Dragon by Dragon – January 1982 (57)

Wow – 1982. I was ten years old (well, nine in January) and still a couple years away from learning about Dungeons & Dragons. Thirty-six years ago – much as changed, and much has not. I guess all these years later, we can be happy that people are still playing D&D and AD&D and other “old school” games. Let’s start the new year by looking at the new year in 1982 in gaming …

Let’s start with the cover, because it’s pretty different from the traditional fantasy fare. We have a woman, maybe modern, knitting dragons (or something like them) onto a blanket  and the dragons are becoming real and flying into the fireplace, all while a strange painting of a man or woman looks on. The tragedy is that I can’t quite make out the signature, and I didn’t see the artist’s name in the magazine.

Update: Nathan Irving writes me to let me know the artist is Dean Morrissey, who provided covers for 16, 18, 28, 60, 84 and 91.

The first big article is “Modern Monsters” by Ed Greenwood. It’s a great article, giving modern (in 1982) vehicles and firearms stats for D&D. The article also goes into some of the pitfalls of pitting “medieval” characters against modern characters. It really all goes to the point that jumping from one reality into another was assumed to be a regular feature by our elders in the hobby. Here’s one insight you might enjoy:

Magic will ultimately determine the fate of an AD&D party in a modern setting. It is the party’s “heavy artillery,” and must be expended with caution, for it is not wholly renewable. Magic users without spell books will be unable to regain their spells.

Lenard Lakofka presents some useful ideas and tables in “Shield and Weapon Skills”, including this insight about shields after he watched some folks from the SCA put on a demonstration of medieval fighting:

Fully 60% of the blows are caught by the shield. Second, a trained fighter who normally uses a broadsword is a much poorer fighter when using a battle axe for the first time. To place these facts in terms of AD&D™ rules, some minor rule changes are proposed. A shield will now give +2 to armor class instead of just +1.

He also presents some rules for determining how long shields last in combat. My favorite scheme is for shields to have to make an item save whenever an attack roll is a natural ’20’.

The tables I mentioned are for determining an NPC’s weapon proficiencies, but they could also be used to determine an NPC’s armaments.

In the “Sorcerer’s Scroll”, one E. Gary Gygax presents some more details about the Greyhawk setting – a good read for those who use that campaign setting.

In “In Search of a James Bond”, Mark Mulkins covers how in a TOP SECRET game one could work for three different operational bureaus at the same time without sacrificing experience points. What Mark covers in three pages I would just hand wave.

Up next is an article I kinda dig called “Random Magic Items” by Pete Mohney. It’s a collection of some groovy little random tables for generating magic items. I’ll generate three of them now:

1) A magic girdle, not cursed, that gives a +1 bonus to all saving throws.

2) An amulet shaped like a double-headed axe that allows the wearer to control animals once per week.

3) A hat that provides a +1 bonus to intelligence – we’ll call it a thinking cap.

If you’re a player of DragonQuest, this issue has an article about magicians by Jon Mattson. Since I’ve never played the game, I can’t comment on the merits of the article.

This issue’s Giants in the Earth covers a couple characters I don’t know – C. J. Cherryh’s Morgaine and Vanye (with art by Jim Holloway) from the books Gate of Ivrel, Well of Shiuan and Fires of Azeroth, Lynn Abbey’s Rifkind from Daughter of the Bright Moon and The Black Flame, and two characters created by Robert E. Howard – Belit and Dark Agnes. Howard. Belit is a Chaotic Evil 10th level fighter in this write-up, though I would probably go Neutral Evil given her devotion to Conan since I conceive of Chaotic Evil as being utterly self-interested.

The special feature of this issue is an AD&D adventure called “The Wandering Trees” by Michael Malone. It is intended for characters level 6th to 9th. The adventure begins thus:

Long ago, so far back that even the elves are not sure when, Termlane Forest was the home of a tribe of tree-worshipping men. These men built a great temple at the heart of The Forest, where they worshipped their mysterious tree-gods.

The adventure concerns a forest of moving trees with only two safe ways through, and a lost temple somewhere in between. It’s a hell of a dangerous forest, so beware. The adventure also includes stakes for the Phooka.

In “Up on a Soapbox”, there are two essays – one by Brian Blume on the problems with playing evil characters in games, and another by Roger E. Moore on the benefits of playing rpg’s with women.

Michael Kluever has an interesting look at “The History of the Shield”. It’s a good primer for those who like to get crunchy. It’s not a short article, and it is well researched with a useful bibliography.

There’s a great insight into 1982 geekdom in “The Electric Eye”, namely the results of a survey regarding to what high tech goodies readers of the magazine had to play with. The results:

  • 46% have an Apple II or Apple II+
  • 38% have a TRS-80
  • 20% have an Atari 400 or 800
  • 9% have a CBM
  • 6% have no computer
  • 6% have a S-100
  • 3% have a North Star
  • 3% have a VIC
  • and 20% have some other computer

The bottom line, apparently was:

Who is the average Electric Eye reader? He’s a 17-year-old male high school student. He has owned a 48K Apple-l I+ with a disk drive, a printer, and a joystick or a paddle set for about a year. He has spent a little over $100 on software, but he mainly either copies out of magazines or does it himself. He reads The Electric Eye for the program listings and reviews, but he is also interested in other facets of computer gaming.

As always, I leave you with Wormy

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Flower Liches of the Dragonboat Festival

I’ve finally found the time, between impromptu trips to Iowa and too dang much work (the real work, not the silly game writing work), to peruse Kabuki Kaiser’s Flower Liches of the Dragonboat Festival, with fantastic art by Evelyn M. Kabuki was kind enough to send me a review copy (PDF), and I’m sure glad he did.

I well remember when Evelyn first showed off some of the artwork on Google+ – my first thought was “dammit – flower liches – I wish I’d thought of that!” Such an enticing notion – a nice twist on an old idea.

Now I can happily report that Flower Liches is a very groovy book. You get a nice adventure with lots of action and mystery, plus a sourcebook for an interesting Asian setting that can also fit nicely into people’s existing settings (it would slip into my Mu-Pan setting in NOD like a treat), plus a dragonboat race minigame with different levels of complexity.

The book is 95 pages long, with a creative, attractive layout and the aforementioned beautiful art by Evelyn M. The text is dense – there is plenty to digest, and all of it is useful. When the text is evocative and descriptive, and it often is, it has a Clark Ashton Smith feel – weird fantasy. You get the practical and the aesthetic all in one package.

In a nutshell, the game describes itself as:

“Flower Liches of the Dragonboat Festival is a Chinese ghost story, a Kung-Fu action movie adventure, and a detective story. It features both location- and event-based
sequences built upon sets of tables which encourage the action to derail and to switch between martial arts displays, thoughtful inquiries, and high octane dungeon action with spirits, monsters with giant bloated tongues, and porcelain faces. They’re meant to be grotesque, picaresque, and gross; they’re spirits and liches, after all. Like in all classic Kung-Fu and Chinese ghost stories, magic and philosophical whatnot alternate
seamlessly with flurries of fists and things that croak and go bump in the dark.”

In my opinion, the game really delivers the goods. You get a colorful romp, very “D&D” and thus easy to include in existing campaigns, that challenges the players in multiple ways, including a mystery to solve (I won’t say much, to keep from spoiling it), monsters to slay and numerous strange and wonderful locales to explore.

If you dig wuxia, mysteries and weird fantasy, get yourself a copy of Flower Liches of the Dragonboat Festival folks – a truly original addition to the OSR.

And I’m still pissed I didn’t think of it first.

Yes, But …

treasure-chest11It’s been a long slog through a dangerous wilderness and then a devilish dungeon. Henchmen have died, PC’s have bled, but in the end, Law triumphed over Chaos (with an assist by Neutrality) and the dragon is dead.

Yes, but …

The PC’s have “won” the game. They’ve completed the adventure. They’re done. Or are they? Since the name of the game is adventure, the end of a particular adventure can be a temporary thing. I draw to your attention Mr. Edgar Rice Burroughs and his planetary romance set on Barsoom. If you haven’t read about old John Carter and his incomparable princess, you should, and in between the Martian sight-seeing you might also pay attention to how ERB paces the books and ends them, at least how he ends the first one because it’s a great way to run adventures.

220px-Princess_of_Mars_largeIn A Princess of Mars, every success by John Carter is a doorway to a new challenge that must be faced (and must be faced NOW!). Once John Carter gets used to the red planet, it’s pretty nonstop action – challenge followed by resolution followed by complication or new challenge, etc. When the book finally ends, the adventure does not. Like all of us wide-eyed kids who saw Han frozen in carbonite and Luke get a rough lesson about his family tree, readers of the first Barsoom novel are left hanging, waiting for the next installment.

The Notion

Almost every success in the game drives the adventurers to a new challenge, and the end of each “module” leads directly into the next for at least three “modules”. After every three, the adventurers have a chance to rest.

The idea here is not a story-driven piece, in which the players are led by the nose. The players can always choose to give up. They just have to face the consequences. They intrude on a dungeon and decide not to face the dragon – fine – but the dragon is now awake and cranky and everyone for 100 miles is suffering for it.

Moreover, when they kill the dragon, a new challenge arises from that now moldering corpse. Think about some of the classic module series of AD&D and how they linked – you finish the slavers in the under city, but now you’re led to their stockade to strike another blow against their evil.

When you design your adventures, think about how to turn one adventure into a trilogy (or how to break a mega-adventure into a trilogy of smaller adventures).

This might involve:

  1. Foreshadowing the trilogy in its first two stages – not in ham-handed way, but in such a way that as new things are revealed, the players get that light bulb moment and start making connections. It might make sense to make sure the players know there’s more in store. If the group is heading off to deal with some kobolds in the woods, an old man in the tavern might mention that he thinks the kobolds are being put up to it by the weird cult in the hills. Another might scoff and say something like, “Oh, I suppose next you’ll tell us the dragon beyond the mountains is causing the drought.” Now they know there’s more out there than just some kobolds in a 1st level dungeon.
  2. When you write the adventures, figure out how they link together, and how each is a separate adventure in its own right. Give the players bite-size chunks – bring the courses of the adventure meal out one at a time rather than all at once. The best way to do this is to make the end of one the beginning of the next one. Each adventure needs a beginning (“You all meet in a tavern …”) a middle (the delve) and an end (“… you open the treasure chest and find …”). The end holds the key to the next beginning, “… but as you fill your packs with treasure, the ground shakes and the giant diamond falls into a crevice … it looks like there’s another dungeon below the one you’ve just conquered.”)
  3. The big idea here is about transitions from one state of play to another. You might think about this in terms of PC level. The trilogy that drives PC’s from 1st through 3rd level will be different from the one that drives them from 4th to 6th level. When the PC’s move from the “basic” levels to the “expert” levels, they leave who they were behind in some ways and must enter a larger, more complex and more dangerous world. The old game had this in mind with the idea of hitting name level and building strongholds – the old life of wandering adventurer would end, and the new life of settled ruler begins. In play, this was also a transition from RPG to wargame.
  4. alternatefuturesHere’s where consequences come into play. In our own lives, there are moments where we have to choose about moving forward – say from childhood to adulthood. We can choose not to, but there are consequences. Choosing to reject adulthood does not mean the world of your childhood lives on. Things still change, and often not for the better. When the players choose to ignore that next challenge, the campaign world they inhabit changes because of their choice. This doesn’t have to be a severe change designed to force them into tackling the next adventure, but it should involve loss and a noticeable change. If in the end the players decide not to follow up, they have to live in the world they’ve created and you can embark on a new trilogy. They just have to accept that the campaign world is different and move on.

Just a notion – do with it as you will.

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Dragon by Dragon – December 1981 (56)

Ho ho ho – Merry Christmas 1981!

Let’s be honest, Christmas and the 1980’s were made for each other … or at least it sure seemed that way when I was growing up in the 80’s. Christmas had a certain magic in those days that was lost by the 1990’s. I’m sure it had nothing at all to do with me growing up, getting a job, getting married and having a child.

Enough of that – let’s see what the Dragon brought us for Christmas …

First, a bit of opinionating from Kevin Morgan

“There is no need to change the monk character class of ADVANCED DUNGEONS & DRAGONS.”

So there you go. If you were planning on changing the class, you can stop.

For what it’s worth, I agree with Mr. Morgan in some respects – too often a class is considered “broken” or underpowered because it doesn’t do what somebody wants it to do. Doesn’t mean the class is wrong, just means its the wrong class for the player. In AD&D days, of course, things had to be official, which is why the wrong monk for you meant the wrong monk for everyone, because we couldn’t just have a bunch of different monks running around making people happy. That would be (small “c”) chaos!

Speaking of redesigning classes, the first big article of the mag is “Singing a new tune – a different bard, not quite so hard” by Jeff Goelz. For those new to the old school, bards were once very powerful folks, far more than in modern games. It was a tough class to qualify for and as is mentioned in the article, the revised bard class of the Player’s Handbook took forever to  enter – one had to go through a succession of other classes first. The article here tries to make a slightly less powerful bard that can be played right from first level like any other character.

A couple takeaways: First, the opening vignette has two of the greatest character names ever: Jake Armageddon, half-orc fighter/assassin and Alphonse Armageddon, half-orc cleric/assassin. I salute you Mr. Goelz.

Second, the bard in this article is a great class that is very playable. It won’t be a stranger to many players of modern iterations of D&D – d6 for Hit Dice, some skills, some fighting ability, some spellcasting (illusionist and druid). Good stuff, especially if you’re running first edition and a weird-o like me comes along wanting to play a bard.

Bill Howell follows up the first article with “Songs instead of spells”. Here, Mr. Howell introduces “songs of power” sung by the bard in place of spells, with a complete song list and some details of songs not already covered as existing spells. Here’s one, done up as a spell for Blood & Treasure:

Satire (Conjuration)

Level: Bard 5          Range: Special          Duration: Special

This song is used against a prominent public figure who behaves incorrectly. The target of the spell has his or her charisma score halved until they atone for their misdeeds … unless their deeds are not really misdeeds. If the target’s actions are not truly objectionable in the moral climate of the region, the bard’s charisma is halved instead until they move at least 50 leagues away, and they may not return to the region for one full year.

This spell is actually right up my alley.

“Map hazard, not haphazard” by William Hamblin is one of those articles that has slightly lost its efficacy with time. It concerns using topographic maps in fantasy games – a good idea and a good discussion – but also includes addresses one can use to order sample maps. The internet has made finding maps like these much easier.

A touching sentiment

Gary Gygax’s “From the Sorcerer’s Scroll” in this issue covers protection circles (and the like) plus news from the northern Flanaess. It includes some illustrations and descriptions of magic circles and pentagrams, and God knows this article would have run afoul of the “D&D is Satanic” crowd back in the day. I can remember it being included in the old Greyhawk box set. He also describes the Wolf Nomads, Bandit Kingdoms, Duchy of Tenh and Rovers of the Barrens, all of which shows up in the box set as well. Brings back good memories of a wide-eyed kid reading this stuff and realizing that making up a whole world was something you could actually do.

The big feature this issue is a Top Secret scenario called “Mad Merc” – a mission set on a tropical island. It is written by Merle M Rasmussen and James Thompson, and whether you play TS or not, the materials here are super useful and there is a metric ton of it – maps, descriptions of complexes, etc. There’s a nuclear-powered drydock, native peoples caught in the crossfire and a “mad merc” named Strikewell.

The Dragon’s Bestiary this issue features Lewis Pulsipher‘s shroom, which isn’t a mushroom man, but rather a creature that looks something like a thin bear with a dog-like head that can dimension door and prefers capturing foes and holding them for ransom rather than outright killing them.

Shroom, Medium Monster: HD 4+3, AC 14, ATK 2 paws (1d6), MV 30′, AL Neutral (CN), INT low, CL/XP 5/500, NA 1d8, SA-Dimension door, subdue, surprise (4 in 6), hug.

Richard Lucas’ colfel is a big, fearsome beetle from the Negative Energy Plane, which means level drain ladies and gentlemen. Michael C. Reed’s gem vars are humanoid creatures composed of precious stones and created by magic-users. I like all of these monsters, any one of which could be a great addition to a game filled with players who have read the existing monster manuals cover to cover. I think surprises are what makes playing these rpgs fun.

Dragon 56 also has reviews of Task Force Games’ Survival/The Barbarian (positive, but the reviewer thinks they’re too simple for some gamers), Dawn of the Dead (“The game is fast-paced and a fair amount of fun, despite its decidedly macabre nature”) and GDW’s The Argon Gambit/Death Station (very positive) and Fighting Ships: Traveller Supplement 9, which the reviewer found interesting reading, but maybe not super useful for the rpg itself.

There are also book reviews, a holiday gift-giving section focused on books and the continuation of a series that looks at game design.

All in all, not an exciting issue, but I liked the bard class and the bestiary was good.

As always, I leave you with Wormy – have fun and be kind to one another.

You’re seeing Tramp take it to another level here

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