Legendary Planet: The Assimilation Strain

From: Legendary Games
Reviewed by: Ron McClung

Legendary Planet: The Assimilation Strain is a new RPG Adventure from Legendary Games.

I supported a Kickstarter recently called Legendary Planet,  by Lengendary Games.  There were many reasons why I did it but in the interest of full disclosure, one of the primary reasons was to support a friend – Neil Spicer.  He and I go way back to early college when we gamed together for a time.  Now, Neil is well known in the industry circles as a Pathfinder freelancer and Paizo RPG Superstar.  However, I was even more excited that his ideas were being converted to D&D 5th edition.  That was a clincher for me.

Legendary Planet is a very interesting add-on setting for any fantasy RPG, primarily for Pathfinder or D&D 5th edition RPG campaigns.  It is a planned adventure path to take the characters from your stereotypical fantasy setting and introduce sci-fi elements to it.  Hearkening ti inspirations like Edgar Rice Burroughs or the classic D&D adventure Expedition to the Barrier Peaks, I was drawn in fairly easily.

From the back cover: “A strange sickness afflicts the frontier settlement of Holver’s Ferry, threatening to overwhelm its citizens with an alien madness. Already the town has nearly torn itself apart, and the local sheriff is missing. ”

I starts out fairly tame and innocent but gradually builds to a brutal crescendo.  A logging town has gone quiet and for some reason or another, someone wants to know why.  It’s a very easy premise to introduce a party into.  The adventure is divided up into 3 major parts.  First part is the primary investigation zone of Holver’s Ferry, where a bunch of seemingly random encounters occur, many of which seem like a horrific scene from 28 Days Later in a fantasy setting.  The GM can pick and choose which encounters the deal with, depending on the time constraints (convention vs. home game).  Clues from the town take people to Part 2 and 3, where things get gradually darker and harder for the characters.

From the back cover : “When the PCs brave the surrounding wilderness as the village’s latest newcomers, the beleaguered townsfolk desperately turn to them for assistance. But can these erstwhile heroes trace the diseased carrier to its source and solve the mystery before they, too, succumb to The Assimilation Strain? ”

The final encounters are a good mix of classic D&D creatures, converted Pathfinder creatures and new sci-fi inspired entities.  I won’t get into too much detail but I highly recommend a hardy and balanced party of 4 or 5 that have leveled up to at least 2nd level before entering into the final encounters.

When I ran it , I extended the game into a 3 night event, running it 3 to 4 hours at a time, adding a few encounters here and there.  There is some great opportunity for customization, if the GM so chooses.  However, the adventure itself stands alone really well, starting out fairly easy but gradually growing in difficult.  It is well written and well put together, as well.

In conclusion, I really look forward to this adventure path and hope I have an opportunity to run it.  I am very glad they are taking the D&D 5th edition route along with the Pathfinder route, because I really feel it works well in D&D 5e.

For more details on Legendary Games and their new RPG Adventure Legendary Planet: The Assimilation Strain” check them out at their website http://www.makeyourgamelegendary.com/, and at all of your local game stores.

Codex Rating: 19

Product Summary

Legendary Planet: The Assimilation Strain
From: Legendary Games
Type of Game: RPG Adventure
Authors: Tom Phillips and Neil Spicer
Editing and Development: Alistair J. Rigg, Neil Spicer
Lead Developer: Neil Spicer
5th Edition Design and Development: Dan Dillon
Artists: Frank Hessefort, Jethro Lentle, Cj Marsh, Beatrice Pelagatti, Michael Syrigos, Colby Stevenson
Cartography: Pedro Coelho
Design and Layout: Richard Kunz
Number of Pages: 35
Game Components Included: One PDF adventure
Game Components Not Included: Core 5th edition rulebooks, core setting book
Website: http://www.makeyourgamelegendary.com/

Reviewed by: Ron McClung

Dungeons & Dragons: Player’s Handbook (5th Edition)

Dungeons & Dragons: Player’s Handbook (5th Edition)
From: Wizards of the Coast
Reviewed by: Ron W McClung

dndphb1Dungeons & Dragons: Player’s Handbook (5th Edition) is a new RPG Core Rulebook from Wizards of the Coast.

Much has been said about the staggered release of the new D&D rulebooks and as much as I understand the complaints, I don’t really think it is all that big of deal in the grand scheme of things.  Some say that the staggered release will hurt D&D’s chances of gaining any ground lost to Pathfinder but I seriously do not see it.  Come December when the DMG is finally out, people are going to forget all about the staggered release and invest a lot of time in whatever game they choose.

The first of this staggered release is of course, the Player’s Handbook – the much anticipated herald of the three book series that preports to ring in a new era for Dungeons & Dragons and roleplaying in general.  While I am not sure I totally believe that, the new version of D&D does give me a lot of hope for the industry and for D&D in general.  I have already reviewed the Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set and in fact, have run it a couple of times already.  You can also read in that review my limited experience with D&D in the past and how it has evolved to this point.  You can also see a review of the free Basic Rules here in The Gamers Codex, exploring the basics of the system and what changes WotC previewed there.

From the back cover:
“The Player’s Handbook is the essential reference for every Dungeons & Dragons roleplayer.”

The new Core system to D&D has been talked about enough in the other two reviews.  The basics are similar to 3rd edition but with some extra fun mechanics like Advantage and Disadvantage.  What this review will cover is what new things the PHB brings to the table that you did not see in the previous products and perhaps give you some reasons to buy the product.

The book is divided up into 3 major parts – Creating a Character, Playing the Game, and Rules of Magic.  All three are fairly straight forward.  Comparing the three PHBs I have available to me (2nd Edition, 3rd Edition and 5th Edition), it already appears to be more organized and is more robust with equal elements story, role play options and statistical information.

DND PHBs
DND PHBs

First and foremost, the PHB expands the number of races the player can play.  The Basic Rules provide some basic races – Dwarf, Elf, Halfling, and Human.  Rest assured, that is not a complete list of races available in D&D.  A total of 9 races are presented in detail.  Along with the Basic Rules races, it adds the less common races – Dragonborn, Gnome, Half-Elf, Half-Orc, and Tiefling.  Some races have subraces including a few more for the Basic Rules races.  Humans, for example, include 9 different ethnicities (and typical names) native to the Forgotten Realms setting.

The races I am least familiar with are the Teifling and the Dragonborn, although my diehard and veteran D&D friends are familiar enough with them.  They were introduced in the PHB in 4th Edition, as part of the further embracing of Forgotten Realms as the default setting.  Some diehards are not pleased with that embracing.  My opinion of it really doesn’t matter but it is one of the more intimidating parts of getting into D&D for the first time.  I never ran it until 5th edition but there is so much about Forgotten Realms I know nothing about.

The Classes in the PHB are Barbarian, Bard, Cleric, Druid, Fighter, Monk, Paladin, Ranger, Rogue, Sorcerer, Warlock, and Wizard.  Classes look a lot their 3rd edition versions.  They have been simplified with new elements like the Proficiency bonus replacing skills and attack bonus, as mentioned in previous reviews.   The customization options of each class are what stands out to me.  The Barbarians, for example, have Primal Paths, Bards have Bardic Colleges,  Druids have Circles and Fighters have Archetypes.  No two Barbarians, Bard or Fighters will be the same and the same holds true for the rest of the classes.  Of course, you can easily see future books with more options for each class.

From the back cover:
“The world needs heroes.  Will you answer the call?”

The D&D (5th edition) Player’s Handbook has many elements in it to help the player not only build his character statistically, but also his character’s story and role playing aspects.  Personality and Background are two aspects that are expounded upon a little further.  Relating Backgrounds to something I am more familiar with, 5th edition Backgrounds are very similar to the aspect of the same name in d20 Modern.  It expands on your class a little further and gives you a little more about where your character came from.

Backgrounds are also helpful in determining Personality Traits, although a player is not restricted to the ones provided in each Background.  Personality Traits are divided up into three primary aspects – Ideals, Bonds, and Flaws.  Barrowing from games like True20 (Virtues & Vices) and the like, these three items round out the character and add a little dimension to the character.

Sadly, this is something a DM would hope his players would come up with on their own, but as many know, not all players are that creative in making a background.  Some players simply don’t get the purpose of the background and make it boring and absent of plot hooks.  They see it as something the DM uses to manipulate the character and that is so wrong.  One of my favorite products of all time is the Central Casting background generator books (Heroes of Legends, Heroes of Tomorrow, and Heroes Now!).  I used to make it a mandatory thing to use them because my players never really gave me multi-dimensional characters.  The difference between a sheet with numbers on them and a living breathing character is usually the background and the various hooks that can come from it.  I am very encouraged that the Player’s Handbook in this edition of D&D has some focus on that.

This is one area I wish the book spent a little more page-count on.  Although there is ample background and related personality trait tables to get started, it did leave me wanting more.  I hope there will be future focus on this.  This is the first time I really felt like a D&D character was more than a sheet of numbers and words.  Of course, this is highly tied to the setting, sometimes, so I hope the setting books that are released (or the subsequent Player’s Guides) include more background and personality trait options.

Tying all this back into the game mechanic is a concept called Inspiration.  This is of course mentioned some in the Basic Rules as well as the Starter Set.  This too has been covered enough, but I do want to say that I like this aspect a lot.  Having played many other games where the players has a means to save himself (Savage Worlds with Bennies, True20 with Conviction Points, and D6 System with Character and Force Points), this was needed badly in the world’s most famous role playing game.

What I find interesting about Inspiration is that you are limited to one at any given time.  You have to spend it to get another.  Unlike other games where players can sandbag points like this and unload them on the DM at the “boss fight”, Inspiration puts the character in the dramatic dilemma of when to use that one favor from the gods.  Although I did not initially like that aspect of Inspiration, in practice, it is very fun to play.

A player can do further customization of one’s character, as explained in the Customization chapter of Part 1.  This is where multi-classing is explained and this gets into the least favorite part of the book.  It seems to me they made multi-classing a little more complicated, especially for magic users.  Spell casting and Spells slots, especially if you multi-class into more than one magic user class, get understandably complex.  There is some simple number crunching and logic to work through.

Feats return in this edition.  At the heart of 3rd edition bloat, Feats are one of those things that D&D fans loved or hated.  How the designers decided to work them into the mechanic really shows they listened to the fans.  First, they mitigate the bloat a little by limiting how often you can get feats.  They also make it an optional rule, keeping those that hate Feats happy.  Of course, over time, as more and more expansion books come out, the Feat list will grow but characters won’t be overloaded with a ton of them to keep up with.  You can choose to gain a Feat in exchange from the ability score bump you get each at certain levels. At most, a character will have 5 or 6 Feats.

Now these are not your typical 3rd Edition feats, however.  These pack a little more of a punch, since they are the alternative to something you only get every four levels or so.  There are a total of 43 Feats and the only thing I wish they had added was a table list of them with summarized notes of their benefits.

Part 2 dives into the mechanics of the game, which was partially revealed in the Basic Rules but expanded upon a little more in the PHB.  Ability Scores, Proficiency Bonuses, Saving Throws, and Passive Checks have all been pretty well covered in other reviews.  They are basically a logical simplification of 3rd edition concepts, with a lot of influence from other editions as well.

The Combat section is noticeably different from previously editions.  The tactical complexities of Full Actions, Standard Actions and Free Actions are far more simplified.  There is less stuff about the tactical options available players and more general information about what can be done in a round.  Combat in past editions felt like a strict table top board game or miniature game and in this, it feels more like a role playing game.  However, don’t get me wrong, I like some of the tactical complexities and as I understand it, they are going to be presented as options in the Dungeon Master’s Guide.

Advantage and Disadvantage is also a new mechanic introduced and although we have talked about it some in previous reviews, I have run D&D 5e now a couple of times and have seen it in practice.  I am not sure of the mathematics of the system – if it truly does give a significant advantage or disadvantage to the player (a much more math-inclined person than me can figure that out) but in game, it has a great effect.  It is dynamic and creates a very tense situation when a person has to roll more than one die.  It is a fun mechanic and that is what a game is all about.

Part 3 ends the book with the much maligned or anticipated (depending on your perspective) new magic system, that is not exactly new but at least better than the last one.  To many 4th edition fans chagrin, it is a return to the Vancian style magic system that seem to take the back stage in 4e.  But with Spells lists and Spells Slots, it is much more simplified and logical than past editions like 3rd editions (and its other incarnations).  I avoided magic users in previous editions (when I played) because it was too complex for me to deal with.  And the session by session maintenance of Spells Known vs.  Spells per Day was frustrating.  I can wrap my head around this system a little better.

The Vancian system returns the magic users to the thematically roles they were meant to be – scholars of magic and arcane knowledge and restricted by the nature of magic and the source they are gaining it from.  Thematically, I felt that D&D was not D&D without Vancian magic.  As I understand it, the previous edition all but abandoned Vancian magic and most that adhered to that edition are angry about the return.  To that, all that can be said is that the market has spoken.  Right or wrong, Vancian magic is D&D and D&D is Vancian magic.

Is it balanced?  So far, I see a lot of attempts to not only balance it at low levels but keep it balanced as the characters goes up in levels.  The Spells Slots and Casting at Higher Levels is at the heart of this balancing effort.  Sure you can cast a Magic Missile that causes 12d4 but you have to spend a higher level spell slot for that spell.  Suddenly, Magic Missile becomes that level of a spell.

Ritual Spells is another aspect that is refreshing.  You don’t always have to have a spell prepared to caste it.  If you have time, you can cast it as a Ritual Spell.  Only certain spells can be done that way, but most are logical.

In conclusion, I think it is clear I am a fan of this new edition.  Until this edition, I have either not had a chance or purposely avoided playing D&D and this edition has pulled me in.  My only major complaint is the price tag.  Where their competition is able to put together a huge book that virtually includes both the PHB and DMG in one, for a lower price, the fine folks at WotC put a larger price tag on a smaller book and stagger the release so it won’t hurt the budget as bad.  Is it worth it?  I say it is, but I am not sure everyone is going to agree.

Outside the monetary issues, the book is hardy and the art is phenomenal.  The layout is on par with other editions although I would have liked to see a few more lists then they provided.  The index is really tiny print, and forces this old man to use his reading glasses.

I give this a Codex Rating of 19 because this is a big hit for me.  It not only revived my faith in the guys behind D&D but also in the D&D line in general.  It has pulled me in pretty strongly and for the first time, I am running a fantasy game. It is enjoyable and I look forward to a whole new bookshelf of 5e books as they put them out.

For more details on Wizards of the Coast and their new RPG Core RulebookDungeons & Dragons: Player’s Handbook (5th Edition)” check them out at their website http://dnd.wizards.com/, and at all of your local game stores.

Codex Rating: 19

Product Summary

Dungeons & Dragons: Player’s Handbook (5th Edition)
From: Wizards of the Coast
Type of Game: RPG Core Rulebook
D&D Lead Designers: Mike Mearls, Jeremy Crawford
Rules Development: Rodney Thompson, Peter Lee
Writing: James Wyatt, Robert J. Schwalb, Bruce R. Cordell
Editing: Michele Carter, Chris Sims, Scott Fitzgerald Gray, Christopher Perkins
Producer: Greg Bilsland
Art Directors: Kate Irwin, Dan Gelon, Jon Schindehette, Mari Kolkowsky, Melissa Rapier, Shauna Narciso
Graphic Designers: Bree Heiss, Emi Tanji, Barry Craig
Cover Illustrator: Tyler Jacobson
Interior Illustrator: (Entirely too many to list, see handbook for list)
Additional Contributors: Kim Mohan, Matt Sernett, Chris Dupuis, Tom LaPille, Richard Baker, Miranda Horner, Jennifer Clarke Wilkes, Steve Winter, Nina Hess, Steve Townshend, Chris Youngs, Ben Petrisor, Tom Olsen
Project Management: Neil Shinkle, Kim Graham, John Hay
Production Services: Cynda Callaway, Brian Dumas, Jefferson Dunlap, David Gershman, Anita Williams
Brand and Marketing: Nathan Stewart, Liz Schuh, Chris Lindsay, Shelly Mazzanoble, Hilary Ross, Laura Tommervik, Kim Lundstrom, Trevor Kidd
Number of Pages: 321
Game Components Included: Core Player’s Handbook
Game Components Not Included: Monster Manual, Dungeon Master Guide (to be released later)
Retail Price: $49.95(US)
Website: http://dnd.wizards.com/

Reviewed by: Ron W McClung

 

D&D Basic Rules

D&D Basic Rules

From: Wizards of the Coast

Reviewed by: Joey Martin

D&D Basic Rules is a new RPG from Wizards of the Coast.

Excitement, worry, euphoria and despair; when a new version of the ‘King of Role Playing Games’ is being released all of these things can come into play. I have heard and seen all the above. This ‘starter’ document should answer all the questions new and old players have and give everyone a good feel for the new system.

From the back page 2: “The Dungeons &Dragons roleplaying game is about storytelling in worlds of swords and sorcery.”

The inevitable question when a new version of Dungeons and Dragons comes out is “What previous version of the game is it like?” Comparisons to the original and second edition always abound. This time, it seems to be more of a blend of 3.5, Pathfinder’s ‘3.75’ and 4.0. While the ‘feel’ is still early edition, as all of its successors have to be, this is all new.

This is written as a ‘read only’ review. I have not tested out this edition with any fellow players. I did create my first new character as part of the process. As an aside, Wizards rock! Running around with a cantrip with a 120’ range doing 1d10 fire damage is not bad.

Four races are given, Dwarf, Elf, Halfling and Human. All but Humans are given sub races; High elves are an example of that. One big change is ability score modifiers. Humans receive a plus one to everything. Yes, everything. The rest get a plus two to one specific ability. However, Humans have less other benefits than the rest.

Four basic classes are given, Cleric, Fighter, Rogue and Wizard. Archetypes are given for each for those who want to do something a little different. The rules also present Backgrounds as another way to differentiate characters. Backgrounds give an additional skill proficiency and in some cases, gear and other plusses.

Now to what is different in this edition. The proficiency bonus replaces the Base Attack Bonus, individual class based saving throw bonuses and the base skill bonus. Saving throws are based off of an ability instead of the older three categories. Thus, a trap could be Dexterity based to avoid or Strength based to escape or Will based to throw off an effect. Skills are a bit broader in general. Players will be proficient in fewer. There seem to be no untrained skills in this edition.

Other various changes include the fact that spellcasters can cast in any armor they are proficient in. Some armor has a Strength minimum and some have the listed effect of Stealth Disadvantage. When you are disadvantaged you roll twice and take the lowest roll. Nasty, that. There are two new descriptors for weapons as well. Heavy weapons used by small sized characters make them disadvantaged in combat. There goes my Halberd wielding Halfling Fighter! Finesse weapons allow you to use either Strength or Dexterity for attack and damage bonuses. Initiative checks are straight Dexterity checks. During combat you can break up your move, attacking before, after or during the move. This should change combat significantly. These are just the major changes I have noticed thus far.

With all that said, there is a saying about the more things change, the more they stay the same. This is true here. Players of previous editions of the game will see many familiar concepts.

In conclusion, this document gives you everything you need to generate a basic character and play. A GM will, of course, need more but all an experienced player needs to start a game is to give a copy of this to his fellow players and let them go. If you are interested in getting into the latest edition of Dungeons and Dragons, go download a copy of this. The price is right and it will get you started on the path to fun and excitement.

For more details on Wizards of the Coast and their new RPG “D&D Basic Rules” check them out at their website http://dungeonsanddragons.com, and at all of your local game stores.

Codex Rating: 19

Product Summary

D&D Basic Rules

From: Wizards of the Coast

Type of Game: RPG

Written by: James Wyatt, Robert J. Schwab, Bruce R. Cordell

Game Design by: Mike Mearls, Jeremy Crawford

Developed by: Rodney Thompson, Peter Lee

Cover Art by: Tyler Jacobsen

Additional Art by: Jamie Jones

Number of Pages: 110

Retail Price: Free!

Email: http://www.wizards.com/customerservice

Website: http://dungeonsanddragons.com

 

Reviewed by: Joey Martin

Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set

dndboxsetcoverDungeons & Dragons Starter Set
From: Wizards of the Coast
Reviewed by: Ron McClung

Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set is a new RPG Starter Set from Wizards of the Coast.

With much anticipation, the release of the 5th edition of the classic Dungeons & Dragons is upon us, with the first teaser product on the shelves – the Dungeons & Dragons Starter SetIn the interest of full disclosure, I will say that I was not a huge fan of the major changes in 4th edition nor was I a fan of the abandonment of the SRD/OGL.  I liked 3rd edition a lot, although I admit over time it got bloated with way too many rules, feats and classes.  I am a fan of Pathfinder but it is running into the same problem D&D 3.5 did, in my opinion.  I also did not play a lot of 1st or 2nd edition when I was younger, simply because there was not a lot of opportunity.  I played other things like Star Frontiers and Powers & Perils.

Being that the only version I am competently familiar with is 3rd in its various incarnations, I am going to probably make more comments from that perspective.  Based on my age, you would assume I would be familiar with 1st and 2nd, but like I said I did not have as much opportunity to play those versions.  I am certain that there are similarities between this edition and 1st and/or 2nd, but I am not going to pretend to know them.  I hope my review is comprehensive enough that those that are more familiar with 1st and 2nd can spot them.

I think it is time for a fresh start with Dungeons & Dragons.  I had fully planned on giving it a chance and this Starter Set set is a perfect read of the market by the D&D design team to do just that.  Also, it is priced very well for that purpose.  I had tangentially been involved in the play test and community side of the development, but many of my friends were more involved with it than I was.  When we play-tested the Starter Set, I got a lot of good feedback from them.

Also released was the Basic D&D PDF, which was free online.  The Gamer’s Codex will have a review of that fairly soon but I may reference it here as an extension of my review of the rules.

From the website:
“Everything you need to start playing the world’s greatest roleplaying game.”

Starting with the rulebook, by the page count alone, you can guess it’s not as comprehensive as a standard RPG rulebook.  It gives you just enough to play the adventure in the box set and maybe just a little more.  At the same time, it is not a “dumbed down” version of the rules either.  Everything presented in this rulebook is true throughout the rules set, according to the Wizards podcast I watched about it.

The rules start out with the obligatory explanation of RPGs and how they work, great for new players to the RPG hobby.  Following this is the short explanation of the core rules.  They kept the basic d20 mechanic from 3rd edition – roll d20 and add modifiers, and then compare to a Difficult Class or Armor Class to determine success.  However, as I learned in play-test, there is far less math and the numbers have been scaled down.  There are fewer numbers to reference back and forth and they introduced new mechanics to replace some penalties.  There are much fewer things you have to remember when making rolls.

The core six abilities are also retained, with the 3 to 18 value converting to modifiers.  There are hit points, but they are fewer.  Skills and Saves are handled similarly to what I vaguely remember from 4th edition, however.  Each abilities score has a Save associated with it so instead of the 3rd edition Fortitude, Reflex and Will, there are Constitution, Dexterity and Wisdom Saves. There are also saves for the other 3 ability scores.

Attack Bonus and skills are rolled up into Proficiencies, a throwback to what I can remember of 2nd Edition.  Proficiencies are something of interest at least to me as they basically replace Attack Bonus as well as Skills.  Every level has a Proficiency bonus and that bonus is applied to everything that the character has a Proficiency in.  They gradually go up differently for each class (as shown in the PDF).  There is no real indication of that in the Box rules. They simply brush over the subject and leave it to future publications.  Since the characters in the adventure probably won’t level to the point that the proficiency bonus would change, they left it to the Player’s Handbook.

Gone, from what I can tell, are the “Powers” of 4th edition.  There is some indication in this book that there may be Feats but I am being told that they will be very different from 3rd edition Feats.  Unfortunately, you have to wait for the Player’s Handbook for that because there is nothing about them in this Starter Set.  Classes have abilities as do races.

The Box set has 5 pregenerated characters which is a good thing because the rules in the box do not provide a means to generate characters.  However, the PDF does.  Thus, the Starter Set is lacking in explanation of things like Background, Class, Personality Traits, Ideals, Bonds and Flaws.  They are listed on the character sheet, and without explanation, they are basically flavor text giving you more insight into the character.  The PDF gives some explanation for some of these but I will leave that to the PDF review.

A key mechanic that is new to the system is the Advantage/Disadvantage dice system.  This has everyone talking.  Basically, certain situations, special abilities, or spells grant an advantage or a disadvantage, and the player gets an additional d20 to roll for the task.  In the case of an advantage, the player takes the highest roll and the opposite for disadvantage.  This can also be granted at the discretion of the DM.

Related to this is Inspiration, which is briefly mentioned in the Box set rules but expanded upon in the downloadable PDF.  For those familiar with the Savage Worlds system, these act as bennies.  Characters can only have one at a time, and they are earned through role play and other ways that the DM thinks worthy.  These can be spent to gain advantage as well as make a re-roll.  I am sure they will expand on this a little more in the Player’s Handbook.

Magic has changed some, but the basic idea is the same.  In the Starter Set, there is a Cleric and a Wizard.  That is all that is basically covered between the Starter Set and the PDF.  The Starter Set describes Known Spells, Prepared Spell and Spell Slots per level.  Wizards and Clerics have a number of spells known and spend a spell slot equal to or greater to spell level.  Spells can be cast at higher levels to get a greater effect but you must use a higher spell slot to get that greater effect.  There are also spells with the ritual tag, which means not only can they be cast as a prepared spell, they can also be cast unprepared as a ritual spell.  Ritual spells take longer but they don’t have to be prepared.

Spells themselves have been tweaked and changed, I am told.  I don’t know all the spells by heart so I can’t tell you the specifics.  But comparing 3rd addition Magic Missile to 5th edition, there are some differences.  The new Magic Missile is a first level spell and casts 3 missiles that do 1d4+1 each.  Magic Missile can be cast at high levels by spending a higher spell slot, for an additional missile.  I am really impressed with that part of the new design.

From the website:
“Explore subterranean labyrinths! Plunder hoards of treasure! Battle legendary monsters!”

In our little play test, we ran the first part of the 4-part adventure in the box, Lost Mine of Phandelver. The first part is a simple 1st level adventure pitting the players against a group of goblins and their bug bear leader.  I ran that part and the group had a great time.  It has enough action to level each character to 2nd level. It builds from a very interesting storyline.  The art is well done and the cartography is also.

The adventure then takes the party deeper into a multi-phase small campaign that involves a lost mine and the treasure within.  It also sets up a bad guy that competes for the treasure.  It is set up in a linked fashion, each phase leading to the next.  But it’s not the railroad type of adventure.  It gives a lot of branching options in the middle and has a lot of potential.

In conclusion, the D&D Starter Set gives me a lot of hope that D&D is back.  The design team went through a lot of painstaking design, working with the D&D community to create this new version.  It really looks like they took many elements of the various past editions to create a very good edition.  In the box set rules, they focus on a lot of the role play elements.  From what I hear, they worked on many facets of the game including role playing, rules and tactical.  Each will be modularly introduced as the rules are released. Well done!

For more details on Wizards of the Coast and their new RPG Starter SetDungeons & Dragons Starter Set” check them out at their website http://www.wizards.com, and at all of your local game stores.

Codex Rating: 18

Product Summary

Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set
From: Wizards of the Coast
Type of Game: RPG Starter Set
Lead Designers: Mike Mearls, Jeremy Crawford
Based on the original game created by: E. Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, with Brian Blume, Rob Kuntz, James Ward, and Don Kaye
Drawing from further development by: J. Eric Holmes, Tom Moldvay, Frank Mentzer, Aaron Allston, Harold Johnson, Roger E. Moore, David “Zeb” Cook, Ed Greenwood, Tracy Hickman, Margaret Weis, Douglas Niles, Jeff Grubb, Jonathan Tweet, Monte Cook, Skip Williams, Richard Baker, Peter Adkison, Keith Baker, Bill Slavicsek, Andy Collins, and Rob Heinsoo
Contributing Authors/Editors
: Rodney Thompson, Peter Lee, James Wyatt, Robert J. Schwalb, Bruce R. Cordell,Michele Carter, Chris Sims, Scott Fitzgerald Gray, Christopher Perkins
Adventure Design by: Richard Baker, Christopher Perkins
Cover Art by: Jaime Jones
Additional Art by: Eric Belisle, Wayne England, Randy Gallegos, Matt Stawicki, Karen Yanner, Miek Schley (Cartographer), Daren Bader, Mark Behm, Conceptopolis, Tomas Giorello, Ralph Horsely, Aaron J. Riley, Tyker Jacobson, Vance Kovacs, Dniel Landerman, Raphael Lubke, Brynn Metheney, Steve Prescott, Ned Rogers, Carmen Sinek, Ilya Shkipin, David Vargo
Number of Pages: 96 total pages (32 page rulebook, 64 page adventure)
Game Components Included: 64-page adventure book, a 32-page rulebook for playing characters level 1 – 5, 5 pregenerated characters, each with a character sheet and supporting reference material, and 6 dice.
Game Components Not Included: complete set of D&D 5th edition rules
Retail Price: $19.99 US)
Website: www.wizards.com

Reviewed by: Ron McClung

40 years of D&D through the eyes of authors

Dungeons and Dragons celebrates forty years this year.

I started playing Advanced Dungeons & Dragons in high school. We would gather at a friend’s house around lunchtime, order pizza, and play until dark. My first character was a druid, who used a silver sickle and immediately used it to tell an overly friendly character to back off.

As an author, I frequently write about my characters, whether it’s backstory, or little stories, or adventures. At the same time, D&D has introduced me to a wider world of science fiction and fantasy literature and I like to think has helped improved my writing.

I was curious about how D&D had influenced some of my other writer friends who happened to be roleplayers.

Jaym Gates is the Communications Director for the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers Association (SFWA), a freelance publicist, editor, and author.

Misty Massey is the author of Mad Kestrel and numerous short stories.

Gail Z. Martin is the author of the Ascendant Kingdoms Saga, The Chronicles of the Necromancer series, and the Fallen Kings Cycle.

Laura Haywood-Cory is an Associate Editor at Baen Books.

1) What was your first introduction to D&D? (And When?)

Jaym Gates (JG): My first knowledge of it was when I was a kid. I grew up in one of those scary right-wing, super-Christian environments that believed D&D was Satan’s tool, and we had several books explaining why it was so awful. Read those cover-to-cover and came to the conclusion that it was quite awesome.

Misty Massey (MM): When I was 15, my mother went off to a professional convention and brought me back a book she thought I’d like: the first edition Player’s Handbook. I had no one to play with at the time, but I read that book cover to cover, over and over. By the time I found a group, I could quote it to you.

Gail Martin (GM): Friends in high school would get together on a Saturday and play all day. Classic D&D.

Laura Haywood-Cory (LHC): My first introduction to D&D was in high school, 1985, and it was AD&D. The same boyfriend who introduced me to Katherine Kurtz’s Deryni books offered to be Dungeon Master for an AD&D game with me, his twin brother, and a friend of theirs. I was the only female in the game. My character was an elven magic user, and our first adventure was the Temple of Elemental Evil.

2) How long have you been playing D&D?

MM: 1979. Junior year of high school. I finally found a group to play with. Two of the folks were in my class, and the DM was the older sister of one of my friends. We got together on Saturday nights and played in their den. We all had characters of good alignments, so I learned a great deal about working together to bring about a desired outcome. I played with them until I went off to college, where I put a note on the cafeteria bulletin board asking for a group to let me join. Dangerous, I know, but I was lucky enough to again find another gaming group. This one was much different from my hometown friends. There were evil characters and plots against other members of the party and thievery…it was AWESOME.

GM: My husband had been playing D&D with his cousins before we got married. Afterwards, we played with them until we 1) had kids, and 2) moved away. Sadly, that kind of spare time just hasn’t been available between kids, writing the books, and running a business, but I have every intention of organizing all the games at the nursing home when I’m finally old enough to be carted off there!

LHC: I played D&D for all of my senior year of high school and for a year or so in college. Then, some friends, including my future husband, corrupted me to the dark side of points-based character generation RPG systems instead of random roll-based character gen, and I quickly converted to HERO System/Champions. I’ve dabbled in D&D a few times since; played in a 2nd ed D&D game long enough to know what THAC0 means, and played in a D&D 3.5 game for a bit. So while I’ve moved on from D&D proper, playing tabletop RPGs has stuck with me — I’ll be 46 next month and am looking forward to getting back into a Fantasy Hero game that’s been on hiatus for a few weeks.

3) What is your favorite type of character to play?

JG: Fighter/tank/armored behemoth, which is great until the GM is pissed at you for drowning one of his NPCs and zaps your fully-armored self with lightning…while you’re standing in a pool of water. I love being the damage-absorbing sort who kind of hangs back until the big battles and then just mows through foes.

MM: Thieves. (Yes, I know, they’re called Rogues now. I don’t care. *grin*) I love trying to be sneaky and sly, especially because I’m not at all like that in real life.

GM: Warrior/mage.

LHC: My favorite type of D&D character to play is some sort of magic user or healer.

4) What challenges have you faced playing D&D?

JG: My RPG life is cursed. I can schedule 20 board/card game nights a month and get all of them, but schedule one RPG and every single participant has something happen to them.

MM: I’ve been lucky. Only once did I ever run into gender discrimination with gaming. Between receiving my book and finding my first group, I attempted to join a group of guys at my high school. The first time I went to a game session, I’d already prepped a character — a fighter/cleric who wore armor and carried a mace. They laughed and told me girls couldn’t fight. They were okay with me being a cleric, because I could heal them, but they didn’t want to let me do anything else. I took my books and went home immediately because I wasn’t going to stick around with a bunch of jerks. It wouldn’t have been any fun. And the whole point of gaming is to have fun!

GM: More orcs than I can count.

LHC: I haven’t had a lot of issues from fellow gamers. Especially when I was first getting into it, female gamers were such a rarity that we were given warm welcomes and made to feel at home, and the other players were good at helping me understand the rules, even if I never did become a master at min-maxing. There was sometimes a little bit of “Oh, you’re only here because your boyfriend is playing,” but once they realized that no, I was playing the game because I wanted to be playing the game, then I was treated as just another part of the group.

The main challenge I had, and it’s specifically linked to D&D since there weren’t many other RPG systems out in the mid ’80s, was that my mother was convinced that D&D was a tool of Satan and that I was going to burn in Hell if I didn’t quit playing. For this I squarely blame Patricia Pulling and her group BADD (Bothered About Dungeons and Dragons), a book by one Jerry Johnston called The Edge of Evil: The Rise of Satanism in North America, and Rona Jaffe’s novel, Mazes & Monsters, that got adapted into the Tom Hanks movie and led to people all over the country internalizing the stereotype that gamers are freakish loners who get lost in steam tunnels and take the game way too seriously.

  tom hanks

It’s my fervent hope that this issue primarily affected those of us who are Gen X gamers; thankfully the “Satanic panic” of the ’80s and early ’90s has faded, and role-playing games don’t seem to get that knee-jerk “Evil! Bad!” reaction that they once did. But I was a teenager and young adult right smack in the middle of the Satanic Panic, and my mom fell for it, hard. For example, our copy of Johnston’s book had the section on D&D highlighted, dog-eared, and underlined, and it was very clearly aimed at me, since neither of my siblings played RPGs.

It was actually helpful for me, then, to move to playing Champions in college; when my mom would call me up and ask if I was “still playing that ‘evil D&D,'” I could tell her in all honesty that no, I was no longer playing D&D.

That said, when I had to move home for a year after college, I left all of my gaming books, dice, and character sheets with a friend, until I could get my own apartment.

5) What’s your favorite D&D memory? 

JG: My first actual D&D game was at Gen Con, and not only was it all pros, it was That Special Kind of Pro, with a fairly straight-laced GM. We were told that we’d be playing characters that matched the players’ genders. Right off, Peter’s rogue was a cross-dresser always sneaking off to check his makeup, Ari’s wizard was trying to defeat monsters with puns, and my character entered every delicate situation with “I try to hit them over the head with my giant sword.” The GM was chugging whiskey within moments.

Or, within that same game, the look on the DM’s face when I stuck his kobold NPC headfirst into the water to see if it was booby-trapped. “Why would you DO that?” Needless to say, that’s when he fried me with lightning.

MM: There are so many! This is the first one that comes to mind: I’d been playing a neutral evil half-orc/half-gnome cleric/assassin named Kestrel (no relation to the pirate!)  She’d fallen in love with a shipbuilder (NPC, which meant he was being played by my RL husband, the DM) in the town the group was adventuring in, but he didn’t want a lover who moved around all the time, so he’d broken things off with me and agreed to marry the daughter of a local landowner instead. I was so angry and heartbroken, I hatched a plan to make sure the wedding never happened. I inveigled myself into the daughter’s household, convinced her we were friends, then murdered her and burned the house down.

No, it wasn’t nice at all (evil, remember?), but you should have seen everyone else’s faces when I pulled it off. Glorious. And yes, I eventually won back the man of my heart. But that’s another story.

GM: I think my favorite memory is having been so immersed in the story and the action that I kind of “woke up” six hours or so later with absolutely no idea of how much time had elapsed, feeling as if the adventure had been real.

LHC: A favorite memory comes from an Oriental Adventures campaign; I was playing a wu-jen (a sort of magic user). I forget what happened but I started laughing and couldn’t stop, and one of the other players, in character, asked mine what was so funny. I looked down my nose at him and said, “The things which amuse the wu-jen are far beyond your comprehension,” at which point the rest of the group cracked up, too. It’s a “you had to be there” moment, but it’s stuck with me after all this time. 🙂 

6) What do you think you learned from D&D that you might not have picked up otherwise?

JG: I’m not sure it was D&D-specific, but a game is what you make it. D&D is THE heroic fantasy cliche, but you can make something absolutely unique out of it if you have the right people.

MM: I learned how to work with a team and how to blend my ideas with those of others to make a perfect plan. I learned that sometimes you get a better result by trusting your buddies than you would alone (although sometimes it’s a good idea to ditch them all and take the treasure for yourself, too.) I learned that it’s okay to stand my ground and fight for what I believe, even if I lose and have to go along with the group anyway.

Most of all, I learned that you never, ever assume that the groaning sailors shambling all over the deck are zombies. Sometimes they’re just under a spell.

GM: I really got a sense for the teamwork needed in a quest adventure, which translated both to fiction and to real life. I also learned just how creative people can be in inventing stories to amaze and amuse, and how inventive folks who don’t always consider themselves to be “creative” (i.e. engineers, math majors, programmers, etc. as opposed to artists, writers, etc.) really are and how they need to give themselves credit for that! And I get the gaming references in pop culture!

This video goes rather well with the topic, Natural Twenty by the Blibbering Humdingers

http://youtu.be/THv9k5ol5g4

And Mickey Mason’s “Best Game Ever”

http://youtu.be/M60zW_Mfm58

LHC: One thing that D&D taught me is that I’m much more interested in collaborative efforts than competitive ones; it’s why I used to not like convention or tournament-style gaming. It always felt too much like I was competing against the other players–because I was. To this day, I’m very much a fan of collaborative games over competitive ones like Monopoly or Risk. And in real life, I’d much rather work on something as a team, rather than trying to be a general barking orders and having people say “How high?” when I shout “Jump!” So what I’m saying is that I’d make a lousy drill sergeant. 🙂

In conclusion: gaming is fun, and learning teamwork is good. Play on!

Living MACE Campaign Contest: Final Rounds

The last few rounds were the hardest.  Getting from 8 to 4 and then 4 to 2 were some hard decisions.  I thought my efforts to make this a collaborative effort would make it difficult to judge and create patchwork settings with inconsistent visions.  However, much of the opposite happened.  The writers communicated with each other enough to keep the vision and theme, while subtlety adding new ideas and original concepts.  However, this was a curse as well as a blessing and made things very hard towards the end for the judges.

Judging in general was difficult.  Do we judge the setting as a whole or do we judge on the entries individually.  In the beginning, we focused more on the entries. But as time went on, it became more apparent that our focus was going to be on the setting in general.  The entries continued to be a factor but the setting was more important.  Our end result is to come up with a good setting that exemplifies JustUs Productions, and MACE, so the setting gradually became more and more important.

It was amazing how similar many of the settings ended up being.  And perhaps that was the nature of the collaboration.  What we did not end up with was a platypus-setting like many suspected would happened.  Because of good collaboration as well as the nature of the contest, I think that was easily avoided.  The contest started with a macro vision in the first round, with the contestants submitting a general pitch for the world.  Then we asked them to focus down to a sub-continent level.  Then, they had to focus on a major kingdom or province region.  Finally they had to come up with a location that will be the center of the adventure.  This telescoping of focus prevented a lot of the potential for weird amalgamations.  It was interesting to see each writer’s interpretations of what a sub-continent, kingdom/region/province and location were.  There were some differences, telling me that we need to be more specific in requirements.

However, there is still a risk of a platypus-setting as we move forward.  Our plan is to run another contest using the final setting.  What makes that difficult is that while we have the setting, now we are expanding off of it.  Now we have to worry about maintaining the theme and the concept of the original setting, while at the same time allowing for new ideas that take it outside the original boundaries. So as this contest grows, the more challenging it will get.

Never mind the whole living campaign nature of this, which I personally have not completely thought out yet.  My experience with living campaigns are minimal but we have resources that can help us on that end.

Now we head into the final round which takes place at MACE in Charlotte.  The judges are out of it.  It’s up to those that play the setting.  My end game plan was to have 2 settings with at least two tables of players playing in an adventure written by the final writer – which is the original writer of the setting.  I have a list of criteria each player will score the setting on and I hope to average them out.  I encouraged the GMs to work with the other writers on their setting to perhaps schedule other tables, and that is working out pretty well.  So we will have multiple tables of each setting with hopefully enough players to get a good overall opinion of each setting.

Overall, I am very pleased how this worked out, despite the problems and missteps.  We had some very good writers volunteering and some very good input from all of them.  Going in, I was afraid that some egos may have been bruised and in fact, some may have, but I hope everyone understands the motivation and intent of the contest.  It was a blast.  I feel we were consistent enough, fair enough and everyone came out of it for the better.  I look forward to doing a more extended one next year.

Living MACE Campaign Contest: Complications

The model we set up where writers are creating for different settings is a rather precarious one.  It relied heavily on the contestants staying in the contest.  What I did not plan for was contestants dropping out without writing their entry for the current phase.  Life happens as well all know, so I could not do anything to change it, but with one person dropping out, it not only took out the one person’s setting but also left another setting without an entry for that particular phase.

My choices were few.  One option was to drop both settings.   Of course the setting that  the person who is quitting will be dropped.  However, the setting missing that phase’s entry was also in trouble and that would not be fair to that writer.  It put me, in particular, in a very difficult situation.  Not only did one person write for a setting that has to be dropped, wasting a lot of time and effort the writer brought in, but now a setting is not going to get its fair shake because it was incomplete.

Another option was that I could write the entry really quickly.  That kind of blurs the lines of my impartialness as a judge, let alone the fact that I only had a day and a half to do it.  I wasn’t even sure I could do it justice.  The original setting writer also did not feel comfortable with me writing it.  I knew that was a bad option up front, but like I said, my options were few.

Finally, the other option came to me out of the blue.  Find another willing writer that could do it in a short time frame.  One of the other contestants volunteered to write something for the setting to at least give it a chance.  He also agreed to write it anonymously.  That was awesome!  It all worked out.

To avoid this in the future, I may have to restructure the contest.  One idea I had requires a forum where all writers can communicate with each other.  Facebook has worked to some degree but not all the contestants are on Facebook.  There are some people within my circles that vehemently object to social networking sites, which gets into a whole new level of anti-social, I suppose.  So a PHPBB forum or WordPress forum may be the solution.  This allows for more collaboration which is at the heart of this contest.  Given more time, I may be able to structure it o that for a week, all writers will comment on each setting and add their own short idea to it.  The writer will then be required to pick at least one idea for his addition during that phase.

Or I can just find more reliable writers.

Entering into the fourth phase of this contest and it has been really fun so far.  The settings are definitely developing really well, and with a little work, the final product will be incredible.

The Living MACE Campaign – Genesis

This year, MACE and JustUs Productions is trying something new to add to our experience.  Inspired by the Paizo RPG Superstar contest as well as a contest we ran at MACE called the Iron MACE Chef contest (where writers wrote an RPG given a certain number of parameters), the Living MACE campaign setting seeks to create a role playing game living campaign setting that will be exclusive to MACE events.

We knew this was going to be very involved for the contestants but we thought perhaps the rewards would outweigh some of the challenges.  We also hoped that some of our more loyal friends, as passionate gamers, would see it as an opportunity. We saw it as an opportunity to make something uniquely MACE and be a part of that.

The contest will be to create core aspects of the campaign setting, independent of a rule system.  Eventually by the final round or rounds we will have a complete enough setting to present to all the gamers at the 20th anniversary of MACE (2016).  For the system,  we plan to use generic systems like Savage Worlds, Pathfinder and a local favorite, Bare Bones Fantasy, assuming we handle all the licensing and rights before hand.

The basic parameters are:

Genre: Fantasy

System:  As mentioned, this would not be system specific.

The First Round encompasses the writers submitting a Name, Tagline, Elevator Pitch, and Designer notes.  This would give us the baselines of the setting.  It would give us the theme, the key plot elements and the general idea of the history of the setting.  From there, we would narrow down the scope, from world to subcontinent, to kingdom to location.  In the end, an adventure will be written.

Assuming we get at least 16, we will eliminate half each round.  After narrowing down the initial group of entries down to 16, it will be narrowed down to 8, then 4 and then 2, etc.   However, the difference between our contest and the one that inspired it is that the contestant may not be writing for their own setting after the first round.   We wanted to get an amalgamation of ideas in each entry.  Each entry will be a collective work between 4 of the contestants.

We realized that there is a risk of creating the “Platypus setting” but we thought we could avoid this by encouraging collaboration using tools at our disposal (social network and email) as well as relying on the participants’ imaginations to keep each setting relatively intact.   This kind of simulates common circumstances in the industry where writers on occasion are writing for other people’s settings. So it will be important for all involved to pay attention to other participants’ work.  The winning setting will represent a number of writers’ work.

The final round will have two adventures written for the top two settings.  These will be run in whatever system the authors prefer.  The players will score it and choose the winner based on the score.

I plan to have updates on this contest as we go along.  As of this writing, we are headed into Phase 3 with 8 writers.  So I am somehwat behind.  We have learned  a lot from the first time trying this.  I will document what I can and welcome comments.  I encourage other events to try this.  It’s is an amazing and enlightening experience

Living MACE Campaign Contest – Eliminations

Going into this, I knew the elimination process was going to be difficult.  With authors writing for settings other than their own, the decision to decide what and who gets dropped presented an extra challenge.  Who do you eliminate?  The original writer and the setting?  Or the writer of the current phase?  There was a risk of killing a good setting just because of a bad entry.  Also there was a risk of a writer’s setting being eliminated while they stay in the contest.  All this had to be considered and in truth was fleshed out as we went along.

No matter what, a number of people had to be eliminated each phase.  The question was who and what setting would also be eliminated.  The original setting they wrote or the setting they were currently writing for.  If you think about it, it is a real challenge based on the model we created. However, my central goal was not only to have a setting created but make it a collaborative work between some of the best of our writers.

The one option was to eliminate the writer and the current setting they were writing for.  The logic behind that is that the eliminated writer has “corrupted” (for lack of a better term) this setting with a sub-par addition.  In an effort to avoid ham-stringing the next writer, the bad entry had to be eliminated.  The problem with that is good settings could be killed by one bad entry.  On top of that, it could be contestant A’s setting that gets eliminated, and he/she is still in contest.  What motivation does that person have to stay in the contest now that his or her setting is out of the running?  You can probably see my dilemma.

Despite all the questions and “wonkiness” of that option, that was what I was planning to do.  I thought it better to keep the good written entries in and avoid the “corruption” problem that would occur.  Why keep them in if it is only going to hinder future phases of writing, regardless of how good the setting is?

Another option was obviously to simply eliminate the writer with his or her setting.  The problem with that is that leaves some “bad entries” in the mix, which ends up causing problems for the next writer.  What do you do with the entry that the eliminated player wrote for somebody else’s setting?  Admittedly, it may not be all that bad, but there has to be a reason why the writer was eliminated.

Both elimination options have their merits but also have their issues.  I also fully recognize that the problems stem from the nature of our model – the collaborative nature.  Unfortunately, you can’t have everything.

One statement from a friend and one of our judges made it all clear to me.  Good writers will write good settings.  So no matter what, if you eliminate the writers based on what they wrote and the setting they wrote along with them, you are going to still have good writers and good settings.  That helped us see things a lot clearer and the end result was that we went with the second option.

One option to deal with the “bad apples in the mix” was to let the original writer of the setting fix it.  That’s the most ideal solution.  Unfortunately, with the time constraint I had set for the first time we tried this, I could not do that.  What I finally decided to do was edit them myself while consulting with the original author.  I reserved the right to do this for any “bad apple” that might fall in our bucket, in an effort to make sure the next writer was not at a disadvantage going into the next stage.  Not the most ideal method but it worked within our time constraints. What I am considering for future iterations of this is to allow an extra week for re-writes – send the entry back to the original writer so he or she can fix it.

So far this contest has been amazing.  Great ideas are coming out of it.  We did not get the initial 16 contestants but we did get 11.  One was dropped initially and then we had 10.  We have gone from phase 2 into phase 3, where we whittled it down to 8.  Eliminating people is hard.  I know it’s not a good feeling to be told that what you wrote is not what we like or not good enough.  But I heard one writer say at some point – you have to take criticism well to be a writer.  So I hope they take it well.

 

Dreadmire

Dreadmire
From: Spellbinder Games
Reviewed by: Joseph Martin

Dreadmire is an RPG supplement from Spellbinder Games.

This is an impressive work. The author states that it was a 10+ year endeavor and it shows. The sheer amount of information in this 224 page book is overwhelming. Just the word count is amazing. An 8×11 book with small text, even considering illustrations, maps and charts contains a lot of wordage. Be prepared to take some time to read though it.

From the back cover: “Dreadmire Swamp is the definitive reference book on adventure life and unlife in the swamp.”

While being described as a swamp source book, Dreadmire is much, much more. This is both everything you would want or need to know about playing D&D in a swamp environment and a campaign setting laid out for you to do so.

This is a hardcover book. The full color cover is good quality and glossy. The art at first glance may seem like it could be a little neater and cleaner but as you go through the book you may think of it as ‘old school’ as I did. This is the kind of art seen in older D&D and 2nd edition AD&D books. The internal pages of the book itself are all black and white. No color illustrations or maps. The maps themselves are well done for the most part. The paper feels like good quality and the book, if cared for, should last quite a while. The text is on the small side. Readers with vision problems may have a little trouble with it.

The book begins with a few maps, some history and descriptions of the swamp and area. The one thing I have issue with in this book is organization. It’s well laid out in a printed fashion but when reading through you find there are factions, races, division and other ‘boundaries’ that are described in the text in several places over the first few chapters but not denoted on any maps. The maps simply have the terrain type and names of towns, villages and such. This is where a little internal color could have made all the difference. A basic overlay or some other indication of which areas are human friendly, orc friendly, evil friendly, good friendly or insect friendly would be of great assistance. Significant and not so significant places and people are detailed well. However, the major characters and points of interest are listed independent of their places of residence so you have to flip around quite a bit to figure out who and what is where.

Having said that, the background is rich and detailed. Any problems the descriptive sections of this book might have are really just organizational. The author has obviously put a lot of work into this book and it shows. You can easily visualize the villages, forests, bogs and river deltas while reading through it. I would love to both run an adventure and play one with a group of Bayou Halflings as the party.

Over 250 new monsters are advertised on the back cover. Many of these are swamp variants of existing monsters. Most of those variants are quite interesting and a needed addition to the target area. Other new campaign centered creatures and more general use creatures are listed. Some of these could be modified to use as character races. Plants and undead are the most numerous additions as you may surmise. Many of the new plants are just given a description and no stat block. Swamps are dangerous places but any character made for this game should take a few ranks in Knowledge (Local Flora and Fauna). Many plants are poisonous. In some cases, that is the least of your worries. I believe there are a few plants listed with a low Challenge Rating that could cause a Total Party Kill.

Many new magic items and spells are provided. In this setting, they are called juju. Once again, there are quite a few that are items modified for a swampy environment but several new general items and spells are given that may be attractive to your average adventurer. Your average everyday magical weapons, armor, scrolls and miscellaneous items are mixed in with a few singular items of almost legendary status.

The new classes are by and large either swamp or campaign related. Muckrangers, Balladmongers, Moor knights and others populate the land along side ‘average’ warriors, commoners and day-to-day classes. Some of these classes are a bit ‘low powered’ and more of a support class. They are useful in the environment but probably not attractive to many power gamers.

Three adventures are provided. The low level ‘Great Bayou Halfling boat race’ is the best in my opinion. Some encounters are not fully fleshed out and left up to the imagination of the Game Master. The intermediate level Bog of the Fungus Demon and the advanced level Secrets of the Sinking Citadel have a few confusing encounters and can be exceptionally deadly.

From page # 205: “A swamp, bottomland forest, morass or quagmire generally refers to freshwater wetlands with trees and woody bushes that are seasonally flooded.”

The appendices of the book include a section about swamp ecology, the environments, dangers, weather patterns and generally all the information you might want or need to survive. If you are running a swamp based game, even if it is not Dreadmire, this is worth the read. A collection of charts, maps and more also give a nice collection of information all in one place.

In conclusion, while Dreadmire is an impressive work, a prospective Gamemaster will need to take extra time out to sort out and organize all the details. While written for D&D 3.5, this could easily be converted to Pathfinder’s D&D 3.75 system. I say easily but the person taking that task on is in for a lot of work considering the number of stat blocks, spells and other minor items that would need to be tweaked.

For more details on “Dreadmire” check out the website http://www.dreadmire.com. Please note that Spellbinder Games seems to be defunct and their web site non-existent. Copies of the games may be hard to find at your local gaming store but can be found online through links on the above web site.

Codex Rating: 15

Product Summary

Dreadmire

From: Spellbinder Games
Type of Game: RPG sourcebook / campaign setting
Written by: Randy Richards
Game Design by: Randy Richards
Developed by: Mark Williams
Cover Art by: Zack Overton, Dan Howard and Janet Chui
Additional Art by: Hannah Spute, Paul Daly, Rick Hershey, J Scott Pittman, Gordon Grant and Octavirate Entertainment.
Number of Pages: 224
Original Retail Price: $29.95 US
ISBN: 0977338339

Website: http://www.dreadmire.com

 

Reviewed by: Joseph Martin