and wife that sold them merged their collections.

The B/X boxes are empty but the books have been cut up and put into that brown binder.  See I KNEW someone had to have done this.  The BECMI Master's box has both the Master's set and the Immortals set inside. The hardbacks are in decent enough condition. The Monstrous Compendium is in fantastic shape.

I have NO idea what this is.  It is made by TSR and it is from 1974.  The product list on back doesn't even list D&D.

Their old Gen Con folder with the games they were going to choose for 1983.

Some JG stuff.

Cut out minis.  From 1984 I think.

And this was a surprise, a 6th printing of Swords & Spells in near perfect condition.

An absolute ton of modules and books.  Some duplicates within the group and some with my own collection, but still enough "new" stuff to make it worthwhile to me.

It's going to take me some time to sort through all of this stuff that is for sure. But I will have a blast doing it.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

A to Z of Adventure! Z is for Zanzer's Dungeon

Z is for Zanzer's Dungeon.

Here we are once again at the end of the A to Z challenge.

Z, like some other letters here, does not signify a module code.  In this case there is an obvious choice.  Back in the early 90s the D&D brand was in transition.  There was the Dungeons & Dragons line, with rule-books named Basic, Expert, Companion, Masters, and Immortal (BECMI) and a single book Rules Cyclopedia that combined the first four.  Then there was the completely separate Advanced Dungeons & Dragons line which had rules-books named Player's Handbook, Dungeon Master's Guide and Monstrous Manual.  These books were in their 2nd Edition.
Confusing?  Yeah it was to us too.

In 1991 TSR, the then publisher of D&D released their newest, and what would be one of their last, in the "Basic" sets. The set was called "The New Easy-to-Master Dungeons & Dragons Game" but gamers often called it the "Black Box".  The adventure inside was a bit of preview of things to soon come.  Zanzer's Dungeon was laid out like a board game complete with little plastic minis for the characters and paper fold top minis for monsters.  This was compatible with the BECMI flavor of D&D and worked as a replacement for the Basic Set and an introduction to the Rules Cyclopedia.

While the game was highly praised for it ease of use and intuitiveness. I never bothered getting it at the time.  I picked up my copy (pictured here) many years later as a means to teach my kids how to play.  Turns out they learned like I did...just by playing.

The board-game like play area is welcoming to new players.  Now they can see what they are doing.
Persoanlly that annoyed me because for years my rule books would say that you don't need a board, only your imagination!  Though today I use tiles and maps just like this.

In fact Zanzer's Dungeon here is the same scale as the maps used in 3rd and 4th edition D&D (and 5th if you care to), so the minis we have been using will work here too.

This set would later be expanded with the Dragon's Den boxed set, which was also board game "shaped".

One day I'll use these as an intro game for something.  Better than them collecting dust on my shelves!

Thursday, April 7, 2016

A to Z of Adventure! F is for The Forgotten Realms

F is for The Forgotten Realms.

I will admit I was never into the Forgotten Realms.  The setting just didn't appeal to me at all in the beginning.  That dislike turned into actual hate when it began to displace my beloved Greyhawk setting.  The popularity of Drizzt Do'Urden didn't help matters.  This persisted for many, many years.

I remember reading about the Realms in Dragon Mag and I was never impressed. The increased fetishization of the Drow and Drizzt worship turned me off as well. I can't tell you how much I despised "Lloth", it's LOLTH goddamn it. Any way. I saw the Realms as an upstart to Greyhawk and not even a good one to be honest. This oddly enough was right around the same time I played my first game of OD&D set in Greyhawk. To me Realms fans were snotty little kids with delusions of adequacy.

I began to change my attitude when I wanted to fill some gaps in my own game world.  Turns out that the Realms had some of the things I wanted.  Three of those products I'll go into detail in a bit.
The big one came with the 3.0 Forgotten Realms Campaign guide. Honestly I thought it was a damn near perfect 3.0 book.

When 4th edition came along I had changed my mind about the Realms and decided to set my 4e games in that world for a change of pace.
It was a great idea...for a while anyway.  In some ways for me the Realms and 4th edition remained tied together.   I am sure that this will irritate some of the old school Realms fans, but really it is their own fault. ;)

I went back and got the rest of the campaign setting books and boxed set.

The Adventures and Settings

FRC2 Curse of the Azure Bonds was the first Realms adventure I ever paid any attention too.  It was interesting to me for a few reasons. First it prominently featured a female protagonist; something we didn't see a lot of back then in the Pre-Xena days.  It also was a "Crossover" adventure in a couple senses of the word.  First, and what interested me, was that was usable for either 1st or 2nd Edition AD&D.  I liked this idea quite a bit to be honest.  It was also an adventure module, novel and computer game.  So there were many ways to experience it.  On the down side it always read as a bit rail-roady to me.  No surprise since it started out as a novel.  Also one of the main NPCs of the novel was a Lizard Man, a race you could not even play in 1st or 2nd ed AD&D.

FR9 The Bloodstone Lands covers the eponymous lands of Bloodstone.  I will talk more about Bloodstone on "H" day. But this is a good set of background materials.

FR2 Moonshae, I have a love/hate relationship with the product. I like the celtic influences, HATE some of the weird ass spellings of things. "Ffolk", really??  Still. If I ever do the Realms, then I Will use this.

Spellbound. Ok I will admit this is one of my favorites. Not just favorite Realms product, but favorite country setting.  Two magic using countries, one of wizards and the other of "witches". Lots to love her.

Castle Spulzeer and The Forgotten Terror.  A great set of crossover adventures for the Forgotten Realms and Ravenloft.

I might do more with the Realms some day.  But until then I have enough here to keep me busy.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Ravenloft, Now on DM's Guild

Curse of Strahd is coming out on March 15.  If you live near a Wizard's Premier store you can get your copy now.  With this releaseWotC has also opened up Ravenloft to the DM's Guild.

I hadn't really considered doing anything for the DM's Guild.  Not because of the pricing structure, but because it was more restrictive than the OGL, but this might make me change my mind really.

Back in college during the dawn of 2nd Ed I played the hell out of Ravenloft.  For me really Ravenloft and Second Edition are synonymous.  I know my experience is not entirely unique.  Of course back then I was a poor college student; money could go for pizza, beer or D&D books.  Guess which one usually lost.

The result was what we all did back then, we wrote our own material.  Now I will admit that my writing from the late 80s and early 90s was not great. So maybe only 5% of things I did then would be worth publishing in any forum or form.  But some of that stuff I really liked and would like to see it see the light of day.  So to speak.

Time to dive into my archives and see what I have.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Class Struggles: The Wizard, Part 2 The Wizard Class

Last week we discussed the Magic-User and his cousin the Wizard.  One thing seems certain, the Magic-User is a bit overpriced in terms of XP.  Also, and I am not the only one as we will see, the wizard lacks some powers he really should have.

One of the things I liked (back then) when 2nd Edition came out was that the Magic-User was now properly called a Wizard.  Again, the nuance of magic-user was lost on me but obviously it was also lost on the design team.
The wizard, as he for evermore will be known, is really not that different from the magic-user mechanically speaking.  Some spells are rearranged but that is about it.  The true difference comes when you choose a speciality school or apply a kit, like the many found in The Complete Wizard's Handbook.  Here the wizard gets a few more spells at starting level from their speciality school and the kit can provide them with some powers.   Though the cantrips as 0-level spells that the Unearthed Arcan gave us are now gone.

Yesterday I reviewed The Principalities of Glantri book and it's school of magic. What stood out for me was things that your wizards can now do if they go to a premier school like Hogwarts The Great School of Magic.  The Seven Crafts provide a bit of extra kick for magic-user characters.  Personally I think they could use something at 1st level as well.

Since I covered the basic (and really Basic) Magic-User last week, I want to jump into some of the clones and near clones now.

Spellcraft & Swordplay is a near clone that models Original D&D and it's Chainmail roots much closer than Swords & Wizardry does.  It does take some liberties though.   One is the Wizard and the wizard class elite paths, Warlocks and Necromancers.  In S&S wizards can Read Magic at 1st level.  We are also given more detail on how to create magic items.  An Elite Path like the Necromancer or Warlock also get other powers.

Fantastic Heroes & Witchery also has a wizard class, as well as a wise man and a warlock.  Additionally, it also has 666 spells split up into gray, white and black magic.  The wizard here does not differ much from the standard magic-user, but the number of spells included is not insignificant.

Adventurer Conqueror King System gives us a similar looking Wizard, the advantage here are the skills/proficiencies that all classes get.  Going back to last week this is similar to the skill checks I give wizards when identifying magic.

Magical Theorems & Dark Pacts also has a wizard class. Many in fact.  The wizard is still a Magic-User clone, but there are plenty of other wizard types in this book that the case for experimentation is made here.

Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea. Ah now this is what I was looking for.  Each of the books so far has done a little here and little there, but the Magician in AS&SH is waht I have really been looking for.  Right away he gets a familiar, the ability to read magic and scribe a scroll. At 7th level he learns som alchemy.  The subclasses, Illusionist, Necromancer, Pyromancer and Witch all get similar powers.

Moving out from clone-land and into old-school land proper there is The Arcanum.  I keep coming back to this book because it keeps on delivering.  There are a lot of magic-user like classes, Alchemist, Astrologer, Charlatan (more of a thief), Enchanter, Mage, Magician, Necromancer, Savant, Sorcerer, Thaumaturge, and Witch.   There is, of course, a Wizard as well.  What they all have in common and share with some other books is the ability to read magic at first level.
These classes all also get new powers at every odd level.  Some are just redefining things the wizard could always do; write scrolls, make potions and magic items.  This just defines them a little better.  Interestingly this book also allows the wizard to choose a weapon.  The book also has plenty of spells to choose from.

It should be noted that these problems are solved by 3rd Edition and beyond.  Both the shared XP values across all classes and more features for the Wizards has made all the above points moot really.

My recommendations for the wizard are:
  • Cantrips
  • Read Magic/Identify magic as a skill at 1st level.  Can be a simple Int check.  A bonus equal to level with a penalty equal to spell level.
  • Find Familiar as a ritual, but not a spell.
  • Signature Spells. A spell that can be cast twice or three times per day with one memorization.
  • Some powers at 5th, 10th, 15th and 20th level.  Signature Spell can be one of these.
I would group powers along something like Arcane Traditions like I do for the Witch and like D&D5 does, save I would call them something else.  Schools maybe.  I already use "Philosophies" in Ghosts of Albion so I would not want to use that here.  Schools are good since I can go beyond "enchantment" or "necromancy" and into things like "Miskatonic Grad" or "Apprenticed under Mordenkainen", that sort of thing.

I would run this wizard through the various class creation kits I mentioned last week, but especially the one out of the ACKS Player's Companion to check the numbers.  Might be worth looking into deeper.

Why Are my Magic-Users not like Mages?
Spend any time in any other game but D&D, especially one that uses a lot of magic, and somethings just don't make sense.  Except as that special branch of logic known as D&D logic.  Being first D&D gets away with a lot. Invariably someone will ask though why can't D&D magic be more like the magic in World of Darkness, namely Mage.

The difference, of course, is one of scope. While the D&D wizard might become a "master of reality" the Awakened of Mage are of a different sort. The assumptions of the worlds are too different.   Maybe a WoD style Mage could be something the D&D Wizard could aspire to be, I still would not take a Mage with me into a dungeon or try to identify a scroll or potentially magic sword.
So I don't try to make my Wizards into Mages.  I keep the Vancian magic intact.  If I want to play a Mage, I will pick up Mage.   But really, playing both games will give you a better understanding of things your wizard/mage can do in either game.

Hopefully your wizards are more like this:

Than this:

Though that Keep at 3:30 looks familiar.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Class Struggles: Psionics, Part 2

Last week I went over the various Psionic systems that have appeared in print or digital for the D&D game.  This week I want to look at the classes.

One thing that you first discover that psionics were always something that was added on to the game later.  Often there are powers, but no classes to speak of really.  This is certainly true for AD&D1st ed and OD&D.  Interestingly enough (compared to my discussion last week) that in Eldritch Wizardry it is stated rather plainly that Monks (and Druids) can not be psychic.

1991 was a good year for psionics.  We saw the release of the official Complete Psionics Handbook from TSR for 2nd ed and the unofficial Psionics from Mayfair Games Role Aids line.
Both books changed psionics from it's added on system and made something that seemed to fit into the game a little better.  They sacrificed a little of what made the psionics system so alien and different for playability.
The Complete Psionics Handbook introduces the Psionist class.  This class has access to all the powers in the book.  Psionic powers are divided into six groups with major powers, called sciences, and minor powers, called devotions.  Just like AD&D1, but now they are sorted and there are more powers.   The attack and defense powers, for example, are now part of Telepathy.  The system works well and while the psionists has less overall powers than say a wizard has spells the psionist is not limited to how many times they can use their powers, save by PSPs.

Mayfair's Psionics takes a slightly different approach.  In this there is a Psionist class with five different traditions or schools of psionics, Sonimancers, Telepaths, Telekineticists, Pyromancers, and Empaths. So...every Stephen King psychic ever. The psionist usually stays in that tradition.  Powers are categorized by school and then divided by power level, similar to spell level. There are six levels of powers.  Largely it plays the same as the TSR book, but this one feels more like a spell system.  Getting these two books to work together would be a feat to be honest.  There are so many differences between the levels of the powers, the assumptions of the psionist class and even the PSP vs MP power point costs.  Best to choose one system and adapt the other as needed.

I want to give brief mention to the Deryni in Mayfair's Witch book.  While presented as a witch class the are obviously better suited for Psionic use.  Converting them to Mayfair's psionic system would be easier than converting TSR Psionic to Mayfair's.

3e and the OGL comes around and we get a ton of new psionics options including three new classes (and a spell like system).  This in turn gives birth to Pathfinder and the OSR.  One of the first 3rd party books to support psionics was The Quintessential Psychic Warrior from Mongoose. But like most of Mongoose's products from this time it's not very good.
Pretty much everything for 3.x era psionics can be found in the d20 SRD.  Pathfinder, as a system, had not used psionics or psychic powers till this year with the release of the Occult Adventures book.  I am still going throuhg my copy from Gen Con.  Other companies though built off of the SRD and came up with their own books.
Ultimate Psionics is by far the largest at 450+ pages.  This takes the three basic psionic classes from the SRD and expands it to 10 (7 new).  Not to mention pages and pages of powers. I am hard pressed to think of a more complete book.

But sometimes you don't want a 500 page tome.  Sometimes you just want a couple of pages.  Well if the OSR is about nothing else it is about "less is more".  These books are designed for your old school games and are much smaller.

If you are playing Castles & Crusades then the Mentalist class from Amazing Adventures! would port over with hardly an issue at all.  In fact I have done it before and it works so good that Troll Lords should really consider doing it offically.

White Box Options: Psychic Talents [Swords & Wizardry]
At 10 pages this book really exemplifies what people love about S&W.  Quick and easy rules that slot in nicely with the game they are playing.  This is more of a psychic wild talent add on. Feels similar to the wild talent powers in AD&D1 or even OD&D.  Random table of powers and descriptions of all the powers. Not a bad deal for just under 2 bucks.

Old-School Psionics
Designed to be a new psionics system for OSRIC this book introduces the Mentalist class.  Powers are divided out among disciplines going to 7th level.  Powers are treated mostly like spells, but that works well for adding into OSRIC.  Also some psionic monsters are detailed including my favorite (and worth the price of the book) the Doppleganger as a proper psionic monster.  22 pages including cover and OGL.  Very nicely done.

OSRIC Psionic Combat
This book has a lot of charm. A quick look at the author, artist and contributors leads me to believe this was something a whole family put together and then played.  I can relate and honestly the book gets an extra star just for that.  The books covers a very simple psionic combat system and a psionist class.  Nothing more really.  But that is all it set out to do, so great.  I might not play as written, but the detail here is great and would convert nicely to any of the other systems I have used.

Crypts & Creatures Psionics Handbook
At 12 pages for 50 cents this looks like a deal.  But what we have here is a stripped down version of the psionic classes from the d20 SRD for the OSR crowd.  I would have liked to see some more to be honest.  There are classes and powers listed, but not really detailed.  Now for someone this will be just perfect, but most people I think will want some more.

This book is designed for the White Star game.Though it can be ported over to Swords & Wizardry with no issues. The psionist is introduced and powers are detailed.  The psionist chooses a focus power area and sticks with that in the game. A nice, simple system with some useful powers.  11 pages with cover and OGL.

There is a psionic system in Realms of Crawling Chaos as well, but I well detail that one on a later date.

And of course the Basic Psionics Handbook.

So if you love psionics and psionic classes there are plenty of choices out there.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Class Struggles: The Necromancer

Very, very few classes or class concepts have been gone over more than the Necromancer.  For a class that was never part of the original game, and never actually a proper class in it's own right, a lot of ink and pixels have been spent on this class.  So much that I am sure to miss things and might even need a part 2.  Where do we start?

Well to begin with what exactly is a necromancer and what is it that appears in so many games?
Taken from the Greek a necromancer is someone that communes with the dead. So spells like Speak to Dead are a good example.  Historical necromancers, like for example John Dee, spoke to the dead to get advice. or foretell the future.   In modern parlance and certainly in games (maybe one caused the other) necromancy has come to mean a wizard that controls or manipulates the forces of death and unlife.

The easiest Necromancer is simple.  Play a Wizard/Magic-User and then only choose necromancy spells.  Wear a lot of black and hang out with undead.  This is also a very satisfying necromancer since all the trappings have to be role-played.  Alternately one could play a cleric of a god of death, take only reversed necromancy spells and command instead of turn undead.
I think though as time wore on people wanted something that wa little bit of both.

The first, or at least one of the first was from White Dwarf Magazine #22 from December 1980/January 1981.  Lew Pulsipher gives us an article about evil priests, the "Black Priests".  While these are more cultist, there is a lot of necromancy being thrown around.  This is followed by a true necromancer class also by Pulsipher in issue #35 from November 1982.  Either of these classes is fine and represent the design philosophy of the times.  Namely take and rearrange already familiar elements.  The Black Priest and this Necromancer have the same shortcomings though; a reliance of human sacrifice.

The Necromancer is turned up to 11 with the publication of Dragon #76 in August 1983 and Len Lakofka's death master class.  Designed to be an "NPC Class only" I remember seeing it first in the pages of Best of Dragon Magazine Vol. 3.  I admit, I rolled up a death master right away.  He became a major antagonist in my games for many years to come.

In AD&D1 the example of the Illusionist gave birth to the speciality wizards of 2nd Ed.  One of those speciality wizards was the Necromancer.  This continues in practice to the most current version.  Though unlike the Illusionist, the Transmuter or even the Evoker, the Necromancer got it's own book.  The Complete Book of Necromancers was one of those books that everyone seemed to want.  I remember picking it up back when it was first published. I paid $15 for it.  Later the cover price jumped to $18 and soon it became very rare. No idea why.  The aftermarket price jumped considerably and I ended up selling mine on eBay back in 2000 for $81. Not a bad deal really.   I recently picked up a copy at Half-Price Books for $9.  The PDF just about the same price.  Though the book is crammed full of necromancer goodies. Spells, magic items, undead familiars.

Moving out into the world of Fantasy Heartbreakers there is the near-compatible Quest of the Ancients.  This necromancer reads like the Death Master, but has some interesting spells and some powers.  The Arcanum/Bard Games also has a necromancer class.

3.x had, at the last time I looked, at least 3 different kinds of official Necromancer classes.  The two best are from Libris Mortis: The Book of Undead and Heroes of Horror.  Heroes of Horror featured the rather popular Dread Necromancer class.  There is also the Death Master class from Dragon updated to 3.0e.  The Crypt Lord from the aptly named Necromancer Games. Not to mention dozens of others from other third party publishers.  Most take the same elements and reorganize them, but every so often something new is produced.

4e had necromancers as well. It was a type of wizard (much like the witch was) and was introduced in the Player's Option: Heroes of Shadow book.  It had some rather neat features to it as well.

For the OSR things are really no different, dozens of different types and sorts of necromancers. I am only going to talk about a few.

One of the simplest also belongs to one of the simplest OSR games.  Basic Fantasy has a necromancer class on their downloads page for free.  It has a lot of spells and weighs in at an appropriate 13 pages.

I would have to say one of my favorites, at least in terms of style, is the one from Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea.  The necromancer here is cut from the "evil cultist" mold like their warlock and has a lot of great spells and powers.

Magical Theorems & Dark Pacts also has a great necromancer and the big feature of this class (and this book) is the number of spells.  While this book as more spells, the AS&SH class is slightly better in terms of what I want. Right along with that is the necromancer from the great Theorems & Thaumaturgy. A basic class, but some really nice spells.

Another really cool one in terms of how the necromancer is presented is the one from Adventures Dark & Deep.  Darker Paths 1: The Necromancer is certainly in the vein of the "this is an evil class" but +Joseph Bloch makes no bones about the fact that players will be playing these as evil characters.  It's sort of the point of his "Darker Paths" series. In that respect this is a good one to pick up just to get some ideas on how to play an evil character.  Plus it has some unique spells.

Back at home I have most of these printed out and put into a folder.  I also have a number of character sheets of all the different types of necromancers.  Basically I have six characters with two sheets each; a 3.x sheet and an OSR compatible one (the five above and an old fashioned MU with necromancy spells).  This gives me 12 different sorts of necromancers for 6 characters.  I call them the Order of Six based on a group I introduced in my Buffy games.  I am planning on using them as my bad guys in my games, but right now I am only playing 5e! So I can't really judge how well they all work.  Similar to what I did with the Witch's Nest.  Sounds like a plan to me.

By the way. My son has a 5e game he is in charge of.  He has a 15th level necromancer in that game and it is wicked.

I feel like there is alot more to say but I have only scratched the surface.

What is your favorite necromancer class?

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Second Edition DMG in PDF

The Second Edition DMG is now up on DriveThruRPG.

Never quite as good as the 1st Ed DMG, this one did have a lot going for it.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Review: Fantastic Heroes & Witchery

This week I want to spend some time with Fantastic Heroes & Witchery.

Full Disclosure: I have worked with the author, Dominique Crouzet, in the past on a couple of projects. I think Dom is a great guy and I love the work we had done together.  I am going to review FH&W on it's own merits.

For this review I am looking at the PDF copy found at DriveThruRPG and the print copy hardcover from Lulu.

Fantastic Heroes & Witchery Reto-RPG (FH&W hereafter) is a newer "retro-clone" of the classic D&D rules.

The book itself is a massive 430 pages.  This includes the table of contents (4 pages), index (4 pages), spell index (4 pages) and OGL statement (2 pages).  The PDF also has a "quick click" index to get to sections in the book faster.

A while back I referred to this as the "Rosetta Stone" of OSR games.  It still works like that, but this really more of an meta-analysis of OSR RPG elements put into a cohesive whole.  The game feels like Basic era, BEMCI, D&D, but it also has the options of both 1st and some of 2nd Ed AD&D.  Other games like Swords & Wizardry have also contributed to the DNA of this game.  A quick look at the OGL statement in back makes it clear that this game is very much a product of many, many games.  This is not a slight, there is an absolute ton of new and original material here.  It takes the best and develops more to make it all work well.  In fact this book is a good point of translation between the various clones and 3rd Edition.  Not that translation is difficult, this helps smooth out the "local idioms" to some closer to normal.

A note about the art. Dom is not just the author of this game he is also one of the primary artists and graphic designer.  The art is reminiscent of both B/X D&D and AD&D, on purpose.  In fact there are a few tongue in cheek references to old AD&D books.  To further this feeling there is also art by Jim Holloway.

Chapter 1 deals with character creation.  Here we are given the details about Ability Scores (OSR standards here) and then we get into races.  The usual suspects are here, but some of the newer folk as well like tieflings, and some new ones.  The new races include tainted humans, primates, reptilians, revenants (undead), winged folk, and witchlings.   I love the idea behind the primates, intelligent apes and wonder why we have not seen more of those in other fantasy games.   A personal aside, the Witchlings are very much something I would expect out of Dom.  I am very intrigued by the race and plan on exploring in more.
The next section of the chapter is Character Backgrounds.  These are more role-playing options with suggestions of mechanical advantages (Foresters are better at climbing trees for example, but no pluses are given).  This is a nice section that does better than it's inspired materials but doesn't quite go as far as the newest edition of the D&D game.  That is likely a perfect sweet spot for the types of games that are going to be played here.  We end with a discussion on alignment.

Chapter 2 discusses character classes.  We have the expected list and then some more.  Again since this is a merging of Basic and Advanced ideas there are some "racial" classes here.  I like the idea myself and will discuss those in a bit.  There is also a section on "Weird Tales" pulp-era classes.
Classes are divided up into groups much like 2nd Ed or Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea.   We have Warriors which include Fighters, Beserkers, Knights and Ranger.  Rogues which include Thieves, Acrobats, Assassins, and Bards. Divines which consist of Friars, Mystics and Templars and the racial classes. Dwarves include Clans-dwarf and Gothi. Elves are split into High and Sylvan they include Eldritch-archer and Fae-mage (High) and Forestal and Warden (Sylvan).  Gnomes get Illusionist and Trickster. Halflings get Folk-champion and Scout.  Finally there are the Weird Tales classes; Necronimus, Occultist, Psychic, Rifleman, Savant, Sky-lord, and Wild-brute.

Like editions 3.x and beyond, all classes use the same Experience Level chart.  So 2,000 xp is 2nd level for everyone.  This has a number of nice benefits including easier multi-classing.
Like newer editions each character class has a base to hit modifier.  So for fighters this goes up +1 per level.  Each class has HD, Base to Hit, Saves and abilities per level.  Saves are standard Sword & Wizardry style, but there is an Appendix for conversions later in the book.

An note about levels.  Like B/X, AS&SH or Adventurer, Conqueror, King, FH&W assumes that 13 is the max level.  There are XP values given for 14 and above, but the abilities stop there.

I will discuss the Wizard classes later when I talk about the spells, but for now I want to say that racial classes are really some of the nicest new classes of the book.  It is easy to create a bunch of human centric classes, but these different cultures would naturally produce some professions or heroes of their own.

The Weird Tales classes are an interesting bunch.  Some would fit right in with the Ranger or Knight, others, less so.  The Necronimus is basically a spiritualist or speaker of the dead. The occultist learns spells as the find them from old tomes, the psychic is what is says on the tin.  Others like the Rifleman or the Savant (aka Weird Scientist) could work with some good role-playing and a lot of help from the GM.  The a great class, but it is very Sci-Fi or at least Sci-Fant.   The wild-brute would work anywhere to be honest.

Hit-dice and hp are discussed in the next section as well as saving throws.  The model of saving throws in the Swords & Wizardry one but also it could be said the D&D 5 one or the Castles & Crusades one.   Conversions and notes are given for how to translate a Fortitude save or a Breath Weapon save over to this system.  Honestly this is a gem and worth printing out these pages for any game you play.   Next are skill checks and how to handle them.

Some of the games that are compatible with Fantastic Heroes & Witchery

Chapter 3 covers Equipment.   This is what you expect but there is a lot to choose from here.  In fact t might be one of more comprehensive collections.  Worth the price of the PDF to be honest to have all of this in one place.  The section on Sci-Fantasy equipment is an added bonus.

Chapter 4 details Combat.  There is your garden variety melee and missile combat, but also vehicle based combat and psionic combat (for the psychic class). Stuffed in the last paragraph is the very interesting Duels of Rhetoric.  Basically, combat of words.  There is a lot of potential here and something I want to use in my next D&D5 game.  Yes it works with any version of D&D or OSR game.

Chapter 5 is Moving and Exploring.  A lot of what becomes a goo dungeon crawl is more than combat.  This also details carrying capacity.  What you expect is here, but there is also a nice section on "Chase rules" to go with your vehicle based combat.  Suddenly I want to do a Stephen J. Cannell-style chase with chariots or even dragons!

These two chapters have a logical conclusion found in Chapter 6, Hazards and Injuries.  This includes a Wound and Vitality system for use in any D&D-like game. Other topics include massive damage (like AD&D 2), subdual (a feature of my Basic D&D games) and healing.  There is a section of Threats and Hazards.  This details a lot of conditions PCs can find themselves in; Blind, Fearful, Drunk, Poisoned and so on.  Congrats, we just worked in the best parts of D&D4!  Beyond that the Conditions/Afflictions also extend to the Supernatural.  So Energy drain, Lycanthropy and so on.

Chapter 7 covers Monsters and NPCs.  There are no monsters in FH&W.  Not that there can't be, but the book does not list them.  It does talk about how to use monsters and how NPCs can also work as monsters.  By default FH&W assumes an OSRIC style stat block for monsters.

Chapter 8 is an interesting one. It covers Priests and Religions.  Different types of world views are discussed. Also the priest classes are mentioned with different "templates" one can use to make the priest feel different.  Some concepts of gods are later detailed.  One could add names to these from any myth rather easily.  Names are not provided though.  Each God archetype also has a suggestions for their clergy.  After this we get into a discussion of Law vs. Chaos.  This includes another class, The Agent of Law/Chaos.  If you are thinking Elric or other Eternal Champions (but also I will add, He-Man from the Masters of the Universe media is a great example of an Agent of Law). In fact so engrossing is this concept I might create three agents using this as my outline for Law, Chaos and Neutrality.  If you pick this up, really consider this chapter and what it could mean for your game.
There is even a treatise on the immortal soul and some details on the outer planes.

Chapter 9 covers magic and spellcasting.  There is a lot here. One of the better sections is acquiring arcane spells.  There are equally as good sections on getting spell-like powers.  Also covered is an optional rule on Incantations, which are spells that anyone can use.  As expected the schools of magic are covered, with the different specialists such as Illusionists, Necromancers and so on.  Also presented is a War-Mage class.
The next section deals with the craft of magic.  This includes a lot of information on magic circles, scrolls, and even creating magical talismans!  My favorite is part on ley lines and power nexuses.
We get into the bulk of the chapter with spell lists by class.  Spells are divided into Psychic, Gray, Black and White magic, Nature and Delusion spells.

Chapter 10 is the Alphabetical listing of all the spells.  164 pages worth of spells, 666 spells in all.  Thats 2/5s of the entire book.  I know some are new, but I would have to read each in detail to know which ones.  There are a lot here in any case.  Personally I LOVE that the Mordenkainen's spells have been changed to Morgane's.  While many of the spell casting classes stop at level 6, these spells do go to 7th, 8th and 9th levels.

Chapter 11 covers the Appendices.  These are:
Appendix 1: More About Ability Scores. - Ability scores above 18 to 25.
Appendix 2: Physical Appearance.  - height and weight by race.
Appendix 3: Personality.
Appendix 4: Allegiances.
Appendix 5: Cultural Background.
Appendix 6: Social Background.
Appendix 7: Rolling Hit-Points.
Appendix 8: Sanity / Insanity.  - I am not a fan of sanity in a FRPG.  but this is a simple solution option.
Appendix 9: Skills in More Detail.
Appendix 10: Talents (Custom Abilities).
Appendix 11: Fighting Schools and Maneuvers.
Appendix 12: Adding More Character Classes.
Appendix 13: Epic Levels (14th to 20th / 25th level). takes the characters into epic levels, in this case 14th to 25th.
Appendix 14: More About Saving Throws.  - more Saving translations.
Appendix 15: Domain Spells.  - divine spells by theme
Appendix 16: Critical Hits (Complete Table of Secondary Effects).

A bit more about Appendix 12.   This is a GREAT section about adding other classes including 3e prestige classes. This includes note on how to add my own Witch to this game.  There are also more classes here including: The Adventurer,  the Animist, the Scary Monk (the monk from AD&D), the Sea-Dog, the Sea-Witch and the Thick Brute.

We end with the OGL notice and a character sheet.

What can I say at this point really?

This is an awesome resource. It is a great game in it's own right, but it shines when added to other games.  Use this to play an OSRIC game while importing some 3.x style classes and as Swords & Wizardry monster book.  Or whatever you like. There is so much here that there is no end of what you can do with it.
A serious high mark for all OSR products in terms of utility.
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