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.

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