Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Mystery RPG Box of Mystery: Round 2


The next three books out of the Mystery RPG Box of Mystery are:
  • Dungeon Master's Guide, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, 2nd Edition
  • Player's Handbook, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, 2nd Edition
  • The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons
It's like I'm in a D&D Time Machine, hurtling backwards!

If you don't know AD&D 2nd Edition, it was probably the D&D that most of Generation X grew up on.  We were a little late to the Basic/Expert D&D game or even AD&D First Edition (which came out in the late 70's when I was still in grade school).  AD&D 2nd Edition with its multi- and dual-classing tomfoolery and the eventual rise of both Dragonlance and the Forgotten Realms really marks my generation's Dungeons & Dragons experience.  In fact, I'm pretty sure I own both of the rulebooks already, somewhere.

In my own experience, AD&D was pretty much the staple until point-based systems like GURPS and Champions (later HERO System) came along and made AD&D look like a clunky, unrealistic, rigid dinosaur.  Nowadays the old system looks pretty good in the way that it plays fast and encourages group participation, creative thinking and no small amount of luck.  As one person put it, the difference between the Old School D&D ethos and the later RPG philosophy can be summed up as such: when you're looking for something in a room, do you tell the Judge where you are looking, or do you just roll a die and let the Judge tell you what you did (or did not) find?  Whichever one floats your boat, that's where you fall on the spectrum.

The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth (1982) is a revisioning of a tournament module written by Gary Gygax.  The plot involves the PC's undertaking a quest to locate the lost treasure of a power arch-wizard named Iggwilv [Side note: any clue where the names came from?  I know Gygax liked to be cute with his naming conventions sometimes, and the bizarre spelling makes me wonder if it is a code of some kind].  Unlike some tournament modules (like the "Slave" series) this one isn't quite so much a railroad as others for several reasons.  First, Gygax added to the original adventure an outdoor adventure component where the PC's have to find the dungeon where the treasure is located.  These outdoor adventures are fairly random, with the DM given the power to assign what encounter happens where.  There are at least two "save or die" encounters which should, in my opinion, be avoided in this section.  The Lesser and Greater Caverns that make up the core of the adventure are probably more familiar in the monster hacking genre.  The ending is a bit of a surprise, making this at least one step better than the "let's go kill the Big Evil Guy" plot.  There are also multiple opportunities for roleplaying, especially in the form of making allies, of which the PC's should definitely take advantage.

I've read the review of The Lost Caverns over at Grognardia and can appreciate James' perspective on the shifts in philosophy that are already becoming evident in the game, for example the use of pre-written texts that were to be read aloud to players, a feature now commonplace in D&D.  But James also rightly reveals its biggest strength, namely the replayability of the module.  I was thinking that in this trio of books I could probably get the better part of a year's worth of gaming, especially if I used the 20 outdoor encounters, minus the two "save or die" ones.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Mystery RPG Box of Mystery: Round 1

So, I open the box and pull out the first three books...

[facepalm]

Okay, the first three books out of the Mystery Box of Mystery are:
  • Dungeons & Dragons Third Edition Player's Handbook (Wizards of the Coast)
  • Dungeons & Dragons Third Edition Dungeonmaster's Guide (Wizards of the Coast)
  • Tournaments, Fairs, and Taverns (Natural 20 Press)
So, the first two books are two of the three core books for the third edition of D&D, which came out in 2000.  Their release marked a huge tectonic shift in the RPG market, both by having the biggest RPG in history radically change their rules, and second by allowing third party publishers create sourcebooks for the game.  Suddenly everyone and their brother were getting into the publishing business.

One example of that process is the third book, Tournaments, Fairs, and Taverns which is full of, not surprisingly, tournaments, fairs, and taverns.  Most of the book has rules for all different kinds of games (29 in all): card games, ball games, martial games, etc.  There is also a section on alcoholic beverages and rules for the impact of consuming them.  Oddly enough, the rules don't include the slight Charisma bonus for light intoxication and the plummeting Charisma negative modifier for heavy intoxication.  I'm reminded of an episode of WKRP where Venus Flytrap, participating in a PSA about drinking, actually becomes more agile the more hammered he becomes...

There's also suggestions for creating your own taverns and fairs, and some examples of both.  The usability of the sourcebook is quite high.  You could adapt the games, et al to almost any other fantasy RPG, and with a little tweaking to sci-fi RPG's as well.  It is distinctly crunch-heavy, however, and emblematic of the whole 3.X/OGL movement.

While the third book is distinctly  a win, the other two are not.  Third Edition D&D came out in 2000, causing outrage among some hard-core D&D enthusiasts who decried the loss of the leaner, more streamlined rules of the earlier editions (many of these enthusiasts continue to play some iteration of the earlier rules to this day).  But Wizards of the Coast tested the loyalty of those who supported the new rules by releasing a modified ruleset, called 3.5, a mere three years later.  The 3.5 rules cleaned up a lot of problems that the intensive playing of the third edition had revealed, enough of a change to make using material from 3.0 not entirely seamless.  I know people still play 3.5, but I don't know anyone who plays 3.0.

You can buy a pdf of Tournaments, Fairs, and Taverns now for $9.95 from RPGNow, so I feel like I'm off to a good start in terms of getting my money's worth.

The Mystery RPG Box of Mystery!

I will admit, it was pure psychology.  I am visiting the Half Price Books near my house and as always am checking out the RPG section.  Interesting enough, they have multiple copies of the books from the Dark Heresy RPG, but even at half price are still prohibitively expensive.  On the floor by the RPG shelves, however, is this box:

I did not purchase the box at that point.  I went back to the store that evening and bought it, because it took me a few hours to succumb to the pure temptation of what might or might not be in a box that is roughly 24" wide, 14" long and 12" deep.  But I finally did, telling myself that at for thirty dollars I could almost not go wrong.  By the way, the box weighed at least forty pounds and was completely full, so we are talking two stacks, what could be almost two feet of gaming material.

So, here's the game.  I am going to open the box and slowly remove the contents, three books at a time.  I will show what three books I have removed from the box, including detailed reviews of the contents as strike my fancy.  I know that there's a good chance that most of it will be pretty undesirable, but if the people at HPB are smart they will throw a few gold nuggets in there.  I am also a pretty easy to please guy when it comes to RPG material, being able to adapt a lot of stuff to my own purposes.  That having been said, there are two types of materials for which I will be greatly disappointed should they appear in large numbers:
  1. OGL tripe.  The Open Game License, combined with inexpensive printing technology gave rise to a lot of material by third party sources for Dungeons & Dragons, 3.X edition.  Some was good, some was not so good, but at this point a lot of it is circulating in the unloved RPG market.
  2. World of Darkness material.  With the number of games White Wolf put out, the relaunches of existing worlds, and the ample source material, this is another staple of Half Price Book RPG shelves, and frankly I'm not all that interested.
Will my fears be realized?  Will I, at the end of twenty or thirty blog posts, felt like I wasted my money or was this the opportunity of a lifetime (or at least this week).  Stay tuned!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

New Directions

It has been months since I posted anything to this, my RPG-themed blog.  That isn't because I haven't been busy, I've been quite active doing various hobby-related stuff, but it has mostly been involving wargaming, and so  that stuff has been posted to my other blog, The Army Collector.

But I've also been steadily playing Dungeons & Dragons, so just to get caught up, here's what is going on:

A few months ago one of my players asked if he could run this adventure that he has always liked called "The Red Hand of Doom."  Since I was feeling a little overwhelmed by the pressure of coming up with something every two weeks, I said that would be great.  Since then we have been playing The Red Hand of Doom steadily, with my playing Renerris, a Tiefling Warlord (Tactical Build).  We also added two new players which got the group up to a reasonable size.  Sadly, one of those players is already moving away (the curse of all gaming groups, it seems to me) but may be replaced by the boyfriend of another player.  So the game continues, as they say.

As I said earlier, I've been playing a lot of wargames than I have anything else, but in some ways that is winding down a bit as things tend to ebb and wane, and I have been wanting to ramp up the RPG stuff in lieu of that.  With that in mind, tomorrow I'll be starting a fun new feature for this blog that will be ongoing for at least a month of so and should be hopefully pretty amusing.  More details to come.

Not-so-super villains