Showing posts with label review. Show all posts
Showing posts with label review. Show all posts

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Pookie Reviews the Witches

Mathew Pook over at the Reviews from R'lyeh has taken on all my latest Basic Era Witch books.

His Which Witch series reviews my Daughters of Darkness: The Mara Witch for Basic Era Games, The Children of the Gods: The Classical Witch for Basic Era GamesThe Basic Witch: The Pumpkin Spice Witch TraditionThe Craft of the Wise: The Pagan Witch Tradition, and the Warlock.

In general I think his reviews are fair, but I tend to enjoy the Pumpkin Spice witch more than he did.

So give him a read and see what he has to say!

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Review: Trollbabe (Troll Week)

Now we come to something different.   Confession time. A lot of what you have read this week was written a while back.  My plan was to have a bunch of "Troll" related posts ready to go so they could be autoposted during Gen Con.  I was going to include pictures of the Flying Buffalo booth and T&T games, and the same with Chaosium.  

Sadly that was not to be.  So I was going post these earlier, but the discovery of this old CD-Rom backup I found with the Trollbabes RPG changed my plans again.  So pull the posts from autopost, make some edits to reflect my new thinking and boom! Troll Week was born. 

Trollbabe was not part of my original plans, but now it is hard to think of Troll Week without it. 

Now I am going to freely admit this game still has some mystery for me.  For starters, the copyright date on the book says 2002.  The CD-Rom I pulled it from was labeled "2015 Backup" but many of the files seem to be from 2008.  There is a shortcut to the now-dead Adept Press website to the Print version.  The shortcut says "Print Ed - Buy Later".  Sadly, later was too late.

So I don't know if this is the First Edition or the Second Edition.  Nor do I know how to tell the difference.

The point might be moot anyway since I also can't find a place to buy the PDF or, more to my wants, the physical book.   Maybe Ron Edwards will re-release it at some point like he did Sorcerer (the Kickstarter Edition for that is on the same CD-Rom).

Trollbabe (2002)

Trollbabe by Ron Edwards. 47 page PDF. Color cover, black & white interior art.
This game comes to us from Ron Edwards of The Forge, the one-time source of tons of interesting indie games.  It is a good example of his "Narrativism" part of his GNS Game Theory.   I am not going to get into GNS Theory here. I think it has some merit and as a theory, it does have value, but today is not the day to dig into that.  No today is about Trollbabes.  What is a Trollbabe? Well. That is sort of the question you get to answer with this game.  Trollbaabes are all women, there are no Trollbros, and she is half-human, half-troll.  How did that happen? You decide the game is not just agnostic on this issue, it flatly refuses to answer it.   In any case, your Trollbabe is tall and strong. She has troll horns and big "80s-style" hair. 

Since this is a narrativist, or what some would call Story-telling, game there is really only one stat. Your Number.  This is a number from 2 to 9.  Where do you get it?  You pick it. But before you do let us consider how it is used.  There are three types of interactions; Fighting, Magic, and Social.  
To do Magic you need to roll OVER this number on a d10. To Fight roll UNDER this number.  To perform a Social interaction roll whichever is better (over or under) and include this number.
Example. Let's go with my new troll witch, Grýlka the Trolla. Since I see her more of a magic-using character I want Magic to be her best.  So I choose 3 as my Number.  I don't see her as being much of a fighter really and an extreme number like this works well for magic and social.
Number: 3 Magic: 4-10 Fighting: 1-2 Social 3-10
If I have to get into a physical fight I am going to have some issues.
Choosing a 5 or 6 gives you a balanced character that can do a little bit of everything, but for my Grýlka here I want a character that thinks all problems can be solved with a bit of talking or throwing some magic around.

You can specialties to your interactions.  They do not add much mechanically but can add to the narrative and can prompt some re-rolls or other situations.  There are some suggestions but I am going with what fits my character concept.  For Fighting, I am going with "Staff" or Handheld weapons. Grýlka has no training in weapons other than to pick up a large stick.  For Magic, I picked "Witchcraft" or Troll Magic. this is likely to cause problems in areas where witches are feared more than trolls are. For Social I picked "Inquizative", Grýlka is very curious about her world, her magic, and how they all fit together. 

Next, you are encouraged to describe your character.  So Grýlka is a very tall, 6'5" trollbabe. She has large sheep-like horns pushing out of a nest of white-tinged-with-green hair.  Here eyes are green and her skin is olive toned. She does have two small tusks on her lower jaw.  She looks very strong (17 STR in D&D).  Her clothing reminds you of druids' with well worn, but well cared for leathers of muted greens and browns. She wears a headdress made of sticks to keep her long hair out of her face. 

Once you have your character the Game Master will then describe a situation you are in.  If D&D always starts in an inn or bar, then Trollbabe always starts with your trollbabe walking down the road.  
So a situation might be "you are walking along a well-trodden dirt road when you hear someone yelling 'help! fire!' you see smoke ahead and a barn on fire."  This is called a Scene. You are encouraged to interact with the GM on what happens.  So let us say that Grýlka comes into this scene.  Being Inquizative she wants to know what is going on. Seeing the fire she goes to the well and magically commands the water to come out and quench the fire.  I add that she speaks to the well in Trollspeak.
I roll, lets say I get  6. That is greater than my number of 3 and in range of Magic.  The water leaps up out of the well and quenches the fire.  There is a pause of shock and then the villagers all cheer! Grýlka is invited to a feast in her honor.  Of course, if I had rolled poorly then there would have been other things to happen.
Maybe there would have been a conflict.  If the player calling for the conflict is the GM and against my character than they can decide what type the conflict is.  Maybe it is a good old fashioned "villagers with pitchforks!" So the interaction is Fighting. Crap, Grýlka only has a 1 to 2 on that. Maybe it is time to run.
You can also combine types for other effects. Maybe Fighting + Social if she is trying to scare off the villagers by looking mean and strong.  She is strong, but not really mean.  

Modifiers are also discussed, since Grýlka was talking to the well water nothing was added.  But if the water had been in a river, and thus "wilder" her Troll Magic or Witchcraft might have given me a +1 or +2 on the roll. 

I love the bit on Troll vs. Human magic.  I plan to use this as a guide when playing Grýlka in other games.
Trollish magic is all about invoking and communing with the untrammeled wilderness, of any kind. It usually deals with “whole areas,” like a river, a lake, a mountain, the sky (ie immediately above), groups or types of animals nearby, and similar. It is especially effective or nifty when performed in groups.
Human magic is an individual scholarly art, based mainly on altering body function or behaviors. It is performed mainly through hypnosis, potions, and other “stagey" methods; a typical spell is cast by opening a phial and spraying a fine mist about, or by lighting a special candle and intoning a mesmerizing chant.
Grýlka is very much about trollish magic.

As this is a Narrativist game an important factor is Relationships.  If your Trollbabe forms a relationship with an NPC lets say you can control that NPC, though the Game Master has input.  So after saving the village an NPC falls madly in love with Grýlka.  We agree to let the NPC follow her around so he can prove himself worthy of her. This NPC then will try to do heroic, even stupid, actions to prove his worth and valor.  The Scale of this relationship starts out small, just this yet unnamed NPC and Grýlka.  This can change as the game goes on.  Maybe this NPC is really supposed to married to another village's daughter and now Grýlka has inadvertently caused an issue between these two villages. 
Details on Relationships between characters are also given.

There is a section on Adventures, some more details on Magic, and finally a discussion on the Narrativist style of Trollbabe and a glossary.

Trollbabe is a fun game that can be played by as few as two people. In fact the smaller the group the better.  This is not a bug, but a feature.  The aim here is not to kick in doors and kill monsters, but to have an adventure.  
As the GM for this, I personally would work up some sort of Narrative arc similar to Joesph Campbell's Heroic Journey.  But that is my take, other GMs can do something else. 

What I like Trollbabe, and Narrativist/Story Games in general, is I can use them a layer on top of more crunchy games. Trollbabe does this particularly well with the type of troll I have been talking about all week. Something like Monster Hearts for example works well with games like Buffy.  Yes. I can do the same thing with role-playing, so think of this as guided, or better yet, scaffolded role-playing.



On its own merits, Trollbabe is a lot of fun. Great to play with a small group or even for a couple of one shots.

In any case I would love to see a Third Edition of this. 

EDITED TO ADD. I did find this link for the PDF, http://indie-rpgs.com/unstore/games/title/Trollbabe

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Review: Tunnels & Trolls (Troll Week)

Tunnels & Troll might be one of the first "clone" games ever, but it really is a proper game in its own right.  The story goes that creator Ken St. Andre was browsing through the original D&D rules and thought he could do better than that so he sat down and created the first Tunnels & Trolls game in 1975.  D&D was barely a thing on the wider scale, though very popular still, and here comes T&T.

Over the years T&T has been updated, re-released, and otherwise seen many ups and downs the game itself has continued and has a dedicated fanbase.  It is easy to see why. T&T is easy to learn, has some neat little quirks, and is just plain fun.  Plus if you ever get a chance to meet Ken St. Andre at Gen Con then PLEASE do it. He is a great guy.

The name, Tunnels & Trolls, almost wasn't. It was almost Tunnels & Troglodytes, but that name was shot down by his players.  Since then the troll has become a sort of synonymous with the game and St. Andre himself. His twitter handle is @Trollgodfather and he runs Trollhala Press.

Tunnels & Trolls now holds the distinction of not only being the oldest RPG still published by the same publisher, Flying Buffalo, but also still controlled by its original author/designer. 

The RuneQuest Connection
Yesterday in my review of RuneQuest's Trollpak I mentioned that in my earliest days I thought Trollpak was a supplement for Tunnels & Trolls. Indeed both games did feature a lot of troll iconography.  But I think two it may have come with one other obsession of mine. Elric. I was (still am) a HUGE Michael Moorcock fan and I loved the Elric books.  I saw the game Stormbinger and I knew it used a similar system to both RuneQuest and Call of Cthulhu.  I also knew that Ken St. Andre had worked on Tunnels & Trolls and Stormbringer.  I guess in my young mind I conflated all of that.  While I might never see my goal of a full Tunnels & Trolls/Trollpak mashup, my dream of an epic Stormbringer/RuneQuest/Call of Cthulhu crossover might still happen!

I have owned many different versions of T&T over the years. I have loaned some out, another is just gone (it is with my original AD&D books I think) and still at least one I resold in a game auction when I needed the cash.  I miss each and every one.
Thankfully I now have the PDF of Deluxe Tunnels & Trolls the most recent version and the one that is easiest to get.  I will be focusing my review on this version, with recollections of previous editions when and where I can.

Deluxe Tunnels & Trolls. 2015 Ken St. Andre, published by Flying Buffalo.
348 pages, color covers, black & white interior art (mostly) and a full color section.
Deluxe Tunnels & Trolls (dT&T) is a massive volume at 348 pages.  
The PDF is divided into Chapter sections, but more importantly, it is split into five larger sections; The Basic or Core Game, Elaboration, Trollworld Atlas, Adventures, and End Matter.

The Basic or Core Game
This covers the first 11 chapters and 160+ pages.  This most resembles the T&T game I remember playing sparingly in the 80s. This covers the basics of the game such as rolling up characters, equipping them, combat and magic.  T&T uses all six-sided dice for everything, so getting started is as easy as getting the rules and raiding your board games for dice.  Because we NEVER did that in the 80s.
Character creation is a bit like D&D and other RPGs from the time (or more accurately other RPGs are like D&D and T&T).  There are a few quirks that make T&T stand out.
Exploding Triples allow for some extraordinary characters. When rolling your 3d6 for stats (like D&D) if you get three of the same number, all "1s" or all "6s" for example, you re-roll and ADD the previous total.  In D&D rolling three "1s" is a disaster, but in T&T you then reroll and add that 3 (1+1+1) to your new roll.  Roll three "6s"? Reroll and add 18! T&T has eight abilities, Strength, Constitution, Dexterity, Speed, Intelligence (IQ), Wizardry, Luck, and Charisma. They all map pretty close to D&D with the others Speed, Wizardry and Luck doing what they sound like. 
Kindreds, not Race. With all the discussion of the word "race" in D&D (yes, it is old and problematic and yes it should be replaced) T&T "solved" this issue by going with Kindred (and long before Vampire the Masquerade did).  This also leaves character creation open to all sorts of Kindreds. 
Personal Adds. For every point in a physical ability over 12 (the upper end of average), characters get +1 to their personal adds. Physical stats are Strength, Constitution, Dexterity, and Speed. These adds are combined and then used in combat.
Saving Rolls. All skills and nearly everything else use a saving throw like mechanic for resolution. The most common is a Luck roll, but others can be used.

There are three basic and one extra character classes. Warriors, Wizards, Rogues and the Specialist.
Kindreds include Humans, Dwarves, Elves, Fairies, Hobbs (Halflings), and Leprechauns. Each kindred then gets an ability multiplier. So if you are a dwarf and you rolled an 11 for Strength  your multiplier is 2 for a 22 strength! But your Luck multiplier is .75 so if your rolled a 12 it is now a 9.  Other attributes effected are height and weight. Fairies have multiples here of 0.1 and 0.01 respectively.

The equipment list is what you would expect with some odd improvised weapons (rocks) and even guns (gunnes) but these are still rather primitive in nature. 

Saving Rolls are covered in Chapter 5 and gave us what is essentially a dynamic Target Number mechanic YEARS before anyone else did.  You determine the level of the Saving Throw (difficulty) times that by 5 to get your target number. Players roll a 2d6 and yes doubles are re-rolled and added.
It's a simple mechanic that works well. 

Chapter 6 gives us some talents. Or things you can do other than wack monsters. 
Chapter 7 cover enemies and monsters and is a whopping 3 pages!  But that is nature of T&T monsters can be abstracted from just a few simple numbers.
Chapter 8 covers combat. If I remember correctly combat in T&T was a fast affair.  The rules support this idea. 

Chapter 9 is of course my favorite, Magic. There have been more than a few times I have wanted to adopt ideas from here for my D&D games.  In the end though I have kept them separate.  Spell levels go to 18 though you need some superhuman Intelligence and Dexterity scores to cast them (60 and 44 respectively).  Spells have a Wiz (Wizardry cost) so it works on a spell-point like system.  The spell names are something of a bit of contention with some people and my litmus test for whether or not someone will be a good player in T&T.  If they don't like the names, then I think they will not be good for the game.  Among the spell names are "Hocus Focus", "Oh Go Away", "Boom Bomb", "Freeze Please" and more.  I like them I would rather have a fun name than a boring one, but I am also the guy who made spells called "You Can't Sit With Us", "Live, Laugh, Love", "Oh My God, Becky!" and "Tripping the Light Fantastic".

Chapter 10 is Putting it All Together with general GM advice.  Chapter 11 covers the Appendices. 
This constitutes the bulk of what makes up the T&T game. 

Elaborations
This section consists of rules additions and other topics.
Of interest here is Chapter 13, Other Playable Kindreds.  This likely grew out of T&Ts sister game, Monsters! Monsters! In dT&T these stats for playing have been brought more inline with the M!M! book for more compatibility.   The attribute multipliers from character creation are repeated here for the main kindreds, and then expanded out for others of the Familiar (or most similar to the Good Kindred, like goblins, gnomes, and pixies) to the Less Common like lizard people, ratlings and trolls!  To the Extraordinary like ghouls and dragons.
The means in which this is done is so simple and so elegant that other games should be shamed for not doing the same.
Later on languages, more talents and accessories (minis, battle mats, virtual tabletops) are covered.



Trollworld Atlas
This section covers the campaign world of Trollworld.  A history is provided and the major continents are covered as well as a few of the cities. This covers about 70 pages, but it is all well spent.
This section also features some full-color interior art including some great maps.

Adventures
Pretty much what is says on the tin.  This covers the two types of adventures one can have with T&T; a solo adventure and a GM run adventure.  
Everyone reading this has experienced a GM run adventure.  But where T&T really sets itself apart are the solo adventures. This is a reason enough to grab this game just to see how this is done.

End Matter
This section contains the last bits.  Credits. Afterwords. Acknowledgments. A full index. Character sheets and a Post Card for the City of Khazan!


I am going to put this bluntly.

Every D&D player, no matter what edition, needs to play Tunnels & Trolls at least once.  They should also read over the rules.  I don't care if you walk away saying "I don't like it" that is fine, but so many of the things I see so-called seasoned D&D players and game masters complain about has a fix or has been addressed already in T&T. 

Like I mentioned with Trollpak who solved D&D's "evil race" problem back in 1982, Tunnels & Trolls fixed it in 1975.

Beyond all that T&T is an easily playable game with decades of material and support and thousands of fans online.  If you don't want to buy a copy to try out then find a game at a Con.  

Is T&T perfect?  No. It lacks the epic that is D&D.  If D&D is Wagner then T&T is Motzart. Easier to approach, but no less brilliant. 

For under $20 (currently) you get a complete game with enough material to keep you going for years. Plus there is such a wealth (45 years now) of material out there that you will never run out of things to do.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Review: Trollpak (Troll Week)

In many ways, 1982's Trollpak from Chaosium (and then later Avalon Hill, then Chaosium again) is the reason for my decades-long fascination with trolls in RPGs.

Like many gamers my age, it was the ads in Dragon magazine where I first came in contact with Trollpak. The ads were quite effective too.  Going back to Dragon #65 we get a dissected troll with it's guts all hanging out.  Nothing like that EVER appeared in D&D.

Back then for some reason, I thought this product was for Tunnels & Trolls and not the very obvious RuneQuest.   Even when I learned the difference I still wanted to combine Trollpak with Tunnels & Trolls, something I am attempting to try this week.

Sadly I never knew any groups that was playing RuneQuest so getting my hands on one to view was non-existent.  And my gaming dollar was stretched as it was back then, so buying it blind for my D&D games seemed a bit of a risk for me. 

Reading over the PDF now and some of the very few reviews I see that I certainly missed out and wonder what my trolls would be like today had I owned this back in the 80s.  These days I think I am fairly set in my ways, but is still there is so much here to use.  So let's get into it 



For this review, I am considering the PDF version of Trollpak that is currently being sold on DriveThruRPG.  This is a reprint of the original Trollpak from 1982.
216 pages, color covers, black & white/monchrome interior art.
By Greg Stafford and Sandy Petersen for Runequest 2nd Edition.
The original box set of Trollpak contained three books (the "pak" part); Uz Lore, Book of Uz, and Into Uzdom.  The PDF combines all three into a single file.  The PDF was released in 2019.
The books correspond to the PDF sections, "Troll Legends and Natural History", "Creating and Playing Troll Characters", and "Adventures in Trolls Lands" respectively.


Uz is the name the trolls of Glorantha give themselves and how their creation is central to the lore of the world.  Already this set is going to be the sort of deep-dive into a topic that you know I love.

On the very first page, we get an "in-universe" side-bar about how trolls living near or amongst humans begin to become more human-like and how both groups eventually take on an equilibrium.  
This sets the stage for this book in two very important ways.
  1. This book is steeped in the lore and legends of Glorantha. So teasing out pieces to use in other games might be trickier than I first expected.
  2. These trolls are NOT one-dimensional collections of hit points and potential XP and treasure.  If you prefer your monsters to be mindless evil races to just kill then this book will be wasted on you. 
Book 1: Uz Lore, Troll Legends and Natural History
We get right into the myths and legends of the Uz people/trolls.  We get a feel right away since we get a listing of the Seven Sacred Ancestors of the Uz even before the Gods.  It is right before the Gods sure, but the importance of these ancestors is emphasized. We learn that "Uz" means "the folk" in the Uz language. So the Mistress Trolls (akin to the troll mother race) are the Uzuz.  Dark Trolls, the corrupted "evil" trolls are the Uzko. And so on. Speaking of the language we also learn that the mother tongue of the trolls is a debased form of the "Darktongue." So in D&D terms "Trollspeak" could be a corrupted form of "Abyssal" or something like that. I think in old forms of D&D anyone who spoke the Chaos alignment language could speak to trolls.  

Speaking of Chaos.  The Law - Chaos access is also present in RuneQuest, though not as an alignment as in D&D but as elemental forces.  Another clue that these are your D&D trolls comes up that trolls are often seen as agents of Chaos WHEN IN FACT they were really some of the first victims. 
Let that sink in for bit.  If that were published today there is a certain segment of the hobby that would be screaming that they don't want "social justice" politics in their games.  But this is from 1982, from two of the titans of the RPG industry.  

The section continues with more history and recounting of great troll battles. There is a quasi-academic feel to this and that is really fun.   An example is an experiment a troll researcher did on a troll and a trollkin (a smaller version of troll) in which they were locked in a room with various items and the researcher recorded what they ate.  The point here is that Uz trolls can eat and will eat almost anything. 

We learn there are many kinds of trolls (as to be expected). The Mistress Race is the mother race of all trolls. They are ancient and wise and claim to predate all other races and even the world itself.  The other races of trolls are the Dark Trolls (your stock evil trolls), great trolls, cave trolls, sea trolls, and the diminutive trollkin.


We even get details on troll senses and how they differ from humans. Differences in trolls from region to region. Even a troll evolutionary tree and "prehistoric" troll cave painting and idols, there is even a six-breasted "Venus of Willendorf" style troll idol of the troll mistress race.
There is even details on the types of pets trolls keep. 

There is far more detail about trolls in this 64 page section than in all five editions of (A)D&D.
Nearly everything in the section is system neutral.  While it is tied to the world mythology at a fundamental level, it can be used in any game.

Book 2: Book of Uz, Creating and Playing Troll Characters
This section/book is all about creating a troll character to play in RuneQuest.  Before we delve into this let's have a look at this from "Playing Trolls,"
It is tempting to use trolls as monsters with weapons.
However, they are intelligent creatures who have survived despite gods and men. Several traits set them apart from humans as well, and they naturally exploit those special traits to their advantage. You should do so as well.
D&D players may have issues with playing races as evil or not, but RuneQuest had it figured out in 1982.

You can randomly roll which troll sub-species your character is from, with a 1% chance you are from the Mistress Troll race and 63% chance you are a miserable little trollkin.  Adjustments for all the types are given. Your troll can be wild, semi-civilized, or civilized. You can roll for social rank and equipment.  You can even see what starting spells you have since all trolls have some magic. You can even figure out what you were before you became an adventurer. 

Trolls are a matriarchal culture. So various home habits are focused around this.  For example, the more husbands a troll leader has, the higher her social standing. Looks like my troll character Grýlka gets to pick out a couple of husbands!
BTW, I LOVE the troll greeting when offering you hospitality in their lair.  They cover your head with a blanket or hide and say "I extend my darkness to protect you."  I am totally going to use that in my next adventure. 

Some gods are covered next and their worship. They have goddesses and gods of spiders, darkness, insects (very important to troll life), and the hunt. There is even a goddess of healing.
Coverage of domesticated giant insects is also covered since these creatures often serve the same function as domestic mammals in human life. 

Some new troll types are also covered.

This section by it's very nature is more rules-focused, but there is still so much here that is just good that it can, and should, be used in any other FRPG.

Book 3: Into Uzdom, Adventures in Trolls Lands
This section covers going on adventures in lands inhabited or controlled by the Uz. 
This section is very rules-focused as well with the first part covering random encounters in troll lands. 
There are also sample/small adventures like "The Caravans" which details a troll caravan of a heard of giant beetles.  Imagine this long train of trolls, some in wagons, others walking and in between hundreds of giant beetles being led like cattle in a long line.  Quite a sight really.  Another is traveling to a troll village and NOT treat everyone like a walking collection of HP.  This one is fantastic really for all the troll alcohol available and whether or not your human character can handle any of them in a drinking challenge. 
There are five larger adventures here and several smaller ideas for seeds.  The best thing though is the inclusion of a "mini-game" of Trollball.  This game is played like football and is supposed to be a reenactment of a battle from the dawn of time.  The "trollball" itself used to be a now extinct insect so other things have been used like badgers and in rare occurrences a bear, but most often it is a trollkin.   The teams each have seven players and one can be a great troll.  They are sponsored by a Rune Lord.
The game is brutal and sometimes deadly, but since there is a religious element to the game anyone killed on the field is brought back to life by the gods whom the game honors. Full stats for the Sazdorf Wackers and Tacklers is included so players can try their own hand at Trollball, but warning, the troll gods might not raise a dead human. 

There is just so much to love about this product. It is jammed packed full of ideas.  Part of me wants to adapt my D&D trolls to use these rules and another part of me wants to insert the Uz as-is into D&D as their own race or something akin to High Trolls.  

Trolpak was updated in 1990 when RuneQuest was being published by Avalon Hill.  It was then split into the Trollpak and Troll Gods. 

The "new" pdf restores all the content back to the 1982 edition. 



Reading it now after so many years I am struck with a couple of thoughts. The first is what would have happened to my own games had I picked this up and used it in my games?  Would my trolls today have a decidedly Uz flavor about them?  What else would have changed?

Also, reviews in Dragon Magazine for this are glowing and heap high praise on this book and they called it a leap in game design.  It was, but it was not a leap everyone would take.  RuneQuest/Chaosium did this for trolls like Chill/Pacesetter had done for Vampires.  There are s few others I can think of.  Orkworld did it for Orcs for example.  But still, these sorts of deep explorations are rare. 

So if you are over one-dimensional monsters and are ready to expand your options then this is for you.
If you are RuneQuest player of any edition then this is also something you should have.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Review: Pacesetter Games & Simulations' BX RPG

So far it has been a good couple of years for fans of the classic B/X version of the D&D game.  This is one edited by Tom Moldvay, David Cook, and Steven Marsh.  It is certainly one of my favorites.  This scene has been dominated by the success of Necrotic Gnome's Old Schol Essentials, but it was not the only boxed set dedicated to BX D&D to come out in 2019.

The other was Pacesetter Games & Simulations' BX RPG designed by Bill Barsh.  
This set had a different approach and design from OSE. Different enough that I happily back both Kickstarters for both products.  While BX RPG can, and does, stand on it's own, comparisons to OSE are natural and merited. But I will keep them to a minimum.



The BX RPG from Pacesetter G&S was Kickstarted back in March of 2019.  There were some delays, but there was also a lot of communications so I never really worried.  In December 2019 I got my boxed set and the PDFs were sent out a bit before.

The boxed set and books were only available via Pacesetter's own website, BX store,  but now you can get the PDFs from DriveThruRPG as well. 

For this review, I am going to consider the box set, the softcover books, and the PDFs.

The main design philosophy behind the BX RPG was "remaster" the B/X rules into a whole and then split the material between a Player's Guide and a Dungeon Guide for Game Masters. The boxed set also included some adventures and dice, depending on your pledge level.


Pacesetter has a fun esthetic that shows a love and appreciation for the old-school rules but still manages to differentiate themselves in a world where every publisher wants a bit of the nostalgia dollar.   

Ultimately Pacesetter, like many publishers these days, is a one-man shop of Bill Barsh.  This leads to a consistent vision but also slows things down when the guy writing the material is also the guy editing the material and the guy shipping the material.  Sometimes this shows.

104 pages. Color covers, black & white interior art.
The BX RPG is split into the Player's Guide and the Dungeon Guide.  The Player's guide has all the information a player needs.  The book is broken down into creating a character, the character classes, spells, and other abilities of the classes.  Following the basic design goals, the information in this book largely cleaves close to the original B/X game. So things like the ability scores and their bonuses work the same way.  There are some optional rule sidebars, like giving max hp at 1st level and so on.  Likely things we all did anyway.  They are not part of the core rules and are presented as options.

Classes
This is one of the larger changes to the standard B/X rules.  In the BX RPG we have the same "Basic Four" of Cleric, Fighter, Magic-user, and Thief.  We also get the Druid, Monk, Necromancer, Paladin, and Ranger.  Some classes get some additional abilities. Clerics have spell progression to the 9th level (but only up to 7th level spells are featured in the book).  Magic-users can use cantrips or 0-level spells in a fashion similar to what I have done with my Witch classes. Makes sense, it is an easy way to add minor spells to a Basic-era game. Druids, Monks, Paladins, and Rangers all get their expected abilities and powers.  They are a pretty good Basic interpretation of some standard Advanced classes. Fighters, Monks, Rangers, and Paladins all get extra attacks per round as they advance. 
The Necromancer is a truly new addition.  It takes the "place" of the Illusionist. Their XP totals are bit more than the Magic-user. While they do not get the ability to use cantrips, they control undead as a Chaotic Cleric might. Spell progression is a bit faster compared to a magic-user, but their selection is more limited.  It might be interesting to compare this Necromancer to the others I have seen in the past.
All human classes have a maximum of 18 levels.





Races
Since this is a B/X remaster, races are classes as well.  This RPG gives up the same trinity of Dwarf, Elf, and Halfling, and adds the Gnome and Half-elf race/classes.  There are some changes to these classes as well. Dwarves are limited to level 15, Elves to 18, Gnomes 18, Halflings 15, and Half-elves 18.  Gnomes and Half-elves have magic similar to elves. In fact, not much differentiates the elf from the half-elf save that the half-elf gains the fighter's multiple attacks per round and elves are better with a bow.  Halflings though get some minor thieves abilities which are a great addition and something that should have been part of the B/X rules in my opinion. 

Spells
The next 50 or so pages of the 104-page book are dedicated to spells.  They are sorted by class and then by level.  Clerics and Paladins share a list. Magic-users, Elves, and Half-elves share a list. Druids and Rangers share a list. Necromancers have their own list. Gnomes have their own list as well.
Like B/X and BECMI some spells can be reversed.  
There are redundances in the lists. For example spells like Light and Wish appear on multiple lists and the spell is repeated each time for those classes at the appropriate level as opposed to the B/X standard of "See 1st level magic-user spell of the same name" or listing all spells alphabetically and including what class can cast it, like 3rd Edition does. The advantage to this is if you have the PDf you can print out all the spells for your class and have them all attached to your character sheet.  Nothing jumped out at me as being particularly new in the spell area. There are few non-B/X, non-BECMI ones ported over from Advanced and some logical extensions of spells, like Wall of Bone for Necromancers. Again this largely fits in with the design goals of this set.  

There is a somewhat plain, but very pragmatic (often the same thing) character sheet at the end. 



The art is very much old-school inspired though I think some may call it "anime-inspired."  I actually rather like the art and love the cover.  The halfling, in particular, is great and from now on thanks to this and James Spahn, all my halfling will have mutton chops. 

The book could have gone through another round of edits and QA checks. There are some typos and some layout oddities. I am only mentioning them because others have. I only found the ones I did because I was looking for them.  Though one sticks out.  The Cleric spell chart going to level 9.  Hard to say if this is a typo (or editing mistake) or if clerics really do get 8th and 9th level spells and those will appear in a future product. 

112 pages. Color covers, black & white interior art.
One of the best features about the BX RPG is taking the base B/X game and redoing it all to split the Player's and Game Master's material into two books.   Makes it great for when you have a group and can get extra Player's books.
The Dungeon guide covers the basic rules including adventuring, combat, poison and granting experience.  These rules go into more detail than their B/X counterparts and more akin to the detail we see in BECMI.  There are more examples given for situations as well.  If you were a brand new player of Game Master for the B/X system then this set is a pretty good start to get you going. 

Creatures
A large bulk of the book is dedicated to creatures.  Here is a good mix of both the Basic and Expert sets with a few more thrown in for good measure. A lot of detail is given to the creatures.  Additionally, the stat blocks are bit more robust than with other Basic-era games, but not quite the detail we see in the 2nd ed AD&D game. Monsters are grouped by type, Animals, Giants, Dinosaurs, Dragons, Undead, and so on.  So if you are an old hand at this the monsters are easy to find, if you are new it might take longer. There are new monsters sprinkled around here and there. Some are new-to-B/X and some are new new.  So it is nice to get a little more variety. 
Demons are mentioned and this is the first explicit notice to check out another product and to wait for future ones. It seems the universe is telling me that Demons are a good thing for Basic-era games.



Gods, Demons and the Planes
In the first bit of overt world-building, the BX RPG takes place in Pacesetter's Misty Isles setting (Print, PDF).  There is note stating that more setting material will be available in Fall 2020.  Some gods are mentioned and they seem to be practical "D&D" like gods.  There is not a lot here, but enough for clerics to jot down a god on their sheets.  Demons seem to be like the D&D standards so far. No stats or names are given here.  

Treasure, Charts, and Appendicies
This section follows the monsters much like day follows night.  The usual treasure is covered here with a lot of magic items. There are no intelligent swords. 
Monster to hit and save charts follow. Along with Cleric turning, and Object saving throws (nice to have).

A sample dungeon in next and it is an excerpt from the module BX2 the Haunter Tower which is included in the boxed set (print, pdf). It's a nice intro to be honest and I got a solid Basic Set vibe from this. That is intentional of course. 



There are also random tables of monsters, dungeon settings/encounters, random treasure and even curses and monster summoning tables.

There is a bit on demi-humans using other classes. This book falls on the side of yes there are dwarf clerics and elf thieves, they just don't go on adventures. Though Game Masters have the ultimate say.

In my review for the Player's Book I ended with a note on the typos and layout issues. The same problem exists here. Though this time there were enough that a new version of the Dungeon Guide was sent to the backers of the Kickstarter. 




 The differences are about 12 pages and the older version of the Dungeon guide is stapled (like the Player's book and the original B/X books) the newer one is perfect bound.  The PDF only has the newer content.

The Boxed Set
The Boxed set comes with both books plus four adventures and a set of dice.








The adventures are not bad, very "Basic" is all senses of the word, but that is a good thing in this case.

I have been including my copy of B1 Legacy of the Unknown and B2 Beyond the Caves of Chaos

While overtly designed for AD&D1/OSRIC and AD&D1/D&D 5 respectively, it would be a great fit for the BX RPG.  In fact, it might fit better.


One thing I did find odd about this set was the fact there is no OGL statement anywhere in the books.  These were not released under the OGL.  While this is not a concern for the average player it does strike me as odd.

In the end this set does what it set out to do. Remaster the B/X rules by splitting up the Player and Game Master sections while adding the material from other sources to round out the game.  The final rules could have used another deft hand at editing, but there are no deal breakers in terms of readability or playability. 

The box can hold more books so I am planning to go over the Pacesetter material I have and see how well it all fits inside the box. 

I am likely to spend some more time with this set.

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

BECMI: Immortals Set Review

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


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


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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Review: M1 Into the Maelstrom (BECMI)

In some ways, I do wish I had read M1 before I had picked up M3.  I had picked both modules up around 10-13 years ago while looking for a good epic level adventure for my kids then D&D 3.x game.  They were into the epic levels of D&D 3, with the lowest level at 24 and the highest at 29.  They were on this huge campaign against what they thought was the machinations of Tiamat.  M1 was very good choice since I love the idea of flying ships (D&D should be FANTASTIC after all) but the base plot didn't work for the adventure in mind.  M3, along with some other material, worked rather perfectly.  Plus I can't deny that the Carnifex played a huge role.  So M3 went on the table and M1 went back on the shelves.

Until that is Bruce Heard began producing material for Calidar.

M1 Into the Maelstrom is really a fantastic adventure for the D&D Master's Set that realizes that set's potential.  It is also a great lead-in to not just the Immortals Set coming up, but also the future of the Mystara-line and even pre-sages Spelljammer and the adventures of the 90s.   Additionally, and somewhat forgotten, this book introduces us to our first named Immortals and introduces demons to BECMI.  

There is a lot going on here.  Let's get into it.


For this review, I am going to consider my original print module and the PDF from DriveThruRPG.  There is a Print on Demand version as well, but I do not have it.

By Bruce and Beatrice Heard.  32 pages, color covers, black & white interior. Cover art by Jeff Easley, interior art by Valerie Valusek and maps by Dave "Diesel" LaForce.
Into the Maelstrom deals with the machinations of three Immortals, Koryis (Law), Vanya (Neutral) and Alphaks (Chaos), and are featured on the cover.  Alphaks is our focus here.  He is the focus of the next few adventures and is one of the "Big Bads" of the later BECMI and Mystara lines.  He was the ancient Emperor of Alphatia AND he is the first demon we see by the name demon in any BECMI book to my knowledge.  He is a "Roaring Demon" or what 1st Edition calls a Type VI or Balor demon.  We won't learn more about them till the Immortal set, but here they are. Demons in Basic D&D.

Our adventure starts in the Known World. We bring back King Ericall of Norwold and he needs the characters to investigate the source of some poisonous winds coming from the north between Norwold and the Island Empire of Alphatia (to the east).  The poisonous fog/winds are the result of Alphaks trying to reenter the world via a two-way portal from the Sphere of Death (call back to Death's Ride!)

The three immortals are essentially playing a game. Alphaks wants into the world, Koryis doesn't want him in and Vanya is going to side with the winner.  As the adventure progresses each immortal will earn points for the actions, successes and/or failures of the PCs.  The DM keeps track.  The PCs can also gain curses or boons as the adventure continues.

So another new addition is the "Sea Machine" or water-based battles as an addition to the War Machine.  Pretty nice bonus add if you ask me.

The first part of the adventure goes pretty normal. That is until the seagoing vessels encounter the titular maelstrom.  The PCs are sucked into the swirling vortex of death and spit out into a starry void with air they can breathe!  How's that for adventure?

Here this becomes a proto-Spelljamming adventure, there are several locations (Islands) that the PCs can stop at, but each has their own unique set of hazards.  

The PCs must navigate, in all senses of the word, the machinations of these three immortals.  There is even a giant battle with a navy of the dead controlled by Alphaks.

In addition to the new monster stats (the Roaring Demon), there are PC/NPC stats in back for characters to use in the adventure.

So for the first time, we get a BECMI adventure into the other planes.  Here the characters get a chance to travel the outer planes via a flying ship and even dip a toe into the Astral plane.  
Depending on the outcome the characters can also be set on the path to Immortality.

This adventure is "bigger on the inside" as has been described.  There is a lot here that can be expanded on to a near-infinite degree.  With a ship that can transverse the planes a good argument could be made about even returning to the Known World and Norwold.  

Let's also take a moment and talk about Diesel LaForce's maps.




These things are works of art really. I am not sure how as a DM you can look at them and NOT want to run this adventure.  "Dimensional Guide to the Star Kingdoms?" Hell yeah!

Into the Maelstrom, along with the other modules in the M series work not just as a Master's level set of adventures, but also our introduction to plane hopping and dealing with immortals in the D&D game.  Compared to the same treatments in AD&D, such as the H Series, the M series is more subtle in it's approach.  The H series is largely about kicking in doors, killing monsters and taking their stuff.  Only in the H series, the doors are planes, the monsters are gods and demons and their stuff are artifacts.


Going back to the beginning, if I had known more about the arc (let's call it the "Norwold Saga") then all of these adventures do tie into all the others in a nice, dare I say it, Adventure Path.  Maybe that is something that WotC could do to reintroduce Mystara is give us this for 5e rules.

Keep in mind that this "Adventure Path" or even meta plot was alive and well in the mid-80s. Long before the 90s that this sort of gaming is most associated with.  I might have to explore this idea further.

In the meantime, M1 Into the Maelstorm stands out as not only a great adventure, but a groundbreaking one in many ways.

Monday, June 22, 2020

BECMI: Master Set Review

Moving every up we are now at the apex of BECMI D&d Play for normal characters.  The journey that began at level 1 in the Basic set is now seeing its end at levels 26 to 36 in the Master Set.
This particular set was never on my radar and I only picked one up a couple years ago.  The box was beaten up and the contents were water damaged, but still readable.  The box also had an extra copy of the Immortal rules inside, so that was a nice bonus.  But this has always been something an "other" for me and my D&D game.

Today I look into these rules for the first time in detail.

The Master set covers levels 26-36, following right from the Companion rules.  I am going to say that in my reading of both sets I am convinced really that they likely should have been combined into a single set of rules.  Big set to be sure, but the overlap is often very significant.

D&D Master Set (1985)

As with the previous BECMI Sets, I am reviewing both my boxed set and the PDFs available from DriveThruRPG.

The Master Players' Book
This book is the smaller of the two at 32 pages. Color covers, black & white interiors.
There are some interesting things to note on page 1.  First, we are told this is the Dungeons & Dragons game by Gary Gygax.  Dave Arneson is no longer listed.  Also, this book is "compiled by" Frank Mentzer as opposed to "written by."   I am not going to try to read too much into this. Writing on the book was complete in Spring 1985.  It would be published that summer in July but it would soon be eclipsed in sales by the Unearthed Arcana for AD&D which had sold well.  Though in 3-4 months it would all change and Gygax would be ousted from TSR.  But that is a topic for another day.
Like the previous books, this one covers all the details needed for characters up to the vaulted 36th level.  Clerics and Magic-users see the most text devoted to them. Clerics gain additional turning abilities which include more monsters and the ability to affect more monsters.  They also get more spells but still top out at 7th level.  More druid spells are also presented here. Magic-users also get more spells including the most abused spell in D&D history, Wish. Again they top out at 9th level spells.  Even clerics get access to Wish if they are 36th level and have a wisdom of 18 or greater. Magic-users also get Heal. Which I admit seems a little odd to me.
Fighters get half of a column or 1/6 of a page for their updates.  Thieves get a page.  Dwarves, Elves, and Halfling get a page to share.
There are some new armor options, but the biggest inclusion is that of Weapon Mastery. This mimics the Weapon Proficiency we will see in the Unearthed Arcana and future editions of D&D.  Essentially fighters are better with a chosen weapon.  while I have heard and read that this can lead to fighters becoming too powerful at early levels, I don't think this is really a big deal. I like the idea that a fighter should be able to train with a weapon exclusively and become better at it.
We get expanded weapon and damage charts to include all the weapons that have been added since the Basic set. Plus some Pole-arms (maybe Frank was looking over Gary's shoulder a few times!)
There is even a section on siege weapons that can be used with the War Machine rules.
so a lot yes, but nothing that really screams Masters to me.  A lot of what is here could have been added to the Companion rules for a 48 page Player's book.

The Master DM's Book
This is the larger at 64 pages. Color covers, black & white interiors.
One of the neatest bit of this book is finally getting a map of the Known World.  It is so great that I am going to devote an entire post just to that later this week.



Like the books before it, this section is given over to Procedures first. First up is a ruling on Ant-Magic Effects.  Good to have really for any version of the game.  some detail on characters are also given including Character Background.  It is 1985 after all.  A couple of other things stand out.  We get our first taste of the Immortal rules here with the introduction of the idea of Immortals as the "next level up."
Monsters get an upgrade here with expanded to hit tables; Creatures to 33+ HD and Armor Classes from 19 (yes +19) to -20.  But that is not all.  Monsters also get an average Intelligence rating. All creatures from all four sets are covered.  Along with this intelligence rating, there is an optional change to charm based on intelligence.  It's neat, but I would rule that intelligence has no effect at all on charm magic.  No that is the realm of Wisdom.  In my copy I would cross out "Intelligence" and replace it with "Wisdom."
Included here for some reason is also the Mystic class.  Expect it is not really presented as a full class.  It is not the Mystic that Gygax was talking about in Dragon magazine, but rather a different version of the AD&D monk.  It appears again in the Monster section.
Another update to monsters, in particular, non-human monsters are spell casting monsters.  Dragons are discussed, but we also get the Shaman NPC class (Clerics) and the Wicca NPC class (Magic-Users).  There are some interesting ideas here and some level limits for a large variety of monsters.  I am curious as to why Frank choose "Wicca."  I am sure that the meaning here is "witch" and that is not just my biases.  If you look back over the various BECMI books Wicca, Witch, and Wokani get used failry interchangeably.  I discussed this in a recent Class Struggles post.
On the other end of the spectrum from Immortals, we also get Undead Liege Lords and how they can control lesser undead.  Also useful for any version of the game.

The next big section of the book belongs to the Monsters.  Like the Companion Set this one is broken up into Prime Plane creatures and outer plane creatures.
Here we get some very new looking monsters that would only later move on to the main AD&D/D&D lines.  We also get what I like to call BECMI versions of some others.  The Devilfish is essentially an Ixitxachitl. Blackballs remind me of Xeg-yi.  We do get new Dragons in name, Crystal, Onyx, Jade, Ruby, Sapphire and Brown. But they share stats with dragons we already know. We also get the four rulers of the Dragon kind, Pearl, Opal, Diamond and the Great Dragon.  There are Drakes which are not exactly like the Drakes of later D&D and closer to shapeshifters.  These could even pass for the elusive Mystaran Dragonborn.
We also get Faeries, Hags and Liches to round out what I consider some of the classical monsters.
Part 3 of the monsters listing includes stats from all sorts of B/X and BECMI monsters published elsewhere (other rules, modules) and then brought into the fold of the full BECMI rules.  So even the oddities like Brain Collectors and Lupins from X2 Castle Amber are here.
The last 20 pages of the rules cover magical artifacts; something we have not seen in BECMI to any degree yet.  There are detailed rules for artifact creation and a number of new artifacts. Many I have never seen before and none copied over from the AD&D DMG.
In fact, there is so much here that I am going to cover it all in a future post.
There are only a few "normal" magic items listed at the end.

Ok. So the Masters Rules feel very uneven to me after the Companion Rules.   I could see where it might have been better to instead take both sets and merge them into one and maybe top out at 25th or 30th level really.  We will see that re-organization in the future.

Fighters went from getting all the new fun details to nearly nothing in going from Companion to Masters.  Clerics and Magic-users get more spells, but that is about it. Thieves suffer the most for now having to have their abilities amortized over 36 levels.

There are some great new monsters in the Master's rules, very few save for the various "rulers" even have Master's level HD (26+).

The artifacts though are great and really gives a feel for what a Master's Level game could be about.

The art feels lighter in this set than the previous ones. The only Elmore art is the cover.
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