Showing posts with label basic. Show all posts
Showing posts with label basic. Show all posts

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

B/X Boxing Match: OSE-Advance Fantasy vs. Swords & Wizardry

Time for another round of Boxing Match. Unlike the last Boxing Match of OSE vs. BX RPG where I was comparing more similar systems.  This time I am going with the current big heavyweights in the OSR.  These games also feature somewhat different systems and different rules assumptions.


To start off both games, Old School Essentials and Swords & Wizardry allow you to play the same sorts of games.  You can even assume that an adventure, or supplement, or whatever written for D&D (any Pre-1997 version) can be used with either of these two games with about equal amounts of conversion needed.  In my mind, the conversion is so negligible that I am not going to factor that at all in my comparisons.

Also in terms of the game that these two are drawn from, both games live in a strange liminal space between D&D and AD&D.  That is at least if we are considering OSE Advanced Fantasy.  OSE builds on a base of B/X era D&D and adds some elements of AD&D.   Swords & Wizardry starts with a base of OD&D and what that would become in AD&D but keeps the rule abstraction at the B/X level.

Looking at the total number of pages is not likely to be very helpful here.  Both games have different levels of modularity baked in so adding or subtracting things is very easy for both.

Format

Both sets split their rules up into various books. Overtly there are Player books and Gamemaster books.  Among the player books are also books dedicated to spells and magic.  OSE books are in hardcover format, S&W are soft covers.   There are fewer pages to the S&W books overall, but considering their smaller, sans-serif font I feel that content-wise they are mostly the same. 

Swords & Wizardry nudges ahead in one way. Their set includes a set of seven polyhedral dice. The addition of a GM's/Referee Screen that fits into the box makes it stand out.   

The round goes to Swords & Wizardry.

Swords & Wizardry

Classes

Just going with "out of the boxes" classes these two games compare well in terms of "base" classes. 

In the Swords & Wizardry Player's Book, we have the following: Assassin, Cleric, Druid, Fighter, Magic-user, Monk, Paladin, Ranger, and Thief.  Classes have a maximum of 20th level.

In the OSE-Advanced book, we get: Acrobat, Assassin, Barbarian, Bard, Cleric, Druid, Fighter, Illusionist, Knight, Magic-user, Paladin, Ranger, and Thief.
There are also the "race as class" variants of: Drow, Duergar, Swarf, Elf, Gnome, Half-elf, Halfling, Half-orc, and Svirfneblin.  The level maximum is 14 for humans and variable for others.

S&W has Dwarves, Elves, Halflings, and Humans for races.  OSE has all the above-mentioned race-as-classes as races for other classes as well. 

The clear winner of this round is OSE-Advanced, but in truth, S&W is doing exactly what they set out to do leaving these extra classes and races for others to define. 

Old School Essentials

Monsters

Oh, I do love my monsters.  All the usual suspects are here with both cleaving very close to their spiritual god-parents. So lots of overlap with the Monster Manual for example.  Part by design, part by nature of the d20 SRD.

By the numbers, Swords & Wizardry Monsters and Moar Monsters have 56 and 62 monsters (118 total) covering 44 and 24 pages respectively. 

Old School Essentials features 205 monsters over 65 pages for their "Basic" book and 327 monsters over 107 pages for their "Advanced" book.

So for these sets, the round goes to OSE, but keep in mind that Swords & Wizardry Monstrosities and Tome of Horrors bring their monster totals to over 1,400. 

The round goes to OSE. 

Game Play

Honestly, the differences here are so trivial. Combat might be faster in S&W, but that can be open to debate.  The modularity of OSE makes it a great game to have at the table where everything is easy to find and the facing page layout makes everything easy to read at a glance. 

You can use just about every classical resource or adventure with either with no issues.

Both games come with two separate adventures. I reviewed the OSE ones here

Final Round

So. Who is the winner here?  

We are. That is who.  We live in a time of unparalleled choice and access.  Determining which of these games is going to be splitting hairs at best and even then there are still a dozen or so others that fill their same niche.  Not to mention all the original material still out there. 

Boxed sets


Monday, July 19, 2021

Monstrous Mondays: Qliphoth, Gamaliel

One of the things I am most looking forward to in my Basic Bestiaries is developing new and different demonic lineages. One of these I have spoken about in the past is the Qliphoth.

The Qliphoth are the discarded husks of primordial beings.  It is natural to think of them like the husks or used exoskeletons of cicadas, or even the skins of snakes. Since these beings were more than mortals currently are and became even more ascended, their husks are more than just leftover skins or skeletons.

Case in point the Gamaliel.  

Gamaliel as a Sensory Homunculus

When the Primordials shed their "husks" or "peels" to be the Luminous Beings, one such husk was their dark sexual desires.  As hyper-intelligent immortal and immoral kindred, their desires were particularly dark. As they shed their evil desires their conscious and subconscious sexual desires and yearnings became the Gamaliel.

Gamaliel based on the Sensory Homunculus
Gamaliel

Medium Fiend, Qliphoth (demon)

Frequency: Very Rare
Number Appearing: 1 (1d6)
Alignment: Chaotic [Chaotic Evil]
Movement: 120' (40') [12"]
Armor Class: 8 [11]
Hit Dice: 6d8+6*** (45 hp)
Attacks: 2 hands, 1 tongue + special
Damage: 1d6+1 x2, 1d4+1
Special: Cause delirium, Qliphoth immunities
Save: Monster 6 
Morale: 12 (12)
Treasure Hoard Class: None
XP: 1,250 (OSE) 1,280 (LL)

Str: 14 (+1) Dex: 14 (+1) Con: 18 (+3) Int: 12 (0) Wis: 7 (-1) Cha: 2 (-4)

The Gamaliel, or the Obscene Ones, were among the first of the Qliphoth to be formed.  They appear as medium-sized nearly humanoid-looking creatures.  Their hands, feet, lips, tongue, and sexual organs are enlarged to grotesque sizes in comparison to their otherwise small bodies.  They always appear nude as a mockery of the forms their progenitors eventually took on. They may appear as male or female.

Gamaliel lives for one thing only, sensory stimuli. They want to feel everything, touch, taste, smell and hear everything they can.  Yes, when possible they also try to copulate with anything and everything they can.  They lack the subtlety of the Liliam or Baalseraph or even the guile of Calabim or Shedim.  They are nearly mindless beasts that take no heed of anything but their own twisted desires.

They can attack with their huge hands for 1d6+1 points of damage each.  They may also attack with their tongues at 1d4+1.  Their saliva is such that anyone exposed to it via an attack or touch must save vs Paralysis or become delirious.  This state lasts for 2d6 turns in which case the victim is completely unaware of what is going on around them.  There is a 1 in 6 chance that if they were in a combat situation they will keep on fighting with melee attacks. Targets are chosen at random.

Gamaliel can be easily distracted by auditory and visual illusions. They save at a -2 penalty against such magics and can be effectively distracted long enough to be attacked. 

Like all Qliphoth Gamaliel have the following adjustments to damage types: 
Immune: Mundane/Cold Iron/Silver weapons, Poison
Half Damage (save for none): Acid, Cold, Electricity, Fire (Dragon/Magic/Mundane), Gas
Full Damage: Magic Missile, magic weapons, holy/blessed weapons

Unlike other Qliphoth death (their's or others) is not the goal of the Gamaliel.  A dead foe might have an interesting smell or touch, a live one is more interesting and you can do more with them.  For this reason, the Gamaliel are sometimes considered to be not as evil as other Qliphoth; this is a very erroneous and dangerous assumption. They are every bit as evil.  A quick death is far more merciful than being captured and becoming the plaything of a Gamaliel.

--

The mental image I had of the Gamaliel was immediate. They were life-sized versions of the "Sensory Homunculus" we used to talk about back in cognitive psychology undergrad days.  I always knew I aw going to make a monster out that one day.

They are the Qliphoth counterparts to the succubi with roughly the same HD and some powers.  As I define the Qliphoth more I might increase or decrease various abilities, powers or HD/hp. I might even make them Small sized.  Still working out all the details, but that is where the fun is!

Thursday, July 15, 2021

Basic Bestiary Updates

Been a little quiet here I know.  So I figured I'd share an update.

Work is progressing nicely again on my various Basic Bestiaries.   I am still working out the kinks of my semi-universal stat block and work on what looks like will be an obscene number of demons.

Basic Bestiary updates

The complete column is the number that is 100% complete, ready for the last pass of edits.  Started has everything from just a name to almost everything minus one or two details. It also includes the complete. 

You can see that when I did this screenshot I was at 623 demons.  That number has jumped by three completed demons and 10 more incomplete/started.   The 10 are my Qliphoth demons I talked about way back in April.   The Qliphoth are just one of the man new demonic groups I am going to be introducing in this book.  

If you have been following my work for a while now you know I have Lilim, Eodemon, Shedim, Baalserph, and Calabim fiends among all my "demons."  This book will introduce the Qliphoth, Asura, Tarterian, Yaoguai, and Yōkai demonic lineages.I have a total of 11 lineages so far.  I just need to find a better name for the Neutral Evil Daemons. 

AD&D 2nd ed renamed them the Yugoloths, which I kind of liked to be honest, but the name is not OGC.   Even Pathfinder still calls them Daemons.  I mean it works yeah and it helps make it easier to use my books with your old AD&D ones.  But I think I can come up with something better really.   I mean I already split the devils into two separate lineages of the Calabim and the Baalseraph, so I am certainly not being tied down by tradition or nostalgia here. Not to mention my Qliphoth are quite different than Pathfinder's Qlippoth.

So why are there FOUR Basic Bestairies? Ah.  So back in April (I think) I was beginning to realize that my Basic Bestiary had grown too large.  I had already portioned off the demons (good plan) and the book was growing more and more.  Even right now I am at 387 complete non-demonic monsters.  So, I made another cut.

Basic Bestiary I, Monsters & Maleficarum, covers all the monsters that kept coming up in my research over the years on witches and witchcraft. This includes many of my Monstrous Mondays posts.

Basic Bestiary II, Books of the Dead, covers all the undead.  At least half of the book will be vampires.  

Basic Bestiary III, Demons & Devils, is pretty much what it says on the cover.

Basic Bestiary IV, covers...well, let me hold on to that one a little bit longer.

The goal was to release them all in 13-week intervals over the course of a year.  Though now I am giving thought to BBI and BBII to be released right away.  I suppose it depends on how much art I can buy and how much of BBIV I get done.

Speaking of art, I had some great art for these, but now I am planning on using that elsewhere.

I am still planning on releasing these in both hardcover and softcover formats so they can fit on your shelf next to your Advanced and Basic-era books respectively.

Basic Bestiary IBasic Bestiary I

Basic Bestiary IIBasic Bestiary II

Basic Bestiary IIIBasic Bestiary III

I am going with the Romantic period Goya and Füssli because they capture the mood of these books perfectly.  BBIV also goes with Füssli.  

I am quite excited to get these to you.  There will be some familiar faces here, but hopefully changed a bit to make them feel new.  My undead book for example takes all the undead combat rules I have used and puts them all in one place. I also universally use my new draining rules here too.  Demons get updates across the board and even what I call "the usual suspects" get a boost. 

My hope is you get as much fun out of these as I did working on them!

Thursday, July 8, 2021

Blue Rose as an Old-School Setting?

Last month I put up my review of the new Blue Rose Adventurer's Guide, which allows you to play a Blue Rose game using D&D 5th Edition.

Now. I love Blue Rose. I love D&D 5e.  But I also love my old school games.  To be blunt, I am an old gamer and these games fill me with nostalgia.  Can I run a Blue Rose game using the systems I have here?

Short answer? Yes!
Longer Answer? HELL Yes!

Everything I need is right at my fingertips. So how would I do it?  Let's have a look.  Now I have talked about how to take Blue Rose and run the AGE system like an old-school-style game already.   Here I want to talk about how to take your old-school rules and run them like a Blue Rose game.

Old School Blue Rose

Setting

Grab the first Seven chapters of the Blue Rose Adventure's Guide and use them as-is. Append with details from AGE or True 20 as needed.  I mention the True 20 since some things will be easier to convert from that.

Classes

Blue Rose True 20 and AGE have only three classes, Adept, Expert, and Warrior.  Blue Rose Adventure's Guide has all the classes from D&D 5.  Older versions of the game don't have all of these. No problems let's see what we do have.

In the Blue Rose Adventure's Guide, we have the following Barbarian, Bard, Cleric, Druid, Fighter, Monk, Paladin, Ranger, Sorcerer, Thief, Warlock, and Wizard.

By using the "Advanced" versions of both Old-School Essentials and Labyrinth Lord, plus a couple of my witch classes, we could cover every class.  It pains me to even say it but we might not even need my witches here!

True20 / AGE D&D 5e OSR / Basic
 Warrior  Barbarian  Barbarian(LL-A)
 Expert/Adept  Bard  Bard (OSE-A)
 Adept/Warrior  Cleric  Cleric
 Adept/Expert  Druid  Druid
 Warriror  Fighter  Fighter
 Warrior/Adept  Monk  Monk (LL-A)
 Warrior/Adept  Paladin  Paladin
 Warrior/Expert/Adept  Ranger  Ranger
 Adept  Sorcerer  Magic-User
 Expert  Thief  Thief
 Adept  Warlock  Witch
 Adept  Wizard  Magic-user

Ancestry, Culture, and Backgrounds

What old-school games call race we will now break up into Ancestry, Culture, and Backgrounds.

Essentially we can map them like this, rules-wise:

Humans are Humans, Night People use the rules for Half-orcs, and the Vata are essentially Elves rules-wise.  Sea folk are humans with some perks, I'd use the half-elf rules for them.  Small Rhydan can use the rules for halflings and medium Rhydan use the rules for Dwarves. Alter movements and attacks as needed.

Monsters

Every monster in the Blue Rose books has something similar to it in the D20 SRD.  This is an artifact of the Blue Rose True20 days.  If it is in the SRD then there is likely an Old-School version somewhere. I could do a search, but I am pretty confident that every monster in the BR-AGE core can be found somewhere in the Old-School world.

Relationships

Blue Rose pays a lot of attention to how the characters interact with others.  This absolutely should be part of an Old School Blue Rose game too.  Here though mechanics and rules will have to give way to good roleplaying and XP bonuses for characters who play their roles well.  While some old-schoolers may balk at this idea, seeing the characters as only a collection of numbers, the truth is the role-playing aspects that both Blue Rose and D&D5 players love so much today were already all there back in old-school play.  Some of us did it then and didn't need the rules to tell us how or why.

Still, I would offer some XP bonuses for good in-character inter-personal relationships. Especially the bonds.  OR if I REALLY wanted to get old school, XP penalty for not doing it.

Blue Rose + White Box = White Rose?

I might also replace the Law-Neutral-Chaos alignment with Light-Twilight alignment.  Effectively there is not much difference in terms of how one plays a character, but it would give a different feel. 

Everything Else

In truth what I have above covers nearly everything.  What remains can be handled by the DM/Narrator in their own games.  I have already talked about how to use Blue Rose in conjunction with several old-school adventures.

My family really enjoyed playing Blue Rose so I might add some more elements of this game to my old-school games.

Thursday, June 17, 2021

Review: The Runewild Campaign Setting

Putting the Hex into hex crawls.

A while back I mentioned the Runewild Campaign Setting Kickstarter. I was quite excited about it and happily backed it.   I got my books and my PDFs, but it was in the middle of my Covid-19 fueled busy summer last year. The book has been sitting on my desk, mostly ignored since then.

That is a damn shame.

With all the fun I have been having with Van Richten Guide to Ravenloft lately I wanted to revisit this book and see what I can add to it from this book.  The short answer? A lot.  So much in fact that while there are some great ideas in this book for Ravenloft, there is a TON more for my War of the Witch Queens campaign for Basic-era (B/X, BECMI, OSE) D&D. 

So for this review, I am going to refer to both the Softcover print and the PDF.

The Runewild Campaign Setting

Published by Sneak Attack Press, written by William Fischer, art by Joyce Maureira, and Cartography by Toy Fayen.  306 pages. Full-color covers and interior art. Available in PDF, Hardcover, and Softcover versions. For 5th Edition, recommended levels are 1 to 10.  Available on DriveThruRPG and at your FLGS.

The PDF is fully bookmarked with hyperlinked Table of Contents. 

The Runewild Campaign Setting (Runewild) is overtly a "Dark Fantasy fairy tale" campaign sandbox guide and a hex crawl in one volume.  That is it in a nutshell but does not really do it justice.  Best to break it up a little more.  

From the introduction,

This book includes:
  • A history of the Runewild and its surrounding settlements
  • 150 detailed encounter areas for player characters to explore 
  • 8 new Backgrounds and a new Feat: Fey-Touched 
  • 21 unique magic items (like witch embers and the staff of clarity and confusion) 
  • 32 new monsters (including clockwork dwarves, fey lions, giant forest sloths, and the terrifyingly beautiful Golden Bodach) 
  • Detailed descriptions of the histories, motivations, and weaknesses of the witches of the Runewild, including the Whitebone Sisters; Missus Switch, the swine hag; Korthsuva, the Witch of Hours; and the Hag Queen Griselda, Mother of Ogres 
  • New optional rules for exploration and resting 
  • Advice for running a sandbox campaign 
  • Dozens of random tables designed to help GMs make a Runewild campaign their own

That is quite a lot. Frankly, I was just happy getting the material on the Witches of the Runewild, the rest is gravy for me.  I turn the page and suddenly my "gravy" turns into another dessert course when I am introduced to the "Witch Wars."  Oh. This will be fun.

The book is split into four sections, Running the Runewild, Magic of the Runewild, A Runewild Gazeteer, A Runewild Bestiary.

Runewild Magic

Running the Runewild: This section covers what the Runewild is and a bit of its history.  It also introduces the idea of a Sandbox Campaign.  While many gamers of a certain age will already be familiar with the idea of a sandbox (and even where the term comes from) this might be new to the majority of younger D&D players.  No inditement of their experience; everyone learns something new at different times. This is a good overview of this style of play for the newer generation of players.  

The advice given about Sandboxes vs. Adventure Path is solid and there is even something here that warms the cockles of my old-school heart.  To quote page 10, "e of the greatest difficulties in running a sandbox-style campaign is balancing encounters. In short, there are no balanced encounters in the Runewild."  Players and Characters need to get used to the idea of running away. 

While this might be a shift for some 5e players, it is not a hard or difficult one.  In fact, it is presented in the light of the characters have the ultimate freedom to do what they want.  It is wonderful really and to quote Darkseid from the Synder Cut of Justice League, "we will use the old ways."

The Old Ways describes Runewild to a tee. 

Among the "old ways" are plenty of Random Encounter tables with brief descriptions of what is encountered.  Adventure Hook tables, Scenery tables, Fey prank tables, general Runewild strangeness, random animals, random NPCs, and more.  For new schoolers, this will make the area feel vibrant and alive. For new schoolers, this will feel strangely homelike. Note at this point, 30 pages in, there has been very, very little in the way of stats. An encounter with a Skeleton is listed for example, but where you look up your skeleton is up to you.

We do get into Runewild Backgrounds which are 5e backgrounds.  For 5e they are great really, lots of great information here, and none of them feel overpowering (they grant a skill and a tool proficiency and usually a language) for other games, you can use the native skill system (Trained would be the equivalent in 3e, free Proficiency in AD&D 1.5) or wing it. One of my favorites is a Polymorphed Animal.  You used to be a normal animal and now thanks to strange magic you are human-ish.  Really fun stuff.

Magic of Runewild: This section covers some more game-specific information such as some new feats, curses, and new magic items (lots of these).  But the star attraction of this section has to be the Goblin Market.  There is so much here and frankly, they could have published this on its own and it would have been a great seller.  There are random tables of trinkets, goblin charms, treasures, and of course a list of vendors and encounters.  

Goblin market
“We must not look at goblin men, We must not buy their fruits:
Who knows upon what soil they fed Their hungry thirsty roots?”

One thing that I felt was missing from this section? Spells.  There are no new spells here.

A Runewild Gazetteer. This starts out with the hex maps of the Runewild. Numbered just like all old-school hex maps too! The hex encounters are then detailed throughout the chapter with a corresponding Challenge Rating. An improvement from older Hex crawls to be sure.  So yeah the party of first-level characters can enter a CR 0 hex with no problem and come out ok. They can also enter into a CR 10 hex with the same level of difficulty (that is, none at all) but they are not going to leave it as easily!  That's a hex crawl. There are no signs saying "You Must Be Level 5 or higher to Enter" if the player goes there, then their characters will pay the price.

Each hex of course has different levels of detail, but they are all given some quick bullet points to help the DM out.   For example:

2. The Last Tower (CR 4)

  • A ghost haunts the tower 
  • Ten giant rats feast on bandit corpses in the tower’s basement 
  • The bandits carried stolen treasure

Then more details follow.  NPCs are noted ad are monsters. There are maps where needed (even a player's map in a few cases!) and yes more random tables. There are 150 such encounter areas and it covers a little over 200 pages. Some encounters are a paragraph or so, others are multiple pages. 

A Runewild Bestiary: Now you know I love this section.  There are over 30 new monsters, monster variants, and (and this is my favorite) listings of  The Witches of Runewild. This includes a bunch of various witches (mostly hags), new types of hags, and the two major and one minor covens.  Again, if they had sold this separately I would have scooped it up the moment it hit DriveThru.   

Here is an example of one of the witches.

Goodie Sharktooth

There is no Witch Class.  Part of me is disappointed, but another part is happy since I can now do what I want with them. 

The chapter and book ends with Monster Variants. 

The art in this book is quite great and helps give the proper mood for this dark fairy tale land.

Using this with Basic-Era D&D

The book feels like a BECMI Gazeteer.   I could set this outside of Glantri and it would feel right. There are 5e stats, but not a lot.  Most of the monsters have an analog in other games.  For example, if you run this with say, Old School Essentials, just swap out the monsters.  BTW this would work FANTASTIC with the Dolemwood products

Runewild OSE

This is a wonderful book and resource and I am very pleased with it. My only regret with it is I wish I had picked up the Hardbound version instead!

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Mail Call: Old-School Essentials Advanced Fantasy

I am back at work today after vacation and buried in emails and work.  I am also buried in physical mail too, but among the bills and junk mail, there was a nice little treat.  My Old-School Essentials Advanced Fantasy books came. 

Old-School Essentials Kickstarter

These books live up to the hype of the OSE Core rules.

I opted for the "limited edition" covers as I did for the first Kickstarter.

Old-School Essentials Kickstarter Books

The Reference Booklet and the Carcass Crawler zine fit into the box, but the adventures do not. Not due to shape or size, just because the box is full!

Old-School Essentials Reference bookOld-School Essentials books and box

I have not delved into the books yet, but I am already very happy with them. 

As I have mentioned with Advanced Labyrinth Lord and Basic Fantasy, these books do not represent the D&D we bought back then, but more likely the D&D we played back then.   An odd mixture of AD&D and D&D. 

Currently, this is the ruleset I am using for my War of the Witch Queens campaign. So for me the rules are just right. 

I got my Swords & Wizardry Complete Boxed Set just two weeks ago but due to vacation, I have not really read through it all that much yet.

Swords & Wizardry  and Old-School Essentials boxed sets

I am going to need to go through them both and compare and contrast them.

Both seek to scratch that old-school itch, but in different ways. So this could be a lot of fun.

Boxed Sets

They do all look nice together.

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Classic Adventures Revisited: X2 Castle Amber

X2 Castle Amber (Chateau d' Amberville)
What can I possibly say about Castle Amber?

This adventure had always been something of a Holy Grail quest for me. I was a huge fan of Tom Moldvay, I had heard this adventure took place in Glantri and it was full of horror elements. As time went on and I still never found a copy I began to hear more; that it was a crazy dungeon full of crazier NPCs. That it is was more of a thinking module and not a hack and slash one and finally, it was heavily influenced by Clark Ashton Smith, whom I always felt was superior to Lovecraft in many respects.

I did finally get a copy from my FLGS, paid a lot for it, and I also got a copy from DriveThruRPG. The module lives up to the hype. It is not a particularly easy module to run and you better spend a lot of time with it. But for me at that time (the mid-90s when I finally got a copy) it became a great addition to my growing Ravenloft collection. It was not officially part of Ravenloft mind you, but so much of it feels the same that it would have been a crime not to bring them together.  

Later I ran it for my family under D&D 5e rules and it quickly became one of their most favorite adventures ever.  I started a trend in my family's games; they love anything done by Tom Moldvay. 

For this review and retrospective, I am considering my original Castle Amber module, the PDF and POD from DriveThruRPG, and the Goodman Games hardcover of the Original and 5e update.

X2 Castle Amber

Castle Amber is an adventure for characters level 3 to 6 for the D&D Expert Set.  It was written by Tom Moldvay, who gave us D&D Basic set half of the B/X D&D line. This adventure shows that.  While the Expert set was more focused on wilderness adventures, this is a romp through a "haunted house."  For many gamers of a certain age this became the template for all sorts of Haunted House dungeons that are still being published today.

Physically the original adventure was a 28 page book with color covers by Erol Otus with the maps of the titular castle in old-school blue on the inside covers.  The art inside is black and white and done primarily by Jim Holloway.  The art has a duel effect here.  Otus was the prime B/X cover artist, so the feel here is 100% his weird fantasy vibe of B/X.  Jim Holloway was also at this time the primary artist for the Horror game Chill.  Come for the weirdness, stay for the horror. 

Averoigne

The adventure is overtly an homage to the tales of Clark Ashton Smith.  The area where it all takes place, Averoigne, is used right out of the works of CAS.  The Amber family would fit right-in in one of his tales and that is the Colossus of Ylourgne, or rather his D&D counterpart, on the cover.  The adventure even includes a reading guide for those that want to read up on the tales of CAS, and I highly recommend doing so.

CAS, and his contemporary H.P. Lovecraft, were no strangers to the D&D world by 1981.  Indeed Molday's pulp sensibilities shine throughout in this adventure as much as they did with X1 The Isle of Dread and B4 The Lost City.  All three adventures have also been updated by Goodman Games for 5e in their hardcover Original Adventures Reincarnated series, making Moldvay their most reprinted designer. Even more than Gygax himself who as of this writing only has 1, soon to be 2.

There is a lot to love about this adventure too.  There are monsters to kill yes, but this is not a kick in the doors and kill the monster sort of deal.  There is a mood and atmosphere here.  In fact this is the prototype for the horror adventures of later date, in particular Ravenloft (which I will discuss).

On one hand, we have a haunted house filled with the not-quite-dead members of the Amber family.  This can be a pulpy nightmare or even a Gothic tale.  The room with the Tarot cards and their abilities gives us a sneak peak of some the things we will see in Ravenloft. On the other we have creatures from beyond that are quite Lovecraftian.  The Neh-Thalggu, or the Brain Collector, is a creepy ass aberration that can give the Mi-Go a run for their money.  

There is travel to other worlds via some strange mists and 16 new monsters. Some of these monsters also appeared in The Isle of Dread, but here they feel a bit different.  Plus what other B/X D&D book can you name that has "Demons" and "Pagans" in it. 

The background of this is rich enough that you want more of it. More on Averoigne and its connection to Glantri, more on the Amber family, and more on the world that this adventure implies.  It is no surprise really that much of this adventure and what it all implies found welcome homes in the BECMI version of Glantri.   

For me though the best connection is the one to Ravenloft. I have to admit the last time I ran this adventure I made the tie-ins to Ravenloft more specific, but I did not have to do much. I have to admit I was rather gleeful inside at the scene where they have to run from the "Grey Mists" to get into the castle.

Classic Modules Today & Revisited

I mentioned the Goodman Games hardcover above, but it really is a gem of a product.  With it, you get the original adventure and a 5e version of the adventure (where was that when I needed it!) as well as some fantastic comments about the adventure itself.  I wish Tom Moldvay had still been alive to give us his thoughts on this.   The 5e version expands on the Castle and those within.  There are a lot more monsters included and there are full NPC stat writeups for members of the Amber family. 

NPCs

Most of all this new version expands Averoigne in ways I would have loved to have had years ago. 

Additionally, there is the Classic Modules Today version published on DMsGuild by Chris Nolen. This one is a straightforward conversion. You need the original adventure but it is a fraction of the cost of the Goodman Games version.  I have both and have used both to great effect.   

Plays Well With Others

Castle Amber is a fantastic adventure and I am a big fan if you can't tell.  What I enjoy the most about it is that by the nature of the adventure itself and how it is written it can easily be added to any world and slotted into any sort of campaign. For me it was a no-brainer for my Come Endless Darkness campaign.  While that campaign is overtly a "Greyhawk" again the nature of it allowed a side trip to Mystara/The Known World. I would later use it as the "front door" to my Ravenloft adventure.  It was something I have wanted to do for so long and it worked so well I want to do it more.  A lot more.  While I gladly mixed and matched Basic, AD&D, 3e and 5e in my games, it is now much easier now that everything I want speaks the same, 5e, language.

Castle Amber & Ravenloft 5e

I have long postulated that not only is Castle Amber a Proto-Ravenloft, but Barovia is from Mystara/The Known World.   These connections are made more explicit with the D&D 5e adventure Curse of Strahd.  With the 5e Curse of Strahd, 5e Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft, and Goodman Games 5e Castle Amber this is now a trivial effort.

Ravenloft and Castle Amber

In fact, using the same process from Chapter 2 of Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft you could easily make the Averoigne of Castle Amber into a Domain of Dread. 

Averoigne is Gothic Horror and Dark Fantasy, with some Cosmic Horror and some Folk Horror.  I could turn up the horror elements a little, but I would not need to do much, to be honest.  Thinking back to my original running of X2 Castle Amber and I6 Ravenloft using the then-new 5e rules I had great fun. If I had tied them closer together then it would have been fantastic. 

Black Rose

Back in the early days of this blog I discussed a game I wanted to run; Black Rose, a combination of Blue Rose and Ravenloft.  Now with the 5e version of Blue Rose out, it would be a lot easier. 


I will have to write my review of the new Blue Rose Adventurer's Guide

This also begs for a good (or Goodman) version of B3 Palace of the Silver Princess for 5e.

Castle Amber is easily one of my favorite adventures and the appeal of it has only grown for me over the years.

Links

The Black Gate ran a fantastic series on Clark Ashton Smith.  I won't link all of them here, just ones that are germane to this discussion, but they are all good.

Friday, May 21, 2021

Mail Call: Holmes for the Weekend

Scratch a Holy Grail item or two off my list!  A couple of impulse purchases made this week were delivered together today.  Which means only one thing!  Holmes Basic this weekend!

Holmes and Holmage Boxed sets

So why do I need another Holmes Boxed Set? Well, I don't but this one is much nicer shape than my others and it had some surprises inside.

Holmes Boxed set

In addition to the chits, it had one of my Holy Grail items, a set of Dragon Dice "random number generators" with the card.  I have wanted one of these for years!  Yeah, it's damaged but that is fine with me. It honestly looks like one I had bought at White Oaks Mall in Springfield IL circa 1983.

like new adventures

It also included a copy of B2 Keep on the Borderlands (I have several, this is the first with the Wizard logo) and a much better copy of T1 than what I had.  But that is not all.

Dragon Dice!Gateway to Adventure!

I also got a copy of the Holmes Gateway to Adventure! Yeah, it is not much, but I didn't have a copy yet.

Gateway to Adventure!

Gateway to Adventure!

Gateway to Adventure!

Gateway to Adventure!

I love looking at this old collection of games and thinking back to that time.

This would have been a treat in and of itself.  But I also got some NEW dice to go with my old dice.

These are the Zucati "Holamge" dice sets.

Zucati Holmage Dice

Zucati Holmage Dice

Zucati Holmage Dice Boxed Set

Zucati Holmage Dice Boxed SetZucati Holmage Dice Boxed Set

Zucati Holmage Dice Boxed SetZucati Holmage Dice Boxed Set

In addition to dice and crayons, there are character sheets, maps, and an artist's spotlight!

The dice are great and compare well to the GaryCon dice I got a couple years back.

Zucati Holmage and GaryCon Dice

I even have my d12 from the era.  Sadly the only one I still have.

Zucati Holmage and GaryCon Dice

The d20 is numbered 1-20 rather than 0-9 twice, but the crayons can turn a normal d20 into a d% easy.

Comparing my Holmes sets I think I can keep two and sell off one.

Holmes Boxed Set

Holmes Boxed Set

Which is a good idea since I need to recoup some cash here.

The dice though now allow me to have a set with all my "Basic" sets.

Basic sets

My Moldvay Basic has the most complete set I can find of my original dice.  Holmes and Mentzer Basic get some uninked sets with a crayon.  My expert set came with orange dice originally. I traded them for something else and then got a set of blue Dragon Dice just like these for my Expert.  Oddly enough I do have that set of dice still.  They were always my goto set even in the AD&D 2nd Ed age.

Dragon Dice!

I think I can finally say that after all these years I have rebuilt my Basic D&D collection after it was lost so many decades ago.

The Holmes set also came with these dice.  They are all d8s but the numbering is strange to me.  No idea what they are for. I am sure some here knows.

Mystery d8s