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PC1 Creature Crucible: Tall Tales of the Wee Folk (Basic)
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
by Timothy B. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 12/03/2019 12:21:16

The PC Creature Crucible series came at the end of the Gazeteer line for Basic D&D. AD&D 2nd ed was my game of choice then, but reviewing this now I think I missed out on something fun. The author of this book, John Nephew, who would later go on to found Atlas Games. While reading this I was looking for any clues to what would be Ars Magica, but I think I was just projecting.

The book is 96 pages with color covers and black, white and green interior colors. The PDF is 102 pages (for maps and covers). It is divided into a 64-page DM's section and a 32-page Adventures section. This book is something I would have loved back then, and really enjoy now.

The book covers playing several woodlands or faerie races. The new race-classes you can play are Brownie, Centaur, Dryad, Faun, Hsiao, Leprechaun, Pixie, Pooka, Sidhe, Sprite, Treant, Wood Imp, and Woodrake. One of the features of Basic-era D&D is Race-as-Class, so a Sprite and Halfling can feel like different things with similar levels of progression.

As per Basic D&D each creature gets it's own advancement table and ability minimums and maximums. All, save the Sidhe, have level limits. All of these creatures have a 0 level and in some cases, negative levels, they need to meet the XP requirements for. It all works rather well for Basic D&D really. We know it can work since we used to do the same thing in Holmes D&D, only not with this much guidance. It would not be difficult with these guidlines to adapt this to any other version of D&D in fact. You can look to the 4th Edition Player's Option: Heroes of the Feywild as an example. Like PC1 Creature Crucible, you can play a dryad, satyr, or pixie. They even have a similar spell-casting class (more on that later).

The book has a solid Lands of Faerie or even a Feywild feel to it. A nice green character sheet (which is cool and all, but prints and copies poorly) only adds to that feeling. The conceit of the book is to present the information as if given to us from the mouths of four different woodland folk of renown; Olyrrhoe, a centaur prophetess (years before a centaur would teach divination at Hogwarts) tells us about centaurs, wood imps, , Lotis, the dryad, speaks for dryads and hamadryads as well as fauns, hsiao, and treants, Robin Goodfellow (yes, THAT Robin) for pixies, sprites and others, and finally Oberon (also THAT Oberon) for Pooka, Sidhe and wood drakes.

This book also deals with three different kinds of spell casters. Shamans (like druids or clerics, but no turn undead ability), wicca (which you know has my attention! magic-users) and fairy spell casters. There are some new spells here that very much feel like woodland/wicca/witchy/druid spells.

We get some new equipment, some woodland realms, some organizations and of course our NPCs and a few more besides. Though no Titania, which is odd given the obvious (and necessary) borrowing from Mid-Summer's Night Dream.

That gives us the first 64 pages.

The adventure book makes up the next 32 pages. We also get an AD&D 2nd Edition conversion guide. Using these guidelines would help in converting to other versions of D&D, in particular, 5e.

The adventures are short and all share a woodland theme. They can all be run in a few sessions, usually one per session.

There is also a fun woodlands/faerie themed character sheet.

This is one of those products that I never gave enough attention too back when it came out, but I really wish I had.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
PC1 Creature Crucible: Tall Tales of the Wee Folk (Basic)
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D&D Expert Set Rulebook (B/X ed.) (Basic)
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
by Timothy B. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/25/2019 23:03:48

Updated review posted here, with pictures. http://theotherside.timsbrannan.com/2019/11/review-d-expert-set.html

December of 1979 was the time I was first introduced to Dungeon & Dragons via the Holmes Basic edition and the AD&D Monster Manual. It was 1980 though that I got my hands on the Moldvay Basic Set and my love affair with B/X D&D. But that is only the first half of the story. The second half, the X of B/X, was the Cook/Marsh Expert Set.

D&D Expert Set

I am not exactly sure when I got the D&D Expert set. I do know it was sometime after I had the Basic Set. I know this because I have very distinct memories of going through the Expert book and just marveling at everything inside. Just everything from the classes to all the new monsters. The Moldvay Basic Set was the high mark for me at the time for what an RPG should be. The Expert set lived up to that set and then blew me away. That is getting ahead of my narrative.

For this review, I am going to look at the original boxed set, the mini boxed set from Twenty First Century Games S.r.i., and the newer PDF from DriveThruRPG.

On the heels of the Basic Set edited by Tom Moldvay, we have the first Expert Set edited by David "Zeb" Cook with Steve Marsh. So we often call this the Cook/Marsh Expert set to distinguish it from the Frank Mentzer Expert Set. This Moldvay/Cook/Marsh set of rules is often called B/X to separate it from the Mentzer BECMI versions.

The Expert Set came in a boxed set featuring cover art by Erol Otus. The art includes the art from the Basic Set; a wizard scries the female wizard and male warrior fighting the dragon. It remains one of my favorite pieces of gaming art ever. In fact, it is the current background for my phone. Included in the boxed set was one of the greatest sandbox adventures ever, X1 Ilse of Dread and a set of 6 polyhedral dice; d4, d6, d8, d10, d12, d20 and a crayon. Note the PDF does not include dice (obviously).

The Expert book features the same cover art on a predominantly blue cover. The book is 64 pages of black & white art. The cover is full cover and the interior covers are blue ink and feature the table of contents (front) and index (back). The art features some of the Big Names of 1980s D&D art. Jeff Dee, Wade Hampton, David S. LaForce, Erol Otus, James Roslof, and Bill Willingham. Some so iconic that they STILL define certain elements of the game for me. Jeff Dee's halflings, David LaForce's giants, and Bill Willingham's vampire are to this very day the first thing I think of when any of these creatures are mentioned.

While we were promised "new classes" both in the Holmes Basic book and later by Gygax himself in the pages of Dragon magazine, we stick with same seven classes; four human (Cleric, Fighter, Magic-user, Thief) and three demi-human (Dwarf, Elf, Halfling). While I had not really thought about the new classes when I got my Expert set, I was a little disappointed that halflings and dwarves didn't get more than they did. BUT if that was the case I soon got over it since there was SO much more for the Cleric and Magic-users.

Part 1: Introduction. This book begins with some tables from the Basic game. Also we get some guidelines on how this book should be used and what to do if you have an earlier (Holmes edition) of D&D Basic. Here we also note that the page numbers are X# compared to the B# number. The idea here was for you to be able to cut up your Basic and Expert books and put them together in a three-ring binder. Eventually, I did do this, but not with my actual books, but rather with the printouts from the DriveThru PDFs.

Part 2: Player Character Information. This deals with all the classes. I thought, at the time, that the organization of this section was a vast improvement over the same section in the Basic Book. Where Basic D&D went from 1st to 3rd level, this book continues on to 14th level for human classes and various levels for the demi-human classes. Additionally, thief abilities extend to 14th level as does Clerical turning Undead and new, more powerful spells; 5th level for clerics and 6th level for Magic-users. That was unheard of levels of magic for me.

Part 3: Spells. This section got about 90% of my attention back then. New detail is given on Reversed spells for both Clerical and Magic-user/Elf spells. Eight pages of new spells including the amazing Disintegrate spell, which was one of the spells outlawed in many of my local game groups back then.

Part 4: The Adventure. Not only does this section open up the world of adventuring to the entire wilderness and beyond the dungeon, it gives us some of my favorite Erol Otus art ever. The Alchemist on page X21 defined what an alchemist needed to look like for me.

Part 5: The Encounter covers combat and includes morale, saving throws, and variable weapon damage. This also has all the necessary combat tables.

Part 6: Monsters. Ah. Now here are the pages of my memories! I have mentioned before how much I love the Monster Manual for AD&D and how it was my monster tome for my time playing Holmes Basic. But this. This one was part of my new favorite rules and that made all the difference to me. The mundane rubbed elbows (or knees, or whatever) with the magical and the malevolent. To this day there are still monsters here that I have not seen the likes of elsewhere. Well yes, I have, but you have to dig for some of them. But let's be honest, when was the last time you pulled a Devil Swine out on your players? Some versions of monsters here I still prefer over their AD&D Monster Manual counterparts. Giants and Vampires as I have mentioned.

Part 7: Treasure follows. While D&D lacked the infamous vorpal sword (for now), it made up for it by having better rules in my mind for Intelligent swords.

Part 8: Dungeon Master Information, is what it says on the tin. We get rules for making ability "saving throws" and spell magic item creation rules. What I had the most fun with were the castle and stronghold cost rules. This chapter is chock full of goodness. Handling players, NPCs, even the first bit of what was known as the "Known World" which later became Mystara. To this day seeing the "haunted keep" fills me with ideas.

Part 9: Special Adventures this section covers waterborne adventures.

This book is so full of great stuff and even though we were promised a "Companion" edition that would go to 36th level (unheard of!) there were still plenty of adventures to be had.

Let's be honest, 14 levels is a lot of levels even by today's standards.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
D&D Expert Set Rulebook (B/X ed.) (Basic)
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Monster Manual II (1e)
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
by Timothy B. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/24/2019 21:23:20

Continuing my review of the monster books of my youth with what can be called the most polished of all the AD&D/D&D monster books, the AD&D Monster Manual II.

This was the first book to feature the new "orange spine" and Jeff Easley cover art. It is also one of the larger AD&D first ed books at 160 pages. Sometimes I wonder what an old-school cover would have looked like, something drawn by Tramp maybe. That all aside, the cover of this book is great, but it doesn't quite grab you the same way that the MM1 or the FF did. But inside is more than makes up for this "perceived" slight.

For this review, I am as usual considering the original hardcover and the newer PDF from DriveThruRPG. There is no Print on Demand option yet for this title, but as a special feature, I'll also have a look at the miniature book from Twenty First Century Games S.r.i.

The book(s) and the PDF have full-color covers featuring art from Jeff Easley. Inside is all black and white art from Jim Holloway, Harry Quinn, Dave Sutherland, and Larry Elmore. No slight to the previous book's artists, but the style and quality here is more consistent. Some might see this as an improvement (I do) but others will point to this as a sign of the change from the Golden Age of TSR to the Silver Age. Of course, it features the byline of Gary Gygax, though we now know that some of them were created by Frank Mentzer and Jeff Grubb. In some ways, you can see this change in tone and feel that is happening at TSR in this book.

The Monster Manual II was the first hardcover after a year hiatus. The book is better organized and layout than most of the AD&D hardcover books. I have to admit I always credited this to TSR finally moving over to computer layout, but I have nothing to support this claim save for how the book looks.

There is a lot to this book too. OVer 250 monsters there are a ton more demons, devils, and more from the outer planes, like the daemons, demodands, modrons, and even good-aligned creatures like the devas and solars. We get a few more dragons and some giants. We get a lot of monsters that feel inspired by the first Monster Manual. There are also many from previous adventure modules. This book also gave us the Tarrasque, the Catlord, the Swanmay, the Wolfwere. and more.

This book also has nearly 30 pages of encounter tables at the end that covers all three books, very useful to have really and a selling point for the PDF. Get the PDF and print out the tables.

The Monster Manual II is still by all rights a classic. While I don't get the same thrill from it as I do the Monster Manual or the Fiend Folio, but the monsters individually are great.

It remains to this day a lot of fun and a book I still get great enjoyment from.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Monster Manual II (1e)
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AC1 The Shady Dragon Inn (Basic)
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
by Timothy B. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/20/2019 22:44:31

Review, complete with pictures of the Print on Demand product, also appears here: http://theotherside.timsbrannan.com/2019/11/review-ac1-shady-dragon-inn.html

Going through some of my favorite Basic-era books and games and I should really spend some time with another favorite, but one that became a later favorite.

AC1 The Shady Dragon Inn was one of the first accessories for the BECMI flavor of the D&D game.

This book also has the distinction of being one of the first Print on Demand books that Wizards of the Coast would release for the old TSR catalog.

The book also has special interest to me since it features the stats for one of my favorite characters Skylla.

I will be reviewing both the PDF and the Print on Demand versions.

The book is 32 pages with color covers and black & white interiors. The print version is perfect bound; so no staples. The scan is sharp and clean and PoD version is easy to read.

The book features the titular inn, but really the main feature of this book is the collection of NPCs. Designed to be a bit like the original AD&D Rogues Gallery. This product though is a little more robust. The Shady Dragon Inn write-ups include some background on who these characters are, more than just a collection of stats. Maybe indicative of shift between the AD&D and D&D lines.

The characters are split by class. In each case, we get a dozen or so individual characters of Fighters, Thieves, Clerics, Magic-users, Dwarves, Elves and Halflings. with art by Jim Holloway and Larry Day. While the art helps, each write-up includes a brief description. This all covers roughly two-dozen pages.

There is another section of "Special" characters. These are the ones with TM next to their names. Such notables as Strongheart, Warduke, Kelek and of course Skylla.

There is a bit at the end about the Shady Dragon Inn itself along with some pre-gen adventuring parties based on level. A great aid for DMs that need some NPCs. The Print on Demand version includes the maps to the Inn as part of the print. The main PDF does not have them, but they can be downloaded as a separate file. There are PDFs and image files to print out to use with minis. So with some minor tweaks, you can use this with any version of D&D you like. The characters inside can be converted to 5e easily enough.

Ignore the saving throws, and recalculate the base to hit as 20 - THAC0. I find that 22 or 23 -THAC0 actually works out a little bit better for 5e.

The maps are set to 1" = 5', so D&D 3, 4 & 5 standard. The Print on Demand versions do not come out to 1" exactly, but when you buy the pdf you get the maps as files to print on your own.

While this book lacks the numbers of NPCs the Rogues Gallery does, it is superior in every other aspect. Starting in an Inn might be a D&D cliché, but a product like this makes you want to embrace the cliché anyway.

The Print on Demand version is fantastic really.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
AC1 The Shady Dragon Inn (Basic)
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The Shaman - A New Take
Publisher: Dungeon Masters Guild
by Timothy B. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/20/2019 21:40:23

This class has spellcasting foci, like a fetish or idol, which gives it a nice feel. Wisdom is the spellcasting ability. This class also has some spirit based powers that are interesting. The relationship here is similar to the cleric and druid is similar to the Sorcerer-Wizard-Warlock one. I think I would have liked to have seen this class use something more like the Warlock style spellcasting to be honest, but what is here works fine. IT's a good class, but I am left want more.From A Point of Inspiration, this PDF is full color and has 9 pages. It is Pay What You Want with a suggested price of 50 cents; it is worth more than that. This is presented as a new full caster class with two archetypes, the Witch-Doctor and warden.

The class is good, but could use a little more detail, even a little history would be fun. Even at twice the price it is still good. There are new powers, but no new spells.

This class has spellcasting foci, like a fetish or idol, which gives it a nice feel. Wisdom is the spellcasting ability. This class also has some spirit based powers that are interesting. The relationship here is similar to the cleric and druid is similar to the Sorcerer-Wizard-Warlock one. I think I would have liked to have seen this class use something more like the Warlock style spellcasting to be honest, but what is here works fine. IT's a good class, but I am left want more.

The PDF is nicely designed and it looks like a fun class to try out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
The Shaman - A New Take
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Fiend Folio (1e)
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
by Timothy B. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/16/2019 18:00:04

I look at the second-ever produced AD&D monster book, and maybe one of the most loved OR most hated books, depending on who you ask; I mean of course 1981's Fiend Folio.

I will admit upfront, I enjoyed the hell out of this book. There was something so different, so strange and so British about it. I loved listening to Pink Floyd, The Who, The Beatles, and Led Zeppelin while watching Monte Python, the Young Ones, Doctor Who and more I was a died in the wool Anglophile. In the 80s if it was British it was good was my thinking. The Fiend Folio was all that to me.

Yes. I am 100% in the "I Loved It!" camp.

Now, that doesn't mean I was immune to the problems it had. But I'll get into that in detail in a bit.

Fiend Folio Tome

First available as a hardcover in 1981. Available as PDF ($9.99) and PoD ($11.99 or $13.99 combined) via DriveThruRPG. 128 pages, color covers, black & white interior art.

The Fiend Folio is something of the lost forgotten middle child of AD&D. Don Turnbull, then editor of White Dwarf magazine had been collecting monsters for his magazine since 1976. In 1979 He wanted to publish a book of these monsters through Games Workshop as a new monster tome companion to the then released Monster Manual. Through various legal wranglings which included TSR wanting to buy GW and then starting TSR UK, the book came to be published by TSR in 1981.

The hardcover was the fifth hardcover overall, the second "in a series of AD&D roleplaying aids", the last to use the classic cover art style and dress, and the only AD&D hardcover never updated to a new Jeff Easley cover. To cement the perception that this book was the "middle child" every book after it had the new Jeff Easley covers and about as many were published before it as after it.

When released the book caused a bit of a stir. In Dragon Magazine #55 we had no less of a personage than Ed Greenwood blasting the book with his Flat Taste Didn't Go Away. Ouch. That is a bit harsh Ed and the article doesn't get much lighter. I am sure there were plenty of old-school AD&D fans who were at the time saying "Who the hell is this Ed Greenwood guy and why do I care about his opinion?" Sy though, Ed is no fan of this book and calls many of the monsters incomplete, inadequate and many are redundant. AND to be 100% fair he is making some very good points here. The editing is all over the place, many of the monsters are useless or way overpowered in some respects.

Alan Zumwalt follows this with Observations of a Semi-Satisfied Customer. An endorsement, but not the ringing endorsement one might want.

Not to be forgotten Don Turnbull, Managing Director of TSR UK, Ltd. and Editor of the FIEND FOLIO Tome ends with his Apologies - and Arguments; his defense of the Fiend Folio.

All three articles make good points and overreach in others. In the end, I still love the Fiend Folio, not despite its weirdness, but because of it. I have decided though that when I run a pure Forgotten Realms game that I will not include any of the monsters that Ed found objectionable. I was going to say not include any from this book, but that includes Drow and we know that isn't going to happen!

There are some "translation" errors here too. In particular when the monster was written for OD&D and then later updated to AD&D. Others the art didn't seem to fit the description. I still find it hard to see how the T-Rex looking Babbler is supposed to be a mutation of the Lizard Man.

That is all great and a wonderful bit of historical context, but none of that had any effect on the way I played and how I used the book.

Everyone will talk about how that is the book that gave us the Adherer, the Flumph, Flail Snail, Lava Children, and my least favorite, the CIFAL. But it is also the book that gave us the Death Knight, Skeleton Warriors, Revenant, the Slaadi, Son of Kyuss and more.

The D&D cartoon featured the Shadow Demon and Hooked Horrors. The D&D toy line used the Bullywugs. And creatures like the Aarakocra, Kenku, Githyanki and Githzerai would go on to greater fame and use in future editions of D&D. Some even first appeared in other D&D modules that got their first-ever hardcover representations here; like the Daemons, Kuo-Toa, and the Drow.

Many monsters came from the pages of White Dwarf's Fiend Factory. Even these monsters were a mixed bag, but there were so many. So many in fact that there could have been a Fiend Folio II.

Flipping through this book I am struck with one thing. For a tome called the "Fiend Folio" there are not really a lot of fiends in it. Lolth, the Styx Devil, Mezzodaemon, Nycadaemon and maybe the Guardian Daemon.

While this book does not fill me with the deep nostalgia of the discover of D&D like the Monster Manual does, it fills me with another type of nostalgia. The nostalgia of long night playing and coming up with new and exciting adventures and using monsters that my players have never seen before.

For the record, here are some of my favorites: Apparition, Berbalang, Booka, Coffer Corpse, Crypt Thing, Dark Creeper, Dark Stalker (Labyrinth anyone?), Death Dog, Death Knight, Lolth, the new Dragons, the Elemental Princes of Evil, Drow, Errercap, Eye of Fear and Flame, Firedrake, Forlarren, Githyanki, Githzerai, Gorilla Bear (yes! I loved these guys), Grell, Grimlocks, Guardian Familiar, Hellcat, Hook Horrors (though I felt I had to use them), Hounds of Ill Omen, Huecuva, Kelpie, Kuo-toa, Lamia Noble, Lizard King (Jim Morrison jokes for D&D at last!), Meazel, Mephit, Mezzodaemon, Necrophidius, Neeleman (well...I didn't like the monster, I liked the SNL skit he reminded me of), Nilbogs (ok, no I didn't like these guys unless I was running the adventure), Norker, Nycadaemon, Ogrillon, Penanggalan (yes! loved these, but they should have been closer to the vampire as described in the MM), Poltergiest, Revenant, Scarecrow, Shadow Demon, Skeleton Warrior, Slaad, Son of Kyuss, Sussurus, Svirfneblin, the new trolls, Yellow Musk Creeper and Yellow Mush Zombie (Clark Ashton Smith for the win!).

The remainder of the book is given over to expanded tables.

The Future of the Folio

When I have talked about the Fiend Folio in the past most of the time I get a lot of positive remarks, so maybe the ages have been kind to the odd little middle child of D&D.

Since it's publication the Fiend Folio has seen a little more love.

The 14th (!) Monstrous Compendium Appendix for AD&D 2nd Edition was based on the Fiend Folio, though it would be almost 10 years after the hardcover version. MC14 Monstrous Compendium Fiend Folio Appendix is available in PDF.

The 3rd Edition years gave us TWO different versions of the Fiend Folio. The 3e Fiend Folio from WotC features many of the original Fiend Folio monsters, but also a lot more fiends; so living up to it's name a bit more. Not to be outdone, Necromancer Games gave us the first of the Tome of Horrors books which feature many more of the original Fiend Folio monsters for OGL/d20.

Back in Print

So imagine my delight when I saw that the Fiend Folio on DriveThruRPG was now offering a Print on Demand option. So, of course, I had to get it. It was soft cover only, but I thought it would work nicely next to my Games Workshop printing softcover Monster Manual.

I was not wrong.

Other than one is a hardcover and the other is a softcover it is very difficult to tell the two prints apart. Even the interiors compare well.

So maybe time has been kinder to the Fiend Folio. I still enjoy using it.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Fiend Folio (1e)
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Gangbusters B/X version
Publisher: Mark Hunt
by Timothy B. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/12/2019 22:12:13

The latest game to take over the Old-School gaming scene like, well, gangbusters is the new B/X Gangbusters; an update to the old TSR Gangbusters.

Gangbusters is a new game from Mark Hunt based on both the original Gangbusters and Basic/Expert D&D. At first, I was a little wary of this. It seemed a little too close to trademarks and I have seen some shady stuff. But it turns out that Mark legally owns the Gangbusters trademark and this has been a dream of his for some time. Reading his posts about it online you get his enthusiasm and it is contagious. So does it live up to the hype? Let's check it out.

Gangbusters is an old school game built on the Basic version of D&D; or at least a suitable clone of it. So if you know that game you how this one works. Characters have a choice of class; Brutish, Connected, Educated, and Street Smart. And each class has six levels, complete with level titles no less!

Each class gets a good write-up and running them through my memory of Good Fellas, The Untouchables and the Godfather I think they cover just about everything. My tastes would run more towards Private Eyes so Connected and Street Smart would be great for me.

The alignment system here is Law vs. Neutrality vs. Dishonesty. It works. It works rather well, to be honest.

There are a lot of lists of equipment with 1920s costs. For historical games, I love this stuff. There are guides for playing characters and playing in the time period.

Part 3 is the newest material, Piece Of the Action, covers playing the Gangbusters game. A lot of great information here.

Part 4 covers Game Mastering or Judging. This covers running a city. Now, this is where I commit heresy, but there some great stuff here I might steal for other B/X style games. This also covers awarding experience points.

For Part 5 we get Investigations. Part 6 deals with Law Enforcement and Part 7 handles The Encounter. The big gem of Part 7 is the table of vehicles.

Part 8 is Wandering Adversaries and that is our "Monster" section. It is 100% or at least 99% compatible with every other OSR game. Though these are city adversaries of the 1920s. You get adversaries like Angry Mob, Cat Burglars, Gangsters, Klansmen, Moonshiners and more. I have to admit, I now want to send a coven of my witches after a group of klansmen.

Part 9 covers Combat. This is expected stuff, but the really cool thing are the Saving Throws. Gangbusters gives us, Moxie. Quickness. Toughness. Driving. and Observation. Really, how awesome is that?

There is an optional section here that grabbed my attention. Mysterious Powers allows you to play as Golden Age heroes. That is a very, very interesting development.

The game comes as a PDF and a Print on Demand book. Color covers and Black & White interior art. It comes in at 63 pages. The game is also released under the OGL.

How Does it Compare to Original Gangbusters? By using the "Basic" system there are a lot details in the original game that are not needed in the newer game. For example, skills are less of a game mechanic in the newer game. The original Gangbusters has more detail on various weapon effects but the newer game is far better organized. OG Gangbusters weighs in at 64 pages, as was common for TSR at the time and a smaller font. So it, in general, has more text, but that doesn't mean more game in this case.

All in all. Gangbusters is a great game. Part of that greatest comes from Mark Hunt's enthusiasm and his obvious love for this game. Personally, I would get it for that alone, but thankfully the game here is also great all on it's own.

If you enjoy the 1920s, Gangster films or even, like me, B/X D&D and related games, then this is a must buy.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Gangbusters B/X version
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Monster Manual (1e)
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
by Timothy B. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/10/2019 22:16:14

This is the book. This is the book that got me into D&D and RPGs.

But how does one review such a genre-defining classic?

My son had made himself a triple cheeseburger covered in bacon, onions, and mushrooms. I asked him how he was going to fit that into his mouth. He said, "with determination".

How does one review such a genre-defining classic? With determination.

My History

The Monster Manual was the book for me. The one that got me hooked. The one, sitting in "silent reading" back in 1979 at Washington Elementary School in Jacksonville, IL that I became the über-geek you all know today. How über? I used the freaking umlauts, that's my street cred right there.

Back in '79 I was reading a lot of Greek Myths, I loved reading about all the gods, goddesses and monsters. So I saw my friend's Monster Manual and saw all those cool monsters and I knew I had to have a copy. Though getting one in my tiny near-bible-belt town was not easy. Not hard mind you, by the early 1980s the local book store stocked them, but I was not there yet. So I borrowed his and read. And read. And read. I think I had the damn thing memorized long before I ever got my own game going.

Since that time I judge a gamebook on the "Monster Manual" scale. How close of a feeling do I get from a book or game compared to the scale limit of holding the Monster Manual for the first time? Some games have come close and others have hit the mark as well. C.J. Carella's WitchCraft gave me the same feeling.

Also, I like to go to the monster section of any book or get their monster books. Sure I guess sometimes there are diminishing returns, Monster Manual V for 3.5 anyone? But even then sometimes you get a Fiend Folio (which I liked thankyouverymuch).

This book captured my imagination like no other gamebook. Even the 1st DMG, which is a work of art, had to wait till I was older to appreciate it. The Monster Manual grabbed me and took me for a ride.

The Book (and PDF)

The PDF of the Monster Manual has been available since July of 2015. The book itself has seen three different covers.

Regardless of what cover you have the insides are all the same. The book is 112 pages, black and white art from some of the biggest names that ever graced the pages of an RPG book.

This book was the first of so many things we now take for granted in this industry. The first hardcover, the first dedicated monster tome, the first AD&D book.

The book contains 350 plus monsters of various difficulties for all character levels. Some of the most iconic monsters in D&D began right here. Mostly culled from the pages of OD&D, even some of the art is similar, and the pages of The Dragon, this was and is the definitive book on monsters.

Eldritch Wizardry gave us the demons, but the Monster Manual gave us those and all the new devils. The Monster Manual introduced us to the devils and the Nine Hells. Additionally, we got the new metallic dragons, more powerful and more diverse undead and many more monsters. We also got many sub-races of the "big 3". Elves get wood, aquatic, half and drow. Dwarves get hill and mountain varieties. Halflings get the Tallfellows and Stouts. So not just more monsters, but more details on the monsters we already knew.

While designed for AD&D I used it with the Holmes Basic book. The two products had a similar style and to me seemed to work great together. It was 1979 and honestly, we did all sorts of things with our games back then. The games worked very well together.

Flipping through one of my physical copies, or paging through the PDF, now I get the same sense of wonder I did 40 years ago.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Monster Manual (1e)
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Bx Mars
Publisher: Bronze
by Timothy B. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/07/2019 14:16:36

This is a newer book from Michael Gibbons who also does the illustrations. Here we get a full (8.5" x 11") PDF at 104 pages with Black & White art. The author makes a note that the B&W art fits the mood of the game and I can't say I disagree.

This book also is more inspired by Burroughs, but the DNA is a little more obvious here. Also, the book is designed to be used with B/X style games, this also goes to level 10 (not level 14 as some B/X games). That's also great by me.

The classes and these are race-classes, are Princess, Warrior, Thark! (no idea why the ! is there), Menton and Terran. The classes are pretty much what you think they are. A couple of points. Princess is only open to Red Martian women; there is no Prince class (and sadly no Purple Martians). The Menton is a psionic using class with powers detailed in the book.

There is also something called "Mastery" which works a little like Feats from 3/4/5e but has a solid B/X/Old-school feel to them. They work quite well here.

There is a Campaign/World-building history here. It is some good background and fun to add to any game whether you are playing as straight-up Barsoom or something else.

This book has a completely different feel than the other Mars books out there. While all the books I have looked at list mostly the same sources as inspiration, this one comes closer to Heavy Metal than most. Also if I ever wanted to play a Herculoids game this would be the first book I'd grab.

The art has a really cool style that I don't often see in modern RPG books, but it fits this one perfectly.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Bx Mars
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Warriors of the Red Planet
Publisher: Night Owl Workshop
by Timothy B. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/07/2019 13:51:21

Warriors of the Red Planet by Al Krombach with art by Thomas Denmark and published by Denmark's Night Owl Workshop.

The PDF is digest-sized, single column, with black & white art from Denmark (so you know it looks great). At 128 pages it is a good-sized volume. And all for $8.00. They could have made it $10 and still it would have been a great price. Overtly the book is for Swords & Wizardry.

This game is more inspired by Burroughs than actually being Barsoom.

There are five races to play, Ancients, Elevated, Exotic, Humans and Unliving. And four classes, Fighting Men, Scoundrels, Mentalists, and Scientists. Each class goes to 10th level.

Mentalists have powers, Scientists have gadgets and they both work roughly like spells.

There are rules for character creation, equipment (including swords and rayguns), and several examples of play.

While I said it is overtly for S&W, there is Ascending and Descending AC and "Basic-like" saving throws.

There are some great monsters added to this as well. Any of which can be ported over to any OSR games if you wish. Many are recognizable from Burroughs, but there are plenty more as well.

Some of the races get more detail in the appendix. While an Exotic can nearly be anything (with random tables to boot!) some of the more common types are listed here. As per Burroughs we have Red, Green, Black, White and Yellow Martians. Earthlings on Mars are also discussed.

Appendix A covers all sorts of random terrain, building, missions, and the unexplained along with weird science artifacts.

Appendix B adds the eldritch to Mars with the Sorcerers of the Black Gate.

Appendix C adds an optional skill system.

Appendix D covers ship to ship combat.

And finally, Appendix N (yup) covers suggested reading.

Again, this is a great book and 100% compatible with other "old-school" books from Night Owl Workshop. And easily worth twice the cover price in my mind.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Warriors of the Red Planet
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Shaman Class (5e)
Publisher: Dungeon Masters Guild
by Timothy B. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/06/2019 22:44:22

Another Shaman class, this time from Michael Wolf. This is also PWYW, with a suggested price of $0.00. It is worth a lot more than that. The book is 17 pages.

This is a pretty full class with new archetypes, a new type of magic including using spirits, and a few new spells. The book is pretty well researched and because of that this Shaman is a much fuller class.

This one does fill that "Warlock" niche for divine spell-casters.

If you want to try out a Shaman class then this is not just a great choice, it is one of the better products I have grabbed at DMSGuild recently.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Shaman Class (5e)
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Class: Elven Cavalier
Publisher: Dungeon Masters Guild
by Timothy B. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/06/2019 21:45:52

I have said before that someone out there picked up Dragon #114 and instead of fixating on the witch class like I did, they fixated on the Elven Cavalier. Well that person might be Christopher J. Ferguson.

The PDF is 5 pages and Pay What You Want. The first thing I notice is that the art is largely taken from The Hobbit movies. I am not sure what the rules are at DMSGuild, but I am still pretty sure this is a copyright violation.

The background makes it difficult to read in some places and some of the font choices also don't help. The class is a fairly good replication of the 1st Ed AD&D class from Dragon #114.

From a D&D 5 perspective, I am not sure where this class is supposed to live. It does not seem to be part of the core classes where variants are built like sub-classes. This could have been a sub-class of the Paladin or Fighter for example.

It's too bad really, I was hoping for more.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Class: Elven Cavalier
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D&D Basic Set Rulebook (B/X ed.) (Basic)
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
by Timothy B. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/04/2019 22:39:37

Christmas 1981 will forever go down in my memory as the one where everything changed. I was in Junior High and had been playing D&D for a about two years, off and on. I had read the Monster Manual and I had a copy, badly xeroxed, of the Holmes Basic set. Christmas though was the turning point. I got two box sets that year; the Ballantine Books boxed set of Lord of the Rings and the "magenta" Basic Set. Inside was finally my own book, not a copy of someone else's book. I had my own dice (finally!) and a complete adventure. I devoured that book. Cover to cover. Every page was read and read over and over.

A lot of people talk about "the Red Box". My Red Box was magenta and had Erol Otis on the cover. For me this was the start of what became "my" D&D. Not someone else's game, but my own.

In 1981 I felt fairly proficient D&D. But with Holmes D&D I always felt like there was something I was missing. I only learned later of the "Little Brown Books" and how "Basic" actually came about.

The Moldvay Basic set had almost everything I ever needed for a game. Plenty of classes and races. More monsters than I expected (it had dragons!!) and what then felt like tons of spells. I made dozens of characters, some that saw actual game play, but I didn't care, for me it was the joy of endless possibilities. And that was just in the first couple of dozen pages.

Everything I know about exploring a dungeon, checking for traps, carrying holy water and 10' pole began here. I learned that ghouls can cause paralysis (unless you were an elf!) and that zombies always attacked last in the round. I learned Thouls were a magical cross-breed between a hobgoblin troll and ghoul. No I still have no idea how they are made. I got to meet Morgan Ironwolf herself. There was a sample adventure in the book, but I never really looked over. I don't think anyone did. It was called the Haunted Keep by the way.

This magenta colored box with strange art on the cover also had other prizes. There inside was my first set of real D&D dice. No more raiding board games for six-siders, though I learned that they were properly called "d6s". I had a set of blue dice with a white crayon to color them in. They are not great dice, even then I knew. But they were mine and that is all that mattered.

I want to pause here a second and come back to that art. Lets look at the cover again. A woman casting a spell, a man with a spear. Fighting some sort of water dragon (that didn't even appear in the rules!). But look how awesome it is. Do you need to know anything else? No. They are fighting a dragon! That box is the reason so many gamers fell in love with the art of Erol Otis. Inside are some equally important names; Jeff Dee, James Roslof, David LaForce and Bill Willingham. They gave this D&D a look that was different than AD&D. I love that art in AD&D, but in this book that art was just so...timeless. It was D&D.

In that box was also the Keep on Borderlands. I don't think I need to go into detail there. We have all been to the keep. We have all taken that ride out along the road that would take us to that Caves of Chaos. Nevermind that all these creatures, who should by all rights be attacking each other, never really did anything to me. They were there and they were "Chaotic" and we were "Lawful". That was all we needed to know back then.

The Moldvay Basic set was more than just an introductory set to D&D. It was an introduction to a hobby, a lifestyle. The rules were simply written and organized. They were not simple rules, and re-reading it today I marvel that we all conquered this stuff at age 10-11. It may have only covered the first 3 levels of character growth, but they were a quality 3.

I picked up the Expert Set for my birthday in 1982. Bought it myself, and for the longest time that was all I needed. Eventually I did move on to AD&D. I also discovered those Little Brown Books and even picked up my own real copy of Holmes Basic. I love those game and I love playing them still, but they never quite had the same magic as that first time of opening up that box and seeing what treasures were inside. I did not have to imagine how my characters felt when they had discovered some long lost treasure. I knew.

Today I still go back to Tom Moldvay's classic Basic book. It is my yardstick on how I measure any OSR game. Almost everything I need it right there. Just waiting for me.

Time to roll up some characters and play.

64 pages plus cover. Marbleized dice and crayon not included.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
D&D Basic Set Rulebook (B/X ed.) (Basic)
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DMR2 Creature Catalog (Basic)
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
by Timothy B. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/04/2019 22:36:22

Now I have gone on and on (and on and on) about how pivotable the AD&D 1st Ed Monster Manual was to my life in RPGs. So much so that I would later pick up any monster book that came out. I loved AD&D and played it all throughout my High School days and beyond. But it was Basic D&D, in particular, the B/X flavor of D&D that was my favorite. I wanted a Monster Manual for that game. Eventually, TSR granted my wish.

The next Creature Catalog (DMR2) came out in 1993 for the D&D Rules Cyclopedia. Most of the same monsters that appear in the Creature Catalog AC9 are here. In fact, a lot of the exact same art is used. The net difference is this book has 158 monsters. This book is the more customary 128 black & white pages with two, color covers. The monsters in this version are all listed alphabetically. This is also a much better scan and a print option is also available.

This book was designed for the Rules Cyclopedia and not BECMI the rules are 99% the same and thus both this and AC9 can be used interchangeably. DRM2 Creature Catalog came out at the same time as the AD&D 2nd edition Monstrous Compendiums so the layout and style reflects that. The color trim here is red instead of blue.

This PDF does bookmark every monster entry and since all monsters are listed together it is easier to find what you want here. Missing though is some of the advice in the earlier AC9 version.

But like the AC9 version, this is a fantastic book to use with your classic games or retro-clones of them.

In both books you won't find demons or devils since they were not part of the D&D world of Mystara, but that is not a big deal. For me, the loss is nothing compared the amount of undead both books have. Some of my favorite undead monsters to use to this very day made their appearances in these books. Elder Ghouls, Death Leaches, Dark Hoods, Grey Philosophers and Velyas still rank among my favorites.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
DMR2 Creature Catalog (Basic)
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AC9: D&D Creature Catalogue (Basic)
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
by Timothy B. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 11/04/2019 22:35:34

Now I have gone on and on (and on and on) about how pivotable the AD&D 1st Ed Monster Manual was to my life in RPGs. So much so that I would later pick up any monster book that came out. I loved AD&D and played it all throughout my High School days and beyond. But it was Basic D&D, in particular, the B/X flavor of D&D that was my favorite. I wanted a Monster Manual for that game. Eventually, TSR granted my wish. The Creature Catalog (AC9), came out in 1986 and was produced in conjunction with TSR UK and it would be one of the last books to do so. It shared a name with a series in Dragon Magazine (Issues #89 and #94), which led to some confusion on my part, but that was soon displaced. A bit of a background story. My then AD&D DM had grabbed this and let me borrow it. He knew I was a fan of D&D (Basic) and a fan of undead monsters, of which this had a lot of. I immediately started pouring over the book and loved all the new creatures in it and new versions of some that I considered "classic" by then. For example, the Umber Hulk (MM1) and the Hook Horror (FF) now shared an entry under "Hook Beast" and the Umber Hulk was now called a "Hulker". Given the time I just decided it was obviously the same beast and just called that in my version of Mystara and my DM kept Umber Hulk for his version of Greyhawk. Simple. Grabbing the PDF a while back I was hit by all these memories of flipping through the book and that sense of wonder came back. Monsters that I had used in games and have since forgotten about came rushing back to me. The PDF is a scan of the original book, so the quality is not 100%, more like 80% really. BUT that is not a reason not to get it. The text is still clear and the pictures, while not high-res are still legible. If nothing else the "imperfections" of the scan match my imperfect memory of the book. So point 1 for nostalgia purchase. The book itself is 96 black & white pages with color covers. There are about 150 monsters here (151 by my quick count). Some should be familiar to anyone that has been playing for a while, but there are also plenty of new ones that reflect the differences in design tone between D&D and AD&D. This book is separated by (and bookmarked by in the pdf) sections. The sections are Animals, Conjurations (magically created creatures), Humanoids, Lowlife, Monsters, and Undead. There are a lot of fun monsters here, many have made it into later editions of D&D, in particular, the Mystara Monstrous Compendium. The index is very nice since it also covers all the monsters in the various BEMCI books for a complete picture of the monsterography of the mid-80s D&D. If you are playing old-school D&D or a retro-clone of the same then this is a great little treat really. The book also has guidelines on where to put monsters and how to make alterations to the monster listing for a different creature. In fact a lot of what I have seen on some blogs and forums over the last couple years about how to "play monsters" has been better stated here. Yet more evidence that there is really nothing new out there. That and people don't read the classics anymore!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
AC9: D&D Creature Catalogue (Basic)
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