Just in case you’re last minute like I am, run over to DriveThruRPG and hunt down all of those classic Dungeons & Dragons adventures and sourcebooks and scoop them up at a discount. Wizards of the Coast and DTRPG are celebrating WotC’s two-year anniversary with the site. People had been clamoring for PDFs of Dungeons & Dragons material for a long time and eventually WotC realized that maybe they should get in on that action.
Here’s a look at just a few of my favorites and some of the products that really influenced me.
The zombies didn’t get me. Well, actually they did, but I think I’m just a carrier of the virus rather than a full on zombie. The fact that that I walked off the course with a smile and no limp is, to me, a win. I have to say, if a Run for Your Lives event takes place in your neck of the woods, you should check it out. And, to celebrate my lack of injuries and the impending creepiness of Halloween gaming, I’ve put The Eternal Rest on sale over at DriveThruRPG.com on the Drunken Goblin’s page. Continue reading →
Tower of the Scarlet Wizard is an adventure put out by Eldritch Enterprises’ to be adapted to any fantasy setting. Written by James M. Ward, the writer of Dark Outpost (previously reviewed here), this adventure offers the unique twist of allowing a PC to inherit the dungeon after it is explored.
Eldritch Enterprises once again serves up an old-school, open-ended adventure that fits easily into any campaign and adapts to nearly any rules set you might use. It calls for “three or more players of moderate experience” on the cover and threatens a 60% fatality rating, although, at a glance, I think it is certainly more forgiving than several other Eldritch Enterprises offerings. Like all their products, it is a very easy matter to further increase or decrease the difficulty of the adventure and Tower of the Scarlet Wizard offers a number of encounters that are not based on combat alone. (Be warned, there might be some spoilers ahead.) Continue reading →
Wizards of the Coast has teamed up with my favorite folks over at DriveThruRPG.com and RPGNow.com to make a great deal of “old school” Dungeons and Dragons products available in PDF form. And I should point out that although I’m excited about the old school D&D releases, the PDF format books cover the range from Basic/Expert all the way up to 4th Edition material. So go find your favorites, even you weirdo’s who have this strange attachment to Second Edition D&D.
Behold! DnDClassics.com! (And your DriveThruRPG/RPGNow login and account are linked to this sister site already.)
With Halloween just around the corner, everyone is clambering to add something dark, haunted, or zombie-filled to their usual game night. Of course, everyone is usually intent on the bags of candy that the DM tossed into the center of the table, and it isn’t because they want to dig their way down to the battlemat. By the time combat starts, the sugar crash has decimated the party. Often, it’s better just to have an atmospheric roleplaying session while people play terrifying sounds from their phones and discuss their favorite horror films. So why not pick up an inexpensive supplement to set the stage, and the hooks, for the following week’s adventure when that 3-pound bag of Twix is finally gone? Continue reading →
The OSR movement has been quietly swelling, to the point where it’s less and less quiet, really. OSR, or Old School Roleplaying (or Revival, or Renaissance, depending on who you ask) delves into the earliest dungeons and their straightforward philosophy of slay the monsters, pillage the loot, abide by the rules only as necessary, but have as much absurd fun as possible. For those who picked up and cast their dice in the 70’s, there’s nothing new about this mindset. But gamers who believe in the bipartisan Pathfinder versus 4E split as the foundation of gaming might be surprised by what they find in the origin story of “their” game and Frank Mentzer’s role. Continue reading →
Upon reading the first iteration of the “Friends & Family” playtest set of rules for Dungeons & Dragons I was shocked. It reminded me of AD&D but also of Basic D&D, my old, familiar boxed set. At least, it did while I was reading it. When I was done reading it, there were still hints of 3E (and, yes, that’s means 3.5) and a subtle 4E finish. Having previously sampled those vintages as well, the interplay of flavors was unmistakable. And, sticking my nose back into it, I couldn’t help but feel drawn back to a time when I played 2E.
But it didn’t feel like flesh golem of parts stolen from a variety of graveyards. It felt whole. Granted it wasn’t complete, but it wasn’t presented that way. Pieces were clearly missing but the playtest was clearly concerned with focusing on the core of the rules, the fundamentals that most people claim are immutable components of D&D: the six attributes, hit points, the stock races and classes, and so on. Beyond that, it borrowed upon the best elements of later editions but it wasn’t outright theft. The rules didn’t take healing surges wholesale and drop them in but approached them as a good idea that needed to be reworked and integrated into a new set of rules. And reworking them might make them unrecognizable to a devout 4E player as much as their very presence might shock an “old-school” gamer.
I don’t think the goal of the game is to give everyone what they want. That’s clearly not possible, not because of the limits of game designers but because of the limits of human nature. Instead, I think the goal is to give everyone a new game that they can all play.
The biggest treasure to me was the de-crunching of the rules. Don’t get me wrong, I do believe that solid rules are crucial to a well-designed game. But as a DM I like generalizations that I can adjust based on the circumstances. My style of play doesn’t really require a page of rules for each corner case that can arise at the table. Just because I can commit a set of rules to memory doesn’t mean that I want to. Because while a player is arguing that he can climb a wall underwater using his climbing modifiers instead of his swimming modifiers, we could have been advancing the story after a quick die roll. To me, the “white space” around the rules is what lets them breathe.
The most contentious part of the early iteration of the rules at my table was the lack of a battlemat. I’ll point out that this was a conscious choice, not because the rules didn’t allow for it. In fact, I could easily see how the rules could allow for it. But I wanted to jump back to the days before I had a mat in front of me, not because I don’t like them but because I wanted to see if I enjoyed it as much as I remembered. 4E became so tactical that it verged on tedious at times. (Without going off in that direction I’ll just say that it had a habit of miring players in minute decisions causing them to overlook any actual adventure taking place.)
The two most vocal responses at the table were almost diametrically opposed. One player felt immediately more immersed in the game and felt his imagination was much more engaged than it had been in a long time. Another felt severed from the action and activity of combat and any situational awareness his character might have. I could see both sides and, as a DM, experienced both sides. I gained the time to discuss spaces and plot more descriptively as players engaged with their environments more (What do I see when I look here? What about there?). And I lost time when I frequently had to reiterate positions in combat.
When things came to a head with an argument over two PCs’ positions I did feel like the game had come full-circle. It had been a long time since I’d seen that. And it’s precisely things like that that keep the rosy hue off the lenses of my glasses. I don’t kid myself that the good old days were all good. I just feel its important to test the old notions from time to time to determine if they’re still a good or bad fit moving forward. I think that’s what the playtesting is all about: dispensing with assumptions and making sure that when you put all the parts together they work and represent the best possible effort.
I’ve already talked Vancian magic, several times in fact, and I remain a fan. But there’s still more to come regarding the early playtest before I dip into the public playtest. And I might start using the battlemat again… at least some of the time.
I think I got my D&D Basic Set for my ninth birthday. Truthfully, I don’t think my parents even fully understood what they were buying me, only that I had learned to play a game from a friend at school and I was really excited about it. Upon opening the box, I was determined to play immediately and while my mother looked through the box for a game board and my father tried digesting the rulebook, I was already telling them how orcs had been pillaging the countryside and they were the heroes sent to deal with the raiders in their cavernous lair.
I can’t say I remember much of the game, really. But I’m certain I hardly looked at the rulebook and barely had a grasp of the mechanics. And I had a great time! (Meanwhile, my parents fell victim to the kobolds’ pit trip, just like countless “young” adventurers that delved there, before and since.) I finally had a way to tell all of the stories that sprung into my head after I put down A Wrinkle in Time or The Hobbit and turned off the light. And not only that, I could bring people with me into those stories. The Basic Set was, to me, the Never-Ending Gobstopper of toys!
Needless to say, the few written records that remain of those early adventures are cringe-worthy. But the same can be said for any writer’s work in the beginning. (I see countless parallels between writing and D&D but those are topics for another article.) Dragons made frequent, carnage-inflicting visits upon my friends but treasure hordes showered the heroes with gold and +8 swords. Yes, +8 swords. Because if it’s cool to find a +1 sword and way cooler to find a +2 sword… well, imagine how cool it is to find one that’s +8. (How cool is it? Ice cold!)
There was absolutely no balance there. There didn’t need to be. We were all telling our stories. A dragon overpowers the party and the one survivor lives on to tell the tale and seek revenge; the fallen are remembered even as the former players of those characters eagerly advance their replacements after punishing the dragon and forcing its hobgoblin minions to carry their newly won treasure back to town. In a capricious moment the king is beheaded by a +8 sword and a character takes the throne before a horrified audience of courtesans (and fellow players!) declaring the throne belongs to whoever can take it. A disintegrate spell (by now we had the Expert Boxed Set) brings a sudden and unfortunate end to his reign. Things were absurd. They were out of control. But we never noticed, never cared. We were too busy having fun.
Looking back fondly upon old editions of Dungeons & Dragons is frowned upon in some circles. For others it the only way to practice orthodox D&D. I’ve never owned a pair of rose-colored glasses so I’m not sure what all the fuss is about really. I remember very little from those early rulebooks. I would have to look before I could tell you what die to roll for a fighter’s hit points and I’ve long since forgotten the THACO charts I once had memorized.
But I can tell you where that pit trap is in the Caves of Chaos. I can tell you that the building contractor hired by Roghan the Fearless and Zelligar the Unknown probably made a lot of gold on change orders. I know that the king is never safe from a chaotic PC and that a dragon will show up whenever it wants.
I’ve never fallen in love with a particular set of rules. I fell in love with a game. If rose-colored glasses work anything like the x-ray specs sold in the backs of old comics, I could look inside my old boxed set and see what it really came with: six dice, a white crayon, and a 64-page permission slip that said we could do whatever we wanted.