Showing posts with label basic. Show all posts
Showing posts with label basic. Show all posts

Thursday, June 27, 2024

From Imirrhos to Mystara: The Known World

 Been rather busy this week, but this one came across my feed, and I thought it was interesting. I love the Known World, also known as Mystara, so any details about it's history.

The video is about 2 hours long, so pop some popcorn and settle in.




Saturday, April 20, 2024

#AtoZChallenge2024: R is for Ravenloft

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.


Friday, April 12, 2024

#AtoZChallenge2024: K is for the Known World

 Today I am going to talk about the Known World, or the campaign setting implied in Basic D&D.

the Known World

When the D&D Expert Set was introduced, it included a two-page map of part of a continent. This was described as "The Known World," and that was good enough for us back then. A lot of strange cultures were crammed into an area about the size of the North Eastern portion of North America. But hey, it was D&D, and we thought it was great. It was certainly enough for me. In fact my characters rarely left this area. There was plenty to adventure here.

At the time, I did not know the work already done here and where this world would go in the next few years.

The Schick-Moldvay Known World

Before working on the D&D Basic Set, Tom Moldvay had a game with future D&D heavyweight Lawrence Schick. In their games they had a campaign world they were calling "The Known World."

A while back, Lawerence Schick posted "The “Known World” D&D Setting: A Secret History" over at the Black Gate site.  A nice history of how he and Tom Moldvay came up with the Known World for their own games and then ported it over to D&D Basic/Expert.  It is a fascinating read if, like me, you are a fan of the Mystara world and/or of maps in general.



James Mishler (who also did the Mystoerth map) takes this one further and provides the above map for the Moldvay/Schick known world.

It is interesting how so many familiar names and even locations exist in different places. It is like looking at a world you know but through some sort of distorted lens. What is also quite interesting to me are the new lands—places, and names that are entirely new to me.

The Known World
The Known World Replica Map by James Mishler

There is so much here I can use and honestly I have yet to grow tired of exploring this map. BUT it is not the map we ended up with. No once the Known World left the hands of Moldvay and Schick it became a different world.  That world would eventually be called URT! (ok and then Msytara).

The Known World of Urt Mystara

Spend any time here, and you will know that the Known World of the Basic/Expert Sets (B/X) was the first world I played in.  While I would move on to AD&D and Oerth, the Known World would also move to Mystara.  It would be the world introduced to us in the Companion Set and expanded on the Gazeteer Series, the D&D Rules Cyclopedia, and even into the 2nd Edition age and beyond.

But it was in the Companion and Master Sets that Mystara got its start.


The B/X Known World only occupies the East-most lower gray box, this is the same as the very first map on the top of this page.   The BECMI World, Mystara, is going to be bigger.  Even this is just the continent of Brun.

I am not sure who came up with the idea for Mystara to look the way it does but there are some obvious parallels.

From the Master DM's Book,



Here is Mystara, courtesy of http://pandius.com/





If it looks familiar, there is a good reason.


That is the Late Jurassic, the early Cretaceous period of the Earth, 150+ Million Years Ago.

Long-time readers here already know of the Paleomap Map project of Earth History.  It has many maps of the different stages of Earth history and potential future maps.  I will admit when I first saw maps of the really old Earth it was disquieting to me.  I love maps, and throughout all of human history, the Earth has been the same. Not so throughout ALL history and prehistory.

It's also kind of cool to see where the places of Mystara will line up to our world.

Mystara and the Lands Beneath the Waves by Grimklok

At first, the Known World was known by Urt or even Urth by Frank Mentzer and was designed to be similar to Gary's Oerth of the AD&D game. We also learn in the Immortals Set that Urt did not look like Earth 150 MYA it WAS Earth at that time. 

Though I think (and I have nothing to support this) that the "Urt" version of the Known World was scrapped after Frank Mentzer left TSR. His good friend Gary had already been ousted. It seems like Urt was a casualty of that regime change. So "Urt" was out, and "Mystara" was in. 

Mystara 

The Known World of Mystara was later expanded and given more detail in the wonderful Gazetteer Series, Hollow World Series, and Challenger Series.

While delving into everything Mystara would take me another month or another year, there is still a vibrant and active community on the web to support this world.  In fact, I would say it is far more active than most other worlds. Starting in the early days of the MPGN listserve lists run by TSR. The MYSTARA-L listserve was active back in the days when my access to the Internet was via a mainframe.  Many of the same people on those lists then are still active in the various Facebook groups and websites today.

Mystoerth

For me, I always had a soft spot in my heart for Mystara. It was the world of my Basic era days, and when I moved on to AD&D, I still kept the world as "my own."  It was understood that when I was a player, it was in Greyhawk/Oerth, but when I was a DM, it was in the Known World/Mystara.  Eventually, right before college, we merged our worlds into one. I got the western half, and my DM got the eastern half.  

So you know, I was thrilled when I found the James Mischler/Chatdemon Mystoerth map.  The worlds share a lot of details in common, so a merge was inevitable. I no longer have the original map my then DM made, but this one is a better rendition anyway.


Click for larger

This appears to be the original map. While researching this, I found an old post by Rich/Chatdemon that offers an alternate name: Oerstara. I kind of like that. A lot. It sounds like Ostara, the pagan holiday from which Easter comes. Oestara could have been an alternate name for the planet, like Earth and Terra.

Regardless of which version of the Known World I would use there is more than enough in any of them to last me another lifetime of gaming and exploration.

Isn't that what it is all about?

Tomorrow is L, and I will talk about Larian Studios and Baldur's Gate 3

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


Wednesday, April 10, 2024

#AtoZChallenge2024: I is for Imagination

 It has often been said that all you really need to enjoy Dungeons & Dragons is some rules, dice, paper, pencil, friends, and Imagination!

Products of your Imagination
TSR 1983 Product Catalog

This is pretty much true.

Unlike Monopoly, Scrabble, or even war games from which it is descended, D&D largely exists as the "theater of the mind." There is no board. Your character sheet is just a collection of items and numbers. Same with the monsters being fought. The Dungeon Master, DM, describes what is going on, and you have to picture it in your mind.

This was particularly true in the early days. Yes, there were miniatures, in fact, Original D&D recommends them, but they were only being made by a few companies, and they were expensive (relatively speaking), and you had to paint them yourself. As opposed to today where those options are still available and there are cheaper plastic minis and even ones you can design on your own.

There is no board. Today, we can get maps where 1" = 5', perfect for 25mm minis. If you wanted to see what was going on, you had to imagine, and that was pretty good, really.

Back in 1983 TSR, the company that published Dungeons & Dragons, had an ad campaign with the tag line, Products of Your Imagination. It worked really since by 1983 they had moved out to other types of games and toys as the 1983 Product Catalog above reveals.  

They also had a somewhat cheesy TV spot with a very young (Pre-Farris Bueller) Alan Ruck and very young (Pre-Lost Boys) Jami Gertz. It's a bit silly, but does capture the excitement well.

If you have been reading here since B-day, you will see that the actors are playing the Moldvay Basic set, but the ad appears to be for the Mentzer Basic set. Which tracks well with 1983.

Today we have all sorts of great things we can use for D&D. But there is something to be said about the whole use of your imagination to see how your adventure unfolds.

Tomorrow is J, so I will talk about Jennel Jaquays and the Judges Guild.

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


Friday, April 5, 2024

#AtoZChallenge2024: E is for Expert

 There are a lot of "E"s I could have gone with today. Epic. Encounter. Heck, even Eclipse and how it relates to D&D. But there is really only one "E" I want to talk about, and that is the Expert Set.

The Expert Set is the follow up the Basic Set I covered on Tuesday. Just like there is more than one Basic there is more than one Expert.

Expert Sets

So, a bit of background.

The Expert Rules for D&D follow the Basic Rules. So these books are compatible with the Basic-era of D&D, the so-called "B/X" rules (Basic/Expert) and the "BECMI" rules. They are not, and I would later discover, part of the same line as Advanced Dungeon & Dragons.

The first Expert set was out in January of 1981. This is the one I started with.  Edited by David "Zeb" Cook with Steven Marsh it is sometimes called the Cook/Marsh Expert or B/X Expert.  I have a lengthy review of it here: D&D Expert Set.

The second Expert set was edited by Frank Mentzer, so it is sometimes called the Mentzer Expert or most often the BECMI Expert. BECMI was for the entire series of Mentzer edited/authored Basic line of Basic, Expert, Companion, Master, and Immortal rules.  I reviewed this Exper set here: BECMI: Expert Set review.

I discussed these differences for my B post, B is for Basic Set Dungeons & Dragons.

The two sets are largely compatible with each other with just minor changes that I detailed in the BECMI Expert review. 

The focus here is higher level characters, levels 4 to 14, and moving out of the dungeon into "Wilderness" and, therefore, more dangerous adventures. This is the end of the B/X line but that actually is a feature, not a bug. The adventures from levels 1 to 14 represent some of the most exciting adventures you and your character can do. It was true then and still true today. Many of the official Dungeons & Dragons adventures end at level 15 (even though the limit now is 20), and the post-popular "D&D" adventure out now, Baldur's Gate 3 video game, has a limit of level 12.  While the BECMI moves on to level 36 (C & M) and beyond (I), I still think this is the sweet spot for most gamers.

"That's Not REAL D&D!"

I got my start with Holmes Basic then quickly moved on to Moldvay Basic and it's companion Cook/Marsh Expert. And I was very, very happy with that for the longest time. While it is not a perfect overlap, I always equate this edition with my gaming in Jr. High.  My then regular DM, Jon Cook, and I would play a lot of this. He also had the B/X books but he also had Advanced D&D (published in 1977) and we played a mix-mash of them both (something I later on discovered was very typical). Sure I wondered why things were different between the games. Clerics had slightly different spell progression and everyone was a bit tougher in AD&D, but I was content. I was happy. Until one night.

This would have been near the end of Jr. High, I know because the Mentzer Expert had not been released yet. I think I must have been about 12 or so. Anyway, Jon and I got invited to a "real" D&D session with some highschool kids. Now let me step back a second here and set the stage. At this time D&D was popular enough that we had a lot of local groups playing completely independent games. I can remember sitting in the lunch room in my Jr. High and listening to friends talk about their D&D games, I was in awe and wonder (of course, I later learned that many of them were just stealing from things like Dune like I was Dark Shadows!).  So we got to go to this game and we were told just bring out PHBs (Player's Handbooks), I didn't have one, I had an Expert book.

Well. I got told in no uncertain terms that what I was I playing was NOT REAL D&D. I was like, "what are you talking about?" Gygax's name was on the insider cover. It was published by TSR. I had very nearly the same rules you did. 

My friends, I had entered into my first battle of "The Edition Wars," and I did not come out unscathed. "Edition Warring" in D&D is the misguided (and stupid, yeah I said it) notion that one edition is better than the other. There were only two editions (maybe four) editions of D&D out at this point and I am already getting shit for it? The effect it had on me was enough that I can still remember it over 44 years later, AND it kept me from playing the BECMI version of D&D for nearly half that time. 

Which is, of course, stupid. It also was not the last time I'd make a bad choice based on editions, but at least the next time was all my own doing. I'll detail that on Sunday.

Today, if I am going to go back and play some "Classic D&D" chances are real good I mean the B/X versions of Basic and Expert.  

It is also my favorite to write and publish for with four of my books designed specifically for the B/X rules in mind, via the Old School Essentials clone game.

Much like what I said for the Basic Set any future "Basic" or Introductory set of D&D needs to do what these sets did. Introduce me to the game, give me some options, an adventure to play, and if possible, some dice! I still have my original Basic and Expert sets of dice.

Tomorrow I talk about a topic that has dominated my posting all year long, The Forgotten Realms.


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


Tuesday, April 2, 2024

#AtoZChallenge2024: B is for Basic Set Dungeons & Dragons

Dungeons & Dragons Basic Book

Yesterday I talked about the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons game.  Today I want to take a step back and talk about the Basic D&D game.  Though there are several sets that can make the claim of being the "Basic Set."

Regardless of how many or for which edition they all share some things in common.  The Basic set is usually a simpler or stripped-down version of the D&D game designed to introduce new players. They typically come in a boxed set and very often have the very first set of dice a player will own.

My own history with D&D begins with the Basic game. 

Moldvay D&D Basic

Christmas 1981 will forever go down in my memory as the one where everything changed.  I was in Junior High and had been playing D&D for about two years, off and on.  I had read the Monster Manual and I had a copy, badly xeroxed, of the Holmes Basic set.

Christmas though was the turning point. I got two box sets that year; the Ballantine Books boxed set of Lord of the Rings and the "magenta" Basic Set.
Inside was finally my own book, not a copy of someone else's book. I had my own dice (finally!) and a complete adventure.
I devoured that book. Cover to cover. Every page was read and read over and over.

A lot of people talk about "the Red Box." My Red Box was magenta and had Erol Otis on the cover.  For me this was the start of what became "my" D&D. Not someone else's game, but my own.

In 1981, I felt fairly proficient in D&D. But with Holmes D&D, I always felt like something was missing. I only learned later about the "Little Brown Books" and how "Basic" actually came about.

The Moldvay Basic set had almost everything I ever needed for a game.  Plenty of classes and races.  More monsters than I expected (it had dragons!!) and what then felt like tons of spells.  I made dozens of characters, some that saw actual game play, but I didn't care, for me it was the joy of endless possibilities. And that was just in the first couple of dozen pages.

Everything I know about exploring a dungeon, checking for traps, carrying holy water and a 10' pole began here.  I learned that ghouls can cause paralysis (unless you were an elf!) and that zombies always attacked last in the round.  I learned that Thouls was a magical cross-breed between a hobgoblin troll and a ghoul. No, I still have no idea how they are made. I got to meet Morgan Ironwolf herself.
There was a sample adventure in the book, but I never really looked over. I don't think anyone did. It was called the Haunted Keep by the way. Though I very recently was reading that someone put it under the Keep in the famous adventure, Keep on the Borderlands.

This magenta-colored box with strange art on the cover also had other prizes. There inside was my first set of real D&D dice.  No more raiding board games for six-siders, though I learned those dice were properly called "d6s," and my new ones were "polyhedral."  I had a set of blue dice with a white crayon to color them in.  They are not great dice, even then, I knew.  But they were mine, and that is all that mattered.

I want to pause here a second and come back to that art.  Let's look at the cover again.  A woman casting a spell, a man with a spear. Fighting some sort of water dragon (that didn't even appear in the rules!). But look how awesome it is. Do you need to know anything else? No. They are fighting a dragon! That box is why so many gamers fell in love with the art of Erol Otis.  Inside are some equally important names; Jeff Dee, James Roslof, David LaForce, and Bill Willingham.  They gave this D&D a look that was different than AD&D.  I love that art in AD&D, but in this book, that art was just so...timeless. It was D&D.

In that box was also the adventure The Keep on Borderlands. I don't think I need to go into detail there. We have all been to the keep. We have all taken that ride out along the road that would take us to the Caves of Chaos. Nevermind that all these creatures, who should by all rights be attacking each other, never really did anything to me. They were there, and they were "Chaotic," and we were "Lawful." That was all we needed to know back then.

Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set
What treasures in such a small box!

The Moldvay Basic set was more than just an introductory set to D&D. It was an introduction to a hobby, a lifestyle. The rules were simply written and organized. They were not simple rules, and re-reading them today, I marvel that we all conquered this stuff at age 10-11. It may have only covered the first three levels of character growth, but they were a quality three.

I bought the Expert Set for my birthday in 1982. For the longest time, that was all I needed. Eventually, I moved on to AD&D. I discovered those Little Brown Books and even picked up my own real copy of Holmes Basic. I love those games, and I love playing them still, but they never quite had the same magic as that first time I opened up that box and saw what treasures were inside. I did not have to imagine how my characters felt when they discovered some long-lost treasure. I knew.

Today, I still go back to Tom Moldvay's classic Basic book. It is my yardstick for measuring any OSR game. Almost everything I need is right there, just waiting for me.

Basic D&D is a very popular topic for me on the old A to Z Blogging Challenge. Here are some other "Basic" posts I have done in past years.

Other Basic Sets

It would be very remiss of me not to mention that there were other Basic sets as well.

Three Basic Sets

Three Basic Sets, Books and Dice

Holmes Basic, also called the "Blue Book," was my start. Sort of. The rules I used back when I began were a hodge-podge of Holmes Basic and AD&D, particularly the Monster Manual. This was fine, really, since, at the time, 1979, these game lines were a lot closer to each other. I have talked about this in my "1979 Campaign" posts.

Edited by Dr. John Eric Holmes, this book took the original D&D books and re-edited them to a single cohesive whole, though limited to 3rd level, as a means to get people introduced to the D&D game.  The Original Rules (see "O" day!) were an eclectic collection of rules that grew out of Gary Gygax's and Dave Arneson's playstyles. Debate continues on who did what, and I am not going to provide anything close to a definitive answer, but the game sold well but had a steep learning curve to others who were not part of that inner circle or came from War Games. The Holmes Edition attempted to fix that.

Mentzer Basic, or the BECMI (Basic, Expert, Companion, Master, Immortals) rules, was published after the Moldvay Basic, Cook/Marsh Expert sets. The rules between the B/X and BECMI rules are largely superficial (I will discuss this more), and the BECMI rules go past level 14 into the Companion rules (more on that tomorrow).

There is evidence that the Mentzer Basic set, also known as the "Red Box," was one of the best-selling editions of D&D ever, even outselling the flagship line of AD&D at times. It was also sold in more countries and more languages than any other version of D&D. If you recall Sunday's post, the D&D Basic line was in play for 22 years, covering the same time period as AD&D 1st and 2nd Edition rules. And it is still widely popular today. 

UK, American, and Spanish Mentzer Basics
Basic books from England, the USA, and Spain

Is Basic D&D the Game for You?

Basic D&D (all three varieties) are all remarkably easy to pick up and play. Character creation is fast, and the play is super flexible.  It is also one of the main systems I still love to write about and publish for.

Basic D&D has great online support regarding books from DriveThruRPG and other "Old School Renaissance" creators. But it is an older game. One of the oldest in fact. So, some things made perfectly good sense back then that would cause people to scratch their heads at the various design choices (Descending Armor Class? Level limits?), but that doesn't detract from the fun. Finding a Basic game or even people to play it with will be harder.

Any future version of D&D (or any RPG) needs to use Basic D&D as its model for introduction to the game.

Tomorrow, I will talk about a newer topic, Critical Role.

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


Sunday, March 31, 2024

#AtoZChallenge2024: Sunday Special, Introduction to Dungeons & Dragons Editions

 I am going to use Sundays of this Challenge to talk about the various Editions of the Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) game that have been published over the last 50 years. 

One of the challenges people have when getting into a game like D&D is where do you start? Generally speaking, you are always best starting with the edition that people around you are playing. If they are playing the newest edition (right now, 5th Edition), then great! This will make finding products easier. If it is an older edition, then great! All editions are fun. 

But what are the Editions? Are there 5 then? Well...it is a bit more complicated than that. Hopefully, this graph (making its rounds on social media and started on Reddit.) will help. The editions are all only sort-of compatible with each other. I'll explain that throughout the month. 

Timeline of D&D Original D&D AD&D 1st Edition D&D Moldvay Basic D&D Mentzer Basic AD&D 2nd Edition D&D Rules Cyclopedia (Basic) The Classic Dungeons and Dragons Game (Basic) Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Game (Basic) The Dragon's Den (Basic) D&D 3 D&D 3.5 D&D 4 D&D 4 Essentials D&D 5 One D&D (D&D 5.5 or 5R)

So there are, by some counts, 15 different versions of D&D. Some are 100% compatible with each other, some less so. 

For my posts, I am likely to focus on Basic era D&D (1977-1999), Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (1977-1988), and D&D 5th edition (2014-2024).  Right now "One D&D" is not out yet. It is due near the end of the year, and by all accounts, it should be 100% backward compatible with D&D 5. We will see. 

Here are a couple of notes for people who don't know (or care) about the differences in these games.

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 1st Edition is the edition made popular by Stranger Things and E.T. the Extra-Terristrial. It was the one popular in media in the 1980s, though there is some evidence that it was D&D Basic (edited by Frank Mentzer, aka "The Red Box") sold better.

Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition is the edition made popular by Critical Role

I hope that this month I can help with some of the confusion and mystery and maybe, just maybe, make so new players out of you all.

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

In addition to doing the April A to Z challenge, I am also doing the Ulitmate Blog Challenge

Ultimate Blog Challenge

AND

I hope to have some good entries in the RPG Blog Carnival, hosted in April by Codex Anathema on Favorite Settings.

RPG Blog Carnival

Monday, March 18, 2024

Monstrous Mondays: Faerie Lord, Rübezahl

"Rübezahl" by Moritz von Schwind (1859)
"Rübezahl" by Moritz von Schwind (1859)
 I am working on a post for tomorrow, and while doing some reading, this guy came up. Since I am still in the middle of editing the "F's," I figure I might as well add him. 

The concept of having Faerie Lords in my games goes way back—maybe to the first time I read "A Midsummer Night's Dream." The machinations of Oberon and Titania were so much fun that I had hoped the whole play had just been about them. I added them to my games immediately, and I was disappointed that AD&D had nothing of the sort then. Faerie Lords next appear in Ghosts of Albion and many of my WitchCraft games. 

Adding them to my Basic games is a no-brainer, really.

Faerie Lord Rübezahl
Krakonos; Lord of the Mountains
Medium Humanoid (Fey, Faerie Lord)

Armor Class: 2 [17]
Hit Dice: 14d8+42 (105 hp)
Move: 120' (40')
Attacks: 2 fist slams, 1 weapon (staff) 
Damage: 1d6+2 x2, 1d6+2
Special: Magic resistance (25%), immune to poison; can communicate telepathically, Magic +1 weapons to hit, grow to giant size, druid spells, alter appearance
No. Appearing: 1 (unique)
Save As: Monster 14
Morale: 10 (NA)
Treasure Type: C x5
Alignment: Chaotic (Chaotic Neutral)
XP: 6,100

Languages: Elven, Sylvan, Telepathic, Goblin

S: 17 (+2) D: 16 (+2) C: 18 (+3) I: 14 (+1) W: 15 (+1) Ch: 20 (+4) 

Faerie Lord Rübezahl lives in a large mountain range and avoids civilized human contact. He often appears as a tall (6'5") wild man with long gray, unkempt hair and a beard. He wears very tattered clothing and looks like a wild man or a woodwose. He can also appear as a gruff stone giant or a beautiful young maiden. He takes pleasure in transforming between all his forms to confuse and bedevil others who enter his lands. He is the lord of bugbears, ogres, trolls, and other wild fey creatures not given over completely to evil. 

His true form is shrouded in mystery, but his presence is undeniable.  Rüberzahl is a force of nature, as unpredictable as the mountain storms he commands.  While he protects the mountains and those who respect them, he delights in testing mortals by shifting his form and blocking passages with rocks and fallen trees.  He is the guardian of his range of mountains, and he does not tolerate the greedy, arrogant, or environmentally destructive who cross his path, for Rübezahl may lead them astray or unleash the fury of the mountains upon them.

Rüberzahl is a formidable opponent in combat.  He wields his staff with devastating power.  His true strength lies in his magic, however. In addition to being able to change his form to a giant, he also has the abilities and spells of a 14th-level druid. He will use spells to deal with large groups and shift to giant form to attack (use Stone Giant for combat). He is fond of casting barkskin on himself and call lightning on large groups.

Rüberzahl is a solitary creature who does not need companionship. His capricious nature makes it difficult for him to get along. However, he has a grudging respect for other powerful beings who dwell in the world's wild places. He avoids the other faerie lords, and they avoid him. The stone giants give him respect, and he avoids getting into their affairs. He has been known to aid those lost in the mountains in finding their way out. Whether he does this out of benevolence or simply to get people out of his mountains is not entirely clear. 

His home is a large cave near an expansive field of turnips. This has also given him the title of Lord of Turnips. A name he does not much care for. 

--

The editing of Basic Bestiary continues.

Monday, February 26, 2024

Monstrous Mondays: Trollkönig (Troll King)

 Playing around with different layouts for Basic Bestiary. I did a few, and I didn't like most of them. Not a big deal, I have time.

Right now, I am trying to figure out if I want to break up BB1 into smaller 64-page volumes or one larger one. I like the idea of smaller volumes. To round that out, I might need to develop a couple more monsters here and there. Again, not a big deal.

If I did break up BB1 into say three volumes, they would have about 120-130 monsters each. Do I break them up by themes or alphabetically? I guess I need to see how big it is when I am done.

The "theme" of Basic Bestiary 1 is "Monstrous Maleficarum," or monsters I have read about, used, or developed while working on my various witch books. There are also more than a few here from various monster books I loved reading as a child and spent some time hunting down as an adult. 

In any case here is a new one I worked on when I was supposed to be doing editing and layouts.

Troll King Arthur Rackman
Trollkönig (Troll King)
Large Humanoid (Fey, Faerie Lord)

Armor Class: -5 [24]
Hit Dice: 18d8+108 (189 hp)
   Large: 18d10+108 (207 hp)
Move: 120' (40')
Attacks: 2 fist slams, 1 bite or 1 weapon (x2) or thrown rock, or roar
Damage: 1d12+5 x2, 1d8+5 or by weapon (x2) or thrown rock 2d12, roar for fear
Special: Magic resistance (45%), immune to  poison;  half damage to cold, can communicate telepathically, Magic +2 weapons to hit, regenerate, roar, summon trolls, sunlight sensitivity
No. Appearing: 1 (unique)
Save As: Monster 18
Morale: 10 (NA)
Treasure Type: C x20
Alignment: Chaotic (Chaotic Evil)
XP: 8,900

Languages: Elven, Sylvan, Telepathic, Trollspeak

The King of Trolls may not be the most eloquent or attractive of the faerie lords, but he is one of the most physically impressive.  He appears as a 13' tall troll of massive build. His skin appears to be a dense rock-like hide with patchy bits of hair and numerous scars from his many battles. His eyes, though, betray a keen and malign intelligence not seen in lesser trolls.

Like his subjects, the trolls, he attacks with fist slams and a bite. Though, unlike the lesser trolls, he is also intelligent enough to use weapons. He often chooses to use a giant battle axe doing 1d10+5 hp of damage per attack.  Like a giant, he can throw rocks. The Trollkönig can roar 3 times per day. This roar can cause fear (as per the spell) in any creature of 7 HD or lower, save vs. Petrification to ignore. Creatures less than 1 HD are not allowed a saving throw.  

As their king the Troll King can summon 3d8 trolls to his side. The trolls must be nearby, and they arrive in one turn.   

The King of Trolls also has 45% magic resistance, can only be hit by +2 or better weapons, and is immune to poison and only half damage from cold. This creature also regenerates like lesser trolls, but at an alarming rate of 10 hp per round; starting on the first round, he takes damage. Unlike common trolls, the Trollkönig can regenerate even from fire and acid damage. He can't regenerate if exposed to sunlight.

The Troll King is a powerful individual who has risen above the typical troll, ruling over a vast network of tunnels and caves with utter brutality. Driven by a twisted sense of hierarchy and ambition, the Troll King seeks to assert its dominance over anything smaller or weaker. It hoards treasures stolen from those unfortunate enough to cross its path.  The Faerie Lords tolerate the Troll King, not due to any sense of loyalty or familial ties, but because they often employ him to take care of their enemies and the physical fighting they can't be bothered to do themselves. 

There is a heated rivalry between the Troll King and the Goblin King, largely due to their respective subjects' own rivalries.

Monday, February 19, 2024

Monstrous Mondays: Thunderbird (and Basic Bestiary updates)

Work on Basic Bestiary has picked back up. I have 360 completed monsters for it now. I still have my next pass at editing and mechanics tweaking to complete.  What I really need is art. I don't have any, and while I am happy to use some PD art for it (and it fits the look I want), I will need more. A lot more. While I don't mind AI art (and appreciate the computer science that went into it), I can't in good conscience use any in this. 

Still playing around with stat block ideas. Since this is a "Basic" Bestiary, I figure I should get closer to the Basic-era stat block details as I can. I am adding some "modern" ideas like creature size and type (something we see in BECMI and RC, but not BX), and Ascending AC (Basic Fantasy, OSE and LL).  I need to decide if I want to include other details like Advanced era alignments (I am leaning towards yes), Languages (also yes), and Frequency. I am also still considering hp adjustment due to size. I like it a lot, and it makes creatures a lot tougher.

I believe I have settled on using BX/OSE style XP awards and having a table in the back for all the other games I think people might want to use this for, as long as they are OGC.  Edited: I noticed my math might be off on some higher HD monsters. 

The stat block below is what I am thinking so far. Love to hear some feedback on it.

Yes. I am still going to use the OGL for this one. I have gone too far down that road to go back.

Here is one of the last monsters I worked on for the book. As always, the final version might be different.

Giant Bird
Thunder Bird
Gargantuan Beast (Magical)

Armor Class: -5 [24]
Hit Dice: 17d8+68 (145 hp)
   Gargantuan: 17d20+68 (264 hp)
Move: 90' (30')
   Flying: 360' (120')
Attacks: 2 claws, 1 bite, special
Damage: 1d12+5 x2, 2d8+5, special
Special: Lighting bolt, thunder, wing buffet
No. Appearing: 1 (1, or 1d4+1, mated pair with chicks)
Save As: Monster 17
Morale: 10 (12)
Treasure Type: None, See below
Alignment: Neutral (True Neutral)
XP: 6,600

Languages: Avian

Thunderbirds are gargantuan birds that appear as storm gray-colored eagles. They have a 70' wing span that can blot out the sun and talons that can carry off livestock, usually one or two cattle each. Their eyes flash with electrical light and can shoot lightning bolts. When their wings flap, they can cause storms and thunder. Natives of the lands the thunderbird calls home to revere the bird as a messenger of the forces of good and liken it to a spirit. It is a mortal animal, albeit a very powerful one. 

The thunderbird can attack with its massive beak and talons.  It swoops down from their mountain homes, which can be hundreds of miles away, to attack its prey. It prefers large cattle, like horses, cows, and bison, and can carry off up to 2,000 pounds worth at a time. Thunderbirds that live near oceans will even make a dinner out of whales when they can catch them. They do not attack humans if they can avoid it. They do not like the taste and attack humans since humans often return in greater numbers and with weapons. If attacked by humans on the ground, the thunderbird will often just opt to fly away. Thunderbirds and Rocs do not get along as they tend to go after the same prey. Their relationship is similar to that of eagles and hawks.  

The thunderbird gets its name from the magical storm-creation powers it has. By flapping its wings and remaining stationary, it can create a thunderclap that does 10d6 hp of damage; Breath Weapon saves for half the damage. Which will also define anyone within a 120' long cone, 60' at its widest.  Targets outside of the 120' are unaffected by either the damage or the deafness. It can also 3 times per day cast a 10d6 lighting bolt from its eyes. The range on this is 100', save vs. Breath Weapon for half damage. Ranges outside of 100' to 300' are at half-damage or save for no damage.  The thunderbird will not use this attack against food prey but rather to defend itself from humanoids or other large creatures it finds itself engaging with.  A thunderbird can also summon storms as per the Summon Weather spell. 

Thunderbirds have no need nor interest in treasure. The feathers of the thunderbird are highly prized as a main ingredient for a staff of lightning bolts and other magical staffs. Their feathers are also used in other magic item creations, typically Wings of Flying. Any item that requires a roc feather can use a thunderbird feather instead for a 50% increase in either speed or duration. The feathers of a thunderbird usually can bring in 1,000 gp on the right markets (usually only 2d6 are viable for arcane use). The eggs of thunderbirds are so rare to discover that bounties of 12,000 gp and more are sometimes offered. The lairs of the thunderbird are usually at the tops of mountains so high they are very nearly impossible to reach. 

Tales tell of a great thunderbird so large that when it flies, the land below is thrust into night. This could be a single unique specimen or an undiscovered variety.  


Tuesday, February 13, 2024

In Search Of Duchess and Candella

 I mentioned earlier in this year that my oldest son's group is running through ALL editions of D&D to celebrate 50 years of Dungeons & Dragons. They made characters, and they are taking them through each edition. They have done OD&D, Basic and they are now ready for 1st Edition Advanced.  The characters are now 2nd to 4th level, but there are only 5 of them. And they want me to run an AD&D game for them.

Last week I finally figured out what I am going to run.  They will go through the Orange version of module B3 Palace of the Silver Princess.

Palaces of the Silver Princess

I will explain its infamy to them and run it like it was 1981 for them. So, a mix of B/X and AD&D. Just like we did it.  I'll talk more about the adventure, but for now, I want to focus on a small side matter with the adventure(s). 

That is, who exactly are the thieves, Duchess and Candella?

Duchess and Candella
In Search of...Duchess and Candella

In both versions of the adventure, you encounter two thieves pretending to be Lady Maidservants. Well... not convincingly, since they know very little about what a maidservant does or where anything in the castle is.  But they are earnest and "very attractive" and ask to join the party. 

Now, I always thought that "Duchess" was the dark-haired one and "Candella" the light-haired one. Largely because I thought the dark-haired one looked like a Duchess and Candella is said to have a string of pearls on her. The orange version gives us their ages as 18 for Duchess and 20 for Candella. 

I always liked that art. You are catching two thieves almost red-handed, and the look of surprise on Candella's face and her hair flying about was just great. 

They became minor recurring NPCs in my games. Showing up, stealing something here and there, and then disappearing again. If the PCs were ever tossed into jail, then sure enough, Duchess and Candella were already there.

I had not thought about them much, and they certainly don't get the ink that the likes of Aleena or Morgan Ironwolf get, but they were/are fun NPCs, and I wanted to know more about them.  Turns out I am not the only one.

What does the Web Say?

There are a few links worth visiting and following up on. First is Greyhawk MusingsOn Duchess and Candella.  This is a great place to start due to its thoroughness. In fact, this blog is a treasure trove of information on them, and I respect David Leonard for that.  He speculates that the dark-haired woman thief in G3, The Hall of the Fire Giant King, is Duchess now 11th level. This begs the question, what happened to Candella? Side note: I used that very same thief as a recurring character when I ran G3, but for me, it was Evelyn the Princess Escalla. But I appreciate what he is doing here.  Like me, he equates Duchess with the dark-haired woman and Candella with the light-haired one. 

We learn from no less of a luminary himself, Frank Mentzer, that these two figures were not just Jean Well's characters; they were her favorite duo of characters. She also did the art of them in Polyhedron #4.  

Candella and Duchess in Polyhedron #4

Sadly, we can't ask Wells herself, as she passed away in 2012.

Greyhawk lore master Jason Zavoda made some similar observations and connections for Greyhawk.

I mentioned I was not the only one to find these two fun. They have appeared in more recent products as well. Or at least homages to them.

Candella, sans Duchess, appears on the cover of Blueholme.

Blueholme

She is the one getting the treasure. Wearing the same outfit as Candella at least.

In a minor cameo, but also a cover, no less, they are part of the new D&D Companion Project. I hope to have more on that soon. 

And as I mentioned above, the 11th-level thief from G3 Hall of the Fire Giant King might also be Duchess, without Candella.

Duchess and Candella in Other Adventures

B12 Queen's Harvest is another Basic-level adventure. This time though the "B" is from the BECMI flavor of Basic and not the BX one.

Very early on in this Carl Sargent-penned adventure from 1989, we are introduced to two thieves, Erren and Sarrah, on pages 6-7.  Their ages and appearances line up with Candella and Duchess, even if their stats don't quite match, though. It is not a stretch of the imagination to assume that Candella and Duchess also have other aliases. They are presented in an NPC Mini-Capsule, so they are important to the adventure, though no other details are given.

The fan module by Agathokles, The Dymrak Dread, makes this connection solid with Sarrah, now known as "the Duchess," and part of the Thieves Guild, and her friend Erren Candella. Here they are 5th and 6th level respectively.  This adventure also has Orcus and witches in it, so it is worth my coming back to.

Another adventure to feature them, and this time by name, is the Palace of the Golden Princess, an homage to the original (Orange) Palace of the Silver Princess and Jean Wells herself. There are 5e and OSE versions of the adventure, and they are tied to a comic series taking place in a land inspired by the map in the Original B3 Palace of the Silver Princess. There are even some allusions (in an oblique way) to the Return to the Keep on the Borderlands.

They also briefly appear in Mr. Welch's Mystara Player's Guide for 5e, notably under Mystara's Most Wanted.

Mystara Players Guide 5e - Most Wanted

Mystara Players Guide 5e - Most Wanted

Thought their biggest feature run has been in the various Folio Black Label adventures. Most notably in Folio: Black Label #10 and The Complete Folio Black Label

In The Complete Folio Black Label (covering Black Label 1-6 with extras), nearly every piece of art features our daring duo in all sorts of predicaments throughout all the adventures.  They are also rendered by various artists like Brian Brinlee, Peter Bradley, and Simon Adams, among others. Folio: Black Label #4  and Folio: Black Label #5 even feature them on the cover. Honestly, I bought a bunch of these just to see how much Candella and Duchess art there was in them.

Another artist whose work has been featured in the Folio: Black Label books is Domenico Neziti.  He has done so many pieces of Duchess and Candella that I am giving him his own space below.

Here are a few of his pieces from his Instagram page.







And another I could not find on his Instagram.

Duchess and Candella Demon Bait
Domenico Neziti "Demon Bait"

He clearly has these two down, with some more on his DeviantArt page.

With new books out like Folio: Black Label series it is easy to see how these two have had all sorts of adventures. I can see something akin to distaff versions of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, though maybe less magic. Likely a bit closer to The Rat Queens. When I used them in games I always made Candella closer to the Thief-Acrobat concept and Duchess maybe a little closer to a Thief-Assassin. But I don't get "evil" off of either of them, really. Plus, Duchess doesn't have the strength score to be an assassin. Maybe more fighter-thief.

Duchess and Candella in my Games

Duchess and Candella
Duchess and Candella, Sheets from Dark Wizard Games

I have used them in the past, as I mentioned, but never to the extent I have some other characters and certainly not to the level some other gamers have.

Given all the art out there, they have certainly had a lot of adventures, and some that look outright crazy. But these two seem like fun characters to have "madcap adventures."  I mean, is Morgan Ironwolf going to pretend to be half-naked bait for a demon? No, I don't see it.  I'd love to use these two in my Forgotten Realms adventures but honestly they are so Mystara/Oerth feeling for me I can't see moving them over any easier than I could move the B-modules over.

I have at least figured out how they met. This came up in an adventure before. They were both, independently trying to steal this ruby, from the local guild-mistress of thieves. They didn't know the other was also trying, nor did either know this was the guild mistress. They failed, and the guild mistress, Amara, impressed by their attempt or something else, took them in and made them work together. The two became good friends, and their careers began.  In my mind, Candella had been a tavern wench who had become tired of watching adventurers coming in with ill-gotten gains when she could have all that gold. Duchess' background is a bit darker. She was a servant girl working for a Baron and Baroness. The Baroness had accused her of stealing a necklace, but she had not. The Baron, who was broke, had sold it to cover some of his debts and suggested she could work off her guilt in his bed chamber. When she refused, he got violent, and she ran to escape him, and he fell down the stairs to his death. Knowing she would be blamed and likely executed, she ran. She thinks she is still wanted for the Baron's murder. She isn't; no one ever looked for her. In fact, the Baron's debt was so great that the local authorities had plenty of other suspects. The Baroness died soon after in the home of a relative.

I know, according to the art above, that Candella gains some Boots of Flying, and Duchess gets a huge magic sword. 

Since my oldest is running his group through all of the editions of D&D I'll also do versions of them for every edition. Say 2nd level for D&D Basic/Expert, 4th level for AD&D 1st, 8th level for AD&D 2nd Editon, 12th level for D&D 3.x, 16th level for D&D 4e Essentials (better Rogues), and 20th for D&D 5th Edition.  That should be fun, really.  Course I'll need some good prestige classes when I get to 3.x. I think I'll post them when I get around to stating them all up. 

While I will keep them at the same level, at any given time, Candella is about 600 XP ahead of Duchess. 

Candella and Duchess for BX
Candella and Duchess for B/X. Art by Brian Brinlee and Domenico Neziti, 
Vitruvian Character Sheets Blog of Exalted Deeds

While reading up on them, I saw one person online refer to them as a couple of "party girls." I mean, sure, that fits. The vibe I have always had with them was they were both adventuresses out for a bit of fun and hopefully score some treasure. Ok, a lot of treasure. Though at least one academic dissertation places them in the role of temptresses. I suppose that would work too, though not how I would play them. 

Have you used these two in your games? How did it work for you? What happened with them?

Links