Saturday, April 27, 2013, 4:50 AM
I was just looking at my previous post, intent on moving on to the Alternity DMG when I noticed I gave a rather broad overview of the game system itself rather than a look at the PHB. So, here's a closer look at the Alternity PHB, and the goodies contained therein.
As my post claimed earlier, at the time the Alternity books were the most colorful game books to date. What's neat was the covers of the two core books created a larger mural.
The book starts with the obligitory "What is Roleplaying" section that most people who play RPGs would skip over.
A formating note; Most RPGs have two columns at most per page. Alternity used three columns. This reminded me of the early red box set D&D games. It's a nice touch, but too often words are broken. If the word can't fit the line, it should have been moved down to the next line. The more I look, the more noticeable the breaks are.
After the introduction is Chapter 1: fast play rules. I've covered much of this from the previous post. The fast play rules were a quick introduction to the most basic elements of the Alternity game. The GM book has the corresponding adventure, also as Chapter 1.
The fast play rules contained pre-generated characters. It was also available in an "intro to Alternity RPG" box. And if I remember right, the fast play game was also an insert in Dragon Magazine.
Chapter 2 covers Hero Creation. It introduced a few "races" (Aliens) that players might want to try out. The idea of playing just a human, when most folks were used to playing dwarves or elves seemed boring at the time, I suppose.
Chapter 3: Heroes in Action covers the basics of how to play, how damage is handled and so on.
Next up is the chapter on Skills. Skills can be broad, or specialty. You must have a broad skill before you can specialize.
The rest of the book covers standard RPG things such as perks and flaws, equipment, vehicles, weapons and armor, and computers. Alternity PHB also has a chapter on mutants, cybernetics, and psionics.
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Saturday, February 23, 2013, 5:31 AM
1998 saw the release of Alternity, a Science Fiction Roleplaying game from Wizards of the Coast under the TSR banner. While the cover says "Science fiction", it's interesting to note the inside cover page states "Rules for modern to far-future roleplaying games."
When it came out, it had the highest price point for an RPG to that date. At $29.99 each for the PHB and the Gamemaster's Guide, the books were also the most colorful. The production value is very high for the core books.
Alternity can be seen as a pre-cursor to d20 and even d20 Modern, (the latter which would include story elements, characters and settings from Alternity.)
The dice system for skill checks and such was a bit funky. You rolled a control die of d20, and then added or subtracted a situational die. The problem with the system was the goal was to always roll low. Traditionally, rolling a 20 on a d20 was a good thing and rolling a 1 was very bad. Here, rolling a 1 was desireable. The control die and situational die were rolled and added together, and compared to a target number.
Worse, because of this setup Alternity had the same problem some mechanics in early versions of D&D had was that a "bonus" was subtracted rather than added, and penalties were added. It's counter intuitive. If your boss said you earned a bonus this year, you wouldn't expect him to take money out of your paycheck.
The situational die could be adjusted by steps as well. You could improve a d4 to a d6 if the GM thinks you have a situational advantage (or bonus). Likewise, you may end up rolling with a step penalty, in which you'd look down the table a number of steps. Say the bad guy has good cover, the GM might rule you have a 3 step penalty to hit. Now instead of a -d4 bonus, you might end up with a +d6 penalty.
In addition, there's a degree of success. There are five degrees. Most of the time the positive three were noted. Ordinary, Good and Amazing. If you hit with an attack, depending on what you rolled, you could roll for more damage. A D&D short sword may be 1d6 for everyone, but in Alternity, if you roll well, you could end up doing more damage, and if you rolled an Amazing attack, still more, and may even change the catgeory of damage. (Short sword in Alternity, on an ordinary roll, d4 wound damage, on a good result d6 wound damage and on an amazing attack roll, d6+2. (I say here again, a plus in this instance is a good thing, but most of the time it's bad. Very confusing.)
There are three types of damage in Alternity, Stun, Wound and Mortal.
As you can see, it can get complicated rather quickly. But, let me throw in one more stat example to show how it flows.
A character has these as skills:
Modern Ranged Weapons 13/6/3
Pistol Rank 1 14/7/3
Now, if the character uses any sort of modern ranged weapon such as a shotgun, they would roll a d20 and use a base situational die of +d4. Using a pistol, however, only a d20 would be rolled as the specialty in pistols would have a base situational die of d0.
The first number before the slash is to get an ordinary result, the middle for a good result and the third for amazing.
Let's say this character uses a pistol. A roll of 15 or higher is a miss. 14 or lower is an ordinary hit, 7 or lower is good and if the roll is above a 3, it's an amazing result.
For a pistol, (.38 revolver) damage is listed as d4w/d4+1w/d4m. The letters indicate what type of damage (stun, wound, mortal) is done.
BLAM! A 5 is rolled in the first round, a good result, so d4+1 of wound damage is done.
BLAM! A 3 is rolled this turn (The dice think they're playing D&D and are rolling low on purpose!), good enough for an Amazing result, and d4 mortal damage is done this round.
That's the basics of the game mechanics. The PHB has plenty of other topics as well.
The first part has fast play rules to get into the action. Character creation follows and introduces a number of "new" races. Sure, one can play a human, but RPGs allow other races to be played.
Since it's a science fiction game, fantasy races such as dwarves and elves won't do. Aliens are introduced as playable characters.
The skill system is flexable, but unfortunately some key rules are burried in the paragraphs, rather than clearly laid out. There are broad skills, and specialty skills, which can be improved.
The PHB also covers everything from vehicles to computers, mutants to cybertech to psionics. Almost any sci-fi setting can be played. Indeed, many of the Alternity books are inspired by elements from popular sci-fi shows and books.
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Monday, September 17, 2012, 8:33 PM
"The most important rule of Dungeons & Dragons" read the original red boxed set, "is simply this; BE FAIR."
Those words have stuck with me my entire D&D playing career. It's not fair to have the first level characters go up against five huge red dragons.
Lately there's been a rash of anti-DM sentiment going around. The phrase "DM May I" is derrogotory. The DM is in fact a very important player. Rule, game, setting, adventure and other decisions lay on the shoulders of the DM. The DM is the person entrusted with running the game. All editions of D&D acknowledge this.
Looking at some of my older modules, the game itself tells the DM to use judgement. If an encounter is too easy, one module advises, add more monsters. Or have monsters from room 22 hear the noise and join the fight. In a multi part adventure, the DM decides when certain events occur.
The core books themselves give full authority over the game to the DM. 3e even gives it a name. "Rule 0". Check with your DM to see if your race/class/whatever is allowed.
And yet some players don't even want there to be a DM. They don't want the DM to tell them what their characters can and can not do. Those folks should play another game, because that is what one of the DM's functions is.
Such players want to automatically succeed. "I want to walk into the lair, and without rolling any dice I jump on the dragons head, even though the dragons is floating 100 feet above me, stab him in the skull with my butter knife, then leave the cave with all 100 million coins and magic items of the hoard."
Why bother playing?
The harsh reality is, sometimes the answer is no. And when these players get a no, like spoiled children, they label the DM a Bad DM.
"I want to play a kender!"
"No, this is Eberron. There are NO kender."
"Bad DM! This game sucks! I can't play what I want."
This anti-DM sentiment seems to have started as role playing games evolved. Early games were a lot of work for the DM, so rules started showing up encouraging letting players help out. "Let the players make up some stuff!"
Eventually, they got the idea that they were the DMs in charge of the game and not the DM himself. 3e was the first version I ever saw players even being allowed to paw through the DMG shopping for magic items. 4e comes along, and suddenly all magic items are in the PHB.
Players helping out is fine. Sometimes you're stuck for an innkeeper's name. But to let the players be the ones running the game? Sorry, no. The DM has Final Authority. Always has, and always will.
I think most DMs are in fact fair. They have to balance a whole world of material. If you take the DM out of the equation, you're left with the classic example of coboys and indians, "Bang! You're dead' 'Am Not!"
As long as we DMs remember the most important rule, players have no reason to think we're terrible people. But, sadly, they'll still think that way if they don't get exactly what they want.
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Saturday, July 14, 2012, 3:42 AM
If my 2e review seemed a bit on the light side, it was. I never really played FR in 2nd edition, although I did pick up a few FR themed products. Adventures, or Aurora's Whole Realms Catalog, and Volo Guides. The original FR boxed set suited me just fine for any FR setting needs for me, but I picked up the 2e boxed set more to have a "complete" collection. (Even though I wasn't trying to complete all the games.) Indeed, I had picked that set up long after I had all my Planescape materials. (I seem to recall picking it up as an "accessory" for Planescape- Faerun is another world to explore from Sigil.)
I did play 3e FR a little bit, but I have to say of all the editions (including 4e), I like the 3e FR campaign setting book the best.
The big draw for me is two fold. First, there's the trade dress. The 3e Forgotten Realms campaign setting does a great job of making the book appear to be a collection of sheets of paper stacked up. My 2e book edges are naturally yellow, but this pre-yellowed versions adds to the effect.
While I'm not overly crazy about the fonts (as I am with Eberron), they are readable.
All the 3e FR books look great. The pages are a good quality paper too. They feel solid and not flimsy at all. They are smooth, unlike the 1e campaign books, but not quite glossy. I would say it's a step or two below glossy. (The pages aren't shiny.)
The yellow-brown tint mutes other colors, but they're still clear on what they're supposed to be. The blues on the maps aren't as vibrant in this edition, for example, but it's still clear the oceans are blue.
The other attraction to the 3e FR campaign book is the information contained inside. This book is packed. I actually picked up more FR books for this edition despite not playing it much simply for the information. I'm also a fan of Neverwinter Nights by Atari, and since the game engine used the same 3e rules, I figured I could use all those helpful books for making modules. (I'm still trying to figure out scripting, though.)
There is plenty to like about the book itself. As with other editions, there's the alphabets of the realms, characters of the realms and so on. The grand tour is simply "Geography" this time out.
There are edition specific rules of course, but this doesn't get in the way in the geography chapter, which is the bulk of the book.
I like the photo of the portal on page 60. It shows a bluish swampy area with steps up to a doorway in the middle of nowhere. Through the doorway, dragons can be seen flying around a mountain. The red tint on that side of the portal indicates either heat, or sunset. It's clear this is a place that is far, far away.
The section on domains made me realize there's more to cleric domains than I first thought.
Page 86 has the familiar alphabets, but sadly it isn't attatched to any translating character that we'd be familiar with. (You have to count 13 characters to figure out which one is M in dwarven.)
Pages 88/89 has yet another map of the Realms, but this is a trade routes map. It shows what country/area exports what good to whichever other area. Sure, we've read text that says wool and gems are exported from area B, but it's something else to see the trade routes in action. Wool from area B goes to area A, while gems goes to area C. In addition to the "regular" poster map, it would have been nice to have a second poster map with this information.
The big change in this version was the planes, and how they were organized/worked. Gone was the Great Wheel. Now the planes were more like a tree.
All in all, the 3e FR campaign setting is a very solid product, with enough information to run games for years to come.
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Sunday, July 1, 2012, 4:16 AM
Although my grey FR boxed set has been crushed, I can still sit it next to the 2nd edition Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting box and see that the 2nd edition box is twice as thick. And it certainly is loaded with goodies.
The look and feel of the books are different than the previous version. For starters, the pages are white with black text. There is also a splash of color. Not full color but dark blue is used for the headings, and the pattern at the top of every page. Sidebards are shaded blue. Back then, having any color at all was a big deal, as most RPG books were nothing but black and white. The color gave the books personality.
The first book is the 128 page "A Grand Tour Of The Realms", and it follows the tradition of the 1st edition's Cyclopedia, but the Grand Tour does so in large sections rather than individual entries. Cormyr has a section, rather than just a paragraph, for example. Cities have maps similar to, if not recycled from 1e's maps. Whole areas are described, which is very nice. Gone however are Elminster's notes.
Next up is the Running the Realms book. 64 pages of DM advice as well as listing major NPCs. Drizzt makes an appearance here. What's handy is that all the names have pronouncing guides. (Drist Doe-URR-den). The previous version also had pronouncers and in those days, it was always welcome especially since writers then tried to come up with the weirdest letter combinations and unprononceable names.
The thrid book is 96 pages of Shadowdale goodness. Often mentioned but not detailed at that point, this book is full of info on the area, and includes an adventure set in Elminster's stomping ground.
The back of the Shadowdale book has at that point the up to date FR Bibliography - Listing of all the FR books, products and accessories. (This sort of thing makes me chuckle at folks who complain about WotC's release schedule. WotC doesn't put out nearly enough products as TSR did back in the day.)
Ah... boxed sets. They were useful to holding all kinds of goodies, and this set held more than the three books. Also included here are 6 card sheets of trail signs, symbols, magic symbols, god symbols and so on, all in color. These weren't pre-cut cards either. Nor are they perforated. The card backs describe what's on the front, so you can show a kobold's symbol for "Safe trail ahead" to the players. They're cute, but pretty much worthless. No, I never bothered to cut up the cards.
Just as the first set, there are two plastic sheets with hexes on them for use on the maps. The maps are much, much more colorful and more filled in. My previous review describes one panel of a map, and to contrast here, this map shows where the deeper water is, it's added the Friendly Arm, the roads are now named. The colors are very vibrant in this set.
And finally, there are 8 Monsterous Compendium sheets. These were monsters printed on pages with holes to put in a binder. While it sounds like a good idea in that you only had to take the monster pages you wanted with you to the game rather than a whole binder, the holes often tore out of the binder. (Not in my set here as I never put them in the binder. Besides, with my MC 1 and 2, I laminated each and every page. These pages weren't so treated.)
Problems arise if you want your entire binder to be in any sort of alphabetical order. One sheet from this set has a Lock Lurker on one side, and a Naga, Dark on the other. What if you got a new FR monster that started with the letter M? You couldn't put it between those two monsters.
All in all, it's not a bad set. It had a different style and feel from the first version. It lacks the "2nd edition" logo, and it was released in the later years of 2e.
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Saturday, June 30, 2012, 8:18 AM
I've been thinking about the Forgotten Realms lately, and thought it might be fun to look back at some great FR products. Now, there were many produced and I don't have all of them. So, to make things a bit simple, I took a look at the main campaign setting books/sets.
Many moons ago, I was at our monthly get together for AD&D games when the DM pulled out a rather awesome looking map. I asked him where he got it. The jerk wouldn't tell me.
I eventually found out when I picked up that month's Dragon Magazine. It wouldn't have killed him to tell me that's where he got it as the map didn't have any secrets on it.
That map was my introduction to the Forgotten Realms. Yes, I had read some articles on it previously, but I never really paid attention to them. I ignored that world as much as I ignored Greyhawk. I was in the "Create my own world" phase at the time. Still, I loved boxed sets, so when it came out at one of the hobby stores, I picked it up.
The box itself is in rough shape right now. My copy's been crushed rather badly. The contents inside, however, are quite good. It's somewhat amusing reading the cover. "Forgotten Realms - A new campaign world for the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons game!"
Inside the box are two books. The 96 page Cyclopedia of the Realms, and the 96 page "DM's Sourcebook of the Realms".
The very first thing noticed is the paper. It's not white, but a yellowish print pattern to make the pages appear to be parchment. The print is a brown color, and I recall at the time having trouble reading the pages because of this. Looking at it today, it's not impossible or difficult to read, but then again at the time I was trying to adjust to contact lenses. I could read my other D&D books fine, but not this one.
There are no color illustrations in the book. In those days, everything was black and white. (Or in this case, yellow and brown.) The paper itself isn't glossy like today's books. They were more... fiberous. THe pages feel like paper.
Another note about the books is the pages each use three columns. It was very much like reading an early newspaper.
The Cyclopedia is just what it sounds like. A tour of the Realms in alphabetical order. (After some pelminaries. - See below.) There are plenty of maps throughout, and the major cities get tons of notations. Though not fully described, each entry is descriptive enough. For example, Arabel has 151 marks on the map each listed. (130 The Lame Camel (tavern) 131 Blackhand Lhaol's Smithy. 132 House MIsrmim warehouse. 139 The Swinging gate (inn) and so on.)
First, time in the Realms is covered followed by names in the Realms. Languages of the Realms shows the three major languages written out. Today we just download a font, but back in the day, having some strange characters to hand copy on notes to the players was just awesome.
Currency in the Realms is followed by Religion of the Realms, where the gods are described, and the holy symbols drawn. There's also an interesting table that lists what each class and each alignment worships which god.
Then we get to the grand tour. Each entry has an "At a glance" description of the area, followed by "Elminster's notes" where Elminster comments on the entry. This section is often longer than the actual entry. And finally there's "Game Information" that gives additional info to the DM/Players.
In this book, "Magic-Users" is the term for what we call wizards these days, and the Cyclopedia shows hand drawn "mage's sigils". Every mage has his own rune. It's a nice little detail that helps bring the world more into focus. And it's just one of many such little details.
The back of the book is a spreadsheet to keep track of players in the adventuring company.
The second book has advice for DMs for new players and for experienced players. The bulk of the book are descriptions of major NPCs in the Realms. There's also an adventure and a section with "books of the Realms" for added flavor. One neat map in this book compares the size of the Realms with a silluette of the United States to show the scale of the land.
Fun fact about the NPCs- this was the days before the iconic Drizzt was created. It's strange having a Forgotten Realms product without him. But there it is.
The back of the DM's sourcebook is a spreadsheet for random monsters. The chart is filled in based on monster rarity.
Also included in the boxed set are two clear plastic sheets with a hex pattern printed on them. These are overlayed on to the four maps in the set to cover distance.
There were four maps. Two maps were put together to show the Realms on one scale, and the other two maps were to show a larger picture of the area.
The maps themselves were impressive at the time, but looking at them today, they are mostly colored blobs. There is lots and lots of space between the cities. Enough room for us creative DMs to add our own places to the map. To give you an idea on how sparse the maps is, looking at just one "panel" (it's a folded poster sized map...) is the following. Look at an 8 1/2" by 11" page. The left 2/3rds of the page is all blue ocean, and the last 1/3rd on the right is yellow. A black line meanders from the top of the map down to the bottom. In the middle of the yellow side is Baldur's Gate. Further down, just past the green blob of Cloak Wood is Candlekeep. And right at the bottom is Beregost. And that's it for cities on that panel of the map.
It was very basic and crude, but it got the job done.
Overall it was a very solid product, and introduced a brand new world to the Forgotten Realms.
Bonus goodies -
Well, not really "bonus", but oftentimes there were additional inserts put in the boxed sets that I never really just tossed out.
One items here is a postcard for "Secrets of the Sages". A Forgotten Realms newsletter offer. What's interesting is the pitch is in character, and indeed, when sending in your name and address, it's asking for your character information.
Your character would be listed amoung the "Order of Heroes", I think. I never filled it out, so I don't know first hand what happened with the info. One side of the postcard can be filled in and cut out. A membership card!
"Adventuere-par-Excellence. License: Be it known by this placard, that the bearer, by virtue of daring deeds and unflagging service in the name of goodness, is herewith granted license to tell tall tales, embolden endeavors, and exaggerate exploits that bear a passing resembalance to real or imagined trails and tribulations suffered by his sponsored champion!"
Just sign it and add your character's name.
The second item is a one sheet to subscribe to Dragon and Dungeon magazines.
Not included with the set, but stuffed in there by me as I remember not being able to find a folder or place to put it is a printout of cheat codes for the Baldur's Gate computer game. More like Item codes where you have to edit files to give yourself specific items.
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Saturday, June 2, 2012, 5:26 AM
In the old red box D&D set, page 46 of the Dungeon Master's Rulebook is a set of instructions on how to build a good dungeon. Step 1 is "Choose a Scenario." There's a short list of scenerios to choose from.
Exploring the unknown.
The party is hired to map uknown territory. The area might onece have been familiar but is now overrun or destroyed. A strange power might mysteriously appear overnight in a familiar area...
Investigating an enemy outpost.
The enemies (Possibly Chaotic monsters) are invading the Realm of Man. The characters must enter an enemy outpost, find the strengths and plans of the invaders, and destroy them if possile.
The party is scouting an old village before permenent settlers move in. The ruins may have been overrun by a certain type of monster, who must be driven off or slain. The ruins can even be underneath, or part of, a thriving town.
And so on. The 2e suppliment Deck of Encounters (set one) runs along those lines, but with a little more detail, and much more flair.
The deck comes in a box, about the size of a CD case with the depth of an index card. The back reads "The road rounds a bend. A glitter catches your eye. There's something in the ditch, and it looks like gold.
"Now - endless encounters! This is a treasure chest full of over 400 encounters in all kinds of terrain, for AD&D 2nd Edition game player characters of all levels. Encountesr with monsters, traps and tricks. Encounters requiring brawn and a quick sword. Encounters requiring quick wits, courage, and imagination.
"The front of each card details the basics of the encounter - danger level, terrain, cliamate, character attributes needed for success, encounter types, and the experience point value for rapid reference. Each detail has it's own icon, making the task of selecting just the right encounter even easier.
"Concentrate on your campaign and leave the encounters to the Dek of Encounters!"
The back sums it up pretty well. There are indeed icons on the front that cover all those items, and there are "key" cards that show the icon and explain what they mean. While the icons do make it a bit easy to sort the deck, it seems to be a bit of wasted space as all that info is also located on the left half of the front of the card. . It would help avoid confusion. There are seven different tree icons. (Four of them for climate, the rest for terrain.) Rather than icons, I would have liked a small bit of artwork or something related to the adventure. A map perhaps, or show a magic item. But, being a 1994 product, it's a bit late for that wishful thinking.
What really makes this product shine are the adventure hooks/idea on the cards. While they all contain 2e stats, they are very, very easily useable in any edition of D&D. Here are two sample cards to show the great variety this product had.
(Don't worry if the stats aren't familiar. They're included to show what the cards contained by way of info.)
Front of the card: With a friend like this...
Add'l Info: MM
XP Value: 270 for killing Groog, 540 for any peaceful solution.
(To the right are the icons for the above stats.)
Back of the card:
With a Friend Like This...
Area: An ogre approaches the PCs in a hilly area, not far from civilization.
Situation: Groog, the ogre, wants to be an adventurer. He just knows that he'd be really good at it - after all, he's pretty good at killing things already. But for some reason, people don't seem to like him very much and they run away when he approaches, so he wants to join an adventuring party to learn how to get along with people. He's decided that the PCs are the perfect victims...er, companions. And if the PCs don't let him join their group, "Groog smash all!"
Although the idea of having such a powerhouse on their side might appeal to some PCs, they should be reminded through examples of an ogre's quick temper, vicious impulsiveness, overwhelming greed, and repulsive eating habits that this is not a very good idea. Ultimately, he will become much more of a burden than an asset to the PCs and they will have to figure out how to get rid of the ogre - without having to fight him.
Groog is smart for an ogre (Intelligence 10) and he will demand the largest portion of any and all treasure the party acquires. ("Groog biggest. Groog get more stuff.") He is basically useless in any situation that rquires stealth or thought, and is even worse in urban situations, guaranteed to get the PCs in trouble wherever they go.
Quick stats: Ogre: MV9;AC 5; HD 4+1; HP 23; THAC0 17; #At 1; Dmg 1d10 (or by weapon +6); MR Nil
Add'l Info: MM
XP Value: 450
Area: A large city is suddenly thrown into panic when a group of strange animals starts staggering through the streets. Reports indicate common dogs, cats and even a wolf are wanderng through the city. But these creatures don't act quite right...
Situation: An oddball collector, a resident of this city, had a collection of strange nimals - all of them zombies. Unfortunately, his collection has gotten loose and now wanders the town, aimlessly drifting and scaring the cityfolk. By whatever circumstance (The city hires/drafts the PCs or the job or they do it out of the kindness of their hearts), the characters end up being the ones to track down the "great zombie horde."
Fortunately for the PCs, there was nothing really dangerous in the zombie zoo; the collector had not yet managed to aquire any reallly exotic creatures, and so common household cats, dogs and one wolf are the extent of the zombie invasion. They act like normal animals of teir kind. WHen they are all destroyed, however, the creator may decide to start creating more "interesting" zombies.
Quick Stats: Zombie Dogs (5): Mv 7; AC7; DH 2+1; hp 9, 7, 13, 11, 10; THAC0 19; #Att 1; Dmg 1-4; MR Nil
Zombie Cats (6) MV 6; AC 6; HD 2+1; hp 10, 9, 13, 11, 12, 14; THAC0 19; #Att 3; Dmg 1/1/102; MR Nil
Zombie Wolf MV 9; AC7;HD 3+2; HP19; THACO 18; #Att1; Dmg 2-5; MR Nil
Those two illustrate the creativity (or twisted minds) of some of the 2e era products. Nowhere else will you find stats for a zombie cat.
There's much more variety included in these cards. Some cards are "versions" of similar ideas. (Wishing well, for example.) Others are two and three part encounter cards. For the DM who has to quickly come up with an adventure idea, these cards are invaluable.
There's also a set Deck of Encounters set two. Too bad there wasn't a third and even a fourth set. It's one product I'd like to see make a return.
Some folks today say they don't want to see cards in their RPG games. They really need to take a look at the fantastic and highly rated Decks of Encounters, as I would disagree and say we need more Decks of Encounters. They are a DM's best friend.
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Saturday, December 17, 2011, 2:23 AM
Many of my older editon D&D books are turning yellow. The edges of the pages look rather nasty, which bothers me to no end because I was always so careful with my books. I'd always make sure my hands were washed before handling them. (Similar in look to the 3rd edition Forgotten Realms books. Which I'm glad THOSE books already look like that. I won't freak out as much because I recall the pristine white my books all used to be like.
One book however, has gone completely yellow. I suspect it's from the type of paper it was printed on. While I would like another clean new copy to keep in a plastic bag, the yellowing effect actually adds to the product.
The Forgotten Realms accessory Aurora's Whole Realms Catalogue.
The idea for this book came up at a game table. The authors were playing in a turn of the century setting RPG, and one of the players had a reprint of a 1902 mail order catalogue. The players thrilled at looking over all the items their characters could buy and use. It added to the flavor and mood of the game.
Althought it has Forgotten Realms on the cover, and the character names and places inside are from that setting, Aurora's Whole Realms Catalogue is useable in any fantasy setting, including today's RPGs.
The Catalogue is what it sounds like. A huge listing of items for your characters to buy. In those days, the list of items in the PHB (no matter what edition) was rather small. Folks would often ask for items not on the list. Indeed, those lists were always presented as examples, rather than full exhaustive lists.
Then came along Aurora's. This book is filled with page after page of useful items you always wanted to get for your character, and tons upon tons of items you probably never thought of.
Divided into numerous categories (A section for rangers, one for clerics, another for inns/taverns and so on) helps sort the items. The aside's mention of Inns/Taverns, for example doesn't list prices for your stay, but lists items an inn/tavern would need to buy to be (or stay) in business. Bedding, for example, give the choices of flannel or wool. (1gp and 2 gp respectively.) Comforters, various sizes of mattresses (and types, feather/rag/straw), pillows and sheets are just the beginning. We also have different bowls, canisters, cauldrons, crocks, cutting boards, drinking horns, forks... (A brass dinner fork is 2 cp each. Silver is 8 sp, and a roast fork is 1 sp.) The lists of items just goes on and on.
Where needed, sample stats for items that could be used as weapons are included. Take a pitchfork. There are three and four pronged varieties, and at the end of the entry, stats for said pitchfork. (Wt 4(8) lb; Size L, type P, Speed factor 7, Damage 1d4/1d4 (1d4+1/1d4+1)
From clothes to illuminations, to storage items, household items, and beyond. (There's even a larder. 1 gp for a pound of apples.) There's a cheese section. A wine section. Even a bread section. You'll encounter more items in here than your character could ever use. And it won't be from a lack of trying.
Goodness! I could go on and on about all the good stuff in here.
The book size itself is small- it's the size of the D&D Essentials books, but only 160 pages. But those pages are packed. Whereas PHB (in all editions) felt like a small sample list of items to buy, Aurora's Whole Realms Catalogue feels like a complete list. The authors hoped it would be the most tattered and loved D&D book in our collections. It is in mine.
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Saturday, September 3, 2011, 8:19 AM
Most role-playing games will suggest you borrow ideas from other sources, including other game systems. Not every book translates well, although with work, a good DM/GM can make almost anything work.
There’s one book on my D&D shelf that can not only be used in any edition of D&D, but in any RPG period. That book is the Campaign Sourcebook and Catacomb Guide.
While DM books generally tell you how to play D&D, the CS&CG tells you properly how to RUN the game. Whereas the DMG tells you how to handle encounters, CS&CG tells you how to handle players. It is one of the most useful books ever printed. It is what the DMG should have been, or at least included. So Let’s Review this gem.
The first chapter is very helpful as it handles gaming etiquette. It covers things such as how to ease into a game, respect for each other, refreshments, breaks and so on. While it’s considered “no brainer” advice, seeing the words in print reminds you of the obvious, which may be easily overlooked.
Chapter 2 would be familiar to 4e players as it covers styles of play, and describes hack and slash players, the thinker, “righteous role-player”, war gamer and so on. It also covers organization, “be prepared”, and has a section on “winging it”.
Chapter 3 covers pacing and theatrics. Pacing includes how to keep the game moving, with the following advice:
“Keep the player group small, no more than six players and only six to eight characters.”
“For each turn or round of combat, give the players a short time period to mutually discuss options. For combat rounds, this time should be very brief.”
“Discourage unnecessary chatter during a game. Establish a what you say is what you do atmosphere. If a player says it, his character says it.”
“Have a predetermined order in which players take their turns. During this time, keep discussion to a minimum.” (In 2e, initiative wasn’t set as it is in 4e.)
“Make sure all needed dice are on the table. If possible, encourage players to bring their own dice.”
“Be willing to make rules up. No DM can know every rule. Rather than look up obscure rules, make an on the spot judgment call. Use common sense and take situational factors into account. Make sure penalties for failure are fairly balanced by the potential reward for success (and vice versa.).”
“Be willing to fudge a dice roll or overlook an obscure rule if it would damage the pace of play.”
And there’s so much more to the chapter. Props, smells, handouts, building suspense, mood music, misdirection, misinformation, and much more are covered.
One neat nugget covers messy maps. In those days, the DM would describe the room, and one of the players would draw out the map on graph paper. It went something like this, “You enter the room from the south. It’s 30 x 30 feet with a door in the north wall, and a door on the west wall.” The player would then sketch it out, often asking where the doors are located. Too often, the maps came out to be exact copies of what was behind the DM’s screen. CS&CG suggest that if their maps are that good, the DM is either VERY good at describing things, or the players are cheating. The advice states that unless the characters themselves are pacing out the room, the player maps should be messy.
It’s also suggested that different sized characters should have different scaled maps, though the general shape of the maps should be the same. That’s to say, a human that walks 10 paces is further in the dungeon than a halfling walking 10 paces.
Another great suggestion is on monsters. Rather than just name them, describe them, but make the descriptions more unfamiliar. A shadowy figure, lurking down the hall with the sound of scraping metal sounds spookier than a kobold dragging a sword. If the players aren’t sure what the monster is, because we all know they’ve read/memorized the MM, it adds to the atmosphere of fear. People aren’t afraid of what they know, but they are afraid of what they don’t know.
The chapter continues with how to set the scene for the players, and how to get “game speak” out of your games. Rather than “I attack…. I rolled a 17.”, conveying character action works better. “Horace swings his blade in a wide arc…. And hits!”
Advice on how to make the encounters dramatic, and of course, what to do when the rules get in the way. Solid! Advice on how to handle (or even change) a character’s death, and fudging/constructive cheating are also covered.
That’s how much of the book is. Filled with fantastic game advice.
Especially Chapter 4, Uses of Judgment. It starts of with leaving the Rules Behind. Escape from Monty Haul, (A term to mean giving away too much magic/treasure.), super characters, changing reality are just the beginning. Chapter 4 tells the DM how to handle rules lawyers, player “personalities”, off nights, intra-party backstabbing, player feuds, pettiness, me against them mentality, experts, know it alls, when players cheat, when the DM cheats, rudeness, when nature calls (when a player has to leave, can’t make it to the game) are all covered. Doesn’t that sound like an awesome, helpful guide?
But that’s not all! Also covered here are situations like, “shut up, you’re dead”, never say impossible, overdone independent actions, (one of my favorites-) “No wait, I change my mind”, gaming too often, insufficient players, the too big party, and DM burnout are here.
And that is just half the book. Chapter 5 is on creating the campaign.
Chapter 6 is on world building. It shows you how to create a game world from the ground up. From world features and locations to what sort of creatures go in it, and the politics of nations, it’s all here. History, governments, gods… from plants to animals, designing a game world is easy with the step-by-step guidelines.
The next chapter is maps and map making. It’s very helpful and useful. Not only are top down maps discussed, but also the CS&CG shows how to make isometric maps.
Chapter 8 moves on to creating the adventure and stresses the importance of story.
Chapter 9 shows how to make NPC’s live. It covers how to speak in character, as it were, and how to portray believable NPCs. Extraordinarily useful. The DMG should have had this information. Sure, it has tables and stats for NPC, but it doesn’t tell you how to act at the table as the CS&CG illustrates.
Chapters 10 and 11 cover dungeons and the dungeon setting. Chapter 12 rounds this tome out with sample dungeons.
I’ve barely scratched the surface on the amount of useful and useable information in this book.
With so much practical advice that can be used in any game, the 2nd Edition AD&D Campaign Sourcebook & Catacomb Guide is one of if not THE best utility how to books on role-playing.
Next time, the most tattered (and loved) book in my gaming collection.
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Saturday, August 27, 2011, 8:06 AM
Please bear with me, it's been a while since I did any sort of regular blogging.
Everyone gets nostalgic about D&D. You'll often see people give their credentials. "I've been playing since 1974..." Myself included. I thought it might be fun to look back at some of the books (and let's not forget the boxed sets!) that are on my shelf.
There isn't going to be any particular order to these looks at the past. That could get boring quickly. I do hope to at least highlight some of my favorites. With that in mind, Let's Review 1e AD&D Unearthed Arcana.
I suppose I should also throw out a bit of my early game history, but I'll keep it short. I did start with the Red Box set, (Which I'll take a look at a later date.) but shortly after getting into D&D, I joined a local game group who met at a local library. It turns out, they played AD&D, not the D&D box set I had.
At the time, not only did I pick up the Red Box set and other "basic" D&D modules, I was reading Dragon Magazine on a regular basis. I was fully aware of AD&D as well as a number of differences between Basic D&D and AD&D. At the time, Unearthed Arcana was coming out, and Kim Mohan in Dragon was saying it would change the way AD&D was played forever.
That sounded like a good point to jump in. Thus, Unearthed Arcana became the first AD&D book I ever bought. Flipping through it, I thought I wouldn't need to pick up the PHB, since Unearthed Arcana certainly looked like it contained player character information. I saw races. I saw classes. I saw cleric and druid and magic user spells.
What caught my attention though, was the treasure tables towards the back of the book. That's DM stuff! I later found out it was for both DMs and Players, and that yes, I would need to get a PHB.
Unearthed Arcana introduced a new stat for AD&D characters; Comeliness. Every now and then, Comeliness rears it's ugly head and tries to make a comeback. The basic idea is how "hot" your character is to NPCs.
Other throwbacks are race limits. That's right, if you weren't human, you had a cap on how high you could go. There were complex tables involved, as race, class and ability scores came into deciding how far your character could advance. A gnome with a 15 in Wisdom could only be as high as a level 7 cleric, whereas a gnome with a 15 in Strength could only go as high as level 5 as a fighter.
Tables were a serious part of AD&D, and Unearthed Arcana was no exception. There’s a half page of Racial Preferences where all the races and sub-races are listed and how they feel about all the other race/sub-races. The weapon table is quite impressive.
On to the classes! I never played most of the listed in Unearthed Arcana, so I don’t know how it plays at the table. The Cavalier I had a little interest in. I only knew of the class from the D&D cartoon. Druids, Barbarians, and the Thief-Acrobat were introduced, and updated rules for all the other classes were included.
As a reader of Dragon, I did notice the reprinting/updating of cantrips. 4e D&D has cantrips as a single spell that does many smaller effects. In 1e AD&D, they were many, many individual spells. Cantrips introduced the idea of negative levels. To wit:
An aspiring magic-user or illusionist may use 1 cantrip per day as a 0-level neophyte (-2000 x.p. to –1001 x.p.) 2 cantrips per day as a 0-level initiate (-1000 to –501), and 3 cantrips per day as a 0-level apprentice (-500 to –1)
I didn’t see any special rules on how to handle negative XP or negative levels, but that’s pretty much how 1e was. Bits of rules tacked on.
But, let’s get back to the cantrips themselves. They were divided by categories.
Useful Cantrips: Chill, clean, color, dampen, dry, dust, exterminate, flavor, freshen, gather, polish, salt, shine, spice, sprout, stitch, sweeten, tie, warm, warp.
“Reversed” cantrips: Curdle, dirty, dusty, hairy (always a personal favorite), knot, ravel, sour, spill, tangle, tarnish, untie, wilt.
Legerdemain cantrips: Change, distract, hide, mute, palm, present.
Person affecting cantrips: Belch, blink, cough, giggle, nod, scratch, sneeze, twitch, wink, yawn.
Personal cantrips: Bee, bluelight, bug, firefinger, gnats, mouse, smokepuff, spider, tweak, unlock.
Haunting Sound cantrips: Creak, footfall, groan, moan, rattle, tap, thump, whistle.
Quite the list, eh?
Skipping to the back of the book, we come to the Appendices. What’s interesting is this book has appendices Q, R, S, and T. These supplement all the appendices from the DMG.
Here we have Weaponless Combat, Non-lethal combat, non human Deities (The legend and lore for demi-humans.) and finally, Pole Arms.
The most useful of these is Appendix T: Polearms. It’s not a table with stats such as weight, length or damage, but rather brief descriptions on the various pole arms, and even better, illustrations so you can see just what they look like. (As well as compare relative lengths.) One can see the different types of spears and lances. I now know the difference between a pike and a Partisan. Even better, I now know what a glaive, guisarme, and glaive-guisarme look like.
There are 72 pole arms shown, which is very, very neat and helpful.
Some choice quotes: From the intro by Gary Gygax:
“…The AD&D game system is dynamic. It grows and changes and expands. Our universe does all this, and so too the multiverse of this game system…”
“As the original volumes of the game system (Monster Manual, Players Handbook, and Dungeon Masters Guide) have altered from their first editions, so the game has changed in form and substance.”
“…The farther afield one goes in exploration and discovery, the greater the realization of how vast is the realm of unknown knowledge which awaits discovery, as it were. However, as with our actual world, the expanses of the game multivers will always have frontiers and unexplored territories. This fact, indeed, is what makes the AD&D game system so wonderful and appealing.
Next up: One of the greatest RPG books ever.
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