Thursday, July 27, 2017

This Old Dragon: Issue #88

August 1984.  I was headed to my Sophomore year in High School.  We joked about "1984" all year.  Yeah, no so damn funny now is it.
"Ghostbusters" and Prince dominate both the Box Office and the Billboard charts. I was getting ready to start a two-year long campaign that would change my game world forever.  Ok, maybe that last one doesn't quite have the World-changing power of Ghostbusters or Purple Rain, but hey it was my world.  So let's sit back, put on "When Doves Cry" and join me for Issue #88 of This Old Dragon.

Dragon issue #88 is the first Dragon I didn't buy.  What's that mean?  Well, I had been buying Dragons now since issue #83 and was pretty set on getting each one. Issue #88 was the first one I didn't get after my first run. It was the first chose not to buy.  Much to my later chagrin when my DM opted to buy it!

I am mixed about this cover.  I think the orcs look cool, but it just doesn't grab me to be honest.
At this point I should state that this copy I have is in near mint condition.  I know it was not part of the boxes I picked up off of Craiglist or even one of my own originals.  This one is a bit of mystery to me as to why it is in such great and complete shape.

Letters section covers a number of "What is Official" type of questions.  I used to worry about such things myself. I used to imagine that D&D Conventions were a bit like the big Boy Scout meetings I had gone too before I left (or was kicked out of) the Boy Scouts (we had serious fundamental philosophical differences).  But no one has ever in any official capacity looked over my shoulder to tell me I was "doing it wrong".  Lots of amateurs sure, but I cheerfully dismissed them.

Len Lakofka is up first with the next part of Gods of the Suel pantheon.  Here we get Syrul, Fortubo, and Wee Jas the unrequited love of my life (circa age 14).  Wee Jas, of course, grabbed my attention like nothing else in this issue. She was a gorgeous goddess of magic known as the Witch Queen?  How in the hell was I supposed to ignore that?  For years I thought this art was a Larry Elmore piece, but it is actually Jeff Butler.  I think the wide eyes are what really sets this piece off. Bella Donna indeed.
She first appeared (I learned almost right after) in the World of Greyhawk boxed set.  All we knew about her then was she was a greater Suel goddess of magic and death.
Lenard Lakofka's article though gave us the most detail really.  That is where the picture on the right is from.
What do we learn about her?  Well at this point she is still a greater goddess of magic and death.  She knows every magic-user spell and all other spells to 5th level (why only 5th??).  She can cast up to 9 spell levels worth of spells each round; so 1 9th level spell or 9 1st level or any combination.  She has 90% magic resistance and a globe of invulnerability that floats around her.
She is attractive (Charisma 20) and always appears so.
If she is anything she is very lawful.  To the point where good and evil are mostly meaningless to her just as long as you are not chaotic.  In fact she pretty much hates anything chaotic except for the chaotic neutral god Norebo; who is her brother (or half-brother) and occasional lover.  Gods. Go figure.
In the letters section in a couple Dragons later it is mentioned that Norebo's entry mentions Wee Jas, but Wee Jas' doesn't.  The editors reply that it is because Wee Jas is loathe to admit it and Norebo could also be bragging.
Also, have a look at her name "Wee Jas" or "Wee" and "Ja" or "Oui Ja".  She is the goddess of the Ouija board as well. Magic. Death and Spirits. Clever Gary.
I really enjoyed the Suel mythos and history. I always wanted to run a game set during the last days of the Suel Empire going right up to the Invoked Devastation and the Rain of Colorless Fire.  In my game of the time my world (Mystara) merged with my DM's world (Oerth).  I figured that there were so many different cultures in such a small space because they were all refugees of the fall of the Suel Empire.

Well that's it! Thanks for stopping by.  Oh, wait there is more to this issue. Flips page...wow. Look at that! There is more. Huh, never noticed. ;)

There is a lot really. Arn Ashleigh Parker is back with Physics and Falling Damage. Wow this article and the next one, Kinetic Energy is the Key by Steven Winter, lit up the letters and Forum pages for many issues to come.   We even talked about this in school. In the end we all decided that it was not worth the effort. We never read a fantasy story where the hero died in a fall. They died from sword wounds, spells or a dragons' bite.  A d6 every 10 ft. works.  Though if I were to get slightly more scientific then I would say a die type for each size category.  So something Small or smaller uses a d4,  Medium and Large a d6, larger categories go up to d8, d10 and d12. sure they all fall at the same speed (acceleration due to gravity) but their different masses produce different force when hitting the ground.

Ed Greenwood is up with the Ecology of the Rust Monster. Little bastards.


Off the Shelf needs to be recognized this time if for no other reason than their inclusion of a review for William Gibbson's Neuromancer.  We had no idea, even in ominous 1984, that we were getting a glimpse, however fuzzy, of the future. Not just a future in terms of Cyberpunk, but in terms of the future we live in now. At some point Neuromancer is going to read like the Golden Age of Sci-fi looks to us now.

Katharine Kerr is back with more Beyond the Dungeon.  She discusses moving the game the great outdoors.  For me this was covered rather nicely in the D&D Expert set. There is a part of this article that does provide a lot of use and that is the introduction of a simple skill system to the *D&D game.  Actually, it is more of a skill philosophy than full on system. This makes it a good choice for any modern D&D too, since the ideas can be used even when there are skills.  4e did a little of this too.

Some ads including this one for Witch Hunt and the 10th Anniversary box set




Yes, I had Witch Hunt but I never had that 10th Anniversary boxed set.  At the time I figured I didn't need it since I had most of those books.  Now I am kind of kicking myself.  Did anyone have it?
I never see them on eBay or anywhere else for that matter.   You can sure as hell believe that come 2024 I'll whatever WotC slaps a 50th Anniversary label on.

The "centerfold" is the crazy "Elefant Hunt" game by Tom Wham. I played it once I think. I have vague memory of it anyway.



ICE Can Stand the Heat covers books from Iron Crown Enterprise's Rolemaster series, or as we use to call it "Chartmaster".  I kinda liked "Spell Law" but it didn't fit with what I was doing at the time so I never used it.  My loss in some cases I think.

The Ares Section starts of with Gamma World and a timeline of the future in Before the Dark Years. Spoiler. That's us.  According to the timeline 2003 to 2021 is a time of ecological and economic disaster in America and Europe.  It still has the Soviet Union around, but you can't fault them on that.  We used this timeline a lot for our own D&D-mixed-with-Gamma World game.  Re-reading it now I see a lot of ideas I still use.

The Marvel Phile is intact and features Thor, Loki and Ulik leader of the Lost Trolls.  Odd, I don't remember him in the movie.

The Battle of Ebony Eyes is a ready-to-run Star Frontiers: Knight Hawks adventure. Followed by two more Star Frontiers articles.

Ads, comics, another fairly forgettable Talanalan, Worrmy,  and Snarf Quest with the introduction of VR-X9-4-M2 also know as Aveeare.

So. A really fun issue and in surprisingly great shape.

Wanna see what I said about White Dwarf from the same time?  Click here for White Dwarf #56.

Like what I do here? Pick up a copy of my newest book, The Green Witch!


Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Green Witch in Print

I mentioned it yesterday, but today I wanted to give the Green Witch its own due.  It is out in print now at DriveThruRPG and RPGNow.


The book follows the same format as does The Warlock and they are 100% compatible with each other with very, very little repeated content (some spells like Bestow Curse are repeated).

In fact the goal for all my witch books is to give you a complete playable class where you don't need any other book I publish.  If do buy one of the other books then you get something that both classes can use.  Witches can use Warlock spells and visa-versa.

Each book features either a different class (Witch, Warlock, Huntsman and Green Knight) or a different witch tradition.  So each book gives you something new.


Not only can you now get the Green Witch in print, you can get it on sale!
OneBookShelf's Christmas in July sale is still going on and I have a lot of books up for sale from various publishers (and various levels of contribution on my part).

The next witch book I have due is the White Witch.  It is going to be Swords & Wizardry White Box focused.

After that, I think it will be The Mara Tradition and then The Winter Witch.

Should be great!

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

New in Print: Mail-call Edition

When I get games or game books together; either via a con, or an auction, 2nd hand sale, or whatever I tend to think of them as "linked" products whether they are or not.  This is doubly true when I get a bunch books at the same time in the mail.  Like I did over the last couple of days.

Here is what the UPS man left on my door in three different boxes.


That is +Mark Taormino's latest Maximum Mayhem Dungeon #4 Vault of the Dwarven King, fresh from the Kickstarter.  The print proof of my own The Green Witch, which you can now buy in print AND while it is on sale at RPGNow's Christmas in July.   With +Gavin Norman's print copy of Theorems & Thaumaturgy Revised Edition. His PDF is also on sale.

Let's jump in!

First up is the fourth installment of Mark Taormino's Maximum Mayhem Dungeon series.  This time for characters level 4 to 7 it involves investigating a Dwarven mine.  But you know that is not all.

The mine cars and tracks look more like roller coasters and there are monsters breeding down in the mines.  I would say they are unimaginable, but in truth, they are EXACTLY the sort thing we probably imagined at age 13-14 when making our own dungeons.  Mark just has better production values.  Like the others in this series, this is pure nostalgia fueled gonzo fun.   Crazy mines, insane monsters, goblins with chain saws. Yup.  This module has it all, and what it doesn't one of the others in the series does.


OR order them this way to have The Maximum Mayhem CampaignTM for levels 1 to 14!


Makes me want to pull out my Basic and Expert books and do that!

If so then you can bet that I will be including one of Gavin Norman's Vivimancers in the mix.

Theorems & Thaumaturgy Revised Edition has been out for about 7 months and it looks like it is doing well.  That's great because this is completely kick ass little book.


Inside we have three new classes, The Elementalist (specialist in the volatile energies of nature), The Necromancer (master of death and restless spirits), and The Vivimancer (expert of cloning, vat-growth, and bio-sorcery).  All for you Labyrinth Lord or Basic-era game.
If you have the older T&T then Gavin has put up a blog post to explain the differences.


And of course, I will have to include a Witch in the mix.


The Green Witch for Swords & Wizardry follows up my Warlock class.  These are witches that protect the wood.  Are they protecting it from humankind, or are they protecting humankind from it? Maybe both.

Like my other witch books, this presents a new witch Tradition which includes new Occult Powers and Spells.  It also has some new associated classes, the Green Knight (a paladin for witches) and the Huntsman (a pagan-inspired Ranger).


All my recent witch books are for Swords & Wizardry and written not only to be compatible, but also to have very little in the way of overlap.  Obviously, the Experience tables are the same (they are all witches) and some spells are shared by all witches (Bestow Curse is a good example).  I try to make each one worth your while and moeny to buy.



And right now it is on sale. In fact nearly everything for the witch is on sale now.



Monday, July 24, 2017

The Basic Set at 40

Gamers of a Certain Age all know about their first Basic Set.  For some, it was light maroon with a red book.  For many it was a red box with red books.  But some of us had a different experience.  The box was blue(ish) and had a dragon on the cover, the book was blue and it changed gaming forever.



On July 22, 1977 the Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set was shown at Origins Game Fair and it changed the face of RPGs.  Prior to this people learned to play from others that had been playing.  The John Eric Holmes edited Basic Set gave brand new players with no prior experience in either RPGs (which really meant D&D) or in wargames.  It gave us the Moldvay Basic set and the  Frank Mentzer Basic set. But more importantly, it opened the world of D&D to others.

Dr. Holmes took on the massive task of collecting what was then OD&D, edited it and reorganized it into a game that made sense to new players.  There is some debate as to whether this was designed as a stand alone game line (which it would become) or as an introduction to Advanced D&D (which it reads like).

A lot of blogs will talk about the history of the Holmes Basic Edition. A great post can be found over at +Wayne Rossi's Semper Initiativus Unum, Basic D&D at 40  and pretty much the entire Zenopus Archive blog by +Zach H.

My experiences with Holmes though are a little different.



My gaming began in 1979, before the Moldvay set, but after Holmes.  I had read the Monster Manual and I had a copy, badly xeroxed, of the Holmes Basic set.   Like many, my "first" D&D was a combination of Basic and Advanced. Still today that is the same experience I look for in D&D.



I will be honest, it took me a while to get the game down.  With Holmes D&D I always felt like there was something I was missing. I only learned later of the "Little Brown Books" and how "Basic" actually came about.  I also did not have a full copy.

I would later get my hands on a copy of Holmes to read in full.  It was an eye opening experience to be sure. I had been playing Moldvay Basic for a while and moving over to AD&D proper.  Holmes felt like a Rosetta Stone to me.  A product that could crossover between these two games.
When I got a hold of a copy of my own much later I would use it for 1st level characters with my adventure of choice, B1 In Search of the Unknown, before moving over to AD&D.

I became a fan of J. Eric Holmes work and even stumbled on vague references for a Witch class!


I had found some alternate evolution of D&D, one where Basic lead to Advanced and not to Expert. Where you played a magic-user in one and a wizard, illusionist or witch in the other.
It should come as no surprise then that my own witch class is heavily influenced by my time playing using the Holmes and Moldvay rule sets.

Re-reading my Holmes set over the weekend made me think about how much fun a box set really is.  The next time I start up an AD&D game, I'll be starting with Holmes.

I also feel the need to mention that along with Holmes the Traveller "Little Black Books" also celebrated 40 years.


Safe journeys to you Free Trader Beowulf. Hope you found help.



Friday, July 21, 2017

Adventures with Venger As'Nas Satanis

Somewhere in the depths of Hell...or the Midwest, hard to tell these days, +Venger Satanis is plugging away putting out material for his own style of Old School gaming.  I thought it might be fun to check in on some of his newest books.

I like Venger's stuff. It is the right amount of nostalgia, old-school charm, sleaze and high production values and often tongue firmly planted in cheek.

Full Disclaimer: Venger sent me copies of His Flesh Becomes My Key, High-Stakes Q'uay-Q'uar, and Stairway of V'dreen for review.  I already had purchased Stairway of V'dreen and I bought Adventure Writing Like A Fucking Boss a few days ago.

His Flesh Becomes My Key
18 pages, $3.00, PDF
A cool horror/noir murder investigation. While overtly made for The Outer Presence RPG it is mostly crunch free. So it could be used with 1930s Call of Cthulhu, 1970s Chill or even in the 2010s with any game.  Frankly I would like to try it with Witch: Fated Souls or even Majus.  It is that flexible.
Now putting this right out there, this one is less tongue in check sleaze and more gritty urban horror.
I will not spoil the ending, but it is part of what makes this adventure interesting and good to use with nearly any horror game.
Personally, I think it is great fun and would love to try it out under different systems with different groups just to get a different feel each time.  Come to think of it, there is something in the adventure where I COULD run it multiple times, with the same players and characters under different systems.
This adventure is Eldritch Pulp meets the ugly streets of New York or Chicago or San Francisco of modern day.  It is has a nice "old school" vibe to it.  It is H.P. Lovecraft meets Clive Barker.  I hope to see more like this.

High-Stakes Q'uay-Q'uar
18 pages, $5.00, PDF + image file of game
I think most of Venger's adventures revolve around finding a dead body.  That's how this Alpha Blue adventure begins.  I am inordinately fond of Alpha Blue, so a new adventure is always welcome.
The adventure revolves around the game of Q'uay Q'uar.  It is a big deal in this area of space.  There was a Doctor Who episode, "The Wedding of River Song" that features something like this with Chess.  Now imagine that, only with purple and yellow pieces and none other than David "Space" Pumpkins as your host. Then you have an idea what is happening here.
There is alot going here with a lot of characters.  The PCs can compete in the Q'uay Q'uar challenge or they can be observers. There is a smuggling ring to stop (or join up with), a mercenary and a ton of other things to do here.
Included in the adventure is a PDF on how to play Q'uay Q'uar and an image file of a board.
I would be utterly disappointed to hear that Venger does not have his own Q'uay Q'uary game set up to play at home. I did something similar for Ghosts of Albion: Blight with a game of Fidchell. I did make a Fidchell board (well, really a Tafl board).
Like all of Venger's products, this one is heavy on substance and style, and light on crunch.  I could see this played under White StarStarships & Spacemen, or even the new Star Trek game.
I am going to use it in my Star Trek/Cthulhu-mythos mash-up for certain!

Stairway of V'dreen
19 pages, $4.00, PDF
This adventure for Crimson Dragon Slayer (or any OSR/Fantasy game really) starts In media res with the PCs needing to find shelter. Here they meet Doctor Ebzub and his almost completed experiment.  What happens next is ... well ... ok the PCs end up in V'dreen. But is V'dreen is left to some questions.  It feels like some in-between world where PCs encounter the remnants of gods that were, or could be.  V'dreen is a dying world. Not in the Jack Vance sense but in the "it is rotting right before your eyes" sense.  The PCs must either save it or euthanize it.
There is a fair bit of meta to this adventure and a lot more that can be added by any group.  This is the type of adventure that works best with a group that has been playing together a long time, but maybe the first time with these particular characters. The adventure can be played for bizarre laughs or as deadly serious.
Either way it will be a lot of fun.

Adventure Writing Like A Fucking Boss
14 pages, $3.00, PDF
Have you ever wanted to make your own adventures? Do you want to be like Venger and write them like a fucking boss?  Well, this is the book for you then.  Overtly the book is focused on people writing their own adventures for the first time, but the advice given is so solid that even old veterans like me kind find it useful.  Some of the advice is common sense, but never underestimate the value of stating something plainly.   There are no groundbreaking revelations here, no paradigm shifts and no occult insights. And that is perfectly fine by me.  Adventure writing is not supposed to be Shakespeare, it's supposed to be Poe.  The advice given though is rock solid, and it provides easily repeatable to create fun, entertaining adventures that don't feel like a railroad.
Honestly, I would package this up with his How To Game Master Like a Fucking Boss to give GMs a full toolbox of advice and tricks to help any adventure; whether they wrote it themselves or grab one off the shelf.   Venger really should bundle this with the Character book and call it the "Be A Fucking Boss Bundle".
I have a Trek game coming up. I know what I want to do with it, but I am going to run my ideas through this book and give them a test.  So far all the advice has panned out well and I believe that this will be a better adventure because of it.

Play Your Character Like A Fucking Boss
13 pages, $3.00, PDF
I picked this up based 100% on my reading of Adventure Writing Like A Fucking Boss.  In fact I did not even own this book when I started this review.  This book is great. Plenty of advice on how to play your character to get the most enjoyment out of it.  A lot of this I already do and have done for years.  In fact, I think playing in horror games made me a better player as well as a GM. I see a lot of that advice here too, but with a different focus.
I stand by my idea of the "Be A Fucking Boss Bundle".  Using all this advice will make you a better player and a better GM.

I started this review a couple of days ago, since that time OneBookShelf started their Christmas in July sale.  So ALL these titles are on sale now.  Grab them, now. Make them yours.  Your Players will thank you.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

This Old Dragon: Issue #160

August of 1990 was my Senior year in college. I moved into an apartment in a very notorious neighborhood of my college town.  I was helping my roommate (one of four guys living in this place) put together this huge entertainment center. He sent me out to get a case of beer for the job. We lived next door to a liquor store.  I was back with the case (likely Keystone) in hand.  He didn't even know I had left.  We got so drunk that we named the entertainment center "The Ferderko" (after Bernie Ferderko). That was how the 90s began for me.  They ended with me three degrees later, married, living 300 miles away from that liquor store and the Ferderko, with a new baby son.  So yeah, I saw some changes.
Dragon, D&D and especially TSR saw a lot of changes in the 90s too.  But that was not obvious to us in August of 1990 when issue #160 came out.  So let's turn on some Star Trek TNG Season 4, fire up the 386SX and let's get going on Issue #160 of This Old Dragon.

The cover looks like it should be part of a Halloween issue, but it is actually for the special topic section of Urban adventures.  I was quite excited to see this, to be honest.  During the last couple of years of my High School AD&D game we focused largely on urban adventures.  My then DM and I even wrote up our own "Urban Survival Guide".  Kinda wish I still had that, would be cool to polish it up and use it.  At this point I should note that this particular Dragon, while not my original from then, is in surprisingly great shape.  The covers are still on it and it doesn't reek of mildew.

Inside we get an ad that would shape my entire 2nd Ed AD&D experience.  The first ad for the Ravenloft campaign world.  I bought everything for Ravenloft back then, when I could afford it, from the newly opened Castle Perilous Games in Carbondale, IL.  Ravenloft was my world.

First up is The Enemy at the Gates by James R. Collier.  This details some of the magical defenses a city must have to survive in the *D&D game worlds.  It's a good read, to be honest, and anyone with solid knowledge of the D&D spells or monster could likely come up with even more ways to attack a city.  Examples of +1 swords to Ents/Treants are given.  I also once destroyed a keep full of vampires with a charmed blue dragon in a game.  Likely right around this same time to be honest.  The article is good in describing all sorts of attacks, but not much in the way of defending against those attacks save for "fight dragons with dragons!".  The material though is still good after all these years and it can be used with just about any FRPG.  The article is also quite a long one.

The Last Call Inn by Willie Walsh is a sample inn and tavern with maps that can be used in any AD&D game.  Again, while it says AD&D on the tin, it could be used with any FRPG.  The article is more than just a map and room descriptions. It covers running the inn, prices, costs and setting up shop.   The economy is very AD&D 1st ed, though I think it was trying for AD&D 2nd ed.  Stats for NPCs are 2nd Ed.

Matthew J. Iden is next with a thieves' guild in The Touch of the Black Hand.  By this time we have seen a lot of Dragon articles on thieves' guilds and assassin guilds.    This one is good but doesn't expand much on the articles from the earliest days of the Dragon.  Maybe I should collect them all and have a look at them in that perspective.  I bet then I could find something unique and useful in each one.

Sage Advice covers some questions on Krynn and Greyhawk.

A big, garish, advertisement for Chill 2nd Edition.  The 90s were going to be about horror. I didn't know that then, but the writing is there on the walls as if it had been written there in blood by Anne Rice or Poppy Z. Brite.  I started the 90s with Ravenloft, ended it with WitchCraft. Had Chill and Vampire in-between.

The Forum handles the various "Is D&D Satanic" questions.  I guess the 80s are not quite over just yet...

+Bruce Heard is up with Up, Away, And Beyond: Space Travel in D&D a topic he is well versed in.  I'll even go as far to say as one of the two or three experts in it.  There are a couple of things in this article right away.  This is for D&D. Not AD&D.  So we are talking BECMI here.  There is even a bit on how the D&D and AD&D worlds are not linked. So you can't use space travel to get to one from the other.  Well, I tend to disagree, but that is the beauty of these games right.
There is a lot here really. Heard talks about different shaped worlds, odd gravity and how to work Spelljammer into all of this.  Fascinating read really.  A lot of this can also all still be used today, whether or not you use Spelljamer or Bruce's own Calidar setting.
Naturally, this is followed up by an episode of Voyage of the Princess Ark.

The Role of Computers is up next.  I could not help but notice it was Copyright 1990 by the authors.  Not too uncommon really, but will cause some problems for WotC when they try to re-publish these in ten years.

Nigel D. Findley is up with The Ecology of the Gibbering Mouther.  Did you know that creatures killed and eaten by the Mouther can not be raised, resurrected or reincarnated?  I don't think I did. Yes, this thing actually eats your soul too.

In the middle of the magazine, and still intact are some of the then new AD&D Trading Cards.
I really don't know much about these, to be honest.  I was never a collectible card guy. Are they worth anything?


Inside is also a poster for Dungeon magazine.

The fiction piece, Thief On  A String, features a scene that Mission: Impossible will steal in 6 years.

More ads...The Convention Calendar reminds us to get our tickets for Gen Con early. They had 10,000 people now two years running!

Another article that could see new life today is one from Mark E. Smith on There Are No Generic Black Belts: Defend yourself with a variety in TOP SECRETS/S.I.™ games.  I am not sure if the rules will match up with the new Top Secret coming out, but the advice is solid.   Several styles are covered here.  Interestingly enough, the one that I was studying at this time and into grad school, Isshinryu, is listed here.  I don't see it mentioned much.

Novel Ideas is more of an ad than it is an article. J. Eric Severson covers the Buck Rogers novels from TSR.

Also, more of an advertisement than an article is the Game Wizards detailing the new Ravenloft campaign setting.  I was very, very excited to see this.

We get a lot of ads and the comics.
And since I actually have one this time, the back cover features the Hollow World.


This is a nostalgic issue for me if only for the time it represents and not really for the content inside. Soon I would stop buying Dragon and eventually even D&D stuff completely.  Grad School makes for some difficult times for gaming.

I suppose it is good then that I don't have many issues past this one. I have no real insights to them having not read them when they were new and not even playing for much of the late 90s.  Still, it is fun to look back on these.
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