Friday, February 27, 2009

Greyhawk Lore Project Update

Hi all!

Off to the right in the "Free Resources" section, you'll find the latest update of my Greyhawk Lore Project. For those unfamiliar with the premise, basically I have taken it upon myself to go through the thousands of message-board posts around the Internet to find quotes by Gary Gygax, Rob Kuntz, Jim Ward, and others associated with the original Greyhawk campaign, copy and paste only those bits relevant to the original campaign (including links back to the original, in case the reader desires full context), and slap 'em into a single file so they can be searched.

So, for example, if you wanted to see allof the old-timers' thoughts and anecdotes on, say, Iuz, you can open up the file, search for "Iuz", and read away. There were some formatting problems with the .rtf file I posted originally, so this time I'm going with straight text. It's about 500 k long, but if you printed it out, it'd be nearly 175 pages.

This file only includes material relevant to the original campaign, plus some bits about the earliest inspirations for monsters, thinking behind some design decisions, and the direction that the game might have taken had Gygax not been ousted from TSR in 1985. If you want to see all of the puns, the discussions of food and drink, sports, Lejendary Adventures, AD&D rules interpretations, etc. you should go to the original threads. You will get to see just how warm, generous with his time, and just all-around great guy Gary Gygax was. (Of course, it's not all Gary, but I am feeling a little melancholy, as going through these threads was always a little like counting down to an event I knew was coming, and yet I dreaded, as March 4, 2008 kept coming closer and closer in the timestamps of the messages.)


Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Castle of the Mad Archmage February Release Now Available!

And here we go with the second installment of my Castle of the Mad Archmage. The new level, "The Dungeons", comes in at 200 encounters, four (hand-drawn) maps, and of course more new monsters and magic items. The format is the same as before, but I changed the color of the cover, so you can easily distinguish between them without having to read. It's 12 MB or so, and 40 pages. As before, the download is in the upper-right corner of this very page.

I took the opportunity to make a few changes to level 2 "The Deep Cellars", including planting the fountain of endless snakes there, and adding a couple of staircases that I had missed the first time out (all those changes are incorporated in the new download). The Greyhawk Construction Company has been busy...

The maps are still the same hand-drawn format they were the first time, but I'm hoping to have the old-fashioned blue maps ready by the time level 4 comes out in March. The excellent cartographer Joe Bardales has volunteered to undertake the task, and I'm thrilled at the final product. My thought at this point is that the maps will be moved into their own map booklet, to make things easier to handle in terms of file size.

The reaction to level 3 was (almost) universally positive and I cannot thank you all enough. The response to this project has been beyond my expectations, and I am glad beyond the telling that you are finding it useful or at least fun to read.

I'm going to take a day or two off, and then it's on to the Lower Dungeons! (And get ready for some gear-shifting on that level. Gotta keep mixing things up!)

Monday, February 23, 2009

Review: Cutthroat Caverns

I had a terrific time at Dreamation this past weekend, and one of the highlights was the opportunity to play a new (to me; apparently it's been out for a year and a half) game called Cutthroat Caverns by Smirk and Dagger Games, the same folks who brought you Run for Your Life, Candyman! (a spoof of the Candyland game).

Essentially, the game is a delicate balance between cooperative play and backstabbing. You are a dungeon explorer with your party of 1-5 comrades, and (in the basic game, anyway), need to get past nine different encounters and escape the dungeon. The trick is, those encounters are really deadly, and you will need most of your fellow adventurers to get out of the place alive. The real trick is that you want to be the person who lands the killing blow against the monsters, because the person who gets the most renown points wins the game. And therein lies the beauty of the game; you don't want to completely dick over your fellow adventurers, at least early on, because if you do you'll end up getting eaten and nobody will win the game. But at the same time, you want to subtly trip them up and make sure that it's YOU who ends up landing the final blow on whatever beastie it is, even if it's just the last 10 damage points (some creatures go up to 500). The final hit earns the renown, and the renown determines the winner.

Play is card based, and your hand can contain attack cards (which either do straight-out damage or set you up to increase your damage on the following round), actions (which allow you to mess with other peoples' attacks or actions; anything from a critical miss that actually inflicts damage on the would-be attacker to a "trip" that loses them the next round as well), or potions (which can only be used between each of the 9 encounters). Add to that a simple random initiative, and the game is very lively. Expansion sets add to the number and types of cards (there are now events, for instance, which can alter how the encounters work).

The designer of the game, Curt Covert, was on hand, and did a demo for myself and another person of a truncated game about a third the normal length. We then played a full game with a full six players, with all the expansions and a prototype "choose your own adventure" booklet that sets up the encounters based on the choices of the party, rather than just having nine straight encounters. I think I prefer the straight play, myself, but I can see how it'd be a nice change.

I absolutely love this game, and I highly recommend it to anyone who is into the modern wave of card-type games such as Red Dragon Inn. (As a matter of fact, the "feel" of Cutthroat Caverns is quite similar.) The components are top-notch; the counters and tiles have good heft, and the cards are very thick and substantive. The artwork was gleaned from various places, but Mr. Covert's skills as a graphic designer come through and the whole thing comes across as completely professional.

I give it a solid A grade.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Congrats to Chris Bernhardt of Judges Guild

I came across the following flyer at Dreamation today, and thought I'd share the happy news.
Sorry to all the fans out there that we're unable to make it to this year's Dreamation Convention in person.

As it turns out my wife is having our first child over this weekend and we just could not make it up there.

We hope that everyone has a great time at Dreamation 2009 and that all the Role Playing Games' folks who attend take a moment to check out the latest news from all of us here at Judges Guild.

You can also check for new updates on our latest project the "City State of the Sea Kings" on our website as well as

See you all at Dex Con 2009!

Chris Bernhardt of Judges Guild
I'm naturally a little disappointed not to be able to share some of my geeky reminisces about one of the best RPG settings ever created, but congratulations to Chris and his wife on their first child, and I hope they realize that sleep has become a thing of the past, at least for the next year or so. ;-)

Friday, February 20, 2009

Dungeons as Logistical Challenges

Over at Grognardia, James M. posted a list of elements that could be said to go into making an old-school-type dungeon. That got me thinking to an element of the megadungeon-style campaign (not the only thing that's needed to create such campaign, but I would argue it's one of the tentpoles of such a campaign) that is particularly lacking in modern, 4th-edition-style gaming. That is, the dungeon (or wilderness, etc.) as logistical challenge.

Many of the things that really irk modern players about 0E and 1E are actually part and parcel of this idea in action. Cursed items. Unidentifiable teleporters. Level-draining undead. Instant-death poisons and monsters. These aren't the DM trying to "stick it" to the players. They are just another oblique means of challenging the players, rewarding forethought and caution, and offering choices of whether to press on or retreat in the face of adversity.

Take curses, for example. Clerics are, by the very fact that cursed items exist and other curse-type effects can befall adventurers, forced to decide whether they want to spend a spell-slot on the spell remove curse. The fact that they are forced to choose blindly (i.e., not knowing whether or not they'll need that particular spell on the foray for that particular day) is part of the challenge. They must play the odds, and if they choose to gamble that a remove curse isn't worth taking, the PCs will pay the price if they are either reckless or unlucky.

Teleporters. I am told that a certain publisher of old-school modules actually received complaints that there were teleporters therein which were not known to the PCs when they activated. But one of the biggest logistical challenges of an old-school game is to actually be able to get out the way you came! No one is guaranteed an accurate map; unless the PCs are going at 1/10th speed (and therefore getting ten times the wandering monster checks), they don't know whether a corridor is 60' or 80' long. The presence of subtle teleporters (or sloping passages, etc.) is just another way of making an accurate map a harder thing to achieve. And challenge is part and parcel of the game. And at their most challenging, they can even tax the food and drink of the PCs, if they manage to get themselves hopelessly lost.

Level-draining undead are no more, so I'm told, in 4E. More's the pity. Contrary to popular opinion, they're not just a way to punish an uppity player; they're a way of forcing hard decisions and draining precious resources. At their easiest, they take away 10,000+ g.p. from the victim. At their worst, they force the newly-reduced player to decide whether they want to continue on their current level of the dungeon, or retreat to a higher level where the challenges are slightly easier. The same holds true for the venerable rust monster. If a fighter has just gone from AC 2 to AC 9 because his plate mail just became brunch for a propeller-tailed beastie, the party could well have some tough decisions to make. Do we go on, or do we retreat back to the town to re-armor the meat-shields? It's not an obvious choice, and the temptation to explore "just one more room" is a strong one.

This sort of attitude towards the dungeon brings an old, but often overlooked, dimension to the career of dungeon-explorer. It should go without saying that actively rolling for wandering monsters and keeping track of encumberance (and food) are vital to this sort of play. The use or retention of resources, be they magical or mundane, and the need to balance the benefits of further exploration in the face of losses (whether they be of h.p., levels, armor, weapons, etc.) is a vital decision that adds immeasurably to the game.

Monday, February 16, 2009

AD&D's Lost Second Edition

No... not that one.

I want to write a little (well, no; a LOT) about the aborted Gygaxian revision of AD&D which would have, in a perfect world, been undertaken in the late 1980's had Gygax not been ousted from TSR in 1985. He had already begun to lay the groundwork for the revision in the pages of Dragon magazine, culminating with the release of Unearthed Arcana in 1985. To help distinguish between this never-realized version and the actual AD&D Second Edition published by TSR, I shall refer to this as AD&D UE (for "Updated Edition").

Over the years, Gygax had been asked many times what his vision for a revised AD&D would have looked like. For most of that time, he was disinclined to give any sort of substantive answer, since he had moved on to other projects (Dangerous Journeys, Lejendary Adventure, and Castles & Crusades). In many circles this went over as well as Paul McCartney saying "Now here's some stuff from the new album" at a concert.

Fortunately, as the years wore on, Gygax became more amiable to sharing his thoughts on the what-if scenario of an updated version of AD&D under his stewardship. What I've done here is collected some of the published stuff from Dragon (thanks to Allan "Grodog" Grohe for taking the time to transcribe it all over on the Knights & Knaves Alehouse message board) as well as some of the message board posts Gygax had made over the years on the subject, together with some commentary. Some of this material made it into Unearthed Arcana, some of it was new to me until I started to dig a little into the message boards. Maybe it'll start a conversation on the subject.

First, from Dragon #65:

From the Sorcerer's Scroll: Character Classes to Consider

The barbarian class (issue #63) was, as mentioned, only one of several new classes being considered for inclusion in the expansion volume for the ADVANCED D&D® game system. You, Loyal Readers, have a chance to input into this projected work, and I would be pleased very greatly if you would do so. The classes under consideration are listed below. Let me know which you like best, which least. I will then work up each class fully and present them, in order of preference, in this column. This will be done prior to publication of the new book. If time presses, perhaps the Understanding Editor will allow sufficient column space to run two classes in one article. What follows is a brief explanation of each proposed new class. Again, your comments will be received with pleasure!

CLERIC — Mystic: This subclass of clerics is concerned more with prediction and detection than are other sorts of clerics. All mystics are of Good alignment, although they can be chaotic, neutral, or lawful within the Good alignment. As with other sorts of clerics, mystics would have seven levels of spells, but most would be of the sort to divine or detect. However, some new spells, and some very powerful upper-level spells, are planned.

FIGHTER — Cavalier: This sub-class of fighter must be of knightly or noble origin, so the class type would be usable only in those campaigns which had social systems of a sort appropriate to this. This class allows any alignment. It differs from other types of fighters mainly in that its members would have more basic weapons, horsemanship, and possible organizational abilities to allow for more henchmen and followers. At its upper levels, the class would also gain additional strength and constitution points due to training and exposure to hardship.

MAGIC-USER — Savant: This sub-class of magic-user specializes in knowledge, understanding, and arcane subjects. Thus, as do mystics, savants possess a fair range of detection spells. Although they know many standard sorts of spells as well, savants have many new magics in the nine levels of spells possible for them to employ. Savants, can use spells common only to clerics and druids, and at higher levels savants can read and employ scrolls of all sorts. Because of the scholarly aspects of this proposed class, elven and half-elven savants are envisioned as being able to progress several levels higher than if they were normal magic-users; i.e., 14th or even 16th for elves, 10th or 12th for half-elves. Savants can be of any alignment.

THIEF — Mountebank: This sub-class of thief specializes in deception, sleight of hand, persuasion, and a bit of illusion. These factors, together with speed, are what the mountebank relies upon. However, disguise and theatrics also provide valuable tools of the trade to this class, so that one might never know one has been had by this class.

THIEF — Specialization, Acrobat: A normal thief, after attaining a medial level, can opt to continue as normal or become an acrobat. Although no further skills of the type which considers manual dexterity would be gained, the thief-acrobat would gain skills in leaping, vaulting, tumbling, tightrope walking, etc. Such a thief-type would be the cat-burglar sort. The earlier specialization takes place, the greater the acrobatic skills, as this specialization would have an upper limit of skill.

JESTER — Rob Kuntz, in his currently unpublished module, The Tower of Zaeen, has included a jester. A recent DRAGON™ Magazine (issue #60) also included the jester as an NPC class. Because I have also considered the jester as an actual class for the game, I have not as yet read either description. Jesters, as I envision them, can be of human, gnome, or halfling race. (Elves could never permit themselves to be so debased; dwarves are far too serious and just plain humorless.) Alignment is as desired by the player. A jester would have a combination of verbal, magical, and acrobatic skills which allow the class to be viable even though there is no great power. Verbal skills would enable the character to influence many creatures toward kindliness, humor, forgetfulness, thoughtful consideration, irritation, anger, or even rage. Magical skills would have to do with jokes and tricks — sort of a directed wand of wonder with some magic-user spells and illusionist magic tossed in. Acrobatic skills would be mainly tumbling and juggling, with some magic tossed in there as well. Level titles are: Wag, Punster, Masquer, Harlequin, Clown, Juggler, Buffoon, Fool, Joker, Jester. Powerful at its upper levels. the class will be less than popular with fellow adventurers, I suspect, so that jesters will frequently have enemies and travel alone. . . .


A study of the information pertaining to druids will reveal that there must be something above the Great Druid, for each area or land can have its own druid of this sort. Somewhere there is a Grand Druid. This druid has 3,000,001 or more experience points, is 15th level, and is attended by 9 druids of special sort having nothing to do with the hierarchy of any specific area or land. Thus, any character of Druid level may, in fact, journey to seek the Grand Druid and ask to serve him.

The Grand Druid knows 6 spells of each level and is also able to cast up to six spell levels as one or more additional spells. Those who serve him are given three such additional spell levels. Three Archdruids roam the world as messengers and agents of the Grand Druid. These individuals are drawn from his personal attendants who reach the level of Archdruid. Each has four additional spell levels.


In the course of putting the Barbarian sub-class of fighter together, one highly important piece of information was omitted — rules concerning barbarians and creatures struck only by magic weapons. I humbly apologize. Here it is: Although barbarians do not employ magic weapons if they can help it, their natural attack abilities make up for it. Just as can monsters, barbarians are able to hit creatures otherwise harmed only by magic weapons. Thus, at 4th level a barbarian can affect creatures which require a +1 or better weapon to hit them; at 6th level barbarians can affect creatures which require +2 or better weapons to hit them; at 8th level they attack as if they had a +3 weapon with respect to their ability to affect creatures otherwise hit only by +3 or better weapons; and at 10th level, creatures affected only by +4 or better weapons can be attacked successfully. At 12th level a barbarian can affect a creature harmed normally only by +5 or better weapons. Despite having the ability to strike such creatures, barbarians in no way gain such a bonus “to hit” or inflict additional damage because of the power. (Cf. “Creatures Struck Only By Magic Weapons” in the Monster Manual.) Only barbarian fighter characters have this ability, and it is not possible for any other class or sub-class of characters to possess this power.
Obviously, the Barbarian, the Thief-Acrobat, and the Cavalier eventually make it into the Unearthed Arcana book, as did the notes on the Grand Druid. Unfortunately, two of the classes I would personally love to have seen, the Mountebank and the Jester, never made it into print. However, a D20 version of the Mountebank was apparently included in the book "The Canting Crew". Alas, I don't own a copy, so I cannot comment on its applicability.

That was followed up in Dragon magazine only two issues later with the following:

Lest I be forced to an existence of doing nothing save answering your flood of missives, please be forgiving if I am unable to answer each of you personally — though I shall, indeed, attempt to do so. At times all writers feel as if they are addressing a void, for seldom does an article bring any response. An occasional letter of praise or of critical (even insulting) nature is often a treasure, for such tokens indicate that someone is actually reading what is written at great effort. Allow me now to add a new identity to readers of this column: Hyperactive Enthusiasts! I am inundated with responses, and I am pleased, for I do indeed need the benefits of your thinking!

When I attended the World Science Fiction Convention in early September, I began to get an inkling of the interest players have respecting the expansion of the AD&D™ game system. After interview questions, the audience was (as is usual) given a chance to ask what they would of me. Many questions pertaining to new character classes were posed then, and afterward in casual chats. When I returned to the office after Labor Day, a stack of letters on the subject awaited my attention. The correspondence continues to come in, and I am doing my best to keep up. For the benefit of all, I will sum up several important things I have gained from perusing the mail:

Learned Players, I assure you that I am not overly sensitive to critical opinions. Not only do I speak freely when I think it is necessary, I consider intelligent comments of all sorts, whether they agree with my own opinions or not. Several letter writers apologized for not liking one class or another, and were hesitant to express their thoughts for fear I might be offended. Far from it, I find such comments very useful in development of material. After all, while it is impossible to please everyone, critical opinion is of great benefit in improving approaches, or in the decision-making process which could lead to discarding an idea. If anyone has hesitated to write because of not wanting to “offend” me with a contrary opinion, I trust the foregoing will reassure that the forum is an open one where blame as well as praise can be aired.

The range of comments was astounding. There is absolutely no consensus of opinion as to which class is most desirable. For every letter which listed Savant on the top and Jester on the bottom, I seemed to find another which reversed the ratings. I have gone ahead with the Thief-Acrobat split (Editor’s note: The description will appear in issue #69), and I sincerely hope all of you will favor me with your immediate impressions and considered opinions garnered from actual play. Input from you is helping me in finalizing the Barbarian sub-class of Fighters, just as actual play-testing here is. Cavaliers were usually rated in the upper middle range, and that average was carried through for Mountebanks as well. Mystic rated the lowest, since no individual’s rating had it as number one. However, from the general comments, I fear that much of that is due to my own inadequate description of the class.

Several Good Readers suggested that I seek ideas from character classes published elsewhere. I regret that I cannot do so, of course, copyright laws being what they are. In fact, I make it a point to not read other systems and articles, since I do not wish to plagiarize. However, details of the classes which have developed since I wrote about them, or were not gone into in the brief treatments, will please many who viewed one or another proposed class as too limited.

What will not be covered in the expansion are the anti-paladin (perish the thought!) and the samurai. An assassin is about as close to an anti-paladin as is needed. Evil is strong and well represented. I by no means champion it. As I have said before, an anti-paladin is a third leg, and I have never yet seen any reasoned proposal which justifies the inclusion of such a sub-class. I believe that attempts to include the character type come from players who wish to have an “unbeatable” character for themselves. Furthermore, there is little mention of such a type in mythology or fantasy literature, so we do not have a solid role-model.

Samurai are a different story entirely. Granted the Monk is not part of Medieval tradition or the usual European-based fantasy. It belongs in an Oriental-based game. Why then not include samurai? Why compound error! I intend to move the Monk to the appendices where Bards now reside. It is hoped that sometime soon we can begin on another version of the AD&D game system which is based on Sino-Japanese culture. While such a work will be aimed principally for sale in the Far East, you may rest assured that an English-language version will be available to all interested players, so that a complete and meaningful campaign based on Oriental tradition and myth can be run. That means Ninja, Samurai, Ronin, Yakusa, Monks, and possibly Taoist clerics. Naturally, they will be in a setting which is relative to their powers and interrelationships, with appropriate monsters and deities, arms and armor. The possible meeting between these two separate cultures will be difficult to handle, and so some special rules will probably be required. That remains to be seen, so let’s leave it at that for now.
Three interesting bits out of this article. First, his statement about the various classes being equally embraced by feedback from fans is flatly contradicted by his later statement in the same paragraph that the savant and mystic were among the least favored sub-classes amongst the fans. (Why the cavalier got published and not the mountebank, I still don't quite understand.) Second, we see the monk moved out to an appendix, and the development of a whole Oriental version of the game, into which I believe monks (as presented) would eventually have been relegated entirely, completely removed from the European-flavored core rules.

Then a few years later in Dragon #103, we got the following, which added a little depth to our expectations of what a second "updated" edition might entail:

The Future of the Game:
What the Second Edition Books Will Be Like
by Gary Gygax

With the recent publication of Unearthed Arcana and now Oriental Adventures, many of the Astute Readership, as well as those others so benighted as not to subscribe to these Worthy Pages, have many questions to ask about what is coming in the future for the ADVANCED DUNGEONS & DRAGONS game. Here are the plans I have projected as of this writing. While certain things might change over the course of time, the overall projection should be reasonably accurate.

A Second Edition is a major undertaking. There are corrections to be made, parts to be meshed, material to be deleted or shifted, and new rules and information to be included in such a work. The first question, then, is when does this undertaking begin? We anticipate starting the preliminary work in mid-1986. The scope of the project is such that it will certainly require two to three years to complete. When it is finished, we will have fewer, but thicker, tomes for your amusement and edification. It is important to add that this task does not preclude later supplements, changes, and yet new editions (a Third, perhaps a Fourth someday). The AD&D game system is vital. It grows, changes, and develops with continuing play and fresh ideas. One day it might attain the point where the rules can be graven in stone, but I don’t see that likelihood for some time.

First subject for the Learned Editors will certainly be the Monster Manuals (I and II) and the FIEND FOLIO Tome. The three books will be edited for errors and omissions, re-illustrated in part, color plates added (also useful as painting guides), and certain entries deleted. Thereafter, all worthwhile new monsters found in modules, DRAGON Magazine, etc., will be inserted. An index will be compiled. Frank Mentzer is desirous of restructuring the order in which information is given. I am desirous of presenting creatures by region (or plane, subterranean, and similar categorical means) so as to make the work serve as a reasonable random encounter reference as well. It is hoped that we will have all of this accomplished in 1986, but do not hold me to that as a sworn statement or promise.

Next? The Players Handbook and portions of Unearthed Arcana and Oriental Adventures, in all probability. The information needed to be a player of the game should be contained between the covers of one book. We will do so! Monks as a PC type will certainly be moved to an oriental themed campaign section. Assassins will be reduced to optional status, or used only as NPCs, as your DM decides is best for his or her campaign. Bards will be rewritten to allow a player to start a bard character as a bard, and the current system will be removed in toto.

Any brand-new classes? Sure. I hope to get the mystic completed as a second subclass of cleric, and likewise the savant to make a second sub-magic-user. Finally, the new bard class will have a sub-class, the jester.

There are bound to be a few other additions to the players book. For instance, I have discovered that I neglected to include a fairly common medieval weapon in both the Players Handbook and Unearthed Arcana – Zounds! What slipshod research on my part!

Rest assured that anything major will be previewed in these pages first, unless it is so late a development that we will be unable to do so. I hate to say it, Understanding Readers, but the new sub-classes do fall under that heading. I just don’t have enough time to be able to do them as quickly as is desirable. It is most likely that they’ll premier in the Second Edition.

Now we have a hefty pair of tomes taken care of, a Second Edition Players Handbook and a Second Edition Monster Manual. What’s next in line? Pulling apart Unearthed Arcana and Oriental Adventures to make up the new book for players will automatically put the Harried but Diligent Editors onto the track of the Second Edition Dungeon Masters Guide. Knowing what the new book for players will be likely to contain gives a good insight into what the new DM’s book will cover. Of course the new-treatment of the Elemental Planes, printed right here in DRAGON Magazine some time ago, will be there. More planar details will certainly be included as well. Gone will be random encounter materials and monster XP lists.

Psionics . . . a subject I sidestepped in both commentaries on the expanded new editions. Quite frankly, I’d like to remove the concept from a medieval fantasy roleplaying game system and put it into a game where it belongs – something modern or futuristic. That is not fixed yet, and it could go either way. The new Monster Manual will be the key. If there is nothing about psionics therein, then you can count on the whole being removed from the AD&D game system. If you find references to monsters with such ability, then it will remain in the Second Edition.

Now. . . the DEITIES & DEMIGODS Cyclopedia, recently retitled Legends &
Lore by others as a sop, or bowing to pressure from those who don’t buy our products anyway. (For those Candid Enthusiasts who do not read between my lines, as they say, I do not particularly approve of the retitling of the work!) Anyway, whether it is under one title or the other, the work will be revised, expanded, and generally improved to conform to the new high standards of the other books in the system.

“So, Graybearded Windbag,” you say, “What is the point of all this preamble?” Fair enough! I’ll not take offense, merely give you the information. Statistics on deities are given only as a minimum guideline for the power of the individual in question when he, she, or it is encountered for whatever reason on the Prime Material Plane. Those individuals who have had the foresight to acquire the WORLD OF GREYHAWK™ Fantasy Game Setting will understand what I am (eventually) getting to. In the above-referenced work, the various sorts of deities are detailed in a manner that I believe the new edition of L&L, shall we say, should follow.

The players’ section of that work (the Guide) gives information on what clerics and worshipers of each deity should know – color of robes, special interests or requirements, usual location of places of worship and type of ceremony, and so forth. The DM’s section (the Glossography) has the “hard data.” Standard and nonstandard powers are given, and these are typically far greater than the material in L&L. Additionally, the statistics of these beings are given for DM knowledge only. Deity powers are great, special information is detailed regarding each, and the extra or
special spells gained by their clerics are also stated.

If the DM considers the power of planetars and solars as stated in Monster Manual II, there can be no question as to the abilities of those who command them. Statistics must be considered in this light and as a yardstick for deity comparison only. The revised L&L tome must give more information regarding clerics and followers of each deity. A separate DM section should then deal with the minimum powers of each
deity, along with a solid list of the standard powers typical for each deity. Spells usable only by such beings should be there too! Of course, the whole is to be expanded by inclusion of new material. An extensive section of non-human deities should be given, so demi-humans and humanoids are represented. That should do nicely.

What we have, then, when all of this is completed, is a set of four books once again: Players Handbook, Dungeon Masters Guide, Monster Manual, and Legends & Lore. Each is far larger than now, but the needed information is all under the cover of the appropriate tome. While this plan is seemingly fine, I foresee one special difficulty, so I’d better confess it to you now.

We are all what must be known as “hard core” gamers. The four books are quite acceptable, even a benefit, to us. But to an uninitiated person, especially one interested in beginning without benefit of experienced players, it will be a big drawback. The books will be big, and their prices will be that too, comparatively speaking. Sure, the new edition of Monster Manual will cost less than all three books of creatures now being sold – but the beginner doesn’t buy all three. See the point? Entry to the AD&D game system will be difficult and costly. None of us desire a shrinking, incestuous system. What can be done?

If Players Handbook is made to contain only general information on generating characters and how to play them, it becomes quite a small work indeed. Perhaps with careful study and preparation, it could be in the 128-page range. Character information of specific nature could then be handled in special works which detailed the four basic sorts, with sub-classes, weapons, armor, spells, and so on. No! Not more books again! Why not? A one-volume edition could be offered for the adepts, while those desiring to learn could enter by picking up but one or two small books. That is being considered, Loyal Enthusiasts, and you got it directly from tie. This sort of system would also enable us to add more information from time to time without going through a major effort – no Umpteenth Edition, no new big bucks to lay out to get the new data!

As usual, your good offices are appreciated. If you have helpful advice, go ahead and fire it off. I do not promise to reply, but the suggestions and comments will be read and considered as we begin this project.
Some meat starts to attach itself to the bone here. A brand-new bard as an archetype class, with a jester as a sub-class. Adding the mystic and savant as well, fleshing out all the archetypes to having at least two sub-classes. Psionics removed, destined for another game system. Reorganization of the Monster Manual, not only to include all of the three monster books into a single volume, but organizing them by habitat to make the whole more conducive to being used as a wandering monster resource. And, not bearing on the content, but on the presentation, a small "Introduction" book to let new players start up without a huge investment out front; perfect for the cash-strapped middle-schooler who was their core audience at the time.

Here's where things get interesting, though. As I mentioned, Gygax was more willing to share and speculate on how things would have gone in an Updated Edition under his direction. Sorry that I'm not including links to where all these quotes are culled from; I can produce them on request, but this thing is taking long enough to write as it is.

For example, Gygax made several references to the development of a skill system. It would presumably be very different from that seen in either the published Oriental Adventures (which he is on record as saying that he disliked compared to the material written by Francois Marcela-Froikeval) or the Underworld/Wilderness survival Guides (which he is on record as not being fond of at all).

The new work would not have been akin to [the published] 2E, although some expansion and detailing of Secondary Skills was planned.

I was indeed considering something akin to what I did for the C&C system in regards to secondary skills for a revised edition of AD&D. Of course the current material I put together is influenced by what I created for the Lejendary Adventure RPG, thus more developed that what I was working on back in the 80s.
So, a skill system akin to that he put together for Castles & Crusades, possibly informed by a reading of Lejendary Adventure.

That Unearthed Arcana was the prototype of Gygax's nascent Updated Edition, he stated flat-out:

In truth, I had begun planning for a revised edition of the AD&D game beginning around 1983. I made notes for what I planned, and those remained with TSR when I left the company at the end of 1985.

The UA compilation contained the initial pass at some to the revisions and expansions I envisioned for the game, but I had not had time to sit down and concentrate on exactly how I would complete a revision and what it would entail.
Now, some have accused me in the past of placing too much emphasis on Gygax's work, and many folks take a dim view of the changes wrought in Unearthed Arcana (some deridingly referring to it as 1.5E). I've always liked UA, however, despite a couple of flaws, and that it points the direction that Gygax wanted to move AD&D into brings it up another notch in my view. Indeed, he explicitly addressed those critics:

I know some grognards dislike the direction of changes included in the UA work, but IMO thay made the campaing more varied and interesting. That includes the raise in the level limits of some demi-human types, for I remain firmly behind the restriction on such races as the game assumes a human-dominated world.
He certainly wasn't against admitting his own shortcomings and mistakes that had made it into the first AD&D books:

Actually, yes, as I wanted to remove some things from the AD&D rules--weapon speed factors, weapon vs. armor, and psionics for sure. then I would have added some new classes, new spells for the new spell-using classes and the existing ones as well, and cranked in a much inproved skills section rather akin to what I did for the C&C game. I also wanted to revise the MM (and all like books) into two volumes, roughly A-L, and M-Z.
And away go weapon speed and armor adjustment against armor type. Alas; I use those rules regularly in my own campaign. If I was running a hypothetical UE game, I would probably graft them in from 1E myself.

I believe I would use most of the UA work in my theoretical OAD&D campaign--and not use weapon speed, adjustments vs. armor. I did use most of the components of that work in my actual campaign.
Something completely unmentioned in the Dragon magazine articles was a re-working of hit points and hit dice for monsters. Here are a couple of quotes on the subject conjoined.

I say that as barbarians get d12 for HPs, then clearly extrapolation of the same principle must apply to large and vigorous creatures. This mitigates the potential increase in PC prowess. As a matter of fact, adult critters were assigned 7-12 HPs per HD in my AD&D campaign--have been given the same in what I have designed for the C&C game system. Also, with increase in damage due to Strength, all large and powerful monsters, including ogres and giants, gain a damage bonus equal to their number of HD.

Admittedly, this is not in the UA work, but it logically follows, and would have been included in the revised edition of AD&D that I was planning.

“Actually I planned to go through the monsters' roster and re-assign HD types--d4, d6, d8, d10, and d12. While doing that in regards to the HPs of each type, the monsters' chance to hit based on number of HD would not be affected.

As too often "weak" monsters were randomly generated, I also planned to have robust adults possess HP totals of something over 50% of the possible maximum by using a HP generation system such as 3-4, 4-6, 6-10, 7-12 using the appropriate die to determine the actual number generated--d2, d3, d5, d6. Non-robust--immature, old, sick, injured, or even non-physically active sorts such as spell caster--monsters would have the obverse HP range using the same type of die without addition.

“When the monsters were consolidated into a revised MM volume or two, I planned to give a point summing and/or intellect rating for them so as to enable the DM to use that information when acting for the monsters. (After considering the matter for a time I have done this in the supplement to the LA game.)

I believe I would have left the XP award guidelines alone. Damage bonus would not be re-rated, and the HPs possessed would suffice for adjusting XPs gained, most up a bit, some down.
A minor note, but one sure to rankle some fans, is that he changed his mind on the half-ogre. I never played one myself, but I did have a half-giant in a Dark Sun game when I was in the Air Force...

The idea of half-ogres is one to which I no longer subscribe.
As mentioned in the Dragon magazine articles quoted above, Gygax intended to remove the AD&D monk to a more Oriental setting. What, then, would replace it?

What I was contemplating was a non-Oriental sort of Monk character to replace the clearly Eastern martial artist one featured. The class would likely have been a sort of dedicated warrior-spy with a few elements of the original Monk class, new abilities of more European sort to round it out. that way the Scarlet Brotherhood would not have had to lost its warrior-monk component.

All the notes I had for the new classes are gone, so don't ask for details.

The most visible changes, from the perspective of the ordinary player, were the new character classes. Aside from the information contained in the Dragon magazine articles quoted above, Gygax did give some more information as to his intentions (despite his early vow never to do so, apparently borne of the fact that it was specifically mentioned in his legal agreement upon his leaving TSR in 1985, and was partly the basis of Lorraine Williams failed lawsuit upon the publication of his Mythus system).

Mountebank--a skilled liar/slight of hand trickster/minor illusionist/thief

Savant--a learned character also knowing arcane things and having minor magic-use

Mystic--an augur-clairvoyant with minor monk and cleric abilities

Jester--a gymnast-tumbler with some special spells for attention, laughter, anger, etc.

I should have mentioned that I was working on special spells for the Mountebank, Savant, Mystic, and Jester alike. I had a fair list put together, some number detailed in draft form, but I fear all are long lost.
As for that last line, I daresay he was being a bit cagey, as Mythus Dangerous Journeys seems to have a *lot* in common with some of the material he describes. Certainly enough to be looked to for guidance in some areas.

Now, it's important to note that this next quote starts with the suppositions of a fan (in itallics) about the nature of the proposed new character classes, and is then followed up by Gygax's general approval and commentary. The fact that Gygax pretty much says that the descriptions are how he envisioned the new classes makes them entirely germane, even if they weren't written by Gygax originally.

From what little I remember from this and Dragon, the Savant was mentioned to have powers to overcome some of the altered magics of other planes, and I would assume they were like mages, but more akin to a combination of 1st Edition Sage, Specialist Wizard (3e) Diviner, and 3e Expert or Prestige class Loremaster. Their abilities would likely deal with knowledge rather than evocations, so they might be better at things like Divination and Abjuration or even Conjuration spells than the typical mage. The 1st Edition Derro "savants" in 1e MM2 might also be akin to what the class would have been. I assume mystics had more yoga like powers--Gary had mentioned that in playtest "mystics rated the lowest, since nobody had them at #1". Whatever that means. Maybe powers were randomly generated? I assume this involves communing and inner psychic powers and astral projection. Like Gary said, Divine Divination and Fortune-Telling would also be part of this class. Holy Men and hermits might be the way to go here. Mountebanks--well, if we think Hop the Savant having those powers, it might mean a thief or rouge with powers to create potions--some fake, some real, and probably some "hedge-mage" types of powers. If we were going by the 3e, a mountebank template might be a rogue specializing in using magic items, con-games, and potion brewing, with maybe a bit of 3e sorcerer or 1e Illusionist. (Sorry, best way to describe the class). They probably are seen as "pretenders" to magic--having just enough to get by, but a real mage or wizard would probably scoff at them. Jesters--Probably similar to the bard, but it probably was akin to the Mythus skill of buffoonery, which combines joke telling (think of something that either humiliates or puts a victim into a reckless rage, or incites a riot), with pranks (akin to setting traps, or getting hit with a pie or slipping on a banana peel), maybe some illusion or enchantment magic as well. That's all I can surmise.

Good work as usual. Just a couple of additions. The savant and mystic were meant to deal with critters from other planes as well. The mountebank could use disguise, impersonate, and with his patter or oration affect an audience of one or many more. The jester could use several hurled missile weapons such as daggers, clubs, knives, throwing stars, etc. with speed and accuracy.
But Gygax also mentioned the possibility of really shaking up the whole magic-user class. He once commented on someone's query about having specialist abjurers, necromancers, etc.

Yes, I did intend to have schools of magic based on the types of spells as you note above. The m-u would begin with one specialization, but at various points along the level progression ladder he could opt to add a new field or intensify his capacity in the original one. This was meant to make m-us interesting beyond the point where they could use 9th level spells, any diversion from specialization delaying the advanced spell level possession but adding new lower level spells of a new school.

No, I never began to work out the tables for such school of magic progression. They would depend in part on how I prolonged the progression of the other classes of characters.

I did employ some of the thinking behind this concept in the DJ Mythus magic system.
And, also to add to the mix:

I was indeed considering a special class for elementalists and sorcerers for a revised edition of AD&D.
And the difference between a magic-user and a sorceror?

Sorcerers practice sorcery; that is, the summoning of demons or devils. They have no magical power, innate or learned.
So psionics are out. What to do with the primarily-psionic monsters in the game like Mind Flayers and Intellect Devourers?

Their attacks would have been revised to be powers, and otherwise they'd have remained in the bestiary for the game. Mind Flayers, the Illithids, were operative before I developed the crappy psionics system I hate to admit I devised.
EDIT (3/16/09): I just ran across the following while researching something online.
Someone asks Gary:
So, while completely different systems, it would not be a far fetched idea to think of the LA Elementalist and Sorcerers as the "types" of characters/magic user that would have ended up in 2nd edition if you had stayed and worked on the project. The spells would be different, but those are the basic archtypes of magic users you were thinking about.
And Gary replies:
Generally speaking, yes. Do not forget that I planned on adding some other archetypes as well. An elementalist would have been a sub-class of magic-user. A sorcerer would havbe been a class unto itself.
And he also offers a little more of an idea where to look for clues as to what some of these new spellcasters might have looked like:

Have a look at the Lejendary Adventure game Avatar Orders some time. They include Geourge (elementalist), Augur (a euphonism for necrourge), and Demonurge (sorcerer).

So... to bring the whole thing together, going through all those quotes and all that material, we begin to get a feel for how an AD&D Updated Edition would have looked if Gygax had been in charge.

  • The Unearthed Arcana material included
  • Bard completely re-worked as an archetype class, start as a 1st level bard (maybe based on something from OD&D?)
  • Assassins made optional
  • The new character sub-classes (mountebank, jester, savant, mystic) included, with new and unique spells for each
  • 1E monks removed to a dedicated Oriental section of the PH, replaced by warrior-spies
  • Monster hit dice completely re-worked, with tougher monsters rolling larger dice, and getting damage bonuses
  • Psionics gone, psionic monsters re-worked accordingly
  • Weapon speed and weapon vs. armor type gone
  • Half-ogres gone
  • Magic-users allowed to specialize in various spell types
  • Maybe a dedicated elementalist magic-user sub-class
  • Maybe a sorceror class, specializing in summonings and similar spells
  • Back to the "four core book" model
  • Oriental and European sections of the Players Handbook
  • Monster Manual re-ordered by terrain type
  • Deity book being separated into player and DM sections
  • A smaller "introductory" book for new players
Now this really looks intriguing to me, and makes me lament once again what-might-have-been. Perhaps, rather than the plethora of retro-clones with minor differences between them, something along these lines could be produced. A bold departure from what had gone before, but firmly rooted in 1E, and done along the lines that Gygax had intended.

Yeah, I'd buy that.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

All Kinds of Awesome From Pied Piper Publishing

February 15th marks the start of a new drive by Pied Piper Publishing to publish a whole bunch of new material sure to warm the hearts of Greyhawk fans and old-school gamers alike. Rob Kuntz is dipping into his horde of Greyhawkiana and will be releasing a slew of levels he designed for the original campaign in the near future, and a special discounted deal on the about-to-be-released El Raja Key's Arcane Treasury and Daemonic & Arcane, and The Stalk.

Go to the PPP website and click on the "Upcoming" tab for more information. Definitely click on the link to the new newsletter, "The Piper's Corner" at the bottom of that page for full details and some tantalizing excerpts, including "The Rise and Fall of TSR Hobbies" (an insiders account of the companies history with reflections on its impact on the modern gaming industry) and a bunch of other stuff.

Around 11:00 AM eastern time tomorrow, all the goodies should start showing up on their online store for order and/or pre-order. These are pieces of the original Greyhawk campaign that fans absolutely cannot pass up.

Full disclosure; I've been brought on as an editor by PPP, but I'd be this enthusiastic about this stuff even if I hadn't been.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

New Poll: WG13 Maps

Over at ENWorld, awesome artist and cartographer Jaerdaph has done me the honor of redoing one of the maps for level 2 of "The Castle of the Mad Archmage" into the old style blue and white maps, and it looks TERRIFIC. He has offered to to the same for the other maps in the module in the same style.
And yet aother talented artist has contacted me on the possibility of doing the same!
So I'll leave it to you, loyal readers. The choices I've put into the poll are 8.5" x 11" blue maps, poster-sized blue maps (my thought being that it might be nicer to have a single large map, since the dungeon levels I'm envisioning will all span multiple pages), and sticking with the scanned hand-drawn maps. Plus, if there's something you'd rather see, feel free to choose "other" and discuss it in the comments on this post.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Running A Game At Dreamation

Coming Sunday, February 22, at Dreamation 2009 in Morristown, NJ, I will be running an AD&D (1st Edition) game. Specifically, I'll be unveiling the next level of my Castle of the Mad Archmage. I'll be interested to see what sort of response a 1E game will get at a convention nowadays. I listed TARGA as the "group", which I'm guessing will get it linked from the Dreamation site in some way. Here's the official description for the game:

Explore the crumbling ruins beneath the fabled Castle of the Mad Archmage. Experience an old-fashioned dungeon crawl where traps are deadly, monsters are wandering, and fun trumps everything. Pre-generated characters will be provided, but players are encouraged to bring their own Players Handbook.

My regular game is re-starting this Friday, I just unpacked all my OGRE/GEV minatures (boy, there were more unpainted ones than I remembered) and I'm back on the convention circuit. Life is good, game-wise.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Near-Criminal Misuse of IP

Let's say you were a gaming company. Through circumstances borne both of design and happenstance, you now own nearly all of the wargaming intellectual property created during the 1970's and 1980's. You also own the rights to the three most popular role-playing games created during the same period. You also happen to own the rights to some of the most well-loved intellectual property in terms of setting. So what do you do with this treasure trove?

If you're Wizards of the Coast, you sit on it, consigning it to an oubliette whence it will never, ever emerge except in .pdf format (and rarely even then), for the few poor saps who even remember such products existed, let alone have actually ever owned the originals. Whatever you do, you don't promote it, for fear that the zero-sum game which is the gaming industry might actually find dollars which would have been spent on the Players Handbook III, or whatever, are spent on something that doesn't figure into a cost-benefit analysis of resource allocation for 2008.

And let us not forget that there is precedent for WotC giving licenses for these properties. They gave Kenzer the license for the AD&D rules (the circumstances behind which are irrelevant), and, having discovered that there was actually a market for such a product, yanked the license as soon as they were legally able. Presumably, they figured that HackMaster was some sort of threat to their own market share. Which, frankly, strikes me as ridiculous. Was anyone actually saying to themselves, "Well, I've got HackMaster now, so I don't think I'll buy the D&D Player's Handbook, because my gaming budget is so tight."? Maybe a handful, but I think the vast majority would have the reverse reaction. Gamers are collectors as well, and such figures into our buying habits.

Seeing the sales of HackMaster should have been a clarion call for WotC to re-release AD&D themselves in some format. But, no.

Setting aside for the moment the question of the AD&D rules, the entire library of both SPI and Avalon Hill is held tight in WotC's clutches. And what are they doing with it? Abso-frigging-lutely nothing. We are not seeing new editions of Invasion America, or Next War, or Dune, or Tactics II (!), or Afrika Korps, or even Barbarian Kings. When WotC acquired TSR and Avalon Hill, all those titles were part of wha they bought. Yet they haven't done a damn thing with them! Except Diplomacy, which I think they figure is some sort of cash cow. I wonder how that's working out for them.

Quite frankly, if I had a little bit of money, I would buy the SPI and AH libraries from WotC. In the course of reprinting such excellent games as Agincourt, Creature that Ate Sheboygan, and Gettysburg, I would feel out some of the new board game designers, and some of the old ones from the glory days, and start issuing new titles to bolster the old standbys. I believe that "print on demand" technology has come to the point where if I want a copy of War of the Ring, I should be able to click a button and get one in a week or three. I really believe there is a market... maybe not as large as the 4E market, but there nonetheless... that wants this sort of material. We gamers from the '70's are now in our 40's, and we have a lottt of disposable income. But nobody'll listen to me.

You just wait 'till I win the lottery...

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Why I Like HackMaster

I've never played a game of HackMaster in my life, and yet I have the HM books with me every time I run an AD&D game. Yes, I shelled out the bucks for all of the Hacklopedia of Beasts books, too.

I see HackMaster as a wonderous sourcebook of optional rules that I can, or can not, apply to my AD&D game. The fact that the underlying systems are the same naturally helps immensely. But HackMaster is almost the Arduin of the modern day; a bewildering array of optional rules that can be bolted on to any AD&D game (or, I would think, OD&D game, too) with a minimum of fuss.

The things that I find of the most immediate utility are the monsters and the equipment descriptions and price lists. Every DM is always on the lookout for additional beasties to add to the stable, and Hackmaster does not disappoint in the least. There are ones that are of great use and could have come out of MM2, such as the Baboon Man. There are ones that are of everyday use and should have been included in MM2, such as new species of bat and beetle that fill in many gaps. And there are the way-out-whacky ones like the Great Red Marauding Beaver. The equipment lists are far more extensive than even those in Unearthed Arcana; we finally learn that a mandolin costs 28 g.p. and thank Pholtus that mystery is now solved!

The quirks and flaws lists are rightfully seen as the heart of the fun and silly side of the game, where you could end up with a magic-user who has a phobia about magic. But within reason, and being chosen rather than rolled (to avoid the possibility, for example, of a double-arm-amputee fighter), I think they could be of use. Certainly they are good guidelines for players who would like to include such things as part of their character development without the mechanism of gaining extra ability points in exchange.

There are a plethora of new spells as well, which could very easily make their way into a game via spell book or scroll. For those who think that a skill system is absolutely necessary, the one in the HM Player's Handbook is as good as, or better than, any I've seen (including the one in the Wilderness & Dungeoneers Survival Guides).

I approach HackMaster not as a game to be played, but a resource to be mined. There's a lot of good stuff of instant utility, and much more than can be used as guidelines with just a little effort. On the whole, if you can find the HM books on eBay or at your LFGS, you could do a lot worse than to snatch them up.

A New Look

Well, I finally got around to making a banner for the site, and since I was redecorating, I figured that going to white-on-black might not be the worst idea. The fact that the banner looks like crap against white helps, too.

So whatcha think?

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Two Films From The 80's Getting Sequels

Back in the early 1980's, there were two films that made the rounds on HBO and Cinemax that really got my D&D blood racing and which in retrospect I see had a great influence on my gaming at the time. 1980 saw Hawk the Slayer, staring John Terry as the noble Prince Hawk and Jack Palance as his villainous brother Voltan (complete with Darth Vader-esque helm). It is usually considered just another cheesy swords-and-sorcery flick, but I find a lot of good stuff there. The music is rousing, if a little over-the-top at times. The special effects are definitely wanting, but are made up for by the earnestness of the cast and a pretty good job of acting all around. Jack Palance in particular gives an over-the-top performance that chews the scenery in a way worthy of Ricardo Montalban in Wrath of Khan.

But what I really like about the film is the way it uses the now-standard idea of the party of adventurers gearing up for a quest. Each is introduced in his own vingette, and these serve to give color to a band that could easily have been nothing more than a Greek chorus or reflection of the leader's coolness. There is good humor (particularly in the interactions between Baldin the dwarf and Gort the giant) and you really get the idea that these characters have known one another for years. The plot is pretty standard; Voltan has kidnapped an Abbess, and Hawk and company must rescue her. But there is much more going on under the surface; Voltan's son is plotting to usurp him, flashbacks show us the root of Hawk's vendetta against his brother, and we see a world where the magic is slowly going away and so are the elves. The scenes where the good guys get the gold they need for the ransom from the slavers are terrific, and show us that the good guys aren't always so good. The image of the Medevial-like church with its Holy Fortress stuck with me for a long time as a model for my own D&D campaigns, and many of my maps had a River Shale and Forest of Wyr.

And now it turns out that the original director is coming out with a sequel! Hawk the Hunter won't star the original John Terry (which is a shame, and somewhat curious, as he's still acting; he recently played a doctor in a series of flashbacks on Lost). I have no idea what the plot is going to be like, but it's being done by the same director as the original (Terry Marcel), and they have cast Tom Hardy (Shinzon from the utterly forgettable Star Trek: Nemesis) as Hawk. And it actually has a budget of $2 million! Can't wait.

Much as I adore Hawk the Slayer, 1982 gave us The Sword and the Sorcerer, which was a much better film overall. The acting is better, the action is better, and the special effects, although certainly not stupendous, are better. Once again, the key to my mind is the fact that there is a lot of implied backstory. You get the impression that Talon's men (Prince Talon-- one wonders why there is such a surfeit of princes in these films) have been boon companions for years, and the pirates they encounter in the city have of course followed Talon in the past and will gladly do so again.

The humor is important, but it doesn't overwhelm the film. One scene stands out in my memory in particular; Talon has been captured, and his men have enlisted the aid of the afore-mentioned pirates to help break him out of the evil king Cromwell's dungeons. They cheer and leave the tavern with murder on their minds and with a resolve that nothing will stop them! Cut to all of them in a cell, captured. Hilarious, because it's done in such a deadpan fashion. But because the film doesn't present itself as a comedy, even self-depricatingly, the humor works.

And of course this is one of the standards of the genre, especially where it intersects with gaming tropes. The evil king, the rebellion brewing among his oppressed subjects, the plot twists around Count Michelli... great stuff and all very usable in a gaming situation.

And yet again, there's a sequel in the works by the original director! However, instead of replacing the lead character like they're doing in the Hawk sequel, the original Prince Talon (Lee Horsely) will appear in a sort of cameo to hand the reins off to Kevin Sorbo as the new hero. I don't get this, personally. Lee Horsely is only 54 himself, and I would think they could get a lot of mileage out of the old hero coming back for one last adventure theme. And it's not like Kevin Sorbo is a spring chicken. I mean, I liked Hercules and Andromeda well enough, but he's only three years younger than Horsely. Once more, this one promises to be bigger, and better, and have a larger budget. Another must-see.

There were plenty of other films from the era that influenced my gaming, of course; The Archer: Fugitive from the Empire and The Beastmaster foremost among them. But these two have a special place in my heart, and the fact that they are being revived (rather than remade) could be a very good thing indeed.

EDIT: I just remembered that 1982's The Dark Crystal is also getting a sequel, due out in 2011. The Power of the Dark Crystal has apparently made it out of pre-production, so it's a definite go. Is this some sort of trend? What's next; E.T.: The Return?

My 2009 Convention Calendar

This is something of a wish-list, as I'm going to be including conventions I know for a fact I won't be able to attend, but man oh man would I like to. The local NJ cons are pretty much a given, and I'm pretty fortunate that there are so many that are really local to me. Here we have, in chronological order, my 2009 convention calendar.

Feb 19-22. Dreamation 2009. Morristown, NJ. A local gaming convention.

Mar 6-8. Creation. Cherry Hill, NJ. Yes, Creation conventions are normally quite lame, but my wife is a huge fan of "Supernatural", and this one is a salute to the show.

Mar 12-15. Cold Wars. Lancaster, PA. Historical miniatures convention. I might do this one instead of the July "Historicon", which is put on by the same folks.

Apr 17-19. Chiller Theater Expo. Rutherford, NJ. Big horror convention.

Jun 5-6. NJCon. Miniatures wargaming.

Jun 24-28. Origins Game Fair. Columbus, OH. Huge gaming convention. I don't know if I'll be able to make this one, but I'd really like to.

Jul 8-12. Dexcon 12. Morristown, NJ. A local gaming convention. Unfortunately, this one conflicts with the next on the list, and I don't know which I'll be attending yet.

Jul 10-12. Shore Leave. Hunt Valley, MD. A local fan-run sci-fi convention. See Dexcon, above; this is a toss-up for me. The costume contest on Saturday night is always a highlight, and this is one of those types of conventions where the guests hang out in the bar with the fans and have been known to make the rounds of the room parties.

Jul 23-25. Historicon. Lancaster, PA. A big gaming convention focusing on miniatures.

Aug 13-16. GenCon Indy. Indianapolis, IN. Huge gaming con. Finances might keep me from attending this year, but I'm hoping I can squeeze it in.

Oct 23-25. Ubercon XII. Piscataway, NJ. A local gaming convention. I'm hoping to run some AD&D or a simulacrum at this one.

If you're going to be at one of these conventions, too, drop me a line and maybe we can grab a beer.

EDIT 2/7/09: Added "Cold Wars" in March and "NJCon" in June.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Historical Analogies in Greyhawk

It has been fashionable for many years to decry the From the Ashes boxed set as the beginning of the ruination of the World of Greyhawk Fantasy Setting, as it turned many well-established Greyhawk institutions upside-down, wreaked havoc with political boundaries and alliances, and generally shook things up beyond recognition in some cases.

I don't happen to share the loathing of FtA that many of my fellow Greyhawk fans feel towards this product. True, Gygax didn't write it, and I'm not a particular fan of "advancing the timeline" in any sense, but if it has to be advanced, FtA does a decent enough job of it. It certainly doesn't present any changes more drastic than our own history has evinced.

In the course of a few years of Flanaess history, we see the Great Kingdom fracture into ruin; Iuz expand to conquer the Bandit Kingdoms and Shield Lands; the Rovers conquer Tenh; the shadowy Scarlet Brotherhood take over the Hold of the Sea Princes; Geoff conquered by giants, and more changes.

But stop a moment to reflect on some of the changes in European history during the Middle Ages. William the Conqueror, based in a small duchy which would measure only four or five hexes across on the Greyhawk map, managed to take over one of the more prominent kingdoms of the day. The events that led to the event, from the ascention of Harold to the throne of England to the battle of Hastings took less than a year to unfold. A very small power defeats and conquers a much larger one.

In 500 CE, the Visigoths ruled a kingdom that spanned from Paris to Gibraltar. Within a few years of the death of the strong Visigothic king Alaric, the kingdom was fractured and many parts lost. Internal strife and weakness leads to division and defeat, much like we see in the Great Kingdom.

In the early 13th century, an order of fanatical warrior-monks spearheads a crusade and succeeds in conquering large swaths of territory, bringing them under its sway to advance their own religiously-based ideology. The Teutonic Knights are not so far removed from the Scarlet Brotherhood.

Obviously, these are not perfect analogies, but I trust the point is made. Those who complain that From the Ashes changed the map, upset the political order, laid low the mighty and brought the minor to prominence, miss the point of the ebb and flow of history. The modern nationalities that we commonly recognize (France, Spain, England, Germany, Italy) are relatively modern notions, and were in years past quite mutable. Just ask the leaders of once-mighty states such as Burgundy, Catalonia, Lombardy, and the Norman Kingdom of Sicily. That sort of fluidity is part and parcel of the historical landscape, and no campaign should ossify its borders and cultural background without an excellent reason. Even (especially) Rome was fluid, never enjoying exactly the same borders for more than a few years during its entire history. Why should a campaign world be more static?