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.
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.
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.
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.
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.