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

Friday, July 12, 2024

Kickstart Your Weekend: Fantastic Quest of Whimsical One & Lost Tomb of Mummy Lich

 More Maximum Mayhem adventures from Dark Wizard Games!

Fantastic Quest of Whimsical One & Lost Tomb of Mummy Lich

Fantastic Quest of Whimsical One & Lost Tomb of Mummy Lich

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/marktaormino/mmd-10-fantastic-quest-and-mmd-11-lost-tomb?ref=theotherside

I mean by now you should know what these are all about.

The Fantastic Quest of Whimsical One features art from Erol Otus, so that is a nice added feature. 

Both of these fit well with my idea of a long campaign for B/X or OSE. And they look like a lot of fun!

No 5e versions this time around though.

Tuesday, July 9, 2024

Mail Call: More Mayhem from Dark Wizard Games

 Nice little surprise in the mail today.  Two new adventures from Mark Taormino's Maximum Mayhem adventures from Dark Wizard Games.

Adventures from Dark Wizards Games

Again there are 5e versions (for my kids) and classic OSR versions for me.

The OSR maps are in classic blue and the 5e are in full color.

Seven Golden Demons

Slime Pits of the Sewer Witch

Legend of the Seven Golden Demons is his highest-level adventure to date at levels 14-18.  This will stretch my ability to use these for OSE-Advanced, but I am sure I can do it.

Maximum Mayhem Adventures

Slime Pits of the Sewer Witch is a low-level mini-adventure that honestly looks like a lot of fun. Normally I would put this one in with the others in my Maximum Mayhem box to run as a gonzo campaign. But my box is getting full, and I can add it to my War of the Witch Queens adventures instead. 

War of the Witch Queens

 Right now I have WAY too many adventures to run, so I should maybe be more selective on what I get.

Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Mail Call: D&D History and Adventures

 It's Tuesday, and that means mail around here. It also means UPS, which delivers late in my neighborhood. It is also the release date of Wizards of the Coast's new 50th anniversary book.

New "old" D&D books

The Making of Original Dungeons & Dragons, 1970-1977 is a really great book. I can't wait to get into it more.

The Making of Original Dungeons & Dragons, 1970-1977

The Making of Original Dungeons & Dragons, 1970-1977

The Making of Original Dungeons & Dragons, 1970-1977

The Making of Original Dungeons & Dragons, 1970-1977

The Making of Original Dungeons & Dragons, 1970-1977
Original Character sheet.

I also spent some cash on a bunch of AD&D 2nd Edition Forgotten Realms adventures and sourcebooks.

AD&D 2nd Ed Forgotten Realms

AD&D 2nd Ed Forgotten Realms

AD&D 2nd Ed Forgotten Realms

I'll get to each one in turn. Looking forward to using these in my AD&D 2nd Ed game. This will be a lot of fun.

Tuesday, June 11, 2024

Reviews: The Villains and Heroes of the Forgotten Realms

 Getting back to my Realms reviews I am still in that strange liminal times of 1988-1989 when both AD&D 1st Edition and 2nd Edition were still being supported. I have two books today from the "FR" series that ride that line. 

FR6 and FR7 Villains and Heroes of the Forgotten Realms

Both books have very similar trade dress, if not identical. I am reviewing the PoD and PDFs from DriveThruRPG. 

FR6 Dreams of the Red Wizards (1e)
FR6 Dreams of the Red Wizards (1e)

By Steve Perrin (1988)
64 pages. Full-color covers and maps, monochrome interior.

Even with my comparative lack of Realms knowledge I knew about the Red Wizards of Thay. I guess I didn't realize how quickly they had been introduced as the big bads. 

This book reminds me a lot of the old D&D BECMI Gazeteer series in that we we get some history and geography of the lands with some NPCs.

The book teases that it is compatible with the BATTLESYSTEM  rules, but you have to build all of those armies on your own. Too bad, I wanted to do a big battle with the armies of the undead from Thay. Though I still might do that.

The Introduction tells us what this book is about and who and what the Red Wizards of Thay are.

History of Thay. This section gives us a brief overview of Thay's foundation. There is a brief timeline, but it works well here. Some of this information is also found in the later Spellbound boxed set, but that is a way off yet. 

We cover the People and Society of Thay next. Perrin does give us a good explanation of how a whole country can, in fact, be evil, from the Zulkirs to the middle class to the masses of slaves. Honestly, the place sounds like a powder keg waiting to explode, and it is the will and fear of the Zulkirs that keeps everything in check.

Geography of Thay is next and it is good read, though I think it could have been combined with the History of Thay chapter since much of Thay's history has been shaped by its neighbors. This is also a good chapter for me, the newbie, to have a map handy.  I think I am going to need a big wall map of the Forgotten Realms like I do for Victorian London

We get get two chapters that cover the Current Economy and Politics of Thay, respectively. This includes a helpful glossary and a player's guide to Thay.

Magic in Thay, as expected, is one of the larger sections. It has what seems to be a Realms staple; lots of new spells. 

Religions in Thay, is actually an interesting chapter. The Red Wizards themselves seem to be areligious, but not atheists. They acknowledge the gods and do their best not to piss them off. I imagine there are big "media circuses" for when a Zulkir visits a local temple to Mystra for example. 

This has given me an idea. So, according to this book, the slaves of Thay mostly worship Ilmater, who we know from Ed Greenwood's "Down to Earth Divinity," that Ilmater is derived from Issek of the Jug. What if there were some events like "Lean Times in Lankhmar" where Ilmater, via a new follower, took on a role like that Fafhrd did for Issek, but instead of a religious conversion/resurgence, it became the basis for a full-scale slave revolt. Now that is a BATTLESYSTEM game I'd enjoy running. 

Personalities of Thay cover the expected cast of neer-do-wells. OF note here The Simbul does not have a personal name here, yet.

Adventures in Thay give the reader some ideas of things to do in and around Thay. But let us be honest. It is an evil filled with Nazi-like evil wizards who keep slaves. The ideas abound already. 

FR7 Hall of Heroes (1e/2e)
FR7 Hall of Heroes (1e/2e)

Many authors (1989)
128 pages. Full-color covers, monochrome interior.

This book looks like a 2nd Ed book on the cover, but 1st Ed inside. 

This is a "robust" rogues gallery of early Realms characters, and frankly, I am happy to have it since so many of these names are new to me. The stats are an odd mix of AD&D 2nd Ed and 1st Ed, but mostly 1st Edition. So yeah, there are Neutral Good Druids and lots of classes from Unearthed Arcana and Oriental Adventures. 

It also has something that is not entirely a Realms-specific problem, but one I associated most often with the Realms. There are lot of characters here that straight up break the AD&D rules. Yes I get that some (many) are here because of the Forgotten Realms novels. So people like Shandril Shessair is a "Spellfire Wielder," and Dragonbait is a Lizardfolk Paladin. This used to bother me. Not anymore. I am more irritated by the fact that most of the women NPCs all have Charisma 16 or 17 (11 out of 15). Where are my hags? 

There are some personal spells and again The Simbul makes an appearance sans proper name. 

Still, this is a good resource for me to have. I like to have it on hand as I am going through other books to double-check who I am reading about. 

The POD versions are nice. The text has a bit of fuzziness, but far less than other PODs I have seen. They are not perfect for, say, collectors but perfect for what I need them for, and that is used at my game table. 

Thursday, May 23, 2024

New Release: Myths & Monsters Vol. 2 - The Avenging Angels

 My next Myths & Monsters series is out.  Vol. 2 - The Avenging Angels covers the Dirae, the Erinyes and the Eumenides for your Advanced era games.

Myths & Monsters Vol. 2 - The Avenging Angels

 

Myths & Monsters Vol 2 - Avenging Angels

“Who, if I cried out, would hear me among the angels' hierarchies? and even if one of them pressed me against his heart: I would be consumed in that overwhelming existence.

For beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror, which we still are just able to endure, and we are so awed because it serenely disdains to annihilate us.

Every angel is terrifying.”

- Rainer Maria Rilke

This is the next of a series of myths and legends that began as a thought experiment about gods, monsters, and syncretism of beliefs. 

These aim to provide your Advanced-era game with new gods and goddesses, as well as new monsters, demons, and other adversaries. 

Myths & Monsters Vol. 2 - The Avenging Angels covers the various myths of the Dirae, the Eumenides, the Erinyes, and the goddesses Rhamnusia, Nemesis, and Invidia. Most importantly, how I take those myths and make them work with the devils now known as the Erinyes.

I also have a few holy orders for the various goddesses and devils and plenty of new spells. 

This volume also features the art of Dean Spencer. I wanted one to have full-color art. 


Monday, April 1, 2024

Larina Nix for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (Dragon #114 version)

 I meant to do this one earlier, but I got busy writing something else. Honestly, I am a little surprised I haven't done this before now.

Larina Dragon #114 homage Dragon #114 October 1986
"Larina" by Djinn and "Spirit of the Night" by David Martin

Larina Nix

I first rolled Larina up in July of 1986. At first, she was a "magic-user," and I would play her like a witch. She had a few adventures that year, but that was also when my then DM was heading out of town, and I was getting ready for my senior year at high school. 

Then Dragon Magazine #114 came out in October. 

I read it all over and wondered how I should convert her. The answer became obvious to me right away. She was a witch, only pretending to be a wizard so she could go to Glantri's School of Magic. I kept her magic-user levels and then went on to advance her as a Dragon #114 witch. In the game, I said she ran out of money to keep going, so instead, she got a job at the library in hopes of paying her tuition. 

I updated her sheet and declared her birthday was October 25, but she tells everyone it is October 31st.

As the game progressed, she became less the magical powerhouse I envisioned and became more the group's sage, occult expert, and polyglot. So when it came time to level her up, I took the spells that gave her more social and mental power/aspects. If the choice was to take a power/spell/magic item that gave a blasty power OR say, learn a new language, then I always took the language.  This was also the origin of the "From the Journals of Larina Nix." 

I kept playing her over the years. In college, I kept notes on her and how she played, including her witch spells and powers vs. her magic-user/wizard ones.  I combined these notes with notes I had started back in 1983 on a witch class, and eventually, they became my first Witch class. Since she was so focal in those experiments, I also re-did her as one of my new witches and featured her in a bit of fiction when she was six years old and discovering that she was a witch.

But in the meantime, here is Larina circa 1987-88.

Larina by Gabe Fua
Larina by Gabe Fua
Larina Nix
10th level witch / 1st level Magic-user (Dual classed)

Strength: 9
Dexterity: 12
Constitution: 12
Intelligence: 18 
Wisdom: 18
Charisma: 18
Comeliness: 21

Hit Points:  
Alignment: Lawful Neutral
AC: 2 (Bracers of Protection AC 2)

Saving Throws (base)
Paralyze/Poison: 10
Petrify/Polymorph: 13
Rod, Staff, or Wand: 14
Breath Weapon: 16
Spells: 15

Languages: Common, Alignment, Drow, Undercommon, Elf, Infernal, Dragon

Powers
1st level: none
2nd level: none
3rd level: Brew poisons & narcotics
4th level: Brew truth drug
5th level: Brew love potion
6th level: Manufacture potions & scrolls
7th level: Candle magic
9th Level: Use all-magical items
10th Level: Aquire Familiar (cat, Cotton)

Spells 
First: (5+3+1) Charm Man I, Cure Wounds, Darkness, Give Wounds, Light, Magic Disk, Mending, Read Languages, Sleep (MU)
Second: (5+1) Bless, ESP, Identify, Locate Object, Seduction II, Speak with Animals
Third: (4+1) Calm, Clairvoyance, Lightning bolt, Phantasmal force, Remove Curse
Fourth: (3+1) Cure Serious Wounds, Infravision, Levitate, Shock
Fifth: (1) Oracle
HSO: (1) Prismatic Spray

Magic Items
Dagger +2, Staff of Enchantment, Broom of Flying, Crystal ball w/ ESP.


Wednesday, March 13, 2024

Review: Return to the World of Maximum Mayhem

 I have a slight sidestep today. I have been playing around with something for a bit. You all know I am a fan of Mark Taormino's Maximum Mayhem adventures from Dark Wizard Games. I have been getting his latest in both the 1st Ed and 5th Ed versions, one for me and one for my kids. I have also mentioned that while they are designed overtly for "First Edition Rules" or what I call "The Advanced Era" the adventures top off at the 14th level, making them compatible "in spirit" with my beloved B/X rules.

The obvious solution to this was to run some sort of mutant B/X-Advanced hybrid. The ruleset that won out was Old School Essentials-Advanced Fantasy Edition. While there are some bumps, it is a surprisingly good fit. To be honest, I would love to test out OSE-Advanced vs. 1st Edition vs. OSRIC and see how they all fare with the same sort of character. I have not done this, nor do I think I will. I think that the differences would be so minor as to be unnoticeable in actual play. 

Maximum Mayhem adventures with OSE-AE

But I do have the characters. 

A while back, I introduced a lovely druid couple, Maryah and Asabalom. They were OSE characters from the very start. They have connections to previous characters of mine, but nothing major. I see Asabalom as the grandson (or maybe great-grandson) of my "Beastmaster" character, Absom Sark. Because of this, I am fudging things a little and giving him the ability to wild shape into a wolf at the 4th level. He just doesn't have the control a 7th-level druid does. Right now, he can only shift into a wolf. 

For a variety of reasons that are too minor on their own but added up, these two characters are my natives of Mark's Maximum Mayhem world. One that uses OSE-AE. They are the ones I am taking through these adventures, and their son, Áedán Aamadu, will go through the 5e versions. 

The biggest issue has been finding the time to do these. With his new Kickstarter now live, I figured I needed to get caught up. 

So. I will review these, knowing I really can't go through them anymore. Sorry, Mad Master! I am reviewing these in "campaign order" and not in release order.

Maximum Mayhem Dungeons #0: Village on the Borderlands

by Mark Taormino, 64 pages. For levels 1-3. Art by Justin Davis, Jacob Blackmon, Carlos Castilho, Daniel Commerci, Jeff Dee, Felipe Faria, Mark Lyons, William McAusland, Brian McCranie, Matt Morrow and JE Shields. (How's that for a who's-who among OSR artists?)

Maximum Mayhem Dungeons #0: Village on the Borderlands 1eMaximum Mayhem Dungeons #0: Village on the Borderlands 5e

First Edition PDF (DriveThruRPG). First Edition PDF and Print Dark Wizard Games Store.

Fifth Edition PDF (DriveThruRPG). Fifth Edition PDF and Print Dark Wizard Games Store. 

The first edition has "blue" maps, and the fifth edition has full-color maps.

A lot of us freely mixed Basic D&D and Advanced D&D back in the early 80s. It was not uncommon then to find groups that had gone through B2 Keep on the Borderlands and T1 The Village of Hommlet. Mark knows this, and this adventure is a nod and homage to that experience.  This is also Mark's biggest adventure to date.

While this could have come off as pastiche or, even worse, a bunch of hamfisted clichés, instead it is a nod and even an homage to not just how much fun those old adventures were, but also to the experiences we all had. Don't get me wrong, there is a great a adventure here; but if you were playing the Keep or the Village or Giants series back in the early 1980s then this will hit differently. 

The is best described as "what if the Village of Hommlet was set outside the Cave of Chaos and not the Keep?"  You have a local village in need of help. There are roving bands of ogres and weird fungi and skeletons. Whats a local farmer to do? Easy, call upon some brave, and expendable, adventurers for help. 

There are some hooks for the adventure but for me they are unneeded. THOUGH I will add that the whole Valley of the Moon was a great hook for me. Not just because the name is similar enough to where my characters Maryah and Asabalom were from, but it is nothing if not a nod to one of my earliest crushes, Moon Unit Zappa

We have all sorts of classic monsters, rumor tables, nods to (in)famous NPCs, tarot readings, standing stones, name puns, an inn to meet in, places to buy equipment and weapons. 

The Inn of the Whistling Pig is wonderfully detailed and loaded with all sorts of characters. In fact, while reading, I half expected to see stand-ins for Duchess and Candella

I said, "Caves of Chaos," but there are only a few caves where a lot of the "out of town" action takes place, and that is plenty. The Hill Giant cave is the first. There is also the Forest of Fallen Oaks, the Ruins of Sternholm Keep, and the Caverns of the Wicked Peaks.

A great non-linear adventure where the party can start at the Inn and head out in any direction to find adventure. They can come back, heal up, spend their loot and go back out, OR keep going. That last one is not advisable as everything here has a good reason to see the PCs dead. 

There are hooks here to other Maximum Mayhem adventures, too.

The plot and organization of the first and fifth editions are the same. The Fifth edition version features color maps.  

Maximum Mayhem Dungeons Mini Adventure #1: Shadow of the Necromancer

by Mark Taormino, 16 pages. For levels 1-3. Art by Phred Rawles, Chet Minton, Adam Black, Brian Brinlee, Carlos Castilho, Bradley McDevitt, and Phred Rawles.

Maximum Mayhem Dungeons Mini Adventure #1: Shadow of the Necromancer 1e Maximum Mayhem Dungeons Mini Adventure #1: Shadow of the Necromancer 5e

First Edition PDF (DriveThruRPG). First Edition PDF and Print Dark Wizard Games Store.

Fifth Edition PDF (DriveThruRPG). Fifth Edition PDF and Print Dark Wizard Games Store

The first edition has "blue" maps, and the fifth edition has full-color maps.

This is a mini adventure, and the first one Mark has done. Much like his Vampire Queen adventure I have used a figure called "The Necromancer" in my own games. Get out of my head Mark!!

These are designed to be played in one or two sessions. We managed to get through it in three short sessions. It has a great "Hammer Horror" vibe to it, and honestly, I rather love it.

The adventure comes with a map, in beautiful old-school blue for the 1st ed version and full color for the 5th edition version. The module is 16 pages (one page for title and credits, one page for OGL , and one-page blank).  The adventure is a simple "strange things are going on! The PCs must investigate!" situation. It turns into "stop the minion of the Necromancer from finishing his evil plans." It's tried and true, and it works fine here.  As with many of the Darl Wizard/Maximum Mayhem Dungeons, the adventure is a deadly affair. Not as deadly as the Hanging Coffins of the Vampire Queen, but it is not a walk in the graveyard either. It is a fun romp and really captures the feel of old-school playing. Both versions are great, and I can keep the 1st-ed version for myself and give the 5th-ed version to my kids to run.

Exactly what you want in an adventure. Despite the size and scope Mark gives this one the same love and attention he does to all his larger adventures.

The plot and organization of the first and fifth editions are the same. The Fifth edition version features color maps.  

Maximum Mayhem Dungeons #7: Dread Swamp of the Banshee
Maximum Mayhem Dungeons #7: Dread Swamp of the Banshee

by Mark Taormino and Alan Chamberlain, 48 pages. For levels 4-8. Art by Jacob Blackmon, Brian Brinlee, Ed Lacabanne, Mark Lyons, Brian McCranie, Matthew Ray, and Phil Stone.

First Edition PDF (DriveThruRPG). First Edition PDF and Print Dark Wizard Games Store.

A noblewoman has returned to her family estate and finds it has been taken over by a swamp. Worse, there is an evil banshee stalking the lands. But what is the noblewoman hiding?

This adventure is for characters of 4th to 8th level. But I will say this. 4th and 5th level characters are going to die. This is not a meat-grinder like Hanging Coffins, but it is deadly. There is a mystery here too so, so it is not all fireballs and swordplay. But there is a lot of that too.

Like the adventures of old, there are also new monsters here. Mark always adds a little something like that. I also get the vibe that Mark and Alan were reading a lot of B3 Palace of the Silver Princess. Not for the plot but just the feeling. It works here to be honest. 

In the series, I would run this one after Vault of the Dwarven King and have the characters between the 5th and 8th levels. Not that Vault is easier, just not as deadly as this one. 

Maximum Mayhem Dungeons #6: Moving Maze of the Mad Master
Maximum Mayhem Dungeons #6: Moving Maze of the Mad Master

by Alan Chamberlain, 40 pages. For levels 6-10. Art by Jacob Blackmon, Alan Chamberlain, Ed Lacabanne, Mark Lyons, Brian McCranie, and Phil Stone.

First Edition PDF (DriveThruRPG). First Edition PDF and Print Dark Wizard Games Store.

This one is by Alan Chamberlain, who was also on The Dread Swamp of the Banshee and Vault of the Dwarven King. So the feel is right. In fact, until Mark kickstarted his Maximum Mayhem #8: Funhouse Dungeon of the Puppet Jester, THIS was the funhouse dungeon. 

The premise is simple but very effective. A bunch of metal monsters are attacking small towns and villages, and the PCs decide to help. What we get is an honest-to-Gary, Mad Scientist building all sorts of clockwork and autonomous horrors. To get to him, you need to get through his maze of deadly traps and clockwork terrors. 

If the other adventure is a meat grinder, then this one is a food processor. It's brutal, but of course, the fun is just as great.

You could get this one for the circular maze map and all the stats of the clockwork creatures alone (6) for a total of 11 new monsters. 

It's insane, really.

Maximum Mayhem Dungeons

Maximum Mayhem Dungeons - Nearly complete


I am not sure any character can survive this campaign.

Don't forget Mark has two more of these adventures on Kickstarter nowLegend of Seven Golden Demons & Slime Pits of Sewer Witch both for 1st Edition and 5th Edition rules.

Tuesday, March 12, 2024

New Release: Myths & Monsters Vol. 1 - The Black Forest Mythos

 I am finally releasing my latest project based on the Roman-Norse Myths I was playing around with last year. 

Myths & Monsters Vol. 1 - The Black Forest Mythos

Myths & Monsters Vol. 1 - Black Forest Mythos

https://preview.drivethrurpg.com/en/product/473864/myths-monsters-vol-1-the-black-forest-mythos?affiliate_id=10748

This is the first of a series of myths and legends that began as a thought experiment about gods, monsters, and syncretism of beliefs. These gods did not exist, at least not in the classical sense. They are, however, great for a fantasy adventure game where elves, dragons, and magic are real. They are also based on some of the most well-known myths in the world.

This product is the start of a new series of smaller publications aimed at covering the Gods, Demigods, Heroes, Demons, and Monsters of various mythologies. Some will be thought experiments like this one, a set of syncretized Roman and Norse/Germanic myths. Others will be reconstructions of some ancient and less well-known myths.

These aim to provide your Advanced-era game with new gods and goddesses, as well as new monsters, demons, and other adversaries. 

Myths & Monsters Vol. 1 - Black Forest Mythos covers the myths, gods, and monsters of the people of the Black Forest.  This began as an idea; what if Roman pagans and Norse/Germanic peoples met up somewhere in the Black Forest region of Germany circa 600 CE and combined their gods into one pantheon?  And what if I had created this pantheon based on what I knew of both groups back in 1986?

Roman-Norse (Black Forest) Pantheon 

Imagine, if you will, some Roman Pagans, say circa 300-900 CE. While Christianity is becoming the Empire’s official religion, not everyone is taking up the Christian Gods. There is still a mix of Pagan Roman gods, Greek Gods, local gods and spirits, house gods, and more. The further you are from Rome (and later, Constantinople), the more likely you will still hold on to your local gods.

Now, far to the North, there are the Nordic-Germanic tribes. They are the “barbarians” of Roman lore; they want Rome’s treasures and power. But most of these people just want to find new lands to grow food on. While the Viking raids to England and Ireland are so stamped into our collective subconscious there were other forays into other lands. Some we know went South. But most of these did not happen till the 800s CE when most of Europe was firmly Christianized. We know that the Romans interacted with the Norse and made connections between their respective sets of Gods. Romans were rather practical when it came to religion.   

Imagine a time between 300 CE and 900 CE when not all Northmen were Viking raiders, and not all Romans were Christians. Let’s say that a group of Roman pagans and Northmen headed south and north, respectively, but ended up in the Black Forest region of Southern Germany, moving slightly westward. Instead of going to war, they decided to build a community together by finding common ground in their beliefs. Since both groups were polytheistic, they could accept each other’s gods. As time passed, the gods merged, just like the people. For the purposes of this story, let’s assume it was around 600 CE.

This is that project. Now, it is updated and edited, and the art is all from Larry Elmore (used with permission).  This first volume has 24 Gods and Goddesses and 17 monsters. 

This volume features art from Larry Elmore, but future volumes will feature new art from other artists. I just have to make enough from this one to pay them. 

So get your copy. Any and all feedback is welcome. I want to make this series something people will find helpful. 

Thursday, March 7, 2024

Reviews: Cities of the Forgotten Realms

 I am going a little out of order today with my Forgotten Realms reviews. I still have one (or two) 1st Edition products to review, but I wanted to cluster these three together—all three, not my originally planned two—since I am opting to add in a PDF when my original plan was only to review items on my shelf. So, I am breaking all my rules in one post. It does tie into the mini-city adventure I did with them this weekend.

Forgotten Realms City books

Given some recent movie announcements, I could not help but popping in my well-worn soundtrack to "The Crow."  Every city in the 90s was dark and rainy. 

I also want to state that NONE of these products were what I once thought they were and I often mixed them up.

FR1 Waterdeep and the North
FR1 Waterdeep and the North

Design and Development: Ed Greenwood, Product Coordination: Jeff Grubb, Editing: Karen S. Martin, Cover Art: Keith Parkinson, Interior Art: Chris Miller. Maps: Frey Graphics and David Sutherland, Heraldic Escutcheons: David E. Martin, Typography: Kim Janke, Keylining: Stephanie Tabat.

1987. PDF, Full-color covers, and maps. 78 pages.

I am basing this review on the PDF from DriveThruRPG only. If I can find a good copy (game store auction tomorrow night!) then I will grab it. And this is one where the boxed set would be nice to have.

This is the first proper Forgotten Realm reference, with the Moonshaes the second

You might have noticed that I listed everyone involved with this product above. The Realms, in this iteration, has become a joint effort. Yes, Ed Greenwood is the father to this brain child of the Realms. He has suitably impressed me here and in the pages of Dragon Magazine. Ed's position here is solid and secure. But if "it takes a village," it takes much more for a city like Waterdeep.  Even *I* know about Waterdeep, I still call myself a novice here.

This book introduces us to Waterdeep, the "City of Splendors", and the surrounding countryside of "The North."

It is a good introduction really, starting with Chapter 1: An Introduction to the North. The surrounding lands are detailed. While I knew of some of these, this put them into better relationship with each other. For me? I like having a map open to see where I am while reading. There are no maps of this area in this product. Not a huge deal, really, since they are with the Forgotten Realms boxed set. But a small one might have been nice, at least of the area in question. Thankfully there are also plenty of good maps for this area online.

Chapter 2: An Introduction to the City of Waterdeep, takes us to the City of Splendors. We get some history, some names of important people, and (most importantly to me right now) the city's legal code. 

Chapter 3: The City Wards divides the city up into various wards. As a Chicagoan, this makes a lot of sense, and I am sure to anyone that has ever lived in a good-sized city, it will as well. I will point that while this is all about Waterdeep there is an assumption here that you can use this information to also build your own cities. Each ward has a name (Castle Ward, Sea Ward...) and various locales are mentioned. Some are just a name and what they are ("The Blue Jack," Tavern) so it leaves a lot of room to expand on what you can do with own Waterdeep. There are over 280 named locations, not counting the sewers, here.  There is a lot of life here and almost none of it is detailed. YES, I mean this as a GOOD thing. I don't want the names and detailed back stories of every magistrate down to beggar orphan here. I want room to discover and grow. Give me enough and then back off. 

Chapter 4: Life in the City. (Yes...Despite listening to the Crow Soundtrack, this is the song going through my head as I type this. Any resemblance between my Sinéad and Kate St John of Dream Academy is purely coincidental, I am sure.) Everything that makes a city work. Religion, money, goods and services. This is the life blood of any city and Waterdeep is livelier than most. There are notes about spending the winter in Waterdeep as well. The Forgotten Realms always says the quiet part out loud, and this is a world full of adventurers. To paraphrase the old saying, "All roads lead to Waterdeep." And while you are there, behave yourself. There is even a section on the going out at night, manners and dress. Now I want all my characters to go out an buy some nice part clothes for an after-hours party.

Chapter 5: The Guild and Factions of the City covers exactly that. Ever since Fritz Leiber (and of course WAY before) and Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, FRPG Cities have had thousands of thieves' guilds, merchant's guilds, secret guilds, and, in a Forgotten Realms trademark, Adventuring Guilds. The guilds of Waterdeep are listed in three columns and then detailed in the next 7-8 pages. Again, there is the tacit notion here that you can lift these and use them in your own Forgotten Realms city. This becomes more implicit in future products.

Chapter 6: Noble Families of Waterdeep gives us some names and crests, the most "Greyhawk" like chapter so far.  

Chapter 7: Selected Non-Player Characters of Waterdeep covers some notable NPCs in greater detail. It would not be a Forgotten Realms product without some notable NPCs.

Next are adventure hook chapters.

Chapter 8: Beginning a Campaign in Waterdeep covers exactly that. And there are some great ideas here too for such a short chapter. Though to be honest if you get to this chapter and don't already have ideas then this one won't help you.

Chapter 9: Adventures in Waterdeep is the one chapter I wanted to read the most. Chapters 1-7 are great and full of ideas, but I want to discover this city as an adventurer, not as a scholar. Back when I lived in Southern Illinois, right before I moved to Chicago, I had a map of the city on my wall. I would go over that map for hours on end just fascinated by it. When I moved to the near West Side (just a notch north of Little Italy and west of the Loop) I was surprised for how little that prepared me for all of it. The City is a living place. Chicago is. New York is. And so should Waterdeep.

There are seven "mini" adventures here. I ended up using none of them!

After this (what would have been the inside covers), there are maps of the major wards and a large piecemeal map of the city for the next 10 pages. Yes, I could print them out, but I am holding out for now.

This is not the final nor most authoritative word on Waterdeep by any stretch. It is a start though and a good one. 

The next two products should have probably swapped names. 

City System

by Ed Greenwood and Jeff Grubb, Editing: Karen Boomgarden, Typography: Betty Elmore, Cover Art: Larry Elmore, Keylining: Stephanie Tabat, Cartography: Dennis Kauth and Frey Graphics.

1988. PDF and Print on Demand. Full color covers and maps. 

Again this one takes a lot of work from a lot of people. This book follows quickly on the heels of FR1 Waterdeep and the North.  It was a boxed set, but for this review I am considering my PDF and Print on Demand versions from DriveThruRPG.

There is some repeated information in this set from the Waterdeep set. For example the entire legal code on Page 7 of this product is the same to the one in FR1 Waterdeep and the North starting on page 18. I am not 100% sure if I mind this though. I mean in truth back in 1988 this might have bothered me, but now? Well, I have the PDFs I could print them out and put them into a big binder called "Waterdeep" and organize how I see fit. I might do that in fact.

This book is more like a tourist directory to Waterdeep. The laws are discussed, the buildings are numbered and given a name. The BIG attraction to this set are the maps (which are printed here and given as a separate ZIP file.) Well, the Larry Elmore cover is striking as all hell to be honest. 

If you like random tables then this is your book. Lots of tables on encounters, goods, items gained from pick-pocketing, and more. 

Ignoring the use of this as an independent product it makes for a great addition to FR1 Waterdeep and the North. The two together would be a perfect product really.  Looking ahead to my other Forgotten Realms books I see I don't actually have a giant map of Waterdeep. Should I rectify this?  The maps in this product are gorgeous, and it would be worth my time, effort, and money to get them combined and professionally printed. Or burn through my printer ink to do it on my own and mount them to some cardboard with Scotch tape. Depends on how much I end up playing here. If I don't, it certainly will not be for lack of options!

FR8 Cities of Mystery

by Jean Rabe. Art Larry Elmore (cover), Dennis Kauth (buildings), Christopher T. Miller (interior art).  Editing Kim Mohan. Product Manager Bruce Heard. 

1989. Boxed Set and PDF. 64 page book, 2 large 25mm compatible maps, 4 6-page card stock buildings.

This is a fascinating product, and there is a lot going on here. I am reviewing my boxed set for this. There is a PDF and a softcover Print on Demand from DriveThruRPG as well. 

What do I love about it? Well, for starters, that Larry Elmore cover is one of my favorite covers of all time. Really. I love how if looks and while the old adage is true, this cover made want to buy this product. When my old DM and I talked about our "Urban Survival Guide," this was the cover we thought about. 

Also it came out in the liminal time between 1st Ed and 2nd Ed with a note on the cover that is was compatible with both. That is not entirely true. It is broad enough to be compatible with ANY fantasy RPG that has a city. There are almost no game stats here save for the adventures at the end. 

In truth this product should have been called "City System" since that is what it is. This not about Waterdeep except in the most broad of terms. 

The first part is a 64-page book that covers all sorts of details on building your city. This includes details like where it is (and how that changes the city), how big is it, taxes, defences, the government. Everything that was laid out for you in the Waterdeep and the North and City System sets are now up to you to figure out. 

There is also a section how make Characters work in a city based adventure. Honestly that would have been the gold right there. 

The rules are put to use in Sauter, City by the Sea, and there are five mini-adventures to help the DM and Players along. Honestly I want to run the Maltese Roc based on the name alone.

If that were all then yes, this would be a fine product. Not great, but added to the Waterdeep and the North and City System books it would make a great trilogy of playing in the city (sounds like a Stevie Wonder album). But that is not all there is. 

There are two large double-sided maps for 25mm scale minis and four packages of 6-page cardstock building to build.

Cities of Mystery set

Since it is a boxed set, I am also keeping duplicates of old Dragon magazine articles about cities in it. 

This is from 1989. D&D would not get this mini-focused for another 11 years. And it all still works with any edition you care to play with it.  I read that this was going to be the first of some similar products to expand the cities even further. But honestly I am not surprised that there were not more. This looks like an expensive thing to make. 

Sinéad encountering two desperate thieves
Sinéad encounters two desperate thieves

For the PDFs you would need to print out the maps and buildings to build them. I would glue them to some cardstock or print them on cardstock if your printer can do that. The advantage of the PDF and this system? As long as you can print, you can have as many of these buildings as you need.

Looking at All Three City Sets

FR1 Waterdeep and the North, City System, and FR8 Cities of Mystery are all great for that late 80s feel of the Forgotten Realms AD&D.

While each product is good individually and does what it sets out to do, one of the others points out its minimal shortcomings. Combined, they work fantastically together. So well, it makes me wonder whether I even need to leave the city! 

Regardless of what city in the Realms becomes my home base (I am still partial to Baldur's Gate, but Waterdeep might win me over) I have the tools and the means to expand on it all.

Ill Met in Waterdeep

So, for my first foray into Waterdeep, the characters were all arrested. No "we met in a bar." It is "we met in jail." Sinéad, Arnell, and Rhiannon meet up with Nida (I wanted her introduction to be memorable), Jaromir, and Argyle. Who are these characters? Well, Nida, I have talked about already. Argylle is my experiment on having a character from another world end up in the Forgotten Realms. In this case a Dwarf from Rockhome, aka Mystara and the D&D B/X set. In his world his class and race is Dwarf. Here he is now a Dwarf Fighter, but I started him off as a BX Dwarf. My oldest loved that since he is playing an alternate game with his groups using D&D Basic. 

Ill met in Waterdeep

Jaromir is my first real barbarian character ever. I will full admit I am playing him like I played Minsc in Baldur's Gate 3. In the video game Minsc is a Ranger, but I always gave him levels in Barbarian. Jaromir is my Minsc stand-in. Big, dumb, blonde, but a heart of fucking gold. He is so very different than anything I have ever played before. Well...he is Rashemi (like Minsc) and he is on his Dajemma. But he set out without a witch (I have no idea why yet; I only recently learned about Dajemma), so he has decided that Rhiannon MUST be his witch. Which gets him fighting with Arnell, who turns into a wolf. Nida is there picking pockets in the ensuing chaos (gotta use those tables!) and the lot of them get thrown into jail.

Since I am moving ahead in time with my reviews I also opted to use the revised AD&D 1st Ed sheets here. Except for Argyll's he has a Basic Sheet.

I wanted to get a bit further than that, but this is where I am now. I know that the characters are bailed out by a minor magistrate named Eldrith Dunslaughter, a rather pompous and unpleasant human with designs of his own. I also know the characters need to work together to find a minor stolen item called the "Stargazer's Compass," which he claims was stolen from his own collection. I have my doubts it was his. (note: no idea if this is related to the MTG item of the same name. No one here plays.)

Find the compass, and their debt to society is paid. Fail? Well, there is always community service. 

Hope to learn more soon!

If you like cities and the Waterdeep in particular I highly recommend checking out Oneiropolis, the new Patreon site from game designer Joseph D. Carriker.  He was the one who helped me bring Garnet to life in Blue Rose, and now he is taking his skills to a wider audience. Well worth checking out.

Thursday, February 29, 2024

Review: N5 Under Illefarn

N5 Under Illefarn
 My exploration of the Forgotten Realms continues with the next adventure on my list, N5 Under Illefarn by Steve Perrin.  I actually ran this adventure a while back at the start of my 5e Second Campaign long ago. My first real attempt at getting a Realms game going. While that game would end up in different directions, the adventure is still a solid one. 

N5 Under Illefarn

by Steve Perin. 1987. 50 pages, color covers (Jeff Easley) and maps (Stephen Sullivan), black & white art (Luise Perenne). 

I am reviewing the PDF and Print on Demand versions from DriveThruRPG. 

This is a "Novice Level" adventure and, likely due to timing, became connected to the Forgotten Realms.  It is also the first of the N series to feature the Forgotten Realms banner. Something similar happened to the H series on the other end of the level spectrum.

When I talked about Module N4 Treasure Hunt, I mentioned that it was a great starting adventure that missed a little of what also made B2 Keep on the Borderland so great. This is fine since we already had Keep on the Borderlands. N5 strikes a middle ground. There is a base of operations, plenty of "wild" areas to explore, and a hook. It also works as a direct sequel to N4. You can play it stand-alone (as I did in 2017) or as a follow-up.  Both have advantages.

Like N4, we are given an overview of the AD&D 1st Ed game, in particular the races and classes. Now, back in 2017, I said: "I am going to run it through like an AD&D game. So no tieflings or dragonborn. More gnomes, though, never have enough of those." That was a mistake in retrospect. If anywhere is open to Dragonborn, Tieflings, and all the new post-AD&D 1st-ed races (remember, tieflings are AD&D 2nd-ed), then it will be Faerûn.  There is a bit on how you all get to Daggerford and what happens once you are there. I admit I did not like the idea of the characters needing to be in the Town Militia until I started thinking of this adventure as akin to an episode of "Cops" or, more to the point, the parody "Troops."

The base of operations for the characters is the small frontier town of Daggerford. So, like the Keep. From here the characters can go on quick adventures and then come back. An idea implicit for B2 KotBL, but here it is baked in. 

Forgotten Realms, Starter Sets

The DM's section gives some background on the village of about 300 people and some 1,000 total living in the surrounding area. Sounds like where my wife grew up. The area and the city make are given. This includes many of the shops and building and what surrounds the village. There is even a bit on the "Big City" Chicago,  I mean Waterdeep. 

The main personalities of the town are also detailed. One of the things I had to used to (and get over) was that the Realms is about people. I can choose to use who I want. In 1987 this annoyed me, but in truth I was already switching my point of view then. Now? Now it is great. I mean, do I need to use Duke Pwyll Greatshout Daggerford? No. But why would I not want to? 

This covers about the first half of the book. After this are adventures.

What kind of adventures? Lots! The first page has the AD&D staple, the Random Encounter Tables. One of the outcomes is a Ceratosaur! Imagine this. You are a still a newbie adventurer. You just recently learned which is the pointy end of the spear and which is the end you hold. Now you are on milita duty, and someone finds dinosaur tracks on your very first day on what you were told was going to be dull work making sure kids don't steal apples in the marketplace.

Kudos to Steve Perrin for getting going. And that is just one random encounter. I mean there is also a hermit. Yes, I said he is the same one from the KotBL. Why not. There are also werewolves, which I am using later on. 

Among the detailed adventurers are a raid by Lizard Men (why I grabbed this in 2017 to be honest), basic Caravan duty, a kidnapped daughter of the Duke, and the titular Illefarn in the Laughing Hallow. The adventures range from a couple of pages to several. 

The best thing about this adventure. Well, one of the best things. You can run it in many short adventures to get new players into the game. Need to spend an extra hour explaining rules? No worries, do that and send them on Militia duty to guard a caravan against orc raiders. That's a solid session.

Note About the Pring on Demand Print

The PDF from DriveThruRPG looks great and served me well in 2017. Recently I also grabbed the Print on Demand copy from DriveThru. There is some dithering from lower resolution art being brought up to print quality, but the text looks like it has been redone so it is nice and sharp and easy to read. I should note that it is not all the art. Some look rather crisp and clear as well. They may have had some of the higher resolution versions still on hand.

Under Illefarn text

Under Illfarn, Print on Demand cover

Again, we have a great introductory adventure. Not just good to introduce people to the AD&D 1st Edition game but also a great way to ease into the Forgotten Realms. Waterdeep is too big of a bite for new players (and characters) and many of the "big names" are still too big. This is nice little village with some fun problems to solve. A taste of adventure. An appetizer in small portions OR more akin to Tapas or Dim Sum. Small plates that can add up to a nice full meal.

Sinéad's Perspective

"Just a small-town girl. Livin' in a lonely world..."

At the outset of these reviews, I said I wanted to explore the Realms through the eyes of a native, but one that was just as naïve as me. Sinéad is that character. 

She finally made it to the main land after surviving her own kidnapping and adventures in the Moonshaes and the Korrin Archipelago. And was absolutely broke. Like I said, at first I balked at the idea of forcing the characters into the Daggerford Militia, but in truth it works very well. Sinéad, given she knows how to play an instrument was given the job of trumpeter. She at least gets a spear too. 

This actually works. I went back to look over her Baldur's Gate 3 setup and her background there was Militia as well. This was before I knew I could change it. So, yeah. I guess that is what I am doing.

When my oldest son gets off of work from his bakery job (he is a pastry chef and a damn good one) we work out what these characters are doing and roll some dice. It has been great really.

So. Sinéad is in the Militia. She has a shiny new trumpet, a not-as-shiny new spear, and a blue tabard proclaiming she is part of the militia. If she is going to survive the Realms, she will need some friends.

My Realms Crew

So, who do we have here?

Nothing Like the Sun...

Up first is Rhiannon. Yeah, I am embracing the clichés here. But in my defense, I did start her up with that in mind.  She is a Dragon Magazine #114 witch. There is some evidence that Ed used the Dragon Magazine witches in his own game. She is a member of the "Sisters of the Moon" coven, something that will become important later on. If Sinéad is my Realms exploration character, and Larina is my witch exploration character, then Rhiannon is where they meet. Again. Expect clichés here. This my chance to go all out.  

I already decided that Sinéad honors Sehanine Moonbow as her personal Goddess, even above that of The Earthmother of the Moonshaes. Maybe this is one of the reasons she wanted to leave. Rhiannon knows about Sehanine. She also knows about Selûne and, oddly enough, Shar.  At this point, Sinéad doesn't know enough about Shar to find this odd. 

Rhiannon is not in the militia, but she is the friend of someone who is. 

Bad Moon Rising

The next character is an in-joke with my son and me, but I really liked where the character is going.  Arnell Hallowleaf is a male moon elf cleric of Selûne. He is in the militia as a healer. There are obvious reasons why Sinéad would seek him out. He is a cleric for starters, also he is the first full-blooded moon elf she has met other than her own mother. So, this has given her a chance to find out more about the moon elves.  Players of Baldur's Gate 3 might recognize this name. He is the father of Jenevelle Hallowleaf, aka Shadowheart, in the game. But that is not until DR 1492. Jenevelle is not born until DR 1447 and this is still DR 1358.  Arnell is a young elf. His future human wife, Emmeline, has not even been born yet. So maybe (taking a page from Sarek of Vulcan's book) Rhiannon (a human) is his current girlfriend/wife. Which? I don't know, I have not gotten there yet. 

I do know that at some point in this adventure, he is bitten by a werewolf and becomes one. His devotion to Selûne is what keeps his lycanthropy in check. 

Arnell HallowleafRhiannon

Both characters are here to let me explore some different ideas. Talking it over with my oldest, he suggested that if Johan were from the Realms, he would have been a cleric of Selûne. Arnell is not a Johan stand-in, but he will let me explore playing a cleric in the Realms. Rhiannon is my "don't just embrace the cliché, live it character." I'd love to see how far I can get with her as a "Dragon #114" witch. 

Sinéad and Arnell finish their tour of duty and, along with Rhiannon, venture out into the wide world.