Art of the Genre: The Artistic Mystery of The Temple of Elemental Evil and the Turmoil of 1985 TSR

Sunday, October 19th, 2014 | Posted by Scott Taylor

Parkinson does an awesome cover, but don't just this book by that or you'll be disappointed

Parkinson does an awesome cover, but don’t judge this book by that or you’ll be disappointed

Back in 1985 I was fourteen, had recently entered the gaming hobby as a hardcore fan and not a passing-fancy type player. It was during my plunge into the hobby that I began grabbing up whatever I could get on my monthly trips to the ‘big city’ of Lafayette, Indiana. During one of these outings with my mother, who would entice me to go to the Mall or any other boring errands she had by offering to also take me downtown to Main Street Hobbies, that I acquired T1-4, The Temple of Elemental Evil.

It was my first ‘super-module’, and although I’d missed the chance to get most of the original-run TSR modules from 1979-82, I was thrilled to grab this new breed module by Gary Gygax and Frank Mentzer. Little did I realize at the time what it took to actually produce this module. I mean, by 1985 Gary was already on the chopping block at TSR and the company was ready to undergo a massive changeover that would result in AD&D 2E, and the ‘downfall’ of the company as we knew it. Times, as they say, were a’changin.

Now I can’t speak for the inner workings of how this module was made, but it is well documented that Gygax himself began work on T2: The Temple of Elemental Evil after he’d completed T1: The Village of Hommlet in 1979. However, probably due to the company’s rapid expansion and then his departure to Hollywood to work on the Dungeons & Dragons cartoon, his work was never completed by his own hand. Enter Frank Mentzer, who completed the module, and finally allowed it to see the light of day six years after players had been introduced to the story line in T1.

When I purchased it, I wasn’t ready to run such a complex dungeon crawl, and so I turned the module over to my friend Mark who ran me through it over the course of our summer vacation. I well remember running four characters in the adventure, and I’m sure Mark had the same number of NPCs, the bulk of it played on the floor of the downstairs living room at my mother’s house.

It wasn’t until 1988 that I actually ran the module myself, this time with my friend Murph who was helping me develop my own gaming sandbox of The Nameless Realms. It was another epic ‘run’, and afterward, I put the module away and have thought of it fondly ever since.

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Join the Struggle Against the Minions of Cthulhu in 17th Century England in Clockwork and Cthulhu

Saturday, October 18th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

clockwork-cthulhu-smallTwo years ago, I wrote a brief New Treasures post about Clockwork and Cthulhu, an H.P. Lovecraft-inspired supplement for the 17th century alternate history fantasy setting Clockwork & Chivalry. A role playing game where giant clockwork war machines lumber across the land, witches whisper of the old gods and terrorize entire villages, and the Great Old Ones seek entry into our world while their corrupted servants covertly follow their eldritch agendas, was simply too much to resist.

I was enormously impressed with Cakebread and Walton’s creative backdrop for their game, an alternate 17th Century England where Royalists, led by Prince Rupert, attempt to restore an absolute monarch to the throne, and Parliamentarians, led by the Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell, defy the kingship and support the rights of parliament. Imagine my surprise when I discovered there actually was an English Civil War from 1642–1651. Apparently, history is not my strong suit.

A few weeks after the first article appeared, co-author Peter Cakebread graciously accepted my invitation and wrote a fascinating follow-up piece for us, “The English Civil War with Clockwork War Machines: an Introduction to Clockwork & Chivalry,” in which he filled in the details on his fascinating setting:

Clockwork & Chivalry is a RPG set in the time of the English Civil War. The English Civil War was fought between the Royalists (the Cavaliers) and Parliament (the Roundheads). We haven’t veered away from most of the real history, it’s simply too interesting, but we have added a couple of rather big twists – in our setting the Royalists use magick, and the Parliamentarians have giant clockwork war machines.

Who says role playing can’t be educational? Over the last few years, I’ve gotten a lot of enjoyment (and rewarding history lessons) out of Clockwork and Cthulhu, and in that time Cakebread and Walton have continued to produce top-notch supplements and games. Here’s a quick look at some of their related products.

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Art of the Genre: A Review of the 5E Monster Manual and its Place in D&D Product History

Friday, October 17th, 2014 | Posted by Scott Taylor

Pick your weapon, any weapon will do!

Pick your weapon, any weapon will do!

So a month ago, I had the pleasure of reviewing the new Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition Players Handbook. At first, it seemed to me that I’d be doing a rather standard review, but the more I read the product, the more it began to light a fire in me about what the game had to offer.

New mechanics, or should I say neo-retro, because it seamlessly combines great features of both old and new D&D, had me wondering just how the game played on a table-top. By the end, I fully understood that this was not only a product to be respected, but also that I had to take the first chance I got to play it.

That said, I began to break down the mechanics and tried to extrapolate them into a small adventure that would help new players better understand the flow of the game. It was a truly fun and insightful process, but the double-edged sword of it was that I needed monsters!

Now sure, as an experienced DM with 30+ years behind the screen, I was able to extrapolate statistics from older versions of the game and translate them to 5th Edition, and it also helped to have a copy of the 5E Starter Kit, but if you’ve ever run a game of D&D, you know that it is always nice to have a copy of the Monster Manual close by! So, it is with great pleasure that I get to introduce players and fans alike to just what has changed in the 5E version of the game where monsters are concerned.

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The Hunt is On: Werewolf Game Review and Kickstarter Alert

Thursday, October 16th, 2014 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

One Night Ultimate Werewolf cards

One Night Ultimate Werewolf cards

You’re just a villager, going about your daily villager-related business. What could possibly go wrong?

How about there being a werewolf secretly hiding in your village?

Ultimate Werewolf Deluxe Edition (Amazon)

That’s the premise of the popular game Ultimate Werewolf, designed by Ted Alspach and published by Bezier Games. There are two teams: villagers and werewolves. You get on a team by being randomly dealt cards at the beginning of the game. Everyone sleeps through the “night” and a moderator tells the werewolves to open their eyes. So the werewolves all know who each other are. Then the moderator has everyone open their eyes and wake up for the “day” … and the town debates who to kill. There’s a vote, and whoever gets the most votes dies. Then the village sleeps again, and the next day they vote on another person to kill.

Will the village kill a werewolf, or will the werewolves fool the villagers into killing an innocent? This continues until either all werewolves are dead, or enough villagers have been killed that they no longer outnumber the werewolves.

But the village can contain more than merely run-of-the-mill villagers. The Seer, for example, is able to point at one player during the night and be told by the moderator if that player is a werewolf. The Tanner hates his life and wants to die, so he wins if he can get you to kill him. (Screaming “I’m a werewolf!” is not usually a winning strategy for this role. You’ve got to be a little more subtle.)

The current edition of the game produced by Bezier games is actually Ultimate Werewolf Deluxe Edition, which contains dozens of extra roles beyond villagers. In total, the Deluxe Edition can support play with a group of up to 75 players … which is a bit extreme, even for an avid gamer like me, but makes for a great party game, and you can create a set of cards tailored toward the comfort level of the group, to avoid overloading those who might be intimidated by the idea of so many different roles.

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Art of the Genre: Robotech Anime, RPG, Novels, Comics, Toys, Video Games, and Soundtrack, oh my!

Wednesday, October 15th, 2014 | Posted by Scott Taylor

Anyone up for some light reading?

Anyone up for some light reading?

I don’t know if I’ve ever really admitted this before, and I actually had to go back to a Black Gate post from two years ago to check, but I’m pretty much a Robotech junkie. Of all the crazy geek culture stuff I’m involved in, there is no licensed universe I care more for than Robotech [sorry Star Wars, it's true].

It began, as most things did for me, in the 1980s, on VHS. I managed to get the entire series off a weekday comic block from a television station broadcasting out of Terre Haute, Indiana. At the time, it was like a drug, and I personally pored over those scratchy recorded episodes (that I’d captured at 7 AM for a year) so many times that the tapes finally corrupted. I even carried them around with me when I could, and I remember this time I took my collection, complete with commercial breaks, down to my grandparents’ house for Christmas and convinced my two cousins, Jeff a year younger and Greg, two years younger, to watch Macross with me.

Greg, always game for my little geeky desires because he looked up to me, stayed true to the course as the episodes ticked by into the wee hours of the morning, but Jeff, always the mathematical pragmatist (and now very wealthy and successful, go figure), decided he’d had enough by 1 AM. Bowing out, he went off to the rear of the house to sleep and Greg and I trudged on. Ten minutes later, Jeff reappeared, sat down glumly with a blanket wrapped around his shoulders, and never said a word, but finished out the series with us.

THAT is the power of Robotech! Even for a young man, soon to be actuary, and later high stakes financial guru, he just couldn’t blow off the end of Macross without knowing what happened between Rick, Lisa, and Minmei.

I mean, even my wife, who hates anime, hates fantasy, hates science fiction, hates… well, let’s just say her middle name should be ‘hate’, actually watched every episode of Macross just last year with my son and I! Is that even possible? Sure, she might have rolled her eyes on occasion as she looked up from her Mac while shopping online, but damnit, I’m still counting it!

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Take to the Skies in Iron Battleships in Catalyst Game Labs’ Leviathans

Sunday, October 5th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Leviathans Box Set

I’ve had my eye on Catalyst Game Labs’ steampunk miniatures game Leviathans since it was released in 2012.

Leviathans simulates epic battles in the sky between iron juggernauts in an alternate history/steampunk 1910. The huge, nine-pound game box includes eight high-quality plastic ship miniatures for the British and French fleets, a bunch of ship cards, two massive 18″ x 22″ board-game maps, and instructions on how to use the dice and cards within to simulate the thunderous clash of nations in the clouds. Ten minutes after I opened my copy, I was joyfully maneuvering  my king leviathan battleship over London and, in my best pseudo-French accent, ordering my loyal gendarmes to smash the limey light cruisers and destroyers out of the sky.

Not that it did any good. I still haven’t read the combat rules yet. But lordy, it felt great.

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The Monsters of Golarion: Monster Codex for Pathfinder

Sunday, October 5th, 2014 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

MonsterCodex

If you’ve played fantasy roleplaying games for any length of time, you’ve no doubt fought your fair share of goblins, orcs, and trolls. They can certainly begin to blend together. If you’ve fought one, you’ve fought them all, right? One of the jobs of the Dungeon Master is to find ways to keep things interesting. As I said in a post last week, ”A fantasy roleplaying game is defined as much by the caliber of the villains and monsters as it is by the caliber of the players and heroes.”

One way to mix things up is to introduce more monsters, and certainly fantasy roleplaying games have no shortage of supplements that outline new and varied types of monsters.

But another way to keep things interesting is by varying up the existing pool of common monsters, giving them rich backstories and cultures, motivations and plots. In short, finding ways to really make what should be a common monster into something completely new. If you take a basic goblin template and add on 12 levels of barbarian, you have something decidedly more challenging to face!

Of course, creating all of this variability takes time and planning, which seems to be in ever-shorter supply these days. And this brings us to the Pathfinder RPG‘s newest solution: Monster Codex (Paizo, Amazon)

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The Dungeons (and Dragons) of My Life, Part One

Thursday, October 2nd, 2014 | Posted by Jon Sprunk

B1 In Search of the Unknown-smallThe Dungeons and Dragons roleplaying game has been a part of my life since I was a wee lad. My first DM was my father, who was patient enough to walk his eight-year-old and five-year-old sons through the a few introductory sessions. After that I was hooked, but I realized I wanted to be the one “behind the curtain,” controlling the game. And so my odyssey began.

Herein I’ll detail some of the D&D campaigns that I’ve run over the years, starting at the very beginning.

1978

I was eight when I ran my first adventure. My players were my younger brother and a friend from school. I took them through B1: In Search of the Unknown, the module included with the basic D&D box set.

Wow, what a rush. I was hooked from the start, controlling this awesome new game that stretched our imaginations. Even though it’s been more than thirty years, I still remember the cool tricks and traps. Especially the chamber of pools, the teleportation rooms, and the young red dragon I placed in one of the dungeon storerooms just for fun.

After that, they explored B2: The Keep on the Borderlands. I believe I did a TPK (Total Party Kill) in the first session when the players allowed a chaotic cultist to accompany them into the caves. It was very sad (for them… I secretly chortled).

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The Veranthea Kickstarter

Wednesday, October 1st, 2014 | Posted by Managing Editor Howard Andrew Jones

Veranthea Codex-smallToday I invited Ennie award winning Mike Myer to swing by and tell us a little bit about a Kickstarter for his Pathfinder setting, Veranthea, now in its final weeks. Take it away, Mike:

Veranthea is a world that was born the moment I walked into a shabby house in Pittsburgh and played my first game of Pathfinder over seven years ago. It had been a few years since I’d rolled dice with Dungeons & Dragons — a hobby I took to fervently in my youth — and the world we walked into was without a name or real scope. Growing the setting organically, we rotated who was Gamemaster, each of us beginning to draw some color into the world until, after a few months, I was elected to be the permanent GM.

That’s when this crazy ride really started.

I couldn’t stop playing after that and, about a year and a half ago, published my first Pathfinder product. This started an obsession that has culminated in the Veranthea Codex: amazing, distinct worlds — of sword and sorcery, high fantasy, dieselpunk, steampunk, subterranean wild west, and esoteric science fiction — all on one bizarrely beautiful planet.

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Icewind Dale: Enhanced Edition Available for Pre-Order

Wednesday, October 1st, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

I have a deep fondness for old school computer games — especially classic RPGs like Wizardry, Pool of Radiance, Wasteland, Starflight, and Baldur’s Gate. Those games helped get me through my teen years (and most of grad school, now that I think about it). So when Beamdog announced an Enhanced Edition of Baldur’s Gate in November 2012, I was thrilled.

Beamdog was founded by two ex-employees of Bioware, the company that created some of the finest computer RPGs ever made, including Baldur’s Gate, Neverwinter Nights, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, and Mass Effect. Co-founder Trent Oster and lead programmer Cameron Tofer formed Beamdog in July 2010 with the vision of bringing old school RPGs to modern platforms, and spent two years lovingly crafting a complete re-write of Baldur’s Gate — originally released only for Windows 95/98 — for modern versions of Windows, iPad , OS X, and Android. Their version eventually included over 400 enhancements, like new high-res cinematics, UI improvements, enhanced multiplayer, bug fixes and higher level caps, and over six hours of bonus quests & new adventures. It was, in short, the ultimate edition of Baldur’s Gate.

As excited as I was to see the Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition — and its sequel, Baldur’s Gate II: Enhanced Edition, released in 2013 — I was even more delighted to learn that Beamdog’s next project was Icewind Dale: Enhanced Edition. Icewind Dale was my favorite of the Dungeons & Dragons Infinity Engine line of games (which included Baldur’s Gate I and II, Planescape: Torment, and several others), and I have very fond memories of playing it with my children over a dozen years ago.

Now Beamdog has made Icewind Dale: Enhanced Edition available for pre-order on their website for just $19.99, in a package that also includes both of the expansion packs: Heart of Winter and Trials of the Luremaster. Check out the trailer for the enhanced edition above.

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