Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Warning Queens Gambit is Fake News

Spoiler alert: This post contains spoilers about the Netflix mini-series "Queen's Gambit" 

Still reading? Good. I just finished watching the mini-series "Queen's Gambit" and although it is quite dramatic and entertaining something about it did not ring true. Growing up a chess aficionado in the 1960's I had never heard of Elizabeth Harmon or the events described in the movie. Turns out it is actually based on a novel written in 1983 by Walter Tevis (The same guy who wrote the "Hustler" and the "Color of Money"). None of the occurrences in the movie from winning the Kentucky State Championship to beating the Russian World Champion are real. Being addicted to tranquilizers is unlikely to improve your chess game, so don't do it (An age eleven Walter Tevis was actually dosed with phenobarbital at the Stanford Children’s Convalescent home while he was recovering from a rheumatic heart condition).

As an aside, in my youth, I was a chess aficionado. One of my earliest memories of childhood was watching my father (who was a very good chess player, I had to wait until he was seventy-two and not quite as sharp to beat him) play chess with one of his students under the apple tree of the house we lived in Cambridge, MA. I still have my copy of Fred Reinfield's Complete Chess Course which I received as a present at age eight. For a while, I used to go over to the college chess club and play while I was still in high school. I gave up the chess club when I discovered the Dungeons and Dragons club which met the same night (It was called the Conflict Simulation Society, but Dungeons and Dragons heavily overshadowed the board gaming). I always suffered from the problem that I couldn't focus well unless I was losing (I have some brilliant games played fiercely with a piece down. I finally beat my father by sacrificing a pawn in a gambit early in the game). I also discovered by playing chess at lunch at work that although chess is an interesting game it is not a relaxing one.  

Although the mini-series is well-acted,  well-directed, and captures the spirit of the chess tournaments I have attended,  it feels a bit disingenuous. The real-world triumphs of Bobby Fischer who actually beat the Russian World Champion or even my friend David Sprenkle who won the Illinois State Championship in 1980 seem more important.

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Much Ado About Nothing

Just a blog post to be blog posting. Several notable blogs have come back to life in recent weeks (my favorite is Grognardia which had been inactive since 2012. It made me think about my own blog in which the post prior to this was in February. You would think with all the time on my hands during the lockdown, I would be able to blog lots, but it didn't work out that way. Trying to write thoughtful and well-researched articles (like I aspire to write) just seemed like too much work for my mental state during those times. Chrome frequently overwhelms the memory of my ancient desktop (used to be 4 GB of RAM was a lot). My copy of Outlook 2007 seems to constantly fight with the new mail servers as well. My wife and son's computers are much better behaved, but I need their permission to use them. I have not been gaming idle during this blog quiet period. Activities included: Binge-watching Critical Role (I had to stop about season 1 episode 100 as the scenarios seemed to be becoming repetitive and the players didn't seem to be learning how to handle their high-level characters). Playing through all of Ravenloft 5e on Fantasy Grounds. Learning Unity game programing by watching Zenva videos (unfortunately, programming seems to be the same tedious line by line text typing I learned in college, I have recently picked up a copy of RPG Maker to try instead). I started watching the Lord Gosumba youtube channel after virtual GaryCon. They have a fascinating series of interviews with many of the "old" Living Greyhawk organizers. I am at the time of life where 10 to 20 years ago doesn't seem old but I suppose it is. Unfortunately, times have changed sufficiently I do not think we will see anything as large or freewheeling as Living Greyhawk again. For the last few weeks, I have been playing Path of Exile. I have been thinking about how to play Path of Exile as a tabletop game. However, it is a little too bookkeeping intensive to play well without heavy modification from the online rules (here is someone else's attempt). I find the part Pacific Islander, part Roman Empire,  part Steampunk fascinating. My backed Kickstarter .pdfs keep collecting in my virtual inbox.  I am trying to slow down on signing up for new ones (5e campaign settings re-treading grimdark horror are making that easier). Well enough kvetching, for now, I'll try to do something more substantive next time.

Saturday, February 8, 2020

Kickstarter Update 2020

I am trying to get my Kickstarter progress report for the things I backed out a little earlier this year. I am trying to scale back, but 5e world expansions and fancy card decks keep sucking me in. I also backed a couple of board games with cool miniatures (although I try to resist these because they are expensive).

Projects I backed
 Not Due yet
The Hero's Journey 2e
Glorantha: The Gods War (Reprint & NEW Expansions)
Curse of Roslof Keep Digital Bonus Content
Electric Bastionland RPG
Ian Miller’s Grim Tarock
Vampire: the Masquerade - Blood Feud a Mega Board Game
Tome of Horrors 2020 for Fifth Edition by Necromancer Games
Spire's End - Solo & Cooperative Card Game Adventure
The Folio #24 & #25 Double Edition Adventure Set
Heart: The City Beneath RPG
Retro RPGA Inspired 1E&5E Mini-Adventure Set              
Trudvang Chronicles: Muspelheim
World of Aetaltis - RPG Campaign Setting for 5E
Dungeons & Delvers: Red Book
Fantastic Adventures: Ruins of the Grendleroot for 5e
Hearts of Wulin
Empire of the Ghouls: A 5th Edition Campaign vs. the Undead
Terrain Essentials
GODS - The dark fantasy RPG
Arcana of the Ancients, a 5E science-fantasy sourcebook             
A bit late
Critical Core Dec 2019
Ruin Masters Nov 2019
World of Relivo Dec 2019
Rise of the Drow: Collector's Edition for D&D 5E or PFRPG Dec 2019
The World of the Lost Lands Dec 2019
Greg Stolze's Reign, Second Edition Aug 2019
The Koryo Hall of Adventures 5e Compatible Campaign Setting Dec 2019
The Grande Temple of Jing V1 - For 5th Edition (and others) Sep 2019
Metal Gods of Ur-Hadad Zine Returns! Oct 2019
Reach of Titan Dec 2019
Treacherous Traps for 5th Edition! Aug 2019
Scarred Lands Creature Collection for 5th Edition RPG Dec 2019
Tegel Manor Returns! Estimated delivery Jun 2019
EMBERWIND: a new breed of tabletop RPG        Estimated delivery Jun 2019
Demon City: The Ultimate Horror RPG    Estimated delivery Jun 2019
SECRETS of BLACKMOOR: The True History of Dungeons & Dragons         Estimated delivery Mar 2019
Rise of the Demigods     Estimated delivery Mar 2019
Sea King's Malice: a 5E Adventure in the Deadly Depths
Tales From the Sorcerer Under the Mountain
L'gat's Tome of Amazing Creatures Volume 3
Cities of Harn
Adventures Great and Glorious
The Isle of The Amazons - RPG Zine for #ZineQuest
Symbar - Mother of Darkness
Far Away Lands Nuzoz
Trilemma Adventures Compendium
Mini-Dungeon Monthly: RPG zine for D&D 5th Edition
Monsters & Magic: a 5e bestiary and treasury
Lost Hall of Tyr (2nd Edition): Maps and Print Run
Your Best Game Ever!
Secrets of the Nethercity             Estimated delivery Jun 2019
Castles & Crusades: Den of Iniquity         Estimated delivery Jun 2019
Dungeons of Amara: Poems and Art of Monsters and Townfolks
The Ultraviolet Grasslands
A Rasp of Sand: A Roguelike Tabletop RPG Experience  
The Tomb of Black Sand
The City of Great Lunden
Fateforge: a 5th Edition Roleplaying Game
The King of Dungeons
The Folio #22 (1E/5E D&D Adventure)
John Carter of Mars - The Roleplaying Game
The Vagabond’s Cyclopedia: an OSR + PbtA Supplement
Desert Dwellers                Estimated
Humblewood Campaign Setting for 5e DND
Silent Titans Estimated delivery
Rex Draconis RPG - Rising Tides
Vagabonds of Dyfed RPG: OSR meets PbtA
The Midderlands Expanded - An OSR Setting Expansion
The Bane of Roslof Keep high level 1E & 5E gaming adventure
Trudvang Chronicles - Stormlands
Calidar "On Wings of Darkness"
Esoterica Tabletop Roleplaying Game
Sandy Petersen's Cthulhu Mythos for 5e             
Dortoka: an OSR + PbtA City Module
Folio of Fiendish Monsters 1E monster compendium
Occult Secrets of the Underworld
The Complete White Ship Campaign 1E&5E mega-adventure
Make/100! Spell: The RPG & Spellbook Engraved Wood Box Set
YNDAROS: THE DARKEST STAR, award-winning Symbaroum campaign
Over the Edge: A Roleplaying Game of Weird Urban Danger
The Curse of Roslof Keep high level 1E & 5E gaming adventure
Confrontation – Classic The legendary skirmish game (note I just gave them a buck to read their updates)
The Dragon Heresy Introductory Set Fantasy RPG (5E-variant)
Rappan Athuk: Reborn for Fifth Edition! Go down the Well!
Tome of Horrors: Reborn for Fifth Edition
SYMBAROUM - Monster Codex
Forbidden Lands - Retro Open-World Survival Fantasy RPG
The Folio #16 & #17 Double 1E & 5E Adventure Set
The Folio #18 & #19, 1E & 5E Adventures
Lost Hall of Tyr: A 5e Adventure (Dungeon Grappling support)   
Luminous Echo: The Forgotten King extended campaign
Spire RPG
Artifices of Quartztoil Tower - 5E Adventure
Capharnaum - The Roleplaying Game
Sommerlund City Maps
Midgard Campaign Setting: Dark Roads & Deep Magic
Luminous Echo: The Forgotten King extended campaign
Slumbering Ursine Dunes
Heroic Fantasy & Barbarian Conquerors Collection
50 sHAdes of VORpal (Declared  done)


Salt in the Wounds (I had originally marked this one done based on receipt of the campaign setting, but on reviewing my pledge I realized I had been promised a good deal more).
The ADOM (Ancient Domains Of Mystery) Roleplaying Game
Neverending Story
Ryuutama (basically done but pledge contains permanent electronic updates)
Pieces missing
Rhune (one adventure short)
Please come home, I still love you baby (way past due, I still want the item).
Marmoreal Tomb (Tons of beautiful maps have been completed, Frog God Games has taken this over which is promising, but no adventure yet.)

Throne of night

Monday, December 16, 2019

Eberron and Me

Eberron: Rising from the Last War

With the release of the new Eberron hardback from Wizards of the Coast, I thought it might be time to talk about Eberron. Eberron is a Johny-come-lately to the campaign settings, being the winner of a 2002 campaign setting contest. Its principal author Keith Baker remains a font of new gaming ideas, I try to follow his blog regularly. Most of our knowledge of Eberron comes from a series of hardbacks from the 3.5 edition era. When I looked at my collection I have eleven, but checking the list on the internet there are more. I did not collect any of the 3.5 adventures interestingly there are fewer adventures than there are hardbacks.

The first hardback the "Eberron Campaign Setting" published in 2004 is the starting point for Eberron. Being a 3.5 book the first 128 pages are filled with race, classes, prestige classes, magic, and equipment. There is also a section on "heroic actions" something new for Eberron as if 3.5 feats weren't enough to keep track of. New concepts include: Dragon marks a magical birthmark, and the religions of Eberron: The Silver flame, The Sovereign Host, The Dark Six, The Blood of Vol, The Cults of the Dragons Below, The Path of Light, and the Undying Court. Most inhabitants of Eberron worship pantheons rather than single gods. It is not until chapter seven (pages 129-226) that we actually get into the setting itself. Eberron has five major continents Khorvaire, Frostfell, Xen'drik, Argonnessen, and Sarlona as well as the large island of Aerenal. Most of the description in this book is devoted to Khorvaire. Khorvaire is split into five major nations: Aundair, Breland, Cyre, Karrnath, and Thrane. However, there are numerous freeholds, debatable lands, and an entire goblin kingdom as well. The setting timeline places Khorvaire a point where the nations are recovering from an exhausting struggle between them to try and recreate the single continent-spanning kingdom of Galifar. With thirteen great houses, all specially marked with birthmarks of power (dragon marks), vying for power amongst the five nations in a shakey cold war detente there is more than enough political intrigue to last several entire campaigns without ever leaving Khorvaire. The island of Aerenal gets four pages and is the island of the elves. The rest of the continents do get a brief description on the next four pages Argonessen is the land of dragons, not many who go the return. Frostfell is a frozen wasteland. Sarlona is the original homeland of humans and controlled the empire of Riedra, although the hidden mountain fortress of Adar still stands against Riedra (Sarlona gets its own book later). Xen'drik although once home to the kingdom of the Giants is now jungle-covered ruins (Xen'drik also gets its own book). Khyber the Underdark of Eberron also gets half a page. Chapter eight is devoted to organizations: the dragon marked houses, faiths, cults, and other movers and shakers. Chapter nine is some tips for running an Eberron campaign. Chapter ten is magic items. Chapter elven is monsters, most notable are the Halfing riding raptors and the Quori an outsider race responsible for the creation of other monsters. Chapter twelve is a short adventure to run for your players. At 320 pages total it is a decent size book but only about a third of it is what I would call campaign setting.

"Five Nations" (2005) and "The Forge of War"(2007) detail more about Khorvaire. "Sharn: City of Towers" (2004) details the largest city on Khorvaire and Breland's main port (it also includes a music CD I have never listened to). "Eberron Explorers Handbook" (2005) details numerous adventure sights throughout Eberron. "Secrets of Sarlona" (2007) details that continent further with more details on Riedra and Adar, as well as adding the shifter clans of the Tundra wastes, and mage ravaged Skykarn. "Secrets of Xen'drik"(2006) after introducing Stormreach as the port of entry adds some interesting ruins to poke through and explore and encounters to throw in while running Xen'drik as an exploration sandbox. Stormreach gets its own book "City of Stormreach" in 2008. I also own "Magic of Eberron" (2005), "Faiths of Eberron" (2006), and "Dragonmarked" (2006) but these are more player-facing books chock full of prestige classes and feats so favored by the third edition writers of the time. Eberron books I do not own include "Races of Eberron" (2005, this one might just be misfiled), "Players Guide to Eberron" (2006, not big on players guides as a rule), "Dragons of Eberron" (2007, I probably should pick this one up as it has additional information on Argonnessen), and "An Adventures Guide to Eberron" (2008 another player guide). Although there were two Living Eberron campaigns, I only remember playing one adventure where the Khorvarian Nobility snubbed us and then sent us off to pilot a dangerous experimental machine for traveling underground. Everyone in our gaming group returned to the more familiar Living Greyhawk fairly quickly.

I did purchase the fourth edition Eberron books when they appeared in 2009. The war forged race and the artificer class were both popular in my gaming group. I don't think I more than glanced at the campaign guide most of it a rehash of the third edition books.

I didn't purchase the online fifth edition Eberron .pdf and have not played any of the Eberron adventurers league modules which have been appearing over the last year. I received for my Birthday in November the fifth edition Eberron book. The Introduction is a short explanation of how Eberron is different from stock D&D. Chapter one goes through new character and race options. Most races have some spin on their player's handbook descriptions. Several races are re-introduced to the fifth edition including Changelings (doppelgangers), Kalashtar (humans bound by Quori spirits), Shifters (lycanthropes), and Warforged. Dragonmarked characters are treated as subraces of their race and replace several traits. "House agent" is added as a background. Artificer is a new spell casing class capable of manufacturing his own magic items. The chapter ends with a discussion of Group Patrons for your adventuring crew. Chapter two is a Gazetteer of Khorvaire, mostly a rehash of previously published information. There is a brief discussion near the end of the other continents (including the continent of Everice at the south pole even though it is lumped together with Frostfell as a frozen wasteland). The very last section of the chapter discusses the faiths of Khorvarie. I think this is a better discussion than the original "Eberron Campaign Setting" although not as comprehensive as the "Faiths of Eberron". Chapter 3 is about Sharn, the City of Towers. Chapter 4 Building Adventures contains adventure hooks, locations and even a complete adventure at the end of the chapter. Chapter 5 is about magic items. Most unique to Eberron are dragon shards. These crystals serve as components in the construction and powering of other magic items (although the rules here are a bit vague). Chapter 6 (the final chapter) is a bestiary updating monsters to the fifth edition rules, as well as providing NPC versions of the new Eberron races and classes.

Although this review has opened my eyes to the possibilities of Eberron, it still lags behind Greyhawk and the Forgotten realms in my esteem. I do think covering the number of continents it attempts is a bold move, giving something for everyone. The steampunk gothic urban of the main continent Khorvaire is not my cup of tea. Xen'drik is set-up as a jungle crawl similar to Forgotten realms Chult, but I found the book lacking in places of interest. Sarlona has a strong "Darksun" feel, which could work well. Argonnessen seems to have a similar vibe to the second edition "Council of Wyrms" box set, both being dominated by powerful dragons. Eberron is definitely full of ideas worth stealing. I do not like dragon marks as they seem both elitist, in that when acquired at the very start of play they lock the player's allegiance to a specific faction and disruptive, in that those with different marks are forced into opposing factions. The Changling and Shifter races are good options for those desiring to play doppelgangers and lycanthropes as characters. I have enjoyed both the Warforged race and the Artificer class. I look forward to playing their updated versions for fifth edition dungeons and dragons. I have yet to actually play in the Eberron setting (except for that one unimpressive "living" Eberron session). However, every time Keith Baker blogs about it I feel like I am "missing out". Perhaps the Eberron of Keith Baker's imagination is stronger than the rapidly published ensemble cast of authors 3.5 era splatbooks. I hope that Keith Baker will get the chance to reveal more of Eberron in the future.

P.S. How could I miss an entire kingdom blowing up in a magical explosion? Cyre is now Mournland, a magically radiated wasteland. Here an explanation of Eberron from Keith Baker himself here.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Blackmoor and Me

Happy Dave Arneson day!

Blackmoor, of course, dates back to the beginnings of Dungeons and Dragons.  The introduction of the Original Dungeons and Dragons (ODD) booklets mention it in conjunction with the Great Kingdom Chainmail campaign (circa 1971) and cites it as the start of Dungeons and Dragons.

Although there is a great deal of controversy how much Dave Arneson’s role-playing game derives from Chainmail, the Great Kingdom Map seems to be the first appearance of Dave Arneson’s Blackmoor. The second supplement of Original Dungeons and Dragons Blackmoor is the next appearance. Like the first Greyhawk supplement Blackmoor is in the majority extra rules and magic, and magic items. However, unlike it does contain a complete Dungeon in the Temple of the Frog. The Temple of the Frog is a high-level dungeon with an emphasis infiltration as when it is on high alert there are hundreds of troops available. Please note, however, in the original games I played Magic-Users with spells of missile deflection, Fireball, and Cloudkill routinely handled hordes of 100 to 400 bandits by themselves. I was glad to see the Dungeon in the book since it gave more insight into how the designers of the game played it. There are large quantities of sea creatures in the monster section and underwater combat rules which are useful if you’re into that thing. However, Monk and Assassin are some of the worst classes mechanically of ODD.

The next appearance of Blackmoor is the First Fantasy Campaign supplement from Judges Guild in 1977. It is one of my most treasured modules being a collection of Dave Arneson's campaign notes including both the actual Blackmoor dungeon, as well as the campaign map. The module includes instructions for how to connect Blackmoor to the Valley of Ancients in the Judges Guild’s Wilderlands of High Fantasy campaign. The map itself is based on a Renaissance map of the Netherlands so it is very soggy. The map scale always seemed a bit off things described as mountains barely covering the area of foothills. Cultures changing from Vikings to Steppe Nomads in the space of less than 200 miles.

The actual dungeon of Blackmoor itself is fascinating. I am always amazed at how many different ways dungeon designers can start with a piece of quadrille paper and draw unique things. Blackmoor contains lots of diagonal corridors and very few doors. Most of the monsters seem to be just standing around in the hallways. Note that the monster population is the Dave Arneson convention loadout, updated to the published ODD rules rather than his original population. The staircases between levels needed some sort of key. I spent a week with a piece of tracing paper trying to line them all up. Some of the levels have tunnels that lead off the map, something which I used in my campaign. The random yearly events table was completely fascinating as well. Some people object to the lack of organization, however, it is not significantly worse the ODD books. The ODD trained me to hop, skip, and jump around the rules picking up the parts I needed rather than reading rules cover to cover. This has served me well through all the editions since.
In 1980 the Greyhawk Gazetteer includes a region known as Blackmoor, although whether this is Dave Arneson’s Blackmoor is unclear. There an interesting analysis and comparison between the First Fantasy Campaign and the Greyhawk Blackmoor’s on this blog.

In 1986 Dave Arneson got another chance at Blackmoor with DA1 Adventures in Blackmoor. Other than the weird linkage to Mystara it is one of the best Blackmoor modules. However, the weird properties of the Comeback Inn definitely reflect the Jokey Gonzo style of early D&D. DA2 Temple of Frog revisits the adventure from the Original Blackmoor supplement. If you are going try running the Temple of the Frog run this version. DA3 City of the Gods reveals one of the dark secrets of Blackmoor, a crashed alien spaceship. DA4 The Duchy of Ten explores western Blackmoor. These modules intrigued me although most of them were higher level than I was running at the time. Their Jokey Gonzo style is not for everyone, and several items in the modules are campaign breakers (especially City of the Gods). However, they finally give a complete view of several key elements of the Blackmoor campaign. The Egg of Coot remains unexplained. I find Gary's invitation to Dave to write Blackmoor modules a refutation of the eternal rivalry narrative between Gary and Dave current on some websites. It seems the bitterness of the lawsuit of the late '70s (mostly about royalty payments) had faded by the mid-'80s. After DA4 due to upheaval at TSR after the departure of Gary Gygax. Blackmoor goes radio silent. 

The 2000s saw another revival of Blackmoor. The D20 open license led to a joint venture between Zeitgeist games and Dave Arneson. Blackmoor and Blackmoor Dungeons are re-visitations of the material in First Fantasy campaign. Several other expansions were published but these were written by others than Dave Arneson and jarred with my sense Blackmoor. I remember being annoyed that the “Riders of the High Hak” shifted the Hak from Mongolian to Native Americans. I was intrigued by the “Living Blackmoor” living adventure, but was too tied up running “Living Greyhawk” to be able to do much with “Living Blackmoor”. Unlike “Living Greyhawk” all the “Living Blackmoor” Adventures have been archived on the Blackmoor.Mystara.net forum. Follow the instructions here to gain access. Unfortunately, Dave Arneson’s death in 2009 followed by the third to fourth edition transition debacle seemed to have taken all the wind out of this effort. Several very active fan efforts continue to the present day.

Blackmoor remains an important touchstone to the early days of Dungeons and Dragons. The limited range of the campaign map has led it to be shoehorned into other campaigns rather than having it as its own campaign. It, however, packs a great deal of content into a small area being able to match much larger campaigns in depth. If you have the adventure sense for notes in the raw get the First Fantasy Campaign( perhaps hard to find). If you like a more modern approach get the DA adventure series(all available on Drivethrurpg). The Zeitgeist publications(also available on Drivethrurpg) didn’t quite click with me, although I should give them another look.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Mystara and Me

GAZ1 TSR9193 The Grand Duchy of Karameikos.jpg

I am very much a Johnny-come-lately to Mystara. During the time the originals were being released I had little use for Basic/Expert D&D. My friends all played Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, not the “training wheels version. I did get both “Keep on the Borderlands” (1980) and “the Isle of Dread” (1981) because I purchased the boxed basic and expert sets (If you are interested these two adventures, I highly recommend picking up the Goodman games hardback re-releases which include the original adventures in their entirety, as well as the history of their creation and a 5e conversion). I did purchase all four Blackmoor adventures (1986-1987), but these are Mystara only in the vaguest sense of the world being set thousands of years in the past before content shifting cataclysm. However, I picked up very little of the other BECMI adventures. There is a nice history of the origins of the Known World and how it got grabbed for its first appearance in the BECMI set here. I gave the Gazetteers a pass entirely. If you read my posts on Greyhawk and Forgotten Realms you’ll realize that Gazetteers are not my favorite begin with having little to steal for actual adventure encounters. I did pick up the second edition conversion of Gliantri, however by that time TSR had thrown in the towel on Mystara so there was little else to acquire. There my relation with Mystara sat, until the 2000s. I had some interest in Living Blackmoor when it resurfaced but my friends were hard over on Living Greyhawk so didn’t do much with it. When I got into blogger I started following Harvards Blackmoor blog, which since he is a big fan of Mystara led me to the Vaults of Pandius and Thorfin Taits Cartography. Being a sucker for Cartography Thorfins work led me to try and hunt down some Gazetteers in print (I had already downloaded the free one Wizards of the Coast posted on its website). After picking three or four in print I realized the price to value proposition was not good (having been first sold before people realized they were cool they generally sold for twice their cover price, although the one I grabbed at the library book sale for a couple bucks was a steal). When DrivethruRPG put the complete set of Gazetteers as a bundle on sale I picked up .pdfs of all of them. I still have to read through all fourteen. Vaults of Pandius has another dozen or so Fan generated Gazetteers as well. There is also the whole Hollow Earth series which I have not delved into at all. My friends who liked surface Mystara disliked the Hollow World (Although Thorfin has made a really cool globe showing how the Hollow world and surface connect. I am still delving into the wonders of Mystara so it is hard to compare and contrast with Forgotten Realms or Greyhawk. In general, Mystara seems of larger-scale dealing with empires, rather than the kingdoms and free cities of the Forgotten Realms and Greyhawk. Looking at the maps it seems more densely populated as well. Of course, I also enjoyed the brilliant map by Chatdemon of Mystoearth which uses the Mystara map for the lands west of Greyhawk. It also gives a good sense of scale between Greyhawk and Mystaran Continents, Greyhawk being about a quarter the size (Further research is required, as a quick perusal of Thorfins maps seems to show the actual region covered by the Gazetteers as much less than the continents displayed, so perhaps equivalent to Greyhawk after all). For those fond of Mash-ups, there is this crazy map which smashes together the Forgotten Realms, Mystara, Ebberon and many other TSR worlds together in one map. My impressions of Mystara are as follows. The maps are well done. The Gazetteers are interesting covering a broad range of cultural tropes. In contrast to Forgotten Realms and Greyhawk, there seems to be less unexplored wilderness as most areas are under the control of some empire or kingdom. Some of the cultural juxtapositions are a bit jarring having ancient Rome next to medieval France. In terms of an overall ranking of my preferences, it is still going to come in behind Greyhawk and the Forgotten Realms as a setting.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Forgotten Realms and Me

  I bought the Forgotten Realms boxed set when it first came out in 1987 and have been collecting the reference material ever since. I never bothered with the novels much. Although everyone thinks of Ed Greenwood as the creator, the first edition gazetteers were written by an ensemble cast of authors. There are sixteen Forgotten Realms Sourcebooks.  Less than a quarter of the sourcebooks list Ed Greenwood as the main author. Other lead authors include Doug Niles, Steve Perrin, Paul Jaquays, R Salavtore, Jean Rabe, Scott Haring, Scott Bennie, Curtis Scott, Rick Swan and Tom Prusa.

I had little use for running the gazetteers as written since I was at the time mostly stealing ideas for my own campaign. I liked the maps and enjoyed the little plastic hex overlay. The hardback still remains the best source for City maps. Most of the good monsters, spells, and magic items have moved to the mainstream long ago.

  The Gold box computer games were also set in the Forgotten Realms and explore the Moonsea region. There are a couple of print adventures that go with the computer games. However what works well in computer games is kind of clunky in print adventures and vice versa. After the first two computer games, there were no more print adventures. I played these games a lot but never finished any. My son is still using the Forgotten Realms Unlimited Adventure set (and Dungeoncraft a more modern clone) to crank out more.

  Actual adventures set in the Forgotten Realms were rather sparse in the early years, although both the Oriental adventures and the Bloodstone series were added via retroactive continuity later on. In 1987 the only actual adventure (not counting Bloodstone and Oriental adventures) was “Under Illefarn”. 1988 saw “Swords of the Iron Legion” and the “Ruins of Adventure” gold box game tie in. 1989 saw the “Curse of Azure Bonds” gold box game tied in, as well as the perfectly dreadful 1st to 2nd edition transition adventures FRE1-3. Gods are slain continents laid waste, and what is the players’ role? Bring the popcorn and watch the show.

  The 90’s were a bit better. I liked the “Beneath the Twisted Tower” adventure in the 1993 2nd edition of the Forgotten Realms boxed set. I loved the Ruins of Undermountain and Myth Dranor boxed sets. Menzoberandian was good but mostly City with less adventure (I am still dinking around with the computer game but haven’t made it to the city yet). Ruins of Zhentil Keep had some good adventures but confused me (since I haven’t kept up with the novels). Why is ruined, how after having their entire City blown to bits is the Zhentarium still functioning? The Zhentarium have to be the most resilient organization in existence having their base of operations destroyed, their patron god slain and yet they still exist to plague 5th edition. I suppose the Beholders who run the Zhentarium just like the name.

  I own a number of the 90’s softcovers (Dragons of the Realm, Giants of the Realm, etc.)even though these are mostly splat book in nature. Some B.S. history no one cares about, a few new spells, a few new magic items.

   I also played the Eye of the Beholder computer games a lot. The first two games although theoretically set in Forgotten Realms are self contained dungeons requiring little forgotten realms lore. The first one given its start in the sewers of Water deep should interpenetrate Undermountain, but it doesn’t. The second teleports to some temple on in the middle of nowhere, and the only thing Realms related is Khelben Blackstaff who gives you the mission and shows up in a couple cut scenes. The third which is supposed to be set in Myth Dranor is dreadful, and bears no resemblance to the boxed set of the same name.

  I have no idea where to classify Mazitca, Kara-Tur or Al Qadim, as these seem as bolt-ons rather than core forgotten realms (of course most of Forgotten realms is bolt-on to Ed Greenwoods Waterdeep and the Dalelands). Mazitca did help inspire my own jungle river campaign, but other than jungles and rivers there is not that much overlap.

   I do own the Baldur’s gate and Ice Wind Dale series of computer games, but never got very far. Baldur’s Gate does not seem to understand how many Kobolds one must kill to reach second level, but has no problem throwing four ogres at a first level party as a random encounter. In Ice Wind Dale I explored the tombs in the wrong order, and never could get the gate I needed to progress onwards to open again. The Neverwinter Nights computer game seemed cool in concept, but I never got past the introductory adventure.

  Third Edition Forgotten Realms is probably my least favorite. Myth Dranor turned from a perfectly marvelous demon haunted ruin into some twee elf city. I had to call shenanigans on returned Netheril’s shadow magic which is just like regular magic, but somehow works in magic dead zones. Serpent Kingdom has some interesting Yuan-Ti  lore even if it included the game breaking Sarrukh (leading to the infamous Pun-Pun Kobold of infinite strength build).

  I played a lot of Living Forgotten Realms in fourth edition. Some of the place here stuck reasonably well such as the Vikings of the Moonshae, Demon haunted Impiltur, Aglaronds constant battle with Thay, and of course Waterdeep. However, some of my favorites I believe have been penned out of existence in the fifth edition retroactive continuity, including Returned Abier and the Dragonborn Kingdom of Tymanther. Myth Dranor being infested with Chaos fungus serves those elves right. The Neverwinter meltdown that showed up at the end of the fourth edition, at least changed the map of one City.

Most of the Fifth edition hardbacks so far have focused fairly close to Waterdeep , and the Sword Coast. Prior adventures league seasons have focused around the Moonsea. This season regions have been parceled to various conventions (we’ll see if that was a good idea). However, I haven’t seen much Forgotten Realms east of Mulmaster, or south of Amn (Chult excepted). Thay exists of course but only as a constant supply of evil baddies. I haven’t seen much on Cormyr, or the Dalelands important parts of the second edition realms.

Things I like most about Forgotten Realms Waterdeep, Undermountain, the Underdark, the Great Glaicer

Things I like least, all those Novels, all the retroactive continuity, and the way the timeline advances hundreds of years but nothing actually changes.

Top ten Forgotten Realms items:
Undermountain boxed set
Dungeon of the Mad mage
Myth Dranor boxed set
Waterdeep and the North
Pool of Radiance Gold Box Computer game (the original)
Dreams of the Red Wizards
Mines of Bloodstone
The Bloodstone lands
Dragons of the Realms
The Great Glaicer
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