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

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

BECMI: Companion Set Review

We are now at the part of my hand-made maps of the world where I leave the dungeons (Basic) and wildernesses (Expert) that I knew so well.   I am now in an area of half-rumored tales and speculations.  Stories from other travelers, with tales that are both familiar and yet foreign to me.

Join me on my exploration of the new worlds of the D&D Companion Set.  But a warning, here there be Dragons!

D&D Companion Set (1984)

I don't think it is too much to say that the Companion Set contains some of the most interesting changes and updates to the D&D than any other product TSR had published to date.  I will talk more about these in the review, but first a look back.

I had eagerly awaited the Companion set for D&D ever since I got my Expert Set.  That is, by B/X Moldvay/Cook Basic and Expert Set.

The Companion Set, as promised by the Expert Set rules, mentions that characters will now go to 36th level and there will be a way to cure undead level drain!  Such promises. Such hope!

D&D Cook Expert Set, page X8

Though it was not to be and the B/X line stopped there, only to be "rebooted" in 1983 with the BECMI line, though we were not calling it that back then.

By the time the Companion did come out I had moved on to AD&D. I no longer had any interest in the Companion rules having discovered the world could also have Assassins, half-orcs, and 9 alignments.

I did manage to read it once.  I was in college and it was at Castle Perilous Games in Carbondale. Of course, at the time AD&D 2nd Ed was the new hotness and I had no desire to look backward.  What I saw though at the time did not impress me.  I think the entire Mentzer set at the time (AT THE TIME mind you) made me think of it as D&D for little kids (now I see it differently).

Looking back now I see I made a BIG MISTAKE.
Well...maybe.  I mean I would not have traded my AD&D time for anything, but I do wish I had given the BECMI rules more of a chance.

Now I can fix that.

Today I am going to cover the BECMI Companion Rules.  I am going to cover both the DriveThruRPG PDFs and my recently acquired box set.

The Companion Set follows the rules as presented in the BECMI Basic and Expert books. But unlike those books, the Companion Rules sets off into uncharted directions and gives us some new material.

While the claim can be made that Frank Mentzer only edited and organized the Basic and Expert rules based on previous editions, the Companion set is all his.  While there may be some influences from earlier editions such as Greyhawk (with it's 22nd level cap [wizards] and some monsters) and AD&D (some monsters and the multiverse) this really feels new.

Companion Player's Book 1
The player's book is 32 pages with color covers and black & white interiors. Art by Larry Elmore and Jeff Easley.
Opening this book we get a preface with a dedication to Brian Blume. A nice touch and yeah he is often forgotten in the tale of D&D's earliest years.  The preface also firmly situates us in time. We 10 years out from when D&D was first published. The design goals of this book, and consequently this series, have never been more firmly stated.  This is an introduction to the D&D game and designed to be fun, playable, and true to the spirit of D&D.  It certainly feels like this is the successor to the Original D&D game; maybe more so than AD&D.
One page in and we are off to a great start.

The title and table of contents page tell us that this game is now "by" Frank Mentzer, based on D&D by Gygax and Arneson.  As we move into the book proper we get a feel for the "changing game."  Characters are more powerful and once difficult threats are no more than a nuisance or exercise.  The characters are ready to take their place among the rulers of the world.  This makes explicit something I always felt AD&D only played lip service to.

We get some new weapons that have different sorts of effects like knocking out an opponent or entangling them. We also get some unarmed combat rules.    Now, these feel they really should have been added to the Basic or Expert rule sets. Maybe they were but were cut for space or time.

Up next is Stronghold management from the point of view of the player characters.  Again here D&D continues its unwritten objective of being educational as well as fun.  More on this in the DM's book.

Character Classes
Finally, about 11 pages in we get to the Character updates.  Here all the human character classes get tables that go to level 25; again maybe a nod to Greyhawk's level 20-22 caps, and caps of 7th level spells (clerics) and 9th level spell (magic-users).  Clerics get more spells and spell levels.  The big upgrade comes in the form of their expanded undead turning table.  Clerics up to 25th level and monsters up to Liches and Special.  This mimics the AD&D Clerics table; I'd have to look at them side by side to see and differences.  One difference that comes up right away is the increase in undead monsters.  There are phantoms, haunts, spirits, and nightshades.  Nightshades, Liches, and Special will be detailed in the Master Set.

Something that is big pops up in the cleric listing.  A Neutral cleric of level 9 or higher may choose to become a Druid! Druids only resemble their AD&D counterparts in superficial ways.  They have similar spells, but the BECMI Druid cannot change shape.  It is an interesting implementation of the class and one I'll discuss more in a bit.

Arguably it is fighters that get the biggest boost in the Companion Set.  They gain the ability to have multiple attacks per round now and other combat maneuvers such as smashing, pairing and disarming. This is a big deal since they got so little in the Expert set. Fighters can also "specialize" into three paths depending on alignment.  There are Knights, Paladins, and Avengers.  Each type gives the fighter something a little extra.  Paladins are not very far off from their AD&D counterparts and Avengers are as close to an Anti-Paladin as D&D will get until we get to the Blackguards.

Conversely, Magic-users do not get as much save from greater spells. We do get the restriction that any spell maxes out 20dX damage.

Thieves can now become Guildmasters or Rogues.  A name that will come up more and more with future editions of D&D.

BECMI "Prestige Classes?"
The Druid, Knight, Avenger, Paladin, and to a lesser degree the Magist and Rogues represent what could arguably be called the first Prestige Classes to D&D.  Their inclusion predates the publication of the Theif-Acrobat in the AD&D Unearthed Arcana.
Prestige Classes are classes that one can take after meeting certain requirements in other "base" classes in D&D 3.x and Pathfinder. Often at 10th level, but can occur anytime the character meets the requirements.  This concept is later carried on into D&D 4 with their "Paragon Paths" (chosen at 11th level) and even into D&D 5 with their subclasses (chosen at 2nd level).
The BECMI Avenger and Paladin are the best examples of these working just like the Prestige Classes will in 15 more years.   This is interesting since it also means other classes can be added to the basic 4 core ones using the same system.  An easy example is the Theif-Acrobat from UA or even the Ranger from AD&D.  Though here the problem lies in the alignment system.  Rangers are supposed to be "good" for example.

Demi-humans may not advance any more in level, but they are not idle.  This is also the area of the Companion Set that I most often go wrong.  Each demi-human race has a Clan Relic and some demi-humans could be in charge of these clan relics, making them very powerful. There are also clan rulers and they are also detailed.  What does all that mean?  It means there is a good in-game reason why demi-humans do not advance in levels anymore.  They are much more dedicated to their clans than humans. So after a time it is expected that they will return home to take up their responsibilities to the clan.

That is not to say that these characters do not advance anymore.  Each demi-human race can still gain "Attack Ranks" as if they are still leveling up.  They don't gain any more HP, but they can attack as if they are higher-level fighters.  They also gain some of the fighter's combat options. Each class gets 11 such rank-levels.   It seems to split some hairs on "no more levels" but whatever.

We end with a map of the expanding Known World.  This is the continent of Brun of Mystara, but we don't know that yet.  But I will discuss that later this week.

This book is a lot more than I expected it to be and that is a good thing.

Companion DM's Book 2
The DM's book is 64 pages with color covers and black & white interiors. Art by Larry Elmore and Jeff Easley.
There is a lot to this book.  First, we get to some General Guidelines that cover the higher levels of play and planning adventures accordingly. There is sadly not a lot here.
We follow up with Part 2: The Fantasy World.  This continues some of the discussion of stronghold management and dominion management as well.  Now here is quite a bit of good information on what happens, or could happen, in a dominion. 
This section also includes the hidden secret of the D&D BECMI series.  The War Machine Mass Combat system.

War Machine
Around the same time TSR was also developing the BattleSystem Mass Combat system.  The two are largely incompatible with each other.  I always thought it was odd that two systems that do essentially the same things were created and incompatible with each other.   Later I learned that D&D BECMI lived in what we like to call a "walled garden" in the business.  It was out there doing it's own thing while the "real business" of AD&D was going on.  The problem was that D&D Basic was outselling AD&D at this point.  This was not the first time that TSR would woefully misunderstand their customers and sadly not the last time either.
War Machine has an elegance about it when compared to BattleSystem.  I am not saying it is simple, but the work involved is not difficult and I am happy to say it looks like it will work with any edition of D&D.

The Multiverse 
A big part of any D&D experience is the Multiverse.  This section allows the DMs and Players to dip their toes into the wider Multiverse which includes the Ethereal Plane and the Elemental Planes.

Space is also given to the discussion on aging, damage to magic items, demi-human crafts, poison, and more. We also get all of our character tables.

About halfway through the book, we get to the section of monsters.  A lot of familiar AD&D faces are now here, though a bit of digging will show that many of these are also from OD&D up to the Greyhawk supplement.  Most notable are the beholder, larger dragons, druids (as a monster), and many elemental types. Monsters are split into Prime Plane and Other Planes. 
Among the monsters featured are the aforementioned Beholder, larger Dragons, and bunches of new Undead like haunts, druj, ghosts and more.  A few that caught my attention are the Gargantua (gigantic monsters) and Malfera.  The Malfera REALLY caught my attention since they are from the "Dimension of Nightmares."  More fodder for my Mystara-Ravenloft connection.
Monsters from the Other Planes focus on the Elemental planes.

Lots of new treasure and magic items.

There are three short adventure or adventure hooks for companion level characters.

All in all the Companion Set is full and had many things I did not think it had given my very casual relationship to it over the years.  Reading it now and in-depth for the very first time I see there is a lot I could have used in my games back then.

Also reading this gives me a lot of ideas for more Basic/BECMI sorts of campaigns and plans for classes.

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

BECMI: Expert Set review

Moreso than the D&D Basic Set it was the D&D Expert Set that defined what "Basic-era" games were for me.  So it is with great excitement that I delve into the BECMI version of the D&D Expert Rules.

I have reviewed the older, Cook/Marsh version of the Expert set and if you want to read that review it is here.  I will be comparing this set of rules to that, but also how it fits into the larger set of BECMI rules.  Let's begin.  Once again I will be covering the Print and PDF versions of this book.

D&D Expert Rulebook
The 1983, BECMI version of the D&D Expert Rules are "Revised" by Frank Mentzer, but "by" Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson.  I would contend that once again there is a large amount of Frank in these rules. The book is 64-pages, softcover, with color covers and black & white interior art.  All art is credited to Larry Elmore.  Anne C. Gray is listed for "Editing."

So right away we are given a notice in my book that this version has been edited to be compatible with the D&D Companion rules with adjustments to combat, saving throws, spell acquisition and a new thieves table.  So right away this labels my print book as a Second Printing (or later).
This is interesting because the PDF on DriveThruRPG is a First Printing.  So there are differences.
I will point them out as they come up, but you can get some detail on them from Wayne's Books.

Like the previous Expert book, this one comes with a warning that this is not a complete game and you need the Basic Rules in order to play. There is some brief mention of their being older versions of the game, but to go with the rules printed here.

Unlike the Basic Set with two books; one for Players and one for DMs. This book is presented as a single 64-page volume with player and DM sections.

The introduction covers what an Expert D&D game looks like.  There are more options for the players in the classes, as well as exploring outside of the dungeon. That was a big deal to me back then! Also, character levels will go from 4th to 14th level! That seemed extremely high to me back then.

Player's Section
In the player's section, we learn that some classes, the demi-humans, will hit their max levels now.  Also, there are new features to spells such as affecting other things and they can even be reversed in some cases for a different effect. We also learn that spells not can cause damage but they can change saving throws, to hits, and even morale of others.  Spells are expanding!

Classes are presents and in the case of the Cleric and the Magic-user so are all the reversed spells and the new spells. Clerics can reverse a spell as they wish, Magic-users can't, they have to memorize the reversed version.  Now we are told that Lawful Clerics will not use a reverse version of a spell and in some cases, I see that, but when dealing with light or dark the effects of casting the spell into someone's eyes is the same; blindness.  So DM's be wary.

Clerics get an expanded table for Turning Undead including the ability to actually destroy the creatures! How freaking cool is that?  And the table gives us a spoiler, there are Vampires in these rules. As a young horror fan, this was great for me.

Level Titles are still used and that makes me happy.  Also having the saving throws with the class is great, no more having to dig for those.

The formatting and layout of the classes is still very clean and organized well.  Again the vibe I get is that the designers of 4th Edition D&D took their cues from this edition.
Poor fighter though only gets half a page.  Demi-humans, Dwarf, Elf, and Halfling, only get 1 pages in total.
Expert is not your ruleset if you like to play demi-humans.

The section on Adventuring covers a lot of new gear and the important factors about wilderness adventuring. First up, how you gonna get there? So horses and water travel become very important.

Dungeon Master's Section
This makes up a vast majority of the book, at 40 pages.
Again, like the Basic book topics are organized alphabetically.  In the B/X books there was a mention of cutting up your books and organizing them in a binder. Here you could cut out individual sections and organize those! But maybe copy them first or print out the PDF.

The next section for DM's is designing adventures, and in particular Wilderness adventures and town adventures. Humand and demi-human lands are also covered.   This is broken up by a "center fold" of tables and the maps of the Known World and the Grand duchy of Karameikos.  These maps though have something added, they have to locations of the then-current B and X series modules (B1-4, X1-5).  Interestingly it places B3 in Karameikos when previously it had been in Glantri.

This is the book that also gave us the BECMI version of Hommlet, the town of Threshold.

Next up are the Monsters.  Always a favorite.
The monsters here a largely the same as the B/X version of Expert. There are some monster missing, but I know (spoilers) that they will reappear in the Companion Rules. But what is really missing here is some of what I considered the most classic art of D&D.  From what I can tell some of the monsters have been rewritten for this version. Stats are the same but the text does differ.

We end with Treasure and Magic Items.

Overall the Expert set represents a huge leap forward for the BECMI game so far.  Taking the action outside is a, changer.

People often comment on how much gameplay is actually in this box, and they are not exaggerating. From levels 1-14 is some of the best gameplay D&D has to offer regardless of edition.

Once again we also have a collection of wonderful Larry Elmore art in this version. Though I wish there had been more.

D&D Expert really is where the D&D game is really built.  This is not AD&D and it is not the little brown books, this is really a different sort of game.  Yes, AD&D and D&D can cover the same sorts of games, and there are plenty of places where the rules are the same, but it is also here you see the most differences. This was true for B/X Expert and true for BECMI Expert.

The tone of the Expert rules feels different too than AD&D.  There is a lot that can be done with this game and the feeling is there is even more just over the next hill.  Maybe, maybe, more than AD&D, D&D Expert set really captures what is best about the whole D&D experience.

Like it's predecessor, the BECMI Expert set comes with a copy of Isle of Dread, which is just as much of a learning tool for DMs as anything in the rules.   I will discuss that adventure and it's  importance (it is the only BX to BECMI book to get the updated trade dress) to the D&D line next time.

Comparisons with the Cook/Marsh B/X Expert Set

Comparisons are naturals since the Cook/Marsh Expert set was such a big deal to me.

The two sets compare well and cover largely the same information.  There are some minor differences in some numbers and on closer inspection there are a couple more missing monsters than I thought.  But otherwise, the two versions are very, very similar. In fact, I do recall people using this version of the Expert Rules with the previous Moldvay Basic Rules.  But we mixed and matched our rules all the time.

There is a big difference here in how thief abilities work between the B/X and 2nd Printing of BECMI Expert as well as some of the spell progressions.  But this is more of an artifact of the changes between First and Second (see below) printings of the Expert book.

It should be noted that BECMI Expert promises us a Companion rule set that goes from 15 to 25, but B/X Expert tells us that Companion rules will go from 15 to 36!

Comparisons with First and Second Printing

Ah.  Now here there is a bunch more differences. Far more than what you would expect to be honest, but it had to be edited to be brought in line with the new Companion set.  Some of these have been mentioned, but it bears looking at in detail.

Again we see the thief abilities getting a radical change. Thieves of the First Printing are more like those of B/X.  Thieves of the Second Printing take a HUGE hit on their Open Locks rolls, 99% versus 72% at 14th level. Additionally, all the Hear Noise rolls are now percentiles versus a roll on a d6. Though they all seem to work out to be roughly the same.

Spell acquisition is different with generally all the spell-casting classes getting better at spells.
Saving Throws are different.

One thing I did not do was compare either to AD&D, I know there are a lot more differences especially when it comes to XP per level.

With the Basic and Expert now BECMI can go toe to toe with B/X.  Both iterations of the D&D game are still largely the same and that is good and by design.  A lot of new Basic and Expert books are coming out for the BECMI version of Basic/Expert that will still work fantastic with those of us who were still playing B/X and AD&D.

Both BECMI Expert and B/X Expert sets came with the adventure module The Isle of Dread, which is as much as a second rule book as one can get from an adventure.  I will detail the Isle in my post tomorrow.

Friday, June 5, 2020

Friday Night Videos: BECMI Special, Chart Action 83!

So June is BECMI Month and I am going to be doing some BECMI-flavored versions of regular features.

Since the Basic Set of BECMI came out in 1983 I thought it might be fun to pull out a play-list from 83.

But not just any play-list.
No, this one follows the line up of a cassette tape I bought back in 83, likely at the K-Mart.  I remember getting it because it was the only tape I could find with my then favorite song "Shock the Monkey" by Peter Gabriel.

Of course, I can only mean K-Tel's "Chart Action '83!"

Does it have anything at all to do with D&D or BECMI?
Not at all!  But it is what I was listening to then.

Here is the full cassette version playlist below.

What were you listening to in 83?

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Reviews: Calidar Guides for Players

Been spending some quality time with Calidar this week.  Why? because there is a complete lack of flying cities and skyships in my games.  Plus Bruce Heard is a great writer going way back to the TSR days.  Back when I was in college my money was tight.  Ok I was spending it on alcohol. But the point is that I was not buying a lot of D&D books.  What I DID buy were book by Bruce Heard and anything he did for Mystara.

So these new books (and my Professor's salary) are a welcome addition to my life.
Let's get into it.

Game Mechanics for the World of Calidar
12 pages. PDF and Softcover format. Full-color covers, color, and black & white interior. PWYW

Ok, this book is punching WAY above its weight in terms of value to page count. There are some obvious benefits, that I'll talk about and one or two not-so-obvious that also make this a must-have.  I'll get to those as well.  Let's start with the explicit value.
This book is designed to allow any GM or player to use the Calidar shorthand stats I have talked about all week and then convert them to any game system.
The game mechanics used are detailed first. By doing this Calidar is free to depict stats in any way that works best for the world and not necessarily the game system.  There is an obvious "D&D-bias" here but that is fine really, and expected.
Inbetween the text is the numbers conversion chart.  Ranked by percentages the numbers are grouped by ranges you can convert say Level to a Calidar %.  So let's say your game goes from 1 to 14 (like say B/X or OSE) then you can convert a Calidar character statblock using this.  Or maybe 1 to 30 (D&D4) or 1 to 20 (most D&D).  Spend some time with this chart and the translations begin to happen easily.
The game mechanics continue and include a "Philosophy" stat which is a stand in for Alignment. AND it might actually be a better alignment system.  Now I have never had any issues with Alignment myself.  Maybe because I spent so much time with things like the MMPI and other tests that I naturally gave alignment more subtle gradations.  Actually, I think it was more chemistry come to think of it. Take the "alignment chart" in the old PHB or D&DG and think of an electron cloud where a character can move up or down in the shells.
There is also a map of Calidar and the Great Caldera and some brief descriptions of the lands.
Now what else do you get?  Well this conversion table is fantastic for conversions to all sorts of games. Not just D&D based ones.  Yes, the math is not difficult, actually, it is pretty easy.  But I teach math all damn day. I like having something like this.
Secondly, I want to get back to the new Philosophy system.  It works GREAT in CA2 How to Train Your Wizard. It would be great for someone that doesn't like the Law-Chaos, Good-Evil axes.
So grab this. Throw a couple of bucks at Bruce and have fun!

PG2 A Players' Guide to Caldwen
20 pages. PDF and Softcover format. Full-color covers, color, and black & white interior. $2.99

This covers the basics of the Magiocracy of Caldwen. The various Provinces are covered briefly and other aspects of the land.  We get the calendar with months and some astrology.
There is a new race, the Shatim, which are like Tieflings, humans with demonic heritage. These have their own Caldwenian spin on them. 
We also get a Mage Knight class. They are an armored knight that can cast spells. Using the Game Mechanics for the World of Calidar book you can convert them to your game system of choice.
We get overviews on the various cults in Caldwen and their locations, or at least where the majority are located. Appropriate for a land where magic is the real religion.
Currency, tourism and a brief map are all included.
A good resource for players and a needed one for the Game Masters.
It really sets the flavor of what you can expect in the Caldwen mini-setting. "Mini setting" is actually underselling it a bit to be honest. There is so much in the Caldwen books that you forget it was just a piece of the entire Calidar world setting.

I have the softcover books, but these really benefit from being printed out (bad on the color ink though) so I can put them in a binder to lay flat.  Especially when it comes to referencing the maps, which are a highlight of these books.

I can't wait to see where my vacation in Calidar takes me next.

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Classic Adventures Revisited: B1 In Search of the Unknown

I want to look back at some of my favorite classic adventures both from TSR and others.  I'll give a review, though most everyone knows what is in these adventures by now, I'll also talk about how I have used them in the past and I'll also talk about what other games I have used them with or would like too.  So there is a little bit of Plays Well With Others in this too.

Why do classic adventures? Easy, I love these adventures.  I have written hundreds of my own adventures, some I have even published, but these are the adventures that everyone knows and we all have a history with.

B1 In Search of the Unknown
In Search of the Unknown was not the first adventure ever created, it was not even the first TSR adventure ever created.  It was though one of the very first adventures I ever encountered and one of the first I ever ran.

This is my "go-to" adventure anytime I want to start up a new group or game.  It's a ritual for me, roll up characters and run them through the halls of the lost Castle of Quasqueton. I still have my copy that I bought all those years ago and it was also one of the first PDFs I purchased from WotC. I also have the DriveThruRPG Print on Demand copy and it is very nice.

It is one of those adventures I can run with zero prep time and each time I learn something new or remember something I forgot. This module is simple, easy to use and can be adapted to any campaign world and even any game. It is a perfect module for the Basic game.

The adventure is a great case of both teaching tool for learning DMs (we were all new to this once) and DIY Dungeon.  Some areas are detailed, but many are not, leaving room for the neophyte DM to record what monsters and treasure were in each room.  There are also a plethora of cliche spawning Dungeon tropes, that were just getting started here.  Magic mouths, one-way secret doors, a mysterious creator of the dungeon, or in this case, two, and strange magical artifacts.

This adventure was the perfect learning tool for me at the time since my own version of D&D was a mix of Holmes Basic and the AD&D Monster Manual.   This "Basic" introductory module was released before the Basic game, but it moves elegantly between Basic and Advanced that begs you to mix and match your rules systems.  Author Mike Carr even gives some guidelines on how to use this adventure with AD&D.

Note how the using this adventure with AD&D is absent from the later printings.

The module is pretty typical for the time. 32 pages of b/w art and text. Detached cover with blue maps printed on the inside of the cover. The first 6 pages are dedicated to running the adventure and how to run this one in particular.

I have used this adventure to start every new campaign I have ever run in D&D, regardless of the edition.  The dungeon crawl here is so primal that it calls out to you. A true In Search of the Unknown indeed.   The one thing I never did, however, was to investigate more about who Rogahn and Zelligar were and why they left their lair of Castle Quasquenton.

One thing that B1 did give me, in a roundabout way, was my very first witch NPC Marissia.  She is in the lower parts of Quasquenton and she is attempting to summon the spirit of her master Zelligar and her father Rogahn.

The adventure has stood the test of time and it is a great combination of flexible dungeon design.  Nearly anything can be put into this adventure to raise or lower the difficulty as needed.

DriveThruRPG and DMSGuild offer this as both a PDF and Print On Demand.

B1 Legacy of the Unknown
This adventure is billed as a "sequel" from Pacesetter Games & Simulations.  It furthers the mystery of Rogahn and Zelligar and what they were doing.  There is a druid in this adventure named "Melissia" which I thought was very fun and worked as some sort of relative (daughter may be) of my own "Marissia", a witch NPC I always included in my own runnings of B1 In Search of the Unknown.

You can get this adventure from DriveThruRPG (PDF only) or from Pacesetter's own store (Print and PDF). While overtly designed for AD&D1/OSRIC, it would be a great fit for Pacesetter's own BX RPG.  In fact, it might fit better.

Other Games / Plays Well With Others

Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition
The simplicity of B1 has made it an enduring adventure for over 40 years.  I have used it with every version of D&D I have ever played. But if you want everything at your fingertips for easy conversions I do recommend the Classic Modules Today conversion of B1 In Search of the Unknown.
Goodman Games also offers their Original Adventures Reincarnated, with B1 and it's various printings going into their Into the Borderlands Hardcover. It features the original printings of the original module as a complete 5th edition update.
There is also a set of maps that can be printed out or used with virtual tabletops.

B1 and Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea
Like many old-school adventures, one merely needs to turn up the horror aspect to give it a good run in Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea.  Though there is not much that needs to be done to change it.  There is a feeling that Rogahn and Zelligar were messing with the forces of chaos a little more than they should have been.  Make that Chaos now with a capital "C" and we are getting the adventure closer to what we might see in AS&SH.  The one thing that always struck me about Quasquenton is that it is all underground.  It's not a castle, not really, but a warren.  Eric Fabiaschi suggests that the complex had been built by one of the older Lovecraftian races and the adventurers Rogahn and Zelligar only found it later.  It seems to fit for me.
Also given that B1 is an odd admixture of proto-Basic D&D, OD&D, and AD&D, the feel is perfect for AS&SH.

B1 and Blue Rose
In this mix, the chaos elements run the other direction so to speak.  Here Rogahn and Zelligar stumble upon an element of Shadow while constructing their castle/lair.   Maybe it has something to do with what I call the "Chaos Stone", Room 45/XLV "Cavern of the Mystical Stone".  This is obviously some artifact of Shadow and it either drone Rogahn and Zelligar mad, killed them or caused them to kill each other, or destroyed them outright.  Maybe all the above.
When converting ANY D&D adventure to Blue Rose I take some points from Fantasy Age where I can. In particular the monsters.  Typically in Blue Rose, you would not see this concentration of monsters in one place, the Chaos Stone/Mystical Stone is drawing them near.   As Envoys of the Sovereign, it would the character's jobs to find out what is going on and how to stop it.   I would give more background to Rogahn and Zelligar and stat up Marrissia a little more.
While this is a good "first-level" adventure in D&D, the implication of Shadow here makes this a much more dangerous enterprise.

Step with care here Envoys. More than your life is at stake.

B1 and Army of Darkness
One of my favorite mixes, but not my top favorite (more on that one next time).  Army of Darkness allows for all sorts of crazy adventures.  For the same reasons that B1 works for Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea, it works for this.  So imagine this, you have a party of Primative Screwheads, they are out in the woods. It starts to rain.  They find an entrance to a cave and boom, suddenly it is horror movie shenanigans. Monsters chasing you, weird-ass artifacts and cultists who are somehow still alive from the Middle Ages.  Have at least one archeologist to talk about how insane this all is and then go monster hunting and maybe, just maybe stop the forces of Chaos from ruling the world.  Use Dungeons & Zombies as your guide to covert D&D to Cinematic Unisystem.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

#RPGaDAY2019: Triumph

Today's topic is Triumph.

Let's all cast our minds back to the early and mid-80s when D&D was getting REALLY popular.

There are more, if you want to find them.  Lots more really.

The biggest Triumph we have had as RPG players and geeks, in general, is that society has come to embrace us.

The biggest movies in the world now are all nerdy topics that never would have worked in the 80s.  Comic-books, stories about wizards, Lord of the Rings, movies about Aliens.

Let's have a look at the at the top box office earners according to Box Office Mojo.

1Star Wars: The Force AwakensBV$936,662,2252015
2Avengers: EndgameBV$858,188,4152019
4Black PantherBV$700,059,5662018
5Avengers: Infinity WarBV$678,815,4822018
7Jurassic WorldUni.$652,270,6252015
8Marvel's The AvengersBV$623,357,9102012
9Star Wars: The Last JediBV$620,181,3822017
10Incredibles 2BV$608,581,7442018

The only "non-geek" movie in the bunch is Titanic.

Now celebrities tout their geek and D&D cred like it is a badge of honor and respect.
Vin Disel,  Stephen Colbert, Felicia Day, Dwayne Johnson, Joe Manganiello among many others routinely talk about D&D.  Will Wheaton walks around Gen Con like he BELONGS there (spoiler, he does!).

And then you have something like this.
Actress Dominique Tipper from "The Expanse", a British/Dominican actress of color so no where near the stereotype of a D&D player.

Her Twitter posts after this have been a delight.  She is falling in love with the game so many of us love and it is a wonderful thing.

The Triumph of D&D is how we went from being persecuted in the 80s to being in the limelight today.

They say the best revenge is living well and D&D is living well indeed.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

D&D Essentials Kit: Unboxing and Review

Today I want to spend some time with the new D&D Essentials Kit.  I had held off buying this when it first came out.  It was only available at Target stores and it is designed to get people up and going in the D&D 5 game that does not have prior experience with D&D.  That is not me. Plus buying one means that someone new might not get a copy.  But I kept hearing really good things about it and the sales I have heard are really good.  So I opted to pick up a copy now.

Since I prefer to buy my game materials from my favorite local game store, I will pick up another one when they are released to games stores in September.  I am likely going to donate that copy to my kid's local high school gaming club.  It will be well recieved I am sure.

So for $25 what does the Essentials Kit have and what can you do with it?  According to the back of the box we have:
  • 64 Page Rulebook
  • Dragon of Icespire Peak Adventure
  • Double-sided poster map
  • DM's screen
  • 6 blank character sheets
  • 11 polyhedral dice
  • 81 cards describing magic-items, NPC and conditions
  • Access codes for D&D Beyond

Opening up the box we see:

The adventure has a familiar feel of all the D&D 5 books.


The map of the Sword Coast.

The DM's screen.  It is similar to the DM's screen sold separately, but this is made of thinner material.

Character sheets. These are thicker paper than photocopier paper.

The rulebook covers nearly everything characters will need for levels 1 to 6.

And dice. 1d4, 4d6s, 1d8, 1d10, 1d%, 1d12 and 2d20s.

The Essentials Kit covers a bunch of material and it is a fantastic introduction to the Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition game.  The rules are clear, cover all the necessary topics and items.

The Essentials Kit is designed to work with the Starter Kit, but in truth I felt the Essentials can stand on it's own.

Certainly together they make for a complete game.  The Starter Set has more monsters and another adventure. 

I think that there was a missed opportunity here to call these the Basic and Expert sets.

The easy comparison here is to the various Basic Sets we have gotten over the years for D&D.

One of the complaints of the Starter Set was the lack of character creation rules. There were some other complaints that I felt were overblown. But let's look at this new box and ask the basic question "can I run a D&D game with just this box?"

The answer is yes, of course you can.  But are the elements here? Certainly.
I went through my Holmes and Moldvay Basic sets (Metzer is similar enough to Moldvay for this) and picked out rules sections to see what they have and how the Essentials compares.

This is what I came up with:

Item/Rule/Topic D&D 5e Essentials Holmes Basic Moldvay Basic
Character Creation Yes Yes Yes
Ability Generation 4d6, drop lowest or array 3d6 3d6
Character Races Dwarf, Elf, Halfling, Human Dwarf, Elf, Halfling, Human Dwarf, Elf, Halfling, Human
Character Classes Bard, Cleric, Fighter, Rogue, Wizard Cleric, Fighter, Magic-user, Thief Cleric, Fighter, Magic-user, Thief
and Race-as-class
Levels 1 to 6 1 to 3 1 to 3
Spells Yes (Bard, Cleric & Wizard) Yes (Cleric & Magic-user) Yes (Cleric & Magic-user)
Equipment Yes Yes Yes
Combat Yes Yes Yes
Monsters Yes, in included adventure Yes Yes
Magic Items Yes Yes Yes
DM's Section Yes, in included adventure Yes Yes
Running Adventures Yes Yes Yes
Sample Adventure No (but includes a full adventure) Yes Yes
Full Adventure Dragon of Icespire Peak B1 Search of the Unknown B2 Keep on the Borderlands
Character Sheets Yes No No* (but a page you can copy)
Dice Yes (11) No (Chits) Yes (6)

All three sets align well in terms of what you have.  You can start a character, choose one of four races and one of five classes and take them from 1st to 6th level with this box. And with this box there are already blank character sheets.

Like the boxes of old, save for my Holmes set made during the Great Dice Drought, all have dice.  All have included adventures and all have character creation rules.
Will Dragon of Icespire Peak go down in history like Keep on the Borderlands?  No. But it is still a very fine adventure.

The weak point of this boxed set as a complete game are the lack of a huge variety of Monsters.  Holmes featured 58 monsters.  Moldvay had over 70, more with variants and sub-types. Essentials has 33.  Still, a good amount and all three sets cover the same ones.  I don't see this as an issue since monsters can be downloaded from the SRD or the online Basic Game.  The Starter Kit also has Monsters as well.

So. The new Essentials Kit is a great starting place for people wanting to learn D&D 5 and have never played D&D before.  It is also good for anyone new to D&D 5 but has played other games in the past; though I would direct those folks to the Player's Handbook.

At 25 bucks the entry price is low enough for a casual gamer. 

The woman at the register at Target asked me if the game was for me or my kids.  I admitted it was for me, but my kids play.  She was telling me how popular the set has been and it was flying off the shelves.  I told her I knew, since this was the fourth Target I had been at in the Chicago'burbs looking for it.  She said her son had asked for it and she got it for him.  Now he and all his friends play at her house.  Cheaper than a video game and she knew where they were and what they were doing to whole time.

I think. No. I KNOW that Wizards of the Coast did the right thing putting this in Target stores.  If this gets the word out more about our hobby, then fantastic.

My next plan is to do some sample characters.  I have a new Bard, Cleric or Druid, and a Fighter I want to try out using just this box and do the same characters with the new Pathfinder.  Could be fun to see which character creation process "feels" the best.

Friday, May 24, 2019

Caverna do DragĂŁo / Cave of the Dragon

Like many gamers my age I have had a "complicated" relationship with the Dungeons & Dragons cartoon of the 80s.  At the time I thought it was stupid. But as I got older I came to appreciate it for what it really was.  My kids LOVED it, especially my youngest son.  I bought the boxed set that came out with the D&D 3.0 stats and it was a great blast.

So the whole Internet has been abuzz when these pictures start coming out.

A cosplay group?  A new movie!? A Netflix series??
Nope. It's a Brazilian car commercial for the new Renault Outsider!

I have to admit. Tiamat looks freaking awesome here, and they really captured the feel of the characters.  I swear that Eric and Diana looked like they walked right out of the cartoon and into this commercial. 

My orginal DM just said on Facebook that they must have had a bigger budget for this 1 minute 45 second TV spot than the first D&D movie.  I am inclined to believe that.

AND now thanks to Renault we know how the story ends.

Now maybe Paizo can team up with Nissan for a Pathfinder commercial?

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Dungeons & Dragons Stranger Things Starter Set

There is no doubt that Stanger Things gave D&D a boost.
D&D 5th ed was already doing great and was on its way to being the best selling version of D&D ever before it became a major feature of the highly popular Netflix show Stranger Things.  When Season 1 premiered I had adults my age (who would have been the same ages as the kids in ST at the time) coming to me and asking how they could get a D&D game for their kids.

Well, I wish I had had this boxed set at the time.

The new Dungeons & Dragons Stranger Things Starter Set is making it's way to retailers now.
I picked up a copy on Amazon (to donate to my son's D&D club at High School...yeah they have now) and getting another one from my FLGS.

Truth be told I don't *need* it, but it sure is fantastic!

Done up like everyone's favorite red box D&D this is a starter set for D&D 5th Edition.  And it is PERFECT for anyone that is a fan of the show and wants to learn how to play D&D.
It does have the Wizards of the Coast logo on it, but also the "Hasbro Gaming" logo which is new.  Also since this is being sold not only in game stores and Amazon it is being released to Game Stops (the video game store) and other markets.   Hasbro is serious about backing D&D and I think it is going to be a huge win for them.

The box set includes a basic rule book similar to what we got in the first D&D 5e Starter set.  We also get an adventure "Written by Mike Wheeler", character sheets, a set of dice (mine are exactly like the ones I got in the Starter Set) and two "Demogorgon" minis; one painted the other plain.

Starter Set Rulebook
This book gives all the basics of D&D in 44 concise, full-color pages.  Everything is here to get you started. How to play, the basics of combat and adventuring, a chapter on spell casting and a subset of magic items and monsters.  Pretty much what you expect in a "Basic" set.
Instead of art we get some screen grabs from the ST show.
There are stats for the Demogorgon monster (not the demon).

Hunt for the Thessalhydra
Ok, truth time, I LOVE this. I want more adventures like this.
The sample adventure is done up to like a notebook written by Mike from the show.  Complete with wide ruled notebook paper background and Jr. High style art (only much better).  D&D artist Stan! is behind this one and I could not be happier about that.

The adventure is as old-school as summer 1983. You have a quest, a knight a monster to defeat, a table of rumors. Troglodytes! (art takes it inspiration from the Monster Manual) and random encounters.
The adventure is not ground-breaking, but it is not supposed to be.  BUT it does take place in the "Upside Down", so that is cool. They describe it a bit like the Shadowfell, but no attempt is made to make it part of the larger D&D 5 cosmology and that is perfectly great by me.  There is even a sword from the Upside Down.
And no Refrigerator Aleena in this one, there is a Proud Princess that will aid the characters but they can't even harm her if they try.  She is obviously the Eleven stand in.

Character Sheets
These are all stand-ins for the kids on the show, more or less, We get all the major races; elf, dwarf, human, half-elf, and half-orc. No halfling though. And a good subset of classes; bard, cleric, paladin, ranger, wizard. But no straight up fighter or rogue.  A halfling rogue (or maybe a zoomer!) would have been a nice touch.  No names or genders on the sheets as it should be.

Dice and Demogorgons
The dice a pretty standard, same set I got with the other starter set.  There are only six (as were in old-school sets) so no d%, there is a standard d10 (and d4, d6, d8, d12 and d20).
The Demogorgon minis are the weakest part of this set.  The minis are the right scale but the plastic is really flimsy. The "painted" one only has a little bit of orange on it. These are not the Wiz Kids minis we get at game stores, these are made by Hasbro and appear to be made cheaply so they can make tons of them.

But really, this box hits all the nostalgia boxes AND is still a solid introduction to the D&D 5 game.

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