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

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

50 Shades of Vorpal review

Note on 50 sHAdes of VORpal. When I put my five bucks in the ring for this one it seemed like some seventeen olds wild ideas about how a game should be and was filled with strange and wondrous drawings from what seemed like a seventeen-year-old's school notebook. The stretch goals are a total hoot as well. There is an interview with the author during the campaign at this defunct blog save via Wayback Machine here Necropants Interview Link, Although the delivered .pdf was very rough it was about what I expected (and deserved given my suggestion when it was running late of just slapping the notes on a scanner and sending them out). My wishful thinking self kept thinking that the designer was actually going to take another pass and fill in the blank pages, but got an update on July 20 officially declaring it "dun". Checking the comments page on Kickstarter it appears that $50 backers have been receiving three-ring binders with a print-out of the same pdf I got two years ago all this month. With an original delivery date of December 2015, it is less than four years late (better than many NASA projects I worked on). In my darker moods, I envisioned this Kickstarter ruining the life of some seventeen-year-old too naive to realize what they had signed on for, so I was glad to see that the author actually brought the Kickstarter to closure.

I decided to take a closer look and review it page by page, but this proved to mostly fruitless. I understand the theory of bad formatting as part of the joke, but the practicality is that it renders much of the book unreadable. I don't even know to format a .pdf so that it splits pictures (and text) in half between pages. The deliberate spelling error joke gets old after a while. The continuing running dialog between the author, artist, and editor is hilarious. Most of the book is class descriptions and pictures. The pictures are unpracticed but evocative. The class descriptions are uneven in quality and completeness, but the names spark the imagination. My favorite names include Lowlings and Quarter demi halflings. Fighting uses a d30 but there is not enough description to actually play. The weapons table has some potential including a coolness rating for each weapon. The Monster section is fairly short but does include "Breaker, game (like a tarrasque only tougher)" as well as both "unassuming" and "vorpal" bunnies. I was disappointed the 1d12 hydracorn was relegated to a footnote on the last page, and that the awesome illustration of the hydracorn from the Kickstarter updates was omitted. The location section follows next. My favorite location is the uber dark. As all "old school" gamebooks this one ends with a random assemblage of unfinished thoughts.

Did I get my five bucks worth? I was disappointed that he didn't take another pass at the text. With even a minimum effort the author could have matched the quality of the Arduin Grimoire or even the little brown books of Orginal Dungeons and Dragons. However, this perhaps was not the author's goal. For an old guy like me, something that reminds me of my high school friends is probably worth five bucks anyway.

Here are some other peoples thoughts on 50 Shades of Vorpal.

Tenker's Tavern Nonreview Link

and the Hydracorn

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