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

Sunday, April 21, 2024

#AtoZChallenge2024: Sunday Special, D&D 4th Edition

This Sunday A to Z special we are talking about the most controversial version of D&D put out. That would be 2008's Fourth Edition Dungeons & Dragons.

Dungeons & Dragons, 4th Edition

Dungeons & Dragons, 4th Edition Core Books

Again, lets set the stage. It is 2007, and Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition, now in its 3.5 edition, has been going on for 7 years. There are hundreds of D&D 3e books out there, and if you count the ones released by 3rd party publishers, then there are thousands.

Rumor has it that the Powers that Be at Wizards of the Coast/Hasbro saw all that money these publishers had made and also saw that they were getting none of it.  So they had the D&D team design a new version of D&D. Now, seven years is not a bad run for a set of core rules; a little light, yes, but not bad. But it was not the normal dropping off of sales that prompted this change; rather, it was a desire to reign back in the OGL and SRD.  Thus, 4th edition was born. Or so the story goes.

Now I have heard these tales for a long time. While I can certainly see where they could be true I have never seen a smoking gun or anything like that to confirm it. I do know that out of all the editions 4th is the least compatible with all the others. I also know that the license used to support 4e products was restrictive and slow to come out. 

Pathfinder, as I mentioned on P day came out and took over the market from 3e, and many other gamers saw the new 4e rules and went back even further still to older games.  

Much like the hydra of old the problem only got bigger.

This is too bad, really, because there is nothing really wrong with 4e.


I loved the art and the attention to detail in the game's design. Was it D&D? I can't answer that for you. For me, it was "near D&D," just like Pathfinder was/is. In some ways, Pathfinder was more D&D 4 than D&D 4 was. They were cousins, born at the same time, whose grandparents had trouble telling apart as their favorite.

DrivethruRPG has a sizable collection now of Fourth Edition PDFs.  A few I have already bought. I could simply unload a few of those books, not sure how or where, and then rebuy them on PDF.

I love that 4e was very modular in layout.  I very easily could cut up all the books and reshuffle them to have all the classes in one place and all the skills and feats in another. All the monsters, mostly alphabetical in yet another.   The organization appeals to my innate sense of order and collection (or is that OCD?).

The real question is, is it worth it?  Obviously, if I played the game more then yes.  But I only dabble. Here and there now. I like the fluff.  I have talked about 4e in terms of sunk cost fallacy and how I would later go on to adapt the materials for my 5e games. But I still feel it never really got a fair shake.

Maybe I'll come back to it someday.

--

Tomorrow is back at it with S Day, and I'll talk about a topic very close to the heart of many Dungeons & Dragons players in the 1980s, the Satanic Panic!

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


Saturday, April 20, 2024

#AtoZChallenge2024: R is for Ravenloft

Ravenloft
 This has been a favorite feature of my A to Z posts over the years, with two of my earliest A to Z posts covering the same topic.

One would think I didn't have any more to say, but those are just two of 56 posts I have here about Ravenloft (soon to be 57). But yet here I am with more to say.

What is Ravenloft?

Ravenloft was originally an adventure for First Edition AD&D, released back in 1983, and written by Tracy and Laura Hickman's husband and wife team. It was part of the "I" or intermediate series of adventures. Most of these were not linked and only shared that they were higher level than beginning adventures. Ravenloft, given the code I6, was for character levels 5 to 7. 

Ravenloft was a huge change from many of the adventures TSR had published to that date. For starters the adventure featured an antagonist, Count Strahd von Zarovich, who was no mere monster. Yes he was an AD&D Vampire, but he was meant to be run as an intelligent Non-player Character.  Prior to this the vampires have been the unnamed Vampire Queen of the Palace of the Vampire Queen, Drelnza the vampire daughter of Iggwilv in The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth, and Belgos the Drow Vampire in Vault of the Drow. By 1983 the amount written on all three of these vampires would not even be as long as this post will be. Strahd was different.

Strahd had a backstory, he had motivation, and he was intelligent and ruthless. Destroying him was the goal and that was not an easy feat by any stretch of the imagination.

The adventure also introduced some new elements as well. The dungeon crawl was gone, replaced by a huge gothic castle and a nearby village. The adventure could be replayed ab unique given the "Fortunes of Ravenloft" mechanic that allows key items, people, and motives to change based on a fortune card reading.

And there were the iso-morphic, 3D looking maps, that helped give perspective to many levels of Castle Ravenloft. 

The adventure was an immediate and resounding hit. This adventure, along with the Dragonlance Adventures also by Tracy Hickman (and Margaret Weis) led to something many old-school gamers call "The Hickman Revolution" and claim it marks the time between the Golden Age and Silver Age of AD&D, with the Silver age coming after 1983. While yes there was a change, a lot of it was for the better.

For me, it was a dream come true. Vampires had always been my favorite creatures to fight in D&D, and I was an avid Dracula fan. I bought this adventure and then threw it at my DM, saying, "Run this!" 

I grew up on a steady stream of Universal Monsters, Hammer Horror, and Dark Shadows. That's my Appendix N. So, an adventure set in pretty much the Hammer Hamlet where I get strange locals and have to fight a vampire? Yeah, that is what D&D was to me.

I find that the people who don't like this adventure don't see what makes it great. This is not Lord of the Rings, Conan, or some other Appendix N pulp fantasy. This is Hammer Horror. Strahd has to be played with a combination of charisma, scene-chewing villainy, and absolute brutality. In other words, it is exactly like Christopher Lee playing Dracula.  Even the nearby village is filled with terrified, but the pitchfork in the ready village is a Hammer Hamlet

Ravenloft three different printings
Original, 25th Anniversary Edition, Print on Demand Edition

I even got my original module from 1983 signed by Tracy Hickman.


This adventure was so popular that it spawned a sequel, Ravenloft House on Gryphon Hill and an entire campaign setting.

Ravenloft: The Setting

I mention that in college, I played AD&D 2nd Edition. The biggest selling point of AD&D 2nd ed was the campaign settings. There were a lot of them. Too many. But my favorite was Ravenloft. They took the events of the 1983 adventure and built an entire world around it with people, magic and lots of horror monsters. It was Gothic horror, to start with, but soon expanded into other realms of horror using the AD&D 2nd Ed rules. Not always a perfect fit, but I made it work.

It even expanded it to Earth in Ravenloft: Masque of the Red Death

It has been so popular that it is one of the few settings to see publication across all five major editions of D&D.  4th Edition made some changes, as did 5th Edition. But that is all within the same vein (so to speak) as all Horror movies, and Dracula in particular, get reinterpreted to fit the times better. Horror is always about what people in the here and now are concerned with. Ravenloft follows suit.

Ravenloft across the editions

Ravenloft has been listed as one of the greatest adventures of all time and Strahd as one of the greatest D&D villains ever. 

I have run this adventure many times under many different rulesets, and it has been a blast every time. 

Even if I am not playing D&D, I return to this adventure and this setting. 


Tomorrow is Sunday, so a break from A to Z, but not my posting. I will cover Dungeons 7 Dragons 4th Edition.

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


Friday, April 19, 2024

#AtoZChallenge2024: Q is for Queens

 I have an inordinate amount of Queens in my games. I am going to talk about two groups in particular, the Vampire Queens and the Witch Queens.

Tea with the Witch Queens by Brian Brinlee
Tea with the Witch Queens by Brian Brinlee

Both groups are near and dear to my heart and make up a lot of my game worlds' backgrounds.

The Vampire Queens

The vampire queens have a special connection to my early days of gaming. They are:

I have been using vampire queens in my adventures for as long as I can remember. I recall reading lurid tales of Erzsébet Báthory and watching movies like "Daughters of Darkness" and "Countess Dracula." I had worked on a very early vampire queen, who was going to be called "Miriam" thanks to "The Hunger" for my Ravenloft games (see tomorrow), but I kept coming up with so many ideas. Miriam is still out there, even if many of her aspects are now part of Darlessa. The non-vampire parts of Miriam survived as my Witch Queen Miriam

In truth I kind of use them all interchangeably, with some emphasis on Darlessa. As they have all evolved in my games, I am slowly sifting out which traits belong to which queen. 

Interestingly enough, both Darlessa and Xaltana are also both Witch Queens. Xaltana combines Iggwilv (a witch queen) and Drelzna her vampire daughter.  

The Witch Queens

While the Vampire Queens are here to challenge the characters as adversaries, the Witch Queens play a much different and far more wide-reaching role. 

This began as an idea of me finding and then stating up every witch ever mentioned in the pages of a D&D or related game. The premise here was that every 13 years the witches of these worlds would meet in one place to discuss what they are up to in their worlds and plan to generally stay out of each other's way. The gathering, known as the Tredecim, became a big part of my games. At the Tredecim, the 13 ruling witches then choose a new High Witch Queen to serve over the next 13 years.  In my campaign, War of the Witch Queens, the then-current High Witch Queen is murdered before a new one can be chosen. This sends the witches into war against each other, but due to their pacts with Baba Yaga, they can't outright fight each other. So, all their worlds get dragged into the conflict.  This includes the characters.

The characters learn first that a once-in-a-century storm has destroyed their home, and they are refugees helping move their fellow town folk to a new home in East Haven. While their first obvious goal is to stop all the weird happenings going on in their own world, they discover these events are playing out across the worlds. To stop it, they need to stop the all-powerful Witch Queens, but to do that, they will need to discover who murdered the High Queen, how, and why.

Since I started working on this and developing it more and more, I have gone over 13 Witch Queens and my planned 13 Adventures. I am using Basic B/X D&D as my rules of choice here, which limits the levels characters can achieve to 14. 

I am running it with my family now, but I'd also like to run it for a dedicated group someday.  I think for that I would take all the adventures I am using for it and edit them all a bit. 

If I keep the levels 1-14 then the obvious choice is D&D Basic B/X.  If I expand it all to level 20 then my choice will be Castles & Crusades.

Either way, I have a lot to look forward to!

Tomorrow is R Day, and I am going with the campaign setting I ran for all of the AD&D 2nd Edition era, Ravenloft.

OH? Like the art of my Witch Queens up there? The artist is Brian Brinlee and he has a Kickstarter of his new art book going on now! Check it out.

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


Thursday, April 18, 2024

#AtoZChallenge2024: P is for Pathfinder (and Paizo)

 A bit of a divergence today for, well, a bit of divergence.  Let me set the stage a bit. It is 2007, and Wizards of the Coast has decided to end the publication of the wildly successful Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition line and will now produce Dungeons & Dragons 4th edition.  D&D 3e was the edition that brought many back to the game. It was the edition that rekindled my enjoyment of the game after so many years. The idea that this would end only after 7 years (10 years per edition had been the average) seemed a bit odd.

In any case, 4th edition was released, and ... well, I'll talk about that on Sunday. But people were not ready to give up their 3rd Edition rules. Enter Paizo and Pathfinder!

Pathfinder Core Rules

Back when 3rd Edition was popular, Wizards of the Coast had licensed out the RPG Hobby's flagship gaming Magazines, Dragon and Dungeon, to Paizo, Inc. Here they helmed both magazines for many years and built a few 3rd Edition compatible products thanks to the Open Gaming Licence. In 2007 Wizards of the Coast announced 4th edition they did not renew the contract with Paizo to produce material. So Paizo went on to produce their own Pathfinder periodical, a set of publications similar to the Dungeon magazine. 

In 2008 D&D 4e started out with good sales, but soon they began to fall. Fall faster than expected. Paizo saw there was still a market for 3rd-edition compatible material, but they also wanted to make some changes. Thus, in 2009 the Pathfinder RPG rules were born.

So in 2009, we both did D&D 4e, which was not compatible with D&D 3x or any other D&D rules set. And Pathfinder, which was 95% compatible with D&D 3.x.  That last 5% is for the differences in the D&D 3 and 3.5 rules and the extras Pathfinder added in. But honestly, you could take your D&D 3.0 characters, fight D&D 3.5 monsters while the Game Master ran Pathfinder rules, and everyone would be fine.

Sadly, Wizards of the Coast/Hasbro has a very bad habit of firing people. The good news here though is that some of those people would go on to be hired by Paizo to work on Pathfinder. I mentioned before that Pathfinder is often thought of as being "Dungeons & Dragons 3.75" and there is a lot of truth to that. There is a lot here that feels like D&D 3.x perfected. They certainly had the advantage of 9 more years of playing and writing to help them out. 

Pathfinder then did the impossible, it dethroned D&D as the best selling Fantasy RPG. They beat D&D at their own game. If the OGL was one of the reasons 4e got made, it was 4e's failures that got 5e made. In the meantime, Pathfinder just kept moving along and doing its thing.

Pathfinder 2nd Edition came along in 2019. It was different. While the rules were still very much tied to the OGL and the system first created for D&D 3, these rules had more divergence. The Pathfinder 2nd Edition rules were created to go after the D&D 5th edition, which by this time had reclaimed its market superiority. 

This would change again in 2023 when Wizards announced they were going to "revoke" the OGL (something they actually could not do legally). Pathfinder relied on the safe harbor of the OGL (as do many publishers) so in April of 2023 they announced their Pathfinder 2e Remastered. This would be their 2e ruleset, rewritten to avoid using the OGL and instead their own ORC license. While this did not deal the blow to D&D 5e that Pathfinder did to 4e, it was enough to have some people (myself included) move from D&D 5e to Pathfinder 2eR. 

Pathfinder 2e and 2eR
Pathfinder 2e and 2eR. I am still a sucker for a ribbon in my book.

I can find no significant differences between the Pathfinder 2e rules and the Pathfinder 2eR ones. I know Paizo is no longer selling the 2e rules in favor of the 2eR, which is as it should be. Pathfinder 2e is a fine game in its own right, and I like it better as long as I am not trying to compare it to either D&D 3e or 5e. And then only because they can all do the same sorts of games, just in different ways.

Tomorrow is Q Day, and I am going with a tried and true one. I will talk about the various Queens of Dungeons & Dragons.

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


Wednesday, April 17, 2024

#AtoZChallenge2024: O is for Original Dungeons & Dragons

 I can't properly celebrate 50 years of Dungeons & Dragons and not talk about where the game started. So let's go back to 1974 and the Original edition of Dungeons & Dragons.

Original D&D

This is the original 3-Volume set of Dungeons & Dragons, plus the Chainmail rules for fantasy minatures.

The rules...are arcane to say the least. These rules assumed that the player and the Referee (what would later be named Dungeon Master) already had a background in wargames or had access to those who did. Some have even gone as far as call the rules indecipherable, but I think that is obviously not the case. These rules say several reprints into the 1980s, with the 6th reprint being the most common. Mine is a mix of 3rd and 4th printings. You can still buy copies of it on DriveThruRPG if you are curious (it sells for the same price as it did back then), OR if you are super serious about it, score one of the collectible editions Wizards of the Coast did 10 years back

I will warn you, they are going for a lot of money now. But they are still cheaper than the OD&D rules from the 1970s.  Even the relatively common 6th printing goes for thousands of dollars now. I hate to think what 3rd printing would sell for.

Original D&D Reprint from 2013

Original D&D Reprint from 2013

Original D&D Reprint from 2013

There were only three character classes back then: Fighting Men, Magic Users, and Clerics. Races were humans, dwarves, hobbits/halflings, and elves, who had to decide whether to begin their day as Fighting Men or Magic Users.

Even the rolling of a d20 (twenty-sided die) was the "optional" rule for combat.

I did not start with this one. However, in 1987, I played a summer session with these rules. It was an educational experience, and I am certainly happy I did. I don't know if I will repeat it like that; I would add in more of the later supplements that made it into the game I know now. But it is something every gamer, especially every D&D player, needs to try at least once. 

These rules, though, were the absolute standard for gaming from 1974 to 1977, when TSR launched the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons line. Even other game companies mimicked TSR's approach.

A prime example is Traveller, the premier science fiction RPG, which began as a same-sized box with three books. If the D&D game books were called "The Three Little Brown Books, " the Traveller books were  "The Three Little Black Books." 

OD&D and Original Traveller

OD&D 3LBB and Original Traveller 3LBB

These little books are a very humble start to what would become a worldwide phenomenon. As the game grew and progressed, so did its players. We are now at a point where there is truly a game out there for everyone's needs and wants. And if the game you are playing doesn't do that, well there are thousands of choices. 

I still love reading these little books. They never get old to me. 

Tomorrow is P Day, and I'll talk about Pathfinder, the divergence of Dungeons & Dragons.

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


Tuesday, April 16, 2024

#AtoZChallenge2024: N is for Appendix N

Appendix N
The original 1st Edition Dungeon Master's Guide for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons is a treasure trove of material for running an AD&D game. It is also a treasure for running any sort of game. What it lacks in organization is something 2nd Edition attempted (and had some success with) to fix, but it makes up for in sheer volume and charm.

The tome, in addition to various details for the AD&D game, also has many informational appendices. One famous one was Appendix N.

Titled Appendix N: Inspirational and Educational Reading it is the only Appendix that doesn't offer direct advice above "read these."

Now, over the years, there has been something a cottage industry with the circles of "old school" gamers to study these books as if they were some sort of literary canon, ancient wisdom handed down from sages to us mere mortals.

Well...yeah, I mean there are some good books here sure, but you can play and enjoy D&D and never have read any of them really.

There are many links to explore these texts. Here are just a fraction.

There are even books about it.

Now, I am not trying to discount the effect these had on the writing of Dungeons & Dragons. I think I made clear at least some of these on H is for Hobbit day. Even the new 5th Edition D&D Player's Handbook revisits this list.

At the time I started playing D&D I had read the Hobbit. And that was about it. I was working through Lord of the Rings at the same time. I would quickly pick up Moorcock's Elric saga which is a natural step before getting into H.P. Lovecraft.

I actually found that a similar list in the Moldvay Basic book was much better. I also created my own "Appendix O" (the DMG has Appendix O) because it comes after N (and O for occult) of my own books that influenced my writing.

The Witches of Appendix N

A little project I have been planning is "The Witches of Appendix N." This would cover the various witches in these books and how I could represent them as AD&D characters. Some are easy, like Morgan Le Fey from Poul Anderson's Three Hearts and Three Lions or the winter witches of Fafhrd's homeland in Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd & Gray Mouser series. Others have close ones, like the works of H.P. Lovecraft. And some don't have any at all. 

I have never read some of these books despite knowing about them for 45 years, and others I have not read in a very long time. So, it might take a bit for this project to see the light of day. 

--

Tomorrow is O Day, so I am taking us back to where it all began with Original D&D.

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


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.

Larina
Larina

Sinéad
Sinéad

Taryn
Taryn

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

Rayne
Rayne

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

Larina and Johan
Johan's run with NPC Larina

Johan
Johan

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 http://pandius.com/





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. 

Mystara 

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.

Mystoerth

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