Last monthI wrote a post on why I chose to use the Swords and Wizardry (S&W) Complete Rules, instead of Pathfinder, for my latest campaign. S&W is a redesign of Original Dungeons and Dragons (pre-1st Edition), written by Matt Finch and put out by Frog God Games. Due to a stretch goal achieved in the Sword of Air Kickstarter, the S&W rules are permanently free in PDF format from Frog God. You can also buy a hardcopy with a cool Earl Otus cover.
On October 14, Frog God launched their thirteenth Kickstarter to fund a third printing of S&W Complete. But this is a little different than just a simple reprinting effort. Designer and RPGer Stacy Dellorfano had suggested to Finch that Frog God print a new version of the S&W rules, but with art and design done entirely by women. Within minutes, Finch and Bill Webb were on board and the project moved ahead.
There are minor revisions to some of the game play examples, but otherwise it’s a reprint of the second edition. However, there are two brand new adventures included: “The Five Maidens” and “Zaya’s Promise.”
Finch explained that the intent was for Dellorfano to come up with a design that was no less appealing to males, but more appealing to females. Webb has cited Lisa Stevens of Paizo as a huge influence on the role of women in the gaming community (as well as “saving the game industry when WotC cratered on 4th Edition”) and has said that his daughter will taking over Frog God from him some day. So, he was very much into the concept.
As I recall, I began playing Dungeons and Dragons at the very end of 1st Edition. Most of my early memories are of playing AD&D and that’s still my favorite Role Playing Game (RPG) system. My buddy Chris and I used to ride our bikes to Hobbyland and he would get a shiny new TSR module, while I grabbed a color-bled, paper-bound supplement from Judges Guild.
I had read Moorcock and Lieber by then (though I didn’t get to Tolkien until early high school). I had acquired a love of Greek mythology (and to a lesser extent, Norse) earlier, and The Trojan War was probably my favorite subject matter (I rooted for Troy: that was disappointing: I mean, c’mon, tear apart the walls to drag in a giant horse your enemy left you???).
You know, The Iliad is like a game of Chainmail: a mass combat wargame with the fantasy supplement for individual heroes. Then you’ve got The Odyssey, which is an overland (over-the-sea, mostly) D&D campaign. After you’ve played that one a time or two, you could switch to The Aeneid and you’ve got an overland campaign with a kingdom building mechanic. Huh – there’s fodder for another post…
My earliest fantasy gaming memories are of playing Adventure on an Atari 2600. That led to Temple of Apshai on an Atari 1200XL computer. I mapped out every room of that game (and The Upper Reaches sequel) on graph paper. Eventually I got an IBM-compatible PC and tore through the gold box games from SSI. I made the graphical leap to Dungeon Master from FTL (this preceded the more successful but derivative Eye of the Beholder by a few years). Even when I stopped playing pen and paper D&D, I continued on through Baldur’s Gate, Neverwinter Nights, Morrowwind and right up to Age of Conan.
Though I stopped playing, I still read a lot of 3rd Edition D&D stuff and began playing once again with Pathfinder. And as I wrote here atBlack Gate just a few weeks ago, I’ve begun running a Swords & Wizardry game for some non-pen and paper fantasy players (it’s a good post. Really. You should go read it!).
And from Dungeon! to Wrath of Ashardalon to the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game, I’ve played fantasy board games for decades.
TSR’s Dungeon! came out in 1975, just one year after Gary Gygax revolutionized gaming with Dungeons and Dragons.
The ground-breaking board game is still an excellent introduction to fantasy gaming over forty years later. The board represents a dungeon, divided into six areas (representing levels) of varying difficulty, differentiated by color. There are monster and treasure cards for level and the harder the level, the tougher the monsters and of course, the greater the treasures.
The character classes have been changed over the years, but the player chooses from a Rogue, Cleric, Fighter and Wizard and each class needs to collect a certain amount of gold pieces (earned from treasure cards), ranging from 10,000 to 30,000. Also, each hero class performs at its best in certain levels. So you don’t want to take a Cleric to level six, but your Wizard is never going to win by traipsing around level one.
When a hero enters a room or a chamber, they draw a monster card (which might also be a trap). Every monster has a value assigned to each hero (as well as two spell values for the Wizard). The player rolls two six-sided dice and wins on a tie or greater. The monster is dead and the player gets a treasure card. If the Hero loses the fight, one of five things happens, ranging from nothing to dying and losing all of their treasure. The monster and any treasures remain in the room, waiting for another hero to enter.
Heroes explore until they gain the required amount of treasure for their class. The first Hero to make it back to the starting chamber with the requisite treasure wins the game. Bad things can happen on the way back to the starting chamber and the Hero may no longer have enough treasure. And once in awhile, it becomes a race to the finish.
Way back in 2003, The Shackled City began appearing in the pages of Dungeon magazine. Spread over twelve installments, it let characters adventure in a connected storyline from first to twentieth level and really, it was the first incarnation of the modern Adventure Path. Paizo followed this up with two others, Age of Worms and Savage Tide. A post about the real evolution of the Adventure Path, going back to the ‘Giants’ modules from TSR, would be a pretty interesting read. But that’s not this post.
Paizo lost Dungeon when Wizards of the Coast brought it back in-house. As we all know, Paizo went from developing 3.5 materials to the massively successful PathfinderRPG. And at the heart of Pathfinderhas been the Adventure Path: a six module, linked storyline, written by multiple authors, covering levels 1 to 20. Rise of the Runelords kicked things off in 2007-2008 (I highly recommend the Anniversary Edition ) and later this month, Paizo’s nineteenth Adventure Path comes out.
That’s 114 modules of adventuring. Wow. They range all over the Pathfinderworld of Golarion and really showcase what a fantastic campaign world it is. I put it up there with the Forgotten Realms as my favorite (I’m not a big Greyhawk guy, myself).
Bet you wondered if I was ever gonna pay off the post’s title, didn’t you? Well, I am. Here’s a description of Strange Aeons:
In a distant land polluted by an alien menace from beyond the stars, a great cancer grows within the earth. As its tendrils reach out through the dreams of those who learn and study its existence, a sinister cult grows more active in preparing the way for a devastation that will destroy more than the minds of would-be heroes. Can the adventures reclaim lost memories in time to stop the advance of a cataclysmic contagion that could threaten all of Golarion? Can they resist the mind-shattering truths revealed by the Yellow Sign, and the monstrous force it symbolizes? The Strange Aeons Adventure Path pits the heroes against the cosmic horrors of the Cthulhu Mythos, with new monsters, mind-shattering terrors, and explorations far beyond the known lands of Golarion.
The starting point for this document was The Art of Magic: The Gathering—Innistrad. Consider that book to be a useful resource in creating your Innistrad campaign, but not strictly necessary. An abundance of lore about Innistrad can be found on the Magic web-site. This document is designed to help you turn the book’s adventure hooks and story seeds into a resource for your campaign with a minimum of changes to the fifth edition D&D rules.
It’s hard to determine where the snake’s head begins and its tail ends here: Innistrad was MtG’s version of D&D’s Ravenloft, which itself has gone through umpteen editions, the most recent being WotC’s Curse of Strahd hardback; and Plane Shift: Innistrad contains suggestions for moving the action of Curse of Strahd from Barovia to Innistrad.
I’m sure you read my look at the Dungeons and Dragons Adventure Board Game series. I mean, who hasn’t? Anywhoo, I decided to try and solo the first adventure in The Temple of Elemental Evil (ToEE). I’ve not played Castle Ravenloft, but so far, I’ve found Legend of Drizzt to definitely be the easiest of the series, with Wrath of Ashardalon much tougher. After a few plays of Temple, I determined it to be even harder to win.
ESCAPE – That’s the name of the adventure. This one begins with the Massacre Site tile, rather than the Start Tile. Somewhere between the eighth and thirteenth tiles is the Guard Room tile. Once you find that, you lay the Start Tile next to it and if you can end your Hero Phase on the Start tile, you win.
Knowing how brutal this game is, I chose to play Barrowin, the female Gold Dwarf Cleric. Her healing power would most definitely be needed. Her stat line is 16 AC, 8 HP, 5 Speed. And when she uses a Daily or Utility power, one hero (which can be her) on her tile regains 1 HP.
I also House Rule that the monsters do not attack on the turn that they are placed. This is a big change, but I think that ToEE and Wrath are extremely difficult to win without that change.
You can click on the pictures to enlarge them and get a better look at what’s going on.
How did I do? Well, Barrowin made it to the 14th turn, which is at least a moral victory. See how it all turned out below.
Back in 2010, Wizards of the Coast (WotC) decided to put out a board game that replicated playing 4th Edition Dungeons and Dragons. Now, 4th Edition was a debacle, but Castle Ravenloft, which was the first of four games in the Dungeons and Dragons Adventure Game line, is quite the opposite. It’s a cooperative dungeon crawl with set scenarios but random tile placement and in which the game itself serves as the dungeon master.
I’ve not played Castle Ravenloft (previously discussed here at Black Gate), which uses the iconic D&D setting. However, I am pretty familiar with 2011’s follow-up, Wrath of Ashardalon. Ashardalon is a red dragon and the party explores a cave system to eventually try and stop him. It was followed by The Legend of Drizz’t (here atBlack Gate), based on the NY Times best-selling books by R. A. Salvatore. I have also played this one several times. It looked like that was the end of the series, but last year, WizKids stepped in and in conjunction with WotC, produced a fourth installment, Temple of Elemental Evil (and also here at Black Gate). I own that but haven’t played it yet.
The games are all quite similar. There were a few changes in the first three, but I would say they’re at least 90% the same, maybe even a bit more. Temple added a campaign mode, (where you can keep items between scenarios!) that looks to be a notable change and one I look forward to exploring.
Each game comes with about a dozen sheets of interlocking tiles that make up the dungeon, as well as on average, 200 Encounter, Monster, Treasure and Hero cards that are the game play, plus tokens of various types. There’s a nice glossy, short, easy to read rule book as well as a similar Scenario book. And of course, one 20 sided die. But the real draw is the figures.
Each has about 40 heroes and monsters! They are not painted and all are reissues of official D&D minis. But where else are you going to get this many minis for the price? And you can always paint them or buy painted versions (I did that for some) if you want to jazz it up. For me, the components are well worth the cost. It all comes in a HUGE, sturdy box. I sleeved one game and everything still fits (though not in the same places). If you like to buy board games that come with a LOT of stuff, these games absolutely are the kind of thing you’re looking for. And nothing looks cheap: they use solid components.
Finally! A market for my Drizzt/Wulfgar slash adventure where the heroes discover the greatest treasure of all: love.
Wizards of the Coast has just announced the “Dungeon Masters Guild,” an e-publishing site for self-publishing D&D adventures and other content set in the Forgotten Realms. … The Dungeon Masters Guild seems similar to Amazon’s Kindle Worlds — a way that creators can be permitted to use licensed intellectual property and at the same time make a little money on it. In this case, the intellectual property is D&D‘s venerable Forgotten Realms setting. There are just a few restrictions on these adventures. The main restriction is that they must use the 5th Edition D&D rule set. Apart from that, they’re about what you’d expect — no offensive or pornographic material, no copyright or trademark violations, and nothing libelous.
Writers receive a 50-percent royalty, less than Amazon’s 70 percent yet recalling an earlier age when publishers regarded writers as partners and not grovelling slaves (halfsies was the same cut Melville received for Moby-Dick). The rest of the money is split between WotC and OneBookshelf, which runs the Dungeon Masters Guild site. Full story here.
Dungeons & Dragons has to be the most mismanaged IP in existence; its history is one long sitcom of bungling and idiocy. As the article points out, TSR spent much of the mid-90s sticking its fingers in the holes of the Internet spaghetti drainer, even going so far as to claim copyright over out-of-the-barn horses like “armor class” and “hit points.” It’s good to see WotC, in anno Domini 2016, finally join ’em instead of trying to beat ’em, even if they, like most publishers, continue to be the last across the innovation finish line.
The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: 2015 Links Compendium
So, for the first post of 2016, I think the most important thing to recognize is that I made it to the end of my second calendar year at Black Gate without getting axed (it helps that I work cheap. As in, ‘free.”). By my reckoning, The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes has appeared here every single Monday morning for the past 96 weeks. As I had serious doubts that John O’Neill would even approve a Holmes-themed column (I mean, it’s a fantasy website!), I’m pretty pleased it’s still around.
During 2015, I helped with Black Gate’s outstanding “Discovering Robert E. Howard” series, which featured guest columns from a slew of very knowledgeable folks; and there are still a couple fine posts remaining in the series. Personally, I thoroughly enjoyed putting together Part One of my history of Necromancer and Frog God Games, Dungeons and Dragons and Pathfinder RPG publishers extraordinaire. Part Two is pretty much written, but still needs some serious editing.
The three-part piece on Granada’s Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, starring Jeremy Brett, was a favorite and there will certainly be another in the series: likely a few more. And I even managed to have the most viewed post in a month with a look at what went wrong in season three of BBC Sherlock (sadly, my hopes that the January 1 special episode would get the franchise back on track were horribly dashed).
With a couple of extras that I wrote outside of PLoSH included, I’ve linked 54 posts from 2015 below. It’s no surprise, with the name of this column, 27 were about Sherlock Holmes or Arthur Conan Doyle. With another 5 about the best of the Holmes pastiches, Solar Pons.
Next up were 8 posts related to fantasy and 1 for science fiction. Then we’ve got 5 Hard Boiled/mystery posts and 8 miscellaneous ones.
If you’re at least a semi-regular reader of the column, I try not to write “here’s my opinion” posts. I like to share information about things I like, be it the Richard Diamond radio series or a different way to look at a Holmes story. Hopefully in 2015 you came across a topic that you either wanted to go explore a bit or that you learned a little more about. There’s lots more I plan on writing about in 2016 (can’t believe I didn’t write a single Nero Wolfe post last year!), so grab a cup of coffee and check in on Monday mornings. And thanks for reading The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes!
When Wizards of the Coast rolled out the Open Game License for 3rd Edition Dungeons and Dragons, a plethora of third party companies would produce products, leaving players with a seemingly unlimited number of options available for purchase. A few were great, more were terrible and most were in between.
That period was known as the d20 boom, which inevitably led to a d20 bust and is explained in depth in Shannon Appelcline’s tremendous, four-volume RPG history, Designers and Dragons. If you have any interest in role playing history, you will love those books (they are broken up into decades: The Seventies, Eighties, Nineties and Two Thousands).
Along the way, many new and existing companies entered the official Dungeons and Dragons world. One of the most popular and successful was Necromancer Games, founded by Clark Peterson and Bill Webb. Under a different name, Necromancer’s offspring is a major player in the RPG scene today.
The Open Gaming License (OGL) made the 3rd Edition Dungeons and Dragonsmechanics permanently “open use” and the basis of a System Reference Document (SRD). The OGL was accompanied by the d20 license, which verified that third party products were compatible with 3rd Edition.
The OGL and d20 licenses had distinguishing characteristics and somebody more versed than I in the intricacies should write a post on that whole shebang. Suffice to say here, companies began rolling out d20 products from day one.