Showing posts with label BECMI. Show all posts
Showing posts with label BECMI. Show all posts

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

B/X Boxing Match: OSE vs. BX RPG

One question I have been getting since I purchased both the Pacesetter BX RPG and Necrotic Gnome's Old-School Essentials is "which one is better?"

Truthfully I am not really interested in "better" but instead "which is best for me" and "which one satisfies it's design goals best?"

Well, lets have a look!


Before I start let's agree on some terms and shorthand.

B/X refers to the D&D Basic and D&D Expert Boxed Sets edited by Tom Moldvay (Basic) and David Cook and Steven Marsh (Expert). 

BECMI while it might not come up, refers to the Basic, Expert, Companion, Master, Immortal sets edited by Frank Mentzer.  Unless a distinction needs to be made I am always referring to the B/X versions of Basic and Expert rules.

OSE refers to the Old School Essentials set from Gavin Norman and Necrotic Gnome. In truth I also mean OSE and the Fantasy rules.
OSE-Advanced refers to OSE with the Advanced add-ons; classes and spells.

BX RPG refers to the BX RPG by Bill Barsh and Pacesetter Games and Simulations.

The "Gold Standard" for any comparison is the B/X set.

I want to state unequivocally that I am very, very fond of all four of the above-mentioned games and they all have a place on my table.  Each one is used in my games. Sometimes separately, sometimes all at once.

Match 1: How well does the game emulate B/X?
So our first match is how well does each game emulate the source material of B/X.  
If we are talking "Rules as Written" then clear winner here is OSE.  If we are talking "Rules as played" then it can be a toss-up between OSE-Advanced and BX.  Both offer different takes on B/X + Advanced.  
I can recall my first paladin character was made in a mix of Expert and Advanced rules.  Eventually, BECMI would give us a Paladin, but mine was pure B/X.  Both sets offer a paladin class (among others) and they are roughly equivalent. 



Match 2: Layout and Art
The OSE game is a marvel of layout efficiency, modular design, and artistic expression.  There is not a ton of art in OSE, but what there is packs a punch.  Both OSE and BX feature "old-school esthetic" in terms of black & white art.  This is not a detractor, but rather a feature for me.
My biggest issue with OSE's layout is that it is TOO efficient and sometimes that leaves it feeling a little bit sterile.  Efficiency and modularity are two of the set's design goals so it is hard to fault them here.
BX RPG needs another round of QA check, but otherwise, it also meets their stated design goals.
OSE edges out here. 

Match 3: Options
Out of the box BX offers more options than core OSE. More classes, races, levels, spells, and levels. Here OSE's strength of emulation works against it.  If you have B/X and can play it without looking things up then OSE Core has little more to offer you.  
Adding the OSE-Advanced options makes it more attractive to the current B/X player looking for more but not wanting to dive deep in the AD&D ocean.  Still, even with these options in place, BX RPG edges out OSE.
Both games are promising even more options in the future so this one could be close for some time to come.

Match 4: Playability
OSE is so well organized it not only edges out the original B/X in this regard but even the well organized BECMI.  OSE though works best for players already experienced in B/X or any flavor of D&D. The modularity of OSE rivals that of 4e.  That is not a slight, but rather a compliment. The layout and modularity of 4e was a design masterpiece. 
BX RPG is less organized, but there is so much explanatory material that it is perfect for newer players or someone with no experience with B/X and wants to give it a try.
Verdict? If you have B/X experience then OSE is best. If you are new to B/X then BX RPG.

Match 5: Price per Value
This is much harder.  Both games are priced well. 

The physical BX RPG boxed set comes with books, adventures, and dice for US$50.  Though it is hard to tell exactly what is in the box from Pacesetter's website.  So I am not sure what is exactly in the box other than the rule books. This is just the physical books, no PDFs.

The OSE Boxed set can be configured in a number of ways on the Necrotic Gnome website. The Classic set, closest to the B/X game, is available in a box with hardcover digest sized books and PDFs for €60,00 (presently about US$68.50).  You can add on the OSE-Advanced options. 

OSE has a sturdier box and hardcover books and comes in a single volume option.
BX RPG has good box with room for dice and adventures.

So lower price entry for the boxed sets for BX RPG.  More buying options for OSE.

Which one is for you?
I hate to dodge this one, but that is really up to you and the games you are going to run.

For me? I am happy to have both systems. I think there is a slight edge on BX RPG for players and a similar edge for Game Masters for OSE.  The options of BX RPG make it more attractive to the player and the OSE-Advanced books work fine with BX and B/X (even BECMI).  The organization of OSE makes it a dream to run and find things.

One thing for sure for me, if I were to run either game I would invest in about four or five extra player books for the players.

BX RPG Player books can be bought here, PDF and Print.
Old-School Essentials Classic Fantasy: Player's Rules Tome, PDF and Print/PDF.
(Note if you are outside of Europe you might want to go with this site for OSE products.)

Friday, July 17, 2020

#FollowFriday Mystara Edition

It's late, but it is still Friday!

I thought it might be fun to do a Follow Friday Mystara Edition since Mystara and BECMI are still fresh on my mind. 


Of all the D&D worlds Mystara seems to have the most active fanbase of any I have encountered.  Edition change, but Mystara remains.  The amount of material out there lends a lot of credence to this.

Facebook
There is a lot here!

Twitter (and more)

The *in*famous Mr. Glen Welchhttps://twitter.com/Mystara9
He also has an extensive YouTube channel full of Mystara goodness,  https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLI27Za9sqyRVnc9-naoDIWQ_6MM6ONwQy

Justin Pfeil Draws, the mind behind the Keep on the Borderlands webcomic, https://twitter.com/comics_alert 

MeWe
Well this Facebook challenger / Google+ replacement didn't get as popular as they would have liked but there are still some groups there worth looking into.

Mystara

Share, Follow, and encourage others to do so as well.

Happy Friday!

Thursday, July 16, 2020

That's So Raven! Raven Swordsmistress of Chaos for BECMI

Raven by Luis Royo
Back in 1987, I was a freshman in college. My then Favorite Local Game Store was also my Favorite Local Used Book Store.  They sold new books, used books as well as new and old gamebooks.  I got a copy of the first printing Deities & Demigods here along with scores of old copies of Dragon and White Dwarf.  

One book they always prominently displayed was the American versions of Raven Swordsmistress of Chaos.  

I never grabbed the book but as an 18-year-old guy, I always was attracted to the covers. I even had a character named Raven, who like the cover, was blonde and had a pet raven.  I was vaguely aware there were more books in the series, but never knew how many. 

Over the last couple of years, I have been on a quest to find and read all the Raven books by "Richard Kirk" who was, in reality, the pen name of authors Angus Wells and Robert Holdstock.  Both wrote Book 1 and then they alternated with Wells on Books 3 and 5 and Holdstock on Books 2 and 4.

Well, I succeeded in my quest and I found them all and read them.
While they are not...good...they are fun little romp in late 70s Swords and Sorcery (and Sex, but not as much as the Corgi covers hint at). Sometimes described as a mildly ribald Red Sonja or a less ribald Ghita Of Alizar. The books however perfect for game fodder. 

Others have reviewed the books and I went back and forth on whether I should do the same.  So instead I am just going to link out to some of the better reviews and retrospectives for your own reading.

I figured there are five books in the Raven saga and there are five rule sets in the BECMI series.  
Seems like a good fit.  Plus it let's me try out each set of rules with a character.

I also did this with my very first character, the Lawful Cleric Johan Werper. While I find him interesting I figure you all would like to see Raven more. Also I wanted to get a good feel for how the fighter works in all sets AND the advanced fighter paths from the Companion rules.  So let's get to it!

Raven Swordsmistress of Chaos

Raven from Heroforge
The story Raven begins with that of a runaway slave girl named Su'ann. She is reduced by a mysterious warlock-like character named Spellbinder who recognizes that she is "the pivot on which the world turns" partially because she is also protected by giant Raven and he senses something in her.  Spellbinder and Su'ann, now calling herself "Raven" hook up with a band of outlaws and pirates.  They go from adventure to adventure but all the time Raven is training with swords, spears and what would become her "trademark" a set of throwing stars.  It was the 70s man.  Raven though is not training out of boredom, nor even for the higher purpose fate seems to have, but is very vague about, for her.  She wants to kill her former slave owner the Swordsmaster Karl Ir Donwayne.  
While Raven is the cover girl and the eponymous main character, the events are all narrated and told by Spellbinder many years after the fact. Even the scenes where he was not present.  

The story is one that is simple, but close to many FRP gamers. Raven wants to kill Karl Ir Donwayne. How is going to do that? Well, they need to Skull of Quez to appease this ruler to get to Donwayne. But they have to find the mysterious island first and then kill the beast-men. And there are shadowy loners, men with mysterious pasts. Raven jumping in and out of bed with Spellbinder, Gondar the Pirate captain, and even Krya M'ystral, the Queen and sister of the ruler they were trying to go see.  This is all in the first book.  There is a nice gory battle with Karl Ir Donwayne too, but he comes back in future books to bother Raven some more.

We never get a satisfactory end to Raven's story.  Book 5 just ends.  Though all the books are told from Spellbinder's point of view they could be out of order.  We do know that Raven met some sort of end between Book 5 and Spellbinder's remembering which seems to take place many years later. Maybe she became that agent of Chaos after all.

For this I am going to stat up Raven for each rule set in the BECMI rules, trying to feature what I feel are the best parts.  I am also going to try to feature what I can from what she was doing in the books.

Raven, ePic Character Generator


Sheets are from The Mad Irishman

Basic


Here is the Basic version of Raven.  The hardest this is always to guess at what any one character's numbers are going to be. I figure she had good strength and constitution as well as high dexterity since she favors the throwing stars.  Her charisma is very high, not because of her looks, but because she inspires a lot of loyalty from the cutthroats she usually hangs out with.

She is a fighter. No doubt. I also gave her alignment as Chaotic.  She is a force of chaos, but she is also a killer.  For this example, I thought putting her at level 3, or "Swordmistress" (no middle "s" like the books) was appropriate even for her first book.

You can see her full Basic sheet here (click for larger): 



Expert


Fighters don't get a lot in the Expert set. So for her 2nd book I just advanced her to 9th level "Lady" and gave her some magical chain mail.

You can see her full Expert sheet here (click for larger): 



Companion


Ah now here are some changes!

In the Companion rules, we have more going on.  First I wanted to have her become an Avenger or the Chaotic traveling Fighter.  She obviously has no lands to call her own and she is still going about killing things.  But the Avenger gives her some Clerical ability.

Magic is rare and dangerous in Raven's world.  But everyone seems to have some sort of supernatural sort of talent.  So for Raven, I choose spells that fit in with role as the "pivot on which the world turns" and other things like her raven companion.  So things like "detect magic" and "cause fear" made sense. She also got the 3rd level spell "striking" since that covers a lot of what could be a natural talent.

She also gets 2 attacks per round now at 18th level.

You can see her full Companion sheet here (click for larger): 



Master


Master level Raven is really Ultimate Raven.  This is the Raven that goes toe to toe with gods and spirits and comes out unscathed. 

She gets three attacks per round now and I implemented the Weapon Mastery Rules to give her mastery over the sword and her throwing stars. 
She gets more cleric spells, this time to the 10th level of ability.  Some spells are easily explained by her connection to her bird, fate, and chaos.  Others can be explained by natural ability. "Commune" for example is with her bird and the forces of Chaos only.  "Speak with Animals" can be roughly explained by her time with the animal men. Others could be when she was dealing with weird supernatural forces.

She also gets 3 attacks per round now.

You can see her full Master sheet here (click for larger): 



Immortal


This sheet is largely incomplete.  It is also the most different of the other four (printed from my DTRPG copy) and interestingly enough the only book in series that I don't have an American (Royo cover) edition of.  I do have the British Corgi version with the Chris Achilléos cover.  

I made a lot of guesses as to what sort of Immortal she would be and just cheated and made her an Initiate. I might try this again with one of my own characters that I know better. 

You can see her full Immortal sheet here (click for larger): 


All in all I rather pleased with these. I am curious to hear from anyone that has also read these books.
As far as BECMI character I am happy with it.

Links

Thursday, July 9, 2020

One Man's God: Basic Demons (BECMI Demons, Part 2)

Last week I cover the topic of Demons in BECMI D&D and Basic Era D&D in general.  I want to expand on that a bit today. Again, this is a bit of a different tone for One Man's God, but it does get at the heart of what OMG is about.

One of Basic D&D's features vs. Advanced D&D is its alignment system of Law vs. Chaos with Neutrality in the middle.  Now a lot of ink and pixels have been spilled over the pros, cons, and everything else about alignment. I am not going to go into that here.  Although I am currently rereading Søren Kierkegaard for the first time since college and he is "still stuck on Abraham," so I wonder if I am going to do a proper talk on demons I might need to go back to the basics and address alignment someday.


So my discussions on demons in BECMI were covered in my Immortals Set Review and One Man's God: The Immortals and Demons of BECMI

Writing so much about witches you can't help but have to read about and write about demons.  The two subjects have been conflated for so long that "witchcraft" and "demonology" are either synonymous in some circles or so tied up together that separating them is difficult. 




Demonic Families and "The Usual Suspects"

Succubus
One of the Usual Suspects. ePic CG
For the "Basic-Era" demons were introduced in the classic D&D (OD&D) Supplement III: Eldritch Wizardry.  Here we get what I call "The Ususal Suspects" of demons; Type I to Type VI, Succubi, Orcus and Demogorgon.  The same group appears in the AD&D Monster Manual (with some additions and some names) and then again in the D&D Immortals Set under new names again.  The AD&D game introduces Devils as a separate type of fiend.  Though it should be noted that D&D 4 looked over all the fiends and moved some around.  Notably, the Succubus became a type of devil, due to some machinations of Asmodeus in the "Brimstone Angels" novels.  They became an "independent" type of fiend in D&D 5.

Despite all of that, there is a good reason to include Demons (a chaotic evil fiend) into the milieu of D&D and its cosmic struggle of Law vs. Chaos.   Devils?  Let's save them for AD&D.  Besides, the division is artificial at best.

This division became more pronounced in the AD&D 2nd ed era when TSR caved to the Religious Right and pulled demons and devils.  

Tanar-what? Baate-Who?

One of the Unusual suspects, ePic CG
Demons and Devils would return in Planescape with the bowdlerized names of Tanar'ri and Baatezu respectively.  I remember at the time I was very disappointed in TSR for caving to the pressure of what I felt was a fringe group of religious nutjobs.

While I disapprove of why TSR caved, I approve of what became of it. "Demon" became a generic term to describe any evil outsider.  The "Tanar'ri" were now a specific group of Evil Outsiders that also happened to be chaotic and inhabited the Abyss.  They certain features, such as resistance to various magic and other attacks and certain vulnerabilities too. They were a family of creatures related by certain phenotypical descriptors. Now we have different demonic "families" of fiends. Add Yugoloths/Daemons and Demodands to the official rosters.  We don't have to be limited by "demon" or "devil" alone.  
Sometimes the constraints force us to be more creative.

Later in D&D 3rd Editon era we would get the official Obyrith and Loumara families of chaotic evil demons.  In Green Ronin's Armies of the Abyss and then later Paizo's Pathfinder then added Qlippoth, the OGC version of the Obyriths. Mongoose Publishing gave us the Tzaretch family.  Back at the end of 2nd Edition, I made the Lilim family.  In my Eldritch Witchery (use the link to get it at 50% off!) I introduced the Calabim and Shedim families and the Baalseraph, which is sort of like a family.  In my various Warlock books, I also added Eodemons, or dawn demons. My take on the first of the demonic families.

The scholars can then argue who belongs where.

Spend any time reading demonology text you will soon figure out that these "learned scholars" were just pulling things out of thin air. Sure sometimes you see the same names or even some descriptions that are similar, but otherwise, there is no more validity to the Ars Goetia of the Lesser Key of Solomon than there is to the Monster Manual II when it comes to naming and categorizing demons.  For me, the "key" to unlocking this was the demon Astaroth.

Astaroth and Astártē
What really got me going was what Christian demonologists did with the Goddess Astarte.  Astarte, also known by many other names including Astoreth, was Goddess of love and lust (sex), fertility, and war.  She was obviously connected to Ishtar, Innana,  Isis, and maybe even Aphrodite. She appears throughout the Middle East and even makes an appearance in the Hebrew texts and even in later Christian writings.  But her transformation from fertility goddess to nature goddess to a demon is odd, but not uncommon.  Early Christian writers saw any other god or religion as demonic or even devil worship.  Early Jewish scholars usually never had an issue with other gods. So it is conjectured that when Christian writers and scholars saw Astarte/Astoreth and her crescent moon horns she became a demon.  And a male demon, Astaroth, at that.  It is the primary example for me of how "one man's god is another man's demon." 

Often who was on what list of demonic entities depended on who was writing it and when. One can claim to "go back to the research" but when you are researching what is essentially a completely made-up topic it is not difficult to find something to support your claim.   

For me, that leaves only one satisfactory conclusion.  
Classify these creatures as I like. 

Demons In Basic-Era Games

Do demons belong in (my) Basic-era games?

I figure I have witches, vampires, all sorts of fey creatures, and other monsters.  So yeah there is no good reason to keep them out. 

So there are "demons" in the sense as the world defines them. And there are "demons" as I plan to use them here or, more to the point, have been using them here.  
Translation: Some devils are now demons in my game. 

I have been doing this with the lesser devil types like the barbazu, cornugon and gelugon.  They are all part of the Shedim or demons of rage.   Erinyes remain fallen angels, so technically I suppose that makes them Baalseraphs.

One thing that came up in my review of the Immortals set was how powerful the BECMI demons are vs. their AD&D counterparts.  My idea is to scale them back down.  I like to think of all creatures as being Normal Human focused since that is the world they are in. Player Characters are the rare exceptions. So when a succubus drains life levels with her kiss then it needs to be scaled so that if she chooses a normal human the kiss can still be deadly, but not always so.  I mean someone needs to survive to tell their priest/cleric so it can be written down in a demonology somewhere.

Every version of the game has translated these creatures somewhat differently.  Though there are more commonalities between them than say Medieval demonologies from the so-called experts.  
Demons are legion and defy classification attempts, but that is exactly what I am trying to do.  Essentially make my own "Demonomicon of Iggwilv."


I think if I pursue this idea more I would have to come up with my own demonologies and groupings.  I like the ones I have been using so far, maybe a couple of others might be nice too.   Could be a fun exercise.

Maybe even come up with a witch to do the authoring of it.  I can't really use (nor do I want to use) "Demonomicon" or "Iggwilv." Plus someone new would be fun for a while.

What do you do? Do you have Demons in your Basic, not advanced, games?

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Kersy, The Witch Queen of Alphatia, Mystara (BECMI)

I knew my month of BECMI reviews and deep dives was going to be educational, but while I had hoped, I did not expect to find a new Witch Queen.  But there she was, in Module M1 Into the Maelstrom

In the module, we are introduced to a nascent Immortal, Kersy.  She is using her human guise as a 30th level Magic-user and she is the ruler of the Island of Turkeys.  If you are thinking she sounds a lot like Circe and her Island of Pigs then you are correct.  But.  Doing some deeper research into Kersy gives me a stanger tale.   Over at the Vaults of Pandius, they have expanded on her background a bit more. 

She is described as the distillation of Koryis' own unwanted thoughts, urges, and feelings.  
Koryis is the Immortal Patron of Peace.  While he was on his epic quest he sought to purge himself of evil in impure thoughts. He was successful and that "impurity" manifested itself as Kersy.

At least that is what his mythology says. 

We learn from M1 that she is a "beautiful maiden" and a "30th level magic-user." But other details are scant. From the Vaults of Pandius we learn that she is beautiful with long raven black hair and amber-colored eyes.  She is the Patroness of Witchcraft and Charms.  Certainly, she is more than just some cast of skin of evil.

She is also described as having "milky-white skin" (boring!) but I have been looking for an excuse to use Vanessa Williams as a witch since 1997.  Today is that day.

Kersy and Koryis

We first meet both of these immortals in M1 Into the Maelstrom.  It is obvious they have a connection from the start.  

Kersy (Vanessa Williams) and her "brother" Koryis (Armand Assante)

Back when I was an undergrad in psychology I read a lot of Freud and Jung. It wasn't required, I was (still am) a Cognitive Psychologist. But I felt it was important to my overall education to know my subject's history.    While I like Freud, I find his theories to be outdated and outmoded.  Jung on the other hand felt more like philosophy than psychology at times.  I have credited his "Man and His Symbols" as one of my most important "Appendix N" books.  

What is the importance of that here?  Kersy is Koryis' "dark anima" in Jungian psychology.  The description of Koryis' quest to rid himself of these dark, impure impulses sounds exactly like a quest to confront his Anima; who is Kersy.

Now if this is what happened then according to Jung Koyris is now forever incomplete.  Reading over the history on VoP it would seem that Kersy knows this. If we extend this to other Jungian archetypes then Kersy fits one perfectly. The Witch.  She is powerful, connected to the Earth, and a source of wisdom.  Koyris in his quest to rid himself of Kersy only weakened himself and gave his power away.

Kersy as a Witch

You knew I was going to come to this.  Kersy is not just described as a witch, she is listed on VoP as having the portfolio of Witchcraft and Charm. she is also described as being unique among immortals. She prefers to use her own magic for example.  She also seems to have become an immortal at the same time Koryis did due to their link.  So she hides from other Immortals, not having a Patron of her own, and lives in a cave on an Island filled with turkeys.
That's all rather disappointing.
Even a 30th level magic-user can do better than living in a cave somewhere.  So taking a page from my own games I say Kersy went on her own quest of Immortality and she got it, as a Witch Queen.

In this version soon after her "birth" Kersy, granted great power, but no learning on how such power should be wielded and let's just say poor impulse control, soon overpowers her jailers and sets her sights on the known world.  She travels much as her history suggests and in particular in Old Alphatia.  She studies magic everywhere and learns her magic does not come from the study of dusty tomes, she gets her magic from somewhere else. 
In the intervening centuries she learns much about who and what she is.  The divide between her and Koryis grew.  She still desires him and wants to make him hers. Maybe this is some desire to reunite their torn assunder soul or a darker desire to possess him in a way that was his desire but now forsaken and left with her desires.

Kersy, Witch Queen of Alphatia
31st level Witch, Eclectic Tradition
Female, Chaotic (Chaotic Neutral)

Strength 12
Intelligence 25
Wisdom 18
Dexterity 17
Constitution 19
Charisma 25

Saving Throws (Base)
Death Ray/Poison 2
Magic Wands 2
Paralysis, Polymorph 2 
Dragon Breath 4
Rods, Staffs, Spells 3

+5 to all saves via Ring of Protection
+3 for Wisdom

Hit Points: 87
AC: -8
(leather armor +5, Bracers of Protection +3, Cord of Protection +2, Ring of Protection +3, Dex 17 -2)

Base THAC0: 8
(I know, THAC0 was not used in Basic D&D. You know what this means)

Occult Powers
Lesser: Familiar (Familiar Spirit)
Minor: Speak to Animals
Medial: Drawing Down the Moon
Greater: Witch's Blessing
Major: Polymorph Other
Superior: Longevity

Spells
Cantrips (8): Arcane Mark, Clean, Daze, Guiding Star, Mote of Light, Object Reading, Open, Summon Vermin
1st (9+3): Allure, Analgesia, Bar the Way, Bewitch I, Burning Hands, Call Spirits of the Land, Charm Person, Comprehend Languages, Eldritch Fire, Glamour, Mend Minor Wounds, Pace Without Trace
2nd (8+3): Alter Self, Beckon, Bewitch II, Blight of Loneliness, Burning Gaze, Continual Flame, Detect Charm, ESP, Evil Eye, Haunting Mists, Mind Obscure
3rd (8+3): Astral Sense, Bestow Curse, Bewitch III, Calm Animals, Clairsentience, Control Winds, Danger Sense, Expand Senses, Lethe's Curse, Toad Mind, Twisting the Heartstrings III
4th (8+4): Analyze Magic, Ball Lightning, Bewitch IV, Cauldron of Rage, Confusion, Divination, Forest of Deception, Instant Karma, Masque, Polymorph Others, Remove Curse, Threshold 
5th (7+4): Adoration, Bewitch V, Break Enchantment, Commune with Nature, Decimate, Enslave, Maelstrom, Nightmare, Sending, Song of Night, Ward of Magic
6th (7+3): Analyze Dweomer, Animate Shadows, Bewitch VI, Bones of Earth, Cackle of the Winter Crone, Cloak of Dreams, Greater Scry, Heroes' Feast, Mislead, Smitten
7th (6+1): Adoring Crowd, Astral Spell, Bewitch VII, Breath of the Goddess, Irresistible Dance, Mass Polymorph, Veneration
8th (6): Adoration (Overwhelming), Bewitch VIII, Demand, Eye of the Storm, Mists of Ecstasy, Storm of Vengeance

Magic Items
Alrune Statues, Bracers of Protection, Brooch of Shielding, Calming Tea, Cauldron of Plenty, Cloak of Night, Cord of Protection, Earings of Timeless Beauty,  Friendship Tea, Ring of Protection, Wand of Spell Storing

Kersy is something of a unique witch, so I made her an Eclectic Tradition Witch.  She is also a solitary witch so you will notice and no "ritual" spells.   
I also opted to raise her to 31st level from 30th to give her a bump in her power.
As an Eclectic, I was able to grab spells and occult powers from a variety of sources.  While a case could be made that she is a Classical witch or even with bits of the Mara thrown in, I felt Eclectic was the best choice. 



Books and Resources Used

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

One Man's God: The Immortals and Demons of BECMI

Ok. So it is July. June is over and so should BECMI month.  The trouble is I find I still have a little more to say.  Plus it would be difficult to properly end BECMI month without a good look at the Immortals themselves.

So far we have run into six named Immortals; Koryis, Kersy (more on her later!), Vanya and Alphaks from Into the Maelstrom and Orcus and Demogorgon from the Immortals DM's Book. None are mentioned (too my knowledge) in the module The Immortal Storm. Of these five, three are demons.  Not just demons in the general sense, but demons in the AD&D (and now D&D) sense. 

One thing made clear in the Immortals game was that Immortals are not gods.  They are powerful beings, with near unlimited magical powers, who occupy the outer planes, and are worshipped by clerics...what was my point here? Oh not gods. Right, totally not gods. Nope.

Except they are.

Alphaks aside (he is a special case), Orcus and Demogorgon are immortals, and demons, and (let's be honest here) minor gods.  Essentially what OMG is all about. 

In the D&D Rules Cyclopedia Immortals are discussed, but specific Immortals are rarely mentioned.  Ka, Odin, and Atzanteotl are mentioned by name and have appeared in other BECMI products over the years.  The conversion notes for D&D to AD&D 2nd Ed in the Cyclopedia gives us this little tidbit:
The Immortals of the D&D system and the deities of the AD&D system should not be converted between the game systems.
They were real set on the whole Immortals ≠ Gods thing.

I wanted to review The Wrath of the Immortals.  But I don't have a copy and DriveThruRPG also doesn't have it.  I have managed to piece together some of the immortals from other products and from the Vaults of Pandius.  A couple of them stick out, Immortals and Faith and the Codex Immortalis by Marco Dalmonte

A few of the "demonic" Immortals mentioned in other products are, Bagni Gullymaw, a demonic troll and the immortal of canibalism and Stodos, a cold-blood Type II/Hezrou demon.  Bagni could be another name of the Other Side favorite Vaprak the destroyer.

What BECMI lacks, and really should have been a major contributor to, are new demons.

So instead of looking to the Gods and Immortals of this "mythos" like I normally do, I should look at the monsters and see which ones make for good demons.  

Demons of BECMI

I should start this part off with a note about another post on Demons in BECMI from Mystara Sage in Residence, Bruce Heard.  He posted about demons earlier this year and it is worth taking a look at.

 Moving away from the Immortal-level rules I look back at the various monsters.  To make my life easier I am just going to look at the D&D Rules Cyclopedia and D&D Creature Catalog.


The Plane of Nightmares was introduced to us in the X series of modules and would then later be expanded on in later Companion and Master books.  There are a few creatures from this plane that certainly qualify as demons.

Diabolus
The devilish Diabolus appeared in the Immortals Set.  They are described as looking like devils essentially but were in most ways human. They could take any human class and were their dimension's equivalent of humans.  The BECMI rules even state they can be played as humans. They were updated in Dragon Magazine #327 as a character race.  
Essentially these are Tieflings. You can play Chaotic or what 5e called demonic tieflings. I'd argue they can only choose "Chaotic" alignment, so Chaotic Good (their default in 2e), Chaotic Neutral or Chaotic Evil.  

Malfera
Few creatures fit the description and general attitude of a demon better than the Malfera.  Let's get into some details.  In the Rules Cyclopedia, we learn they are chaotic. can only be summoned to our plane by a powerful magic-user or Immortal. They are a planar monster. They have massive physical attacks and special attacks. Can open doors as per knock and has higher than normal saves.  Plus they are described as a literal nightmare creature.  If not a demon, then "demon-adjacent."

There are stats for them all over the web.  Here are some from the Vaults of Pandius for 2nd Ed AD&D3rd Ed D&D4th Ed D&D, and 5th Ed. D&D.  A 3.5 version for the Forgotten Realms based on the Dragon #343 version.  The Piazza also has a Malfera and there is another 5th edition version.

Here is the version from the Piazza linked above. They make it a large monstrosity, but they don't give it the extra-planar tag.
And there may be a Malfera / Maelephant connection.  I am going to say related creatures from the same plane. Given that maybe there is a larger creature, a Masdaemon.  sure, Why not. 
Actually, it is close to an idea I was playing with back when I was writing Ghosts of Albion. 

Hellephant
FREQUENCY:  Very Rare
NO.  APPEARING:  1-2 (4-9)
ARMOR CLASS: 0
MOVE:  18"/36", special stampede 24"/48"
HIT DICE:  12+36 (90 hp)
%  IN  LAIR:  95%
TREASURE  TYPE:  Nil, Special
NO.  OF  ATTACKS:  2 + 2 special
DAMAGE/ATTACK:  2-24 (2d12) trample, 2-12 (2d6) gore, 4-48 (4d12) swallow
SPECIAL  ATTACKS:  Breath Weapon, Swallow whole
SPECIAL  DEFENSES:  +2  or  better weapon to hit
MAGIC  RESISTANCE:  10%
INTELLIGENCE:  Animal (savage)
ALIGNMENT:  Chaotic  Evil
SIZE:  L  (20' tall)
PSIONIC ABILITY:  Nil, immune to Psionic attacks

Deep in the pits of the abyss roams the monstrous Hellephant.  Believed to be related to both the Malfera and the Maelephant, these creatures are roaming, ever-hungry nightmares. 
They appear to be Mastodons, only twice as large. Their fur appears to be black, but in truth soaked in blood. Their tusks come out from their bottom jaw and curve downward.  This allows them too run their prey down and scoop them up into their terrible maw.  The hellephant is a voracious carnivore and their preferred prey is anything warmblood that will run from them. Their attacks are a trample or a gore. On a successful gore hit the victim must make a saving throw vs. Paralyze or be scooped into the hellwphant's maw.  Once there they are bitten by the monster's rough teeth, still in the shape of the teeth of a plant-eater, and then they are swallowed whole.  The digestive acid causes 4d12 points of damage per round. Resistance to acid attacks can reduce this to half.  The hellephant's digestive system though is not adapted to eating meat so living creatures are exited out in the way of all digested food in 1d4 rounds. The expelled victim, if still alive need to make another save vs. paralysis in order to get up and move out of the way.  The Hellephant, still ravenous, returns to scoop up any victims that are too slow to move and the eating and digestion process begins again.
If a group of 6 or more Hellephants are present they may stampede.  They will run in one direction for several minutes causing maximum trample damage. They will not return to eat any victims left behind.
Hellephants have no treasure, but their ivory is prized through-out the multiverse and is, pound for pound, 10x the price terrestrial elephant ivory. 

Tabi
These small, winged-ape like creatures are chaotic.  They are somewhere between an imp and a flying monkey. 

There are a lot of Chaotic Evil monsters in Post-BECMI Mystara that have appeared that would make good demons.   I think these are the most likely candidates. 
I also think, given the mythos of the world and the roots of it, that demons are fine, but devils (as defined by AD&D 1st Edition) are not.   But hey, that is only for my games.

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

BECMI: Immortals Set Review

“I am glad you are here with me. Here at the end of all things, Sam.”
- Frodo to Sam, Return of the King


And here we are. 
June is drawing to a close and we are here in the last week of BECMI month.  Fitting too that the last week, as short as it is, is dedicated to the oddest set of rules in the set.  The Immortal rules set. We see some major changes here and in TSR as well.  So. Let's jump right in.


I am reviewing both my rather beat up and water damaged version of the Immortal set (I only have the books, not the box) and the PDFs from DriveThruRPG.

A couple of notes.  The set now lists Frank Mentzer as Author. No mention of Dave Arneson nor Gary Gygax here.  The year is 1986 and Gygax had been removed from TSR the previous October. Frank had been very closely allied with Gary so his time at TSR was also going to come to an end soon.  The Immortals rules and the module The Immortal Storm would be his last books for the company.  This had two rather obvious impacts on these rule books.  First, the art that had been getting more sparse with each set now hits an all-time low.  No in quality mind you! But in terms of amount. There is just not that much art in these books.  
Secondly, it also meant that the company focused more on its perceived cash cow, the AD&D line.  Gary had been talking about the AD&D 2nd Edition game, but now that project was turned over to Dave "Zeb" Cook of the B/X Expert Set rules.  Others have played the conjecture game of what might have been, so I will not go into that here.  What I will say though is it left Frank and the BECMI line alone for the Immortals set to go into some very weird directions.

If BECMI is the ultimate update of the OD&D rules, then the Immortals rules cover part of what Eldritch Wizardry and Gods, Demi-gods & Heroes.

Players' Guide to Immortals
32 pages, color covers, black & white art.
Your character, now 36th level and has pretty much done everything from dungeons to the planes hears the call to become an Immortal! Certainly, this was the goal of those quests and battles. Immortality.  But now the game, both actually and metaphorically, has changed.  Just like when you moved from Jr. High/Middle school or Grade school to High School you go from being the most powerful of mortal kind, to the least powerful of the immortals.
This book covers how your character now becomes an Immortal.  There are five spheres, four of which characters can access, detailed here.  These are the same spheres that have been hinted at since the Companion set and introduced in the Masters set; Matter, Energy, Though, Time, and Entropy.  characters choose one of the first four usually corresponding to the class they had in life; Fighter, Magic-User, Thief, and Cleric respectively.
Experience points gained will alive now become PowerPoints on a 10k to 1 basis.  We get our first hints at a proto-point buy system in D&D here since PowerPoints can be spent. Now the Initiate Immortal can begin to do some Immortal things. PowerPoints are used for a lot of things, but mostly for magical or spell-like effects.  Your sphere will determine which ones you can do easily and which ones are harder.
There are a lot of interesting rule changes along the way.  AC is now Ascending for Immortals; so Immortal AC 20 is the same as mortal AC of -20.  AC 0 is the same. Ability scores can be raised. First to a max of 25 (the AD&D max of the time) but also all the way to 100!   
In a lot of ways the PP mechanic is similar to what we see in other Point Buy systems used for super heroes.  It makes sense really.  
Though for all of it's detail there is very little information on what an Immortal should do. Right now they seem, at best, super-powered mortal characters.  There is some implicit ideas, but nothing spelled out yet.

DM's Guide to Immortals
64 pages, color covers, black & white art.
The DM's book spends some time covering the planes of existence.  While a lot on specific planes is left vague, there is a lot of details on how planes are designed.  The artwork and some of the notes appear as if the author and artists were checking on what the AD&D team was doing "down the hall" there is a unique feel to the BECMI multi-verse.  A lot of emphasis is given on "doing it yourself" including room for the DM to pencil in their own % for monsters occurring.
There is a bit more here about the planes, in particular the Prime plane.  We learn that the Known World doesn't just look like Earth from 150 Million Years ago, it IS Earth from then.  This explains the map a bit better. We also learn that this Earth is the predecessor to our lands.  Though, in the spirit of everything else in the book, this can be changed.  The Solar system is the same, save for a few notable differences. Mercury and Pluto are not in their orbits yet and between Mars and Jupiter where the asteroid belt is there is a planet called Damocles. Fitting named for a doomed planet but doesn't fit with the names of the Roman Olympians. Damocles will be destroyed and the two largest pieces will fly off to become Mercury and Pluto.  Imaginative to be sure!  But Mercury is only 35 million miles and Pluto is closer to 3 billion miles from the sun. The asteroid belt is roughly 300 million miles from the sun.  So Damocles is not really in the middle of that.  No big deal, this is D&D not Astronomy.  I DO however love the idea of a doomed planet in the current or future asteroid belt. Maybe a MiGo outpost or something like that.   I want to talk more about the Known World/Earth a little more in just a bit. Plus there is one more bit of information I want to collect.
It would be interesting to compare and contrast the multiplanuar mechanics and rules here with the various Manual of the Planes.
This is followed by the Immortal Campaign.  Or, what do Immortals do? There are some ideas given but for the number of rules on immortal characters and planes you would expect some more to be honest. 
Our "Monsters" section is now called "Creatures" since they "cannot be adequately called monsters."  All these monsters...creatures now have expanded stat blocks to cover their immortal statuses.  
One of the first things I noticed were the inclusion of demons to roster of D&D BECMI monsters.  I am not sure why this surprised me since these are the same demons from Eldritch Wizardry.  Well...same in name but these demons got a serious upgrade.  Let's compare.  A Succubus in AD&D is a 6+6 HD creature (average hp 33), her physical attacks are not great, but her kiss drains 2 life energy levels.  In BECMI a Whispering Demon has 15* HD and 70 hp! Oh and her AC is -6.  Orcus and Demogorgon have 39 and 40 HD with 620 and 660 hp respectively!  Yikes!  We do get some art of them. 




In addition to being able to summon other demons Orcus and Demogorgon can summon Gargantua. 

We get more inhabitants of the nightmare dimension like the Diabolus which are...checking the description...well they basically tieflings. And they can take any human class. So all the Grognards out there complaining about "monster races" have no ground to stand on. Here are the rules from 1986. 
The Dragon Rulers are updated to Immortal stats and so are some of the elemental rulers.  There is the Megalith and it is ... WHAT???  More on that in a bit!
A few more creatures and some, ok a lot, of tables on magic.

Crisis on Infinite Urts
So there are a couple of new-to-me bombshells in the Immortal rules.  First, the world of the PCs, aka the Known World is Earth of 150 mya. Secondly, this Earth is in actuality a creature known as a Megalith ("big rock") and it is known to the Immortals as "Urt."
It's tucked away in two different places, but this is a revelation really.  The Known World as living planet known as Urt.  Imagine what the "Mystara" line might have been about had this thought continued?  No Hollow World to be sure. Frank Mentzer pretty left TSR soon after this and the Immortal Storm were complete, so we never really got to see what his ultimate vision was.  We do know that Gygax considered his Oerth and later Aerth for his Dangerous Journeys to all be alternates of Earth. Aerth was a little more on the nose about it.  Frank was set to design parts of Oerth a few years back, but that project fell through.  It might have been the closest we would have seen to a fleshed-out Urt.  
At some point between 1986 and 1991 (the publication of the D&D Rules Cyclopedia) the world of Urt became Mystara.

So here at the end of all things what can I say about the Immortals rules? It is an inconsistent set of rules to be sure. There are a lot of really interesting ideas connected together with bits of fluff that may, or may not, work well.  The concepts of Immortals is a compelling one and D&D would come back to it in big ways at least two more times with Wrath of the Immortals and Dungeons & Dragons Fourth Edition where Immortally was the goal after 30th level. 

Still. One can be impressed with the scope of the rules and how it caps off a set of rules that began in 1983 but has roots going back to 1977 and to the dawn of D&D.  For that reason, it gets a few points more than it might have gotten on its own. 

Back in the day, I had only two characters gain immortality via a route similar to this. More like my DM read these rules and figured his own way of doing it. One would be my character Johan Werper the Cleric and bane of the Undead. 

Monday, June 29, 2020

Monstrous Monday: Demon Lord, Ahrimanes (BECMI)

We are coming to our very last week of BECMI month and it has been an education for me.  The biggest surprise was the inclusion of demons in the BECMI Immortal rules. It makes sense of course, demons are the ultimate in evil, chaos, and entropy in nearly every myth.

Let's start off Immortals week with a new version of the Demon from my home games.  Presented here in BECMI Immortal format.

Lord Ahrimanes (Immortal)
Sphere: Entropy
Status: Eternal
Power Points: 7,500
Anti-Magic: 90%
Armor Class: -5
Hit Dice: 35**
Hitpoints: 555
Move: 120' (40')
  Flying: 180' (60')
Attacks: 2 claws
Damage: 2d8+5, 2d8+5
No. Appearing: 1 (Unique)
Save As: Eternal 3
Morale: Special
Call Other: See below
Treasure Type: B, H, I
Alignment: Chaotic
XP Value: 6,405,000 (640 pp)

Lord Ahrimanes was once a servant of Law and Good (Thought) until he chose Chaos and Evil (Entropy). Believed to be one of the most powerful of the forces of evil, his own disgust for nearly all others leaves him alone and without allies. Even demons that would normally despise one another would join forces to defeat or thwart the plans of Ahrimanes.  There is a particular hatred between Lord Ahrimanes and Duke ʾIblīs.

He is a great admirer of science and knows all the natural sciences. When he writes his writing always appears upside-down. Some scholars point to the Demon Abraxas and note that he is master of all the magical arts and his writing always appears backward as a sign of the relationship between the two.
His realm is known as Ahriman-abad and it is said to lie “between the stars.” 

He can appear as a handsome man with a high domed forehead, inquisitive eyes, and thoughtful demeanor.  He will appear garbed as a scholar or philosopher of an earlier age but yet his physique is athletic.  When he is enraged, which happens easily and at the barest slight, his demonic form is revealed.  He stands 10’ tall with dark red skin covered in patches of thick, coarse black hair and scales.  His face becomes twisted in rage and seven horns grow from his head which now has numerous heads, eyes, and mouths.  His hands, which had previously looked like the hand of a scribe, now twist into giant claws.

Lord Ahrimanes attacks with claws, usually too enraged to consider using a weapon.  Due to his nature all magic has a 90% of failing when around him.  Any magic that does get past his anti-magic shield is still subject to a saving throw.  He cannot use magic himself.  Additionally, Lord Ahrimanes has all the resistances and vulnerabilities of all demons.

Lord Ahrimanes is so despised that he cannot summon other demons except for his seven “sons” which appear as Howling Demons / Type III / Glabrezu of the largest size and maximum hp. 

--

Not too bad.  A bit powerful for an AD&D or OSR game, but certainly great for a BECMI game.

Saturday, June 27, 2020

More BECMI Print on Demand

Another round of mail call for Print on Demand items.  This week a couple to help finish off some ones I have been wanting for some time.

I have something special planned for this one, so $18 for print and PDF I couldn't say no.




It looks fantastic really.  I might wait till July to do this one some more.

And I picked up the last X module I need.  X5 Temple of Death.






I already had a beat-up old copy of X4 Master of the Desert Nomads.


It is out in PDF but not POD.  If I need the maps from X5, I'll just print them out.


Friday, June 26, 2020

The Future of BECMI and Black Box Basic

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


The rule book for players is quite attractive.


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


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


DM's Screen and book.


The underside of the box displaying all the pieces.


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


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


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





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




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

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


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


When I decide to run a new Basic-era campaign (instead of a bunch of one-shots) I am going to be overwhelmed with choices.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...