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

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Review: PC1 Creature Crucible: Tall Tales of the Wee Folk

This week I want to go back and revisit another favorite of mine from the Basic D&D line, but this isn't an oldie for me, but one I picked up just a few years ago.  I am reviewing the PDF and Print version.  There is no print on demand, so my copy was one I scored in a game auction a while back.

PC1 Creature Crucible: Tall Tales of the Wee Folk

The PC Creature Crucible series came at the end of the Gazeteer line for Basic D&D.  AD&D 2nd ed was my game of choice then, but reviewing this now I think I missed out on something fun.  The author of this book, John Nephew, who would later go on to found Atlas Games.  While reading this I was looking for any clues to what would be Ars Magica, but I think I was just projecting.

The book is 96 pages with color covers and black, white and green interior colors.  The PDF is 102 pages (for maps and covers).  It is divided into a 64-page DM's section and a 32-page Adventures section.  This book is something I would have loved back then, and really enjoy now.
The book covers playing several woodlands or faerie races.  The new race-classes you can play are Brownie, Centaur, Dryad, Faun, Hsiao, Leprechaun, Pixie, Pooka, Sidhe,  Sprite,  Treant, Wood Imp, and Woodrake.   One of the features of Basic-era D&D is Race-as-Class, so a Sprite and Halfling can feel like different things with similar levels of progression.

As per Basic D&D each creature gets it's own advancement table and ability minimums and maximums. All, save the Sidhe, have level limits. All of these creatures have a 0 level and in some cases, negative levels, they need to meet the XP requirements for. It all works rather well for Basic D&D really.  We know it can work since we used to do the same thing in Holmes D&D, only not with this much guidance.  It would not be difficult with these guidlines to adapt this to any other version of D&D in fact.   You can look to the 4th Edition Player's Option: Heroes of the Feywild as an example.  Like PC1 Creature Crucible, you can play a dryad, satyr, or pixie.  They even have a similar spell-casting class (more on that later).

The book has a solid Lands of Faerie or even a Feywild feel to it.  A nice green character sheet (which is cool and all, but prints and copies poorly) only adds to that feeling.  The conceit of  the book is to present the information as if given to us from the mouths of four different woodland folk of renown; Olyrrhoe, a centaur prophetess (years before a centaur would teach divination at Hogwarts) tells us about centaurs, wood imps, ,  Lotis, the dryad, speaks for dryads and hamadryads as well as fauns, hsiao, and treants, Robin Goodfellow (yes, THAT Robin) for pixies, sprites and others, and finally Oberon (also THAT Oberon) for Pooka, Sidhe and wood drakes.



This book also deals with three different kinds of spell casters.  Shamans (like druids or clerics, but no turn undead ability), wicca (which you know has my attention! magic-users) and fairy spell casters.  There are some new spells here that very much feel like woodland/wicca/witchy/druid spells.

We get some new equipment, some woodland realms, some organizations and of course our NPCs and a few more besides. Though no Titania, which is odd given the obvious (and necessary) borrowing from Mid-Summer's Night Dream.

That gives us the first 64 pages.
The adventure book makes up the next 32 pages.  We also get an AD&D 2nd Edition conversion guide.  Using these guidelines would help in converting to other versions of D&D, in particular, 5e.

The adventures are short and all share a woodland theme.  They can all be run in a few sessions, usually one per session.

There is also a fun woodlands/faerie themed character sheet.


This is one of those products that I never gave enough attention too back when it came out, but I really wish I had.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Review: D&D Expert Set

December of 1979 was the time I was first introduced to Dungeon & Dragons via the Holmes Basic edition and the AD&D Monster Manual.  It was 1980 though that I got my hands on the Moldvay Basic Set and my love affair with B/X D&D.  But that is only the first half of the story.  The second half, the X of  B/X, was the Cook/Marsh Expert Set. 

D&D Expert Set
I am not exactly sure when I got the D&D Expert set.  I do know it was sometime after I had the Basic Set.  I know this because I have very distinct memories of going through the Expert book and just marveling at everything inside.  Just everything from the classes to all the new monsters.  The Moldvay Basic Set was the high mark for me at the time for what an RPG should be.  The Expert set lived up to that set and then blew me away.  That is getting ahead of my narrative.

For this review, I am going to look at the original boxed set, the mini boxed set from Twenty First Century Games S.r.i., and the newer PDF from DriveThruRPG.

On the heels of the Basic Set edited by Tom Moldvay, we have the first Expert Set edited by David "Zeb" Cook with Steve Marsh.  So we often call this the Cook/Marsh Expert set to distinguish it from the Frank Mentzer Expert Set.   This Moldvay/Cook/Marsh set of rules is often called B/X to separate it from the Mentzer BECMI versions.

The Expert Set came in a boxed set featuring cover art by Erol Otus. The art includes the art from the Basic Set; a wizard scries the female wizard and male warrior fighting the dragon.   It remains one of my favorite pieces of gaming art ever.  In fact, it is the current background for my phone.   Included in the boxed set was one of the greatest sandbox adventures ever, X1 Ilse of Dread and a set of 6 polyhedral dice; d4, d6, d8, d10, d12, d20 and a crayon. Note the PDF does not include dice (obviously).

The Expert book features the same cover art on a predominantly blue cover. The book is 64 pages of black & white art.  The cover is full cover and the interior covers are blue ink and feature the table of contents (front) and index (back).  The art features some of the Big Names of 1980s D&D art. Jeff Dee,  Wade Hampton, David S. LaForce,  Erol Otus, James Roslof, and Bill Willingham.  Some so iconic that they STILL define certain elements of the game for me.  Jeff Dee's halflingsDavid LaForce's giants, and Bill Willingham's vampire are to this very day the first thing I think of when any of these creatures are mentioned.

While we were promised "new classes" both in the Holmes Basic book and later by Gygax himself in the pages of Dragon magazine, we stick with same seven classes; four human (Cleric, Fighter, Magic-user, Thief) and three demi-human (Dwarf, Elf, Halfling).  While I had not really thought about the new classes when I got my Expert set, I was a little disappointed that halflings and dwarves didn't get more than they did.  BUT if that was the case I soon got over it since there was SO much more for the Cleric and Magic-users.

Part 1: Introduction. This book begins with some tables from the Basic game. Also we get some guidelines on how this book should be used and what to do if you have an earlier (Holmes edition) of D&D Basic.  Here we also note that the page numbers are X# compared to the B# number.  The idea here was for you to be able to cut up your Basic and Expert books and put them together in a three-ring binder.  Eventually, I did do this, but not with my actual books, but rather with the printouts from the DriveThru PDFs.


Part 2: Player Character Information. This deals with all the classes.  I thought, at the time, that the organization of this section was a vast improvement over the same section in the Basic Book.  Where Basic D&D went from 1st to 3rd level, this book continues on to 14th level for human classes and various levels for the demi-human classes.   Additionally, thief abilities extend to 14th level as does Clerical turning Undead and new, more powerful spells; 5th level for clerics and 6th level for Magic-users.  That was unheard of levels of magic for me.

Part 3: Spells. This section got about 90% of my attention back then.  New detail is given on Reversed spells for both Clerical and Magic-user/Elf spells.  Eight pages of new spells including the amazing Disintegrate spell, which was one of the spells outlawed in many of my local game groups back then.

Part 4: The Adventure.  Not only does this section open up the world of adventuring to the entire wilderness and beyond the dungeon, it gives us some of my favorite Erol Otus art ever. The Alchemist on page X21 defined what an alchemist needed to look like for me.

Part 5: The Encounter covers combat and includes morale, saving throws, and variable weapon damage. This also has all the necessary combat tables.

Part 6: Monsters. Ah. Now here are the pages of my memories!  I have mentioned before how much I love the Monster Manual for AD&D and how it was my monster tome for my time playing Holmes Basic.  But this.  This one was part of my new favorite rules and that made all the difference to me. The mundane rubbed elbows (or knees, or whatever) with the magical and the malevolent.  To this day there are still monsters here that I have not seen the likes of elsewhere. Well yes, I have, but you have to dig for some of them.  But let's be honest, when was the last time you pulled a Devil Swine out on your players? Some versions of monsters here I still prefer over their AD&D Monster Manual counterparts. Giants and Vampires as I have mentioned.


Part 7: Treasure follows.  While D&D lacked the infamous vorpal sword (for now), it made up for it by having better rules in my mind for Intelligent swords.

Part 8: Dungeon Master Information, is what it says on the tin.  We get rules for making ability "saving throws" and spell magic item creation rules.   What I had the most fun with were the castle and stronghold cost rules.  This chapter is chock full of goodness.  Handling players, NPCs, even the first bit of what was known as the "Known World" which later became Mystara.  To this day seeing the "haunted keep" fills me with ideas.


Part 9: Special Adventures this section covers waterborne adventures. 

This book is so full of great stuff and even though we were promised a "Companion" edition that would go to 36th level (unheard of!) there were still plenty of adventures to be had.
Let's be honest, 14 levels is a lot of levels even by today's standards.



The PDF of the Expert book includes the Ilse of Dread AND the Gateway to Adventure catalog.   All that for $4.99? That is a steal really.

The Twenty First Century Games S.r.i., mini boxed set is about 1/8 the size of the normal boxed set.  It came complete with a box, an Expert rule-book and mini copy of Ilse of Dread.  Twenty years ago it looked great! Today the font must have shrunk some because I find it really hard to read!






Monday, November 25, 2019

Monstrous Monday Review: Monster Manual II

Continuing my review of the monster books of my youth with what can be called the most polished of all the AD&D/D&D monster books, the AD&D Monster Manual II

This was the first book to feature the new "orange spine" and Jeff Easley cover art.   It is also one of the larger AD&D first ed books at 160 pages (save for the massive DMG).  Sometimes I wonder what an old-school cover would have looked like, something drawn by Tramp maybe.  That all aside, the cover of this book is great, but it doesn't quite grab you the same way that the MM1 or the FF did.  But inside is more than makes up for this "perceived" slight.

For this review, I am as usual considering the original hardcover and the newer PDF from DriveThruRPG.  There is no Print on Demand option yet for this title, but as a special feature, I'll also have a look at the miniature book from Twenty First Century Games S.r.i.

The book(s) and the PDF have full-color covers featuring art from Jeff Easley.  Inside is all black and white art from  Jim Holloway, Harry Quinn, Dave Sutherland, and Larry Elmore.  No slight to the previous book's artists, but the style and quality here is more consistent.  Some might see this as an improvement (I do) but others will point to this as a sign of the change from the Golden Age of TSR to the Silver Age.  Of course, it features the byline of Gary Gygax, though we now know that some of them were created by Frank Mentzer and Jeff Grubb.  In some ways, you can see this change in tone and feel that is happening at TSR in this book.

The Monster Manual II was the first hardcover after a year hiatus.  The book is better organized and layout than most of the AD&D hardcover books.  I have to admit I always credited this to TSR finally moving over to computer layout, but I have nothing to support this claim save for how the book looks.

There is a lot to this book too.  OVer 250 monsters there are a ton more demons, devils, and more from the outer planes, like the daemons, demodands, modrons, and even good-aligned creatures like the devas and solars.  We get a few more dragons and some giants.  We get a lot of monsters that feel inspired by the first Monster Manual. There are also many from previous adventure modules.  This book also gave us the Tarrasque, the Catlord, the Swanmay, the Wolfwere. and more.

This book also has nearly 30 pages of encounter tables at the end that covers all three books, very useful to have really and a selling point for the PDF. Get the PDF and print out the tables.

The Monster Manual II is still by all rights a classic.  While I don't get the same thrill from it as I do the Monster Manual or the Fiend Folio, but the monsters individually are great.

It remains to this day a lot of fun and a book I still get great enjoyment from.



The book from Twenty First Century Games S.r.i. is a great little reproduction. I picked this up back when it was new and paid $9.95 for it.  Now it goes for a lot more.  It is great to have but no way I can read it anymore.   The text is way too small.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Review: AC1 The Shady Dragon Inn

Going through some of my favorite Basic-era books and games and I should really spend some time with another favorite, but one that became a later favorite.

AC1 The Shady Dragon Inn was one of the first accessories for the BECMI flavor of the D&D game.

This book also has the distinction of being one of the first Print on Demand books that Wizards of the Coast would release for the old TSR catalog.

The book also has special interest to me since it features the stats for one of my favorite characters Skylla.

I will be reviewing both the PDF and the Print on Demand versions.

The book is 32 pages with color covers and black & white interiors.  The print version is perfect bound; so no staples.   The scan is sharp and clean and PoD version is easy to read.

The book features the titular inn, but really the main feature of this book is the collection of NPCs.  Designed to be a bit like the original AD&D Rogues Gallery.  This product though is a little more robust.  The Shady Dragon Inn write-ups include some background on who these characters are, more than just a collection of stats.  Maybe indicative of shift between the AD&D and D&D lines.

The characters are split by class.   In each case, we get a dozen or so individual characters of Fighters, Thieves, Clerics, Magic-users, Dwarves, Elves and Halflings. with art by Jim Holloway and Larry Day.  While the art helps, each write-up includes a brief description.  This all covers roughly two-dozen pages.

There is another section of "Special" characters.  These are the ones with TM next to their names. Such notables as Strongheart, Warduke, Kelek and of course Skylla.

There is a bit at the end about the Shady Dragon Inn itself along with some pre-gen adventuring parties based on level.  A great aid for DMs that need some NPCs.

The Print on Demand version includes the maps to the Inn as part of the print.  The main PDF does not have them, but they can be downloaded as a separate file.   There are PDFs and image files to print out to use with minis.  So with some minor tweaks, you can use this with any version of D&D you like.  The characters inside can be converted to 5e easily enough.
Ignore the saving throws, and recalculate the base to hit as 20 - THAC0.  I find that 22 or 23 -THAC0 actually works out a little bit better for 5e.

The maps are set to 1" = 5', so D&D 3, 4 & 5 standard.
The Print on Demand versions do not come out to 1" exactly, but when you buy the pdf you get the maps as files to print on your own.

While this book lacks the numbers of NPCs the Rogues Gallery does, it is superior in every other aspect.  Starting in an Inn might be a D&D cliché, but a product like this makes you want to embrace the cliché anyway.

The Print on Demand version is fantastic really.







The maps are part of the book, not detachable, but that is fine really.





Here is the spine.  It is Perfect bound. No staples.



Various shots of the text.  It appears the same as the early editions.  Maybe a touch fuzzier, but nothing that I consider a deal-breaker.  Barely noticeable in fact.


How can you tell this is a new print versus a really, really well kept original?  This page. This is the same sort of page found in all DriveThru/OneBookShelf/LightningSource books.
Note how the bar code is not an ISBN one.

Monday, November 18, 2019

Monstrous Monday Review: Fiend Folio

Last week I reviewed the penultimate monster tome ever created, the AD&D Monster Manual. this week I look at the second-ever produced AD&D monster book, and maybe one of the most loved OR most hated books, depending on who you ask; I mean of course 1981's Fiend Folio.

I will admit upfront, I enjoyed the hell out of this book.  There was something so different, so strange and so British about it.  I loved listening to Pink Floyd, The Who, The Beatles, and Led Zeppelin while watching Monte Python, the Young Ones, Doctor Who and more I was a died in the wool Anglophile.  In the 80s if it was British it was good was my thinking.  The Fiend Folio was all that to me.

Yes. I am 100% in the "I Loved It!" camp.

Now, that doesn't mean I was immune to the problems it had.  But I'll get into that in detail in a bit.

Fiend Folio Tome

First available as a hardcover in 1981.  Available as PDF ($9.99) and PoD ($11.99 or $13.99 combined) via DriveThruRPG.  128 pages, color covers, black & white interior art.
The Fiend Folio is something of the lost forgotten middle child of AD&D.  Don Turnbull, then editor of White Dwarf magazine had been collecting monsters for his magazine since 1976.   In 1979 He wanted to publish a book of these monsters through Games Workshop as a new monster tome companion to the then released Monster Manual.  Through various legal wranglings which included TSR wanting to buy GW and then starting TSR UK, the book came to be published by TSR in 1981.

The hardcover was the fifth hardcover overall, the second "in a series of AD&D roleplaying aids", the last to use the classic cover art style and dress, and the only AD&D hardcover never updated to a new Jeff Easley cover.    To cement the perception that this book was the "middle child" every book after it had the new Jeff Easley covers and about as many were published before it as after it.

When released the book caused a bit of a stir.  In Dragon Magazine #55 we had no less of a personage than Ed Greenwood blasting the book with his Flat Taste Didn't Go Away.  Ouch. That is a bit harsh Ed and the article doesn't get much lighter. I am sure there were plenty of old-school AD&D fans who were at the time saying "Who the hell is this Ed Greenwood guy and why do I care about his opinion?"  Sy though, Ed is no fan of this book and calls many of the monsters incomplete, inadequate and many are redundant.  AND to be 100% fair he is making some very good points here. The editing is all over the place, many of the monsters are useless or way overpowered in some respects.
Alan Zumwalt follows this with Observations of a Semi-Satisfied Customer.  An endorsement, but not the ringing endorsement one might want.
Not to be forgotten Don Turnbull,  Managing Director of TSR UK, Ltd. and Editor of the FIEND FOLIO Tome ends with his Apologies - and Arguments; his defense of the Fiend Folio.
All three articles make good points and overreach in others. In the end, I still love the Fiend Folio, not despite its weirdness, but because of it.  I have decided though that when I run a pure Forgotten Realms game that I will not include any of the monsters that Ed found objectionable.  I was going to say not include any from this book, but that includes Drow and we know that isn't going to happen!

There are some "translation" errors here too.  In particular when the monster was written for OD&D and then later updated to AD&D.  Others the art didn't seem to fit the description.  I still find it hard to see how the T-Rex looking Babbler is supposed to be a mutation of the Lizard Man.


That is all great and a wonderful bit of historical context, but none of that had any effect on the way I played and how I used the book.

Everyone will talk about how that is the book that gave us the Adherer, the Flumph, Flail Snail, Lava Children,  and my least favorite, the CIFAL.    But it is also the book that gave us the Death Knight, Skeleton Warriors, Revenant, the Slaadi, Son of Kyuss and more.

The D&D cartoon featured the Shadow Demon and Hooked Horrors.  The D&D toy line used the Bullywugs.  And creatures like the Aarakocra, Kenku, Githyanki and Githzerai would go on to greater fame and use in future editions of D&D.  Some even first appeared in other D&D modules that got their first-ever hardcover representations here; like the Daemons, Kuo-Toa, and the Drow.

Many monsters came from the pages of White Dwarf's Fiend Factory.  Even these monsters were a mixed bag, but there were so many.  So many in fact that there could have been a Fiend Folio II.

Flipping through this book I am struck with one thing.  For a tome called the "Fiend Folio" there are not really a lot of fiends in it.  Lolth, the Styx Devil, Mezzodaemon, Nycadaemon and maybe the Guardian Daemon.

While this book does not fill me with the deep nostalgia of the discover of D&D like the Monster Manual does, it fills me with another type of nostalgia.  The nostalgia of long night playing and coming up with new and exciting adventures and using monsters that my players have never seen before.



For the record, here are some of my favorites:  Apparition, Berbalang, Booka, Coffer Corpse, Crypt Thing, Dark Creeper, Dark Stalker (Labyrinth anyone?), Death Dog, Death Knight, Lolth, the new Dragons, the Elemental Princes of Evil, Drow, Errercap, Eye of Fear and Flame, Firedrake, Forlarren, Githyanki, Githzerai, Gorilla Bear (yes! I loved these guys), Grell, Grimlocks, Guardian Familiar, Hellcat, Hook Horrors (though I felt I had to use them), Hounds of Ill Omen, Huecuva, Kelpie, Kuo-toa, Lamia Noble, Lizard King (Jim Morrison jokes for D&D at last!), Meazel, Mephit, Mezzodaemon, Necrophidius, Neeleman (well...I didn't like the monster, I liked the SNL skit he reminded me of), Nilbogs (ok, no I didn't like these guys unless I was running the adventure), Norker, Nycadaemon, Ogrillon, Penanggalan (yes! loved these, but they should have been closer to the vampire as described in the MM), Poltergiest, Revenant, Scarecrow, Shadow Demon, Skeleton Warrior, Slaad, Son of Kyuss, Sussurus, Svirfneblin, the new trolls, Yellow Musk Creeper and Yellow Mush Zombie (Clark Ashton Smith for the win!).

The remainder of the book is given over to expanded tables.

The Future of the Folio

When I have talked about the Fiend Folio in the past most of the time I get a lot of positive remarks, so maybe the ages have been kind to the odd little middle child of D&D.

Since it's publication the Fiend Folio has seen a little more love.
The 14th (!) Monstrous Compendium Appendix for AD&D 2nd Edition was based on the Fiend Folio, though it would be almost 10 years after the hardcover version.   MC14 Monstrous Compendium Fiend Folio Appendix is available in PDF.

The 3rd Edition years gave us TWO different versions of the Fiend Folio.  The 3e Fiend Folio from WotC features many of the original Fiend Folio monsters, but also a lot more fiends; so living up to it's name a bit more.  Not to be outdone, Necromancer Games gave us the first of the Tome of Horrors books which feature many more of the original Fiend Folio monsters for OGL/d20.



Back in Print

So imagine my delight when I saw that the Fiend Folio on DriveThruRPG was now offering a Print on Demand option.  So, of course, I had to get it.  It was soft cover only, but I thought it would work nicely next to my Games Workshop printing softcover Monster Manual.
I was not wrong.



Other than one is a hardcover and the other is a softcover it is very difficult to tell the two prints apart.  Even the interiors compare well.

So maybe time has been kinder to the Fiend Folio. I still enjoy using it.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Review: B/X Gangbusters

The latest game to take over the Old-School gaming scene like, well, gangbusters is the new B/X Gangbusters; an update to the old TSR Gangbusters.

Gangbusters is a new game from Mark Hunt based on both the original Gangbusters and Basic/Expert D&D.  At first, I was a little wary of this.  It seemed a little too close to trademarks and I have seen some shady stuff.  But it turns out that Mark legally owns the Gangbusters trademark and this has been a dream of his for some time.  Reading his posts about it online you get his enthusiasm and it is contagious.  So does it live up to the hype? Let's check it out.

Gangbusters is an old school game built on the Basic version of D&D; or at least a suitable clone of it.  So if you know that game you how this one works. 
Characters have a choice of class; Brutish, Connected, Educated, and Street Smart. And each class has six levels, complete with level titles no less!

Each class gets a good write-up and running them through my memory of Good Fellas, The Untouchables and the Godfather I think they cover just about everything.  My tastes would run more towards Private Eyes so Connected and Street Smart would be great for me.

The alignment system here is Law vs. Neutrality vs. Dishonesty.  It works. It works rather well, to be honest.   

There are a lot of lists of equipment with 1920s costs.  For historical games, I love this stuff. 
There are guides for playing characters and playing in the time period.  

Part 3 is the newest material, Piece Of the Action, covers playing the Gangbusters game. A lot of great information here. 

Part 4 covers Game Mastering or Judging. This covers running a city.  Now, this is where I commit heresy, but there some great stuff here I might steal for other B/X style games.  This also covers awarding experience points.

For Part 5 we get Investigations.  Part 6 deals with Law Enforcement and Part 7 handles The Encounter.  The big gem of Part 7 is the table of vehicles. 



Part 8 is Wandering Adversaries and that is our "Monster" section.  It is 100% or at least 99% compatible with every other OSR game.  Though these are city adversaries of the 1920s.  You get adversaries like Angry Mob, Cat Burglars, Gangsters, Klansmen,  Moonshiners and more.  I have to admit, I now want to send a coven of my witches after a group of klansmen. 

Part 9 covers Combat.  This is expected stuff, but the really cool thing are the Saving Throws.  Gangbusters gives us, Moxie. Quickness. Toughness. Driving. and Observation. Really, how awesome is that?  

There is an optional section here that grabbed my attention. Mysterious Powers allows you to play as Golden Age heroes.  That is a very, very interesting development.



The game comes as a PDF and a Print on Demand book. Color covers and Black & White interior art.   It comes in at 63 pages.  The game is also released under the OGL.

How Does it Compare to Original Gangbusters?
By using the "Basic" system there are a lot details in the original game that are not needed in the newer game.  For example, skills are less of a game mechanic in the newer game.  The original Gangbusters has more detail on various weapon effects but the newer game is far better organized. 
OG Gangbusters weighs in at 64 pages, as was common for TSR at the time and a smaller font.  So it, in general, has more text, but that doesn't mean more game in this case. 

All in all. Gangbusters is a great game.  Part of that greatest comes from Mark Hunt's enthusiasm and his obvious love for this game.  Personally, I would get it for that alone, but thankfully the game here is also great all on it's own.   

If you enjoy the 1920s, Gangster films or even, like me, B/X D&D and related games, then this is a must buy.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Monstrous Monday Review: Monster Manual

For today's Monstrous Monday I want to do another review. For this one, it still follows my 'Back to Basic' theme I have been doing all year even though it is not a Basic-era D&D book.  It is though one of my Basic era books.  The book is the Monster Manual and it was just about 40 years ago that I first held this book in my hand.

This is the book. This is the book that got me into D&D and RPGs.

But how does one review such a genre-defining classic?

My son had made himself a triple cheeseburger covered in bacon, onions, and mushrooms.  I asked him how he was going to fit that into his mouth. He said, "with determination".

How does one review such a genre-defining classic?  With determination.

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

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

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

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

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

The Book (and PDF)
The PDF of the Monster Manual has been available since July of 2015.  The book itself has seen three different covers.


Regardless of what cover you have the insides are all the same.  The book is 112 pages, black and white art from some of the biggest names that ever graced the pages of an RPG book.
This book was the first of so many things we now take for granted in this industry.   The first hardcover, the first dedicated monster tome, the first AD&D book.
The book contains 350 plus monsters of various difficulties for all character levels.  Some of the most iconic monsters in D&D began right here.  Mostly culled from the pages of OD&D, even some of the art is similar, and the pages of The Dragon, this was and is the definitive book on monsters.

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

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



Flipping through one of my physical copies, or paging through the PDF, now I get the same sense of wonder I did 40 years ago.

Thankfully, you can get the PDF of the Monster Manual for just a little more than the hardcover cost 40 years ago.





Sunday, September 22, 2019

Deserts of Desolation & Death & More

It's a blah rainy day here in Chicagoland.  Great day to do some prep on my Desert portions of my Second Campaign.

I am currently re-reading all the desert adventures I own and working out a coherent narrative.

Right the idea is the PCs head out to the desert in search of the reptile cult that has been plaguing the land.

The adventures are:

The Desert of Desolation series:
and the Desert Nomads/Temple of Death series:
and then the two stand-alone adventures:
The adventures span several designers, worlds and even games, but all link back to the idea of ancient Egypt.  Known as Eyrpt on Oerth, Ayrpt on Mystara, and Aegypt in Gary Gygax's original Dangerous Journey Necropolis and then later Khemit in the 3rd edition version.  I combine them all into one place I call "Ærypt". The series is called "The Deserts of Desolations and Death".

But I am missing some bits.  Originally I thought that I could gloss over some of the missing ideas (at least in terms of my campaign plans) with B4 The Lost City, but there are some issues there.  One the module is too low of level to fit with what I want exactly, also I ran the kids through it years ago so likely they will remember it even with some changes.  But most of all the Elder Evil Zargon is a bad or more exactly problematic fit for the current game.  Besides if I do bring back B4 it will be as part of a game using Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea as Eric Fabiaschi often talks about.

No, I am going to need something else.  Thankfully something almost exactly like what I need dropped into my lap.

Cha'alt
Venger Satanis sent me a copy of his latest publication in exchange for a fair review, but it was on on my radar anyway.  There are a few reviews ok for it now, so I am going to gloss over some of the "reviewy" bits in favor of how I am planning on using it.

Cha'alt is 218 pages, full color, desert-themed adventure in Venger's normal gonzo style.  The rules are his O5R system which is a mix of OSR and 5e, so it works with just about any game. 
There is a "Campaign Map" of sorts with twelve areas, but only a few of them are heavily detailed.   The campaign map and the sandbox nature of this adventure gave me a few ideas for use in my own desert-themed games,  so that made the review worth it to be honest, but there is a lot more here than just that.

Like all of Venger's books there is a high-quality production value here.  He is not afraid to spend the money to get high-quality artists and layout.  Also, true to his style, there are plenty, ok LOTS, of tongue in cheek pop-culture references throughout the book. Ranging from 80s nostalgia to yesterday's internet humor. 

The adventure is gonzo as I mentioned, so there is a fair bit of science-fantasy thrown in for good measure.  Enough that is t makes me think it too is also a good fir for Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea.  The levels are more in line with AS&SH than my current campaign, but that is fine. Though in either case, I'll need to figure out what to do about the giant sandworms, spider droids, and hunter-killer robots.

In true old-school fashion, there are plenty of random tables and charts. Advice for surviving in the desert and plenty of new monsters.

The Black Pyramid
The biggest feature of this book is the Black Pyramid. 
The obvious inspiration for this portion is the venerable Lost City, but again through a darker, slightly warped lens.  As with the rest of the book, this section is full self-referential humor and nods. So of it works, some of it doesn't. Adventure-wise the pyramid is full of eldritch weirdness.  At 111 rooms not all of them are great, but there is enough here to keep the players all busy and adventurers entertained.

There is a lot of fun to had with Cha'alt.  I have quite a lot of ideas of things to do with it, none of which are as it was designed.   Still, there is a lot of material here and plenty of ideas. For me, I am likely to remove many of the sci-fi elements if I run this as part of a campaign, or at least tone them down if I run it using AS&SH.

If you are familiar with Venger's work then you will find more of this here though this might be his best looking work to date.
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