Showing posts with label DnD. Show all posts
Showing posts with label DnD. Show all posts

Monday, April 15, 2024

#AtoZChallenge2024: M is for Monster Manual

 Today is Monday. It is also "M" Day. Here at The Other Side, Mondays are used for Monstrous Mondays, where I talk about monsters. Since I am doing the A to Z of Dungeons and Dragons my topic for today was pretty much handed to me.  Today I am going to talk about the Monster Manual.

All printings of the 1st Edition Monster Manual
All printings of the 1st Edition Monster Manual

Monster Manual for AD&D 1st Edition

This is the book that got me into D&D and RPGs. Along with The Hobbit, this is where my journey began. 

The Monster Manual was the book for me.  The one that got me hooked.  The book I borrowed from a friend to read in "silent reading" back in 1979 at Washington Elementary School in Jacksonville, IL, was the one that made me the über-geek you all know today. How über? I used the freaking umlauts, that's my street cred right there.

Back in '79 I was reading a lot of Greek Myths, I loved reading about all the gods, goddesses and monsters. A particular favorite of mine was D'Aularires' Book of Greek Myths. So I saw my friend's Monster Manual and saw all those cool monsters and I knew I had to have a copy. Though getting one in my tiny near-bible-belt town was not easy.  Not hard mind you, by the early 1980s the local book store stocked them, but I was not there yet.  So I borrowed his and read.  And read.  And read.  I think I had the damn thing memorized long before I ever got my own game going.

D'Aularires' Book of Greek Myths and the Monster Manual

Since then, I have judged a gamebook on the "Monster Manual" scale. How close of a feeling do I get from a book or game compared to holding the Monster Manual for the first time? Some games have come close, and others have hit the mark as well. C.J. Carella's WitchCraft gave me the same feeling.

Also, I like to go to the monster section of any book or get their monster books. Sure, sometimes there are diminishing returns—Monster Manual V for 3.5, anyone? But even then, sometimes you get a Fiend Folio (which I liked, thankyouverymuch).

This book captured my imagination like no other gamebook.  Even the 1st DMG, a work of art, had to wait until I was older to appreciate it.  The Monster Manual grabbed op to me from the start and took me for a ride.

The Book (and PDF)
The Monster Manual's PDF has been available since July 2015. The book has three different covers from the various printings in 1977, 1983 and 2012.

Monster Manual 1977Monster Manual 1983Monster Manual 2012

Regardless of what cover you have, the insides are all the same. The book is 112 pages long and features black-and-white art from some of the biggest names to grace the pages of an RPG book.
This book was the first of so many things we now take for granted in this industry. The first hardcover, the first dedicated monster tome, and the first AD&D book.

The book contains 350+ monsters of various difficulties for all character levels. Some of the most iconic monsters in D&D began right here. Mostly culled from the pages of OD&D—even some of the art is similar—and the pages of The Dragon, this was and is the definitive book on monsters.

Eldritch Wizardry gave us the demons, but the Monster Manual gave us those and all the new devils.  The Monster Manual introduced us to the devils and the Nine Hells. We also got the new metallic dragons, more powerful and diverse undead, and many more monsters.  There were new sub-races of the "big 3". Elves get wood, aquatic, half, and drow.  Dwarves get hill and mountain varieties. Halflings get the Tallfellows and Stouts. So, there are not just more monsters but more details on the monsters we already know.

While designed for AD&D, I used it with the Holmes Basic book. The two products had a similar style and seemed to work great together. It was 1979, and honestly, we did all sorts of things with our games back then. The games worked very well together.

Flipping through one of my physical copies or paging through the PDF, I now feel the same sense of wonder I did 45 years ago.

Thankfully, you can get the PDF of the Monster Manual for just a little more than the hardcover cost 45 years ago.

Gary Gygax's Daughter with the Monster Manual
Gary Gygax's oldest daughter, Elise, with the Monster Manual

The original Monster Manual is still so popular today that Wizards of the Coast is still making minis for D&D 5th Edition in the style of the monsters from AD&D 1st Edition. Granted, those sets are not aimed at casual 5e players but rather old gamers like me with fond memories and more disposable income than we had in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

I feel it is difficult for me to truly convey how I felt when I first read this book. But I think I have approached explaining it.

One thing is certain. This is the reason I have been working on my own Basic Bestiary.

Tomorrow is N Day. I plan to discuss the infamous Appendix N from the Dungeon Master's Guide.

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

Sunday, April 14, 2024

#AtoZChallenge2024: Sunday Special, D&D 3rd Edition

This is another Sunday special to talk about another edition of D&D. Today, we are going to visit the year 2000 and the Third Edition of Dungeons & Dragons.

Dungeons & Dragons, 3rd Edition

Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition

Ok, let's get caught up. By 1997 I was married, had a new house, a new job and we were planning on starting a new family. I was also really, really burned out on D&D. I was tired of the nonsense that TSR kept pulling on their fans, I was tired of the infighting between the fans of different settings, and the power creep in the books was getting to be way too much. 

In April of 1997, TSR was not just in dire straits; they were failing life support and hemorrhaging money. In comes Wizards of the Coast, flush with cash from the success of Magic the Gathering. They buy TSR, and Dungeons & Dragons, and wipe out all of TSR's debt. 

For a while, things seemed, well, weird. Wizards ran TSR as an extension, and books were still produced using the TSR trade dress.  However, in late 1999, I got an email. I want to say it was December since that roughly corresponds to my 20th anniversary of playing. This email, which I was told was ultra-confidential, was the play test documents for the new Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition.

Then 2000 rolled around. On September 11, 2000 (not *that* 9/11) I went into my Favorite Local Game Store and bought a copy of the 3rd Edition Dungeons & Dragons Player's Handbook. 

This edition was new. So new that unlike the past editions this one was not very backward compatible. This was fine since Wizards of the Coast (now dropping the TSR logo) had provided a conversion guide. The books were solid. All full color and the rules had expanded to fix some of the issues of previous versions of D&D. Armor class number got larger as the armor got stronger, as opposed to lower numbers being better. Charts for combat were largely eliminated, the number on the sheet was what you had to roll against. Everyone could multiclass, all the species (races) could be any class without restrictions, though some were better at it than others, and everyone had skills. 

But the most amazing thing about 3rd Edition D&D was that aside from a few protected monsters and names, Wizard of the Coast gave the whole thing away for free! Yes the books with art cost money. But the rules, just a text dump, were free for everyone to download. It was called the System Reference Document or SRD. It was all the rules so that 3rd-party publishers could produce their own D&D compatible material. With these rules you could play D&D without the books. There was no art and no "fluff" text, but everything was there.

Eventually the system was updated to a 3.5 with various levels of compatibility with 3.0. It was I still say 98% compatible, except for where it wasn't.

Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 Edition - Special covers

The books were larger, and had some new art, but they were still largely the same. They were close enough that originally I did not feel the need to buy them. But when the "Special Edition" leather-bound covers came out, I had to have them. Plus I am a sucker for a book with a ribbon. 

D&D 3rd edition had a very solid run from 2000 to about 2008. 

The rumor I have heard was that the higher-ups at Hasbro (who now owned WotC) demanded a 4th edition because they could not believe that WotC was just giving away the game in the SRD. The way the license was written though they just could not pull it. They tried this back in December 2022/January 2023 and the fans and the publishers revolted. Hasbro's stock fell and subscriptions to their online tool, DnDBeyond, tanked so bad that Hasbro not only backtracked, they dumped the whole 5th Edition SRD into the Creative Commons.  I might to cover that in detail someday.

D&D 3rd Edition, though, still lives on. The Pathfinder RPG was created by people who worked with WotC on D&D 3.x and is often called "D&D 3.75." Pathfinder 1st Edition was published in 2009 and directly competed with D&D 4. By many measures, it out-sold and outperformed D&D 4. Pathfinder 2nd Edition was published in 2019. While not as backward compatible as the 1st edition, we are now at a point where the D&D 3.x (also known as d20) rules are approaching 25 years old.  That is some longevity. 

I still enjoy 3rd Edition. I played it a lot with my kids and had a great time. It rekindled my love for D&D, and that was no small achievement.

Dungeons & Dragons 3.x Edition was also the edition which Wizards really embraced PDF format. So to my knowledge nearly everything is available at DriverThruRPG.

Tomorrow, we will be back to regular A to Z posting. It is M day and Monday, so you know I am going to talk about Monsters!

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

Saturday, April 13, 2024

#AtoZChallenge2024: L is for Larian Studios

 I have been talking a lot about D&D history this month, but today I want to shift focus for a moment and talk about D&D's present. Honestly, the best Dungeons & Dragons content is not coming from the current owner and publisher, Wizards of the Coast (Hasbro), but from other companies. One in particular is Larian Studios, and the content is Baldur's Gate 3.

Larian Studios

It is not really hyperbole to say that Baldur's Gate 3 is the biggest video game of the last couple of years and might be the best video game I have ever played.  Larian is a smaller independent video game company located in Belgium. They have had a great track record of producing engaging, high-quality games for a small studio. Their big claim to fame prior to BG3 was their Divinity series. In their game Divinity: Original Sin 2, you can see the elements that would later be enhanced and perfected in BG3.  They are notable for their constant and rapid support, their desire to listen to their fans and give them what they want, and their games do not have microtransactions. These are little features in other games. Want some cool armor? Great, just $0.99 on your credit card. Cool sword? $1.99. For Larian, if you want those things, they are in the game for you to find somewhere.

They are a small independent studio producing games that rival, and in many cases surpass, the ones made by larger and more well funded companies.

Baldur's Gate 3

Baldur's Gate 3

Larian Studios shocked me with this. Baldur's Gate 1 was released in 1998, and Baldur's Gate 2 was released in 2000, with updates up to 2016. They had been rumors before of a Baldur's Gate 3, but nothing ever came from it.

Then in 2020 Baldur's Gate 3 went into "Open Beta" with little fan fare and almost no mention in the wider Dungeons & Dragons community.

In August 2023 it got its official release on PC and PlayStation with Mac and Xbox versions close behind.  To say it blew up is putting it rather mildly.

Right now, the game has an aggregate score of 96/100 from all reviews. I has also won pretty much every Game of the Year award for 2023 there is, including sweeping all five of the industry's top Game of the Year Awards. It even won more BAFTA awards while I was writing this post!

Like all the other Baldur's Gate games, this one takes place in the Forgotten Realms, but 120 or so years after the first two events (and a few months after the published book adventure Descent to Avernus). This corresponds to the published Forgotten Realms game books and novels, which had 100 or so years between the 3rd and 4th editions. This game uses some of the same mechanics and feel of Divinity: Original Sin II, and it is heavily influenced by the Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition rules.  It feels like a 5th Edition game. The classes, spells, magic, and combat are all from the 5th edition rules.

Want to know how D&D plays but don't have people to play with? This is not a bad substitute.

I am currently on my third play-through with an eye toward's completion. I am half way through Act II. In this one I am running as a "companion run" to my 2nd play through. Same basic outline with similar characters, only swapping who is the main character. 

My first full play-through was with Larina. This was followed by Sinéad. Now, I am mirroring my Sinéad run with Taryn. They were "NPCs" in each other's run.




I have incomplete runs with Kelek, Skylla, Rayne (Bloodrayne), and, of course, my Paladin Johan.


Kelek and Skylla
Kelek and Skylla on an "evil run."

Larina and Johan
Johan's run with NPC Larina


I have been using a combination of hirelings, "Withers" (an in-game guide), and the "Magic Mirror" to turn the various NPCs into previous playable characters. So my Johan run for example has Larina in it, She can't interact like Johan can, but game-play wise she is the same. 

Same with my Taryn/Sinéad runs. In my mind they are the same run, just from each character's point of view. 

This has also allowed me to try out different "romance" options. Karlach for Johan, Gale for Taryn, Shadowheart for Sinéad, and Shadowheart, Halsin, Wyll, Mizora, Sorn and Nym Orlith, (!) all for Larina. She is a lover. She is also a fighter, but mostly a lover.

Bloodrayne *might* go for Astarion. She is based on the video game character Rayne from Bloodrayne, after all. But I have never had my approval rating high enough with him in any run. My Kelek and Skylla runs are all about violence, not romance. Which come to think of it, might be what I need to do for Astarion. 

The game is bloody, violent, very often NC-17 and NSFW, and an absolute ton of fun.

I am just over 350 hours into all my runs and I am STILL finding new material. Both of my kids play it, and they tell me about things they found that I haven't! I even found another hidden door last night in Act II. So yeah, I have in no way exhausted all of this game's options. 

This is the most fun I have had with a video game in a very long time.

Sadly Larian will not be doing Baldur's Gate 4 despite their overwhelming success. They have been super gracious about it online, saying they loved doing BG3, but they want to do new things now. Reading between the lines, it was obvious that Hasbro was asking for a LOT more in licensing fees for the Forgotten Realms world, and Larina didn't want to lay people off to pay for it. So, kudos to Larian Studios.

Wizards of the Coast / Hasbro now has full rights again to all these characters. Back when Baldur's Gate 2 came out Wizards published game material to support it. Now? Nothing for Baldur's Gate 3. I hope they do something; otherwise, they are leaving money on the table. 

Tomorrow is Sunday, so there will be no A to Z post, but I will continue my Sunday Specials. So tomorrow is Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition.

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

Friday, April 12, 2024

#AtoZChallenge2024: K is for the Known World

 Today I am going to talk about the Known World, or the campaign setting implied in Basic D&D.

the Known World

When the D&D Expert Set was introduced, it included a two-page map of part of a continent. This was described as "The Known World," and that was good enough for us back then. A lot of strange cultures were crammed into an area about the size of the North Eastern portion of North America. But hey, it was D&D, and we thought it was great. It was certainly enough for me. In fact my characters rarely left this area. There was plenty to adventure here.

At the time, I did not know the work already done here and where this world would go in the next few years.

The Schick-Moldvay Known World

Before working on the D&D Basic Set, Tom Moldvay had a game with future D&D heavyweight Lawrence Schick. In their games they had a campaign world they were calling "The Known World."

A while back, Lawerence Schick posted "The “Known World” D&D Setting: A Secret History" over at the Black Gate site.  A nice history of how he and Tom Moldvay came up with the Known World for their own games and then ported it over to D&D Basic/Expert.  It is a fascinating read if, like me, you are a fan of the Mystara world and/or of maps in general.

James Mishler (who also did the Mystoerth map) takes this one further and provides the above map for the Moldvay/Schick known world.

It is interesting how so many familiar names and even locations exist in different places. It is like looking at a world you know but through some sort of distorted lens. What is also quite interesting to me are the new lands—places, and names that are entirely new to me.

The Known World
The Known World Replica Map by James Mishler

There is so much here I can use and honestly I have yet to grow tired of exploring this map. BUT it is not the map we ended up with. No once the Known World left the hands of Moldvay and Schick it became a different world.  That world would eventually be called URT! (ok and then Msytara).

The Known World of Urt Mystara

Spend any time here, and you will know that the Known World of the Basic/Expert Sets (B/X) was the first world I played in.  While I would move on to AD&D and Oerth, the Known World would also move to Mystara.  It would be the world introduced to us in the Companion Set and expanded on the Gazeteer Series, the D&D Rules Cyclopedia, and even into the 2nd Edition age and beyond.

But it was in the Companion and Master Sets that Mystara got its start.

The B/X Known World only occupies the East-most lower gray box, this is the same as the very first map on the top of this page.   The BECMI World, Mystara, is going to be bigger.  Even this is just the continent of Brun.

I am not sure who came up with the idea for Mystara to look the way it does but there are some obvious parallels.

From the Master DM's Book,

Here is Mystara, courtesy of

If it looks familiar, there is a good reason.

That is the Late Jurassic, the early Cretaceous period of the Earth, 150+ Million Years Ago.

Long-time readers here already know of the Paleomap Map project of Earth History.  It has many maps of the different stages of Earth history and potential future maps.  I will admit when I first saw maps of the really old Earth it was disquieting to me.  I love maps, and throughout all of human history, the Earth has been the same. Not so throughout ALL history and prehistory.

It's also kind of cool to see where the places of Mystara will line up to our world.

Mystara and the Lands Beneath the Waves by Grimklok

At first, the Known World was known by Urt or even Urth by Frank Mentzer and was designed to be similar to Gary's Oerth of the AD&D game. We also learn in the Immortals Set that Urt did not look like Earth 150 MYA it WAS Earth at that time. 

Though I think (and I have nothing to support this) that the "Urt" version of the Known World was scrapped after Frank Mentzer left TSR. His good friend Gary had already been ousted. It seems like Urt was a casualty of that regime change. So "Urt" was out, and "Mystara" was in. 


The Known World of Mystara was later expanded and given more detail in the wonderful Gazetteer Series, Hollow World Series, and Challenger Series.

While delving into everything Mystara would take me another month or another year, there is still a vibrant and active community on the web to support this world.  In fact, I would say it is far more active than most other worlds. Starting in the early days of the MPGN listserve lists run by TSR. The MYSTARA-L listserve was active back in the days when my access to the Internet was via a mainframe.  Many of the same people on those lists then are still active in the various Facebook groups and websites today.


For me, I always had a soft spot in my heart for Mystara. It was the world of my Basic era days, and when I moved on to AD&D, I still kept the world as "my own."  It was understood that when I was a player, it was in Greyhawk/Oerth, but when I was a DM, it was in the Known World/Mystara.  Eventually, right before college, we merged our worlds into one. I got the western half, and my DM got the eastern half.  

So you know, I was thrilled when I found the James Mischler/Chatdemon Mystoerth map.  The worlds share a lot of details in common, so a merge was inevitable. I no longer have the original map my then DM made, but this one is a better rendition anyway.

Click for larger

This appears to be the original map. While researching this, I found an old post by Rich/Chatdemon that offers an alternate name: Oerstara. I kind of like that. A lot. It sounds like Ostara, the pagan holiday from which Easter comes. Oestara could have been an alternate name for the planet, like Earth and Terra.

Regardless of which version of the Known World I would use there is more than enough in any of them to last me another lifetime of gaming and exploration.

Isn't that what it is all about?

Tomorrow is L, and I will talk about Larian Studios and Baldur's Gate 3

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

This is also my next entry of the month for the RPG Blog Carnival, hosted by Codex Anathema on Favorite Settings.

RPG Blog Carnival

Thursday, April 11, 2024

#AtoZChallenge2024: J is for Jennell Jaquays and Judges Guild

Jennell Jaquays
A double one today, but related topics. You can't talk about the early days of Dungeons & Dragons and not mention the Judges Guild. And you can't talk about the Judges Guild or D&D and not mention Jennell Jaquays.  She was there at the start, but now sadly both have passed.

Judges Guild

The Judges Guild began in 1976 in Decatur, Illinois. Just on the other side of Springfield from where I grew up. Being situated between Chicago/Lake Geneva and Carbondale (SIU) with U of I in Urbana and Judges Guild in between put me on a pipeline of D&D materials that, honestly, I thought everyone in the country had access to. That was not the case, as I discovered later. 

I discovered the Judges Guild very early on. Back then they were one of the very few companies allowed to print D&D compatible products. Among their contributions were a set of Ready Ref Sheets to be used by Dungeon Masters (originally called Judges) and character sheets.  They began to expand out with their own journal and a series of adventures.  From the Judges Guild Journal I came across the Mystic and the Warlock classes. While I didn't like them as such, they convinced me that a Witch class was a viable option.  Though they would also do their own witches with the Psychic Witch and in the adventure Witches Court Marshes. There was also The Illhiedrin Book, which was a fun, if simple adventure. 

But what they are most well known for are two adventures. One is Dark Tower, which I will talk more about below, and the other is The City State of the Invisible Overlord. Both are considered among the best of all of the early D&D products.

I am using them in the past tense. Yeah, they are still around, but they have been dropped by everyone. You used to be able to buy their PDFs from DriveThruRPG, but they are no longer there.  Why?  Well blame it on the son and grandson of the late owner Bob Bledsaw, Sr. BBII and BBIII turned out to be rather racist and held some pretty awful beliefs. You don't have to take my word for it, but I did document it all in a couple of posts a while back.

So, yeah, they might still be around, but they are dead to me and many other gamers. Which is too bad because they once had some quality products.

Jennell Jaquays

Sadly, we lost Jennell earlier this year.  I had never met with her face to face, though we had spoken together many times online. She was a compassionate, understanding, and wonderfully funny soul. I had been looking forward to seeing her at Gary Con this year. BTW, they had a wonderful tribute to her and to Jim Ward, who had also passed this year.

Jennell was there in the beginning.  You can't go through the early days of our hobby and not see her name on something. Whether it was early Judges Guild material, articles in Dragon magazine, or her works, both as a writer and artist, for Dungeons & Dragons, Traveller, The Fantasy Trip, and Runequest.  Her work in the Judges Guild Journal and the Dungeoneer pages are still some of my favorites from the dawn age of RPGs.

While her work on Central Casting is justifiably lauded, it was her Dark Tower adventure in which she gained her highest accolades. It was so good that it not only made the list of The 30 Greatest D&D Adventures of All Time, it is the only non-TSR/WotC entry on the list. It was also updated for D&D 3.5 and again for 5e.  Though I admit, I am also rather partial to her TSR adventure "Talons of Night." Her adventures were so non-linear in their design that the style is now known as "Jaquaysing a Dungeon." With this being the proper spelling.

Her continued work in video games, like Quake, kept her close to RPGs. 

Her wife, Rebecca "Burger Becky" Heineman, has a GoFundMe. Initially, it was to cover medical expenses, which, sadly, she still has.

she created the adventure Dark Tower which 

Goodman Games (a good company) has been producing their Original Adventures Reincarnated series, and Dark Tower is again the only one in the series that is not a TSR adventure. They are also producing a line of material that Jennell had been working on prior to her death. Materials of hers she bought back from Judges Guild.

I don't have the new Dark Tower 3-book set yet. It is the only one I am missing.

Both these topics represent a loss. One, Jennell the loss due to her death. The other, Judges Guild, the loss because the current owners decided to burn up 40 years of goodwill and fandom in a week. 

Tomorrow is K, and I will talk about the Known World

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

Tuesday, April 9, 2024

#AtoZChallenge2024: H is for Hobbit

The Hobbit
 "In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit."

A very unassuming start to an epic adventure. Not just the epic adventure that propelled the hobbit, Bilbo Baggins, and his dwarf companions from the quiet of the Shire to a dragon's hoard and a great battle, but also how it shaped what would become Dungeons & Dragons.

It doesn't take a scholar of either J.R.R. Tolkien or of Dungeons & Dragons to see the similarities between the two. Elves, Dwarves, Orcs, Dragons, Were-bears, Goblins, Trolls, Hobbits-er Halflings, and Dragons. Ancient underground areas, dark forests, and a grand adventure. 

It was enough that "Chainmail" and the first version of Dungeons & Dragons (often called the "Original Edition" or 0 Edition), had Hobbits, Ents, and Balrogs in it. Which got TSR a lot of threatening letters from the Tolkien Estate. So instead, we now have Halflings, Treants (Tree + Ent), and Balors (like the Irish Balor, but in name only).

Where it Began, Part 1: Chainmail

Prior to D&D there was Gary's first game, Chainmail, described as "Rules for Medieval Miniatures."  These rules were for War Gamers and not Role-Playing games, which did not really* exist yet.

*Yes there were and have been close games and others that were RPGs in all but name, but the term and the genre did not exist yet.

Chainmail allowed you to play medieval war games with minis. Most often made of lead and played in a large sandbox.  It was released in 1971, but there are claims that the rules in one form or another, existed in Gary's basement since 1968 after the first Gen Con. As people played with these rules, they expanded on them. One of the expansions was the Fantasy Supplement. Here, creatures like dragons, orcs, elves, Balrogs, Ents, and Hobbits were added.

OD&D 1st Print and 3rd Print with Chainmail

These additions proved to be very popular among some, and not so popular among older War Gamers. Yes. Even then the Edition Wars had their first salvos. 

This popularity and the notion that people wanted to play individual characters led to the first drafts of what would become Dungeons & Dragons.

The Tolkien Estate, of course, noticed. 

While sales stopped on TSR's "Battle of the Five Armies" (1975), copies of Dungeons & Dragons and Chainmail had to be edited to change to the more "Tolkien-approved" terms. My copy of Chainmail above still has Hobbits, Ents, and Balrogs. My 1st printing of OD&D has them, my more complete 3rd-4th printing does not.

Of course, there were missives in Dragon Magazine on how D&D was not even remotely inspired by Tolkien, but honestly they rang as hollow as the ones of D&D and AD&D being completely different games. Likely for similar reasons.

Years later on TSR had the chance to do a Lord of the Rings/D&D game and somehow managed to mess that deal up.  Competitor Iron Crown Enterprises (I.C.E.) would have their own Middle-Earth Role-Playing Game, and it was wildly successful. 

Where it Began, Part 2: Rankin/Bass

It is hard to think about a time when The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings were exclusive to literate geeks. We are far removed from the time when you could see patches on student's backpacks that proclaimed "Frodo Lives!" While today we have the massive Peter Jackson movies, back in the 1970s we had Rankin/Bass and "The Hobbit."

The Rankin/Bass Hobbit movie, appearing on TV in 1977, was my generation's gateway drug to D&D. I consider myself the 2nd (maybe a little on the 3rd) generation of D&D gamers. I did not come to this hobby because of wargaming. I came here because I read The Hobbit.  In fact, the book pictured above was the one I got for Christmas in 1981 along with my Moldvay Basic set because I was tired of borrowing other people's copies.  I had first read it in Jr. High and had already been exposed to D&D; this was exactly the right book at the right time in my life. I would later go on to read the Lord of the Rings and try to read The Silmarillion. I would finally succeed years later. 

For me, and many others, the Hobbit/Lord of the Rings and D&D are deeply linked. I have even joked that everyone is allowed one "Tolkien rip-off" character while playing D&D. Mine was a Halfling with the completely uninspired name of "Bilbo Perrin."

I reread the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings every few years or so. They are still among the best "D&D" tales out there, even if Gandalf only has the spell-casting power of a 6th-level D&D Wizard.


Tomorrow is I, and I will talk about Imagination.

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

Monday, April 8, 2024

#AtoZChallenge2024: G is for Gary Gygax, Gen Con, and Greyhawk

Gary Gygax
 I can't talk about Dungeons & Dragons and not at least mention the man who made it all possible, Gary Gygax.

Gary is often credited for creating Dungeons & Dragons and Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, but he really co-created with fellow game enthusiast Dave Arneson (gone 15 years ago yesterday). I discussed this a bit with Advanced Dungeons & Dragons on A Day.  In truth, it would have been difficult for either man alone to have produced this game, but one thing is certain: it was Gary's vision (and thanks to Gary's oldest daughter for the name) to make Dungeons & Dragons the worldwide phenomenon it is today.

I spent a lot of time last month talking about Gary and his games. Dungeons & Dragons, Mythus (1992), and Lejendary Adventure (1999). Yes, that is spelled correctly.  I also was at Gary Con this past month, a celebration of his life and games well played. 

It is kind of strange in a way, my relationship with Gary. I grew up, like all gamers my age, knowing and even revering his name. I went on and began to recognize some of the all too human flaws we all have. To a point where he emailed me out of the blue to thank me for my "Mystery Science Science Theatre 3000" parody of "Dark Dungeons."  We share a writing credit, Unearthed Acania, and chatted online until his death in 2008. 

Before D&D, he created Gen Con, the world's largest gaming convention. It was named because it took place in Lake Geneva, WI, a play on the Geneva Convention. Gen Con is now in Indianapolis, IN, and Gary Con is held in Lake Geneva. This con was initially devoted to his love of war games. 

Dungeons & Dragons itself grew out of these classical wargames and soon became its own new thing.


He also created the World of Greyhawk, a fantasy world he created for his Dungeons & Dragons games. It was the forerunner to the Forgotten Realms and is still preferred by many of the old guard.

The name of the planet of the World of Greyhawk was Oerth and was supposed to be an alternate Earth. It is the world I combined with Mystara (from D&D Basic) to get Mystoerth.

There is no way I can do Gary's story justice here. So instead I am going to refer you all to some books that talk about him and the creation of Dungeons & Dragons.

There is also a DVD/BlueRay I meant to pick up at Gary Con but forgot to.

I spent a lot of time trying to dig up an obituary I wrote for Gary back in 2008, but it has eluded me.  Which might be better, really. My opinion of him has changed over the years; reading about his life, reading his games, and mostly talking with his children. I had a wonderful conversation with Luke Gygax at Gary Con. We talked about his dad, Dave Arneson, and the recent loss of Jim Ward. 

Sometimes we forget that these "Big Names" we read about are human until they do something all too human. But also, it is nice to remember that they are human and quite approachable. 

Tomorrow is H, and I will talk about Hobbits.

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

Sunday, April 7, 2024

#AtoZChallenge2024: Sunday Special, AD&D 2nd Edition

I know that in the A to Z Challenge we skip posting on Sundays, but since we have enough Sundays here I am going to use them to talk about the various editions of D&D that otherwise would not get talked about.

Up this Sunday?  AD&D 2nd Edition.

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, 2nd Edition


Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, 2nd Edition

AD&D 2nd Edition was released starting in the spring of 1989, 12-10 years after AD&D 1st Edition. The game was met with great anticipation by many, myself included, and by trepidation by others.

Trepidation since was going to be the first major edition of Dungeons & Dragons with Gary Gygax's name on it. Now to be fair, the Mentzer BECMI also did not feature Gary's name on the cover, but his fingerprints if not his tacit and implicit blessings were all over it.

This edition did not have that and there were some that felt it could not live up.

I was not necessarily a Gygax loyalist. Sure I knew he had been ousted from TSR, the publisher of D&D and the company he helped create, but D&D by this time had had a lot of names on it.  D&D, in my mind then, was bigger that Gary Gygax alone.  

So when AD&D 2nd came out I was in. I got my books as soon as they were released and I went head first into this new game. For reasons that seem silly now, I always felt I was behind the curve when it came to AD&D 1st Ed. That there were people who had gotten in early and "knew" more than me. This was not going to be the case for 2nd Ed! 

In truth, I enjoyed the game for a very long time, but it was also the game that would nearly turn me away from D&D.

I bought AD&D 2nd Edition and I put up, and eventually loaned out, all my older D&D rule books. That was a HUGE mistake. First off, save for minor details, AD&D 1st Ed and AD&D 2nd Ed were still very compatible. I could move characters, monsters, and adventures between the two with relative ease. In some cases the changes were also improvements in my mind. The Bards were better; the initiative used a d10 and not a d6, which made a lot more sense, and the monsters were far more detailed.  In fact, I spent a whole series of posts on the monster books.

Though it was not without it's own problems. The "splat" books (called that because the * often used as a wild card is also called a 'splat') began to get out of control, and each one introduced new levels of power creep. For example, I loved the new Bard class and HATED "The Complete Bards Handbook." 

There was also a level of enforced morality in the game. Spells like Bestow Curse were now gone, Assassins and barbarians as classes were gone, and demons and devils were also gone. Now honestly I didn't mind all of that, I could, and did, add my own material.

The Campaign Settings

The REAL selling point for AD&D 2nd Edition for many of us were the Campaign Settings.  I talked about the Forgotten Realms yesterday and I'll talk about Ravenloft later. Mystara had a few brief moments, and there were others. And that was part of the problem. Ravenloft people like me didn't buy Forgotten Realms books. Forgotten Realms fans didn't buy Birthright or Red Steel or Mystara. People who bought Planescape never bought Spelljammer. There were too many settings and too many books in each one and no one was buying them all. Or at least not enough to matter.

So when TSR finally went bankrupt and was deep, deep in debt, it was not a surprise really.

My History with AD&D 2nd Ed.

When AD&D 2nd Edition was released, I was living in the dorms at my university as an undergrad. When the next edition was released in 2000, I had been married for five years, had been living in a new house for three of those and my oldest son was nearly one year old.  Talk about changes. 

AD&D 2nd Ed books, revised and original

Also, at that time, I went from "AD&D 2nd Ed is the game for me" to "I will play ANYTHING but AD&D."  A few factors went into that. First was the power creep I mentioned above. The worst books for this were the Skills and Powers books, an attempt by TSR to patch all the leaky holes the AD&D system (now 25 years old) was showing.  Also, AD&D didn't support the type of game I wanted to play anymore.

Then, there was the issue with how TSR was treating the D&D players online.

In the early days of the Internet, there was a rush to share ideas, particularly D&D ideas. Netbooks became very popular. TSR responded by trying to sue anyone that talked about D&D online. So much so they became known as "They Sue Regularily."  Hard to imagine in today's post-OGL and Creative Commons world. People also forget how bad it was and how Wizards of the Coast, the next publisher of D&D, essentially gave away their rules for free to use.

Today. My stance on AD&D has softened a lot, and I am back to loving it again. 

Will I ever play AD&D 2nd again? I don't know, I'd love to, to be honest.

Tomorrow, we are back to the regular schedule, and I have G for Gary Gygax.

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

Friday, April 5, 2024

#AtoZChallenge2024: E is for Expert

 There are a lot of "E"s I could have gone with today. Epic. Encounter. Heck, even Eclipse and how it relates to D&D. But there is really only one "E" I want to talk about, and that is the Expert Set.

The Expert Set is the follow up the Basic Set I covered on Tuesday. Just like there is more than one Basic there is more than one Expert.

Expert Sets

So, a bit of background.

The Expert Rules for D&D follow the Basic Rules. So these books are compatible with the Basic-era of D&D, the so-called "B/X" rules (Basic/Expert) and the "BECMI" rules. They are not, and I would later discover, part of the same line as Advanced Dungeon & Dragons.

The first Expert set was out in January of 1981. This is the one I started with.  Edited by David "Zeb" Cook with Steven Marsh it is sometimes called the Cook/Marsh Expert or B/X Expert.  I have a lengthy review of it here: D&D Expert Set.

The second Expert set was edited by Frank Mentzer, so it is sometimes called the Mentzer Expert or most often the BECMI Expert. BECMI was for the entire series of Mentzer edited/authored Basic line of Basic, Expert, Companion, Master, and Immortal rules.  I reviewed this Exper set here: BECMI: Expert Set review.

I discussed these differences for my B post, B is for Basic Set Dungeons & Dragons.

The two sets are largely compatible with each other with just minor changes that I detailed in the BECMI Expert review. 

The focus here is higher level characters, levels 4 to 14, and moving out of the dungeon into "Wilderness" and, therefore, more dangerous adventures. This is the end of the B/X line but that actually is a feature, not a bug. The adventures from levels 1 to 14 represent some of the most exciting adventures you and your character can do. It was true then and still true today. Many of the official Dungeons & Dragons adventures end at level 15 (even though the limit now is 20), and the post-popular "D&D" adventure out now, Baldur's Gate 3 video game, has a limit of level 12.  While the BECMI moves on to level 36 (C & M) and beyond (I), I still think this is the sweet spot for most gamers.

"That's Not REAL D&D!"

I got my start with Holmes Basic then quickly moved on to Moldvay Basic and it's companion Cook/Marsh Expert. And I was very, very happy with that for the longest time. While it is not a perfect overlap, I always equate this edition with my gaming in Jr. High.  My then regular DM, Jon Cook, and I would play a lot of this. He also had the B/X books but he also had Advanced D&D (published in 1977) and we played a mix-mash of them both (something I later on discovered was very typical). Sure I wondered why things were different between the games. Clerics had slightly different spell progression and everyone was a bit tougher in AD&D, but I was content. I was happy. Until one night.

This would have been near the end of Jr. High, I know because the Mentzer Expert had not been released yet. I think I must have been about 12 or so. Anyway, Jon and I got invited to a "real" D&D session with some highschool kids. Now let me step back a second here and set the stage. At this time D&D was popular enough that we had a lot of local groups playing completely independent games. I can remember sitting in the lunch room in my Jr. High and listening to friends talk about their D&D games, I was in awe and wonder (of course, I later learned that many of them were just stealing from things like Dune like I was Dark Shadows!).  So we got to go to this game and we were told just bring out PHBs (Player's Handbooks), I didn't have one, I had an Expert book.

Well. I got told in no uncertain terms that what I was I playing was NOT REAL D&D. I was like, "what are you talking about?" Gygax's name was on the insider cover. It was published by TSR. I had very nearly the same rules you did. 

My friends, I had entered into my first battle of "The Edition Wars," and I did not come out unscathed. "Edition Warring" in D&D is the misguided (and stupid, yeah I said it) notion that one edition is better than the other. There were only two editions (maybe four) editions of D&D out at this point and I am already getting shit for it? The effect it had on me was enough that I can still remember it over 44 years later, AND it kept me from playing the BECMI version of D&D for nearly half that time. 

Which is, of course, stupid. It also was not the last time I'd make a bad choice based on editions, but at least the next time was all my own doing. I'll detail that on Sunday.

Today, if I am going to go back and play some "Classic D&D" chances are real good I mean the B/X versions of Basic and Expert.  

It is also my favorite to write and publish for with four of my books designed specifically for the B/X rules in mind, via the Old School Essentials clone game.

Much like what I said for the Basic Set any future "Basic" or Introductory set of D&D needs to do what these sets did. Introduce me to the game, give me some options, an adventure to play, and if possible, some dice! I still have my original Basic and Expert sets of dice.

Tomorrow I talk about a topic that has dominated my posting all year long, The Forgotten Realms.

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

Wednesday, April 3, 2024

#AtoZChallenge2024: C is for Critical Role

 One of the biggest cultural phenomenons to come out of modern D&D has been the success of Critical Role. It was successful because of D&D 5th Edition and, in turn, made D&D 5th Edition more successful.

What is Critical Role

Critical Role Cast
The voice actor players.

It is a streamed "actual play" Dungeons & Dragons 5e (for the most part, more on that) game. Each session is about 4+ hours long (resulting in over 2,000 hours of content) and features a group of voice actors: (top L-R, picture above) Sam Riegel, Taliesin Jaffe, Marisha Ray, Dungeon Master Matt Mercer, and (bottom, L-R) Liam O'Brien, Laura Bailey, Ashley Johnson, and Travis Willingham.

They began just as a group of friends (Travis and Laura were either already married or dating, Matt and Marisha were dating) playing a D&D 4th Edition and then a Pathfinder game.  When D&D 5e came out, they moved over to that. You can even see some rule confusion in the early episodes.

Vox Machina
The characters. Can you match who is who?

They soon became wildly popular. How popular? Well there is an Amazon series based on their first campaign ("Vox Machina"), there are several books about and by the Critical Role team, their Gen Con shows are sold out months in advance, and they also sold out Wembley Arena back in October of 2023. A live event to watch a bunch of friends play D&D, and they sold out a space that had previously seen sold-out shows of the likes of Led Zeppelin, Genesis, David Bowie, Queen, The Who, The Grateful Dead, and more.

While they were not the first online Actual Play D&D streamers, they are the biggest, and they made this into not just their own genre of entertainment, but they have been making an absolute ton of money. 

There are three campaigns featuring different groups of characters. Campaign 1 featured the above characters in Vox Machina. Campaign 2 was their big breakthrough campaign featuring the Mighty Nein. This also introduced Laura Bailey's character, Jester Lavorre, the tiefling that inspired a thousand cosplays

There have also been four published books for the D&D 5e game.

Critical Role books

The cultural phenomena that is Critical Role has not been without some critics. There are those that complain that they are not really gamers. Or that they are not really playing. Or that the "Mercer Effect" has ruined what people expect from D&D.

To those critics, I say, "Do you remember exactly when it was when you let fun die in your life?"

Look. The hobby space that D&D occupies now is not the same as it was in the 1980s. This is a good thing. 

People can watch Critical Role and enjoy it without rolling any dice of their own. They can watch the show and then think, "Hey, this looks fun. I want to try this." They can cosplay Jester, Keyleth, or FCG. They can enjoy the Amazon Prime series.

For me, it is all great fun. I started watching the old streams (still on Campaign 1!), and I enjoy them. They have also given me ideas for my own games. Between Campaign 1 and "Stranger Things," there is a whole new generation of D&D fans out there. Yeah, so sometimes I get 20-year-olds excited to tell me all about Vecna (the BBG in both), but hey, they are excited.

The Future

Critical Role has been a huge money maker...for Critical Role. It should not surprise anyone that the Powers That Be at Hasbro (the current owners of Wizards of the Coast and D&D) wanted in on some of that action. So last year in January, Hasbro/WotC wanted to put out some new guidelines on what various creators can do with D&D material, essentially walking back on 23+ years of access and goodwill.  Well, people naturally were angry.  It was enough that I even stopped using the very permissible Open Gaming License to produce my own works and spent most of 2023 working on solutions. Others did the same. One of those solutions for the Critical Role team was to build their own RPG that they controlled and had all the rights to. It is a very good idea.

They began with an actual play series and a new game called Candella Obscura. It is a quasi-Victorian, horror-themed fantasy game, so you know I am interested! I have not played it yet, but we have the hardcover and it looks fun.  You can try it out for free with their QuickStart Guide

Daggerheart and Candella Obscura

Their newest game is called Daggerheart. It is still being playtested, and I discussed it a while back. Will people leave D&D 5 for it? Well, there is some indication that D&D 5 sales dipped in 2023. Was that because of Wizards of the Coast's series of PR blunders or because D&D 5R (One D&D) is due out at the end of this year, and sales ALWAYS dip after these announcements? Hard to say, but it's likely a combination of both. But in any case I wish Daggerheart and the Critical Role team nothing but the best and hope they are wildly successful.

Even if you don't like Critical Role. The Stream, the Amazon show, their D&D 5e content, or new games, you have to like the attention they have brought to this hobby. Even if only 1/10th of the people drawn into this stick around for other games, that is more than we had before.

Tomorrow, I'll talk about a topic that is very near and dear to the hearts of many gamers. Dice!

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

This is also my first entry of the month for the RPG Blog Carnival, hosted by Codex Anathema on Favorite Settings.

RPG Blog Carnival