Dragon by Dragon – April 1982 (60)

I don’t know about the rest of you, but things have sure been stressful lately. I’ve been working hard and praying for peace, and trying to relax with old TV shows, old movies and some podcasts about fun things. I will readily admit that my interests tend towards the old – movies from the 30’s and 40’s, TV from the 60’s through 80’s, “bronze age” comics, old games, etc. There’s something about the design and awkward charm that really get me, not to mention nostalgia for places and people I’ll never see again.

To that end, before I present the wonders of Dragon Magazine #60, I must say goodbye to an old family friend. When I went over to my dad’s house to help work on his patio this week, he let me know that the old Panasonic microwave had finally radiated its last cup of tea.

We bought the microwave back in 1980 (two years before this particular Dragon magazine was published), and I still remember where the shop was, though it’s long since been replaced. It was my parents’ first and only microwave oven. I don’t have any deep emotional attachment to the item, really, but I was rooting for it to stay operational forever. Still, 40 years is pretty damn good for an appliance.

So, farewell Panasonic – I learned to cook hot dogs in you, enjoyed chocolate candy my mother made in you, consumed waaay to many Tony’s microwave pizzas heated by you in my formative years (as in “forming a husky body”) and found about 20,000 cups of water placed in you for heating and subsequently forgotten by my dad. Salute!

Now – to Dragon Magazine. This baby was published in 1982 – so it is still prior to me discovering D&D, which would have been 1984. I don’t remember ever checking this one out from the library, so the contents are new to me – and as always, this is less a review than a “here’s what I dug about this issue”.

We start with an ad for a video game called Temple of Apshai. No memory of this one, but I do agree with their sentiment about slaying monsters. It came with a 56-page “book of lore”, which reminds me of the old Ultima and Might & Magic games that I had. Ultima had a cool cloth map (a tapestry, you know), and M&M had a book with all the spells and stuff in it. A little perusal of the interwebs reveals it was part of a trilogy, and that there are many places to download/play it, including the good old Internet Archive.

Nerd alert:

Dear editor:

There are a couple of problems with Robert Barrow’s article, “Aiming for Realism in Archery,” in issue #58 of DRAGON™ Magazine. From my standpoint, it seems that the good author spends too much time with modern archery and has read nothing of medieval history dealing with the subject.

I mean, the writer of that missive is probably correct … but jeez – can’t I just roll 1d20, maybe do some damage, and move on with my life. I’m not sure there’s any real value to re-creating an historical battle, but I’m positive that re-enacting a fictional fight with some orcs is positively goofy, to quote Jan Brady.

The first big piece in this issue is “All About Elves”. You get Roger E. Moore’s “The Elven Point of View”, with super cool Erol Otus art – the ultimate elven fighter/mage. I really dig the idea that only elves can be fighter/mages. There are, of course, lots of cool ideas in the article – Roger E. Moore is one of my favorites. Roger and Georgia Moore then present the Elven Gods – these are the additions to the pantheon beyond Corellon Larethian in Deities & Demigods. These days, I’m more apt to make up my own, but as a kid, articles like this were eye-openers to me. Notions I didn’t know that I didn’t know.

Speaking of elves – here’s a question from Sage Advice:

Why are elven thieves always children?

Anyone who has a relatively recent edition of the Dungeon Masters Guide will probably think this question doesn’t make sense. The latest edition of the DMG lists 100+5d6 as the starting age for player-character elven thieves (page 12). This puts them into the “young adult” range according to the Age Categories chart (page 13) for high elves — the only kind of elves who can be player characters. However, it wasn’t always so. Earlier editions of the DMG gave 50+5d6 as the starting age, which would indeed mean that all elven thieves would start their adventuring lives as “adolescents” of 55 to 80 years old. Fortunately, this inaccuracy was spotted and corrected in later editions; anyone with an old book can simply make the appropriate change in the text.

Who else likes the idea that only elven teenagers become professional thieves? Sometimes, the “mistakes” are more fun and more inspirational than the corrections.

We also get the “Half-Elven Point of View” by Roger E. Moore to round things out.

Gygax’s “From the Sorcerer’s Scroll” is a big load of cantrips. AD&D cantrips were 0-level spells before later editions pumped them up and made them more useful. I think it would be cool to make these available to non-magic-users on scrolls. Most of these cantrips require the player to really use their imagination and creativity to make them useful in a dungeon adventure – so naturally, I love them.

I’ve mentioned this before, but I absolutely love the illustrations some companies used to illustrate the miniatures they produced. They always look cooler than the actual miniatures, and I just think they’re little works of art.

Ed Greenwood has an article on firearms for D&D which is aptly named “Firearms”. A semi-controversial subject, since Gygax went the direction of “gunpowder doesn’t work in a fantasy world” and many adopted that idea. As with so many articles in these days, it’s pretty thorough, and looks to me like it would blend nicely into the game. Handguns, for example, do 2d3 damage, firing every other round, with a max range of 50 – so they aren’t going to dominate the game. It might be a cool idea to use orcs in the way Tolkien did, as harbingers of the soulless machine age, and arm them with gunpowder weapons, while the heroes use the “elegant weapons of a more civilized age.”

I often include the first paragraph of short stories in Dragon, so here’s a sample of “Wear Wolf” by an unknown author:

The head of the Cheetah seemed to smile mockingly at me. You’ve forgotten something, I could almost hear it say. I resisted the urge to answer back, But I always forget something when I’m late. There are enough aFnimate objects to talk to; talking to inanimate ones is a waste of time.

Dragon #60 includes a complete game – Flight of the Boodles – by Chuck Stoll of Louisville, KY. It recreates the epic journey of the boodles through the “Grumjug-infested passes of the Snagrock Mountains”. The art makes it look like a fun game to me. The map and counters are included – with a little work you could probably recreate them in a cleaner format and print them out to play the game. Each player takes the side of the Boodles or Grumjugs, purchases the pieces they are going to use in their force, and then goes at it, the Boodles trying to break through the mountains and the Grumjugs trying to stop them. Basically – a fun little wargame.

This is an April issue, so April Fools Day jokes was a requirement. In this issue we get one pseudo-joke – the Jester NPC class by Roger E. Moore – who had some thief abilities – climb walls, pick pockets, catch objects – and some jester spells (levels 1 to 8). The spell list is not extensive, but the spells are pretty darn good. I think you could do a great campaign where a hidden evil threatens a kingdom, and the evil in question is a high level jester who wants to sieze the throne for his own, or maybe who is trying to spread chaos for the chaos gods.

Roger Moore also does “Midgets in the Earth” – a comical version of the usual Giants in the Earth articles presenting D&D stats for literary characters. This one gives you the likes of Eubeen Hadd, 20th level halfling thief, and Morc the Orc, 12th level snaga orc idiot. The Dragon’s Bestiary follows up with monster stats for Donald Duck by Tom Moldvay (which could work well in RuneQuest-inspired games) or any game where you’d like your PC’s to get whooped by an angry duck, the Tasmanian Devil by Steven Sullivan, the Jolly Green Giant by Michael Nystul (name sounds familiar), Marvin the Martian by David Cook (which one could use as the basis for a whole planet of martians in a cosmic adventure), Baseball Bugbears by Karl Kesel and Tom Richmond (probably a reference to the Bad News Bears) and the Werebeaver by Jeff Goetz (which looks suspiciously like Jerry Mathers). They’re all joke monsters, but all usable as well.

To follow up on the April levity, you get an in-depth article on the Pooka by Michael Fountain. I’ve seen many takes on this monster, which would take some real skill to make work in a game, as there’s such a big emphasis on illusion.

You also get some background stuff for agents in Top Secret, some variant scenarios for Trojan War and a big article on Alignment (since it’s the 80’s and there were many articles on alignment).

“Wormy” by Dave Trampier presents the secret handshake of trolls … which, of course, I cannot show in all good conscience.

“What’s New with Phil and Dixie” by Phil Foglio looks at minigames, including one called “Escape from Cthulhu” that just includes a short incantation …

And a tall order!

Fare well, lads and lasses, and find some love and happiness amid all the troubles of the world. Better yet – be the love and happiness in a troubled world!

Welcome to the Jungle

Hey folks, sorry I’m a little late with this post – I managed to finish writing a game yesterday and I’m about 80% through with another one, so I assure you I wasn’t goldbricking.

Tonight, I have a review for you of an adventure called Jungle Tomb of the Mummy Bride. It’s a cute little descent into a green hell crawling with the walking dead, written for 5th edition rules but nasty enough to work for all of us old schoolers out there.

The adventure is written by Levi Combs, with art by Adrian Landeros, Karl Stjemberg and John Russell. It is published by Planet X Games – you can find a copy HERE.

The adventure is designed for a party of 5th to 7th level characters, and includes the main adventure book, a book of treasure maps and a player pack. The art and presentation are great, the layout clean and readable and the book is well organized.

While I can’t comment on the adventure from the perspective of the 5th edition rules – as in the encounters being balanced, etc. – I can say that I think the adventure would work well with old school games. You have a nice set of rumors, a wandering monster list, and plenty of monsters and treasure. With a little conversion work, a few clerics and lots of holy water and flaming oil, the adventure should work just fine.

For $11.00, you get three levels of dungeon and a jungle village to explore and pillage. Monsters include bad ass devil frogs, big ole’ snakes, cannibals, giant vampire bats, gouge-eyes, idols of ill-omen, insidious jungle creepers, mushroom men, purple worm hatchlings, pygmy juju zombies, shambling parasitic SOB’s and, of course, Mazaliztli, the Mummy Bride! In the Player’s Pack you get “Twenty Forgotten Demi-Gods, Queer Quasi-Gods and Utterly Terrible Demons”, “7 Eternally Evil Chants and Diabolical Incantations Overheard at a Summoning” and a few other equally wonderful random charts. The character sheet that is included is absolutely wonderful – I wish I had one for OD&D!

Check it out folks … if you dare!

Dragon by Dragon – March 1982 (59)

Well, a day late and a dollar short, but late is better than not at all.

It was in March of 1982 that thousands of people all over the world were unwrapping Dragon #59, with that groovy cover by James Holloway.

So, here’s ten cool things about this issue:

1. The More Things Change …

In “Out on a Limb” we get two arguments/laments/complaints that will feature heavily in RPG discussions for … well, forever probably. First, on over powered PC’s

Ugh! And as if that weren’t enough, when I related this to a friend of mine, he merely sneered derisively and began telling me about what his 50th-level ranger (D:30, S:35) would do to such a wimp. I began to feel dizzy.

And

… I have found that evil characters not only have the most fun, but they add spice and intrigue to the campaign, which helps the other players enjoy it more.

Overpowered characters and evil characters. If you’re dealing with them in your own game, know that you’re not the first, won’t be the last and no, there’s no answer to your problem. Just roll with and try to have a good time.

2. Cantrips

Ah, the introduction of cantrips, or 0-level spells, to AD&D. Now, in 1982 they were something different than they would be later. The 0-level spells were really very simple and not powerful at all, unless somebody knew how to be creative with them. They let you add salt to food or shine up a shield. The bee cantrip was probably the closest you were going to get to an offensive spell, and it’s not detailed in this issue. Still, I remember as a wide-eyed kid thinking that cantrips, like everything else the brain trust at TSR did, were awesome.

3. Giants in the Earth

I always love this feature – stats for literary characters, which also served as a way of introducing little squirts like myself to fantasy literature. This issue has Poul Anderson’s Sir Roger De Tourneville (NG 10th level fighter), a 14th century English warrior who took over an alien spaceship that planned on conquering the Earth. I’ve never read The High Crusade, but I must say I’m intrigued.

It also has stats for L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt’s Harold Shea (CG 7th level fighter with special spell abilities). Depending on when you discovered fantasy literature, you might have heard that de Camp and Pratt were tantamount to devils for some of their pastiches of other authors’ works. Again, being an innocent at the time, I took such crimes for granted. Fortunately, I grew up, picked up some paper backs, and found I rather enjoyed some of their original works. Remember kids – don’t take anyone’s word for it when it comes to art – positive or negative – check it out and see what you think.

The article is rounded out with Alexei Panshin’s Anthony Villiers (NG 10th level ranger, 7th level thief) and Clifford D. Simak’s Mark Cornwall (LG 4th level fighter with full sage abilities) and Snively (LG 3rd level gnome fighter with special spell abilities).

Dig also the way things were defined back in the day. “X level something with special sauce”. I think they would have been better off statting up these characters as monsters – use class levels when you need a handy thumbnail sketch. If you have to color too far outside the lines, use freeform monster stats.

4. Gypsies

Even though by 1982 the game had been around for a while, there were still some archetypes left to explore. Gypsies have their place in fantasy stories for sure, but also in old school horror. What would Larry Talbot have done without them?

This article is pretty in-depth, and includes a gypsy fortune-telling chart, and a couple cool new spells. For the chart – read the magic. For one of the spells, look below:

The first is Summon Equine Beings, a “‘druid” spell which may be cast by nobles of third level (bard) or better, or by any of the magic viols. The spell is similar to call woodland beings but brings to the aid of the gypsies one type of the following equine or quasi-equine beings:

4-16 ponies, burros, or donkeys
4-16 horses or mules
4-8 centaurs
1-4 hippogriffs/pegasi/hippocampi
1-2 unicorns

The likelihood of attracting hippocampi is extremely rare, but if the spell is cast on the seashore or in a boat, they have as good a chance of being affected as any other equine being. The number of beings summoned is doubled when the spell is cast by the Great Viol of Pharaoh. All wild equine beings save at -5; domestic horses, mules, ponies, etc., at -4; warhorses and other trained steeds (pegasi, etc.) at -1. A paladin’s warhorse saves normally. Gypsies are always on good terms with any creatures summoned, so no loyalty check applies.

5. Monsters

This issue has Ed Greenwood’s bleeder, which looks like a beholder but has blood-sucking tentacles instead of eye stalks, Michael Parkinson’s Stymphalian birds and Roger Moore’s spriggan. I love spriggans, and have used Stymphalian birds in NOD, though not the version presented here.

6. Traveller

Full admission – never played it, but was always aware of it. I did mess around with character creation once, but that’s it. God knows that TRAVELLER has a big fan base out there, and this issue has two items for the game. The first are stats for a group of characters that appear in a short story in the magazine, “Skitterbuggers”. The second is a full fleshed out spaceport/adventure – “Exonidas Spaceport”. Now, not being a TRAVELLER aficionado, I can’t really review these items – but check them out if you love the system or just need some brain fuel for a sci-fi game. Heck, with all the Star Trek stuff I’ve been playing with lately, I’m sure I could make use of the space port plans if nothing else. The art is quite groovy as well.

 

7. Halflings

Dragon had a neat series of “Point of View” articles, which examined the different races (and I think maybe some monsters) in depth. Roger Moore writes here about the halflings. Now, of course, none of this has to be taken as gospel, but it’s surely one take on the subject, and useful for folks who were knew to fantasy gaming. It also includes a bunch of halfling deities which found their way into Legends & Lore. I can definitely remember when, as a kid, I did take this stuff for gospel … and loved it!

8. Poisons

Well, if you’ve decided to spice up a game with an evil PC, you’ll surely want some poison to play with. This issue has more poisons than you’ll know what to do with, and it’s a neat reminder of how the old game worked – everything hand-made, nothing standardized and simplified. Personally, I miss it … and don’t miss it. Depends. Here’s a sample poison:

GHOUL SWEAT: A scummy green gel, used like Chayapa. Smells like rotten meat. Its effect is to paralyze for 5-10 (d6 + 4) rounds. It acts immediately. Save for no effect, made at +1.

9. What’s New with Phil & Dixie

I mentioned Phil Foglio’s contribution to Star Trek fanzines a post or two ago, and now here he is as I was introduced to him, in Dragon. I always like the strip, and appreciated the humor … and yeah, had a total crush on Dixie.

Unfortunately, I can’t leave you with Wormy this time, because it didn’t appear. Drat the luck. All in all, a groovy issue with lots of good ideas.

Have fun boys and girls, and be kind to one another!

 

An English Vampire in Africa

Hey folks – it’s a three day weekend in these parts, so I’m still on schedule with a post every weekend.

I was going to do a Dragon-by-Dragon today, but instead decided to write about a little B-movie I finished watching last night, the 1945 “classic” The Vampire’s Ghost. While the movie does not involve a vampire’s ghost, it is a better movie than it has a right to be, possibly because it was written by Leigh Brackett. If you don’t know who Leigh Brackett is, well go find out. She was a classic sci-fi author, and did some fine screenwriting on The Big Sleep, Rio Bravo and The Long Goodbye. The film we’re talking about today was her first such effort, and in it she brings more talent to the picture than one would expect of a low-budget Republic film.

She’s joined in this by the the villain in the piece, John Abbott. Just to maintain the Star Trek theme I’ve been on for a while, he played the lead Organian in the episode “Errand of Mercy”. In this picture, he plays the vampire, and I think he’s one of my favorites. In classic Hollywood, the Vampire didn’t usually have much depth, and was often played for shock value. Bela Lugosi’s turn as Dracula is an exception, of course.

It also helps that the movie is based loosely on “The Vampyre” written by John William Polidori in 1816. Between Polidori, Brackett and Abbott, you get a hidden nugget from the studio days of Hollywood.

In The Vampire’s Ghost, Abbott plays Webb Fallon, an English vampire who has “lived” at least since the days of the Spanish Armada. He brings a really rate matter-of-factness to his vampire portrayal – he’s not happy about his condition, but he shows no remorse for his victims, and he mostly uses his ability to hypnotize and control people to get away with it. In the film, he is now running a drinking establishment in the African town of Bakunda. As in Dracula, the movie wastes little time in revealing that the mysterious killer around Bakunda is a vampire, and that Fallon is that vampire. The natives discover it first, and the “hero” of the picture, Roy Hendrick (Charles Gordon) is soon clued in, but is hypnotized by Fallon before he can do anything about it. Strange for many such movies, the supposed hero spends most of the movie unable to do anything against the villain. The vampire really is the protagonist in the film, making all the moves and committing his villainy unrestrained until … well, I won’t give everything away.

The main point here is that, in this largely forgotten B-movie, there’s a really cool vampire depiction thanks largely to two talented people, Leigh Brackett and John Abbott, and despite the low budget and relative apathy of Republic Pictures. To tie this in to roleplaying games, the Webb Fallon vampire should give a good game master some ideas about playing a vampire in a game in a way that might surprise the players.

Check it out, if you have a mind to …

Family Game Night Reviews

Because setting yourself up for failure is fun, I’m going to take a shot at getting a post up each weekend in 2020. They might not all be strictly gaming related … but what the heck – it’s my blog and I suppose I can do what I want with it!

To kick 2020 off, I’ll do some “timely” game reviews. I had some time off this Christmas season, so the family had time for a couple family game nights. We had a few games recently purchased and un-played, so we gave them a twirl.

First up is Charlie’s Angels, published in 1977 by Milton Bradley. I’m a total sucker for any board game involving a 1970’s or 1980’s TV property (well, almost all of them), so when we saw this baby priced $20 in an antique shop, it was a shoo-in.

I instantly called Sabrina when we got the game home, but we soon discovered that each player takes control of their own team of Angels for the game, so no fighting over the individual Angels is required. The game concept is kinda cool. You have a board that is a sort of a modified grid. Onto this grid you place the Villain. The Villain moves one space on each player’s turn, the direction of the move chosen by the player in question. The player then rolls two dice and can move one of his or her angels each with each dice. If you can’t move the entire number on the dice with an Angel, you give up your move.

The goal is to trap the Villain – sort of a Charlie’s Angels checkmate. Each Angel that is in on the trapping is worth one point for their player. You play three games, total the points, and determine the winner. There are some cards that can be helpful … or harmful … so you take a risk pulling one. You also have to think a bit about how you want to move the Villain – you don’t want to be left out of the capture, so sometimes you’re really on the Villain’s side in the game. We had a good time with Charlie’s Angels, with the game ending in a three-way tie – not a bad ending for a family game.

One issue – I noted that the rules did not specifically disallow moving back on your path on your turn. They probably should have, because this seemed to make the game too easy, and it just didn’t feel right.

Next up was a funny little dice game – really a packaged version of old dice rules – called Skunk. Simple concept – you have two dice to roll. The dice replace the “1” with a skunk. On their turn, a player takes the dice and can roll them as often as they like, totaling the points rolled. If they roll a skunk, they get no points for this turn and have to pay a penalty (1 chip, or 2 if you rolled a skunk and a “2”). If you roll two skunks, you lose all the points you’ve acquired and pay a 4 chip penalty. To win, a player must get his total above 100 – she can go as high above 100 as she dares. Once a player goes over 100, the other players have to try to beat them on their next turn. The chips in the pot do to the winner of each round.

The game is really all about risk – how daring are you, and how lucky?

In our first game, I managed to zero-out midway through. When my daughter went over 100, I needed something like 60 points to beat her. I started rolling, got hot, and actually won the game. On our third game, I decided to do exactly that each turn, figuring I might eventually get hot again … and wound up rolling a skunk every time on my first or second roll.

We had a fun time with Skunk, and since up to 8 people can play it would probably make a fun party game. To make it more “grown up” you could turn it into a drinking game, with a drink taken on every skunk or double skunk. I suppose you could also play Strip Skunk … but then again, maybe not.

Finally, we have Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Game, published in 2000, also by Milton Bradley. We bought this one for my daughter for Christmas, and she was raring to play it. It took a while to read the rules, but they weren’t too complicated and we had a good time playing it.

I took control of the bad guys, while my wife had to play Oz and Xander and my daughter got Buffy and Willow. The game is fun, pretty fast paced, and pretty easy to figure out. Evil sure looked like it was going to win this one – in short order, two of the goodies were out of the game and Evil had all the magic items. In the end, though, Buffy and Willow knocked off the evil minions and then teamed up on the Evil vampire and snuffed him out. Fortunately for them, the main villain doesn’t automatically get to move every turn. My guy spent three turns in a row not moving while they beat the crap out of him. C’est la vie.

So there you have it – three fun games for the family. All were purchased in antique stores for low prices and all were well worth it.

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.