Showing posts with label 80s. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 80s. Show all posts

Sunday, December 26, 2021

Boxing Day: Magic Realm

Magic Realm
After many years I finally treated myself to a game I have wanted for years.  Avalon Hill's "Magic Realm."

The game looks like a board game, but there are a lot of RPG elements as well.  And the game is notoriously difficult to learn. 

I have no experience with this game. At all. But I just knew I wanted it.   So instead of a review here are some other reviews.

So it looks like I have some learning ahead of me!

I also have no idea if my game is complete or not. I like what I have seen so far.



Magic Realm

Magic Realm

Magic Realm

Magic Realm

Magic Realm

Magic Realm

Magic Realm

Magic Realm


Thursday, December 2, 2021

Plays Well With Others: Man, Myth & Magic and Lands of Adventure

Ok. "Plays Well With Others" might be stretching it a bit. Almost to the point of ridiculousness to be honest, but I have wanted to compare both Lands of Adventure and Man, Myth & Magic for a while now.

Man, Myth & Magic and Lands of Adventure

On the surface both games are attempts at presenting historical or at least semi-historical, roleplaying to a Post-AD&D world. Both games present various areas and eras of play to help facilitate that notion of historical roleplaying. LoA with its Culture Packs and MM&M with its adventures and Egyptian add-on.

Both games can best, and fairly, be described as overly complicated and in reality somewhat messy.

Both games have more complicated (than AD&D) character creation but attempt to create characters that are appropriate for their times.

Incidentally, both games also use real tiny d20 percentile dice that are difficult at best for me to read these days.

Thematically MM&M tries for historical accuracy despite having a rogue T-Rex running around as an ersatz dragon.  LoA probably does a little better here even though it does include several fantastic beasts and monsters.

LoA gives us two (more were planned) Culture Packs, Ancient Greece and Medival England.  They are separated by about 2000 years and characters are not expected to be able to travel to one from the other.

MM&M gives us a bunch of different cultures and the idea of "travel" between them is via Reincarnation.  The culture best (and I say that loosely) represented here is Rome circa 40 AD (or sometime around that).  Even then it has issues.

Neither system is one I want to cozy up with for long periods of time.  Not to mention there are plenty of other games that do historical roleplaying better, Pendragon and Chivalry & Sorcery are two that come to mind right away and there are others.  The idea of historical role-playing though is still an appealing one.

What is a Game Master to do?

The Fantastic Journey

Back in the late 70s there was a short-lived TV series, The Fantastic Journey, about a group of people that were traveling to different lands throughout time and space. It hit all the social and occult themes of the 1970s. A man from the future with psychic powers, the daughter of an Atlantean and an extraterrestrial, a scientist from the 60s (Roddy McDowall), a young African American doctor, and a super-smart teenager (Ike Eisenmann, fresh from Witch Mountain).  The show didn't last long, but it imprinted deeply on my psyche.  

It had similarities to the show Time Tunnel that came before it and Voyagers! and Quantum Leap that came after.  Though, unlike those shows that tried to pay a little lip service to time travel science, TFJ was pure fantasy.  There was magic and even a sorcerer and a werewolf.   I have often wondered how I could make a game that mimics this and fulfill the promises made by MM&M and LoA.

I could take a page from Herbie Brennan's other game Timeship for ideas. But honestly, that is just trading an easy solution for more problems.

I like the idea of a group of characters, unstuck in time, traveling to different periods.  Whether the characters themselves are doing it or they are reincarnations, I go back and forth on.   Part of me likes the idea of the idea reincarnation since that sets them in situ with the proper time and knowledge. OR maybe their consciousness is traveling and inhabiting new bodies ala Quantum Leap.  I would need a big bad of course.  Someone travelling through time, or maybe someone (or multiple someones) that are immortal and trying to do something to humanity.  Destroy it?  No, that is too easy. I am going to say advance them in the past so they are more powerful and deadly in the future for some nefarious means. I might take a page from the Doctor Who episode/serial City of Death.

Part of me wants to do this and each time the character travel in time use the system that best represents it.  So Pendragon, LoA, MM&M, even WitchHunt.   But that is, to put it mildly, insane.

I would use a simple system, likely NIGHT SHIFT to be honest. Survivors would work the best with the odd sage, psychic, and veteran.  Then adapting D&D-like games is easier. Each time the character travels they can pick up some odd skills or the like.

historical games? maybe.

Again, I hate to fall into another sunk cost fallacy here but I like to think I owe it to myself to have the game that I wish these games were.

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Review: Man, Myth & Magic (1982)

Man, Myth, & Magic RPG
I am going to be spending some quality time with the classic game Man, Myth & Magic by Herbert "Herbie" Brennan and J. Stephen Peek and published originally byYaquinto Publications in 1982, and now published (in PDF and single softcover formats) by Precis Intermedia.  

I was always kind of fascinated by this game. The name of course grabbed me for two reasons. There was the whole "Myth and Magic" side to it all which in 1982 was a big draw for me.  Also, there was the magazine and encyclopedia series also called Man, Myth & Magic that dealt with all sorts of occult-related topics.  

I read reviews for it in Dragon Magazine (#80) and White Dwarf (#41) and was actually quite curious about it.  The reviews really ripped into the game and I needed to know if it was as bad as they made it sound.  Sadly I never found a copy near me and a mail-order of $19.00 + tax and shipping and handling made it a little more out of reach when it was new.

But I was always drawn to historical games. I felt if I could play or run a game and learn something about history at the same time then it was time well spent really.  A few I have enjoyed quite a lot, mostly Victorian-era ones, and others I ripped online so much I promised I wasn't going to rip on them anymore. 

Man, Myth, & Magic sadly belongs to the camp of a historical mishmash, that is to say, it is about as historically accurate as an episode of Xena: Warrior Princess.  Don't get me wrong, I love me some Xena and it is very entertaining in the right frame of mind.  The same is true for this game. Great, in the right frame of mind.  In fact, I think that now, living in a post-Xena world, there is a place for this game that did not exist in 1982.   

Man, Myth, & Magic

For this review, I am going to consider my original boxed set from 1982 (now minus the dice) and the newer PDF versions found on DriveThruRPG published by Precis Intermedia.  In both cases, the material is the same minus some of the extras that came in the boxed set like the dice and a pad of character sheets.

Man, Myth, & Magic

Man, Myth, & Magic was published in a boxed set of three books (same covers), with a pad of character sheets, some maps, and dice.  The PDF combines the three books into one 132 page volume. The original boxed set retailed for $19.00 in 1982 ($55 in today's buying power) and the PDFs sell for $7.95 today.  The books feature color covers and black & white interiors. 

Book 1

Book 1 is 24 pages and covers the "Basic Game" and the game most like the one as originally conceived of by Herbie Brennan.  In this game, the players play gladiators in the time of the Roman Emperors. Which one? That is up to a random dice roll unless of course, the players want something different. 

Who's in charge around here?

It's an interesting idea, but...well there are some problems here. According to the back of the box, it is the Summer of 41 CE. Cool.  But Caligula was assassinated in January of 41 CE.  Tiberius ruled 14 to 37 CE and Nero was Emperor from 54 to 68 CE.  The only Emperor in the Summer of 41 was Claudius. Adding dates in parentheses would have been a nice touch.  Let's not even get into the fact that Cleopatra VII, the last of the Egyptian Pharaohs, had died back in 30 BCE, 71 years before the events of this game, but that looks like her on the cover.  I'll talk more about this later.  In theory you can tun this game from 4000 BCE to 500 (or 1000) CE. 

You begin with your Roman Gladiator and your two percentile d20s and roll up your characteristics.  The characteristics in the Basic Game are Strength, Speed, Skill (not used just yet), Endurance, Intelligence, and Courage. The scores range from 1 to 100.  You add all these up for your Life Points (so 5 to 500), you fall unconscious at 20 or below and dead at 0 or below. 

The Basic rules take your gladiator from start to a bit of combat and adventure with the maxim that the best way to learn is to do.   This is a tactic that the rest of the game uses.  At the end of this, your character is ready for new adventures.

The neat bit, and one I want to revisit, is the idea of reincarnation. That is if your character dies they can be reincarnated. 

Book 2

Book 2 covers the "Advanced Game" and includes 40 pages. Here we learn more about skills, the Power score, and the different Nationalities (10) and Classes associated with each (2-5 each).  All are completely random and no real attempt is made to explain why say an Egyptian Sorcerer, a Gaulish Barbarian, a Roman Gladiator, and a Hibernian Leprechaun would all be part of the same adventuring party.  Ok. That's not entirely true, but the explanation takes some digging. 

Up first is determining your Nationality. Again a random roll gives you African, Briton, Egyptian, Gaul, Greek, Hebrew, Hibernian, Visigoth, Roman, and Oriental. Each at 10% chance.   Within each nationality, there are character classes.  Regardless of how many there is an equal chance for any given class.  Most nationalities have a sort of "fighter" like class and all have merchant.  There are two classes open to women characters only, Wisewoman (African) and Sybil (Greek).  Details are given for all the classes, 20 in total, but not a lot of information.  In most cases only a paragraph here and some more details later on.  This brings up a persistent issue, the rules are a bit scattered everywhere throughout the book. 

Additionally, there are two "Special Categories" of players (not characters) of "Orator" and "Sage" or essentially a storyteller and a record keeper.  Much in the same way Basic D&D has a "Caller."  Not much else is mentioned about these roles however. 

This character is considered to be your first incarnation.  Anytime your character dies, you can then reincarnate.  This allows you to change your nationality, class, and gender and retain a little bit of the Skill from a previous incarnation.  It is an interesting idea, I am not 100% certain though that it works. Knowing gamers I see a situation where players would play a character only to get them to die for a chance at a better character next time. 

There is a fun chart on inheritance that would be fun to port over to other games.  Related there are our ubiquitous tables of equipment.   

Some of the other secondary "Optional" characteristics are also detailed.  These include Agility, Charm, Dexterity, Drinking, and so on.  These are really more akin to "skills." The trouble is that some of these you have to roll higher, some you have to roll lower and others you don't roll at all.  There is no rhyme or reason here. 

Combat rules follow and they remind me a bit of Runequest.  Nothing really special really.  Strength points over 50 can add to your damage, Skill points over 50 can add to your "To hit" chance. Combat, like all the rolls here, start with a basic 50% chance to hit.  The Basic game just has you roll. The Advanced game has you make called shots.  Classes with Combat as their "Prime Ability" can improve their ability to hit even more. All classes can spend Power to also increase their to-hit bonus; 10 points of Power to increase your chance by 1%.  Interestingly armor does not stop you from being hit, it does reduce damage taken.

The goal of the game though is the accumulation of Power.  Power advances your character and can overcome that 50% failure rate.  Power also is the, well, power behind Magic. 

The Magic part of M,M,&M

The last third or so of the book covers all sorts of additional rules.  Some seem tossed in, to be honest. Poisons are covered as are spells.  

Magic, as expected, is given some special attention, though not as much as I was expecting.  Magic is assumed to be real and work, at least part of the time.  Magic is described as "Coincidence," a spell is uttered and something happens whether it caused it or not. "Science," Damascus steel is given an example. The superior technology was seen as magic. "Psychic Phenomena" which not really an explanation at all, likewise "Trance State" and as "Lost Knowledge."  Though no explanation is really given as to how magic works.  

Book 3

The adventures take up Book 3 and is 64 pages.  This book is for the Lore Master (Game Master) only and is also one of the weaker parts of the game.  The Adventures, while interesting, are a bit of a railroad. In order to succeed the players have to hit all the parts in order and then move on to the next adventure.   

The adventures include the following:

  • The Dragon Loose in Rome. Not a dragon rally, but a rogue T-Rex.  Not that this makes any more sense, but ok, points for effort.  
  • Apollo's Temple. Emperor Caligula sends the characters to the Temple of Apollo aka Stonehenge.
  • The Witches of Lolag Shlige. The characters then have to go to Ireland (Hibernia) and rescue a child from some witches.
  • The Great Pyramid Revealed. Caligula has issued a death warrant for the characters. They find themselves in the Great Pyramid of Giza.

These adventures are a prelude to the published adventures.   There are some neat ideas here, but the adventures lack something for me. Actually, it lacks a lot of things for me, but I could make some changes to make them work.

There are some encounter tables, but they only cover the areas that the adventures are detailed here. I also have to note there are no monsters here.  Just humans. 

One of the bigger criticisms of this game at the time was the then $19.00 price tag, about $55 in today's buying power.  Now $20 for a boxed set of three books, character sheets, and dice sounds like a steal.  With the PDF at just $7.95 it is at a price I think should attract anyone that might have been interested in this game. 

The art is in black & white, which is expected and welcome, but there is not a lot of it and some of it is repeated throughout the books.  

Man, Myth, & Magic at times feels like two different games, or rather two different ideas merged into one game.  I feel that the classic Roman Gladiator/Basic Game was Herbie Brennan's idea and the worldwide game of various nations and types or the Advanced Game was Steve Peek's. Given that Brennan started working on a game called "Arena" which was a Gladitorial RPG.

About Reincarnation

Reincarnation is quite a big deal in this game. This is not a huge surprise given Herbert Brennan's publication history.  His book "The Reincarnation Workbook: A Complete Course in Recalling Past Lives" could work as a guide for this game.  Personally, I would like to use the reincarnation idea to help smooth out some of the issues with different times.  So adventurers from Cleopatra VII's Egypt, can then deal with Tiberius, and then help in Boudicea's raid on Londinium.   Something similar to the Old Soul quality in Unisystem.  

Somehow using the idea of the Distant Memory which, like Old Soul, allows the characters to draw on past life knowledge and skill.  That is easy to do in Unisystem, not so easy to do in D&D like games with very rigidly defined classes. Maybe taking a level in another class might do it. 

Man, Myth & Magic and Man, Myth & Magic

I am sure there is more in the expansion, The Egyptian Campaign, but I don't have access to that set right now.

There is an interesting game here but I think the concept of it is greater than the rules as presented actually allow.  It never quite lives up to what the box claims.  Nor is it the abomination that earlier reviews made it out to be.  I think most reviewers balked at the price tag and the fact that the game did not offer anything new; at least not anything that meant going through the rather clunky rules. 

It is most certainly not a historically accurate game.  Historically inspired to be sure, but not by any means accurate. 

The bottom line is that the game really isn't good, in fact, it is rather bad in many respects. That is not to say that someone won't find this game interesting or fun. I just think that there are far, far better games out there.

Should you buy it?

I would say the PDF at just under $8 makes it worthwhile for the very, very curious.  I have my boxed set and I am happy with it, but my expectations were low and my curiosity was really high. 

The game itself is only worth about 2 stars.  My curiosity about it and my desire to have pushed it closer to 4 stars.  In the end, I am going to give 3 stars since I don't want to unduly affect Precis Intermedia games' overall rating.  But don't grab this unless you are really curious (which is a good reason) or want to see how not to design a game. 

Links

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Masters of the Universe: Revelation

Evil-Lyn the real star
It is late Tuesday night (now early Wednesday morning) and I just finished binge-watching Masters of the Universe: Revelation with my wife.  Now I only consider myself a causal MotU fan, but it really should come as no shock or surprise that my two favorite characters were Teela (because who doesn't like a highly capable redhead) and Evil-Lyn (because...well I am sure you have met me by now).    So after hearing all the whiny-ass man babies online bitching and moaning that Kevin Smith had "destroyed their childhood" I knew right away one thing. 

I was going to love it.  And I did.

If Part 1 was "The Teela Show" then Part 2 was that and "The Evil-Lyn" show.  

Though I am happy to also report that my other favorite character, Duncan the Man-at-Arms, also fared well.

My enjoyment of Evil-Lyn in particular and the MotU, in general, come not from watching the show back in the 80s all that much, but instead from one episode.  The Witch and the Warrior, written by none other than Paul Dini himself.  In an interesting twist, Paul Dini created the character Harley Quinn and Kevin Smith the executive producer of Masters of the Universe: Revelation named his own daughter Harley Quinn Smith. 

Watching this was a fun romp through nostalgia land and there were more than a few tongue-in-cheek references.  Also having Lena Headly as Evil-Lyn, Sarah Michelle Gellar as Teela and Liam Cunningham as Duncan was great. And Mark Hamil chewing up the scenery as Skeletor? That's just the icing on a great cake. 

We get more background on Teela, and the payoff the original series promised.  We get some more background on Evil-Lyn which is also great, but I think it is different than in other versions of this franchise.  No matter really, I know even less about those.

Personally, I am thrilled we got a kick-ass Teela and Evil-Lyn.  I always felt that He-Man himself was the least interesting character in the franchise, though this one made me feel a little different about that.

Evil makes you hotter

I like where it ended for all the characters involved. But especially for Evil-Lyn.

Lyn at 25

Evil-Lyn as Master of the Universe

No new season has been announced, but I like what I am seeing here to be honest.

Thursday, October 21, 2021

This Old Dragon: Issue #43

Dragon Magazine #43
It's October and that means horror here at the Other Side. It also used to mean horror in the pages of Dragon Magazine.  While the horror-themed issues would not start in earnest until the mid- and late-80s, this little gem of an issue was released in November of 1980.  

Let's put this all into context.  Holmes Basic was the D&D people were going to now to get started. AD&D was about to hit its highest levels of popularity.  The famous Moldvay Basic set was still a year away from publication.  Personally, I had just learned of the Monster Manual a year before and had gotten my hands on a shared copy of Holmes Basic that had been making the rounds.  I can vividly recall riding my bike to the burned-down Burger King in my neighborhood thinking it would make a great dungeon.  Ok. I was 11.  I wonder how things might have been different if I had gotten ahold of this issue before Dragon #114 (for reasons that will be obvious)?

But let's start at the beginning and that is November 1980. Queen's "Another One Bites the Dust" is the #1 song on the radio.  The Awakening is the number one movie and on the stands is issue #43 of This Old Dragon.

One of the real joys of reading any old magazine, and reading Dragon in particular, is seeing all the old ads.  

Ral Partha
Ral Partha, a huge favorite, is up with some of their boxed board games. Here we see one that would vex me for years, Witch's Cauldron.  I mention it more below, but here is the start of what would become my "Traveller Envy."

A couple of things I noticed right away.  One, I tried reading "The Dragon Rumbles" a couple of times and I still am not sure what it was trying to tell me.  Maybe it's because I am tired.  The second one of the featured artists in this issue is Ed Greenwood.  He really was doing it all.

The grinning hag cover art was done by Ray Cioni, a Chicago artist and we are told there are more color pages in this issue of Dragon than any other.  This includes the witch art from Alan Burton and pages of Wormy and Jasmie from Tramp and Darlene respectively.

Out on a Limb covers the questions of the time. Where can I get a copy of Issue 39? Do Angels have psionics? It is continued later in the magazine. Breaking up longer articles was more common then.

Our main feature is Brewing Up A New NPC: The Witch.  This is an update to the witch found in issue #20. Though the presentation is better here.  There is a lot here to unpack.  This article is written by Bill Muhlhausen, revised and edited by Kim Mohan and Tom Moldvay.  The witch here is very similar to the one found in Dragon #114.  Again, we get Low Order Witches limited to 16th level and High Order Witches limited to 22nd level.  I wondered if this was related to the 22 level cap found in the Greyhawk supplement.  The class reads through much like that of #114 and I am hard-pressed to find the exact differences. The article covers several pages.  I have had a fairly poor photocopy for years in my research binder. It was a thrill to finally read it again, this time with color, on the Dragon Magazine CD-ROM.  Now I have a print copy.

The Witch

 The true gem for me is The Real Witch: A Mixture of Fact and Fantasy by Tom Moldvay.  This article covers what a witch could be in D&D.  It is only half a page but is punching way above its weight class and I reconsult it often.  With Holmes' "promise" of a witch class and Tom Moldavy Basic about to rock my world in just one year's time, I have often (and I mean all the time) wondered what a Basic witch might be like as penned by Holmes or Moldvay.   I have mine, but they are my witches, not theirs. Especially a couple of scholars like them.

Jake Jaquet is next with the Convetions 1980 report.  It was a pretty good year for cons.   Speaking of which Dave Cook reports from Gen Con XIII with Survival tips for the Slave Pits.  And a report on the winning Dungeon Master of the tournament play, in  He's the top Dungeon Mentzer with none other than a very young-looking Frank Mentzer.

Sage Advice covers some AD&D questions that really are new.  A brief article on D&D in Germany from a West German player.  West German, I have not had to write that in a while. 

There is a six-page questionnaire/survey to determine how good of a DM you have.  It is more of a self-guide to help the players figure out what their DM is or can do for them.  It is a tool for discussion, not actually dissimilar to the RPG Consent list.  The difference lies in who should have the supposed power in this structure.  

Len Lakofka is up with his Leomund's Tiny Hut discussing Action in the Meele Round. It is always nice to go back to these and read not just what the official interpretation of the rules are/were but what were the areas where they were ambiguous.  41 years and 4 other editions later we lose track of these things.

We get some more color with the Dragon's Bestiary.  Not only color but Erol Otus art at that.  One of the "monsters" is an Amazon.  This is not the first time we get a witch and amazon connection. There is art in the OD&D books of a "Beautiful Witch" and an Amazon together.   It is one of the reasons I like to include Amazons in my witch books.  Both for the Cult of Diana and the duality of magical and martial qualities.   

Dragon's Bestiary

I didn't find the other two monsters, the Tolwar and the Lythlyx to be as interesting. Though I did find the Ed Greenwood art credit. He created the text and art for the Lythlyx.

Philip Meyers discusses illusions in Now you see it . . .but is it really there?.  I wonder that if Dragon #43 had been my first Dragon about witches and not #114, would my witches today have more illusion spells?

Ad for the 1981 Days of the Dragon calendar. If you can find one it will work for 2026 as well. 

For our big center-piece is a Traveller adventure called Canard from Roberto Camino. I have read through it a couple of times and it looks fun. I might need to use this Summer of 2022 when I plan my big outing for Traveller.   

Speaking of Traveller.  The reviews section is next and Roberto Camino is back reviewing the latest Traveller product Azhanti High Lightning in Azhanti: Almost too Creative.   This is likely the start of my Traveller Envy.  This was popular among the "older kids" that played Traveller a lot and it just looked so cool to me. It's a game all by itself AND it is a supplement to the main Traveller RPG.    

Douglas P. Bachmann reviews SPI's DragonQuest.  While he is not a fan of the ad copy hyperbole, he does make me want to try out this game even more.  Though we are warned that with the supplements then planned that DragonQuest could end up costing you $94 to #98 to play. A very expensive game!

A reminder of our forebears is next from Bryan Beecher in the next in his series of Squad Leader articles, #5: The Fall of Sevastopol. This one deals with a battle between the Russians and Germans in the late Spring of 1942. The DM I would meet the very next year was WAY into Squad Leader and tried to get me to play a few times.  He drifted away from RPGs eventually and even deeper into Wargames and Reenacting.  Not my bag, but I could see how he enjoyed them.  This was the DM that ran me through the Slave Lords series years ago. 

An opinion piece is up from Larry DiTillio.  The same that worked on He-Man and She-Ra as well as the Masks of Nyarlathotep.  The article, Apples, Oranges, Role-playing, and Morality, replies an article (in Dragon #39) by Douglas P. Bachmann on morality in fantasy. This article works on the premise that Mr. Bachmann did not truly understand the game worlds and the responsibility of DMing.  It's hard to evaluate this response without reading the first, but there are some interesting takeaways. There is room in AD&D (and other RPGs) for both DiTillio's world and Bachmann's.  As AD&D  game progresses with a good DM there will be other solutions to deal with problems other than with "the sword" (Witchlight is a good modern example).

Hate Orcs? You'll Love this Campaign by Roger Moore details his ideas for an all dwarven game in AD&D.  Now this might strike newer players as odd' not because of the all dwarf nature, but because back then in AD&D dwarves had class limits making it a different sort of challenge.  For example there were no Dwarven wizards.  While I like the newer versions of the game and can choose any class, I personally still find Dwarven wizards a little odd.  BUT that is not the point of Moore's article. His point is how to make it work in spite of the rule of rule limitations. 

Out on a Limb continues. We get a letter from an "E. Gary Gygax" from Lake Geneva, WI. He addresses an article from Dragon #40 about buffing up undead. This Gary guy seems to know a thing or two.

The Electric Eye covers Four From Space on Tape by Mark Herro. What we have are four different space-themed computer games on one cassette tape. I am not going to be all "well..back in my day computer programs were on cassette tape and you had the CLOAD them before you could play..."  No instead I want to reflect on two things.  First. Wow, have we come a long way!  These game were designed for the TRS-80 Level II Basic on a 16k computer.  16k! As of right now this post is 8.5k and takes up 12K of disc space.  One of my new hardware projects here at home is rebuilding a TRS-80 Color Computer 2 (with a HUGE 64k).  Let's pause a moment and be impressed by how far technology has come since the 80s.   The second point is, wow, companies really were fairly open about their copyright infringement back then.  This cassette has four games, Ultra Trek (Star Trek), Romulan (also Star Trek), Star Wars (what it says), and Star Lanes which was an outer space stock market.

Dragonmirth is next with the comics. In our color section, we get Finieous Fingers, a Wormy, and Jasmine.  The art in Jasmine is so different from anything else here. This is of course thanks to artist, cartographer, and under-sung hero of the World of Greyhawk, Darlene. I think Jasmine was too "adult" for the target audiences of Dragon at the time. Not "Adult" as in nudity (we have a bare ass on page 70, six pages before this) but in content. The art is fantastic, but the story doesn't pull you in, at least not unless you were there in the start.  Sadly Jasmine was cut for space, but I would like to do a retrospective on it someday.

Jasmine by Darlene

Really one of the great issues for me and it captures a time, for me at least, where there truly was no end of the possibilities in sight. 

Minus Issue #5 (but represented my Best Of Vol 1) I have all the published Dragon Magazine Witches.

Dragon Witches


Thursday, September 9, 2021

This Old Dragon: Issue #110

Dragon Magazine #110
While this one was on my list to do, I moved it to this week for a very obvious reason, which I'll get to, but in the meantime let us looking what Issue #110, the Tenth Anniversary issue of Dragon has to offer.

It is June 1986 and what came to be known as the Dragon Wars had begun in my campaign world.  My regular DM had graduated and was preparing to go off to the Air Force.  I was concentrating on getting in as many math and science classes as I could prior to going off to college.  It was an interesting time.

I remember sitting down in the Pavilion at Nichols Park in my hometown reading over this issue. It seemed to be filled with great things.  I am happy to report that my memory lives up to reality. 

Before we get into the magazine proper let's take a moment to marvel at this cover by Kevin Davies, The Vanquished Cavalier.  Likely one of the top 10 covers in my opinion.  And it is art you can buy for your own projects. 

Kim Mohan discusses the 10th Anniversary of Dragon Magazine here, noting that there will be less hoopla now than in Issue #100.  Future anniversaries will have a bit more "pomp."

Letters cover the topics of the day, namely more revisions of the Ranger.  Seriously has anyone EVER been happy with the Ranger??  One letter asks if the Electronic Eye is ever coming back and we told that yes, a computer-based column is back in this issue.  I was quite pleased with this. I had just bought a new computer, a Color Computer 3 but they never covered games for it.  Backed the wrong horse that time, but I can't complain.  Like the Old-School Revival for D&D there is an Old-School Revival (of sorts) for old computers.  

The Forum covers the lament of the time, this too much Greyhawk in the pages of Dragon and the Unearthed Arcana.  I remember all of this. Oh to have those problems now.  

Our first article is from Ed Greenwood and it is a classic in my mind.  The Cult of the Dragon not only introduces the titular cult, it also introduces us to the Dracolich.  Re-reading it now I find it interesting that the genesis of this article comes from Dragonlance.  Well, the Realms Boxed set won't be released for a little yet. The article was an early favorite of mine and I spent a lot of time comparing this article to the classic Blueprint for a Lich from Best of Dragon Vol. II.  I really respected what Ed was doing here.  Rereading it now I am still marveling at how good it still is.  I might need to incorporate this into my games somehow.  The cult migrated from Krynn to Toril and then to the rest of the multiverse.   This is of course the best thing to use in a Dragon article; finding something and making it work for your game. 

Up next are two articles that would make up a One Man's God: Norse Mythos, Part II.  The two articles came to the Dragon offices at the same time so they decided to run them both.

The first is For Better or Norse: I Equal time for the members of the Vanir by Joel McGraw.  This one covers the Vanir gods.  Of personal interest, we get Angur-boda, Grid, and Gullveig are all described variously as witches.  There are also stats for Njord, Mimir, Nidhogg, and Utgard-Loki the "star" of the first Norse myth I ever read.  Honestly, these should be glued into my D&DG. Again none of these would really be considered AD&D demons.

Next is For Better or Norse: II New Descriptions of Some Old Favorites by Carl Sargent.  This one gives us some updates to the Norse gods found in the D&DG.  Featured are Niord (spelled differently this time), Frey, Freya, and Loki.  Loki gets the biggest change, going from Chaotic Evil to Chaotic Neutral.  I felt at the time this was a good change.  I still do, but now I have a greater appreciation of the myths and the character.  Again, I wish I could paste this one into my D&DG.

An ad for one of my favorite Near-D&D products of all time, the Arcanum.

The Arcanum

Another Ed Greenwood article is next and it is one only Ed can do; All about Elminster.  I went from being mildly annoyed by Elminster (here) to outright dislike, to rabid dislike (2nd Ed), to acceptance (3rd ed) and even a begrudging like (now).  The article is actually rather fun.  Elminster is a 26th level magic-user.  The article also includes some new spells which is expected.  I am not sure how these compare to his 3rd Edition stats.  Since my issue is falling apart anyway this will go into my Forgotten Realms boxed set.

The Role of Computers is up for it's debut.   Examples are given for the Macintosh computer, arguably the most advanced machine at the time.  

Leonard Carpenter is up with Dragon Damage Revisited.  This revises the damage done by dragons from the Fiend Folio, Monster Manual II, and the gemstone dragons.  This very conversation came up the other day online in talking about 1st Ed dragons.  You  can see how across the editions they made dragons more and more powerful.  These numbers look pretty good, I'll have to dig up the first in the series and see what their logic is. 

Our centerpiece adventure is The House in the Frozen Lands by James Adams.  I always thought this was more tied directly to the Norse myths, but I think that was only my memory.  The adventure is for 6-10 characters of 4th to 8th level.   If nothing else there are some good ideas of the types of encounters one can find in an arctic environment.  The adventure always looked interesting to me since it didn't feel like a dungeon crawl.

TSR Previews lets us know what is coming out in July and August of 1986.  I remember buying REF2 Character Sheets and then taking them to college where I ran off 100s of copies at Kinkos on different colored sheets.  In fact, I still have some.  Those sheets outlived both TSR and Kinkos.  I had never heard of some of the board games here, but I did find listings for The BROADWAY Game and The HONEYMOONERS Game.  Nothing though in my quick search for The PARAMOUNT Game.

TSR Previews July/Aug 1986

The fiction section is The Wizard's Boy by Nancy Varian Berberick. I didn't read it, but Berberick went on to write more novels and short stories including a few Dragonlance ones for Wizards. 

Moving on to the Arēs section. 

Knowledge is Power by John M. Maxstadt gives us a skill system for Gamma World. This looks like it is for 2nd Edition GW, but I will admit I am not knowledgeable on the differences between 2nd and 3rd.  

There is a bit on underwater action in Star Frontiers from William Tracy in Going for a Swim.  I am pretty sure that I never had characters go underwater ever in SF. Space yes, sea no.  BUT that all being said there are some good ideas here that are useful to most games. This includes getting "the bends" and movement and other hazards. The article really does read like a 20th-century point of view rather than a futuristic one.  I would assume that a culture capable of FTL flight had worked some of these other issues out as well. 

Piece of the Action details organized crime in Paranoia. This is another one of those articles that would later get Wizards of the Coast into trouble with the Dragon CD-ROM.  It is copyrighted 1986 by the author Ken Tovar. 

Gamers' Guide gives us our small ads. I love looking at this even if I know most, if not all, these places have long since closed up shop. 

Gamers' Guide 1986

One thing though. Lou Zocchi's ad mentions he is selling the original Deities & Demigods with Cthulhu and Elric. No shock there, but there is also a mention of the BROWN cover Monster Manuals that are the same of the current Blue cover.  What is he talking about here?  Does he mean the original 1977 cover versus the orange spine?  That is the only thing I can think of to be honest.

Lou Zocchi's ad

Convention Calendar gives us the happenings of Summer 1986.  None were close to me.

Dragonsmirth, Snarf Quest, and Wormy follow.

Gamers of a certain will go on and on about how great Dragon was in the early 80s. And to a large part I agree, it was great.  But the late 80s and even into the 90s Dragon was great as well, for different reasons.  The first 10 years of Dragon captured the hobby in its early days and its DIY attitude, which one of the big reasons people loved it AND the same attitude that drove the early days of the OSR.  Dragon entering its second decade was a more polished magazine and the article quality had improved.  DIY was still there, but not the gritty DIY of the 1970s and early 80s.  Still, I find a lot in these pages, 1986 to 1996, that I find very useful and more to the point, things I would still use today.

Thursday, July 22, 2021

This Old Dragon: Issue #125

Dragon Magazine #125
Been a bit since I did one of these I thought this might be a good time to pull this one out. 

Dragon #125 comes to us from a magical time in ancient history known as the Fall of 1987.  This issue is from September 1987 in particular.  I just met this girl from the dorm next door. She had already kicked everyone's ass in cards in her dorm and now she was over at mine to humiliate everyone here.  So yeah we quickly became friends, then best friends and sis years later we were dating and today is our 26th wedding anniversary.   So yeah, I look back at this time rather fondly. 

Dragon #125's special feature is Chivalry.  Not a bad choice with all the Arthurian movies I have been watching this month.  The cover art by Roger Raupp is a great portrayal of Arthur vs Modred. 

Letters include one to remind us the Wormy has appeared in 100 issues at this point. Sadly the end is near.   Also mentioned is Finieous Fingers which hadn't appeared in Dragon for a long time. There is also a letter about religion in D&D and the DragonRaid game gets mentioned. 

Nice ad for the Science Fiction Book Club.  This would have been around the time I joined for the second time and I see a number of books here I still have.  This was my transition phase of moving out of dark fantasy and into horror proper. 

Forum has the usual collection of deep cuts for the game.  One, in particular, discusses a letter from #121 about parthenogenesis in Amazons and delves into the details of the mating habits of harpies.  Is this Dragon Forum or Penthouse Forum?  Likely to have the same level of "Dear Editors, I could not believe this, but this really happened..."

The first true article comes up and it is a neat one.  Nigel D. Findley gives us The Ecology of the Greenhag.  The central idea revolves around the notion that all hag types are born of the mating of a Night Hag and various humanoid species.  It is a neat idea really.  I like that the Night Hag has a gestation period of 13 months. Greenhags likewise can give birth to an Annis after their "quite frequent" matings with ogres or hill giants. No indication on how the Sea Hags or other hags fit into this.

Ed Greenwood is up with a Realms article.  This was the start of the Golden Age of the Forgotten Realms.  The article, Woodlands of the Realms, covers magical and mundane trees and forests of the Forgotten Realms.  You have to give the guy credit, he came up with some good stuff even in the minutia such as this.  

Our special section of Chivalry begins next.

The Code of Chivalry by Mark Easterday gives us some knightly orders and what to do with them. There are benefits and drawbacks for PC Knights and even a simple system for honor.  It is nothing Earth-shattering, but it has appeal in it's simplicity. It is also something more people should be doing with knights, cavaliers, and paladins. 

Nice big ad for the Time-LIFE Mysteries of the Unkown series, now frustratingly incomplete at your local used book store. 

Time-LIFE Mysteries of the Unknown

Thomas M. Kane is next with Meanwhile Back at the Fief...  This one covers all the duties of a feudal lord. There are some details on day-to-day activities and tables of odd occurrences.  I seem to recall some similar rules in the D&D Companion set. These came after that so I wonder how they compare.  

Armies from the Ground Up by James A. Yates is next and deals with the hows and whys of raising an army in an AD&D game specifically.   Again, very useful to have. 

A "new" section that was going to be semi-regular is up, Lords & Legends.  I have no idea how much or for how long it continued. A quick Google search shows it came up at least one more time.  This is entering as bit of a "Dark" time for me and Dragon.  I was in college and any spare money went to food, school supplies, or...other school supplies.  It is "dark" in the sense that it is a period that is unknown to me.  I remember reading this issue back then, but my Dragon purchases would be only for special occasions like the October issues. 

For this Lords & Legends from Katharine Kerr we have three lords of the Age of Chivalry; Count William of Orange, Bertrand (nephew of William), and Count Rainouart of Tortelose.  All from the Chanson de Roland ("Song of Roland").

Our last article in this series is Glory, Danger, and Wounds by Garry Hamlin.  This article also draws on The Song of Roland for inspiration and deals with battle and honor for Cavaliers. Large battles and private duels are discussed.  More importantly how such battles and duels should and should not be used. 

The Best for the Best covers elite espionage agencies for Top Secret and is a rare non-Merle M. Rasmussen article. This one is from William Van Horn and it is more proper for the Top Secret S.I. game that Rasmussen did not develop. 

For our centerpiece, we get a new "mini" game from David "Zeb" Cook, Clay-O-Rama, a miniatures battle game where the playing pieces are made from clay or Play-doh. You get some friends, some dice, some pencils, and some modeling clay (Play-Doh is recommended) and you get started making your Claydonian to do battle. Make sure you leave some clay/playdoh aside for missiles  The rules are really simple, you move, you attack, you calculate damage. The whole thing takes up three page and a cover.  Pull it out of your magazine and you are good to go.  It does look like silly fun, to be honest. 

Clay-o-rama

Our fiction selection is by Lois Tilton titled The Passing of Kings.

Lee Ian Wurn is up with a rare post-Gary Greyhawk article. In the Bazaar of the Bizarre, we have the Magical Maps of Greyhawk.  We get magical maps that more or less are the magical GPSs of their day.  The article though gave me an idea.  What if there was a giant magical Bazaar, like what you find on Deva in the Myth Adventures books by Robert Lynn Asprin.  I could make each article a stall, like you find in those giant flea markets or the vendor's room at Gen Con.  And just to be that guy, the stalls have the same number of the magazine they appeared in.  This shop of magical maps is found in stall #125.

Jeff Grubb is up with Plane Speaking. This time featuring the Positive Quasi Elementals. There are only three, Radiance (Fire-Positive), Steam (Water-Positive), and Mineral (Earth-Positive). The Lightning (Air-Positive) appeared in the Monster Manual II.

The Game Wizards talks about the new Dragonlance Adventures hardcover.  This was a rather popular book with my small group in college. There were a lot of ideas I freely stole from it for my own games.  I also thought it was odd about the hard cap of 20 levels.  Now that is normal. 

A Second Look at Zebulon's Guide comes to us from Kim Eastland and covers all sorts of errata and clarifications.  I was out of Star Frontiers at this point having switched over to FASA Doctor Who and Star Trek. I have heard that Zebulon's Guide changed things but I will admit I do now know to what degree. 

Big ad for Mayfair's updated City-State of the Invincible Overlord

City-State of the Invincible Overlord

Role-Playing Reviews is next covering three fantasy adventures.  This is another one of the articles that would get WotC into trouble despite their good intentions.  The article is Copyrighted 1987 by Ken Rolston, which means he likely still held the reprint rights. The adventures in question are The Grey Knight for Pendragon, Phantom of the Northern Marches for MERP, and Treasure Hunt for AD&D.  We learn something we had suspected at this time, that the term "Module" was growing out of fashion. So for the adventures Rolston lets us know that the Grey Knight is one of the best he has seen, Treasure Hunt is a fantastic adventure for 0-level AD&D characters, and Phantom is wonderful.

The Role of Books covers some of the new releases for the last quarter of 1987.  There is the Orson Scott Card's Seventh Son, a couple from Harry Turtledove, and the debut (more or less) of Peter David who later go on to be one of America's most prolific authors.  

Jeff Grub's Marvel-Phile is up with some enemies for the Incredible Hulk; Abomination and Zzzax, and an ally, Doc Samson.  I was thinking about Abomination just the other day while trying to decide if I should include the Hulk movies in my Marvel re-watch that I might never get around to.

Gamer's Guide has the classified ads. I wonder how many of these places were still around. 

Convention Calendar covers the cons of Fall 1987.

Three pages of Snarf Quest, a page of DragonsMirth, and three of Wormy.

Some interesting bits to be sure, but nothing that jumps out to me to be used today.  The Greenhag stuff is fun, but I have taken my hags into a completely different direction really.  While everyone talks with glowing nostalgia for the Dragons prior to these (and I do as well) there is a lot between 1987 and 1997 that I never read and only have briefly glanced at.  So that might be my new sweet spot for The Old Dragon.

Saturday, July 3, 2021

Sword & Sorcery & Cinema: Excalibur (1981)

Excalibur (1981)
Let's be honest. Few tales grab the epic feel of Fantasy RPG as well as the tale of King Authur, and few retellings of King Arthur's tale are as epic as John Boorman's Excalibur

Excalibur (1981)

Ok. So it's not perfect in its retelling of King Authur's tale, nor is it a great representation of say Dark Ages, post-Roman-Britain arms, and armor.  But it is still a fun movie with some seriously epic scenes and moments.

First, let's take a moment to appreciate this cast;  Nigel Terry as King Arthur, Nicol Williamson as Merlin, Nicholas Clay as Lancelot, Cherie Lunghi as Guenevere, Helen Mirren as Morgana, Liam Neeson as Gawain, Gabriel Byrne as Uther Pendragon, Corin Redgrave as Gorlois, Duke of Cornwall, and Patrick Stewart as Leondegrance.  Seriously.  It would have been enough for me just to have Helen Mirren as Morgana. Everything else is just gravy. 

Rewatching it now, after a lifetime of reading and rereading various tales of King Authur, I am pleased with how well this one holds up.  I do recall there being a bit of gore, but it was more than even I remembered. 

Watching this now makes me want to do a "King Authur" film fest.  There are a few really great ones and a few terrible ones. But all the same, it would be fun.

The tale is largely what we all know, but that doesn't make it less fun.  On the contrary, it makes even more enjoyable at times because you are expecting certain things. 

I think Nicol Williamson might very well be one of the best cinematic Merlin's ever.  Not just in the look and manner, but pretty much everything he does. Equal parts wizard and fool. Perfect as the advisor to a King. 

Authur: No riddles Merlin, a simple "yes." That really frightens me. 

The exchange between Merlin and Morgana at Authur's and Guenevere's wedding imprinted so deep on my unconsciousness that I don't doubt that my fascination with pagan witches wasn't intensified 100 fold here. Also, my enduring love for Helen Mirren certainly began here.  

Helen Mirren
Can you really blame me?

Ultimately King Authur, like most Celtic stories, is a tragedy.  The betrayal of Lancelot, the birth of Modred, the Quest for the Grail. 

Merlin: A dream to some. A nightmare to others!

While the first half is much better than the latter half, the return of Lancelot to Authur's side is one of the great and saddest cinematic moments in Authur's tale. 

Yes.  An Authurian filmfest is in order.

Gaming Content

Again, are you serious? 

One of the best bits, for me, was the Charm of Making, spoken in old Irish (sorta).

Anál nathrach,
orth’ bháis's bethad,
do chél dénmha

or

Serpent's breath,
charm of death and life,
thy omen of making.

Great stuff really.

Friday, May 21, 2021

Mail Call: Holmes for the Weekend

Scratch a Holy Grail item or two off my list!  A couple of impulse purchases made this week were delivered together today.  Which means only one thing!  Holmes Basic this weekend!

Holmes and Holmage Boxed sets

So why do I need another Holmes Boxed Set? Well, I don't but this one is much nicer shape than my others and it had some surprises inside.

Holmes Boxed set

In addition to the chits, it had one of my Holy Grail items, a set of Dragon Dice "random number generators" with the card.  I have wanted one of these for years!  Yeah, it's damaged but that is fine with me. It honestly looks like one I had bought at White Oaks Mall in Springfield IL circa 1983.

like new adventures

It also included a copy of B2 Keep on the Borderlands (I have several, this is the first with the Wizard logo) and a much better copy of T1 than what I had.  But that is not all.

Dragon Dice!Gateway to Adventure!

I also got a copy of the Holmes Gateway to Adventure! Yeah, it is not much, but I didn't have a copy yet.

Gateway to Adventure!

Gateway to Adventure!

Gateway to Adventure!

Gateway to Adventure!

I love looking at this old collection of games and thinking back to that time.

This would have been a treat in and of itself.  But I also got some NEW dice to go with my old dice.

These are the Zucati "Holamge" dice sets.

Zucati Holmage Dice

Zucati Holmage Dice

Zucati Holmage Dice Boxed Set

Zucati Holmage Dice Boxed SetZucati Holmage Dice Boxed Set

Zucati Holmage Dice Boxed SetZucati Holmage Dice Boxed Set

In addition to dice and crayons, there are character sheets, maps, and an artist's spotlight!

The dice are great and compare well to the GaryCon dice I got a couple years back.

Zucati Holmage and GaryCon Dice

I even have my d12 from the era.  Sadly the only one I still have.

Zucati Holmage and GaryCon Dice

The d20 is numbered 1-20 rather than 0-9 twice, but the crayons can turn a normal d20 into a d% easy.

Comparing my Holmes sets I think I can keep two and sell off one.

Holmes Boxed Set

Holmes Boxed Set

Which is a good idea since I need to recoup some cash here.

The dice though now allow me to have a set with all my "Basic" sets.

Basic sets

My Moldvay Basic has the most complete set I can find of my original dice.  Holmes and Mentzer Basic get some uninked sets with a crayon.  My expert set came with orange dice originally. I traded them for something else and then got a set of blue Dragon Dice just like these for my Expert.  Oddly enough I do have that set of dice still.  They were always my goto set even in the AD&D 2nd Ed age.

Dragon Dice!

I think I can finally say that after all these years I have rebuilt my Basic D&D collection after it was lost so many decades ago.

The Holmes set also came with these dice.  They are all d8s but the numbering is strange to me.  No idea what they are for. I am sure some here knows.

Mystery d8s