Showing posts with label 5e. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 5e. Show all posts

Sunday, August 9, 2020

#RPGaDAY 2020: Day 9 Light

Hmm. Light. Light has not been on my mind very much lately.

Shadow has.

Often when talking about light one also brings up dark as in the opposite of, or the absence of, light.  If you pay any attention to what is going on in the world of D&D publishing now there has been a strong push to change, or alter, the nature of certain "dark" races like Drow and Orcs.  I am not going to get into that today, nor do I even find the topic particularly interesting.  Want "good" Drow? Ok. Fine have them. Want good orcs? Sure! They existed in 2nd Ed, nothing new here. My Desert Orcs have been portrayed as "good" since I came up with them.

But if an "evil" race or species can be good, then a "good" race can also be evil.  I pretty much play elves as xenophobic assholes who really don't give two-shits about humans and frankly are just hoping they all kill themselves off.  Are they evil? No, but they are not "good" either.

But extremes are dull. They are cartoon versions of the people I want to represent.  Give me nuance. Give me flaws AND strengths.  Good and Evil. Light and Dark.  

Give me Shadows.

I got to thinking back in June when I was doing my BECMI work I picked a copy of the Shadow Elves guide for the BECMI system.   The Shadow Elves of Mystara are more interesting than Drow.  They are little more nuanced than the Drow are, and this was back in the late 80s.

While reading this I could not help but think of the Shadar-kai from newer D&D. The Shadar-kai from 3rd and 5th Edition D&D are a type of elf/fey, but they were more human-like in D&D 4 where they got the largest treatment.  

There is also the Shadow Fey from Kobold Press which are also interesting.

Between all these treatments there is something I am sure I can use. 


Tuesday, August 4, 2020

#RPGaDAY 2020: Day 4 Vision

"I was raised by witches boy, I see with more than eyes and you know that."
- Frigga to Thor in 2013, Avengers Endgame

Call me biased, but I have always liked the idea that witches see things that other character types don't.  Not just in terms of "infravision" or "dark vision" but in just "other vision."

A couple of house rules that I always use are witches can see ghosts, spirits, and other sorts of magical creatures that are typically invisible to others.  They can see magical auras which they can tell something about the person they are looking at.  Most importantly they can recognize other witches on sight.


Mechanically it really doesn't add much to D&D.  I argue the kinds of ghosts and things the witch can see are harmless to everyone.  But if you can see them, then they can see you.  So they are not always harmless to the witch herself.

In Ghosts of Albion, this type of vision is known as "Lesser Sensing" and it is something all magical creatures, including magicians and witches, have.   

Witches and Warlocks in NIGHT SHIFT do this as part of their class.

I have extended it to my fantasy games where it is just called "The Sight."

In D&D3-5 or Pathfinder1-2, it could easily be a Feat.  For my Basic-era witches an Occult Power.

The Sight
Using the Sight requires a moment of concentration but then the witch can See.  She can see magical auras that will give her some basic information on what she is looking at.
She can See:
- magical effects such as active spells, charms, curses or compulsions on a person
- magical lines of force (ley lines)
- whether or not a person is a spell-caster* (she can always detect another witch)
- undead

With more concentration (1 round) she can See:
- Invisible creatures
- alignment 
- polymorphed, shape-changed or lycanthropes

The subject of the witch's Sight knows they are being Seen. They get an uncomfortable feeling and know it is coming from the witch, even if they do not know what it means.

That's the rough version, it would need to be tweaked for the respective games.  For example it would work with D&D 5's perception skill. 

Monday, August 3, 2020

#RPGaDAY 2020: Day 3 Thread

Over the weekend two game-related thoughts kept going through my head.  Frist Gen Con and how we were all missing it and the adventures I was going to run for my family and the theme of Thread.

Since D&D 5 had come out I have been running my family through the "Gygaxian Classics." while we technically started with B1 In Search of the Unknown with AD&D 1st ed, we quickly moved to D&D 5.  From here we did B2 Keep on the Borderlands and moved through the Great Greyhawk Campaign.  We have been calling the group The Order of the Platinum Dragon


Our order of games has been:

T1 Village of Hommlet (forgotten by the characters, played as a flashback after I6)
B1 In Search of the Unknown (Gen Con Game)
B2 Keep on the Borderlands
L1 The Secret of Bone Hill  (Gen Con Game)
X2 Castle Amber
I6 Ravenloft (Gen Con Game)
C2 Ghost Tower of Inverness
A1-5 Slave Lords
C1 The Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan
G123, G4 Against the Giants  (Gen Con Game)
D12, 3 Descent into the Depths of the Earth, Vault of the Drow
Q1 Queen of the Demonweb Pits (Gen Con Game)

I wanted my family to have the "Classic D&D Experience) with this.  Communities are often defined by the stories they share. These are the stories we all share.  How did you defeat Strahd? Did you shout 'Bree Yark'? What did you do in the Hill Giant's dining room?   Did you survive the Demonweb?

One of the things I have been doing differently than the original narrative is thread everything together with a massive conspiracy.  Someone, or something, killed all the Gods of the Sun.  
The characters (and the players) have come to the conclusion that this something is the Elder Elemental Eye.  But they don't know who or what that is.
They have learned that Eclavdra betrayed her Goddess, Lolth, and has incited a civil war within the city of Erelhei-Cinlu.  The followers of Lolth vs the followers of the Elder Elemental Eye.

What they don't know yet is who has been manipulating these threads.  Behind the scenes, the Demon Lord Graz'zt has been scheming.  In my world Graz'zt has always coveted the Drow. He wants their devotion and is jealous of the iron hold Lolth has on them.  So he has been stirring her up into more and more desperate attacks on the Prime Material.  He is using Eclavdra and her devotion to the EEE to get to Lolth.  Eclavdra thinks Graz'zt can free the EEE from his prison in the Temple of Elemental Evil.  To this end Elcavdra has been using what is left of the EEE former followers, or rather their descendants, the Giants.  Titans and Primordials followed the EEE back in the Dawn War.  Graz'zt thinks he can control the EEE once he has the worship of the Drow.

What Elcavdra doesn't know is Graz'zt has no intention of releasing the EEE from the Temple of Elemental Evil, save as far as he wants that power too.  Graz'zt is not a demon at all, but rather a devil sent by Asmodeus to infiltrate the demon hierarchy and discover the source of pure evil for Asmodeus.  Graz'zt has gone too deep into the cold though and now he thinks like a demon lord. Asmodeus suspects this of course.  Both of these powerful evil creatures will betray each other on the first chance.

Graz'zt has long suspected that the Temple of Elemental Evil is the key.  Centuries ago he sent the Demon Lady Zuggtmoy into the Temple. He discovered she was essentially absorbed by the power of the EEE. Now her cults worship it. 

What none of the evil lords and ladies know though is that the EEE is really Tharizdûn. He is manipulating Graz'zt and Asmodeus to free him.  He tried with Graz'zt before and Graz'zt sent in Zuggtmoy.  Tharizdûn quickly overwhelmed, overpowered, and destroyed Zuggtmoy's form and spirit.  This gave Tharizdûn enough power though to put his final plans into action.  He needs the Temple of Elemental Evil open. Only Lolth has the keys to unlock the Temple.

And in my next adventure with the family, Graz'zt is going to get them.

That was supposed to happen this last weekend, but Gen Con shut down due to Covid-19 we did not get to do this.

One thing that never sat well with me, and many others, is that after this epic adventure of Giants and Drow and going to the Abyss the end antagonist is Lolth and her Spider-ship?  It seems a little anti-climatic. 

Instead of that my last layer of the Lolth Demonweb will be Skein of the Death Mother.  



The spider-ship will still be used in my ill-defined Q2 adventure, likely piloted by Eclavdra to invade the surface world, but starting with the houses still loyal to Lolth in Erelhei-Cinlu.

I am going to pull all these threads, and more, together with the grand finale, The Temple of Elemental Evil

Then I am looking forward to running my War of the Witch Queens.

Friday, July 3, 2020

Kickstart Your Weekend: Nightfell: Horror Fantasy Setting for 5e

I have not one of these in a while so let's get to it!

Nightfell: Horror Fantasy Setting for 5e



While I could do with less Grimdark these days, this one does look like a lot of fun and promises to have some nice Stretch Goals.  Plus I have chatted with the creator a bit and looks really fantastic.

So yeah, I think I'll give this one a try.


Thursday, June 18, 2020

Retrospective, Review and Refit: CM2 Death's Ride (BECMI)

Ah.  Death's Ride.  I have such fond memories of this adventure.

CM2 Death's Ride: Retrospective
Death's Ride is one of a few adventures I have had the privilege to both play in and to run. While overtly for the D&D Basic rules, Companion set, it can be run (and we did) under AD&D. Though some of the special features were lost I think.

I bought this module and gave it to my DM to run back in the day and I ran it using the 3.x version of the D&D rules and then again most recently using the 5th Edition rules.

The Barony of Two Lakes Vale gave us ample room to move about and try different things, but then it was the NPCs that captured my attention the most. Ulslime, Wazor, and Korbundar lived on in my games for many more years with both Ulsime and Korbundar even threatening my players in the 3rd Ed. game. One, and I am not sure if he was an NPC in the game or one my DM made up, went on to torture my characters for many more adventures after this.

The Death Portal was an interesting bit of necromantic trickery to get the players something to focus on and the new monsters were a lot of fun (the Death Leech nearly took out my characters back in the 80s.)

But before I wax too much more into nostalgia, let's review this adventure proper.

CM2 Death's Ride: Review
by Garry Spiegle, art by Jeff Easley, 32 pages, color covers, black & white interior art.
I am reviewing both the DriveThruRPG PDF and my original copy from 1984.

Death's Ride is one of our first Companion level adventures.  The code for this series in CM, since C was already taken.  Both CM1 Test of the Warlords (with it's Warduke-like cover) and CM2 Death's Ride were designed to be introductions to Companion level play. Both were supposedly designed to work with each other, both being set in Norwold.  However, they really don't work together other than this thin thread of Norwold.  That does not detract from its enjoyment.

The basic premise is this.

The adventurers, already powerful and famous in their own right, are summoned to the Barony of Twolakes Vale by King Ericall of Norwold (Background on King Ericall is given in Companion adventure CM1.) The local baron, Sir Maltus Fharo, has sent no taxes, caravans, or messages in several months. A small body of troops sent by the king to investigate has not returned. At this time, Ericall doesn't have the resources to send a large body of troops, so he is asking the characters to go to the barony, find out what's wrong, and if possible, restore contact. The king gives the characters a royal warrant and permission to act in his name.

The problem is much worse than the King suspects. A gateway to the “Sphere of Death” has been opened in Two Lakes Vale. It's up to the characters to determine who or what opened the gate. They must also close the gate forever. The characters should not actually enter the Sphere of Death in this adventure; their goal is to close the gate. Twolakes Vale holds only an inflow portal from the sphere. Consider any character who actually reaches the Sphere of Death as killed (or at least removed from the campaign until other characters can launch a formal rescue operation).

Here they will encounter death, destruction and our three main Antagonists. Wazor an "Atlantean Mage", Ulslime a cleric of "Death" and our cover boy Korbundar the huge blue dragon.  No, the skeleton riding him does not appear anywhere in this adventure. Nor does the lake of fire.

By the way. Which one do you think is Wazor and which one is Ulslime?
The adventure proceeds on a location-based adventure.  The characters move from location to location in the Twolakes Vale, which is described well except for where it is exactly in Norwold, finding clues, fighting enemies. Until the final confrontation and destruction of the artifact (the "deathstone") opening the Sphere of Death. Of course, you need another artifact to do that.

The NPCs are very detailed and out trio of bad-guys are so much fun that both Ulslime and Korbundar were made into semi-permanent NPCs of note in my games.    It got to the point where my kids would be like "Is that Korbundar!!" anytime a blue dragon was used in a game.

The other issue with this adventure, and one that was lost on me until recently, is that is doesn't really fully feel like something from the Companion Set.  It has been described, by most notably by Jonathan Becker at B/X Blackrazor, that this adventure really runs like a high-level Expert set adventure.  A wilderness hex with various points within the hex that need to be investigated.
There are some of the new monsters in the adventure, but when I played it and ran through it we substituted the monsters from AD&D/D&D3 as the case required.  There are Wrestling Ratings to the monsters and a chance to raise an army, but nothing about domains or ruling kingdoms.
Of course, this would all come later on in the CM adventures, so I guess that is not too big of a deal.

Calling it a "High-level dungeon crawl" or "High-level Expert Set Adventure" is fair, but it leaves out a lot of what made this particular adventure so much fun. I still have my original copy of this and it holds up well.   So despite the criticisms of it as a "Companion Adventure", it is still a very fun "D&D Adventure" and one that holds up.

CM2 Death's Ride: Refit
I have no idea how much I paid for my copy of Death's Ride when it first came out. How much were modules back then? $5? $8?  Whatever it was I certainly got my money's worth. (the consensus online is $6.)

Back in 1985-5 when I went through as a player we used AD&D 1st Ed rules.  Seemed like the logical thing to do.  We stuck it on the end of this huge campaign that also included H4.



When I would later run it again in college it became part of my big "Ravenloft is From Mystara" deal and I ran it under AD&D 2nd Ed.   It usually became the gateway characters used to leave Ravenloft and come back into their normal world.


Now I am setting up to run it again, this time using the 5th Edition Rules.

For that, I joined the Classic Modules Today group and did the 5th edition conversion.


I had a great time not only converting the adventure and creatures, but getting a chance to re-do Wazor, Ulslime, and Korbundar as 5th edition characters.  It was a struggle I have to admit not to include *my* versions of them and instead play them by the book.

In the conversion guide I mention where I would place the adventure in the Forgotten Realms (something we all did) and how it could connect to others.  For me I saw this as a nice Coda to the Out of the Abyss adventure.



Characters will complete Out of the Abyss at roughly the same level characters would need to be to start Death’s Ride. The adventure can be seen as either as some last-ditch effort by Orcus to open a portal in the Realms in which to invade or as a means of flooding the area with undead.

This flows from both my using Death's Ride as part of an Orcus/Realms take-over (Module H4) and my connections to Ravenloft as a portal.

I might not have know the Companion Set very well, but there is at least one Companion level adventure I do know.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Class Struggles: The BECMI Prestige Classes

A slightly different sort of Class Struggles today.
Yesterday I reviewed the Companion Set Rules.  Within those rules some new "sub-classes" or "traveling classes" were introduced.  Let me summarize here.

Druids are Neutral clerics of 9th level or greater dedicated to the cause of Nature. They are non-land owning and not devoted to another lord or cause.
Knight a Neutral (or any alignment) traveling fighter, that is a non-land owning fighter. Must swear fealty to a royal ruler.
Paladin a Lawful traveling fighter who swears fealty to a Lawful church.
Avenger a Chaotic traveling fighter who swears allegiance to a Chaotic church.

There are others, such as Guildmasters and Magists, but those four are the focus of my attention this week.


Looking over the rules I can't help but think of how much these resemble what would be known as a Prestige Class in 3.x D&D.  In fact let's make a direct comparison between the Avenger and the Blackguard, an evil fighter prestige class.

According to the d20 SRD for 3.0 a Blackguard must meet the following requirements.  I am putting D&D BECMI equivalent translations in brackets [].
Alignment: Any evil.  [chaotic]
Base Attack Bonus: +6. [at least 6th level]
Skills: Hide 5 ranks, Knowledge (religion) 2 ranks. [again at least 6th level with some knowledge of religion so high wisdom is good]
Feats: Cleave, Improved Sunder, Power Attack. [knows some combat maneuvers]
Special: The character must have made peaceful contact with an evil outsider who was summoned by him or someone else.  [makes allegiances to an evil religion.]

Given the systems, the Blackguard is pretty much the same as an Avenger.
Back in the 3.x days, there was even a Paladin Prestige Class that you had to be a fighter or a cleric to qualify for.  It made a lot of sense to me.


So a Knight, Paladin, and the Avenger can all be seen rather easily seen as BECMI Prestige Classes.
In 3e, Prestige Classes were designed to be open to any class, but some were easier to get into if you started in the right class. Some were limited to class, but not "on paper" so a Prestige Class limited only to clerics could say "must be able to cast divine spells" or "ability to turn undead."  Yeah, it was sneaky, but a fighter could take a level of cleric and be able to get in.

So I am thinking that in BECMI prestige classes would have to be "Base Class" specific.
What do I mean by "Base Class?" Well, these are your Cleric, Fighter, Magi-User, and Theif classes.
In D&D 3.x a difference is made between a Base Class and a Prestige Class.   Why would I even care?  Well, looking at classes in this light gives me a ton of new options.  For starters it allows me to be able to add classes to my BECMI games and not add the bloat of an extra set of class rules.  It also allows me to explore all sorts of other options for a class.
It also allows me to have these new classes, often treated like a multi-class or dual-class without the need for a bunch of messing with double noting of XP rewards.

There are other examples.
The book GAZ3: Principalities of Glantri covers the Seven Secret Crafts of Magic in Glantri.  Each one of these could be seen as Magic-user specific prestige classes.  The Master's set introduced the Shaman and Wokani classes.  Not to mention all the various "witch-like" classes I have covered from other BECMI books.  I am sure there are more to be honest with you, I just have not had the chance to dig them all up yet.

BECMI Prestige Classes

How then can you use the 3.x Prestige Classes, or for that matter 2nd ed. Kits, 4e Paragon Paths or 5e sub-classes, in BECMI?  Simple find classes that work for you first.

So I am going to start up a BECMI campaign and I know that one of my sons is going to want to play an assassin and the other will want to play a ranger.

Both classes are in AD&D and in most versions of the game.   How can I bring them in?

Well, the simple solution is to import the class wholesale, but I guess at that point why not just play AD&D?  I want something that is more Basic-feeling.  I would need to add some more details, but here are some ideas.

Acrobat
A thief that steals not for profit or personal gain but instead for the thrills and even the challenge could become an Acrobat.  These thieves can be Neutral and even some Lawful.  I would follow the guidelines in the Unearthed Arcana.

Assassin
This class was removed from AD&D 2nd Ed and absent in D&D 3e as a base class.  It does exist as a 3e Prestige Class and a 5e Sub-class. In the case of 3e the fastest way in is to start out as a Rogue.  In 5e you have to be a Rogue first.  The 5e SRD only lists one sub-class or archetype, the Thief.
The BECMI Assassin starts out as a Thief but at some point becomes an assassin.  I am going to say 8th or 9th level, and they would need to be Chaotic. They can use poison, but a limited number of weapons, armor, and no shields.

Illusionist
These are Magic-users that focus completely on Illusion Magic. They have their own spell lists like the druid does.  They do not build their own towers but are often entertainer magicians for courts and other notables of power.

Ranger
These are fighters that are dedicated to nature, much like the druid, and focus on a particular enemy.
They cannot become Lords or Ladies, but instead, have a small stronghold.  Fighters of 9th level or higher may become rangers.

These ideas can be easily extended.

Necromancers
Have their own spell list. Do not build towers but may take over any ruins. Command undead.  The existence of Illusionists and Necromancers could also imply other schools of magic like AD&D 2nd Speciality wizards.  I suppose I could just import those. Other options are like the School of Magic in Glantri.

Bards
Oh man, these guys in AD&D are a mess.  But I would steal a page from 2nd Ed and make them Thief-like and have them improve their fighting skills a little and give them some druid magic.  OR go the Celtic route and make them part of the Cleric class.  Still thinking on this one.

Looking at 3.x a few jump out right away.  In addition to the Blackguard and the Assassin, I can easily see adapting the Arcane Archer for elves and the Dwarven Delver for Dwarves.



There can be many, many more.  With five other editions of *D&D to choose from there is no end to what could be done. 

Now I am sure some people might complain about "class bloat" and that is a fair argument.  I think keeping to the base four (or base five if you count my witch) then adding the other Prestige Classes on an as-needed basis. 

Or, even closer to the spirit of the rules, add these as "role-playing guides" only.  I mean really what is to stop a player from saying "my elf is an arcane archer!" and make the choice to only use a bow?  Maybe the DM and the group can decide that this elf can add +1 to hits with their bow due to their dedication.  Simple fix and no new rules added!

Make some use out of that multitude of books I own.

Monday, June 15, 2020

BECMI Special, Warduke for 5e

We are going into Companion Week so let's get a character above 15th level.  Who better than the poster boy for Chaotic Avengers, Warduke.

But since I am playing 5e this weekend, here are his stats for 5e.



H/T to Jason Vey for providing these stats.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Classic Adventures Revisited: X1 The Isle of Dread (BECMI Edition)

When I kicked off BECMI Month I mentioned that I was going to try to do BECMI versions of some regular features.  Here is one I was really looking forward too.

With the possible exception of B2 Keep on the Borderlands, no other adventure help so many new DMs as much as the Expert Set's The Isle of Dread.  In fact it had so much appeal that the module was available to purchase separately AND it was included with both the B/X Expert Set and BECMI Expert Set.  No surprise really since the module contained so much information.

For this review and overview I am considering my original print version of X1 along with some copies I managed to pick up from somewhere, the PDF version on DriveThruRPG and the Goodman Games Original Adventures Reincarnated hardcover version which features both the B/X and BECMI versions as well as a new 5th Edition D&D version.

The Isle of Dread is notable since it is the only B/X adventure to get reprinted in the newer TSR BECMI-era trade dress.

While my focus this week is on the D&D Expert set from 1983, I am also going to talk about my experiences with this from the D&D Expert Set of 1981.  The copies of the module do differ in layout, but they are largely the same in terms of content.  In fact I have not discovered many differences at all.

Yeah. I am a fan.

X1 The Isle of Dread
For this review I am considering the print version that came with my D&D Expert set, one purchase separate of the set and the PDF from DriveThruRPG.
The Ilse of Dread by David "Zeb" Cook and Tom Moldvay.  32 pages, color covers with blue maps. B&W interior art and maps.

The adventure that was to complete the new 1981 Basic and Expert Sets was written by the two main authors of those sets, David "Zeb" Cook and Tom Moldvay.  The Basic set would include the adventure module B2 Keep on the Borderlands written by Gygax himself. But the Expert set did not have an adventure until Cook and Moldvay wrote it.  Both drew on their love of pulp fiction and it shows.  Additionally, parts of the world created by Moldvay with his then writing partner of Lawrence Schick became the starting ground for the Known World, this world would later expand more until we got Mystara, but that is a topic for another post/review.
The adventure was so well received that when the expert set was rereleased in 1983 under Frank Mentzer editing, TSR included the Isle of Dread again with a new cover.

While the adventure centers around the eponymous island, there is a lot to this book that is above and beyond the adventure itself.

Part 1: Introduction
Here we get the basics of the world we are in and what this adventure was designed for.  Don't expect complicated plots here, this is a sandbox for new DM's wanting to try out adventuring in the Wilderness.   Here we also get our first look at our world.
"Map C-1" is such an unassuming name.  Though I will argue I have never read any map in such detail as I did with this one.  I don't even pour over maps of my beloved Chicago as much. 
Each country is given a brief, I mean really brief, description. Hardly more than a paragraph. But in those scant words were the seeds of a lifetime of adventure.
The biggest criticism, of course, you have such a hodge-podge of cultures and climes in a 1,200 x 1,000 miles square.  So if I put Chicago in Glanrti then the Kingdom of Ostland would be Halifax, and the Isle of Dread is about where the Bahamas are.  That's not a lot of land really.  But hey, I've made it work for me.
Seriously we are 2.5 pages in and I can already point to about 30 years of gaming.  What is in the rest of this book?

Part 2: The Isle of Dread
Here we get our plot hook for adventuring on the Isle of Dread.  A letter from pirate captain Rory Barbarosa. It is designed to get the characters to the island.  When really all I have ever needed was "hey there are dinosaurs on that island. wanna check it out?"  And it has always worked.  Plus it's a great excuse to use all those old plastic dinosaurs.
There is the trip to the island, which in my cases always became an adventure all on its own.
Once you get to the island only the lower South East peninsula has been detailed with the Village of Tanaroa, which comes straight out of the 1930s King Kong movie.  This was also the origin of one of my favorite NPCs ever, Bone Man, a village priest, and later warlock.  I even got some original art done of him for my Warlock book from none other than Jeff Dee himself.
Outside of the giant, Kong-style walls, there is the rest of the island. Here we run into not just some of the best D&D Expert set monsters, but some of the best monsters in the history of D&D.  The Rakasta, cat people with war-claws (and the 1982 Cat People was just around the corner!), the Phanatons, flying squirel-monkeys (had more than one player want to play them as a race!), the Aranea, and most of all the Kopru!

There is a meme floating around social media around the time of this review about being an adult suck because no one ever asks you what your favorite dinosaur is.  Well, my kids love this because they know mine, and it is a total cheat since it is not really a dinosaur, but something older, the Dimetrodon.  So the Dimetrodon Peril was the encounter *I* remember the best, not the "Deranged Ankylosaurus."  An animal high on "loco weed?"  No thanks, I grew up in the Mid-west that is not adventure material, that is something everyone saw once or twice.

The 8 or so pages in the center are all dedicated to some of the best maps in D&D up to Ravenloft.

Part 3: The Central Plateau
Seriously. There is so much going on here that it always takes me a couple session to get through it all and I have NEVER had a party investigate the entire central part of the island.  The Village of Mantru always gets a good investigation though.

Part 4: Taboo Island
The base of the Kopru.  These were my first crazy fish-men and I wanted to use them in place of the Kuo-toa in the D-Series, but I later relented.  I still kind of wish I had done it though.

Part 5: New Monsters
One of the best features of the BECMI-era modules, and this is no exception, are all the new monsters.  The above-mentioned ones, plus more dinosaurs and prehistoric creatures.  Sadly, no giant ape.  I did create some Sea-dragons for this and used them.

This adventure has not only stood the test of time, it has stood the test of editions.  Much like B2 Keep on the Borderlands I think I have run this for every single edition of *D&D since 1981. Most recently for D&D 5th edition and it still works great.   Plus every time I have run it there is something new to find and there is something new that the players do.
It is really no surprise that it was used for both iterations of the Expert Set.

Maybe second only to B2 and B1 in terms of numbers of players, but The Isle of Dread lasts as one of the best Basic-era adventures out there. In today's frame of mind, the adventure is equal parts Pirates of the Caribean, King Kong, and Jurassic Park. It is a heady cauldron of tropes, ideas, and just plain crazy fun.

Other Editions of D&D
The Isle of Dread is so popular that it got routinely updated to whatever was the popular version of D&D at the time.

D&D 3.x
Paizo, back when they were publishing Dragon and Dungeon magazines published Dungeon #114 which brought the Isle to 3rd Edition D&D and the World of Greyhawk.
The adventure Torrents of Dread by Greg Vaughan is a must-have for any fan of the original Isle of Dread.
They would later feature it again in issues #139, #142 and #145.



D&D 4
Mystara or Oerth? Where is the Isle of Dread?  D&D 4th Edition Manual of the Planes lets you have it both ways!  The Isle is part of the Feywilde and it can come in and out of other realities.  It's a pretty cool idea really.


D&D 5
There are a couple of ways to play the Isle of Dread using the new D&D 5th edition rules.
There is the Classic Modules Today: X1 The Isle of Dread 5e.  This is just conversion notes and monster stats. You still need the full adventure in order to play it.

The other is the fantastic Goodman Games Original Adventures Reincarnated #2 The Isle of Dread.


The book is a massive 328 pages and retails for just under $50.  So it is a big one.  Color covers and predominantly black & white interiors.  If you have any of the other Good Games Original Adventures you will know what you are getting here.  The first 10 pages deal with the history and background of the adventure. An article and an interview from David "Zeb" Cook. An article from Lawerence Schick on his and Tom Moldvay's creation of the Known World. As well as some other retrospectives.
The next 34 pages reprint the original 1981 version from the B/X Expert boxed set.
The next 38 pages reprint the 1983 version from the BECMI Expert boxed set.
It's great to see them both side by side though if I am being 100% fair the reduction in font size for the faithful reproductions is hard on these 50+-year-old eyes.

Now the material we spent all this money on.   The 5e update.
The 5th edition conversion is a complete rewrite of the adventure and covers 246 pages.  That seems like a lot, but a lot of material has been added including 90+ monsters, new magic items, 5 new spells, 15 NPCs, player handouts, and maps.

There is also an appendix for further adventures on the island. I have mentioned above how much potential this adventure has, this only supports my claim.

Regardless of which version you have (or how many) this is one of those adventures that succeeds both as a learning tool for new DMs and as a fantastic sandbox adventure that you can go back too time and time again.

Plays Well with Others
The Isle of Dread is also one of those adventures that just lends itself so well to all sorts of games.  I mention the "King Kong" feel to it, but there is also a strong "Lost World" of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and "Pellucidar" from Edgar Rice Burroughs.  There is even a tiny bit of "Godzilla" and Monster Island here, the adventure remains very pulpy. This means that the setting can be used with a ton of different games and nothing at all about the island needs to change.

Dinosaurs? Of course! Weird fish people? The more the merrier! Pirates? Always! Strange Cults? Everyday!

I have already talked about how well you can use this adventure with two "D&D derived" games, the Pulpy exploits of Amazing Adventures.


and the equally pulpy, though the more dark fantasy of Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea.


Running this in either would only require the barest minimum of conversion.  In fact, using the Goodman Games version gives you a leg up for using it with Amazing Adventures since the SIEGE game (that powers AA and Castles & Crusades) is very similar to both AD&D and D&D5.

Of course, you can save your self some effort and use the brand new Amazing Adventures for 5e.


No. It is not out just yet.

But what else can you do?  Lots really.

Thanks to X1's solid pulp roots anything from around that time is also fair game.  No pun intended.


Hollow Earth Expedition and Leagues of Adventure are two Ubiquity powered RPGS.  Hollow Earth should really capture the minds and hearts of any Mystara fan since it is also a hollow world.  Leagues of Adventure is a pulpy Victorian age game.  Both though draw on the same sources that Cook and Moldvay did for the Isle of Dread.
The adventure would need to be tweaked a little to use with either of these games, but because their source materials are largely the same appropriate substitutes can be found in either game.

Editorial: Seriously Mystara fans, check out Hollow Earth Expedition. There is a ton of great ideas for Hollow World here.

But what about my own beloved Victorian Era?  I am so glad you asked!



Games like Gaslight and Ravenloft Masque of the Red Death already cleave close to the D&D rules used in the Isle of Dread.  These games just put more "dread" into them.  Both also take place in the late Victorian era so the pulpy spirit of adventure is already getting started.

Ghosts of Albion, my favorite child, takes place in the early Victorian era, and travel in the world is not as easy as it is in the 1880-1890s, but that still is not a problem. Ghosts' higher magic system is also a benefit here.

If you want to go even darker then there is the classic.


Call of Cthulhu's DNA is found deep in the introns of the Isle of Dread.  How do you convert this?  One simple change.  The Kopru used to be human.  Rory Barbarosa is not lost, he has been changed and even all these years later he is still alive as something else.
Hell. That's a good enough idea to use in any game!
While I personally think that everyone who plays any version of D&D should also play Call of Cthulhu, Sandy Petersen's Cthulhu Mythos for 5e is a great substitute.  Grab the 5e version of the Isle of Dread and no conversions are needed.

Monster Hunting
While monster hunting can be achieved with, well, every single game out there, my "Monster Naturalist" game is a little different.  You don't kill the monsters, you need to bring them back alive.
It is also not a stretch to say that my Monster Naturalist game idea got its start here with this island and its menageries.  But it found it's true form in Blue Rose.


The idea is a simple one.  The Isle of Dread is about to erupt in a huge volcano.  Not terribly original I know, in fact that is the point I am stealing from any number of pulpy-feeling movies.

The inhabitants have all been relocated to nearby islands all that is left are the dinosaurs and other strange creatures.  And that's where you, Sovereign’s Finest, come in.  Efforts to save some of these creatures are underway and it is your job to get them off the island before the volcano destroys it.  Easy enough idea and you have plenty of time. That is, as long as nothing goes wrong.

Blue Rose: The AGE RPG of Romantic Fantasy is a different game in which hunting and killing monsters is never the point.  Sure, evil monsters can be dispatched with no pause, but these are dinosaurs and the Queen feels that efforts should be made to rescue as many as can.  Of course, she does not want the lives of her Finest to be in jeopardy so great care is taken.  What the Queen and her advisors don't know about is the Kopru, are they trying to benefit from this disaster?  And the pirates, are they taking the animals (and maybe even the people) to be sold?  These will be the problems the envoys will need to solve.  Oh, and the volcano is starting to shake. A lot.

One day I need to run a campaign centered around the island and its neighbors.  I certainly have enough to keep me busy.

Links

Thursday, June 4, 2020

Review: B7 Rahasia (BECMI Special)

"You soon are lead to an elven maid, whose veiled grace and beauty outshines all others present as the sun outshines the stars-she is Rahasia.
"Will you aid me?" she asks."

Module B7 Rahasia

B7 Rahasia is an adventure for the BECMI version of the Basic rules.  Since module B5 the Basic modules all featured the new BECMI trade dress, but B7 Rahasia is an older adventure with some solid history in the D&D game.  But I am getting to the middle of the story.

Back in 1979 Tracy and Laura Hickman wanted to play AD&D but needed money to be able to buy the Dungeon Master's Guide. So like so many after them they wrote an adventure to sell so the could afford to pick up the DMG.   That adventure was Rahasia.

Later the Hickmans would go to work for TSR and here they would give us what is arguably one of the greatest adventures of all time, Ravenloft, but before that, they republished Rahasia in 1983 under the RPGA banner.  In fact, RPGA 1 Rahasia and it's sequel RPGA 2 Black Opal Eye were the first two RPGA adventures for the new BECMI Basic game.

Rahasia is for levels 1-2 and then Black Opal Eye for levels 2-3.


These currently go for a lot of money on eBay now.  RPGA2 Black Opal Eye is available on DriveThruRPG, but the RPGA1 version of Rahasia is not.

Rahasia would get a third printing again in 1984 as the new adventure module B7 Rahasia.
This new version was a combination of the two earlier editions.

For this review, I am considering the PDF from DriveThruRPG and my original print copy from 1984.

Module B7 Rahasia
Tracy and Laura Hickman. 32 Pages, color cover, black & white interior.
Cover art by Jeff Easley. Interior art by Jeff Easley and Tim Truman
Maps by Diesel & D.C. Sutherland Ill

This adventure is a primary example of what has been called "the Hickman Revolution" and while it was independent of the design of the BECMI rules, it does dovetail into the rules and feel rather well.  The Hickman Revolution can best be explained with the original requirements the Hickmans set for themselves in their adventures.
  1. A player objective more worthwhile than simply pillaging and killing.
  2. An intriguing story that is intricately woven into the play itself.
  3. Dungeons with some sort of architectural sense.
  4. An attainable and honorable end within one or two sessions playing time.
Another very strong point is an NPC/Antagonist that is more than just a mindless monster.  This can be seen in Dragonlance and can be seen in its ultimate form in Count Strahd from Ravenloft.

These all exist in one form or another in this adventure.  We have an evil cleric known as the Rahib, but is he really our "Big Bad" of this tale?  No. But again I jump ahead.

The plot begins as a simple one.  The characters agree to help an elven maid named Rahasia defeat a great evil that has come to her lands. This evil, the Rahib, has captured two elf maidens (Sylva and Merisa), Rahasia's father, and her fiancee. So the characters have to rescue the Prince this time!  He has also taken control over a group of elven cleric/monks (essentially) known as the Siswa.

This is an important bit, so I am going to interrupt myself here.  The Siswa are all mind-controlled, normally these are the elves that guard the temple, so they really should not be killed.  In the Hickman Revolution simply killing things is never the way to go.  This is true here.  The characters need to find ways to incapacitate the Siswa, but not kill them.

Defeating the Rahib is fine, and getting to him is the first half of the adventure.  The second half is discovering the REAL Big Bads.  You might have seen them on the cover.

Part 2, or the part that was covered in Black Opal Eye, deals with the real villains of this piece.  Here we learn that the Rahib had made a deal with the spirits of three dead witches, Karelena, Solorena, and Trilena.  These witches have now taken over the bodies of the elf maids and want to get Rahasia for Trilena.  They can accomplish this with the Black Opal Eye. When all three witches are freed they are much more powerful, so getting them before they can get Rahasia is the goal. Failing that any female character with a Charisma of 15 or higher is the target.

There are some traps, some false leads and some clues in the form of wine bottles.  But all in all a very effective adventure with some nice twists.  More importantly, it also gives us three (well four I guess) memorable NPCs.  While the Rahib can be defeated, and ultimately forgotten about, the witches, Karelena, Solorena, and Trilena, are far more interesting and really should come back again in a future adventure.

There are maps, pre-rolled characters to use, and of course an elven princess who will be in your debt.

The adventure also features something that the "new" BECMI modules all would feature, new monsters.
Here we get the haunt, the water weird (an AD&D import), and the bone golem who will not see an AD&D rendition until Ravenloft.

Ravenloft Connections
I have often stated that I feel that Barovia, the lands of the mists featured in the Ravenloft adventure and line, came from the B/X & BECMI world of Mystara.  Here is another connection.  First, the idea of body-snatching undead witches is a strong horror trope.  I am sure there are dozens of horror movies made before 1979 that feature this.  I am sure I have seen at least a dozen or more of these myself.


Plus like Ravenloft, Rahasia was written by the Hickmans. Even in the 5e era the Curse of Strahd adventure for 5e lists Rahasia as an influence.  Plus there are some other solid connections.  Like finding the same wines in Rahasia's Wizard tower and in Ravenloft Curse of Strahd.



For 5th Edition
Thanks to the efforts of the Classic Modules Today group there is a conversion guide for B7 Rahasia.  Classic Modules Today: B7 Rahasia (5e) is 10 pages and includes all the various stats you need to covert this adventure over to 5th Editon D&D.  In truth the conversions are very straight forward but it is nice to have them all in one place.  Plus for $1.95 it is really worth it.  Given the Ravenloft connections, I could see this as an adventure for 1-3 level characters in Curse of Strahd very easily.  You need the complete B7 module, that is not included here and there is no adventure information other than the stats. The Bone Golem and the witches, Karelena, Solorena, and Trilena get full stat blocks.

War of the Witch Queens
For me this is also a great starting module for my War of the Witch Queens campaign.  Three dead witches combing back from the grave to possess the bodies of three others?  If it can be done once, it can be done again and I have some great long term NPCs to harass my characters with.  Plus the mere fact that they came back now points to the upheaval in the Occult world that this War is having.
It also makes for a solid case for this game to be run using the BECMI rules.
Now there is a thought...

Other Posts & Links

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

BECMI: Other Versions and Homages

I don't think it is a stretch of the imagination to say that the BECMI Basic box is the Red Box that most people remember. Indeed, when you say "Red Box" this is the set that most people think of.

A large part of this is due to the number of units sold. It has been claimed that this was the best selling version of D&D at least up to the modern age of 5e.   It was certainly one of the most widely distributed versions of D&D up to that date.

International

While I have seen French, German, Japanese, and more versions of this set, it was the one printed in England I wanted the most.


Reading this one is a neat little exercise in "what if."

What would this set have been like if it was a single volume?

The Japanese versions also looked great.


The French version seems closest to the American one.


Norway had a single volume version too, but their's appears to have been a hardcover.


Although I must admit I have always wanted the German version.  If I had known it had existed back then I would have grabbed it.  Sadly my German is terrible these days. Don't use it you lose it.


And some great pictures of Javier Murillo's Spanish editions.




In fact, Javier Murillo appears to be the leading expert on these foreign language editions.





There is an entire listing of the printed foreign editions at the Acaeum.

That is quite a legacy of print.
It should be no surprise then that the cover was often imitated.

Inspiration

Maybe more so than the AD&D Player's Handbook (or very close) no other version of D&D has inspired the look of other sets.  In fact, it has become its own shorthand to nostalgia.  Want to tap into those nostalgia dollars?  Make your box red.



Of course, nothing irritates the old-school crowd more than when this is used for a game they don't like.



and of course the D&D Cartoon,


a puzzle, again from Javier Murillo,



and the early "skin" for DnDClassics.com, which now points to DMsGuild.com,



Not to mention a bunch of t-shirts.




That's an awful lot of red.

Now certainly someone in the old-school gaming community will say something stupid like "sacrilege!" or some other nonsense, allow me to remind you what TSR was doing themselves back in the day.






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