Showing posts with label 90s. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 90s. Show all posts

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft, Part 1 Welcome to Ravenloft

Ravenloft Cover
Last week I picked up the newest guide for Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition, Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft (VRGtR). I have spent some time with it and going back over some well-thumbed volumes of  Ravenloft's past.  Today I hope I can share how this new one compares to what was done in the past and what I might do in the future with it.

Spend any time here and you will know of my love for Ravenloft.  I grabbed the original module, I6 Ravenloft when it first came out.  I also got the sequel and when it was expanded into a campaign setting for AD&D 2nd Edition, it became my setting of choice, pretty much to the exclusion of all others including my own favorites of Mystara/The Known World and Greyhawk. I was active on the RAVEN-L list that MPGN/TSR and then later WotC ran.  I had entries published in all (except for maybe one) of the official Kargatane fan publications.  Ravenloft, more so than AD&D 2nd Ed, was my game of choice. When Ravenloft: Masque of the Red Death came out I had found my perfect world, or nearly perfect.  I'd go on to write the RPG for Christopher Golden and Amber Benson's "Ghosts of Albion" using all the experience that playing in Gothic Earth gave me.  Ravenloft lead me to the World of Darkness, to Cthulhu by Gaslight, to Kult, and eventually to WitchCraft and working for Eden Studios.  Horror is what I do.

So naturally, I was VERY excited when I heard a new Ravenloft setting book was coming.  Let get into it.

A couple of notes.  

VRGtR = Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft, D&D 5e, published 2021.  256 pages.
DoD = Domains of Dread, AD&D 2nd Ed, published 1997.  264 pages.
Rot = Realms of Terror, AD&D 2nd Ed, published 1990.  144 pages.


Elements of Fear

Ravenloft has always billed itself as a horror RPG and it is, to a degree. It is not however fully Gothic Horror.  It is a pastiche of gothic horror tropes, but the one it can't fully embrace is one that makes gothic horror so horrifying.  In true gothic horror, the heroes have no power.  In fact, they are not even heroes, most often they are "the next victim."  The quintessential piece of gothic horror, Bram Stoker's Dracula, still features the deaths and abuse of many prominent characters before their "Dark Lord" is put down.  Compare this to say Harry Potter, which uses similar tropes but the difference is still largely one of power; Harry has magic, Harker and the rest only have knowledge.  No, Ravenloft is an action-adventure RPG set in a realm of Gothic Horror.  It is something that even the authors of Ravenloft's "Domains of Dread" acknowledged in 1997.

"The RAVENLOFT game involves classic horror in which the darkest of evils descend upon a more or less civilized world and prey upon the unsuspecting citizenry therein. However, it is also a game of swords and sorcery, knights and wizards, heroes and monsters. Unlike any other horror or fantasy game, this system meshes these two traditions into one genre that can best be called fantasy horror." 

- Domains of Dread, p. 220

Emphasis mine.

While the original Realms of Terror boxed set did try to go with a more gothic horror feel, it did this in the trappings.  The adventures for Ravenloft were largely of the Fantasy Horror variety.  Note. Some of the smaller adventures, in particular, ones found in The Book of Crypts and the Bleak House were more gothic in their feel.  The Bleak House with some minor tweaks can be run as a Southern Gothic Horror to great effectiveness.

The new Ravenloft approaches this from the point of view of embracing Fantasy Horror (knowing who the characters are) and adding in the tropes and mechanics of not just Gothic Horror, but also Cosmic, Folk, and even slasher horror. We will get to these all in a bit.

Fear is part and parcel of the Ravenloft experience. There is a content warning and a player warning in a sidebar on page 7 of VRGtR.  Some people are taking umbrage with this.  Yet similar advice is given in the original Ravenloft Realm of Terror boxed set on pages 133-135. Here they are interwoven on how to make the game more successful. The effects of the fear mechanic are even discussed on page 140 of Domains of Dread.  The difference is now the "consent" of the fear and terror are now front and center and in the hands of the players, not just the DM.   Maybe someone doesn't want to be scared but fight vampires. Ok, that is great and likely a fun game (in fact I worked on that one too) but it may or may not be Ravenloft, or at least not like how I would play it.  It is not my job to be the fun police for other people's games.

Let's get into the book proper.

The Weathermay-Foxgrove Sisters
Introduction: Welcome to Ravenloft

This is what you expect it to be really. We get an overview and background on what the Domains of Dread are.  There is a wonderful Dracula-esque like exchange of letters between our iconic hunters with emphasis on Ez d'Avenir as our principle iconic.  I like this.  While Van Richten's name might be on the cover, this is a "world" that has room for more than one investigator and slayer of the undead.  Plus, and let's be 100% honest here, there is a long shadow cast by Buffy and to not acknowledge that is to be very disingenuous.  We get an overview of the book's contents (Five total Chapters) and a brief overview of horror in your game.  VRGtR embraces the Fantasy Horror of AD&D 2nd ed's Domains of Dread. 

There is also an overview of what the domains are. Or more to the point, what they are not.  The Domains (now a capital) are not a world, are not safe and the only logic that rules here is the logic of the dark powers that surround you.  The Dark Lords who rule their pocket Domains/prisons and the Dark Powers that control it all.  Like the previous versions, the Dark Powers are at best ill-defined, as they should be.  No character is going to go toe to toe with these powers, nor will they even encounter them. We do however get some rumored names like Osybus, Shami-Amourae, and Tenebrous, these are only names here.  To long-time Ravenloft fans and D&D players though these names are tantalizing clues.  It does leave out my personal favorite option from the DoD, the Dark Powers are Imaginary.  The Dark Lords are prisoners of their own device. I will say though there is one Dark Lord in VRGtR that supports my claim for this edition as well.

The Mists are still the Mists and they do their own thing.  Domains are still largely defined as prisons for the Darklords even if they have power within them.  Anyone with any knowledge of Strahd knows this is slim comfort to him. Darklords are covered in here briefly with more detail to come later. These three pages cover pretty the exact same information we read in all the previous editions of Ravenloft.  Added to this is a bit on the adventurers within this "world." Again, "world" in quotes since the book is careful to tell us this is not a world per se but lands within the Mist that might be within the Plane of Shadow or the Shadowfell.  We never came out and said that back in the 90s, but it is what many of us thought.  Adventures are meant to be the heroes of this Fantasy Horror.  That takes us to the first chapter.

Chapter 1: Character Creation

The character creation chapter covers characters native to the Domains of Dread. So what does that mean?  It means that "normal" D&D rules don't have to apply here. Most do, but there is no reason why they have too.  Players are told from the start to "Prepared to be Scared" that this is a horror game and the characters should be designed to be scared.  Using the Gothic Traditions of literature I ALWAYS had Ravenloft characters that were a bit lower than average.  Typically I would make my players roll 2d6+3 for abilities.  So while that still gave me an average of "10" the max and min points were shifted. This Ravenloft is not quite as "Evil" as I was then, but the idea here is that characters are still a bit haunted, a bit scarred and scared.  Horror Lineages are introduced such as the Dhampir (pretty much what is says on the tin), Hexblood (there is a bit of hag blood in your background), and the Reborn which cover the Revenants and Shades of previous editions. These all come with perks and disadvantages. 

horror traits
Ravenloft Cat Ladies are scary
This is Ravenloft and characters can also have Dark Gifts. These are similar to the Powers checks made in the original Realm of Terror. Only know you can be born cursed.  Comparing pages 22-27 of VRGtR to pages 18-20 of Realms of Terror I see they are tying for the same ideas, just slightly different execution.  The VRGtR offers more thematic sorts of changes and "gifts" and less in the way of RoT's Touches of Darkness.  I am not sure if VRGtR offers any way to "become" a Dark Lord like RoT, but even this was made harder to do in DoD.  In truth no character should seek out a way to become a Dark Lord, this represents a failure on the part of the character unless of course it is being used as a plot for the other characters.  Then this is DM fiat. 

This would not be a D&D 5 book without some subclasses.  We get the Bard: College of Spirits where they not only talk about and tell stories of the dead and the dead rise up to share their tales.  And the Warlock gets a powerful Undead patron.

There are new character backgrounds in line with Ravenloft's histories and themes.  These include new Traits, Ideals, Bonds, and Flaws.  The backgrounds are The Haunted One and the Investigator. These can all be used in other places sure, but they do not carry the same weight in Waterdeep as they do in Baroiva. 

Another addition is the use of Horror trinkets.  A 100 of these are just little curiosities that may or may not play into another part of the adventures.  Some might be a Mist Talisman (detailed later) others might just be a weird little thing. 

I am going to cover the Domains and Darklords next time in Part 2 and Horrors and Monsters in Part 3. There might be a Part 4, but let's see how this goes.

Spoiler. I have read through the book a couple of times now.  I feel that most of the people complaining about it on the Internet have not actually read this book.  Certainly, people are handpicking their examples to make their arguments.

Thursday, May 20, 2021

Review: Spelljammer, AD&D Adventures in Space

Cover of the Spelljammer book
Come back to me if you will to a time just right before the Internet.
(Ok, technically the roots of the Internet were here in ARPANet and what I was using BitNet at the time. But you know what I mean.)  

The time is 1989 and the game on my table is AD&D 2nd Edition.  Well, it is really Ravenloft, because, in college that was my setting of choice, AD&D just happens to be the system that ran underneath it all.  So a couple of points already.  I was playing AD&D 2nd Ed and really all I had the money for at the time was for one setting and that was Ravenloft.  There were a lot of great settings in the AD&D 2 days; Forgotten Realms loomed large and impressive, and maybe a little intimidating.  Greyhawk and Mystara only had some minor entries, much to my disappointment, Al-Qadim and Kara-Tur both looked like fun, and then we would also get Planescape. But there was one out that seemed so strange to me that I wanted to know more but yet could not bring myself to buy.  Until now. 

DriveThruRPGs Print on Demand has been a fantastic opportunity for those of us who want to go back and look at some of these other systems and games of our youth.  While I have relied mostly on the aftermarket to get myself up to speed on the Forgotten Realms (and enjoying it) I recently picked up the hardcover POD version of AD&D's Spelljammer.  And I am so happy I did.

Now don't get me wrong. I wanted to play SpellJammer back then.  We ever started a new campaign where all the characters were in a navy, so they all had 3 free levels in fighter, and then they were level 1 (or 4 for the fighters) in whatever other classes they were going to be.  Using the AD&D dual classing rules meant they could not act as fighters until later. But it boosted their HP.  They were going to spend some time at sea, but eventually, they were going to turn their ship into a SpellJamming one.  I named the ship "The Black Betty" after the Ram Jam song because every time I heard "Spelljammer" I thought "ram jam" and the Black Betty was a good name for a ship.  Sadly we never got very far. I was at University and my DM at the time was at a different school and the other players were also at yet another school. Meeting only over the summer was not helpful for a long-term campaign.

Fast forward to today.

Spelljammer: Adventures in Space

For this review, I am considering the Print on Demand hardcover and the PDFs from DriveThruRPG.  There may be things true of these versions that are not true for the original boxed set and things that might be the other way around.  I can't speak to the boxed set since I never owned it.  

Spelljammer is a whopping 278 pages.  Jeff Grubb is our primary author with art by Jeff Easley, Jim Holloway, Dave "Diesel" LaForce, and Roy Parker.  Easley is responsible for our cover, and indeed many of the covers from this time.  The interior art is Jim Holloway who really set the tone and feel for what I consider the 2nd Ed "style" of that time.  The interior is largely black and white with some color illustrations.  Mostly the pictures of ships, what were covers in the separate boxed set books, and some maps.  The scanned pages are not crisp, but they are easy to read.

The book is divided into two large sections that correspond to the two 96-page books that came in the boxed set, Lorebook of the Void and Concordance of Arcane Space.

Lorebook of the Void

We are introduced to how Spelljammer, AD&D in Space, came about.  We also now know that this was the first of new boxed set settings to come out for AD&D 2nd ed.  More would follow and make 2nd Ed more famous for their settings rather than their rules.  The goal for Spelljammer was overtly a simple one; AD&D in space, connect all the main AD&D worlds, and make them work together without changing what makes each one unique.

This section covers the basics of Spelljamming and operating a spelljamming helm.  We get a good overview of the types of spelljamming ships and that various races that can be found in Arcane Space.  We learn that gnomes and halflings for the most part avoid Arcane Space since they are too closely tied to their planets (makes sense) but Krynn's Tinker Gnomes are not so tied to their world in the same fashion so they are very much at home in Arcane Space. We even get a bit on goblinoids.  

The next third covers the various monsters and creatures you will find in AD&D 2nd Ed Monstrous Compendium format. We are given new details on the Beholders (they take the place of Daleks in Arcane Space) and the Neogi. Mind Flayers also get new treatments.  

The last thrid covers the three main AD&D game worlds, Krynn (Dragonlance), Oerth (World of Greyhawk), and Toril (Forgotten Realms).  The problems begin to show here since the cosmology of Krynn is tied very much to their gods.  This is not the fault of Spelljammer or Dragonlance, but rather one of trying to fit the divine into a scientific worldview.  I will admit I do like how the spheres are covered here.  It reminds me a little of how the solar system of Urt is covered in the D&D Immortals Set.  One could take that information and drop it rather cleanly into this book.  It was not done of course because at this time Urt/Mystara was considered part of D&D and not AD&D.  Even discussions online close to the time described AD&D as one universe, maybe even in the same galaxy, and D&D in a different universe altogether. 

Concordance of Arcane Space

The second major section of the book covers the rules part of Arcane Space.  The first chapter describes some basics of how Arcane Space and the Phlogiston work.  Chapter 2 covers some changes to the AD&D rules.  The first change, Lizard Men are now a playable race.  There are changes to some spells and how clerics can talk to their gods. We also get some new spells.  Chapter 3 covers the ships. How they are made, flown, and the capabilities (armor, weapons, storage) of examples.  Combat is covered in Chapter 4.  Ships are a lot like characters in they have an Armor Rating and Hull Points.  Damage by large ship weapons can deal hull damage and/or hit point damage. Chapter 5 covers celestial mechanics, or how systems are made. While in real-life astrophysics we know that forces like gravity will produce round (or oblate) planets and stars, there is a wide variety of things found even nearby to us.  Arcane Space should be just as diverse if not more so.  Oerth (Greyhawk) is a Geocentric system, Toril and Krynn are heliocentric. There are other systems that can be and should be, even stranger.  We learn that there is a flow to the Phlogiston and that some worlds might easy to travel to, but harder to travel away from.

We also have several appendices.  The first covers how magic spells and items work in space.  Appendix 2 covers travel times with Earth and the Solar System as an example along with Krynn, Toril, and Oerth.  Mystara/Urt can be substituted for Earth easy enough.  Flow can affect travel times.

The last section of the book are the color deck plans of various spelljamming ships. Maps and cut-out-and-fold ship minis. Best get the PDF along with the printed book so you can print these on your own.  A large black-hex map would work great for movement in space. 

Reading it today I can overlook some of the flaws that would have bothered me in 1990.  

Print on Demand Book

The Print on Demand book is hardcover, mostly black & white with some color art inside and color covers. It is a hefty volume on premium paper which makes it a little thicker than you expect a 278-page book to be.  It is very high quality. 

Covers of the Spelljammer bookCovers of the Spelljammer book


Interior of the Spelljammer book


Interior of the Spelljammer book

Interior of the Spelljammer book

Interior of the Spelljammer book

Interior of the Spelljammer book

Converting to 5e

In the first chapter of the first section, some advice is given about converting older AD&D monsters to use with Spelljammer since in theory every monster could be found somewhere.  The example given is the Grimlock from the Fiend Folio, a monster they describe as not likely to be updated to 2nd Edition.

Well. We know now the Grimlock. And updated to 3rd and beyond.   So there is no good reason to assume that Spelljammer will "Never" be updated.  In fact with D&D 5's desire to embrace the past and every world of D&D in their products it is reasonable we will see some Spelljammer at some point.  A spelljamming ship was already placed on a level in a 5th edition adventure. 

But converting to 5e based on the material in this book? Well really there are two main areas of focus; monsters and magic.  Many of the monsters have newer 5e writeups now, so this is less a question of conversion and more of replacement.  Magic, in particular spells, would need some more work but the guidelines are in place.  Similar spells should change in similar manners.  Combat can be swapped out for 5e combat, which not terribly different. So yes, if you are playing a 5e game then you can get a lot of use and play out of this book.

If you have ever been curious about Spelljammer but did not want to pay the aftermarket prices then the PDF is an absolute steal.  If you know about it and want to give it a go again (or for the first time) then the POD version is equally cost-effective.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Character Creation Challenge: Quest of the Ancients

quest of the Ancients RPG

So an interesting thing happened this week.  I posted my Rhianon character for AD&D 1st Edition and I was pointed to a Dragonlance adventure that featured a very thinly veiled version of Stevie Nicks! Well, you could imagine my surprise at that.  Then double that I tracked down the said adventure, DL15 Mists of Krynn, to discover it was written by none other than Other Side favorite and the only guy more obsessed with witches than me, Vince Garcia.

I grabbed the adventure and read it through.  Yup. Totally Stevie Nicks. 

This got me thinking.  The adventure is low-level, deals with a powerful witch, but one that is here to help the party, not fight them. 

It also deals with a witch traveling across the planes. 

Seems like a perfect fit for my War of the Witch Queens campaign!

The adventure was written in 1988, so a little bit before Garcia's publication of the "Druids of Rhiannon" Dragon Issue #155 and his Magnum Opus, Quest of the Ancients.  Given the Stevie-like character on the cover of both editions of his game, it seemed certain that they were somehow related.

The Game: Quest of the Ancients

I will admit I am rather fond of this game.  I spent some time talking about it in the past here so you can read all of those posts for more detail. But suffice to say that this game is a Fantasy Heartbreaker in the classic sense, still though I can't help but be fond of it.

The Character: Sarana

So there is a character in DL15 Mists of Krynn, Stevie, who really is a very, very thinly veiled version of Stevie Nicks. Now I am totally fine with that. But she isn't the only one. On the cover of the 1st Edition of Quests of the Ancients, pictured above, is Sarana. She is the one in the pink dress.  She is also a thinly disguised version of Stevie Nicks.  In the book she is listed as a 20th level Witch/Bard, but no other stats are given.

The Second Edition/Printing cover makes this a bit more obvious.


And if that wasn't enough, here is the dedication found in both printings.


Again, I am right there with him on this. He even mentions Dark Shadow's Angelique here and then again in REF5 Lords of Darkness as an NPC vampire. 

Sarana is an interesting case.  I can be perfectly ok with the idea that Sarana from QotA and Stevie in Dragonlance are one and the same. Sure, Stevie is listed as a grey elf and Sarana as a human.  One or other of those could be glamours or disguises.  I am likely to say elf or half-elf.  

Now "how" did get there? Well for that let us follow the story of her co-cover girl Raven TenTolliver.  I gave some insight to her goings-on in this post of her appearance in the Forgotten Realms.  Raven has been known as "Raven," "Whisper," and even "Rhiannon" (!) over her years.  It looks like in the Forgotten Realms book, LC1 Gateway to Ravens Bluff, she is largely retired and runs an inn.  You can read some of the details here, here (lifting words from LC1), and a bit on the Inn she runs in Ravens Bluff.  While retired she was a 25th level witch/20th level assassin!

So Raven left her group of adventures and then settles in Ravens Bluff in the Forgotten Realms, Sarana finds her way to Krynn, where she gets trapped and is sometimes known as Stevie. I split the difference and made her into a half-elf. She is a follower of the Faerie Goddess Rhiannon.  Given this I *might* have her in the Feywild and not Krynn.  I need to read over the adventure more to see. 

Sarana (Quest of the Ancients)
13th level Half-Elven Witch

Armor rating: 0
Tactical move: 10'
Stamina points: 68
Body points: 15

Stots: St 10; Ag 13; Cn 15; IQ 18; Ch 19; Ap 19: Lk 7

Attack 1
Combat phase: 3
Dmg: 1D4+1 (dagger) or by spell
Ethics: G
Size: 5'1", 125#

Witch Abilities
A: Create Focus ()
B: Additional Combat Skill Slot (2 for 4 total)
C: Create Potions and Elixers
D: Form Coven

Skills (180 pts)
Animal Handling: 40%
Nature Lore: 60%
Calligraphy: 40%
Danger Sense: 10%

Spells

Rank 1: Beguile, Catfall, Evil Eye, Helping Hands, Lirazel's Silent Scream, Magic Dart, Read Magic Script, Slumber, Trick, Witch Warrior
Rank 2: Discern Magic, Enchant Bracers, Fire Darts, Fire Tounge, Net, Night Sight, Stone Speak, Tell Sight, Witch Wand
Rank 3: Charm, Crystallomancy, Energy Blast, Laughing Skull, Sheet Lightning, Spirit Talk, Witch Mark
Rank 4: Hex, Illusion, Shape Change, Shooting Stars, Transform, Witches Eye
Rank 5: Cauldron of Magic, Lirazel's Pocket Dimension, Polymorph, Witchfire
Rank 6: Aura of Fear, Control Weather, Pentagram of Protection, Talisman
Rank 7: Vision Globe, Witch Ward

That's a lot of spells.

For my War of the Witch Queens, I made D&D witch stats for her too.

Character Creation Challenge

Tardis Captain is the originator of this idea and he is keeping a list of places participating.  When posting to Social Media don't forget the #CharacterCreationChallenge hashtag. 

RPG Blog Carnival

This month's RPG Blog Carnival is being hosted by Plastic Polyhedra. They are doing Characters, Stories, and Worlds, so that fits right in with everything we are posting this month.

Check out all the posts going on this month at both of these sources.

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Character Creation Challenge: Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, 2nd Edition

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, 2nd Edition came on the scene to much anticipation back in the Spring of 1989.  I was in college at the time but I still managed to get the books very close on release day.  The game was largely an update and cleanup of the AD&D 1st Ed rules.  Gygax had been gone from TSR for a while at this point and the rules lacked his "voice" but they were a significant improvement in many ways.  

But today no one talks about the 2nd ed rules as much as they talk about the settings.

The Game: Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, 2nd Edition

There is no doubt that the 2nd edition made many improvements to the AD&D ruleset. While Basic-era D&D moved on with the BECMI series, AD&D came here.  With the streamlined, but not simplified, rules in place TSR focused on what they believed to be their cash-cow, settings.  And to be fair the settings are what we all recall today.  There were also tons of splat books and eventually an update that was called AD&D 2.5 by some, but never by the company.  

This was also the edition that caved under the pressure of the religious right and bowdlerized demons and devils right out of the system.  It would not be till later with Planescape that we got them back in the forms of Tanarri and Batatezu. 

Since the Splats and Settings are so important to the identity of 2nd Edition it behooves me to mention a couple and my relationship with them. Not to mention the witch options they gave me.

The Complete Wizard's Handbook

Among 2nd Eds features were the "Kits" or archetypes you could apply to various classes to customize them.  Sadly like many splat books you see power creep in these. The Complete Bard's Handbook was one of the worst offenders along with the Elves book. But today is not the day to discuss those. Today I want to talk about the Witch Kit.

The Witch-kit appeared in the Complete Wizard's Handbook and was a mere 3 or so pages, but it was the first official witch class in AD&D.  She got powers every odd level and had a lot of role-playing potential.  This might seem more powerful than your average wizard, but at the time everyone was assumed to have a kit of some sort.

Ravenloft

My world of choice in the 2nd Ed era was Ravenloft.  The gothic horror tropes were too much of a lure to avoid. Interestingly enough it would not be until Spring of 2000 when Ravenloft would get their first witch class/kit and by this time they were owned by Wizards of the Coast.

This class/kit gave us the Witches of Hala, which is a kit that any non-magic using class could use, so only Fighter and Theif. But the witches did gain some spell abilities.  To differentiate between the two witches Van Richten's Monster Hunter's Compendium, Vol 3 calls the Complete Wizard Witch Kit the "Sorcerous Witch." To further distinguish them I took to calling the Witches of Hala "Hedge Witches."

Forgotten Realms

During the 2nd Edition years, Forgotten Realms was the undisputed King of the Campaign Worlds.  I largely ignored it.  I have made up for lost time since then and been spending more time in the Realms, but that is another post.  I did however know all about the Witches of Rashemen and Spellbound was one of the first Realms products I ever bought. This setting also uses the wizard kit and the Witches of Rasemaar kit.


Due to the amount of material I have here I am also going to do two characters.

The Character: Sinéad

Following my Celtic-influenced witches, I give you Sinéad.  Of course, she is named for Sinéad O'Connor whose album "The Lion and the Cobra" pretty much changed everything for me in 1988/1989.  

Sinéad is built using the Witch Kit from the Complete Wizard's Handbook. Now the witch kit says they can't be multi-classed, but the concept I want to try is. So I am going to do it anyway, but not choose a kit for the Bard class.  Some of the restrictions on this kit feel the same as the removal of the demons and devils; giving the players in-game reasons not to use it.

Sinéad is not a character I played back then, but this build is pretty close to what I would have created back in 1989 while living in Room 109 of the Wright I Hall Dorms.

Goodwife Sinéad
(Goodwife is how you address a witch whose marital status is unknown)
Half-elf 7th level Wizard (Witch Kit)/7th level Bard
Chaotic Good

STR: 12
DEX: 16
CON: 15
INT: 17
WIS: 14
CHA: 16

AC: 1 (Bracers of Defence)
HP: 50
THAC0 (Base): 17

Saving Throws
Paralyzation, Poison, Death: 12
Rod, Staff, Wand: 9
Petrification, Polymorph: 11
Breath Weapon: 13
Spells: 10

Weapons
Dagger

Proficiencies/Skills/Languages
Herbalism, Spellcasting, Artistic Abilities (Singing)
Climb Walls (30%), Detect Noise (40%), Pick Pockets (25%), Read Languages (90%)

Special Abilities
Half-elf: Resist Sleep (30%)
Bard: Spells, knowledge
Witch: Read Magic, Detect Magic, Secure Familiar (3rd), Brew Calmative (5th), Brew Poison (7th)

Spells
Bard: (1st) Light, Faerie Fire, Protection from Evil (2nd) Charm Person, Hold Person (3rd) Dispel Magic
Wizard (Witch): (1st) Audible Glammer, Magic Missile, Shocking Grasp, Identity (2nd) Continual Light, Spectral Hand, Ray of Enfeeblement (3rd) Lightning bolt, Fly (4th) Dimension Door

The Character: Nida

Nida is a character I have been playing around with for my War of the Witch Queens.  She is supposed to represent the "other" witches of 2nd Ed, the ones I didn't use but the ones everyone else did. That is the Witches of Hala and the Witches of Rashemen.  She is not a starting character because I need her to have some history.

Nida was a Rashmi girl born to poor parents.  She was playing when she was taken into the Mists and found herself in the lands of Ravenloft.  She became a thief to survive the world on her own until she tried to pick the pockets of a Witch of Hala. For the next ten years she trained with this witch and learned the secrets of Hala and her magic. One night she was hunting a particularly nasty Annis Hag when she found herself back in her homeland of Rashemen.  Unable to return, she tried to pick up her life before she left only to discover her family had long since died.  She began training as a Wychlaran, or a Witch of Rashemen.  Like the witches of her homeland she adopted a mask and changed her name to "Nida" which means "voice."

Note: Since Nida is a dual classed character, a Thief/Mage, there is no reason to assume she can't be a Thief (Witch of Hala) / Mage (Witch of Rashemen) even though the Witch of Hala can't be taken by a spellcaster (she is a thief at the time) and the Witch of Rashemen has to be a spellcaster (she is a mage at the time).


Lady Nida
Human 4th level Thief (Witch of Hala Kit) / 9th level Wizard (Witch of Rashemen kit)
Chaotic Neutral*
(Witches in Ravenloft can't be chaotic, but this is the character concept I have.)

STR: 11
DEX: 16
CON: 16
INT: 17
WIS: 13
CHA: 18

AC: 1 (Bracers of Defence)
HP: 48
THAC0 (Base): 18

Saving Throws
Paralyzation, Poison, Death: 13
Rod, Staff, Wand: 9
Petrification, Polymorph: 11
Breath Weapon: 13
Spells: 10

Weapons
Dagger

Proficiencies/Skills/Languages
Herbalism, Spellcasting, Artistic Abilities, Ancient History
Pick Pockets (35%) Open Locks (35%), Climb Walls (30%), Detect Noise (40%), Pick Pockets (25%), Read Languages (90%)

Special Abilities
Half-elf: Resist Sleep (30%)
Bard: Spells, knowledge
Witch: Read Magic, Detect Magic, Secure Familiar (3rd), Brew Calmative (5th), Brew Poison (7th)

Spells
Witch of Hala: (1st) Combine, Reveal the Weave, Luck (2nd) Arcane Insights, Master Coven Magic (3rd) Water Walk
Wizard (Witch of Rahemen): (1st) Circle, Alarm, Magic Missile, Shocking Grasp (2nd) Dazzle, Protection from Poison, Blindness, Tasha's Uncontrollable Hideous Laughter (3rd) Firelance, Lightning bolt, Suggestion (4th) Negate Magic Weapon, Magic Mirror (5th) Teleport

I like these builds. I certainly want to use Nida somewhere.  Maybe see what she is like with another system. Both are 14th level and have a similar range of abilities.

Character Creation Challenge

Tardis Captain is the originator of this idea and he is keeping a list of places participating.  When posting to Social Media don't forget the #CharacterCreationChallenge hashtag. 

RPG Blog Carnival

This month's RPG Blog Carnival is being hosted by Plastic Polyhedra. They are doing Characters, Stories, and Worlds, so that fits right in with everything we are posting this month.

Check out all the posts going on this month at both of these sources.


Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Review: Pages from the Mages

As I mentioned earlier, The Pages from the Mages feature of Dragon Magazine was one of my favorite features and I looked forward to seeing what new spells Ed Greenwood would relay from the great sage Elminster.  I was very pleased when I saw that the entire collection was pulled together into a single tome.  The original Pages from the Mages spaned roughly 10 years from 1982 to 1992 and both editions of AD&D. 

For this review, I am considering both the original print version sold by TSR and the PDF version sold through DriveThruRPG.  Presently there is no Print on Demand option.

Pages from the Mages

The book is 128 pages. Color covers, black & white interior art with full color, full-page art.  Designed for the AD&D 2nd Edition game.
The PDF sells for $9.99 on DriveThruRPG.
The softcover book originally sold for $15.00 in 1995.

This book covers some 40 or so unique spell books from various spellcasters from the Forgotten Realms.  Some of these spellcasters are well known such as Elminster and others less so or at least nearly mythic in the Realms.  This is one of the book's greatest strengths. While this could have been just a collection of books with known spells, it is the stories and the myths behind the books that make this more.

While many of the spells found within these books are fairly well known, there are plenty of brand new and unique spells. This is what attracted me to the original Dragon magazine series.  Within these pages, there are 180 or so "new" spells.  I say new in quotes because most, if not all, these spells appeared first in the pages of Dragon magazine and then again in the pages of the hardcover Forgotten Realms Adventures for 2nd Edition.

Additionally, there are a number of new magic items and even a couple of new creatures.

The true value for me, as a DM and a player, is to provide these new spell books as potential treasure items or quest items.  Even saying the name of some of these books, like Aubayreer's Workbook, is enough to get my creative juices flowing. Where is it? Where has it been? What other secrets does it contain?

I often refer to a product as punching above its weight class.  This is one of those books.  While overtly designed for the 2nd Edition game there is nothing here that can't be used with any version of the D&D game, from Basic all the way to 5th edition with only the slightest bit of editing needed.

While I have a print copy and the PDF, a Print on Demand version would be fantastic. 

A complete list of the spells, spellbook, creatures and characters in this book can be found on the Forgotten Realms wiki, https://forgottenrealms.fandom.com/wiki/Pages_from_the_Mages






This Old Dragon: Retrospective, Pages from the Mages

Another This Old Dragon Retrospective today. Today I want to cover one of my favorite series in the run of Dragon, and one that had far fewer entries than I thought, Pages from the Mages. Again this series is by Ed Greenwood writing to us as Elminster. It's a wonder I wasn't a fan of the Realms until pretty much 2001.


The premise is laid out in the first installment, Elminster (or Ed, sometimes it is hard to say) wondering aloud why we don't find more unique spell-books in treasure hordes. He goes on to explain that such tomes are very rare.  The set up is solid and less in-universe than The Wizard's Three.  But like The Wizard's Three, this is used to give us some new spells and some magic tomes worthy to build an adventure around.  So let's join Ed and Elminster and pour through these pages of a nearly as legendary tome, Dragon Magazine, and see what treasures we can find.

Pages from the Mages

Our first entry is in Dragon #62 which has one of my all-time favorite covers; the paladin on horseback challenging three orcs.   This takes us all the way back to June 1982, the height of my D&D Basic/Expert days.  The magic books we discover here are:

    Mhzentul’s Runes, with details for making a Ring of Spell Storing. Rings that become guardian creatures (but no details) and the spells Fireball, Fire Shield, Fire Trap, and Delayed Blast Fire Ball.

    Nchaser’s Eiyromancia, this book gives us two new spells, Nulathoe’s Ninemen and Nchaser’s Glowing Globe.

    Book of the Silver Talon, this sought after tome has a number of good spells, Read Magic, Burning Hands, Comprehend Languages, Detect Magic, Erase, Write, Identify, Message, Shocking Grasp, Shield, Darkness 15’ Radius, Detect Invisibility, Knock, Ray of Enfeeblement, Web, Wizard Lock, Blink, Dispel Magic, Gust of Wind, Infravision, Phantasmal Force, and Protection From Normal Missiles.  Additionally, it has recipes for the ink for Read Magic, Buring Hands, Comprehend Languages, Detect Magic, Erase, Write, Identify, Message, Shocking Grasp, and Shield.  All in-universe and fluff, but fun all the same AND an often overlooked aspect of magic.

    Chambeeleon, the unique spellbook is described as a treasure.  In contains the spells, Water Breathing, Fly, Lightning Bolt, Fire Shield (cold flame version only), Ice Storm, Airy Water, Cone of Cold, Conjure Elemental (new version), Disintegrate, Glassee, Part Water, Spiritwrack, Cacodemon, Drawmij’s Instant Summons, Reverse Gravity, and Vanish. Which leads to the obvious conclusion that Drawmij was also moving between the planes between Greyhawk and the Realms.  This book is also considered to be a religious text by many priesthoods of aquatic gods.
 
In each case, we also get a little history and the last known or suspected whereabouts of the tomes. I say tomes, but thankfully Ed was not so limited in his thinking.  Some are books, some are collections of pages and others are stranger still.  I find it interesting that this entry is followed by the classic NPC class, the Scribe, also by Ed.

More Pages from the Mages

Our next entry comes from Dragon #69 which I also covered as part of my This Old Dragon Issue #69. Again a fantastic cover from the legendary Clyde Caldwell.  The article is titled "More Pages from the Mages" and has art by Jim Holloway. Interestingly there is a book in the art named "Holloway's Guide to Everything" could that be the next 5e book to come out?  The actual books covered here are:

    The Magister, this particular tome has no title so it is just called "the Magister". It consists of 16 sheets of parchment between two ivory covers.  It includes a treatise on illusion magic and the spells Change Self, Color Spray, Phantasmal Force, Detect Illusion, Mirror Image, Dispel Illusion, Nondetection, Massmorph, Shadow Door, Programmed Illusion, and True Sight.  There is also an alternate version of the Clone spell. There is also a lot of debate on what is exactly on the last page. 

    Seven Fingers (The Life of Thorstag), this tome is bound in leather. It describes the Void Card from the Deck of Many things. How wonderfully random! Yet so on point for an academically minded wizard.  There is also a recipe for Keoghtom’s Ointment, which may or may not be correct.  There is also some local history. 

    The Nathlum, is a rather non-descript book.  But there is some saying about books and covers.  This one will cause damage to anyone of Good alignment holding it! It includes recipes for poisons, so not all these books are limited to spells.  Something that honestly is not stressed enough. 

    The Workbook, there is no accurate description of this tome.  So Elminster isn't all-knowing (ok to be fair, Elminster and Ed would be the first to point this out).  This is rumored to include the spells Spendelarde’s Chaser, Caligarde’s Claw, Tulrun’s Tracer, Tasirin’s Haunted Sleep, Laeral’s Dancing Dweomer, Archveult’s Skybolt, and Dismind. All are new.

As I mentioned in my original post, back in the day I would go right for the spells, today I am more interested in the story behind the spellbooks.  Maybe the spells inside are some I have already seen, but that is not what makes it valuable to me now. It's the story, the history, maybe there is something really special about this book. Maybe the spellcaster is still alive. Maybe his/her enemies are and want this book.  My cup runneth over with ideas.

Pages From the Mages III

We jump to December 1984 and Dragon #92.  Damn. Another classic cover. This time it is "Bridge of Sorrows" by Denis Beauvais and he has updated it on his website.  what a great time to be a classic D&D fan.  This one is very special for me for many reasons. First, this was the very first PftM I had ever read. I didn't know a damn thing about the Realms (and I only know slightly more now) but as I mentioned in my This Old Dragon Issue #92 I remember going on a quest to recover Aubayreer's Workbook having only the glyph as a clue.  I don't remember all the details save that the quest was dangerous and the spells in the book were a bit anti-climatic given the quest.  Not that the spells are bad (hardly!) it is the quest was that hard.

This is also, at least from what I can tell, our very first mention of The Simbul, "the shapeshifting Mage-Queen".  I guess she is looking for a copy of this book too! I think I see a plot hook for my next Realms game (and playing on the events in The Simbul's gift).  MAYBE that quest was only half of the tale! Maybe the other half was really to get this book to The Simbul.  I am only 30+ years late.   Thank you Ed!  Of course, that is only one of FOUR magic books.  Let's have a look.

    Aubayreer's Workbook, this "book" is a long strip of bark folded accordion-style between two pieces of wood with a rune carved on it.  The spells are read magic, burning hands, dancing lights, enlarge, identify, light, message, write, ESP, wizard lock, dispel magic, explosive runes, fireball, and extension I. There three special spells  hailcone (a version of ice storm), and two new spells, Aubayreer's phase trap and thunderlance.

    Orjalun's Arbatel, not to be overshadowed this book's pages are beaten and polished mithril! Lots of Realms-centric details here. In fact this might be where many of these topics saw print for the very first time. This one includes two new spells Encrypt and Secure.

    The Scalamagdrion, bound in the hide of some unknown creature this book has a little surprise. The spells included are (and in this order): Write, erase, tongues, message, unseen servant, wizard lock, identify, enchant an item, permanency, blink, disintegration, feeblemind, fly, death spell, flame arrow, delayed blast fireball, invisibility, levitate, conjure elemental, minor globe of invulnerability, wall of force, remove curse, and dispel magic.  The book also has a unique monster bound up in the pages that will protect the book! 

    The Tome of the Covenant, named for the group of four mages that gathered together to stop the onslaught of orc from the north.  What this entry makes obvious is exactly how much detail Ed had already put into the Realms. There are four new spells in this book, named for each one of the Covenant wizards. Grimwald's Greymantle, Agannazar's Scorcher, Illykur's Mantle, and the one that REALLY pissed me off, Presper's Moonbow.  It pissed me off because I had written a Moonbow spell myself. Only mine was clerical and it was a spell given by Artemis/Diana to her clerics. My DM at the time told me it was too powerful at 5th level and here comes Ed with a similar spell, similarly named and his was 4th level!  Back then it was known as "Luna's Moonbow" named after one of my earliest characters. Ah well.  Great minds I guess.

Pages from the Mages IV

We jump ahead to Dragon #97from May 1985.  I also covered this one in This Old Dragon Issue #97. Rereading this article years later is the one where I thought I should stop being such a spoiled Greyhawk twat and see what the Realms had to offer.  It would still be a long time before I'd actually do that.  This one also had a bit of a feel of the Wizard's Three to it. The books covered here were:

    Bowgentle's Book, a slim volume bound in black leather. It has a ton of spells in it, so many I wonder how "slim" it actually was.  Cantrips clean, dry, and bluelight, and the spells affect normal fires, hold portal, identify mending, push, read magic, sleep, continual light, darkness 15' radius, detect evil, detect invisibility, ESP forget, knock, levitate, locate object, magic mouth, rope trick, strength, wizard lock, blink, dispel magic, fireball, fly, hold person, infravision, Leomund's Tiny Hut, lightning bolt, protection from evil 10' radius, protection from normal missiles, slow, tongues, water breathing, charm monster, confusion, dimension door, enchanted weapon, fire shield (both versions), minor globe of invulnerability, polymorph other, polymorph self, remove curse, wizard eye, Bigby's Interposing Hand, cone of cold, hold monster, passwall, and wall of force.  The two new spells are dispel silence and Bowgengle's Fleeting Journey. 

    The Spellbook of Daimos, this one has no title on the cover and described as very fine. Very little is known about who or what "Daimos" is.  The spells included are, identify, magic missile, invisibility, levitate, web, fireball, monster summoning I (a variant), slow, suggestion, confusion, fear, fire trap, polymorph self animate dead, cloudkill, feeblemind, anti-magic shell, disintegrate, geas, globe of invulnerability, reincarnation, repulsion, Bigby's Grasping Hand, duo-dimension, power word stun, vanish, incendiary cloud, mind blank, astral spell, gate, and imprisonment.   The new spells are flame shroud, watchware, and great shout.

    Book of Num "the Mad", this one is interesting. It is loose pages held in place by two pieces of wood and a cord.  Num was a reclusive hermit who learned a bit of druidic lore.  There are a few more spells here. But what is more interesting are the new ones. Briartangle, Thorn spray, and Death chariot.

    Briel's Book of Shadows. Ok, the title has my attention. Though it has little to do with the Books of Shadows I am most often familiar with.  This one has the following new spell, Scatterspray. It does have some details on uses of Unicorn horns and a recipe for a Homonculous.

These books really upped the number of spells included in each book.  Was this intentional? Is this the "Power creep" that was starting to enter the game at this point? It was 1985 and this was not an uncommon question to ask with the Unearthed Arcana now out (and now these spellbooks all have cantrips!) and classes like the Barbarian and Cavalier making people say "D&D is broken!"  The more things change I guess...

Pages from the Mages V

Dragon #100 from august 1985 was a great issue all around. From the Gord story, to Dragon Chess, to this. I really need to give it a proper This Old Dragon one day.  But until then Ed is back with some more magic.  
    Sabirine's Specular, the first book from a wizardess. It has a good collection of standard spells.  The new spells are Spell Engine, Catfeet, Snatch, Spark (Cantrip), Bladethirst, and Merald's Murderous Mist.
    Glanvyl's Workbook, what is neat about this book is it appears to be the book of a lesser magic-user and these are his notes. So like the workbook a student might have in a writing class.  There are three new cantrips, Horn, Listen, and Scorch. One new spell, Smoke ghost, which is level 4 so he had to be at least high enough level for that.  and the preparations for inks for the Haste and Lightning Bolt spell.
    The Red Book of War, this is a prayer book for clerics of the war god Tempus.  I liked seeing that spells for clerics were also offered.  These of course would differ from the arcane counterparts in many ways, or, at least they should.  Ed makes the effort here to show they do differ and that is nice. Many often forget this.  There are a number of prayers here that are common.  Also the new prayers/spells are Holy Flail, Reveal, Bladebless, and Sacred Link, one I enjoyed using back then.  None of these spells though would late make it to the AD&D 2nd published version of Pages from the Mages.
    The Alcaister, this is a book with a curse. Not the spell, but rather a poison worked into the pages that is still potent 600 years after it was written. Among the common spells it has three new cantrips, Cut, Gallop, and Sting. There is one new spell, Body Sympathy, and the last page of the spellbook is a gate! Destination determined at random.

Arcane Lore. Pages From the Mages, part VI

It is going to be a five-year jump and new edition until the next Pages comes in Dragon #164. The article has some subtle and overt changes. First there is a little more of the "in character" Elminster here.  Ed has had more time to write as the Elminster and I think this is part of the success of the novels. The overt change is now the spells are in AD&D 2nd Edition format.  Not too difficult to convert back (or even to any other edition) but it is noticed. It is December 1990, lets see what Ed and Elminster have for us. 
    Book of Shangalar the Black, a deeply paranoid wizard from 700 years ago you say?  I am sure this will be fun! There are only new spells in this short (4 page) spellbook. Bone Javelin, Negative Plane Protection, Repel Undead, and Bone Blade.  Well, the guy had a theme to be sure.
    The Glandar's Grimoire, now here is something else that is rarely done, at least in print.  This book is only a burnt remnant.  What is left of what is believed to be a much larger tome is four pages with new spells. Fellblade, Melisander's Harp, Disruption, and Immunity to Undeath.
    The Tome of the Wyvernwater Circle, this is a druids prayer book.  Now I know D&D druids are not historical druids that did not write anything down. So a "Druid book" still sounds odd to me.  But hey when in the Realms! This book has a few common spells and some new ones; Wailing Wind, Touchsickle, Flame Shield, and Mold Touch.
    The Hand of Helm, another clerical prayer book. This one is of unknown origin. It has 27 pages (and thus 27 spells; one spell per page in 2e), four of which are new;  Exaltation, Forceward, Mace of Odo, and Seeking Sword.

Is it because I know TSR had gone through some very radical changes between 1985 and 1990 that I think the tone of this article is different than the one in #100?  I can say that one thing for certain is that Ed Greenwood is more of a master of his craft here.  The history of the Realms is, for lack of a better word, thicker in these entries.  There is more background to the spellbooks and their place in Realms lore.  This is a positive thing in my mind in terms of writing.  It did make it hard to add them to my Greyhawk campaign, but by 1990 I was hard-core Ravenloft; shit just randomly popped out of the Mists all the time. If I needed one of these books I could make an excuse to get them there.



Pages From the Mages

It is now May 1992.  I am getting ready to graduate from University now and Dragon #181 is giving us our last Pages from the Mages.  It has been a fun trip.  A little bit of framing dialogue starts us off. I did notice we have gone from talking about "the Realms" to now saying "FORGOTTEN REALMS® setting" instead. 

    Galadaster's Orizon. This book is actually considered to be a "lesser work" in the eyes of the wizard-turned-lich Galadaster, but this is all that survived of his tower's destruction. Among the common spells there are three new ones. Firestaff, Geirdorn's Grappling Grasp, and Morgannaver's Sting.
    Arcanabula of Jume, another book from a wizardess (rare in this collection of books). This one is written in the secret language of Illusionists (which are, as a class, slightly different in 2nd Ed) and is a traveling spellbook. It has four new spells, Dark Mirror, Shadow Hand, Prismatic Eye, and Shadow Gauntlet.
    Laeral's Libram. I was just about to comment that while these books are fantastic, none of the names have the recognition factor of say a Tenser, Bigby, or even Melf.  Then along last comes Laeral. Now here is someone famous enough that I have box of her dice sitting next me! Laeral Silverhand is of course one of the famous Seven Sisters. So not just a name, but a Name. This spellbook has the common spells of feather fall, magic missile, spider climb, and forcewave.  As well as the new spells of Laeral's Aqueous Column, Jhanifer's Deliquescence, and Blackstaff.  The blackstaff spell was created by another Name, Khelben Arunsun.  This one would be worthy of a quest to be sure.
    Tasso's Arcanabula.  Our last spellbook comes from an illusionist named Tasso.  Tasso is almost a  "Name." I recognize it, but I am not sure if it was because of this article or some other Realms book I read. The spell book has what I consider to be the common illusionist spells and four new ones. Tasso's Shriek, Shadow Bolt, Shadow Skeleton, and Prismatic Blade.  That's where I have heard of him. I have used that Prismatic Blade spell before,

After this series, the Wizard's Three took over as our source of spells from Ed.

I have read that Ed created this series based on his love of some of the named spells in the AD&D Player's Handbook.  He wanted to know more about the characters and how they came to be associated with those spells.  I think that he showed his love here in this series. I also think it was made clear that sometimes the spell creator's name gets added to a spell not just by the creator, but by those who chronicle the spell, spellbook, or spellcaster later. Sometimes centuries later. 

We got away from this but now it looks like it is coming back. especially with the recent Mordenkainen, Xanathur, and now Tasha books coming out from WotC.

Friday, July 24, 2020

Silver Anniversary Time

Wednesday was my 25th Wedding Anniversary!  We had plans to be in Jamaica this year, but given how Americans are been told to stay in their own damn plague country, we settled for carry-out at our favorite seafood restaurant (Bob Chinn's FYI) and a nice walk (been walking 5k+ every night since COVID hit).

My wife and I are at an age where we don't really want a lot of things. For me, it was better to spend time with her, our favorite restaurant, and plate of sea scallops.  Besides we are also at an age where if there is something we need or want we just go get it. I didn't bust my ass in grad school for nothing.

BUT.  That doesn't mean I am not going to treat ourselves.
While my wife is going to get a new garden shed for her hobby.  I went to my FLGS and grabbed something I have been wanting for 20 years. Consequently, it is also a 25 year anniversary item.


My FLGS has had the D&D 25th Anniversary edition boxed set in their "glass" case for some time.

It is a premium item and likely cost WAY more than it should have (and more than I should have spent) but it is something I have wanted, it was my anniversary and I had promised I was only going to buy local once everything had opened back up.

I got it and I am very pleased.

I knew of the contents of course, but it was so nice to have them in front of me.


While they are all reprints I didn't actually own the separate G series modules and my copy of S2 White Plume Mountain walked years ago.  All I have is a printed PDF.  So those are "new" to me.

The copy of Ravenloft is nice and a little different from my 1983 original.



The "new" material for me was the history book and Len Lakofka's L3 Deep Dwarven Delve.





With L3 in hand, I now have the complete Lendore Isle's Trilogy. (Yes, I DO know there are more on Dragonsfoot.)



The set is very nice and there is a lot of room inside for more.  But not everything belongs inside to be honest.   But I figure my Silver Anniversary Return to the Keep on the Borderlands would be fine.


I just need a good copy of Return to White Plume Mountain as well. (ETA I see there is a POD version up at DriveThruRPG!)

BTW Return to the Keep is seriously under-rated. I use it now whenever I want to run a Keep adventure. I just typicall show everyone the B2 module so they think they are getting the full "orginal D&D experience."

This set is a nice companion piece to my Arts & Arcana for D&D history.



So happy 25th anniversary to me, my wife and D&D (just 20 years late on that last one).




Friday, June 26, 2020

The Future of BECMI and Black Box Basic

We are getting to the end of what we can call "normal character" BECMI D&D.  For the next couple of days next week, I'll cover the Immortals Rules, but really when it comes to regular D&D play the series ends with the Master Set.

But that was not the end of "Basic" or BECMI D&D.  I reviewed into the Maelstrom yesterday and talked about how it had a real proto-90s feel even in 1985.  So let's look briefly into the future of the D&D Basic line to see what the 90s has in store.

In 1991 TSR was a very different place than when Gygax and Co. set out to create a new kind of game.  Most, if not all, of the old guard, were gone.  AD&D 2nd Edition was the house game of choice and the order of the day were the worlds and settings created for it.

At some point, and I have no insight on this, a new version of the D&D game was introduced. 
Like the previous games it was in a box and contained some basic information.  Unlike those previous games, this box was more like a board game box, the levels went from 1 to 5, and there were maps, dice, and game pieces included.  

The New Easy to Master Dungeons & Dragons Game (1991)
This new "Basic", sometimes called "Black Box Basic" was a new attempt at an introductory set of rules for D&D.


The design is by Troy Denning and the rulebook was written by Timothy B. Brown.
In what is sure to be a blow to old-school purists, Gygax, Arneson, and Mentzer are never mentioned in the book.  To add insult to injury Lorraine Williams is given a special thanks.

Outside of that and the gimmick of the boardgame style box the rules inside are very clean, easy to read and understand and play with.  Obviously, these rules are drawn from the BECMI core and this set is designed to be an introduction to the D&D Rules Cyclopedia

The box itself is a treasure trove, to be honest.


The rule book for players is quite attractive.


Dice, card stock characters and monsters, and a 1991 TSR catalog.


Zanzer's Dungeon.  The map is really nice and scaled for 1" = 5', so compatible with D&D 3.x, 4e and 5e.


DM's Screen and book.


The underside of the box displaying all the pieces.


A 1991 TSR catalog for the D&D line.  Let's have a better look at that Rules Cyclopedia...


Someone will have a cover mocked up of this by next week I am sure.


The DMs Guide and screen with the Players Book.  Both came in the Basic set and The Dragon's Den boxed set.





There were also three add-ons, called "Adventure Pack" for this.  
I only own The Dragon's Den and it has pieces that compliment the Basic set.  The DM's Guide/Screen and Player's Book are included in both.  All three are available on DriveThruRPG, but they are not as complete as the physical products. 




Although reading online I can't confirm if the Rule Book and the DM's Guide/Screen actually came with the Dragon's Den.

This is the future for the D&D line until the end of the decade.


Yes, that is the Rules Cyclopedia PoD.  Here they are all together.


When I decide to run a new Basic-era campaign (instead of a bunch of one-shots) I am going to be overwhelmed with choices.