Friday, May 27, 2011

Review: The Strategic Review #4 Winter 1975

The Strategic Review #4 Winter 1975

(12 Page Zine)

With issue #4 SR leaps to 12 pages. The D&D content is still not overwhelming though it is the main thrust of the zine. The connection to wargaming and historical miniatures is very strong with TSR and the zine reflects this. But beyond the history of TSR and D&D are mentions of other sources in the development of D&D in independent zines and obscure newsletters such as The Great Plains Game Players Newsletter, Liasons Dangereus, Urf-Durfal, Kranor-Rill and the better known Alarums & Excursions.

Back to D&D and Chainmail combat rules, Gary Gygax expands on his article about polearms, providing a few more illustrations and a small weapons table for the Jo Stick, the Bo Stick and the Quarter staff. Dry and familiar stuff to a gamer who has sifted through various published arcana; great additions for someone recreating an original D&D campaign or someone just discovering D&D for the first time. And for a gamer interested in reading what the creator of the game had to say and add about D&D from its earliest beginnings, articles such as this are gems.

The next article is a major addition to the campaign; The introduction of the Illusionist class. I've always found the Illusionist to be one of the most roleplaying oriented of classes. So many of their spells have non-direct applications and used well they can be of amazing versatility and effect. The description is brief, with a short level advancement table and spell list going to 5th level spells, but the following page is dedicated to a description of Illusionist spells. Many are small alterations on magic-user spells from the published set, but some are new spells available only to Illusionists.

What follows is a very long (for SR) article by M.A.R. Barker on the development of the Tsolyani language for his Empire of the Petal Throne campaign, and a detailed table for generating Tsolayni names as well as a translation table for the symbols of the Tsolayni alphabet. This is a goldmine for any detail oriented campaign, but even if a DM is only looking for an intricate new alphabet they can use the lovingly scripted cursive letters of Barker's design.

Finally there are two short article, the creature feature column and the introduction of a new magic item.

The clay golem is introduced, very briefly described, but more than enough information is provided to drop the monster into an established D&D campaign that needs to face a fairly powerful new challenge. The cost and level requirements for creating the clay monster are listed, but any particulars regarding its construction are undetailed ( and thereby left to the DMs discretion). The monster itself is not listed in the standard form but instead its abilities are described in a short paragraph. No illustration is provided.

The last article introduces the Ioun stone to the game and credits the Jack Vance short story "Morreion" for their origin. This short story is a definite must read for D&D gamers and DMs (It can be found in several old anthologies such as Flashing Blades #1, and hopefully in other more accessible locations online). It provides a picture of the D&D magic system (extremely high level magic and magic-users) and is itself an excellent story by a talented fantasy writer. The SR article provides a table of various types of Ioun stones (expanded from those created by Jack Vance with his permission) and a brief description of their use.

With this 4th issue of SR the announcement of Dragon Magazine is foreshadowed (announced only as The Dragon is coming without explanation or details that it is a magazine at all). The Strategic Review is past its halfway point as a series and already the growth and development of D&D is requiring longer articles that demand more and more space within the zine. A full size magazine for the D&D game cannot come too soon.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Review: Dungeon Crawl Classics #11 The Dragonfiend Pact

Dungeon Crawl Classics #11 The Dragonfiend Pact By Chris Doyle
(16 page d20 adventure for 4-6 2nd level player characters)

Front Cover Artist: William McAusland
Interior Artists: Jason Edwards, Brad McDevitt
Cartographer: Jeremy Simmons

If you are planning on playing in this adventure STOP READING NOW! - You'll go blind and hair will grow on the back of your hands.

For the original $2 cover price this module was quite a bargain.

There are some good ideas included though the plot is poor and some of the concepts are flawed. One of the main problems is that by making the town described in the story so unique it limits the placement and usefulness of the adventure. There is just too much concept for the 16 pages being provided.

There is a struggle for leadership of the town. The idea behind this seems fairly muddled and implausible. A town with an elected mayor, though the mayor is part of some kind of aristocracy, and a magistrate who is a cleric, but one who turns to evil when he can't become mayor. And the mayor's young naive daughter who becomes mayor herself when the magistrate hires an assassin to kill the mayor. Then there is the magistrates plot to rob the town and use rats to smuggle the goods outside of the town. There is an evil pseudo-dragon who sways the magistrate to worship an evil god of trickery (he's the cleric btw), and finally a plan to have the town raided by a goblin tribe so he can kill the mayoress and become the towns hero. Blah... way too much. I think I saw this plot on an old Andy Griffith show with Don Knotts as the evil magistrate and the actor who played Ernest T. Bass as the Were-badger.

The adventure itself isn't bad. The use of the rats is intriguing, but a better reason for using them needs to be provided. I'm not sure just how much wealth could be smuggled out of a frontier town via rat-back. Might be handy for a city adventure with a jewel thief, or a mining town and someone smuggling out gold dust, but there really isn't much reason why the thief couldn't smuggle the valuables out by himself. Such things as what is being stolen and how are left to the DMs imagination, as well as particulars about the town.

The dungeon could have a small plot operation and be dropped into the Idylls of the Rat King adventure fairly nicely.

I wouldn't recommend this for a DM looking for a quick and easy adventure and the amount of work necessary to make it playable might as well be spent in adding it to an adventure with a better plot, or creating one. For the $2 it cost, it was still a bargain as an adventure aid. Semi-decent maps and some good ideas. It would have been better off without the attempt to make into something more.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

City of Greyhawk Labor Quarter

City of Greyhawk Labor Quarter

SooC = Saga of Old City

SooC P14, 15
... at the edge of the worst part of the Slum Quarter near the better sector where menial laborers and others of that ilk lived. This was unsafe territory for an urchin as these working people didn't want Gord's kind around...

Gord slid into the narrow space of a boarded-up doorway... The narrow alley he was in gave onto a wide lane just ahead. He saw occasional figures passing the mouth of the passage... glancing up, Gord saw ... a line of washing hung out to dry on the rooftop across the way.

... he ascended the gap by pressing his feet against one wall and his back and palms against the other.

...entered Killcat Lane from disused alley...

NOTE: Slight map discrepancy. The edge of the Slum Quarter and the Labor Quarter appear to be separated by the south-west corner of the Brewer's Quarter. The narrow and disused alley could be a passage from the Slum Quarter through the Brewer's Quarter and come out on Killcat Lane in the Labor Quarter. The border lines of the various Quarters are also noted as not set in stone so the Labor Quarter north-west corner could have shifted and connected with the slum quarter.

NOTE: Unnamed narrow disused alley connects with Killcat lane. Narrow, boarded-up doorway within alley. Cloths hung from rooftop. Alley is narrow enough so that a small boy can climb to roof by putting back against one wall and feet against the other. (3 foot width?)

SooC P15
From the look of him he could have been one of dozens of lads who traveled in this vicinity, a link-boy or bound-boy of some sort on an errand for master or mistress - perhaps even the son of a local resident. A closer look might have brought a question to the observer's mind, however. Although the worn blouse and baggy trousers were clean, the wearer most certainly was not. And where were the lad's sandals?

NOTE: Link-boy, bound-boy professions. Young boys travel unattended through the Labor Quarter. Boys are normally clean and wear sandals. Blouse and baggy trousers and sandals are normal garb.

SooC P15
... he could move freely through this part of the quarter to the Foreign Quarter nearby.

NOTE: Possible map discrepancy. The distance between the Slum Quarter and the Foreign Quarter should be nearly one and one-half miles (if the scale of the City of Greyhawk is as presented in the City of Hawks novel; 3 miles to the inch). The flow of the narrative is suggestive of a much shorter distance

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Review: The Strategic Review #3 Autumn 1975

The Strategic Review #3 Autumn 1975

(8 Page Zine)

A lot of history to start this issue; Chainmail and D&D being slammed, and Gygax slamming back.

D&D and Gygax won.

The D&D content of this issue focuses on new monsters. Nine new creatures for the game, most would become well used classic additions. The Yeti, Shambling Mound, Shrieker, Piercer, Lurker Above, Naga and Ghost. The Leprechaun and Wind Walker seemed to be least used in my own experience.

The Yeti, Ghost, Leprechaun, Lurker Above, Naga, Shrieker, and Wind Walker all have stats and descriptions very close to their later incarnation in the AD&D Monster Manual, though no illustration accompanied any of the monsters appearing in this issue.

Only the Piercer and Shambling appear to be greatly changed. Anyone putting together an original D&D campaign will find this issue very welcome for the introduction of these monsters alone. They tend toward the powerful, some 10HD monsters included here, while a few are low HD but can fit into any level of the game. The Shrieker acting as a warning to other creatures, the Leprechaun a supreme annoyance, the Piercer deadly in great numbers. Even the Yeti as a 4HD monster can be effective against more powerful characters with its near invisibility and paralyzing gaze.

A humorous article follows. Roughly D&D it always seemed a waste to me to take up space with joke articles, but maybe it can add some inspiration for DMs looking to lighten their campaign. A taste of Zagyg style insanity for a level of his dungeon perhaps? (I'd much rather have had the space used for illustrations or more monsters).

Personally I place poetry in the same boat with humor most of the time. The Unicorn Song is easy to glance over and dismiss, but I've always liked inflicting bards on my players, or if a player runs a bard then part of their burden is the use of poetry in the game. If they have no ideas of their own I never hesitate to supply them with such ditties as the Unicorn Song to stand and read to the other players.

D&D history rears its head again in the Mapping the Dungeon column, but rather than just a description of DMs and upcoming conventions, a mix of world war II and D&D is mentioned, related by Dave Arneson. Nothing like fighting Nazi's in a D&D campaign. I don't remember if they ever did publish the conversion rules for relatively modern historical time periods to D&D or not, or if they ever worked the bugs out, but it is something an adventurous DM should give a try.

Finally Jim Ward offers a description and city generation for a Burroughs style Barsoom campaign in his article Deserted Cities of Mars. This is a non-game system specific set of tables with descriptions sifted from the John Carter series. It can easily be adapted for use to generate a ruined city with an alien flavor for any campaign.

SR is not just a D&D magazine, and with only 8 pages all articles and information is fairly compressed, but a great deal was put into each small issue. There are ideas here useful to players running AD&D campaigns today, and invaluable additions to someone putting together an original campaign.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Review: Dungeon Crawl Classics #10 The Sunless Garden

Dungeon Crawl Classics #10 The Sunless Garden By Brendan LaSalle

(A 32 page d20 adventure for 4 to 6 player characters levels 6-8)

Front Cover Artist: Erol Otus
Back Cover Artist: William McAusland
Inetrior Artists: Jason Edwards, William McAusland, Brad McDevitt
Cartographer: Jeremy Simmons

If you are planning on playing in this adventure then STOP READING NOW! Or I will be forced to summon Hastor, Hastor, Hast... oops...

There is a slightly lovecraftian feel to this module as well as a sprinkling of humor.

This is a vast adventure stuffed into 32 pages. Well written but missing a few elements. The Otus cover is fantastic, the balance favors the players but it seems challenging enough and interesting. I pick apart a number of elements in this module but this is a very good adventure that I feel could have been a truly great adventure.

The plot involves a Treant corrupted by a fallen meteor in a somewhat Color out of Space concept but with less dismal cancerous wasting and more mutations. It would involve a little work on the DMs part but this could easily be converted to a much darker adventure, the spots of silliness removed, such as exploding apple grenades, cavorting owlbears, and the invention of toothpaste and peanut butter, and replaced with more gruesome and perhaps lovecraftian touches.

LaSalle is an excellent descriptive writer and his concept is creative with many interesting touches for a garden/wilderness adventure but 32 pages just did not provide enough room to cover the size of the area he tries to describe. The interior map is bland, as are most of the DCC maps in the first 10 adventures in their line. The text makes note of the vast size of the map, 50 feet per square, or more accurately 2,500 square feet per square. Each section of this underground garden is huge, the ceiling high above, the center of the cavern accommodating trees of over 100 feet. Unfortunately LaSalle only has a few paragraphs to touch on each section. Each area has some detail, challenging, humorous, intriguing, but not enough for the ground being covered. I have no doubt that this adventure could have been incredible, instead of merely excellent and flawed, if it had been allowed to grow in description and detail to a fuller page count.

The main theme is a corrupted treant's war against despoiler races such as humans, (though for some reason it has no problem with bugbears who fill in the empty chambers within the former smugglers den it calls home that would otherwise need to be filled with something more creative). Why not a race of mutated bugbears, or plantmen, or a merging of the two? The use of the bugbears feels out of place in view of the plot of the adventure and so easily changed to a mutated form that it makes me feel that they were slapped on like a hastily blotted background to a detailed portrait thats creation has perhaps passed its deadline.

To combat humanity the treant has found a mutated growth which can be used as a poison. This poison turns humans and humanoids into trees. This substance, Black Moss, will potentially effect the players and I was expecting to find it detailed in the appendix section. A paragraph on page 3 titled Effects of the Black Moss were surprising in their lack of information about the effects of black moss. One paragraph describes that a check is needed when tasting infected water, but the next three paragraphs describe how it was made, the antidote, and effects of the antidote, and prevention. What is not described are the actual effects in game turns. How long does it take to be overcome, what happens to characters infected before they are turned into trees? What is the effect if it is inhaled? Do you only need to save once against it? Some of the information can be pieced out from other paragraphs in the adventure. It seems to take 3 days to be turned into a tree, and the character will be slowly petrified though there is no description of the actual process. In the end it will be up to the DM to actual work out the mechanics of this poison. A definite flaw in the modules design.

The adventure itself is straightforward. There are few allies to be found and little or no misdirection. The monsters and mutations are there to be killed or overcome. The wide undescribed sections of the garden could be filled with brief encounters of unsettling but non-hostile plant life or glossed over lightly, as the characters pass trees, bushes, or walk over grass or weeds till they come across the written encounters. The vastness of the garden could be shrunken and encounters combined into a single section rather than spread out over 6 or more areas hundreds of feet across. There is a great deal of room for expansion in this adventure, and even more as suggested at the end of the module, this may not be the only meteor.

A good adventure, even an excellent one, especially the concepts involved, but the execution is missing detail that would have made this a great adventure.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Review: Dungeon Crawl Classics #9 Dungeon Geomorphs

Dungeon Crawl Classics #9 Dungeon Geomorphs By Clayton Bunce


I had a vague notion of what I was getting when I picked this up. I just had no idea it would be quite as worthless and crappy as it turned out to be.

Back in the early days of D&D several geomorph supplements were released. They featured the graph paper style blank maps that adorned modules like B1 In Search of the Unknown. 25 or so years later Dungeon Crawl Classics released something exactly like those early geomorphs but of slightly lesser quality.

These are for those players who have no access to the internet where they could download maps or graph paper and a pencil for them to draw their own. Every time I pick this supplement up I am astounded at its uselessness.

If you see this in a module lot offered for sale somewhere consider it a waste of shipping cost.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Review: The Strategic Review #2 Summer 1975

The Strategic Review #2 Summer 1975

(8 Page Zine)

There is history in every issue of The Strategic Review, sometimes just talk about the people who made up the gaming world, of designers, of players, and as with this issue, those who passed away (the ranks of which that have sadly increased, especially in the last year). Some of the history is simply about games. New rules for old games, new games rising in an ever increasing tide with articles on errata and addendum, reviews and advertisements. I do not intend to do more in my own reviews than occasionally point to an odd bit of history now and again but instead try to concentrate on only what relates to D&D or AD&D, what may be useful or of interest. But it would be a shame to ignore the history of the world of gaming. D&D did not develop alone spontaneously out of nothing. D&D was part of the other games, springing clothed and armed from the minds of those who designed these other games, who played them and wrote of them in these early issues.

The first article directed at D&D begins on page 3 of the zine. Here we have the first FAQ for D&D. Like all the articles in this tiny periodical it is brief and to the point. More questions would come, and longer answers but the shaping and definition of the D&D game system is in progress. Combat is the central theme and it is certainly the part of D&D involving the most game mechanics. The article provides examples of monsters attempting to overpower a character, group attack, shield facing, and a fighters multiple attacks versus 1HD monsters, all in progression of combat rounds. Such things as savings throws and morale are given their own paragraphs for explanation, while experience and spells are underlined as sub-headings and given a greater amount of space and detail.

The next article is the zine's featured monster, the Roper. A short description and small amount of game information is provided but sadly no illustration.

Following the featured monster is the introduction to a new character class, the Ranger. These early issues were seeded with additions to the original D&D set which soon became well-loved standards in all versions of the game. This first genesis of the Ranger set the form of what it was to become in AD&D. The article mainly consists of tables and lists of the Rangers special abilities and attributes, well worth comparing to the Ranger as AD&D character from the PHB.

Finally we have an article by Gary Gygax on examples of medieval polearms (thankfully illustrated). Brief but invaluable to a DM who has no idea what these odd sounding weapons look like (and pre-internet DMs could be especially thankful since the voulge, bardiche, guisarme, glaive, fauchard, partisan, spetum, ranseur and lucern hammer were not part of most junior high's vocabulary lists or explanations of their use). This is a quick study of polearms and any players or DM today who hasn't sought out examples can get a good idea here.

The issue closes with advertisements for Origins I and Gencon VIII, and a call to the imagination to step back in time when gaming was young.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Review: Dungeon Crawl Classics #8 Mysteries of the Drow

Dungeon Crawl Classics #8 Mysteries of the Drow By Jeff Quinn - Poetry by Susie Quinn
(48 page d20 adventure for 4-6 player characters levels 7 to 9)

Front Cover Artist: Erol Otus
Back Cover Artist: William McAusland
Interior Artists: Jason Edwards, Carlos Henry, Brad McDevitt
Cartographer: Jeremy Simmons

If you are planning on playing in this adventure STOP READING NOW! - or I will have to hurt ya.

I won't lie to you, some parts of this adventure will get your characters killed, but who those characters are is one of several problems with this module. This was a tournament adventure and it has not been reworked so as to easily fit into an ongoing campaign.

This is a drow adventure from a drow's point of view. I could see where it could be used to flesh out an underdark campaign against the drow, but converting to AD&D and making it fit into a campaign will require some work. It is a good adventure and worth the effort in my opinion.

As designed the pre-rolled player characters are drow or drow allies (I have no idea what a Shur or an Urbam might be but they are listed as two of the characters races). It is suggested that two accessory products be consulted, the Goodman Games Guide to the Drow and Aerial Adventure Guide not own either of them and can't offer an opinion except to say that they do not appear necessary to play or convert this adventure.

The adventure lacks a great deal of detail to run it within a campaign. Since it takes place in the underdark it cannot easily be used outside of such a setting. Altering it to AD&D will demand the conversion of several spells and devices as well as a decision on whether or not to allow versions of firearms into a campaign.

This can be a deadly adventure. Some of the encounters may need toning down regardless of the edition used, though a DM may decide that powerful monsters or NPCs will force the players to tread carefully, seek alliances or simply run away from time to time.

Unfortunately this isn't a pick up and play module unless run as a tournament with drow player characters. For use as a campaign adventure the general area of the underdark will need to be detailed. The background will need to be altered as well. I'm old fashioned and don't run campaigns with evil player characters, and have never used drow as anything except evil NPCs. My conversion of this adventure is to use players descending into the underdark, fighting drow, and perhaps gaining allies among the good NPC races opposed to the drow. The adventure works perfectly well with this style of play. Even the pre-rolled player characters can add another element to the adventure. Following the background of the tournament these drow can be another encounter, perhaps a recurring enemy group the players must fight and hopefully defeat.

As mentioned there are some new spells and devices in this scenario. I liked them. There is also an exceptionally good idea for a puzzle lock and a player handout, and no one should be surprised that I thought the Erol Otus cover art was fantastic.

Not a pick up and play adventure by any means, but some very good ideas and encounters. I recommend it to anyone running an Underdark campaign, but a DM should be prepared to put some work into it before use.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Review: Dungeon Module F1 The Fane of Poisoned Prophecies

Dungeon Module F1 The Fane of Poisoned Prophecies By Guy Fullerton
(24 page AD&D adventure for 5 to 7 player characters levels 4 to 6)

Front Cover Artist: Peter Mullen
Back Cover Artist: Jason Braun
Interior Artists: Jason Braun, Andy "ATOM" Taylor
Cartography: Guy Fullerton

If you are planning on playing in this adventure STOP READING NOW! - The rest of this review has been booby-trapped

This adventure was more than a pleasant surprise. Excellent maps, nice artwork that actually shows places and events taking place in the adventure, and an intriguing scenario that needs no alteration or conversion. A DM should be able to read through and run this module with no problem.

I have sampled the later editions of Dungeons & Dragons and have no taste for them. Finding an actual AD&D adventure is a treasure, but this particular adventure is a real gem. It is almost entirely well balanced and challenging. The background is interesting, the level of detail amazing, and the possibilities are great for further adventures either created by the DM or hopefully from Chaotic Henchmen Productions.

I loved the almost-Otus cover art and the fact that the outer cover was not stapled to the interior booklet. A wilderness map is provided, and detail maps of several small buildings surrounding the central location itself. There is a cut-away view of the main building and a drawing of it seen from the outside (The same illustration on the back of the cover as on the front of the booklet. It would have been nice to have an extra illustration).

The adventure starts out at a slow pace with some encounters that should be combat and some that provide detail, background and clues. There is one encounter with an extremely powerful guardian that could easily slaughter the party and, to me, the chance that this encounter could get out of hand is too great. A trap, a tomb and an 18HD iron golem. I would provide a more detailed warning than a single corpse as well as giving the players a greater chance to withdraw. I'd hate to have an evening's game with established player characters come to a sudden end because a side encounter was far too lethal. Easily altered or toned down. Nice illustration though.

The central building and the core of the adventure is a nice mix of traps and monsters. My personal preference would be for greater and more varied types of combatants and probably a darker theme to the plot. But this is a nice straightforward adventure that has room for many possible additions from a creative DM. It is also a pick up and play adventure and includes a full set of pre-generated characters. If not used by the players the DM could add them to the scenario as NPC competition or even possible allies for the player characters.

While this adventure is only 24 pages the print is very small as are the margins. There is a great deal packed into the module and I'd equate these 24 pages with at least 40 pages of material from other publishers.

Anyone running an AD&D campaign and looking for published adventures should snatch this one up and keep an eye out for the sequel.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Review: Dungeon Crawl Classics #7 The Secret of Smuggler's Cove

Dungeon Crawl Classics #7 The Secret of Smuggler's Cove By Chris Doyle
(40 Pages, d20 3.5 compatable adventure for 4-6 player characters levels 5 to 7)

Front Cover Artist: Chuck Whelon
Back Cover Artist: William mcAusland
Interior Artists: Jason Edwards, William McAusland, Brad McDevitt
Cartography: Jeremy Simmons

If you plan on playing in the adventure STOP READING NOW! - Or I will have to set my Dalak's after you - EXTERMINATE! EXTERMINATE! EXTERMINATE!

This adventure seems like an homage to the old AD&D U1-3 Saltmarsh series, though I don't see that mentioned. Many of the basic plot elements are the same but if I had to choose between the two I'd probably pick this adventure. The saltmarsh series were introductory and low level adventures while DCC#7 starts off at mid-range experience level for the PCs allowing more diverse and powerful challenges.

The module provides a map and background material for the town where the PCs will be based, sufficient if slightly uninspired plot hooks to bring the characters into the adventure and an interesting background for the dungeon, its previous and current occupants.

As with the U series the first area to be explored is fairly vacant and not meant as a serious challenge to the party. Unfortunately several of the early encounters threaten to reveal the entire secret of this adventure, far too soon in my opinion. It is entirely possible for the players to explore the lighthouse, the manor, and the 1st dungeon level beneath without discovering the caves housing the smugglers or their allies.

It would be a shame to reveal the entire secret too soon since the scenario is filled with possibilities for misdirection. Despite the name of the adventure the townspeople are unaware of the smugglers presence or the danger they face from the aquatic tribe nearby. The tower is merely haunted, the manor house abandoned and become the abode of vermin and monsters and the evil temple beneath it unsuspected. My feeling is that the smugglers should be hinted at rather than revealed and the locathah left as a surprise till they are encountered. This requires several alterations in the written encounters.

1. The ghost of the lighthouse keeper would, I feel, be much better served as a clue or even potential ally, rather than a difficult combat encounter. If he had died not knowing who killed him but seeking some item of his that the smugglers might have looted then he could appear again at a convenient time, distracting an enemy, providing guidance or even atmosphere to the adventure. He is likely to be destroyed without revealing any information, or if the ability to question him exists, he is even more likely to reveal too much, too soon.

2. Inside the manor the PCs will encounter a small group of gnolls. Here is a danger of revealing all to the players. The smugglers, the locathah and the plans of the locathah unknown even to the smugglers. I also question why written contracts would exist between gnolls and locathah. The concept seems out of place in any fantasy world. Instead I would have the gnolls kept in the dark completely about the locathah and some type of misdirection applied. Invited by an evil mage or cleric, or a bandit gang, anything to keep the players from suspecting smugglers.

3. The harpy. As with the gnolls the harpy would be of better use to the smugglers as a cover for their own activities. She may know or suspect more, that they use the dungeons beneath the manor, but why reveal to her that they are smugglers. The players may begin to suspect that the secret of smugglers cove is that there are no smugglers only bandits or an evil cult instead.

4. Below the manor the 1st level of the dungeon is mostly abandoned. The temple itself is still defended but for the most part there is little to encounter. What fails to make sense to me are the prison cells. The players cannot help but find them if they explore the manor and the prisoners know far too much to be left so exposed to a casual search by the strong party of adventurers. Why would prisoners be kept at this dungeon level and not deeper within the smugglers cave? The bard is needed for the smugglers to make use of the lighthouse and he is aware of much of what has been going on. My suggestion is to remove the bard and place a smuggler as a captive, perhaps more than one. The smuggler could pose as a traveling merchant or mercenary guard who tells a story of bandits or evil cultists. The local farmer could also have been lead to believe this tale and set the players off against a tribe of gnolls or scouring the nearby roads or wilderness for bandits, perhaps with the smuggler volunteering to accompany them as a henchman or a guide, or offering a reward for valuable merchandise taken. The ogre more appropriate as an unwitting hireling openly guarding the prisoners and another smuggler guarding the secret entranceway. One that would not run out and reveal the passage down to the smugglers hideout.

My feeling is that adventure would be better by trying to set the players on the wrong path rather than revealing so many secrets at the start.

The rest of the adventure is enjoyable but heavily combat oriented. Once the players are aware of the smugglers and then encounter the locathah the adventure becomes a challenge of arms with the players struggling to defeat the smugglers and their allies. The DM may have the smugglers choose to run at some point, but the locathah are less likely to flee especially before its leaders are killed.

All in all an excellent adventure. Adding some misdirection for the players could make this into a small campaign while the adventure itself should provide more than one session of gaming with several areas to explore and challenging encounters. It should be an easy conversion to AD&D.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Review: Strategic Review #1 Spring #1975

Strategic Review #1 Spring #1975
(6 page zine)

I am proud to be a 1st edition AD&D fan. I am not a believer that all games are equal. Some are bad, some are good, and some are ground breaking. Recently I acquired the Dragon CD-ROM archive and since I'd started on a series of reviews of the Dungeon Crawl Classics line of adventure modules I planned on reviewing Dragon magazine. I was very surprised to see that someone started a series of reviews already. After beginning to read through them I quickly realized these reviews were from such a different point of view that my own would serve as a counterpoint rather than some kind of redundancy.

This first issue is a small taste of the early days of D&D. It provides a new monster, the Mind Flayer. Very streamlined compared to what the Mind Flayer will become, but also providing a table for the effects of a mind blast attack. Very handy for a DM not using the later psionics rules and a good example of a creature format for an OD&D campaign.

The largest section of the zine is devoted to dungeon generation tables for solo play, or they can be used by a DM to randomly create a dungeon map. A very simple and neat system. It was fun to use back before more detailed systems were developed, and before the wide range of prepublished modules.

The most useful item for the AD&D player would be the mind blast effect table, though the idea of substituting a table of effects instead of referring back to the optional psionics rules is perhaps the best utility here. The table isn't bad in itself but an AD&D player may want to create their own or alter it to suit their style of play.

All in all a wonderful piece of history but nothing that wasn't expanded upon in later editions of D&D and AD&D.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Review: Dungeon Crawl Classics #6 Temple of the Dragon Cult

Dungeon Crawl Classics #6 Temple of the Dragon Cult By John Seavey

(32 page d20 adventure for 4-6 players levels 8-10)

Front Cover Artist: William McAusland
Back Cover Artist: Brad McDevitt
Interior Artists: Jason Edwards, William McAusland, Brian Rasis
Cartographer: Jeremy Simmons

If you are planning on playing in this adventure STOP READING NOW! - You'll shoot your eye out kid.

This adventure is a hammer and a DM can use it to smack around a group of players to his heart's content. It is straightforward but not simple or boring. It manages to be very challenging without being ridiculously lethal. The worst thing about it are the maps.

I will jump to the maps first. The scenario covers the inside of a mountain, once a dwarven settlement, but the maps are just circles and corridors. I would have liked to see some worked passageways and rooms, something with more detail and character. This is just a minor complaint and it does not effect the adventure. But there is more. There is an attempt to add some complexity to the adventure by having multiple connections to the other dungeon floors. This works in well with the scenario, but the maps add a touch of confusion with the branching corridors and small isolated segments on each level.

The plot is reasonable if not inspired. The adventure itself is well balanced. Some areas are easy, others challenging, the final encounter a true challenge. There are traps to find, some story elements to discover, and tricky combat encounters throughout.

The heart of this module are the combat encounters. The nature of the storyline makes that unsurprising. This isn't about a rescue, or a treasure hunt, though treasure can be the main motivation, and it isn't about exploration, or some other worldly evil. The players are going after a dragon in its lair to kill it.

There are a number of traps, but most are so simple, falling into pit traps covered by tarps or illusions, that at most they would slow a party of 8th to 10th level characters down rather than be any kind of threat. That works out fine because this isn't a dungeon crawl it's a combat operation.

Most of the encounters should go the players way without much difficulty. The party should out-number or out-power the first few defenders or even pass them by. There are two places before the final battle that should challenge the party , but any areas bypassed, any combatants not dealt with in a particular area can be used by the DM to act as reinforcements for encounters nearby.

Converting this adventure should be no problem. There are rules for a new spell and new type of monster creation designed for d20 but the concept works fine with the AD&D rule system. Each encounter simply needs to be beefed up or toned down and some of the tactics reworked for AD&D characters.

This adventure can be stretched out simply by adding another level to the map complex or a way for the defenders to be reinforced if the players make multiple forays into the mountain instead of a single drive to the final encounter.

Temple of the Dragon Cult is one of the best and most balanced adventures I've come across in the DCC line. It plays well as written but can easily be expanded or used in a larger campaign.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Origins 1 ToH review from A&E #4

I had hoped that this would be a retelling of a Castle Greyhawk adventure, but instead I soon realized that this poor group of adventurers (complete newbies for the most part) had wandered into The Tomb of Horrors. I have retyped this as I found it, spelling errors included (I just hope that I've added none of my own).

From: Alarums & Excursions #4 September 1975

Billy Balrog's Own Fanzine number three
By Mark Sawnson

ORIGINS I occurred this past weekend. This zine is con report, adventure description and critque and a multiple game review. Since it review a few details of a Dungeon that Gygax will be running as Gencon in mid-August it should not appear until the September A&E, regardless of how late the August one is, (unless it doesn't appear until September.)

We drove down from our gathering point in Conn. last Friday (july 25) New Jersey is still the Blasted Lands and Baltimore, outside John Hopkins, is a slum. $13 was very. low for 2 nights, even if they were un-airconditioned "coffin singles." The food in the cafeteria was acceptable, since there were no decent nearby cheap restruants a Good Thing,and I haven't heard of any problems with the campus administration. The minatures play was rare, but Dippy, Iron Ships & Wooden Men (or vice versa), and all sorts of board games abounded. After I picked the wrong method of finding two German Pak 75/L40's I was out of the armor minature play and devoted myself to kibutzing on one and all.
(Above report dedicated to giving Pelz something to complain about even harder than D&D - which follows.)

THE DUNGEON that Gary had brought along was being run in a tournament - all parties with identical characters (ranging from a MU 12 to a Fighter 4 - with strength of 18. As characters were assigned in alphabetical order I ended up as a 6th rate Magic user- supposedly the weakest in the group. Four of the fifteen had any previous experience. I grabbed the callers spot and announced the imposition of military discipline. Judging by the way the game went, Slobbovian army.

As I started to say- there were no wandering monsters (damn few monsters at all, in fact), plenty of traps (too many) and very few experienced players. It was run by Gary's son, who devoted no effort to keeping the characters in character. However, we did just as well as the other Friday night group- with 13 expert adventurers, that many would be callers- and perhaps just a shade to much caution.

We were to loot a tomb, hidden under a hill. Paul Bean having chosen our spells while I described D&D to the 11 novices and Gary's son wrote out the character descriptions (why they didn't make up several sets on 3x5 cards beforehand passeth understanding - to busy is the probable explanation.) No names were assigned to the characters. The remaining two experienced players- New Yorkers I think, retired into a corner to determine their own equipment. It quickly bacame obvious that they had tabbed me as the bossy type and didn't want to argue. The situation- which was dire- demanded such behavior, however. A little more assistance would have been usefull. Paul and I made a bad mistake at once- not being used to playing with single use spells we did not take enough multiple copies of the more usefull ones. Everyone had a magic item or two- I had levitation boots- in this dungeon the most usefull thing in the whole group. We had two magic users (12, 6), 2 clerics (10,6), 7 fighters (8 Palafine,3x7,6,5,4), 2 thieves (9,5)(Hobbit thief=5: in the other party they started down the tunnel to the tune of "Thieves aren't lawful, Hobbits aren't Neutral; where do Hobbit thieves come from" a case of that sub-Game- Grossing Out the Dungeonmaster). And 2 elves (M6 F4, M4 F4 C4!) No time to investigate Elvish clerics- and Gary's son was running things "by the book".

My fabulous career as caller began as we first entered the right hand entrance and emerged slightly ahead of the ceiling. We then tried the right entrance- and were trapped as a wall slid too behind us. Our Passwall spell got us out. (In the other party , tale-end Charlie responded to this event by "drawing sword and bow." His march position was readjusted. They hadn't realized no wandering monsters either.)

Finally we entered the central entrance, and headed down the 20' wide passage. The walls were plastered and covered with murals. 40' down there was a picture of two dogheaded beings holding a coffer- which stuck out of the wall. I decided that we could do without Anubis's kin and continued. Our elves reported no secret doors or traps. Ten more feet and out #2 and #3 fighters fell into a trap and lost minor bickerings with three poisoned, 5' spikes each. Poor quality elves we have hear, thought I. We dragged them out. Should our Patriarch raise them from the dead? After 5 hours in the Barren Lands my condition might have been described as numb. With a hazy idea of saving the spell for later I ordered them dropped back into thee pit for later recovery. Neither the Paladin nor the Patriarch protested. The Dungeonmaster did not tell them they should have (both were neos.) No one suggested that we take their useful equipment along with us (one had a bag of holding.) At this point I ordered a Locate Traps spell used- a bit late- and we avoided two more pits on the way down to the end of the corridor- 60'. Still plastered walls, still the elves detected no hollow spaces or hidden doors. What a time to pick defective elves!

At the end of the passageway there was a devil mouth- with an open, black mouth. Things shoved in did not return. On the left there was a door with a blue haze covering it. anything that went partway in came back, Things that went in all the way did not. Paul, a F7 and the only other useful person on the expedition to this point volunteered to investigate the door. He went through and the Dmaster took him outside. In a bit, I decided it was time to charge through all together. (How do you run a 15 man expedition- (all characters were male) why, most of the players are an attentive audience.)

Our Patriarch and the 7th level Dwarf decide to stay put, and went outside. the game room. We found ourselves inside a 10' square, 30' high room, without doors and possessed of 3 levers. At this point I announced that we were all driving spikes into the walls and standing on them. Various conditions of levers were tried. All three down resulted in the floor opening for a stimulating view of a 100' drop. At this point the Dmaster told that the levers had started in the neutral position. all three were put up, the ceiling opened and we climbed up and into a 3' high and wide crawlway.

At this point the cleric and dwarf were brought in and decided to enter the screen behind us. Somehow the floor had reopened behind us and we had one small and one holy mound of flesh 130' down from where we were. By this point I had a feeling that this was not going to be the most successful adventure of the tournament.

We crawled up the passageway, discovered a room above a trapdoor with wooden, golden and silver chests; containing a massive skeleton, 10 snakes and a magic ring with white dust inside. The hobbit thief tried it on, deciding not to remove the powder and promptly died. We wiped it off and took the ring along.

We got out along the crawlway. The room was plastered, the elves detected nothing and I had not yet grasped that a 1/2" of plaster was elf proof. Gygax's elves have to see secret doors, reasonable but not what I am accustomed to. We came back up in a pit with two old friends in it. I suggested departure. The rest of the party wanted a crack at Anubis's cousins- resulting, after a lever in a30' pit being found- from which Paul was extracted with only bruises.

Someone else had a brilliant thought- what's behind the plaster? We broke some and found a door. Blasted insensitive elves! Down a corridor and discovered two super-gargoyles, which were disposed of with difficulty- they being 8th level and no one on our side remembering whatmagic they had. Finally, a lightning javelin did the trick, while it was demonstrated once more that "Charm person" does nothing to gargoyles. (The rest of the party had not gotten the idea and ordered their characters around to a limited degree.) Two colars at 500 GP were thus acquired- our only treasure, it turned out.

Now through a maze of 10' square rooms with walls that pivoted vertically, horizontally, slid up,down,and sideways. Each direction had to be individually specified. The party agreed and our 18 (80%) fighter started making holes in the wall instead. This git up to another 20' corridor, with more plaster to break, thence into a crawlspace (thank Ghu for no wandering monsters!" which got us to a chapel. Blue altar-which our Paladin warned us not to touch (26 point lightning bolt as it turned red, so I learned from another party later) and an orange mist door. Our sixth level cleric walked into it. A female anti-cleric promptly emerged and threw a curse. "I'm attacking her with my +3 mace announced our sole living cleric operator. Gently the situation was explained to him. The Dmaster decided the curse had been hurled at the Paladin. Who picked the misguided female up and hurled her into the orange doorway; from which emerged our cleric with a sore jaw.

At this point we got a five minute warning and things started to move fast. The fing into a slot on the opposite wall (there went a 5' diameter protection ring, said the Dmaster.) Out along a 10' corridor, down a flight of stairs as three more panic- a landing, doors east and west...

"Games over" said Gary. Another, later party, possibly aided by rumors or led by someone who understood pits, elf proof plaster and the unpopulated nature of Gygax's dungeon- got th whole treasure. Sigh.

From this experience I deduce a couple of lessons.

1) Don't run D&D as a tournament. 2) Always shatter plaster unless you are in the dungeon of nasty minded people such as I who might put poison gas behind it. 3) Play a Gygax game if you like pits, secret doors and Dungeon Roulette. Play a game such as in A&E if you prefer monsters, talking/arguing/fighting with chance met characters and a more exciting game. of course, the game may not have been typical, but Gary can defend himself. I felt no real desire for a second, similar game.