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

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.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

BECMI: Companion Set Review

We are now at the part of my hand-made maps of the world where I leave the dungeons (Basic) and wildernesses (Expert) that I knew so well.   I am now in an area of half-rumored tales and speculations.  Stories from other travelers, with tales that are both familiar and yet foreign to me.

Join me on my exploration of the new worlds of the D&D Companion Set.  But a warning, here there be Dragons!

D&D Companion Set (1984)

I don't think it is too much to say that the Companion Set contains some of the most interesting changes and updates to the D&D than any other product TSR had published to date.  I will talk more about these in the review, but first a look back.

I had eagerly awaited the Companion set for D&D ever since I got my Expert Set.  That is, by B/X Moldvay/Cook Basic and Expert Set.

The Companion Set, as promised by the Expert Set rules, mentions that characters will now go to 36th level and there will be a way to cure undead level drain!  Such promises. Such hope!

D&D Cook Expert Set, page X8

Though it was not to be and the B/X line stopped there, only to be "rebooted" in 1983 with the BECMI line, though we were not calling it that back then.

By the time the Companion did come out I had moved on to AD&D. I no longer had any interest in the Companion rules having discovered the world could also have Assassins, half-orcs, and 9 alignments.

I did manage to read it once.  I was in college and it was at Castle Perilous Games in Carbondale. Of course, at the time AD&D 2nd Ed was the new hotness and I had no desire to look backward.  What I saw though at the time did not impress me.  I think the entire Mentzer set at the time (AT THE TIME mind you) made me think of it as D&D for little kids (now I see it differently).

Looking back now I see I made a BIG MISTAKE.
Well...maybe.  I mean I would not have traded my AD&D time for anything, but I do wish I had given the BECMI rules more of a chance.

Now I can fix that.

Today I am going to cover the BECMI Companion Rules.  I am going to cover both the DriveThruRPG PDFs and my recently acquired box set.


The Companion Set follows the rules as presented in the BECMI Basic and Expert books. But unlike those books, the Companion Rules sets off into uncharted directions and gives us some new material.

While the claim can be made that Frank Mentzer only edited and organized the Basic and Expert rules based on previous editions, the Companion set is all his.  While there may be some influences from earlier editions such as Greyhawk (with it's 22nd level cap [wizards] and some monsters) and AD&D (some monsters and the multiverse) this really feels new.

Companion Player's Book 1
The player's book is 32 pages with color covers and black & white interiors. Art by Larry Elmore and Jeff Easley.
Opening this book we get a preface with a dedication to Brian Blume. A nice touch and yeah he is often forgotten in the tale of D&D's earliest years.  The preface also firmly situates us in time. We 10 years out from when D&D was first published. The design goals of this book, and consequently this series, have never been more firmly stated.  This is an introduction to the D&D game and designed to be fun, playable, and true to the spirit of D&D.  It certainly feels like this is the successor to the Original D&D game; maybe more so than AD&D.
One page in and we are off to a great start.

The title and table of contents page tell us that this game is now "by" Frank Mentzer, based on D&D by Gygax and Arneson.  As we move into the book proper we get a feel for the "changing game."  Characters are more powerful and once difficult threats are no more than a nuisance or exercise.  The characters are ready to take their place among the rulers of the world.  This makes explicit something I always felt AD&D only played lip service to.

We get some new weapons that have different sorts of effects like knocking out an opponent or entangling them. We also get some unarmed combat rules.    Now, these feel they really should have been added to the Basic or Expert rule sets. Maybe they were but were cut for space or time.

Up next is Stronghold management from the point of view of the player characters.  Again here D&D continues its unwritten objective of being educational as well as fun.  More on this in the DM's book.

Character Classes
Finally, about 11 pages in we get to the Character updates.  Here all the human character classes get tables that go to level 25; again maybe a nod to Greyhawk's level 20-22 caps, and caps of 7th level spells (clerics) and 9th level spell (magic-users).  Clerics get more spells and spell levels.  The big upgrade comes in the form of their expanded undead turning table.  Clerics up to 25th level and monsters up to Liches and Special.  This mimics the AD&D Clerics table; I'd have to look at them side by side to see and differences.  One difference that comes up right away is the increase in undead monsters.  There are phantoms, haunts, spirits, and nightshades.  Nightshades, Liches, and Special will be detailed in the Master Set.

Something that is big pops up in the cleric listing.  A Neutral cleric of level 9 or higher may choose to become a Druid! Druids only resemble their AD&D counterparts in superficial ways.  They have similar spells, but the BECMI Druid cannot change shape.  It is an interesting implementation of the class and one I'll discuss more in a bit.

Arguably it is fighters that get the biggest boost in the Companion Set.  They gain the ability to have multiple attacks per round now and other combat maneuvers such as smashing, pairing and disarming. This is a big deal since they got so little in the Expert set. Fighters can also "specialize" into three paths depending on alignment.  There are Knights, Paladins, and Avengers.  Each type gives the fighter something a little extra.  Paladins are not very far off from their AD&D counterparts and Avengers are as close to an Anti-Paladin as D&D will get until we get to the Blackguards.

Conversely, Magic-users do not get as much save from greater spells. We do get the restriction that any spell maxes out 20dX damage.

Thieves can now become Guildmasters or Rogues.  A name that will come up more and more with future editions of D&D.

BECMI "Prestige Classes?"
The Druid, Knight, Avenger, Paladin, and to a lesser degree the Magist and Rogues represent what could arguably be called the first Prestige Classes to D&D.  Their inclusion predates the publication of the Theif-Acrobat in the AD&D Unearthed Arcana.
Prestige Classes are classes that one can take after meeting certain requirements in other "base" classes in D&D 3.x and Pathfinder. Often at 10th level, but can occur anytime the character meets the requirements.  This concept is later carried on into D&D 4 with their "Paragon Paths" (chosen at 11th level) and even into D&D 5 with their subclasses (chosen at 2nd level).
The BECMI Avenger and Paladin are the best examples of these working just like the Prestige Classes will in 15 more years.   This is interesting since it also means other classes can be added to the basic 4 core ones using the same system.  An easy example is the Theif-Acrobat from UA or even the Ranger from AD&D.  Though here the problem lies in the alignment system.  Rangers are supposed to be "good" for example.

Demi-Humans
Demi-humans may not advance any more in level, but they are not idle.  This is also the area of the Companion Set that I most often go wrong.  Each demi-human race has a Clan Relic and some demi-humans could be in charge of these clan relics, making them very powerful. There are also clan rulers and they are also detailed.  What does all that mean?  It means there is a good in-game reason why demi-humans do not advance in levels anymore.  They are much more dedicated to their clans than humans. So after a time it is expected that they will return home to take up their responsibilities to the clan.


That is not to say that these characters do not advance anymore.  Each demi-human race can still gain "Attack Ranks" as if they are still leveling up.  They don't gain any more HP, but they can attack as if they are higher-level fighters.  They also gain some of the fighter's combat options. Each class gets 11 such rank-levels.   It seems to split some hairs on "no more levels" but whatever.

We end with a map of the expanding Known World.  This is the continent of Brun of Mystara, but we don't know that yet.  But I will discuss that later this week.

This book is a lot more than I expected it to be and that is a good thing.

Companion DM's Book 2
The DM's book is 64 pages with color covers and black & white interiors. Art by Larry Elmore and Jeff Easley.
There is a lot to this book.  First, we get to some General Guidelines that cover the higher levels of play and planning adventures accordingly. There is sadly not a lot here.
We follow up with Part 2: The Fantasy World.  This continues some of the discussion of stronghold management and dominion management as well.  Now here is quite a bit of good information on what happens, or could happen, in a dominion. 
This section also includes the hidden secret of the D&D BECMI series.  The War Machine Mass Combat system.

War Machine
Around the same time TSR was also developing the BattleSystem Mass Combat system.  The two are largely incompatible with each other.  I always thought it was odd that two systems that do essentially the same things were created and incompatible with each other.   Later I learned that D&D BECMI lived in what we like to call a "walled garden" in the business.  It was out there doing it's own thing while the "real business" of AD&D was going on.  The problem was that D&D Basic was outselling AD&D at this point.  This was not the first time that TSR would woefully misunderstand their customers and sadly not the last time either.
War Machine has an elegance about it when compared to BattleSystem.  I am not saying it is simple, but the work involved is not difficult and I am happy to say it looks like it will work with any edition of D&D.

The Multiverse 
A big part of any D&D experience is the Multiverse.  This section allows the DMs and Players to dip their toes into the wider Multiverse which includes the Ethereal Plane and the Elemental Planes.


Space is also given to the discussion on aging, damage to magic items, demi-human crafts, poison, and more. We also get all of our character tables.

Monsters
About halfway through the book, we get to the section of monsters.  A lot of familiar AD&D faces are now here, though a bit of digging will show that many of these are also from OD&D up to the Greyhawk supplement.  Most notable are the beholder, larger dragons, druids (as a monster), and many elemental types. Monsters are split into Prime Plane and Other Planes. 
Among the monsters featured are the aforementioned Beholder, larger Dragons, and bunches of new Undead like haunts, druj, ghosts and more.  A few that caught my attention are the Gargantua (gigantic monsters) and Malfera.  The Malfera REALLY caught my attention since they are from the "Dimension of Nightmares."  More fodder for my Mystara-Ravenloft connection.
Monsters from the Other Planes focus on the Elemental planes.

Treasure
Lots of new treasure and magic items.

Adventures
There are three short adventure or adventure hooks for companion level characters.

All in all the Companion Set is full and had many things I did not think it had given my very casual relationship to it over the years.  Reading it now and in-depth for the very first time I see there is a lot I could have used in my games back then.

Also reading this gives me a lot of ideas for more Basic/BECMI sorts of campaigns and plans for classes.

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Friday Night Videos: BECMI Special, Ministry of Music 1984

Well...This was supposed to be posted last night, but I guess I forgot to set it up right.

So continuing with the music of the time when the BECMI sets were new here is some music from 1984!






Sunday, December 8, 2019

Wizard's Quest

Last weekend I was at my parent's home for Thanksgiving and my dad's 90th birthday (he is doing great and looking great!). My brother had a gift for me!

Avalon Hil's Wizard's Quest board game.



The box is a little beat up, but inside everything is pristine and like new.  In fact, it is all unpunched.






I have never played it myself but I am really looking forward to trying it out.



PArt of me though doesn't want to punch it because it is in such wonderful shape.


But games are meant to be played.

I due a admit to a little of what I call "Traveller Envy".  Traveller had such a cool RPG and board games that all belonged to the same universe.  I thought it was such a fun immersive idea.
I always wanted to run a D&D campaign that also featured board games in the mix.  Something other than just Dungeon! for the players to do.  I caught a glimpse of what might work back in the 4e days, but that one didn't manifest in the way I wanted.  Thought I think I could work Zanzer's Dungeon into it somehow.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Review: PC1 Creature Crucible: Tall Tales of the Wee Folk

This week I want to go back and revisit another favorite of mine from the Basic D&D line, but this isn't an oldie for me, but one I picked up just a few years ago.  I am reviewing the PDF and Print version.  There is no print on demand, so my copy was one I scored in a game auction a while back.

PC1 Creature Crucible: Tall Tales of the Wee Folk

The PC Creature Crucible series came at the end of the Gazeteer line for Basic D&D.  AD&D 2nd ed was my game of choice then, but reviewing this now I think I missed out on something fun.  The author of this book, John Nephew, who would later go on to found Atlas Games.  While reading this I was looking for any clues to what would be Ars Magica, but I think I was just projecting.

The book is 96 pages with color covers and black, white and green interior colors.  The PDF is 102 pages (for maps and covers).  It is divided into a 64-page DM's section and a 32-page Adventures section.  This book is something I would have loved back then, and really enjoy now.
The book covers playing several woodlands or faerie races.  The new race-classes you can play are Brownie, Centaur, Dryad, Faun, Hsiao, Leprechaun, Pixie, Pooka, Sidhe,  Sprite,  Treant, Wood Imp, and Woodrake.   One of the features of Basic-era D&D is Race-as-Class, so a Sprite and Halfling can feel like different things with similar levels of progression.

As per Basic D&D each creature gets it's own advancement table and ability minimums and maximums. All, save the Sidhe, have level limits. All of these creatures have a 0 level and in some cases, negative levels, they need to meet the XP requirements for. It all works rather well for Basic D&D really.  We know it can work since we used to do the same thing in Holmes D&D, only not with this much guidance.  It would not be difficult with these guidlines to adapt this to any other version of D&D in fact.   You can look to the 4th Edition Player's Option: Heroes of the Feywild as an example.  Like PC1 Creature Crucible, you can play a dryad, satyr, or pixie.  They even have a similar spell-casting class (more on that later).

The book has a solid Lands of Faerie or even a Feywild feel to it.  A nice green character sheet (which is cool and all, but prints and copies poorly) only adds to that feeling.  The conceit of  the book is to present the information as if given to us from the mouths of four different woodland folk of renown; Olyrrhoe, a centaur prophetess (years before a centaur would teach divination at Hogwarts) tells us about centaurs, wood imps, ,  Lotis, the dryad, speaks for dryads and hamadryads as well as fauns, hsiao, and treants, Robin Goodfellow (yes, THAT Robin) for pixies, sprites and others, and finally Oberon (also THAT Oberon) for Pooka, Sidhe and wood drakes.



This book also deals with three different kinds of spell casters.  Shamans (like druids or clerics, but no turn undead ability), wicca (which you know has my attention! magic-users) and fairy spell casters.  There are some new spells here that very much feel like woodland/wicca/witchy/druid spells.

We get some new equipment, some woodland realms, some organizations and of course our NPCs and a few more besides. Though no Titania, which is odd given the obvious (and necessary) borrowing from Mid-Summer's Night Dream.

That gives us the first 64 pages.
The adventure book makes up the next 32 pages.  We also get an AD&D 2nd Edition conversion guide.  Using these guidelines would help in converting to other versions of D&D, in particular, 5e.

The adventures are short and all share a woodland theme.  They can all be run in a few sessions, usually one per session.

There is also a fun woodlands/faerie themed character sheet.


This is one of those products that I never gave enough attention too back when it came out, but I really wish I had.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Review: D&D Expert Set

December of 1979 was the time I was first introduced to Dungeon & Dragons via the Holmes Basic edition and the AD&D Monster Manual.  It was 1980 though that I got my hands on the Moldvay Basic Set and my love affair with B/X D&D.  But that is only the first half of the story.  The second half, the X of  B/X, was the Cook/Marsh Expert Set. 

D&D Expert Set
I am not exactly sure when I got the D&D Expert set.  I do know it was sometime after I had the Basic Set.  I know this because I have very distinct memories of going through the Expert book and just marveling at everything inside.  Just everything from the classes to all the new monsters.  The Moldvay Basic Set was the high mark for me at the time for what an RPG should be.  The Expert set lived up to that set and then blew me away.  That is getting ahead of my narrative.

For this review, I am going to look at the original boxed set, the mini boxed set from Twenty First Century Games S.r.i., and the newer PDF from DriveThruRPG.

On the heels of the Basic Set edited by Tom Moldvay, we have the first Expert Set edited by David "Zeb" Cook with Steve Marsh.  So we often call this the Cook/Marsh Expert set to distinguish it from the Frank Mentzer Expert Set.   This Moldvay/Cook/Marsh set of rules is often called B/X to separate it from the Mentzer BECMI versions.

The Expert Set came in a boxed set featuring cover art by Erol Otus. The art includes the art from the Basic Set; a wizard scries the female wizard and male warrior fighting the dragon.   It remains one of my favorite pieces of gaming art ever.  In fact, it is the current background for my phone.   Included in the boxed set was one of the greatest sandbox adventures ever, X1 Ilse of Dread and a set of 6 polyhedral dice; d4, d6, d8, d10, d12, d20 and a crayon. Note the PDF does not include dice (obviously).

The Expert book features the same cover art on a predominantly blue cover. The book is 64 pages of black & white art.  The cover is full cover and the interior covers are blue ink and feature the table of contents (front) and index (back).  The art features some of the Big Names of 1980s D&D art. Jeff Dee,  Wade Hampton, David S. LaForce,  Erol Otus, James Roslof, and Bill Willingham.  Some so iconic that they STILL define certain elements of the game for me.  Jeff Dee's halflingsDavid LaForce's giants, and Bill Willingham's vampire are to this very day the first thing I think of when any of these creatures are mentioned.

While we were promised "new classes" both in the Holmes Basic book and later by Gygax himself in the pages of Dragon magazine, we stick with same seven classes; four human (Cleric, Fighter, Magic-user, Thief) and three demi-human (Dwarf, Elf, Halfling).  While I had not really thought about the new classes when I got my Expert set, I was a little disappointed that halflings and dwarves didn't get more than they did.  BUT if that was the case I soon got over it since there was SO much more for the Cleric and Magic-users.

Part 1: Introduction. This book begins with some tables from the Basic game. Also we get some guidelines on how this book should be used and what to do if you have an earlier (Holmes edition) of D&D Basic.  Here we also note that the page numbers are X# compared to the B# number.  The idea here was for you to be able to cut up your Basic and Expert books and put them together in a three-ring binder.  Eventually, I did do this, but not with my actual books, but rather with the printouts from the DriveThru PDFs.


Part 2: Player Character Information. This deals with all the classes.  I thought, at the time, that the organization of this section was a vast improvement over the same section in the Basic Book.  Where Basic D&D went from 1st to 3rd level, this book continues on to 14th level for human classes and various levels for the demi-human classes.   Additionally, thief abilities extend to 14th level as does Clerical turning Undead and new, more powerful spells; 5th level for clerics and 6th level for Magic-users.  That was unheard of levels of magic for me.

Part 3: Spells. This section got about 90% of my attention back then.  New detail is given on Reversed spells for both Clerical and Magic-user/Elf spells.  Eight pages of new spells including the amazing Disintegrate spell, which was one of the spells outlawed in many of my local game groups back then.

Part 4: The Adventure.  Not only does this section open up the world of adventuring to the entire wilderness and beyond the dungeon, it gives us some of my favorite Erol Otus art ever. The Alchemist on page X21 defined what an alchemist needed to look like for me.

Part 5: The Encounter covers combat and includes morale, saving throws, and variable weapon damage. This also has all the necessary combat tables.

Part 6: Monsters. Ah. Now here are the pages of my memories!  I have mentioned before how much I love the Monster Manual for AD&D and how it was my monster tome for my time playing Holmes Basic.  But this.  This one was part of my new favorite rules and that made all the difference to me. The mundane rubbed elbows (or knees, or whatever) with the magical and the malevolent.  To this day there are still monsters here that I have not seen the likes of elsewhere. Well yes, I have, but you have to dig for some of them.  But let's be honest, when was the last time you pulled a Devil Swine out on your players? Some versions of monsters here I still prefer over their AD&D Monster Manual counterparts. Giants and Vampires as I have mentioned.


Part 7: Treasure follows.  While D&D lacked the infamous vorpal sword (for now), it made up for it by having better rules in my mind for Intelligent swords.

Part 8: Dungeon Master Information, is what it says on the tin.  We get rules for making ability "saving throws" and spell magic item creation rules.   What I had the most fun with were the castle and stronghold cost rules.  This chapter is chock full of goodness.  Handling players, NPCs, even the first bit of what was known as the "Known World" which later became Mystara.  To this day seeing the "haunted keep" fills me with ideas.


Part 9: Special Adventures this section covers waterborne adventures. 

This book is so full of great stuff and even though we were promised a "Companion" edition that would go to 36th level (unheard of!) there were still plenty of adventures to be had.
Let's be honest, 14 levels is a lot of levels even by today's standards.



The PDF of the Expert book includes the Ilse of Dread AND the Gateway to Adventure catalog.   All that for $4.99? That is a steal really.

The Twenty First Century Games S.r.i., mini boxed set is about 1/8 the size of the normal boxed set.  It came complete with a box, an Expert rule-book and mini copy of Ilse of Dread.  Twenty years ago it looked great! Today the font must have shrunk some because I find it really hard to read!






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