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D&D Immortals Set (BECMI ed.) (Basic)
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
by Timothy B. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/29/2020 16:15:00

Originally Posted here: http://theotherside.timsbrannan.com/2020/06/becmi-immortals-set-review.html

D&D Immortals Set (1986)

I am reviewing both my rather beat up and water damaged version of the Immortal set (I only have the book, not the box) and the PDFs from DriveThruRPG.

A couple of notes. The set now lists Frank Mentzer as Author. No mention of Dave Arneson nor Gary Gygax here. The year is 1986 and Gygax had been removed from TSR the previous October. Frank had been very closely allied with Gary so his time at TSR was also going to come to an end soon. The Immortals rules and the module The Immortal Storm would be his last books for the company. This had two rather obvious impacts on these rule books. First, the art that had been getting more sparse with each set now hits an all-time low. No in quality mind you! But in terms of amount. There is just not that much art in these books.
Secondly, it also meant that the company focused more on its perceived cash cow, the AD&D line. Gary had been talking about the AD&D 2nd Edition game, but now that project was turned over to Dave "Zeb" Cook of the B/X Expert Set rules. Others have played the conjecture game of what might have been, so I will not go into that here. What I will say though is it left Frank and the BECMI line alone for the Immortals set to go into some very weird directions.

If BECMI is the ultimate update of the OD&D rules, then the Immortals rules cover part of what Eldritch Wizardry and Gods, Demi-gods & Heroes.

Players' Guide to Immortals 32 pages, color covers, black & white art. Your character, now 36th level and has pretty much done everything from dungeons to the planes hears the call to become an Immortal! Certainly, this was the goal of those quests and battles. Immortality. But now the game, both actually and metaphorically, has changed. Just like when you moved from Jr. High/Middle school or Grade school to High School you go from being the most powerful of mortal kind, to the least powerful of the immortals. This book covers how your character now becomes an Immortal. There are five spheres, four of which characters can access, detailed here. These are the same spheres that have been hinted at since the Companion set and introduced in the Masters set; Matter, Energy, Though, Time, and Entropy. characters choose one of the first four usually corresponding to the class they had in life; Fighter, Magic-User, Thief, and Cleric respectively. Experience points gained will alive now become PowerPoints on a 10k to 1 basis. We get our first hints at a proto-point buy system in D&D here since PowerPoints can be spent. Now the Initiate Immortal can begin to do some Immortal things. PowerPoints are used for a lot of things, but mostly for magical or spell-like effects. Your sphere will determine which ones you can do easily and which ones are harder. There are a lot of interesting rule changes along the way. AC is now Ascending for Immortals; so Immortal AC 20 is the same as mortal AC of -20. AC 0 is the same. Ability scores can be raised. First to a max of 25 (the AD&D max of the time) but also all the way to 100!
In a lot of ways the PP mechanic is similar to what we see in other Point Buy systems used for super heroes. It makes sense really.
Though for all of it's detail there is very little information on what an Immortal should do. Right now they seem, at best, super-powered mortal characters. There is some implicit ideas, but nothing spelled out yet.

DM's Guide to Immortals 64 pages, color covers, black & white art. The DM's book spends some time covering the planes of existence. While a lot on specific planes is left vague, there is a lot of details on how planes are designed. The artwork and some of the notes appear as if the author and artists were checking on what the AD&D team was doing "down the hall" there is a unique feel to the BECMI multi-verse. A lot of emphasis is given on "doing it yourself" including room for the DM to pencil in their own % for monsters occurring. There is a bit more here about the planes, in particular the Prime plane. We learn that the Known World doesn't just look like Earth from 150 Million Years ago, it IS Earth from then. This explains the map a bit better. We also learn that this Earth is the predecessor to our lands. Though, in the spirit of everything else in the book, this can be changed. The Solar system is the same, save for a few notable differences. Mercury and Pluto are not in their orbits yet and between Mars and Jupiter where the asteroid belt is there is a planet called Damocles. Fitting named for a doomed planet but doesn't fit with the names of the Roman Olympians. Damocles will be destroyed and the two largest pieces will fly off to become Mercury and Pluto. Imaginative to be sure! But Mercury is only 35 million miles and Pluto is closer to 3 billion miles from the sun. The asteroid belt is roughly 300 million miles from the sun. So Damocles is not really in the middle of that. No big deal, this is D&D not Astronomy. I DO however love the idea of a doomed planet in the current or future asteroid belt. Maybe a MiGo outpost or something like that. I want to talk more about the Known World/Earth a little more in just a bit. Plus there is one more bit of information I want to collect. It would be interesting to compare and contrast the multiplanuar mechanics and rules here with the various Manual of the Planes. This is followed by the Immortal Campaign. Or, what do Immortals do? There are some ideas given but for the number of rules on immortal characters and planes you would expect some more to be honest. Our "Monsters" section is now called "Creatures" since they "cannot be adequately called monsters." All these monsters...creatures now have expanded stat blocks to cover their immortal statuses.
One of the first things I noticed were the inclusion of demons to roster of D&D BECMI monsters. I am not sure why this surprised me since these are the same demons from Eldritch Wizardry. Well...same in name but these demons got a serious upgrade. Let's compare. A Succubus in AD&D is a 6+6 HD creature (average hp 33), her physical attacks are not great, but her kiss drains 2 life energy levels. In BECMI a Whispering Demon has 15* HD and 70 hp! Oh and her AC is -6. Orcus and Demogorgon have 39 and 40 HD with 620 and 660 hp respectively! Yikes! We do get some art of them.

In addition to being able to summon other demons Orcus and Demogorgon can summon Gargantua.

We get more inhabitants of the nightmare dimension like the Diabolus which are...checking the description...well they basically tieflings. And they can take any human class. So all the Grognards out there complaining about "monster races" have no ground to stand on. Here are the rules from 1986. The Dragon Rulers are updated to Immortal stats and so are some of the elemental rulers. There is the Megalith and it is ... WHAT??? More on that in a bit! A few more creatures and some, ok a lot, of tables on magic.

Crisis on Infinite Urts So there are a couple of new-to-me bombshells in the Immortal rules. First, the world of the PCs, aka the Known World is Earth of 150 mya. Secondly, this Earth is in actuality a creature known as a Megalith ("big rock") and it is known to the Immortals as "Urt." It's tucked away in two different places, but this is a revelation really. The Known World as living planet known as Urt. Imagine what the "Mystara" line might have been about had this thought continued? No Hollow World to be sure. Frank Mentzer pretty left TSR soon after this and the Immortal Storm were complete, so we never really got to see what his ultimate vision was. We do know that Gygax considered his Oerth and later Aerth for his Dangerous Journeys to all be alternates of Earth. Aerth was a little more on the nose about it. Frank was set to design parts of Oerth a few years back, but that project fell through. It might have been the closest we would have seen to a fleshed-out Urt.
At some point between 1986 and 1991 (the publication of the D&D Rules Cyclopedia) the world of Urt became Mystara.

So here at the end of all things what can I say about the Immortals rules? It is an inconsistent set of rules to be sure. There are a lot of really interesting ideas connected together with bits of fluff that may, or may not, work well. The concepts of Immortals is a compelling one and D&D would come back to it in big ways at least two more times with Wrath of the Immortals and Dungeons & Dragons Fourth Edition where Immortally was the goal after 30th level.

Still. One can be impressed with the scope of the rules and how it caps off a set of rules that began in 1983 but has roots going back to 1977 and to the dawn of D&D. For that reason, it gets a few points more than it might have gotten on its own.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
D&D Immortals Set (BECMI ed.) (Basic)
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M1 Into the Maelstrom (Basic)
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
by Timothy B. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/25/2020 13:24:38

Originally posted here: http://theotherside.timsbrannan.com/2020/06/review-m1-into-maelstrom-becmi.html

M1 Into the Maelstrom is really a fantastic adventure for the D&D Master's Set that realizes that set's potential. It is also a great lead-in to not just the Immortals Set coming up, but also the future of the Mystara-line and even pre-sages Spelljammer and the adventures of the 90s. Additionally, and somewhat forgotten, this book introduces us to our first named Immortals and introduces demons to BECMI.

In some ways, I do wish I had read M1 before I had picked up M3. I had picked both modules up around 10-13 years ago while looking for a good epic level adventure for my kids then D&D 3.x game. They were into the epic levels of D&D 3, with the lowest level at 24 and the highest at 29. They were on this huge campaign against what they thought was the machinations of Tiamat. M1 was very good choice since I love the idea of flying ships (D&D should be FANTASTIC after all) but the base plot didn't work for the adventure in mind. M3, along with some other material, worked rather perfectly. Plus I can't deny that the Carnifex played a huge role. So M3 went on the table and M1 went back on the shelves.

There is a lot going on here. Let's get into it.

For this review, I am going to consider my original print module and the PDF from DriveThruRPG. There is a Print on Demand version as well, but I do not have it.

M1 Into the Maelstrom By Bruce and Beatrice Heard. 32 pages, color covers, black & white interior. Cover art by Jeff Easley, interior art by Valerie Valusek and maps by Dave "Diesel" LaForce. Into the Maelstrom deals with the machinations of three Immortals, Koryis (Law), Vanya (Neutral) and Alphaks (Chaos), and are featured on the cover. Alphaks is our focus here. He is the focus of the next few adventures and is one of the "Big Bads" of the later BECMI and Mystara lines. He was the ancient Emperor of Alphatia AND he is the first demon we see by the name demon in any BECMI book to my knowledge. He is a "Roaring Demon" or what 1st Edition calls a Type VI or Balor demon. We won't learn more about them till the Immortal set, but here they are. Demons in Basic D&D.

Our adventure starts in the Known World. We bring back King Ericall of Norwold and he needs the characters to investigate the source of some poisonous winds coming from the north between Norwold and the Island Empire of Alphatia (to the east). The poisonous fog/winds are the result of Alphaks trying to reenter the world via a two-way portal from the Sphere of Death (call back to Death's Ride!)

The three immortals are essentially playing a game. Alphaks wants into the world, Koryis doesn't want him in and Vanya is going to side with the winner. As the adventure progresses each immortal will earn points for the actions, successes and/or failures of the PCs. The DM keeps track. The PCs can also gain curses or boons as the adventure continues.

So another new addition is the "Sea Machine" or water-based battles as an addition to the War Machine. Pretty nice bonus add if you ask me.

The first part of the adventure goes pretty normal. That is until the seagoing vessels encounter the titular maelstrom. The PCs are sucked into the swirling vortex of death and spit out into a starry void with air they can breathe! How's that for adventure?

Here this becomes a proto-Spelljamming adventure, there are several locations (Islands) that the PCs can stop at, but each has their own unique set of hazards.

The PCs must navigate, in all senses of the word, the machinations of these three immortals. There is even a giant battle with a navy of the dead controlled by Alphaks.

In addition to the new monster stats (the Roaring Demon), there are PC/NPC stats in back for characters to use in the adventure.

So for the first time, we get a BECMI adventure into the other planes. Here the characters get a chance to travel the outer planes via a flying ship and even dip a toe into the Astral plane.
Depending on the outcome the characters can also be set on the path to Immortality.

This adventure is "bigger on the inside" as has been described. There is a lot here that can be expanded on to a near-infinite degree. With a ship that can transverse the planes a good argument could be made about even returning to the Known World and Norwold.

Let's also take a moment and talk about Diesel LaForce's maps. These things are works of art really. I am not sure how as a DM you can look at them and NOT want to run this adventure. "Dimensional Guide to the Star Kingdoms?" Hell yeah!

Into the Maelstrom, along with the other modules in the M series work not just as a Master's level set of adventures, but also our introduction to plane hopping and dealing with immortals in the D&D game. Compared to the same treatments in AD&D, such as the H Series, the M series is more subtle in it's approach. The H series is largely about kicking in doors, killing monsters and taking their stuff. Only in the H series, the doors are planes, the monsters are gods and demons and their stuff are artifacts.

Going back to the beginning, if I had known more about the arc (let's call it the "Norwold Saga") then all of these adventures do tie into all the others in a nice, dare I say it, Adventure Path. Maybe that is something that WotC could do to reintroduce Mystara is give us this for 5e rules.

Keep in mind that this "Adventure Path" or even meta plot was alive and well in the mid-80s. Long before the 90s that this sort of gaming is most associated with. I might have to explore this idea further.

In the meantime, M1 Into the Maelstorm stands out as not only a great adventure, but a groundbreaking one in many ways.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
M1 Into the Maelstrom (Basic)
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D&D Master Set (BECMI ed.) (Basic)
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
by Timothy B. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/22/2020 13:42:22

Originally posted here: http://theotherside.timsbrannan.com/2020/06/becmi-master-set-review.html

Moving every up we are now at the apex of BECMI D&d Play for normal characters. The journey that began at level 1 in the Basic set is now seeing its end at levels 26 to 36 in the Master Set.

This particular set was never on my radar and I only picked one up a couple years ago. The box was beaten up and the contents were water damaged, but still readable. The box also had an extra copy of the Immortal rules inside, so that was a nice bonus. But this has always been something an "other" for me and my D&D game.

Today I look into these rules for the first time in detail.

The Master set covers levels 26-36, following right from the Companion rules. I am going to say that in my reading of both sets I am convinced really that they likely should have been combined into a single set of rules. Big set to be sure, but the overlap is often very significant.

D&D Master Set (1985)

As with the previous BECMI Sets, I am reviewing both my boxed set and the PDFs available from DriveThruRPG.

The Master Players' Book

This book is the smaller of the two at 32 pages. Color covers, black & white interiors.

There are some interesting things to note on page 1. First, we are told this is the Dungeons & Dragons game by Gary Gygax. Dave Arneson is no longer listed. Also, this book is "compiled by" Frank Mentzer as opposed to "written by." I am not going to try to read too much into this. Writing on the book was complete in Spring 1985. It would be published that summer in July but it would soon be eclipsed in sales by the Unearthed Arcana for AD&D which had sold well. Though in 3-4 months it would all change and Gygax would be ousted from TSR. But that is a topic for another day.

Like the previous books, this one covers all the details needed for characters up to the vaulted 36th level. Clerics and Magic-users see the most text devoted to them. Clerics gain additional turning abilities which include more monsters and the ability to affect more monsters. They also get more spells but still top out at 7th level. More druid spells are also presented here. Magic-users also get more spells including the most abused spell in D&D history, Wish. Again they top out at 9th level spells. Even clerics get access to Wish if they are 36th level and have a wisdom of 18 or greater. Magic-users also get Heal. Which I admit seems a little odd to me.

Fighters get half of a column or 1/6 of a page for their updates. Thieves get a page. Dwarves, Elves, and Halfling get a page to share. There are some new armor options, but the biggest inclusion is that of Weapon Mastery. This mimics the Weapon Proficiency we will see in the Unearthed Arcana and future editions of D&D. Essentially fighters are better with a chosen weapon. while I have heard and read that this can lead to fighters becoming too powerful at early levels, I don't think this is really a big deal. I like the idea that a fighter should be able to train with a weapon exclusively and become better at it.

We get expanded weapon and damage charts to include all the weapons that have been added since the Basic set. Plus some Pole-arms (maybe Frank was looking over Gary's shoulder a few times!) There is even a section on siege weapons that can be used with the War Machine rules. So a lot yes, but nothing that really screams Masters to me. A lot of what is here could have been added to the Companion rules for a 48 page Player's book.

The Master DM's Book

This is the larger at 64 pages. Color covers, black & white interiors.

One of the neatest bit of this book is finally getting a map of the Known World. It is so great that I am going to devote an entire post just to that later this week.

Like the books before it, this section is given over to Procedures first. First up is a ruling on Ant-Magic Effects. Good to have really for any version of the game. some detail on characters are also given including Character Background. It is 1985 after all. A couple of other things stand out. We get our first taste of the Immortal rules here with the introduction of the idea of Immortals as the "next level up."

Monsters get an upgrade here with expanded to hit tables; Creatures to 33+ HD and Armor Classes from 19 (yes +19) to -20. But that is not all. Monsters also get an average Intelligence rating. All creatures from all four sets are covered. Along with this intelligence rating, there is an optional change to charm based on intelligence. It's neat, but I would rule that intelligence has no effect at all on charm magic. No that is the realm of Wisdom. In my copy I would cross out "Intelligence" and replace it with "Wisdom."

Included here for some reason is also the Mystic class. Expect it is not really presented as a full class. It is not the Mystic that Gygax was talking about in Dragon magazine, but rather a different version of the AD&D monk. It appears again in the Monster section.

Another update to monsters, in particular, non-human monsters are spell casting monsters. Dragons are discussed, but we also get the Shaman NPC class (Clerics) and the Wicca NPC class (Magic-Users). There are some interesting ideas here and some level limits for a large variety of monsters. I am curious as to why Frank choose "Wicca." I am sure that the meaning here is "witch" and that is not just my biases. If you look back over the various BECMI books Wicca, Witch, and Wokani get used failry interchangeably. I discussed this in a recent Class Struggles post.

On the other end of the spectrum from Immortals, we also get Undead Liege Lords and how they can control lesser undead. Also useful for any version of the game.

The next big section of the book belongs to the Monsters. Like the Companion Set this one is broken up into Prime Plane creatures and outer plane creatures.

Here we get some very new looking monsters that would only later move on to the main AD&D/D&D lines. We also get what I like to call BECMI versions of some others. The Devilfish is essentially an Ixitxachitl. Blackballs remind me of Xeg-yi. We do get new Dragons in name, Crystal, Onyx, Jade, Ruby, Sapphire and Brown. But they share stats with dragons we already know. We also get the four rulers of the Dragon kind, Pearl, Opal, Diamond and the Great Dragon. There are Drakes which are not exactly like the Drakes of later D&D and closer to shapeshifters. These could even pass for the elusive Mystaran Dragonborn.

We also get Faeries, Hags and Liches to round out what I consider some of the classical monsters.

Part 3 of the monsters listing includes stats from all sorts of B/X and BECMI monsters published elsewhere (other rules, modules) and then brought into the fold of the full BECMI rules. So even the oddities like Brain Collectors and Lupins from X2 Castle Amber are here.

The last 20 pages of the rules cover magical artifacts; something we have not seen in BECMI to any degree yet. There are detailed rules for artifact creation and a number of new artifacts. Many I have never seen before and none copied over from the AD&D DMG.

In fact, there is so much here that I am going to cover it all in a future post.

There are only a few "normal" magic items listed at the end.

Ok. So the Masters Rules feel very uneven to me after the Companion Rules. I could see where it might have been better to instead take both sets and merge them into one and maybe top out at 25th or 30th level really. We will see that re-organization in the future.

Fighters went from getting all the new fun details to nearly nothing in going from Companion to Masters. Clerics and Magic-users get more spells, but that is about it. Thieves suffer the most for now having to have their abilities amortized over 36 levels.

There are some great new monsters in the Master's rules, very few save for the various "rulers" even have Master's level HD (26+).

The artifacts though are great and really gives a feel for what a Master's Level game could be about.

The art feels lighter in this set than the previous ones. The only Elmore art is the cover.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
D&D Master Set (BECMI ed.) (Basic)
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CM2 Death's Ride (Basic)
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
by Timothy B. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/18/2020 09:16:14

Originally Posted here: http://theotherside.timsbrannan.com/2020/06/retrospective-review-and-refit-cm2.html

Ah. Death's Ride. I have such fond memories of this adventure.

CM2 Death's Ride: Retrospective

Death's Ride is one of a few adventures I have had the privilege to both play in and to run. While overtly for the D&D Basic rules, Companion set, it can be run (and we did) under AD&D. Though some of the special features were lost I think.

I bought this module and gave it to my DM to run back in the day and I ran it using the 3.x version of the D&D rules and then again most recently using the 5th Edition rules.

The Barony of Two Lakes Vale gave us ample room to move about and try different things, but then it was the NPCs that captured my attention the most. Ulslime, Wazor, and Korbundar lived on in my games for many more years with both Ulsime and Korbundar even threatening my players in the 3rd Ed. game. One, and I am not sure if he was an NPC in the game or one my DM made up, went on to torture my characters for many more adventures after this.

The Death Portal was an interesting bit of necromantic trickery to get the players something to focus on and the new monsters were a lot of fun (the Death Leech nearly took out my characters back in the 80s.)

But before I wax too much more into nostalgia, let's review this adventure proper.

CM2 Death's Ride: Review

by Garry Spiegle, art by Jeff Easley, 32 pages, color covers, black & white interior art. I am reviewing both the DriveThruRPG PDF and my original copy from 1984.

Death's Ride is one of our first Companion level adventures. The code for this series in CM, since C was already taken. Both CM1 Test of the Warlords (with it's Warduke-like cover) and CM2 Death's Ride were designed to be introductions to Companion level play. Both were supposedly designed to work with each other, both being set in Norwold. However, they really don't work together other than this thin thread of Norwold. That does not detract from its enjoyment.

The basic premise is this. The adventurers, already powerful and famous in their own right, are summoned to the Barony of Twolakes Vale by King Ericall of Norwold (Background on King Ericall is given in Companion adventure CM1.) The local baron, Sir Maltus Fharo, has sent no taxes, caravans, or messages in several months. A small body of troops sent by the king to investigate has not returned. At this time, Ericall doesn't have the resources to send a large body of troops, so he is asking the characters to go to the barony, find out what's wrong, and if possible, restore contact. The king gives the characters a royal warrant and permission to act in his name.

The problem is much worse than the King suspects. A gateway to the “Sphere of Death” has been opened in Two Lakes Vale. It's up to the characters to determine who or what opened the gate. They must also close the gate forever. The characters should not actually enter the Sphere of Death in this adventure; their goal is to close the gate. Twolakes Vale holds only an inflow portal from the sphere. Consider any character who actually reaches the Sphere of Death as killed (or at least removed from the campaign until other characters can launch a formal rescue operation).

Here they will encounter death, destruction and our three main Antagonists. Wazor an "Atlantean Mage", Ulslime a cleric of "Death" and our cover boy Korbundar the huge blue dragon. No, the skeleton riding him does not appear anywhere in this adventure. Nor does the lake of fire.

The adventure proceeds on a location-based adventure. The characters move from location to location in the Twolakes Vale, which is described well except for where it is exactly in Norwold, finding clues, fighting enemies. Until the final confrontation and destruction of the artifact (the "deathstone") opening the Sphere of Death. Of course, you need another artifact to do that.

The NPCs are very detailed and out trio of bad-guys are so much fun that both Ulslime and Korbundar were made into semi-permanent NPCs of note in my games. It got to the point where my kids would be like "Is that Korbundar!!" anytime a blue dragon was used in a game.

The other issue with this adventure, and one that was lost on me until recently, is that is doesn't really fully feel like something from the Companion Set. It has been described, by most notably by Jonathan Becker at B/X Blackrazor, that this adventure really runs like a high-level Expert set adventure. A wilderness hex with various points within the hex that need to be investigated.

There are some of the new monsters in the adventure, but when I played it and ran through it we substituted the monsters from AD&D/D&D3 as the case required. There are Wrestling Ratings to the monsters and a chance to raise an army, but nothing about domains or ruling kingdoms.

Of course, this would all come later on in the CM adventures, so I guess that is not too big of a deal.

Calling it a "High-level dungeon crawl" or "High-level Expert Set Adventure" is fair, but it leaves out a lot of what made this particular adventure so much fun. I still have my original copy of this and it holds up well. So despite the criticisms of it as a "Companion Adventure", it is still a very fun "D&D Adventure" and one that holds up.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
CM2 Death's Ride (Basic)
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D&D Companion Set (BECMI Ed.) (Basic)
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
by Timothy B. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/16/2020 12:06:04

Originally posted here: http://theotherside.timsbrannan.com/2020/06/becmi-companion-set-review.html

I don't think it is too much to say that the Companion Set contains some of the most interesting changes and updates to the D&D than any other product TSR had published to date. I will talk more about these in the review, but first a look back.

I had eagerly awaited the Companion set for D&D ever since I got my Expert Set. That is, by B/X Moldvay/Cook Basic and Expert Set.

The Companion Set, as promised by the Expert Set rules, mentions that characters will now go to 36th level and there will be a way to cure undead level drain! Such promises. Such hope!

Though it was not to be and the B/X line stopped there, only to be "rebooted" in 1983 with the BECMI line, though we were not calling it that back then.

By the time the Companion did come out I had moved on to AD&D. I no longer had any interest in the Companion rules having discovered the world could also have Assassins, half-orcs, and 9 alignments.

I did manage to read it once. I was in college and it was at Castle Perilous Games in Carbondale. Of course, at the time AD&D 2nd Ed was the new hotness and I had no desire to look backward. What I saw though at the time did not impress me. I think the entire Mentzer set at the time (AT THE TIME mind you) made me think of it as D&D for little kids (now I see it differently).

Looking back now I see I made a BIG MISTAKE. Well...maybe. I mean I would not have traded my AD&D time for anything, but I do wish I had given the BECMI rules more of a chance.

Now I can fix that.

Today I am going to cover the BECMI Companion Rules. I am going to cover both the DriveThruRPG PDFs and my recently acquired box set.

The Companion Set follows the rules as presented in the BECMI Basic and Expert books. But unlike those books, the Companion Rules sets off into uncharted directions and gives us some new material.

While the claim can be made that Frank Mentzer only edited and organized the Basic and Expert rules based on previous editions, the Companion set is all his. While there may be some influences from earlier editions such as Greyhawk (with it's 22nd level cap [wizards] and some monsters) and AD&D (some monsters and the multiverse) this really feels new.

Companion Player's Book 1 The player's book is 32 pages with color covers and black & white interiors. Art by Larry Elmore and Jeff Easley. Opening this book we get a preface with a dedication to Brian Blume. A nice touch and yeah he is often forgotten in the tale of D&D's earliest years. The preface also firmly situates us in time. We 10 years out from when D&D was first published. The design goals of this book, and consequently this series, have never been more firmly stated. This is an introduction to the D&D game and designed to be fun, playable, and true to the spirit of D&D. It certainly feels like this is the successor to the Original D&D game; maybe more so than AD&D. One page in and we are off to a great start.

The title and table of contents page tell us that this game is now "by" Frank Mentzer, based on D&D by Gygax and Arneson. As we move into the book proper we get a feel for the "changing game." Characters are more powerful and once difficult threats are no more than a nuisance or exercise. The characters are ready to take their place among the rulers of the world. This makes explicit something I always felt AD&D only played lip service to.

We get some new weapons that have different sorts of effects like knocking out an opponent or entangling them. We also get some unarmed combat rules. Now, these feel they really should have been added to the Basic or Expert rule sets. Maybe they were but were cut for space or time.

Up next is Stronghold management from the point of view of the player characters. Again here D&D continues its unwritten objective of being educational as well as fun. More on this in the DM's book.

Character Classes Finally, about 11 pages in we get to the Character updates. Here all the human character classes get tables that go to level 25; again maybe a nod to Greyhawk's level 20-22 caps, and caps of 7th level spells (clerics) and 9th level spell (magic-users). Clerics get more spells and spell levels. The big upgrade comes in the form of their expanded undead turning table. Clerics up to 25th level and monsters up to Liches and Special. This mimics the AD&D Clerics table; I'd have to look at them side by side to see and differences. One difference that comes up right away is the increase in undead monsters. There are phantoms, haunts, spirits, and nightshades. Nightshades, Liches, and Special will be detailed in the Master Set.

Something that is big pops up in the cleric listing. A Neutral cleric of level 9 or higher may choose to become a Druid! Druids only resemble their AD&D counterparts in superficial ways. They have similar spells, but the BECMI Druid cannot change shape. It is an interesting implementation of the class and one I'll discuss more in a bit.

Arguably it is fighters that get the biggest boost in the Companion Set. They gain the ability to have multiple attacks per round now and other combat maneuvers such as smashing, pairing and disarming. This is a big deal since they got so little in the Expert set. Fighters can also "specialize" into three paths depending on alignment. There are Knights, Paladins, and Avengers. Each type gives the fighter something a little extra. Paladins are not very far off from their AD&D counterparts and Avengers are as close to an Anti-Paladin as D&D will get until we get to the Blackguards.

Conversely, Magic-users do not get as much save from greater spells. We do get the restriction that any spell maxes out 20dX damage.

Thieves can now become Guildmasters or Rogues. A name that will come up more and more with future editions of D&D.

BECMI "Prestige Classes?" The Druid, Knight, Avenger, Paladin, and to a lesser degree the Magist and Rogues represent what could arguably be called the first Prestige Classes to D&D. Their inclusion predates the publication of the Theif-Acrobat in the AD&D Unearthed Arcana. Prestige Classes are classes that one can take after meeting certain requirements in other "base" classes in D&D 3.x and Pathfinder. Often at 10th level, but can occur anytime the character meets the requirements. This concept is later carried on into D&D 4 with their "Paragon Paths" (chosen at 11th level) and even into D&D 5 with their subclasses (chosen at 2nd level). The BECMI Avenger and Paladin are the best examples of these working just like the Prestige Classes will in 15 more years. This is interesting since it also means other classes can be added to the basic 4 core ones using the same system. An easy example is the Theif-Acrobat from UA or even the Ranger from AD&D. Though here the problem lies in the alignment system. Rangers are supposed to be "good" for example.

Demi-Humans Demi-humans may not advance any more in level, but they are not idle. This is also the area of the Companion Set that I most often go wrong. Each demi-human race has a Clan Relic and some demi-humans could be in charge of these clan relics, making them very powerful. There are also clan rulers and they are also detailed. What does all that mean? It means there is a good in-game reason why demi-humans do not advance in levels anymore. They are much more dedicated to their clans than humans. So after a time it is expected that they will return home to take up their responsibilities to the clan.

That is not to say that these characters do not advance anymore. Each demi-human race can still gain "Attack Ranks" as if they are still leveling up. They don't gain any more HP, but they can attack as if they are higher-level fighters. They also gain some of the fighter's combat options. Each class gets 11 such rank-levels. It seems to split some hairs on "no more levels" but whatever.

We end with a map of the expanding Known World. This is the continent of Brun of Mystara, but we don't know that yet. But I will discuss that later this week.

This book is a lot more than I expected it to be and that is a good thing.

Companion DM's Book 2 The DM's book is 64 pages with color covers and black & white interiors. Art by Larry Elmore and Jeff Easley. There is a lot to this book. First, we get to some General Guidelines that cover the higher levels of play and planning adventures accordingly. There is sadly not a lot here. We follow up with Part 2: The Fantasy World. This continues some of the discussion of stronghold management and dominion management as well. Now here is quite a bit of good information on what happens, or could happen, in a dominion. This section also includes the hidden secret of the D&D BECMI series. The War Machine Mass Combat system.

War Machine Around the same time TSR was also developing the BattleSystem Mass Combat system. The two are largely incompatible with each other. I always thought it was odd that two systems that do essentially the same things were created and incompatible with each other. Later I learned that D&D BECMI lived in what we like to call a "walled garden" in the business. It was out there doing it's own thing while the "real business" of AD&D was going on. The problem was that D&D Basic was outselling AD&D at this point. This was not the first time that TSR would woefully misunderstand their customers and sadly not the last time either. War Machine has an elegance about it when compared to BattleSystem. I am not saying it is simple, but the work involved is not difficult and I am happy to say it looks like it will work with any edition of D&D.

The Multiverse A big part of any D&D experience is the Multiverse. This section allows the DMs and Players to dip their toes into the wider Multiverse which includes the Ethereal Plane and the Elemental Planes.

Space is also given to the discussion on aging, damage to magic items, demi-human crafts, poison, and more. We also get all of our character tables.

Monsters About halfway through the book, we get to the section of monsters. A lot of familiar AD&D faces are now here, though a bit of digging will show that many of these are also from OD&D up to the Greyhawk supplement. Most notable are the beholder, larger dragons, druids (as a monster), and many elemental types. Monsters are split into Prime Plane and Other Planes. Among the monsters featured are the aforementioned Beholder, larger Dragons, and bunches of new Undead like haunts, druj, ghosts and more. A few that caught my attention are the Gargantua (gigantic monsters) and Malfera. The Malfera REALLY caught my attention since they are from the "Dimension of Nightmares." More fodder for my Mystara-Ravenloft connection. Monsters from the Other Planes focus on the Elemental planes.

Treasure Lots of new treasure and magic items.

Adventures There are three short adventure or adventure hooks for companion level characters.

All in all the Companion Set is full and had many things I did not think it had given my very casual relationship to it over the years. Reading it now and in-depth for the very first time I see there is a lot I could have used in my games back then.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
D&D Companion Set (BECMI Ed.) (Basic)
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X6 Quagmire! (Basic)
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
by Timothy B. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/12/2020 10:46:24

Originally posted here: http://theotherside.timsbrannan.com/2020/06/retrospective-review-and-refit-x6.html

Quagmire is a 32-page adventure module written by Merle M. Rasmussen, of Top Secret fame, for the Expert Set. Character levels 4-10. Color covers and some maps, black & white interiors. Art by Steve Peregrine (cover) and Jeffrey Butler (interior).

For this review, I am considering the PDF and POD versions from DriveThruRPG.

Quagmire focuses on a city that used to be by the seashore but is now sinking into the sea. The city is actually a large spiral tower that looks like a whelk shell. The city leaders are moving the entire populace from their city to a nearby, identical one. The PCs have been hired to clear out the wilderness area of lizardmen and goblins and help them get to the new city.

The module expands the Known World to now include the Serpent Penisula, which is just west of the Isle of Dread. If the Isle of Dread is Jamaica or the Bahamas then the Serpent Penisula is Florida and Cuba. All I need to do is add a "Bermuda Triangle."

This expansion of the Known World detail is the best part of the adventure. This area would later be expanded on in future products and The Voyage of the Princess Ark feature in Dragon magazine. Additionally, the city design itself is very interesting. Something very appealing about it to be honest and a giant tower as a city is the sort of thing I love to see in my games.

The adventure itself sadly a little lack-luster. The ending is a little anti-climatic and the wilderness encounters seem to be strung together to provide the characters something to do. There are a lot of great parts to this adventure and there is plenty of potential, I am not sure the adventure itself lives up to all of that. Still, the parts are good and there is no end of ideas for other swamp-based adventures or even the spiral cities.

The adventure, like all adventures of this time period, features new monsters and some new magic items. There are also some pre-rolled characters.

The POD (Print on Demand) version is very clean and easy to read. There is some of the "fuzziness" I associate with a POD of a scanned product, but much less than some of the others I have purchased. In fact, this might be one of the better scans I have seen. At the time of this review, the POD is only $4.99 for both the POD and the PDF. That is a fantastic price really.

So while the adventure is a little lacking, the material that comes with it is great and the PDF/POD is great.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
X6 Quagmire! (Basic)
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X1 The Isle of Dread (Basic)
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
by Timothy B. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/09/2020 16:04:48

With the possible exception of B2 Keep on the Borderlands, no other adventure help so many new DMs as much as the Expert Set's The Isle of Dread. In fact it had so much appeal that the module was available to purchase separately AND it was included with both the B/X Expert Set and BECMI Expert Set. No surprise really since the module contained so much information.

For this review and overview I am considering my original print version of X1 along with some copies I managed to pick up from somewhere, the PDF version on DriveThruRPG and the Goodman Games Original Adventures Reincarnated hardcover version which features both the B/X and BECMI versions as well as a new 5th Edition D&D version.

The Isle of Dread is notable since it is the only B/X adventure to get reprinted in the newer TSR BECMI-era trade dress. The copies of the module do differ in layout, but they are largely the same in terms of content. In fact I have not discovered many differences at all.

X1 The Isle of Dread

For this review I am considering the print version that came with my D&D Expert set, one purchase separate of the set and the PDF from DriveThruRPG.
The Ilse of Dread by David "Zeb" Cook and Tom Moldvay. 32 pages, color covers with blue maps. B&W interior art and maps.

The adventure that was to complete the new 1981 Basic and Expert Sets was written by the two main authors of those sets, David "Zeb" Cook and Tom Moldvay. The Basic set would include the adventure module B2 Keep on the Borderlands written by Gygax himself. But the Expert set did not have an adventure until Cook and Moldvay wrote it. Both drew on their love of pulp fiction and it shows. Additionally, parts of the world created by Moldvay with his then writing partner of Lawrence Schick became the starting ground for the Known World, this world would later expand more until we got Mystara, but that is a topic for another post/review.

The adventure was so well received that when the expert set was rereleased in 1983 under Frank Mentzer editing, TSR included the Isle of Dread again with a new cover. While the adventure centers around the eponymous island, there is a lot to this book that is above and beyond the adventure itself.

Part 1: Introduction Here we get the basics of the world we are in and what this adventure was designed for. Don't expect complicated plots here, this is a sandbox for new DM's wanting to try out adventuring in the Wilderness. Here we also get our first look at our world.

"Map C-1" is such an unassuming name. Though I will argue I have never read any map in such detail as I did with this one. I don't even pour over maps of my beloved Chicago as much.

Each country is given a brief, I mean really brief, description. Hardly more than a paragraph. But in those scant words were the seeds of a lifetime of adventure.

The biggest criticism, of course, you have such a hodge-podge of cultures and climes in a 1,200 x 1,000 miles square. So if I put Chicago in Glanrti then the Kingdom of Ostland would be Halifax, and the Isle of Dread is about where the Bahamas are. That's not a lot of land really. But hey, I've made it work for me.

Seriously we are 2.5 pages in and I can already point to about 30 years of gaming. What is in the rest of this book?

Part 2: The Isle of Dread Here we get our plot hook for adventuring on the Isle of Dread. A letter from pirate captain Rory Barbarosa. It is designed to get the characters to the island. When really all I have ever needed was "hey there are dinosaurs on that island. wanna check it out?" And it has always worked. Plus it's a great excuse to use all those old plastic dinosaurs.

There is the trip to the island, which in my cases always became an adventure all on its own.

Once you get to the island only the lower South East peninsula has been detailed with the Village of Tanaroa, which comes straight out of the 1930s King Kong movie. This was also the origin of one of my favorite NPCs ever, Bone Man, a village priest, and later warlock. I even got some original art done of him for my Warlock book from none other than Jeff Dee himself.

Outside of the giant, Kong-style walls, there is the rest of the island. Here we run into not just some of the best D&D Expert set monsters, but some of the best monsters in the history of D&D. The Rakasta, cat people with war-claws (and the 1982 Cat People was just around the corner!), the Phanatons, flying squirel-monkeys (had more than one player want to play them as a race!), the Aranea, and most of all the Kopru!

There is a meme floating around social media around the time of this review about being an adult suck because no one ever asks you what your favorite dinosaur is. Well my kids love this because they know mine, and it is a total cheat since it is not really a dinosaur, but something older, the Dimetrodon. So the Dimetrodon Peril was the encounter I remember the best, not the "Deranged Ankylosaurus." An animal high on "loco weed?" No thanks, I grew up in the Mid-west that is not adventure material, that is something everyone saw once or twice.

The 8 or so pages in the center are all dedicated to some of the best maps in D&D up to Ravenloft.

Part 3: The Central Plateau Seriously. There is so much going on here that it always takes me a couple session to get through it all and I have NEVER had a party investigate the entire central part of the island. The Village of Mantru always gets a good investigation though.

Part 4: Taboo Island The base of the Kopru. These were my first crazy fish-men and I wanted to use them in place of the Kuo-toa in the D-Series, but I later relented. I still kind of wish I had done it though.

Part 5: New Monsters One of the best features of the BECMI-era modules, and this is no exception, are all the new monsters. The above-mentioned ones, plus more dinosaurs and prehistoric creatures. Sadly, no giant ape. I did create some Sea-dragons for this and used them.

This adventure has not only stood the test of time, it has stood the test of editions. Much like B2 Keep on the Borderlands I think I have run this for every single edition of *D&D since 1981. Most recently for D&D 5th edition and it still works great. Plus every time I have run it there is something new to find and there is something new that the players do.

It is really no surprise that it was used for both iterations of the Expert Set.

Maybe second only to B2 and B1 in terms of numbers of players, but The Isle of Dread lasts as one of the best Basic-era adventures out there. In today's frame of mind, the adventure is equal parts Pirates of the Caribean, King Kong, and Jurassic Park. It is a heady cauldron of tropes, ideas, and just plain crazy fun.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
X1 The Isle of Dread (Basic)
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Dungeons & Dragons Expert Set Rulebook (BECMI ed.) (Basic)
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
by Timothy B. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/09/2020 10:13:16

Originally Posted here: http://theotherside.timsbrannan.com/2020/06/becmi-expert-set-review.html

Moreso than the D&D Basic Set it was the D&D Expert Set that defined what "Basic-era" games were for me. So it is with great excitement that I delve into the BECMI version of the D&D Expert Rules.

I have reviewed the older, Cook/Marsh version of the Expert set and if you want to read that review it is here. I will be comparing this set of rules to that, but also how it fits into the larger set of BECMI rules. Let's begin. Once again I will be covering the Print and PDF versions of this book.

D&D Expert Rulebook

The 1983, BECMI version of the D&D Expert Rules are "Revised" by Frank Mentzer, but "by" Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson. I would contend that once again there is a large amount of Frank in these rules. The book is 64-pages, softcover, with color covers and black & white interior art. All art is credited to Larry Elmore. Anne C. Gray is listed for "Editing."

So right away we are given a notice in my book that this version has been edited to be compatible with the D&D Companion rules with adjustments to combat, saving throws, spell acquisition and a new thieves table. So right away this labels my print book as a Second Printing (or later).

This is interesting because the PDF on DriveThruRPG is a First Printing. So there are differences.

I will point them out as they come up, but you can get some detail on them from Wayne's Books.

Like the previous Expert book, this one comes with a warning that this is not a complete game and you need the Basic Rules in order to play. There is some brief mention of their being older versions of the game, but to go with the rules printed here.

Unlike the Basic Set with two books; one for Players and one for DMs. This book is presented as a single 64-page volume with player and DM sections.

The introduction covers what an Expert D&D game looks like. There are more options for the players in the classes, as well as exploring outside of the dungeon. That was a big deal to me back then! Also, character levels will go from 4th to 14th level! That seemed extremely high to me back then.

Player's Section

In the player's section, we learn that some classes, the demi-humans, will hit their max levels now. Also, there are new features to spells such as affecting other things and they can even be reversed in some cases for a different effect. We also learn that spells not can cause damage but they can change saving throws, to hits, and even morale of others. Spells are expanding!

Classes are presents and in the case of the Cleric and the Magic-user so are all the reversed spells and the new spells. Clerics can reverse a spell as they wish, Magic-users can't, they have to memorize the reversed version. Now we are told that Lawful Clerics will not use a reverse version of a spell and in some cases, I see that, but when dealing with light or dark the effects of casting the spell into someone's eyes is the same; blindness. So DM's be wary.

Clerics get an expanded table for Turning Undead including the ability to actually destroy the creatures! How freaking cool is that? And the table gives us a spoiler, there are Vampires in these rules. As a young horror fan, this was great for me.

Level Titles are still used and that makes me happy. Also having the saving throws with the class is great, no more having to dig for those.

The formatting and layout of the classes is still very clean and organized well. Again the vibe I get is that the designers of 4th Edition D&D took their cues from this edition.

Poor fighter though only gets half a page. Demi-humans, Dwarf, Elf, and Halfling, only get 1⅓ pages in total.

Expert is not your ruleset if you like to play demi-humans.

The section on Adventuring covers a lot of new gear and the important factors about wilderness adventuring. First up, how you gonna get there? So horses and water travel become very important.

Dungeon Master's Section

This makes up a vast majority of the book, at 40 pages.

Again, like the Basic book topics are organized alphabetically. In the B/X books there was a mention of cutting up your books and organizing them in a binder. Here you could cut out individual sections and organize those! But maybe copy them first or print out the PDF.

The next section for DM's is designing adventures, and in particular Wilderness adventures and town adventures. Humand and demi-human lands are also covered. This is broken up by a "center fold" of tables and the maps of the Known World and the Grand duchy of Karameikos. These maps though have something added, they have to locations of the then-current B and X series modules (B1-4, X1-5). Interestingly it places B3 in Karameikos when previously it had been in Glantri.

This is the book that also gave us the BECMI version of Hommlet, the town of Threshold.

Next up are the Monsters. Always a favorite.

The monsters here a largely the same as the B/X version of Expert. There are some monster missing, but I know (spoilers) that they will reappear in the Companion Rules. But what is really missing here is some of what I considered the most classic art of D&D. From what I can tell some of the monsters have been rewritten for this version. Stats are the same but the text does differ.

We end with Treasure and Magic Items.

Overall the Expert set represents a huge leap forward for the BECMI game so far. Taking the action outside is a, well....game changer.

People often comment on how much gameplay is actually in this box, and they are not exaggerating. From levels 1-14 is some of the best gameplay D&D has to offer regardless of edition.

Once again we also have a collection of wonderful Larry Elmore art in this version. Though I wish there had been more.

D&D Expert really is where the D&D game is really built. This is not AD&D and it is not the little brown books, this is really a different sort of game. Yes, AD&D and D&D can cover the same sorts of games, and there are plenty of places where the rules are the same, but it is also here you see the most differences. This was true for B/X Expert and true for BECMI Expert.

The tone of the Expert rules feels different too than AD&D. There is a lot that can be done with this game and the feeling is there is even more just over the next hill. Maybe, maybe, more than AD&D, D&D Expert set really captures what is best about the whole D&D experience.

Like it's predecessor, the BECMI Expert set comes with a copy of Isle of Dread, which is just as much of a learning tool for DMs as anything in the rules. I will discuss that adventure and it's importance (it is the only BX to BECMI book to get the updated trade dress) to the D&D line next time.

Comparisons with the Cook/Marsh B/X Expert Set Comparisons are naturals since the Cook/Marsh Expert set was such a big deal to me.

The two sets compare well and cover largely the same information. There are some minor differences in some numbers and on closer inspection there are a couple more missing monsters than I thought. But otherwise, the two versions are very, very similar. In fact, I do recall people using this version of the Expert Rules with the previous Moldvay Basic Rules. But we mixed and matched our rules all the time.

There is a big difference here in how thief abilities work between the B/X and 2nd Printing of BECMI Expert as well as some of the spell progressions. But this is more of an artifact of the changes between First and Second (see below) printings of the Expert book.

It should be noted that BECMI Expert promises us a Companion rule set that goes from 15 to 25, but B/X Expert tells us that Companion rules will go from 15 to 36!

Comparisons with First and Second Printing Ah. Now here there is a bunch more differences. Far more than what you would expect to be honest, but it had to be edited to be brought in line with the new Companion set. Some of these have been mentioned, but it bears looking at in detail.

Again we see the thief abilities getting a radical change. Thieves of the First Printing are more like those of B/X. Thieves of the Second Printing take a HUGE hit on their Open Locks rolls, 99% versus 72% at 14th level. Additionally, all the Hear Noise rolls are now percentiles versus a roll on a d6. Though they all seem to work out to be roughly the same.

Spell acquisition is different with generally all the spell-casting classes getting better at spells.

One thing I did not do was compare either to AD&D, I know there are a lot more differences especially when it comes to XP per level.

With the Basic and Expert now BECMI can go toe to toe with B/X. Both iterations of the D&D game are still largely the same and that is good and by design. A lot of new Basic and Expert books are coming out for the BECMI version of Basic/Expert that will still work fantastic with those of us who were still playing B/X and AD&D.

Both BECMI Expert and B/X Expert sets came with the adventure module The Isle of Dread, which is as much as a second rule book as one can get from an adventure. I will detail the Isle in my post tomorrow.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Dungeons & Dragons Expert Set Rulebook (BECMI ed.) (Basic)
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Classic Modules Today: B7 Rahasia (5e)
Publisher: Dungeon Masters Guild
by Timothy B. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/02/2020 15:39:25

Originally posted here: http://theotherside.timsbrannan.com/2020/06/review-b7-rahasia-becmi-special.html

Thanks to the efforts of the Classic Modules Today group there is a conversion guide for B7 Rahasia.
Classic Modules Today: B7 Rahasia (5e) is 10 pages and includes all the various stats you need to covert this adventure over to 5th Editon D&D. In truth the conversions are very straight forward but it is nice to have them all in one place. Plus for $1.95 it is really worth it. Given the Ravenloft connections, I could see this as an adventure for 1-3 level characters in Curse of Strahd very easily. You need the complete B7 module, that is not included here and there is no adventure information other than the stats. The Bone Golem and the witches, Karelena, Solorena, and Trilena get full stat blocks.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Classic Modules Today: B7 Rahasia (5e)
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B7 Rahasia (Basic)
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
by Timothy B. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/02/2020 15:36:28

Originally posted here: http://theotherside.timsbrannan.com/2020/06/review-b7-rahasia-becmi-special.html

"You soon are lead to an elven maid, whose veiled grace and beauty outshines all others present as the sun outshines the stars-she is Rahasia. "Will you aid me?" she asks."

B7 Rahasia is an adventure for the BECMI version of the Basic rules. Since module B5 the Basic modules all featured the new BECMI trade dress, but B7 Rahasia is an older adventure with some solid history in the D&D game. But I am getting to the middle of the story.

Back in 1979 Tracy and Laura Hickman wanted to play AD&D but needed money to be able to buy the Dungeon Master's Guide. So like so many after them they wrote an adventure to sell so the could afford to pick up the DMG. That adventure was Rahasia.

Later the Hickmans would go to work for TSR and here they would give us what is arguably one of the greatest adventures of all time, Ravenloft, but before that, they republished Rahasia in 1983 under the RPGA banner. In fact, RPGA 1 Rahasia and it's sequel RPGA 2 Black Opal Eye were the first two RPGA adventures for the new BECMI Basic game.

Rahasia is for levels 1-2 and then Black Opal Eye for levels 2-3.

These currently go for a lot of money on eBay now. RPGA2 Black Opal Eye is available on DriveThruRPG, but the RPGA1 version of Rahasia is not.

Rahasia would get a third printing again in 1984 as the new adventure module B7 Rahasia. This new version was a combination of the two earlier editions.

For this review, I am considering the PDF from DriveThruRPG and my original print copy from 1984.

Module B7 Rahasia Tracy and Laura Hickman. 32 Pages, color cover, black & white interior. Cover art by Jeff Easley. Interior art by Jeff Easley and Tim Truman Maps by Diesel & D.C. Sutherland Ill

This adventure is a primary example of what has been called "the Hickman Revolution" and while it was independent of the design of the BECMI rules, it does dovetail into the rules and feel rather well. The Hickman Revolution can best be explained with the original requirements the Hickmans set for themselves in their adventures.

A player objective more worthwhile than simply pillaging and killing. An intriguing story that is intricately woven into the play itself. Dungeons with some sort of architectural sense. An attainable and honorable end within one or two sessions playing time.

Another very strong point is an NPC/Antagonist that is more than just a mindless monster. This can be seen in Dragonlance and can be seen in its ultimate form in Count Strahd from Ravenloft.

These all exist in one form or another in this adventure. We have an evil cleric known as the Rahib, but is he really our "Big Bad" of this tale? No. But again I jump ahead.

The plot begins as a simple one. The characters agree to help an elven maid named Rahasia defeat a great evil that has come to her lands. This evil, the Rahib, has captured two elf maidens (Sylva and Merisa), Rahasia's father, and her fiancee. So the characters have to rescue the Prince this time! He has also taken control over a group of elven cleric/monks (essentially) known as the Siswa.

This is an important bit, so I am going to interrupt myself here. The Siswa are all mind-controlled, normally these are the elves that guard the temple, so they really should not be killed. In the Hickman Revolution simply killing things is never the way to go. This is true here. The characters need to find ways to incapacitate the Siswa, but not kill them.

Defeating the Rahib is fine, and getting to him is the first half of the adventure. The second half is discovering the REAL Big Bads. You might have seen them on the cover.

Part 2, or the part that was covered in Black Opal Eye, deals with the real villains of this piece. Here we learn that the Rahib had made a deal with the spirits of three dead witches, Karelena, Solorena, and Trilena. These witches have now taken over the bodies of the elf maids and want to get Rahasia for Trilena. They can accomplish this with the Black Opal Eye. When all three witches are freed they are much more powerful, so getting them before they can get Rahasia is the goal. Failing that any female character with a Charisma of 15 or higher is the target.

There are some traps, some false leads and some clues in the form of wine bottles. But all in all a very effective adventure with some nice twists. More importantly, it also gives us three (well four I guess) memorable NPCs. While the Rahib can be defeated, and ultimately forgotten about, the witches, Karelena, Solorena, and Trilena, are far more interesting and really should come back again in a future adventure.

There are maps, pre-rolled characters to use, and of course an elven princess who will be in your debt.

The adventure also features something that the "new" BECMI modules all would feature, new monsters.
Here we get the haunt, the water weird (an AD&D import), and the bone golem who will not see an AD&D rendition until Ravenloft.

Ravenloft Connections

I have often stated that I feel that Barovia, the lands of the mists featured in the Ravenloft adventure and line, came from the B/X & BECMI world of Mystara. Here is another connection. First, the idea of body-snatching undead witches is a strong horror trope. I am sure there are dozens of horror movies made before 1979 that feature this. I am sure I have seen at least a dozen or more of these myself.

Plus like Ravenloft, Rahasia was written by the Hickmans. Even in the 5e era the Curse of Strahd adventure for 5e lists Rahasia as an influence. Plus there are some other solid connections. Like finding the same wines in Rahasia's Wizard tower and in Ravenloft.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
B7 Rahasia (Basic)
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RPGA2: Black Opal Eye (Basic)
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
by Timothy B. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/02/2020 15:36:20

Originally posted here: http://theotherside.timsbrannan.com/2020/06/review-b7-rahasia-becmi-special.html

Back in 1979 Tracy and Laura Hickman wanted to play AD&D but needed money to be able to buy the Dungeon Master's Guide. So like so many after them they wrote an adventure to sell so the could afford to pick up the DMG. That adventure was Rahasia.

Later the Hickmans would go to work for TSR and here they would give us what is arguably one of the greatest adventures of all time, Ravenloft, but before that, they republished Rahasia in 1983 under the RPGA banner. In fact, RPGA 1 Rahasia and it's sequel RPGA 2 Black Opal Eye were the first two RPGA adventures for the new BECMI Basic game.

Rahasia is for levels 1-2 and then Black Opal Eye for levels 2-3.

These currently go for a lot of money on eBay now. RPGA2 Black Opal Eye is available on DriveThruRPG, but the RPGA1 version of Rahasia is not.

Rahasia would get a third printing again in 1984 as the new adventure module B7 Rahasia. This new version was a combination of the two earlier editions.

Black Opal eye is available for purchase now for th first time since the early 80s. And you don't have to be an RPGA member to do it.

This adventue deals with the real villains of this piece. Here we learn that the Rahib (from Rahasia) had made a deal with the spirits of three dead witches, Karelena, Solorena, and Trilena. These witches have now taken over the bodies of the elf maids and want to get Rahasia for Trilena. They can accomplish this with the Black Opal Eye. When all three witches are freed they are much more powerful, so getting them before they can get Rahasia is the goal. Failing that any female character with a Charisma of 15 or higher is the target.

There are some traps, some false leads and some clues in the form of wine bottles. But all in all a very effective adventure with some nice twists. More importantly, it also gives us three (well four I guess) memorable NPCs. While the Rahib can be defeated, and ultimately forgotten about, the witches, Karelena, Solorena, and Trilena, are far more interesting and really should come back again in a future adventure.

There are maps, pre-rolled characters to use, and of course an elven princess who will be in your debt.

The adventure also features something that the "new" BECMI modules all would feature, new monsters.
Here we get the haunt, the water weird (an AD&D import), and the bone golem who will not see an AD&D rendition until Ravenloft.

Great adventure that can be run in an afternoon.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
RPGA2: Black Opal Eye (Basic)
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D&D Basic Set - DM's Rulebook (BECMI ed.) (Basic)
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
by Timothy B. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/01/2020 12:25:27

Originally posted here: http://theotherside.timsbrannan.com/2020/06/becmi-basic-set-review.html

How does one go about reviewing a game I know so well but in a book I know very little about? More to the point how does one review a classic? Well as my oldest son says, "with determination."

The third set of books to be released as the "Basic set" was the Mentzer "Red Box" Basic that would become the "B" of the BECMI line. So many copies of this set have sold that it has become synonymous with "the Basic Set" and "the red Box" in D&D circles. The set itself contained two books, a Player's Book (to be read first) and a Dungeon Master's Book (to be read by the DM).

Already we have a departure from the previous Holmes (1977) and Moldvay (1981) Basic sets. While those older sets had one book for rules (48 and 64 pages respectively) and an included adventure (B1 and B2 respectively) this set only has the two books. This is not the issue it might seem at first since this set features a rather infamous solo adventure and a programmed adventure that can be used with a DM.

The box set also came with dice, a crayon for coloring in the numbers, and some information about the RPGA.

The Dungeon Master's book is 48 pages, color art cover, black & white interior art. This book follows the Player's book in terms of layout and scope.

The title page here is largely the same as the Player's Book, but it is a chance for us to reflect on how this game is really the direct descendent of the Original D&D game. Though there is a reminder that Players are not to read this book! Only DMs!

We get right into the roles of a DM here, after covering some brief introductory materials and some common terms and abbreviations. Looking over these were are still in a time that Pre-Dates THAC0 as a term.

There are checklists of things to do pre-game and during the game and during combat. It's a nice clear and spelled out version of the same material seen in the previous Moldvay Basic set. In fact, there is a lot of material here that looks and reads the same. This is natural since both sets are drawing from the same sources. It is a bit like reading something you are already very familiar with, but it is still somewhat different and new. Like trying to read Danish after learning German. Or maybe more accurately, reading American Spanish after learning European Spanish.

There is a built-in adventure for new DMs that serves the same purpose as the Solo one in the player's book. It is fine, but I think back to my time in running the Keep on the Borderlands and hoe much I learned from that.

The procedures and rules section is all laid out alphabetically. So "Elves" come before "Mapping" and "Time". Again, I am reminded of the layout seen in 4e and it is obvious that the designers of 4e were fans of this edition.

The next big section is on Monsters. This section reads very much like the same section in Molvay Basic, some even down to the exact same words. I don't find this a problem though. Some people went from Holmes Basic (77) to Cook/Marsh Expert (81) and some people will come from those earlier Basics to this. There needs to be a continuity of rules. Minus some organization and some clearer directions these are supposed to be the same games. Yes there are some differences. I find them to be minor at worst.

Back to Monsters, the section seems to have all the Usual Suspects, give or take a couple. I did notice that there is much less art here. I would have loved to have seen more versions of these classic monsters. An Elmore drawn Thoul? Yeah, that would have been great! Also, this has the only piece of recycled art I have found. The dragon breath diagram looks the same here as in Moldvay. That's actually pretty cool. All new art? TSR was putting their best on this. I'll talk more about the art in a bit.

Treasure follows and it is every 1st level character's dreams come true. Swords to hit those pesky magic monsters! Gold! Platinum! Potions of Healing!! 2-7 hp was all you needed back then to get back into the game.

A nice bit about creating and stocking dungeons with monsters and treasures. More direction than we got in Holmes or Moldvay to be sure.

We end with some tables for random monsters, saving throws, and a combined index!

Art The art in both books is fantastic. Larry Elmore, Jim Holloway, and Jeff Easley at the very top of their game. They defined how millions view Dungeons & Dragons. Yes, yes I am a fan of the older stylings of Bill Willingham, Erol Otis, and Jeff Dee, but this was at a new level. The art was consistent throughout and all of it wonderful. Sadly it is also a little sparse compared to Moldvay, but I guess there are more pages to fill here.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
D&D Basic Set - DM's Rulebook (BECMI ed.) (Basic)
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D&D Basic Set - Player's Manual (BECMI ed.) (Basic)
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
by Timothy B. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 06/01/2020 12:25:20

Originally posted here: http://theotherside.timsbrannan.com/2020/06/becmi-basic-set-review.html

How does one go about reviewing a game I know so well but in a book I know very little about? More to the point how does one review a classic? Well as my oldest son says, "with determination."

The third set of books to be released as the "Basic set" was the Mentzer "Red Box" Basic that would become the "B" of the BECMI line. So many copies of this set have sold that it has become synonymous with "the Basic Set" and "the red Box" in D&D circles. The set itself contained two books, a Player's Book (to be read first) and a Dungeon Master's Book (to be read by the DM).

Already we have a departure from the previous Holmes (1977) and Moldvay (1981) Basic sets. While those older sets had one book for rules (48 and 64 pages respectively) and an included adventure (B1 and B2 respectively) this set only has the two books. This is not the issue it might seem at first since this set features a rather infamous solo adventure and a programmed adventure that can be used with a DM.

The box set also came with dice, a crayon for coloring in the numbers, and some information about the RPGA.

The Player's Book is 64 pages, color art cover, black & white interior art.

This is the familiar D&D game. The title page tells us that this is Dungeons & Dragons created by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson. The editor, though many will say the actual architect of the BECMI line, is Frank Mentzer. He is so tied to this edition that it is also called the Mentzer Basic book.

While Holmes did a good job of organizing the Original D&D game into something that could be used as and introduction to the game (or too AD&D maybe), it was the Moldvay edition that really tried to make an introductory game to new players. The Mentzer set takes this to the next level by giving us a true introduction to the game.

The target audience is 10-12-year-olds but it takes care not to talk down to the audience, there even seems to be a choice in language to try and educate as much as possible too. TSR expected their target audience to be young, educated, and (for better or worse) male. But I will touch on that later.

Up first you are taken on one of the most infamous solo adventures ever. You are playing a fighter and you have to investigate a dungeon. You meet a cleric named Aleena, and a goblin and an evil wizard named Bargel. The rest is a tale told in many taverns across the known world. While I have a number of issues with the solo adventure, and I'll discuss those elsewhere, it is an effective tool for grabbing people and getting them into the game. The adventure explains aspects of your character and makes them salient in the situation. In the education biz we call this "situational learning" and it is an effective tool.

After the adventure, we get to the part where your character is explained to you. What the ability scores mean, what the saving throws are for, how to hit with weapons. It is the "what is Roleplaying" section of every other RPG book writ large.

There is another Solo adventure, with some nods to the two M series for solo dungeons.

So now that the player knows the basics of play the various character classes are introduced. Here we have the Cleric, Fighters, Magic-User, and Thieves for humans and Dwarves, Elves, and Halflings. The text is very, very explanatory. Great for a brand new player but feels wordy to me now. Granted, these were not written for someone with 40 years of experience. Heck, no one had even a quarter of that yet when this was written so my point of view is out of sync with the design goals of this game.

Looking over the classes I notice a few things. The class descriptions are very self-contained. Everything you need to know about playing a Cleric for example is right there. Including the Saving Throw tables WITH the class. A vast improvement over the constant flipping through pages we had to do with AD&D at the same time. Also, I noticed how weak the thief was then. No comparison to the Rogues of later editions.

The design elements of the self-contained class pages is something we will see again in D&D 4e and 5e. It is very effective and if you are like me and like to print out your PDFs then it also gives you flexibility in organizing your version of Basic.

There is a solid emphasis throughout the book on how playing together, and working together, as a group is the best experience. There also seems a little extra emphasis on how the Players are not the Characters. It feels wonderfully 80s when the was the moral panic that kids would start to act out like their characters and meet the fate of poor Black Leaf and Marci. Today people online refer to their characters in first person and laud their achievements as their very own. What a difference some time makes.

We get to alignment with a strong prohibition against playing Chaotic or Evil characters. Retainers and other topics. There is even a solid Glossary (I mean really who does this anymore? I miss them!) to help in supporting my point of view of D&D as a learning tool. There is even a small section on using minis, character sheets, and other aids. There is even a nod to AD&D to remind players that this game, D&D, is not AD&D.

All the basics are covered. No pun intended. Ok. Maybe a little one. Everything the player needs to get started. They now just need a DM. Thankfully the next book covers all that.

Art The art in both books is fantastic. Larry Elmore, Jim Holloway, and Jeff Easley at the very top of their game. They defined how millions view Dungeons & Dragons. Yes, yes I am a fan of the older stylings of Bill Willingham, Erol Otis, and Jeff Dee, but this was at a new level. The art was consistent throughout and all of it wonderful. Sadly it is also a little sparse compared to Moldvay, but I guess there are more pages to fill here.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
D&D Basic Set - Player's Manual (BECMI ed.) (Basic)
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CA1 Calidar Dreams of Aerie
Publisher: Calidar Publishing
by Timothy B. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/16/2020 13:38:05

Originally posted here: http://theotherside.timsbrannan.com/2020/04/review-ca1-calidar-dreams-of-aerie.html

I make my last stop on my vacation in Calidar to an honest to god Flying Circus!

Monty Python quotes and references are as much a part of the D&D experience as anything else really. Let's be honest, how many games start out as "Excalibur" but end up as "The Holy Grail"? Well now, thanks to Bruce Heard and Calidat you can bring a real live Flying Circus to your games. The Monty Python references might be light in the book, but the games will abound with them.

CA1 Calidar Dreams of Aerie

PDF, Hardcover and Softcover, 132 pages, Color covers. Color and Black & White interior art.

I am reviewing the PDF and softcover book from the Kickstarter.

Dreams of Aerie is for the Calidar world setting, but let me say this upfront, you can use this anywhere with any system. The book uses the Calidar game system, which is not really a system but a short-hand way of talking about stats. If you have any of the other books you will know what this is and how to convert it.

The book is part source guide and part mystery adventure. The setting is the Amazing Flying Circus a traveling that flies overhead. There is some great in-game/in-universe background to this circus and how it is no longer at its hey-day, but it is also attempting to reclaim its former glory.

Now. If this is all this book was, then it would still be a fantastic bit of work. But we do get a lot more.

The circus is home to all sorts of entertainers as well as misfits and those rejected by society. In many ways it mirrors a real circus from our, or most worlds. It is also a religious monument to one of Calidar's gnomish gods, Belgomeer. That gives it a nice twist. I'll discuss this more at the end.

We get a great cast of characters including the Ringmaster, Vox Hammerdin, aka The Great Mirabilis. That's a hell of a name! Based on his style and personality I think he must be related to my Crazy Omar. There are so many interesting NPCs here I could spend pages talking about them, but instead, I will leave it at that and let you discover them on your own. These NPCs are needed because of the adventures character can have here. There is a cult plot to take over the circus, a murder, rival factions, and 11 different guilds that make the circus work. Oh and the dragon in the middle of the maze on the lower decks.

That makes up the first 30 or so pages of the book.

What comes next is the adventure hook for the players. The players, and characters, can be hooked in on the circus' arrival alone or get a letter from the Ringmaster or even the local Mayor. The main mystery deals with the disappearance of the show's "Bearded lady", Branna “Stubble” Briarchin. She has been in fact murdered in part of the plots of the cult of Balladoo-of-the-Hoo, who are trying to take control of the circus away from the followers of Belgomeer. The PCs need to uncover the murder and cult plot. But even if you and the players are not interested in this hook, there are plenty of reasons to visit a Flying Circus. Let's start with the fact that it is a flying freaking circus! The murder and cult plot though are well done and plenty of clues are provided for the GM to hand out to the players when they find them. It also gives them an excuse and leave to explore the entire circus.

There is a detailed description of all parts of the circus, all three decks, with some beautiful maps and art here. The layout by Calidar's cartographic expert Thorfinn Tait is fantastic. This book is not just fun to read it is gorgeous to look at. This part covers about 110 pages of the book. So yeah, really detailed.

There is an appendix with character stats, but keep in mind that most people you run into here are not meant to be fought. These are not "monster" stats even if the person you encounter might be a monster in a different situation. This adventure is about solving a murder and stopping a cult, not "killing things and taking their loot". You can use this with any system, but the mindset has to be this is a mystery to solve.

The appendix also covers some "Random Events" to keep the players moving along while other things are happening.
There is a great index of all locations. A 1d20 rumor mill. A banner advertising the circus. And some pre-rolled characters to use.

I have said it before but it is true here, Dreams of Aerie punches way above its weight class.

At 130 pages and $6 for the PDF, there is a lot here. A complete circus, a FLYING circus no less, a murder mystery and a cult faction war.

The Circus as Setting While the circus is set in the World of Calidar it can easily be used elsewhere or all by itself. While reading through it I could not help but think back to the old Ravenloft Carnival product. The two might work well together, in particular some of the NPCs. Plus I can't ever resist adding more horror to my games.
Two of my favorite movies is Vampire Circus and of course Tod Brownings Freaks. Both have strong horror themes. So I guess I find circuses kinda creepy.

The Circus as Religious Center Dreams of Aerie was written WELL before the third season of The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. This season featured a traveling circus full of "pagans" dedicated to the "Great God Pan." Yes. very much in the Arthur Machen vein. The Amazing Flying Circus is not a collection of the world's misfit monsters and rejected myths. At least not in the way it was done on CAOS. There is the faction fighting between the followers of Belgomeer and Balladoo-of-the-Hoo in Dreams that I can build upon. There is a lot of cult-based conflicts here.

So, in the end, what do we have? We have a hell of a product with a ton of great ideas, opportunities, and something that can be used in pretty much every game.

Please visit the DriveThruRPG page to see some excellent samples of the maps.

If you want to run a circus adventure then THIS is the one you need. Full stop.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
CA1 Calidar Dreams of Aerie
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Creator Reply:
Thanks for the review. It's a too bad for now that the printer producing CA1's fold-up maps is out on account of a Covid shutdown in their area. Hopefully, this is only temporary. The conversion booklets for Calidar's Series 1 titles (CAL1 Gazetteer, CA1 Adventure, and the upcoming PG1 Players' Guide) will be available in the coming weeks (May/June 2020), providing all the game stats in "Dreams of Aerie" and the other two books for use with Labyrinth Lord and the OSRIC system. This should make game masters' jobs a bite easier.
CAL2b Conversion Guide to Caldwen for the OSRIC System
Publisher: Calidar Publishing
by Timothy B. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 04/14/2020 12:26:02

Originally posted here: http://theotherside.timsbrannan.com/2020/04/reviews-conversion-guides-to-caldwen.html

I am still spending a Virtual Vacation in Calidar's beautiful Caldwen. But you know what every tourist needs? A tour guide. Thankfully our thoughtful travel agent Bruce Heard has supplied us with not one, but two new "tour guides" for anyone traveling to Caldwen.

CAL2a Conversion Guide to Caldwen for Vintage Roleplaying and CAL2b Conversion Guide to Caldwen for the OSRIC System.

Both books follow the same format. The only differences are the systems they are being converted too. The books cover both CAL2 Calidar On Wings of Darkness and CA2 How to Train Your Wizard. Knowledge of PG2 A Players' Guide to Caldwen and Game Mechanics for the World of Calidar is helpful. (links are to reviews, not the products themselves.)

The books are 30 pages with full-color covers and color with black & white interior art. Prices at $3.95, but currently $2.95. You do not need both, but I find it nice for my own system analyses.

Unlike the main Caldwen/Calidar books the art here is sparse, but that is by design since the focus of this book is the stats. Here Heard make explicit the conversions he discussed in the main books using the Calidar game stats. Depending on the system book you grab, you get easily familiar stat blocks and guides on how to use the books. Now obviously the "vintage roleplaying" can be used with any 70s and 80s circa version of the World's Greatest Role-Playing Game. Or as I have called here, any Basic-Era edition. It is labeled for "Labyrinth Lord" but any game similar enough to Labyrinth Lord can be used (ie. only a Law-Chaos alignment axis, race-as-class), or adapted. The OSIRC-labeled version can also be used with any Advanced-era version of the game.

One of the main features of these books is the Mage Knight class. I am quite fond of this class so I wanted to try it out. Now I have choices, a "Basic" or an "Advanced" version. Now the class has been converted faithfully, so don't expect them to look exactly the same between the Basic and Advanced versions. There is no description of the powers the Mage Knight has, you still need the Caldwen book for that, but this is expected.

After the Mage Knight, we get into the How to Train Your Wizard material.

Throughout the book, page references to the sourcebooks are given.

So the great thing about these books is if you play a particular system then you only need one conversion book. True, it does mean you need two books, but for me the flexibility more than outweighs this minor issue. I am a system guy, so I like being able to have multiple versions of the same material to blend between my games. So yeah for 3 bucks it is totally worth it for me, hell it is worth it for 6 bucks to have both versions.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
CAL2b Conversion Guide to Caldwen for the OSRIC System
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