Showing posts with label Traveller Envy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Traveller Envy. Show all posts

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

100 Days of Halloween: Witch The Road to Lindisfarne

One of the things I talk about here is something I call Traveller Envy. This is the feeling I got from watching Traveller and their interconnected RPGs and Board Games.  It is something I would love to replicate for my D&D games and for my War of the Witch Queens campaign in particular. 

I can't always find board games that fit the bill for me, but I have tried.  While not a board game this GM-less "story game" does fit the bill of this notion for me.  But how is it?  Let's find out.

Witch: The Road to Lindisfarne

PDF. 32 pages. Multiple files.

So this is a story game, not something I have a ton of experience with.

It says 4 to 6 players, no dice, pencils, or extra paper needed. 

The game takes place in London in 1350 but you head to the Abbey at Lindisfarne; the same that was rather famously attacked by the Viking raids. 

Each player gets one of the characters included in this file. The special character is Elouise our central witch, or at least a confessed witch. There are two outcomes her player can choose, Elouise is Guilty or she is Innocent. Depending on which one is chosen determines the end of the game.

The purpose of the game is to take Elouise from London to Lindisfarne.  There are many stops along the way and the players describe what their characters do along the way. The other players (and characters) do not know the Truth of Elouise so they seek to discover it. It is entirely possible that Eloise is found guilty and burned at the stake or found innocent and set free independently of the truth.

If this sounds like the 2011 movie Season of the Witch, well the designers agree with you.

The game is very interesting and it does give me a lot of ideas of things to do with my own games.

The game does have re-playability, with different characters being played by the same group, but I can also see that it is a little limited in that respect.

Still, a fun game to play on a cold wet afternoon in late October.

 

The Other Side - 100 Days of Halloween


Tuesday, July 26, 2022

In Search of the Unknown / Keep on the Borderlands as the 1979 Campaign

I have been going over old notes for the past few months, re-reading some monsters I created back in the day, and wondering which ones might be good for the Basic Bestiary.  One, in particular, jumped back out at me, the Schreckengeist, which lead down a rabbit hole of notes I had collected on the adventure B1 In Search of the Unknown

The 1979 Campaign

This got me thinking about an entire campaign, or even mini-campaign, that includes B1 but also B2 Keep on the Borderlands.  These two adventures are designed to work with each other.  To do a campaign though I would need a slightly larger (but not much larger) sandbox/hex crawl.

A while back Eric Fabiaschi posted an idea on using Judges Guild 'Wilderlands of High Fantasy' & Gary Gygax's B2 'Keep on the Borderlands' As Old School Campaign.  There are links to a discussion on the Piazza and a map for "The Borderlands" for the Wilderlands of High Fantasy. Additionally, Zenopus Archives (home to all things Holmes) talked about the Warlocks & Warriors wilderness map as a hex crawl.

These have a lot of merits, to be honest, and that along with my ideas of a "1979 Campaign" have morphed into something "new" and interesting. 

Looking back over my post The Enduring Appeal of Holmes Basic & B1 I can't help but think there is something here worth exploring.  

The 1979 Campaign

The idea behind this is a campaign, likely only using Holmes Basic (so levels 1 to 3), the AD&D Monster Manual, and B1 In Search of the Unknown to create a hex crawl style adventure campaign.  At least that is the start. Over time the characters (strictly Holmes Basic ones) would move on and out to the Keep and the Caves of Chaos.

D&D 1979

The idea is to be 100% old school, though I am free to grab newer materials that expand on these areas the core will be D&D circa '79.

I suppose I could be accused of trying to chase some sort of high or feeling from my youth. And that would...not be entirely wrong. But in truth, there is no way I can recapture the feeling of 1979 any easier than I can recapture the feeling of yesterday's lunch. What I can do is try to set up something that helps me recall how it all was.

This would obviously be some sort of limited-run experiment. Holmes tops out at 3rd level.  

My current debate with myself is whether or not to include module T1 The Village of Hommlet.

There are plenty of good reasons to add it.

  1. It was released in 1979 (August 16–19, 1979 at Gen Con XII)
  2. It is a great introductory module for first-level characters.
  3. It was written by Gary so there is a certain veneer of authenticity about it.

The only reason I would not use it is because it is so deeply tied to the Temple of Elemental Evil notion. It is the starting point of the TAGDQ series for AD&D.  All the other adventures I am considering are pure Basic D&D.  While I am considering other adventures, they all tie into the B1/B2 areas of exploration.  T1 is a little different.

The Adventures

Supplemental Adventure Material

I could take all of this and put into my three-ring binder format. Hell. There is even enough room for Holmes basic in this!

If, and that is a big IF, it goes well I would even consider moving on and up. Either via Blueholme rules or take the B/X - OSE route.  In truth though I would rather keep this one light and tight as it were. Levels 1 to 3 with the goal of exploring the local wilderness (hex crawl style) and clearing out the local caves.

I also can't help but think of my Traveller Envy and the three board games I have covered here also released in 1979; Wizard's QuestMagic Realm, and Demons.  While my original goal was to mine these for ideas for my War of the Witch Queens, there is no reason why I can't also use them here.  

Wizard Quest has the players explore a wilderness area until they have collected enough treasure. In Demons the players are searching for treasure with the aid of various demons while avoiding local authorities. In Magic Realm...well I have not been able to play that one.  BUT I could incorporate the background as the past for this area. A bunch of wizards had a mighty battle here and the land is full of strange creatures and even stranger treasure.  All these wizards bringing in their bound creatures would also explain why the Caves are so full of them and so much magical treasure around. Maybe even Zelligar is the last of these great wizards.  It would also allow me to bring in weaker demons and devils from the monster manual. Though not too strong, these are only 1st to 3rd level characters.

It certainly would get me into the mood for all things 1979. Plus what is more 1979/early 80s for me than Traveller Envy? 

If I was really clever I'd collect the names of characters from people playing in 1979 and have them be some of the "named NPCs" for the background.

How about it? Were you playing in 1979? If so drop your character's name and class below!

Notes / References

Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Sci-Fi / Traveller Month Wrap-up

I can't believe we are at the end of May now.  My plans had been to do a Sci-Fi month featuring Traveller but also doing some other games as well.  The month got away from me and as I started my deep dive I decided to focus more and more attention on Traveller alone. And that is ok. This is something I have been wanting to do for a long time.

My Traveller set

I do feel bad I did not get to Starfinder or the Expanse RPGs. I also wanted to review The Lucanii Drift adventure.  I am sure I will get to those sooner or later.

Here is a list of all the Traveller posts I made in May.

There is much, much more I could have done. There is 45 years worth of Traveller materials out there and I only scratched the surface.

I do want to thank everyone that came by and commented, shared their own interactions with the various rule systems, gave me advice and corrections.  You helped make this a better series.

I suppose the natural question to ask is "Which edition(s) will I be playing?"  I think it is a toss-up between the Classic 1977 Traveller and the new Mongoose Traveller.  Both seem like they will do everything I want. 

Next May I am thinking of doing Star Trek RPGs. Focusing on the FASA and Mōdiphiüs versions but also looking into the Last Unicorn Games and Decipher versions as well as the various versions of Starfleet Battles.  It would have been great to do that one this year given all the Star Trek we have had on TV of late, but Traveller really had to come first.  Maybe one day I'll do Star Wars.

Moving into June where I want to get back to some D&D!  (Stranger Things is back!) I also want to get more monster book reviews in.  

Soon after that, I have something special planned I am calling "100 Days till Halloween."  So keep an eye out for that.

Sunday, May 8, 2022

Review & Retrospective: Traveller Board Games

Azhanti High Lightning
I can't really talk about Traveller without mentioning my history with the game, or more to the point, my non-existent history with at least one aspect of the game.  The Traveller Boardgames.

I remember reading ads for Traveller in Dragon and White Dwarf Magazines and among the RPG books and very cool looking minis, there were the board games.   I remember reading about Azhanti High Lightning in particular. This was a board game and yet it could be used WITH the Traveller RPG. It even included material that could be added to your Traveller RPG OR played completely on its own.  Then imagine my surprise that this was not the only one.

Long-time readers will know this was the start of something I call my "Traveller Envy."  Even then in the early 80s, I was blown away by the amount of material for this game.  RPGs, Boardgames, starship minis.  It was enough to make a die-hard D&D player like me jealous.  Sure, I had Dungeon! but that is not quite the same is it? 

Sadly, and long-time readers know this too, I never got the chance to play any of them.  

Fast forward to, well, last week.  I picked up three of the board games from DriveThruRPG.  These are PDFs, but they are, as far as I can tell, complete.  They are PDFs though.  

I want to review them, but I really have no context for them save they are, to me, worth everything I paid.  Honestly just to see what they are all about was worth it even if I never get to play them.  

General Overview

I picked up three games, Imperium, Mayday, and Azhanti High Lightning.  All three share similarities. There is s set of printed rules that are easy to read.  There is a board game that really doubles as an awesome map.  And there are counters.  If anything is the weakest link here it is the counters.  I have, with other games, tried printing and gluing to cardstock (gotta wait for the ink to dry), but that is time-consuming.  I have been considering a completely futuristic plan.  I would use my HDMI projector to project down on a table and use 3D printed starships.  I have found a few online and I am 100% certain there are more.  It would be far more time-consuming than laser printing and gluing, but it would be 1000x so much cooler.  Thankfully the ships would not need to be huge so I could do a few at a time. I wouldn't even need to spend a lot of time painting them, just a solid color the same as the counter. 

Imperium (1977)
Imperium (1977)

This PDF features a 16 page rulebook, 3 pages of rule summaries, a turn tracker, 7 pages of background on the Imperium which may or may not reflect the same history as Traveller*.  There are also 3 pages of color maps/boards, 2 pages of counters, and an additional page of a counter manifest that looks like a page from Excel. Missing is the d6.  Bet I can dig one up.

This is a game of interstellar war. It actually predates Traveller by a bit, but obviously has similar DNA.  While the original 1977 RPG lacked an explicit setting, this one involves the Imperium (natch) and the forces of Terra (Earth).  The phases in the players' turns can include buying equipment, moving, and attacking.

This was published the same year as Traveller and the ideas of the Imperium had not been added to the RPG yet, so there are differences between the events of this game and future Traveller products. 

My issue with this set is I have no idea how big the map needs to be.  I can assume it is some multiple of the box size, but this is not a big issue.

Mayday (1978)

This one seems to be more explicitly linked to Traveller and is in fact Game 1.  The Mayday in question is the infamous "mayday" of the Free Trader Beowulf.  This is a game of ship-to-ship combat.   It was part of GDW's Series 120 games.  These were designed to play in two-hours or less. 

The Mayday is presented as a single PDF. Thre are 15 pages of rules. 1 page of counters. And a counter manifest/inventory (Excel printout). A board/map of a space hex-grid, and a scan of the box cover.

In general, this scan feels much more useful than Imperium did.  I can get a blank hex grid like this from my favorite local game store and I can print out all the counters I need, as I need, or use the 3D printing idea I have. 

While this game is more explicitly linked to Traveller, I see it could be used for any sort of ship-to-ship combat. I could even try my MCRN Barkeith vs. the USS Protector.  Might take some work, but the Barkeith would be a lot easier to do in the Traveller universe. 

Azhanti High Lightning (1980)
Azhanti High Lightning (1980)

This is where it all began for me. Well. At least my Traveller Envy began here.  This is Traveller Boardgame 3 and it is a companion to the S05 Supplement Lightning Class Cruiser.

This game is personal combat on a starship.  This PDF package includes 3 PDFs.  The first is the complete game of 118 pages. This includes 40 pages of rules which includes six different sorts of "Incidents" (read Scenarios).  The next section (40+ pages) of this PDF is S05 Supplement Lightning Class Cruiser.  So if you are looking for this supplement for Classic Traveller, then here it is. 

The next 16 or so pages include the counters and the deck plans for the Azhanti.   Again these counters are good, but I would like to use minis or something like that.

I have been told this game is a lot of fun.  I'll have to endeavor to get it all printed out into a playable shape.

--

It is hard to give these a proper review since the only proper proof is playing them.  One day maybe, but for now I can honestly say my curiosity has been satisfied.  

Links

Imperium

Mayday

Azhanti High Lightning


Thursday, May 5, 2022

Review: The Traveller Book (1982)

The Traveller Book
This was *MY* Traveller.  In 1982 I could not get enough Science Fiction.  All the books I read were sci-fi, I was eagerly anticipating the third Star Wars movie that we had heard was called "Revenge of the Jedi" and video games were all the rage.  When I saw this book in the Mail Order Hobby Shop catalog (or maybe it was Games Plus) I thought I had to try it out.  In my recollections, I had ordered both Traveller and Pacesetter Chill at this time, but logically with my paper route money at the time I am sure I only got one at a time.

It came in the mail, it was summer I recall, likely near my birthday, and I jumped right in. 

It was not what I expected.  

By this point, I had been playing D&D for nearly three years, and in earnest (every weekend) for the last two. There were no classes here, no levels, just skills.  It was a shift, but it was a lot of fun.  I recall I had more fun making planetary systems than characters really. I even wrote some BASIC programs for the TRS-80 to do some of the math.

Sadly like those cassette tapes I stored my BASIC programs on, my Traveller book was lost to the sands of time.  I can't even really recall what happened to it. Sad because today it goes for so much on eBay!

Thankfully for me, and everyone else, you can get the PDF and Print on Demand (POD) of the book from DriveThruRPG.  I grabbed it as soon as the PDF was out.  I wish I had gotten the original POD though.  The newer PDF and POD has been replaced with a far better scan, but the cover is the Black and Red of the earlier Traveller books and not the "blue book" I came to know.

Much like Holmes' Basic D&D "Blue Book" combined the Original D&D "Little Brown Books" and other material into a single volume, this Traveller "Blue Book" combined the three "Little Black Books" into a single volume with new material.  This new material included Book 0 "An Introduction to Traveller," some of "Double Adventure 1," and more material. 

The Traveller Book (1982)

160 pages, PDF (Hardcover PoD; original softcover) Color cover art, black & white interior art with red accents.

The Traveller Book was published in 1982 and was the follow-up to the highly successful Traveller boxed set.  Since the boxed set printing and reprints there had been a number of well-received supplements, in particular, Supplement 0 An Introduction to Traveller, DA1 Double Adventure (Shadows), Book 04 Mercenary, and Book 05 High Guard.  These made up what I largely felt was the core of Classic Traveller (or Original Traveller as I thought of it then). Much like how D&D combined their Original game with many supplements to make Holmes' Basic D&D (and later AD&D) these materials were re-edited and re-combined into a new book/game.  This became the Traveller Book.

At the time nearly everyone claimed it was not just a step up in terms of learning Traveller, it was an advanced leap in playing Traveller.

The Traveller Book contains everything from the Little Black Books of the Classic Traveller boxed set as well as new introductory material from Book 0.  

You can read my review of the Classic Traveller boxed set here, https://theotherside.timsbrannan.com/2022/05/review-classic-basic-traveller.html. Today I want to talk about what makes this book new and special. 

Shawna 9DAA87
For starters, there is a lot of text here that is familiar, but not exactly the same.  The editors took some time to clean up the text and make things a lot clearer. Additionally, there is more art; both of the decorative sort (Captain Alexander Jamison now has a ponytail) and of the help sort (images of weapons and starships).

Among other improvements in text, there are also plenty of redesigned tables and charts.  While the LBBs had charm they did not have a lot of space formatted for digest-size (5½" x 8½").  The Traveller book is a full-sized 8½" x 11".  At the time people even commented that it was a proper sized RPG now to go with the likes of AD&D.

 The sections on worlds and encounters are also expanded. Animals in particular get more text and even more examples.  Trade and Commerce also get more text. My Classic Traveller boxed set had very little on this.  This is closer to the 1980s reprint.  The one the new Facsimile Edition is based on.  It also looks like the Psionics section is more detailed.

There is a "new" (new to anyone coming from the boxed set) section on the Referee's Guide to Adventuring.  Since this is really pre-Traveller as a system AND a setting, there is some good advice here on running any sort of Sci-Fi/Space Adventure game.  There are hints of Star Trek, Star Wars and lots and lots of Classic "Hard" Sci-Fi like you would see from Clarke or Asimov. But it is also none of the things entirely.  I did say "Pre-" but in reality, Traveller was building its universe right before our eyes. Again, much like D&D did.

Also reprinted here is the adventure Shadows from Double Adventure 01. 

The last section, The Traveller's Guide to the Universe introduces us to The Imperium. This is the important setting for Traveller and what sets it apart from other Sci-Fi RPGs.  The history, both in-game and real-world, of the Imperium is impressive and much like that of Dune, Star Wars, or Star Trek, absolutely daunting.  I will admit I read this section many, many times and wondered what would fiction set in any period of this history be like?   Back in 1982-3 I did not have much other than this book, some friends that had played (but were not looking for new players), and a growing case of what I call "Traveller Envy".  Today there are wikis and blogs and entire websites devoted to Traveller and the Imperium.  My cup is full, running over and there are still more cups on the table waiting for me to pick them up.

Recommendations

For ANYONE who is interested in the Classic Traveller, I would say get this book first before looking into the vast catalog of older Classic Traveller books.  There is so much out there and I am going to only scratch the surface this month.  In fact "The Traveller Series" in this book (page 159) covers everything published to this point and where they all fit in.  Including all the board games.   I am going to need to spend some time talking about those as well.

Sunday, December 26, 2021

Boxing Day: Magic Realm

Magic Realm
After many years I finally treated myself to a game I have wanted for years.  Avalon Hill's "Magic Realm."

The game looks like a board game, but there are a lot of RPG elements as well.  And the game is notoriously difficult to learn. 

I have no experience with this game. At all. But I just knew I wanted it.   So instead of a review here are some other reviews.

So it looks like I have some learning ahead of me!

I also have no idea if my game is complete or not. I like what I have seen so far.



Magic Realm

Magic Realm

Magic Realm

Magic Realm

Magic Realm

Magic Realm

Magic Realm

Magic Realm


Thursday, October 21, 2021

This Old Dragon: Issue #43

Dragon Magazine #43
It's October and that means horror here at the Other Side. It also used to mean horror in the pages of Dragon Magazine.  While the horror-themed issues would not start in earnest until the mid- and late-80s, this little gem of an issue was released in November of 1980.  

Let's put this all into context.  Holmes Basic was the D&D people were going to now to get started. AD&D was about to hit its highest levels of popularity.  The famous Moldvay Basic set was still a year away from publication.  Personally, I had just learned of the Monster Manual a year before and had gotten my hands on a shared copy of Holmes Basic that had been making the rounds.  I can vividly recall riding my bike to the burned-down Burger King in my neighborhood thinking it would make a great dungeon.  Ok. I was 11.  I wonder how things might have been different if I had gotten ahold of this issue before Dragon #114 (for reasons that will be obvious)?

But let's start at the beginning and that is November 1980. Queen's "Another One Bites the Dust" is the #1 song on the radio.  The Awakening is the number one movie and on the stands is issue #43 of This Old Dragon.

One of the real joys of reading any old magazine, and reading Dragon in particular, is seeing all the old ads.  

Ral Partha
Ral Partha, a huge favorite, is up with some of their boxed board games. Here we see one that would vex me for years, Witch's Cauldron.  I mention it more below, but here is the start of what would become my "Traveller Envy."

A couple of things I noticed right away.  One, I tried reading "The Dragon Rumbles" a couple of times and I still am not sure what it was trying to tell me.  Maybe it's because I am tired.  The second one of the featured artists in this issue is Ed Greenwood.  He really was doing it all.

The grinning hag cover art was done by Ray Cioni, a Chicago artist and we are told there are more color pages in this issue of Dragon than any other.  This includes the witch art from Alan Burton and pages of Wormy and Jasmie from Tramp and Darlene respectively.

Out on a Limb covers the questions of the time. Where can I get a copy of Issue 39? Do Angels have psionics? It is continued later in the magazine. Breaking up longer articles was more common then.

Our main feature is Brewing Up A New NPC: The Witch.  This is an update to the witch found in issue #20. Though the presentation is better here.  There is a lot here to unpack.  This article is written by Bill Muhlhausen, revised and edited by Kim Mohan and Tom Moldvay.  The witch here is very similar to the one found in Dragon #114.  Again, we get Low Order Witches limited to 16th level and High Order Witches limited to 22nd level.  I wondered if this was related to the 22 level cap found in the Greyhawk supplement.  The class reads through much like that of #114 and I am hard-pressed to find the exact differences. The article covers several pages.  I have had a fairly poor photocopy for years in my research binder. It was a thrill to finally read it again, this time with color, on the Dragon Magazine CD-ROM.  Now I have a print copy.

The Witch

 The true gem for me is The Real Witch: A Mixture of Fact and Fantasy by Tom Moldvay.  This article covers what a witch could be in D&D.  It is only half a page but is punching way above its weight class and I reconsult it often.  With Holmes' "promise" of a witch class and Tom Moldavy Basic about to rock my world in just one year's time, I have often (and I mean all the time) wondered what a Basic witch might be like as penned by Holmes or Moldvay.   I have mine, but they are my witches, not theirs. Especially a couple of scholars like them.

Jake Jaquet is next with the Convetions 1980 report.  It was a pretty good year for cons.   Speaking of which Dave Cook reports from Gen Con XIII with Survival tips for the Slave Pits.  And a report on the winning Dungeon Master of the tournament play, in  He's the top Dungeon Mentzer with none other than a very young-looking Frank Mentzer.

Sage Advice covers some AD&D questions that really are new.  A brief article on D&D in Germany from a West German player.  West German, I have not had to write that in a while. 

There is a six-page questionnaire/survey to determine how good of a DM you have.  It is more of a self-guide to help the players figure out what their DM is or can do for them.  It is a tool for discussion, not actually dissimilar to the RPG Consent list.  The difference lies in who should have the supposed power in this structure.  

Len Lakofka is up with his Leomund's Tiny Hut discussing Action in the Meele Round. It is always nice to go back to these and read not just what the official interpretation of the rules are/were but what were the areas where they were ambiguous.  41 years and 4 other editions later we lose track of these things.

We get some more color with the Dragon's Bestiary.  Not only color but Erol Otus art at that.  One of the "monsters" is an Amazon.  This is not the first time we get a witch and amazon connection. There is art in the OD&D books of a "Beautiful Witch" and an Amazon together.   It is one of the reasons I like to include Amazons in my witch books.  Both for the Cult of Diana and the duality of magical and martial qualities.   

Dragon's Bestiary

I didn't find the other two monsters, the Tolwar and the Lythlyx to be as interesting. Though I did find the Ed Greenwood art credit. He created the text and art for the Lythlyx.

Philip Meyers discusses illusions in Now you see it . . .but is it really there?.  I wonder that if Dragon #43 had been my first Dragon about witches and not #114, would my witches today have more illusion spells?

Ad for the 1981 Days of the Dragon calendar. If you can find one it will work for 2026 as well. 

For our big center-piece is a Traveller adventure called Canard from Roberto Camino. I have read through it a couple of times and it looks fun. I might need to use this Summer of 2022 when I plan my big outing for Traveller.   

Speaking of Traveller.  The reviews section is next and Roberto Camino is back reviewing the latest Traveller product Azhanti High Lightning in Azhanti: Almost too Creative.   This is likely the start of my Traveller Envy.  This was popular among the "older kids" that played Traveller a lot and it just looked so cool to me. It's a game all by itself AND it is a supplement to the main Traveller RPG.    

Douglas P. Bachmann reviews SPI's DragonQuest.  While he is not a fan of the ad copy hyperbole, he does make me want to try out this game even more.  Though we are warned that with the supplements then planned that DragonQuest could end up costing you $94 to #98 to play. A very expensive game!

A reminder of our forebears is next from Bryan Beecher in the next in his series of Squad Leader articles, #5: The Fall of Sevastopol. This one deals with a battle between the Russians and Germans in the late Spring of 1942. The DM I would meet the very next year was WAY into Squad Leader and tried to get me to play a few times.  He drifted away from RPGs eventually and even deeper into Wargames and Reenacting.  Not my bag, but I could see how he enjoyed them.  This was the DM that ran me through the Slave Lords series years ago. 

An opinion piece is up from Larry DiTillio.  The same that worked on He-Man and She-Ra as well as the Masks of Nyarlathotep.  The article, Apples, Oranges, Role-playing, and Morality, replies an article (in Dragon #39) by Douglas P. Bachmann on morality in fantasy. This article works on the premise that Mr. Bachmann did not truly understand the game worlds and the responsibility of DMing.  It's hard to evaluate this response without reading the first, but there are some interesting takeaways. There is room in AD&D (and other RPGs) for both DiTillio's world and Bachmann's.  As AD&D  game progresses with a good DM there will be other solutions to deal with problems other than with "the sword" (Witchlight is a good modern example).

Hate Orcs? You'll Love this Campaign by Roger Moore details his ideas for an all dwarven game in AD&D.  Now this might strike newer players as odd' not because of the all dwarf nature, but because back then in AD&D dwarves had class limits making it a different sort of challenge.  For example there were no Dwarven wizards.  While I like the newer versions of the game and can choose any class, I personally still find Dwarven wizards a little odd.  BUT that is not the point of Moore's article. His point is how to make it work in spite of the rule of rule limitations. 

Out on a Limb continues. We get a letter from an "E. Gary Gygax" from Lake Geneva, WI. He addresses an article from Dragon #40 about buffing up undead. This Gary guy seems to know a thing or two.

The Electric Eye covers Four From Space on Tape by Mark Herro. What we have are four different space-themed computer games on one cassette tape. I am not going to be all "well..back in my day computer programs were on cassette tape and you had the CLOAD them before you could play..."  No instead I want to reflect on two things.  First. Wow, have we come a long way!  These game were designed for the TRS-80 Level II Basic on a 16k computer.  16k! As of right now this post is 8.5k and takes up 12K of disc space.  One of my new hardware projects here at home is rebuilding a TRS-80 Color Computer 2 (with a HUGE 64k).  Let's pause a moment and be impressed by how far technology has come since the 80s.   The second point is, wow, companies really were fairly open about their copyright infringement back then.  This cassette has four games, Ultra Trek (Star Trek), Romulan (also Star Trek), Star Wars (what it says), and Star Lanes which was an outer space stock market.

Dragonmirth is next with the comics. In our color section, we get Finieous Fingers, a Wormy, and Jasmine.  The art in Jasmine is so different from anything else here. This is of course thanks to artist, cartographer, and under-sung hero of the World of Greyhawk, Darlene. I think Jasmine was too "adult" for the target audiences of Dragon at the time. Not "Adult" as in nudity (we have a bare ass on page 70, six pages before this) but in content. The art is fantastic, but the story doesn't pull you in, at least not unless you were there in the start.  Sadly Jasmine was cut for space, but I would like to do a retrospective on it someday.

Jasmine by Darlene

Really one of the great issues for me and it captures a time, for me at least, where there truly was no end of the possibilities in sight. 

Minus Issue #5 (but represented my Best Of Vol 1) I have all the published Dragon Magazine Witches.

Dragon Witches


Tuesday, July 27, 2021

SPI's Demons (1979)

SPI's Demons game
I celebrated my 26th wedding anniversary over the weekend.  I have now been married for over half my life!  We went downtown to see the Immersive Van Gogh Exhibit. I got us the Premium tickets, and glad I did, we sat through the whole thing twice!  It was completely amazing. We ate at a new fusion Thai place and of course, no date night is complete for us without a stop at a bookstore.

Since so many of the bookstores we used to go to over the last three decades are closed, we stopped at Half-Price Books.  

I found this little gem, SPI Demons.

At first I thought it was an add-on or supplement for the DragonQuest RPG.  They look rather similar really.  But closer examination revealed that it was really a board game.

In any case, I could not say no to this. Besides, look at that cover!  That demon is fantastic!

I got it home and since it was late I let sit on my dining room table for a bit.  I finally got around to looking at it yesterday.  Turns out that only is this game whole, and unpunched it looks like it is near mint condition!

Contents of the SPI Demons boxed game

Contents of the SPI Demons boxed game

Contents of the SPI Demons boxed game

Ah. Nothing says the late 70s like oil shortages. 

Contents of the SPI Demons boxed game

Contents of the SPI Demons boxed game

Contents of the SPI Demons boxed game

It is a rather attractive game in a late 70s War-Games-bleeding-into-RPGs way.

I posted some pictures of this over the weekend and I was reminded that TSR bought SPI back in the day and absorbed them.  WotC who now owns all of TSR's IP also owns SPI.  They could rerelease this if they wanted to.  Sadly there is really no reason to.  The cash cow in that arena is D&D and even DragonQuest, who could do well, suffers from comparison.   TSR, like them or not, straight up murdered SPI and the body is too dead to Raise Dead.

BUT that doesn't mean *I* can't perform a bit of Necromancy myself! 

This game could feed into my "Traveller Envy" quite well.

DragonQuest & Demons

The obvious thing to do here is use that Demons map of Albania and do it as a DragonQuest Hex crawl.  And I mean a proper Hex crawl that also just so happens to be filled with demons and wizard hunters.   The magistrate or wizard hunter's angle of the game also made me think of THIS unholy abomination.

DragonRaid vs. Demons

Maybe instead of "EdenAgain" the DragonRaiders are in the old country fighting demons?  That one is a bit of stretch really.  Also I would need some sort of converter to sit in the middle; likely D&D.  Though these both will contribute to my War of the Witch Queens campaign. 

Warlocks & Warriors & Demons

These two games share a lot of similarities in tone and publication time.  Both are essentially the bridges between war games and RPGs as board games. Both feature a wilderness area to explore, monsters (demons) to defeat, and treasure to collect.  Slightly higher on the complexity scale than Dungeon! but not quite full-blown RPGs.   You can read my overview of Warlocks & Warriors here

Demons from Mayfair and SPI

These two do not have a lot in common other than name and subject matter.  But both would be equally fun resources in my games. 

Like I say though I might not figure out how to get these to all work together (or even some of them) but it will be fun trying.

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Review: Star Frontiers, Alpha Dawn and Knight Hawks

Star Frontiers, First Edition
Gamma World might have been TSR's first big entry into sci-fi gaming (Warriors of Mars and Metamorphasis Alpha non-withstanding), but it was not their biggest.  While I don't have any hard numbers in front of me, I am going to have to say that Star Frontiers edges out the later Alternity in terms of popularity.  It was certainly built at the height of TSR's fame with the first edition, simply Star Frontiers, published in 1982 with the new edition and trade-dress Star Frontiers: Alpha Dawn and Star Frontiers: Knight Hawks.

Certainly, in terms of fans, Star Frontiers has Alternity beat.  But more on that soon.

For this review, I am considering the PDFs and Print on Demand versions of both Star Frontiers: Alpha Dawn and Star Frontiers: Knight Hawks. I am also going to go with my recollections of playing the game when it first came out.

The Alpha Dawn book is designed by "TSR Staff Writers" but we know ow that a huge bulk of the work was done by David "Zeb" Cook and Lawrence Schick.  Knight Hawks was designed primarily by Douglas Niles.  The cover art in both cases was done by Larry Elmore with interior art by Elmore and Jim Holloway with contributions by Jeff Easley, Tim Truman, and even some Dave Trampier.  Keith Parkinson would go on to do some other covers in line as well.  

While originally boxed sets (gotta love the early 1980s for that!) the PDFs break all the components down into separate files. Handy when you go to print the counters or the maps.  The Print on Demand versions put all the files together into an attractive soft-cover book for each game.  The maps are published in the back, but you will want to print them out for use. 

Star Frontiers, Print on Demand

Both books are easy to read and really nice.  They have been some of my favorite Print on Demand purchases ever.

Let's look into both games.

Star Frontiers: Alpha Dawn
Star Frontiers: Alpha Dawn

Alpha Dawn is the original Star Frontiers game.  The box game with two books, a Basic and Expanded game rules, some maps, counters, and two 10-sided dice.  The rules indicate that one is "dark" and the other "light" to help when rolling percentages, but mine were red and blue.  Go figure.

The Basic Game is a 16-page book/pdf that gives you the very basics of character creation.  There are four stat pairs, Strength/Stamina, Dexterity/Reaction Speed, Intelligence/Logic, and Personality/Leadership.  These are scored on a 0 to 100 scale, but the PCs will fall between 30 and 70.  Higher is better. These can be adjusted by species and each individual score can also be changed or shifted. 

The four species are humans, the insect-like Vrusk, the morphic Dralasites, and the ape-like Yazirian. Each species of course has its own specialties and quirks.  I rather liked the Dralasites (whom I always pronounced as "Drasalites") because they seemed the oddest and they had a weird sense of humor. 

We are also introduced to the worm-like Sathar. These guys are the enemies of the UPF (United Planetary Federation) and are not player-characters. 

The basics of combat, movement, and some equipment are given.  There is enough here to keep you going for bit honestly, but certainly, you will want to do more.  We move on then to the Expanded rules.

The Expanded Rules cover the same ground but now we get more details on our four species and the Sathar.  Simple ability checks are covered, roll d% against an ability and match it or roll under.

Characters also have a wide variety of skills that can be suited to any species, though some are better than others, Vrusk for example are a logical race and gain a bonus for that.  Skills are attached to abilities so now you roll against an ability/skill to accomplish something.  Skills are broken down into broad categories or careers; Military, Tech, and Bio/Social. 

Movement is covered and I am happy to say that even in 1982 SF had the good sense to go metric here. 

There are two combat sections, personal and vehicle.  These are not starships, not yet anyway, and were a lot of hovercars and gyro-jet guns. 

There is a section on creatures and how to make creatures. I am afraid I took that section a little too close to heart and most of my SF games ended up being "D&D in Space" with the planets being used as large dungeons.

The background material in the Frontier Society though is great stuff. I immediately got a good just of what was going on here and what this part of the galaxy was like.  While Earth was never mentioned, you could almost imagine it was out there somewhere. Either as the center of UPF (Star Trek) or far away, waiting to be found (Battlestar Galactica).  

This book also includes the adventure SF-0: Crash on Volturnus.

When it comes to sci-fi some of the rules have not aged as well. Computers still feel very limited, but the idea that as we approach the speed of light we can enter The Void has its appeal.  

Star Frontiers: Knight Hawks
Star Frontiers: Knight Hawks

Ah. Now this game.  Star Frontiers was great, but this game felt like something different. Something "not D&D" to me.

In fact I have often wondered if Knight Hawks had not been a separate game in development by Douglas Niles that they later brought into the Star Frontiers line. I also think that TSR was also suffering a little bit of what I call "Traveller Envy" since this can be used as an expansion, a standalone RPG, and as a board game!

Like Alpha Dawn, this game is split into four sections.  There is a "Basic" game, and "Advanced" or "Expansion" rules (and the bulk of the book), an adventure, "The Warriors of White Light", and all the counters and maps.

As far as maps go, that hex map of empty space is still one of my favorites and fills me with anticipation of worlds to come. 

The PDF version splits all this into four files for ease of printing or reading.  The Print on Demand book is gorgeous really.  Yes...the art is still largely black and white and the maps and counters are pretty much useless save as references, but still. I flip through the book and I want to fire up the engines of my characters' stolen Corvette, the FTL Lightspeed Lucifer. Complete with the onboard computer they named Frodo.

The Basic rules cover things like ship movement, acceleration, and turning, along with ship-to-ship combat.  By itself, you have the rules for a good ship combat board game. It works fine as long as you don't mind keeping your frame of reference limited to two-dimensional space. 

The Expanded rules tie this all a little closer to the Alpha Dawn rules, but I still get the feeling that this may have started out as a different sort of game that was later brought into the fold of Star Frontiers.  

Ships are largely built and there is a character creation feel to this.  Their 80's roots are showing, no not like that, but in that, the best engines you can get for a starship are atomic fission.  Of course, no one just gets a starship, you have to buy it and that often means taking out a loan or doing a bunch of odd jobs to raise the credits. Often both.  I don't think I ever actually bought a ship. The Lucifer was stolen.

There is also quite a bit on the planets of the UPF, Frontier Space, and the worlds of the Sathar.  It really had kind of a "Wild West" meets the "Age of Sail" feel to it. 

The last part of the POD book is the adventure "The Warriors of White Light" with its various scenarios. 

Minus two d10s everything is here for an unlimited number of adventures in Frontier Space.  Rereading it now after so many years I can't help but dream up various new adventures. I also can't help to want to use the Sathar in some of my other Sci-fi games.  They have such untapped potential.

The price for these books is perfect.  Grab the PDF and POD combo.  Get some d10s, load your gyrojet gun and get ready to make the jump to the Void. There are new planets to discover!

Parts of Star Frontiers, in particular the species, would find new life in D20 Future, part of the D20 Modern line.

Both games are fun, but suffer from and/or benefit from the design principles of the time. Newer players might find some of the game elements dated. Older players of the games will find them nostalgic.  Personally reading through them now some 40 years after first reading them I get a lot more enjoyment from the rules.  Back then I was really too D&D focused to really enjoy what I had in front of me. Today, well I can't wait to stat up a character or two and a starship.

Star Frontiers on the Web

There are many places where Star Frontiers is alive and well. There used to be more, but my understanding is a predatory grab for the trademark by another RPG company caused Hasbro/WotC to exercise their legal rights and bring the game back in-house. While that did screw over the amazing work done by the fan sites, there are still many up and providing new material for the game.  

For these fans and sites, Star Frontiers never went away.

Thursday, May 6, 2021

This Old Dragon: Issue #20

Dragon Magazine #20
This issue has been on my want list for a very long time, well this weekend I finally got a copy and I could not be happier.  My copy is a little worse for the wear, but still I am happy. So let's get right to it!

This issue comes to us from November 1978, exactly one year before I would discover D&D.  The cover is a Halloween-inspired one, and frankly, I think it is great. It has a Ravenloft feel to it, five years early.  It's one of those that rewards you the more you look into it. I can't tell who did it though. I want to say Tom Wham. 

I also should point out that this isn't "Dragon #20" this is "The Dragon #20".  

We learn from Tim Kask's editorial that the price of The Dragon has gone up to $2.00 per issue. Plus they are going to a new printer for color, things look better, but there is a cost.  Out on a Limb is coming back and I guess it was "controversial."  

Up first Marc Miller talks about his game Imperium, described as "1977's Game of the Year."  He gives us a bit of history of how the game was created and it completely invokes all my Traveller Envy.  Marc follows this up with some rules addendums. 

Some reprinted editorials from Gygax; Dragon Rumbles #19. Largely about Gen Con and Origins. Gen Con is expanding and having growing pains. 

Speaking of expanding, TSR is looking for a new assistant to Gary Gygax.  You need to have good typing, spelling, and proofreading skills.  I wonder who got the job?  I have my guesses.

Job ad, be Gary's assistant.

Mike Crane has a nice random table of various Eyes and Amulets for Empire of the Petal Throne. Easily adaptable to D&D of course, if I knew what any of them actually did. 

Nice big ad for Star Trek minis, 75mm versions at $10.95 each. 

Jerome Arkenberg is up with a great one, The Mythos of Polynesia for Dungeons & Dragons.  The format is similar to what we find in "Gods, Demigods, and Heroes."  It is detailed enough for me to do a One Man's God for it but I know so little about these myths. The gods themselves are an interesting lot. Of them all, I knew Pele and Tangoroa the best. 

Wormy is next and in full color. 

Ah. Here is the reason why I bought this issue. 

Another Look at Witches and Witchcraft in D&D by Ronald Pehr.  This article is a sequel to the article from Dragon #5, and the prequel to the ones in Dragons #43 and #114. This one is more detailed than the one found in TD#5.  This one still has the disclaimer of an "NPC Class" but offers it as a potential PC class for some DM's games.   This one also makes the connection that witches are to magic-users as druids are to clerics. The author does point out that a witch is typically neutral although individuals can be good or evil as they please.  They are not Satan/Devil worshipers even if they can summon supernatural assistance. The author points out that Cleric, Druids, and Magic-users can summon the same sort of aid.   He also dismisses the stereotype that all witches are solitary old hags indicating they need to be to work with others and in harmony with nature so a Charisma of 9 is needed at the minimum.

Presented here are 18 levels in OD&D format. They have saves and attack rolls like that of the Magic-user but require more XP, 3,000 points needed for level 2 and it scales on from there.  This witch gains several powers per level as well.  Why making a Bag of Holding comes before the more stereotypical Brew Love Potion I don't know, I do know that even I think this witch is pretty damn powerful.  

This witch also has spells up to the 8th level.  This has always felt right to me as being between the Cleric and the Magic-user.  Even in modern games where every spellcasting class has access to 9th level spells I still like the idea that Wizards/Magic-users have access to greater magics, even above my beloved witches.  She may be limited to "only" 8th level spells here, but some of these spells...damn.  "Destroy Life Level." "Wither," "Circle of Distegreation."  I don't recall if all of these made it forward to issues #45 or #114, but they are some pretty powerful spells. 

The first part covers two pages then it is continued on for a quarter page later in the magazine.  What strikes me the most is not how really overpowered this class is (it was toned down in #45 and #114), or the casual sexism in the presentation ("it provides a very viable character for ladies," it was 1978 after all), but the fact that this was the headlining article and there is no art associated with it. 

This version of the witch is the one I have typically associated with Holme's Basic set. Mostly because they share a publication time. This fits since the witch from The Dragon #5 is very obviously an OD&D witch and the one from Dragon #45 is connected to the Moldvay Basic game. Also because of the time of publication and because Tom Moldvay did a bit of the editing on that version.  This leaves the obvious connection of Dragon #114 with AD&D 1st ed.

I suppose my collection of Dragon MAgazine witches is complete, more or less. I do not have a copy of The Dragon #5, the first witch, but I do have the reprint in Best of the Dragon Vol. 1 which is identical to what was in #5.

Dragon Magazine covers featuring the witch class.

The second reason I wanted this issue, Demonology made easy; or, How To Deal With Orcus For Fun and Profit by Gregory Rihn.  This article also calls back to The Dragon #5, in particular the article on Spell Research in D&D (also in the Best of Vol. 1).  The editor reminds us that the author, Gregory Rihn also gave us a great article on lycanthropy (again, in the Best of Vol. 1) so they feel this is a worthwhile article.  This article is good. It covers the reasons why a magic-user might want to summon a demon in D&D and then how to do it!  Take a moment to breathe that one in. The Satanic Panic was just about to happen.

There is a lot of detail here and a lot of really awesome role-playability.  I mean really if your wizard or witch hasn't tried summoning some evil from the deeper dark are they REALLY living?  There are even guidelines to what needs to be in the rituals (new vestments, items, even sacrifices) and what sort of tasks of the demon can be demanded.   

This article, plus the witchcraft one, when combined can be used to add a lot of flavor to the Warlocks of D&D 5.  

Halfway, we get some photos of the various winners of awards for 1977 at Gen Con XI. Pictures of John Holmes, his son Chris as well as awards presented by Elise Gygax to Marc Miller and Tim Kask among others.

See Africa and Die! Or, Mr. Stanley, Meet Dr. Livingstone comes to us from none other than Gary Gygax himself providing a review of the game Source of the Nile.  IT is not only a pretty detailed review but also suggests some rule corrections.  The review does make the game sound fun but this is the problem in reading 40-year-old+ game magazines. All the great stuff is long out of print and expensive as hell to find. 

William B. Fawcett gives us a Traveller variant/addition in The Asimov Cluster.  Traveller! Why must you haunt my every step! But seriously, this is the exact sort of thing I would read back in the day and make Traveller feel like this epic sweeping Space Opera.  I am sure it is. I am sure there are people (and I have read their blogs) that are just obsessed with Traveller as I am with D&D who would read the D&D articles and wistfully say "someday. someday I'll play that game and it will be as epic as I imagined."   I did play some Traveller, but mine never got epic.  I don't even know which Traveller system to start with now if I wanted to get back into it.  This is my "Sci-Fi" month. I should figure this one out.

Anyway, this article provides details on the Asimov Cluster with a lot of planets here to provide points of interest for your Traveller game.

A really cool ad for the D Series modules from TSR.  I bet these will be cool.  Followed by a preview of the Ralph Bakshi "Lord of the Rings" movie.

The Drow series and Lord of the Rings

Lyle Fitzgerald gives us a breakdown of character death in It's a Good Day to Die (Death Statistics of D&D Players).  I should note that these are statistics only from his local gaming group. And it is not Players that are dead but rather Characters.  Though props for using this as a title 10 years before Worf would utter the same words.  Though like most things it is better in the original Klingon.   It's an interesting read and might even be a good snapshot of the times.  Maybe I'll create a poll one day to get some more data.  Not that I honestly care much about character death, I just like statistics.

Allen Hammack, a very prolific Dragon writer back in the day, has a rule variant for hidden movement in the War of the Ring game.

Finieous Fingers is up. People talk about being able to judge the generations of games by their feelings on Tracy Hickman. I also say you can make the same judgment on the generations just prior to that on their opinion of FF.  It's fun, but does not fill me with nostalgia.

The Convention Schedule fills a quarter of a page. In a couple of years, it will expand to several pages.

Our last article is about Demonic Possession in the Dungeon from Charles Sagui, a name I don't think I have seen before.  It's a good guide and, as the author points out, something not used enough in games with demons. This article presents demonic possession as sort of a trap to be found in dungeons (well, that is the title after all) and a good use of it. Reading this it is easy to expand on it a little more and get your Regan and Captain Howdy types. 

A nice big ad for the new Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Player's Handbook.

Back cover is an add for the Space Gamer magazine. 

Ad for the Player's HandbookAd for the Space Gamer

Counting covers a total of 36 pages, but a lot has been packed into these pages.

It is interesting to read a Dragon from this time period when I was imprinted on Dragon from the Kim Mohan/80s period.  This one feels a little more like a White Dwarf magazine to me.  If you are curious, White Dwarf #9 was published around the same time.  

Also there is a feeling of embracing more games here.  It feels like gamers were far more open about trying out other games than with what some of the older gamers today would lead you to believe.  This is also consistent with how we all played back then.

So yeah. I paid a lot of money for this issue and I don't regret it at all really.  I still have my Dragon CD-ROM with all the PDF files, but having this in my collection is still worthwhile in my mind.