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

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

October Horror Movie Challenge: The Unholy (1988)

This one came up while I was doing some reading up on The Devil's Nightmare.  On the surface, it has a lot going for it.  I liked the recently passed Ben Cross as an actor. Nicole Fortier (who never really appeared in anything else before or since) makes for a very attractive Demon. And the story sounds like it has some potential. 

The movie opens with a priest confessing before the altar.  While he prays a nude redhead woman shows up.  She caresses him and then rips out his throat.  

Later, a priest, Father Michael (Ben Cross) arrives to administer the last rites to another murder victim. He is warned that she is coming for him.  Three years later Father Michael is attempting to talk down an attempted suicide when he is pulled out a window and falls 17 floors to the ground.  He wakes up in the hospital with hardly a scratch on him.  Hal Holbrook, playing Archbishop Mosely, decides that Micheal is ready to run his own parish, but there is more to it than that. Michael is getting the church where the priest was murdered three years ago.

We learn from Ned Beaty that not one, but two priests were murdered in the church. One other a year before Father Dennis.   We learn a bit more about the case including meeting Millie (Jill Caroll), a girl Father Dennis tried to save from her job in a local "satanic" themed club.

Father Michael starts seeing some strange happenings and even a dog gets sacrificed on the altar. 

The movie starts to drag at the half-way point, never really going anywhere.  In fact, we don't even learn the demon's name, Desiderius (Latin, "ardent desire"), until about 1 and 20mins into the movie. The final battle doesn't get started until an hour and 25 mins in. 

Nicole Fortier makes for a very fetching demon, even if she never has any lines.  


I also find it a little interesting that I never saw this one when it was out.  I mean this was at the prime of my Horror VHS renting time.  But I was also in college so cash was not a luxury item.  

At this time I also had a red-headed girl-friend and I can assure you that their reported demonic powers are an exaggeration.  But only by a little. 


There is a great scene at the very end of what can only be described as Clerical Turning.  It works here. 

Make no mistake. This is not an Oscar-caliber movie and Ben Cross acts circles around everyone else.  But it is a fun little romp.  Ben Cross would right after this star as Barnabas Collins in the NBC mini-series remake of Dark Shadows. I have been meaning to rewatch it someday.

Watched: 23
New: 15

NIGHT SHIFT Content.
Ben Cross' Father Michael makes a great Theosophist/Chosen One multiclass in Night Shift.   I might have an older, now semi-retired, Father Michaels show up in a game one day, playing the role that Trevor Howard as Father Silva played in this movie.  I also just learned that this was the last movie that Trevor Howard was in. 

I am also thinking that a Cinematic Horror New Orleans. This movie, Cat People, maybe even the Interview with a Vampire and The Vampire Lestat among others. 




Wednesday, September 30, 2020

This Old Dragon: Retrospective, Pages from the Mages

Another This Old Dragon Retrospective today. Today I want to cover one of my favorite series in the run of Dragon, and one that had far fewer entries than I thought, Pages from the Mages. Again this series is by Ed Greenwood writing to us as Elminster. It's a wonder I wasn't a fan of the Realms until pretty much 2001.


The premise is laid out in the first installment, Elminster (or Ed, sometimes it is hard to say) wondering aloud why we don't find more unique spell-books in treasure hordes. He goes on to explain that such tomes are very rare.  The set up is solid and less in-universe than The Wizard's Three.  But like The Wizard's Three, this is used to give us some new spells and some magic tomes worthy to build an adventure around.  So let's join Ed and Elminster and pour through these pages of a nearly as legendary tome, Dragon Magazine, and see what treasures we can find.

Pages from the Mages

Our first entry is in Dragon #62 which has one of my all-time favorite covers; the paladin on horseback challenging three orcs.   This takes us all the way back to June 1982, the height of my D&D Basic/Expert days.  The magic books we discover here are:

    Mhzentul’s Runes, with details for making a Ring of Spell Storing. Rings that become guardian creatures (but no details) and the spells Fireball, Fire Shield, Fire Trap, and Delayed Blast Fire Ball.

    Nchaser’s Eiyromancia, this book gives us two new spells, Nulathoe’s Ninemen and Nchaser’s Glowing Globe.

    Book of the Silver Talon, this sought after tome has a number of good spells, Read Magic, Burning Hands, Comprehend Languages, Detect Magic, Erase, Write, Identify, Message, Shocking Grasp, Shield, Darkness 15’ Radius, Detect Invisibility, Knock, Ray of Enfeeblement, Web, Wizard Lock, Blink, Dispel Magic, Gust of Wind, Infravision, Phantasmal Force, and Protection From Normal Missiles.  Additionally, it has recipes for the ink for Read Magic, Buring Hands, Comprehend Languages, Detect Magic, Erase, Write, Identify, Message, Shocking Grasp, and Shield.  All in-universe and fluff, but fun all the same AND an often overlooked aspect of magic.

    Chambeeleon, the unique spellbook is described as a treasure.  In contains the spells, Water Breathing, Fly, Lightning Bolt, Fire Shield (cold flame version only), Ice Storm, Airy Water, Cone of Cold, Conjure Elemental (new version), Disintegrate, Glassee, Part Water, Spiritwrack, Cacodemon, Drawmij’s Instant Summons, Reverse Gravity, and Vanish. Which leads to the obvious conclusion that Drawmij was also moving between the planes between Greyhawk and the Realms.  This book is also considered to be a religious text by many priesthoods of aquatic gods.
 
In each case, we also get a little history and the last known or suspected whereabouts of the tomes. I say tomes, but thankfully Ed was not so limited in his thinking.  Some are books, some are collections of pages and others are stranger still.  I find it interesting that this entry is followed by the classic NPC class, the Scribe, also by Ed.

More Pages from the Mages

Our next entry comes from Dragon #69 which I also covered as part of my This Old Dragon Issue #69. Again a fantastic cover from the legendary Clyde Caldwell.  The article is titled "More Pages from the Mages" and has art by Jim Holloway. Interestingly there is a book in the art named "Holloway's Guide to Everything" could that be the next 5e book to come out?  The actual books covered here are:

    The Magister, this particular tome has no title so it is just called "the Magister". It consists of 16 sheets of parchment between two ivory covers.  It includes a treatise on illusion magic and the spells Change Self, Color Spray, Phantasmal Force, Detect Illusion, Mirror Image, Dispel Illusion, Nondetection, Massmorph, Shadow Door, Programmed Illusion, and True Sight.  There is also an alternate version of the Clone spell. There is also a lot of debate on what is exactly on the last page. 

    Seven Fingers (The Life of Thorstag), this tome is bound in leather. It describes the Void Card from the Deck of Many things. How wonderfully random! Yet so on point for an academically minded wizard.  There is also a recipe for Keoghtom’s Ointment, which may or may not be correct.  There is also some local history. 

    The Nathlum, is a rather non-descript book.  But there is some saying about books and covers.  This one will cause damage to anyone of Good alignment holding it! It includes recipes for poisons, so not all these books are limited to spells.  Something that honestly is not stressed enough. 

    The Workbook, there is no accurate description of this tome.  So Elminster isn't all-knowing (ok to be fair, Elminster and Ed would be the first to point this out).  This is rumored to include the spells Spendelarde’s Chaser, Caligarde’s Claw, Tulrun’s Tracer, Tasirin’s Haunted Sleep, Laeral’s Dancing Dweomer, Archveult’s Skybolt, and Dismind. All are new.

As I mentioned in my original post, back in the day I would go right for the spells, today I am more interested in the story behind the spellbooks.  Maybe the spells inside are some I have already seen, but that is not what makes it valuable to me now. It's the story, the history, maybe there is something really special about this book. Maybe the spellcaster is still alive. Maybe his/her enemies are and want this book.  My cup runneth over with ideas.

Pages From the Mages III

We jump to December 1984 and Dragon #92.  Damn. Another classic cover. This time it is "Bridge of Sorrows" by Denis Beauvais and he has updated it on his website.  what a great time to be a classic D&D fan.  This one is very special for me for many reasons. First, this was the very first PftM I had ever read. I didn't know a damn thing about the Realms (and I only know slightly more now) but as I mentioned in my This Old Dragon Issue #92 I remember going on a quest to recover Aubayreer's Workbook having only the glyph as a clue.  I don't remember all the details save that the quest was dangerous and the spells in the book were a bit anti-climatic given the quest.  Not that the spells are bad (hardly!) it is the quest was that hard.

This is also, at least from what I can tell, our very first mention of The Simbul, "the shapeshifting Mage-Queen".  I guess she is looking for a copy of this book too! I think I see a plot hook for my next Realms game (and playing on the events in The Simbul's gift).  MAYBE that quest was only half of the tale! Maybe the other half was really to get this book to The Simbul.  I am only 30+ years late.   Thank you Ed!  Of course, that is only one of FOUR magic books.  Let's have a look.

    Aubayreer's Workbook, this "book" is a long strip of bark folded accordion-style between two pieces of wood with a rune carved on it.  The spells are read magic, burning hands, dancing lights, enlarge, identify, light, message, write, ESP, wizard lock, dispel magic, explosive runes, fireball, and extension I. There three special spells  hailcone (a version of ice storm), and two new spells, Aubayreer's phase trap and thunderlance.

    Orjalun's Arbatel, not to be overshadowed this book's pages are beaten and polished mithril! Lots of Realms-centric details here. In fact this might be where many of these topics saw print for the very first time. This one includes two new spells Encrypt and Secure.

    The Scalamagdrion, bound in the hide of some unknown creature this book has a little surprise. The spells included are (and in this order): Write, erase, tongues, message, unseen servant, wizard lock, identify, enchant an item, permanency, blink, disintegration, feeblemind, fly, death spell, flame arrow, delayed blast fireball, invisibility, levitate, conjure elemental, minor globe of invulnerability, wall of force, remove curse, and dispel magic.  The book also has a unique monster bound up in the pages that will protect the book! 

    The Tome of the Covenant, named for the group of four mages that gathered together to stop the onslaught of orc from the north.  What this entry makes obvious is exactly how much detail Ed had already put into the Realms. There are four new spells in this book, named for each one of the Covenant wizards. Grimwald's Greymantle, Agannazar's Scorcher, Illykur's Mantle, and the one that REALLY pissed me off, Presper's Moonbow.  It pissed me off because I had written a Moonbow spell myself. Only mine was clerical and it was a spell given by Artemis/Diana to her clerics. My DM at the time told me it was too powerful at 5th level and here comes Ed with a similar spell, similarly named and his was 4th level!  Back then it was known as "Luna's Moonbow" named after one of my earliest characters. Ah well.  Great minds I guess.

Pages from the Mages IV

We jump ahead to Dragon #97from May 1985.  I also covered this one in This Old Dragon Issue #97. Rereading this article years later is the one where I thought I should stop being such a spoiled Greyhawk twat and see what the Realms had to offer.  It would still be a long time before I'd actually do that.  This one also had a bit of a feel of the Wizard's Three to it. The books covered here were:

    Bowgentle's Book, a slim volume bound in black leather. It has a ton of spells in it, so many I wonder how "slim" it actually was.  Cantrips clean, dry, and bluelight, and the spells affect normal fires, hold portal, identify mending, push, read magic, sleep, continual light, darkness 15' radius, detect evil, detect invisibility, ESP forget, knock, levitate, locate object, magic mouth, rope trick, strength, wizard lock, blink, dispel magic, fireball, fly, hold person, infravision, Leomund's Tiny Hut, lightning bolt, protection from evil 10' radius, protection from normal missiles, slow, tongues, water breathing, charm monster, confusion, dimension door, enchanted weapon, fire shield (both versions), minor globe of invulnerability, polymorph other, polymorph self, remove curse, wizard eye, Bigby's Interposing Hand, cone of cold, hold monster, passwall, and wall of force.  The two new spells are dispel silence and Bowgengle's Fleeting Journey. 

    The Spellbook of Daimos, this one has no title on the cover and described as very fine. Very little is known about who or what "Daimos" is.  The spells included are, identify, magic missile, invisibility, levitate, web, fireball, monster summoning I (a variant), slow, suggestion, confusion, fear, fire trap, polymorph self animate dead, cloudkill, feeblemind, anti-magic shell, disintegrate, geas, globe of invulnerability, reincarnation, repulsion, Bigby's Grasping Hand, duo-dimension, power word stun, vanish, incendiary cloud, mind blank, astral spell, gate, and imprisonment.   The new spells are flame shroud, watchware, and great shout.

    Book of Num "the Mad", this one is interesting. It is loose pages held in place by two pieces of wood and a cord.  Num was a reclusive hermit who learned a bit of druidic lore.  There are a few more spells here. But what is more interesting are the new ones. Briartangle, Thorn spray, and Death chariot.

    Briel's Book of Shadows. Ok, the title has my attention. Though it has little to do with the Books of Shadows I am most often familiar with.  This one has the following new spell, Scatterspray. It does have some details on uses of Unicorn horns and a recipe for a Homonculous.

These books really upped the number of spells included in each book.  Was this intentional? Is this the "Power creep" that was starting to enter the game at this point? It was 1985 and this was not an uncommon question to ask with the Unearthed Arcana now out (and now these spellbooks all have cantrips!) and classes like the Barbarian and Cavalier making people say "D&D is broken!"  The more things change I guess...

Pages from the Mages V

Dragon #100 from august 1985 was a great issue all around. From the Gord story, to Dragon Chess, to this. I really need to give it a proper This Old Dragon one day.  But until then Ed is back with some more magic.  
    Sabirine's Specular, the first book from a wizardess. It has a good collection of standard spells.  The new spells are Spell Engine, Catfeet, Snatch, Spark (Cantrip), Bladethirst, and Merald's Murderous Mist.
    Glanvyl's Workbook, what is neat about this book is it appears to be the book of a lesser magic-user and these are his notes. So like the workbook a student might have in a writing class.  There are three new cantrips, Horn, Listen, and Scorch. One new spell, Smoke ghost, which is level 4 so he had to be at least high enough level for that.  and the preparations for inks for the Haste and Lightning Bolt spell.
    The Red Book of War, this is a prayer book for clerics of the war god Tempus.  I liked seeing that spells for clerics were also offered.  These of course would differ from the arcane counterparts in many ways, or, at least they should.  Ed makes the effort here to show they do differ and that is nice. Many often forget this.  There are a number of prayers here that are common.  Also the new prayers/spells are Holy Flail, Reveal, Bladebless, and Sacred Link, one I enjoyed using back then.  None of these spells though would late make it to the AD&D 2nd published version of Pages from the Mages.
    The Alcaister, this is a book with a curse. Not the spell, but rather a poison worked into the pages that is still potent 600 years after it was written. Among the common spells it has three new cantrips, Cut, Gallop, and Sting. There is one new spell, Body Sympathy, and the last page of the spellbook is a gate! Destination determined at random.

Arcane Lore. Pages From the Mages, part VI

It is going to be a five-year jump and new edition until the next Pages comes in Dragon #164. The article has some subtle and overt changes. First there is a little more of the "in character" Elminster here.  Ed has had more time to write as the Elminster and I think this is part of the success of the novels. The overt change is now the spells are in AD&D 2nd Edition format.  Not too difficult to convert back (or even to any other edition) but it is noticed. It is December 1990, lets see what Ed and Elminster have for us. 
    Book of Shangalar the Black, a deeply paranoid wizard from 700 years ago you say?  I am sure this will be fun! There are only new spells in this short (4 page) spellbook. Bone Javelin, Negative Plane Protection, Repel Undead, and Bone Blade.  Well, the guy had a theme to be sure.
    The Glandar's Grimoire, now here is something else that is rarely done, at least in print.  This book is only a burnt remnant.  What is left of what is believed to be a much larger tome is four pages with new spells. Fellblade, Melisander's Harp, Disruption, and Immunity to Undeath.
    The Tome of the Wyvernwater Circle, this is a druids prayer book.  Now I know D&D druids are not historical druids that did not write anything down. So a "Druid book" still sounds odd to me.  But hey when in the Realms! This book has a few common spells and some new ones; Wailing Wind, Touchsickle, Flame Shield, and Mold Touch.
    The Hand of Helm, another clerical prayer book. This one is of unknown origin. It has 27 pages (and thus 27 spells; one spell per page in 2e), four of which are new;  Exaltation, Forceward, Mace of Odo, and Seeking Sword.

Is it because I know TSR had gone through some very radical changes between 1985 and 1990 that I think the tone of this article is different than the one in #100?  I can say that one thing for certain is that Ed Greenwood is more of a master of his craft here.  The history of the Realms is, for lack of a better word, thicker in these entries.  There is more background to the spellbooks and their place in Realms lore.  This is a positive thing in my mind in terms of writing.  It did make it hard to add them to my Greyhawk campaign, but by 1990 I was hard-core Ravenloft; shit just randomly popped out of the Mists all the time. If I needed one of these books I could make an excuse to get them there.



Pages From the Mages

It is now May 1992.  I am getting ready to graduate from University now and Dragon #181 is giving us our last Pages from the Mages.  It has been a fun trip.  A little bit of framing dialogue starts us off. I did notice we have gone from talking about "the Realms" to now saying "FORGOTTEN REALMS® setting" instead. 

    Galadaster's Orizon. This book is actually considered to be a "lesser work" in the eyes of the wizard-turned-lich Galadaster, but this is all that survived of his tower's destruction. Among the common spells there are three new ones. Firestaff, Geirdorn's Grappling Grasp, and Morgannaver's Sting.
    Arcanabula of Jume, another book from a wizardess (rare in this collection of books). This one is written in the secret language of Illusionists (which are, as a class, slightly different in 2nd Ed) and is a traveling spellbook. It has four new spells, Dark Mirror, Shadow Hand, Prismatic Eye, and Shadow Gauntlet.
    Laeral's Libram. I was just about to comment that while these books are fantastic, none of the names have the recognition factor of say a Tenser, Bigby, or even Melf.  Then along last comes Laeral. Now here is someone famous enough that I have box of her dice sitting next me! Laeral Silverhand is of course one of the famous Seven Sisters. So not just a name, but a Name. This spellbook has the common spells of feather fall, magic missile, spider climb, and forcewave.  As well as the new spells of Laeral's Aqueous Column, Jhanifer's Deliquescence, and Blackstaff.  The blackstaff spell was created by another Name, Khelben Arunsun.  This one would be worthy of a quest to be sure.
    Tasso's Arcanabula.  Our last spellbook comes from an illusionist named Tasso.  Tasso is almost a  "Name." I recognize it, but I am not sure if it was because of this article or some other Realms book I read. The spell book has what I consider to be the common illusionist spells and four new ones. Tasso's Shriek, Shadow Bolt, Shadow Skeleton, and Prismatic Blade.  That's where I have heard of him. I have used that Prismatic Blade spell before,

After this series, the Wizard's Three took over as our source of spells from Ed.

I have read that Ed created this series based on his love of some of the named spells in the AD&D Player's Handbook.  He wanted to know more about the characters and how they came to be associated with those spells.  I think that he showed his love here in this series. I also think it was made clear that sometimes the spell creator's name gets added to a spell not just by the creator, but by those who chronicle the spell, spellbook, or spellcaster later. Sometimes centuries later. 

We got away from this but now it looks like it is coming back. especially with the recent Mordenkainen, Xanathur, and now Tasha books coming out from WotC.

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Dungeons & Dragons Animated Series: Requiem The Final Episode

Well here is an unexpected treat.

Growing up I didn't watch much of the Dungeons & Dragons cartoon. I caught it when I could, but I worked most Saturdays and didn't always see it.  This was also back before DVRs or even on-demand viewing, so unless recorded it on VHS, well I missed out.

Many years later I picked it up on DVD when it was packaged with some wonderful 3rd Edition content. This was about the same time my oldest was getting interested in D&D and the D&D animated series was the perfect gateway drug for him.  If it is possible to wear out a DVD then he would have done it.

On the DVD extras were a lot of neat little things. One of them was the script for Requiem, the last episode of the series.  Written by series writer Michael Reeves it detailed the last adventure of Hank, Eric, Diana, Bobby, Sheila and Uni. It had been put on as a radio play in 2006 and was also included in the DVD release. 

Now some enterprising animators pulled together clips from the series and new animations to give us the final episode in full animated form.

Watch it while you can.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QsNHTnY6HQg

I think they did a pretty good job, to be honest, all things considered.  

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Dungeon! Apple IIe Game

This Image file is worth 3 Apple IIe's in size.

I have mentioned many times here what a fan I am of the Dungeon! board game.  Recently James over at Grognardia (yes if you have not seen, Grognardia is back) posted about the Dungeon! computer game

I remember it from the time, of course, I had a couple of friends that had Apples. I never picked it up since I was in the Tandy Color Computer world at the time. 

Sadly, like many games, this one was never ported over to the CoCo, nor do I think it ever made it to the Atari 400/800/1200XL world either.

So naturally, I started looking for it and was pleased (and not surprised really) to see it had been uploaded to the Internet Archive.

There are a few versions up, but this is the one that I had the most success with. 

Dungeon! (1980)(TSR)[a]]

With the MAME extension already supplied by the Internet Archive, you can play it right in your browser.

The Computer Adventure Game Mueseum also has the manual for you to see.  But if you have played Dungeon! before then you know how to play this one. 

The graphics, while primative by today's standards, look great on an Apple IIe.  I did a bit more digging and discovered that the game was written in Apple Basic. So if you can get ahold of the source code you could have some fun! Hell. I would try it on my Color Computer emulator if for no other reason that see if I can still do it.  On the other hand, maybe I should ask my youngest to make one for me in Python.

A user at Board Game Geek tried his hand at writing a version in C#.  My C skills are weak anymore so this source code does me about as much good as the Apple Basic one.  I tried to run the files he has, but I think I am missing a .NET file or two on my PC.  I didn't want to try to run it on my work computer.

The Apple IIe emulation above though runs nice enough. 

If you want to get a feel for what the game was like here is a walk through on YouTube. 


I am a fan of Dungeon! but I don't think I am going to spend the energy chasing this one down.  That is unless I also inherit an Apple IIe. But my wife has already threatened to kill me if I bring another "busted up, old ass computer" into the house.

Monday, August 31, 2020

#RPGaDAY 2020: Day 31 Experience

And here we are at the end of another #RPGaDAY for August.   What new Expeiences has this given me?

From the start, this month has been about my reflection of a Summer with the BECMI rules and Basic-era rules in general.  I spent a lot of time here thinking about what these rules do that is different than what I have been used too over the last few years (read: Modern D&D) and what I was used too back in the 80s (read: Advanced D&D).

My lens for this #RPGaDAY was these experiences. Because of that reading what others had posted gave me a very different viewpoint.  It was not 2-3 blog posts and 5-7 tweets that were all identical and everyone talking about the same thing.  This was nice.  While I was not as responsive as I would have liked to have been to others on this, reading them all was fun.

Since I also spent a lot of time talking about my BECMI/BX campaign, War of the Witch Queens, maybe I'll use that map as a simple dungeon crawl.  Maybe using ideas from my various posts here and when those don't work, well, I am sure I'll think of something. 

Hopefully, next year when this starts I'll be at Gen con again with my kids. That would be really great.

Sunday, August 30, 2020

#RPGaDAY 2020: Day 30 Portal

 There are all sorts of portals to be found in RPGs and D&D in particular, but one was the most important to me.


In these 16 pages, I got a glimpse of something more.  More worlds than I knew existed out there and they could be mine...all I needed was more paper-route money.


Here I first learned the differences between D&D and AD&D, though it would be a longer before I really knew.  Other games I have heard about but had not seen. Games like Dungeon! and Vampyre.   I learned of Gen Con and I wanted one of those T-Shirts.


I am a little sad we don't have these anymore, but there are far too many products these days to make it practical. 

I see Archive.org has a copy archived if you want to take a look.

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

#RPGaDAY 2020: Day 26 Strange

Again a couple ways to go.  

I could comment on these strange days, but I have other social media outlets for that.

I am going to comment on the #RPGaDAY2020 list itself in that these are a lot of strange words.  

Ok, I get it, Dave has been doing this a long time and maybe he is running out of words to use. but knowing and the work he has done in the past I highly doubt he is lacking in ideas. So I'll just put this here as my commentary and that's it.

Ok. Strange. Let's get to the meat of this.

Many of my contemporaries will point to Fritz Leiber, Robert E. Howard, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Tolkien, Moorcock, and Lovecraft as their main sources of inspiration to D&D.  While I share the Tolkien, Moorcock, and Lovecraft influences, I also add Clark Ashton Smith.

But those were not my only sources.

Dr. Strange and Tomb of Dracula

The 1970s were a strange time to be sure.  The 70s Occult Revival fueled my tastes in games in ways I never knew at the time and only saw in retrospect.  Case in point. Dr. Strange comics and Tomb of Dracula.  Both were favorites of mine but when Strange, along with Blade, would battle Dracula? Yeah, THAT was an adventure.  I wanted my games to have these epic world-changing battles that start small but then go on out to the cosmic scale.  Strange didn't just defeat Dracula. He destroyed all vampires.

I was already a huge horror fan at this point and Hammer Horror in particular. So these comics sent me searching more and more strange ideas for my games. I think by 1982 I had read every book of occultism in my local public library.  Creating a witch class was an inevitable conclusion at that point. 

When the Ravenloft module was released it found a no more welcome home than mine.

I have mentioned this in greater detail here.

Strange Stories, Amazing Facts

My copy
My parents were voracious readers. Books filled every corner of my home growing up and every room had at least one bookshelf, some like the living room had three. 

They, like many people of their generation, had a lot of Reader's Digest books. One, in particular, was Strange Stories, Amazing Facts.

This book should not by any stretch of the imagination be considered good literature or even good research. It is however good fun and a fun read. 

While the book is divided up into roughly chronological sections including one on the future, it was the past and the monsters of myth that always grabbed my attention.  Though flipping through it now that section on the end of the world would be fun to use.

For my birthday about 10 years ago my family found a copy and gave it to me.  Complete with original dust jacket (I am book snob and prefer my dust covers intact).

I have been asked in the past to assemble my own "Appendix N".  Maybe I'll do that one day.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Review: Tunnels & Trolls (Troll Week)

Tunnels & Troll might be one of the first "clone" games ever, but it really is a proper game in its own right.  The story goes that creator Ken St. Andre was browsing through the original D&D rules and thought he could do better than that so he sat down and created the first Tunnels & Trolls game in 1975.  D&D was barely a thing on the wider scale, though very popular still, and here comes T&T.

Over the years T&T has been updated, re-released, and otherwise seen many ups and downs the game itself has continued and has a dedicated fanbase.  It is easy to see why. T&T is easy to learn, has some neat little quirks, and is just plain fun.  Plus if you ever get a chance to meet Ken St. Andre at Gen Con then PLEASE do it. He is a great guy.

The name, Tunnels & Trolls, almost wasn't. It was almost Tunnels & Troglodytes, but that name was shot down by his players.  Since then the troll has become a sort of synonymous with the game and St. Andre himself. His twitter handle is @Trollgodfather and he runs Trollhala Press.

Tunnels & Trolls now holds the distinction of not only being the oldest RPG still published by the same publisher, Flying Buffalo, but also still controlled by its original author/designer. 

The RuneQuest Connection
Yesterday in my review of RuneQuest's Trollpak I mentioned that in my earliest days I thought Trollpak was a supplement for Tunnels & Trolls. Indeed both games did feature a lot of troll iconography.  But I think two it may have come with one other obsession of mine. Elric. I was (still am) a HUGE Michael Moorcock fan and I loved the Elric books.  I saw the game Stormbinger and I knew it used a similar system to both RuneQuest and Call of Cthulhu.  I also knew that Ken St. Andre had worked on Tunnels & Trolls and Stormbringer.  I guess in my young mind I conflated all of that.  While I might never see my goal of a full Tunnels & Trolls/Trollpak mashup, my dream of an epic Stormbringer/RuneQuest/Call of Cthulhu crossover might still happen!

I have owned many different versions of T&T over the years. I have loaned some out, another is just gone (it is with my original AD&D books I think) and still at least one I resold in a game auction when I needed the cash.  I miss each and every one.
Thankfully I now have the PDF of Deluxe Tunnels & Trolls the most recent version and the one that is easiest to get.  I will be focusing my review on this version, with recollections of previous editions when and where I can.

Deluxe Tunnels & Trolls. 2015 Ken St. Andre, published by Flying Buffalo.
348 pages, color covers, black & white interior art (mostly) and a full color section.
Deluxe Tunnels & Trolls (dT&T) is a massive volume at 348 pages.  
The PDF is divided into Chapter sections, but more importantly, it is split into five larger sections; The Basic or Core Game, Elaboration, Trollworld Atlas, Adventures, and End Matter.

The Basic or Core Game
This covers the first 11 chapters and 160+ pages.  This most resembles the T&T game I remember playing sparingly in the 80s. This covers the basics of the game such as rolling up characters, equipping them, combat and magic.  T&T uses all six-sided dice for everything, so getting started is as easy as getting the rules and raiding your board games for dice.  Because we NEVER did that in the 80s.
Character creation is a bit like D&D and other RPGs from the time (or more accurately other RPGs are like D&D and T&T).  There are a few quirks that make T&T stand out.
Exploding Triples allow for some extraordinary characters. When rolling your 3d6 for stats (like D&D) if you get three of the same number, all "1s" or all "6s" for example, you re-roll and ADD the previous total.  In D&D rolling three "1s" is a disaster, but in T&T you then reroll and add that 3 (1+1+1) to your new roll.  Roll three "6s"? Reroll and add 18! T&T has eight abilities, Strength, Constitution, Dexterity, Speed, Intelligence (IQ), Wizardry, Luck, and Charisma. They all map pretty close to D&D with the others Speed, Wizardry and Luck doing what they sound like. 
Kindreds, not Race. With all the discussion of the word "race" in D&D (yes, it is old and problematic and yes it should be replaced) T&T "solved" this issue by going with Kindred (and long before Vampire the Masquerade did).  This also leaves character creation open to all sorts of Kindreds. 
Personal Adds. For every point in a physical ability over 12 (the upper end of average), characters get +1 to their personal adds. Physical stats are Strength, Constitution, Dexterity, and Speed. These adds are combined and then used in combat.
Saving Rolls. All skills and nearly everything else use a saving throw like mechanic for resolution. The most common is a Luck roll, but others can be used.

There are three basic and one extra character classes. Warriors, Wizards, Rogues and the Specialist.
Kindreds include Humans, Dwarves, Elves, Fairies, Hobbs (Halflings), and Leprechauns. Each kindred then gets an ability multiplier. So if you are a dwarf and you rolled an 11 for Strength  your multiplier is 2 for a 22 strength! But your Luck multiplier is .75 so if your rolled a 12 it is now a 9.  Other attributes effected are height and weight. Fairies have multiples here of 0.1 and 0.01 respectively.

The equipment list is what you would expect with some odd improvised weapons (rocks) and even guns (gunnes) but these are still rather primitive in nature. 

Saving Rolls are covered in Chapter 5 and gave us what is essentially a dynamic Target Number mechanic YEARS before anyone else did.  You determine the level of the Saving Throw (difficulty) times that by 5 to get your target number. Players roll a 2d6 and yes doubles are re-rolled and added.
It's a simple mechanic that works well. 

Chapter 6 gives us some talents. Or things you can do other than wack monsters. 
Chapter 7 cover enemies and monsters and is a whopping 3 pages!  But that is nature of T&T monsters can be abstracted from just a few simple numbers.
Chapter 8 covers combat. If I remember correctly combat in T&T was a fast affair.  The rules support this idea. 

Chapter 9 is of course my favorite, Magic. There have been more than a few times I have wanted to adopt ideas from here for my D&D games.  In the end though I have kept them separate.  Spell levels go to 18 though you need some superhuman Intelligence and Dexterity scores to cast them (60 and 44 respectively).  Spells have a Wiz (Wizardry cost) so it works on a spell-point like system.  The spell names are something of a bit of contention with some people and my litmus test for whether or not someone will be a good player in T&T.  If they don't like the names, then I think they will not be good for the game.  Among the spell names are "Hocus Focus", "Oh Go Away", "Boom Bomb", "Freeze Please" and more.  I like them I would rather have a fun name than a boring one, but I am also the guy who made spells called "You Can't Sit With Us", "Live, Laugh, Love", "Oh My God, Becky!" and "Tripping the Light Fantastic".

Chapter 10 is Putting it All Together with general GM advice.  Chapter 11 covers the Appendices. 
This constitutes the bulk of what makes up the T&T game. 

Elaborations
This section consists of rules additions and other topics.
Of interest here is Chapter 13, Other Playable Kindreds.  This likely grew out of T&Ts sister game, Monsters! Monsters! In dT&T these stats for playing have been brought more inline with the M!M! book for more compatibility.   The attribute multipliers from character creation are repeated here for the main kindreds, and then expanded out for others of the Familiar (or most similar to the Good Kindred, like goblins, gnomes, and pixies) to the Less Common like lizard people, ratlings and trolls!  To the Extraordinary like ghouls and dragons.
The means in which this is done is so simple and so elegant that other games should be shamed for not doing the same.
Later on languages, more talents and accessories (minis, battle mats, virtual tabletops) are covered.



Trollworld Atlas
This section covers the campaign world of Trollworld.  A history is provided and the major continents are covered as well as a few of the cities. This covers about 70 pages, but it is all well spent.
This section also features some full-color interior art including some great maps.

Adventures
Pretty much what is says on the tin.  This covers the two types of adventures one can have with T&T; a solo adventure and a GM run adventure.  
Everyone reading this has experienced a GM run adventure.  But where T&T really sets itself apart are the solo adventures. This is a reason enough to grab this game just to see how this is done.

End Matter
This section contains the last bits.  Credits. Afterwords. Acknowledgments. A full index. Character sheets and a Post Card for the City of Khazan!


I am going to put this bluntly.

Every D&D player, no matter what edition, needs to play Tunnels & Trolls at least once.  They should also read over the rules.  I don't care if you walk away saying "I don't like it" that is fine, but so many of the things I see so-called seasoned D&D players and game masters complain about has a fix or has been addressed already in T&T. 

Like I mentioned with Trollpak who solved D&D's "evil race" problem back in 1982, Tunnels & Trolls fixed it in 1975.

Beyond all that T&T is an easily playable game with decades of material and support and thousands of fans online.  If you don't want to buy a copy to try out then find a game at a Con.  

Is T&T perfect?  No. It lacks the epic that is D&D.  If D&D is Wagner then T&T is Motzart. Easier to approach, but no less brilliant. 

For under $20 (currently) you get a complete game with enough material to keep you going for years. Plus there is such a wealth (45 years now) of material out there that you will never run out of things to do.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Review: Trollpak (Troll Week)

In many ways, 1982's Trollpak from Chaosium (and then later Avalon Hill, then Chaosium again) is the reason for my decades-long fascination with trolls in RPGs.

Like many gamers my age, it was the ads in Dragon magazine where I first came in contact with Trollpak. The ads were quite effective too.  Going back to Dragon #65 we get a dissected troll with it's guts all hanging out.  Nothing like that EVER appeared in D&D.

Back then for some reason, I thought this product was for Tunnels & Trolls and not the very obvious RuneQuest.   Even when I learned the difference I still wanted to combine Trollpak with Tunnels & Trolls, something I am attempting to try this week.

Sadly I never knew any groups that was playing RuneQuest so getting my hands on one to view was non-existent.  And my gaming dollar was stretched as it was back then, so buying it blind for my D&D games seemed a bit of a risk for me. 

Reading over the PDF now and some of the very few reviews I see that I certainly missed out and wonder what my trolls would be like today had I owned this back in the 80s.  These days I think I am fairly set in my ways, but is still there is so much here to use.  So let's get into it 



For this review, I am considering the PDF version of Trollpak that is currently being sold on DriveThruRPG.  This is a reprint of the original Trollpak from 1982.
216 pages, color covers, black & white/monchrome interior art.
By Greg Stafford and Sandy Petersen for Runequest 2nd Edition.
The original box set of Trollpak contained three books (the "pak" part); Uz Lore, Book of Uz, and Into Uzdom.  The PDF combines all three into a single file.  The PDF was released in 2019.
The books correspond to the PDF sections, "Troll Legends and Natural History", "Creating and Playing Troll Characters", and "Adventures in Trolls Lands" respectively.


Uz is the name the trolls of Glorantha give themselves and how their creation is central to the lore of the world.  Already this set is going to be the sort of deep-dive into a topic that you know I love.

On the very first page, we get an "in-universe" side-bar about how trolls living near or amongst humans begin to become more human-like and how both groups eventually take on an equilibrium.  
This sets the stage for this book in two very important ways.
  1. This book is steeped in the lore and legends of Glorantha. So teasing out pieces to use in other games might be trickier than I first expected.
  2. These trolls are NOT one-dimensional collections of hit points and potential XP and treasure.  If you prefer your monsters to be mindless evil races to just kill then this book will be wasted on you. 
Book 1: Uz Lore, Troll Legends and Natural History
We get right into the myths and legends of the Uz people/trolls.  We get a feel right away since we get a listing of the Seven Sacred Ancestors of the Uz even before the Gods.  It is right before the Gods sure, but the importance of these ancestors is emphasized. We learn that "Uz" means "the folk" in the Uz language. So the Mistress Trolls (akin to the troll mother race) are the Uzuz.  Dark Trolls, the corrupted "evil" trolls are the Uzko. And so on. Speaking of the language we also learn that the mother tongue of the trolls is a debased form of the "Darktongue." So in D&D terms "Trollspeak" could be a corrupted form of "Abyssal" or something like that. I think in old forms of D&D anyone who spoke the Chaos alignment language could speak to trolls.  

Speaking of Chaos.  The Law - Chaos access is also present in RuneQuest, though not as an alignment as in D&D but as elemental forces.  Another clue that these are your D&D trolls comes up that trolls are often seen as agents of Chaos WHEN IN FACT they were really some of the first victims. 
Let that sink in for bit.  If that were published today there is a certain segment of the hobby that would be screaming that they don't want "social justice" politics in their games.  But this is from 1982, from two of the titans of the RPG industry.  

The section continues with more history and recounting of great troll battles. There is a quasi-academic feel to this and that is really fun.   An example is an experiment a troll researcher did on a troll and a trollkin (a smaller version of troll) in which they were locked in a room with various items and the researcher recorded what they ate.  The point here is that Uz trolls can eat and will eat almost anything. 

We learn there are many kinds of trolls (as to be expected). The Mistress Race is the mother race of all trolls. They are ancient and wise and claim to predate all other races and even the world itself.  The other races of trolls are the Dark Trolls (your stock evil trolls), great trolls, cave trolls, sea trolls, and the diminutive trollkin.


We even get details on troll senses and how they differ from humans. Differences in trolls from region to region. Even a troll evolutionary tree and "prehistoric" troll cave painting and idols, there is even a six-breasted "Venus of Willendorf" style troll idol of the troll mistress race.
There is even details on the types of pets trolls keep. 

There is far more detail about trolls in this 64 page section than in all five editions of (A)D&D.
Nearly everything in the section is system neutral.  While it is tied to the world mythology at a fundamental level, it can be used in any game.

Book 2: Book of Uz, Creating and Playing Troll Characters
This section/book is all about creating a troll character to play in RuneQuest.  Before we delve into this let's have a look at this from "Playing Trolls,"
It is tempting to use trolls as monsters with weapons.
However, they are intelligent creatures who have survived despite gods and men. Several traits set them apart from humans as well, and they naturally exploit those special traits to their advantage. You should do so as well.
D&D players may have issues with playing races as evil or not, but RuneQuest had it figured out in 1982.

You can randomly roll which troll sub-species your character is from, with a 1% chance you are from the Mistress Troll race and 63% chance you are a miserable little trollkin.  Adjustments for all the types are given. Your troll can be wild, semi-civilized, or civilized. You can roll for social rank and equipment.  You can even see what starting spells you have since all trolls have some magic. You can even figure out what you were before you became an adventurer. 

Trolls are a matriarchal culture. So various home habits are focused around this.  For example, the more husbands a troll leader has, the higher her social standing. Looks like my troll character Grýlka gets to pick out a couple of husbands!
BTW, I LOVE the troll greeting when offering you hospitality in their lair.  They cover your head with a blanket or hide and say "I extend my darkness to protect you."  I am totally going to use that in my next adventure. 

Some gods are covered next and their worship. They have goddesses and gods of spiders, darkness, insects (very important to troll life), and the hunt. There is even a goddess of healing.
Coverage of domesticated giant insects is also covered since these creatures often serve the same function as domestic mammals in human life. 

Some new troll types are also covered.

This section by it's very nature is more rules-focused, but there is still so much here that is just good that it can, and should, be used in any other FRPG.

Book 3: Into Uzdom, Adventures in Trolls Lands
This section covers going on adventures in lands inhabited or controlled by the Uz. 
This section is very rules-focused as well with the first part covering random encounters in troll lands. 
There are also sample/small adventures like "The Caravans" which details a troll caravan of a heard of giant beetles.  Imagine this long train of trolls, some in wagons, others walking and in between hundreds of giant beetles being led like cattle in a long line.  Quite a sight really.  Another is traveling to a troll village and NOT treat everyone like a walking collection of HP.  This one is fantastic really for all the troll alcohol available and whether or not your human character can handle any of them in a drinking challenge. 
There are five larger adventures here and several smaller ideas for seeds.  The best thing though is the inclusion of a "mini-game" of Trollball.  This game is played like football and is supposed to be a reenactment of a battle from the dawn of time.  The "trollball" itself used to be a now extinct insect so other things have been used like badgers and in rare occurrences a bear, but most often it is a trollkin.   The teams each have seven players and one can be a great troll.  They are sponsored by a Rune Lord.
The game is brutal and sometimes deadly, but since there is a religious element to the game anyone killed on the field is brought back to life by the gods whom the game honors. Full stats for the Sazdorf Wackers and Tacklers is included so players can try their own hand at Trollball, but warning, the troll gods might not raise a dead human. 

There is just so much to love about this product. It is jammed packed full of ideas.  Part of me wants to adapt my D&D trolls to use these rules and another part of me wants to insert the Uz as-is into D&D as their own race or something akin to High Trolls.  

Trolpak was updated in 1990 when RuneQuest was being published by Avalon Hill.  It was then split into the Trollpak and Troll Gods. 

The "new" pdf restores all the content back to the 1982 edition. 



Reading it now after so many years I am struck with a couple of thoughts. The first is what would have happened to my own games had I picked this up and used it in my games?  Would my trolls today have a decidedly Uz flavor about them?  What else would have changed?

Also, reviews in Dragon Magazine for this are glowing and heap high praise on this book and they called it a leap in game design.  It was, but it was not a leap everyone would take.  RuneQuest/Chaosium did this for trolls like Chill/Pacesetter had done for Vampires.  There are s few others I can think of.  Orkworld did it for Orcs for example.  But still, these sorts of deep explorations are rare. 

So if you are over one-dimensional monsters and are ready to expand your options then this is for you.
If you are RuneQuest player of any edition then this is also something you should have.

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Troll Week Starts Tomorrow

I have been working from home since March 15th or so. It has been great really, work has provided me with all the tech I need. I wanted to make my life a little easier so I also set up my kid's old gaming computer in my office.  They still use for playing D&D online via Discord and Roll20, but I use it to test various things.  The computer still has CD-ROM and DVD-ROM drives.

While digging through some old back-ups I found a download folder I had thought had been lost.

On it was a copy of Ron Edwards' "Trollbabe" RPG. 
I was reading through it and forgot how much fun it was.  It also got me thinking about trolls, troll magic, and all sorts of related topics.

I remember back in the earliest days of my Dragon magazine reading and getting mail-order catalogs from Games Plus and the Dungeon Hobby Shop one of the products that always jumped out at me was Runequest's TrollPak.  

It was the exact sort of deep dive into a singular topic that appealed to me then and now.  Of course at the time I thought it might be related to Tunnels & Trolls.  When I discovered it wasn't I figured I could convert it and have a Troll-focused game.

You can't read a bunch of myths, legends, and fairy tales about witches and not run across the occasional troll.  They are all over the place.   Especially any of the stories of Northern Europe.

What I never liked though was how the trolls of myth and in particular the trolls from the Hobbit looked and acted nothing like the trolls of D&D.  Sure ogres are fine, but thin rubbery dudes that regenerate? Not so much.  As time went on I of course saw where the D&D trolls came from and why they were chosen; a stronger differentiation between ogres and trolls needed to be made.  But I still never really liked them.

In my games I made a new troll, the Earth Troll, that was more like the trolls I saw in the books I was reading.  These trolls were often the lackeys of hags, in particular, the Wood Hag.  These were much closer and I would later go one to make more trolls.  The idea here that trolls are highly adaptable to their environment.  They are Lamarckian Evolution played out in D&D.  Put a troll near water and in a couple of generations, they are adapted to it.  

But one thing I never did and will do this week, is adapt Troll Pak and Tunnels & Trolls to the Trolls of D&D.


Looking forward to seeing what I can come up with!

Thursday, July 16, 2020

That's So Raven! Raven Swordsmistress of Chaos for BECMI

Raven by Luis Royo
Back in 1987, I was a freshman in college. My then Favorite Local Game Store was also my Favorite Local Used Book Store.  They sold new books, used books as well as new and old gamebooks.  I got a copy of the first printing Deities & Demigods here along with scores of old copies of Dragon and White Dwarf.  

One book they always prominently displayed was the American versions of Raven Swordsmistress of Chaos.  

I never grabbed the book but as an 18-year-old guy, I always was attracted to the covers. I even had a character named Raven, who like the cover, was blonde and had a pet raven.  I was vaguely aware there were more books in the series, but never knew how many. 

Over the last couple of years, I have been on a quest to find and read all the Raven books by "Richard Kirk" who was, in reality, the pen name of authors Angus Wells and Robert Holdstock.  Both wrote Book 1 and then they alternated with Wells on Books 3 and 5 and Holdstock on Books 2 and 4.

Well, I succeeded in my quest and I found them all and read them.
While they are not...good...they are fun little romp in late 70s Swords and Sorcery (and Sex, but not as much as the Corgi covers hint at). Sometimes described as a mildly ribald Red Sonja or a less ribald Ghita Of Alizar. The books however perfect for game fodder. 

Others have reviewed the books and I went back and forth on whether I should do the same.  So instead I am just going to link out to some of the better reviews and retrospectives for your own reading.

I figured there are five books in the Raven saga and there are five rule sets in the BECMI series.  
Seems like a good fit.  Plus it let's me try out each set of rules with a character.

I also did this with my very first character, the Lawful Cleric Johan Werper. While I find him interesting I figure you all would like to see Raven more. Also I wanted to get a good feel for how the fighter works in all sets AND the advanced fighter paths from the Companion rules.  So let's get to it!

Raven Swordsmistress of Chaos

Raven from Heroforge
The story Raven begins with that of a runaway slave girl named Su'ann. She is reduced by a mysterious warlock-like character named Spellbinder who recognizes that she is "the pivot on which the world turns" partially because she is also protected by giant Raven and he senses something in her.  Spellbinder and Su'ann, now calling herself "Raven" hook up with a band of outlaws and pirates.  They go from adventure to adventure but all the time Raven is training with swords, spears and what would become her "trademark" a set of throwing stars.  It was the 70s man.  Raven though is not training out of boredom, nor even for the higher purpose fate seems to have, but is very vague about, for her.  She wants to kill her former slave owner the Swordsmaster Karl Ir Donwayne.  
While Raven is the cover girl and the eponymous main character, the events are all narrated and told by Spellbinder many years after the fact. Even the scenes where he was not present.  

The story is one that is simple, but close to many FRP gamers. Raven wants to kill Karl Ir Donwayne. How is going to do that? Well, they need to Skull of Quez to appease this ruler to get to Donwayne. But they have to find the mysterious island first and then kill the beast-men. And there are shadowy loners, men with mysterious pasts. Raven jumping in and out of bed with Spellbinder, Gondar the Pirate captain, and even Krya M'ystral, the Queen and sister of the ruler they were trying to go see.  This is all in the first book.  There is a nice gory battle with Karl Ir Donwayne too, but he comes back in future books to bother Raven some more.

We never get a satisfactory end to Raven's story.  Book 5 just ends.  Though all the books are told from Spellbinder's point of view they could be out of order.  We do know that Raven met some sort of end between Book 5 and Spellbinder's remembering which seems to take place many years later. Maybe she became that agent of Chaos after all.

For this I am going to stat up Raven for each rule set in the BECMI rules, trying to feature what I feel are the best parts.  I am also going to try to feature what I can from what she was doing in the books.

Raven, ePic Character Generator


Sheets are from The Mad Irishman

Basic


Here is the Basic version of Raven.  The hardest this is always to guess at what any one character's numbers are going to be. I figure she had good strength and constitution as well as high dexterity since she favors the throwing stars.  Her charisma is very high, not because of her looks, but because she inspires a lot of loyalty from the cutthroats she usually hangs out with.

She is a fighter. No doubt. I also gave her alignment as Chaotic.  She is a force of chaos, but she is also a killer.  For this example, I thought putting her at level 3, or "Swordmistress" (no middle "s" like the books) was appropriate even for her first book.

You can see her full Basic sheet here (click for larger): 



Expert


Fighters don't get a lot in the Expert set. So for her 2nd book I just advanced her to 9th level "Lady" and gave her some magical chain mail.

You can see her full Expert sheet here (click for larger): 



Companion


Ah now here are some changes!

In the Companion rules, we have more going on.  First I wanted to have her become an Avenger or the Chaotic traveling Fighter.  She obviously has no lands to call her own and she is still going about killing things.  But the Avenger gives her some Clerical ability.

Magic is rare and dangerous in Raven's world.  But everyone seems to have some sort of supernatural sort of talent.  So for Raven, I choose spells that fit in with role as the "pivot on which the world turns" and other things like her raven companion.  So things like "detect magic" and "cause fear" made sense. She also got the 3rd level spell "striking" since that covers a lot of what could be a natural talent.

She also gets 2 attacks per round now at 18th level.

You can see her full Companion sheet here (click for larger): 



Master


Master level Raven is really Ultimate Raven.  This is the Raven that goes toe to toe with gods and spirits and comes out unscathed. 

She gets three attacks per round now and I implemented the Weapon Mastery Rules to give her mastery over the sword and her throwing stars. 
She gets more cleric spells, this time to the 10th level of ability.  Some spells are easily explained by her connection to her bird, fate, and chaos.  Others can be explained by natural ability. "Commune" for example is with her bird and the forces of Chaos only.  "Speak with Animals" can be roughly explained by her time with the animal men. Others could be when she was dealing with weird supernatural forces.

She also gets 3 attacks per round now.

You can see her full Master sheet here (click for larger): 



Immortal


This sheet is largely incomplete.  It is also the most different of the other four (printed from my DTRPG copy) and interestingly enough the only book in series that I don't have an American (Royo cover) edition of.  I do have the British Corgi version with the Chris Achilléos cover.  

I made a lot of guesses as to what sort of Immortal she would be and just cheated and made her an Initiate. I might try this again with one of my own characters that I know better. 

You can see her full Immortal sheet here (click for larger): 


All in all I rather pleased with these. I am curious to hear from anyone that has also read these books.
As far as BECMI character I am happy with it.

Links

Monday, June 22, 2020

BECMI: Master Set Review

Moving every up we are now at the apex of BECMI D&d Play for normal characters.  The journey that began at level 1 in the Basic set is now seeing its end at levels 26 to 36 in the Master Set.
This particular set was never on my radar and I only picked one up a couple years ago.  The box was beaten up and the contents were water damaged, but still readable.  The box also had an extra copy of the Immortal rules inside, so that was a nice bonus.  But this has always been something an "other" for me and my D&D game.

Today I look into these rules for the first time in detail.

The Master set covers levels 26-36, following right from the Companion rules.  I am going to say that in my reading of both sets I am convinced really that they likely should have been combined into a single set of rules.  Big set to be sure, but the overlap is often very significant.

D&D Master Set (1985)

As with the previous BECMI Sets, I am reviewing both my boxed set and the PDFs available from DriveThruRPG.

The Master Players' Book
This book is the smaller of the two at 32 pages. Color covers, black & white interiors.
There are some interesting things to note on page 1.  First, we are told this is the Dungeons & Dragons game by Gary Gygax.  Dave Arneson is no longer listed.  Also, this book is "compiled by" Frank Mentzer as opposed to "written by."   I am not going to try to read too much into this. Writing on the book was complete in Spring 1985.  It would be published that summer in July but it would soon be eclipsed in sales by the Unearthed Arcana for AD&D which had sold well.  Though in 3-4 months it would all change and Gygax would be ousted from TSR.  But that is a topic for another day.
Like the previous books, this one covers all the details needed for characters up to the vaulted 36th level.  Clerics and Magic-users see the most text devoted to them. Clerics gain additional turning abilities which include more monsters and the ability to affect more monsters.  They also get more spells but still top out at 7th level.  More druid spells are also presented here. Magic-users also get more spells including the most abused spell in D&D history, Wish. Again they top out at 9th level spells.  Even clerics get access to Wish if they are 36th level and have a wisdom of 18 or greater. Magic-users also get Heal. Which I admit seems a little odd to me.
Fighters get half of a column or 1/6 of a page for their updates.  Thieves get a page.  Dwarves, Elves, and Halfling get a page to share.
There are some new armor options, but the biggest inclusion is that of Weapon Mastery. This mimics the Weapon Proficiency we will see in the Unearthed Arcana and future editions of D&D.  Essentially fighters are better with a chosen weapon.  while I have heard and read that this can lead to fighters becoming too powerful at early levels, I don't think this is really a big deal. I like the idea that a fighter should be able to train with a weapon exclusively and become better at it.
We get expanded weapon and damage charts to include all the weapons that have been added since the Basic set. Plus some Pole-arms (maybe Frank was looking over Gary's shoulder a few times!)
There is even a section on siege weapons that can be used with the War Machine rules.
so a lot yes, but nothing that really screams Masters to me.  A lot of what is here could have been added to the Companion rules for a 48 page Player's book.

The Master DM's Book
This is the larger at 64 pages. Color covers, black & white interiors.
One of the neatest bit of this book is finally getting a map of the Known World.  It is so great that I am going to devote an entire post just to that later this week.



Like the books before it, this section is given over to Procedures first. First up is a ruling on Ant-Magic Effects.  Good to have really for any version of the game.  some detail on characters are also given including Character Background.  It is 1985 after all.  A couple of other things stand out.  We get our first taste of the Immortal rules here with the introduction of the idea of Immortals as the "next level up."
Monsters get an upgrade here with expanded to hit tables; Creatures to 33+ HD and Armor Classes from 19 (yes +19) to -20.  But that is not all.  Monsters also get an average Intelligence rating. All creatures from all four sets are covered.  Along with this intelligence rating, there is an optional change to charm based on intelligence.  It's neat, but I would rule that intelligence has no effect at all on charm magic.  No that is the realm of Wisdom.  In my copy I would cross out "Intelligence" and replace it with "Wisdom."
Included here for some reason is also the Mystic class.  Expect it is not really presented as a full class.  It is not the Mystic that Gygax was talking about in Dragon magazine, but rather a different version of the AD&D monk.  It appears again in the Monster section.
Another update to monsters, in particular, non-human monsters are spell casting monsters.  Dragons are discussed, but we also get the Shaman NPC class (Clerics) and the Wicca NPC class (Magic-Users).  There are some interesting ideas here and some level limits for a large variety of monsters.  I am curious as to why Frank choose "Wicca."  I am sure that the meaning here is "witch" and that is not just my biases.  If you look back over the various BECMI books Wicca, Witch, and Wokani get used failry interchangeably.  I discussed this in a recent Class Struggles post.
On the other end of the spectrum from Immortals, we also get Undead Liege Lords and how they can control lesser undead.  Also useful for any version of the game.

The next big section of the book belongs to the Monsters.  Like the Companion Set this one is broken up into Prime Plane creatures and outer plane creatures.
Here we get some very new looking monsters that would only later move on to the main AD&D/D&D lines.  We also get what I like to call BECMI versions of some others.  The Devilfish is essentially an Ixitxachitl. Blackballs remind me of Xeg-yi.  We do get new Dragons in name, Crystal, Onyx, Jade, Ruby, Sapphire and Brown. But they share stats with dragons we already know. We also get the four rulers of the Dragon kind, Pearl, Opal, Diamond and the Great Dragon.  There are Drakes which are not exactly like the Drakes of later D&D and closer to shapeshifters.  These could even pass for the elusive Mystaran Dragonborn.
We also get Faeries, Hags and Liches to round out what I consider some of the classical monsters.
Part 3 of the monsters listing includes stats from all sorts of B/X and BECMI monsters published elsewhere (other rules, modules) and then brought into the fold of the full BECMI rules.  So even the oddities like Brain Collectors and Lupins from X2 Castle Amber are here.
The last 20 pages of the rules cover magical artifacts; something we have not seen in BECMI to any degree yet.  There are detailed rules for artifact creation and a number of new artifacts. Many I have never seen before and none copied over from the AD&D DMG.
In fact, there is so much here that I am going to cover it all in a future post.
There are only a few "normal" magic items listed at the end.

Ok. So the Masters Rules feel very uneven to me after the Companion Rules.   I could see where it might have been better to instead take both sets and merge them into one and maybe top out at 25th or 30th level really.  We will see that re-organization in the future.

Fighters went from getting all the new fun details to nearly nothing in going from Companion to Masters.  Clerics and Magic-users get more spells, but that is about it. Thieves suffer the most for now having to have their abilities amortized over 36 levels.

There are some great new monsters in the Master's rules, very few save for the various "rulers" even have Master's level HD (26+).

The artifacts though are great and really gives a feel for what a Master's Level game could be about.

The art feels lighter in this set than the previous ones. The only Elmore art is the cover.
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