Tuesday, April 30, 2024

#AtoZChallenge2024: Z is for the Z-Library (of Dungeons & Dragons)

Ok a bit of a change for the last post of the A to Z of Dungeons & Dragons today. First off, I want to thank everyone who came by, commented, and shared my links. You all are the reason I love doing this.

So, for that, I want to give back to you all.  

If you have been involved in academia in the past few years you likely know about the infamous "Z-Library." This is a "shadow library" (which admittedly sounds cool) that gives you access to 1,000s of books. The legality of this, though, is on the questionable side to outright piracy. So no, I will not be linking out to it. 

But what I can do for you, my readers, is provide you with a 100% free and 100% legal, and in many cases with the author's express permission, access to books so you can play or discover Dungeons & Dragons on your own: A Dungeons & Dragons Z-Library.

Part of my Library

Again, all these titles are free, 100% legal, and 100% safe for you to download and begin playing.  Often all you will need is pencil, paper and some dice.

Don't have mult-sided polyhedral dice? No worries, Google's Dice Roller has you covered.

Dungeons & Dragons for Free

D&D Beyond has a portal where you can read the rules and create (up to 6) characters for free. This is for the current edition of 5e.

IF you don't mind a little work and don't care about art, the entire D&D 5e system has been released to the Creative Commons. It is free to grab and use as you like.

DriveThruRPG has many free items from D&D's current publisher, Wizards of the Coast, for free. In particular, they have the following for older editions:

The last two 4e titles can be combined into a fairly robust version of 4e. 

Other D&D-like Games for Free

These games are often referred to as "Retro Clones," and they emulate older forms of D&D. While they are not 100% D&D, they are close, and ALL offer the same sorts of experiences. You could play one of these, call it D&D, and everyone would be happy.

Since I have been talking about the various editions of D&D all month long, I will organize these Clones by the edition they are most similar to.  Some are full games, and others will be "quick starts," which are usually just an introduction to the game. 

Note: This is not everything, but it is many free ones. Many of these also have paid versions as well.

Original Edition

These games mimic the original Edition of the D&D game.

Delving Deeper. This game mimics the original three books of OD&D. It is free from it's website and from DriveThruRPG.

Iron Falcon. This game mimics OD&D and its first supplement, which made the game the one we recognize today. Iron Falcon comes to us from the same team that gave us Basic Fantasy, so everything is 100% free. The print books are at cost. In terms of giving back to the community, none is better than Basic Fantasy/Iron Falcon. I like to support them for these reasons alone. 

White Box: Fantastic Medieval Adventure Game. Based on the Swords & Wizardry rules. Not exactly OD&D but very close. 

Dungeon Crawl Classics. This is an odd one. It has the feel of OD&D, some of the mechanics of Basic D&D, and the game play of AD&D. All with the grit turned up to 11.

Basic Edition

These games are most like the Basic-era games, so Holmes, Moldvay, and Mentzer versions of D&D Basic.

Basic Fantasy. This is the gold standard when it comes to free content and community. It is most similar to Basic D&D, but not Rules as Written, but more like how we actually played it back in 1980-2. EVERYTHING for it is free. The print books are sold at cost. There is a ton of material for it, and it really is the best game for learning to play a Basic (and basic) D&D game. I highly recommend it.

BLUEHOLME™ Prentice Rules. This game very specifically was designed to emulate the John Eric Holmes edited version of the D&D Basic rules. So great for that 1977 to 1979 gaming experience. This version is free, if you like it then there is the BLUEHOLME™ Journeymanne Rules for $10.  I reviewed them both here.

Dark Dungeons and Dark Dungeons X. These books emulate the D&D Rules Cyclopedia, the Basic era RPG that covered the Basic, Expert, Companion, and Masters rules from level 1 to level 36! The first book is free, and DDX is "Pay What You Want" with print options. The name is an homage to the notorious anti-D&D Jack Chick tract.

Holmes77. A free RPG based on the Holmes version of Basic. I don't know a lot about it, really.

Labyrinth Lord. One of the premier Basic D&D clones with a ton of support.

Mazes & Perils RPG. Another Holmes-influenced retro clone. I reviewed it here.

Old-School Essentials Basic Rules. Old-School Essentials is one of the current favorites of the Retro-Clone games. It is a pretty faithful replication of the Moldvay Basic / Cook-Marsh Expert rules from 1981. The OSE rules have some fantastic production values, and these free rules are a great example.

Shadowdark RPG Quickstart Set. The newest darling of the Retro-Clone scene. It is a combination of Basic and 5th edition D&D. This one might easier to find a game going on than most of the others.

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 1st Edition

OSRIC. The Old School Reference & Index Compilation was one of the very first retro-clones produced and was one of the test beds of the concept of a clone game.  It is the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons rules but reorganized.  Designed as a tool to publish new AD&D 1st Ed rules, it does work as a game. 

Castles & Crusades Players Handbook. This is the player's book for the Castles & Crusades RPG. It is a presentation of the D&D 3rd edition rules designed to play like the AD&D 1st edition rules.

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition

For Gold & Glory 2e Core Rules. A good emulation of the AD&D 2nd Edition game.

Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition

3.5 d20 SRD. The D&D 3.5 System Reference Document is the rawest version of the D&D 3.x rules. No thrills, no fluff, but everything you need to play a D&D 3 game.

Pathfinder d20 SRD. Same as the SRD above, but with the added Pathfinder material. 

NOTE: The SRDs are not games per se, but they are all the rules. They do not have art, no explanations, no examples. Just the rules. 


I would be remiss if I didn't at least promote my own game here. 

Night Shift: Veterans of the Supernatural Wars is a modern supernatural urban fantasy role-playing game.  If you liked shows like Supernatural, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and  Vampire Diaries as well as Friday the 13th the series,Tales from the Darkside, and horror movies, then this is the game for you.

AND you can try it out (up to 4th level) for free!

Night Shift: Veterans of the Supernatural Wars Quick Start Kit

The title is Pay What You Want, but I urge you to give it a try.


Regardless of which one you choose, and you can choose them all, the most important thing when playing any role-playing game is to remember to have fun. 

And that is it for another A to Z Challenge! I hope you enjoyed my rather geeky exploration into the last 50 years of Dungeons & Dragons.  Come back all year long and I will be doing more of the same. May will be Sci-Fi month so I am going to talk about sci-fi RPGs related to Dungeons & Dragons. October is my huge Horror month, so I am going to talk Ravenloft. June I typically save for Basic-era D&D (B/X and BECMI) but not sure yet. 

So come back all year long!

The A to Z of Dungeons & Dragons: Celebrating 50 years of D&D.

Monday, April 29, 2024

#AtoZChallenge2024: Y is for Yeti (and Other Cryptids)

 It is another Monstrous Monday in the A to Z Blogging Challenge, so let's talk about a Y monster. And really there is only one I am going to need for today. The Yeti.

I have often done the Yeti and other cryptids for my A to Z.

And in regular postings,

Pursuing the AD&D Monster Manual back in 1979, I could not help but notice that while most of the monsters were obviously mythological in origin, one stood out.  There are on the next to last entry stood tall and proud, was the Yeti.

Yeti from the Monster Manual

Now you have to remember what the late 70s / early 80s were like.  Bigfoot fever was all over the place then; there were no less than a dozen movies about Bigfoot in the '70s alone. Only the 2010s exceed it.  So seeing a Yeti, who I knew was a relative, was very interesting.  At first, I didn't want to use him; it seemed so "off" to me.  But over the years, I have changed my mind, and now I use all sorts of hominid cryptozoological creatures.   

I think that is one of the great things about this game. I can have my Greek Myths monsters right next to my Horror Movie monsters and my urban legend cryptids. 

The monsters do feel different of course, but that is also part of the fun. But D&D doesn't have to be about fighting monsters all the time. A perfectly acceptable adventure would be a group of cryptid hunters that don't hunt the monsters but instead discover these hidden, supposedly legendary creatures. 

This is one of the things I have wanted to do with my own NIGHT SHIFT game; modern-day cryptid hunting. So not just yetis, but sasquatches, skunk-apes, chupacabras, moth men, greys, and lake monsters. All sorts of fun. Bring the grocery store tabloids to life!


Tomorrow is the Last Day of the Challenge with Z Day, so I'll discuss the Z-Library of Dungeons & Dragons.

The A to Z of Dungeons & Dragons: Celebrating 50 years of D&D.

Sunday, April 28, 2024

#AtoZChallenge2024: Sunday Special, D&D 5th Edition

Our last Sunday we will cover the newest version of the game at this moment, the extremely popular Fifth Edition of Dungeons & Dragons.

Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition

Dungeons & Dragons, 5th Editon

Sadly, D&D 4e did not last, nor did it ever recover the lost players who switched over to Pathfinder and the various retro-clones. While the game made money, it did not make the money Wizards of the Coast and their parent company, Hasbro, wanted. 

In 2012, Wizards announced a massive Open playtest of a system they were calling D&D Next. The materials were given out for free, and they asked for all sorts of feedback. I played an early version of the Warlock class that I liked, but he lost Charisma as he leveled up (I was not a fan of that), but that changed. The company was generating a lot of goodwill at this point, and their stated aim was a D&D that could do anything the previous editions could. 

I went back and forth on whether or not to get the new rules. I am not sure why really, I had every other edition. So I picked up the new Starter Set and I really liked it. Then on August 8th, 2014, at Midnight, my kids and I piled into our minivan, got some tacos at Taco Bell, then drove to our Favorite Local Game Store, and we all bought copies of the new D&D 5 rules.

And it has been a blast. I ran three games of D&D 5, each with a slightly different focus. One was played like and as a 1st Edition game, the other like a 4th Edition game, and one Rules-As-Written (RAW).  Within these rules, I can see elements of all the past editions. I really believe that this time they really tried to get the rules right.

I even got the Spanish Language editions as a gift to help me with my Spanish.

D&D 5e, English and Spanish

This is also the most popular ruleset to date. By any measure, D&D 5e is the most successful version of Dungeons & Dragons ever sold. Maybe to ever be sold if I am being honest. But some of Wizards of the Coast's own actions, starting the 2023 fiasco of trying to "revoke" the Open Gaming License and other debacles, have really destroyed the goodwill they have been building over the last 10 years. 

Since then, even I have talked about converting my last two campaigns over to Pathfinder 2e and Castles & Crusades.

Right now we are in a strange time. 

There have been playtests for what WotC/Hasbro has been calling "One D&D."  Unlike previous versions of D&D, this one is supposed to be backward and compatible with 5e. Many have referred to it as D&D 6th Edition, but 5.5 or (my choice) "fifth edition revised," 5r, might be a better one.

I must say that Wizard's has dropped the ball here for an anniversary, especially a 50th anniversary. There should've been so much more going on this year.

Well, we are only 1/3 through the year, so maybe there will be more.

Tomorrow is Y day, and I am going talk about Yetis and other Cryptids.

The A to Z of Dungeons & Dragons: Celebrating 50 years of D&D.

Saturday, April 27, 2024

#AtoZChallenge2024: X is for Xanathar

 Something different for me today.  While I have been writing about D&D all month, they are all topics I have quite a bit of knowledge about. This is not one of those days.

In the past I have used X for "Expert" which not really a cheat since X was always used for the Cook/Marsh Expert set, but I already did Expert this year

So today I am going to talk about a character, or a series of characters, all named Xanathar.

Xanathar's Guide to Everything covers

Xanathur, Beholder Crimelord of Waterdeep

Greyhawk Supplement I

Xanathur is not a typical character for me to like. I lean more toward magic-using types. If I want a big bad, I have plenty of demons, devils, faerie lords, vampires, and witches. I am flush with choice. 

So what is so special about Xanathur? 

Well, for starters, he is a beholder. What's a beholder? Well...it certainly began as a joke or pun in Gary's games. It is a giant floating sphere of eyes and teeth.  

They are evil, psychic xenophobes who hate everyone and everything that doesn't look like them. Even other beholders often fail to meet their standards. 

They are one of the original creations for D&D and were even featured on the cover of the Original D&D Supplement I book Greyhawk.  But even in Gary's Greyhawk world, I don't think he had planned for what Ed Greenwood was going to do in his Forgotten Realms world. 

Though Ed has done a lot of GREAT things to expand D&D's world-building, I consider beholders to be part of the World of Greyhawk, and they found their way to the Forgotten Realms


Xanathur, or more to the point, the first Xanathur, was odd by beholder standards. He lived in the city of Waterdeep where he acted as the hidden crime lord of the city. Think Kingpin from Marvel or even The Godfather.  He had only a few close aides who knew who he truly was.  

"He" (and I am not sure if beholders have a gender, to be honest, but this is how he is referred to) was introduced to us in the 1st Edition Forgotten Realms book, Waterdeep and the North. In fact, he was on the cover with his trusted lieutenants.  

Shindia Darkeyes, Xanathur, Shadowheart, and Sinéad
Shadowheart and Sinéad seek information from Shindia Darkeyes and Xanathur

As editions came and went, we learned that the first Xanathur was killed by another beholder, who took over his business and name and ruled the crime of Waterdeep as "The Xanathur." This would happen a few more times. In total, there have been five Xanathurs

Why am I posting about this guy? I mean, I very, very little about him. I remember that Waterdeep book at Waldenbooks, and I thought it looked cool, but the idea of a Beholder hanging out with humanoids and not eating them felt weird to me. Never mind, he was a criminal and working them all. Ok, he was their overlord, and his opinions about non-beholderkin had not changed. 

But this is why he is also great. Ed Greenwood when he started building the Forgotten Realms began to challenge us early on as to what was true about a D&D world. The Realms are NOT Greyhawk, and nor should they be. This is exactly the crazy sort of thing that doesn't sound it should work, but it does and it works well. I mean I never would have done this myself, and that bothers me that I didn't think of something like this. It is so great.

This is the strength of this game. You can do anything you want with it! There is no such thing as too crazy really.

Floating cities? Of course. Dragons sleeping under a city to rise in a time of great need? Ah...hello Ansur still sleeps under Baldur's Gate! Undead tyrant leaders of a xenophobic nation of mages? Ok, that one is actually really easy to believe. 

This is why we game. This is why, 45 years later, I am still finding something new!

Tomorrow is Sunday, and so I'll talk about Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition for my last Sunday Special.

The A to Z of Dungeons & Dragons: Celebrating 50 years of D&D.

Friday, April 26, 2024

Kickstart Your Weekend: Horror and Sci-Fi!

 A nice mix today. Let's get to it.

Frightshow Classics

Frightshow Classics


Two new classic horror tabletop RPG adventures, "Vengeance of Bathory" and "Pine Barrens Devils," featuring the art of Jim Holloway.

I have two adventures out with Frightshow Classics and they are a ton of fun. This Kickstarter is really in the spirit of what Kickstarter is supposed to be. Not a pre-order system, but a means to get upfront funding for a great project.

This one also features the first Frightshow sequel! Because you just can't keep a good villain down.

These also feature the art of the late Jim Holloway, artist for Dungeons & Dragons and Chill (among many others).

So give these some support.

And this one launch soon! We are looking for more people to sign-up for this one.

Thirteen Parsecs

Thirteen Parsecs


Thirteen Parsecs is coming! Please sign up to get notified of our launch of the Backer kit.

We want this game to be your sci-fi RPG of choice, so help us make that happen.

#AtoZChallenge2024: W is for Witch

 Of course, I was going to do this.

I talk a lot about witches here. I mean a crazy amount. It is by far my most commonly used post-label. I am obsessed, and I don't apologize for it.

Witch Books

"What is it with you and Witches?"
- My mom, some years back.

I think if I have to point to something in my childhood it was the Wicked Witch of the West. My parents said I was frightened of her when I first saw The Wizard of Oz. I was likely 3-4 at the time. But I don't think scared was the right word. Fascinated. Enthralled. Spellbound. Those are the words I would use. 

We had an old "Wonderful Wizard of Oz" book back when I was a kid. I was younger than five. I know this because we had moved into a larger house and these memories are in the older house. Yes...I know memories are fluid, but I am 99.98% confident of this one. I remember looking at pictures of the WWotW in this book and those are the ones I loved the most.  

I remember Witchie-Poo from "HR Puffinstuff," but I never really liked her. Any time a witch appeared on a TV show, I was excited.

Then there was Angelique Bouchard of "Dark Shadows."  Played by Lara Parker in the original series she was blonde, sexy, and wonderfully evil. I loved her.  She would be played by Lysette Anthony in the 1991 reboot, and by Eva Green in the otherwise awful 2012 movie. 

This began a love affair that has lasted my entire life. I can't explain it, and honestly, I don't feel the need to. 

So, how does this relate to Dungeons & Dragons? Glad you asked!

Witches in Dungeons & Dragons

My history with D&D is a long one, and it began in 1979, when I first read the AD&D Monster Manual. Soon after I was able to get my hands on a poorly Xeroxed copy of the Holmes Basic book. And what treats did I find?

Holmes Witch in AD&D

A witch class? A proper Witch?

Of course, by the time I saw this in late 1979/early 1980, the AD&D Player's Handbook was already out, and there was no witch class. All those others were there, but no witch. 

That was fine; I had so much to do that I didn't even notice its absence. However, I did notice something. Around age 11 (1981 or so) I began making characters that had a decidedly "witch" cast to them. A Pagan cleric, an alluring Illusionist, and then I made "Marissia" (yes, that is how I spelled it).

I have called Marissia my "First Witch."  She wasn't, but she is the first one I committed to paper as a witch. Her name comes from me mishearing the Jerry Reed version of "Pretty Mary Sunlight."  I thought he was saying "Pretty Marissa mine."  Hey, I was young and I am certain I had heard it from The New Scooby-Doo Movies.  In fact, a lot of my early ideas about witches came from Scooby-Doo. It is also very, very likely I based her and her name also on Millissa Wilcox, The Ghost Witch of Salem, from the Scooby-Doo episode "To Switch a Witch." An interesting episode since it featured a gravestone for the witch with a Leviathan Cross on it.   I mean seriously, a goddamn Leviathan Cross in 1978? That was a ballsy move on the eve of the Satanic Panic.

Millissa Wilcox, The Ghost Witch of Salem, from the Scooby-Doo episode "To Switch a Witch."

Eventually, all of this would take me to 1986 the year I made my first witch class for AD&D. I have documented this time and again here, but it corresponds to my first proper witch character, Larina.  She is the character I also use for my own witch experiments in other games.

I first rolled her up in July of 1986. At first, she was a "magic-user," and I would play her like a witch. She had a few adventures that year, but that was also when my then DM was heading out of town, and I was getting ready for my senior year at high school. 

Then Dragon Magazine #114 came out in October, and it had its own Witch class. 

I read it all over and wondered how or if I should convert her. The answer became obvious to me right away. She was a witch, only pretending to be a wizard so she could go to Glantri's School of Magic. I kept her magic-user levels and then went on to advance her as a Dragon #114 witch. In the game, I said she ran out of money to keep going, so instead, she got a job at the library in hopes of paying her tuition. 

I updated her sheet and declared her birthday was October 25, but she tells everyone it was October 31st.

I have since used witches more and more in my games and I even wrote all these books about how to play witches in D&D, each one looking at a different sort of witch. In my mind, each of these different types was called a Tradition, and each Tradition was reigned over by a Witch Queen.

This has also led to my use of various Witch Queens and my campaign The War of the Witch Queens.

Honestly, there is too much to say in one post on this subject. But if witches are your thing then you have come to the right place.

Tomorrow is X Day, and I am going with something that is new to me as well! The crime lord Xanathar.

The A to Z of Dungeons & Dragons: Celebrating 50 years of D&D.

Thursday, April 25, 2024

#AtoZChallenge2024: V is for Vampire

Dracula by Edgar Alfred Holloway
Dracula by Edgar Alfred Holloway
Long before I was ever known as the "witch guy" I was the "vampire guy." A lot of my peers came to Dungeons & Dragons via the tales of Conan, Elric, and John Carter. Not me. I came to it from Hammer Horror, Dracula, and Dark Shadows. Many players wanted to play mighty thewed barbarians or fighting men. I wanted to play Van Helsing.

This is not my first time doing vampires for the A to Z challenge either.

Not to mention all the posts I have with the Vampire label.  In this A to Z, I also briefly discussed the various Vampire Queens in my game. 

I guess the question becomes. Why Vampires?

Why Vampires?

Dungeons & Dragons is filled with plenty of monsters to fight and defeat. Everything from the lowest Kobold to Dragons and even more dangerous creatures. Vampires are not as powerful as Liches, or Demon Lords, or the Lords of Faerie. So why do I keep coming back to them?

There is the allure of the vampire. It is so close to being human and yet isn't. It is dangerous, but not like, say, Godzilla is dangerous. It can get into your homes, your psyche. It can destroy you from the inside and make you want more of it. 

Vampires are a staple of horror fiction, in particular Gothic Horror. They are also a feature of the Swords & Sorcery genre, where Conan famously battles the vampire Akivasha in an underground maze. That scene from "The Hour of the Dragon" is as much a part of D&D's DNA as anything from The Hobbit or Lord of the Rings.

My family of Paladins, the Werpers, are all Vampire Hunters. I even had a character was a pretty blonde girl with a supernatural background who was a hunter of vampires. Yes, my Raven, was doing her thing long before anyone knew of "Buffy."

If you follow my annual October Horror Movie Marathon you know I have pretty much seen every vampire movie ever made. 

Vampires are Everywhere

The Doctor: Do you know, it just occurs to me there are vampire legends on almost every inhabited planet.
Romana: Really?
The Doctor: Yes.
    - The Fourth Doctor and Romana II, "State of Decay"

Nearly every culture on the planet has some form of vampire myth. Pottery dating back to ancient Babylon has vampires on it. The Greeks had several different types, as did the Romans and so on. Sure these all could come from a shared human fear of the dead returning to take from us what they miss; life. It also could be the inheritor of a tradition dating back to the Pre-Indo-European peoples where so many of us get our current languages.  In any case, vampires are all over, and they are not going anywhere.

Vampires are also one of the few monsters that move effortlessly between RPG genres. Fantasy and Horror are a given, but they also appear in Steampunk, Superheroes, Pulp, Modern, and even some Sci-fi. Each takes a different approach as to why they are around. 

Strahd, Dracula, & Darlessa

There is an old saying, "A Hero is only as good as the villain." 

If  I want the characters in my games to be heroes, then I need to make sure their villains are up to the challenge. This is another great place for the Vampire to shine. 

In books or movies the bad guy can get away to fight another day. In games? Well, a great set of rolls by the players and some bad ones from the GM, and suddenly your Big Bad Evil Guy is no more! But death is not always the end for vampires.  They can keep coming back for more. Christopher Lee made a career out of this.

I have used Dracula in games in the past, but not as much as I could have. He is like David Bowie. He can turn up, but it needs to be memorable. 

Count Strahd von Zarovich is the star of Ravenloft. All things considered, I like to keep him there.

That leaves me with Darlessa and my other Vampire Queens. I should come up with some more, to be honest. Never can have too many vampires around. 

I honestly should be writing more vampire-themed adventures. Especially ones that I can use cross-genres. 

I do have a Basic Bestiary on just Vampires and Undead, but that is a long way away right now.


Tomorrow is W day, and I think you know what I am going to talk about.

The A to Z of Dungeons & Dragons: Celebrating 50 years of D&D.

Wednesday, April 24, 2024

#AtoZChallenge2024: U is for Universe

 Often times the campaign settings of Dungeons & Dragons are known as "worlds." If there are multiple worlds then there must be a Dungeons & Dragons Universe. 

So what are these worlds, and where do they come from?  My "map" below features the names of the worlds, so when I talk about them below, I'll go by the "Campaign Setting."
The Universe

Let's start with the three "Core" worlds and work our way out.

Greyhawk (Oerth)

Greyhawk was one of the first campaign settings released. It was certainly the first full setting. Blackmoor, created by D&D co-creator Dave Arneson, was published first, but it was never a full world. Both Greyhawk and Mystara would later adopt different versions of Blackmoor for their own world. The World of Greyhawk setting takes place on the world of Oerth and was the home setting of Gary Gygax.

Greyhawk is often considered to be the core D&D world for 1st Edition AD&D.

Forgotten Realms (Abeir-Toril)

This is the world that most people are familiar with. It got its start during the end of 1st Edition but really grew in popularity during AD&D's 2nd Edition. It only got bigger during 3rd edition and today is the setting of the insanely popular Baldur's Gate 3 video game.

Created by Ed Greenwood as a place to set tales of his own invention. He later sold it to TSR for D&D after spending years writing for Dragon magazine.

I have spent all year talking about the Realms and I really enjoy them. 

The "world" of Abeir-Toril, is really two worlds that exist in the same space just shifted. It's weird and its fun and I really love it. I am going to spend some more time talking about it here.

Kara-Tur, Al-Qadim, and Maztica

These are all larger settings in the world of Toril in the Forgotten Realms. Kara-Tur began as part of the World of Greyhawk (in theory), but it was later moved here.

Dragonlance (Krynn)

The world of Krynn is home to the Dragonlance Saga introduced in AD&D's 1st edition as part of the so-called Hickman Revolution. Created by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman it was TSR's first attempts at epic storytelling. It had adventures, books, novels (especially novels!) and even a movie. Ok, lets not talk about the movie.

Krynn is often depicted as being very removed and remote from all the other worlds and fiercely guarded by its gods. I put it closer to the core because of the importance it has to D&D's history.

As we move out to the rim worlds, as Star Wars or Traveller might call them.


The world and campaign setting of Mystara was introduced with the Basic/Expert sets known as "The Known World."  It could have been a core world, but I wanted to limit it to just three.

Hollow World and Red Steel

These are two larger settings for Mystara. Mystara is a hollow world with people and creatures living on the inside! I have also included Birthright with Mystara.


This is totally cheating. Mystoerth is my camping world that combines Mystara and Oerth. It's my map, I get to make the rules. My world also includes Kara-Tur, Blackmoor, and an Al-Qadim/Dark Sun/Necropolis mix.


Urt was the name Frank Mentzer gave for the world of the BECMI set before it was renamed to Mystara. In his vision, Urt was akin to Oerth. Also, Urt was not hollow but a living planet! There are gates between Urt and Oerth but not between Urt and Mystara.


This is the world of Dark Sun. This is a desert world ravaged by magical despots.  Everyone has some level of psychic powers, and the world is brutal. I have not talked much about it, but I have stolen a lot of ideas from here.


This world was developed by Keith Baker for a setting search conducted by Wizards of the Coast for 3rd Edition. This world has some similarities to the other worlds. Low-level magic is common, but higher-level magic is much rarer. There is also a steam-punk feel to it. 

Kingdoms of Kalamar (Tellene)

This is one of the non-TSR/Wizards of the Coast worlds on my list, but due to the working relationship between Wizards and Kenzer & Co. There have been 1st and 3rd Edition versions, with the 3rd Edition published by Wizards of the Coast.


This world is from Magic: The Gathering and added to Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition. It is a rather fun mix of Greek and Roman myths.


This is the world of Pathfinder. While early versions were part of D&D 3rd edition, it became the home to Pathfinder 1st and 2nd Edition. 


This is the world of the Campaign setting of Critical Role. It began as a D&D 4e world, switched to Pathfinder, and finally D&D 5e. The books published for it are all D&D 5e. 

It is between Golarion and the Core Worlds because they share some gods. 


Aihrde is the world of Troll Lord Games' Castles & Crusades. It shares a gritty feel with Oerth and the fact that Gary Gygax contributed to it in the last years of his life. As I have said many times, Castles & Crusades is really the spiritual heir to Advanced Dungeons & Dragons.


This is my oldest son's campaign word. This is my blog, so I get to include it! It has heavy Lovecraftian influences and Gods from both Oerth and Toril.

The Missing Worlds

Some worlds are not on my map above because they do not fit the general idea of a world but are campaign settings.

Ravenloft is my favorite campaign setting, but it is an extra-dimensional pocket accessed from all worlds. It has no world to call it's own.

Planescape deals with the "Outer Planes" of existence where alignment, ethos, and philosophy are all important. 

Spelljammer is...well D&D IN SPACE! The 2nd Edition rules had your characters using "Spelljamming" ships that moved through the phlogiston of space. In D&D 5th Edition, the phlogiston is still there, sort of, but now your characters travel the great Astral Sea. 

My map above was made with my limited knowledge of Spelljammer. I was not trying to replicate anything, but something I could use in SJ if I wanted. 

All these worlds allow access to the other worlds. Though Ravenloft is more like a "Hotel California" characters can get in, but they can't get out.

Other ways for people to travel to these other worlds are by gates and at least one special place. A while back, I suggested that the infamous Temple of Elemental Evil exists in all worlds simultaneously. You can go in but never be sure of where you will come out. Also, my own Tomb of the Vampire Queen has many unstable portals to many worlds.

There are many, many more worlds out there. I have not included them all, but I could have included a dozen more, and that is not counting all the ones I know about. 

It doesn't even count the newest one I have been playing around with, Oestara, which is a reflection of my own Mystoerth world. I don't have anything on that one just yet. 

Tomorrow is V day, and of course, I am going to talk about Vampires.

The A to Z of Dungeons & Dragons: Celebrating 50 years of D&D.

Tuesday, April 23, 2024

The Enchanted World: Dragons

The Enchanted World: Dragons
 It has been a month since I have done one of these. My plan was NOT to do one during April with the whole A to Z thing, but today is St. George's Day and he rather famously killed a dragon. It is also still year of the Dragon and the 50th Anniversary of Dungeons & Dragons, so my choice was made for me.

This is also the second book in the series, after Wizards and Witches.


by Editors of Time-LIFE Books, 1984 (144 pages) 
ISBN 0809452081, 080945209X (US Editions)

While I have mentioned the Eurocentrism of the other volumes, this one does a good job of presenting both European and Eastern dragons. It also has a bit of others from around the world. 

Chapter One: Chaos Incarnate

This covers the early tales of dragons, not just in medieval European myth but also the ancient tales of dragons like Apep, Tiamat, and the various monsters of Ancient Greece.  One of the things this chapter hits home is the dragon as a force of chaos and nature. In the case of many, like Tiamat, the dragon is a destructive force.  This is one (of the many) reasons why I always have Tiamat in my game as Chaotic Evil rather than Lawful Evil. Tiamat is even called the "Enemy of Order" and her myths are referred too as Chaoskampf


We hear tales of the Midgard Serpent and the dragon Nidhoggr, which gnaws on the roots of the World Tree.  These are not the dragons for mortals to deal with, but the domain of the gods. There were heroes that fought these creatures, but they were often demi-gods themselves. Like the tale of Cadmus who fought a dragon and built the city of Thebes where the dragon had once ruled. The dragon was cast into the sky to become the constellation Draco. 

We even get some Indian myths of Sesha, also known as Ananta the Endless, a multiheaded serpent that wrapped around the world. 

This chapter also has a wonderful Field Guide to Dragons. A visual guide to help you tell the differences between the amphiptère, the wyvern, the heraldic dragon, the lindworm or lindorm, and the snake-like guiver. It also has some habitats.


Chapter Two: Glittering Gods of the East

This chapter takes us East, mostly to China and Japan, where dragons had a very different role. They were spirits of the weather, air, and water. They were considered divine and had a place in a very ordered universe. Though not all were benevolent. They were still prideful creatures and could be offended. So offerings were made for rain, or even to keep destruction at bay.


In any part of the world, an angry dragon was terrible to behold.

We learn that these dragons fly not due to their wings, but the magic crests on their foreheads and many are the descendants to water snakes. Or maybe there are water snakes that are in fact baby dragons. 

These dragons are incredibly long-lived. It spends 1,000 years in its snake form, where it will grow feet and an elongated head with a beard. After 500 years in this form, it will grow antlers. After 3,000 years, it will reach its final form with a branch-like protrusions from its body. The oldest dragon is the Dragon King and it is 1000-feet long. 

Chapter Three: The Serpent Ascendant 

As with many of these books, there is a chapter that focuses on the Medieval era, which is where we get many of the tales we know today. This is that chapter.  

Since our focus is mostly on Medieval Europe, we often link the Dragon to the Devil. This is in keeping with the notion held in Medieval times that the dragon was the bringer of disease, famine, and ruin. This chapter also has a great map of Europe showing where various dragons were spotted and when.

Where Dragons Dwelled

The section on Maidens and Dragons is great and discusses the complex relationship women and dragons had in these tales. There is the sorceress Marina and her pet dragon, the French Le Succubé (The Succubus) who rode a dragon, and the many maidens kidnapped by dragons. There is even the tale of Margaret of Bamburgh who was transformed into a dragon.

We even get a tale of the Tarasque who could not stand up to a Saint and her faith. 

Chapter Four: Rise of the Dragonslayer

It is St. George's day today, so only fitting we open up with the tale of St. George in this chapter. Maybe to most storied dragon slayer after Sigurd, who we also talk about later on in this chapter. 

Dragon Slayers

We get a nice mix of dragon slayers from all over Europe and some of Asia. All usually have to deal with how pure and virtuous the would-be slayer needs to be. Often their reward was a maiden of equal purity and virtue. 

Even though this book is the same size as the others, it feels like a lot more is packed into it.

While many of these tales are known to us all (and that is the point) there are enough details here to still educate and entertain. This one is certainly a must read for any Fantasy RPG and in particular Dungeons & Dragons. I also see a lot of value here for players of more "serious" medieval fantasy games like Pendragon or Chivalry & Sorcerer. Even Dark Age Mage players can benefit.

Next time: We celebrate Walpurgis Night!

#AtoZChallenge2024: T is for TSR

TSR Inc.
Delving into the history of Dungeons & Dragons, one must spend some time discussing the company (or companies, as it were) that produced and published it. Most of them went by the initials TSR.

 To the outsider and indeed to the casual insider, there was only one TSR. This is largely true, but the details are a bit more complicated once you dig into them. It's sort of the theme all month, right?

Tactical Studies Rules (1973–1975)

The first TSR was Tactical Studies Rules, and it was a partnership between Gary Gygax and Don Kaye.  The goal of this company was to produce and sell the Dungeons & Dragons rules, but to get there, they did some smaller games, including Gary's Cavaliers and Roundheads miniatures game of the English Civil War. They also sold new copies of Chainmail which had previously been sold by Don Lowry and Gary's Guidon Games.  Once Dungeons & Dragons became a success and they took on new partners, namely the Blumes, this company dissolved. It was this time that the company would move out of Gary's basement to their headquarters in Lake Geneva, WI. A place still considered to be "like Mecca" for gamers.

TSR Hobbies, Inc. (1975–1983)

This is the company that most of us growing up playing D&D in the 1980s think of when we think of TSR. This corresponds to what many in RPG circles could refer to as the Golden Age of gaming. It was here that Dungeons & Dragons saw its greatest growth and early popularity. It was during this time that we saw the publication of AD&D, all the Basic sets, Dragon Magazine, and a host of other non-D&D games. Some I'll talk about next month. 

This was also a time when TSR Hobbies made some acquisitions and, sadly, when the seeds of their own downfall were planted. 

TSR (1983–1985)

In 1983, the company was split into four, TSR, Inc. (the primary successor), TSR International, TSR Ventures, and TSR Entertainment, Inc. The purpose here was to make D&D a multimedia brand long before such an idea was commonplace. So kudos to Gary and the team for coming up with it; it is too bad it did not develop the way they wanted. We did the Dungeons & Dragons cartoon out of it, but long talked about movie never happened. Also some of these business choices also split the company's focus and were never as successful as they needed to be. Long story short, TSR, all of them, was deep in debt and bleeding cash.

This era would end with the firing of Gary Gygax as CEO and the takeover of the company by the Blumes and Lorraine Williams. 

TSR  (1985–1997) aka The Williams Era

Given the time period, one would imagine that this was the most stable time in TSR's history, and from the outside, it was. D&D was doing well for all appearances. It had weathered controversy and was moving forward. AD&D 2nd Edition came out in 1989, there were novels coming out based on D&D properties that hit the New York Times best-seller lists and things looked good.

Sadly, even under new management, some of the old mistakes were still costing money, and new ones were also being made.

I will not do the en-vogue thing and rip into Lorraine Williams. She may have had only contempt for gamers, but under her leadership (or in spite of it), some really great material was produced. She never talks about her time at TSR anymore; all we have are the words of others. Granted, it did sound like a toxic work environment.

Not that things were all wine and roses outside the company either. Gary had left and become vocal of the new management. Many who were loyal to him also left. Others left, or were fired and their names, names we all knew, began showing up at other companies.

The Internet was in its early days, and like the Personal Computers before it, this was a technology readily adopted by and adapted by gamers. TSR saw people talking about D&D online and threatened to sue them, earning TSR's new name, "They Sue Regularly," and their new "logo," T$R.  

As fondly as people talk about the "good ole days" of TSR they forget how terrible they were in the end.

1997 And Beyond

There is no TSR beyond 1997. Wizards of the Coast, a company flush with cash thanks to the run-away success of the Magic the Gathering card game, saved TSR, and Dungeons & Dragons, from landing into deeper financial ruin. Wizards operated TSR as a standalone entity (a walled garden as it is sometimes called) but by the time Dungeons & Dragons 3rd edition was ready TSR was gone.

Now, 25+ years later, we are seeing some similar patterns with Wizards of the Coast and their parent company, Hasbro. The difference is that Hasbro is not likely to run out of money any time soon.

For me, well I choose to remember TSR like this. It was a great company that fell into the problems that many companies do. But I will say this, talking to all the people who worked there and hearing them talk to each other at places like Gary Con, I choose to look beyond the stories, the rumors, the internet gossip, and the financial records and instead see it through their eyes.

When it was good, it must have been fantastic.

If you want to know more, there are some fantastic books on the topic.

Ewalt, D. M., & Manganiello, J. (2024). Of dice and men: The story of dungeons & dragons and the people who play it. Scribner.

Kushner, D., & Shadmi, K. (2017). Rise of the dungeon master: Gary Gygax and the creation of D&D. Nation Books.

Peterson, J. (2012). Playing at the world: A history of simulating wars, people and Fantastic Adventures, from chess to role-playing games. Unreason Press.

Peterson, J. (2021). Game Wizards. the epic battle for Dungeons & Dragons. The MIT Press.

Riggs, B. (2022). Slaying the dragon: A secret history of Dungeons and dragons. St. Martin’s Press.

Witwer, M. (2015). Empire of imagination: Gary Gygax and the birth of Dungeons & Dragons. Bloomsbury USA, an imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing, Plc.

All are available, well, everywhere there are books. Each presents a different point of view, but all get around to the same ideas. I enjoyed reading them all.

Tomorrow is U day and I am going to talk about the Universe!

The A to Z of Dungeons & Dragons: Celebrating 50 years of D&D.

Monday, April 22, 2024

#AtoZChallenge2024: S is for Satanic Panic

I survived the Satanic Panic
Click to get your own!
 Now, this is always a fun topic.  It would be difficult to talk about the history of Dungeons & Dragons and not talk about the 1980s moral panic known as The Satanic Panic.

Note: I will liberally use outside links in this one because I want to cite my sources and educate. 


Let me set the stage first. It is the start of the 1980s. Regan is in office riding a wave of conservatism and backed by "The Moral Majority." The 1970s were a time when there was a great Occult Revival (mentioned many times here) and this was the natural reaction.

In addition to flamboyant fashion choices, some really excellent music, and questionable hairspray techniques, we also got a strange moral panic in the form of everyday people accusing their neighbors of being secret practicing Satanists.

While there are a lot of triggers for this panic, the one that almost everyone agrees on is the publication of a book called Michelle Remembers, a lurid tale of repressed memories of Satanic Ritual abuse. Now, reading this there are just a lot of things that don't add up. At all. A recent Skeptical Inquirer article goes into more detail, but suffice to say that despite no tangible proof, this was the spark that lit the flames and the model that all so-called Satanic Experts would follow. This book leads to the tragic travesty of the criminal court system in the McMartin preschool trial. People lost their careers, their homes, and their lives, all for nothing but a panic. It was The Crucible all over again. This is not the last time I will use a witch analogy.  While that was going on other forms of media were not immune. Rock and Roll music took a hard hit, and it led to the creation of the PMRC. Movies had had their troubles before with the Hays Code, and comics had the Comics Code Authority, which had kept both mediums very conservative. But what didn't have those was the brand new pass time of mostly young high school and college age kids with higher than average IQs and a penchant for not conforming. That pass time was Dungeons & Dragons.

How does the Satanic Panic lead to Dungeons & Dragons?  Well, there is a great summary of the Satanic Panic and how D&D was involved from Goddless Panther.

I LOVE that he used my Mystery Science Theater 3000 version of the cover of Dark Dungeons track.  It is too bad that no more of this series was produced.  I also got a kick out some of the picture of old D&D stuff.  He had another series on his older account. https://www.youtube.com/user/Godlesspanther/videos

The first one is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jPMtVjg636E (the production values are a bit low). There is a playlist by another user of all these videos, warning there is a lot of crazy here.

Dungeon & Dragons & Devils

Going back to 1980 to 1985, the most popular version of the Dungeons & Dragons game was the 1st Edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons rules.  While all the above insanity is going on D&D is about to take a hit.  That hit comes in the form of James Dallas Egbert III and private investigator William Dear. James was a smart but depressed kid who had gone missing from his Michigan State University dorm room in 1979. He had played D&D and listened to some Metal music, but had suicidal thoughts. Mostly around him coming to terms with his own homosexuality (the 1980s were shit for many kids). He went down into the steam tunnels under the University (where it was rumored that people would play D&D) and had planned on killing himself with some quaaludes. He was not successful and went to hide out with some friends, and then he traveled around.

Enter William Dear. Egbert's mother hired Dear to locate him after what she perceived as the authorities' inaction. Dear went to Egbert's dorm, saw his D&D books, and came up with this notion of a cult conspiracy whole-cloth. This was substantiated in his mind when reports came out that he had been spotted at the Gen Con game fair in nearby Wisconsin. 

Egbert was a troubled kid. I don't want to make light of that. He did finally kill himself and it is sad. He needed therapy, and at that time, he would not have gotten it, and he certainly didn't get the support. 

No. This sad tale was made worse by the utter incompetence and attention seeking of Dear. He recounted his investigation in the book The Dungeon Master.  You can read more about it in this article in two parts by Shaun Hately, The Disappearance of James Dallas Egbert III, Part I and Part II.  The events would be fictionalized in Rona Jaffe's novel Mazes and Monsters, and the movie of the same name starring a very young Tom Hanks. Every gamer I know hated it, and every mother in 1982 had to ask me about it.

Then 60 Minutes happened.

D&D's 60-Minutes of Fame

D&D's popularity made the target of some sketchy reporting back in the day. Watching some of the videos from back then are always entertaining; at least now they are with the distance of time. 

CBS, the station that not only aired the Dungeons & Dragons cartoon on Saturday mornings and the rather terrible Mazes and Monsters made for TV movie also was, more famously, the home of the weekly TV news magazine 60 Minutes. Ed Bradley presented what was supposed to be a balanced view on the game with interviews by D&D creator Gary Gygax and someone who we (the gamers that is) had not heard of, but would soon know all too well, Patricia Pulling of B.A.D.D. or "Bothered About Dungeons & Dragons." She would team up with former Dr. (he lost his license) and convicted sex criminal Thomas Radecki to try and discredit the game. 

Here is the clip below. If it looks like a bad VHS copy...well it is.

Reports from many credible sources and even Gygax himself (in the pages of Dragon magazine) was livid and called the whole thing a "Witch hunt." However, one thing is certain. After the 60 Minutes clip aired there was a rash of D&D book burnings. If there is ever a side that is burning books your best place is to be on the side they are not on. Ben Riggs, in his Slaying the Dragon, comments on how anytime the staff at TSR saw a book burning advertised, they would increase the number of books going to that town's retailers because they knew they would sell out. 

Pulling, Radecki, and BADD would be around to bother D&D players for a while. Pulling had started B.A.D.D. due to the suicide of her son Irving. I get she had pain and grief and a need to lash out. But her target was all wrong. Long story short, while Pulling, Radecki, and Dear would all get pulled into high-profile cases, which all seemed to involve the same secret cabal of D&D Playing Cultists (weird, I never got a call from them for the meetings), eventually, they were shown to be the frauds they were.

One of the biggest blows to Pulling and B.A.D.D. was from game designer Michael A. Stackpole who piece by piece dismantled Pulling and all her arguments in his Game Hysteria and the Truth. I would read this later when he re-published it as The Pulling Report.

You could not believe the elation I felt when I had discovered that on the internet. Everything I had heard for YEARS from "concerned people" and all the shit I got from ignorant fucks. Stackpole destroyed them all. Every single argument. I am still friends with Michael today.

Eventually, they would fall into disrepute.

The FBI would also release a report that essentially said that there is no evidence of any sort of systemic Satanic ritual abuse in the United States. The New York Times followed up with an article saying something similar.

Too late for some who were destroyed by this bullshit.

What happened to D&D?

Soon after the 60 Minutes piece, Gary was out of TSR for unrelated reasons. The specter of the Satanic Panic still held over them, though. When AD&D 2nd Edition was released, demons, devils, and overt signs of evil had all been removed in an enforced morality

And like the pendulum that swang to make things more conservative, it swang back the other way. I can recall a LOT of books, both in stores and online, in the early days of the Internet, that were like, "Oh, you think D&D is evil? I give you fucking evil!" I am not blameless in that, either. 

My Life with the Satanic Cult

Now, I am not a Satanist. I am an atheist. But growing up in a small mid-Western town, the average person on the street doesn't know, or even care to know, the difference. Add in my D&D playing in the 1980s? Yeah. 

There was this time, I think around 1985-1986 or so, that "someone" had found a "satanic altar" in the cornfield just south of my High School. The panic that shot through the school was amazing to watch. I was equally fascinated and horrified. Fascinated by how much it affected everyone and horrified by how quickly it ripped through the school and what it did. The next day, people were wearing their "satan busters" armbands. These were homemade armbands with an inverted cross in a red "busters" circle with a slash through it. 

Something like this
The "Satan Busters." Yes, this is what they wore.

The assistant principal, who was always a pretty good guy, came to me and some of my other gamer friends and basically said until this stupid shit blows over, we should keep our D&D books at home. I chaffed under the notion that something *I* wanted to read had to be dictated by a mob of scared idiots. It pissed me off, but the guy had a point. Plus, he was a 6'2" guy who would regularly bench press 350+ lbs, and I was an asthmatic 15-16-year-old who weighed 125 soaking wet. I wasn't going to argue. Plus, over the next few days, shit got really weird.  I think my love of psychology was certainly strengthened then. As was my love for witches. I felt I understood them a little better after that. Not that anyone was trying to burn me (far from it), but they were trying to burn the things they feared. There were at least two or three book burnings in my town by people on the conservative religious side. Which was, in truth, the vast majority of the town.

As the panic spread, the stories got crazier and crazier. One involved one of the few openly gay kids in my glass, which sucks, really, but sadly all too predictable. Rumors that "they" were going to sacrifice a cheerleader. I remember seeing girls crying. And more. People were going to have prayer vigils to keep the cultists back, and some were going to bring weapons (mostly knives).  

It all began to sound like a pretty cool D&D adventure. The characters would have been the ones fighting evil. But it also had about as much to do with reality as a D&D game.

It blew over, of course, and a few days later, the whole thing looked rather silly. I never really knew if someone had found something and thought it was an altar or if it was all made up whole cloth. Hard to say. I never really got over how insane everyone was. 

I have to admit my own (at the time) anti-theism influenced my early D&D games. So, there were lots of undead, demons, and (you guessed it) witches. An immature reaction? Yeah, of course! But I was a teen at the time, so by definition, I was immature.

Present Day

I would love to say that this happened in the past, and then we woke up. But that is never the case, is it? Yeah, Dungeons & Dragons has largely been fine for the last few years and is gaining incredible support from high-profile players like Stephen Colbert, Vin Diesel, Joe Manganiello (who I just missed at Gary Con), Deborah Ann Woll, Anderson Cooper, and the entire cast of Critical Role. 

D&D is largely safe these days, but the Satanic Panic still rears its ugly head. Pizzagate is just one recent and really stupid example.  Another making the rounds is the "fact" that Taylor Swift is the daughter of (or a clone of) Zeena Schreck nee Lavey. Even better, she is the daughter of Zeena and Zeena's own father, Anton Lavey, the founder of the Church of Satan. So Anton is her father AND grandfather.  

Taylor Swift & Zeena Lavey. Not related. Or clones.

Seriously. I wouldn't put this into a game because my players would never believe it. 

So, put on some Ozzy or Iron Maiden, grab some dice, and let's play some D&D! It's 2024, all of those critics have been shown to be frauds, and none of the rumors about D&D from 40+ years ago ever came close to coming true.

Remember, "If Dungeons and Dragons is Satan's game, then Satan is a giant nerd."

Tomorrow is T Day, and I am going with the company that started it all, TSR.

The A to Z of Dungeons & Dragons: Celebrating 50 years of D&D.