Not Since 2000

  It's been a long time since I've bothered to purchase an official Dungeons & Dragons product.  Since the debut of third edition in 2000, there has been nothing that WOTC has produced that has interested me, as the game is not the D&D that i know and love.  I have never been able to make that leap.  I like my D&D old school, thank you very much.  I haven't paid much attention to the new 5th edition, but tonight I downloaded the basic rules to see what the new version is like.  That's when I ran across this...
Finding a Hidden Object When your character searches for a hidden object such as a secret door or a trap, the DM typically asks you to make a Wisdom (Perception) check. Such a check can be used to find hidden details or other information and clues that you might otherwise overlook. In most cases, you need to describe where you are looking in order for the DM to determine your chance of success. For example, a key is hidden beneath a set of folded clothes in the top drawer of a bureau. If you tell the DM that you pace around the room, looking at the walls and furniture for clues, you have no chance of finding the key, regardless of your Wisdom (Perception) check result. You would have to specify that you were opening the drawers or searching the bureau in order to have any chance of success.
  Why in the world would you need to roll for a perception check to find a key "hidden" under some folded clothes?  If you searched the drawers, I'd rule that you found it, period.
  Next I came across the spell lists, and that's when my jaw just hit the ground.  Here's the list of Magic-User ( sorry, it's now Wizard) cantrips.  Remember cantrips, those useless little spells you used for about a week before realizing they were pointless?
Cantrips (0 Level) Acid Splash, Dancing Lights, Fire Bolt, Light, Mage Hand, Minor Illusion, Poison Spray, Prestidigitation, Ray of Frost, Shocking Grasp 
And these are just the cantrips, three of which can be cast by a 1st level wizard!  And it gets even worse...
  You prepare the list of wizard spells that are available for you to cast. To do so, choose a number of wizard spells from your spellbook equal to your Intelligence modifier + your wizard level (minimum of one spell). The spells must be of a level for which you have spell slots. For example, if you’re a 3rd-level wizard, you have four 1st-level and two 2nd-level spell slots. With an Intelligence of 16, your list of prepared spells can include six spells of 1s or 2nd level, in any combination, chosen from your spellbook.
  I had to read that a few times just to make sure I was understanding it correctly.  Six second level spells for a 3rd level wizard, plus three "cantrips"?! 
  This is still not the D&D I know and love.

Appendix N, The Elfstones Of Shannara By Terry Brooks

  Thirty years ago, when I was but a lad of fourteen years, I believed this novel was truly an amazing work of fiction.  Unlike Tolkien, where the writing seemed to plod along, and the inclusion of songs seemed totally pointless, Terry Brooks' writings were dynamic and magical, and I found it nearly impossible to set the book down until I had reached the conclusion.
  Thirty years later, and those lofty opinions have come down to the ground floor of adult reality.  The same style and qualities I found so intriguing as a teenager are what now makes this only an average fantasy story at best. 
  The actions of Wil and Amberle move along not by their fierce determination to complete their quest, but only by the repeated (and repeated, and repeated, and repeated...) fortuitous intervention of strangers and minor characters.
  The story of Ander has a little depth, and the battles between the Elven army and the demons is well told.  I had a lot of trouble identifying with or caring for the protagonists, and it's because of the juvenile world view this book is written from.  The trials and tribulations of the characters are the same things, albeit less fantastical, that teenagers and young adults face as they enter the real world of work, family, and responsibility.
  If you're of that age, then the book will probably resonate strongly with you, and be meaningful to your own journey through life.  If you are like me, a little further down the road of life, this can be a nice look back at the path behind you, but not much more.  Let your son, daughter, niece or nephew find delight in the pages, and remember that you were just like that once.

Pandora's Dice Wheel

  Over the years there have been many alternatives to using dice to generate random numbers.  The Holmes Edition of D&D was famous for it's use of chits, due to the Great Dice Shortage of the late 1970's.  Plastered in every issue of Dragon Magazine I used to own were ads for the Dragonbone Electronic Dice Wand, which one of the players in our group actually owned.  It just wasn't, of course, as nice as using actual dice, and it only made a brief appearance in our games.
  Nowadays you can download virtual dice rollers for your desktop, smartphone and tablet, and there's even one that mimics the Dragonbone perfectly, called Dungeonbone.  There is another replacement for dice that had ads in Dragon magazine, but I've never seen one.  It's called Pandora's Dice Wheel.
  What's interesting is that it has a very tactile component, turning the wheel, and the lack of a tactile component to most dice replacements is usually the main reason they're not used too much.  I wonder if spinning the wheel is just as satisfying as rolling the bones?  Anyone ever use one of these?

Holmes Basic, Page By Page Part 3

  We've come to the title page on our journey through Holmes D&D, and my version of the manuscript is the third edition from December 1979.  According to the Zenopus Archives, my copy is the first printing of the third edition, and there are nine known printing runs, which is a testament to the popularity of the original Basic Set.  There are several changes made between editions, and I'll try to highlight these as we go along.
Title page
  The illustration on the title page is by David C. Sutherland III, and in my opinion it may just be the finest piece of old school D&D art ever created.  Blasphemy, I know, as Sutherland is widely considered a distant third to the likes of Trampier and Otus, but before you rile the local villagers into a frenzied mob to destroy my laboratory of obvious evil, hear me out.
  Composition wise is where everything goes wrong, and right at the same time.  You almost can't see the cleric (armor and mace, looks like a cleric to me) smiting the vile pig-faced orcs with extreme prejudice, as the fighter obscures most of the that action.  The wizard's spell also fades into the background, and is covered up by the cleric's mace.  There's so much going on, and everything gets in everything else's way.  But, if we look beyond the obvious flaws, there's more going on here than at first appears.
  We have three characters facing off against a horde of orcs, at least 18 by my count, and probably more that we can't see.  Two orcs are already dead, with a third apparently wounded enough he's having trouble getting up.  Notice the wounded fellows shield.  It's been through a beating, and shows signs of distress, unlike all the other shields wielded by orcs. 
  The characters have positioned themselves defensively, ready for a fighting withdrawal up the stairs, a tactic that has reduced the orcs numerical advantage.  The wizard has ascended the stairs so he can fire over the front rank, and is using that column as partial cover!  He's also firing into the middle ranks, helping to disrupt their charge.  These are players who know how to use tactics to their benefit.
  Dungeons and Dragons is a thinking man's game.  Brute strength alone will not win the day, one must use their wits to survive and prosper.  Sutherland has encapsulated that concept into the art, and that's his great strength as an artist, no matter how simple his drawings may appear. 

Appendix N, The Maze Of Peril By John Eric Holmes

51il4Qa XKL   If you're perusing this blog post, there's a great chance that you're an aficionado of old-school Dungeons & Dragons, or at the very least you have a burning curiosity towards the forty year old game of paper, pencils, funny dice, and your imagination.  That, or you Googled your way here and are desperately looking for your browser's back button.
  Assuming you're not here by accident or quirk of fate, (and if you are, why not stick around for a little bit.  Coffee?) think back to the times before you knew what a mortgage truly was, before the magic of utility bills, taking the little ones to little league, and  mandatory overtime dominated your days.  When you and your friends could devote all evening to pillaging the Caves of Chaos.  Back when you named your half-elf fighter/magic-user Melric (a combination of Merlin and Elric that you were sure no one ever thought of before).  The times you equipped a halfling thief with a grappling hook, and made sure to utilize said hook in every....  single....  encounter, gleefully shouting "Bonzai" all the while.  (No, I don't know why the night watch was not amused when you used the grappling hook to scale the city wall, after being granted permission to enter the gates.  Explaining that it was the thief-ly way to make a grand entrance probably didn't smooth things over, either.)
  Now take these (mis)adventures and employ them as the basis for a 147 page novella, and the end result would most likely resemble The Maze Of Peril by John Eric Holmes.  That is not a negative criticism.  On the contrary, it's the somewhat juvenile style of writing and assorted D&D-isms that give this work it's charm.  Holmes made sure not to take anything too seriously, and you get the sense that the campaign this book was based on was about, first and foremost, having fun, not being epic.
  The main protagonists are Zereth (I was Drizzt before Drizzt was Drizzt) the elf and Boinger (yes, Boinger!  I shit you not!) the halfling.  Their compatriots along the way run the gamut of fantasy tropes, from a portly priest and a knightly paladin, to a gruff dwarf and an alluring Amazon.  We're even treated to a segment where a centaur joins the party for a short while.
  If you can't take your fantasy literature with a grain of absurdity, then this is not the book for you.  If, on the other hoof (or paw or hand or mandible) you don't mind getting your peanut butter mixed with your centaurs and your centaurs mixed with your peanut butter, you will most likely enjoy the story and the memories of games past it can evoke.
  But wait, there's more!
  This novella is also an excellent snapshot of the way D&D was played back in the dark ages of the 1970's and early '80's.  There are lessons aplenty for students of the Old Ways, both players and dungeon masters alike.  Just the twists and turns around the flesh golem subplot is golden old-school-iness, and a great lesson on how actions can have unexpected consequences for the players.  What are you waiting for?  You can but it at Noble Knight Games

Holmes Basic, Page By Page, Part 2

  Onward in our journey into Holmes Basic, we come to something that was never meant to be there, the cardboard insert with chits, provided because of a lack of available polyhedral dice.  My copy has the insert, but the chits are no longer there.  Here's a scan of the insert, including a coupon to get a free set of dice (a $1.50 retail value, please allow 4 to 6 weeks for delivery).  

  When Holmes Basic was published, 1977 to 1980, polyhedral dice were something of a novelty, and TSR had some trouble maintaining a steady supply.  Many of the Basic Boxed Sets came without dice, and so a cardboard insert was added with cut-out chits to take the place of dice.  Instructions were provided on their use (see the pictures above) which also included how to use the dice once you had them. 
  Strangely for a set that was aimed towards beginners, John Eric Holmes provided no details on how these funny little pieces of polyhedral plastic were to be used.  The d20 was marked 0 to 9 twice, and was to be used as a d20, d10 and d%, but how was one new to the hobby supposed to know that?  It's a glaring mistake on JEH's part, and TSR, and details on the dice had to be added to the back of the last page, plus on the chit insert.  

The Fantasy Factory


  Oh SciFi Channel, how you are missed.  We used to get interesting programs like Masters Of Fantasy, now we just get schlock like Sharknado Week. Focusing on TSR just before the purchase by Wizards Of The Coast, it's nice to see Gary, but wow is there a lot of screen time devoted to Lorraine Williams.  She really never did get it when it came to Dungeons & Dragons, and you can see it when she speaks.

  I've never seen the TSR offices until now, a nice little snapshot of what used to be.  It would have been nice to see some of Gary's basement where everything began!  Too bad, also, that Dave Arneson was not included.

Holmes Basic, Page By Page, Part 1

  My introduction to Dungeons and Dragons was through the classic B/X sets in 1981.  There was a dim realization that an earlier version of the game existed, but I only caught a glimpse it once before the advent of the interwebs.  I think it would be fun and informative to look over the Holmes version of the rules,  something I've never really had a chance to do before.  Thanks to the magic of Ebay, I have a nice copy of Holmes'  rulebook, though it didn't come with the box.

  As in anything, you should always start at the beginning, this being the box itself.  The dimensions of the box are just about identical to my beloved B/X versions, and it's a kind of Golden Ratio for old-school goodness.  For gamers older than I am who started with the LBB's, it may not evoke the same feelings, but for me, anything that comes in that size box just feels right

  The cover artwork, while not as powerful as Erol Otus' masterpiece on the 1981 Basic Set box, does what it is supposed to, namely pique your interest and depict what the game is succinctly.  We have a dungeon, a dragon, treasure, and a pair of (outclassed, it seems) adventurers.  The work is by David C. Sutherland III, and is one of his better pieces, though even his lesser works still speak to me more than most contemporary fantasy art.

  More to come...

   Bonus!  Here's a full-size version of the box artwork without the text!  Enjoy!


Back To 1981

  Let's get this blog back in business!  We'll start with a commercial for the 1981 D&D Basic Set (Click Here for a higher quality version. Embedding disabled for this one, WTF).  

  Now my memory may be a little fuzzy, but I sure don't remember a dragon in the Caves of Chaos, do you? And really, could the players and DM be any nerdier?  Probably not, as this group (except for the girls.... where were these women when I was growing up?  Not at our table!) was just about spot on for the group of friends I played with at the time.

  Funny how the commercial makes the statement that your options are limited, fight or run away.  Kinda defeats the whole point of using your imagination, because I can think of several other options.  It is nice, though, that running away is mentioned, as you would never hear this in a commercial for a current RPG (Run away?  But I'm the hero of this story!).

  I think "USE YOUR LIGHTNING BOLT" is going to be the war cry for an NPC my players are going to meet, just to mess with them!
Blogger Templates