Showing posts with label 80s. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 80s. Show all posts

Thursday, February 22, 2024

Review: Forgotten Realms Campaign Set

The Forgotten Realms Campaign Set
 I have asked this before, but it bears repeating here and now. How does one review a classic? Better question. How does one review a genre-defining classic?  Because that is what I have sitting in front of me now. A genre-defining classic. Eighteen-year-old me back in 1987, ready for his first year at university, would not have thought so at the time, but that is what much older me thinks now. 

The Forgotten Realms was the foundation of the "new" TSR, the one without Gary Gygax and many of the other founders on which they would build their new home. We can debate the merits of this and financials ad nauseam, but by any stretch of the imagination, the Forgotten Realms were very successful. So successful that the biggest video game of 2023 is set there.

This review will cover the Forgotten Realms Campaign Set, the Boxed set from 1987. Written by Ed Greenwood and Jeff Grubb and edited by Karen S. Boomgarden. But any insight to this product knows that the genesis was with Ed, and he first brought it all to life in the pages of Dragon magazine. At least that is alive to us. Many other authors have contributed to Realms over the decades, but here is where it begins.  

How do we begin? Let's take Ed's own words, which he scribbled into my Cyclopedia of the Realms as our opening.

Welcome to the Forgotten Realms

"Welcome to the Forgotten Realms!" - Ed Greenwood

Forgotten Realms Campaign Set

by Ed Greenwood, Jeff Grubb and edited by Karen S. Boomgarden. 1987. Boxed set. Full-color covers and maps. Cyclopedia of the Realms 96 pages. DMs Sourcebook of the Realms 96 pages. Maps and clear hex overlays.

Forgotten Realms box contents

For this review, I am considering the physical boxed set from 1987 and the PDFs from DriveThruRPG. There has yet to be a Print on Demand version.

The DriveThruRPG PDF combines all this information into a 230-page book. Maps are broken up and scanned in at letter size.

Cyclopedia of the Realms
Cyclopedia of the Realms

96 pages. Color covers. Sepia-tone pages and art.

"Let's start at the very beginning. A very good place to start." - Maria von Trapp nee Kuczera, Bard/Cleric

This book is an introduction to the Forgotten Realms, and maybe the most important bit here is the introduction by Ed Greenwood/Elminster and the About this Product.  We start immediately with the "voice" of the Realms, Elminster. He is no ersatz Gandalf, nor is he a more approachable Mordenkainen, and certainly, he is more interesting than Ringlerun. He is our guide, but sometimes I still like to think of him as an unreliable narrator. These are the Realms in his eyes. More (if the not the most) knowledgable, but there are still "small stories" to tell that are beneath his notice. Those are the stories (aka games) I want to know about.

This book covers the timeline (I do love timelines!) and ways of keeping time in the Realms. The date for this set is the end of 1357 DR (that's Dale Reckoning or Dalereckoning). For full context, the Baldur's Gate III video game takes place in 1494 DR, with the current year of the D&D 5e titles at 1496 DR. There is a bit of discussion about holidays and how the "weeks" are grouped as Tendays (3 a month). It feels different and I like it.  The money system is rather AD&D standard, with some proper names to the coins. This is fine because this IS supposed to be an AD&D world, and the authors want people to feel familiar with it all, if not right at home.

Languages and scripts are up. Some of these are still being used in current versions of D&D. 

The Gods are next. These were already familiar to me, not just because this is an old product, but because Ed talked about them in Dragon magazine back in 1985.  See "The Dragon Connection" below. While these gods have "Earthly" sources, it actually works out great and ties into the mythology of the Realms as one being connected to Earth. Something it shares with Greyhawk's Oerth. The connection between Greyhawk and the Forgotten Realms is strong. They share almost all the same demi-human gods. By extension of the rule-set they also share all the same demons and devils. This makes moving between worlds a little smoother. The gods and their relationships are detailed well here and there is just enough unknow to keep them interesting.

Next section is about Adventuring Companies. So here is one thing that the Realms does better than Greyhawk (well there are more, but the first thing in this book). Adventurers are baked into the system. The world doesn't just need adventuring parties, it demands them. These parties can be used as models for your own adventuring parties. All these parties have names as well. I'll have to think about how Sinéad and Co would fit this format. Plus, the back cover of this book has a grid for the adventuring party! Room for 10 characters even.

Adventuring Party Roster

We get into the "Cyclopedia" part of the book now. This is an alphabetical listing of major topics within the Realms. These include things like the various character classes, races, countries, towns, areas of interest and other topics. There is a narrative piece describing it, Elminster's Notes for the point of view of the most knowledgeable native (even when he admits to not knowing much), and Game Information.

I rather like it, to be honest. Hit me with facts, and let me build some adventures around it!

DMs Sourcebook of the Realms
DMs Sourcebook of the Realms

96 pages. Color covers. Sepia-tone pages and art.

One of the best things in this book is the Introduction. We get words from Ed (as Ed) talking about the World of the Forgotten Realms and how it is now our world too. Yeah it is trademarked by TSR and now WotC/Hasbro, but this is an open invitation to do what you want with this world now. This is a foreshadowing to all the great Ed Greenwood content we would get over the next almost 4 decades. Honestly reading Ed's own words make me excited for all the exploration ahead of me. This is followed by words from Jeff Grubb, who also had a hand in shaping the AD&D version of the Realms. And more by editor Karen S. Martin who adds her experience and excitement to this world.

So much better than any puff-piece bit of gamer fiction!

We get right into it. Information on how to use this as an AD&D campaign world is started from the word go. Overview again of the boxed set. How to set up campaigns for new players, new campaigns for experienced players, and bringing in characters from other campaigns. Hmm...I should try all of these to be honest. Maybe a character from one of my Greyhawk or Mystara campaigns could come on over. I DO like the idea that Elvish and Dwarvish and some others are mostly the same languages. Would really help bring the worlds closer together. 

A bit of coverage on the maps and how to use them. Nice comparison of the map of Faerûn compared to the continental United States. And a section of various wandering monsters. The Forgotten Realms may be Forgotten, but they are very much alive!

The next 20 pages detail NPCs of note. Any to drop in as background, enemy, or ally. 

Speaking of living. A really nice section on recent news and various rumors starting in DR 1356 to 1357 are presented. With or without your characters, the Relams live on. 

Another plus for this boxed set is the ready-run adventures for low-level characters. The first, The Halls of the Beast Tamers, is a nice dungeon crawl. Next is Lashan's Fall, which appeared in Dragon #95 as "Into the Forgotten Realms," and even the maps are the same! Mind you I think this is a bonus since that is the adventure I always wanted to use as an intro to the Realms. I still can come to think of it. 

Into the Forgotten Realms

The next section is a "Pages from the Mages" style entry.  Lots of spells books to be found with plenty of new spells. I think some of these were in "Pages form the Mages" to be honest. That's fine, they work well here.

Honestly, the ONLY thing missing here are some new monsters, and this would be complete.

Maps & Plastic Hex Overlays

There are four gorgeous maps of the content of Faerûn. While it doesn't quite live up to the artistry of the Darlene World of Greyhawk maps, they are more practical. The plastic hex overlays also make it easier to read the maps and then do your hex crawls in whatever area you like.

The Dragon Connection

One of the great things about doing my This Old Dragon feature and concentrating on the period between 1980 and 1987 is watching the Forgotten Realms develop and grow as an Advanced Dungeons & Dragons world. From Ed's musings on gods in Down to Earth Divinity to magical tomes and spells of the Pages from the Mages and The Wizards Three features to adventure Into the Forgotten Realms, all of which would find homes in an official Forgotten Realms product in some shape or form.

I mentioned already that Dragon #95's Into the Forgotten Realms makes an appearance here as an introductory adventure.

As I mentioned, all we were missing were monsters. Well, Ed penned enough monsters in the pages of Dragon Magazine that were explicitly for the Realms, so collecting them all is worthwhile. In addition to monsters, there are magic items, more spells, blades, shields, and even musical instruments, and I know I am nowhere near collecting it all. I do know I will run out of room in my box for them all.

Realms in Dragon Magazine

My Thoughts

There is a lot packed in this box. It's like a TARDIS really; bigger on the inside. In truth, nothing of what I thought was going to be here was here. Yes, there are NPCs, but they are background, and your characters may never ever run into them. They are the background noise of the Realms until the characters are the big noise. I certainly unfairly judged the Forgotten Realms. 

A lot of this stemmed from me thinking that Gygax had been done wrong. Yes, that was true, but the Realms really had nothing to do with that. The New TSR was working to relgate Gygx to the past and Ed was just the guy in the right place in the right time with the right idea. I was also unfair of me to judge the Realms on that.  If reading Ed's "The Wizard's Three" has taught me anything that Abier-Toril and Oerth have more in common than not.

Greyhawk and the Forgotten Realms

This is, of course, just the start. A big start, to be sure, but a start all the same. This is a canvas to paint on. This is a great set, not just for its time but also for now. Minus some of the stat blocks and spells, everything here can be used with any version of D&D or similar game with little or no effort. 

While I am somewhat overwhelmed by the task before me, I am also excited about it.

Honestly, I am going to pull out some dice and roll up some characters now.

Thursday, February 8, 2024

This Old Dragon: Issue #134

Dragon Magazine #134
 This weekend, Saturday, February 10, is the start of the Chinese New Year, the Year of the Dragon. Very nice how it lines up with the 50th Anniversary of Dungeons & Dragons. So I cheated a little and went digging for a Dragon Magazine that featured Dragons. Not too difficult really. So lets head to the Summer of 1988. I just finished my Freshman year of college. I spent my summer working and calling this girl I had met in the fall, piling up a HUGE bill on my Sprint card. No worries, in just seven more years I'd marry her. George Michael dominates the airwaves. "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" hit the screens, and on the shelves and game tables everywhere was Issue #134 of This Old Dragon!

Our cover, "Sword of Dawn," is from Charles Vess. I have seen a lot of his work since this issue and I have always liked it. 

Letters let us know that this is the 12th Anniversary issue of Dragon Magazine, so it's a nice milestone to be sure. 

Forum gives us some ideas on modifying the Magic-user to make it less prone to dying early on. Others debate the merits of the Experience system.

We get to our main feature right away. Dragons!

The Dragon's Bestiary gives us seven new dragons from various authors including Dragon VIP and the father of the Realms, Ed Greenwood. They are all interesting to be honest, and I'd like to see new versions of them. Had there been a Monster Manual III, they would have been it. 

Ed Friedlander is up with Give Dragons A Fighting Chance, which aims to make dragons much scarier. Something that started with Dragonlance and continues to today. He discusses physical attacks, making better use of dragon spellcasters, and better tactics. He uses the example of Razisiz the Blue Dragon from the DMG p. 81. Both in his "regular" stats and his beefed-up version here. A few recommendations for previous articles that cover similar ground are also mentioned.

An advertisement for an AD&D computer game, Pool of Radiance, is next. Get it for the IBM-PC and Commodore 64/128.

Friend of the Other Side, Vince Garcia, is next with Serpents and Sorcery. This article is all about getting more out of the spell-casting powers dragons have and making good use of their spells in their local environs. Really good article that you can still use today. 

Lords & Legend was a sometimes feature with various personalities. This time it is Dragotha the Undead Dragon from module S2 White Plume Mountain. He would make an appearance again in the 3e days, but his 1st Edition AD&D stats and background are given to us here by William Simpson. 

Greg Sharp gives us a good one, The Ecology of the Red Dragon. I am surprised that there were not more Ecology Of articles about Dragons. They are some of the biggest creatures in the game, and yet they don't feature very often. 

This issue is already falling apart, so I can go ahead and do this without worry.

Ecology of the Red Dragon

Skip Williams is dispensing wisdom again in Sage Advice. This time, covering a lot of character questions. 

Bazaar of the Bizarre is usually a favorite feature of mine. But this one not so much. It has a bunch of "less than serious" items, and honestly, it feels like an April feature that they could not fit in. I would have rather seen more dragon-related treasures. 

Another friend of the Other Side, Bruce Heard, is up with some errata, clarifications, and more for the Orc Wars game they had back in issue #132.

Jame Brunet has our short fiction piece, "Eyes of Redemption."

TSR Previews covers Summer 1988. Lots of Marvel Super Heroes, some Dragonlance, and Top Secret.  The Bullwinkle and Rocky Role-Playing Party Game is up for June. I didn't understand the fascination with Bullwinkle and Rocky then, and I still don't. Keep in mind that when this game was released, there had not been any new B&R content made for 20 years. I mean, I am not completely immune to the effects it had on pop culture, but it seems like an odd choice. Yes, I would later learn why this game was made, but back then, it made no sense to me. 

Arcane Lore from D.F. Fjellhaugen gives us some cleric spells for healing.

The official Origins Awards ballot for 1987 is next. What were your choices?

Best of 1987

This year was an odd one where Gen Con and Origins were held together in 1988. 

Dennis McLaughlin has some sniper rifles for Top Secret in Sighting In. Likely this could all be converted to other games if needed.

Part of my The Game Wizards is cut out.  Looking at my Dragon CD-ROM, I can only guess the previous owner wanted the picture of the Godzillia-like monster.

Ah. How can you tell it is the 80s? The fascination with all things Japanese. Hell, I even read Shōgun that summer. The Role-Playing Reviews from Jim Bambra covers Bushido, the AD&D Oriental Adventures, and the RuneQuest Land of the Ninja.  "Oriental" is now considered to be an archaic term at best and pejorative at worst. I will not debate that here. In fact, what I am most interested in here now is how 1988 Dragon was talking about Gary Gygax. So how are they? Well, while the plainly visible cover says "Gary Gygax" right on it, his name is never mentioned in the review. Design is credited to David "Zeb" Cook, who, in all likelihood, did do the lion's share of the work on it. Again, not going to debate here and now, but maybe if I ever do review it myself.  The article largely focuses on how closely the various products are linked to real feudal Japan. Bambra mentions that by making Kara-Tur a fictional land using influences from Japan, China, and Korea you can side-step some of these issues.

Catching Some Rays by Daniel Salas deals with radiation damage in Gamma World. 

The Lessers (Hartley, Patricia, and Kirk) are back in The Role of Computers with Dream Zone, Strike-Fleet (Naval Simulator), and The Pawn (adventure) get the most coverage. 

David Edward Martin, another friend, is up with more powers for the Marvel Super Heroes game in The Ultimate Addenda's Addenda.

This means that outside of some reviews, every article here was about a TSR game. This is a trend that will continue and grow. 

Gamers' Guide covers some small ads. Always fun to look at these. A half-page section alone on Play By Mail games. One in particular is out of Ottawa, IL, a tiny little farm town a few miles south and west of Aurora. It was even smaller back then. My wife is from that area, I am sure I have driven by it.

Convention Calendar gives us the best conventions for the Summer and into the Fall of 1988. One was within easy driving distance to me back then, Capitol-Con IV at the Prairie Capital Convention Center on July 9. Wonder what I was doing then? Likely working at Pizza Hut.

Dragonmirth has the usual collection of comics. Among them was Yamara, whom I caught occasionally enough to find amusing but never often enough to know what was going on with it. There is Elmore's Snarf Quest, now up to episode #58, that's close to 5 years. 

I am sure this is not the first "All TSR, All the Time" issue, but I know that trend is coming. Eventually, all game magazines went this way. White Dwarf had made this switch as early as two years prior, so I guess I am not surprised. It makes sense from a financial point of view, I suppose I miss the days when a game magazine covered multiple games from a variety of publishers.  Today we have the internet for all that. 

So overall a fine issue with some gems; the dragon stuff is great, and I'd like to use it somewhere. 

Happy Year of the Dragon!

Wednesday, February 7, 2024

Review: Module N4 Treasure Hunt

N4 Treasure Hunt
I knew my exploration of the Forgotten Realms would take me to new and unexpected places. I just didn't think it was going to be this soon.

In my exploration of the Forgotten Realms product Moonshae, I discovered an interesting bit of knowledge. In the back of that book it mentions that Adventure Module N4 Treasure Hunt can be used with the Moonshae Islands. I later discovered that the islands in N4 were moved over to the Forgotten Realms for this purpose.  So I had to switch courses and check out this module. I am really happy I did.

This module is not just an introduction module, but maybe THE introduction to the game module. Where you have an honest-to-Gary Session 0 and start with 0-Level characters in 1986. Given I am new to all things Realms, I might as well start at level 0!

N4 Treasure Hunt

by Aaron Allston, 48 pages (2 full color map pages, 36 pages of adventure, 10 pages of character profiles) black & white interiors. Art by Stephen Fabian. Cartographers: David F. "Diesel" LaForce, Stephen D. Sullivan, Bill Reuter, Stephanie Tabat. Cover art by Jeff Easley/

For this review, I am considering the PDF and Print on Demand version from DriveThruRPG/DMSGuild.

Treasure Hunt is a completely introductory adventure for players of the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 1st Edition game. I say "players" since I feel this adventure still requires a bit of rules savvy from the Dungeon Master, at least in terms of some of the lifts needed to work with the 0-level characters. However, reading this one nearly 40 years later, with honestly tens of thousands of hours spent on this game, there are nice gems here.

Speaking of which. I am not going to attempt to judge this adventure by the same yardstick as new Level-0 or the so-called "Funnel" adventures. That is not fair to the author nor the adventure itself. This has to judged on the merits of its time. But I will tell you this, I'd run this today, as is, with no changes to be honest.

There is a Player's Introduction and Dungeon Master's Introduction. 

This is the most interesting parts for me today since they cover the rules of rolling up and playing Level-0 characters.  For starters, you don't have a class yet. You are a Normal Human (or elf, or half-elf, or whatever), and you have 1d6 hit points and maybe a secondary skill. You don't even have an alignment. The plot revolves around your character, either one you make or use from the starting characters, being kidnapped by pirates, and then your pirate captors are shipwrecked and mostly all killed. Now, you are stuck in the Korinn Archipelago, later added to the north of the Moonshaes.

Korinn Archiipelago

From here the new PCs work out an escape plan and defeat their first enemy, the last pirate.

As the players play through the challenges presented on these islands they can build up what their character does and earn some XP. They are all 500 xp away from level 1. The adventure explains that even 1st level characters have some training. A fighter at level 1 is called a Veteran. A 1st level Cleric is an Acolyte. Even thieves and magic-users have some skills at first level that 0-levels do not.  Want to be a thief? Try picking that lock. Want to be a Cleric? What do you feel when you enter the Temple of the Goddess and how do you react? You won't know till the end (or near that) and you won't get there till you try.

0-level and skills

Frankly, it is great. A fantastic set of mini-mechanics to get the story going and flowing.  

The adventure itself is divided into six "episodes." And episode is a good word here since there is a bit of cinematic feel to this. It feels like Aaron Allston watched a lot of Raiders of the Lost Ark, or more to the point, Romancing the Stone. This is a good thing.

Each episode gives the new PCs something tangible to do. Defeat the pirate, stop the orcs and goblins, explore the Temple, explore the Sea King's Manor, and so on. While there is a great feel to all of this, add a bit of the Moonshaes to it, and thus some Celtic and Old Norse culture to it all, and it becomes a fun mix.

Even for the time, the adventure is a bit linear, but not in a terrible way. I mean, let's be honest, the plot is "I've been captured, now I am free, but how do I get out of here?"  At the end of each episode, there is a debrief for the DM on handling anything that went amiss, tracking the character's class and alignment progression, and so on. There are even contingencies if certain NPCs are not encountered or die before they are supposed to do something. So, linear but with enough branches to keep it fresh. 

Experience points are tracked all along the way, so there is a chance the characters will break the 500 XP threshold by the end of episode 5. 

There are appendices on "What if Things Go Wrong" or "What if the Character Dies?" and all are handled pretty well. There are some clever Player's Maps and the map of the islands. 

The character profiles in the back can be used as potential PCs or NPCs. A few are even worded to be male or female. Someone online would have screamed, "Woke!" at it, but it is presented here as just one of many options. I do feel more care was taken here to entice both male and female new players to the game.

This adventure is a good one for new players. The only thing missing here is some more guidance for new DMs. Something that B2 Keep on the Borderlands does rather well. Maybe the perfect starting trilogy is this adventure, then T1 the Village of Hommlet, and ending with B2 Keep on the Borderlands.

N4 Print on Demand

About the Print-on-Demand Scan

This is a print of a scanned image. So there is some fuzziness to some of the letters. It is obviously not as sharp as, say, a direct from digital print. It is still very readable.  Getting the PoD and PDF will give a book you can use and be able to print out the character cards and player maps as needed. 

Treasure Hunt in the Forgotten Realms

I already mentioned that the location of this adventure, the Korinn Archipelago, was dropped as right into the Moonshae Isles, which were already an addition by Douglas Niles to the Forgotten Realms, supplanting Ed Greenwood's own islands that were there. Already the Realms are evolving in front of our eyes and it is not even fully 1987 yet.

As an adventure, it is also a great start for Realms-centric characters. I had already planned to make my start in the Moonshaes, this just sets characters on the path of adventure in a different way. You didn't meet in a tavern or bar. You were captured and met your companions along the way. Something we will see again in Baldur's Gate 3 or even, to a degree, Skyrim. 

The Temple of the Goddess in Episode Three can easily become a Temple to the Earth Mother / Chauntea. Lots of different Goddesses are given as example, but I thought it might be fun if the Earth Mother appears as all of them. Playing into my fascination with "the Goddess is all goddesses" motif.

Sinéad for Treasure Hunt

Sinéad's Perspective

At the outset of these reviews, I said I wanted to explore the Realms through the eyes of a native, but one that was just as naïve as me. Sinéad is that character. She was chosen partially because she has a pseudo-Celtic background (so starting the Moonshaes was great). She was a Forgotten Realms native already, but mostly because she was just so much damn fun in Baldur's Gate 3. 

For Sinéad, I re-did her sheet as a 0-level character.  The DMG suggests using Method I for rolling up characters; 4d6 drop the lowest and arrange as desired. Well. I did that with Sinéad as a first level, so I opted to use a trick I used all the time in Unisystem's point build, I just knocked a few points off. 

Her "1st Level" abilities add up to 92, so I took 10 off and re-distributed the points among her six abilities. Then I added on back. My world. My rules. I also felt that since her main defining feature at this point is that she is a half-elf, I decided that was her class. So I used a Basic-D&D style sheet. The one I have above is from New Big Dragon Games Unlimited's GM screen.

Since my concept of her is a proto-Bard at this point, and she is young, I figure she really doesn't have any secondary skills yet. At best, she can play the lute or flute. If she was captured by pirates, she likely lost whatever she had. This would be a bigger loss to her than however much gold she had. 

At the end of the adventure, she becomes a magic-user with her one spell, Burning Hands. The same spell she accidentally burned down the barn she was in back at home, which was why she was running and how she got caught by pirates. 

After this adventure, how could she possibly go home? There is an entire world out there. 

Besides, she survived pirates. What can be worse than that?

Oh. And since I have had friends do this exact thing, after her adventure here, Sinéad uses the dagger she found to chop off her hair and dye some of it. Seems like a perfectly reasonable trauma reaction to me. 

Sinéad at the end of N4

She is just a kid at this point.

Final Thoughts

If I had been smarter, I would have used this first when re-creating Sinéad on paper, but as it is, this worked out fine. This is also a great new-to-me adventure for a new-to-me world. While I LOVE B2 Keep on the Borderlands, it is too closely tied to Greyhawk and the Known World for me to really adapt it over the Realms. Would it even fit in the Realms? I am sure many online users have found a home for it. Maybe one day I could as well, but for now, this is a great adventure to start with. In fact, I want to go through all the N, aka "Novice," adventures and see how they fit my needs here. But for now, I am pretty happy with this.

Thursday, January 4, 2024

Character Creation Challenge: Johan Werper III for Wasted Lands

 Moving ahead to the magical year of 1986 a few things were going on in my games. For starters, I was fully converted over to AD&D 1st ed. I was playing rather regularly with my High School DM, Michael Grenda, and we were looking to merge our worlds to be something more cohesive. To this end we thought we needed a "New Generation" of characters. This was the generation into which Larina was born, but today is not her story. 

Johan Werper the III character sheets

Today I am going to talk about Johan Werper III. This Johan was the son of Johan II and grandson of Johan I. But this Johan was not a Cleric or a Paladin. He was one of the new Cavaliers from the new Unearthed Arcana

I wanted this Johan to be a bit different, he was the son of a King, not something I had done before. Johan II was the son of a cleric, and Johan I was the son of a fisherman. So I wanted him to be a bit arrogant, and he didn't have the frame of mind to be a holy warrior. He eventually became something else, a key figure in my giant "War of the Dragons" to end my high school games, and start my college ones.

For this build I want to stick to a rather solid Warrior build. That was his thing. He was a "Knight in Shinning Armor" but not necessarily "nice." His alignment was Lawful Neutral as opposed to the more common (for me) Lawful Good.

Johan Werper III

Class: Warrior
Level: 9
Species: Human
Alignment: Light (fits here)
Background: Warrior (Wasted Lands p. 185)

Abilities
Strength: 19 (+3) A
Agility: 16 (0) 
Toughness: 18 (+3) N
Intelligence: 17 (+2) 
Wits: 16 (+2) 
Persona: 17 (+2) N

Fate Points: 1d10
Defense Value: 1
Vitality: 87 (9d8+1d10)
Degeneracy: 1
Corruption: 1

Check Bonus (A/N/D): +5/+3/+1
Melee Bonus: +7 (base) +1 Divine Touchstones
Ranged Bonus: +7 (base)
Saves: +3 to all Saves, +2 to Toughness (Warrior background), +1 Divine Touchstones

Warrior Abilities
Combat Expertise, Improved Defence, Melee Combat, Master of Battle, Ranged Combat, Supernatural Attacks, Spell Resistance, Tracking, Masters of Weapons, Extra Attacks (3), Extra Damage

Divine Touchstones
1st Level: +1 to melee attacks
3rd Level: +1 to saves 
5th Level: Smite
7th Level: Favored Enemy Undead
9th Level: Blind Fighting

Heroic (Divine) Archetype: War

Gear
Longsword, Full plate armor, Holy symbol

Wasted Lands as AD&D 1st Ed

Like previously, the conversion between AD&D and Wasted Lands is rather easy thanks to O.G.R.E.S. (and to a degree O.R.C.S.). While the Wasted Lands Warrior covers a lot of what would have been AD&D Fighters, Paladins, Rangers, Barbarians, and Cavaliers. To split them up there are skills, powers, multiclassing and divine touchstones. All to make for some very unique characters.

You can get the Wasted Lands RPG and the NIGHT SHIFT RPG at Elf Lair Games.

Character Creation Challenge

Tuesday, January 2, 2024

2024 The Enchanted World

 2024 is not just the 50th Anniversary of Dungeons & Dragons, it is the 40th Anniversary of the Time-Life series The Enchanted World.  A series that really owes its own existence to D&D and the rise of Fantasy in the 1980s.

Time-Life The Enchanted World

I spent a few years acquiring a full set of these wonderful books, and I will spend the year covering them. I am not going to go in order because really, there is no order required to read them. I will likely choose relevant ones for the day or week I post them (Valentine's Day, Halloween, Christmas).

Here are all the books I am covering. This is the publication order. 

  • Wizards and Witches (1984, ISBN 0809452049, 0809452057)  
  • Dragons (1984, ISBN 0809452081, 080945209X)  
  • Fairies and Elves (1984, ISBN 080945212X, 0809452138) 
  • Ghosts (1984, ISBN 0809452162, 0809452170)  
  • Legends of Valor (1984, ISBN 0809452200, 0809452219)  
  • Night Creatures (1985, ISBN 0809452332, 0809452340)
  • Water Spirits (1985, ISBN 0809452456, 0809452464)
  • Magical Beasts (1985, ISBN 0809452294, 0809452308)
  • Dwarfs (1985, ISBN 0809452243, 0809452251) 
  • Spells and Bindings (1985, ISBN 0809452413, 0809452421)
  • Giants and Ogres (1985, ISBN 0809452375, 0809452383)
  • Seekers and Saviors (1986, ISBN 0809452499, 0809452502)
  • Fabled Lands (1986, ISBN 0809452537, 0809452545)
  • Book of Christmas (1986, ISBN 0809452618, 0809452626)
  • Fall of Camelot (1986, ISBN 080945257X, 0809452588)
  • Magical Justice (1986, ISBN 0809452693, 0809452707)
  • Lore of Love (1987, ISBN 0809452812, 0809452820)
  • The Book of Beginnings (1986, ISBN 0809452650, 0809452669)
  • Tales of Terror (1987, ISBN 0809452774, 0809452782)
  • The Secret Arts (1987, ISBN 0809452855, 0809452863)
  • Gods and Goddesses (1987, ISBN 0809452731, 080945274X)

I will talk about the books, some of their background, and the stories they have. I'll also talk about how to use these in your Fantasy RPG games, whether that game is D&D, Castles & Crusades, Chivalry & Sorcery, or Wasted Lands.

So, just like 1984, here are some ads to get you excited for these books!

A lot of us remember these best from the ads in Dragon Magazine.

Time-Life Books The Enchanted World ad

Time-Life Books The Enchanted World ad

Time-Life Books The Enchanted World ad

And the TV ads!


Litney Burns, the clairvoyant from ads is still around!

There were also some great TV spots with horror icon Vincent Price.

Really looking forward to this series. Hope you are too.

Thursday, September 28, 2023

This Old Dragon: Issue #57

Dragon Magazine #57
 Time delve into the box under my desk and pull out an old, musty Dragon Magazine. Today we go all the way back to January 1982. Chevy Chase's "Modern Problems" is in the movie theatres, which is notable for the real acting debut of Broadway actor/singer Nell Carter. Olivia Newton-John is still dominating the airwaves with "Physical," and on the shelves in Waldenbooks and FLGS across the land is This Old Dragon #57.

Our cover comes from Dean Morrissey. I don't know much about it really. My copy doesn't even have it. 

Jake Jaquet's editorial mentions the first time he heard "Dungeons & Dragons" mentioned on TV; during an episode of "Simon & Simon," no less. 

Kim Mohan's Cover to Cover overview covers what we will see in this issue. 

Out on a Limb covers letters about previous issues' content. Typically, things the readers didn't like.

Classic Dragon MVP Ed Greenwood is up first with Modern Monsters. He gives us some AD&D (though I think it could all work for D&D too; this was the time when a distinction had to be made) stats for various modern objects like cars and modern weapons. Also, how *D&D characters can deal with with them with and without the magic they are used to.  This is a rather great article and one that should be referenced for "City Beyond the Gate" when it appears in Dragon #100. 

Nice ad for FGU's Space Opera. Well...the ad itself in nothing special, but the listing of game stores that carry it is. I find it interesting that my home state (Illinois) had more game stores than the others. This could have been because FGU was located in Chicago. Also, there was a game store in the town I now live in that is no longer there. It's now a Pizza place. 

Len Lakofka's Leomund's Tiny Hut is up with detailed information on shield and weapons skills in AD&D and what you can expect any particular group of humanoids to have. Very detailed, and while I appreciate this, I am (and was) of the mind to say "given them all swords and call it 1d6 of damage each."  Not as realistic I am sure, but certainly will get the job done. Len took this stuff a lot more seriously than I do. 

Not to be outshined, Gary is up with one his From the Sorcerer's Scroll with "Developments from Stonefist to South Province" for his World of Greyhawk setting. One day I need to do a retrospective all of his writings. I feel that something like this would have been done already.  In any case, it is a fun little look into the "current events" of Greyhawk. Something I think I appreciate more now than I did then. 

Moving from AD&D to Top Secret we have In Search of A James Bond by Mark Mulkins.  Or how the famous 007 would fit into the Top Secret game. Something I am sure EVERYONE playing Top Secret tried at one point or another.  A lot of this is particular to the game mechanics of Top Secret including how move Bond between agencies. 

Merle M. Rasmussen, as expected, follows up with his Spy's Advice column for Top Secret.  Top Secret always looked like a fun game but one I never got into. I am a little surprised we have not seen an OSR version of this game yet.

Pete Mohney has a quick on with Random Magic Items. A set of tables meant to aid the DM and supplement the DMG.

For DragonQuest fans, there is The Versatile Magician by Jon Mattson. This covers new skills for the Magician. It looks good and I'll add it to my big DragonQuest set of notes for if or when I ever get to play it again. 

Up next is one of my favorite series from the Classic Dragon days, Giants in the Earth. I know a lot of ink was spilled to tell us how D&D/AD&D was not a novel and visa-versa, but I did love seeing these literary characters get represented as D&D characters. In this issue we have C. J. Cherryh's Morgaine and Vanye from her "Morgaine Series" including the rather notorious (for its cover) "Fires of Azeroth." These books were a staple of the old Science Fiction and Fantasy book club. They were on my TBR pile forever. I really should give them a go. I have enjoyed C. J. Cherryh's other works. We also get Lynn Abbey’s Rifkin from "Daughter of the Bright Moon." This was also years before she would come to work at TSR.  And finally two from Robert E. Howard; Belit and Dark Agnes. 

Giants in the Earth, Dragon #57

Ok. The entire middle section of my Dragon is gone. Typical really, since it was an adventure, "The Wandering Trees."  I checked my Dragon CD-ROM and sure enough, that is what it is. BUT by the rules I have established for myself here I really can't go over it. I will say this though, it was the second-place winner, IDDC II (International Dungeon Design Contest II) the OSR Grimoire has more on that. It also looks like a fun adventure. I am kind of sad I don't have it.

Dragon #57 missing pages

Up on a Soapbox is next. We get a rare Brian Blume editorial about playing evil characters. He concludes that no serious gamer will ever want to. Meanwhile, a good amount of the 5.2 Million Baldur's Gate 3 players (according to Steam) are going to at least try the "Dark Urge" option at least once. BUT in principle, I do agree. All things being equal I would rather play a Good character than and Evil one.  Roger E. Moore is next with "Dungeons Aren't Supposed To Be 'For Men Only,'" an interesting bit of a slice in time. I am not 100% certain what the motive here is. Why? Well, it could be two equally valid things. Moore, or others, looked out at the vast demographic of D&D players and found the lack of women concerning. OR. They could have been responding to criticism. While I am NOT going to get into the personal views of the various creators of the game from nearly 40 to 50 years ago, I am going to take Moore at face value and say he is here (on his soapbox as it were) saying, yes women do, should, and can play D&D.  Thankfully, this is also not an issue these days and the years since this time have made great strides for more and more inclusion. 

You know the saying, "Getting off on the wrong foot?" I feel like that is where I am with the Minaria series. This month is The Chronology of Minaria by Glenn Rahman. I mean I know it is for Divine Right, but I never got into that game so I have no context for any of this. Here is what I get from it now. The 80s were a fun time. To think that TSR would spend valuable page resources (four full pages) on this is either amazing or amazingly short-sighted. I can't tell which, but I can say it was a very, very different time and a different mindset. If I posted my HUGE timeline of my Mystoerth world I would not expect anyone to be that interested. Maybe some, but enough?  This was the last of the Minaria articles too. Since it would be two more years before I would buy a copy of Dragon at this point I am not surprised this series never contacted with me. 

D&D's War Game roots are showing here in this next article from Michael Kluever on The History of the Shield. It's a neat article that goes into some historical detail about the focused development of the shield. It covers 9 pages (with some half-page ads here and there). It is interesting but more than I need for a typical D&D game. Granted, that is me. I would get excited about a 9-page on the history of scrolls or something magical. So every time I get a "Politics of Hell" there is one of these. It is a good article, but no where near my personal interests. 

Reviews are up next. Tony Watson covers Star Viking a game I only sort of remember.  It is a sci-fi mini-game for two players, a Viking and a Federate. Where the Viking player tries to raid bases and other ships and the Federate tries to stop them. Watson enjoyed the game and played around with variant ideas. I could see this game being reskinned as Star Trek, Orions vs the Federation style game easily. Might be fun.  In what could be called an understated review, the brand-new superhero RPG Champions gets less than a half page (compared to the two given to Star Viking).  Though Scott Bennie does say that the game does a very good job of emulating it's genre and he gives it a "hearty recommendation" despite it's flaws. Also the game was only 56 pages back then. 

Simulation Corner by John Prados covers The Art of Illustration in games. I am not sure if I am missing something here but his thesis is "good art sells games and makes games better." Yes. But I think back to some of the art that was common prior to 1982 and maybe this was something that needed to be said. 

The Electric Eye from Mark Herro goes over the recent survey about computer use among Dragon readers. Here are some interesting insights. 

Age
Under 19: 63%
19-22: 9%
22-44: 25%
45+: 0%

Education Level
Students: 71%
Professional: 29%

This tracks and was expected for the time. 

Access to Computers

None: 6%
Apple-l I: 17%
Apple-l I+: 29%
Apple-l I I: 0%
PET: 0%
CBM: 9%
VIC: 3%
TRS-80 (Mod. 1): 20%
TRS-80 (Mod. 2): 3%
TRS-80 (Mod. 3): 9%
TRS-80 (Color): 6%
TRS-80 (pocket): 0%
North Star: 3%
Atari (800): 11%
Atari (400): 9%
APF: 0%
OSI: 0%
ZX80: 0%
Exidy: 0%
Heath/Zenith: 0%
S-100: 6%
Other: 20%

Again, this feels right to me given the demographics above. Apple dominated the education market followed by TSR-80s.  Atari was a popular home model and was in competition with the Vic-20/CBM and the TRS-80 Color Computer. This also makes me wish I had tried out the Atari 800/400 line more.

Only one reader had access too more than two different kinds of computers.

Most readers want more programs in the pages of Dragon, and all want articles on gaming-related topics. Readers were more or less equally divided on whether they buy, copy, or write their own programs. 

The Convention Schedule tells what is hot in the Winter of 1982. February 5-7 were the dates for Gen Con South. Something I think Gen Con could do again. 

Dragon Mirth has our comics. And we end with Wormy and What's New with Phil and Dixie! 

So a very interesting snapshot in time of what was happening in the world of Dragon magazine. Not a lot of insight into the world of RPGs, unless you count the Electric Eye article.

I am curious to know what people's thoughts were on the included adventure.

Tuesday, August 8, 2023

End of an Era: Heavy Metal Magazine

Recently I read on fred's HM fan blog that Heavy Metal magazine is no more.

I have often said that Heavy Metal (the music, the magazine, and the movie) was/were as much of an influence on my early 80s gaming style as were the likes of Dragon magazine, White Dwarf, and really, far more than most of the Appendix N books.

The news comes to us via Bleeding Cool and Multiversity Comics.

While I have not read HM in a long time, it was part of my D&D experience as much as anything. I even rank Taarna among the celebrated heroes of fantasy, right along with Conan, Elric, Frodo, Fafhrd, and the Gray Mouser.

Heavy MetalHeavy Metal Movie

White DwarfHeavy Metal Special Taarna

This is not an age that is kind to the printed word, less kind even to the printed word on paper. I don't hold out any hope that HM will return in a new form any more than I hope that Dragon will.


Wednesday, August 2, 2023

#RPGaDay2023 First RPG GAMEMASTER

 Another one that has been on my mine a bit lately.

My first Gamemaster was myself really. We all kind of taught ourselves how to play back then and I didn't have older brothers or friends that played.  But that changed when I got to Jr. High.

Jon Cook Collection

My first real DM was Jon Cook and we played this hybrid version of Basic (B/X) D&D and 1st Edition Advanced D&D. 

In a lot of ways I guess I am still chasing that high.


RPGaDay2023


Wednesday, July 26, 2023

Alcastra and The Illhiedrin Book

Alcastra the Fairspoken
I have not been talking much about the various Judges Guild books in a while because of how racist current stewards Bob Bledsaw II and III have been. Really put a sad blemish on what I had always enjoyed as a "local" company.

But that also, unfortunately, did Bob Bledsaw the First and all the other fine authors (like Daniel Hauffe and Jennell Jaquays) a huge disservice.  So I want to revisit some of the Judges Guild books of my youth and see how they could play into my current games. In particular, my War of the Witch Queens or my 1979 Campaign.

Since I always look for witches, I will start with Alcastra and The Illhiedrin Book. 

I don't have the cover as the top image. The reason is simple, when this post gets shared on social media, whatever image is first is used as a thumbnail, and the cover was suggestive by 1981 standards and likely to get me into Facebook jail by 2023 standards.  Shame, really. It is one of the more recognizable covers. 

The adventure is a rare example of an Advanced Dungeons & Dragons adventure from Judges Guild (not just a Dungeons & Dragons one) and a low-level adventure at that.

Like many older adventures, much detail is given to Alcastra's tower and its occupants, but only a little on the spell-caster herself.  In fact, this is all we really know about her:

Alcastra the Fairspoken

This is a pity.  Though it is interesting (to me anyway) that her class is "Wizard" and not "Magic-user," as expected. 

The Illhiedrin Book
Why is she naked on the cover? I am going with it is hot where she is at.

Of course, I would instead use her as a witch. Given her general appearance, I am tempted to make her into an Egyptian witch of the Classical Tradition. For this, I will use my syncretized Greco-Egyptian Gods and use my Classical Witch Tradition book. I would swap out some of the Classical Witch spells for some others, likely from my Witch book for Basic-era games though I should also look into some of my other books.

Alcastra the Fairspoken
Alcastra the Fairspoken
13th level human Witch, Classical Tradition (Greco-Egyptian)

Strength: 11
Dexterity: 13
Constitution: 10
Intelligence: 15
Wisdom: 14
Charisma: 18

Saves
Breath Attacks: 12
Poison or Death: 9
Petrify or Paralysis: 9
Wands: 10
Spells and Spell-like device: 11

Hit Points: 33
Alignment: Chaotic Good
AC: 3 (Bracers of defense)
To hit AC 0: 16

Occult Powers
Familiar: Hawk (+1 to Wisdom and Dexterity checks)
Lesser: Gift of Prophecy
Minor: Drawing Down the Moon

Spells
First: Cause Fear, Charm Person, Read Languages, Sleep
Second:  ESP, Hold Person, Invisibility, Spell Missile
Third: Dispel Magic, Scry, Spark of Insight
Fourth: Fate, Polymorph Other, Witch Power
Fifth: Flame Strike, Teleport
Sixth: Anit-Magic Shell, Bones of the Earth
Seventh: Sirocco

Equipment
Bracers of Defence
Dagger +2
Staff of Ra. Acts as a Staff of Striking and can cast the following spells:
  3/day: Color Spray, Light
  1/day: Flame Strike, Fury of the Sun, Sun Blessing

--

Witches

A good build to be honest. She also has two apprentices, Mirranscheim (human) and Rhall (half-elf), both 3rd level.  The only stats we get for them are their Charisma scores. I am tempted to make Rhall a desert elf. Just to give her a more interesting background. But in my game, desert elves don't have anything to do with humans if they can avoid them. Rhall could be an outcast. 

I might detail them since they could accompany the party on this adventure.  To make sure their mistress' plan is carried out.  Not sure if they run around naked as well. Let's say no.

MirranscheimRhall
Mirranscheim and Rhall

The adventure itself is pretty basic. It could be built up by making "The Creature" a bit tougher.

Thursday, July 6, 2023

This Old Dragon: Issue #87

Dragon Magazine #87
I mentioned the collection I got from my old DM and a few Dragons in it. As it turns out, this is the only one I had not done a "This Old Dragon" for. So. Let's go back nearly 40 years ago this month to a very different time. "When Doves Cry" by Prince dominated the airwaves, But I am sure I was listening to a lot of "Piece of Mind" by Iron Maiden. I was going through Module A1, mixed with a lot of Grimtooth's Traps. I had seen Ghostbusters about a dozen times by this point and wanted more and more horror in my D&D games. On the shelf was Issue #87 of This Old Dragon!

I am very certain that when this issue was new I was at my DM's house for his birthday (which is today by the way!) playing some D&D.  This might have even been the rather infamous session where I was carrying my D&D books in one hand, a large chocolate shake in the other and I tripped falling face first into and through their storm door. Made a huge mess. Thankfully (or maybe this was a sign), I did not have glasses yet.

On to the magazine at hand.

I will freely admit this is not one of my favorite covers. After seeing so many great covers from this time period, this one felt too "Cartoony" to me. Granted, it works with the article inside quite well, that is not something that can always be said about Dragon.

Kim Mohan's Editorial is up first. It covers the very dangerous ground of TSR's/Dragon Magazine's relationship with Tolkien Enterprises.  Basically saying there isn't one and they can't really say much more than that.

Letters section covers PBM and DragonQuest questions.  One of the great things about these older Dragons was how willing they were to cover other games. 

Nice big ad for the James Bond 007 RPG. Still, one I have never played. Another ad for Lords of Creation later on. I also never played that one but wanted too.


Forum asks questions about the Elemental Planes and Monty Haul campaigns.

Our first real article is from Dragon mainstay Katharine Kerr. Here we get Part 1 of her series Beyond the Dungeon, covering everything outside. She largely focuses on movement here for AD&D. But also what the characters should expect to find and what they are not expected to know.

Shaun Wilson is up with one of my favorite Ecology of articles, The Ecology of the Dryad. I do admit that after reading this article, I considered what it would take to have a Dryad PC race option. It lacks some of the style and personality of the Ed Greenwood articles, but it is still quite good. In fact when I had my own copy of this magazine, I cut this article out and stuck it into my AD&D Monstrous Compendium.

Ecology of the Dryad

Len Lakofka is back with the next installment of Gods of the Suel Pantheon. This time we get Kord and Phaulkon.

The Legacy of Hortus is our cover story. The author is the same as the cover artist, Jack Crane. This covers a wide variety of fantastic plants that honestly should be used in any addition of the game. Some are whimsical, like Beebalm (a plant we have in our garden), but this one grows its own bees and cowslip with the face and heads of cows. Others are bit on the nose, like Foxglove and Dandelion. But all are rather fun. 

The Legacy of Hortus

In Reviews, we get Jerry Epperson's opinion on the Tri Tac Stalking the Night Fantastic. Personally, I rather liked the game, but I am a fan of the source material. We both agree that the game's list of encounters is great. 

We get two centerfold sections here. The first is Whiteout, a Top Secret game adventure by none other than Merle Rasmussen himself. Like the James Bond RPG, I never played, or really even read over, Top Secret. I am no judge of this adventure but it does look fun. It is quite detailed and I could use it for other games. It is part three of a three-part series of adventures. Anyone who played it should let me know how it was/is.

Our other center section is the games listing for Gen Con 17. Lots of AD&D games listed but I am also seeing a lot of Car Wars. Some Chill, James Bond, Star Frontiers, and even some D&D.  Crazy that is all used to fit inside of Dragon.

Gen con 17

Gen con 17

John E. Stith has our fiction section, Simon Sidekick. Interestingly enough, it is a science fiction story about a personal AI assistant. Wow! Have you ever heard of anything so advanced Siri? How about you Alexa or Cortana?

This Dragon is early enough that we still get a proper Ares section.

Kim Eastland has Freeze! Star Law! for law enforcement officers in Star Frontiers.  Pretty good article to be honest.

Luna: A Traveller's Guide is another part of the "Luna" series Ares had been running. This one is naturally from Marc Miller. I think I need to go back sometime and collect all of these and do a special on them for Sci-Fi month. That could be fun. 

Jim Ward shows he is not be outdone and has A Field guide to Lunar Mutants for Gamma World.

Roger Moore answers some StarQuestions about the Universe game.

Nice big ad spread for the FASA Star Trek line. It is also old ads like this that make me realize how lucky I was. Illinois had, and still has some great hobby shops. They have 29 listed here. That is over 4.5 times what California had, and twice what all the neighboring states had combined. 

FASA Star Trek

Gamer's Guide covers the small ads. Always a treat to look at.

Couple of pages of Wormy. Dragonmirth has the short-lived Tal an Alan comic. A three pages of Elmore's Snarf Quest.

So a good issue, but more memorable for the time period rather than all the content.