Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Jharat Part 3: The Northern Peninsula and Player Characters

The Northern Peninsula is a good place to start for adventurers on Jharat, because it is one of the few places where there are safe havens to retreat to after a tough adventure.

What this map does not show:

This map is primarily from Kelomha's point of view. It is not complete, but shows the areas and ruins that the rulers of Kelomha Keep are aware of. This map does not show minor ruins (though they can be added) as these would crowd the map and not leave much room to show surviving settlements. Furthermore, it does not show surviving settlements that Kelomha is not aware of. They almost certainly exist, waiting to be discovered. 

Surviving Settlements

Kelomha Island is small but safe and relatively untouched by the Summoning. It was home to a small rural population of 4,000 but has massively expanded with refugees to 16,000. The island of Kelomha got away relatively lightly from the disaster that destroyed a global empire. Rather than monsters appearing magically on Kelomha, the few that have menaced the island have travelled by conventional means. No settlements on Kelomha have been lost or destroyed during the cataclysm.

Sasderin is now a frontier town, also filled with refugees. It has 25,000 people (making it a city in terms of simple size), of whom 15,000 are refugees. For many adventurers, it is the logical place to organise expeditions into Tarterros Hive, and
where they can sell or store their loot or salvage. It was saved because of its historic defences - a town wall built against raiding Fyordmen from the isles to the north, and it has been attacked by monsters several times but not fallen - yet.

Plowshare is a village that is only a few miles from Tarterros Hive, but it is vulnerable to attack and has changed hands a number of times between civilised forces and the monsters of the Summoning. It sees a stream of refugeees pass through on their way to Sasderin or maybe Kelomha.

Fort Valiant is a stronghold that was an Imperial fort and training centre for Imperial troops. During the cataclysm the fort was attacked and almost overwhelmed by elementals and other monsters that came through the elemental windows. However, the troops held on and drove back or destroyed the monsters and closed the windows. It is now in the process of being repaired. There is no more Empire, but the troops inside are carrying on as if the Empire is still there: this is the result of the Commandant going crazy while staying in charge.
Nonetheless, some of the other officers in the fort are aware of the wider situation, and are willing to help survivors as best they can. This includes contact with Kelomha and Sasderin.  There are currently 580 soldiers and 440 civilians in the fort.

Decanthir is the refuge for survivors of the dwarven hive of Kharag Durl. It is a mixture of dwarves (50%), gnomes (25%) and humans (20%) but dominated by dwarves. Like other surviving settlements, it population has been suddenly increased by refugees, from 1600 to 5,400. It has a sea  port and fishing has become an important source of food, while trade with Kelomha has proved beneficial for both towns. 

What Characters Are Allowed in Jharat?
The simple answer is "Anything the DM will allow". Jharat was created so as to encompass as many options as possible. During its formation in 2nd Ed AD&D, I imagined all sorts of character kits and subraces from various sources being used, including the dark red "Complete" series of softbacks and green softback historical source books, as well as Dragon Magazine. When 3rd Ed D&D came out and the OGL was unleashed on the open market, the range of options increased exponentially. Finding a wide range of options for spells, feats and equipment is actively encouraged. I will continue to use 3rd Edition as the rules for Jharat, but feel free to convert to the system of your choice. And if you don't have these sources, just use whatever you feel fits best or is the closest equivalent - this wide range of classes and races is optional, not obligatory.

DM discretion is needed, as I am sure that not all of the material has been rigorously play-tested. Furthermore, there may be certain combinations of classes (either multiclassing basic classes or prestige classes) or racial abilities that can be abused. 

My own sources include, but are not limited to:

  • 3rd Edition D&D Player's Handbook
  • 3rd Edition D&D Dungeon Master's Guide
  • 3rd Edition D&D Player's Handbook II
  • 3rd Edition D&D Savage Species
  • 3rd Edition D&D Unearthed Arcana
  • 3rd Edition D&D Complete Adventurer
  • 3rd Edition D&D Complete Divine
  • 3rd Edition D&D Complete Arcane
  • 3rd Edition D&D Complete Warrior
  • 3rd Edition D&D Manual of the Planes
  • 3rd Edition D&D Epic Level Handbook
  • 3rd Edition D&D Book of Vile Darkness
  • Monte Cook's Arcana Unearthed
  • Swords & Sorcery's Relics & Rituals
  • 3rd Edition D&D Forgotten Realms products, inc. Campaign Setting, Unapproachable East, Underdark etc.
  • Eden Studio's Liber Bestarius
  • Mongoose Publishing Encylopedia Arcane series (Necromancy, Demonology etc..)
  • Alderac Entertainment Games: Wilderness, Empire, Guilds, Gods, Mercenaries, Evil etc.
  • Dragon Magazine up to last printed issue. 
  • Morrigan Press Inc. Talislanta D20
  • Mystic Eye & Ambient Games: Librum Equitis

You get the idea...

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Jharat Part 2: Cultures and Deities

There are many different cultures on Jharat, perhaps a thousand or more. But there are five that particularly stand out and formed empires. Their pantheons include the deities that are most commonly worshipped around Jharat. All of the civilizations and cultures below became part of the Eternians Empire, their independence was crushed but they were allowed to keep their respective cultures as long as they did not damage the Empire or interfere with Imperial requirements. 

The Eternians
Eternians are like medieval or early renaissance Europeans They follow the Greyhawk pantheon in general, but other deities from outside the Greyhawk Pantheon are also followed by a few people (including deities of the Forgotten Realms and Ansalon). The Eternian Empire included many demihumans (elves, dwarves, gnomes and halflings). The Eternians are known for their knights in shining armour, gothic churches and cathedrals, grand feudal castles and their painting and sculpture that had just began to develop when the Summoning struck. A lot of administration and scholarship was carried out by priests and clerics rather than educated laymen.
Unlike the other cultures described below, the Eternian culture has spread out across the globe of Jharat as the Eternian empire has conquered the world. In many places Eternian culture has not completely replaced the native culture but exists along side it or else mixed in with it.
The most important deities of the Eternians include:

  • Boccob, God of Magic and Knowledge (TN)
  • Ehlonna, Goddess of Rangers and Forests (NG)
  • Erythnul, God of Slaughter and Panic (CE)
  • Fharlanghn, God of Earthly Travel (TN)
  • Heironeous, God of Valor and Honour (LG)
  • Hextor, God of War and Destruction (LE)
  • Kord, God of Beasts, Strength and Sports (CG)
  • Nerull, God of Death and Undeath (NE)
  • Obad-Hai, God of Nature and Druids (TN)
  • Olidammara, God of Rogues and Bards (CN)
  • Pelor, God of Sunlight and Strength (NG)
  • St Cuthbert, God of Common Sense and Discipline (LN)
  • Vecna, God of Secrets and Evil Magic (NE)
  • Wee Jas, Goddess of Death and Magic (LN)

The Millenians
The Millenians are a mix of the republican Rome and ancient Greek civilization. They worship the Greek pantheon. Unlike the Eternians, the Millenians are quite open and matter-of-fact about slavery - about a quarter of the population of the Millenian culture were slaves, until the summoning. The Millenians were also famous for their disciplined armies of both phalanxes (pikemen in bronze armour) and legions (heavy infantry armed with shortswords and javelins). They were notorious for their gladiatorial combats but also respected for their philosophy and development of drama and plays.
The principle deities of the Millenians include

  • Zeus, Ruler of the Gods, God of Lightning and the Skies (CG)
  • Hera, Queen of the Gods, Goddess of Wives and Jealousy (TN)
  • Aphrodite, Goddess of Love and Beauty (CG)
  • Ares, God of War and Slaughter (CE)
  • Apollo, God of Prophesy and Music (CG)
  • Hermes, God of Messengers and Thieves (CN)
  • Athena, Goddess of Wisdom, Skill and Battle (LG)
  • Demeter, Goddess of Crops and Agriculture (NG)
  • Hades, God of the Underworld and Death (NE)
  • Poseidon, God of the Seas and Earthquakes (CN)
  • Hecate, Goddess of Magic and the Moon (CE)

The Nythians
The Nythians are primarily like the Egyptians of Earth, and their pantheon is the Egyptian pantheon. They also include elements of both Arabic/early Muslim culture and also Sumerian and Assyrian civilizations. Their culture sprang up around the mighty Nythis river, and it still plays a major part of their culture and a vital source of water for their agriculture. The Nythians are very mindful and respectful (some would say obsessive) about the dead and the afterlife. Their tombs to their dead kings are massive pyramids, while even their smaller tombs are impressive pieces of architecture. Beyond the river Nythis, there is the desert, and many Nythians are nomadic camel-riders, moving from oasis to oasis.
The principle deities of the Nythians include
  • Ra, God of the Sun and kingship (LN)
  • Osiris, God of Crops and Protector of the Dead (LG)
  • Isis, Goddess of Marriage and Motherhood (LG)
  • Set, God of Destruction and Darkness (LE)
  • Geb, God of the Earth (TN)
  • Shu, God of the Air (LG)
  • Nephthys, Goddess of Wealth and Tombs (CG)
  • Thoth, God of Knowledge and Magic (TN)
  • Horus, God of Revenge, Justice and War (LN)
  • Bast, Goddess of Cats and Pleasure (CG)
  • Anubis, God of the Dead and Planar Travel (TN)

The Tolteckix
The Tolteckix civilization are a mix of Aztec, Incan and Mayan. They follow the Aztec pantheon. Their homeland is jungle, but they have constructed vast cities and built great temples. Their most notorious aspect is the human sacrifices they sometimes perform - reduced in number since the Eternians conquered them but not completely stopped.
The main deities of the Tolteckix have not been adopted by many outside of the homeland, partly because they are often considered bloody and demanding, and also their names are difficult to pronounce. The most notable members of the pantheon are:

  • Huitzilopochtli, God of the Tolteckix people, War and Lightning (NE)
  • Quetzalcoatl, God of Air and Wisdom (CG)
  • Mictlantecuhtli, God of Death (TN)
  • Tezcatlipoca, God of Deception and Thieves (CE)
  • Tlaloc, God of Rivers, Rain and Drowning (LE)

The Wazumi
The Wazumi civilization are primarily based on Feudal Japan, but also borrow elements from both Chinese and Korean culture. They worship the Chinese pantheon. The Wazumi were ruled by a Shogun in the name of the Emperor, who governed with a large bureaucracy combined with feudal warlords. The noble warriors are the Samurai, the spies and assassins are ninja, the gangsters are Yakuza and the wizards are Wu-Jen. Monks are particularly at home here - indeed, it is believed the monkish tradition of meditation and self-discipline without direct connection to a deity originated here. There are priests here, including both Sohei and Shukenja and western-style clerics, and the deities they follow include:

  • Shang-ti, God of Rulership and Creation (LN)
  • Kuan-ti, God of War and Divination (NG)
  • Yen-Wang-Yeh, God of Death (LN)
  • Fu Hsing, God of Happiness (CG)
  • Chung Kuel, God of Ugliness, Testing and Truth (LG)
  • Liu, God of Crops and Food (TN)
  • Lu Hsing, God of Just Rewards and Salaries (LN)
  • Shou Hsing, God of Long Life (CN)
  • Kuan Yin, Goddess of Mercy and Childbirth (LG)
  • Chih-Nii, Goddess of Spinners and Weavers (CG)
  • Lei Kung, God of Thunder and Vengeance (LE)
  • Sung Chiang, God of Thievery (NE)

Then there are the "barbarian" cultures that were subjugated by the Eternian Empire many years before its own downfall. These cultures were coherent but not quite civilized. Because these cultures had fewer hive cities, they were hit slightly less hard than the more settled and complacent civilizations. Furthermore, characters with an affinity to the wilderness (such as rangers, druids and barbarians) are more likely to come from these cultures.

The Fyordfolk are based on Vikings and follow the Norse pantheon. They had a strained relationship with the Eternians. There are many dwarves who consider themselves part of the Fyordfolk.

The Keltoi are based on classical Celtic culture (especially when they were fighting Rome) and follow the Celtic pantheon. They are neighbours and often slaves to the Millenians. The Keltoi include several elven tribes.

The Ubuntu are based on both Zulu and east African cultures such as the Masai. They are neighbours to the Nythians. Their pantheon is uncertain and may not involve conventional deities but animism and nature spirits.

The White Eagle Nation are based on native North Americans, and share borders with the Tolteckix though not usually on good terms.

The Iron Horde are similar to the Huns, the Mongols and the Scythians. They have no pantheon of their own but sometimes adopt other peoples religions. They neighbor and occasionally raid the Wazumi.

Beyond these there are many "minor" cultures that may number up to half a million survivors. These are left up to the DM to fit in. Demihumans in particular may either fit into one of the above cultures or else form their own.

Design Notes:
This is basically my rationale for including stuff based on real world historical cultures. Stuff from conventional quasi-medieval fantasy can fit into the Eternian culture. Part of my reason for including these was wanting to use the deities from the old "Deities and Demigods" book (I'm thinking of the 1st Ed AD&D one with the Erol Otus cover).
The idea behind assigning the Greyhawk pantheon to Eternia was part laziness (I didn't want to create a whole pantheon from scratch), part fitting in stuff from Greyhawk adventures and sourcebooks and part was admiration for the pantheon, which I think is pretty cool. The "core" pantheon from 3rd Ed PHB drew most of its deities from Greyhawk. Although the Greyhawk pantheon covers most situations, I decided to leave the catch-all of "and other deities" so that the DM can include his own deities or those from other sources. 
You might have noticed that the Nythians and Millenians were borrowed from Mystara - their names were, but a lot of the other stuff about them comes from their historical source (Ancient Egypt and Classical Greece/Rome respectively), rather than from their Mystaran namesakes.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

A New Direction and a New World: Jharat part 1

Ok, I admit my grand theories about RPGs, settings, the universe and everything are running dry, or at least not so easy to think up and produce. Taking a broad view of gaming is good in short bursts, but it gets boring after a while.
Therefore I've decided to take this blog in a new direction and use it to put out stuff about a world that I've worked on for a bit - Jharat, the Fallen World.
If you have been following my blog, you will remember from the third post I have created a number of worlds for D&D, and Jharat has been one of the more successful (or at least persistent) ones where I have actually built up a bit of info about it.

An overview of Jharat
Jharat is a huge world, about 3 times the size of Earth. It is covered by one massive continent that spans the entire equator, and two huge oceans, one in the northern hemisphere and the other to the south of the equatorial continent.

Until very recently, Jharat was dominated by the Eternian Empire, which had reigned over the whole world without too much disturbance or trouble for over 4,000 years. The magenta (pink) areas of the map are built-up and heavily civilised areas of intensive farming, towns and cities. Huge populations were supported thanks to magical improvements to agriculture.

Hive Cities
As populations grew, huge cities were built that towered both upwards and delved downwards as well as outwards. These cities became less like normal human settlements and more like titanic termite mounds, where buildings melded into each other above the covered streets and citizens could go for weeks or even years without seeing the sky. Such hive cities reached high into the sky, sometimes up to half a mile into the atmosphere.
Elemental Windows were vital for keeping the hive cities going: these are controllable portals to the elemental planes situated deep in the heart of hive cities. Air windows provided fresh air and ventilation. Water windows provided fresh water for both drinking and washing, Fire windows provided more than just heat for living - with wood being at a premium and coal not really used, the Fire windows were used for cooking food, smelting ore, firing pottery and other such tasks. Earth windows provided building materials and, on occasions, valuable ore that could be smelted into metal. Finally there were Entropy windows which did not produce anything but devoured and disintegrated anything that touched them - dangerous, but ideal for waste disposal.

The Summoning
Nobody is sure why the disaster known as the summoning happened 20 years ago: surviving sages have suggested that it was an attempt by evil deities to destroy humanity, while others say it was not good versus evil but law versus chaos - the forces of chaos saw that the Eternian Empire had made Law too dominant, and sought to redress the balance in a terrible way.
Whatever the causes, the actual events are known: monsters started appearing, especially out of the elemental windows. The Eternian army was not capable of dealing with such a large number and wide range of foes, especially appearing as they did, all over the Eternian Empire.
The collapse was rapid, and the slaughter was horrific. Within weeks, most of the hive cities had been lost. Within months the Empire had ceased to function. Within a year humanity's continued existence was in doubt.

The Situation Today
Humans and demihumans still hold on in pockets, but the grand civilisation of Eternia that had dominated before has now completely disintegrated. The population has fallen from what was 10 billion people to now just 500 million survivors, all of whom now live outside the hive cities, preferably at a safe distance. Politics is now generally replaced with survival tactics. There are still many monsters roaming the lands, and the hive cities are filled with fiendish beasts as well as the bodies (and maybe souls) of those unfortunates trapped inside during the Summoning. But there is hope. Heroes have arisen to champion civilised folk, to defeat the marauding monsters and reclaim the towns and cities. And even if the heroes are not so noble as to champion a righteous cause, there is a lot of treasure, both monetary and magical, in those ruined cities. Someone who could defeat dangerous monsters and defend communities could well become a ruler in these troubled and volatile times.

Designer's Notes
Jharat is ridiculously over-ambitious, and that's one of the reasons I love it. The planet is huge, the cities are bigger (and certainly taller) than New York, and the scale of the disaster is something few campaigns can compare with. No DM in his right mind would try to detail it in any depth. Which is why I'm going to have a go at it. 
Jharat is a setting where anything goes. The world is big enough to accommodate pretty well anything you like, including other campaign settings. With a bit of editing, you could probably have the Flanaess (the World of Greyhawk) sticking out of the northern coast and Ansalon (Dragonlance) floating in the southern ocean. 
More pertinently, because I have never taken it too seriously, I have been willing to include ideas here that I would consider a bit too strange or left-field for some worlds where I thought I had a chance of getting published. With 1st and 2nd Edition AD&D this was both taking things from other D&D worlds and also converting stuff from other game systems and fantasy settings. New stuff from Dragon Magazine and D&D supplements could also be put into Jharat without worry. 
With 3rd Edition, Jharat became the place where all D20 and OGL stuff could be used, no questions asked, and ideas from all sorts of D&D sources were still welcome. Converting stuff from other game systems was not exactly stopped, but there was so much stuff that didn't need converting suddenly appearing, it seemed a bit silly to put in more effort than seemed necessary. 

Monday, 2 November 2009

Borrowing from other sources

The D&D rules, whatever edition you use, offer a wide range of material for the players and DM to play with. However, it is almost inevitable that the DM will start to look elsewhere or (as has happened with me a number of times) the DM comes across something that he thinks is really cool and that he wants to use in his games. Original ideas are not easy to create, and they often take time and effort to develop into a useable form. It is so often easier to let someone else do the hard work, and then you just use their ideas. In D&D this happens more often than you might think, though the borrowed ideas may come from cultures rather than specific authors. Many monsters and most character classes are based on ideas from history and mythology. The minotaur, medusa and centaur all came from Greek mythology, while dwarves, elves, dragons and giants come from Celtic and Norse mythology. Druids and bards are from ancient Celtic societies (at least in name), paladins came from medieval ideas of combining chivalry with christianity, while fighters, barbarians, wizards, priests and thieves are all multi-cultural and quite obvious. Even the monk has its roots in the Shaolin monks of China and Tibet. The World of Greyhawk has a lot of aspects borrowed from medieval Europe, especially the feudalism and titles of rulers. Technology, architecture and fashion are nearly all quasi-medieval as well. The Forgotten Realms is a little more different, but it still has many similarities with medieval Europe. Cultures can also provide specific personalities, usually in the form of epic heroes, such as Robin Hood, Hercules, Cu-Chulain Hiawatha, Merlin,

Last post I looked at computer games, which have been a perennial source of ideas for me. There are many others, and the ones I myself have enjoyed using are:

  • Other RPGs
  •     Ars Magica
  •     Empire of the Petal Throne
  •     Warhammer Fantasy Roleplaying Game
  •     Earthdawn
  •     GURPS
  •     Rolemaster
  • Films & TV
  •     The Lord of the Rings films
  •     Clash of the Titans
  •     Jason and the Argonauts
  • Novels & Short Stories
  •     Robert E Howard
  •     JRR Tolkien
  •     Fritz Lieber
  •     Michael Moorcock
  •     Robert Jordan
  •     Robert Silverberg
  •     David Gemmel
  •     Terry Pratchett (if you don't take your campaign too seriously)
  • Real Life
  •     History
  •     Myth and Legend
  •     Geography
  •     Art
  •     Literature
  •     Archaeology
  •     Anthropology
  • Other Games 
  •     Magic: The Gathering
  •     Fighting Fantasy Game Books
  •     Table-top wargames
  • Other stuff
  •     Artwork
  •     Comics
The examples I have listed are just a tiny sample. The list could be gigabytes long if I was to put in the effort.

In the examples above I have (with the exception of real life stuff) stuck with the fantasy genre (in its narrower sense of heroic fantasy/swords and sorcery). However, any DM worth his salt can borrow and adapt from a wide range of genres including science fiction, hard history, superhero, modern day, horror, crime and detective fiction, war stories and travel writing. The internet (in case you hadn't noticed) has lots of cool stuff dotted about the place if you can filter out the huge amount of crap that usually obscures the good stuff.

Borrowing ideas from cultures has one big advantage: nobody owns those ideas. Nobody has copyrighted Roman Gladiatorial combat, the ancient Pyramids of Giza or the system of medieval heraldry (though I believe specific coats of arms may be protected by law). You can use them as much as you like. The only problem is that if you know about them, it is quite likely that others will too. In terms of publishing, this means that others will have probably used the idea before you, and you won’t seem so brilliant if you present something that other people have already produce their own versions of. In terms of your own home campaign this means that your players may know about it as well as, if not better than, you. Running a setting based on medieval Japan would be cool, but if one or more of your players know more about medieval Japan than you do, they may well anticipate your “surprises” (“guys in black pyjamas with black balaclavas throwing small metal stars? They’re probably ninjas. Lets beat them up and get us some experience points….”) or even worse, start correcting you on the finer points of Japanese etiquette.

If you simply want to use the borrowed ideas for your own games with your friends, then by all means go wild.
If you want to publish, even on the internet, be very careful. Folks who make a living out producing pieces of fiction or art do not take kindly to other people plagiarising their works. Some stuff is now in the public domain (see wikisource and project Gutenberg for works of writing now in the public domain - stories by HP Lovecraft, RE Howard and Edgar Rice Burroughs).
For stuff that is currently in copyright and used by corporations or even individuals, be very careful. I am no expert in what is considered fair use, so I play it safe. I have written a number of conversions for stuff from both Magic: The Gathering and Fighting Fantasy game books into D&D which I would like to share here but I would rather not get into legal trouble over.

Another consideration which is not quite so serious but worth considering is whether the new stuff is appropriate for your campaign. Sometimes a campaign is as notable for what it doesn't have than what it has. For example, the Dark Sun setting has no deities - the clerics draw their power from elemental sources. The Lankhmar setting and many other fantasy settings do not have demihumans (at least not as player characters). In my own campaign settings some of them do not have oriental characters (no ninja or samurai), while some games such as Empire of the Petal Throne are so completely different from conventional heroic fantasy that bringing in ideas from outside would require careful consideration.

More soon

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Edition-Independent Ideas for characters?

Today I was looking at Castles and Crusades - I've got the PDF of the Player's Handbook. I haven't had the opportunity to play it, but a number of things struck me. I was partly put off because I am not keen on tackling another set of rules with all its little variations, and writing adventures and new material for C&C seems to be using time and energy I could use for other, more established games. I am tempted to say other, more established editions of D&D - like I said, I haven't actually played it, but C&C seems to be a funny hybrid of 1st Edition AD&D and 3rd Edition D&D, not so much part of the official editions as an interesting offshoot.
Then the other thing occurred to me - there are a lot of similarities between the editions, at least on a broad scale. To make things a little more interesting, I have also got the PDF of the OSRIC rules, which basically reproduces the basics of 1st Edition AD&D.

Here's a quick run-down of the classes in the Players Handbooks for each

1st Edition/OSRIC
3rd Edition/OGL
Castles & Crusades
Magic User
2nd edition Bard
Specialist Mage

A lot of the classes are found across all the systems and can be considered approximately the same in each system - the fighter, cleric, magic-user/wizard (if you don't mind the name change), rogue/thief (another name change), paladin, ranger and druid are all in each edition, albeit with different details. Others are not quite so simple:

  • The Monk was left out of OSRIC, but it's definitely there in the 1st Edition AD&D PHB.
  • The Bard in 1st Edition AD&D is too much like a prestige class to be considered the equivalent to the 3rd Ed and C&C Bard, but the bard from the 2nd Edition AD&D PHB is close enough.
  • The Illusionist is found in all 3 editions plus C&C, but in 3rd Edition they are lumped together with specialists of other schools of magic. This is also true of 2nd Edition AD&D.
  • The Assassin is a basic class for both 1st Edition and C&C, but the assassin in 3rd edition is a prestige class. There have been 3PP versions of the assassin as a "basic" character class for 3rd edition, but I do not expect other people to have those to hand. 
  • The Barbarian is there in both 3rd Edition D&D and C&C, but not in 1st Edition AD&D or OSRIC, unless you include the Unearthed Arcana barbarian, which I consider horribly broken and unbalanced. 
  • The Knight in C&C has no real equivalent in the other PHBs - there is the knight in 3.5 Ed PHB2 (which has a similar role), but I don't expect many people to have that, and then there's the cavalier from Unearthed Arcana for 1st edition AD&D, which, like the UA Barbarian, I have not included as I consider it to be too broken and overpowered. 
  • The sorcerer is only found in 3rd Edition D&D and has no real equivalent in either 1st Edition or C&C. 

If I had a wish-list, I would want a widely accepted Assassin class (basic, not prestige) for 3rd Ed D&D, and a better-balanced Barbarian for 1st Edition AD&D/OSRIC. The 3rd Edition sorcerer and C&C knight I would just leave alone. Then I would have a commonly agreed group of core classes across D&D and C&C. The sorcerer and knight I suppose you could have as optional classes.

Races: The basic races are common across all 3 sets of rules that I mentioned: humans, dwarves, elves, halflings, gnomes, half-orcs and half-elves. Subraces tend to be more a matter of what world/campaign setting you play in than what edition you use. Race/class combinations do vary between the different systems but I've never really considered those to be too important. Actually, for C&C it seems to be preferred classes rather than restricted classes while for 3rd Edition D&D each race has a favoured class, with no serious race/class restrictions, so that just leaves AD&D/OSRIC with the heavy restrictions.

Levels are the equivalent for each system. 1st Edition AD&D has stringent level limits on demihumans, varying on which class they take. When playing 1st Edition, I actually used the 2nd Edition optional rule that once a demihuman character has reached their "maximum" level they may still progress but needing double the normal XP. This makes humans still slightly more attractive, at least in the long-run.

Alignment is exactly the same across these versions - the combinations of Law or Chaos, Good or Evil and Neutrality. The only problem is that 3rd Edition is more relaxed about alignment requirements for classes, particularly druids and rangers.

Ability scores are the same names for all 6 (Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom and Charisma) and all range from 3-18 with a few exceptions - 1st Edition AD&D uses 18/ % strength, while 3rd Edition and C&C do not. Also 3rd Edition D&D racial bonuses and level bonuses may increase ability scores over 18, while other editions do not allow for that.

I think what I am trying to get at here is that a lot of stuff could be interchangeable between C&C, 3rd Edition D&D and 1st Edition AD&D/OSRIC so long as you keep things very general and don't get too into transfering combat stats, class abilities or saving throws. Those sorts of details are probably best done separately for each edition. A DM/Castle Keeper wanting to transfer material from one edition to another will, I expect, need to make some compromises and some fudges, particularly for some of the more unusual classes. This is ok as far as I am concerned. Once you are willing to make those compromises, a whole lot of material becomes available for the players of any edition.

More soon.

Monday, 19 October 2009

Computer Games and Dungeons and Dragons

I've loved computer games ever since I got a Commodore 64 for my 10th birthday, and they ran along parallel with my D&D games, but not really meeting. That is, until Doom. Doom, the first FPS I played, is still good fun, and it has a lot of elements of D&D in it - exploring, picking up special items, avoiding traps and of course killing lots of monsters. I know that official D&D games such as Pool of Radiance appeared about the same time, but they seemed slow and boring, and I never caught on with them. Maybe I was just being fussy - a lot of other people seemed to enjoy them.
Heretic and Hexen came along, and I was playing them a lot as well. They were very cool for a D&D fan such as myself, but others who weren't into the fantasy genre dismissed them as "Doom in tights".
A couple of features I picked up on which I have sometimes included in my games of D&D:

  • Healing potions can be common treasure, and will keep PCs going long after they've suffered their total hp in damage. This may well have a knock-on effect on tactics and strategy once PCs realise this.
  • Tactical situations can be more interesting and difficult than variety of monsters.
  • Monsters can fall foul of traps as well, and each other if their intelligence isn't too good.
  • Environmental hazards, even when obvious, can still be awkward to get around or painful to get through
  • FPS and other 3-D games can use quite complex room lay-outs that may be difficult to adjudicate in a pencil-and-paper game unless you have a 3-D battlemap. Nonetheless, some of the interesting rooms and other areas can be used in D&D. 

The next big thing to come along was Diablo. I still sometimes play Diablo II, particularly when my internet is down. The stuff I could really appreciate was the wide range of new monsters - very cool. The idea of  equipment being useable depending on the character's level and ability scores is sometimes tempting, but I don't think D&D players would appreciate finding powerful items that they couldn't use yet.
Scrolls of identifcation (to use on magic items) and town portal scrolls (creates a temporary magical portal that enables a return trip to your home base and back to the dungeon) are again interesting ideas that might speed up play, but I'm not sure whether they would be abused, or become common enough that players kick up a fuss when they're not available.
It's interesting that I first noticed combinatorial magic items in Diablo, and then they were introduced into 3rd Edition D&D.  Rather than just having another battleaxe +1, a DM could give it properties such as cleaving or  holy that could be applied to any weapon.

Finally, my current favourite - World of Warcraft. World of Warcraft has certainly been influenced by D&D - they borrowed gnolls and kobolds. In return, I'm sure lots of D&D players have borrowed monsters and characters from WOW, including the Draenai and Blood Elves. The things that strike me about World of Warcraft, as a D&D player/DM include:

  • The quest system is a lot looser than in Diablo, and you can pick and choose which quests you do. It's basically a sand-box setting. Although some of the quests are so simple as to be boring, others are interesting enough to inspire D&D adventures.
  • The professions/skills system is a lot more complicated and in-depth than in any edition of D&D. This is because each skill needs to scale up in usefulness as a player progresses to very high levels otherwise it ceases to be of interest to the players. Applying that sort of skill/profession advancement in D&D, but also realize that the WOW encumbrance system is not very realistic - if you skinned a large monster such as a wyvern or a hydra, do you really think you could simply fit the hide into your backpack? A stack of 20 of them? 
  • The one drawback of WOW that D&D does not have is that players cannot permanently affect the world around them - only themselves. Sure, they can kill whatever bad guys they want, but respawning means that the bad guys will always be back. Similarly there are no permanent consequences for PC failures at quests (except maybe to their own advancement), so  a troublesome quest can be abandoned without caring about the effect on NPCs.
  • Chatting and cooperating with other PCs online is great fun, particularly when in a party, But it's a pity that NPCs aren't very interactive. I suppose that would be asking too much. It's just that in D&D, NPCs are controlled by the DM, so they can be as flexible and interactive as the PCs. 
  • The idea of different areas being geared towards different ranges of levels is something that could work in a D&D campaign, but it might become a bit obvious, and spoil the suspension of disbelief. Mind you, a lot of the areas are actually very nicely done, particularly in the expansion packs. Weird places like the Blades Edge Mountains need to be seen to be believed but setting D&D adventures in similar places would be cool. 
  • Monsters (including hostile humanoids and animals) scaling up in power through the levels needs a bit of discretion. Just out of convenience, I use the rule of thumb that 1 D&D level is approximately 3 WOW levels. So fighting level 8 bears in Elwyn Forest is like taking on a 2 or 3 HD bear in D&D. In the Grizzly Hills in Northrend, the bears are level 75, like having a bear in D&D with 25 HD. With humanoids having levels in character classes, this is a bit more interesting and a bit more believable (for me at least). Send your PCs up against the orcs of Hellfire Peninsula and see how they cope with orcish 20th level fighters and 20th level priests. Of course, they may wonder why the orcs are so high-powered but not leading huge tribes of their own - a valid question which the DM may not have an answer for.

I think the conclusion I have often reached is by all means borrow from computer games - they've got some great ideas. But also be aware that not all ideas will fit into D&D comfortably.
More soon.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Thoughts and Feelings about the various editions of Dungeons and Dragons

This post was originally published on my Windows Live blog. I am repeating it here for the sake of completeness.

This is mainly my gut reaction and personal experience, rather than a grand overview of the history of D&D.

Basic D&D: Ok, it’s actually Basic, Expert, Companion, Masters and Immortals D&D, but I like to call it Basic D&D because it’s what it was described as on the purple box with the Erol Otus picture on it, which was the first D&D product I owned.  It is very simple, and I still like it because of its simplicity. I am glad that its retro-clones are doing well, and I personally enjoy using Labyrinth Lord. This summer I used the Rules Cyclopedia to introduce my nephew and niece to Dungeons and Dragons, and it went very well – after the first session they were the ones asking me to play. Although I can be a bit frustrated by the lack of official options (only one class per race except for humans?) the rules system is simple enough that I have created a number of homebrew racial classes to fill the gaps that I think need filling. Simple rules, but the potential for lots of additions (new classes, monsters, spells, magic items and the like) seems to be a good philosophy for an RPG in my humble opinion.
1st Edition AD&D: Varying between brilliant and eccentric, Gary Gygax’s creation broke new ground with its combination of race and class, and new alignment system, plus the huge new range of monsters, magic items and spells that dwarfed Basic D&D (or BECMI D&D). Some parts I am not so sure about, like percentile strength, and Unearthed Arcana introduced two very unbalanced, overpowered classes (the Cavalier and Barbarian), but this was kind of mitigated by the assurance that the DM, not the rulebook, had the final say in any game. I feel that the DMG could have been organised and explained a bit better – at first I went through it from the start and came across the tables for diseases very near the beginning. Not quite understanding the context, I rolled the dice and found that my character had a chronic kidney disease. Bummer. But the random tables at the back for dungeon dressings were full of flavour and were inspiring, especially the city encounters with the notorious random encounter table for prostitutes.
2nd Edition AD&D: Some people say it lost the flavour of 1st Edition, but I liked it because it was better organised and ironed out some of the wrinkles. Looking back, I can say it didn’t go far enough but at the time it seemed a big improvement. Optional rules were marked as optional, morale was sorted out as was surprise rolls, and the ranger and bard became much more plausible. Non-weapon proficiencies gave an idea of stuff that could be done outside of combat.  It’s a pity they got rid of (or put on hold) the half-orc and the assassin. The emphasis was shifted away from the dungeon and towards more story-oriented games, which may or may not have been good in the long run, but at the time I was not keen on the move. Heck, it’s called DUNGEONS and dragons for a darn good reason! I have many good memories of this edition, because at the end of my time at boarding school it was what we were playing together (albeit with 1st edition modules – the Temple of Elemental Evil and the Slavelords and Against the Giants were all tackled with varying degrees of success). The splat books were good fun as well, and they always said at the front that they were optional. The dark red series for players and characters, the blue-grey ones for dungeon masters, the green ones for historical settings and the black ones for the Forgotten Realms were all good fun, and I bought most of them.
3rd Edition D&D: When I first read the 3rd Edition PHB, I thought it was brilliant. The way that levels in different classes stacked meant that multiclassing was easy, at least in working out stats. And they sorted out saving throws! and they introduced feats, which were cool. And they made the barbarian playable! And they brought back the half-orc! I wasn’t sure about the skill system (too much maths for my liking), and the expectation that monsters should be constructed like characters, with skills, feats and correct saving throws just annoyed me (whatever happened to DM discretion and judgement?). The biggest problem I found was when playing it all got rather too complicated. I managed to run one particular Forgotten Realms campaign using 3.0/3.5 rules. For the most-part it ran well, but during combat various things would be forgotten or would slow me down. And I found grappling and attacks of opportunity quite difficult to deal with. There were also various small things that just annoyed me enough to make me want to tweak the rules. As a DM, the Challenge Rating made it easy enough to judge what sort of single monster encounter would test a party of adventurers and then calculating the XP, but with multiple monsters, perhaps some of different levels, working out the Encounter Level and then the XP for the characters just seemed like hard work, especially for on-the-fly encounters. The splat books were bigger and heavier, but still optional – although it was not very clearly stated, a DM could always use the SRD as the benchmark for what was core.
The biggest thing that 3rd edition D&D did was to open up the market to anyone and everyone able to copy and paste the OGL into the back of their product. Even I had a go, though my attempts didn’t get anywhere near being published. But I loved the various game supplements and adventures from third party publishers. My favourites were Swords and Sorcery “Scarred Lands” series, especially the Creature Collections, the Tome of Horrors series from Necromancer Games, and Goodman Games Dungeon Crawl Classics, and there were others (Mongoose Games deserving an honourable mention for its Encylopedia Arcane series and Hunter’s Guides series)
An unexpected side-effect of the OGL was the emergence of retro-clones – as I mentioned before, Labyrinth Lord is my favourite at the moment, but I also have OSRIC. There is also Basic Fantasy Role Playing Game, and I am sort of tempted to include Pathfinder, as it is a clone/variant of 3.5, which is now an “older edition”, even though it’s the edition that the OGL was intended for.
4th Edition D&D: I have left this alone as I have said in my first post in this blog. At first I had a knee-jerk reaction of contempt for some of the new ideas it brought in (healing surges, doing away with Vancian spell systems, powers at will and per encounter) and though I am not entirely comfortable with these changes, I’ve got a grudging respect for it. A lot of people enjoy it, and it seems to be doing well. Maybe not as well as 3rd edition when it was first released, but that was a real phenomenon. When 4th edition was first released, I reckoned that WOTC had sabotaged the D&D line, and that published and WOTC-supported D&D would die out, leaving only the fanbase to carry the hobby on. I’m not so pessimistic now, but I am still not tempted to actually play it. Leaving out certain classes and races out of the PHB1, and then saying that PHB2 and subsequent books are “core” makes me feel that the DM has to deal with players with more and more options and combinations, while the DM has less and less discretion and authority about what goes on in the games he runs. And third-party publishers seem to be far less enthusiastic – Goodman games is the only company of note that I can remember offhand producing stuff according to the GSL. I am not a lawyer, but from what I’ve heard, the GSL is nowhere nearly as publisher-friendly as the OGL was.
It makes me wonder whether the guy who introduced the OGL deliberately took the right to make D&D products out of WOTC’s hands and put it into the hands of fans and 3rd party publishers, with the unspoken instructions of “Listen, if WOTC totally screw up D&D, you’re the back-up plan. If necessary, you can use the OGL to keep D&D alive even if WOTC stops the product line.” I hope that doesn’t happen for a while, but it’s reassuring to know we are not entirely dependent on one company’s strategy.
And finally, a word massive rant about Edition Wars. I can get quite annoyed with people who get arrogant and self-righteous about their preferred edition. Although I prefer some editions more than others, and can quite easily point out things I don’t like, I try to be respectful about both the people who play the different editions and the work that went into creating them, and assume they are created in good faith, and people have fun playing them. The most annoying instance I’ve encountered was in “The Delver’s Dungeon” forum, where the webmaster insists that the only D&D that is “proper” D&D is those that were written by Gygax himself (i.e. the brown/white boxed set and 1st edition AD&D). He is dismissive of both Basic D&D (both the Holmes and the Moldvay editions) and of 2nd edition AD&D, and then to my surprise he declared that 3rd Edition doesn’t really count as D&D at all! At this point I have to assume he is being a troll (forum troll – deliberately provocative, rather than D&D troll, rubbery, carnivorous and regenerating). I reckon he is being deliberately antagonistic – nobody would be such an arse as to honestly believe that crap.
There is also the Knights and Knaves forum, which declares itself unashamedly Gygaxian, and goes on to explain that the forums on that site are not for either 2nd Edition AD&D or Moldvay-edition Basic D&D. The last one really irks me, because it was my first D&D product and my introduction to this great hobby back in 1982, when I was 9 years old. For some elitist snob to say that it isn’t old-school enough just pisses me off. Nonetheless, they point out that this is a private forum and therefore it is their rules. Fine, but don’t expect me to join.
I have to say, I admire Gary Gygax and his massive contribution to this hobby. He and Dave Arneson created D&D and thereby created pencil-and-paper roleplaying games as we know them. I was lucky enough to correspond with him in a few emails in the late 1990s, and he seemed really friendly, if a little opinionated. I also met him briefly at GenCon UK 2000 at Manchester University, and he signed my copy of Descent into the Depths of the Earth. I have been a little bit awestruck, but at the same time I am not afraid to disagree with him. When I heard that he referred to the Forgotten Realms as “The Rotten Realms” I was kind of disappointed. I am a bit worried when people venerate him as a saint and hold his word as law - “This is how you should play because that’s how GARY played it!” has never been a convincing argument for me. What about how Dave Arneson played it?
For me at the moment I am happy playing and writing stuff for Basic D&D. There is an element of nostalgia of the old days with the Erol Otus pictures, the excitement of working out how to play (and how to keep your character alive), but increasingly it is about keeping it simple, fun and fluid. For me, the two websites above are warnings about not getting too snobbish and elitist about being old-school. I should also be wary of swinging too far in the other direction and assuming that newer stuff is automatically an improvement. Not necessarily. Whatever edition you play, I hope you have fun with it, and maybe pass it on to someone else who would appreciate it.

More soon, 

My Favourite Worlds (part 2)

This post was originally published on my Windows Live blog. I am repeating it here for the sake of completeness.

For me creating worlds has been just as satisfying as playing D&D. That may sound strange, and I don’t expect everyone to agree with me, but that’s how I feel. Unfortunately I’m not that good at concentrating on one world for very long. There are, however, a number of worlds which I have started, and somehow managed to keep going, or at least gone back to add more to.
Netherwyrld is my oldest and probably best-detailed setting. It is a fairly grim setting, where most of the Netherwyrld has been taken over by demons and their humanoid and undead minions. Humans and demihumans only control a small corner of it. The Blood War between the devils and the demons has spilt into Netherwyrld and although the devils of the nine hells are enemies of humanity, they are more interested in fighting the demons. Similarly in-fighting between the various demon lords means that there is rarely any coordinated assault on the Human Lands. Paladins attain a new significance as the human pantheon’s footsoldiers in driving back the demonic hordes, but civilisation is still fragile and vulnerable. And all over Netherwyrld there are ruins of ancient civilisations that were crushed by the onslaught from the Abyss 2000 years ago. Netherwyrld is currently mothballed, but I may go back to it – it’s certainly not tied down to any one edition, and I still think it’s my best attempt so far.
Jharat, the Fallen World, is ridiculously big and ambitious. Three times the size of Earth, and previously populated by billions of people in vast cities far larger than it has recently suffered a major cataclysm when monsters appeared and invaded the cities, conveniently making absolutely huge dungeons.  I admit that monstrous invasions were a common theme in my early world-designing work. Jharat has stuck around in my various attempts because I have never taken it particularly seriously and as such often tried out new stuff in supplements or from magazines or my own conversions in Jharat. Solamnic knights, ninjas, psionicists and swashbucklers could do battle against beasts from Warhammer Fantasy Battle, Magic: The Gathering or the Fighting Fantasy books and as long as it was in Jharat, it didn’t matter. I have since nicknamed such wild, unrestrained campaigns as “Haywire”. Although it started out back in 1st Edition AD&D, it took on a new lease of life with the glut of books and accessories for 3rd Edition and the OGL, all of which could have been fitted in had I managed to put in the effort required.
Tersius was in some ways a complete contrast from Jharat and was started when 3rd Edition first came out. It stuck pretty tightly to the 3rd Edition three core rulebooks: if something wasn’t in the Monster Manual, Player’s Handbook or Dungeon Master’s Guide (basically the 3.0 SRD), it wouldn’t be included in Terisus. I had vague hopes of getting stuff for Tersius accepted by publishers in the heady days of the early 2000s when huge quantities of D20 and OGL products were coming out. Tersius was a sort of serious attempt at joining in on this. The monstrous invasion was downplayed this time, and it was a Empire sundered apart by a civil war, exacerbated by humanoid raiders travelling around in viking-style longships. I still have the documents for it, but I haven’t added to it for about 4 years now.
Valhannus deserves a mention because first of all it was not originally written with D&D in mind – as I was writing it, I was trying to create my own fantasy RPG rules (“Broadsword rules”, a nod towards Warhammer I think). Those rules have now long since been forgotten. But what I still like about Valhannus is the absence of demihumans, dragons, giants and other generic clichés. While I was writing about the world of Valhannus I deliberately set aside Tolkein and concentrated on my two other favourite fantasy authors – Robert E Howard, creator of Conan, and Fritz Lieber, creator of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. No elves at all. I think there was some influence from both Jack Vance’s Dying Earth and Talislanta (which I only bought material for after I gave up on Valhannus but which I had read about in Dragon magazine), and also Michael Moorcock’s Elric and Corum books. But when I look back at Valhannus, I still think of Lieber’s Newhon and Howard’s Hyborean Age.

My Favourite Worlds (part 1)

This post was originally published in my Windows Live blog. I am repeating it here for the sake of completeness.

In my time with D&D I’ve read about and played in a lot of different fantasy worlds. The ones that really stand out for me may be clichés but I still love them:
Greyhawk: If it came out new now I don’t think anyone would notice it, but it’s got a lot of gaming history behind it, particularly 1st Edition AD&D. Classic adventures such as White Plume Mountain, Against the Giants and the Slavers series are all set in Greyhawk, and the Circle of Eight, who include PCs from Gary Gygax’s original band of players, have given their names to famous spells. I bought the World of Greyhawk boxed set back in 1985 (the 1st Ed AD&D version) and even then I realised it had been going for years. I find it difficult not to get nostalgic about it. I was fortunate enough to exchange emails about 10 years ago with Gary Gygax who explained to me that he had deliberately left Greyhawk sparse on details so that DMs would not feel restricted with filling in their own details.
I had a go at contributing to it in 2000 when, with the release of 3rd Edition, Greyhawk briefly retook centre stage and Living Greyhawk was started by the RPGA. I joined the British group that was responsible for Onnwal, but it did not work out well for me – I sent them a number of pieces of material (mostly NPCs and plot ideas of mine), but none of it was used, and I didn’t get any feedback, so I just gave up on the RPGA. Pity.
Leaving the RPGA alone, I have looked at the city of Redspan, the city of Dyvers and most of all the mysterious land of Blackmoor. The Greyhawk version of Blackmoor has fascinated me as I wonder what Gary Gygax was thinking of when he put it there: Was it a serious attempt to fit Dave Arneson’s campaign along side his own, or was it just a cursory nod to his co-author of D&D? I think that had he wanted to, Gary could have done a better job of fitting Dave’s Blackmoor campaign into Greyhawk.
Forgotten Realms: I feel that if Gary Gygax approached Greyhawk from a game designer’s point of view then Ed Greenwood approached the Forgotten Realms from the story-teller’s point of view. And oh boy, a lot of stories have been told. Whereas Greyhawk was deliberately vague (at least to start with), with only outlines of nations and history, the Forgotten Realms has acquired huge levels of detail that few other fictional settings have approached. Star Wars, Star Trek and Tolkien's Middle Earth are the only fictional settings that I am aware have similar levels of detail. And I love it.
It can be quite intimidating, but I am a firm believer that everything about a published fantasy setting is optional in a DM’s campaign. Thus every book that has been written about the Realms can be taken or left as the DM chooses, as can any part of those books. I believe the DM is allowed to take the published version of the Realms and make it his own version of the Realms. Whatever knowledge the players have of the published version, they should be aware that the DM still has the final say. That means that the 50+ modules, sourcebooks and boxed sets for the Realms become a resource to be enjoyed, not a syllabus to be tested on by other fans of the setting.
The other accusation I hear about the Realms is the powerful NPCs taking over the game. I think Ed Greenwood made his NPCs more prominent than Gary did, but did not intend for them to outshine the PCs – they were there to guide the stories and adventures along, not to become a “Deus Ex Machina” solution to overwhelming problems a DM might face the PCs with. Most DMs who have run games in the Realms are sensible enough to realise this. And as a result, the NPCs of the Realms are probably better-known than their Greyhawk counterparts. The various novels have certainly helped bring the characters to life in the minds of readers and players.
I bought the 1st Ed grey boxed set, and then the 2nd Ed black and gold boxed set, and then the 3rd Ed campaign setting. I have also got a lot (perhaps half) of the regional sourcebooks (mostly 2nd and 3rd editions) and other books and boxed sets (Elminster’s Ecologies, the Ruins of Undermountain (2nd Ed boxed set, with the proper big maps) and Lost Empires of Faerun (my favourite 3rd Ed book for the Realms)). And these days, the Realms has almost as much nostalgic value and Grognard credentials as Greyhawk, particularly if you talk about stuff from 1st Edition (before the Avatar business and Time of Troubles), and talk about Ed’s original campaign with the Knights of Myth Drannor (not quite as crusty as Gary Gygax’s Circle of Eight but damn nearly….)
Dragonlance: I got into the novels before I got into the gaming world, but the important thing for me was that other people at my boarding school loved the Dragonlance novels. As a result it was the setting of one of my longest-running campaigns, during the later years of my stay at boarding school. Although probably considered quite tame and generic now, at the time it seemed a radical break from the D&D conventions established in Greyhawk and continued in the Forgotten Realms. No halflings? Solamnic Knights? Minotaurs as PCs? Cool! Gully dwarves? Annoying Kender? No assassins? Errm….
My little rant about Dragonlance is that it has changed too much – particularly with the second cataclysm, the brief foray into the Saga system and then back to D&D. I feel it’s a salutary warning that if you change a fantasy world too much, the people who read stories in it or play games in it will feel that it’s simply not the same world any more. Some change is ok (I’m cool with the Greyhawk wars, and sort of ok with the Time of Troubles in FR), but I’ve left Dragonlance alone now for quite a while and do not expect to be going back to it.
Other Worlds: There are other settings that I’ve got the information for, but I haven’t had the opportunity to play in. These have been often fun and interesting to read about but due to the lack of play-testing I can’t honestly include them in my favourites: Dark Sun, Lankhmar, Spelljammer, Planescape, Ravenloft, Mystara and Eberron all deserve honourable mentions.
More soon. John

My First Dungeons and Dragons Blog

This post was originally published on my Windows Live blog. I am repeating it here for the sake of completeness.

Hi there to anyone who’s reading this. I don’t know how long this blog will last for, but I intend to make it a regular thing. I say intend, because I’ve had several attempts at setting up my own website, and then getting tired/bored/losing my confidence and then forgetting about my brilliant plans for producing the world’s best website for D&D until Geocities or whoever my host is has closed down my site due to lack of activity. :(

As a little bit about myself – I picked up D&D back around 1982 when I was 9 and saw other kids playing it at school. It looked cool – the Erol Otus covers of Castle Amber and the Palace of the Silver Princess inspired me in a way that very little had before. I still love the way it offers inspiration and escape for an hour or so, and I expect that I will carry on being fond of D&D, dabbling in it and flicking through the books, for a very long time.
I have carried on playing or reading about Dungeons and Dragons through various editions, including the Basic and Expert sets, 1st Edition AD&D, 2nd Edition AD&D and 3rd Edition D&D. My appetite for it has not often been met by opportunities to play, and for long stretches I have created worlds and other stuff without putting into game-play. Maybe this blog will be an opportunity for me to share some of the stuff I’ve created but not yet shared.
So far I have left 4th edition alone. This is not some angry protest against WotC. There is a little bit of knee-jerk conservatism (what? powers per day and per encounter? for both fighters AND wizards? Heresy!) but mostly there is the feeling that I’ve got enough on my bookshelf to keep me going for the rest of my life (mostly 3rd edition, but also some 2nd edition). I have spent a lot of money on the books I have, and I don’t need to spend more if the likelihood of using it in game play is slim.
More soon. John