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Tale of the Comet (2e)
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Tale of the Comet (2e)

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Strange lights in the sky, prophecies of doom, and a threat unlike any other draw the heroes to Aston Point. In this small frontier town, the fate of the world will be decided. If the heroes and their strange new allies defeat the invaders, they must then pass through a portal to another battleground, a metal city on a far-distant world, where aliens fight desperately against death machines that threaten to overwhelm all organic life.

So trade in your sword for a blaster rifle, your sling stones for a few high-explosive grenades, and see what happens when you mix magic with high technology.

Product History

Tale of the Comet (1997), by Thomas M. Reid is a boxed campaign adventure for the Odyssey line. It was published in July 1997.

Origins (I): 1997 — A Strange Odyssey. Tale of the Comet was the first print D&D module to bear the "Odyssey" imprint — though internet-enabled fans able to download PDFs on their brand-new 56k modems might have seen the logo in the online release of the "Savage Coast" line (1996) a year earlier.

So, what was "Odyssey"? TSR used it as a bureaucratic grouping to make it easier to release books from dead settings, such as the Savage Coast. Wizards of the Coast, perhaps less bound by bureaucracy, had no such concerns. Thus, when they released "Reunion" (1998) for Al-Qadim, it would bear the Al-Qadim logo, not Odyssey.

However, TSR had also planned to use Odyssey for "Unusual one-shot or short-run items following a particular theme, but … not large enough to require their own product line". They said that Council of Wyrms (1994) would have fit this criteria if the Odyssey line had been around at the time. TSR also had two other mini-settings of this sort in process when they died: Tale of the Comet (1997) and the Jakandor trilogy (1998). Wizards of the Coast would use the Odyssey logo for all of these, but then would drop the branding.

Though TSR's online coordinator, Sean Reynolds, explained the Odyssey line to online fans in early 1996, none of the Odyssey books themselves ever said what the line was meant to represent. This has led to generations of fans wondering what the whole thing was about.

Origins (II): The Original Concept. As was often the case at TSR, author Thomas M. Reid was handed a title and a base concept and told to go from there. He recounts that Creative Director Steve Winter told him, "This is the setting where we combine magic and technology … [and] be sure to incorporate the title into your story somehow."

Reid says that the technology ultimately caused him the biggest problems. He didn't want to break the system, he didn't want to introduce lots of new rules, and he didn't want to unbalance the game world. The last problem proved to be the easiest to solve. He used a classic prophet-squeeze-monster trope, saying, "there were simple methods of depleting the blasters and grenades and missiles".

Origins (III): From Here to Alternity. Tale of the Comet is also a back-door pilot for WotC's new science-fiction roleplaying game, Alternity (1998). There's even a short section in Tale of the Comet on converting AD&D characters to Alternity characters, recalling a section in the original Dungeon Master Guide (1979) which detailed rules for converting from AD&D to Boot Hill (1975, 1979) and Gamma World (1978). The Alternity support was a hit, as many fans at the time talked about using the adventure to leap from D&D to Alternity.

Genre Tropes: Science Fantasy. Tale of the Comet is a new science-fantasy take on D&D that uses the classic trope of "starship crashes on fantasy world", mostly famously appearing in S3: "Expedition to Barrier Peaks" (1980) and DA3: "City of the Gods" (1987).

This is a very different sort of science fantasy from the Spelljammer (1989) setting that was popular in the '90s. Whereas Spelljammer created science fantasy by reimagining science-fiction ideas with fantasy theming, the starship trope instead directly introduces science-fiction elements into a fantasy game.

Tale of the Comet also went a step beyond that, seeming to invalidate Spelljammer as the default cosmology for D&D's prime material plane. There's much discussion of the alien Raels' initial space travel, and it's obvious that there are no crystal spheres and no Grubbian physics.

Adventure Tropes. Although there are some minor plotted elements focused on the crash of the sapcecraft, Tale of the Comet is largely a sandbox — with one part set in a fantasy world and another on a Rael outpost in space.

Expanding D&D. Tale of the Comet has a short set of rules for interactions between magic and technology that makes the technology far more powerful than in previous science-fantasy crossovers. Magic weapons only do damage against technology, and magic armor only protects against technology, at an amount equal to its plus. This has a side effect of making spell-casters much more powerful than other classes when fighting against technology, which tends to emphasize a natural imbalance already existing in the D&D game.

There are also plenty of stats for technological items.

The Media Tie-In. The Tale of the Comet adventure was supported with the near simultaneous release of a novel called … Tale of the Comet (1997), by Roland Green. It bears a new brand logo that reads "Fantastic Adventures". This was apparently intended to be a new fiction line in TSR's last days, but it was never used again after Wizards of the Coast took over. One other book had been announced for the line, a hardcover novel called "A Thief in the Tomb of Horrors" by Simon Hawke. Like many of the planned hardcover novels on TSR's final schedule, that one was cancelled.

Exploring the Odyssey World. Because of the poor messaging about the Odyssey line, many fans try to connect up Tale of the Comet with the Jakandor books … and even with the Mystaran "Savage Cost" books. Nonetheless, TSR didn't intend any such connection. Tale of the Comet and the Jakandor books were both sold as being easily fit into any campaign world.

Within Tale of the Comet, you'll find Aston Point, Paradise Lake, and nearby lands, but they never recur in other D&D supplements.

Future History. A different take on monstrous robot appears on the cover of Dragon #258 (April 1999). That links to "Mage vs Machine", an article by Bruce R. Cordell that introduces the science fantasy sheen. They return in "Revenge of the Sheens" in Dragon #270 (April 2000). Though these monsters are different than the Overseer technology of Tale of the Comet, a tie-in is suggested: "At least two points of origin for machine life cysts are currently known, the Barrier Peaks and the Rael cysts."

Meanwhile, in Dungeon #126 (September 2005), Wolfgang Baur presents "The Clockwork Fortress", with suggested links to the sheen. It's also linked to the classic City of Gods from Blackmoor, proving that it's science fantasy all the way down.

About the Creators. In 1997, Reid was the directory for the Forgotten Realms and Ravenloft lines. He still found a bit of time to write each year; Tale of the Comet (1997) was his offering for 1997.

About the Product Historian

The history of this product was researched and written by Shannon Appelcline, the editor-in-chief of RPGnet and the author of Designers & Dragons - a history of the roleplaying industry told one company at a time. Please feel free to mail corrections, comments, and additions to shannon.appelcline@gmail.com.

 
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Customer avatar
September 27, 2017 12:11 am UTC
If the robots were in different pictures (to avoid spoilers), instead of one giant poster (like the physical original), I'd grab this
Customer avatar
James B September 20, 2017 3:10 am UTC
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Author(s)
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Pages
176
Edition
1.0
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TSR 1143
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File Last Updated:
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This title was added to our catalog on May 09, 2017.