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

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Character Creation Challenge: Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, 2nd Edition

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, 2nd Edition came on the scene to much anticipation back in the Spring of 1989.  I was in college at the time but I still managed to get the books very close on release day.  The game was largely an update and cleanup of the AD&D 1st Ed rules.  Gygax had been gone from TSR for a while at this point and the rules lacked his "voice" but they were a significant improvement in many ways.  

But today no one talks about the 2nd ed rules as much as they talk about the settings.

The Game: Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, 2nd Edition

There is no doubt that the 2nd edition made many improvements to the AD&D ruleset. While Basic-era D&D moved on with the BECMI series, AD&D came here.  With the streamlined, but not simplified, rules in place TSR focused on what they believed to be their cash-cow, settings.  And to be fair the settings are what we all recall today.  There were also tons of splat books and eventually an update that was called AD&D 2.5 by some, but never by the company.  

This was also the edition that caved under the pressure of the religious right and bowdlerized demons and devils right out of the system.  It would not be till later with Planescape that we got them back in the forms of Tanarri and Batatezu. 

Since the Splats and Settings are so important to the identity of 2nd Edition it behooves me to mention a couple and my relationship with them. Not to mention the witch options they gave me.

The Complete Wizard's Handbook

Among 2nd Eds features were the "Kits" or archetypes you could apply to various classes to customize them.  Sadly like many splat books you see power creep in these. The Complete Bard's Handbook was one of the worst offenders along with the Elves book. But today is not the day to discuss those. Today I want to talk about the Witch Kit.

The Witch-kit appeared in the Complete Wizard's Handbook and was a mere 3 or so pages, but it was the first official witch class in AD&D.  She got powers every odd level and had a lot of role-playing potential.  This might seem more powerful than your average wizard, but at the time everyone was assumed to have a kit of some sort.

Ravenloft

My world of choice in the 2nd Ed era was Ravenloft.  The gothic horror tropes were too much of a lure to avoid. Interestingly enough it would not be until Spring of 2000 when Ravenloft would get their first witch class/kit and by this time they were owned by Wizards of the Coast.

This class/kit gave us the Witches of Hala, which is a kit that any non-magic using class could use, so only Fighter and Theif. But the witches did gain some spell abilities.  To differentiate between the two witches Van Richten's Monster Hunter's Compendium, Vol 3 calls the Complete Wizard Witch Kit the "Sorcerous Witch." To further distinguish them I took to calling the Witches of Hala "Hedge Witches."

Forgotten Realms

During the 2nd Edition years, Forgotten Realms was the undisputed King of the Campaign Worlds.  I largely ignored it.  I have made up for lost time since then and been spending more time in the Realms, but that is another post.  I did however know all about the Witches of Rashemen and Spellbound was one of the first Realms products I ever bought. This setting also uses the wizard kit and the Witches of Rasemaar kit.


Due to the amount of material I have here I am also going to do two characters.

The Character: Sinéad

Following my Celtic-influenced witches, I give you Sinéad.  Of course, she is named for Sinéad O'Connor whose album "The Lion and the Cobra" pretty much changed everything for me in 1988/1989.  

Sinéad is built using the Witch Kit from the Complete Wizard's Handbook. Now the witch kit says they can't be multi-classed, but the concept I want to try is. So I am going to do it anyway, but not choose a kit for the Bard class.  Some of the restrictions on this kit feel the same as the removal of the demons and devils; giving the players in-game reasons not to use it.

Sinéad is not a character I played back then, but this build is pretty close to what I would have created back in 1989 while living in Room 109 of the Wright I Hall Dorms.

Goodwife Sinéad
(Goodwife is how you address a witch whose marital status is unknown)
Half-elf 7th level Wizard (Witch Kit)/7th level Bard
Chaotic Good

STR: 12
DEX: 16
CON: 15
INT: 17
WIS: 14
CHA: 16

AC: 1 (Bracers of Defence)
HP: 50
THAC0 (Base): 17

Saving Throws
Paralyzation, Poison, Death: 12
Rod, Staff, Wand: 9
Petrification, Polymorph: 11
Breath Weapon: 13
Spells: 10

Weapons
Dagger

Proficiencies/Skills/Languages
Herbalism, Spellcasting, Artistic Abilities (Singing)
Climb Walls (30%), Detect Noise (40%), Pick Pockets (25%), Read Languages (90%)

Special Abilities
Half-elf: Resist Sleep (30%)
Bard: Spells, knowledge
Witch: Read Magic, Detect Magic, Secure Familiar (3rd), Brew Calmative (5th), Brew Poison (7th)

Spells
Bard: (1st) Light, Faerie Fire, Protection from Evil (2nd) Charm Person, Hold Person (3rd) Dispel Magic
Wizard (Witch): (1st) Audible Glammer, Magic Missile, Shocking Grasp, Identity (2nd) Continual Light, Spectral Hand, Ray of Enfeeblement (3rd) Lightning bolt, Fly (4th) Dimension Door

The Character: Nida

Nida is a character I have been playing around with for my War of the Witch Queens.  She is supposed to represent the "other" witches of 2nd Ed, the ones I didn't use but the ones everyone else did. That is the Witches of Hala and the Witches of Rashemen.  She is not a starting character because I need her to have some history.

Nida was a Rashmi girl born to poor parents.  She was playing when she was taken into the Mists and found herself in the lands of Ravenloft.  She became a thief to survive the world on her own until she tried to pick the pockets of a Witch of Hala. For the next ten years she trained with this witch and learned the secrets of Hala and her magic. One night she was hunting a particularly nasty Annis Hag when she found herself back in her homeland of Rashemen.  Unable to return, she tried to pick up her life before she left only to discover her family had long since died.  She began training as a Wychlaran, or a Witch of Rashemen.  Like the witches of her homeland she adopted a mask and changed her name to "Nida" which means "voice."

Note: Since Nida is a dual classed character, a Thief/Mage, there is no reason to assume she can't be a Thief (Witch of Hala) / Mage (Witch of Rashemen) even though the Witch of Hala can't be taken by a spellcaster (she is a thief at the time) and the Witch of Rashemen has to be a spellcaster (she is a mage at the time).


Lady Nida
Human 4th level Thief (Witch of Hala Kit) / 9th level Wizard (Witch of Rashemen kit)
Chaotic Neutral*
(Witches in Ravenloft can't be chaotic, but this is the character concept I have.)

STR: 11
DEX: 16
CON: 16
INT: 17
WIS: 13
CHA: 18

AC: 1 (Bracers of Defence)
HP: 48
THAC0 (Base): 18

Saving Throws
Paralyzation, Poison, Death: 13
Rod, Staff, Wand: 9
Petrification, Polymorph: 11
Breath Weapon: 13
Spells: 10

Weapons
Dagger

Proficiencies/Skills/Languages
Herbalism, Spellcasting, Artistic Abilities, Ancient History
Pick Pockets (35%) Open Locks (35%), Climb Walls (30%), Detect Noise (40%), Pick Pockets (25%), Read Languages (90%)

Special Abilities
Half-elf: Resist Sleep (30%)
Bard: Spells, knowledge
Witch: Read Magic, Detect Magic, Secure Familiar (3rd), Brew Calmative (5th), Brew Poison (7th)

Spells
Witch of Hala: (1st) Combine, Reveal the Weave, Luck (2nd) Arcane Insights, Master Coven Magic (3rd) Water Walk
Wizard (Witch of Rahemen): (1st) Circle, Alarm, Magic Missile, Shocking Grasp (2nd) Dazzle, Protection from Poison, Blindness, Tasha's Uncontrollable Hideous Laughter (3rd) Firelance, Lightning bolt, Suggestion (4th) Negate Magic Weapon, Magic Mirror (5th) Teleport

I like these builds. I certainly want to use Nida somewhere.  Maybe see what she is like with another system. Both are 14th level and have a similar range of abilities.

Character Creation Challenge

Tardis Captain is the originator of this idea and he is keeping a list of places participating.  When posting to Social Media don't forget the #CharacterCreationChallenge hashtag. 

RPG Blog Carnival

This month's RPG Blog Carnival is being hosted by Plastic Polyhedra. They are doing Characters, Stories, and Worlds, so that fits right in with everything we are posting this month.

Check out all the posts going on this month at both of these sources.


Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Character Creation Challenge: Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, 1st Edition

AD&D Players Manual
Up until 2000 if you said "D&D" most people thought of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 1st Edition.   Indeed it was AD&D that dominated the later part of the 1970s, 1980s, and with 2nd Edition the 90s. Though that is for tomorrow's post.

Today I take on the game that I played the most and the one that dominates the imagination of so many still today.

The Game: Advanced Dungeons & Dragons

A lot of ink, both real and virtual, has been spilled on the whats, whys, and hows of the differences between Basic D&D and Advanced D&D, so I see no need to spill more here.  Suffice to say that they are different games, though we freely mixed them back in the day. 

The evolution of D&D from Original to 5th edition sees it's first divergence here. 

In the AD&D 1st Ed years there was no official witch class.  There were however many unofficial and semi-official witch classes.  I talked about the Dragon Magazine #43 witch yesterday but I used it for Basic D&D.  The class was famously, or maybe infamously, updated in 1986 for AD&D in the pages of Dragon #114.  It was, and maybe still is, one of the most popular versions of the witch ever made for D&D.

AD&D Players Manual, 4 versions

The Character: Rhiannon

Ah. If I had a dime for every Rhiannon I have run into over the years. 

Not that I can blame anyone. The Golden Age of AD&D was the early 80s and the Queen of the music charts was Stevie Nicks. "Rhiannon" by Fleetwood Mac was released in 1975 on the album Fleetwood Mac. The second Fleetwood Mac album to feature this title, and their tenth overall, but the first with new couple Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham.  But in the 1980s it wasn't this album or even the insanely good and popular Rumours or Tusk that grabbed me and my imagination. No it was Stevie's solo efforts Belladonna and (especially) The Wild Heart that began my deep, deep love affair with witches.

Rhiannon would be an old witch in my games today. Likely a relative or even a spiritual Goddess-mother to Larina.  But today she is the young Maiden who "rings like a bell through the night" and looks for a lover.  I can't help think of her as anything but the famous art Elmore drew in the Dragon #114 piece.  If she looks a little like Stevie, well, maybe Stevie looks like her.

Rhiannon
1st level Witch, Sisters of the Moon coven, High Secret Order
Chaotic Good

STR: 11
INT: 16
WIS: 13
DEX: 13
CON: 11
CHA: 15

AC: 9
HP: 3

Saving Throws
Witches use the best of Cleric & Magic-user Saves.

Poison or Death: 10
Petrification or Polymorph: 13
Rod, Staff, or Wands: 11
Breath Weapon: 15
Spell: 12

Saves +2 against other witch magic

Spells
1st (1+3):  Darkness, Mending, Seduction, Sleep

Equipment
Dagger, backpack, iron rations, water, 50' rope, staff.

AD&D Players Manuals and Dragon #114
Everything you need for a witch character in 1986

I think an updated, and more mature, Rhiannon will need to grace my War of the Witch Queens games sometime.

Rhiannon rings like a bell through the night
And wouldn't you love to love her?
Takes to the sky like a bird in flight
And who will be her lover?

Character Creation Challenge

Tardis Captain is the originator of this idea and he is keeping a list of places participating.  When posting to Social Media don't forget the #CharacterCreationChallenge hashtag. 

RPG Blog Carnival

This month's RPG Blog Carnival is being hosted by Plastic Polyhedra. They are doing Characters, Stories, and Worlds, so that fits right in with everything we are posting this month.

Check out all the posts going on this month at both of these sources.

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Going Back to Krynn

Dragonlance is back in the news (and not for great reasons) now and it got me thinking about the original trilogy.   I thought maybe in this Covid time I would return to Krynn and see how well my memory of it holds up.

Cover of the Dragonlance ChroniclesDragonlance Chronicles signed

There is an old saying, "The Golden Age of Sci-Fi/Fantasy is 14."  That rings truest for me here since I was 15 when Dragons of Autumn Twilight was released in November 1984.  I devoured these books back then.  I had been on a steady diet of Tolkien and Moorcock and others that I thought of as "near-D&D", since these books actually had real D&D terms and spells in them they had to be better, right.  RIGHT?

Well...even then I could still "hear dice being rolled in the background" as it were.  

I'll be blunt. The books are not great and a lot of my fondness for them has more to do with the time in which I read them and nostalgia. This was never brought into sharper focus than when I tried to reread them about 12 years ago.  The icing on the cake was the terrible direct to video movie of Dragonlance: Dragons of Autumn Twilight.  

I like Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman. They are very good people.  I like their adventures. Ravenloft by Tracy is one of my all-time favorites. The Legends Trilogy is good as far as my memory goes.  So I am rereading this again with a more open frame of mind. 

Instead of complaining about these stories for what they are not, I am going to enjoy them for what they are.  I am not sure if I'll post much about them here.  Covid-19 is doing a number on the Universities and I have never been busier, so my free time to read is limited to a couple of minutes over lunch. But if something comes up then yeah, I'll share.

I can say this, I am three chapters in and I am enjoying what I am reading. There is heart here and that is something some other books seem to lack. 

Thursday, November 12, 2020

This Old Dragon Retrospective: The Gods and Goddess of the Suel

World of Greyhawk books
Something a little different today.  I had always wanted to combine two of my regular features, "This Old Dragon" and "One Man's God" into a series of the gods and goddesses presented in the pages of Dragon Magazine.  I can think of a few examples off the top of my head without cracking the musty pages.  I had always wanted to start with the Suel Pantheon, but I wanted to wait till I was done with the Deities & Demigods.  

Well, last month we all learned about the death of Len Lakofka and I wanted to mark it in some way.  I thought maybe this would be a good way of doing that.

Introduction

A little bit of background here on This Old Dragon. I had purchased a couple of large gaming collections over the last few years. My brother also gave me a box of Dragons in really bad shape. After combining, keeping some, selling off others, and tossing (yeah, had too) ones that were in terrible shape I was left with about 100 or so Dragons that were in pretty bad shape. Most were missing covers, many are missing pages and maybe one or two are fully intact. In This Old Dragon, I am grabbing an issue out at random and reviewing them. I can only review what I have, so if it is missing I won't talk about it. The only exception I make is the covers. If I feel too much is missing or something important is missing I'll check my Dragon-Magazine CD-ROM. 

One Man's God is my feature on the various mythos, gods, and goddesses as presented in the AD&D 1st Edition Deities & Demigods.  Here I look through the various gods and monsters and see which ones would be better classified as AD&D 1st Ed Demons as defined by the Monster Manual.  When there is nothing I look to the original myths to see what we can find.

Today I am going to do both features for the Suel Pantheon.

This Old Dragon: The Suel and their Gods

This feature began in Dragon Magazine #86 from June 1984 to #92 in December 1984. Or in my prime AD&D time.  The feature was authored by Len Lakofka and had Gary Gygax's official stamp of approval on them.  Len had also created the L Series of modules and the Lendore Isles.  So in my mind, that meant there was still active Suel worship in the Isles and that the wizard on the cover of L1 The Secret of Bone Hill was a worshiper of Wee Jas.  But I am getting ahead of myself. 

The Suel made their very first appearance in the pages of the first The World of Greyhawk folio as an ancient empire whose language was still used. The Gods would get names, but not information blocks in the boxed set World of Greyhawk Fantasy Game Setting.  Soon after we began to get the gods in Dragon.

Before I get into the Gods proper, there are a few other issues we should cover.

Dragon Issue #52

This issue gives us a very new looking Leomund's Tiny Hut from  Len Lakofka. This is so new in fact that I think this might be the first-ever Tiny Hut article.  There is an introduction by Gary himself.  This installment covers giving more depth to the humans and languages of the Flanaess.  Cool article and one that every Greyhawk DM should have handy.  Actually, it is good for most DMs. The article is pretty long, longer than most Tiny Hut articles in my memory.  

This is the article that lets us know that Suel are very near albino looking save with shades of violet for eyes.  Given that these were the forerunners of the Lawful Evil Scarlet Brotherhood then it was kind of obvious that the Empire was some kind of a cross between the Melnibonéans and the Nazis.

Dragon Issue #55

In his From the Sorcerer's Scroll Gary gives us some more details on the Suel and how they moved across the continent to the Snow, Frost, and Ice Barbarian lands and how these peoples are the purest strains of the Suel bloodline. If the picture being painted is these are not particularly nice people then consider the painting done.  Still, there are some interesting tidbits and it made me want to find out more and it made me want to find an offshoot of the Suel that weren't such xenophobic dicks.

I think Len made a lot of that possible in his series.

Dragon Issue #86

Dragon #86 was one of those issues that punched way above its weight class. I mean there was just so much in this that one would be excused if Len's article, Presenting the Suel Pantheon, was ignored.  Here we are introduced to Lendor (the chief god) and Norebo (the god of thieves).  The gods are presented in the same format as the D&DG gods; which sadly in the early 80s meant these were creatures that could be fought and could be killed.  But I want to ignore that for bit and instead focus on what is really one of these first full (A)D&D pantheons.  In the 3e era some of these gods would be folded back into the "Greyhawk" pantheon, but here they are on their own with their fellow Suel.  

Lendor has a solid Odin feel to him and Norebo (maybe one of the most popular gods during my AD&D years) is like a slightly less evil Loki.  This trend is going to continue.

A box of old Dragon magazines

Dragon Issue #87

This issue covers the gods Kord and Phaulkon.   Kord is the son of the lesser gods Phaulkon and Syrul, though he himself is a greater god.  He is also one of the most popular and worshiped Suel god.  He is the god of battle, swordsmanship, and berserk rage. He has thousands of semi-mortal/semi-divine children, any of which who meet his challenges can claim demi-god status.  If you are thinking Thor with a sword mixed with Conan then you are not too far off.  Since this issue also featured the Ecology of the Dryad, I figured that Kord had a particular affection for them.  In fact I am going to say that the Korreds, who would later appear in the Monster Manual II, began as the offspring of Kord and the multitude of dryads he..uh.seduced. Sure let's go with that word. 

Phaulkon is the winged god of air, flying and archers. If Kord is the superior melee combatant, then Phaulkon is the superior missile combatant. He can speak with any bird or any creature that uses wings to fly, including demons and devils.  He is Chaotic Good so I always felt there would a natural rivalry between Phaulkon and Pazuzu, both striving for control over the air and air creatures. 

Wee Jas by Jeff Butler
Dragon Issue #88

Here we get Syrul, Fortubo, and Wee Jas the unrequited love of my life (circa age 14).  Wee Jas, of course, grabbed my attention like nothing else in this issue. She was a gorgeous goddess of magic known as the Witch Queen?  How in the hell was I supposed to ignore that?  For years I thought this art was a Larry Elmore piece, but it is actually Jeff Butler.  I think the wide eyes are what really sets this piece off. Bella Donna indeed.

Of all the Suel gods it is Wee Jas that has had her best life in the years following this publication. What do we learn about her?  Well at this point she is still a greater goddess of magic and death.  She knows every magic-user spell and all other spells to 5th level (why only 5th??).  She can cast up to 9 spell levels worth of spells each round; so 1 9th level spell or 9 1st level or any combination.  She has 90% magic resistance and a globe of invulnerability that floats around her. She is attractive (Charisma 20) and always appears so.

If she is anything she is very lawful.  To the point where good and evil are mostly meaningless to her just as long as you are not chaotic.  In fact, she pretty much hates anything chaotic except for the chaotic neutral god Norebo; who is her brother (or half-brother) and occasional lover.  Gods. Go figure.

In the letters section in a couple Dragons later it is mentioned that Norebo's entry mentions Wee Jas, but Wee Jas' doesn't.  The editors reply that it is because Wee Jas is loathed to admit it and Norebo could also be bragging.

Also, have a look at her name "Wee Jas" or "Wee" and "Ja" or "Oui Ja".  She is the goddess of the Ouija board as well. Magic. Death and Spirits. Clever Gary.

Syrul is the evil goddess of lies and false promises.  Fortubo is the dwarf-like god of mountains, stone, and metals. Neither are half as interesting as Wee Jas.  Well, Fortubo was interesting on his own, but not compared to my 1984 girlfriend here. 

To stretch out Norse analogies a bit Wee Jass is a bit of Hel and Freyja combined. But there is also a good amount of Hecate in her.

Since Len also created the Death Master NPC class I figured at least a few Death Masters were aligned with Wee Jas instead of Orcus.  This was part of their strong rivalry for the dead. 

Dragon Issue #89

This issue continues those wonderful Denis Beauvais "Chess" covers.  So therefore the Suel Empire invented chess on Oerth.  

In this issue, Len features Pyremius, Beltar, and Llerg.  It is interesting to see which of these gods survived to today. These gods made it to the 3.x Living Greyhawk Gaz and Complete Divine. Pyremius is the God of Fire, Poison, and Murder. He looks like a conehead to be honest.  The next goddess, Beltar, just has a Conehead sounding name.  She is the Goddess of Deep Caves, Pits, and Malice.  She appears as an old crone, a beholder or as a Type V, or Marilith, demon.  I would say she has a few of both types of creatures under her command.  Llerg is the God of Beasts and Strength and appears a bear-like man. He seems like a decent enough god. He prefers to live on his own in the woods and deals more with animals and other beasts. I was half-tempted back in the day to also make him the God of Bears, in the sub-culture sense. Now I am fully tempted. 

This issue also gave us the first Creature Catalog from Dragon. Here are a number of creatures that could easily be re-classified as demons; at least in the OMG sense. These include the Fachan, the Ghuuna (already has a demonic origin), and the Utukku.  Beltar in particular would have Utukku under her control. I went back to the original myths and did my own Utukku and Umu demons for Ghosts of Albion and a completely different version was created for Pathfinder.

pages from the Creature Catalog

Dragon Issue #90

Before we get to the Suel article proper, Out on a Limb covers the seemingly impossible relationship between chaotic to the core Norebo and hard-line lawful Wee Jas.  Kim Mohan makes two suggestions. First, opposites attract and Norebo has a big mouth.  Second, they goofed.   I like the idea of them being together, to be honest.  Gods need to be complicated.  Though given that Norebo and Wee Jas are also half-siblings, I guess really complicated. Well, no one bats an eye when it happens in Egyptian and Greek pantheons. 

You can also go with Mike's take on it over at Greyhawkery.

On to the article proper we have a collection of sea gods. Phyton, Xerbo, and Osprem.    Phyton is the God of Beuty and Nature, he is our ersatz Baldur.  Xerbo is our God of the Sea, Money, and Business, so a cross between Nord and Poseidon/Neptune.  Osprem is the Goddess of Sea Voyages. Our two sea gods Xerbo and Osprem both have tridents.  I guess there is a rule that sea gods must have one. They only have cool relations with each other.  They try not to fight each other and when a threat challenges the seas they are allied. But otherwise, they do not get along.  Osprem is in particular worship in and around the Lendore Isles.

This issue also featured the Incantatrix. Under normal situations, I would figure out a way to bring her into the fold with the Suel gods, but the write-up is not only so Realms specific, the Incantatrix has a history in the Realms.  So she stays where she is. 

Dragon Issue #92

Here again, we come to the end. Not just of 1984, but of this series. 

This issue also covers some new rules and ideas for clerics. Since I played a lot of clerics back then I rather enjoyed this issue.  Gary offers up some advice ("Clerics Play by Different Rules")  and a few others. This issue also gave us installment III of Pages from the Mages, but that was covered in a previous retrospective

Out Suel gods are Lydia, Bralm, and Jascar.  Lydia is the goddess of light and song. Bralm the Goddess of Insects and Industriousness, and Jascar the God of Hills and Mountains. No mention of his relationship to the other mountain god, Fortubo.  These gods and their write-ups were a nice working model of what Gygax was saying above about how clerics need to be different.

That is all the Suel gods from the World of Greyhawk.  These gods all survived to the 3rd Edition Living Greyhawk Gazetteer with some edits.  I guess the Suel Empire is not so forgotten after all!

One Man's God: The Demons

The nature of these articles did not include demons or even demonic creatures. They were very focused on the Gods themselves.  For demons that fit into this pantheon, I would suggest we go back to the source, the Monster Manual.  Here are the demons of this pantheon.  

Of the ones mentioned above, I think Orcus, Pazuzu, and Yeenoughu are the obvious choices.  

The Demihuman Mythos from the D&DG is another good source.  The Oerth gods though do have their own "devil" in the form of Tharizdûn.  He is a god, or was, or still is, but a fallen one. 

The Suel were a people of such xenophobia that any non-lawful god, godling, or monster would have been considered a demon. The Suel in fact would have more in common with devils and the 4e lost empire of Bael Turath.  In fact there could even be a link between Bael Turath and the Suel Empire.

In my own games, the Suel Empire were still the xenophobic dicks they always are, but they also had a special hatred for demons. The great artifact sword "Demonbane" was of Suel manufacture.

There is always more to hear about the World of Greyhawk and the Suel. Sadly one of the voices is now no more.   Gonna miss you Len!

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.