Showing posts with label DnD. Show all posts
Showing posts with label DnD. Show all posts

Wednesday, May 8, 2024

I Am Now Become Death, Destroyer of Worlds

 Spoken by J. Robert Oppenheimer, quoting from the Bhagavad Gita, it could very easily have been said by Vecna in the latest offering for D&D 5th Edition.

I know I have been down on Wizards of the Coast for the last year and half after they pull some moronically stupid shit with the OGL and Pinkertons, but also for completely dropping the ball on both Baldur's Gate III tie ins and celebrating the 50th Anniversary of Dungeons & Dragons. Well, this adventure at least goes a little bit into the right direction.

Vecna: Eve of Ruin

Vecna: Eve of Ruin

Basically, the plot is this. Kas is going to destroy the D&D Multiverse and rebuild it in his own image. You have to stop it.

This is part Marvel's Infinity Saga and part DC's Crisis on Infinite Earths, so it already has my attention. Then in what can only be described as Wizard's trying to win me back, your characters are "hired" by Alustriel Silverhand and Tasha the Witch. Then there is a romp through the D&D Multiverse to reassemble the Rod of Seven Parts. I don't care that I did that once before I also like to rewatch the Doctor Who serial "The Key to Time."

The Wizards Three

So Vecna is the Big Bad. Yeah, I also fought him in the past, but I still don't care, glad he is back. Plus, I can work all the shit he did on Taldorei before this. 

In addition, we have Kas, Tiamat, Count Strahd Zarovich (punching way above his weight class here), Lolth, Lord Soth, Acerak, Mordenkainen, Miska the Wolf Spider, and even a FREAKING ASTRAL DREADNOUGHT.

There are a ton of twists and turns here and I have no idea how it runs, but I love what I am reading. 

This is not the first time D&D has given us big Universe shaking events between editions. The Forgotten Realms had their Time of Troubles, the Spellplague, and the Second Sundering. This one takes it up several notices.

I am a little disappointed that Mystara doesn't show up here, but that is fine I can deal with that.

The adventure is for levels 10-20, so it is meant to be big and deadly.

If I were to run this, I think I would let players pick their favorite characters from any game they have played in the past. It wouldn't matter if they were from the same timelines; in fact, that is a plus. 

And this seems appropriate; play us out, Barry!

No. Not that one. We need to remember the first battle with Vecna and the loss of a great bard.

Thursday, May 2, 2024

Lego Dungeons & Dragons: Red Dragon's Tale

 A bit of a break before I get into Sci-Fi month proper.

My oldest kid and I went in on the new Lego: Dungeons & Dragons set.

Lego: Dungeons & Dragons

3745 Pieces. It's not the biggest Lego set he has built, but it's one of them for sure.

It is also really cool.

Lego: Dungeons & Dragons

Lego: Dungeons & Dragons

Lego: Dungeons & Dragons

Lego: Dungeons & Dragons

Lego: Dungeons & Dragons

Lego: Dungeons & Dragons

Lego: Dungeons & Dragons

The scale is about right. Good enough really.

Sinéad and Larina in Lego: Dungeons & Dragons

Sinéad and Larina in Lego: Dungeons & Dragons

Sinéad and Larina in Lego: Dungeons & Dragons
Sinéad and Larina confront Cinderhowl

The best part? It comes with a D&D 5e Adventure, "Red Dragon's Tale."

Four PCs are included; A Dwarf Cleric, Elf Wizard, Gnome Fighter, and Orc Rogue. All level 5.  Why no humans? I guess you can get humans all the time with other Lego sets.

The adventure is included in the set, and my son plans on running it soon. Yeah, four 5th-level characters vs. an owlbear, a displacer beast ("Pouncy"), a beholder, a bunch of skeletons, a 13th-level evil sorcerer ("Ervan Soulfallen"), and an adult Red Dragon ("Cinderhowl"). It sounds like a TPK waiting to happen. 

There is even a book on how to use this as a game without the D&D rules.

Still, he had a blast building it. I was going to help, but he stayed up until 7:00 a.m. working on it over the week. He is young and works nights, so he can still do that kind of stuff. He wants to take his Sunday group through it this weekend.

Can't wait to hear how it goes!

Tuesday, April 30, 2024

#AtoZChallenge2024: Z is for the Z-Library (of Dungeons & Dragons)

Ok a bit of a change for the last post of the A to Z of Dungeons & Dragons today. First off, I want to thank everyone who came by, commented, and shared my links. You all are the reason I love doing this.

So, for that, I want to give back to you all.  

If you have been involved in academia in the past few years you likely know about the infamous "Z-Library." This is a "shadow library" (which admittedly sounds cool) that gives you access to 1,000s of books. The legality of this, though, is on the questionable side to outright piracy. So no, I will not be linking out to it. 

But what I can do for you, my readers, is provide you with a 100% free and 100% legal, and in many cases with the author's express permission, access to books so you can play or discover Dungeons & Dragons on your own: A Dungeons & Dragons Z-Library.

Part of my Library

Again, all these titles are free, 100% legal, and 100% safe for you to download and begin playing.  Often all you will need is pencil, paper and some dice.

Don't have mult-sided polyhedral dice? No worries, Google's Dice Roller has you covered.

Dungeons & Dragons for Free

D&D Beyond has a portal where you can read the rules and create (up to 6) characters for free. This is for the current edition of 5e.

IF you don't mind a little work and don't care about art, the entire D&D 5e system has been released to the Creative Commons. It is free to grab and use as you like.

DriveThruRPG has many free items from D&D's current publisher, Wizards of the Coast, for free. In particular, they have the following for older editions:

The last two 4e titles can be combined into a fairly robust version of 4e. 

Other D&D-like Games for Free

These games are often referred to as "Retro Clones," and they emulate older forms of D&D. While they are not 100% D&D, they are close, and ALL offer the same sorts of experiences. You could play one of these, call it D&D, and everyone would be happy.

Since I have been talking about the various editions of D&D all month long, I will organize these Clones by the edition they are most similar to.  Some are full games, and others will be "quick starts," which are usually just an introduction to the game. 

Note: This is not everything, but it is many free ones. Many of these also have paid versions as well.

Original Edition

These games mimic the original Edition of the D&D game.

Delving Deeper. This game mimics the original three books of OD&D. It is free from it's website and from DriveThruRPG.

Iron Falcon. This game mimics OD&D and its first supplement, which made the game the one we recognize today. Iron Falcon comes to us from the same team that gave us Basic Fantasy, so everything is 100% free. The print books are at cost. In terms of giving back to the community, none is better than Basic Fantasy/Iron Falcon. I like to support them for these reasons alone. 

White Box: Fantastic Medieval Adventure Game. Based on the Swords & Wizardry rules. Not exactly OD&D but very close. 

Dungeon Crawl Classics. This is an odd one. It has the feel of OD&D, some of the mechanics of Basic D&D, and the game play of AD&D. All with the grit turned up to 11.

Basic Edition

These games are most like the Basic-era games, so Holmes, Moldvay, and Mentzer versions of D&D Basic.

Basic Fantasy. This is the gold standard when it comes to free content and community. It is most similar to Basic D&D, but not Rules as Written, but more like how we actually played it back in 1980-2. EVERYTHING for it is free. The print books are sold at cost. There is a ton of material for it, and it really is the best game for learning to play a Basic (and basic) D&D game. I highly recommend it.

BLUEHOLME™ Prentice Rules. This game very specifically was designed to emulate the John Eric Holmes edited version of the D&D Basic rules. So great for that 1977 to 1979 gaming experience. This version is free, if you like it then there is the BLUEHOLME™ Journeymanne Rules for $10.  I reviewed them both here.

Dark Dungeons and Dark Dungeons X. These books emulate the D&D Rules Cyclopedia, the Basic era RPG that covered the Basic, Expert, Companion, and Masters rules from level 1 to level 36! The first book is free, and DDX is "Pay What You Want" with print options. The name is an homage to the notorious anti-D&D Jack Chick tract.

Holmes77. A free RPG based on the Holmes version of Basic. I don't know a lot about it, really.

Labyrinth Lord. One of the premier Basic D&D clones with a ton of support.

Mazes & Perils RPG. Another Holmes-influenced retro clone. I reviewed it here.

Old-School Essentials Basic Rules. Old-School Essentials is one of the current favorites of the Retro-Clone games. It is a pretty faithful replication of the Moldvay Basic / Cook-Marsh Expert rules from 1981. The OSE rules have some fantastic production values, and these free rules are a great example.

Shadowdark RPG Quickstart Set. The newest darling of the Retro-Clone scene. It is a combination of Basic and 5th edition D&D. This one might easier to find a game going on than most of the others.

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 1st Edition

OSRIC. The Old School Reference & Index Compilation was one of the very first retro-clones produced and was one of the test beds of the concept of a clone game.  It is the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons rules but reorganized.  Designed as a tool to publish new AD&D 1st Ed rules, it does work as a game. 

Castles & Crusades Players Handbook. This is the player's book for the Castles & Crusades RPG. It is a presentation of the D&D 3rd edition rules designed to play like the AD&D 1st edition rules.

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition

For Gold & Glory 2e Core Rules. A good emulation of the AD&D 2nd Edition game.

Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition

3.5 d20 SRD. The D&D 3.5 System Reference Document is the rawest version of the D&D 3.x rules. No thrills, no fluff, but everything you need to play a D&D 3 game.

Pathfinder d20 SRD. Same as the SRD above, but with the added Pathfinder material. 

NOTE: The SRDs are not games per se, but they are all the rules. They do not have art, no explanations, no examples. Just the rules. 


I would be remiss if I didn't at least promote my own game here. 

Night Shift: Veterans of the Supernatural Wars is a modern supernatural urban fantasy role-playing game.  If you liked shows like Supernatural, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and  Vampire Diaries as well as Friday the 13th the series,Tales from the Darkside, and horror movies, then this is the game for you.

AND you can try it out (up to 4th level) for free!

Night Shift: Veterans of the Supernatural Wars Quick Start Kit

The title is Pay What You Want, but I urge you to give it a try.


Regardless of which one you choose, and you can choose them all, the most important thing when playing any role-playing game is to remember to have fun. 

And that is it for another A to Z Challenge! I hope you enjoyed my rather geeky exploration into the last 50 years of Dungeons & Dragons.  Come back all year long and I will be doing more of the same. May will be Sci-Fi month so I am going to talk about sci-fi RPGs related to Dungeons & Dragons. October is my huge Horror month, so I am going to talk Ravenloft. June I typically save for Basic-era D&D (B/X and BECMI) but not sure yet. 

So come back all year long!

The A to Z of Dungeons & Dragons: Celebrating 50 years of D&D.

Sunday, April 28, 2024

#AtoZChallenge2024: Sunday Special, D&D 5th Edition

Our last Sunday we will cover the newest version of the game at this moment, the extremely popular Fifth Edition of Dungeons & Dragons.

Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition

Dungeons & Dragons, 5th Editon

Sadly, D&D 4e did not last, nor did it ever recover the lost players who switched over to Pathfinder and the various retro-clones. While the game made money, it did not make the money Wizards of the Coast and their parent company, Hasbro, wanted. 

In 2012, Wizards announced a massive Open playtest of a system they were calling D&D Next. The materials were given out for free, and they asked for all sorts of feedback. I played an early version of the Warlock class that I liked, but he lost Charisma as he leveled up (I was not a fan of that), but that changed. The company was generating a lot of goodwill at this point, and their stated aim was a D&D that could do anything the previous editions could. 

I went back and forth on whether or not to get the new rules. I am not sure why really, I had every other edition. So I picked up the new Starter Set and I really liked it. Then on August 8th, 2014, at Midnight, my kids and I piled into our minivan, got some tacos at Taco Bell, then drove to our Favorite Local Game Store, and we all bought copies of the new D&D 5 rules.

And it has been a blast. I ran three games of D&D 5, each with a slightly different focus. One was played like and as a 1st Edition game, the other like a 4th Edition game, and one Rules-As-Written (RAW).  Within these rules, I can see elements of all the past editions. I really believe that this time they really tried to get the rules right.

I even got the Spanish Language editions as a gift to help me with my Spanish.

D&D 5e, English and Spanish

This is also the most popular ruleset to date. By any measure, D&D 5e is the most successful version of Dungeons & Dragons ever sold. Maybe to ever be sold if I am being honest. But some of Wizards of the Coast's own actions, starting the 2023 fiasco of trying to "revoke" the Open Gaming License and other debacles, have really destroyed the goodwill they have been building over the last 10 years. 

Since then, even I have talked about converting my last two campaigns over to Pathfinder 2e and Castles & Crusades.

Right now we are in a strange time. 

There have been playtests for what WotC/Hasbro has been calling "One D&D."  Unlike previous versions of D&D, this one is supposed to be backward and compatible with 5e. Many have referred to it as D&D 6th Edition, but 5.5 or (my choice) "fifth edition revised," 5r, might be a better one.

I must say that Wizard's has dropped the ball here for an anniversary, especially a 50th anniversary. There should've been so much more going on this year.

Well, we are only 1/3 through the year, so maybe there will be more.

Tomorrow is Y day, and I am going talk about Yetis and other Cryptids.

The A to Z of Dungeons & Dragons: Celebrating 50 years of D&D.

Tuesday, April 23, 2024

#AtoZChallenge2024: T is for TSR

TSR Inc.
Delving into the history of Dungeons & Dragons, one must spend some time discussing the company (or companies, as it were) that produced and published it. Most of them went by the initials TSR.

 To the outsider and indeed to the casual insider, there was only one TSR. This is largely true, but the details are a bit more complicated once you dig into them. It's sort of the theme all month, right?

Tactical Studies Rules (1973–1975)

The first TSR was Tactical Studies Rules, and it was a partnership between Gary Gygax and Don Kaye.  The goal of this company was to produce and sell the Dungeons & Dragons rules, but to get there, they did some smaller games, including Gary's Cavaliers and Roundheads miniatures game of the English Civil War. They also sold new copies of Chainmail which had previously been sold by Don Lowry and Gary's Guidon Games.  Once Dungeons & Dragons became a success and they took on new partners, namely the Blumes, this company dissolved. It was this time that the company would move out of Gary's basement to their headquarters in Lake Geneva, WI. A place still considered to be "like Mecca" for gamers.

TSR Hobbies, Inc. (1975–1983)

This is the company that most of us growing up playing D&D in the 1980s think of when we think of TSR. This corresponds to what many in RPG circles could refer to as the Golden Age of gaming. It was here that Dungeons & Dragons saw its greatest growth and early popularity. It was during this time that we saw the publication of AD&D, all the Basic sets, Dragon Magazine, and a host of other non-D&D games. Some I'll talk about next month. 

This was also a time when TSR Hobbies made some acquisitions and, sadly, when the seeds of their own downfall were planted. 

TSR (1983–1985)

In 1983, the company was split into four, TSR, Inc. (the primary successor), TSR International, TSR Ventures, and TSR Entertainment, Inc. The purpose here was to make D&D a multimedia brand long before such an idea was commonplace. So kudos to Gary and the team for coming up with it; it is too bad it did not develop the way they wanted. We did the Dungeons & Dragons cartoon out of it, but long talked about movie never happened. Also some of these business choices also split the company's focus and were never as successful as they needed to be. Long story short, TSR, all of them, was deep in debt and bleeding cash.

This era would end with the firing of Gary Gygax as CEO and the takeover of the company by the Blumes and Lorraine Williams. 

TSR  (1985–1997) aka The Williams Era

Given the time period, one would imagine that this was the most stable time in TSR's history, and from the outside, it was. D&D was doing well for all appearances. It had weathered controversy and was moving forward. AD&D 2nd Edition came out in 1989, there were novels coming out based on D&D properties that hit the New York Times best-seller lists and things looked good.

Sadly, even under new management, some of the old mistakes were still costing money, and new ones were also being made.

I will not do the en-vogue thing and rip into Lorraine Williams. She may have had only contempt for gamers, but under her leadership (or in spite of it), some really great material was produced. She never talks about her time at TSR anymore; all we have are the words of others. Granted, it did sound like a toxic work environment.

Not that things were all wine and roses outside the company either. Gary had left and become vocal of the new management. Many who were loyal to him also left. Others left, or were fired and their names, names we all knew, began showing up at other companies.

The Internet was in its early days, and like the Personal Computers before it, this was a technology readily adopted by and adapted by gamers. TSR saw people talking about D&D online and threatened to sue them, earning TSR's new name, "They Sue Regularly," and their new "logo," T$R.  

As fondly as people talk about the "good ole days" of TSR they forget how terrible they were in the end.

1997 And Beyond

There is no TSR beyond 1997. Wizards of the Coast, a company flush with cash thanks to the run-away success of the Magic the Gathering card game, saved TSR, and Dungeons & Dragons, from landing into deeper financial ruin. Wizards operated TSR as a standalone entity (a walled garden as it is sometimes called) but by the time Dungeons & Dragons 3rd edition was ready TSR was gone.

Now, 25+ years later, we are seeing some similar patterns with Wizards of the Coast and their parent company, Hasbro. The difference is that Hasbro is not likely to run out of money any time soon.

For me, well I choose to remember TSR like this. It was a great company that fell into the problems that many companies do. But I will say this, talking to all the people who worked there and hearing them talk to each other at places like Gary Con, I choose to look beyond the stories, the rumors, the internet gossip, and the financial records and instead see it through their eyes.

When it was good, it must have been fantastic.

If you want to know more, there are some fantastic books on the topic.

Ewalt, D. M., & Manganiello, J. (2024). Of dice and men: The story of dungeons & dragons and the people who play it. Scribner.

Kushner, D., & Shadmi, K. (2017). Rise of the dungeon master: Gary Gygax and the creation of D&D. Nation Books.

Peterson, J. (2012). Playing at the world: A history of simulating wars, people and Fantastic Adventures, from chess to role-playing games. Unreason Press.

Peterson, J. (2021). Game Wizards. the epic battle for Dungeons & Dragons. The MIT Press.

Riggs, B. (2022). Slaying the dragon: A secret history of Dungeons and dragons. St. Martin’s Press.

Witwer, M. (2015). Empire of imagination: Gary Gygax and the birth of Dungeons & Dragons. Bloomsbury USA, an imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing, Plc.

All are available, well, everywhere there are books. Each presents a different point of view, but all get around to the same ideas. I enjoyed reading them all.

Tomorrow is U day and I am going to talk about the Universe!

The A to Z of Dungeons & Dragons: Celebrating 50 years of D&D.

Sunday, April 21, 2024

#AtoZChallenge2024: Sunday Special, D&D 4th Edition

This Sunday A to Z special we are talking about the most controversial version of D&D put out. That would be 2008's Fourth Edition Dungeons & Dragons.

Dungeons & Dragons, 4th Edition

Dungeons & Dragons, 4th Edition Core Books

Again, lets set the stage. It is 2007, and Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition, now in its 3.5 edition, has been going on for 7 years. There are hundreds of D&D 3e books out there, and if you count the ones released by 3rd party publishers, then there are thousands.

Rumor has it that the Powers that Be at Wizards of the Coast/Hasbro saw all that money these publishers had made and also saw that they were getting none of it.  So they had the D&D team design a new version of D&D. Now, seven years is not a bad run for a set of core rules; a little light, yes, but not bad. But it was not the normal dropping off of sales that prompted this change; rather, it was a desire to reign back in the OGL and SRD.  Thus, 4th edition was born. Or so the story goes.

Now I have heard these tales for a long time. While I can certainly see where they could be true I have never seen a smoking gun or anything like that to confirm it. I do know that out of all the editions 4th is the least compatible with all the others. I also know that the license used to support 4e products was restrictive and slow to come out. 

Pathfinder, as I mentioned on P day came out and took over the market from 3e, and many other gamers saw the new 4e rules and went back even further still to older games.  

Much like the hydra of old the problem only got bigger.

This is too bad, really, because there is nothing really wrong with 4e.

I loved the art and the attention to detail in the game's design. Was it D&D? I can't answer that for you. For me, it was "near D&D," just like Pathfinder was/is. In some ways, Pathfinder was more D&D 4 than D&D 4 was. They were cousins, born at the same time, whose grandparents had trouble telling apart as their favorite.

DrivethruRPG has a sizable collection now of Fourth Edition PDFs.  A few I have already bought. I could simply unload a few of those books, not sure how or where, and then rebuy them on PDF.

I love that 4e was very modular in layout.  I very easily could cut up all the books and reshuffle them to have all the classes in one place and all the skills and feats in another. All the monsters, mostly alphabetical in yet another.   The organization appeals to my innate sense of order and collection (or is that OCD?).

The real question is, is it worth it?  Obviously, if I played the game more then yes.  But I only dabble. Here and there now. I like the fluff.  I have talked about 4e in terms of sunk cost fallacy and how I would later go on to adapt the materials for my 5e games. But I still feel it never really got a fair shake.

Maybe I'll come back to it someday.


Tomorrow is back at it with S Day, and I'll talk about a topic very close to the heart of many Dungeons & Dragons players in the 1980s, the Satanic Panic!

The A to Z of Dungeons & Dragons: Celebrating 50 years of D&D.

Saturday, April 20, 2024

#AtoZChallenge2024: R is for Ravenloft

 This has been a favorite feature of my A to Z posts over the years, with two of my earliest A to Z posts covering the same topic.

One would think I didn't have any more to say, but those are just two of 56 posts I have here about Ravenloft (soon to be 57). But yet here I am with more to say.

What is Ravenloft?

Ravenloft was originally an adventure for First Edition AD&D, released back in 1983, and written by Tracy and Laura Hickman's husband and wife team. It was part of the "I" or intermediate series of adventures. Most of these were not linked and only shared that they were higher level than beginning adventures. Ravenloft, given the code I6, was for character levels 5 to 7. 

Ravenloft was a huge change from many of the adventures TSR had published to that date. For starters the adventure featured an antagonist, Count Strahd von Zarovich, who was no mere monster. Yes he was an AD&D Vampire, but he was meant to be run as an intelligent Non-player Character.  Prior to this the vampires have been the unnamed Vampire Queen of the Palace of the Vampire Queen, Drelnza the vampire daughter of Iggwilv in The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth, and Belgos the Drow Vampire in Vault of the Drow. By 1983 the amount written on all three of these vampires would not even be as long as this post will be. Strahd was different.

Strahd had a backstory, he had motivation, and he was intelligent and ruthless. Destroying him was the goal and that was not an easy feat by any stretch of the imagination.

The adventure also introduced some new elements as well. The dungeon crawl was gone, replaced by a huge gothic castle and a nearby village. The adventure could be replayed ab unique given the "Fortunes of Ravenloft" mechanic that allows key items, people, and motives to change based on a fortune card reading.

And there were the iso-morphic, 3D looking maps, that helped give perspective to many levels of Castle Ravenloft. 

The adventure was an immediate and resounding hit. This adventure, along with the Dragonlance Adventures also by Tracy Hickman (and Margaret Weis) led to something many old-school gamers call "The Hickman Revolution" and claim it marks the time between the Golden Age and Silver Age of AD&D, with the Silver age coming after 1983. While yes there was a change, a lot of it was for the better.

For me, it was a dream come true. Vampires had always been my favorite creatures to fight in D&D, and I was an avid Dracula fan. I bought this adventure and then threw it at my DM, saying, "Run this!" 

I grew up on a steady stream of Universal Monsters, Hammer Horror, and Dark Shadows. That's my Appendix N. So, an adventure set in pretty much the Hammer Hamlet where I get strange locals and have to fight a vampire? Yeah, that is what D&D was to me.

I find that the people who don't like this adventure don't see what makes it great. This is not Lord of the Rings, Conan, or some other Appendix N pulp fantasy. This is Hammer Horror. Strahd has to be played with a combination of charisma, scene-chewing villainy, and absolute brutality. In other words, it is exactly like Christopher Lee playing Dracula.  Even the nearby village is filled with terrified, but the pitchfork in the ready village is a Hammer Hamlet

Ravenloft three different printings
Original, 25th Anniversary Edition, Print on Demand Edition

I even got my original module from 1983 signed by Tracy Hickman.

This adventure was so popular that it spawned a sequel, Ravenloft House on Gryphon Hill and an entire campaign setting.

Ravenloft: The Setting

I mention that in college, I played AD&D 2nd Edition. The biggest selling point of AD&D 2nd ed was the campaign settings. There were a lot of them. Too many. But my favorite was Ravenloft. They took the events of the 1983 adventure and built an entire world around it with people, magic and lots of horror monsters. It was Gothic horror, to start with, but soon expanded into other realms of horror using the AD&D 2nd Ed rules. Not always a perfect fit, but I made it work.

It even expanded it to Earth in Ravenloft: Masque of the Red Death

It has been so popular that it is one of the few settings to see publication across all five major editions of D&D.  4th Edition made some changes, as did 5th Edition. But that is all within the same vein (so to speak) as all Horror movies, and Dracula in particular, get reinterpreted to fit the times better. Horror is always about what people in the here and now are concerned with. Ravenloft follows suit.

Ravenloft across the editions

Ravenloft has been listed as one of the greatest adventures of all time and Strahd as one of the greatest D&D villains ever. 

I have run this adventure many times under many different rulesets, and it has been a blast every time. 

Even if I am not playing D&D, I return to this adventure and this setting. 

Tomorrow is Sunday, so a break from A to Z, but not my posting. I will cover Dungeons 7 Dragons 4th Edition.

The A to Z of Dungeons & Dragons: Celebrating 50 years of D&D.

This is also my next entry of the month for the RPG Blog Carnival, hosted by Codex Anathema on Favorite Settings.

RPG Blog Carnival

Friday, April 19, 2024

#AtoZChallenge2024: Q is for Queens

 I have an inordinate amount of Queens in my games. I am going to talk about two groups in particular, the Vampire Queens and the Witch Queens.

Tea with the Witch Queens by Brian Brinlee
Tea with the Witch Queens by Brian Brinlee

Both groups are near and dear to my heart and make up a lot of my game worlds' backgrounds.

The Vampire Queens

The vampire queens have a special connection to my early days of gaming. They are:

I have been using vampire queens in my adventures for as long as I can remember. I recall reading lurid tales of Erzsébet Báthory and watching movies like "Daughters of Darkness" and "Countess Dracula." I had worked on a very early vampire queen, who was going to be called "Miriam" thanks to "The Hunger" for my Ravenloft games (see tomorrow), but I kept coming up with so many ideas. Miriam is still out there, even if many of her aspects are now part of Darlessa. The non-vampire parts of Miriam survived as my Witch Queen Miriam

In truth I kind of use them all interchangeably, with some emphasis on Darlessa. As they have all evolved in my games, I am slowly sifting out which traits belong to which queen. 

Interestingly enough, both Darlessa and Xaltana are also both Witch Queens. Xaltana combines Iggwilv (a witch queen) and Drelzna her vampire daughter.  

The Witch Queens

While the Vampire Queens are here to challenge the characters as adversaries, the Witch Queens play a much different and far more wide-reaching role. 

This began as an idea of me finding and then stating up every witch ever mentioned in the pages of a D&D or related game. The premise here was that every 13 years the witches of these worlds would meet in one place to discuss what they are up to in their worlds and plan to generally stay out of each other's way. The gathering, known as the Tredecim, became a big part of my games. At the Tredecim, the 13 ruling witches then choose a new High Witch Queen to serve over the next 13 years.  In my campaign, War of the Witch Queens, the then-current High Witch Queen is murdered before a new one can be chosen. This sends the witches into war against each other, but due to their pacts with Baba Yaga, they can't outright fight each other. So, all their worlds get dragged into the conflict.  This includes the characters.

The characters learn first that a once-in-a-century storm has destroyed their home, and they are refugees helping move their fellow town folk to a new home in East Haven. While their first obvious goal is to stop all the weird happenings going on in their own world, they discover these events are playing out across the worlds. To stop it, they need to stop the all-powerful Witch Queens, but to do that, they will need to discover who murdered the High Queen, how, and why.

Since I started working on this and developing it more and more, I have gone over 13 Witch Queens and my planned 13 Adventures. I am using Basic B/X D&D as my rules of choice here, which limits the levels characters can achieve to 14. 

I am running it with my family now, but I'd also like to run it for a dedicated group someday.  I think for that I would take all the adventures I am using for it and edit them all a bit. 

If I keep the levels 1-14 then the obvious choice is D&D Basic B/X.  If I expand it all to level 20 then my choice will be Castles & Crusades.

Either way, I have a lot to look forward to!

Tomorrow is R Day, and I am going with the campaign setting I ran for all of the AD&D 2nd Edition era, Ravenloft.

OH? Like the art of my Witch Queens up there? The artist is Brian Brinlee and he has a Kickstarter of his new art book going on now! Check it out.

The A to Z of Dungeons & Dragons: Celebrating 50 years of D&D.

Thursday, April 18, 2024

#AtoZChallenge2024: P is for Pathfinder (and Paizo)

 A bit of a divergence today for, well, a bit of divergence.  Let me set the stage a bit. It is 2007, and Wizards of the Coast has decided to end the publication of the wildly successful Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition line and will now produce Dungeons & Dragons 4th edition.  D&D 3e was the edition that brought many back to the game. It was the edition that rekindled my enjoyment of the game after so many years. The idea that this would end only after 7 years (10 years per edition had been the average) seemed a bit odd.

In any case, 4th edition was released, and ... well, I'll talk about that on Sunday. But people were not ready to give up their 3rd Edition rules. Enter Paizo and Pathfinder!

Pathfinder Core Rules

Back when 3rd Edition was popular, Wizards of the Coast had licensed out the RPG Hobby's flagship gaming Magazines, Dragon and Dungeon, to Paizo, Inc. Here they helmed both magazines for many years and built a few 3rd Edition compatible products thanks to the Open Gaming Licence. In 2007 Wizards of the Coast announced 4th edition they did not renew the contract with Paizo to produce material. So Paizo went on to produce their own Pathfinder periodical, a set of publications similar to the Dungeon magazine. 

In 2008 D&D 4e started out with good sales, but soon they began to fall. Fall faster than expected. Paizo saw there was still a market for 3rd-edition compatible material, but they also wanted to make some changes. Thus, in 2009 the Pathfinder RPG rules were born.

So in 2009, we both did D&D 4e, which was not compatible with D&D 3x or any other D&D rules set. And Pathfinder, which was 95% compatible with D&D 3.x.  That last 5% is for the differences in the D&D 3 and 3.5 rules and the extras Pathfinder added in. But honestly, you could take your D&D 3.0 characters, fight D&D 3.5 monsters while the Game Master ran Pathfinder rules, and everyone would be fine.

Sadly, Wizards of the Coast/Hasbro has a very bad habit of firing people. The good news here though is that some of those people would go on to be hired by Paizo to work on Pathfinder. I mentioned before that Pathfinder is often thought of as being "Dungeons & Dragons 3.75" and there is a lot of truth to that. There is a lot here that feels like D&D 3.x perfected. They certainly had the advantage of 9 more years of playing and writing to help them out. 

Pathfinder then did the impossible, it dethroned D&D as the best selling Fantasy RPG. They beat D&D at their own game. If the OGL was one of the reasons 4e got made, it was 4e's failures that got 5e made. In the meantime, Pathfinder just kept moving along and doing its thing.

Pathfinder 2nd Edition came along in 2019. It was different. While the rules were still very much tied to the OGL and the system first created for D&D 3, these rules had more divergence. The Pathfinder 2nd Edition rules were created to go after the D&D 5th edition, which by this time had reclaimed its market superiority. 

This would change again in 2023 when Wizards announced they were going to "revoke" the OGL (something they actually could not do legally). Pathfinder relied on the safe harbor of the OGL (as do many publishers) so in April of 2023 they announced their Pathfinder 2e Remastered. This would be their 2e ruleset, rewritten to avoid using the OGL and instead their own ORC license. While this did not deal the blow to D&D 5e that Pathfinder did to 4e, it was enough to have some people (myself included) move from D&D 5e to Pathfinder 2eR. 

Pathfinder 2e and 2eR
Pathfinder 2e and 2eR. I am still a sucker for a ribbon in my book.

I can find no significant differences between the Pathfinder 2e rules and the Pathfinder 2eR ones. I know Paizo is no longer selling the 2e rules in favor of the 2eR, which is as it should be. Pathfinder 2e is a fine game in its own right, and I like it better as long as I am not trying to compare it to either D&D 3e or 5e. And then only because they can all do the same sorts of games, just in different ways.

Tomorrow is Q Day, and I am going with a tried and true one. I will talk about the various Queens of Dungeons & Dragons.

The A to Z of Dungeons & Dragons: Celebrating 50 years of D&D.

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

#AtoZChallenge2024: O is for Original Dungeons & Dragons

 I can't properly celebrate 50 years of Dungeons & Dragons and not talk about where the game started. So let's go back to 1974 and the Original edition of Dungeons & Dragons.

Original D&D

This is the original 3-Volume set of Dungeons & Dragons, plus the Chainmail rules for fantasy minatures.

The rules...are arcane to say the least. These rules assumed that the player and the Referee (what would later be named Dungeon Master) already had a background in wargames or had access to those who did. Some have even gone as far as call the rules indecipherable, but I think that is obviously not the case. These rules say several reprints into the 1980s, with the 6th reprint being the most common. Mine is a mix of 3rd and 4th printings. You can still buy copies of it on DriveThruRPG if you are curious (it sells for the same price as it did back then), OR if you are super serious about it, score one of the collectible editions Wizards of the Coast did 10 years back

I will warn you, they are going for a lot of money now. But they are still cheaper than the OD&D rules from the 1970s.  Even the relatively common 6th printing goes for thousands of dollars now. I hate to think what 3rd printing would sell for.

Original D&D Reprint from 2013

Original D&D Reprint from 2013

Original D&D Reprint from 2013

There were only three character classes back then: Fighting Men, Magic Users, and Clerics. Races were humans, dwarves, hobbits/halflings, and elves, who had to decide whether to begin their day as Fighting Men or Magic Users.

Even the rolling of a d20 (twenty-sided die) was the "optional" rule for combat.

I did not start with this one. However, in 1987, I played a summer session with these rules. It was an educational experience, and I am certainly happy I did. I don't know if I will repeat it like that; I would add in more of the later supplements that made it into the game I know now. But it is something every gamer, especially every D&D player, needs to try at least once. 

These rules, though, were the absolute standard for gaming from 1974 to 1977, when TSR launched the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons line. Even other game companies mimicked TSR's approach.

A prime example is Traveller, the premier science fiction RPG, which began as a same-sized box with three books. If the D&D game books were called "The Three Little Brown Books, " the Traveller books were  "The Three Little Black Books." 

OD&D and Original Traveller

OD&D 3LBB and Original Traveller 3LBB

These little books are a very humble start to what would become a worldwide phenomenon. As the game grew and progressed, so did its players. We are now at a point where there is truly a game out there for everyone's needs and wants. And if the game you are playing doesn't do that, well there are thousands of choices. 

I still love reading these little books. They never get old to me. 

Tomorrow is P Day, and I'll talk about Pathfinder, the divergence of Dungeons & Dragons.

The A to Z of Dungeons & Dragons: Celebrating 50 years of D&D.

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

#AtoZChallenge2024: N is for Appendix N

Appendix N
The original 1st Edition Dungeon Master's Guide for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons is a treasure trove of material for running an AD&D game. It is also a treasure for running any sort of game. What it lacks in organization is something 2nd Edition attempted (and had some success with) to fix, but it makes up for in sheer volume and charm.

The tome, in addition to various details for the AD&D game, also has many informational appendices. One famous one was Appendix N.

Titled Appendix N: Inspirational and Educational Reading it is the only Appendix that doesn't offer direct advice above "read these."

Now, over the years, there has been something a cottage industry with the circles of "old school" gamers to study these books as if they were some sort of literary canon, ancient wisdom handed down from sages to us mere mortals.

Well...yeah, I mean there are some good books here sure, but you can play and enjoy D&D and never have read any of them really.

There are many links to explore these texts. Here are just a fraction.

There are even books about it.

Now, I am not trying to discount the effect these had on the writing of Dungeons & Dragons. I think I made clear at least some of these on H is for Hobbit day. Even the new 5th Edition D&D Player's Handbook revisits this list.

At the time I started playing D&D I had read the Hobbit. And that was about it. I was working through Lord of the Rings at the same time. I would quickly pick up Moorcock's Elric saga which is a natural step before getting into H.P. Lovecraft.

I actually found that a similar list in the Moldvay Basic book was much better. I also created my own "Appendix O" (the DMG has Appendix O) because it comes after N (and O for occult) of my own books that influenced my writing.

The Witches of Appendix N

A little project I have been planning is "The Witches of Appendix N." This would cover the various witches in these books and how I could represent them as AD&D characters. Some are easy, like Morgan Le Fey from Poul Anderson's Three Hearts and Three Lions or the winter witches of Fafhrd's homeland in Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd & Gray Mouser series. Others have close ones, like the works of H.P. Lovecraft. And some don't have any at all. 

I have never read some of these books despite knowing about them for 45 years, and others I have not read in a very long time. So, it might take a bit for this project to see the light of day. 


Tomorrow is O Day, so I am taking us back to where it all began with Original D&D.

The A to Z of Dungeons & Dragons: Celebrating 50 years of D&D.

Monday, April 15, 2024

#AtoZChallenge2024: M is for Monster Manual

 Today is Monday. It is also "M" Day. Here at The Other Side, Mondays are used for Monstrous Mondays, where I talk about monsters. Since I am doing the A to Z of Dungeons and Dragons my topic for today was pretty much handed to me.  Today I am going to talk about the Monster Manual.

All printings of the 1st Edition Monster Manual
All printings of the 1st Edition Monster Manual

Monster Manual for AD&D 1st Edition

This is the book that got me into D&D and RPGs. Along with The Hobbit, this is where my journey began. 

The Monster Manual was the book for me.  The one that got me hooked.  The book I borrowed from a friend to read in "silent reading" back in 1979 at Washington Elementary School in Jacksonville, IL, was the one that made me the über-geek you all know today. How über? I used the freaking umlauts, that's my street cred right there.

Back in '79 I was reading a lot of Greek Myths, I loved reading about all the gods, goddesses and monsters. A particular favorite of mine was D'Aularires' Book of Greek Myths. So I saw my friend's Monster Manual and saw all those cool monsters and I knew I had to have a copy. Though getting one in my tiny near-bible-belt town was not easy.  Not hard mind you, by the early 1980s the local book store stocked them, but I was not there yet.  So I borrowed his and read.  And read.  And read.  I think I had the damn thing memorized long before I ever got my own game going.

D'Aularires' Book of Greek Myths and the Monster Manual

Since then, I have judged a gamebook on the "Monster Manual" scale. How close of a feeling do I get from a book or game compared to holding the Monster Manual for the first time? Some games have come close, and others have hit the mark as well. C.J. Carella's WitchCraft gave me the same feeling.

Also, I like to go to the monster section of any book or get their monster books. Sure, sometimes there are diminishing returns—Monster Manual V for 3.5, anyone? But even then, sometimes you get a Fiend Folio (which I liked, thankyouverymuch).

This book captured my imagination like no other gamebook.  Even the 1st DMG, a work of art, had to wait until I was older to appreciate it.  The Monster Manual grabbed op to me from the start and took me for a ride.

The Book (and PDF)
The Monster Manual's PDF has been available since July 2015. The book has three different covers from the various printings in 1977, 1983 and 2012.

Monster Manual 1977Monster Manual 1983Monster Manual 2012

Regardless of what cover you have, the insides are all the same. The book is 112 pages long and features black-and-white art from some of the biggest names to grace the pages of an RPG book.
This book was the first of so many things we now take for granted in this industry. The first hardcover, the first dedicated monster tome, and the first AD&D book.

The book contains 350+ monsters of various difficulties for all character levels. Some of the most iconic monsters in D&D began right here. Mostly culled from the pages of OD&D—even some of the art is similar—and the pages of The Dragon, this was and is the definitive book on monsters.

Eldritch Wizardry gave us the demons, but the Monster Manual gave us those and all the new devils.  The Monster Manual introduced us to the devils and the Nine Hells. We also got the new metallic dragons, more powerful and diverse undead, and many more monsters.  There were new sub-races of the "big 3". Elves get wood, aquatic, half, and drow.  Dwarves get hill and mountain varieties. Halflings get the Tallfellows and Stouts. So, there are not just more monsters but more details on the monsters we already know.

While designed for AD&D, I used it with the Holmes Basic book. The two products had a similar style and seemed to work great together. It was 1979, and honestly, we did all sorts of things with our games back then. The games worked very well together.

Flipping through one of my physical copies or paging through the PDF, I now feel the same sense of wonder I did 45 years ago.

Thankfully, you can get the PDF of the Monster Manual for just a little more than the hardcover cost 45 years ago.

Gary Gygax's Daughter with the Monster Manual
Gary Gygax's oldest daughter, Elise, with the Monster Manual

The original Monster Manual is still so popular today that Wizards of the Coast is still making minis for D&D 5th Edition in the style of the monsters from AD&D 1st Edition. Granted, those sets are not aimed at casual 5e players but rather old gamers like me with fond memories and more disposable income than we had in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

I feel it is difficult for me to truly convey how I felt when I first read this book. But I think I have approached explaining it.

One thing is certain. This is the reason I have been working on my own Basic Bestiary.

Tomorrow is N Day. I plan to discuss the infamous Appendix N from the Dungeon Master's Guide.

The A to Z of Dungeons & Dragons: Celebrating 50 years of D&D.