20 December 2023

Second Edition Advanced Dungeons and Dragons

Over at his Mythlands of Erce blog, Anders H* has a couple of amusing polemical posts defending the honour and goodness of second edition Advanced Dungeons and Dragons (part one concerns the rules; part two addresses the ‘culture’ of the game).

Second edition AD&D was an edition that I almost entirely skipped. I say “almost” because I played very briefly in a 2e campaign one summer around 1990. However, I never owned any 2e AD&D books during its lifecycle (I bought a few books for the Greyhawk and Planescape settings years later). I had drifted away from AD&D by the late 1980s and did not play role-playing games that regularly during the 1990s. To the extent that I did, it was stuff like MERP, Rolemaster, Call of Cthulhu, Hawkmoon, GURPS, and the like.

I eventually did “play” a lot of 2e AD&D, but only via various computer RPGs, namely, the “Infinity engine” Baldur's Gate games, Icewind Dale, and Planescape: Torment (the latter game motivated me to learn more about the Planescape setting, hence my subsequent purchase of the box set and a few other things). It didn't seem that different from 1e AD&D, at least in terms of the rules (the addition of “kits” seemed to be the main difference).

The hatred directed towards 2e by adherents of 1e AD&D (primarily from grognards grumbling on the internet – not that there’s anything wrong with that!) always struck me as primarily flavour-based. And I share their irritation with 2e’s “purging” of things like assassins, half-orcs, demons, devils, etc., (all things that eventually crept back into the game, however, during the 1990s). Also contributing to this sentiment was some bitterness about TSR’s treatment of Gary Gygax, and the unavoidable fact that 2e AD&D was the first “post-Gygax” version of the game. 

There are some rules differences between the two editions, of course, and in my view some favour 2e (e.g., the way thief skills were handled), others 1e (e.g., the presence of a distinct "illusionist" class). 

I much prefer the art in the original 1e AD&D books, especially the classic Dave Trampier Player’s Handbook cover. Overall, the 1e art seems “grittier” and less “family-friendly” than the 2e stuff. Trampier’s pictures often looked like etchings from some mysterious past (as did David Sutherland’s epic “Paladin in Hell”). Erol Otus’s pictures looked like visions of an alternate reality.  

But in terms of rules, I’m fine with 2e AD&D. I certainly prefer them over 3e (which I’ll never touch again), 4e (which I never played after reading halfway through the PHB), and 5e (which, admittedly, is the “least bad” of the post-TSR versions of AD&D/D&D, but still not my cup of tea). I'd be quite happy to play in a 2e campaign. But if I ever run an “old school” AD&D campaign again, it almost certainly would be (a house-ruled version of) Gygaxian 1e AD&D.

(*Note: Anders H is the author of the excellent Into the Unknown RPG, an “old school” variant of the 5e rules. Check it out! If you’re curious, I go over some of the main differences between ItU and 5e here.) 

09 December 2023

The new Mythras Imperative is now available!

I recently mentioned that a new version of Mythras Imperative was in the works. Well … it’s here!

The Design Mechanism’s announcement (at the RPG Pub):

The new, revised, expanded, ORC-licensed edition of Mythras Imperative is now available – just in time for Christmas.

While the game and mechanics are fundamentally the same, we've tweaked a few rules, made errata corrections, and fully integrated rules for firearms, vehicles, new character creation options, and sample creatures (with a complete list of traits to make them worthy opponents).

Most important of all, Mythras Imperative is licensed under ORC, meaning that 3rd party creators can freely use, adapt and build upon the Mythras Imperative foundation for their own unique d100 games, supplements and adventures. Combine Mythras Imperative with its sister book, Classic Fantasy Imperative, or any other ORC-licensed open gaming system.

So whether you want gritty fantasy or mythic historical, Pulp-era spies or cinematic superheroes, Mythras Imperative has you covered. Simple to learn, simple to play, but with a surprising depth that is the result of many, many years of refinement.

The PDF version is free to download. The Print on Demand version is $24.99 (black and white, softcover, 80 pages). A POD version for Drivethru customers will follow later.

As I’ve mentioned many times before at this blog, Mythras is the game that I’ve played the most over the past dozen years (I include its immediate ancestors, RuneQuest 6 and Mongoose Runequest II, within the ‘Mythras’ category, as they’re all essentially the same game, written by the same people). I don’t write about it as much as I do some other games, primarily because I don’t run (“Game Master”) Mythras. I tend to write more about games that I’ve run in the past, am running currently, or plan to run in the future. But if I wasn’t so fortunate as to belong to a group with a couple of excellent Mythras GMs – one of whom is the co-author of the system, the other the co-author of the Mythic Babylon book – I’d definitely be running Mythras myself. 

Anyhow, if you’re still unfamiliar with Mythras, I recommend checking out Mythras Imperative, as it’s a nice, lean presentation of the system, easily readable within an afternoon.

04 December 2023

My original fantasy sandbox: ICE’s Middle-earth

One reason why I have such affection for Iron Crown Enterprise’s line of Middle-earth campaign and adventure modules, is that I learned how to run genuine “sandbox” campaigns (decades before that term was a thing) by using them. This was during the mid-late 1980s, when TSR increasingly released “story-driven” modules like their Dragonlace series. Somewhat ironically, given their literary source, the Middle-earth campaign and adventure modules typically were quite open-ended and location-based in nature, not at all focused on a predetermined “plot” or necessary sequence of events. (The one exception of which I know, and which was published quite late in ICE’s Middle-earth tenure, is their Palantir Quest ‘adventure path’.) 

What happened in my Middle-earth games back in the day, essentially, is that the players would create characters in Esgaroth, Bree, Tharbad, or wherever. I would contrive some reason why they all knew each other (usually something like: “you meet at an inn and intuit that you’re all solid, trustworthy fellows looking for adventure and to protect the free peoples of Middle-earth”). The characters then would simply wander around, following whichever adventure hooks they liked. While I added hooks, encounters, and adventures to what was provided in the Middle-earth campaign modules, the books typically provided very solid frameworks for such campaigns. Or at least the ones that I used did so. As I think I’ve mentioned before here, I ran a summer-long campaign during high-school (we probably played at least 12 hours every week in those halcyon days) using the Rangers of the North (Arthedain) book, building on the adventure notes in the back (years later, these notes would be expanded by ICE into their Palantir Quest book).

I learned a lot from using ICE’s Middle-earth campaign modules. Indeed, trying to figure out how to use them, and doing what I could as a teenager to run challenging and fun sessions in a Middle-earth “sandbox” was a formative experience. (Beyond gaming, I think running MERP helped me to learn how to “think on my feet” far more than running D&D/AD&D adventures – whether published modules or my own creations – ever did.)

Yes, the books varied in quality – well, not the maps by Pete Fenlon or the covers by Angus McBride, which were always amazing. And yes, some didn’t really belong in Middle-earth, like the (totally awesome) Court of Ardor. Nonetheless, overall, I loved MERP, and I still do to this day. Hence my present joy in running the MERP-influenced Against the Darkmaster, both in 20th century Eriador (“Against the Witch-King”) and in my “homebrew” world of Urkasia (“Against the Court of Urdor”).

[This post is a modified version of a comment I posted over at the blog Grognardia, in response to a rather negative, but not unfair, review of the original Iron Crown Middle-earth module, Southern Mirkwood.]

[The pictures are by the great Angus McBride. The top one is from the cover of the Lost Realm of Cardolan campaign module, the bottom one is from the cover of the Rogues of the Borderlands adventure module.]

03 December 2023

Swords and Wizardry special edition

Several weeks ago, I received the special edition of Swords and Wizardry - Revised Edition. It’s a beautiful book. I love the matte cover! If you like S&W, I recommend obtaining one for yourself, if possible.

For my overview of this version of S&W, go here.

01 December 2023

The Cursed Lands (World of Ukrasia)

The Cursed Lands are not ruled or claimed by any of the political regimes of Urdor. It lies to the southeast of Tantûrak, west of Koronande, and north of Taaliraan

Once, over a thousand years ago, it was part of Taaliraan. But following the Great War that ended the First Age of Humanity – which ended the Autarch’s Rylindar Imperium (of which Tantûrak was then a colony) – it was largely abandoned by the Elves. Many had died in the final battles of the War, and most of those who survived relocated to either Koronande or southern Taaliraan. However, a few small independent Elvish communities remain in the jungles to this day. Some reclusive faerie folk (pixies and gnomes) also are rumoured to dwell in hidden enclaves.

The region is known as the ‘Cursed Lands’ because of the large number of undead that have haunted its hills and forests since the Great War. Ghouls especially are quite common. Trolls, redcaps, and other menaces also dwell within the central hill lands. Giant spiders dwell within the woodlands, as do other malevolent entities, such as vampires and similar dark spirits.

The ranger of the ‘Company of the Morning Star’ – Karos – provided the adventurers with a detailed map of the area. The land within the surrounding jungle is roughly 35 miles east-west (40 miles at its widest point) and about 75 miles north-south. 

Map Information

The little coloured circles on the map mark small settlements (100 – 1000 inhabitants). 
  • Green: Elvish settlements (these are loyal to Taaliraan in the south, Koronande in the northeast, and are independent [‘free’] in the middle region).
  • Pink: Koronande (Kirani) settlements.
  • Red: Tantûraki (Arsilonian) settlements.
  • Yellow: Independent settlements (of various kins).
Human settlements:
  • Dawnfell (mixed population).
  • Green Shields (mixed population; some elves).
  • Korlax’s Haven (mixed population; some dwarves). Ruled by the dwarf Korlax.
  • Misty Vale (mixed population; some halflings).
  • New Hope (primarily Tantûraki).
  • Soggy Fields (primarily Tantûraki; some halflings).
  • Triumvir Town (primarily Tantûraki). Ruled by Lord Triumvir – an Arsilonian from the northern island of Aldena (not Tantûrak).
Other settlements:
  • Blue Stone Mine (Dwarves).
  • Bright Lake (Green Elves).
  • Bruffo (Orcs and half-orcs).
  • Crisp Water (Halflings).
  • Crystal Glade (Green Elves).
  • Fargoth (Orcs and half-orcs).
  • Naurlindol (Orcs and … terrible things).
  • Thraz (Orcs and half-orcs).
The Company of the Morning Star:
  • The Company is based in the Tower of the Morning Star.
  • It includes Evrix (Hathorian mage and elf-friend), Karos (Kirani ranger), Zephyr (Tantûraki scout), Bleys (apprentice to Evrix), Ketta (Halfling scout), Onshay (Dwarf 'intelligence collector'), Ulxor (Tantûraki healer and scholar), and Wylane (Blue Elf warrior).
  • The Company tries to deal with major threats to the troubled people of the Cursed Lands.
Significant Dangers in the Cursed Lands:
  • Bandits (humans, orcs, and especially redcaps).
  • Trolls (only attack at night). 
  • Undead, especially ghouls.
  • Spiders (mainly in the Weblands and nearby regions).
  • Wolves. 

(More information about the World of Ukrasia is available here.)

[The map above is part of the larger one, by Pete Fenlon, included within ICE’s The Court of Ardor campaign module. I have added the coloured circles and many of the names to it using Preview.]

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I'm a Canadian political philosopher who lives primarily in Toronto but teaches in Milwaukee (sometimes in person, sometimes online).