Thursday, June 24, 2021

Star Trek musings, BlackStar and Mercy

Been in a bit of a creative rut when it comes to D&D and D&D-like games lately.  I get my best ideas when running and I have not been doing that in the morning due to the day job.

In the meantime, I have been thinking about my two Trek games BlackStar and Mercy.

For BlackStar I spent some money and had a 3D model designed for my ship, the USS Protector.  I got the STL file from the designer and had my youngest print them out on our resin printer.  The results?  Well, I have to say I am thrilled to death with them.

USS Protector, various scales

Looking now I see the blue resin one is a little hard to see.  The green resin one I painted with a light-gray/off-white "Corax White" from Citadel paints.

The painted/green resin/smallest is the largest size we can print with the ship length on the y axis.  The blue is the largest we can do with the ship length on the z axis.

I am actually pretty happy with both sizes to be honest.

The Protector and the Reliant

You can see the blue resin one better here.  The front of the saucer section was where it was connected to the build plate.  Connor raised it by a couple of mm and it looks much better.  I gave that one to my friend Greg for his birthday and his own Trek game.

The blue resin also looks like it is the same scale as this little USS Reliant model I have. I also have an Enterprise A that is very nearly the same scale.

The Enterprise D and the Protector

The smaller one matches the scale (nearly) of the Enterprise D model I have too. 

If I compare to this sizing, the Protector uses the same space frame as does the Ambassador Class Enterprise-C.

The Starships Enterprise

I said originally that the Protector was 700 meters, that looks like a typo to me.  I am now saying 600 meters, so still longer that than the Enterprise C.  Most of that is in the nacelles.

It's kinda cool to have my own little starships coming out of what is this century's version of the replicator.

Speaking of centuries.  I have been discussing my Mystoerth Timeline with some others and it is a little like sticking a square peg into a round hole.  But it is still nowhere near as bad as trying to get my Star Trek timeline to line up.   I am not talking about trying to figure out how to work things like Discovery and Axanar into the mix, I am talking about trying to figure out how Trek and real-world history can co-exist!

One of the bigger issues comes from the episode The Space Seed, the one that introduced Khan.  In the episode Khan was supposed to rise to power during the Eugenics Wars in the 1990s. He then left Earth on a DY-100 sleeper ship around 2018.  

uh...Ok.  Look. The Space Seed aired in 1967. No one at the time thought people would still be watching Trek in the 1990s, let alone new Star Treks on the air at that time. 

How do I fix this?  Thankfully I stumbled on a video that neatly solves this problem (and some others) for me.

Moving it all to 2090?  Well, that works out great for me to be honest.  But I might even fudge it a bit more and say it happened in 2067, 100 years after the episode aired. Though that is only 46 years from now!

We know that  Zefram Cochrane made his warp flight on April 4, 2063, but there had to be sleeper ships still in use.  It works. It is inelegant in a way, there are other dates I'll have to move, but for *my* Trek universe it is fine.

In any case, it might not even come up in my games, though I am sure Mercy will deal with something from the Eugenics Wars. It's just too fruitful of a playground not to do something with it. 

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Review: Blue Rose Adventurer's Guide

Blue Rose Adventurer's Guide 5e
I am on record as being a big fan of Green Ronin's Blue Rose setting, both in its True20 and AGE versions.   There is just something about it that I find very, very compelling and think it makes for a fantastic game and game world.

I am also on record as being a huge fan of D&D 5th Edition.  While it wont replace my beloved Basic D&D it will sit on my shelves and game table very happily right next to it.  

So what happens when Green Ronin decides to take their Blue Rose world and used the D&D 5th edition rule system?  Well, you get the best of both worlds!  Let's look into this RPG chocolate and peanut butter creation and see what we have.  My only fear is that some of the things that made Blue Rose so special might get lost here.  Let's find out.

The Blue Rose Adventurer's Guide (5e)

For this review I am considering the PDF and POD versions I purchased from DriveThruRPG.  Note: As of the date of this writing the POD is no longer available. I suspect this has to do with the change in printing costs for "Premium Color" prints.  There was a successful Kickstarter (that I missed) to fund a traditional print run.  It looks like there will offset printing ready for your FLGS by the end of 2021.  I guess I better hold on to my now collector's item!

The book is 176 pages with full-color art throughout.  Once again the cover art is by the incredible Stephanie Pui-Mun Law who has given us the look and feel I associate with Blue Rose.  All of the art, as far as I can tell, has been used before in the AGE version of Blue Rose.  I do not see this as a problem. The art is so tied to Blue Rose for me that I would have a difficult time seeing anything else.  So this is a positive in my mind.

It is hard to believe that it was four years ago that I reviewed the "new" Blue Rose AGE edition (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3).  So a lot of what I said there will apply here.  

You do not need the Blue Rose core rules to play this, but you do need the D&D 5th Edition rules.

Introduction

This section from developer Steve Kenson introduces us to Green Ronin and Blue Rose.  It is a nice reminder that Green Ronin's DNA is deeply sequenced with D&D.  Many of the founders and developers at GR can trace their careers back AD&D 2nd Ed, D&D 3.x, and D&D 5.  These are not "johnny come latelys" these are people with a strong and credible background in game design and D&D in particular.   This also covers some naming conventions.  "Sorcery" from the True20 and AGE versions has been renamed "The Occult" here, so as not to confuse with the sorcerer class.  Similar distinctions are made later on with Priests and Clerics when dealing with the various theocracies.

Chapters 1 through 7

These chapters all deal with the history, people, and geography of the World of Aldea.  They are,in order, The World of Aldea, The Kingdom of Aldis, The Theocracy of Jarzon, The Khanate of Rezea, The Thaumocracy of Kern, The Matriarch of Lar'tya, and On the Borders.

Pages from Blue Rose Adventure's Guide

While these sections are nearly identical to similar sections in the Blue Rose core rules AGE edition, they are not a copy and paste.  I covered those in Part 2 of my Blue Rose review.  The differences here are now largely one of rules setting.  Details have been edited to better fit the D&D 5e rules.  

This also works well as an overview for anyone wanting to play in Aldea regardless of which rules (True20, AGE, D&D5) they want to use.

Chapter 8: Aldean Ancestries

We are moving away from the old concept of race in D&D and I could not be happier.  This chapter gives us a good example of how this can be done moving forward.  There is a natural familiarity here for anyone coming to this version of BR from the True20 one.  The ancestries of the world of Aldea are here and how they can be played in D&D 5.  If you are thinking ahead then YES, you can now use Rhydan and Sea-folk in your regular D&D game.  

Pages from Blue Rose Adventure's Guide

What was "race" is not split off into Ancestries (your "genetics" as it were) and Culture (where you were raised).  This is particularly useful in the cosmopolitan world that is Aldea and in particular Aldis. Sure you might a Night Person, but you were raised in a villa on the Northside of Garnet.  Your best friend is a Sea-folk and you spent more time on the waterways than whatever stereotypical things people think Night Folk do. Sure you might be naturally strong and fierce-looking, but the only battles you have ever been in are the Poetry competitions in Garnet. Which by the way are pretty damn fierce in their own right. In my Blue Rose games, Garnet has annual poetry competitions that have all vibe and energy of an epic Rap-battle.  The top prize is a lot of money, but more importantly, bragging rights.

I would like to say this should be back-ported into D&D, but I am pretty sure we will see this in future versions anyway.  This is an improvement.  Character customization at a new level.

Chapter 9: Aldean Classes

Ah. Here is what I waiting on.  Blue Rose AGE and True20 versions only has three classes.  An while this works remarkably well, D&D has a bit more.  So in the proud tradition of so many D&D 5 books, this book offers new takes on all the standard classes.  I want to focus here on just a couple I really like.  

Pages from Blue Rose Adventure's Guide

The Monk gains the Blue Rose Spirit Dancers in the Way of the Spirit Dance and makes it better than the sum of it's parts.  I have never been a big fan of monks, I have only played one in my 40+ years of gaming.  The Blue Rose spirit dancers were a great concept, but again, not something I would play.  This new Way of the Spirit Dancer Monk is better than either and yes I would play one.  Imagine an acrobat with ballet training and grace and mix that in with aikido and karate.  Yes, that is basically Gymkata (Gods of Light help me) but so much better really.

Paladins get the Oath of the Rose and really just become the Knights I was always playing in BR anyway, but nice to see them on paper.

Warlocks.  You knew I was coming here. We get two Patrons here (from the Primordial Gods), the Autumn King and the Winter Queen.  A Winter Queen warlock is indistinguishable from how I like to play witches as to be the exact same thing.  But honestly, I expected nothing less from Steve Kenson and line developer Joseph Carriker. 

Wizards get a little psychic in School of the Psyche.  I would run wizards with a pretty tight hand in Blue Rose 5e. Not because of the lack of magic, just the opposite, there is a ton of magic in this world. 

These all are designed well for the World of Aldea, but I'd be crazy not to play a Queen of Winter Warlock.

Pages from Blue Rose Adventure's Guide

We also get some Feats to help round out some of the powers that characters can get in Blue Rose-AGE.  Not a lot, but 5e is not as feat-heavy as 3 was.  

Chapter 10: Aldean Backgrounds

Aldea is a new world so there are some modified and new backgrounds for it.  The best is the Reawakened.  Or the reincarnation background.  You know I am going to use that!

Chapter 11: Aldean Arcana

This covers the magic in Aldea including the Occult (what was called Sorcery).  Some spells from the Player's Handbook/SRD are marked as "Occult" spells.

I would have loved to see some new spells here, but I would need to go through both the Blue Rose book and the PHB to see if there is anything missing.

We get some new magic items including Ancestral and Rhydan ones as well as Occult Artifacts (great for any game).

Chapter 12: Aldean Creatures

This covers the monsters and creatures we find in Aldea not in the Monster Manual/SRD.  There are some important alterations to some creatures such as Griffons, Centaurs, the Fey, and undead, to correspond to the world better.  We also get Clockwork creatures, "upgraded" Fey Lords, and slightly different Fiends. Rhydan also get updated 5e style stats.

Shadow of Tanglewood

This is an included adventure for four to six 1st level Blue Rose heroes. 

There is an Index and the OGL statement.

While I was worried that some of the charms of Blue Rose AGE would be lost here there is more than enough to make up for it.  I mean there are no stunts or any of the other nice features of the AGE rules. There is no conversion matrix for bringing over characters from one game to the other.  But this book plays to the strengths of D&D 5e and still manages to give us an Aldea that feels special. 

What might have been lost from the AGE (or even True20) version is more than made up for with D&D5.  It's not exactly the same, but it is every bit as fun.

Who Should Buy This Book?

If you are a Blue Rose fan and a D&D fan then get this book.  If you are a Blue Rose player/GM/fan and your group is playing D&D 5 then you should get this book.  If you are a D&D 5 player, and you are curious about Blue Rose, Aldea, and the City of Aldis then most certainly get this book.

One of the great strengths of this book is its ability to introduce the concepts of Blue Rose and its world to a bunch of new players.  Honestly, D&D 5 players should be grabbing this book. 

If I were Green Ronin, I'd put a QuickStart adventure using Blue Rose 5e with some very simple concepts from the game.  Don't include character creation, but instead have a set of pre-made characters including a Night Person, a Rhy-Cat (or Rhy-Bear), a Sea Folk, and a Vata.  Show off their strengths and then get a group of YouTubers to play it. I know my youngest's group would eat this up in a heartbeat.  Slap a giant ad in the back for both versions of the game.

Now I just need a set of Blue Rose 5e dice to go with my set of Blue Rose AGE d6s.

Blue Rose Core and Blue Rose Adventure's Guide

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Motherland: Fort Salem Season 2 and NIGHTSHIFT

Last year's big surprise hit for me was Motherland Fort Salem and Season 2 starts tonight!

Motherland Fort Salem

And I can't wait!

The show gave us a very different sort of Army and a different sort of witches.  Now with Season 2 we have two different witch factions (the Army and the Spree) and an ancient group of Witch Hunters called The Camarilla.  I am also looking forward to learning more about the "Mother Language" that witches can speak called Méníshè.  Reminds me of what was trying to be done with Inha as a witch language

If this all sounds like a great RPG setting, you are right! This is a fantastic setting for NIGHT SHIFT.

I am stating up the characters up to the end of Season 1, but not including the game-changing season finale.

Raelle Collar
Raelle Collar
(Taylor Hickson)

5th level Witch

Base Abilities
Strength: 12 (0)
Dexterity: 13 (+1)
Constitution: 15 (+1) s
Intelligence: 12 (0) s
Wisdom: 13 (+1) P
Charisma: 15 (+1) 

HP: 19  (5d4) +5
AC: 6 combat armor
Fate Points: 1d10

Check Bonus (P/S/T): +3/+2/+1
Melee bonus: +1  Ranged bonus: +2
Saves: +4 against spells and magical effects
Arcana: Innate Magic: Wind Shear (1d6 per level of witch)

Hair: Blonde
Eyes: Blue

Spells
1st level: Cure Light Wounds, Sleep, Wind Strike* (treat as an air-based magic missile)
2nd level: Continual Flame, Levitate
3rd level: Cure Disease

Raelle lived in the part of American known as the Chippewa Cession where the Indigenous Tribal Federations are.  She is a healer of great power like her mother was.  Her mother was reported dead by the Army and Raelle blames the Army and Gen. Bellweather in particular.  She doesn't want to be there and her plan was to get enlisted in the infantry and get killed as soon as possible.  Her attitude earned her the nickname "shitbird" from Abby.

Raelle attitude changed when she met and fell in love with fellow cadet Scylla Ramshorn.

Abigail Bellweather
Abigail Bellweather
(Ashley Williams)

5th level Witch

Base Abilities
Strength: 12 (0) s
Dexterity: 11 (0)
Constitution: 13 (+1)
Intelligence: 14 (+1) s
Wisdom: 11 (0)
Charisma: 17 (+2) P

HP: 18 (5d4) +5
AC: 6 combat armor
Fate Points: 1d10

Check Bonus (P/S/T): +3/+2/+1
Melee bonus: +1  Ranged bonus: +1
Saves: +4 against spells and magical effects
Arcana: Innate Magic: Wind Shear (1d6 per level of witch)

Hair: Dark Brown
Eyes: Brown

Spells
1st level: Detect Snares & Pits, Obscurement, Wind Strike* (treat as an air-based magic missile)
2nd level: Levitate, Suggestion
3rd level: Curse

Abigail "Abby" Bellweather, of the East Coast Bellweathers, is the leader of the Bellweather Unit.  She starts out in the show as an arrogant, if even spoiled, girl of privilege. By the end of the series, she is the leader she was born to be.  Even her rivalries with Raelle and fellow East Coast witch Libba Swythe become something different as she accepts the responsibility of what being a soldier-witch means.

Tally Craven
Tally Craven
(Jessica Sutton)

5th level Witch

Base Abilities
Strength: 11 (0)
Dexterity: 13 (+1) 
Constitution: 14 (+1) 
Intelligence: 13 (+1) s
Wisdom: 14 (+1) P
Charisma: 16 (+2) s

HP: 18 (5d4) +5
AC: 6 combat armor
Fate Points: 1d10

Check Bonus (P/S/T): +3/+2/+1
Melee bonus: +1  Ranged bonus: +2
Saves: +4 against spells and magical effects
Arcana: Innate Magic: Wind Shear (1d6 per level of witch)

Hair: Red
Eyes: Brown

Spells
1st level: Detect Evil, Detect Magic, Wind Strike* (treat as an air-based magic missile)
2nd level: Knock, Levitate
3rd level: Clairvoyance

Tally comes from the depleted Craven line. All her aunts had gone to fight in the Army and they all died.  She is the last of her line. She lived in the Matrifocal Allotment near Sacramento, California. She had not even seen a male until she answered her call of duty, an action her mother strongly wished her not to do.  Her power is to "see." She can detect disguised and hidden objects or people and might be one of the most powerful seers to come up in the ranks in a long time.

Tally is a sweet girl who loves with all her heart because that is what she knows.  She is fiercely loyal to her Unit.

Scylla Ramshorn
Scylla Ramshorn
(Amalia Holm)

6th level Witch

Base Abilities
Strength: 11 (0)
Dexterity: 13 (+1) 
Constitution: 16 (+2) 
Intelligence: 14 (+1) s
Wisdom: 13 (+1) s
Charisma: 18 (+3) P

HP: 27 (6d4) +12
AC: 6 combat armor
Fate Points: 1d10

Check Bonus (P/S/T): +4/+2/+1
Melee bonus: +1  Ranged bonus: +2
Saves: +4 against spells and magical effects
Arcana: Innate Magic: Wind Shear (1d6 per level of witch)

Hair: Dark Brown
Eyes: Blue

Spells
1st level: Deathwatch, Obscurement, Wind Strike* (treat as an air-based magic missile)
2nd level: Levitate, Phantasmal Image, Suggestion
3rd level: Animate Dead, Speak with Dead

Scylla is a "Necro" or a Necromancer.  Because their power makes others uneasy they are quartered in a different part of the base. We learn that Scylla's parents were killed when she was young.   She meets and falls in love with Raelle.  Later we find out she is part of the terrorist organization known as The Spree, responsible for hundreds of deaths across the country.  Her job was to recruit Raelle, but she actually fell in love with her.

General Sarah Alder
General Sarah Alder
(Lyne Renee)

20th level Witch

Base Abilities
Strength: 13 (+1) 
Dexterity: 14 (+1) 
Constitution: 20 (+4) 
Intelligence: 17 (+2) s
Wisdom: 16 (+2) s
Charisma: 20 (+4) P

HP: 123 (10d4+18) +80
AC: 6 combat armor
Fate Points: 1d10

Check Bonus (P/S/T): +8/+5/+3
Melee bonus: +7  Ranged bonus: +7
Saves: +8 against spells and magical effects
Arcana: Innate Magic: Wind Shear (1d6 per level of witch), Telepathic Transmission, Arcane Bonds (Biddies) 

Hair: Black
Eyes: Blue

Spells
1st level: Command, Cure Light Wounds, Detect Magic, Inflict Light Wounds, Protection from Evil, Wind Strike* (treat as an air-based magic missile)
2nd level: Cause Fear, Continual Flame, Lesser Restoration, Levitate, Suggestion
3rd level: Clairvoyance, Curse, Haste, Protection from Evil 10', Unholy Blight
4th level: Arcane Eye, Confusion, Hallucinatory Terrain, Phantasmal Killer, Restoration. 
5th level: Cloudkill, Commune, Domination, Telekinesis
6th level: Control Weather, Disintegrate, Feeblemind, Slay Living
7th level: Death Aura, Veneration, Wave of Mutilation, Windershins Dance
8th level: Antipathy/Sympathy, Damning Stare, Discern Location, Wail of the Banshee
9th level: Astral Projection, Breath of the Goddess, Mystic Barrier

"Honor me, make a place for me and my kind and we will win your wars."
- General Sarah Alder to Massachusetts Bay Militia, Say the Words

Sarah Alder was a survivor of the witch hunts of the 16th and 17th Centuries. She rallied her fellow witches at Salem, Massachusetts and presented the new government with a deal. Save us and we will fight your wars.  The US Government and the Witches have been allies ever since.  

Sarah maintains her youth with her select group of "biddies" or women that have sacrificed their own youth so she may remain forever young.  The biddies and Alder are all connected, much in the way a witch and familiar might be.  Thus Sarah can call on greater magics than her already high level has access to.

Sergeant Anacostia Quartermain
Sergeant Anacostia Quartermain
(Demetria McKinney)

10th level Witch

Base Abilities
Strength: 16 (+2) s
Dexterity: 17 (+2) 
Constitution: 16 (+2) 
Intelligence: 13 (+1) 
Wisdom: 15 (+1) P
Charisma: 16 (+2) s

HP: 45 (10d4) +20
AC: 6 combat armor
Fate Points: 1d10

Check Bonus (P/S/T): +5/+3/+2
Melee bonus: +4  Ranged bonus: +4
Saves: +5 against spells and magical effects
Arcana: Innate Magic: Wind Shear (1d6 per level of witch), Telepathic Transmission

Hair: Black
Eyes: Brown

Spells
1st level: Command, Inflict Light Wounds, Sleep, Wind Strike* (treat as an air-based magic missile)
2nd level: ESP, Levitate, Phantasmal Image, Suggestion
3rd level: Clairvoyance, Dispel Magic, Protection from Evil 10'
4th level: Arcane Eye, Phantasmal Killer, Produce Fire
5th level: Harm, Telekinesis

Staff Sergeant Anacostia Quartermain serves as the sergeant for the Bellweather Unit.  She is absolutely loyal to General Alder but also cares a great deal for the girls in her unit. 

She is a highly trained combat witch.

--

Motherland: Fort Salem would be an excellent setting, aka "Night World" for NIGHT SHIFT.  I am hoping to learn more about the witch hunters in the Camarilla this season and I hope Tally will be OK, and what ever happened to Rae and Abby.

Get NIGHT SHIFT here:

Monday, June 21, 2021

Monstrous Mondays: Titania, Queen of Faerie

Yesterday was the Summer Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere, also known as Mid Summers Day.  So today's Monstrous Monday should celebrate that.  Here is a character that has been in my games a very long time.

The Lords and Ladies of Faerie in my games are at the level of lower-level deities or the demon princes.  At the highest levels are the various Queens and Kings, though there tend to be more Queens.  The two largest courts are the Winter Court, ruled by Queen Mab, and the Summer Court ruled by Queen Titania and King Oberon.  There are smaller courts of varying power, but almost all of the faerie folk pay homage to either the Summer or Winter courts. 

Dorothy Hyson as Titania in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, painting by Ethel Gabain
Dorothy Hyson as Titania byEthel Léontine Gabain
Titania, Queen of Faerie
Faerie Lady

Frequency: Unique
Number Appearing: 1 (1)
Alignment: Neutral [Chaotic Neutral, Good tendencies]
Movement: 120' (40') [12"]
  Fly: 150' (50') [15"]
Armor Class: 1 [18]
Hit Dice: 14d8+14*** (77 hp)
Attacks: Sword+4 or by spell
Damage: 1d6+4 or by spell
Special: Command any faerie, damaged only by magic weapons, 50% magic resistance, Witch spells (13th level) 
Size: Medium
Save: Witch 14
Morale: 10
Treasure Hoard Class: U (VI) x10
XP: 4,200 (OSE) 4,350 (LL)

Str: 12 (0) Dex: 17 (+) Con: 15 (+1) Int: 16 (+2) Wis: 18 (+3) Cha: 24 (+5)

The Faerie Court of Summer is co-ruled by King Oberon and Queen Titania, though ask anyone who has been to the faerie courts and they will tell you the true ruler is Titania alone.

Titania will seem soft-spoken, demure, and even gentle, but make no mistake she is the iron fist in the velvet glove of the Summer Court.   She helps keep up the pretense that her husband Oberon is the ruler of the Summer Courts. While she has "good tendencies" it is a mistake to assume that the Summer Courts are good where the Winter Courts are evil.  These distinctions are far too simplistic for these courts and this is even more true for their rulers.

Titania prefers to never enter into combat if she can avoid it.  She feels that anyone that goads her into fighting is a failure on her own part to remain the distant and untouchable Queen.  She will have any number of lords, knights, squires even down to the lowest serf in her kingdom ready to take up arms to defend her.  She can, if needed, use her ability to command any faerie to do her bidding.  This will work on any faerie including elves and half-elves.  They must save vs. spells to avoid this compulsion.  Half-elves gain a +1 to their rolls.

If she must fight she has a specially designed rapier that acts as a +4 Sword of Sharpness.  She can also cast spells as if she were a 13th level witch of the Faerie or Green Traditions.

Titania is a notorious adulteress and will attempt to seduce any elf, human, or half-elf with a charisma score of 17 or greater.  She in particular likes the challenge of a pure and virtuous knight or paladin.  She will soon grow tired of her new paramour and discard them for someone new.  Since time moves differently in the land of the Faerie the former lover may find themselves years or even decades removed from their own time.

Titania as a Witch Patron: Faerie witches and some Green Witches may have Titania as their Patron. She doesn't grant them spells as a god does a cleric, but she will, often through intermediaries, instruct the witch on the secrets of faerie magic.


Friday, June 18, 2021

Kickstart Your Weekend: Calidar "Alfdaín Ascendant"

I am a huge fan of Bruce Heard's work.  Ever since I picked up GAZ3 The Principalities of Glantri I have followed his work through his modules and the Voyages of the Princess Ark series in Dragon. 

His Calidar setting is a wonderful distillation of his career into a single setting.  So for me, it really works.

So when he has a new Kickstart up and it features warring elves in living ships...well I am going to pay attention!

Calidar "Alfdaín Ascendant"

Calidar

And there is a lot to pay attention to in this one!

So far he has Thorfinn Tait doing the maps. Jeff Easley tentatively for the cover art. Joseph Garcia doing the internal illustrations (b/w inks) and Janet Deaver-Pack line and text editing.  So a great team.

The pledge includes:

  • A Gazetteer: 132 pages color, PDF format or printed (hardcover or softcover). This book is already written and most of its maps are in their final states as of mid-May 2021.
  • A Players’ Guide: About 24-28 pages, color, PDF format or softcover
  • An Adventure Book: 24-68 pages, color, PDF format or softcover. Final page count will depend on stretch goals during the crowdfunding event. The more backers, the greater the adventure for the same price.
  • Two Conversion Booklets: About 24 pages each, color, PDF format or softcover. They provide all game stats from the previous three titles specifically for use with Labyrinth LordTM and OSRICTM.

Bruce really has his Kickstarters down to a well-oiled machine and I have been very, very pleased with what I have gotten in the past.  And now that I have SpellJammer I have a LOT of ideas for this.

Honestly, I could get this just for the elves, but it all sounds fantastic.

I want the Hardcover version, but the softcover would fit in with all the other books I am using in and around Calidar.  

The Kickstarter is doing great, but there are all those fantastic-looking stretch goals too.

This is another one of those projects that Kickstart was really made for.  Top-notch creative with big visions and the ability to get those visions realized, they just need a little help to get the ball rolling.

So back this one!




Thursday, June 17, 2021

Review: The Runewild Campaign Setting

Putting the Hex into hex crawls.

A while back I mentioned the Runewild Campaign Setting Kickstarter. I was quite excited about it and happily backed it.   I got my books and my PDFs, but it was in the middle of my Covid-19 fueled busy summer last year. The book has been sitting on my desk, mostly ignored since then.

That is a damn shame.

With all the fun I have been having with Van Richten Guide to Ravenloft lately I wanted to revisit this book and see what I can add to it from this book.  The short answer? A lot.  So much in fact that while there are some great ideas in this book for Ravenloft, there is a TON more for my War of the Witch Queens campaign for Basic-era (B/X, BECMI, OSE) D&D. 

So for this review, I am going to refer to both the Softcover print and the PDF.

The Runewild Campaign Setting

Published by Sneak Attack Press, written by William Fischer, art by Joyce Maureira, and Cartography by Toy Fayen.  306 pages. Full-color covers and interior art. Available in PDF, Hardcover, and Softcover versions. For 5th Edition, recommended levels are 1 to 10.  Available on DriveThruRPG and at your FLGS.

The PDF is fully bookmarked with hyperlinked Table of Contents. 

The Runewild Campaign Setting (Runewild) is overtly a "Dark Fantasy fairy tale" campaign sandbox guide and a hex crawl in one volume.  That is it in a nutshell but does not really do it justice.  Best to break it up a little more.  

From the introduction,

This book includes:
  • A history of the Runewild and its surrounding settlements
  • 150 detailed encounter areas for player characters to explore 
  • 8 new Backgrounds and a new Feat: Fey-Touched 
  • 21 unique magic items (like witch embers and the staff of clarity and confusion) 
  • 32 new monsters (including clockwork dwarves, fey lions, giant forest sloths, and the terrifyingly beautiful Golden Bodach) 
  • Detailed descriptions of the histories, motivations, and weaknesses of the witches of the Runewild, including the Whitebone Sisters; Missus Switch, the swine hag; Korthsuva, the Witch of Hours; and the Hag Queen Griselda, Mother of Ogres 
  • New optional rules for exploration and resting 
  • Advice for running a sandbox campaign 
  • Dozens of random tables designed to help GMs make a Runewild campaign their own

That is quite a lot. Frankly, I was just happy getting the material on the Witches of the Runewild, the rest is gravy for me.  I turn the page and suddenly my "gravy" turns into another dessert course when I am introduced to the "Witch Wars."  Oh. This will be fun.

The book is split into four sections, Running the Runewild, Magic of the Runewild, A Runewild Gazeteer, A Runewild Bestiary.

Runewild Magic

Running the Runewild: This section covers what the Runewild is and a bit of its history.  It also introduces the idea of a Sandbox Campaign.  While many gamers of a certain age will already be familiar with the idea of a sandbox (and even where the term comes from) this might be new to the majority of younger D&D players.  No inditement of their experience; everyone learns something new at different times. This is a good overview of this style of play for the newer generation of players.  

The advice given about Sandboxes vs. Adventure Path is solid and there is even something here that warms the cockles of my old-school heart.  To quote page 10, "e of the greatest difficulties in running a sandbox-style campaign is balancing encounters. In short, there are no balanced encounters in the Runewild."  Players and Characters need to get used to the idea of running away. 

While this might be a shift for some 5e players, it is not a hard or difficult one.  In fact, it is presented in the light of the characters have the ultimate freedom to do what they want.  It is wonderful really and to quote Darkseid from the Synder Cut of Justice League, "we will use the old ways."

The Old Ways describes Runewild to a tee. 

Among the "old ways" are plenty of Random Encounter tables with brief descriptions of what is encountered.  Adventure Hook tables, Scenery tables, Fey prank tables, general Runewild strangeness, random animals, random NPCs, and more.  For new schoolers, this will make the area feel vibrant and alive. For new schoolers, this will feel strangely homelike. Note at this point, 30 pages in, there has been very, very little in the way of stats. An encounter with a Skeleton is listed for example, but where you look up your skeleton is up to you.

We do get into Runewild Backgrounds which are 5e backgrounds.  For 5e they are great really, lots of great information here, and none of them feel overpowering (they grant a skill and a tool proficiency and usually a language) for other games, you can use the native skill system (Trained would be the equivalent in 3e, free Proficiency in AD&D 1.5) or wing it. One of my favorites is a Polymorphed Animal.  You used to be a normal animal and now thanks to strange magic you are human-ish.  Really fun stuff.

Magic of Runewild: This section covers some more game-specific information such as some new feats, curses, and new magic items (lots of these).  But the star attraction of this section has to be the Goblin Market.  There is so much here and frankly, they could have published this on its own and it would have been a great seller.  There are random tables of trinkets, goblin charms, treasures, and of course a list of vendors and encounters.  

Goblin market
“We must not look at goblin men, We must not buy their fruits:
Who knows upon what soil they fed Their hungry thirsty roots?”

One thing that I felt was missing from this section? Spells.  There are no new spells here.

A Runewild Gazetteer. This starts out with the hex maps of the Runewild. Numbered just like all old-school hex maps too! The hex encounters are then detailed throughout the chapter with a corresponding Challenge Rating. An improvement from older Hex crawls to be sure.  So yeah the party of first-level characters can enter a CR 0 hex with no problem and come out ok. They can also enter into a CR 10 hex with the same level of difficulty (that is, none at all) but they are not going to leave it as easily!  That's a hex crawl. There are no signs saying "You Must Be Level 5 or higher to Enter" if the player goes there, then their characters will pay the price.

Each hex of course has different levels of detail, but they are all given some quick bullet points to help the DM out.   For example:

2. The Last Tower (CR 4)

  • A ghost haunts the tower 
  • Ten giant rats feast on bandit corpses in the tower’s basement 
  • The bandits carried stolen treasure

Then more details follow.  NPCs are noted ad are monsters. There are maps where needed (even a player's map in a few cases!) and yes more random tables. There are 150 such encounter areas and it covers a little over 200 pages. Some encounters are a paragraph or so, others are multiple pages. 

A Runewild Bestiary: Now you know I love this section.  There are over 30 new monsters, monster variants, and (and this is my favorite) listings of  The Witches of Runewild. This includes a bunch of various witches (mostly hags), new types of hags, and the two major and one minor covens.  Again, if they had sold this separately I would have scooped it up the moment it hit DriveThru.   

Here is an example of one of the witches.

Goodie Sharktooth

There is no Witch Class.  Part of me is disappointed, but another part is happy since I can now do what I want with them. 

The chapter and book ends with Monster Variants. 

The art in this book is quite great and helps give the proper mood for this dark fairy tale land.

Using this with Basic-Era D&D

The book feels like a BECMI Gazeteer.   I could set this outside of Glantri and it would feel right. There are 5e stats, but not a lot.  Most of the monsters have an analog in other games.  For example, if you run this with say, Old School Essentials, just swap out the monsters.  BTW this would work FANTASTIC with the Dolemwood products

Runewild OSE

This is a wonderful book and resource and I am very pleased with it. My only regret with it is I wish I had picked up the Hardbound version instead!

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

More Mystoerth

While I was driving on vacation, I get a message from Matthew Fenn, AKA "Matteus," on Facebook. It was his new version of the Mystoerth map.   Now I likely saw it right as I was getting ready to leave and responded back with a "wow, that is cool!" and then I sadly promptly forgot about it.  In my defense, it was 900 miles later when I actually sat down to look at social media again.

The map he sent to me is fantastic.  Click for a larger version.

Mystoerth

It is based on the James Mishler and Chatdemon map I love so much.

This would have been reason enough for me to talk about it today, but there is more! 

There is a discussion about this map on Facebook,

And at the Piazza Message Boards.  I even dusted off my old Piazza account to join in on the posts.

I am going to add some of these links to my Mystoerth page.   I also went to Map to Globe to get a globe of the world rendered.

Mystoerth globe in space

I also uploaded the huge TimeLine my co-DM from the 1980s and early 90s compiled to cover the combined Mystara-Greyhawk world.

While writing this I was chatting with Matthew and he is getting the map printed on cloth.  This made me think of my own Victorian London map I had printed by Banners on the Cheap.  I am going to check that out in a bit.  Though, maybe not as big as the one I have now.

London Map from Banners on the Cheap

So. Where does that leave me?

Well, it was not that long ago when I was talking about using the Orignal Known World for War of the Witch Queens.  

My problem is I love maps.  Every map is a new world to explore.  I have been using Old-School Essentials for my system of choice for WotWQ and I just got my OSE-Advanced Fantasy books and will be using those going forward.  Since OSE-AF is a nice mix of Basic and Advanced versions of the D&D game, why not use a world that is a nix mix of the Basic and Advanced worlds?

Ugh. I hate having to choose! Why can't I use both?  Right. Time. 

Maybe I can cheat. Make my Mystoerth hollow (I do love a Hollow Earth!) and use the Moldvay/Schick Known World map as the interior of my Mystoerth.  Hmm. I do like that idea.  It would help explain some similar names on the maps.  Though it gives me some problems with the Underdark.  The Moldvay/Schick map is much smaller, implying a smaller surface area.  It's been decades since I took calculus to figure out the interior surface area of a sphere. I could compare the outer surface vs. the inner surface and then work out the "depth" between the two worlds.  The crazy Hollow Earth book I have here assumes a "thickness" of 8 miles. I forget what the Rules Cyclopedia assumes. 

Sounds like time to do some math!

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Mail Call: Old-School Essentials Advanced Fantasy

I am back at work today after vacation and buried in emails and work.  I am also buried in physical mail too, but among the bills and junk mail, there was a nice little treat.  My Old-School Essentials Advanced Fantasy books came. 

Old-School Essentials Kickstarter

These books live up to the hype of the OSE Core rules.

I opted for the "limited edition" covers as I did for the first Kickstarter.

Old-School Essentials Kickstarter Books

The Reference Booklet and the Carcass Crawler zine fit into the box, but the adventures do not. Not due to shape or size, just because the box is full!

Old-School Essentials Reference bookOld-School Essentials books and box

I have not delved into the books yet, but I am already very happy with them. 

As I have mentioned with Advanced Labyrinth Lord and Basic Fantasy, these books do not represent the D&D we bought back then, but more likely the D&D we played back then.   An odd mixture of AD&D and D&D. 

Currently, this is the ruleset I am using for my War of the Witch Queens campaign. So for me the rules are just right. 

I got my Swords & Wizardry Complete Boxed Set just two weeks ago but due to vacation, I have not really read through it all that much yet.

Swords & Wizardry  and Old-School Essentials boxed sets

I am going to need to go through them both and compare and contrast them.

Both seek to scratch that old-school itch, but in different ways. So this could be a lot of fun.

Boxed Sets

They do all look nice together.

Monday, June 14, 2021

Monstrous Mondays: Boo Hag

Back at it!  I was on vacation all last week. I was down visiting my in-laws in South Carolina. It was fun, but the South is not for me.  I am happy to be back home in Chicago.

But while I was down there I looked into any monsters, cryptids, and urban legends they had.  There are a few, like all places, and many are familiar at least to readers of this blog.  There are lizardmen, bigfoot, and the usual variety of ghosts.  One of the creatures, from the Gullah descendants of African slaves, is the Boo Hag.

Boo Hag by Ashere
The Boo Hag by Ashere
Boo Hag

Medium Fey (Aquatic)

Frequency: Very Rare
Number Appearing: 1 (1 or 3 covey)
Alignment: Chaotic [Chaotic Evil]
Movement: 90' (30') [9"]
  Swim  150' (50') [15"]
Armor Class: 4 [15]
Hit Dice: 6d8+6*** (33 hp)
THAC0: 12 (+7)
Attacks: 2 claws, 1 bite or special
Damage: 1d6+1 x2, 1d4+1, special
Special: Constitution drain, fear, gaseous form, sleep, witch spells
Save: Witch 6
Morale: 10 (12)
Treasure Hoard Class: U (VI)
XP: 1,250 (OSE) 1,280 (LL)

Str: 15 (+1) Dex: 17 (+2) Con: 13 (+1) Int: 14 (+1) Wis: 17 (+2) Cha: 4 (-2)

Boo hags are semi-amphibious hags without skin of their own. In their natural form, they appear as hunched humanoids with no skin and exposed musculature, stringy white hair, yellow bulging eyes, and grimacing mouths of jagged teeth.  They live in swamps.

The sight of a boo hag without its skin forces a creature to make a save or become frightened. A boo hag lives within a swamp but makes sure there are human or demi-human settlements nearby. At night, they venture from their swamp, find a lonely cabin or farmstead, and take gaseous form to enter the house.

They then pick a strong, male victim and sit on his chest, stealing away their breath and life energy. A hag squatting on a person inflicts one level of Constitution damage per 5 minutes. Every 5 minutes, the victim may attempt a new saving throw to awaken.  Victims killed by a boo hag are skinned. The skin is used as a disguise. While it is inside a person’s skin, the boo hag is affected as per the change self spell.

Boo hags can be distracted for 1d6 x10 minutes by brooms, the straws of which they are compelled to stop and count. If attacked while counting straws, the hags flee with their brooms, that they may count the straws at their leisure in a safe place.   Victims of a boo hag are recommended to keep a broom by their bed.  When the boo hag returns they will count the straws in the broom and not attack.  If morning comes they will flee back to their lairs. 

Boo Hags have a weaker spellcasting ability than most hags, only able to cast as a 4th level witch.

Boo Hags hate swamp hags, maybe more so than other forms of the hag.  Boo hags turn their anger onto the River Hags, who they see as a lesser type of hag. They avoid either kind whenever they can unless they form a covey with them.  A common covey with a swamp and boo hags includes a green or river hag.  A boo hag adds the powers of Gaseous Form to the covey once per day.

There is some relationship between the boo hag and the Soucouyant.  Some believe that the victims of the boo hag will become a soucouyant when they die.  Others believe that that soucouyant is an undead form of the boo hag.  The general consensus is on they are undead versions of the boo hag, but nothing definitive is known. 

--

Looking to expand the entries to all the hags I have. 

Friday, June 11, 2021

#FollowFriday Ravenloft Giveaway!

I can't believe it is Friday AND the Friday before my Birthday.

So let's do something fun.

I am really enjoying the new Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft. A lot.

I played through the first Ravenloft module on my birthday so many years ago and now I want others to have the same joy.

So I want to give away a copy, shipped by me anywhere in the contiguous United States.  Sorry Europe and the rest of the world, but I need to work out the logistics of that first.

So here are the rules.

I am going to share this post on Twitter.  

To enter I need you to do the following:

  1. Like the Tweet. 
  2. Retweet it. In the Retweet tell me your favorite villain/big bad from any edition of D&D.
  3. Follow me on Twitter.
  4. (Bonus) Follow me on Instagram and Facebook for extra chances.

Do those three things (or four!) and I'll put your Twitter ID into a spreadsheet and pick a winner.

I will also pick two runners up who will each get one of my witch books of their own choice.

Winners agree to send me their mailing address to ship the book.  I'll send out one of the standard covers as pictured above.

I am going to be out over the weekend but I will pick the winner Sunday, June 13th before 11:00pm Central Time.

So let me know on Twitter and GOOD LUCK!

Thursday, June 10, 2021

OneBookShelf / DriveThruRPG Price changes

Quick one here.

One Book Shelf

So last week I got a note from OneBookShelf about changes in their prices.  This will not go into effect until July, but I wanted to make you all aware.

This means that some prices might be changing for some of my books.

No idea which ones yet.  My inclination is to leave the prices of older titles the same and take the hit on the increase, but I need to figure out how much that is.  

Also, while I am still picking away at my High Witchcraft book as the last of my "Basic Era" witch books, I have also been mulling the idea of a "Complete Witch" for the new Swords & Wizardry boxed set.

It would be for Swords & Wizardry. 1-20+ levels and contain all the material from all my S&W books. I would put a big disclaimer on it to let people know what they are getting. It would be the class, all the traditions and spells, and magic items.  No monsters unless they are needed (like for a spell).  Same digest size as the S&W boxed set.  Maybe, maybe, some new content.

Thoughts?


 

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft, Part 4. Do You Wanna Build a Darklord II?

Demon Eyed Elsa
I am going for this

Nothing exists in a vacuum. RPGs are no exception to this rule. While Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft is a great tool for a DM wanting to add horror to a D&D game and it is the tool to use to run a D&D 5e Ravenloft game, it is by no means the only tool.  

I have so many horror RPGs that I have tools for just about any type of horror game I ever want to run.  I have not even gotten into doing things like adding WitchCraft's Book of Hod to Ravenloft (and I have been doing it for years) or even getting into the material from World of Darkness or Call of Cthulhu RPGs.  

WitchCraft, World of Darkness, and Call of Cthulhu are all fantastic games.  Each one has a different approach to their own types of horror.  If I am fighting against the cosmic horrors then CoC is my game.  If I want to explore the horrors of existence within myself as a monster tr something that is no longer truly human then WoD.  If I want a mixture of the two with a grounding in philosophies of the world as all being true then WitchCraft/Armageddon is my game of choice.  This is only three games. I can grab from Chill, Kult, Little Fears, and more.   All are great. All are fun. Not every one of them is great for a Ravenloft game.

So. Let's build another Darklord like I did last week with Darlessa. I am not going to go into the same level of detail as I did with her.  Instead, I am going to use some other horror sources to do my heavy lifting.  NOW to be sure, I don't NEED to add anything to Ravenloft for me to use it.  Everything I am doing here I could do from scratch from the material in Chapter 2 of VRGtR. I happen to also have all these other books with great ideas. 

I have this thing that happens with all my campaigns.  I collect a lot of data, materials, products whatever for a campaign. I pick, I choose, I write, I rewrite and in the end, I get something that is often not at all exactly like what I wanted, but that is great really. But I also have this stack of other "Stuff" that I didn't use but is still compelling to me.  My campaign "Ogre Battle" grew out of my old "Shadow War" for example.  I ran this huge war that worked as a prequel to this big AD&D campaign.  The Second Campaign grew right out of Come Endless Darkness.  Right now my big campaign taking a lot of my creative energy is War of the Witch Queens.  I have barely got into it (characters are 3rd level) and I already have leftovers and plot threads that have grown larger than the campaign can handle.

Before I pull that into this conversation let me shift gears and talk about Pathfinder.

Pathfinder is the biggest alternative to D&D out there.  They gained a lot of traction in the 3e days and boomed in the 4e days as the go-to choice for D&D-like games.  I have a lot of really cool, really well-written Pathfinder books. None of them are currently in use because I am not currently playing Pathfinder.

For Ravenloft, the best Pathfinder book you can get is Pathfinder Horror Adventures.  I reviewed this book a while back and there is a lot overlap between what this book does and what Ravenloft does. The Pathfinder book is more "Domain agnostic" so it has more room for things like new classes and spells.  The Pathfinder book also covers sanity, fear, and madness.  I mentioned in my overview of Ravenloft that I usually don't like how most games do "madness." What they do here works well, for Pathfinder, I am not sure how it would work for D&D 5.   I do like Pathfinder's approach to Darklords in their Dread Lords. I am going to keep this in mind for the next bit.

Note: The Horrific Inspirations on pages 252 to 253 in Horror Adventures covers movies, television, and print for the same types of Horror Genres found in Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft. 

Land of the Ice and Snow

Pathfinder forever gets a special place in my heart because it gave me Irrisen, the land of the Witch Queens. Home to the Daughters of Baba Yaga and has included such notables as Tasha/Tashana/Iggwilv. I have a bunch of material from the Winter Witch Queen adventure path from Pathfinder and other books.   I love the idea of Winter Witches, both in fiction and history.   If I am going to pull in some Pathfinder bits from various books then why not build a Dark Domain that is Pathfinder based.

So. Let's do this.  Irrisen is a land ruled by a Witch Queen and she gets 100 years to rule until Baba Yaga comes in a pulls her out. There have been a few that rebelled and try to go longer and there is always a rivalry between the various Daughters of Baba Yaga over who will get to rule. Queen Elvanna is a good example. There is a lot of potential her then for someone to be a little more pissed off and try to kill her rivals. Now. That in of itself is not a good enough reason to drag someone into the mists. In fact, Baba Yaga encourages such machinations to guarantee the strongest one will rule. It's hard to imagine then what a Witch Queen would need to do to get the mists' attention.  One would have to assume a crime or act so vile that mists have to take notice.

Building a Pathfinder / Ravenloft Domain

Let's take an easy example.  I'll start with Elvanna, but I don't have to.  Let's just say any Winter Witch Queen.  We don't know what happens to these queens when Baba Yaga is done with them.  Tashanna is the only we do know about, but she has been banned from returning to Golarion.  We can assume that Grandmother Bony Legs doesn't let them retire to a beach home in Florida.

When Elvanna was defeated let's say she came up with a plan, if she could not rule Irrisen then no one could.  She whips up a ritual to destroy the whole land in a winter that even the inhabitants of Irrisen would fear.  She started her ritual managed to wipe out a village or two, the key here is that people important to Baba Yaga have been killed. Either the mists open up to grab her OR maybe Baba Yaga has the power to summon them. One thing is for certain.  She killed her own sister, who was going to be the next Queen. Her name likely ends in "-anna."

I would steal some ideas from the 4e adventure Winter of the Witch.  I could even use Koliada the Winter Witch. I did 5e stats for her, but I really don't need stats.  I also have access to the Snow Queen a Winter Fey creature from Kobold Press' Tome of Beasts for 5e.

Snow Queen

If it looks like I am going for evil Elsa, then you would be right. Well. Elsa actually was evil before Disney got to her.

The idea with this Domain is to use the rules presented in Pathfinder Horror Adventures to get my ideas and then the rules from Ravenloft Chapter 2  to detail them. 

I do admit, I am likely to steal some ideas from the old Domain of Vorostokov from the 2nd Ed Darklords book.  The Darklord of that land, Zolnik, was not all that interesting as a Darklord, but the land was.

Think of a landlocked in an endless deadly winter.  Everyone is poor, miserable, cold and the only source of food is what the hunters can bring in.  I would call it Ikkesen.  Combining the Norwegian word for "not" (Ikke) and Irrisen. 

The Dark Domain (5e) / Realm (Pathfinder) is one of Dark Fantasy, but it is also really Survival Horror and just enough Folk Horror to keep you on your toes. Ikkesen rarely gets above sub-zero temps and never above freezing.  It is a dark land of endless winter.  Wolves of the worst sort roam the woods. There are skinwalkers, wendigos, undead and worst things. It is what happens if Ragnarök occurred and the Frost Giants won. 

I will detail this one some more, but I am also waiting to see what I have leftover from War of the Witch Queens.  

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Classic Adventures Revisited: X2 Castle Amber

X2 Castle Amber (Chateau d' Amberville)
What can I possibly say about Castle Amber?

This adventure had always been something of a Holy Grail quest for me. I was a huge fan of Tom Moldvay, I had heard this adventure took place in Glantri and it was full of horror elements. As time went on and I still never found a copy I began to hear more; that it was a crazy dungeon full of crazier NPCs. That it is was more of a thinking module and not a hack and slash one and finally, it was heavily influenced by Clark Ashton Smith, whom I always felt was superior to Lovecraft in many respects.

I did finally get a copy from my FLGS, paid a lot for it, and I also got a copy from DriveThruRPG. The module lives up to the hype. It is not a particularly easy module to run and you better spend a lot of time with it. But for me at that time (the mid-90s when I finally got a copy) it became a great addition to my growing Ravenloft collection. It was not officially part of Ravenloft mind you, but so much of it feels the same that it would have been a crime not to bring them together.  

Later I ran it for my family under D&D 5e rules and it quickly became one of their most favorite adventures ever.  I started a trend in my family's games; they love anything done by Tom Moldvay. 

For this review and retrospective, I am considering my original Castle Amber module, the PDF and POD from DriveThruRPG, and the Goodman Games hardcover of the Original and 5e update.

X2 Castle Amber

Castle Amber is an adventure for characters level 3 to 6 for the D&D Expert Set.  It was written by Tom Moldvay, who gave us D&D Basic set half of the B/X D&D line. This adventure shows that.  While the Expert set was more focused on wilderness adventures, this is a romp through a "haunted house."  For many gamers of a certain age this became the template for all sorts of Haunted House dungeons that are still being published today.

Physically the original adventure was a 28 page book with color covers by Erol Otus with the maps of the titular castle in old-school blue on the inside covers.  The art inside is black and white and done primarily by Jim Holloway.  The art has a duel effect here.  Otus was the prime B/X cover artist, so the feel here is 100% his weird fantasy vibe of B/X.  Jim Holloway was also at this time the primary artist for the Horror game Chill.  Come for the weirdness, stay for the horror. 

Averoigne

The adventure is overtly an homage to the tales of Clark Ashton Smith.  The area where it all takes place, Averoigne, is used right out of the works of CAS.  The Amber family would fit right-in in one of his tales and that is the Colossus of Ylourgne, or rather his D&D counterpart, on the cover.  The adventure even includes a reading guide for those that want to read up on the tales of CAS, and I highly recommend doing so.

CAS, and his contemporary H.P. Lovecraft, were no strangers to the D&D world by 1981.  Indeed Molday's pulp sensibilities shine throughout in this adventure as much as they did with X1 The Isle of Dread and B4 The Lost City.  All three adventures have also been updated by Goodman Games for 5e in their hardcover Original Adventures Reincarnated series, making Moldvay their most reprinted designer. Even more than Gygax himself who as of this writing only has 1, soon to be 2.

There is a lot to love about this adventure too.  There are monsters to kill yes, but this is not a kick in the doors and kill the monster sort of deal.  There is a mood and atmosphere here.  In fact this is the prototype for the horror adventures of later date, in particular Ravenloft (which I will discuss).

On one hand, we have a haunted house filled with the not-quite-dead members of the Amber family.  This can be a pulpy nightmare or even a Gothic tale.  The room with the Tarot cards and their abilities gives us a sneak peak of some the things we will see in Ravenloft. On the other we have creatures from beyond that are quite Lovecraftian.  The Neh-Thalggu, or the Brain Collector, is a creepy ass aberration that can give the Mi-Go a run for their money.  

There is travel to other worlds via some strange mists and 16 new monsters. Some of these monsters also appeared in The Isle of Dread, but here they feel a bit different.  Plus what other B/X D&D book can you name that has "Demons" and "Pagans" in it. 

The background of this is rich enough that you want more of it. More on Averoigne and its connection to Glantri, more on the Amber family, and more on the world that this adventure implies.  It is no surprise really that much of this adventure and what it all implies found welcome homes in the BECMI version of Glantri.   

For me though the best connection is the one to Ravenloft. I have to admit the last time I ran this adventure I made the tie-ins to Ravenloft more specific, but I did not have to do much. I have to admit I was rather gleeful inside at the scene where they have to run from the "Grey Mists" to get into the castle.

Classic Modules Today & Revisited

I mentioned the Goodman Games hardcover above, but it really is a gem of a product.  With it, you get the original adventure and a 5e version of the adventure (where was that when I needed it!) as well as some fantastic comments about the adventure itself.  I wish Tom Moldvay had still been alive to give us his thoughts on this.   The 5e version expands on the Castle and those within.  There are a lot more monsters included and there are full NPC stat writeups for members of the Amber family. 

NPCs

Most of all this new version expands Averoigne in ways I would have loved to have had years ago. 

Additionally, there is the Classic Modules Today version published on DMsGuild by Chris Nolen. This one is a straightforward conversion. You need the original adventure but it is a fraction of the cost of the Goodman Games version.  I have both and have used both to great effect.   

Plays Well With Others

Castle Amber is a fantastic adventure and I am a big fan if you can't tell.  What I enjoy the most about it is that by the nature of the adventure itself and how it is written it can easily be added to any world and slotted into any sort of campaign. For me it was a no-brainer for my Come Endless Darkness campaign.  While that campaign is overtly a "Greyhawk" again the nature of it allowed a side trip to Mystara/The Known World. I would later use it as the "front door" to my Ravenloft adventure.  It was something I have wanted to do for so long and it worked so well I want to do it more.  A lot more.  While I gladly mixed and matched Basic, AD&D, 3e and 5e in my games, it is now much easier now that everything I want speaks the same, 5e, language.

Castle Amber & Ravenloft 5e

I have long postulated that not only is Castle Amber a Proto-Ravenloft, but Barovia is from Mystara/The Known World.   These connections are made more explicit with the D&D 5e adventure Curse of Strahd.  With the 5e Curse of Strahd, 5e Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft, and Goodman Games 5e Castle Amber this is now a trivial effort.

Ravenloft and Castle Amber

In fact, using the same process from Chapter 2 of Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft you could easily make the Averoigne of Castle Amber into a Domain of Dread. 

Averoigne is Gothic Horror and Dark Fantasy, with some Cosmic Horror and some Folk Horror.  I could turn up the horror elements a little, but I would not need to do much, to be honest.  Thinking back to my original running of X2 Castle Amber and I6 Ravenloft using the then-new 5e rules I had great fun. If I had tied them closer together then it would have been fantastic. 

Black Rose

Back in the early days of this blog I discussed a game I wanted to run; Black Rose, a combination of Blue Rose and Ravenloft.  Now with the 5e version of Blue Rose out, it would be a lot easier. 


I will have to write my review of the new Blue Rose Adventurer's Guide

This also begs for a good (or Goodman) version of B3 Palace of the Silver Princess for 5e.

Castle Amber is easily one of my favorite adventures and the appeal of it has only grown for me over the years.

Links

The Black Gate ran a fantastic series on Clark Ashton Smith.  I won't link all of them here, just ones that are germane to this discussion, but they are all good.