Showing posts with label Skylla. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Skylla. Show all posts

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

The NPCs of "The Wild Beyond The Witchlight"

Skylla, my ex
While "The Wild Beyond The Witchlight" has a lot going for it the reason, well one of the reasons, I really wanted it was because we were getting some official D&D 5th Edition stats to some classic NPCs, in particular, Skylla and Kelek two "iconic" characters that I am using in my War of the Witch Queens campaign. So I want to look at these old friends and maybe a couple of new ones too.  I'll leave poor old Thaco alone with his pipe and bitterness today.  Plus it is October and Horror month, so I really just want to talk about my favorites, the bad guys.

Who Are These Characters?

Long before the use of the term Iconic Characters to refer to reoccurring D&D characters in publication, there were names like Warduke, Strongheart, Ringlerun, and Kelek.  They appeared in the AD&D toy line from LJN and in other media including coloring books, stickers, adventures, and sometimes even the Dungeons & Dragons cartoon.   It is also one of the reasons why I have to laugh when people today will see a stuffed Owlbear and complain that "WotC is selling out and ruining D&D."  They must have forgotten the Official Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Yoyo or Sunglasses.

Of all of these characters, there were a few standouts who got extra attention.  Ringlerun, the Good Wizard would be the cover boy for the Jeff Easley recover of the AD&D Player's Handook, although many at the time did not see the connection.  Kelek and Warduke would go on to get a guest spot on the D&D cartoon.  Warduke in particular would go on to be a minor celebrity in D&D iconic circles, getting 1st Ed (well...Basic really), 3rd Ed, and now 5th Ed Ed stats.

LJN D&D Toys

We would get all their official D&D Basic and Expert set stats, not AD&D, in the product AC1 The Shady Dragon Inn.  This was sort of a Rogues Gallery for BECMI D&D. You can read my review of it here

What I would like to do here today is compare these characters from the Wild Beyond the Witchlight to their Shady Dragon Inn and Quest for the Heartstone counterparts. 

Bad guys

The League of Malevolence

Heroes are great, but give me a "good" villain any day of the week.  Here are five iconic D&D villains. I will compare them to their D&D Basic versions to see what has changed and what has stayed the same.

Kelek

First up is the leader of the League of Malevolence, our Legion of Doom for D&D.  All these characters are Chaotic Evil which tracks well to their original alignments of Chaotic.  

In Basic D&D Kelek was an "Evil Sorcerer" of course at this time a "Sorcerer" was the level title for a 7th level Magic-user.  In 5e his class has become a Sorcerer.  This actually make a lot of sense and I approve of this change.  His stats are pretty much the same from edition to edition with the exception of his Charisma which goes from 7 to 17.  Charisma is the "prime" stat for sorcerers. Here he is described as a sociopath. That tracks with how I have seen him in the past

Part of this adventure is searching for a lost Unicorn horn. Well that was more or less the plot of the only D&D Cartoon to feature Kelek.  If nothing else I am saying he is still after unicorn horns. 

Skylla

Ah. My beloved Skylla.  I was the most excited and the most worried to see what the Wizard's dev team was going to do to you.  I have to say I am not disappointed. In Quest of the Heartstone, she is listed as a 6th level Warlock. Again, this time "Warlock" meaning 6th level magic-user. I do note that the TSR team avoided calling her a "Witch" at the time. Likely due to the Satanic Panic (but Warlock is fine?).  Like her former boss Kelek, the level title is translated to Class here and she is a 6th level Warlock. It fits well if you ask me

Skylla's stats are mostly the same with some tweaks to improve what she needs to be a Warlock.  Though the best changes are in her background.  For starters, her patron is not a demon (like I did) but rather with Baba Yaga (like...I did).  Additionally they tackle the Skylla/Charmay art issue head-on as sometimes Skylla goes by the name Charmay.  It's different than what I do with her, but it works out fine in my mind.

For the record, they got Skylla as close to a "witch: as D&D 5e's rules will currently allow.  I think they did a great job with her.  Kelek too.

Warduke

I do have to ask. Why does everyone like this guy so much? I never quite got it, but hey someone out there is looking at my nearly 30 posts about Skylla and scratching their head. 

That all being said, Warduke here is fairly impressive. I think the fans will be happy.  His stats are all the same in both versions.  His Dread Helm in Basic gave him Infravision to 60'.  The D&D 5e version only makes his eyes glow red.  Well, as I have said many times, I have a pencil.

Zarak

The half-orc Assassin was just an odd dude in Basic D&D that didn't have half-orcs as monsters, let alone as a character race, nor did it have assassins.  Yet there he is on page 18 of my Quest for the Heartstone. In D&D 5 he also has some strangeness. He is a full orc here BUT he is a short one to fit the AD&D/D&D Basic orcs.  Though he is still a Chaotic Evil Assassin.  His Dexterity gets a buff in 5e, but he loses his "boomerang" dagger!

Zargash

The evil cleric is back.  He is 7th level, so that makes him an evil Bishop. Zargash is still Chaotic Evil and he worships Orcus. Stats are tweaked a bit, but otherwise he is largely the same.

Missing Evil Characters include, Grimsword (Evil Knight aka Anti-Paladin), Zorgan (Evil Barbarian) and Drex (Evil Warrior) all from Quest for the Heartstone. Fox Fingers (Thief) and Raven (Evil Cleric) from Shaddy Dragon Inn.  In might be fun to make Raven. She is evil (but maybe not totally), and in love with Warduke. She was once friend with Mericon. Who is up in the next batch.

Valor's Call

Our group of good hereos had the real chance of being boring on one hand and overly sanctimonious on the other.  Thankfully were spared the worse.  They are not as interesting as our bad guys, but they are still fun and there are still some tweaks that make them worth reading and using.

Elkhorn

Our Lawful Good dwarf might have been one of the more popular figures right behind Warduke.  His stats are the same in both versions.  I do like how they took an essentially blank canvas and made a dwarf that is not a Flint Fireforge clone or a Dime store Thorin and gave him some goals.  He is a staunch enemy of evil.  If Strongheart is the founder of Valor's call, then Elkhorn is its heart.

Mercion

Ok. She is no Aleena, but Mercion is the cleric of the group. Her stats are tweaked a bit to give her better Strength and a higher level, but the Mercion in 5e is much more interesting.  In what I feel is a real homage to her Basic D&D roots, she does not worship a god but rather an ideal. She believes that truth gives life to artistry and beauty.  It's kind of a cool concept. If I were to use her as an NPC I would make sure she never lies about anything, ever. In fact, the brutal truth is better for her than a sweet lie. 

Molliver

Molliver the good thief was not in the Shady Dragon Inn product but can be found in the Quest for the Heartstone. In Quest no gender is given for Molliver, so in the 5e book their pronouns are "they."  I like it. I like it because a.) it works for the character and b.) it will certainly piss off the ones that need pissing off.

Molliver is also the only Chaotic Good member of the party. A "Lawful" thief does not make much sense really. Stats are largely the same with a buff for Dex. They even have their boots of levitation, handy for a thief.  

Ringlerun

Our Lawful Good Wizard from Basic remains a Lawful Good Wizard in 5e.  Never as interesting as Kelek, Elminster, or Mordenkainen he was on the cover of the Player's Handbook and a popular figure. 

Ringlerun
His arm must be tired

He is still largely a generic wizard. He has kind of a James Randi in his later years look about him.  In my games he is dead; died of old age, but that doesn't really make sense for a wizard I guess.  I have some ideas forming that I might explore later.  Or not. After all he was never very interesting.

Strongheart

If I have one purely AD&D gripe it is that I rarely see anyone playing a paladin a good way.  "Sanctimonious Asshole" is not a Paladin. Neither is "Grim, tortured because there is so much evil in the world" isn't either.   I was worried that Strongheart was going to fall into one of those two camps. Or even worse, weak Sturm Brightblade clone.

Thankfully, that is not what we got. Instead, 5e Strongheart is the kind of paladin who is all about "we should get together to defeat evil because there is so much good in the world to enjoy!" He makes a good leader.  Again his stats are slightly tweaked to give him a better Strength (13 to 15) which, by the way, his D&D Basic stats were not good enough to make him an AD&D Paladin!

He was the character I was prepared to dislike the most (I have played paladins in EVERY version of D&D) and his actually was pretty cool.

It is mentioned that there are more characters in Valor's Call, off doing Good elsewhere.  They do have a solid feel of "The Superfriends" here. Not s big surprise I guess. Potential other members from Quest of the Heartstone include Peralay (Elf Fighter/Mage), Figgen (Halfling Fighter or Fighter/Theif), Deeth (Fighter), Hawkler (a totally NOT the Beastmaster Ranger), Bowmarc (Good "Crusader") and Valkeer, a half-giant warrior.  Of these Valkeer might the most fun to update to 5e.  Of these Peralay also appears in The Shady Dragon Inn.  

Strongheart and Warduke

Other NPCs

There are plenty of other really interesting NPCs in this book.  Many I plan to lift and convert back to D&D Basic for use in my War of the Witch Queens campaign.

Burly the Hobgoblin

Before D&D, a hobgoblin was more a trickster as exemplified by Puck or Robin Goodfellow. In Witchlight we have Burly a Neutral Good Hobgoblin.  Ok, I'll go with that. My favorite bit is he is a hobgoblin who wears a pumpkin on his head.  Now, where have I seen that before?

Pumpkin head

Bugbear. Hobgoblin.  The differences are largely academic.

Likewise, Chucklehead is a goblin with a  head shaped like a taffy apple.

Iggwilv the Witch Queen

Yes! Getting Skylla was one thing, getting a new Iggwilv?  That's just crazy good.

This is Iggwilv after she has left the Abyss and has been hiding out in the Feywild for centuries. Here she is also known as Tasha, Natasha, and Zybilna.  There is an interaction here with Kelek that plays so well into my plans it is hard not to use it all.  There is an interesting Maiden-Mother-Crone aspect of Iggwilv here in the form of Tasha-Zybilna-Iggwilv.

Iggwilv

Now I am perfectly happy with the formerly Chaotic Evil Iggwilv becoming more Chaotic Neutral as time goes on.  What I am not 100% sure about is her desire to abandon all her research on the Abyss and Demons in favor of learning about the Feywild instead.  But...I can live with it.

The Hour Glass Coven

I like them. Very interesting bunch of witches and hags.

The Minis

This is such an interesting group of NPCs it makes sense that there is also an equally interesting group of minis to go with them.  Sadly the supply chain breakdown has pushed many of these minis till 2022.  But I am really looking forward to them.

Kelek
Kelek

Skylla
Skylla

Zyblina
Zyblina


Looking forward to them.

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Thoughts on "The Wild Beyond The Witchlight"

The Wild Beyond The Witchlight
The newest D&D 5e book is now out and so far it is a lot of fun.  I have not had the chance to read through it enough for a full review, but I do have some thoughts on it. 

It's An Adventure, Not A Source Book

Unlike Van Richten's Guide, or any of the other "name" books, this book is designed to be an adventure first and a source guide second.  The guide part comes into play for the setting, the Feywild D&D's version of the lands of Faerie, but that is the situation the adventure finds itself in.  The key piece here is the Carnival.

There are some "crunchy" bits here. But most of them deal with the adventure and its surroundings themselves.

There is a Non-Combat Solution to the Adventure

I have seen some complaints about this online and the question I have is "why are you complaining?"  I applaud the designers for trying something new.  I have often longed for a good adventure that you can get through without combat and get through on skill and cleverness alone.  Yes, D&D is a combat game and yes the monsters in this book still have stats, hitpoints, and alignments.  So you could very well murder hobo your way through it.   OR you can be more intelligent about it and try to get through it without combat.  I understand though that some gamers are not up to that challenge and might never get there.

The NPCs

I wanted this most of all for the NPCs.  I now have 5e stats for my beloved Skylla along with Kelek, Warduke, and more. I actually want to get into the NPCs in a future post. But I want to start with I am remarkably pleased with how the 5e versions of some classic villains (and let's be honest, the bad guys were always more interesting) turned out.

Bad guys

And then there are the new NPCs and among them is one of my favorites.  Thaco the kid-hating clown.  I began my D&D playing LONG before "THAC0" was a term used except informally.  And I have to say this about Thaco.

Thaco
I think he is fucking hilarious!

Are they poking fun at a certain set of Grognards, many of which are actually younger than I am? Very likely.  But look, if you can't stand a little poke like this then maybe you stay off of the Internet for a while.  I have seen some insane and stupid shit like "oh WotC is making fun of us" and "I won't buy their books."  Well, they might be, get over it, and their marketing data shows that only 5% or so of their sales are to people age 45 or over.  WotC is approaching $1B in sales now.  Not Hasbro. Wizards of the Coast.   

I am going to tell you this now.  WotC does not NEED the old-school gamers anymore. They need to cater to the Grogs and the sooner they drop that bowing in fealty to a group that doesn't even buy their product the sooner they can move on to serving the people that buy their product. 

Our season in the sun is over and that is ok.  

Plays Well With Others

There are some obvious callbacks to older D&D here and that is always fun.  It also makes adding more material a little easier with that hook.

Want to know more about the League of Malevolence or Valor's Call? Simple grab a copy of Quest for the Heartstone and use it as an introduction.  Need an inn to stay at?  Why not The Shady Dragon Inn? I reviewed it a while back and it works fine with 5e, you just need to redo the characters. Well, guess what TWBTW has? Yup.  Again, some more about that in a bit.

Given that this place in the Feywild you could easily add, and I say get a great benefit from, the Tome of Beasts series from Kobold Press. Tome of Beasts and Tome of Beasts II both have a large number of Faerie Lords that would work very well here as well as a fair number of fey creatures.

Tomes of Beasts

If you are like me you also will look at this product and think, yeah it is great and all, but it needs more horror. Say along the lines of "Something Wicked This Way Comes" or "Carnival of Souls" or even "Freaks"

As it turns out the answers are not that far away over in the Demi-plane of Dread.  The AD&D 2nd Ed Ravenloft product Carnival has what you need.  There are many parallels between both traveling carnivals and their relationship to their respective planes.  Sadly, Carnival is not set up as a Print on Demand yet and print copies are super rare.  But the PDF is on sale and the "new" scan is 1000x better than the scan WotC used to give out for free on their website back in the  2000s.

The Wild Beyond the Witchlight has a lot going for it and is something I would love to use. I might even convert it over to an old-school ruleset, say like OSE.

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Post Gen Con Updates

Temple of Elemental Evil
Nothing gets my creative juices flowing better than being at Gen Con!  So I thought I might post some random updates on various projects, both public and personal.

Other Side Publishing

Fiend Folio II

This one has generated a LOT of discussions.  But here are my goals for it.

  1. This is just a project for me.  Not publishing it.
  2. I am doing it to get a good feel of monster evolution from OD&D to AD&D and from the late-70s to the mid-80s.  The "Sweet spot" of old-school gaming.  This will inform me on how to build better monsters for the Basic Bestiaries.
  3. I need to get in some Adobe Indesign practice.  This will give me that.

Basic Bestiaries

These are moving along nicely BB1 has 250 monsters in it now, which is by all measures a good number.  But I want to do some more for all the volumes I have planned so I can ensure a common look and feel across them all.  I am happy with what I have here and I am really looking forward to getting these out.

The High Witchcraft Book

What I have been calling my "last" witch book has been left on its own for so long it has mated with some other files on my hard drive and given birth to ANOTHER witch book! Yeah, I have enough material now for two books.  Those are a little later in coming.  I want to make sure I am not just putting out material because I have it, I want it to be good. The second book will come out first more than likely with the High Witchcraft book retaining the notoriety of being the Last Witch book.

Gen Con Brilliant Idea #1

My family and I got to play a LOT of games together over Gen Con.  Something came up during play that I think will be great.  Thankfully a lot of the work has already been done by my for other projects.  This project will complement the Basic Bestiaries, but one is not required for the other at all.  I am keeping this one close to my chest for now.

Personal

September Sales

WHAT IS HAPPENING HERE????  My sales are like 4x to 5x what they normally are! I looked at the sales and thought it had to be wrong.  I rechecked the math and yeah.  My only guess is that it is because Halloween is so close people are looking for horror-themed materials for their games. 

So. I spent some money.  Well...I spent a lot of money.

The Wild Beyond the Witchlight

Classic D&D characters? the Feywild? Creepy ass carnival? Creepier clown named Thaco?  HELL YES! Honestly, there is so much fun stuff here. It portrays the feywild as it should be, equal parts light and dark, beautiful and terrifying, whimsical and deadly. And often all at once. 

There is just so much here. Stats and backgrounds for Kelek, "Charmay", Skylla, and more!  Personally I LOVE want they did with the Charmay/Skylla confusion. A slightly different twist than my own, but one that works well enough.

The Wild Beyond the Witchlight

Temple of Elemental Evil

Going from 5e doing Old-School to Old-School going 5e.  I also grabbed the Temple of Elemental Evil today.

Temple of Elemental Evil

This one is so massive it will need its own post.

Since I was in an old school mood I also grabbed the Codex series for Castles & Crusades.

Codex myths series

The Temple will be the end cap to my 5e campaigns.  So this is going to be great really.

And on top of everything else, I actually lost some weight over Gen Con!

Monday, August 16, 2021

#RPGaDAY2021 Day 16 Villain

RPGaDAY2021 Day 16

Having a hero is great, but a hero is only as good as the villain they battle.

Day 16 Villain

Villains are great.  I have talked about villains and big bads, and all sorts of bad guys over the years. 

Who have been my favorites?

Yoln, the Shadow Reaper & Hand of Leviathan

Yoln, the bad guy so nice I used him twice.  He was a human general that rose up through the ranks to become a Pit Fiend and the general of Hell's Army in the Dragon Wars from my 1st Ed AD&D game.  He was defeated there and cast out of Hell into the Astral where he was recruited by the Mad God Leviathan where he became the big bad of my Buffy RPG campaign, the Dragon & the Phoenix.  Is he really dead now?  Who knows. He might be back someday.

But after that I decided that no big bad of central villain would work for Season of the Witch.

Cult of the Dragon

The cult that gave my first campaign with my kids so much trouble. 

Come Endless Darkness

My favorite villains though are demons.  In my interconnected Come Endless Darkness the demons are overtly the bad guys with Lolth and Grazzt giving the Order of the Platinum Dragon so much trouble.  Demogorgon is behind all the cults in the Second Campaign.  And Orcus is challenging all the characters into my Into the Nentir Vale campaign.  But all are being deceived by Asmodeus, with the help of Grazzt.  Asmodeus in turn is being deceived by Tharizdûn.  In the end, Tharizdûn hopes to reign supreme with the devils under his control and the power structure of the demons destroyed.

War of the Witch Queens

My newest campaign deals with the death of the ruling Witch High Queen and the power vacuum that creates.  The villains of this piece are Kalek and Skylla.  I talked about their involvement last year's #RPGaDAY.  I am also thrilled to see that they are getting new minis for the next D&D 5e book.  That set also includes the fan favorite, Warduke.  Maybe I should add him in for nostalgia's sake.

Looking forward to that set as well as all my players coming up against all these great villains.


RPGaDAY2021

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Skylla: D&D 3.5 Edition

I am going over my options for the big New Year, New Character Challenge coming up next month.  Seeing where I have some gaps and what other characters I need to do.  

Surprisingly the one I don't have a lot of is D&D 3rd Edition. So I thought I might dust off my 3.5 books and see if I can still do this.  Plus it is conspicuous by it's absence in my write-ups of Skylla.

A recap.  Skylla is an NPC "magic-user" introduced to us in the LJN Advanced Dungeons & Dragons toy line and given more background in module XL1 Quest for the Heartstone and AC1 The Shady Dragon Inn.   I have adapted her as a witch for various D&D-like game settings and systems.  

She has become something of a reoccurring villainess in my games. I admit to borrowing heavily from Master's of the Universe Evil-Lyn for her characterization.  I figure I can do worse than that.

For this version of Skylla for D&D 3.5 I am going to use the sample custom witch class from the Dungeon Master's Guide.

The DMG witch class is a bit anemic really, it is just a reskinned Sorcerer.  But the goal for it was not to develop a full-blown witch class as I have done, but rather show how the classes can be altered for your own needs.   Given how 3.x did the Sorcerer class this one should be fairly close to the BECMI roots of the character.

Skylla
Skylla by ePic Character Generator
Skylla
Female Human Witch, Level 7 (DMG Witch)
Chaotic Evil

Abilities
Strength: 9 (-1)
Dexterity: 11 (0) 
Constitution: 10 (0)
Intelligence: 11 (0)
Wisdom: 12 (+1)
Charisma: 15 (+2)

Saving Throws
Fortitude: +2
Reflex: +2
Will: +6

AC: 7
HP: 22
BAB: +3
Initiative: +0
Speed: 30

Skills
Bluff +2, Climb -1, Concentration +10, Diplomacy +2, Disguise +3, Gather Information +4, Heal +1, Intimidate +2, Jump -1, Listen +1, Search +!, Sense Motive +1, Speak Language +1 (Draconic), Spellcraft +10, Spot +1, Survival +1, Swim -1

Feats
Brew Potion, Chaotic Mind, Craft Wondrous Item, Simple Weapon Proficiency, Toughness

Special Abilities - Familiar
Familiar - Raven (level 1, 11 HP, 18 AC Attack +5)
+3 to Appraise Checks while Familiar is within 1 mile
Deliver Touch spells through familiar
Empathic Link (Su)
Speak with Animals (Ex)
Speak with Familiar (Ex)

Spells
Spell DC 12 + Spell level
Cantrips: Arcane Mark, Daze, Detect Magic, Light, Mage Hand, Mending, Read Magic
1st level: Charm Person, Floating Disk, Hold Portal, Identify, Magic Missle
2nd level: Alter Self, Detect Thoughts, Invisibility
3rd level: Hold Person, Magic Circle Against Good


Not a bad build really.  She compares well to her base stats and to the Pathfinder 1st Edition version.  I will have to try a Pathfinder 2nd Edition version sometime. 

I also pleased with how her ePic Character came out. 

RPG Blog Carnival

This is my entry in this month's RPG Blog Carnival, When the Bad Guys Win, hosted by Phoenix Games.  Skylla is certainly one of my favorite "Bad Girls" and I do like her to win.

Thursday, August 20, 2020

#RPGaDAY 2020: Day 20 Investigate

I have made some off-handed comments here, and on Facebook and other social media platforms, but nothin solid or concrete yet.  So now is that time. I am pulling together several loose ideas and a couple more developed ones into a single narrative.  

All summer long I have been fairly focused on some "Basic-era" games.  In particular OSE, BXRPG, and BECMI.  I knew I was going to get a game together using one or more of these rules.  I also have a big campaign I want to do, War of the Witch Queens, which I have been going back and forth on; should it be Basic-Era (BECMI in particular) or Castles & Crusades.

The premise is simple really, deceptively so.
While our intrepid adventurers are doing their normal adventuring thing they notice that there are an awful lot of powerful, but low level, witches causing troubles.  Making power grabs and largely being a problem.  The adventurers discover, but some means not fully developed yet, that the problem is the witch hierarchy is in shambles.  Someone has murdered the High Queen of Witches.

I said this bit before, but every 13 years the witches gather to choose a new High Queen of Witches. While all the Witch Queens, leaders of their respective traditions, have a say in truth it is the current High Queen that chooses the new High Queen.  This year the witches have gathered and the High Queen has been killed.  Every Witch Queen suspects the others and the entire power structure is in shambles. 

That is the goal.  The characters have to investigate the murder and find out who did it.

Simple, right?  Well...the trouble is that for the most part I don't know who did it. At least not yet.

Here are the details.

Who was murdered? The High Queen of Witches.
How was she killed? It looks like a mundane dagger. But that can't be it right??
Why was she killed? Unknow, it is suspected that one of the out-of-favor Queens did it.
Are we sure? No. Witches are not allowed to harm each other.  This taboo gets more powerful as the witch increases in level.  The powerful the witch, the less able she is to harm another witch.  I call this the Pact of Baba Yaga. She demanded that no witch harms another or SHE will come in and do the harming. 
Ok, why was she really killed? To destabilize the power base of the witches.  The Witch Queens keep the lower level witches in line.  They can't harm them directly...but you can be surprised what they can do.

So, this puts me on an investigation of my own.  Essentially I have to go through the mystery myself and see where it leads me. But this isn't just a murder mystery.  This is a power grab.  Someone wanted the High Witch Queen dead to destabilize the witch power structure on purpose. Who would want to do that?  The other Witch Queens?  No. Can't be one of them. They can't actually harm each other due to the Pact of Baba Yaga.  Plus, why would they want too? Without that High Queen the witches will start warring, start causing trouble and basically doing all the things that got them all sent to the gallows and the stake the first time around.  Plus any new High Queen is going to spend most of her 13 years ruling just cleaning up the mess of the last 13 months.  No.  This is someone outside the hierarchy looking to weaken the witches.

But who?

Enter Kelek the Cruel.

Kelek has the notable distinction of being the first AD&D Toy Line product I ever bought. I thought he would be great as an antagonist, but in the end, I never used him.  In my investigations of Skylla, I also ran into more details about Kelek.  I learned that like Skylla, Kelek was changed to evil by the Heartstone. He also was a friend to Ringlerun, the good wizard. Skylla had been Ringlerun's apprentice, but now she works with Kelek.  Kelek seems more than happy to use her to his own ends.

Then I discovered two details that really sold it for me.  

First. Kelek was in the Dungeons and Dragons cartoon, Episode "Valley of the Unicorns", where he unwillingly served Venger.  That is not the important bit.  The important bit is who wrote the episode.

Yes. Paul Dini. The same Paul Dini that invented Harley Quinn, wrote SO MUCH material about Zatanna and gave us the definitive Evil-Lyn episode of the Masters of the Universe, "The Witch and the Warrior."


I don't know about you, but for me, that is a pedigree.

Second, and this happened while doing my investigations of both Kelek and Skylla and BECMI related merchandise, I found that Kelek was featured a lot in the AD&D coloring books and in the D&D story books for kids.

In one, The Treasure of Time, Kelek is creeping on Charmay (the good magic-user, and subject of a crazy idea of mine) where he discovers a map to the "Treasure of Time".  Long story (ok it is not that long) short, he finds the treasure and becomes young again, but loses all his knowledge of magic. 

He is humiliated by Charmay who laughs at him while he cries.

The thought occurred to me. Here is a guy that obviously already has issues. Bullied by Venger, humiliated by Charmay, and wants nothing more than to be the Master of all Evil Magic according to his bio in the Shady Dragon Inn and has no problem destroying Skylla once he gets what he wants.

I have been watching a lot of the new Harley Quinn animated series lately where they have Doctor Psycho as a full-on misogynistic asshole.  Further strengthens that Paul Dini connection (I know. He has nothing to do with that show, but there would have never been that show had it not been for Dini) and make Kelek the same.  It's not a stretch really.  Plus it also allows me to play with current politics in my game.  Taking an old misogynistic white dude (and likely aging incel. he had to lure those unicorns in some way) and make him the bad guy in a situation were witches/women hold more power than he does and he wants. 

I have not decided though if Skylla is working with him on this.  Either he has promised her the High Witch Queen crown OR if he is manipulating her as well.


After his defeat at the hands of Charmay, a bitter Kelek had no choice but to go back to magic school and relearn everything.  Only this time instead of a bright young man who had a friend (Ringlerun) with him, he is a bitter old-man in a young man's body.  That also makes him extremely focused. He doesn't go for the types of fun that a young magic-school student might get into. Instead he is bitter, focuses 100% of time on his studies and plots of revenge.  In the process, he sees "enemies" everywhere.  Everyone is trying to stop him or mock him and he is SOOOO much smarter than these fools around him.  It is easy to think of someone like this in real life. He hates his fellow students because they are so stupid in his mind. He hates his teachers because in his mind he has already done far more than they have. Every day that they have to teach him something he already knew long ago, but can't quite remember, is a stinging reminder of his defeat.

Why is Kelek going after the witches? Well he hates women and his old friend and enemy Ringlerun died of natural causes, robbing Kelek of the chance to kill him. 

Sometimes I like to make villains that you can relate too. It's my Lex Luthor philosophy.  Lex never thinks he is the villain, he is the Hero, and that flying abomination is the villain. 

Kelek is just an asshole whose thoughts are so twisted in on themselves that he doesn't care if he is the villain or the hero, he is just going make everyone that laughed at him pay.  No one will stop him because he is so much smarter than everyone around him.

And those types of villains are really fun to defeat.

Thursday, June 11, 2020

BECMI: Expert Level Accessories and the AD&D Toy Line

Last week I talked about the tie-ins with the 1983 D&D Basic Set.  Today I want to delve into a very specifics sort of tie-in relationship and one that gave us very mixed results.
I am talking of course about the Advanced Dungeons & Dragon toy line and it's, let's just say awkward, tie-in with the BECMI version of D&D.


Today gamers of a certain age look back rather fondly at the AD&D toy line.  Back then though, at least in my circles of 1983, we kinda looked down on them.  Sure we thought they were fine for a younger sibling, but we were Real RoleplayersTM and we didn't need that!  In fact, it was much the same way the same group of people now look down on D&D5 players.  Well, it was dumb then and dumb now.  But I digress.

If you follow me on social media I do a feature called "The Other Side Rewind" where I usually post a link to an older blog post early in the morning. Today's was a look back at my review of the Shady Dragon Inn, AC1.

The Shady Dragon Inn features the Inn and tons of writeups that can be used as ready-made PCs or as NPCs.  It is, as I described it, the "Rogues Gallery" of D&D.  It also has stats for a number of the LJN Toys AD&D line Heroes and Villians.  Of course in BECMI D&D stats format. Everyone from Strongheart to Kelek to Warduke even my beloved Skylla is here.  You can read my full review of it here.

But that is not the only place they appear.


Another product designed to work with the AD&D toy line and feature what are arguably the first set of D&D iconic characters is the Expert level adventure, XL-1 Quest for the Heartstone.
XL in this case is not "extra-large" but rather "Expert Licensed."

It features a kingdom, Ghyr, not found on any of the maps in the Expert set, and dozens of characters from the toy line.  It also introduces monsters from the toy line to the BECMI rules for the first time.  We get Hook Horrors, Dragonne, and the raging Roper!



Let's not delude ourselves here.  XL-1 Quest of the Heartstone is not a good adventure.

There is one reason to get this and that is because of the tie-in with the D&D toy line.  Even the author of the adventure Michael L. Gray has said this.

Correction, there is another reason.  The maps for this adventure are rather nice featuring the same isomorphic maps we see in Ravenloft.

The Heartstone itself is something of an iconic on it's own.  We know from the Shady Dragon Inn supplement that Strongheart and Warduke used to be friends. But when exposed to the Heartstone Strongheart became a paragon of good and Warduke one of evil.   Both are featured fighting side by side on the cover of the module.  It also features in Skylla's backstory. She was a student of Ringlerun until she was exposed to the Heartstone and sought out the dark sides of magic. 
Given what the Heartstone does would it be heretical to suggest that Strongheart and Warduke are actually the same person! Just split into "Good" and "Evil" halve by the Heartstone?  Their stats don't match though.
What about Skylla and Charmay? The same picture is often used for them both.  Both were students of Ringlerun.  Here is an awful thought.  Skylla touched the Heartstone was split into good and evil.  Evil Skylla went on her way but good Skylla was taken by Ringlerun and had her memories changed and she became "Charmay."
This is why they often look alike and why I have never seen them together in any one product.  Hmm. Something to consider for another time.

One of the biggest issues I see with this is the seeming hamfisted way the toy line was added.
The toy line was marketed as "Advanced Dungeons & Dragons" the stats and tie-ins are all for D&D BECMI lines and the Expert in particular.  I hate to speculate but was this part of the same split of D&D/AD&D going back to the Arneson/Gygax split?  My understanding was that if it was "D&D" then Dave Arneson got a bit of cash, but not so for AD&D.  Again. I hate to speculate.


The book art is still Charmay!

But. It does create an interesting problem.  There are many more classes in AD&D and some of the characters belong to those classes. Strongheart is a Paladin, Peralay (formerly Melf) is multiclassed (ok this one is easy to fix), Hawkler is a Ranger, Zarak is an assassin.

For the Shady Dragon and Quest of the Heartstone they had to be converted to the nearest D&D class.

Looking at modern iterations of the game, specifically D&D 3.0 and Pathfinder, but also other media tie-ins with the characters of the Forgotten Realms, it seems like there was a need, or at least a want,  for some iconic characters.  Hell, I have spilled a lot of digital ink on Skylla alone.   I wonder why more wasn't done.  I guess the easy answer is that TSR just didn't think about it at the time, but I find that is an unsatisfactory answer.  Reading any anecdotes from the time Gary was eager to get the D&D band into every home. Maybe not always the D&D game, but certainly the brand.

Hard to blame him really.  D&D was popular then and only now are the ideas he had being fully realized.  It's easy to see why.  The people in charge of D&D (and pretty much every other successful game company) now were the players back then.  They wanted to know more about the exploits of Strongheart, the evils of Kelek and whatever dastardly deed Warduke was up too.

The characters would appear again and this time in a better adventure.

Module X10 Red Arrow, Black Shield also features these iconic characters and it is also the closest thing we got to a meta-plot in 80s D&D.  It is a follow-up to the Desert Nomad series of X4/X5 and it also uses the War Machine massive battle rules from the Companion Set (more on that next week) AND it also uses the AD&D BattleSystem.  There is so much going on that this adventure really deserves it's own post.  I had hoped that the Print on Demand version would be here by now, but everything is slow.

Do the LJN/AD&D toys exist in the canon D&D world of Mystara?  I suppose you can say yes. The likes of Warduke, Skylla, Ringelrun, Strongheart, Kelek, and Charmay easily join the ranks of the iconic D&D characters.

Links

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Review: AC1 The Shady Dragon Inn

Going through some of my favorite Basic-era books and games and I should really spend some time with another favorite, but one that became a later favorite.

AC1 The Shady Dragon Inn was one of the first accessories for the BECMI flavor of the D&D game.

This book also has the distinction of being one of the first Print on Demand books that Wizards of the Coast would release for the old TSR catalog.

The book also has special interest to me since it features the stats for one of my favorite characters Skylla.

I will be reviewing both the PDF and the Print on Demand versions.

The book is 32 pages with color covers and black & white interiors.  The print version is perfect bound; so no staples.   The scan is sharp and clean and PoD version is easy to read.

The book features the titular inn, but really the main feature of this book is the collection of NPCs.  Designed to be a bit like the original AD&D Rogues Gallery.  This product though is a little more robust.  The Shady Dragon Inn write-ups include some background on who these characters are, more than just a collection of stats.  Maybe indicative of shift between the AD&D and D&D lines.

The characters are split by class.   In each case, we get a dozen or so individual characters of Fighters, Thieves, Clerics, Magic-users, Dwarves, Elves and Halflings. with art by Jim Holloway and Larry Day.  While the art helps, each write-up includes a brief description.  This all covers roughly two-dozen pages.

There is another section of "Special" characters.  These are the ones with TM next to their names. Such notables as Strongheart, Warduke, Kelek and of course Skylla.

There is a bit at the end about the Shady Dragon Inn itself along with some pre-gen adventuring parties based on level.  A great aid for DMs that need some NPCs.

The Print on Demand version includes the maps to the Inn as part of the print.  The main PDF does not have them, but they can be downloaded as a separate file.   There are PDFs and image files to print out to use with minis.  So with some minor tweaks, you can use this with any version of D&D you like.  The characters inside can be converted to 5e easily enough.
Ignore the saving throws, and recalculate the base to hit as 20 - THAC0.  I find that 22 or 23 -THAC0 actually works out a little bit better for 5e.

The maps are set to 1" = 5', so D&D 3, 4 & 5 standard.
The Print on Demand versions do not come out to 1" exactly, but when you buy the pdf you get the maps as files to print on your own.

While this book lacks the numbers of NPCs the Rogues Gallery does, it is superior in every other aspect.  Starting in an Inn might be a D&D cliché, but a product like this makes you want to embrace the cliché anyway.

The Print on Demand version is fantastic really.







The maps are part of the book, not detachable, but that is fine really.





Here is the spine.  It is Perfect bound. No staples.



Various shots of the text.  It appears the same as the early editions.  Maybe a touch fuzzier, but nothing that I consider a deal-breaker.  Barely noticeable in fact.


How can you tell this is a new print versus a really, really well kept original?  This page. This is the same sort of page found in all DriveThru/OneBookShelf/LightningSource books.
Note how the bar code is not an ISBN one.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Featured Artist: Eugene Jaworski

Welcome back to my Featured Artist series.  Today I want to share with you someone I have been following a while, Eugene Jaworski.

I have seen his art in a lot of D&D related groups and in particular in D&D Fantasy Art on Facebook.  He has a style that recalls the old days of the D&D game and he is certainly a fan of that era.  In fact, it was his version of the classic D&D character Skylla that first got my attention.


I loved it so much I bought a print of it for my game room.


He has also done Kelek the evil Wizard.


Love the giant wolf he is on.

And Red Sonja,



But the ones I really love are his series of painting of his original goddess Numora.





According to Eugene,
She was a goddess from a home brew campaign that I ran a couple years ago. Numora the Whisperer of Secrets. Very enigmatic.
She reminds me a little of my own Nox, Goddess of the Near Dark. Even down to the shadow cats (Gloamings in my world) and walking around barefoot.  100% coincidence, of course, we have read a lot of the same books.

You can find him here: