Have you ever wondered why, in a world full of magic, there are no enchanted labor-saving devices? Few magical modes of transportation? No bespelled byproducts of the inventor's art? Wonder no more! They are all here, in this latest compendium from the wizard's lair:The Book of wondrous Inventions!
The Book of Wondrous Inventions is useable with both the D&D and the AD&D game systems. Each invention is clearly outlined, including function, form, and hazards of use. Statistics and spell details are presented in a manner compatible with both game systems. Adventure scenario suggestions are given, as well as design instructions for characters who wish to build a duplicate device.
As an added bonus, a section is included which details a system for creating spells and magical items. This will prove especially useful to players and DMs who use the D&D game system; the detailed information is also of help to AD&D game players.
AC11: The Book of Wondrous Inventions (1987), by Bruce A. Heard, is the eleventh and final Game Accessory for the Basic D&D Game. It was published in November 1987.
Origins: Total AC. In its last year, the "AC" series for Basic D&D was firing on all cylinders, with books like AC9: Creature Catalogue (1986) and AC10: Bestiary of Dragons and Giants (1987) providing considerable support material for GMs. AC11: The Book of Wondrous Inventions (1987) continues in that vein, but it's the most similar to AC4: The Book of Marvelous Magic (1985), a much earlier magic item book — though one with more numerous and shorter item descriptions.
Sadly, The Book of Wondrous Inventions was the last of the "AC" adventures. That was the result of a large-scale revamp of the Basic D&D line that had already begun with Bruce Heard's introduction of the Gazetteer sourcebooks (1987-1991). The "AC" books wouldn't have a direct replacement, though the "GAZ" books and the later "PC" books (1989-1992) would all be full of GM reference material.
Genre Tropes: Silliness. When AC4: The Book of Marvelous Magic came out, it was peppered with satirical material that recalled the gameplay of D&D's earliest campaigns. AC11: The Book of Wondrous Inventions takes a step beyond that. With black pudding dishwashers, gnomish manapults, and modern-day items like pinball machines, coke dispensers, and locomotives, it's full on silly. This genre trope of silliness, often augmented with laughable modern technology, was a general trend at TSR in 1987 and 1988 that could also be seen in IM3: "The Best of Intentions" (1987) and most notably WG7: Castle Greyhawk (1988). Following this zenith, it'd continue at a lower level with adventures like WG9: "Gargoyle" (1989).
The idea that D&D could be unrealistically silly seems a bit odd today, but it was a reflection of larger gaming trends in the '80s. Back at the start of the decade, Flying Buffalo's Grimtooth's Traps (1981) practically invented the genre. Even TSR's "Gargoyle" adventure originated as an RPGA tournament three years previous. So this wasn't just a sudden change in TSR's publication, but also a reflection of the wider gaming scene.
It would take until the '90s for D&D to fully return to a more serious, darker, and grittier ethos.
Expanding D&D. Though Wondrous Inventions includes rules for inventing spells and magic items, they're derived from GAZ3: "The Principalities of Glantri" (August 1987). By the end of 1987, the Gazetteer series was already the heart of Basic D&D's new mechanics.
Resurrected Races: Gnomes. Many of the inventions in "Wondrous Inventions" are the creation of gnomes, who are even called "skill mechanician[s]". Though gnomes were a player character race in the AD&D Players Handbook (1978), there had previously been relative non-entities in the Basic D&D game, appearing as monsters in the Basic Rules (1981, 1983) but not a PC class.
The monstrous Basic D&D descriptions of gnomes is also somewhat different from how they appear in AD&D. Where AD&D's gnomes were primarily junior dwarves, Basic D&D's gnomes "love machinery". Combine that with the idea of tinker gnomes that was appearing in Dragonlance (1984-1986) and you have the first incarnation of gnomish inventors in the Known World.
This increased focus on Mystaran gnomes and their tinkering would reach its pinnacle in PC2: "Top Ballista" (1989), which introduced both sky gnomes and gnomish PCs.
Exploring the Known World. As a Basic D&D supplement, Wondrous Inventions is expected to fit into the Known World. Certainly, there are some references to Karameikos, Glantri, the Five Shires, and other known lands but those references are relatively superficial. There are also plenty of new locales like Balfour's Landing, the Black Peak Mountains, Mount Caylorne, Galgaboth, Mistraven, Nalorian, Spinyon, Stonepeak, and Taneilian that you won't find in any other Known World lore.
The most interesting Known World references probably occur in the entry for "Jaggar's Transforming Gargantoid", by Bruce Heard himself. It discusses the Land of the Earthshakers, providing considerable background for CM4: "Earthshaker!" (1985).
Exploring Greyhawk. Like some of the earlier "AC" books, Wondrous Inventions was sold as being compatible with the AD&D system. This may be why it also links some of its inventions to the world of Greyhawk. As with the Known World references, most are pretty superficial, but nonetheless there are mentions of the Barrier Peaks, Crystalmist Mountains, Greyhawk City, the Hool Marshes, Irongate City, and the Wild Coast.
About the Creators. Though compiled by Bruce Heard, Wondrous Inventions is the work of many hands, including Scott Bennie, Stephen R. Bourne, Deborah Christian, Helen Cook, Michael DeWolfe, Vince Garcia, Steve Gilbert, Greg Gorden, Ed Greenwood, Jeff Grubb, Scott Haring, Bruce Heard, Robin Jenkins, Thomas M. Kane, David Ladyman, Raymond Maddox, David E. Martin, Graeme Morris, John Nephew, Stephen Palmer, Sandy Petersen, Rik Rose, Bill Slavicsek, Rick Swan, John Terra, Gary L. Thomas, Robert Tuftee, Allen Varney, Janet Vialls, Peter Vialls, Stewart Wieck, and Ray Winninger.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.