Showing posts with label Advanced. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Advanced. Show all posts

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Mail Call: D&D in Miniature

Oh good another Mail Call Tuesday!  They say great things come in small packages, so let's see what these small packages have for me today?

Little D&D and Mini Me

Up first I finally decided to do myself in Mini form from HeroForge.  So here is DM Tim in 25 mm scale. Complete with a laptop, a stack of books, and my always-present giant ass mug of coffee.  The only detail missing is the pencil behind my right ear.

Mini TimMini TimMini Tim

I didn't care for their sneakers options so I am wearing my Gen X-mandated Doc Martens with yellow laces. 

Might need to use this as "The Editor" in my Weirdly World News games.

I also grabbed my next to last 21st Century miniature reprint of the AD&D 1st Edition hardcovers.  And this one is from the personal collection of Heidi Gygax.

Dragonlance Adventures

Dragonlance Adventures

Mini AD&D Books

Now I am just a Dungeoneers Survival Guide away from completing my set of the mini AD&D hardcover books.  Though I doubt it will have the pedigree of my Dragonlance book.


Thursday, September 1, 2022

Review: Swords of Cthulhu

Swords of Cthulhu
Nice mail call last week and I got my copy of Swords of Cthulhu from BRW Games / Joesph Bloch. As always BRW fulfills its Kickstarters in record speed. 

There is a lot to unpack here so lets get to it.

Swords of Cthulhu

For this review and deep dive, I am going to focus on the PDF and Print on Demand, I got from DriveThruRPGvia backing the Kickstarter.

The book is set up much like all the Adventures Dark and Deep books for "1st Edition."  This includes his Book of Lost Beasts and Book of Lost Lore.  One might wonder why this isn't the "The Book of Lost Cthulhu."

The book has the "1st Ed" Orange spine and layout and is a proper 128 pages. If the goal here is to feel like a book that would have been in your book bag in 1986 then I would say it was a success.  

Like the BRW's previous "Books of" this one is for 1st Edition AD&D but no mention of that game is found here. There are oblique references to it, but nothing say to the level we saw in Mayfair's AD&D products of the 80s and early 90s.  Though like those previous two books there is no OGL and no Open Gaming content.  So here are my thoughts on that. One, it doesn't affect the game playability of this book. Two, given that much of the Lovecraftian mythos are in the public domain this feels like a slight really, I mean using essentially IP for free but not giving something back. And three, there is so much of this already in the public domain AND released as Open under the OGL from other publishers it my all be a moot point.  Still I am sure some OSRIC, Advanced Labyrinth Lord, or Old School Essentials Advanced might want to do some Lovecraftian-style adventures for "1st Ed." and this would have helped.

BRW 1st Edition Books

But enough of that. Let's get into what is in the book.

If you are familiar with AD&D 1st Ed, any part of the mythos, and/or BRW's Adventures Dark and Deep books then you could likely predict with a high degree of certainty of what is in this book.  This is not a bad thing.

The Scholar
The spiritual godfather here is the Unearthed Arcana. The book gives us new races; the Deep One Hybrid and the Degenerate.  These feel like they are right out of Lovecraft books, though I would argue that both races have issues moving outside of their realms. Deep One Hybrids away from water and Dagon for example.

We get level limits for the new races with old classes and old races with new classes (not introduced just yet).

The new classes are the Cultist and the Scholar.  The cultist gets different abilities depending on which cult they are in.  Scholars are a "split class" starting out as Magic-users and then switching over to scholars. If you have the Book of Lost Lore then you can split class with the Savant. I would even argue that the Cleric would be a good choice if the cleric has a high Intelligence. 

The is a Skill system, the same found in the Book of Lost Lore, and this recaps some of that and expands it. While again overtly for 1st Edition it could work anywhere, also it can be ignored for folks that do not want to use skills for their games. 

Up next are spells. In the Cthulhu mythos books and tomes of occult lore and knowledge never lead to good things. These spells are part of that yes, but this is also an "AD&D" game and not "Call of Cthulhu" magic serves a different purpose here.  We get about 36 pages of spells. There is even an optional rule for human sacrifice that fits the tenor of the tales well.

There is a section on running a "Lovecraftian" game along with the tropes found in an AD&D game.  These have been covered elsewhere, but this version fits this tome well.  In particular how to mix demons in with the Lovecraftian mythos creatures. Something I have covered in my own One Man's God

You can't do the Lovecraftian mythos and not deal with sanity. Now. I am going to be honest. The overwhelming majority of RPGs get sanity and insanity completely wrong. I say this a game designer and as someone with degrees in psychology (BA, MS, Ph.D.) and who spent years working as a Qualified Mental Health Professional for the State of Illinois who specialized in treating schizophrenics.  How does this book do? This one introduces a new saving throw versus Insanity. Not a bad solution really. I will point out that "Insane" is largely a legal definition. "Madness" would be a better term of choice here. 

Sanity in Swords of Cthulhu

The definitions and descriptions used for the various modes of insanity (keeping with the book) are fine. We are not trying to emulate the DSM here. Though "Schizoid" is off. What is described there is more of a compulsion disorder. The Mulitple Personality one is always going to be problematic and I personally would drop the occurrence to more like 1 or 2%; even 3% is too high. I would re-do it as something akin to a "fractured" personality.  It is a usable system, but it lacks the integration of the SAN system of Call of Cthulhu. Though this is understandable.  Side note: I always look for "dementia praecox" in the list of insanities. When I see that and it is used properly I know the developer did their homework. It is not here and I had hoped it would be.

Up next we get to what is really one of the big reasons people want a book like this.  The monsters.

Monsters in Swords of Cthulhu

There are about 30 monsters here in AD&D 1st Edition format. If you use nothing else in this book then this is pretty fun stuff. The art is good and works well here.

This is followed naturally by the magic items. Plenty of books and tomes to terrify players and delight GMs. Yes, the Necronomicon is here.

Ah. Now we get to the stars of the show. The main course of this seven-course meal. The gods.  

Gods in Swords of Cthulhu

All the usual suspects are here and the format is familiar to anyone that has read the Deities & Demigods.  IF playability is your largest concern then yes this book WILL replace the 144-page Deities & Demigods for you. No more having to lurk on eBay or hope for that rare score at Goodwill.  The stats are not exactly the same, nor should they be, but they are what I think many would expect them to be. 

We end with an Appendix of suggested reading (a must really) and lists of random tables.

The PDF is currently $9.95 and the hardcover is $24.95.  Perfectly within the price I would expect for this.

Now before I render my final judgment on this one a few more things.

I don't think it is unreasonable to ask "What does this book have that others do not?" For starters, it is developed specifically for AD&D 1st ed. I will point out that we do have plenty of other books, games, and resources that also do this for other OSR games and their relatives as well. Conversion is a matter of personal taste.

Briefly here are the main Lovecraftian/Cthulhu Mythos-related games/products I pulled from my shelves for this and how they compare. I am going to focus largely on the monsters and gods since that is the most common element. 

Table of Cthulhu

In most cases, I am restricting myself to the "Core" Mythos creatures and the ones I really like.  Some names are different, but I will try to go with the common names. 

Of Gods  DDG  SoC  RoCC  ASSH  CoC d20  SP CM5  WSH
 Cthulhu  Y  Y  Y  Y  Y  Y  
 Abhoth      Y      Y  
 Atlach-Nacha      Y      Y  
 Azathoth  Y  Y  Y  Y  Y  Y  
 Chaugnar Faugn          Y  Y  
 Cthuga  Y        Y  Y  
 Dagon    Y  Y    Y  Y  
 Ghatanothoa    Y          
 Hastur  Y   Y      Y  Y  
 Hydra    Y  Y    Y  Y  
 Ithaqua  Y      Y  Y  Y  
 Mordiggian          Y    
 Nodens          Y    
 Nyarlathotep  Y  Y  Y    Y  Y  
 Shub-Niggurath  Y  Y  Y    Y  Y  
 Shudde M'ell          Y    
 Tsathoggua    Y  Y    Y  Y  
 Yig    Y      Y  Y  
 Yog-Sothoth   Y  Y  Y    Y  Y  
               
  & Monsters              
 Ape, Devil      Y  Y      
 Bhole    Y        Y  
 Beings of Ib      Y      Y  
 Bokrug      Y      Y  
 Byakhee  Y        Y  Y  Y
 Cave Beast      Y        
 Colour Out of Space      Y  Y    Y  
 Crawling Reptile      Y        
 Cthonian / Spawn of Cthulhu    Y      Y  Y  Y
 Deep One   Y  Y  Y  Y  Y  Y  Y
 Deep One Hybrid    Y    Y  Y  Y  Y
 Dhole          Y  Y  Y
 Dimensional Shambler          Y  Y  Y
 Flame Creature / Fire Vampire  Y        Y  Y  Y
 Flying Polyp    Y      Y  Y  Y
 Ghast      Y  Y    Y  
 Ghoul      Y  Y  Y  Y  
 Great Race of Yith  Y  Y  Y  Y  Y  Y  Y
 Gnop-Keh          Y  Y  Y
 Gug    Y        Y  Y
 Haunter in the Dark    Y  Y      Y  Y
 Hound of Tindalos    Y  Y    Y  Y  
 Man of Leng    Y  Y  Y    Y  
 Mi-Go / Fugi from Yuggoth  Y  Y  Y  Y  Y  Y  Y
 Moon Thing    Y  Y      Y  Y
 Night Beast      Y        
 Night Gaunt    Y  Y  Y  Y    
 Primordial One / Elder Thing  Y  Y  Y  Y  Y  Y  Y
 Rat Thing          Y    
 Serpent People      Y  Y  Y  Y  
 Shantak    Y  Y      Y  Y
 Shoggoth  Y  Y  Y  Y  Y  Y  Y
 Spider of Leng    Y      Y  Y  Y
 Tcho-tcho          Y  Y  
 Young of Shub-Niggurath    Y  Y    Y  Y  
 Voormis      Y  Y      
 White Ape      Y  Y      
 Y'm-bhi    Y        
 Zoog    Y  Y      Y  
               
 Open Content  No      No  No  Yes  No  Yes  Yes

It looks like Swords of Cthulhu fares pretty well, to be honest. No one book has everything. Now comparing anything to Deities & Demigods is a touch unfair since space in the D&DG was limited.  Likewise comparing to Sandy Petersen's Cthulhu Mythos for 5th Edition (or Pathfinder) is also unfair for the opposite reason; it has so much and few people have written or said as much about the Cthulhu Mythos as much as Petersen has.

Swords of Cthulhu and the Deities & Demigods

But comparing Swords of Cthulhu to say Realms of Crawling Chaos or Hyperborea is appropriate.

Realms of Crawling Chaos

These two books complement each other well. While there is a very, very slight difference in underlying system assumptions each one offers something the other lacks in terms of gods and monsters.

Swords of Cthulhu in the Realms of Crawling Chaos

Hyperborea

Formerly Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyperborea, this game is closer to AD&D than it is to Basic D&D and the tone of the world fits well. Where Hyperborea stands out in the inclusion of and the predominance of Howard and Ashton-Smith mythos as they relate to the Lovecraft ones.  So lots of the same monsters and gods, but more Clark Ashton Smith.  While Swords of Cthulhu gives advice on how to integrate the mythos into your "AD&D" world, Hyperborea gives us a world where they are integrated. What is the difference? In Hyperborea "sanity" is not really an issue since the mortals here already know of the gods and these creatures.  Still, Hyperborea is not everyone's cup of tea.

Swords of Cthulhu and Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyperborea

I would argue that the combination of the three would give you the best Mythos game. Or maybe it would give *me* the best mythos game since I tend to lean into more Clark Ashton Smith tales than H.P. Lovecraft's alone.

Conclusion

Swords of Cthulhu is a great addition to the already crowded field of Mythos-related RPG books. No one book seems to have everything, and maybe that is fine really. If your game is AD&D 1st Edition and you want something a bit more than just what you get from the Deities & Demigods then this is your book.

If you play a lot of OSR games including their spiritual ancestors and you like the mythos, then this is also a fine book, but check with my table here to be sure you are getting what you want.  

For things like "which is better 'Swords of Cthulhu' or 'Realms of Crawling Chaos'" it is a draw. Both do what they are supposed to do well.  Both are good resources. SoC looks a bit better on the shelf next to all my AD&D books, but likewise, RoCC looks good on my Basic-era OSR shelf.

I vacillate on whether we have too many mythos-related RPG titles to thinking one more book won't hurt.  Currently, the word "Cthulhu" produces over 5,450 titles on DriveThruRPG. So there is a market.

Swords of CthulhuSwords of Cthulhu

With so many choices you need to decide what fits well for your games. Swords of Cthulhu is a great choice but it is hardly the only choice. 

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Review: Adventures Dark & Deep Book of Lost Lore

Adventures Dark & Deep Book of Lost Lore
Last week I reviewed that new monster book from BRW Games, Book of Lost Beasts.  Today I want to review the companion book from the same Kickstarter, Book of Lost Lore.  I went into this one less excited than I did with the Book of Lost Beasts, but not due to anything on the part of this book.  I am always more enthusiastic about monster books. I just have to make sure that I am not making unfair comparisons.  I will be making a lot of comparisons with this book and others, however.

Adventures Dark & Deep Book of Lost Lore

For this review, I am considering the Hardcover I received as a Kickstarter backer and the PDF from DriveThruRPG.  BRW does their print fulfillment via DriveThru, so I conveniently have my PDFs where I expect them and I know what sort of product I am getting in terms of Print on Demand.

The book itself is 134 pages, full-color cover, and has black and white interior art.  The layout and art are a tribute to the "2nd covers" of the AD&D 1st Edition line. So it looks nice with your original books and other OSR books designed the same way. 

Like the Book of Lost Beasts, this book carries the Adventures Dark & Deep banner, but it is not made for that game.  It is material from that game ported "Backwards" to the AD&D 1st Edition rules. So again like Book of Beasts, some of this material has been seen before, though not all in 1st Edition format/rules.  

Lost Beasts and Lost Lore

Much of the material does come from Bloch's "What If" game, Adventures Dark & Deep, and in particular, the Players Manual which itself was derived from BRW Games' very first product A Curious Volume of Forgotten Lore (now discontinued).  This is all acknowledged in the Preface of the book.  The selling point of this book is that it is all revised and edited for the "First Edition of the world's most popular RPG."  Not to mention the layout now favors the 1st ed feel rather than the Adventures Dark & Deep feel.

Though as we move on you will see that the biggest comparison that needs to be made is this book to the AD&D Unearthed Arcana.  

On to the book proper now.

This book is split between a Players' Section (close to 98 pages) and GMs' section (36 or so pages).

Players' Section

Dwarf blacksmith
This section covers new races, classes, and spells among other topics that I will discuss. 

Up first, the new races.  Here we are given three "new" races for player characters. These are the Centaur, the Forrest Gnome, and the Half-Drow, of which we get Human-Drow and Elf-Drow.  Those unfamiliar with AD&D 1st ed might be surprised to see level limits and ability limits for the races.  Some are pretty obvious, centaurs tend to be stronger but can't climb walls as a thief. Others are culture-based, drow women can advance more in most classes than their male counterparts due to their matriarchal society, but not as much as wizards since that class is not valued.  While back in the day we really ignored all these rules in AD&D (and they do not exist in 21st Century D&D) they are consistent with the rules and anyone who plays AD&D 1st ed exclusively will take to these easy.

The races seem balanced enough.  The centaur is a nice addition and one that really could go into AD&D well enough.  I personally have never had a desire to play one, but they do seem to work.  The forest gnome is also a good choice and a good option for people more familiar with 21st century D&D gnomes.  The coverage of the half-drow is very interesting and the stand-out of the three.  Given some other things I have crossed my awareness this past week or so I am wanting to try out a half-drow now.  I will need to come back to this one later on. 

Classes are likely the top feature of this book.  They are also the ones that we have seen before.  There are Bards, Jesters, Skalds, Blackguards, Mystics, Savants, and Mountebanks.  Let me repeat. While we have seen these before in other BRW products they are presented here as 1st Edition characters classes and as subclasses of existing 1st Ed classes. Except the Bard, the Bard is it's own class with the Jester and Skald as sub-classes of the Bard.  The Blackguard (or Anti-Paladin) is a subclass of the Cavalier to give you an idea where this book would "fit" into the AD&D 1st Ed lineup. 

It should be noted is a usable single Bard class.  No more advancing as a thief, fighter, and then druid to get to the bard, this is a straight out bard class.  The bard also has some nice powers too. The mystic class seems closer to the BECMI/RC version than it does to the monk.  It was also the focus of one of my very first "Class Struggles" features.   I am a little surprised we didn't see versions of BRW Games'  Necromancer, Witch, or Demonolater classes. Likey to keep these with the Adventures Dark & Deep game. 

From Classes, we move on to Secondary Skills. AD&D 1st Ed has never really been about skills outside of what your character class can do.  While back then I saw this as a problem, I am less inclined to think so now.  Still, a good selection of secondary skills are listed here and how they can be used. 

The next 35 or so pages are dedicated to new spells. Mostly these support the new magic-using classes, though some spells are cross-listed for other classes. 

The last part of the player's section is given over to combat and new weapons and armor.  The arms and armor described here do show an appreciated level of research.  One that would have made Gary and his 6 pages of pole-arms very happy.

Game Masters' Section

This section is not as large but still has gems; figurative and literal. 

making magic items
Up first are some guidelines for social encounters including reactions.  There are some alternate treasure rules that uses the same Treasure Type classification but breaks it down into different categories.  Both the original system and this system can be used interchangeably, even within the same game, with the Game Master deciding what works better at the time. 

There are some new magic items, with updated tables to include them. 

Finally some discussion on the game environment including ability checks. 

Honestly, the only thing it is missing to be "Unearthed Arcana II" is an appendix on the gods of the Centaurs.

Unearthed Arcana and Lost Lore

Some art has appeared before in other BRW books but all of it captures the Old-School gaming feel.

So. Who is this book for?

The obvious answer is for anyone that plays First Edition AD&D.  It should work fine with OSRIC, since that cleaves so close to AD&D, but not sure if players of Advanced Labyrinth Lord or Old School Essentials Advanced will get the same benefits. For example, both of those other games have a Bard class that works about the same.  That is not to say they would not get benefits from this book, it's just the base design principles are not 100% the same.

If you are a player of Adventures Dark & Deep then there is likely nothing new here for you.  But if you have those books and still play Advanced Dungeons & Dragons first ed. then there is enough here for you even if you can convert easily between the two games. 

If you play AD&D 1st ed then this is a great book and it will sit nicely on your shelf or on your table next to your other AD&D books. 

One minor point, the book was not released under the OGL.  Doesn't matter for play or use only if you wanted to reuse a class or spell elsewhere.  Though given the use I have seen of the OGL over the last 20+ years this is also likely not an issue. 

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Classic Adventures Revisited: S3 Expedition to the Barrier Peaks

Cover to S3 Expedition to the Barrier Peaks
One of the first adventures I ever bought via mail-order was S3 The Expedition to the Barrier Peaks. I had already latched onto the idea that the S series of adventures were going to be mine to run in our extended group of players that crossed many DMs and groups.  I grabbed it without really knowing a lot about it.  I knew there was crashed spaceship central to the adventure and I knew that it was a larger adventure.  Since I was spending my limited paper route money on my new D&D addiction I had to make every dollar count.   S3 had two booklets, at 32 pages each, and color inserts. There were two covers with maps. So even my young mind all of this was more valuable than a simple adventure that only had half that material.

I got it in the mail one summer and took with me on a family trip to the fish fry my parents loved to go to every year.  It was hot, and July and all I wanted to do was sit in our van and read my adventure.  This was also the first time that I encountered what I would later call the "Gary Gygax" effect. This would be the "E.G.G." on the map of Level II.  I remember not liking it at the time because if this was a real spaceship then why was that there.  But more details on that later.

Sci-Fi gaming was not new to me. I had picked up Traveller and I knew about Gamma World. I also had learned that Gamma World and S3 had a shared parentage in Metamorphasis Alpha, though I will admit I wasn't 100% clear on what that meant at the time.   Without knowing much about the size of the Warden (MA) we always assumed this was the Warden.  Given the shape of the ship that landed on Greyhawk and it's size this was more obviously some sort of smaller scout ship with a prison or brig.  One thing everyone in my groups agreed on was this is how Mind Flayers came to Greyhawk.

S3 Expedition to the Barrier Peaks

For this review, I am considering my printed copy from 1982 or so (not my original sadly, lost that one years ago) and the PDF from DriveThruRPG.  This adventure was written by Gary Gygax himself and was the official Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Tournament scenario at Origins II in 1976.  The adventure was updated and published in 1980. Cover art and art book art by Erol Otus, interior art by Jeff Dee, David "Diesel" LaForce, Jim Roslof, David Sutherland III, Gregory Flemming, and Erol Otus.

The adventure comes in two 32-page black and white booklets. The first covers the adventure and the second covers all the weird animals, plants, and gadgets found on the ship.  There is also four pages in the center of book two with full-color art of the animals.  I have one copy where they are glossy and another where they are matte. I have no detail on what the differences mean.  

Glossy vs. Matte art in S3 Book 2

Book 1 covers the adventure.  The preface sets up what this adventure is about and gives some background on how this adventure came to be.  The rest sets up the adventure, placed in the Grandy Duchy of Geoff in the World of Greyhawk.   There is a bit of explaining the nature of this "dungeon," really a crashlanded ship, and how to read the maps. 

While one could call this a funhouse dungeon it is a bit different than the other Gygax funhouse, Tomb of Horrors.  There are a lot of new and weird monsters here and some older ones (like the Mind Flayer) that are given a new life so to speak.  What is most interesting to us, and to the players, were the new tech provided.  The tech items were designed not really to be functional, but to confuse the players as much as possible.  There really seemed to be a fear that D&D characters would run around with laser rifles.  Of course the design makes no sense from a human perspective, so we tried to figure out how they might been created.  One idea was that these make sense if you are a Mind Flayer. 

The adventure itself is a pure dungeon crawl into an unknown structure. 

Book 2 covers all the visual aids for this adventure.

The adventure is a must-have really to say you have had the complete D&D experience.  My oldest hated it though, saying he hates mixing sci-fi with his D&D.  My youngest loved and wanted lasers for everyone.

Classic Modules Today & Revisited

There are 5th edition updates via Classic Modules Today by Todd Bergman and the 5e Conversion by Michael "solomani" Mifsud. Each goes for $1.00.

Goodman Games also offers their massive Expedition to the Barrier Peaks, with introductions and background details from author Michael Curtis, Tony DiTerlizzi, Erol Otus (with some new art too!), and an interview with Diesel LaForce by Tim Wadzinski.

Two versions of the classic adventure are given to represent the seven different printings the adventure went through. These are covered on page 21 and largely deal with the various TSR logos used. Given this information, my copies seem to be later printings.  Corrections to errors found are presented in the 5th edition version of the adventure. 

In the last pages, Appendix G, covers the relationship between Metamophasis Alpha and Expedition to the Barrier Peaks.  IF they had included Gamma World then the trinity would be complete.  Goodman Games still publishes some material for Metamorphasis Alpha.

Goodman Games and TSR's respective Barrier Peaks adventures

The Warden Campaign

I can see an entire campaign built around this crashed spaceship and the mutants it has let loose in the area.  A great way to introduce the ideas of Gamma World or even Mutant Future or Mutant Crawl Classics to your game.  You can expand it with ideas from Mark Taormino's Secret Machines of the Star Spawn.  It could even lead to a Spelljamming campaign.

Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea

AS&SH already has things from the stars and even lost technology, so adding this adventure to it is not just a no-brainer, I have a hard time justifying why you shouldn't give it a try. 

BECMI/Mystara

While the Barrier Peaks is firmly rooted in the realm of Greyhawk, there is no reason why it can't be moved to Mystara.  There is already a solid history of magic and technology in Mystara. Not just from the Shadow Elves or Blackmoor, but also the curious connections between these two maps.

Here is Mystara's North and West hemisphere.


Here is Gamma World


Rotate the top map by about 45 degrees counter-clockwise and you get the map below.  No shock since both maps are based on North America.

What happened to cause the world of map 1 to become the world of map 2?

Maybe the reactor of the crashed spaceship went critical, blew up, shifted the world axis (something that did happen in Mystara), and created a bunch of weird mutants.  Unless of course the characters can go on an expedition to some mountains and stop it from happening. 

Thursday, February 25, 2021

One Man's God: Nehwon Mythos

Closing on one of the last of the named mythos for One Man's God.  I go to one that has a lot of importance for the creation of the D&D, the Nehwon Mythos of Fritz Leiber's Lankhmar series.

Nehwon Myths

You can now get Lankhmar RPG products for both 1st and 2nd AD&D as well as for Savage Worlds and Dungeon Crawl Classics.  To say it has left its mark on our hobby is a bit of an understatement.  Yet I find I really know very little about the stories.  I remember reading one of the books. It was either in late high school or my early college days, in either case, it was the mid-late 80s.  I recall reading the book and not really caring for the characters all that much.  I have been planning to reread them someday, but they keep getting pushed lower and lower on my to-be-read pile.

For this reason I had considered not doing these for One Man's God.  But the more I thought about it the more I realized it was a perfect chance to "level-set" what I am doing here.  Seeing if another culture's god can be redefined as AD&D Monster Manual Demon. 

Now I am certain that others with far more knowledge than me will have opinions one way or the other and that is fine.  They are welcome to share them.  A key factor of "One Man's God" is just that, one man's opinion on the gods. And that one man is me.  

So strap on a long sword and dirk and let's head to the City of Lankhmar.

Nehwon and Lankhmar in particular seems to have a lot of Gods.  I kind of lank this to be honest.  But how many of them are "Demons?"

We know there are demons here.  Demons and witches are described as living in the wastes. The wizard Sheelba of the Eyeless Face is said to be so horrible that even demons run from it.

Astral Wolves

These guys are great! Love the idea, but they feel more like undead to me.

Gods of Trouble

Ok, these guys start to fit the bill.  They are semi-unique, chaotic-evil, and have 366 hp. But they also have a lot of powers that demons just don't have.  They have worshipers, but no indication that any spells (for clerics) or powers (for warlocks) are granted.   They just seem to be powerful assholes.

Leviathan

There is a demon Leviathan and this guy looks a lot like him.  But this one is neutral and does not have any other powers except for being huge.

Nehwon Earth God

This guy appears to be an actual god, even if evil and non-human. 

Rat God

AH! Now we are getting someplace. Non-human, cult-like worshipers, described as the manifestation of men's fears, and chaotic evil.  I see no reason why the Rat God here could not be a type of demon with a larger power base.  At 222 hp he is actually pretty close to Demongorgon's hp.

The Rat God has some personal relevance for me.  I was riding the bus home in high school one day and there was a group of kids that were playing D&D. I listened in and guess in their game if you wanted to make boots that aided in your ability to move silently they had to be made from the pelt of the Rat God!  I always wondered what their other games must be like.

rat demon
Rat Demon (Prince of Rats)

FREQUENCY: Very Rare
NO. APPEARING: 1
ARMOR CLASS: 2
MOVE: 18'
HIT DICE: 222 hit points
% IN LAIR: 50%
TREASURE TYPE: P, S, T
NO. OF ATTACKS: 2
DAMAGE/ATTACK: 4-40
SPECIAL ATTACKS: Nil
SPECIAL DEFENSES: See below
MAGIC RESISTANCE: 20%
INTELLIGENCE: Supra genius (18)
ALIGNMENT: Chaotic Evil
SIZE: L (10' tall)
PSIONIC ABILITY: I

The Demon Prince of Rats is nearly powerful as other demon princes but he saves his interests and attention only for his rat and wererat followers.  He desires to overrun the Prime Material Plane with his children and feed on the bodies of all the living.

Spider God 

Same is true for this one.  I mean if rats are a manifestation of human fears then spiders are as well. This creature is also CE and at 249 hp that makes it more powerful than Lolth at 66!

Tyaa

Could be a demon, but had more goddess about her.  Again though, Lolth is both Goddess and Demon.  We will later get a demoness of birds in D&D during the 3e days in the form of Decarabia.  Tyaa requires her cult to sacrifice a body part, Decarabia cut off her own legs so she would never touch the ground again.

Bird Goddesses and Demons
Bird Goddesses and Demoness, separated at birth?

Obviously there a lot more here that could be done with these and the monsters/gods/demons that were not featured in the D&DG.

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

The Enduring Appeal of Holmes Basic & B1

Last week I talked a bit about Holmes Basic in regards to another game TSR put out in 1977, Warlocks & Warriors.  This led to a few more discussions online and some more reflection on my part.  It got me thinking about how much gamers of a certain age keep going back to Holmes.

I mean I get it, really.  There is a simplicity with Holmes that has appeal. This is not the strange mix that is OD&D or the complex rules for everything as AD&D.  It sits neatly in the middle and has a rule book that might be one of the clearest that 70s D&D has to offer.  It paved the way for Moldvay and Mentzer Basics, but it stands pretty well on it's own.


Holmes Basic and the Monster Manual

Once upon a time in the years between the Bicentennial and the dawn of the 80s was a time when the only Star Wars was "Star Wars" and home computers were just getting started there was D&D variant that I personally think a lot of people played.

For me that year was 1979.  The D&D was Holmes Basic and the Advanced D&D Monster Manual.  I, like many others, didn't care that "D&D" and "AD&D" were supposed to be different games. In fact I don't think I even knew until I got my Expert Set much later.  I mean yeah there were articles in Dragon about it, but I never saw those till much, much later.  Even then I don't think I cared.

But none of that mattered really.  Holmes Basic was likely set up as the gateway to AD&D and not really it's own line yet.  As has been discussed by others, most notably Zenopus Archives ("The Monster Manual is a Holmes Supplement." go read it), that the Monster Manual draws on Holmes for quite a lot of detail.  In particular it uses the "5" point alignment system of Holmes rather than the "9" point one of AD&D.  For example there are no Neutral Good, Neutral Evil, Lawful Neutral, or Chaotic Neutral monsters in it.  Those all don't appear until the adventures (GDQ series for example) and the Fiend Folio and Monster Manual II.

It also doesn't hurt that there are artistic similarities between these two books, not just their respective covers.

This was the central core of what was "D&D" for me.  

Looking over at the publication dates of various publications from TSR prior to 1982 you see there is a world's worth of playing here. Again, h/t to Zenopus Archives for this. Even prior to 1980 is full of great material.

Holmes Basic, the Monster Manual, and Eldritch Witchery give me so much potential. 

Warlocks & Warriors & Witches

Something dawned on me while reading some of the replies to my Warlocks & Warrior post.  What if the eponymous Warlock and Warrior were none other than Zelligar the Unknown and Rogahn the Fearless from adventure B1 In Search of the Unknown respectively.  It fits with the covers to be sure.

So if the Warlock is Zelligar and the Warrior is Rogahn, who is the Princess?  Well, if you spend any time here at all then you know who she is. She is Marissia (yes I am sticking with the wrong spelling). 

In my running of B1 Marissia is the daughter of Zelligar and one of the first witches in my games.  While there is a Melissa described in the adventure, I was really set on the name Marissia. 

From Melissa's room (key XXIV Mistress' Chamber) 

Melissa's room
From Roghan's room (key XXV Roghan's Chamber)

Melissa text from module B1

Melissa/Marissia, again I was 10.

So how about this.  "Warlocks & Warriors" is a game played in my D&D worlds that is an homage to the time when the King offered the famed adventures Zelligar and Rogahn the hand of his beautiful young daughter to whoever rescues her first.  It doesn't matter who won because the daughter Marissia was having none of that. She decides to go with the much older Zelligar who adopts her as his own daughter and trains her to be a witch. She then also becomes the lover of Rogahn.  Sometime later the former allies Zelligar and Rogahn turn on each other.  That is the cover of the W&W game and why "Melissa/Marissia" is looking on in cool detachment. Their falling out with each other is what leads to their stronghold, the Caverns of Quasqueton, to lie in ruins.  Again, turning to Zenopus Archives, there is a good place to put B1 on the W&W wilderness map. 

This slight revision still fits with my original idea that Marissia/Melissa is Zelligar's daughter and Rogahn's lover.  While in 1977 having a blonde on your cover was no great stretch, she does have a similarity to all the versions of Marissia I have done or thought of over the years.


It works since "Milissa Wilcox" premiered on Scooby-Doo with a Leviathan Cross in 1978. The ghost had green hair, but the person behind it was blonde. That episode and Scooby-Doo, The Phantom of the Country Music Hall would have certainly been on my mind in 1979.  This is the strange alchemy that fueled my earliest D&D adventures and is still called a "Scooby-Doo Adventure" by my wife.

Yeah, a load of coincidence, and my former Advanced Regression Prof is likely shaking his head at me now.  But it works for this. 

The point is there is a lot packed into all of Holmes' Basic set and I know we didn't know what treasure we had back then.

Thursday, February 11, 2021

One Man's God: Chinese Mythos

Chinese mythos from Deities & Demigods
I stated in my post about the Yaoguai that I am by no stretch of the imagination an expert on Chinese mythology.  But even I know there is no way for the Deities & Demigods to cover all the mythological figures, gods, demigods, heroes, and monsters of Chinese myth.  The editors of the D&DG agree.

Instead what we have here are a few select gods and monsters for D&D fare.  I am quite certain that anyone that knows more about this than I do will notice some glaring issue, but for the moment let's look at it for what it is rather than what we wish it to be.  This is good because "what it is" is a fascinating, if sometimes problematic, read.

There are a few gods and creatures here that not only would make for great demons (in the Demon category of the Monster Manual) they are creatures that made many appearances in my games. Again this is taking them "as is", not "as they should be" but I will detail that in a bit.

An issue I should address is spelling.  Translating between Chinese and English is often half linguistics and half art.  Even when the spelling is agreed on it can change later, "D" and "T" are notorious.  What does that mean to us?  Well, it makes the research a bit harder on some creatures.  To get into the myths and stories behind these creatures would take a lot longer than this post and outside of the scope of One Man's God, but as always I will try to pull in the research when I can. 

One of the better sources for these myths is  E. T. C. Werner's "The Myths and Legends of China" whose earliest publication date appears to be in 1940.  The book is in the public domain and would have been available to the authors of the D&DG.  While there are other books, I am going to go to this one for confirmation on what is here. Now Werner could have a bunch of issues all on his own. I am not qualified to judge those either.  

Finally, I want to give credit to the artist of this section of myths, Darlene.  I don't think she gets the credit she deserves half the time (outside of her FANTASTIC map of Greyhawk).  Her art really captures the feel of these myths for me. 

Chih-Chiang Fyu-Ya

This guy typifies the problem I speak of.  A search for him online reveals only sources that were obviously taken from the D&DG.  The only other mentions are people asking where he is from.  Now I have no issue with making something up whole cloth for a game (I do it every day) but does that make him a part of Chinese myth?  In any case, Chih-Chiang Fyu-Ya looks and acts more like a Monster Manual devil than he does a demon.  My feeling is this guy was made up for the D&DG.

He does not appear in Werner's book.

Ma Yuan

Ma Yuan
So Chih-Chiang Fyu-Ya is the punisher of the gods, that is someone the gods send out to punish, much like Erinyes. Ma Yuan is the Killer of the Gods. He kills the gods.  He is also a unique beast and fits our definition of a demon well. He is Chaotic Evil, 70's tall, and has 300 hp.  He could mop the floor with Demogorgon! Well...maybe not mop.  Ma Yuan also appeared in many of my games back in the day as a giant monster of destruction (and ignoring his "High" intelligence rating), his sword is one of just a few fabled weapons in my world that can kill a god. 

In Gods, Demigods, and Heroes for 0e he is called Ma Yuan Shuai. This is very interesting since Tian Du Yuan Shuai is a figure of Taoist myth (though he could have been a real person) and he is associated with Okinawan Gojū-ryū karate. This was interesting to me because I studied Isshin-ryū karate in college and grad school, they are similar in many of their katas. But going done that rabbit hole was a dead end despite how interesting I found it. 

"Yuan Shuai" is also a rank in the Chinese military rank that is equivalent to Marshall in other militaries.  Ma Yuan Shuai could mean something like "Horse Marshall."

Going with this name I head back to Werner's book, I find this:

Ma Yüan-shuai is a three-eyed monster condemned by Ju Lai to reincarnation for excessive cruelty in the extermination of evil spirits. In order to obey this command he entered the womb of Ma Chin-mu in the form of five globes of fire. Being a precocious youth, he could fight when only three days old, and killed the Dragon-king of the Eastern Sea. From his instructor he received a spiritual work dealing with wind, thunder, snakes, etc., and a triangular piece of stone which he could at will change into anything he liked. By order of Yü Ti he subdued the Spirits of the Wind and Fire, the Blue Dragon, the King of the Five Dragons, and the Spirit of the Five Hundred Fire Ducks, all without injury to himself. For these and many other enterprises he was rewarded by Yü Ti with various magic articles and with the title of Generalissimo of the West, and is regarded as so successful an interceder with Yü Ti that he is prayed to for all sorts of benefits.

Doing research on this guy reveals that I was not the only one taken with this character (not a surprise really). Here Spes Magna Games updated his stats to 5e D&D.  

Ma Yuan though is a great being. I would say that he is a great sleeping demon (though his "in lair 10%" seems to preclude this) that is only roused when needed.  Werner's description seems to favor demon really.

Lu Yueh

Some success?  Lu Yueh appears as a figure using a magic umbrella to spreading plague in a 1922 painting by an unknown artist. 

He also appears in Werner's The Myths and Legends of China.  Called Lü Yüeh here he seems to be more of a hermit than a demonic god. Also, he only has one head.  He still causes plagues though. 

Tou Mu

Yikes. 

I am prone to be forgiving in cases like Chih-Chian Fyu-Ya; creatures made up to serve a purpose or a niche for a game.  Or even Lu Yueh and Ma Yuan; myths extended and/or changed to fit into D&D a little better. But what they did to Tou Mu?  No. This is just terrible research at this point.  I have avoided being too critical of the D&DG because I know the authors did not have the same access to materials I have now and, not to be a dick about it, but I have been trained to do Ph.D. level research. I have had 30+ years of professional research to draw on. They did not.  But this case really goes to the critics of the D&DG.  

Background.  Tou Mu was something of a celebrity back in Junior High among the people I played D&D with.  First she looks way freaking cool, secondly, she had a Charisma of 5! She had a ton of great and unique magic items and some DMs even gave her the dancing sword of lightning (as if she didn't already have enough).  She was an Endgame Boss.  

In actual Taoist mythology, she is Dǒumǔ (斗母) the 'Mother of the Great Chariot' or the Big Dipper.  she would not be a "Chaotic Evil Lesser Goddess" but most likely be a Lawful Good Greater Goddess, though a Lesser (but powerful) Goddess would also be acceptable.  Though I am not sure what I find worse, the evil alignment, the 5 Charisma or the 3 in Wisdom.

Here is how she looks in the D&DG,

Tou Mu from D&DG

versus how she is depicted in the real world, 

Dǒumǔ (斗母)Dǒumǔ (斗母) fan art

Seriously, how could they have messed this one up so bad? Turn a beloved goddess into a monster?

Again, let's see what Werner has to say about her:

Goddess of the North Star
Tou Mu, the Bushel Mother, or Goddess of the North Star, worshipped by both Buddhists and Taoists, is the Indian Maritchi, and was made a stellar divinity by the Taoists. She is said to have been the mother of the nine Jên Huang or Human Sovereigns of fabulous antiquity, who succeeded the lines of Celestial and Terrestrial Sovereigns. She occupies in the Taoist religion the same relative position as Kuan Yin, who may be said to be the heart of Buddhism. Having attained to a profound knowledge of celestial mysteries, she shone with heavenly light, could cross the seas, and pass from the sun to the moon. She also had a kind heart for the sufferings of humanity. The King of Chou Yü, in the north, married her on hearing of her many virtues. They had nine sons. Yüan-shih T’ien-tsun came to earth to invite her, her husband, and nine sons to enjoy the delights of Heaven. He placed her in the palace Tou Shu, the Pivot of the Pole, because all the other stars revolve round it, and gave her the title of Queen of the Doctrine of Primitive Heaven. Her nine sons have their palaces in the neighbouring stars.

Well, in many ways I supposed that is what OMG is kinda based on; One Man's God is another man's demon.  Still, it doesn't feel right to turn Dǒumǔ into Tou Mou.  I also suppose this also is part of the criticism landed at TSR/WotC's feet back in July of 2020 about the Oriental Adventures book. which, by the way, despite what all the Chicken Littles were saying back then you CAN still buy it in it's unedited form. 

I said at the outset I know far less about Chinese myths than I like and far less than I do about other mythologies.  What I do know there are SO MANY great stories about gods, demigods, monsters, and human heroes that doing this one right would fantastic.

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.

Sinéad
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).

Nida
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.