Showing posts with label 70s. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 70s. Show all posts

Friday, October 30, 2020

October Horror Movie Challenge: Witchcraft of the 70s

I want to get in some Witchcraft documentaries from the 70s.  These really cover what formed some of my earliest thoughts on witchcraft and the occult.

These movies are not really horror, but they good supporting movies for all the horror movies I typically watch. All these titles received an X rating when they were released but are really all pretty tame.  

An interesting note that all these films feature Alex Sanders and Maxine Sanders.

Legend of the Witches bluray cover
Legend of the Witches (1970)

This is a nice weird one and It is part of a larger DVD/Blu-Collection I grabbed from Amazon.  The first part is a slow narration over scenes of the moon and sun rising and setting in glorious black & white.  It reminds me a little of the start of Aradia, Gospel of the Witches.  We get to the creation of man and we see a number of neolithic shamanistic cave paintings. 
We get to the part about witches with prerequisite naked dancing under the moon.

We get to see a witchcraft initiation, which looks a bit Gardenarian or Alexandrian (checked it is Alex Sanders, so Alexandrian). We get some history of England including the notion that William the Conqueror was the son of a Witch, and Robin Hood had a coven. This leads to a bunch of material about witches including the witch hunts. 

Different witch rituals are shown from wicca to Luciferian with copious amounts of nudity (likely the source for the X ratings) but nothing even remotely shocking really.

Secret Rites (1971)

This one starts off with a "witches orgy" and a woman being dragged to "unspeakable obscenities" but fear not! Her lover "John Goodfellow" has come to rescue her brandishing a cross and rebuke witches as if they were vampires.  The scene freezes and our narrator continues in saying that this has been the perception of witches for years.  We cut to Alex Sanders who tells us it is complete rubbish. 

This covers the initiation of a new witch into Alex's coven. As well as a very brief look at his discussion group (likely brief since there is no nudity), a Wiccan handfasting, and even a Great Rite.

The following were included on the same DVD. 

The Witch's Fiddle (1924)
A man gets a fiddle from a witch that can make anyone dance. 

Out of Step (1957)
A documentary series that covers witchcraft in this episode.  Interviewed are Margaret Murry, Gerald Gardner, and Alastair Crowley's friend, Louis Wilkinson. 

The Judgement of Albion (1968)
From Robert Wynne-Simmons, the director of Blood on Satan's Claw.  Based on the poems of William Blake. It is a trippy little flick where faeries, in the guise of young college students, still roam "A Green and Pleasant Land" amid modern troubles.  Completely experimental and yet so utterly British. 

All of these movies and shorts reveal an interesting look at Britain at the end of the 60's.  While in the US we were moving headlong into the excess of the 70s and "left-over hippie shit", England seemed to be two different places at the same time. A country aware that it is slowing down even as new prospects are on the horizon and a country whose Pagan past was just a little bit below the surface. These two are likely related to each other.

Witchcraft 70 poster
Witchcraft '70 (1970)

This Italian "documentary" follows the lives of various real witches in England. I say "documentary" because it only details the most salacious elements of the neo-pagan movement in England.  It also conflates all witchcraft with satanism.  Now a few of the people they profile like Alex Sanders dabbled in "the Left-Hand Path" decades before and Anton LeVey who was a Satanist, others like Eleanor Bone and Maxine Sanders were Wiccans.  The Sanders in fact developed the Alexandrian Tradition of Wicca.  In fact, there are many times that what is depicted on screen and what the narrator is telling us is happening are complete conflict.   There is a hand-fasting between Alex and Maxine Sanders which is described as Maxine marrying the Devil in the guise of Alex.  They imply that in all of these "Satanic Weddings" that Alex, as the Devil, gets to have sex with the women first.  A lot of criticism has been laid at the feet of Alex Sanders and Alexandrian Wicca, but this is not one of them. 

Oh there is the implication too that Brazilian witches engage in incest.  If that feels like it came out of nowhere then yeah, I thought so too. In the middle of talking about proper British witchcraft we get this side trip to Brazil. 

Another unforgivable sin (if that word can be used) is that the Narrator (Alberto Bevilacqua) quotes Jacob Sprenger of the Malleus Maleficarum as an authority. 

Finnish witchcraft is shown to have a nubile nude witch submit to a cult leader as her future husband, chosen by the high priestess. 

It is all very Mondo with plenty of blood sacrifices.  There is a bit on Ted Serios and his psychic photography.  Mediums. Krishna Consciousness (which is entrapping all of America's youth!) and some more on Brazil.  Oh. and they spend some time on LaVey.  Plenty of nude women hanging around including LaVey's own daughter and future high priestess of her own sect. There are a few scenes in the LaVey piece that I am sure got in front of some of the artists of White Dwarf

And it ends with Cryonics, or the freezing your body after death.  Cause why not.  Even the start of the 70s was weird.  I guess their issue was the artificial extension of life. 
It feels like some Christian scare tract/documentary.  Better watch out those English witches will get you!

It has an X rating, but there is nothing here that I have not seen in a "TV-MA" series on Amazon or Netflix. 

Reading other reviews online I just watched the Italian version "Angeli Bianchi... Angeli Neri" (White Angel ...Black Angel), not the redubbed, re-edited "American" version. 

NIGHT SHIFT and Old-school Content:  A few notes.

I have had this game idea for a while now, Spirit of '76, that takes place in the summer of 1976.  It has a solid Americana feel to it and it is inspired as much by movies like "Smokey and the Bandit" and "Convoy" as it is "The Omen" and "It's Alive".  But this got me thinking of a similar idea, only maybe set in England during the end of the 60s, 1968 to 1972 in particular.  Something very Mod but with horror and supernatural elements.   I'd love to set it in London. 

Watched: 55
New: 39



Thursday, October 29, 2020

October Horror Movie Challenge: Demon Witch Child (1975)

Demon Witch Child (1975)
Demon Witch Child (1975)

Another one that has been on my list for a while now.  I had it on tap for 2018, but for some reason, I never got around to it.  I think I just forgot about it. Actually, it is perfect for this year and right now.

Before I get into the plot, such that it is, I want to talk about what this movie represents.  All month long I have been focused on the time period in Europe, and mostly Italian and Spanish cinema, just right before the Exorcist hit.  The sweet spot for me has been 1971 to 1973.  Now maybe someday I'll do a post Exorcist run of movies, but until then this is the film that I will hold up as Exhibit A as to the effect the Exorcist had on filmmaking. 

Demon Witch Child, aka The Possessed and La Endemoniada, has a pedigree of sorts.  Marián Salgado who plays Susan, the titular "Demon Witch Child," was the Spanish voice actress for Linda Blair's Regan in the Exorcist.  So she was handpicked by director Amando de Ossorio for his Exorcist rip-off, er, homage.   The fact that she also bears some similar facial features to the old witch played by Tota Alba helps.

The Exorcist influences are all over this movie.  Susan crawls around, her body (not just head) spins around 180 degrees. She swears, she makes rude sexual comments all the time, she speaks in different languages (though we never hear them).  And it is all a little weird. I honestly got the feeling that the movie was written one way, but when the Exorcist hit more was added. 

An old witch desecrates a church and is arrested.  She is suspected of kidnapping a baby, but instead of talking she throws herself out of a window.  Her daughter (played by Kali Hansa who also spent some of time working with Jess Franco, including one of his hardcore outings, Weiße Haut und schwarze Schenkel, 1976) witnesses this and decides to curse the daughter of a local politician, Susan. 

Susan it seems is now possessed by the spirit of the dead old witch. The make-up effects are pretty good and do a good job of making Marián Salgado look like Tota Alba.  

Sadly the movie goes nowhere really.  Susan sacrifices babies, eats them,  gets people killed, murders a reporter, and comments on how well hung he is before castrating him. But there is also a surprising lack of gore or nudity for the time.  There is a subplot with a priest, our would-be exorcist, how before he became a priest he was engaged.  It is all very random in places. 

This is not the only movie I have seen from the time that suffers a lot from comparisons to The Exorcist, but this one of the most glaring ones. 

Watched: 52
New: 36

NIGHT SHIFT and Old-School Content
Possession is always fun in a game. Unless you happen to be the one possessed.  While this movie was obviously about demonic possession they can be other types.  Based on similar tales, I posted about the Eretica Vampire a few years back.  I even used a still from this movie.

Eretica (Vampire)
Eretica (Vampire)
No. Appearing: 1
AC: 6
Move: 40ft.
Hit Dice: 7
Special: 2 attacks (claws, bite), Mind control, Strong and Fast, Witch spells, blood drain.
XP VALUE: 750 

Eretica are the spirits of dead witches who possess the living, turning them into a sort of living vampire.

Unlike the typical Vampire, these creatures cannot Polymorph and cannot create new vampires.  In their host form, they can also move about during the day and are immune to holy items.  In their "possessed" form they have all the standard weaknesses of vampires. 
They can witch spells at the 4th level of experience.



Friday, October 9, 2020

October Horror Movie Challenge: The Manitou (1978)

Watching Bigfoot this morning made me think of this oldie and how much it freaked me out as a kid.

This movie typifies the later 70s, post Exorcist, mood of American Horror.  Lots of psychic phenomena, some satanism, and if you can work in Native American or Eastern mysticism all the better.

Tony Curtis is great as a fake psychic and tarot card reader that gets pulled into the drama around a tumor growing on his ex-girlfriend's, Susan Strasberg's, back.  X-rays show the tumor to look like a rapidly growing fetus.

Karen (Strasberg) goes to see Harry (Curtis) the day before her surgery (and they drink a lot of wine before hand).  Harry does a tarot card reading for her and they all come up the same (the tower, the moon, the devil, and death).

That night Karen mutters something in her sleep in a language that Harry doesn't understand (he thinks it is Swahili).

Karen goes into surgery but the doctors are prevented from cutting into the tumor.   At the same time, Harry's psychic ability becomes real.  They take part in a séance and learn about the Manitou. They go and see Dr. Snow (Burgess Meredith in a surprise role) and learn more.

The contact a Native American Shaman played by the always amazing Michael Ansara (Kang of Star Trek and Kane of Buck Rogers) and learn that this tumor is really the ancient Shaman Misquamacus.
At one point Misquamacus tells John Singing Rock (Ansara) not to help them.  I was half-hoping he would stand up and tell them "you are on your white people."

Misquamacus is born (I seem to recall it being scarier in 78) but is held in place at first by John's circle. 

The "demons" summoned by Misquamacus are quite cool.  They have a sort of Lovecraft/August Derleth quality to them. They are even called "the great old ones."  In the end, the evil spirits are destroyed by computers, manifesting as laser blasts from a naked Karen.   Lest we forget this was the 70s.

This really is a cut above my normal fare in terms of acting ability even if the story is a little silly. 

Watched: 11
New: 9

A couple of thoughts here. 

First, there is a wealth of material in Native American folklore that I just have not explored and honestly, I am just not even remotely familiar or even qualified to write about them despite all the stories I have read or watched over the years. 

I'd love to get more of this sort of thing for my Valhalla, AK game.  While the Bigfoot stuff from earlier today went on the silly side, this would be more of the horror side of things. 



Monday, October 5, 2020

October Horror Movie Challenge: Il Sesso Della Strega (1973)

Wait...didn't I watch this one last night?  Well, you would think so just comparing the posters.
Also known as "Sex of the Witch" this one came out a year after Byleth did.  Though in fairness BOTH movies do have a scene that the cover could represent.

An old wine merchant is dying so he curses his family, in particular his greedy grand-children.

One by one people start to die.

The plot, minus the sex and witchcraft, could have been a thriller or even a comedy.  There are some parallels to some murder mysteries like Clue and Knives Out.  In the sense that people keep dying and there are a bunch squabbling children trying to get Daddy's wealth.

There is lots of sex and nudity and it is pretty much the ultimate evolution of the Italian Giallo, Eurosleaze flick.  It was only missing a deformed henchman in my mind. Though there is a creepy dude in black.

I will admit that I am now likely to use "fondling the goldfish" as a sexual euphemism after watching this movie.  The said scene is about 40 mins into my copy.

It is notable that Camille Keaton of "I Spit On Your Grave" fame appears in this one as well as one of the nieces, Anna.  she gets clawed by the previously mentioned creepy dude.

The movie's biggest crime though is that it is a slog and actually kind of dull.

Maybe a Byleth +  Il Sesso Della Strega supercut is needed.  In fact, I know just how to do it.
At least we know what poster to use.

Watched: 6
New: 6

NIGHT SHIFT Content

The rich brother writes his sister out of his will because she was a witch and seduced him when they were younger.  Now their illegitimate daughter is back. She is also a witch (more powerful since her blood is "concentrated") and begins to kill off all her half-siblings (they think she is "just" a cousin) so she can have all the inheritance for herself.
Since she is a diabolic witch her patron is Byleth, the Demon Prince of Incest. 
While Byleth, or Beleth, has a history this version is closer to the D&D/Pathfinder demon Socothbenoth.

Now, this would obviously be a more R or even NC-17 rated game. 
To borrow a Scooby-doo trope one of the characters is a distant relative to the brother's wife (so no weird blood relations here).





Wednesday, August 26, 2020

#RPGaDAY 2020: Day 26 Strange

Again a couple ways to go.  

I could comment on these strange days, but I have other social media outlets for that.

I am going to comment on the #RPGaDAY2020 list itself in that these are a lot of strange words.  

Ok, I get it, Dave has been doing this a long time and maybe he is running out of words to use. but knowing and the work he has done in the past I highly doubt he is lacking in ideas. So I'll just put this here as my commentary and that's it.

Ok. Strange. Let's get to the meat of this.

Many of my contemporaries will point to Fritz Leiber, Robert E. Howard, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Tolkien, Moorcock, and Lovecraft as their main sources of inspiration to D&D.  While I share the Tolkien, Moorcock, and Lovecraft influences, I also add Clark Ashton Smith.

But those were not my only sources.

Dr. Strange and Tomb of Dracula

The 1970s were a strange time to be sure.  The 70s Occult Revival fueled my tastes in games in ways I never knew at the time and only saw in retrospect.  Case in point. Dr. Strange comics and Tomb of Dracula.  Both were favorites of mine but when Strange, along with Blade, would battle Dracula? Yeah, THAT was an adventure.  I wanted my games to have these epic world-changing battles that start small but then go on out to the cosmic scale.  Strange didn't just defeat Dracula. He destroyed all vampires.

I was already a huge horror fan at this point and Hammer Horror in particular. So these comics sent me searching more and more strange ideas for my games. I think by 1982 I had read every book of occultism in my local public library.  Creating a witch class was an inevitable conclusion at that point. 

When the Ravenloft module was released it found a no more welcome home than mine.

I have mentioned this in greater detail here.

Strange Stories, Amazing Facts

My copy
My parents were voracious readers. Books filled every corner of my home growing up and every room had at least one bookshelf, some like the living room had three. 

They, like many people of their generation, had a lot of Reader's Digest books. One, in particular, was Strange Stories, Amazing Facts.

This book should not by any stretch of the imagination be considered good literature or even good research. It is however good fun and a fun read. 

While the book is divided up into roughly chronological sections including one on the future, it was the past and the monsters of myth that always grabbed my attention.  Though flipping through it now that section on the end of the world would be fun to use.

For my birthday about 10 years ago my family found a copy and gave it to me.  Complete with original dust jacket (I am book snob and prefer my dust covers intact).

I have been asked in the past to assemble my own "Appendix N".  Maybe I'll do that one day.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Review: Tunnels & Trolls (Troll Week)

Tunnels & Troll might be one of the first "clone" games ever, but it really is a proper game in its own right.  The story goes that creator Ken St. Andre was browsing through the original D&D rules and thought he could do better than that so he sat down and created the first Tunnels & Trolls game in 1975.  D&D was barely a thing on the wider scale, though very popular still, and here comes T&T.

Over the years T&T has been updated, re-released, and otherwise seen many ups and downs the game itself has continued and has a dedicated fanbase.  It is easy to see why. T&T is easy to learn, has some neat little quirks, and is just plain fun.  Plus if you ever get a chance to meet Ken St. Andre at Gen Con then PLEASE do it. He is a great guy.

The name, Tunnels & Trolls, almost wasn't. It was almost Tunnels & Troglodytes, but that name was shot down by his players.  Since then the troll has become a sort of synonymous with the game and St. Andre himself. His twitter handle is @Trollgodfather and he runs Trollhala Press.

Tunnels & Trolls now holds the distinction of not only being the oldest RPG still published by the same publisher, Flying Buffalo, but also still controlled by its original author/designer. 

The RuneQuest Connection
Yesterday in my review of RuneQuest's Trollpak I mentioned that in my earliest days I thought Trollpak was a supplement for Tunnels & Trolls. Indeed both games did feature a lot of troll iconography.  But I think two it may have come with one other obsession of mine. Elric. I was (still am) a HUGE Michael Moorcock fan and I loved the Elric books.  I saw the game Stormbinger and I knew it used a similar system to both RuneQuest and Call of Cthulhu.  I also knew that Ken St. Andre had worked on Tunnels & Trolls and Stormbringer.  I guess in my young mind I conflated all of that.  While I might never see my goal of a full Tunnels & Trolls/Trollpak mashup, my dream of an epic Stormbringer/RuneQuest/Call of Cthulhu crossover might still happen!

I have owned many different versions of T&T over the years. I have loaned some out, another is just gone (it is with my original AD&D books I think) and still at least one I resold in a game auction when I needed the cash.  I miss each and every one.
Thankfully I now have the PDF of Deluxe Tunnels & Trolls the most recent version and the one that is easiest to get.  I will be focusing my review on this version, with recollections of previous editions when and where I can.

Deluxe Tunnels & Trolls. 2015 Ken St. Andre, published by Flying Buffalo.
348 pages, color covers, black & white interior art (mostly) and a full color section.
Deluxe Tunnels & Trolls (dT&T) is a massive volume at 348 pages.  
The PDF is divided into Chapter sections, but more importantly, it is split into five larger sections; The Basic or Core Game, Elaboration, Trollworld Atlas, Adventures, and End Matter.

The Basic or Core Game
This covers the first 11 chapters and 160+ pages.  This most resembles the T&T game I remember playing sparingly in the 80s. This covers the basics of the game such as rolling up characters, equipping them, combat and magic.  T&T uses all six-sided dice for everything, so getting started is as easy as getting the rules and raiding your board games for dice.  Because we NEVER did that in the 80s.
Character creation is a bit like D&D and other RPGs from the time (or more accurately other RPGs are like D&D and T&T).  There are a few quirks that make T&T stand out.
Exploding Triples allow for some extraordinary characters. When rolling your 3d6 for stats (like D&D) if you get three of the same number, all "1s" or all "6s" for example, you re-roll and ADD the previous total.  In D&D rolling three "1s" is a disaster, but in T&T you then reroll and add that 3 (1+1+1) to your new roll.  Roll three "6s"? Reroll and add 18! T&T has eight abilities, Strength, Constitution, Dexterity, Speed, Intelligence (IQ), Wizardry, Luck, and Charisma. They all map pretty close to D&D with the others Speed, Wizardry and Luck doing what they sound like. 
Kindreds, not Race. With all the discussion of the word "race" in D&D (yes, it is old and problematic and yes it should be replaced) T&T "solved" this issue by going with Kindred (and long before Vampire the Masquerade did).  This also leaves character creation open to all sorts of Kindreds. 
Personal Adds. For every point in a physical ability over 12 (the upper end of average), characters get +1 to their personal adds. Physical stats are Strength, Constitution, Dexterity, and Speed. These adds are combined and then used in combat.
Saving Rolls. All skills and nearly everything else use a saving throw like mechanic for resolution. The most common is a Luck roll, but others can be used.

There are three basic and one extra character classes. Warriors, Wizards, Rogues and the Specialist.
Kindreds include Humans, Dwarves, Elves, Fairies, Hobbs (Halflings), and Leprechauns. Each kindred then gets an ability multiplier. So if you are a dwarf and you rolled an 11 for Strength  your multiplier is 2 for a 22 strength! But your Luck multiplier is .75 so if your rolled a 12 it is now a 9.  Other attributes effected are height and weight. Fairies have multiples here of 0.1 and 0.01 respectively.

The equipment list is what you would expect with some odd improvised weapons (rocks) and even guns (gunnes) but these are still rather primitive in nature. 

Saving Rolls are covered in Chapter 5 and gave us what is essentially a dynamic Target Number mechanic YEARS before anyone else did.  You determine the level of the Saving Throw (difficulty) times that by 5 to get your target number. Players roll a 2d6 and yes doubles are re-rolled and added.
It's a simple mechanic that works well. 

Chapter 6 gives us some talents. Or things you can do other than wack monsters. 
Chapter 7 cover enemies and monsters and is a whopping 3 pages!  But that is nature of T&T monsters can be abstracted from just a few simple numbers.
Chapter 8 covers combat. If I remember correctly combat in T&T was a fast affair.  The rules support this idea. 

Chapter 9 is of course my favorite, Magic. There have been more than a few times I have wanted to adopt ideas from here for my D&D games.  In the end though I have kept them separate.  Spell levels go to 18 though you need some superhuman Intelligence and Dexterity scores to cast them (60 and 44 respectively).  Spells have a Wiz (Wizardry cost) so it works on a spell-point like system.  The spell names are something of a bit of contention with some people and my litmus test for whether or not someone will be a good player in T&T.  If they don't like the names, then I think they will not be good for the game.  Among the spell names are "Hocus Focus", "Oh Go Away", "Boom Bomb", "Freeze Please" and more.  I like them I would rather have a fun name than a boring one, but I am also the guy who made spells called "You Can't Sit With Us", "Live, Laugh, Love", "Oh My God, Becky!" and "Tripping the Light Fantastic".

Chapter 10 is Putting it All Together with general GM advice.  Chapter 11 covers the Appendices. 
This constitutes the bulk of what makes up the T&T game. 

Elaborations
This section consists of rules additions and other topics.
Of interest here is Chapter 13, Other Playable Kindreds.  This likely grew out of T&Ts sister game, Monsters! Monsters! In dT&T these stats for playing have been brought more inline with the M!M! book for more compatibility.   The attribute multipliers from character creation are repeated here for the main kindreds, and then expanded out for others of the Familiar (or most similar to the Good Kindred, like goblins, gnomes, and pixies) to the Less Common like lizard people, ratlings and trolls!  To the Extraordinary like ghouls and dragons.
The means in which this is done is so simple and so elegant that other games should be shamed for not doing the same.
Later on languages, more talents and accessories (minis, battle mats, virtual tabletops) are covered.



Trollworld Atlas
This section covers the campaign world of Trollworld.  A history is provided and the major continents are covered as well as a few of the cities. This covers about 70 pages, but it is all well spent.
This section also features some full-color interior art including some great maps.

Adventures
Pretty much what is says on the tin.  This covers the two types of adventures one can have with T&T; a solo adventure and a GM run adventure.  
Everyone reading this has experienced a GM run adventure.  But where T&T really sets itself apart are the solo adventures. This is a reason enough to grab this game just to see how this is done.

End Matter
This section contains the last bits.  Credits. Afterwords. Acknowledgments. A full index. Character sheets and a Post Card for the City of Khazan!


I am going to put this bluntly.

Every D&D player, no matter what edition, needs to play Tunnels & Trolls at least once.  They should also read over the rules.  I don't care if you walk away saying "I don't like it" that is fine, but so many of the things I see so-called seasoned D&D players and game masters complain about has a fix or has been addressed already in T&T. 

Like I mentioned with Trollpak who solved D&D's "evil race" problem back in 1982, Tunnels & Trolls fixed it in 1975.

Beyond all that T&T is an easily playable game with decades of material and support and thousands of fans online.  If you don't want to buy a copy to try out then find a game at a Con.  

Is T&T perfect?  No. It lacks the epic that is D&D.  If D&D is Wagner then T&T is Motzart. Easier to approach, but no less brilliant. 

For under $20 (currently) you get a complete game with enough material to keep you going for years. Plus there is such a wealth (45 years now) of material out there that you will never run out of things to do.

Thursday, July 16, 2020

That's So Raven! Raven Swordsmistress of Chaos for BECMI

Raven by Luis Royo
Back in 1987, I was a freshman in college. My then Favorite Local Game Store was also my Favorite Local Used Book Store.  They sold new books, used books as well as new and old gamebooks.  I got a copy of the first printing Deities & Demigods here along with scores of old copies of Dragon and White Dwarf.  

One book they always prominently displayed was the American versions of Raven Swordsmistress of Chaos.  

I never grabbed the book but as an 18-year-old guy, I always was attracted to the covers. I even had a character named Raven, who like the cover, was blonde and had a pet raven.  I was vaguely aware there were more books in the series, but never knew how many. 

Over the last couple of years, I have been on a quest to find and read all the Raven books by "Richard Kirk" who was, in reality, the pen name of authors Angus Wells and Robert Holdstock.  Both wrote Book 1 and then they alternated with Wells on Books 3 and 5 and Holdstock on Books 2 and 4.

Well, I succeeded in my quest and I found them all and read them.
While they are not...good...they are fun little romp in late 70s Swords and Sorcery (and Sex, but not as much as the Corgi covers hint at). Sometimes described as a mildly ribald Red Sonja or a less ribald Ghita Of Alizar. The books however perfect for game fodder. 

Others have reviewed the books and I went back and forth on whether I should do the same.  So instead I am just going to link out to some of the better reviews and retrospectives for your own reading.

I figured there are five books in the Raven saga and there are five rule sets in the BECMI series.  
Seems like a good fit.  Plus it let's me try out each set of rules with a character.

I also did this with my very first character, the Lawful Cleric Johan Werper. While I find him interesting I figure you all would like to see Raven more. Also I wanted to get a good feel for how the fighter works in all sets AND the advanced fighter paths from the Companion rules.  So let's get to it!

Raven Swordsmistress of Chaos

Raven from Heroforge
The story Raven begins with that of a runaway slave girl named Su'ann. She is reduced by a mysterious warlock-like character named Spellbinder who recognizes that she is "the pivot on which the world turns" partially because she is also protected by giant Raven and he senses something in her.  Spellbinder and Su'ann, now calling herself "Raven" hook up with a band of outlaws and pirates.  They go from adventure to adventure but all the time Raven is training with swords, spears and what would become her "trademark" a set of throwing stars.  It was the 70s man.  Raven though is not training out of boredom, nor even for the higher purpose fate seems to have, but is very vague about, for her.  She wants to kill her former slave owner the Swordsmaster Karl Ir Donwayne.  
While Raven is the cover girl and the eponymous main character, the events are all narrated and told by Spellbinder many years after the fact. Even the scenes where he was not present.  

The story is one that is simple, but close to many FRP gamers. Raven wants to kill Karl Ir Donwayne. How is going to do that? Well, they need to Skull of Quez to appease this ruler to get to Donwayne. But they have to find the mysterious island first and then kill the beast-men. And there are shadowy loners, men with mysterious pasts. Raven jumping in and out of bed with Spellbinder, Gondar the Pirate captain, and even Krya M'ystral, the Queen and sister of the ruler they were trying to go see.  This is all in the first book.  There is a nice gory battle with Karl Ir Donwayne too, but he comes back in future books to bother Raven some more.

We never get a satisfactory end to Raven's story.  Book 5 just ends.  Though all the books are told from Spellbinder's point of view they could be out of order.  We do know that Raven met some sort of end between Book 5 and Spellbinder's remembering which seems to take place many years later. Maybe she became that agent of Chaos after all.

For this I am going to stat up Raven for each rule set in the BECMI rules, trying to feature what I feel are the best parts.  I am also going to try to feature what I can from what she was doing in the books.

Raven, ePic Character Generator


Sheets are from The Mad Irishman

Basic


Here is the Basic version of Raven.  The hardest this is always to guess at what any one character's numbers are going to be. I figure she had good strength and constitution as well as high dexterity since she favors the throwing stars.  Her charisma is very high, not because of her looks, but because she inspires a lot of loyalty from the cutthroats she usually hangs out with.

She is a fighter. No doubt. I also gave her alignment as Chaotic.  She is a force of chaos, but she is also a killer.  For this example, I thought putting her at level 3, or "Swordmistress" (no middle "s" like the books) was appropriate even for her first book.

You can see her full Basic sheet here (click for larger): 



Expert


Fighters don't get a lot in the Expert set. So for her 2nd book I just advanced her to 9th level "Lady" and gave her some magical chain mail.

You can see her full Expert sheet here (click for larger): 



Companion


Ah now here are some changes!

In the Companion rules, we have more going on.  First I wanted to have her become an Avenger or the Chaotic traveling Fighter.  She obviously has no lands to call her own and she is still going about killing things.  But the Avenger gives her some Clerical ability.

Magic is rare and dangerous in Raven's world.  But everyone seems to have some sort of supernatural sort of talent.  So for Raven, I choose spells that fit in with role as the "pivot on which the world turns" and other things like her raven companion.  So things like "detect magic" and "cause fear" made sense. She also got the 3rd level spell "striking" since that covers a lot of what could be a natural talent.

She also gets 2 attacks per round now at 18th level.

You can see her full Companion sheet here (click for larger): 



Master


Master level Raven is really Ultimate Raven.  This is the Raven that goes toe to toe with gods and spirits and comes out unscathed. 

She gets three attacks per round now and I implemented the Weapon Mastery Rules to give her mastery over the sword and her throwing stars. 
She gets more cleric spells, this time to the 10th level of ability.  Some spells are easily explained by her connection to her bird, fate, and chaos.  Others can be explained by natural ability. "Commune" for example is with her bird and the forces of Chaos only.  "Speak with Animals" can be roughly explained by her time with the animal men. Others could be when she was dealing with weird supernatural forces.

She also gets 3 attacks per round now.

You can see her full Master sheet here (click for larger): 



Immortal


This sheet is largely incomplete.  It is also the most different of the other four (printed from my DTRPG copy) and interestingly enough the only book in series that I don't have an American (Royo cover) edition of.  I do have the British Corgi version with the Chris Achilléos cover.  

I made a lot of guesses as to what sort of Immortal she would be and just cheated and made her an Initiate. I might try this again with one of my own characters that I know better. 

You can see her full Immortal sheet here (click for larger): 


All in all I rather pleased with these. I am curious to hear from anyone that has also read these books.
As far as BECMI character I am happy with it.

Links

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Witchcraft Ritual Kit (1974)

I was out getting some driving practice with my sons over the weekend.  They didn't want too so I made them a deal, if they drove we could go to our favorite local game store Games Plus.  So we did and I found something of a little treasure.


This is Avalon Hill's Witchcraft Ritual Kit from 1974!

So imagine this, the year is 1974.  Avalon Hill knows about D&D having passed on previous Gygax penned works.  The biggest movie of the year is The Exorcist and rival Milton Bradley is churning out Ouija boards all day.  What is Avalon Hill to do?  Simple they create a "game" based on Wicca and Witchcraft.

Supposedly authored by "Dr. Brooke Hayward Jennings", who I can find nothing on anywhere, and neither has anyone else, this was one of two of their occult-themed games.  The other was called "Black Magic" and featured a similarily "porny" cover.

Now, all that aside I have been wanting this game forever.  It has been out of print since the mid-70s and finding a good copy is nearly impossible.

I found this sitting in the stacks of out of print wargames. It was labeled as "unpunched" and interior in good condition even if the box had some shelf wear.  I knew, more or less what I was getting here, so despite the high price (I am not going to tell you what I paid for it) I had to get it.

Well.  I am not disappointed.

Let's have a look inside.






That game board is gorgeous! Not so sure about all the pieces, and those game tokens have to go!
I'll likely replace the male and female figures with minis, maybe 72mm ones, and the other items with small 3D printed versions.  Don't know yet, have to read how they are used.


The gamebook is a mix-mash of all sorts of wicca, occult and pagan ideas that lack coherence. It is, however, a fun read.







This is easily the most 70s thing I own.

I could not find any reviews online and none from any pagans or gamers to give me their insight and point of view.

Also, I am not sure what I will do with it yet. Like I said some of the pieces have to go to make it playable in my mind, but that game board.

In line with my "Traveller Envy" I talked about with Wizard's Quest and Witch's Caldron boardgames I really WANT to use this as part of the larger "War of the Witch Queens" campaign. I am just not sure how yet.  I do have other board games to add to it.

Oh, it also been properly pointed out that the TRUE way to express my Board Game Traveller Envy is via Starfleet Battles and my "BlackStar" campaign.  But that is a topic for another day.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Classic Adventures Revisited: Palace of the Vampire Queen

In this new series of posts, I want to look back at some of my favorite classic adventures both from TSR and others.  I'll give a review, though most everyone knows what is in these adventures by now, I'll also talk about how I have used them in the past and I'll also talk about what other games I have used them with or would like too.  So there is a little bit of Plays Well With Others in this too.

Why do classic adventures? Easy, I love these adventures.  I have written hundreds of my own adventures, some I have even published, but these are the adventures that everyone knows and we all have a history with them.

So to start off this series, what better adventure than the one that started it all?


Palace of the Vampire Queen

In the beginning, there was a belief that all DMs would naturally create all their own adventures and there was no market for pre-written ones.  The only printed adventure out at this time was "Temple of the Frog" in Blackmoor.  Seeing a need, the Palace of the Vampire Queen was written by Pete and Judy Kerestan. Yes, the very first adventure was co-written by a woman.
The first edition was self-published, followed by a second and third edition by Wee Warriors (1976 and 1977) and distributed exclusively by TSR.

The "Dungeon Master's Kit" (module was not being used yet) presented a simple adventure with a singular goal; defeat the Vampire Queen.  The plot, such as it is, is very thin even by the standards of what would later be the norm.  The maps are fantastic, but the descriptions are little more than that; what's in the room in terms of monster and treasure.  We get a background, the missing princess of the Dwarf King Arman of Baylor. Vampire Queen herself remains nameless.


The adventure itself is fairly straight forward.  Go to the Palace, defeat the monsters and the Vampire Queen and save the Dwarven Princess.

Despite, or maybe because of, this limited background this adventure can be used anywhere with nearly every version of the game.   I became aware of this adventure many years ago and it immediately went on to my "must find" list. Around 10 years ago I was able to get a copy and I ran it for a group using Moldvay Basic/ Cook Expert (BX) D&D.  It was a lot of fun.  There was no indication on how many characters were needed or what levels.

The adventure reminds me a bit of the Dungeon! board game.  You walk the halls, kick in the door, kill the monster, take the treasure, repeat.  Of course, this adventure is the first of such adventures so it gets a huge pass on this.  There is a lot though here to keep any DM and party busy.

Since 1976 the adventure has had a few reprints.  The first ones were by Wee Warriors.  These prints regularly go for over $1,000.00 on eBay.   There were two such covers, the "black" cover with a castle in the background and the "queen" cover, featuring the vampire queen herself.


The covers were folders with a pocket for notes or other sheets.  I nice idea and one I have used myself. Many of the early prints were 8.5" x 11", some later prints were digest-sized, 5.5" x 8.5" same as the OD&D books.

The next major set of reprints was made by North Texas RPG Con and Pacesetter Games and Simulations who printed a fairly accurate representation of the original back cover in digest format and then later a letter-sized one with images from all the covers.


While they are not the originals, but the content is all there and these were much cheaper.

Now today, Precis Intermedia has a new cleaned up reprint of the adventure.



Daughters of Darkness: Sequels to the Vampire Queen
As can be imagined such a classic adventure has had a number of sequels and homages.

North Texas RPG Con
This is the reprint of the original.  It is a fairly faithful reproduction of the 1977 version of the black cover version.  The first digest-sized version was a fairly faithful reproduction save for the NTRPG Con watermark on every page.  The digest size makes it perfect for use with OD&D, S&W, OSE or other OSR games.


To my knowledge there are no more of this print available save for on eBay and other game auctions.

Pacesetter Games

The first round of reprints and sequels after Wee Warriors came from Pacesetter Games & Simulations.



V2 Palace of the Vampire Queen

This printing was more properly letter-sized, the same as the original and features many of the cover variations on the cover of this edition.
This edition also includes introductions from the author Peter Kerestan and Pacesetter's Bill Barsh. Here we learned that the very first edition was printed by Peter himself with a printing press!
Here we also get a fair reproduction of the original.  After the introductions and the adventure background, we get to the levels proper.  On the two pages are the original maps and descriptions and on the following pages are "updated" AD&D 1st ed stats. These new pages usually cover 3-4 more pages till the next map. This repeats for all five levels.  On the new pages, a little more explanation is given and there is new art.  This makes for a fuller product and detracts none of the original charms.

Print at Pacesetter.

V5 Palace of the Vampire Queen: Castle Blood
The first sequel to PotVQ is Castle Blood.  Now here we get more modern adventure designs and maps. There is more background here too to hook the players in,
The adventure is brief, but it is supposed to be, at just 16 pages. It can be run in an afternoon.  I actually felt this worked better as a prequel to the PotVQ.  You learn more about her history here. The eponymous castle is all detailed and above ground.  You can meet the Vampire Queen here, but killing her is not the goal of this adventure, but rather finding out what is going on.
PDF at DriveThruRPG and Print at Pacesetter.

V6 Palace of the Vampire Queen: Crypts of the Living
Crypts of the Living was written as an explicit sequel to the Palace of the Vampire Queen and makes more overt references to the first adventure.  The booklet, 16 pages worth, says it is designed for 5th Edition, but all the stats are for OSRIC/1st Edition.  No worries. Converting is easy.
There are references to both the Palace of the Vampire Queen and Castle Blood.  The other adventures are not 100% required to play this one, but it does help.
The adventure is a fairly straight forward exploration affair.  There are new monsters and new magic items so that is a nice bonus. Can be played in an afternoon or combined with the others for a longer campaign.
PDF at DriveThruRPG and Print at Pacesetter.

V7 Palace of the Vampire Queen: Cries of the Tormented
This one is not presently available and I don't seem to have a copy oddly enough.
Print at Pacesetter.


Precis Intermedia
Palace of the Vampire Queen
This version of the adventure also preserves much of what made the original a classic.  The PDF of this book has a "special feature" to show a reprint of the original NSFW art.  The print copy is all paper, with the cover made out of heavier weight paper (like résumé paper).
At 24 pages it might be the most faithful reproduction yet.  While the cover is new art, the interior looks like the classic.  No additions have been made to the text. The maps are cleaned up, darker ink and clearer to read.





Other Vampire Queens
Dark Wizard Games gave us the fantastic Hanging Coffins of the Vampire Queen. But I have talked about that adventure many places here. Most of my posts on this are captured below.

0one's Blueprints: Megadungeons - Palace of the Vampire Queen
This product is a pretty bare-bones affair, and that is exactly why you want to get it.  You get 7 pages of "Blue" maps and 7 pages of black and white maps covering over 210 rooms.  The rooms are labeled but that is all the description you get.  There are sheets for you to detail the rooms with monsters, occupants, and treasure.  This is perfect if you want to create a mega-palace for our mysterious Vampire Queen and stock it full of her undead minions.  At just under $2.00 it is a steal.

Other Games / Plays Well With Others

The strength of this adventure is how easy you can adapt it to nearly anything.  The adventure itself, regardless of which one you have, is so bare-bones it begs to be adapted and added too.  I have run this both for Basic, B/X D&D and for D&D 5th edition with no problems.  The level of characters can be adapted to easily with the challenges and the monsters you add.




Palace of the Vampire Queen and D&D5
Converting for D&D is easy. What might be more fun is to run something like Curse of Strahd, but replace the count with a Queen.


Palace of the Vampire Queen and Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea
This is the easiest of all really.  AS&SH is close enough to AD&D with hints of Basic to make it possible to run this without any conversions at all.
How to run it?  Well all I can say is have you ever read the Conan stories "Red Nails" or "Hour of the Dragon".  The queen would make for a good stand-in for Akivasha.



Palace of the Vampire Queen and Blue Rose
Ah. Now this one has a bit more going on for it.  This is no simple dungeon crawl, to play this one the Vampire Queen is in a battle of wills or "chess game" with the Sovereign, Queen Jaellin. This style of adventure would play heavily on the investigation skills of the envoys/characters.   Our Vampire Queen might even be known as a vampire even, just as a new ruler of a previously unknown island (Baylor).  Of course, you have your suspicions and you are fairly sure there is a strong taint of shadow about the land.



Palace of the Vampire Queen and Buffy,  Ghosts of Albion or Leagues of Gothic Horror
Here is something fun.  A twist on the Dracula story.  The cast comes to an old palace in the mountains from their home.  Expecting an old Lord they are instead greeted by a woman, the Lady of the castle.  Here the horror begins.
Both game systems have plenty of creatures and elements to cover everything in the adventure.  What you as the game master will need to do is smooth out some "D&D" elements and add some gothic elements, but that is so easy that I can't decide which one would be more fun Unisystem or Ubiquity.
All three would be fun to try sometime.




One could get easily lost in the potential of this adventure.  I do hope that future reviews of classic adventures prove to be just as fruitful.

Links
Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palace_of_the_Vampire_Queen
The Acaeum, https://www.acaeum.com/ddindexes/modpages/dmk.html

Links to Adventures
Links to my 'Vampire Queen' posts

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