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.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Merry Part, Witches' Voice

A non-gaming post today of sorts.

I just read the announcement that The Witches' Voice will be shutting down its service.
Witches' Voice, or Witch Vox, has been online serving the Pagan, Neo-Pagan and Wiccan community online since 1997.


Now to be clear, I am not a pagan, Wiccan or anything like that.  I have always been a pretty hard-core Atheist. But I liked Witch Vox and I like Pagans in general.

I liked going to WitchVox because it also kept me informed on what was happening in the community of Neopagans and Wiccans.  While my own witch books are what I like to think of a nice mix of myths, fairy tales, and legends, some of those myths are also modern myths.  See my Pumpkin Spice Witch book as an example.

Through WitchVox I was able to find several occult bookstores in my area, great back in the late 90s when I first moved out into the suburbs from Chicago.  I found a great little occult bookstore not too far from my Favorite Local Game Store.  Sadly that bookstore is gone. And much like WitchVox itself a lot of these places are closing due to people getting their materials online.  Amazon has replaced the occult bookstore and Facebook has replaced WitchVox.

I also used WitchVox as a starting point for research.  It was a crucial find for me back when I was putting together my first witch "netbook".   Prior to this, like all good little academics, I went through books and later journal articles.  WitchVox opened up new avenues of research to me.

Thankfully much of the original purpose of WitchVox can now be handled well with their Facebook Page, and potentially hit a much larger audience.

WitchVox may be shutting down their website, but the cycle of birth-death-rebirth is something that witches often believe.  So I am sure there will be a rebirth of WitchVox in some form or another.

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.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Kickstart Your Weekend: Maximum Mayhem Dungeons #7: Dread Swamp of the Banshee

Mark Taormino is living the dream.  He is working on producing his next module in the Maximum Mayhem Dungeons series, this time it's module #7: Dread Swamp of the Banshee.  This time the adventure is written by author Joe Pearce and it looks great!

Maximum Mayhem Dungeons #7: Dread Swamp of the Banshee


https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/marktaormino/maximum-mayhem-dungeons-7-dread-swamp-of-the-banshee?ref=theotherside

It looks like the same sort of insanity that his other adventures feature.  Old-school maps and adventures and way over the top gonzo fun.

Plus you can pick up all his past adventures as well.  Combined they make a great campaign that your characters will never survive.


Check out the review I did for his first five adventure and monster book.

Mark know his Kickstarters.  He gets them done and he gets them out to you. I trust Mark.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Plays Well With Others: B/X Gangbusters

Yesterday I reviewed the new B/X Gangbusters game and talked about its potential due to its Basic-era roots.  I stand behind that and a recent dive into some of my favorite Basic-era games supports this.  So let's see how well Gangbusters, B/X edition Plays Well With Others.



Realms of Crawling Chaos
Both are built on similar B/X designs.  Realms of Crawling Chaos adds Lovecraftian Horrors to your B/X Gangbusters games.  Both also support the same era of play, more or less, and have similar offerings in terms of playing normal humans. In fact, adding Realms of Crawling Chaos can add an edge to your "Educated" characters they might not normally have. 

Of course, at this point, you might ask why not just play Call of Cthulhu or d20 Call of  Cthulhu.  The answer, of course, is to be able to play this as a B/X game.

Amazing Adventures
AA is a Pulp-era game based in and on the 1930s; so about a decade later.  But there is still a lot in this game that would be helpful to the Gangbusters player or Judge. Not to belabor it, but the are equipment lists here that have different items that the GB Basic book.  The Amazing Adventures classes also give the GB Judge some go ideas for playing Powered Characters.

Basic Psionics Handbook
Moving further afield we have Richard LeBlanc's Basic Psionics Handbook.   While psionics have a "complicated" relationship to Fantasy games, they seem to work just fine in semi-modern ones.  In particular, a psionic wild talent would fit well into a GB game.  Let's not forget that the 1920s was also the time of Harry Houdini and his magic shows.  In real life he was a debunker of claims of the supernatural, but who knows what he was doing in YOUR world.

This along with Realms of the Crawling Chaos gives you a Lovecraftian style game that is less "Call of Cthulhu" and more "Cast a Deadly Spell".
I want to try this with a hard-boiled private eye that used to be a boxer and has seen a little too much magic.  I'll have to name him Robert Howard Lovecraft.

Starships & Spacemen 2e
Moving even further out from Psionics we have another one from Goblinnoid Games, Starships & Spacemen.  How does this one work?  Glad you asked!  One of my favorite Star Trek Episodes is "A Piece of the Action" where the crew of the Enterprise beam down to Sigma Iota II to investigate the crash of the Horizon from 100 years earlier.  They discover that the Iotians, a very creative and intelligent humanoid race, have recreated Chicago from the 1920s based on the book "Chicago Mobs of the Twenties", which had been published in (their version of) 1992.  The Iotians recreated their entire civilization based on this book.  At the end of the episode, it is revealed that Dr. McCoy misplaced his communicator.  Kirk and Spock state they will analyze the technology and that by the time they come back they could be the Federation.



There was an attempt to do a sequel to this by Michael Piller for TNG and some comics.  For me though, it was a throw-away section in the FASA TNG Officer's Manual that when the Federation came back to Sigma Iota II that they found a fully functional Federation style Space Station waiting for them.  Frankly, I would use that in a heartbeat for my own BlackStar games.  Maybe even adopt Piller's idea that this was a Federation, with the morality of the Chicago gangs.
It sounds like a lot of fun really.  I'd steal more ideas from FASA Trek for this too, including the interim uniforms they were using for the Enterprise-C era.   I will have to come back to this.

There is a lot more you could do with Gangbusters and the vast library of Basic-era B/X compatible material out there.


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.





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