Tuesday, September 5, 2017

October Horror Movie Challenge: 2017, Ready, Set, Not so fast....

It might only be September, but there is a chill in the air here in Chicagoland .  My kids were gaming with their own groups this long weekend and I got stuck doing Term Start duties that most of my instructors were supposed to have done 3 weeks ago.

I did get a chance to look over my list of potential movies for next month's October Horror Movie Challenge.

Like I mentioned last year I am going to go through a bunch of old VHS tapes I have laying around before I toss them.   I have discovered that some of the quality of these tapes though are near-unwatchable.

Artifacts of a bygone age.  Some have a cryptic warning on them, "Be Kind, Please Rewind".
Last year I was hoping that the tapes were in good enough shape and my VCR still worked.  It does, but the tapes are not quite up to it.  So I might be watching some on DVD/Blu-Ray/Streaming then tossing the tape.

My "first-time views" will go down a bit, but my OCD will be happy.
Though there are some here I have not seen in decades.  My youngest son will be joining me for a few of these.  Most will be his first-time views.

One of the movies I want to watch is not on Netflix, Amazon or OnDemand...so I have some digging to do.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

This Old Dragon: Issue #98

June 1985. Later this month I'll turn 16, but due to the fact I need new glasses, I won't get my license for a few more weeks.   Rambo First Blood is in the theatres and Tears for Fears is on the radio.  On the shelves, the new covers for the AD&D hardbacks and you can buy This Old Dragon issue #98.

The cover features a dragon horde filled with modern day items.  This is also the 9th Anniversary issue.  As far as I can recall all the anniversary issues featured dragons on the cover.  This cover though does not strike any memories with me. It's a cool cover.

We get to the main feature of the issue, all about Dragons.
Up first is Tailor-made Treasure from Roger E. Moore.  This is a new system for figuring out a dragon's treasure hoard.  It has some great quotes from various works of literature. Reading it over it could work well with pretty much every version of the game.

The Magic of Dragon Teeth by Gregg Chamberlain covers the various effects of burying dragon teeth. Each color of dragon will produce a different sort of warrior ala Jason and the Argonauts.
Most gamers of a certain age remember the old movie featuring the Harryhausen skeletons.


There are some neat ideas here.  To be honest I never felt the need to codify this.  Through the dragon teeth on ground and skeleton pop up.  Cause weird shit like that happens in a magical world.
Though more recently I have been using Dragon Tooth Talismans.  These provide protection from the that dragons' type of breath weapon.

Need music from the Ancient Empires for your game?  Well, you can get it in STEREO from Ramal LaMarr!  (I am sure that is 100% his real palindrome name too).


I have to admit I loved these ads.  So corny and over the top.  You can find his music online still.



You keep doing you Ramal!

Leonard Carpenter gives us a nice brief one in Dragon Damage Revised.  A great add for AD&D 1 but something you see now in most newer editions of D&D.

Roger Moore is back again with some background on The Dragons of Krynn.  In this, we learn that Takhisis and Paladine are similar to (but not the same as) Tiamat and Bahamut.    We get some Krynn history that is familiar to all of us now, but here it was all new.   A lot of Dragonlance has migrated back into D&D proper since the 3.0 days and I think that is largely a good thing.  Back in the 80s we used to talk about how the dragons of Krynn were larger and somewhat more "dragon" than the ones you found in Greyhawk.  I know that there are plenty of old-school fans that are aghast with this, but hey. They focused more on dragons in Krynn than Oerth.

Nice big ad for the Dragonlance Chronicles book 2, Dragons of Winter Night.

Ken Hughes gives us an entry with Creative Magic Items.  I want to talk less about this specific article and more about the type of article it is.  There were always a lot of articles in Dragon that I call "You are not bound by books!" articles.  I get that many people want to play RAW, but we were always doing things not in the books. Creating new monsters, new magic items, spells, classes.  Everyone I had gamed with had the books memorized back in Junior High, there was no way to surprise them unless you were willing to go out side of the books. Most of these articles elicited a "no shit, doesn't everyone do this?" but after a while I came to the conclusion that no, not everyone.

Detailing a Fantasy World is from Jim Dutton, whom I feel I should know but don't (flipping further I see his company runs the AD&D PBM game). Now this has some great advice on how to build your fantasy world from the ground up, or at least detail enough areas to keep your players busy.  At only three pages it feels too short to deal with the advice given, but it is short and succinct and should give any budding world builder a place to start and the seasoned ones some new ideas.

I am usually cautious of reviews of TSR products in Dragon. Such is the case of this reveiw of the first two Dragonlance novels by John C. Bunnell in It's a Neat Idea, but ... NOT just a Gimmick. I think we can be adults here and talk about the fact that the Dragonlance novels have some shortcomings. That being said these are fun books and they did represent a sea change in *D&D as a game and as a product.

A surprisingly long article from Dave Rosene discusses what PCs are likely to find in local shops in Knowing What's In Store.   We live in a world today where everything is available at our finger tips. In the 80s even we had malls (lots of malls) but historical medieval lands did not. Fantasy worlds need to tread this line carefully.

The Forum is next.

An ad for Traveller races. At this time and now these books make me want to play Traveller. I want to know more about the Aslan, Vargr and K'kree.  Maybe someone has ported them over to White Star or Starfinder already.

Some coming attractions for TSR products. Highlights include the D&D Masters Rules and the AD&D Unearthed Arcana.

Ad for Chill.  Still love that game.

Our centerfold is the first Gamma World Mutant Manual.  I am very pleased that it is still in this magazine too. Some would make for great additions to an OSR D&D game or a Mutant Future game.

Merle and Jackie Rasmussen have their Part II of Authentic Agencies for Top Secret.  A great find for the pre-internet world, but also real world agencies spelled out in Top Secret format.

The Ares section is next.
The Volturnus Connection is first by Stephen Bonario.  I have to admit, if I ever run a Starfinder game I'd consider a "Return to Volturnus" like game. I had a lot of fun with Star Frontiers.

When History Goes Awry by Mark Acres deals with parallel and alternate timelines for the Timemaster game.  Degree in History not required but certainly helpful.

Big index of all the heroes published for the Marvel Super Hero game in Marvel-Phile.

Huge list of conventions for June to October 1985.

Gamer's Guide has a lot of cool ads including one for the new Super Endless Quest books. These included a simple character sheet/bookmark.

Comics include Wormy and Snarf Quest.  Snarf is long, Wormy is down to a page.

A fun issue really and one I'll go back to for more information on dragons.

Want to see what I was saying about White Dwarf magazine for June of 1985?  Check out my White Dwarf Wednesday for issue #66.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Review: Module G123 Against the Giants

Want to get some more reviews in.  I figure since we just finished this one it was a great choice.

G123 Against the Giants

Getting to play AD&D at the height of its popularity was one of the best things about growing up in the 80s.  Even living in a small town in Central Illinois there were multiple, independent D&D groups going on everywhere.  It was not uncommon to hear talk of an adventure, or a rules debate or anything else.  One of the adventures that everyone seemed to be playing was the Against the Giants series.

Talk of Ombi, King Snurre Ironbelly, and Eclavdra were not daily topics of conversation, but they were common enough that there was a shared set of experiences. It was something we all could relate too and talk about even when we knew those other groups were playing it all "wrong"!  It is no surprise then that G1-3 have been ranked as some of the greatest *D&D adventures of all time and have been updated for every version of the D&D rules since it was published back in 1978 (and combined in 1981).

The Giants series began as three individual adventures. They were run as part of the AD&D Tournament at Origins '78.  When later released they became the first ever published adventures for the then new Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (AD&D) game.  Each adventure dealt with raids from a different race of giants; Hill, Frost and Fire respectively. They were aided by other giants and giant type creatures including ogres, stone giants and even a couple of white dragons in G2.  But what really grabbed the attention of many players, and certainly this player, was the big reveal that the masterminds behind these giant raids were none other than the Drow; evil, dark elves that lived underground.  This elevated the adventure from mere dungeon crawl and searching in giant's bags to a conspiracy.  The giant-Drow alliance became Evil with a capital E.

The giants themselves were new-ish monsters then.  Giants had appeared in the Original D&D rules, but all six races were "detailed" in a paragraph.  In the (then new) Monster Manual for AD&D 1st Edition giants were given significantly more space and more details.  It would be difficult to say which really came first, but we do know that Gygax worked on and published the Monster Manual before the Giants series came out.  Notes from one certainly could have influenced the other.
What of the adventures themselves?  I had the chance to play this as a player way back in the early 80s.  So my memories of it are quite fond. So fond in fact that I also ran this adventure with my sons as the players and using the newest edition of the D&D rules.  My experiences playing under 1st Edition AD&D compare very favorably to my experiences running it under 5th Edition D&D nearly 40 years later.


The 32-page combined adventure splits into three easy parts that represent the three original modules.

G1 Steading of the Hill Giant Chief
Here the characters and the players are introduced to the World of Greyhawk, or at least this small section of it.  They learn that giants of various types have been raiding the local villages and the character have been pressed into doing something about it.  Now the original modules put a threat into the characters to investigate, I find that by appealing to their higher moral codes and motives (and the ability to keep all the treasure) works so much better.

Soon the Steading of Hill Giant Chief Nostra is discovered and even a party of 9th+ level adventurers will soon discover that bigger often does mean better.  Giants, even Hill Giants, are not dumb monsters. They are not bigger orcs or ogres with more hit points.  This is their home and they will defend it.  I am quite impressed anytime I think about how this was run as a tournament.   It took me many sessions to get through all three and when I reran for my kids at Gen Con I had wanted to do each one a different night.  Didn't happen that way.  This adventure requires the players to plan, to hit hard and then run away.  Many times they would send in the assassin to take out a giant and then follow it up with a barrage of magic from a distance.  Combat can honestly be a slog here.  But the action is often very fast paced.  There is a lot going on.



This adventure shares a lot in common with its sibling B1 Keep on the Borderlands. While designed for two different versions of the D&D game, there are similarities that should not be ignored. In fact, I would like to think that they are there on purpose.  Each represents a "beginner" view of dungeon crawling, but the Giants adventures, if you pardon the pun, get more advanced.
This adventure gives only our first clues to the larger conspiracy, namely that the Hill Giants are taking direction from Giants, quite literally further up.  Completing this adventure only leads the characters to the Frost Giants.

G2 Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl
Going further up the mountains we get the first hints of how the AD&D game is different than the D&D one.  We now have rules for cold and the wind and most importantly getting lost in the snow.  Like the Hill Giants before, some sections are left to the Dungeon Master to detail.  This is partly due to the desire for a sandbox style play and largely due to the tournament origins of these adventures.

Again in this adventure planning is required. The characters cannot just rush in blindly and hope to overwhelm these creatures.  In fact, assuming they are mere "monsters" is a good way to get killed fast.  The  Dungeon Master is encouraged to play these giants as the personages they are. Sure, Guard #4 in area 19 might not have a name, but he does have a purpose.  Even the white dragon has a purpose.  I could not help but think that the white dragon cloak worn by Snurre had not been one of the Frost Giant Jarl's dragons.  In fact I hope it was. Their haltered of each other is overridden by the fear they feel at the hands of the drow. How powerful are these dark elves?

In this adventure, it should become obvious that much more is going on than raids and attacks of opportunity. There is a force uniting these giant clans and directing to grim purpose.

G3 Hall of the Fire Giant King
Here the conspiracy is laid bare and the character will discover what and who is directing the Giants. But first they must survive a live and active volcano.  The walls, for example, are hot to the touch. How hot? Try 2d6 hp damage per touch hot.  The giants here are smart and coordinated by a strong King. They will lay traps and ambushes for the party. They will try to stop them at every turn.  This adventure is not only significantly deadlier than the other two, it is also about 50% longer.  Not only do the players have coordinated giant attacks to deal with, burning walls and King Snurre himself but also hiding out on level 3 are the drow.   For many players back in the day this was their first introduction to the dark elves.  I liken it to the big reveal that Romulans were related to the Vulcans in the original series of Star Trek's The Balance of Terror.  It is something in our post-Drizzt world that we have lost.
Here the Drow are discovered to be pulling the strings, but we don't yet know why.  We do that they are lead by a High Priestess, an unearthly beautiful drow by the name of Eclavdra. She is no monster, but an NPC worthy of her own motives, desires and schemes.
In the last time I ran this adventure my kids figured out right away that they needed to take out the King in order to not die right away. So they hunted Snurre down.  With him out of the way the other fire giants lost their direction and were much easier to defeat.   The red dragon and the drow though were still a problem.  They managed to kill all but two; Eclavdra and her enchanter.   The characters were last seen chasing the drow down to the Depths of the Earth to complete the next series of adventures.

While the books are small, the adventures take a while to run.  The combats can be long and the characters really should take the time to explore every inch of the three giant strongholds.  There is more treasure here than any group of characters need but also there are plenty of prisoners to free and some have information on what is going on.

There had been D&D adventures before this, but this was the first epic.

Legacy
There are good reasons why we are still talking about these adventures today nearly 40 years later.

Some of it, of course, is just good old-fashioned nostalgia.  People loved these adventures then and now they want to share that love with new players today.  That is exactly what I did and there is no shame in admitting it.  But the reason why people loved them is also the reason why they stand the test of time. The adventures are just plain good.  These adventures combined a lot of things that people loved; great locations and sandbox-like play. Iconic and classic monsters mixed with new ones. Not mention an engaging story with memorable NPCs.  When gamers wax nostalgic over adventures like Tomb of Horrors, they think of things like the traps or character deaths.  In the Giants series they also mention things, like the Hill Giant Chief's dining hall, but also they remember names, like I mentioned above; Ombi, Snurre, Eclavdra.  When I played this back in the 80s Ombi nearly killed my whole party.  I survived all these giants just to be killed by a Dwarf with some potions and magic item. Well that and a DM that knew how to make a character memorable.  Imagine my shock and surprise when my kids plan and take out Ombi in two rounds!

This adventure also shaped much of what would become D&D's own mythology.  Giants of any sort working together soon became shorthand for bad news.  The drow, scantly described here, would go on to become one of the most infamous humanoids in all of the D&D worlds. Their underground city, only hinted at here, would be the template for nearly every Drow-realted product written in the late 80s and beyond to the present day.  G123 is not just the seed, it is also the fertile earth of much of what would become recognizable as "D&D".

TSR and then later Wizards of the Coast would go back to the Giants again and again. In 1987 TSR combined the G series with its sequels the D and Q modules for GDQ Queen of Spiders, one of the first Supermodules.  In 1999 they were reprinted and expanded again for the 2nd Edition of the AD&D game in Against the Giants: The Liberation of Geoff.  In 2009 Wizards of the Coast released Revenge of the Giants for the 4th Edition D&D game.   For the 5th Edition game Wizards of the Coast went back not once, but twice, to giant country with Storm King's Thunder (2016) and Tales from the Yawning Portal (2017). Storm King is more a spiritual successor to the original Giants series, but G123's DNA is all over it.  Tales from the Yawning Portal is a direct reprint of the original Giants adventures but updated to the new D&D 5th Edition rules with new full-color maps and art.  It has lost none of the punch of the original.




Not only have there been official Giant-related products from TSR and Wizards over the years, other publishers got into Giant business.  Notably there is a "missing" set of giants from these adventures; the Cloud Giants. I went to track down a cloud giant based adventure to slot in and easily found 4-5 all based on Cloud Giants. Actually, most of them dealt with a Cloud Giant castle.




Think about it, what was one of the first stories you remember hearing as a child? Jack in the Beanstalk might have been one of the very first.  The giant living in his castle in the clouds with a goose that lays golden eggs and a harp that sings on its own.  Think of the stories from our shared consciousness.  Giants living the mountains, David fighting Goliath, Fionn mac Cumhaill and the Giant's Causeway, the Frost Giants of Norse myth, the Titans of Greek myth, to Attack on Titan, and so many, many more.   These are the tales we tell. Tales from antiquity to last week's Game of Thrones.  It should then be no wonder why these adventures speak to us and call to us to join the battle.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Witch & Witchcraft Reading Challenge: Witch of Rhostshyl (Silverglass #3)

"You forget that I am a witch, Rehal." 
 - Nyctasia

Headed back to the world of witch Nyctasia r'n Edonaris brenn Rhostshyl and mercenary Corson brenn Torisk.  No longer on the run, our brave heroines are headed their separate ways for now.   Corson heads back to her lover Stefian and his tavern/inn in Chiastelm while Nyctasia remains with her cousins a bit longer.   Corson, of course, can't stand sitting around, she is too much of an adventurer, so she takes odd-jobs here and there.  One of which gets Steifann's other occasional lover, Destiver, captured and arrested as a smuggler.   While Steifann stews and Destiver waits for her likely execution, Corson decides to get out of town of a bit.
Back on the Endonaris Estates, Nyctasia is also getting restless. She translates books all day and comes down to interact with her cousins in the evening.   Eventually, she is dealing with a runaway slave and is drawn back into the civil war in Rhostshyl that she was trying to stop in Book 1.
Eventually, our heroes are reunited.  Nyctasisa takes on her rightful place as ruler of the City of Rhostshyl with Corson first as her body guard and then elevated to Lady Coirsonde.

More so than the previous books this one felt like two people writing a book separated by distance.   The story didn't pick up until the end, and only when our two leading ladies were back together again.  The bickering was gone and they have settled into a pretty solid friendship despite their differing stations.
I felt though there were some missed opportunities in this book.  There is a part where Nyc is off with a pack of traveling actors and acrobats that might have been fun.  Though we did get a lot of Corson's exploits.  We do get to meet Nyc's younger sister and mother in this, so more of the Edonaris clan.

This adventure really felt like a "Name Level" adventure in the old D&D sense.  Corson is made a Lady with all the rights and responsibilities.  Nyc stops running around and takes up her family's rulership of the city.

I am quite excited about starting the next, and sadly, the last book. No one will confuse these book with great literature, but they are a really fun and fast read.

The book is out of print and there are no digital or audio versions I have found.  They pop up every so often at Half-Price books.

2017 Witches & Witchcraft Reading Challenge
2017 Witch & Witchcraft Reading Challenge
Books Read so far: 19
Level: Crone
Witches in this book: Nyctasia is very much a witch, but keeps her powers away from prying eyes.
Are they Good Witches or Bad Witches: Nyc is much better in this book.
Best RPG to Emulate it: For this book, there is a strong "Adventurer" vibe here not to mention all the things associated with hitting "name level" of old D&D.  So something D&D Basic/Expert, Adventurer Conqueror King,  or Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea would be great.
Use in WotWQ: Likely, but since I am using them as characters in the Blue Rose game I am currently playing their involvement might only be as a cameo.

Nyctasia and Corson for Basic/Expert D&D

Basic and Expert era D&D has so much going for it really. It is simple, it is easy to pick-up AND you can really pack a lot of fun in 14 levels.  I see why ACKS and AS&SH end around the same levels; ACKS, in particular, takes the B/X idea and really expands it to encompass a lot of  play-types.

Here they are for B/X era D&D at "name level".

Nyctasia r'n Edonaris brenn Rhostshyl
10th level Witch (Vahnite Tradition*)  (Family Trad)

Strength: 9
Dexterity: 9
Constitution: 10
Intelligence: 16
Wisdom: 15
Charisma: 18

Hit Points: 28
Alignment: Neutral
AC: 8 (leather armor, dex -1)

Occult Powers
Familiar: Greymantle (large hound)
7th level: Family Enemy

Spells
Cantrips: Chill, Daze, Detect Curse, Ghost Sound, Object Reading, Open, Spark
First: Bewitch I, Cause Fear, Glamour, Mend Light Wounds, Sleep
Second: Agony, Calm Emotions, Rite of Remote Seeing
Third: Circle of Respite, Ghost Ward, Speak with Dead
Fourth: Divine Power, Intangible Cloak of Shadows
Fifth: Death Curse, Sending

Corson brenn Torisk, aka The Lady Corisonde Desthene li'Rhostshyl brenn Torisk
9th level Fighter

Strength: 17
Dexterity: 16
Constitution: 15
Intelligence: 13
Wisdom: 14
Charisma: 16

Hit Points: 65
Alignment: Neutral
AC: 7 (leather)

Equipment:  Sword, armor, coins. Enchanted comb (will cast Bewitch 1/day).


Thursday, August 24, 2017

This Old Dragon: Issue #82

Ok. So I know I just did issue #83. And in truth this could have been the next one in, some of them are in order, most are not and I pick randomly.  But I did choose this one on purpose for the Spell Research article.  More on that in a bit though.  In truth this was the one right next to #83.
So let's get to it. Put your VHS of Cronenberg's "Videodrome" on and curl up with This Old Dragon Issue #82.

Ever wonder what a "Dancing Sword"  looks like? Well this issue's cover might give you a good idea.  Or it is a magic spell being used by the wizard in back.

So let me think. February of 1984. I would have been a freshman in high school.  I had already moved over to AD&D proper by this point but was still using the "Known World". I knew of Greyhawk, of course, but didn't have anything for it yet.  In truth I was not doing much at this point since I had just come off of a 16-week sickness due to pneumonia. I had in this time read all of the Tolkien books that were out of the time and watched an obscene amount of Doctor Who and Space: 1999.

Moving on...Letters covers mistakes or typos from issues.

Big ad for the Dr. No supplement for the James Bond game.

The Forum covers some details about Ed Greenwood's Nine Hells Revisited articles (cant' wait to do those!) namely what to do about Lawful Evil gods.  Still a good question really.

Nigel Findley is up for our first proper article, The Ecology of the Peryton. My memory is fuzzy, but I do remember that this is one of the first Ecology articles I ever read and it was also one I really liked. It really made this creature into something more than a collection of stats and a weird picture in the Monster Manual.  Note that this Ecology article is not by Ed Greenwood.  Still, it is a fine read.  I challenge anyone to reread this and NOT want to use a Peryton in your game.

Wounds and weeds, Plants that can help keep characters alive is an AD&D game herbal from Kevin J. Anderson.  As expected it has a warning not to try these at home, these are AD&D game stats only.   What follows are six pages of various herbs, with some pictures, that have some uses in the game. These are various healing herbs that work when magical healing is no where around.  I think this is a good addition to any Druid or Witch class since healing magic is not their prime focus.  While long, even at six pages it feels short. Maybe because I have seen other articles and books like this that were much longer.



Enhancing the Enchanter by Craig Barrett is for the DRAGONQUEST game.  DQ was always "one of those games".  I saw it all the time at the bookstores and in Dragon, but I knew very little about it.  I picked up many times and flipped through it.  It looked complicated (to me, at the time) but more to the point I didn't know of anyone playing it.  Did you play this game? The article is largely rule changes. At five pages it is also a longer article.

We get another ad for "Riddle of the Ring" card game.  I share this because I KNOW no one ever thought the Balrog looked like this.


Speaking of rings.  Up next is an article about a baker's dozen of magical rings. Rings that do weird things:  Thirteen pieces of jewelry not from the DMG.  All these rings are by various authors (two by Ed Greenwood).   The Ring of Bladeturning eventually had to be banned in my games.

New Avenues for Agents is a preview of the Top Secret Companion. I never was really into spy games. Again, I'll admit a certain curiosity to play the James Bond game and I tried the Spycraft d20 game back when it was new.  But overall they never really grabbed me like fantasy or horror games do.

Our centerfold is a full game, The Baton Races of Yaz.   It looks like a kid's game.  Certainly that is true, but I have watched people bid on that old boxed set of the "Dragon Magazine Games" and people really seem to love it. I should point out that my copy does not have this. I only know about it because of my Dragon CD-ROM.

Curing the Monty Haul Malady by Roger E. Moore deals with a common problem of most D&D games. The article is an edited version of some letters that have come in.  Some of the examples given I just can't really take seriously;  "He decided his character would kill Orcus, and after that his character became the new prince of the undead, with an unlimited amount of any undead to control, even an unlimited number of liches. The character also has some star destroyers he uses to fly around in space or to destroy planets."  Yeah.  This was the 80s. Sad to say...but yes I knew a guy that claimed his character had a Star Destroyer.  Not a Star Wars character, a D&D character.
This though has been an issue in some games since the very beginning.  Star Destroyers? No, the Monty Haul problems and the ridiculously over-powered game (not the same thing mind you, but they usually go hand in hand.)
While we were encouraged to not go to crazy high levels, there was nothing in the rules to stop you.  Tim Kask's warnings in "Gods, Demi-gods and Heroes" read more like a challenge I think to many.  future editions of *D&D tried to make these limits more ingrained in the rules; usually stopping at 20th level (or ~30th for BECMI and D&D4).  But gamers will be gamers I guess.

A review of battle mats, dice towers and the "Dragonbone" computerized dice roller.  I always kinda wanted one of those, but every DM I ever had said they would not allow it.  Also rolling dice is still the best.   I still have and use a battle mat though.

Spells between the Covers is the big reason I grabbed this issue. +Bruce Heard does a great job of filling some of the gaps in our knowledge on how to do spell research.  While I think many players know now many of the points made here, this article did not have the benefit of years of the community playing Call of Cthulhu.  In that game a good occult library is worth more than gold and more dangerous than plutonium.

Speaking of dangerous.  This magazine's mildew is getting so bad I am switching over to a print out from my CD-ROM.


The costs associated with building a library really should hold up edition to edition.  There is a lot of great stuff here about purchasing books.  BUT the REAL treasure is the list of books and the sages that wrote them.  Here is a brief sampling that NO real wizard, mage, sage or occult scholar should be without.

  • Idioms & Rare Cryptographs by Elminster 
  • Legendry of Phantoms and Ghosts by Evard
  • Lore of Subtle Communication by Tasha
  • The Forgotten Arts of Oratory Magnetism by Leomund
  • Theory of the Invisible Forces by Tenser
  • Gazette of the Norse Climates by Otiluke
  • Epic Saga of the Great Conjurers by Mordenkainen
  • Repertoire of Illustrious Conjurations by Drawmij
  • Treatise of Universal Astronomy by Melf

And many more. Really worth the price of the magazine alone if you ask me.  Tips on appraising the books, special books and cursed books are also discussed.   
Looking over the list it is dominated, naturally, by Greyhawk wizards, though Elminster is there too.  Even then Elminster had a better publishing deal! 

This is also tucked away in a small corned of the article.


The fiction section is Windowolf by Earl S. Wajenberg.

We get some ads. Namely these two.


Yes. I will admit to own both that game and that dragon claw amulet.  Once again...it was the 80s.

We end with the comics.  Once again one of those rare issues with Wormy, Snarf Quest and What's New all in one issue.

This was another big issue and maybe one of the reasons we look back at this time with such nostalgia, or at least with the rose-colored bifocals of the 40+ something gamer.

Want to know what I was saying about White Dwarf at the same time?  Check out White Dwarf Wednesday #50.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Spell Research

It's August and the theme of this month's RPG Blog Carnival hosted by Kobold Press is all about Magic!

Today I want to talk about something I am very much involved in right now. Spell Research.

One of the more nebulous rulings in *D&D covers research new spells.  Across all versions of the game there are spells named after various wizards and magic-users.  Some have real world significance such as Otiluke, Rary, Mordenkainen, and Melf.   Others represent historical or mythical figures.  But all have the implication that this spell was created by or named for these spell-casters.  So someone had to write them.

There are thousands of D&D spells. I think my 2nd Ed database (in Microsoft Access 97) has 3000+ spells.  I know the 3rd edition has to be more; there are about 2000 attributed to Pathfinder alone.  A project I am working on now tells me that my own OSR witch books have 700+ unique spells.

Someone had to write all of these.
Someone that is other the authors of these games and books.  Someone in the game itself. (But both are true).

So what are the hows and whys of Spell Research?

Why Should a PC Spell Caster Research a Spell?
This one is the easier of our two questions.  Why? Lots of reasons. The PC might want some new effect or magic not listed in PHB.  Say they want to cast "Frost Ball" instead of "Fire Ball" because they are more fond of cold based attacks and not fire ones.  Maybe the new spell comes about as part of other magical research. Maybe it was a total accident while casting a spell and not having the material components on hand or even a poorly memorized spell.
There are a number of in-game reasons.  In Ghosts of Albion, spells are cast based on Success Levels.  If a character casts a spell and gets really high successes on it then sometimes something new can happen.  I would give the same sort of ruling to D&D sorcerers and bards, they do something strange and a crazy new spell effect happens.  But that is an accident, what about doing that on purpose.

The most compelling reason, of course, is need.

Take a look at my witch (not important that it is a witch just yet) spell "Moonstone".  This spell stores moonlight.
Moonstone
Level: Witch 1
Range: Touch
Duration: 1 day per witch level
The witch can store moonlight in a small stone. The stones must be enchanted and then exposed to moonlight. Each stone will last 1 day per caster level unless discharged. Once invoked, the moonstone will shed soft light, equal to torchlight, and give off no heat. The moonstone does not affect low-light vision and does not cause damage to creatures that would normally be affected by light.
Note: Despite the wich's level, no Moonstone can last past the full cycleof the moon. So if moonlight is stored during a full moon then it will only last till the first night of the next full moon. If the witch's level is less than the number of days to the next full phase then the spell ends then.
Material Components: A bit of moonstone and the light of the moon.
(Special thanks to +Paolo Greco for pointing out some errors on this spell.)
Why do I need this spell?  I mean it's only first level, but a torch is cheaper.  Also, it is actually LESS effective than the first level spell Light.  You can't cast it into someone's eyes to blind them.
The reason here is need.  Moonstone is a fine spell all on it's own. But it's true value comes when paired with other spells.
Spells like Moon’s Heart (finding the time and direction, 1st level), Witch Writing (writing that can only be read by moonlight, 3rd level) Moonlit Way (finding the safe path, 4th level), and Moonbow (create a weapon out of moonlight, 6th level) all need moonlight to work.  Not something that can happen easily underground OR during the daylight hours.  Unless, of course, you have a fully charged Moonstone.

Another need is maybe less defined.  Back in the 3e days, I created a Prestige Class that had as a part of their requirements the applicant had to submit a new spell for the use of the other members of the Class.

Plus there is always the challenge and joy of discovery. Spells like Wave of Mutilation and Brigit's Flame Sheet were created just for the sheer joy of it.

I think this holds true for any sort of Arcane spellcaster.  What about clerics? druids? Heck, even witches!

Clerics & Druids
In the 3.5 SRD is says that Divine Casters can research a spell much like Arcane Spellcasters can.   But that section only says "A wizard also can research a spell independently, duplicating an existing spell or creating an entirely new one."
That's not really a lot to go on.
More to the point why would they do it?  I mean aren't clerics supposed to be given their spells by their gods?  Does it make sense that a cleric would tell his god "hey, look I know you are busy, but instead of light can you give me a spell that casts moonlight instead?"

It does if you think of clerical spells like a liturgy or even a sermon.  Think of modern day priests, preachers and other people of the cloth.  They have their holy books. They have some sermons and prayers they have always done (common book of prayer for example), some hymns that have been used since the middle ages and so on.  But they also write a sermon, sometimes a new one, each week.  The purpose is to take divine inspiration, common language, and new ideas to make something new.
Now. Truth be told Clerics (and Druids) should get a set amount of "spell levels" of power to work with an then they can perform their miracles as needed.  That might be a little too much like Mage for most D&D players' taste (but it would be fun to try it!).  From this perspective, even a tradition bound "old" class like the druid could invent new spells.   In theory, an all knowing god should know which spells to give when.  For this reason, I do allow clerics and druids to swap out spells on the fly.  Much like how D&D 3 introduced the idea of spontaneous healing magic.

But what about witches?

Witches
This is an 8th level Ritual Spell for witches.
Depending on my mood and the book in question witches can either be Divine or Arcane spellcasters. Typically I think of them as Witches.  The magic they use is Witchcraft. It has both Divine and Arcane aspects.  They learn their magic from their Patron, via a familiar, but record the spell formula in a spell book.   The underlined terms can have various meanings.  Take the girls from Charmed (why, you will see later).  Their Patrons are the past witches in their family line.  Each one learning more and more than and from the witches that came before. Their familiar in this case is their Book of Shadows.  Their spellbook is also their book of shadows.   In my Pathfinder Warlock book I have rules for a Book of Shadows that is spellbook AND familiar.

At one point in the show Charmed, the witches learn that they can also create new spells rather than just relie on the ones in their Book of Shadows.  It actually becomes a feature of the show where Phoebe (Alyssa Milano) is the sister with the best ability to come up with new spells. It is this ability they have that allows them to tap into greater and greater sources of their power.  One such spell summons the power of all their family witches to destroy what is essentially the Devil (Source of All Evil. But not without cost.)

Given this would I allow "10th level" spells?  That's a good question.  Most spells of significantly high level do a lot. A spell that powerful would need to be limited in other ways.

So that's the why, what about the how?

That depends on the edition.

1st Edition starts with some advice on page 115 of the DMG.  The hardest part of this is determining the level of the spell in question.  This is done only by comparing the spell to be created to others in the Player's Handbook.  +Bruce Heard expands on this in Dragon magazine #82 (more on that tomorrow!), but it does cover somethings not in the DMG that are important. Namely to properly stock your occult/arcane library.

An occult library.
For the moment let's assume that your character has the tools and books needed.  The time needed for research and materials is 200 gp per level per week.

2nd Edition covers much of the same ground, but with less information to be honest.  Even the amount spent is now only given as a range of gp.

3rd Edition and 5th Edition have similar advice on pages 95 and 283 (respectively). So similar in fact that it felt like I was reading the same text. Though they both give good advice on setting levels based on the amount of damage caused.  The numbers differ, but the logic is the same.

I could not find any Spell Creation or Spell Research rules in BECMI or 4th Edition.

So really. The level of the spell is largely a matter of guesswork and tradition.  I spend a lot of time, maybe too much time, trying to figure these things out.

Yeah. A lot.

Creating a Spell

I wonder if we can use what we know already to create a new spell.  This is one I am actually working on right now.  As I type these words the spell is not written, but it will be by the end of this post.

The spell is one I have thought about for a while. It allows a caster to make a perfect copy of another spell into a specially prepared spellbook.  I have decided that the spell needs the following.
A specially prepared but blank spell book. This will be 200 gp per the level of the spell copied. Following the rules above.  The quill used to scribe the spell has to come from the rare Giant Mimid Bird (or Dire Mockingbird if you prefer) and the ink is a rarer distillation of the ink of an octopus (not a squid).

The spell makes a duplicate so it is beyond Mirror Image or even Minor Creation since the creation is magical (in a sense).  It is less than Wish.  It is permanent, but more so than Permanent Image.
It can reduce the time needed to copy a spell down to hours from weeks, that is pretty powerful.
8th Level feels right, but I could go as low as 6th and maybe, just maybe up to 9th.

It's a new spell, so let's give it a name. My iconic witch is named Larina. I always imagined this was her spell.  Since it deals with the copying of spellbooks some form of Liber should be used. After all, aren't all spell books written in Latin?   Liberum works and that is a call back to my d20 Witch book.  Since the words are being set free then Libre is also good.  Alliterations are always fun.
So let's go with Larina's Liberum Libre.

Larina is a witch, but this would be good for wizards too.
Let's try it in Basic-Era/S&W/OSR format.

Larina's Liberum Libre
Level: Witch 8, Wizard 8
Range: 1 Spellbook
Duration: Permanent; see below
This spell was named for the first witch to successfully use it to make a copy of another spellbook.  The spell requires a book of the same size, shape and page numbers of the spell book to be copied. The base cost for this book is 200gp per spell level copied.  Also needed are a special quill of a Giant Mimid Bird and distilled ink of an octopus. Both may be purchased, base cost of 100 gp, or prepared by the caster ahead of time.  The ink is used up in the spell casting, the quill can be used for 1d6+6 uses.
The blank book, quill, ink and the spell book to be copied are placed on a specially prepared cloth (not rare, just clean and white). The spell is cast and the cloth covers both books.  The spell will take 1 hour per spell level to copy.  Once complete the spell will create a perfect copy of the book in question.  If the spell is interrupted during this time; the cloth removed or either book opened, then the spell is canceled and the new book, ink, and quill are destroyed.
Note: Normal non-magical books may be copied as well, but only require normal ink and a regular book with the same number of pages.

Ok. So I like the spell, might tweak it a bit before publication. Still not happy with the guesswork involved with the levels.
I would love to develop a system like I did for Ghosts of Albion but that would take a time and the return might not really be worth it.

How do you go about researching spells? Both in game and in real life?



Monday, August 21, 2017

D&D Beyond

I signed up for D&D Beyond this morning.



I pretty much knew I was going to sign up anyway, but gaming over the weekend convinced me.

Currently, I am running two D&D 5 games, the Come Endless Darkness game and The Second Campaign.  Eventually, I am going to get my aborted 4e game converted over to 5e and I'll get that going too, tentatively called Into the Nentir Vale.

My son is also running games. A D&D 5 game with his friends,  the same adventures (with different characters) with my youngest son and his friends (average age 14) AND the occasional one we take turns running for his cousins (aged 13 to 22).



So six D&D 5 games with about 40 characters total.
To say we have lost some sheets here and there is an understatement.  To say we need to be able to access our materials in a bunch of different places is also pretty clear.

So I pulled the trigger this morning and got a DM's Subscription and picked up the three core books.

I know there has been a lot of complaining online about the price.
For me, the price compared to what I get was worth it. I was a fan of the 4e character builder and I used it quite a lot.   When Beyond was in Beta I also used it a lot.  So far I am pleased with my purchase so far.

Are there cheaper tools? Of course.
Are there better tools? Maybe.
Are there tools that do everything that Beyond does? None that I know of.

So I'll be sharing my thoughts on this tool over the next few days.  Need to load about 3 dozen characters into it now.

Anyone else using this?