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Sunday, July 27, 2014

The coolest monster in AD&D- Derro

Despite the fact that the game is called Dungeons and Dragons; Dragons are not the coolest monster in the Monster Manual/Monstrous Manual. The title instead goes to the...

"Scrawny, pale, little psychos", that is a great appellation for the race!

Scrawny- (from the Monstrous Manual): "Derro are one of the most dexterous of humanoid races (averaging 15-18), and their Armor Class must be adjusted for this." Usually, those that are dextrous are not depicted as hulking brutes...

Pale- (from the Monstrous Manual): "Derro are short, with skin the color of an iced over lake (white, with bluish undertones), sickly, pale yellow or tan hair (always straight), and staring eyes that have no pupils." When one considers most dwarfs in AD&D that's certainly off the beaten path.  

Psychos- (from the Monstrous Manual): "The derro have made a name for themselves by their marked cruelty. It is said that a derro lives for just two things: to witness the slow, humiliating death of surface demihumans, and especially humans; and the perversion of knowledge to their own dark ends." And? they are chaotic evil to boot. 

Tired of dark elves being overdone, "angsty" and lame? Throw them out the window or at least out of the Underdark. That's basically what I've done with my "legendary" World of Galena. (1) With the derro in place there is no need for namby-pamby dark elves. In all seriousness I like dark elves just fine, I just find them overdone or at least the cat is out of the bag when one considers "the big reveal" of G3- Halls of the Fire Giant King. Most often I do not feature dark elves in my games and usually steer players away from them, I'd otherwise they prefer they play gnome illusionists (1). Thus enter the derro.

Derro are a creation of Gary Gygax and first make their appearance in S4- The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth. It is possible that the derro are based on "deros" in the stories of Richard Sharpe Shaver which appeared in Amazing Stories, a pulp mag from the 1940s. Given that Gary didn't elaborate too much on this I'm inclined to believe the probable origin. Also given Gary predilections towards pulp for his sources and the fact that he was a well-read man? More then likely for their origin.

Whats not to like? To start with from the strategic level, derro are very scalable. I think one of the most overlooked aspects of them is a DM could use them not just at low levels, but at high levels as well. As the PCs rise start throwing some derro with class levels at them, have them tote out more charmed umber hulk and other various slaves. Spell casting via the higher level savants is another boon and an effect that the DM can use strategically.

At the tactical level Derro, properly used can be tough to combat, taken from short companion guide I threw together a few years back called "The Menace of the Derro" here are some of their main high-level tactical pros:
  • 30% Magic Resistenace
  • Small in size (S); this is not an obvious advantage, but they may take less damage from certain weapons; plus not being large creatures they do not take large damage obviously. This is of prime importance as the character rise in levels. An ancillary benefit to their size is the fact that unless the group is entirely composed of dwarves they are going to have a hard time using derro sized weaponry and armor; selling these items is fine, but this has the practical effect of them having lots of high powered armor. This functions in a manner similiar to how Gary gave the dark elves magic items without having worrying about the PCs having tons of extra magical items.
  • Automatically possess the Blind Fighting proficiency due to superior hearing (see above). Additionally due to their keen hearing a derro of any HD may Hear Noise as a thief, with a 10% chance per Hit Die, example a 3 HD derro may hear noises with a base chance of 30%. A secondary function of this ability is that all derro possess the sound analysis proficiency from the 1st edition Dungeoneer’s Survival Guide. With this, derro are very difficult to surprise.
  • They are cunning and intelligent in combat; play them as such.
  • Savants have genius level intelligence use that as well.
  • Savants have spell-casting capabilities; these are increased in my campaign world.
  • Savants can use any magical item, even if they don’t know command words (where applicable).
  • Savants can have weird magical effects to their spells; feel free to make them unusual
  • All derro savants and apprentice savants can instinctively use read magic and comprehend languages an unlimited number of times per day.
    Derro high level savants will often have 2d4 Umber Hulks as servants through charm monster spells. 
In terms of Cons or negatives? There are only a few:
  • Only have a Movement rate of 9; players will most often be able to outrace them.
  • Infravision is only 30’; lowest of all the underground races.
  • Derro are chaotic evil; As such they can be prone to the strife this alignment is known for. Another issue to consider is if your PCs have a paladin and he gets the inevitable holy avenger...
  • Sunlight- the effects of sunlight are vague in the 2nd edition Monstrous Manual. However Dragon #241 has a much more complete discussion of effects: All derro are nauseated by direct sunlight touching their skin, losing 1 hit point per hour of exposure and suffering a -2 to all combat rolls, defensive adjustments, and saving throws while exposed. Hit-point losses are slow to heal if curative magic is not used; only 1 hit point per day maximum will be healed by complete rest, so a derro left outdoors will lapse into a coma and die after a few days of a condition resembling heatstroke. All spells and magical powers that duplicate prolonged sunlight (such as continual light) have this same effect, though the light spell, flashes of bright light, and normal bonfires, torches, and lanterns do not.
Although they are ambushing types, with their weird effective weapons, magic resistance and a host of other abilities and tactics to boot the are tough customers. Derro also have great unique weaponry in the derro repeating crossbow with poison bolts, a specialized hook-fauchard,  and aklys (which is useful in cramped, underground settings). They can also be beefed up by tooling up the "elites", that's what I call the derro sons and daughthers taht comprise 10% of any derro war party armed with heavier armor, spears and military picks (although I'd have them use the hook-fauchard).

All in all, these monsters are bad-ass. On top of that they got their own box set, the Night Below. That's enough for a adventure and a campaign setting all in one. Need a review of Night Below? Here is a pretty balanced one. Derro appear in a number of modules and articles, here are but a few (this is by no means complete):
    • Dungeon #20 “The Ship of Night”
  • Dungeon #44 “Train of Events”
  • Dungeon #79 “Cloudkill”
  • Dragon #241 “Legacies of the Suel Imperium”
  • Greyhawk Ruins
  • WGA3- Flames of the Falcon
  • From the Ashes- Greyhawk boxed set
  • Doomgrinder

Another great point about the derro? They appear in the best module of all time: UK4 When a Star Falls. I think I might need to write up a blog post about that, my favorite monster and my favorite module? "Two great tastes that go great together." (3)

So to recap. Your players lamenting the drow and you need a different race to take their place in you games? Look no further then the derro. I also think that properly panned out, a TPK could very easily be accomplished in my not so humble opinion.

Another great avenue is that they hate humans and demi-humans this gives them even more reasons to be raiding on the surface then the deep dwelling dark elves. Throw in that a local communcity of derro are undergoing a Uniting War and a lot of upheavel can be thrown into a campaign, of which the PCs can be stuck in the middle of. Couple this with the events of Kingdom of the Ghouls in Dungeon #70 and a DM has all of the Underdark political intrigue he could want.

(1) If you know anything about me you know how much I like illusionists or gnomes, or both...

(2) In joke- as in Dwimmermount is/was "legendary" (chortle).

(3) Hey I was a pre-teen in the 80s? What do you expect?

Sunday, July 20, 2014

That Oddest of Birds in AD&D- Cosmology

Cosmology, the word alone means a number of things to a number of people as it pertains to D&D. The Great Wheel cosmology that marries up to the alignment charts are the first stabs at different planes of existence its neither good nor bad in my pinion, it just is. It introduced the ideas of planes and everything that was to come after. It also is an odd man out to a degree.

One of the things I often hear people refrain is "I don't like the Manual of the Planes" or "I don't like how AD&D cosmology is set up". Ok... so how would you do it I ask or wonder? The funny part is usually most people do not have a definitive answer, but rather a nebulous idea. Some sracth their heads because they really don't have an idea of how it could be better as they only know what D&D presented decades ago. This is probably to be expected given that cosmology in D&D is a bit of an odd-bird.

As originally presented in the 1st edition Players Handbook it looked like this. Then one one goes to what is presented in Deities and Demigods it doesn't get much better and the two don't exactly jibe. When one looks at the way that its presneted in the 1st edition Players Handbook then the differences to Deities and Demigods to the Manual of the Planes its apparent that throughout the late run of 1st edition the idea was continuing to evolve. Consider the Manual of the Planes, it expands and yet confounds more then it helps to a degree. Manual is another book that draws a lot of fire if for no other reason then it is what it is: a encyclopedia of facts and rules for the planes in a textbook fashion. It has its merits but still doesn't really satisfy. (This is not a defense or praise of the Manual of the Planes of which I'm neutral on. The astral dreadnought on the front cover is pretty damn cool.)

As is well know when Manual of the Planes came out when Gary was on the way out of TSR with his fight with the Blumes/Williams nearing its end. This leads many to label the likes of the Manual Planes along with the Dungeoneers Survival Guide and the Wilderness Survival Guide as "AD&D 1.5". I don't use this nomenclature, not for any reason revolving around a dislike but rather because it is an attempt to denote a separate game rather then what Gary created. I call it late 1st edition. Manual of the Planes in a way suffer from the company it keeps rather then its rules, which it should be fully judged on. In the end to me at least its a somewhat useful reference, but not one I consult all that often. MoP and  OP1- Tale of the Outer Planes.  These two formed the majority of late first edition material for the outer planes, well really all of it for that matter.

"Meh book, great cover."
With the move from 1st to 2nd edition AD&D the cosmology stayed roughly the same as it was in 1st. There really wasn't much movement and most adventures didn't really focus on this aspect of the game to any large degree anyways. It wasn't until the mid point of 2nd Edition's run that it was tackled.

Enter Plansescape which a number of people absolutely love. I can understand why, even though I'm not a fan per say I do like the Tony DiTerlizzi art and the graphical representation. Other like it because the CRPG Planescape: Torment captured it so well. For me Planescape is an odd bird there are parts that I like but as a whole its not something I would use especially in light of the topic of this blog post, cosmology. I think the one really interesting thing that Planescape introduces is Sigil: The City of Doors, a place that is connected to every point in the multiverse. That's a cool concept but sometimes I can't help but wonder if its merely a mechanism to facilitate adventuring at 1st level in the out planes? After all the PCs really aren't on the planes per say, they are in a walled garden where they can gain levels, experience other-worldly  creatures far beyond the norm of adventuring on the prime material plane. Add to the fact that Sigil can be seen as having some qualities of the "Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy", to a degree that is. Then there is the story told by some of Planescape's designers (I think it was the modules) that "Hey, here 100 gps, go save the universe!" Basically saying that at first level in your traditional land of adventuring fare such inducements make sense, in the City of Doors less so. 

Planescape is likewise odd for me given the designer: Zeb Cook. Many people hold a grudge for his work on 2nd edition, the perceived or real animus Gary had for him. In my case much like say I1- Dwellers of the Forbidden City its some of his works I like the least. Its also odd that a lot of older school fans like Planescape in varying degrees as well as say I1. Different strokes and all. It just goes to show just how different my lense of D&D is from those who cam before me.

Tying it into my games my 2nd edition campaign world of Galena is heavily influenced by the Finnish myths and some of the cosmology is the same, some different. There are two other world places after death largely along the good/evil axis: Taladis (akin to Valhalla) and Pohjola (using as a name) but in the campaign world means "Halls of the Dead".  Positive and negative planes as well as the classical elemental planes and the astral are present. After that I ditch everything else. In doing so I'm able to ignore/avoid not use a lot of stuff that doesn't make much sense: no Olympus, River Styx, Valhalla, Plane of Concordant opposition??? You name it.  Also by drawing from the world of the Finns legends it brings something that is familiar yet at the same time different enough that it gives an exotic feel.

Last quick note, in a way the idea of Yggdrasil is a good one for D&D cosmology as its fairly self contained, just add the Astral plane "around" the tree and problem solved. As shown right here: 

A minor point that some might ponder: I don't use the ethereal? As presented in AD&D, either edition, I think excluding solves far more problems then it adds in terms of the game. Consider going through G1-3 with the possibility of popping around ethereal? This would be a huge advantage to any group and not out of the realm of possibility for a group of characters at that level. On the magic item front, what is lost? Plate mail of Etherealness... and a few other minor parts? Psionics? I don't use them either.

In closing I'm not entirely convinced that planes are the best way to represent cosmology in the game. Sigil and its doors has some merit, but as I noted I'm not overly found of it either. I also would like to add, as always this is no knock against the progenitors of the ideas. In most cases they were inventing as they went. Simply put, I'm just not sold on the ideas. Not sure if I ever was, but as I've gotten older a case of less is more works for me.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Will Penny

Ok, I have to say this first, this is a, great, great western and in my opinion Charleton Heston's finest western role in the eponymous Will Penny.

I've been working on Hurled into Eternity in a diligent manner, and as I often do, I watch westerns for inspiration. In searching on that man's man (Heston) I thought about where he appeared in the genre, and aside from his cameo in Tombstone (see below) I was hard pressed to name amy of his western roles. IMDB was invaluable in pointing me in the right direction, but I had never heard of Will Penny before.

So I rented it off the AppleTV (plug, plug) as it's not easy to find on DVD let alone BluRay. Then I promptly fell asleep watching it, not because it was boring, but because I was that exhausted. The great thing about AppleTV is once you start watching something you can watch it anytime over the next 24-hours. I made it home with an hour to spare before it expired and got to watch the whole thing, I'm glad I did.

I'll admit this was not a movie I knew a lot about and it's not not one of the most well known of the genre or at least one that will immediately come to mind when a western is talked about. Then when one thinks of Heston it's Ben Hur, or one of his equally epic roles.

Charlton plays Will Penny, an aging cowhand, rather then a gunfighter which is a departure from the traditional role of a western leading man. He is even tempered and reliable, a man that can be counted on to do his job and see it through. I can't understate this enough, he's not a gun hand. In the genre of westerns that's huge, rather he is cast as a everyman.

The story starts out just as a trail drive of cattle is ending. With no family and no job lined up he is unsure of what to do. He settles on setting out with Blue, a younger but sturdy cowhand played by Lee Majors and Dutchy. The action starts off fast enough; a day or two after leaving the trail job. After rising early one morning Blue and Dutchy are out stalking a deer before it all goes south of cheese.

The villain of the story makes his appearance, the unhinged clergyman of sorts, Preacher Quint who is played most excellently by Donald Pleasence. His startling wide eyes and rants really set him up. My only regret is that he would have had more screen time because he was fantastic in this role. Quint and his sons set upon Will and his friends early on setting the stage for problems later. In the immediate sense a gunfight erupts over a deer and just who it belongs to.

"My eyes are even crazier in the movie!"

This particular scene oozes with character! After a brief shootout where several of Quint's men are slain and Dutchy is wounded; Blue and Will set out for the nearest town in hopes of getting Dutchy to a doctor for his gunshot wound.

Along the way they stop at a roadside inn/tavern where the two encounter the dark haired beauty Catherine played by Joan Hackett and her son Horace (aka Buttons) on the way out west to join her husband. After her meeting with Dutchy, wounded in the back of the wagon, she forms a decidedly negative view of Will. And just like that she departs with her son being guided by a rather unreliable man.

From there after making it to town and having dropped off Dutchy, Will departs looking for work, or perhaps simple wandering. After recovering a corpse and bringing it to the local ranch he takes work as a line rider. A line rider worked a section of a range herding cattle back to a particular area especially during winter. In almost every case it's solitary work for months at a time. His boss Alex informs him of but a few rules one of hem is to keep settlers moving through the ranch and not letting them stop, of course this will factor in later.

Oddly enough having finished up my read of the Boot Hill Module BH4- Burned Brush Wells at nearly the same time as I watched Will Penny, I was pleasantly surprised to a see a minor nod to a "line rider" in one of the random encounter tables.

In his establishing his shack and hauling up supplies he is started to find Catherine and her son holed up after their guide abandoned them. He is able to talk Catherine down and doesn't immediately kick her out of the cabin.

While out Will is ambushed by Quint and his sons who leave him in the wilderness to die. He somehow manages to make it back to his cabin. Eventually Will returns back to health nursed by Catherine. This being a western of course a romance has to develop. I must say I was pleasantly surprised. At no time did the action drag in my opinion, in fact even during the scenes where they are setting up the romance between Will and Catherine. It moved along well. At first it is clear she is intrigued by him, and he is clumsy about the whole thing. Eventually the two are drawn closer and closer as the form a sort of family with Button. As it mounts Will delivers one of the best lines of the entire movie: "It's just a case of too soon old and too late smart." In a sense we can feel for Will given his upbringing as a orphan working as a boy in the saloons of San Francisco. I often wonder if Will Penny is even his name?

Of course all of this can't last as Quint and his sounds return at the most inopportune time. The shoot outbids brief and Blue and a recovered Dutchy help save the day. I'm glossing over the final fight as that's not what makes the movie, it's what comes after is what makes the movie.

More so then any movie I've seen recently, certainly a western, it does not have a "Hollywood ending" where everyone lives happily ever after. Will knows what his heart is telling him, what he wants to do, but his logic rightly points out that at nearly 50 "he doesn't have that kind of time". In the west, living a hard life outdoors in the rain, snow, heat and dust 50 was ancient. People didn't have life expectancies like we do now. At best he might have another 10, maybe 15 but one filled with hard work.

All too often movies seem to have a contrived ending and the couple is brought together in equally contrived ways. Not so here. Had that happened the movie certainly would have been poorer for it. In a way that's what makes it a great western. I have no issue with giving this 4.5 out of 5 stars; in all its a solid movie.

Some random notes
  • The movie also introduces us to Lee Majors which is cool as in 6 years before his Six Million Dollar Man TV show. This was one of his first major roles.
  • While not his first western, it is probably Charleton Heston's best. The last western he would appear in "Tombstone" as a rancher named Hooker in one of his last onscreen roles
  • On scene in particular I liked was the Christmas scene where Catherine and her son Horace (aka Button) singing "Oh Tanebaum" in German. All to often with the filters of our modern life and especially a seeming reluctance to acknowledge America's past we forget that America was awash with immigrants in the 19th century. Likewise many of us have lost touch with our ancestors. Now I engage in genealogy for my family and have German roots so this spoke to me in a way that it might not to others.

One final thought, Charleston Heston says (according to IMDB) that out of all of his many roles, this was his favorite... It shows.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Oriental Heroes and the lands of Nippon, Warhammer style

All kinds of amazing!
Blog Note: WoooHooo! 100th published Blog post, better make this a good one! Onwards towards 200.

Much like my foray into exploring the topics of Oriental Adventures in A&;D I thought I'd pause and retrace some steps back to Warhammer. I'll be taking a moment to comment on Oriental Heroes and the line of minis for Nippon in Warhammer Fantasy Battle. I've been working on a Nippon Army in an on again, off again fashion over the years.

But first, a very cool diorama, see to the right. I'm not sure where its from, but I found it scouring the web for Nippon imagery for Warhammer.

Right now I'm in a bit of a prolonged lull in regards to Warhammer that has been going on for a number of years. After being burnt out with the Word of Hashut
webzine and all I've been largely uninterested in Games Workshop's wares. I've found its far better to wait until my disinterest wanes and I'm interested again, rather the forging ahead for no reason other then to do it. This happens to me from time to time, but this one is far longer. In the meantime I've been having fun collecting minis from the Oriental lines of Games Workshop in the 1980s.Minis I realled wanted back in the day but was never able to secure more then three of them being on the other side of the pond...

Nippon was a curious case for minis, they figured right from the earliest days of Games Workshop, they appeared in the rules here and there but never had its own dedicated army other then the mercenary contingent in the 3rd edition Warhammer Armies book (see below). In the orange, 3rd edition Warhammer Fantasy Battle rulebook it notes on page 205 "Lustrian, Steppeland and Cathan creatures and races are dealt with in sufficient detail for you to assemble armies of Slann, Nippon etc. but we feel that only by dealing with each area in a separate supplement can we hope to do them justice." It became obvious when looks at the history of Games Workshop at the time they were already underway with 4th edition Warhammer and weren't going to revisit these lands.

It was not to be however, aside from this blurb along with the Nippon mercenary force listed in the afore mentioned Warhammer armies would be it. It have a feeling it was a number of factors that lead to this decision.

  • If they did a Nippon army would they have to create a Cathy one as well? Would there be an outcry for Amazons? Norse? Pygmies?
  • By the time the 3rd edition warhammer rules were gaining steam the "ninja craze of the 80s" was already wanning.
  • Limited resources?
  • The rise of 40k which would be and is its "breadwinner."
  • The oft repeated line of "there are already two human armies in the game."
  • Some combination of these?
  • Perhaps none of these?
  • Too many manga/anime inspired fanboys?
In any event GW showed no inclination to move on an Eastern themed army. I don't see them ever doing it either. I don't have an inside info, this is more or less just a hunch, a hunch backed by 25 years of watching Games Workshop.

Here is a partial list/number of links of the actual GW line of minis, at least enough to give an idea for those not in the know.
Oriental Heroes at the Stuff of Legends
Ninjas at the Stuff of Legends
Ninjas at the Stuff of Legends
Ninjas at the Stuff of Legends
Older Oriental Heroes at the Stuff of Legends
Temple Dog Riders

Onto my oft delayed Nippon Army, as of right now it has a serious amount of lead for it as chronicled here. I'm hoping as the weather turns colder in the Fall to get back to working on it. In the meantime I'm continuing to trade for minis at the excellent site Oldhammer Forum. I'm a big fan of the guys and the excellent work they are doing there. In fact I just secured some more ninja bringing me closer to having one of every GW ninja from the Oriental range.

Unlike in the past when I've worked on an army I've always been in a rush and with an eye towards playing. In reality I get to play so infrequently that its no my prime concern. So with that in mind Im working on my Nippon warband in terms of how they might have looked or been configured for 3rd edition warhammer using the 3rd edition Mercenary contingent as a guide.

In the meantime while I get my act together regarding my Nippon army here are some great images to get inspired by (I found the thread here).

Saturday, July 5, 2014

In Defense of the Maligned- Part II, Oriental Adventures

(Part I of this two-parter is here covering the Unearthed Arcana.) Much like Part I this is not a review of the product itself but more of a high level discussion around particulars of the time, and the how and why it came about.

The biggest gripe that makes me shake my head? "It's too much Shōgun and not enough Crouching Tiger/Hidden Dragon!" Usually a lot of the ire also revolves around some of the things that OA featured, namely non-weapon proficiencies. As we all know,  NWP "non-weapon proficiencies" were included because those things are from the spawn of Satan and any game that has them can't be good, more on that below.

Did it ever occur to these self same people that some people  actually like Shōgun ? Consider the time frame, James Clavell had written Shogun in the 1975 and the miniseries was out in the early 80s. Certainly it was in the national consciousness and it was a contemporary of Dungeons and Dragons. It seems natural to me that Oriental Adventurers would come about.

Before I get going, on a completely random note, I really like the cover of the book. Samurai, ninja, a Japan/Nippon style castle in the background, pastel colors invoking the utter east? Damn skippy. Pack it with Samurai riding a foo creature? Good to go.

Oriental Adventures (at least to me) was part of the "ninja craze" that gripped the USA in the middle 1980s. There were awesome/bad movies like American Ninja, GI Joe had ninjas, Hell go back to the 1960s with James Bond and ninjas show up in "You Only Live Twice". Point being that the inclusion of was building long before the publication of Oriental Adventurers. Couple that with the point above about Shogun? Works for me.

Now onto some of the particulars about OA which aren't really in dispute:
  1. Oriental Adventurers was started as an idea by Gary Gygax and François Marcela-Froideval. Apparently Francois' manuscript was about 30 pages double spaced... obviously that's not enough to fill a major hard cover book.
  2. Gary turned to Zeb Cook to make a deadline 4 months later.
  3. Given that TSR needed to get hardcovers out based on their financial position being shaky due to mismanagement by the Blumes. Thus the book getting out was critical.
  4. Gary was tied up with the fight with the Blumes hence him tapping Zeb to finish the product. 
  5. Cook did the work.
After that Oriental Adventurers is a sordid as a soap opera. Note Gary's name.. this is hardly a revelation, but it doesn't say "By Gary Gygax". There is a whole twisted tale here that outlines Mike Berrault who worked with Zeb regarding the situation of 2nd edition and touches on the timing of Oriental Adventures. Warning, its long and a log of grognardiness. It also shows some interesting tidbits regarding the maneuvering by Gary to regain copyright.

Then there is the whole angle of Gary's distaste for the product after the fact and after he had left TSR. I'm not going to delve into Gary's musings, but the legend of François Marcela-Froideval "Lost Manuscript" just wont seem to die it. There seems to be a faction of people that believes this lost piece of gamer's lore as it was originally presented is "the holy grail, the font of knowledge, etc". (I'm aware of the samurai class as presented by François exists but not much more past that). With no slight intended to Mr Marcela-Froideval if it had been up to par in Gary's estimation then how come there wasn't more? How come it didn't form the book? Partisans to either side will point to saying the others side is self serving in this point of contention: just how much there was to become an actual rule book. By Cook's estimation there wasn't nearly enough. In absence of any evidence to the contrary thats where it stands. The burden isn't on Zeb's work to prove it doesn't belong; it actually got produced. The burden of proof is on those that believe that François work was/would have been better.

Another angle to consider is look at Zeb's output compared to François. François was and is apparently still active in the realm of comic books/graphic novels. I have no objection to that. In the realm of  gaming, Zeb had a lot more output of gaming material and depending on which side of the partisan divide one is on, the quality of it. For me Zeb's place is assured, 2nd edition AD&D is excellent and he produced such stuff as X1- Isle of Dread, I1 Dwellers of the Forbidden City, BH2: Lost Conquistador Mine, Planescape and many more. Usually the objections I hear are a lot of his stuff is uneven, again depending on which side of the divide. Irioncailly the works of his that garner the most praise in old school gamer circles (I2) is one of the things I like the least. And in newer circles Planescape garners a lot of praise but again is not my favorite.

Looking at the quandary objectively and using Gary's own words from Tim Cask's Q&A thread over at dragonsfoot: "I have nothing to add save to state that I stand on my creative works, and Mr. Arneson can do the same." Applying that same logic: lets take Zeb's work and compare it to François in the context of AD&D. If François OA was indeed superior, would it not have made the light of day by now? Or put another way put Zeb's output compared to François, its not even close. Again, I'll reiterate I don't know either: I never got a chance to converse with Zeb before the rabid neckbeards ran him off from Dragonsfoot and have never corresponded with François. I am however interesting in slaying this zombie as it keeps staggering to life. I should also note that I am not implying some rivalry between Zeb and François. I have no knowledge of that time frames nor do I claim to. Basically I'm looking at the scant evidence presented and making logical inferences.

Gary is a somewhat unreliable source in all of this as well as his statements are not consistent as over the years, again nothing is implied here. We are human and memories fade let alone vary. Add to the fact that Zeb was the lead designer of 2nd edition and he didn't follow Gary after he left TSR? I'm sure there was some bad feelings on Gary's side in regards to Zeb. Prior to Gary leaving there seems to be some affection for Zeb, afterwards it ended. From what I've read about Zeb it seems clear, he was aware of his own failings took criticism whether deserved or not and did the best he could. Seems to me he handled the situation with dignity and class in the face of unreasoning hate to something he tried his very best to do. And for the abuse hurled at him from around the web? Ridiculous.

So what am I trying to say? Just like 2nd edition itself people attract all sorts of crap to the rules of OA and by extension to Zeb that have everything to do with defending Gary and nothing to do with the rules therein or Zeb as a game designer/writer. What does that sound like? (Yes I'm repeating myself): 2nd Edition Dungeons and Dragons as a whole. OA fits into that era to a degree, its a late 1st edition product. And much like I alluded to in Part I it also points the way that Gary may very well have been going in regards to his version of 2nd edition. 

Now on the negative side I can see how people object as the land mass (which predates the inclusion of the Forgotten Realms) being more China inspired, yet the rules being more in line with Japan. This is a fair point. By the flip side of it the Kara-Tur box set does detail the mysterious orient well and
expands the lands in far greater detail. Taken by just the book its a fair point perhaps, but stuff does not exist in a vacuum. Added to this if need be the OA has enough details that the Kara-Tur box set isn't exactly needed.

NWP- non-weapon proficiencies are an area of the game that were badly needed, and with its inclusion along with the ones in the Dungeoneer's Survival Guide and and the Wilderness Survival guide point the way forward.

Now to run a counter line of my own thinking and tangentially related, perhaps adventuring in Wa is too boring. After all, it models feudal Japan after Tokugawa united the land following the turmoil of the 1400s. In a way its too orderly with not enough action and fighting going. Strangely enough this is mirrored in the Forgotten Realms in the Kingdom of Cormyr. Cormyr is too orderly, to close nit that its well.. boring. Despite my like of 2nd edition I've never been a fan of adventuring in Cormyr: too many rules, to much law and the war wizards watching everything. While that sounds an awful lot like a very safe place to live, especially if you are a pseudo medieval peasant its an entirely boring place to be an adventurer. You even need adventuring licenses? Ugh. The best adventuring locals tend to be an area where law is the weakest, where the heroes are making their own way, whether on the frontier of the American West, borderlands with its eponymous Keep or something in between. So too for the utter East.

In summation I'll gladly take Shōgun, its what you make of it once you are presented with it that counts. 

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The Five Worst AD&D Modules of All Time

No BS, no long winded explanations, here goes the five worst AD&D modules of the TSR era.

1. N2- The Forest Oracle
The worst and I mean the worst 1st edition Dungeons and Dragons module of all time, AND for bonus points the worst Dungeons and Dragons module of all time of any edition: N2- The Forest Oracle (I just vomited in my mouth thinking about this capitalistic suck fest of a module). Some want to say that the mini module Terrible Trouble at Tragidore is the worst, that is Shakespeare compared to this hideous beast of a module. I think people offer up TTT as a slight thrown in the direction of 2nd edition, but that dog don't hunt.

I so wanted to like this module based on the rather cool cover when I bought it, but alas this thing is so bad its actually an insult to things that are actually bad... To paraphrase the immortal line from the movie Space Balls, "Its gone from suck to blow". And the kicker? I think I paid $5-6 dollars for this piece of shit which turned out to be $5-6 to much.

So what is wrong with this suckfest? Where do I begin? The text blocks are difficult to read, the stats are contradictory, confusing or plain wrong. The random rolls instructions are a mess, the plot (such that it is) is full of more holes then Swiss cheese, the suspension of disbelief is not there, the NPCs are odd, in short its a train wreck.

Did I mention that it has a cool cover?

Lets see there has to be at least one good point about N2... Lets see, hrmmm, maybe? How about?

Did I mention that it has a cool cover? Wait I already said that?

I won't bore you with all the gory details of the actual module as that might be a violation of the Geneva Convention so I'd say get yourself some Xanax, a stun gun and a frontal lobotomy and you are good to go with this "module". If you can get it for free I still think that's too much.

Also for your reading pleasure the fine folks here terminate this module with "extreme prejudice". (Bonus points for the movie quote reference.)  "These men are not acrobats"... Indeed. Also if you are not brave enough to read the whole thing you can get a taste of it here.

2. WG7- Castle Greyhawk
Coming in at a far distant second is Castle Greyhawk. I say distant second not because there are redeeming qualities to G7- Castle Greyhawk... its because  N2- Forest Oracle is that bad. The joke module of Castle Greyhawk in the vein of Paranoia and Toon which were comical RPGs back in the day. There were some other adventures in the same vein in Dungeon like "Fluffy goes to Heck". In all I usually classify these with the April Fools issues of Dragon were there would be puns afoot. I have to say this is also a disappointing module for me as I thought I was getting my hands on "Castle Greyhawk", little did I know. In all its just another sad part to the saga that is the lost of Gary and Rob's actual Greyhawk Castle and mega dungeon. In a way, it's time to move on, with Gary gone and the fact that the dungeons were only barely sketched out as it a case of their true nature will never be seen.

Yes I'm aware of Gary's stuff with Castles and Crusades (which I've not read) but at the time Gary was not well and I have to wonder as to all of it being as he remembered it, rather then what it was.

3. WG9- Gargoyles, WG10- Child's Play and WG11- Puppets
All three of these sucked ass so bad that the stench emanating from each has a distinct odor, that of equally bad well... suckage. It might be a cheat to add all three together but ah well. 

In general all three are boring reads, I think one of them has drool damage from me falling asleep reading one of them. As a punishment I refuse to put them in plastic bags to protect them in the man cave. Sometimes I torment them by placing them next to the very few 3e stuff that I have, serves 'um right I say. On bad days I threaten them with "I'm going to buy some 4e stuff and you can go sit in that corner!"

Thank God in each case I only paid $1 for each; I think Child's Play I got for free. On second thought,  TSR/Wizards/Hasbro actually owes me and everyone else who bought these pieces of crap and/or wasted their time on them.

Gargoyle? Hired to collect a wingless gargoyle's wings??? I've heard of some crappy motives to go on an adventure but this has to be right up there with the worst. 

Child's Play? Just look at the cover! I wonder if he's specialized in rake? To be honest its been years since I even glanced at it. Every time I get the notion to read one of the three (especially this one) I lie down and count to 1 million, because that would be more interesting.

I do hesitate for a second on Puppets as it could have been a cool idea, the idea was sound, but just doesn't get there. Oh yeah recycled art for the cover of Dragon #80 for the not-so-much-of-a-win... Seemed in vogue at the time with TSR as they also did it with B11 and B12.

So there you go, #3 here gives you three sucktastic modules for the "price" of one.
4. C1- Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan
Heresey I know right? Along with some of the others on this list I've wanted my money back after spending it. This is a boring, near zero treasure slog. I've played it twice and enjoyed it less and less each time. It's also the poster child for a "DM's woody module" as in "Look how I just dicked you guys over are you dumb or what hahahahahah!" Inescapable death traps with minuscule treasure? Yeah sign me up for that...

And the setup to get to this rail-road? "CCCCHHhhhhhhoooo Choooooooo, all aboard!" Next time a grog complains the Dragonlance modules and their railroad nature, fling this at them.

5. UK1- Beyond the Crystal Cave
Lets see if I have this right? A game predicated on hacking and slashing, taking monsters treasure and the point of this module is to not do so? This ugly stain of a module is the only wall flower in the otherwise outstanding modules that comprise the UK line. It dishonors the UK line in much the same way the WG7 dishonors Gary's works, just not at the same magnitude.

Like N2, the cover looks enticing, but its all downhill from there. Romeo and Juliet in AD&D, how wonderful, except Shakespeare's Romeo& Juliet had more action, deaths and plot then this slog to boredom.

Dishonorable mention goes to  Terrible Trouble at Tragidor, for me by reputation alone. Fortunately my 2nd edition DM screen came without this "module" for which I consider myself lucky. Die Vecna Die? Also gets a sniff somewhere in the pantheon of bad modules.

"Enjoy" these craptastic modules and drink a whole bottle of alcohol if you really want to punish yourself at the gaming table.