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

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Review: HR1 Vikings Campaign Sourcebook (AD&D 2nd Edition)

HR1 Vikings
With the end of One Man's God on my mind, I wanted to make this week a little more special.  To that end I wanted to spend some more time with Norse Myths and Vikings.  So with on thing ending (almost) I have mental energy (or "Spell slots" as the kids say today) to do something a little newer.

I have long been a fan of the AD&D 2nd Ed. Historical References books.  I have used the Celts one over and over again with many different versions of D&D and I have been pleased with it.  The scholarship on these is a bit better than the Deities & Demigods, but I attribute this to a better budget and more space to explain what they were doing. 

Also, the focus was a little different.  The D&DG took myths and tried to fit them into the AD&D framework.  The Historical References took the myths and described how to play an AD&D game in that world.

It's Norse Week so let's start at the beginning with HR1 the Vikings Campaign Sourcebook.

HR1 Vikings Campaign Sourcebook (AD&D 2nd Edition)

For today's review, I am only going to consider the PDF version of this book from DriveThruRPG. I lost or sold back my original in one of my moves or collection downsize.  I will mention details from the physical book as I remember it, but my focus is on the PDF for the details.  In most cases the material is 100% the same, the difference coming from the fold-out map, which is separate pages in the pdf.

HR1: Vikings Campaign Sourcebook (1992), by David "Zeb" Cook.  Illustrations by Ned Dameron and cartography by David C. Sutherland III.  96 pages, black & white with full-color maps.

The first book of the Historical Reference series covers the Viking raiders of Scandinavia. It is not a separate game world per se, since it deals with Pagan Europe after the fall of Rome, but it is a fantastical Europe where dragons fill the seas, troll-blooded humans walk among us, and somewhere out there in the wilderness, a one-eyed man wanders the land.

Chapter 1: Introduction

This chapter covers the very basics, starting off with what people usually get wrong about the Vikings.  These guys are not Hägar the Horrible or even the interpretations of Wagner.  They do point out that "Vikings" are also not really a people, but a lifestyle that some people engaged in. 

This section also covers how to use this book, specifically how to use this book about Vikings and the history of their raids with the AD&D 2nd Rules.  We get into more specific details in the next chapters.

Chapter 2: A Mini-Course of Viking History

Starting with the raid at Lindisfarne in 793 CE the book covers a very basic history of the Northmen's lands, the lands they raided, and their culture and history.  The focus here though is through the lens of an AD&D game, not a historical introduction.  The book is clear on this. 

Details are given, with maybe extra focus on England and France (though they are not called that yet) but that is fine.  There is a very nice timeline running across the top of the pages of this chapter that is rather handy. The time period, roughly 800 to 1100 CE agrees with most of the scholarship on "Viking History" so that works fine for here as well. 

There is a nice list of settlements and cities the Vikings targeted. Not a full list, but it gives you an idea of how much of Europe, Northern Africa, and even parts of Asia the Vikings would roam.  

There is a page or so of suggested readings. Likely the best at the time.  The chapter does set you nicely to explore these ideas further.

Chapter 3: Of Characters and Combat

Here we get into game writing proper.  We start with what races you will find in a Viking-themed campaign.  Obviously, we are talking mostly humans here. Humans can gain a "Gift" something that makes them special such as "Rune Lore" or "Bad Luck" or even a Seer.  There is a new "race" the Troll-born. These are stronger than average humans due to troll-blood in their veins. They get a +1 to Strength, Constitution and Intelligence but a -1 to Wisdom and a -2 to Charisma. They have Infravision and are limited to 15th level in their classes. They are not born with Gifts.

Next, we cover the changes to the Character Classes from the PHB. Fighters on the whole tend to be unchanged as are Rangers and Thieves.  Classes not allowed are Clerics, Paladins, Druids, and Wizards, though specialty mages are allowed if they are Conjurers, Diviners, Enchanters, Illusionists, Necromancers.  While this could be a negative for some I like the idea of limiting classes for specific campaigns.  Two new sub-classes of the Warrior are added, the Berserker and the Runecaster.  Both do pretty much what you might suspect they do.  The berserker is actually rather cool and while the obvious roots here are the barbarian and berserker monster from AD&D 1, there is enough here to make it work and be interesting too. Runecasters know runes as detailed in the next chapter.

The "forbidden" classes can be played, if they are outsiders. 

Lip service is given to the detail that the Vikings were predominantly men.  Though new archaeological finds are casting some doubt that they were exclusively so.  This book does give some examples of how warrior women were known.  They emphasize that player characters are always exceptional. 

There is a section on names (including a list of names), homelands, and social class.

In the purist AD&D 2nd ed section, we get some new Proficiencies.

runes
Chapter 4: Rune Magic

This covers Rune Magic. An important feature of Viking Lore. What the runes are and how to use them in AD&D 2nd Ed terms are given.  A lot of these are minor magics, say of the 0-level or 1st-level spell use.  I personally don't recall them being over abused in games, but they are a really nice feature to be honest.

Chapter 5: ...And Monsters

Monsters are discussed here, starting with which existing monsters can be used from the AD&D 2nd Monstrous Compendium.   Following this some altered monsters are given.   For example, there is the Gengånger which is a zombie with some more details.  

Dwarves and Elves are given special consideration, as are trolls and giants. 

There is not however any "new" monsters in the AD&D 2nd Ed Monstrous Compendium format. We will get those in the Celts book, but that is next time.

The section is split with a "centerfold" map of Europe.

Vikings map of Europe

Chapter 6: Equipment and Treasure

Vikings were Vikings because of the treasure they sought.  They also had the best ships in Europe at this time. So let's spend some time with these.  

We start with a section on money. For the game's simplicity, these are reduced to a couple of systems.  Coins are usually categorized by make-up and weight.  There is some good material here really and something that most games should look into. 

Treasure covers the typical treasures found.  Also, treasure was a central piece of Viking lore; it was how chieftains paid their men, it was what they stole from others, and it was also how they were paid off NOT to steal.   Some space is given to Magic Items as well. This is an AD&D game after all.  Some "typical" magical treasure is discussed and some that are not found at all.  A few new items are also detailed. 

Chapter 7: The Viking Culture

This chapter gives us are biggest differences from a typical AD&D game.  For illustrative purposes, we follow a young Viking, Ivar Olafsson, in a year of his life.  Now I rather liked this because it gave me a character situated in his life and culture.   While it is not the most "gamble" material it is good background material. 

There is a section on Social Ranking and a little more on the role of Viking women.  I think after 6 seasons of watching Katheryn Winnick kick-ass as Lagertha in Vikings, this section will be read and cheerfully ignored. That is great, but this bit does talk about, and support, the image that Viking women had it better than their counterparts in the rest of Europe.

We also get into the sundries, quite literally; Food, drink, homes, farms, and trade. There is a section on religion with lots of nods towards the AD&D 2nd Ed Legends and Lore. 

Chapter 8: A Brief Gazetteer

AD&D 2nd Ed is celebrated not really for its advances in game design or rules, but rather the campaign worlds.  This book, and this section, in particular, is a thumbnail of why these celebrations are merited.  Or, as I call it, just give me a map! This section is more than a map and maybe not as much as the famed Mystara Gazetteers, but the relationship is not difficult to pick out.

This covers, rather briefly (as it says in the title), the lands the Vikings would roam to. And there are a lot of those! In addition to the lands of Europe, Africa, Asia, and yes even North America, we get the fantastic worlds of the Vikings.  If I had done this book this would have been Chapter 2 or 3 at the very least.  This chapter is all too brief in my mind. 

We get a longship design at the end and in the PDF what was the fold-out map.

--

So in truth a really fun resource.  The AD&D game material is there, but this book could be used with pretty much any version of D&D or even many other games.  3rd Edition/Pathfinder players might lament the lack of Prestige Classes, but the Rune MAgic section can be easily converted to a Feat system.  5th Edition Players would need to work the Berserkers into a Barbarian sub-class/sub-type, but that would be easy enough. 

It is not a perfect resource, but it is really close. I am really regretting selling off my physical copy now.

Friday, May 28, 2021

Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft, Part 3 Horrors and Monsters

Ravenloft Spirit Board
This is Part 3 of my coverage of Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft.  For this, I am going to cover Chapters 4 and 5.
You can also read Part 1, Part 1b, and Part 2.

Chapter 4: Horror Adventures

This chapter covers how to do horror in Ravenloft.  No to be sure this is "how to do horror in the situated rules of D&D and Fantasy Heroics."  It is not, nor should it be "how to do Horror for every other RPG out there."  The advice is good, but only when used in the proper situations and circumstances.  The advice given here is good advice, and it is not dissimilar to any number of horror games I have played in the past. 

For reference, I compared this chapter to some other horror games and books I have here.  In particular, I used: 

These are the ones I use the most, though I could grab examples from another couple dozen or so games.

VRGtR covers Preparing for Horror and this covers not just what sort of horror game everyone wants to play it also covers things like consent. Yes. Consent. No this is not a political stance, it is what I like to call "not being a fucking dick about it."   Section 7.3 of Nightmares of Mine states that 

"Even if the player has originally given his consent, he should be able to veto further exploration of a theme that causes real discomfort, insult, or distraction. Many people don't know exactly where their discomfort zones begin until it is too late."

- Nightmares of Mine, p. 119

And that was written over 20 years ago.  If you are complaining about consent being part of a horror game you lost that battle a long time ago.

Horror Guides

Ravenloft's Session 0 (p. 186) almost matches perfectly to Spooky's "Pre Game Checklist" (p.34) in terms of what sort of horror game is this? Who are the characters? What purpose does the story serve?  Spooky asks "What is the Monster?" Ravenloft asks "Who is the Darklord?"

VRGtR also covers the physical environment to running a horror game. This includes advice, while not exactly cribbed from 2nd Ed Ravenloft, certainly inspired by it.  This includes dimming the lights, props, music, and so on.  Chill also addresses this throughout their game. No shock, Chill 2nd Ed and Ravenloft both came out of the same section of the upper midwest at pretty much the same time.

There is also a section on using the Tarokka Deck (there are many available) and the spirit board that is replicated on the last page of the book. I am hoping that one becomes commercially available. 

Pause for a second here and consider this.  D&D along with Ouija Boards were a favorite target of busy moms and the Christian far-right during the Satanic Panic.  Now consider this. Ravenloft is back, full of all sorts of horror themes AND there is their own version of a spirit board included.  And yeah it is still getting attacked.  I guess some things never change.

There is a fun Horror Toolkit that includes some great Curses to lay down on people, places or whatever needs it.  Similar to what we saw in the AD&D Forbidden Lore set. There is a Fear and Stress mechanic.  Madness is gone. Good ridance.  Here is something I wrote about Madness in my own Sanity in Ravenloft: Masque of the Red Death. 1997

I have always had a problem with the way that the various Ravenloft rulebooks have handled fear, horror and madness checks, but madness in particular. In real life and in most Gothic literature, madness is a gradual thing, usually built up over long periods of time; think of the madness as described in Poe or even Lovecraft. The Madness checks from Ravenloft and later Masque of the Red Death were an all or nothing affair, one failed roll could turn anyone into a raving lunatic. Plus the rules in The Realms of Terror and the Masque of the Red Death books mostly dealt with madness as an after effect of psionic interference. Of course millions of people suffer from mental illness without the “benefit” of being psionic.

Sanity in Ravenloft: Masque of the Red Death. 1997

I wrote that because as someone with multiple degrees in psychology and a former Qualified Mental Health Professional I have NEVER been happy with how any RPG's system for "Madness" or "Sanity" worked.  Call of Cthulhu was an exception because what it did was so closely tied to the stories it emulated.  I attempted to do the same. 

This new system works better for the Fantasy Horror of Ravenloft. For me, the guy who used to be in charge of the night shift at a mental facility for schizophrenics, this system is better.  Yeah, people are going to say "but madness is part of horror!" No. It is part of Gothic Horror and to a degree Cosmic Horror, but there is nothing in Fantasy Horror that needs Madness. Yes, you can use it. No, you don't NEED to use it.  AD&D 2nd Ed used it, I used my own mechanics. I am happy to drop both today.

Though, there is no corruption mechanic here or a fall to Dark Powers.  The underlying assumption is that the PCs are heroes in the pure and true sense.  That is great, but D&D 5 players are no different than AD&D 1st ed players.  Dangle power in front of them and they will grab it with both hands and ask for more.  I get that, I really do and it works for this game. I am going to have to see how it works for me as I play Ravenloft 5e. On one of the few times I was a Ravenloft player and not a DM I had a character, a cavalier-sort, who was sucked in to the Mists and went blind.  He gained the ability to "see" while fighting but no other time (think Daredevil) it was a struggle to keep him from reaching out for more. He did move from Lawful Good to Lawful Neutral, but that was as far as his slide went.

Moving on to a GREAT piece are Survivors.  Survivors are a little bit more than normal humans, and a little bit less than a 1st level character.  These would be the people/characters in Ravenloft that would have souls. There are four basic types and they map on perfectly to the four class archetypes.

  • Apprentices have a minor talent for magic (Wizards, Magic-Users)
  • Disciples adhere to the tenets of the faith (Priests, Clerics)
  • Sneaks survive by their wits and are petty thieves. (Rogue, Theif)
  • Squires have some martial prowess or training. (Warrior, Fighter)

There are stat blocks for these four on the following page. They get a minor talent (like a feat, but not as strong).  Basically, they are Basic D&D 1st level characters.  If I was going to start a Ravenloft game, I would figure out what everyone wanted to play and then give them these level 0.5 characters that match their archetype.  Playing a Warlock? You start out as an Apprentice. And so on.  

House of Lament
The House of Lament

The included adventure deals with the House of Lament.  To new players it is a creepy ass haunted house that holds the spirits of Mara Silvra and Dalk Dranzorg (which are totally names you would find in Glantri, just saying). To older fans, the House of Lament was just as evil.  Now Mara goes from helpless victim to warrior now complicit in her own damnation in Ravenloft.  In both cases, her body is entombed in the house and her spirit haunts it.   The House of Lament was introduced in one of the first accessories for Ravenloft, RR1 Darklords which was released in 1991.  This new house has all the chills of the first.

There are rules for séances and the replies from the various spectral inhabitants.  There is even a handy adventure flowchart.  You don't have to follow it, but it does help.  The new house pretty much looks like the one in Darklords.  The maps are not 100% the same, but close enough that is obvious there are supposed to be the same place. Or at least built by the same hand. BTW the maps of the House of Lament are by none other than Dyson Logos

The change is interesting and hits on things we all talked about online back in the 90s.  So in the original House, Mara was an innocent victim, yet her soul was stuck in this house with the other spirits.  We always wondered why the Mists would trap an innocent soul.   We came up with a lot of reasons, but the current authors bypass the issue altogether and make Mara more active in her placement here.

Still, tt is a great introductory adventure.

Chapter 5: Monsters of Ravenloft

The very last part is a collection of new (well...new to some) monsters found in the Mists and Domains of Ravenloft.

First, we get a bit about how to use monsters in a horror game.  It is good but I do feel it could have been longer. Then we get into the monsters themselves.  First off. I LOVE the Bagman!  Why I never came up with it myself I will never forgive myself for. We get the expected cast.  Invasion of the Body Snatchers Pods, Brain in a Jar, Boneless, evil dolls, headless horsemen, ghosts, Star Spawn of Cthulhu Emissary, slashers, couple of different Vampires, zombies. The expected cast.  Given Ravenloft's history, there are tons more that could be added.  Well, it will keep the folks on DMsGuild busy for a long time!

Ok. So. Let's address it. The monsters do not have alignments listed.  "Oh no" the cries come from the Internet, "nothing is evil anymore! D&D is DOOOOMED!" Oh, grow the fuck up.

Monsters. They are still evil.

I have lost track of how many times over the last 40 years someone has brought up "hey maybe we should get rid of alignments in D&D."  Also aside from Ravenloft how many Horror RPGs have alignments?  Right. None.  Well...maybe Beyond the Supernatural. Just checked, yeah it does, but none of the other non-D&D-derived Horror games have it. One thing is made abundantly clear, monsters are there to be fought and fought against.  There is no "Subjective morality" here the monsters are described in terms of their "Wrongness" (p. 224) or their nightmarish qualities (p. 225). To be clear here every monster listed either wants your soul, your body, your blood, your life, or some combination of all the above.  In truth, there should never be anything at all like a random monster. Everything should be in place to maximize the effect the DM is wanting.  At no point should a random goblin show up in the middle of investigating an undead killer moving through the streets. Every monster should thought out, planned and figured out where they exist in the ecology of fear the DM is creating.  If that means a Boneless is a horrible creature trying to attack OR is it a helpless victim that needs the PCs, then alignments printed on the page would not matter. 

My only complaint about this chapter is there needs to be more. But I do love my monsters.

We end with an art page of the spirit board.

Edited to Add: Wizards of the Coast has a free PDF where you can print out the Ravenloft Spirit board. Print it out and glue it to some wood or cardboard.

All in all this is my favorite D&D 5 book.  I can see myself reviving (reanimating?) my old Ravenloft game with these new rules.  My original players are all over the world now, but I have new ones.  OR what I am more likely to do is add elements of Ravenloft into my current games.  The Second Campaign is headed to a large desert.  You know that Ankhtepot is going to be there.

There has been much ado about the changes to the Vistani. They are less of a cultural stereotype now so that is good. They can be good, or evil, as individuals choose, so that is also good.  Generally improved all the way around.  I have to be honest, I never used them very much save in Barovia, but that was it.

D&D 5 Books

With all the other D&D books out now you can build quite a collection of resources for Ravenloft.  The Candlekeep mysteries adventure, Book of the Raven, was our D&D 5 introduction to the Vistani and some Ravenloft concepts. 

More D&D 5 Books

The new various "Guides" have plenty of monsters and other ideas to flesh out your Ravenloft for 5e.

Thursday, May 27, 2021

Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft, Part 2 Domains and Darklords

VRGtR: Special Edition Cover
This is Part 2 of my exploration of the new Ravenloft book. You can also read Part 1 and Part 1b.

So last time I ended with character creation.  A couple of other points.   I was talking with my oldest son about the new classes, asking his expert opinion on how balanced they were.  He says that they are fine, nothing too out of the ordinary.  He just wondered why we need a Warlock with the Undead as a Patron when The Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide already had a Warlock with the Patron The Undying.  Yes, they are fairly similar.

People seem concerned that two of the three lineages can see in the dark (Darkvision).  Well...this has always been an issue, elves, dwarves, gnomes, all have been there from the very, very start and they can also see in the dark.  Fear of the dark is a powerful fear, but it is also not the only one.  I always made the mists very opaque.  You might be able to see in the dark, but not the dark found in Ravenloft.  Afraid yet?  Well to quote one important gnome, "you will be. You will be."

Chapter 2: Creating Domains of Dread

Before we get into all the Domains of Dread (39 domains in total) we are going to talk about the creation of a Darklord.   Why do this first? This gets the Ravenloft DM to think about what needs to go into a Domain, AND what doesn't.  

Domains are reflections of their Darklord.  The building of a Darklord looks at the relationship between the Darklord and the characters and even the players.  I mean starting in Barovia with Strahd is always fun, but what if your players are not into vampires?  No problem, there is something here for you and your players.  Here the Darklord is created by asking questions about their past life, their fatal flaws, what makes them evil.  Yes.  This book presents the Darklords as all as unrepentantly evil. Evil with a capital E. Of course, the Darklords may not see themselves as evil or even as a Darklord, but that doesn't change what they are. 

Following the Darklord creation, we create a Domain. Remember that Domains are designed not just to be a prison for the Darklord, but one that tortures the Darklord as well.  Strahd is trapped and constantly tormented by his obsession with Tatyana. She is constantly being reborn, each time she torments him more.  Various other questions are asked.  What sort of culture is this? What do they fear? How do they treat outsiders? And a lot more.  Asking these questions here help understand what the domains are later on. 

Larissa Snowmane
Larissa Snowmane on the River Dancer.  Growing up near the Mississippi, I have had nightmares like this.

The next section, and one of the best, cover all the different sorts of horror you can use and the ones this book uses.  Reminder.  Ravenloft is not really Gothic Horror.  Sure it has elements of Gothic Horror. It has the tropes of Gothic Horror.  But even the AD&D 2nd Ed version of Domains of Dread informed us that Ravenloft is actually Fantasy Horror.  So let's see what the book has. 

  • Body Horror - horrors about being transformed or our bodies failing us.  Think of movies like The Fly, The Thing, or one of my newer favorites, Tusk.
  • Cosmic Horror - horrors from beyond and the cults that follow them.  Think Cthulhu.
  • Dark Fantasy - the intersection of fantasy and horror. Arguably where Ravenloft works the best.
  • Folk Horror - One of my favorites. Old towns with strange natives. Pagan cults and practices.  The Witch, The Wickerman (original one please), and Midsommer are good movie examples, but there are a lot more.
  • Ghost Stories - an old favorite. Ghosts, haunted houses, haunted...well everything. 
  • Gothic Horror - yes, it is represented here. Gothic Horror has much in common with the Romance genre.  The difference is the inclusion of a monster. Not a snarling beast, but often an old, often European aristocrat.  Dracula is the prime example given, but also the works of Poe and Le Fanu.
These are the main ones.  They all feature examples and tone. They also discuss the types of monsters that would be common.  Additionally like all D&D 5 books, there are plenty of d8 and d10 tables of options and suggestions.

There also others that are more briefly covered. Disaster Horror, Occult Detective Horror, Psychological Horror, and Slasher Horror.  All of these are now used in the Domains.  Well...they have all always been used, to be honest, now we are just more explicit about it.

Is this enough to run a horror game? Well...no, not really. It is PERFECT for running a Ravenloft game.  It's not really designed to run a Call of Cthulhu game and certainly not a Kult or Little Fears one, but it does work here.  

If you have never run a horror game before then there is a lot here that will help you.  If you have run horror games then this is a good introduction to the type of horror you can run in Ravenloft.

Chapter 3: Domains of Ravenloft

This the largest portion of the book. Nearly half of all the pages.

The first part covers souls. As in, most of the people in the Domains don't have them.  This is not a new idea really.  It was touched on in the Knight of the Black Rose books. The soul of Kitara was "copied" and her true soul was set free by the Darkpowers to whatever reward (well, punishment) her god (Takhisis) demanded.  What stayed behind was created by the Darkpowers to torture Lord Soth.  Similar to the soul of Firan Zal’honan's son.  

The section on souls also has a bit that should really scare D&D players.  While most "people" don't have souls, the ones that do better keep a tight grip on them.  Dying in Ravenloft is bad.  How bad? Even if you are raised or brought back under 24 hours a bit of your soul is still wandering the Mists.  Over 24 hours?  Your body might be raised, but it won't have your soul in it. That soul will be reincarnated over and over in Ravenloft.  Welcome to the Hotel Barovia. You can check out anytime you like but you can never leave.  While I felt this was a negative feature in Curse of Strahd, it is a positive here. A scary one at that. Death is permanent after a point and death is not even an escape from the mists.

The Domains are now not all Gothic Horror.  They fit into 1 to 3 sub-genres of horror described above.  Gothic Horror is just one of those types.

Unlike previous editions that would feature the Darklords and the Domains separately, this book keeps them together.  This is a big improvement.  Darklords are inseparable from their Domains, and this book sells that philosophy well.

Seventeen Domains and their Darklords are covered here in greater detail and 22 in lesser detail.  Not every Domain from the old books are here. Nor should they be. So goodbye Sithicus, you were fun, but we don't need you now. 

Each Domain is covered, it's Darklord listed, the Genre (from above) listed, usually one to three, the Hallmarks of the Domain and the various Mist Talismans that can drag you here or help you leave.  Also, each covers what characters and people with souls think of their lands and what it means to them. While the Domains are not really part of a world as others think it there is no reason that people living there know that.  Some might suspect something, but they have always lived like this and this is what is normal for them. 

There are some alterations to every part of the Domains. Some are minor, many are major.  While some bemoan this I see it as fantastic.  First, I am not going to be playing this with anyone that knows the difference between Falkovnia and Fallstaff, AZ, let alone the difference between Mordent now and Mordent then.  Plus even if they did, well that is just the Dark Powers messing with their memories.  “Yeah you thought it was like this, but it really isn’t!”

A couple of other points.  The Darklords don't have stats.  But really, the Darklords don’t need stats.  At no point EVER in all the years I ran Ravenloft I never had a group of players that wanted to go after a Darklord.  And many that never even knew who the Darklord truly was.  How many Dracula movies are there?  How many has he been killed in?  Same here, I don't care even if the Darklord IS killed, they will be back as soon as I need them to be.

Also, the Domains are not as connected as they once were. Domains can be islands, or connected or not.  Ravenloft is not a "world" it is a loose collection of semi-connected prisons.  Only the Vistani can safely and somewhat reliably navigate the Mists and that is exactly as it should be.  Connect them if you want, I am playing this as an homage to the old TV series "The Fantastic Journey," the characters, and the players, step into the Mists and no one will know where they will end up. 

Each Domain feels new to me.  Like I am headed back to a place I once knew.  It would be exactly like me going back to my old University town. It has changed a lot since I was last there in 1994, the streets are the same, but the buildings are all different. Some things are the same, but there are things that are new.  This is the same.  

Barovia is the first, well for many reasons, but here it is alphabetical.  It is also the one that will most familiar to old and new players alike thanks to Curse of Strahd.  Like Curse of Strahd is completely supports my thinking that Baravoia is from Mystara, even though it is never stated here. 

the Amber Temple

A couple of other notable Domains.  Darkon was the former domain of Azlin Rex, now it is a Domain in slow-motion destruction. Like watching an explosion slowed down. Azalin is gone, where is he? No one knows. The Kargat still run the place, and there are other factions, but everything else is falling apart.  It is listed as Dark Fantasy with Disaster Horror.  Darkon was always the most "D&D" of the Domains, but now it is in tatters.  It is also a Domain searching for a new Darklord; PCs beware.  

Falkovia is now ruled by Vladeska Drakov. Now no longer a dime-store Transylvania and a bargain-basement Vlad Tepes, it is now World War Z in the Dark Ages.  Think the Black Death, if the Black Death could get up and go after you.  This is fantastic! And, really let's be honest, Vlad Drakov and Falkovia always kinda sucked. Really. It did.  This is so much better.  Har'Akir is so improved that I want to use it first.  Hazlan's Darklord Hazlik finally is portrayed as we always said he was back on the old RAVEN-L lists. He is not evil because he is gay, he is evil because he is a cold-blooded psychotic killer, even beyond that what other Red Wizards of Thay can accept. 

Dementlieu. Ah...now here is something really fun.  Completely changed from the old one this is an endless Masquerade, both in terms of the party and how everyone lives.  The Darklord of Dementlieu is "Duchess" Saidra d'Honaire. She fancies herself as a Lady, but is really just a commoner. In fact, everyone lies in Dementlieu, and every lie has to be more outlandish than the last, but uncovering a lie, or having your lies uncovered, is tantamount to that person's death.  It is Cinderella plus Masque of the Red Death (Poe's version, not the AD&D one) mixed with Bridgerton where every negative high-class society stereotype turned all the way up to 11 and put in a background of "be the most popular or die" attitude.  Get caught up in the lies and deceit and you could be lost in the Grand Masquerade.  You will never or should never get into combat situations in Dementlieu. You could for example challenge some "Lord" to a duel, but his second will, unfortunately, will not be there and he is under strict guidance from his doctor not to duel. Or some other reason.  Most likely Saidra d'Honaire will out you as a fraud first. OR, the would-be combative will be caught in a lie and reduced to ash in front of your very eyes by the Duchess.  

The list can go on. Harkon Lukas is more than just a fop now. He is a great example of a Darklord that has no idea he is a Darklord and thinks he is good. But we know he isn't.  Viktra Mordenheim is a great update over the thin pastiche that Viktor Mordenheim was to Dr. Frankenstein.  Chakuna, the new Darklord of Valachan replaces the old Darklord Baron Urik von Kharkov. I actually liked Baron Urik von Kharkov and the later art made him look like Tony Todd, always a plus.  No opinion yet on this one. But it does look interesting.

Chakuna, the new Darklord of Valachan
The Displacer Beast is a nice touch for this Domain

Not everything is perfect here though.

Yes, some of the domains are not as well defined as they could be or even should be.  Some details are here, but some are left out. I mean how do you grow food in an endless night?  To be honest, I really don’t care where the crops are coming from in Ravenloft to feed the townspeople anymore than I am worrying about where the crops come from to feed the townspeople in Frankenstein Created Woman all I care about is will they have their pitchforks ready when I need them.   And in truth, the book covers this in the very beginning with their “this is a world of nightmare logic” and the fact that most "people" in the Domains are not even real. You can even assume that nothing exists for real until the characters need it too.  The Dark Powers provide it all. How can hordes of zombies attack Falkovia every month like it's Episode 8.03 of Game of Thrones? Doesn't matter, it does and they do until the end of time.

We also get some important NPCs.  They are a great bunch, to be honest.  Among our "Stars" are Van Richten himself, the Weathermay-Foxgrove twins, and Ez d'Avenir.   Others are also returning stars from previous editions with more details.

I think Alanik Ray and Arthur Sedgewick are very much improved.  They remind me of what Holmes and Watson from the Netflix show the Irregulars could have been like.  I know there are people complaining that “they made Holmes and Watson gay!” No. They made Alanik Ray and Arthur Sedgewick gay. And guess what. They can do that if they want.   They are now more than just a thinly veiled dime store Holmes and Watson.

Having  Larissa Snowmane from the novel Dance of the Dead is a nice nod to fans, but they mention she avoids Nathan Timothy and yet they give no indication of who that is or his own Domain or why they would be interacting.  I mean I can pull my old books, but newer players don't have that.

They bring up Firan Zal’honan, but also never talk about how he used to be Azilin Rex. Or maybe he will be again?  I mean I am thrilled to see him! I can remember reading “I, Strahd: The War Against Azalin” in 1998 when it came out, sitting on my backyard deck and watching my wife work in the garden. This is deep-cut stuff.  But my son, who was not even born yet at that time, has his own copy of this book and has no idea who Firan is. 

Among the new Domains is the very compelling Cyre 1313 from Eberron. It's a freaking Ghost Train!  Who has never heard a tale about a Ghost Train?  This is one of the Domains, like the Carnival, that overlaps other Domains for a time.  It can travel the Mists and not in a good way. 

Cyre 1313

I am not a huge fan of how it looks, but my knowledge of Eberron is slim. This might be how all trains look. For me, I might make it look more Victorian.  But that's my solution for most things.  Though floating over the ground with little electrical sparks is good.

That is quite a lot of the book.  Next time I cover Chapters 4 and 5.

Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft, Part 1b But...It's Not Like Old Ravenloft

Note: Part 1 of this series is here.

One thing I hear from many sides on this new Ravenloft book is that it is not like the old Ravenloft books.

This might come as a shock, but it is not supposed to be like the old books.

Ravenloft books
All of these books were purchased as new in the last two weeks

Right now Wizard of the Coast is reporting that sales of D&D are the best they have ever been with 2020 sales outpacing the previous "best year ever" of 2019.  

Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft is for all fans of horror-inspired gaming in D&D. But by and large, the target audience is the 5e players and DMs.  Not the fans of 2nd Ed. Ravenloft.

And that is OK.

Really. It is.  

If I want to play Ravenloft like I did back in 1990 (I don't mind you, I want to play like I do now) well, I am not at a loss for options. 

DriveThru RPG has their big D&D Settings sale on now, so I got all three of those books cheap.  I can now tuck my originals away. This is good because my Realms of Terror box looks like it lived through the Grand Conjunction AND the Requiem; which it did.  And because I played those I don't need to go back.

Right now you can get PDF and/or Print on Demand versions of the Classic Ravenloft books.

Realms of Terror

Realms of Terror books

Realms of Terror books

Realms of Terror books

The entire boxed set in one huge volume.

Expedition to Castle Ravenloft

For 3e.

Ravenloft 5e, 2e and 3e

Ravenloft 3e

Ravenloft 3e

Though not part of the sale D&D sales on DriveThru, these are on sale for the Domains of Dread sales on DMsGuild!  Use the DriveThru or DMSGuild sites for the sales, the prices are the same.

Forbidden Lore

Ravenloft 2e

Ravenloft 2e

Ravenloft 2e

Domains of Dread

Ravenloft 2e books

Ravenloft 2e books

Ravenloft 2e books

There is still Ravenloft to be had regardless of how or even when you want to play it.

If you want to play Ravenloft 5e and you want some of these older options, well go on over to the DMsGuild and their Domains of Dread Sales.  Certainly, there is something there for you. 

Even the original Ravenloft I6 and Ravenloft II: I10 are on sale.  I honestly don't need another copy of I6, I have my original, but it is tempting.

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft, Part 1 Welcome to Ravenloft

Ravenloft Cover
Last week I picked up the newest guide for Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition, Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft (VRGtR). I have spent some time with it and going back over some well-thumbed volumes of  Ravenloft's past.  Today I hope I can share how this new one compares to what was done in the past and what I might do in the future with it.

Spend any time here and you will know of my love for Ravenloft.  I grabbed the original module, I6 Ravenloft when it first came out.  I also got the sequel and when it was expanded into a campaign setting for AD&D 2nd Edition, it became my setting of choice, pretty much to the exclusion of all others including my own favorites of Mystara/The Known World and Greyhawk. I was active on the RAVEN-L list that MPGN/TSR and then later WotC ran.  I had entries published in all (except for maybe one) of the official Kargatane fan publications.  Ravenloft, more so than AD&D 2nd Ed, was my game of choice. When Ravenloft: Masque of the Red Death came out I had found my perfect world, or nearly perfect.  I'd go on to write the RPG for Christopher Golden and Amber Benson's "Ghosts of Albion" using all the experience that playing in Gothic Earth gave me.  Ravenloft lead me to the World of Darkness, to Cthulhu by Gaslight, to Kult, and eventually to WitchCraft and working for Eden Studios.  Horror is what I do.

So naturally, I was VERY excited when I heard a new Ravenloft setting book was coming.  Let get into it.

A couple of notes.  

VRGtR = Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft, D&D 5e, published 2021.  256 pages.
DoD = Domains of Dread, AD&D 2nd Ed, published 1997.  264 pages.
Rot = Realms of Terror, AD&D 2nd Ed, published 1990.  144 pages.


Elements of Fear

Ravenloft has always billed itself as a horror RPG and it is, to a degree. It is not however fully Gothic Horror.  It is a pastiche of gothic horror tropes, but the one it can't fully embrace is one that makes gothic horror so horrifying.  In true gothic horror, the heroes have no power.  In fact, they are not even heroes, most often they are "the next victim."  The quintessential piece of gothic horror, Bram Stoker's Dracula, still features the deaths and abuse of many prominent characters before their "Dark Lord" is put down.  Compare this to say Harry Potter, which uses similar tropes but the difference is still largely one of power; Harry has magic, Harker and the rest only have knowledge.  No, Ravenloft is an action-adventure RPG set in a realm of Gothic Horror.  It is something that even the authors of Ravenloft's "Domains of Dread" acknowledged in 1997.

"The RAVENLOFT game involves classic horror in which the darkest of evils descend upon a more or less civilized world and prey upon the unsuspecting citizenry therein. However, it is also a game of swords and sorcery, knights and wizards, heroes and monsters. Unlike any other horror or fantasy game, this system meshes these two traditions into one genre that can best be called fantasy horror." 

- Domains of Dread, p. 220

Emphasis mine.

While the original Realms of Terror boxed set did try to go with a more gothic horror feel, it did this in the trappings.  The adventures for Ravenloft were largely of the Fantasy Horror variety.  Note. Some of the smaller adventures, in particular, ones found in The Book of Crypts and the Bleak House were more gothic in their feel.  The Bleak House with some minor tweaks can be run as a Southern Gothic Horror to great effectiveness.

The new Ravenloft approaches this from the point of view of embracing Fantasy Horror (knowing who the characters are) and adding in the tropes and mechanics of not just Gothic Horror, but also Cosmic, Folk, and even slasher horror. We will get to these all in a bit.

Fear is part and parcel of the Ravenloft experience. There is a content warning and a player warning in a sidebar on page 7 of VRGtR.  Some people are taking umbrage with this.  Yet similar advice is given in the original Ravenloft Realm of Terror boxed set on pages 133-135. Here they are interwoven on how to make the game more successful. The effects of the fear mechanic are even discussed on page 140 of Domains of Dread.  The difference is now the "consent" of the fear and terror are now front and center and in the hands of the players, not just the DM.   Maybe someone doesn't want to be scared but fight vampires. Ok, that is great and likely a fun game (in fact I worked on that one too) but it may or may not be Ravenloft, or at least not like how I would play it.  It is not my job to be the fun police for other people's games.

Let's get into the book proper.

The Weathermay-Foxgrove Sisters
Introduction: Welcome to Ravenloft

This is what you expect it to be really. We get an overview and background on what the Domains of Dread are.  There is a wonderful Dracula-esque like exchange of letters between our iconic hunters with emphasis on Ez d'Avenir as our principle iconic.  I like this.  While Van Richten's name might be on the cover, this is a "world" that has room for more than one investigator and slayer of the undead.  Plus, and let's be 100% honest here, there is a long shadow cast by Buffy and to not acknowledge that is to be very disingenuous.  We get an overview of the book's contents (Five total Chapters) and a brief overview of horror in your game.  VRGtR embraces the Fantasy Horror of AD&D 2nd ed's Domains of Dread. 

There is also an overview of what the domains are. Or more to the point, what they are not.  The Domains (now a capital) are not a world, are not safe and the only logic that rules here is the logic of the dark powers that surround you.  The Dark Lords who rule their pocket Domains/prisons and the Dark Powers that control it all.  Like the previous versions, the Dark Powers are at best ill-defined, as they should be.  No character is going to go toe to toe with these powers, nor will they even encounter them. We do however get some rumored names like Osybus, Shami-Amourae, and Tenebrous, these are only names here.  To long-time Ravenloft fans and D&D players though these names are tantalizing clues.  It does leave out my personal favorite option from the DoD, the Dark Powers are Imaginary.  The Dark Lords are prisoners of their own device. I will say though there is one Dark Lord in VRGtR that supports my claim for this edition as well.

The Mists are still the Mists and they do their own thing.  Domains are still largely defined as prisons for the Darklords even if they have power within them.  Anyone with any knowledge of Strahd knows this is slim comfort to him. Darklords are covered in here briefly with more detail to come later. These three pages cover pretty the exact same information we read in all the previous editions of Ravenloft.  Added to this is a bit on the adventurers within this "world." Again, "world" in quotes since the book is careful to tell us this is not a world per se but lands within the Mist that might be within the Plane of Shadow or the Shadowfell.  We never came out and said that back in the 90s, but it is what many of us thought.  Adventures are meant to be the heroes of this Fantasy Horror.  That takes us to the first chapter.

Chapter 1: Character Creation

The character creation chapter covers characters native to the Domains of Dread. So what does that mean?  It means that "normal" D&D rules don't have to apply here. Most do, but there is no reason why they have too.  Players are told from the start to "Prepared to be Scared" that this is a horror game and the characters should be designed to be scared.  Using the Gothic Traditions of literature I ALWAYS had Ravenloft characters that were a bit lower than average.  Typically I would make my players roll 2d6+3 for abilities.  So while that still gave me an average of "10" the max and min points were shifted. This Ravenloft is not quite as "Evil" as I was then, but the idea here is that characters are still a bit haunted, a bit scarred and scared.  Horror Lineages are introduced such as the Dhampir (pretty much what is says on the tin), Hexblood (there is a bit of hag blood in your background), and the Reborn which cover the Revenants and Shades of previous editions. These all come with perks and disadvantages. 

horror traits
Ravenloft Cat Ladies are scary
This is Ravenloft and characters can also have Dark Gifts. These are similar to the Powers checks made in the original Realm of Terror. Only know you can be born cursed.  Comparing pages 22-27 of VRGtR to pages 18-20 of Realms of Terror I see they are tying for the same ideas, just slightly different execution.  The VRGtR offers more thematic sorts of changes and "gifts" and less in the way of RoT's Touches of Darkness.  I am not sure if VRGtR offers any way to "become" a Dark Lord like RoT, but even this was made harder to do in DoD.  In truth no character should seek out a way to become a Dark Lord, this represents a failure on the part of the character unless of course it is being used as a plot for the other characters.  Then this is DM fiat. 

This would not be a D&D 5 book without some subclasses.  We get the Bard: College of Spirits where they not only talk about and tell stories of the dead and the dead rise up to share their tales.  And the Warlock gets a powerful Undead patron.

There are new character backgrounds in line with Ravenloft's histories and themes.  These include new Traits, Ideals, Bonds, and Flaws.  The backgrounds are The Haunted One and the Investigator. These can all be used in other places sure, but they do not carry the same weight in Waterdeep as they do in Baroiva. 

Another addition is the use of Horror trinkets.  A 100 of these are just little curiosities that may or may not play into another part of the adventures.  Some might be a Mist Talisman (detailed later) others might just be a weird little thing. 

I am going to cover the Domains and Darklords next time in Part 2 and Horrors and Monsters in Part 3. There might be a Part 4, but let's see how this goes.

Spoiler. I have read through the book a couple of times now.  I feel that most of the people complaining about it on the Internet have not actually read this book.  Certainly, people are handpicking their examples to make their arguments.

Thursday, May 20, 2021

Review: Spelljammer, AD&D Adventures in Space

Cover of the Spelljammer book
Come back to me if you will to a time just right before the Internet.
(Ok, technically the roots of the Internet were here in ARPANet and what I was using BitNet at the time. But you know what I mean.)  

The time is 1989 and the game on my table is AD&D 2nd Edition.  Well, it is really Ravenloft, because, in college that was my setting of choice, AD&D just happens to be the system that ran underneath it all.  So a couple of points already.  I was playing AD&D 2nd Ed and really all I had the money for at the time was for one setting and that was Ravenloft.  There were a lot of great settings in the AD&D 2 days; Forgotten Realms loomed large and impressive, and maybe a little intimidating.  Greyhawk and Mystara only had some minor entries, much to my disappointment, Al-Qadim and Kara-Tur both looked like fun, and then we would also get Planescape. But there was one out that seemed so strange to me that I wanted to know more but yet could not bring myself to buy.  Until now. 

DriveThruRPGs Print on Demand has been a fantastic opportunity for those of us who want to go back and look at some of these other systems and games of our youth.  While I have relied mostly on the aftermarket to get myself up to speed on the Forgotten Realms (and enjoying it) I recently picked up the hardcover POD version of AD&D's Spelljammer.  And I am so happy I did.

Now don't get me wrong. I wanted to play SpellJammer back then.  We ever started a new campaign where all the characters were in a navy, so they all had 3 free levels in fighter, and then they were level 1 (or 4 for the fighters) in whatever other classes they were going to be.  Using the AD&D dual classing rules meant they could not act as fighters until later. But it boosted their HP.  They were going to spend some time at sea, but eventually, they were going to turn their ship into a SpellJamming one.  I named the ship "The Black Betty" after the Ram Jam song because every time I heard "Spelljammer" I thought "ram jam" and the Black Betty was a good name for a ship.  Sadly we never got very far. I was at University and my DM at the time was at a different school and the other players were also at yet another school. Meeting only over the summer was not helpful for a long-term campaign.

Fast forward to today.

Spelljammer: Adventures in Space

For this review, I am considering the Print on Demand hardcover and the PDFs from DriveThruRPG.  There may be things true of these versions that are not true for the original boxed set and things that might be the other way around.  I can't speak to the boxed set since I never owned it.  

Spelljammer is a whopping 278 pages.  Jeff Grubb is our primary author with art by Jeff Easley, Jim Holloway, Dave "Diesel" LaForce, and Roy Parker.  Easley is responsible for our cover, and indeed many of the covers from this time.  The interior art is Jim Holloway who really set the tone and feel for what I consider the 2nd Ed "style" of that time.  The interior is largely black and white with some color illustrations.  Mostly the pictures of ships, what were covers in the separate boxed set books, and some maps.  The scanned pages are not crisp, but they are easy to read.

The book is divided into two large sections that correspond to the two 96-page books that came in the boxed set, Lorebook of the Void and Concordance of Arcane Space.

Lorebook of the Void

We are introduced to how Spelljammer, AD&D in Space, came about.  We also now know that this was the first of new boxed set settings to come out for AD&D 2nd ed.  More would follow and make 2nd Ed more famous for their settings rather than their rules.  The goal for Spelljammer was overtly a simple one; AD&D in space, connect all the main AD&D worlds, and make them work together without changing what makes each one unique.

This section covers the basics of Spelljamming and operating a spelljamming helm.  We get a good overview of the types of spelljamming ships and that various races that can be found in Arcane Space.  We learn that gnomes and halflings for the most part avoid Arcane Space since they are too closely tied to their planets (makes sense) but Krynn's Tinker Gnomes are not so tied to their world in the same fashion so they are very much at home in Arcane Space. We even get a bit on goblinoids.  

The next third covers the various monsters and creatures you will find in AD&D 2nd Ed Monstrous Compendium format. We are given new details on the Beholders (they take the place of Daleks in Arcane Space) and the Neogi. Mind Flayers also get new treatments.  

The last thrid covers the three main AD&D game worlds, Krynn (Dragonlance), Oerth (World of Greyhawk), and Toril (Forgotten Realms).  The problems begin to show here since the cosmology of Krynn is tied very much to their gods.  This is not the fault of Spelljammer or Dragonlance, but rather one of trying to fit the divine into a scientific worldview.  I will admit I do like how the spheres are covered here.  It reminds me a little of how the solar system of Urt is covered in the D&D Immortals Set.  One could take that information and drop it rather cleanly into this book.  It was not done of course because at this time Urt/Mystara was considered part of D&D and not AD&D.  Even discussions online close to the time described AD&D as one universe, maybe even in the same galaxy, and D&D in a different universe altogether. 

Concordance of Arcane Space

The second major section of the book covers the rules part of Arcane Space.  The first chapter describes some basics of how Arcane Space and the Phlogiston work.  Chapter 2 covers some changes to the AD&D rules.  The first change, Lizard Men are now a playable race.  There are changes to some spells and how clerics can talk to their gods. We also get some new spells.  Chapter 3 covers the ships. How they are made, flown, and the capabilities (armor, weapons, storage) of examples.  Combat is covered in Chapter 4.  Ships are a lot like characters in they have an Armor Rating and Hull Points.  Damage by large ship weapons can deal hull damage and/or hit point damage. Chapter 5 covers celestial mechanics, or how systems are made. While in real-life astrophysics we know that forces like gravity will produce round (or oblate) planets and stars, there is a wide variety of things found even nearby to us.  Arcane Space should be just as diverse if not more so.  Oerth (Greyhawk) is a Geocentric system, Toril and Krynn are heliocentric. There are other systems that can be and should be, even stranger.  We learn that there is a flow to the Phlogiston and that some worlds might easy to travel to, but harder to travel away from.

We also have several appendices.  The first covers how magic spells and items work in space.  Appendix 2 covers travel times with Earth and the Solar System as an example along with Krynn, Toril, and Oerth.  Mystara/Urt can be substituted for Earth easy enough.  Flow can affect travel times.

The last section of the book are the color deck plans of various spelljamming ships. Maps and cut-out-and-fold ship minis. Best get the PDF along with the printed book so you can print these on your own.  A large black-hex map would work great for movement in space. 

Reading it today I can overlook some of the flaws that would have bothered me in 1990.  

Print on Demand Book

The Print on Demand book is hardcover, mostly black & white with some color art inside and color covers. It is a hefty volume on premium paper which makes it a little thicker than you expect a 278-page book to be.  It is very high quality. 

Covers of the Spelljammer bookCovers of the Spelljammer book


Interior of the Spelljammer book


Interior of the Spelljammer book

Interior of the Spelljammer book

Interior of the Spelljammer book

Interior of the Spelljammer book

Converting to 5e

In the first chapter of the first section, some advice is given about converting older AD&D monsters to use with Spelljammer since in theory every monster could be found somewhere.  The example given is the Grimlock from the Fiend Folio, a monster they describe as not likely to be updated to 2nd Edition.

Well. We know now the Grimlock. And updated to 3rd and beyond.   So there is no good reason to assume that Spelljammer will "Never" be updated.  In fact with D&D 5's desire to embrace the past and every world of D&D in their products it is reasonable we will see some Spelljammer at some point.  A spelljamming ship was already placed on a level in a 5th edition adventure. 

But converting to 5e based on the material in this book? Well really there are two main areas of focus; monsters and magic.  Many of the monsters have newer 5e writeups now, so this is less a question of conversion and more of replacement.  Magic, in particular spells, would need some more work but the guidelines are in place.  Similar spells should change in similar manners.  Combat can be swapped out for 5e combat, which not terribly different. So yes, if you are playing a 5e game then you can get a lot of use and play out of this book.

If you have ever been curious about Spelljammer but did not want to pay the aftermarket prices then the PDF is an absolute steal.  If you know about it and want to give it a go again (or for the first time) then the POD version is equally cost-effective.

Monday, March 29, 2021

Monstrous Mondays: Monster Collections

So no monster today.  I am getting ready for my big April A to Z of Monsters later this week. 

I was on vacation last week and getting these "new" AD&D 2nd Edition setting books made me think a bit about what I might do with them.  But since monsters are also on my mind I decided it was high time to pull out my old Monstrous Compendiums for AD&D 2nd Ed, and finally get them organized.

AD&D Monstrous Compendiums

I don't recall exactly when, but I misplaced, lost, or sold my original Monstrous Compendiums.  I kinda regret it really, I got them on the days they were released.  I loved the idea of them.  A monster per page full of information.  Even some bits on the ecology of each.  I had ideas of cutting out the various "Ecology of" articles from Dragon and putting them in each one for a full encyclopedic entry of every monster.

While the idea sounds great, in practice the Monstrous Compendiums were a bit of a hassle.  They were large and unwieldy and yes the pages kept getting torn.  The big thing for me was the fact I could note "really" put the monsters in true alphabetical order since they were printed back to back.  I know, gamer problems.

So I pulled everything I had, everything I have managed to round up at actions, used book stores and even a few others, and got both folders finally put together.

Forgotten Realms

Dragonlance

Outer Planes

Ravenloft

In addition to the first two sets (all in the first binder) I got the sets for the Forgotten Realms, Dragonlance, the Outer Planes, and my beloved Ravenloft all in the second binder.

I just need to replace my Greyhawk and Mystara ones now. 

I know I have some more in boxes somewhere, so I'll get those added as well.  Since I am not longer a transient college student with all my D&D books in a couple of milk crates they can live nicely on my bookshelves. Here they would likely to get more use and less wear and tear.

Binders of monsters

They live nicely next to my Castles & Crusades Monsters & Treasure Compendium,  Next to them is something I am working on printing out; the contents of the Swords & Wizardry versions of Monstrosities and Tome of Horrors Complete.  It is going to be about 1200 or more pages of monsters.  This time I am not printing them back to back, but a true one page per monster.  Yeah, that means a lot more paper, but also a lot more ease of use and lots of room for me to include notes. IT will also be hard on my printer.

While there is a core of about 400-500 monsters that are shared across all editions of D&D and clones, there are something like 6,000+ monsters that have been stated up in official products.  Once upon a time, I would have wanted all of them.  Today I am a bit more reasonable.  

OR at least that is what I tell myself.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Mail Call: 2nd Edition Settings

The one thing nearly everyone agrees on is that AD&D 2nd Edition had some fantastic settings.  At the time these settings were new there were so many and I was in college so I never had the chance to play them.  So  I stuck with Ravenloft.  It was a perfect match for me really.  Gothic horror, D&D, what was not to love?  I was always curious about the other settings though. 

Now thanks to DriveThruRPG's Print on Demand service I can satisfy my curiosity without breaking my bank. 

First up the hardcover edition of the Spelljamer Campaign Setting. This had been the boxed set, now it is a quality color hardcover book.   I am used to a high-quality product from DriveThru on their POD but this one is above and beyond.

There are some maps and what had been inserts from the boxed sets that are now printed in the book, so I suggest getting the PDF along with the book to print these out, but the book is just fantastic. I want to try using this with my current games, Basic-era and 5th Edition,  so I hope to report on well it converts over to either of those systems.  

I also grabbed the Planescape Campaign Setting. Again this had been a boxed set and is now a single softcover book.  Again, this set had some great maps and full-color inserts that are replicated here.  This is also a good case for picking up the PDFs as well. 



Both books are really fantastic looking and I am getting a great vibe from these. I would have loved them in the 2nd Ed days. I can't wait to try them in my current games especially in 5e.  Outside of some monsters, I think it could work out well.

In preparation, I even got out my old Monstrous Compendiums to read over. 

I also grabbed some Ravenloft books to replace one I sold and one I never bought.



Domains of Dread is largely as I remembered it.  The one I had back in the day was hardcover of course.  Expedition to Castle Ravenloft is the 3.5 version of the Ravenloft adventure.  I have the other "Expedition" books and this one compares well to the ones I have already.

With the new Ravenloft book for 5e on the way and the ones already out for 5e this will give a good way to see how well they all flow.  In truth, there is little in any edition that can't be converted over. 

The PODs at DriveThruRPG have been great and are getting better.