Showing posts with label 90s. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 90s. Show all posts

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Review: Pages from the Mages

As I mentioned earlier, The Pages from the Mages feature of Dragon Magazine was one of my favorite features and I looked forward to seeing what new spells Ed Greenwood would relay from the great sage Elminster.  I was very pleased when I saw that the entire collection was pulled together into a single tome.  The original Pages from the Mages spaned roughly 10 years from 1982 to 1992 and both editions of AD&D. 

For this review, I am considering both the original print version sold by TSR and the PDF version sold through DriveThruRPG.  Presently there is no Print on Demand option.

Pages from the Mages

The book is 128 pages. Color covers, black & white interior art with full color, full-page art.  Designed for the AD&D 2nd Edition game.
The PDF sells for $9.99 on DriveThruRPG.
The softcover book originally sold for $15.00 in 1995.

This book covers some 40 or so unique spell books from various spellcasters from the Forgotten Realms.  Some of these spellcasters are well known such as Elminster and others less so or at least nearly mythic in the Realms.  This is one of the book's greatest strengths. While this could have been just a collection of books with known spells, it is the stories and the myths behind the books that make this more.

While many of the spells found within these books are fairly well known, there are plenty of brand new and unique spells. This is what attracted me to the original Dragon magazine series.  Within these pages, there are 180 or so "new" spells.  I say new in quotes because most, if not all, these spells appeared first in the pages of Dragon magazine and then again in the pages of the hardcover Forgotten Realms Adventures for 2nd Edition.

Additionally, there are a number of new magic items and even a couple of new creatures.

The true value for me, as a DM and a player, is to provide these new spell books as potential treasure items or quest items.  Even saying the name of some of these books, like Aubayreer's Workbook, is enough to get my creative juices flowing. Where is it? Where has it been? What other secrets does it contain?

I often refer to a product as punching above its weight class.  This is one of those books.  While overtly designed for the 2nd Edition game there is nothing here that can't be used with any version of the D&D game, from Basic all the way to 5th edition with only the slightest bit of editing needed.

While I have a print copy and the PDF, a Print on Demand version would be fantastic. 

A complete list of the spells, spellbook, creatures and characters in this book can be found on the Forgotten Realms wiki, https://forgottenrealms.fandom.com/wiki/Pages_from_the_Mages






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.

Friday, July 24, 2020

Silver Anniversary Time

Wednesday was my 25th Wedding Anniversary!  We had plans to be in Jamaica this year, but given how Americans are been told to stay in their own damn plague country, we settled for carry-out at our favorite seafood restaurant (Bob Chinn's FYI) and a nice walk (been walking 5k+ every night since COVID hit).

My wife and I are at an age where we don't really want a lot of things. For me, it was better to spend time with her, our favorite restaurant, and plate of sea scallops.  Besides we are also at an age where if there is something we need or want we just go get it. I didn't bust my ass in grad school for nothing.

BUT.  That doesn't mean I am not going to treat ourselves.
While my wife is going to get a new garden shed for her hobby.  I went to my FLGS and grabbed something I have been wanting for 20 years. Consequently, it is also a 25 year anniversary item.


My FLGS has had the D&D 25th Anniversary edition boxed set in their "glass" case for some time.

It is a premium item and likely cost WAY more than it should have (and more than I should have spent) but it is something I have wanted, it was my anniversary and I had promised I was only going to buy local once everything had opened back up.

I got it and I am very pleased.

I knew of the contents of course, but it was so nice to have them in front of me.


While they are all reprints I didn't actually own the separate G series modules and my copy of S2 White Plume Mountain walked years ago.  All I have is a printed PDF.  So those are "new" to me.

The copy of Ravenloft is nice and a little different from my 1983 original.



The "new" material for me was the history book and Len Lakofka's L3 Deep Dwarven Delve.





With L3 in hand, I now have the complete Lendore Isle's Trilogy. (Yes, I DO know there are more on Dragonsfoot.)



The set is very nice and there is a lot of room inside for more.  But not everything belongs inside to be honest.   But I figure my Silver Anniversary Return to the Keep on the Borderlands would be fine.


I just need a good copy of Return to White Plume Mountain as well. (ETA I see there is a POD version up at DriveThruRPG!)

BTW Return to the Keep is seriously under-rated. I use it now whenever I want to run a Keep adventure. I just typicall show everyone the B2 module so they think they are getting the full "orginal D&D experience."

This set is a nice companion piece to my Arts & Arcana for D&D history.



So happy 25th anniversary to me, my wife and D&D (just 20 years late on that last one).




Friday, June 26, 2020

The Future of BECMI and Black Box Basic

We are getting to the end of what we can call "normal character" BECMI D&D.  For the next couple of days next week, I'll cover the Immortals Rules, but really when it comes to regular D&D play the series ends with the Master Set.

But that was not the end of "Basic" or BECMI D&D.  I reviewed into the Maelstrom yesterday and talked about how it had a real proto-90s feel even in 1985.  So let's look briefly into the future of the D&D Basic line to see what the 90s has in store.

In 1991 TSR was a very different place than when Gygax and Co. set out to create a new kind of game.  Most, if not all, of the old guard, were gone.  AD&D 2nd Edition was the house game of choice and the order of the day were the worlds and settings created for it.

At some point, and I have no insight on this, a new version of the D&D game was introduced. 
Like the previous games it was in a box and contained some basic information.  Unlike those previous games, this box was more like a board game box, the levels went from 1 to 5, and there were maps, dice, and game pieces included.  

The New Easy to Master Dungeons & Dragons Game (1991)
This new "Basic", sometimes called "Black Box Basic" was a new attempt at an introductory set of rules for D&D.


The design is by Troy Denning and the rulebook was written by Timothy B. Brown.
In what is sure to be a blow to old-school purists, Gygax, Arneson, and Mentzer are never mentioned in the book.  To add insult to injury Lorraine Williams is given a special thanks.

Outside of that and the gimmick of the boardgame style box the rules inside are very clean, easy to read and understand and play with.  Obviously, these rules are drawn from the BECMI core and this set is designed to be an introduction to the D&D Rules Cyclopedia

The box itself is a treasure trove, to be honest.


The rule book for players is quite attractive.


Dice, card stock characters and monsters, and a 1991 TSR catalog.


Zanzer's Dungeon.  The map is really nice and scaled for 1" = 5', so compatible with D&D 3.x, 4e and 5e.


DM's Screen and book.


The underside of the box displaying all the pieces.


A 1991 TSR catalog for the D&D line.  Let's have a better look at that Rules Cyclopedia...


Someone will have a cover mocked up of this by next week I am sure.


The DMs Guide and screen with the Players Book.  Both came in the Basic set and The Dragon's Den boxed set.





There were also three add-ons, called "Adventure Pack" for this.  
I only own The Dragon's Den and it has pieces that compliment the Basic set.  The DM's Guide/Screen and Player's Book are included in both.  All three are available on DriveThruRPG, but they are not as complete as the physical products. 




Although reading online I can't confirm if the Rule Book and the DM's Guide/Screen actually came with the Dragon's Den.

This is the future for the D&D line until the end of the decade.


Yes, that is the Rules Cyclopedia PoD.  Here they are all together.


When I decide to run a new Basic-era campaign (instead of a bunch of one-shots) I am going to be overwhelmed with choices.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Merry Part, Witches' Voice

A non-gaming post today of sorts.

I just read the announcement that The Witches' Voice will be shutting down its service.
Witches' Voice, or Witch Vox, has been online serving the Pagan, Neo-Pagan and Wiccan community online since 1997.


Now to be clear, I am not a pagan, Wiccan or anything like that.  I have always been a pretty hard-core Atheist. But I liked Witch Vox and I like Pagans in general.

I liked going to WitchVox because it also kept me informed on what was happening in the community of Neopagans and Wiccans.  While my own witch books are what I like to think of a nice mix of myths, fairy tales, and legends, some of those myths are also modern myths.  See my Pumpkin Spice Witch book as an example.

Through WitchVox I was able to find several occult bookstores in my area, great back in the late 90s when I first moved out into the suburbs from Chicago.  I found a great little occult bookstore not too far from my Favorite Local Game Store.  Sadly that bookstore is gone. And much like WitchVox itself a lot of these places are closing due to people getting their materials online.  Amazon has replaced the occult bookstore and Facebook has replaced WitchVox.

I also used WitchVox as a starting point for research.  It was a crucial find for me back when I was putting together my first witch "netbook".   Prior to this, like all good little academics, I went through books and later journal articles.  WitchVox opened up new avenues of research to me.

Thankfully much of the original purpose of WitchVox can now be handled well with their Facebook Page, and potentially hit a much larger audience.

WitchVox may be shutting down their website, but the cycle of birth-death-rebirth is something that witches often believe.  So I am sure there will be a rebirth of WitchVox in some form or another.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

This Old Dragon: Issue #153

Going into a bit of a mystery era for me.  It is January 1990, the 90s are officially here.  Born on the Fourth of July is still in theatres, but the music charts still have a late 80s feel to them, grunge was still a few months away, but my roommate's younger brother was CONVINCED that this new band he discovered via some bootlegs, Soundgarden, was going to be the next big thing.  (Kid, I forgot your name, but seriously solid call).  At this time my games were winding down.  I was a Junior at University and working to get into grad school.  So this is really one of the first times for and this Issue #153 of This Old Dragon!

So, like I said I have no memories of this issue, but a couple of articles I remember reading later on CD-ROM.  But that is jumping ahead.  The cover, titled "Chariot races are a dime a dozen" is by multiple Hugo award winner Kelly Freas and is really fun.  As I have mentioned in the past my road to D&D began with my love of the Greek and later Norse myths.  Seeing this cover, with Odin and Hermes betting on the races and Ares and Set controlling it via godly video-game controllers just really makes me smile.

The cover sets up nicely our feature of this issue. The Gods.

The first thing I notice about this issue is the number of full-page ads is greater.
For those wanting to put this into their own chronology, the Publisher is James M. Ward and our Editor is Roger E. Moore.  There is a sidebar on the Letters page listing some of the changes in personnel.  We only know now from hidsight that TSR was going to have a lot of troubles in the 90s even if creatively they were having some of their best output.

Letters hits us up with a CRAZY idea; Dragon magazine on disk! Not gonna happen says the management.  Others want to read four-five page transcripts of other people playing D&D. Sorry guys, but you both will get what you want in a few years.

Skip Williams is up with Sage Advice.  Like most of the SA from this time period, it deals with the new AD&D 2nd Ed rules and a bit of 1st Ed. Fitting with the theme this one covers Cleric and Druid spells.

Forum has the usual collection of gripes and insights.  One thing I had forgotten was slowing down how demi-humans gain experience points.  In 2nd Ed this has the effect of making the demi-human races feel a bit more like their Basic D&D counterparts.  I don't think I would try this in D&D 5, but it is something I see working well in other games like Castles & Crusades or even Swords & Wizardry.

Here we get our special feature.
Up first is Craig Barrett, Jr. and The Goals of the Gods. Here he talks about what motivations the gods have in your world and what they do. This article is long, well researched and only kinda-, sorta- related to Fantasy Roleplaying.  Don't get me wrong, it is a fascinating read and a good one if I wanted an intro article to comparative mythology.  Still, it is a good "Food for thought" article and a good one to start off our series with.

Craig Barrett, Jr. is back (so soon? yes) with another essay/article.  As Above, So Below talks about the power of the gods and even postulates on powers above the gods.  Again there is an academic feel to this one, but I also found it more interesting.

Following In Their Footsteps by Fraser Sherman is more along the lines of what we expect from Dragon articles; background information and advice on how to use it in your games.  Sherman treads over some well-traveled ground here going all the way back to issue 83 (and likely before) of changing the cleric class to more closely fit their god.  AD&D 2nd ed mad good strides in this direction as would 3rd edition.  But unlike past articles that focused mostly on weapons and spells, this one looks at hobbies and past times or other interests. So mostly non-weapon skills.
The article focuses exclusively on the Olympians, but there are enough archetypes here to cover the other pantheons as well.

Nice big ad for the Science Fiction/Fantasy Book club.

Your Place in the Grand Scheme by Tom Little addresses the importance of clerics in the AD&D game.  The article runs the gambit of religion, morality, philosophy, and alignment.  This really was a golden time for clerics.  The 2nd Ed rules introduced the Priests of the Specific Mythoi and later Planescape would make philosophy and the gods a very central element to the game.  Clerics were really moving beyond the "walking first aid kits" and becoming more of an archetype in their own right.  But it seems like every so often we still get articles or posts of "Cleric, who needs them!" which I find very odd, to be honest.

Fiction is next.

Jeff Grubb is next with The Game Wizards with another "conversation" with Elminster.  Jeff is a good author and game designer, yet his Elminster "voice" feels off to me.  I am 100% certain this is bias on my part.  Over the years I have gone from being amused by these articles, to avoiding them, to outright hating them and now back to being pleasantly charmed by them.  One of my goals is to collect all of these and give them a read sometime, especially all the Wizard's Three articles.

John C. Bunnell is back with another copyrighted edition of The Role of Books.  A.C. Crispin is featured here with an original book.  I was always a fan of her tie-books for Star Trek, V and Star Wars. I remember seeing her obit on StarTrek.com a few years back.

The Ecology of the Manticore is next. I liked the manticore back when I read about in mythology and it was a favorite monster in D&D Basic, but somewhere along the line I stopped using them.  This article by "Spike & Jones" does little to interest me in them again.

Through the Looking Glass has a do-it-yourself wire-frame and epoxy dragon.

Con Calendar covers the best of what 1990 has to offer this winter and spring.  It always seems like there were more Cons back then.

Wow.  I think this might the very first article on The Voyage of the Princess Ark by Bruce Heard.  I consider these "must reads" if you have any interest in the Known World as it was presented in the BECMI era of D&D.

Your Best Chances is obsessive compulsiveness after my own heart. Ed Friedlander takes all six of the ability generation methods from the AD&D 2nd Ed game and looks at your chances to get the roles you need per class.  I love how he mentions he was using Quatro on an IMB-PC.  That shit could only fly in the late 80s and early 90s.  But major kudos to Ed here for working all this out.  I am tempted to try it all out in R just to say I did it.

Speaking of computers, Role of Computers covers the then state of the art for the dawn of the 90s.

Small ads for Gamer's Guide.

The table of contents says there is a Top Secret article here, but mine has been cut out.  Same with the Spelljammer one.

Dragonmirth has the normal shor comics, but nothing along the lines of SnarfQuest or Wormy anymore.

So if you are into Clerics and gods then this is a great issue for you. It's a good issue overall and I loved Ed Friedlander's stats and a chance to see the start of the Voyage of the Princess Ark too.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

This Old Dragon: Issue #177

Ok. I will freely admit that this one was third on my stack of Dragons. But in my defense, the first one was a duplicate of one I had done back in December and the second one just was not grabbing my attention today.  So let's sit back, relax, put on some Nirvana as we go back to January 1992 with Issue #177 of This Old Dragon.

Ok. I have no memories of this issue really at all.  In 1992 I was working on getting into grad school and finishing up my first published works of research. I was heavy into Ravenloft as my game setting of choice for 2nd ed AD&D, but I had also been exploring other games. I was hearing rumors from a friend of a friend about this new Vampire game and how White Wolf was going to eat TSR.
Going on from this I have NO memory of this cover at all.  I am not sure how well a woman in a cage with leering "Dungeon Master" would go over today.  I am also unfamiliar with the artist, William
Carman.
Notably this issue still has it's cover on it.

How can you tell this is an early 90s magazine?  Big advertisement for Waldenbooks. Pour a little out for Waldenbooks and Borders.

Looking over the Table of Contents it appears the special feature is DM advice. Ok, let's jump to it!

In Letters, we get one ripped right out of today's social media, DM's Dilemma Fee or Free? A reader writes in wanting to know if he should charge for running games. The author, whose name was withheld, points out that he (assuming it's a he) has spent thousands of dollars on game material and that prep time is also that, time he is spending that the players are not.  The response to this feels less from Dragon and more from TSR, Inc.  I would love to reproduce the whole thing here, not only for the advice but for the snapshot in time this was.  Needless to say, TSR takes (took) a rather dim view on the idea of DM's charging for games.  This is also the only thing I have read that resembles official policy on the issue from the time.  I would wager that WotC is a little more even-handed on this than TSR was, but I have not read a current policy on this.

What are your thoughts on DM's charging for games?

Roger Moore talks about "Kinky" games. Meaning odd or weird games, based the interoffice slang "kinky" meaning weird.  He talks about Metamorphosis Alpha, Lace and Steel and Bunnies and Burrows.  Interesting story here.  Before I got really involved in blogging I was a Wikipedia Editor.  Still am in fact, but not as active as I once was.  One of the articles I worked on was the Bunnies and Burrows entry on Wikipedia.  In fact, I was one of a few editors who worked on it to get it to Good Article status.  Apparently, this made me and my fellow editors eligible for a grant from some large Furry research and advocacy group (yes, there are such things) and I was offered money for my work.  I was a little shocked to be honest.  I was also still in hardcore academic frame of mind then and did not want to take money for this work, so I had them donate the money to a charity of their choice.

In our DM's section we have Jim Shamlin up first with Keeping the Party Going. I was hoping for some edition-agnostic advice and I am pleased so far.  He covers the various ways a party can get togehter and stay together.  Like I said there are a lot of good ideas here and all can be used with any system, not just D&D.  I am new school enough though that I want the players to tell me why the party is together. What are their reasons they are joining forces.

Thomas M. Kane has a interesting article on technology and scientific advancements in That's Progress. The key feature of this article is a condensed timeline of scientific and technological advancements in the world up to the 17th century and it is not entirely Western-focused.

In Secrets of the Masters Revealed, Michael J. D’Alfonsi has us "apply fiction-writing techniques to game-campaign design".  While this is good advice some of it can apply to players as well and works best in a system where the players have a little more agency in the game.   Still such things as keeping a campaign journal (this is a great one and one I do all the time) and developing the personalities of the NPC (also something I do) adds a bit more fullness to the game. It also does nothing to change the idea that DMing is a lot of work!

Now we are getting to something very specific to AD&D and D&D prior to 2000.
In Defend Yourself, Blake Mobley tries to reduce some of the back and forth you see in the THAC0 based combat. The system he proposes is interestingly engough close, but still just this side of "not there yet" of the d20 combat systems of 3rd edition on.  If he could switch the idea of armor class getting stronger if the numbers go up instead of down then his system work even better. Some sacred cows do need to be ground up into burger.

Up next is the Game Wizards.  In this issue the D&D Rules Cyclopedia.
Steven E. Schend has the task to let us all know what the newest D&D book is like.  There is a nice history on the development of the D&D game line with particular emphasis on the recent 1991 "Black Box" getting started game and a little more background on the BECMI sets of 1983 on.  He refers to this book as "complete" and "exhaustive", but he also says it is not a radical change, so it is not a "2nd Edition".



I REALLY wish I had read this article back in the day when I was dismissing D&D (BECMI flavor) because I was playing the more "adult" AD&D.  Yeah, yeah I was stupid. But I hope I have made up for that now.

Marcus L. Rowland is next with some more DM advice in "If I Ruled the World...", or how to deal with "Mad scientists, megalomaniacs, and their motives in gaming".  A great read really on how to think like a megalomaniac.  He gives some examples including some sample NPC (or sorts, broad strokes).  For me, the value is getting into the head of your mad villian in order to think about how and why they do what they do.  Whether you are Ming the Merciless, Lex Luthor or Dr. Evil you have to have your reasons and they need to make sense to you.

John C. Bunnell has some books include a few I remember.  A couple in particular by Daniel Cohen (Encylopedia of Ghosts, Encylopedia of Monsters) were always great fun.

Nice big ad for the combined Gen Con 25 and Origins Game Fair in Milwaukee.

Lawrence Schick is up with a quiz based on his new book Heroic Worlds, a History and Guide to Roleplaying Games.   I wonder if he still has it the quiz?

Part 24 of Voyage of the Princess Ark is up from Bruce Heard. Done up in a very "Gazeteer style" type article with some maps, data and letters included with the story.  Still makes me want to collect all of these for a longer retrospective.

Skip Williams and Sage Advice is next. Lots of Dark Sun questions.

Role of Computers covers the State of the Art for 1992.  Let's see...at this point in time I was either using a Tandy 1000 Ex that I got from sister in a trade. I bought her a Brother Word Processor, OR I was using this knocked together 286 I bought on one of the first grants I ever got for research.  Likely that one since I in 92 I took an extra year of my undergrad to get a minor in Computer Science and I was learning to write code in Pascal and C.  There is a review for Wing Commander. My roomate, who was getting a CS degree had one of the new-fangled 386 computers and he played that game all the time.  I didn't even remember that till I saw a screen shot in this magazine.

(note the mildew coming off of this magazine is about to kill me.  I need a break!)

Ok. Back.

So we have a lot of ads and the Convention Calendar for early 92. Sadly I missed the Egyptian Campaign at SIU Carbondale even though I certainly walked by it at least a few times.  Remember I was trying to get into grad school at this point.

The Forum is way in the back of the magazine this time, well compared to where it normally has been.

The Marvel Phile is up this time by Scott Davis and Steven E. Schend with a collection of superwomen.

Chris Perry has an oddly placed D&D-themed article (odd since it is near the end after the Marvel stuff) Defenders of the Hearth. This deals with Halflings and their priests.  While the game content is specifically AD&D 2nd Edition there is a lot here, most really, that can be used for every other edition after that.  In fact, I might just copy it for my kids to use.

Ad for a GDW game coming out in the Summer of the 92 that they are calling a "break through"  I am guessing it was for "Blood and Thunder" but I could be wrong.



Rare bit of topless mermaid in the fiction section, even if it is still firmly PG.

More high-tech equipment for GURPS Space.

Dragonmirth is next, but not at the end of the magazine!  Don't really recognize any of these anyway.

Small ads.

A few pages of minis in Through the Looking Glass. The rest are for larger, full page ads.
Two close to my heart. The Rules Cyclopedia, which is my interest these days and Ravenloft Guide to Vampires, one of my favorite Ravenloft books.


So not an issue I have read until today, so I have no memory to compare it too.
It is an interesting issue though all the same.  It looks like the Dragons I read as a kid, but there is a different feel.  Of course the difference is only in me really.  Still though plenty of good advice and a testiment that somethings never change.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

This Old Dragon: Issue #156

It's April 1990.  I am a Junior in University at this point and working on my very first psychology study (I compared incidents of violent imagery vs. sexual imagery in heavy metal and rap videos.  Conclusion: they both love sex. Gave me a solid appreciation of rap and hip hop).  Twin Peaks is on the TV for the first time ever. On my play list though is the newest Sinéad O'Connor album "I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got". I even skipped Calculus to go get a copy of it and an extra one for my then best friend (and now my wife). What I didn't have and didn't want though was This Old Dragon Issue #156!

Ok. I didn't own this issue at the time. I knew about it of course. I believe, in fact, I am sure I first saw it at +Scott Thorne's Castle Perilous.  I didn't know how good I had it then, to be honest.

Does it feel like I am avoiding the issue? Yeah. I am.  It's an April Fools issue and not at all one of my favorite ones. Let's get into because there are some seriously nice gems later on.
The cover. Daniel Horne does some great work. This is not one of my favorites, but it is one is funny.  Besides, haven't we all made this joke or some form of it before?

Letters.  Ok, these are all fake letters in an attempt to be funny.  Yeah. Not so much really.

Ad for Dungeon magazine.  Man, I loved Dungeon.  Maybe when I am done with this I could something with Dungeon.

First up in the April Fools section is Not Necessarily the Monstrous Compendium. A collection of "funny" monsters.  Ok, some are fun and I would use them in a crazy adventure like an Expedition to the Barrier Peaks or something with a lot of mutants.

A cool ad for I.C.E.'s Cyber Space game.  Was anything more 90s than that?  Cyber Punk vampires maybe.

Razznarock! is an adventure.
Yet Even More [Gods Forbid] Outrages From the Mages is a Pages From the Mages spoof.

It's not that I don't like humor in my games, it's I just don't find these all that funny.

The Game Wizards covers the newest in computer games.  Mechwarrior from Activision, Champions of Krynn from SSI/TSR and Sword of the Samurai from Microprose.   This is less of a review and more of a "coming attractions".

Another ad, this one from TSR itself, from their book department.
They sponsored a Writing Workshop!  Looks kind of interesting.



I wonder if anything came of this?

Speaking of the book department. J. Eric Severson is up with Novel Ideas, featuring three new Forgotten Realms novels: Iron Helm, Horselords and the Wyvern's Spur.  Again this is half preview, half advertisement. In the 90s novels were TSR's big cash cow.  I personally never read any of the Forgotten Realms books (well, till this year) but I bought and read every single Ravenloft novel printed.  Hey some of those Ravenloft novelists went on much bigger and better things, P. N. Elrod, Christie Golden, Elaine Bergstrom, Tanya Huff and newcomer on the scene, Laurell K. Hamilton.  More on that when I cover those issues.

Other Side favorite Vince Garcia is up with Can You Swim? Juggle? At the Same Time? a new skill system for D&D.  Now this is for the D&D game. The BECMI version, not the new AD&D 2nd Ed game that had a skill system.  Like everything with D&D it is simple and easy to learn.
It is no where near as complicated as his magnum opus Quest of the Ancients might later imply.

Dale A. Donovan is up with the Marvel-Phile with a bunch of villains I have never, ever heard of.  They seem to be based on Alice In Wonderland.

Wrestling with Style is Greek wrestling adapted to AD&D by Janne Järvinen.  It seems to mostly be based on the Illiad, which of course is fine.  At this point I had read the Illiad about two years ago, but damned if I remember any of it.

Let see, a ballot for the Origins Awards for 1989.

Sage Advice is split by a program for the Gen Con Game Fair for 1990.



The whole thing is still really small.

TSR Previews has the "must buy" items for March and April 1990.

Characterization Made Easy: A little personality goes a long way for all characters comes to us from Scott Bennie and is a guide for giving your character some more personality. At three pages it is not exhaustive, but the tips are nice especially in what is essentially a Pre-Vampire the Masquerade world.

Interesting note.  All the adds on these pages for companies in Great Britain.  Made me wonder at first if I had a British edition of this magazine, but my CD-ROM version matches it.

Through the Looking Glass has some great horror minis to show off shading techniques.

Convention Calendar has a lot of cons to hit for the Summer of 1990.

Ken Rolston is next in Role-Playing Reviews.  There is something to notice here first.



The review is copyrighted by the author.   This comes up every so often when people ask whay can't Wizards do another Dragon CD-ROM (well, Blu-Ray ROM now) collection?  OR (and this is my least favorite) since TSR is gone all those old Dragons are in the public domain (no. they are not.)
In this case this little copyright hits on both of those.  WotC, just like TSR before them, does not have the rights to this article.  Sure they printed the first Dragon CD-ROM and they got into a LOT of trouble for it.
Also. If you are reading this right now the Dragon copyright will not "expire" till long after you are dead.  Sorry. I don't make the rules.

So back to the reviews.  These focus on City and Urban adventures.  Now I LOVED playing in cities at this time so this review was heaven-sent.  I grabbed Greyhawk Adventures: The City of Greyhawk and I totally ignored the Forgotten Realms: City System.  I should have gone the other way around.  Though both products have their positive and negative aspects.

The Role of Computers gives us a proper review of Champions of Krynn, saying it is the best AD&D computer game yet!

There are few pages missing from my issue so I turned to the CD-ROM to find that some barbarian had cut out +Bruce Heard's first installment of Voyage of the Princess Ark!  I think I am going to take one of my "This Old Dragon" days and do a retrospective on this.  I have been dying to see it all together in one place as a whole for some time now.  Alas for toady though I can't talk about it since it breaks my rules.  If it is not in the magazine I can't talk about it.

Missing is the first page of the Ecology of Behir. This would have been fun when my players ran into one recently.

Dragonmirth has a bunch of comics complete unfamiliar to me.  Well, I guess I know of Yamara and The Twilight Empire, but I really don't know anything about them.

So the April Fools stuff aside, this turned out to be a fun issue.
While it was published back in the Halcyon days of 2nd ed, it did not contain a lot of 2nd Ed material.  The Greater Behir was notable.

Even at 27 years old this Dragon, for some reason, still feels newer to me.  Maybe because I never owned it back when it was new or maybe because it was out in a time when I was not playing so much I don't attach a lot of nostalgia to it.

What are your memories of this issue?