King's table: Our centrepiece this month does not spring from the deranged minds of our game designers, but instead is an actual historical boardgame dug out from the historical records, and given to us to try out. Originally called Hnefatafl, and played by the vikings, this has been around for over 1,300 years, with several variants. The king is surrounded by marauding hordes. One side takes that role, and has to defeat them or get the king to escape by reaching the corner of the board. The other, of course, has to trap him if they want to win. It looks simple enough to set up and learn the rules too, and even the epic variant with 19x19 squares, and 73 pieces should progress at a pretty pacey speed as long as you don't have the kind of player who spends minutes deliberating over every move. They do admit that the king's side is slightly more likely to win, but the imbalance certainly isn't so great as to keep it from being fun. A nicely multipurpose centrepiece, that you could use as a bit of standalone entertainment, or incorporate into your campaign as a game played by the people within, and also gives us some real world historical info I didn't know before. This is well within their remit, and I quite approve.
Plane speaking belatedly delivers us the negative quasielementals. All of them have the lovely effect of absorbing their related element, to the detriment of the environment when on the prime material. Not a good idea to mess with them. But if you're a druid who wants to stop ecological devastation, as is your job, you may have too. Blasting them from long range with spells and magic weapons is probably the way to go here. A short and too the point contribution, that completes the symmetry here. (although I don't thing we've seen pure positive and negative elementals (energentals?)) I have no problem with this, but as we've already exhausted most of our talk about it, not much more to say either. I look forward to seeing if I can use them in actual play.
Stardate magazine. Another publication I don't remember. Any info on this one?
Chopper power!: Top Secret's articles continue to be behind the times, with these fairly crunchy stats for helicopters. Invaluable for both transport and combat, they're another thing that may push your game away from espionage, and towards military gaming if overused. Still, as they've pointed out recently, espionage and war go hand in hand a lot of the time, so drawing a hard line is tricky. It's up to your GM to choose if they want to allow this stuff. The magazine can't hold your hand the whole time. At least now you have the option.
A mutant by any other name: Gamma world skips the edition support questions this month with a system free one on slang and naming conventions in the far future. It's no surprise that things like that would carry on evolving, especially when the culture has changed radically, and there's no more mass media to standardize things across the world. There's the usual mix of corrupted existing cultural references, in-jokes, and stuff that seems random to me, but that may just because I don't get all the references. It certainly doesn't seem as immediately memorable and natural to slip into as planescape cant, but that may just be the familiarity speaking. Course, we're not likely to see this stuff go into common use, as it's just a magazine article, so it probably won't get the chance to grow on me either. Still, this is definitely the kind of world-building I approve of, so here's hoping.
Polyhedron took our second edition scoop. Sonofabitch. Do they want us to shell out money for three magazines now to keep up with everything D&D?
Robotech is now up to four books. Another game line is building up quite nicely.
The island in your computer: Another internet-centric article. One of the earliest MMORPG's gets a good looking over. Island of Kesnai is a game on Compuserve's network. (of course, they didn't have standardized protocols, so who had access to what and how much it cost varied widely from region to region. We have no world wide web yet) Anyway, this is a text based adventure game where you build your character, advance them, join teams of other adventures, and complete quests to deal with the (endlessly respawning) threats to the kingdom. Curiously, they deal with the powerful characters dominating the game problem, by giving each character a limited lifespan. So no matter how well you do, your character will die permanently after a while, and you'll have to start a new one. Now that's definitely a sign we're still a long way from home. There are plenty of familiar elements though, such as the classes, alignment system, and scenarios. The message boards and chat system are pretty friendly and helpful. This is another article that's very interesting indeed in terms of getting a view of historical progress. I never even heard of the internet until the mid 90's, when it was already exploding onto the mass market. Seeing stuff from when it was still the preserve of tech nerds with lots of money to burn does make me feel like I've missed something. Oh well, guess I get to see it from nostalgia free eyes. Let's hope there's some more of this stuff to come as well.
Gord the rogue is now up too three books plus a short story collection. Not bad for a character no-one apparently likes.
The marvel-phile: Jeff cedes the floor due to other writing commitments again, but this time allows the substitute freelancer to use the brand name. We get another case of an already existing character being covered again, due to recent continuity events changing that character. Due to government corruption, Captain America has recently become disillusioned with serving them, and quit. However, John Walker, formerly known as the Super-Patriot, has stepped into that role, bringing a new, more fundamentalist edge to the job. He's got some pretty big boots to fill, and given the nature of the story, we know he won't fill them entirely satisfactorily. We also get stats for Lemar Hoskins, the new Bucky, Karl Malus, the man responsible for augmenting both of them, but also lots of less successful augmentation experiments, creating flawed heroes and psychopathic monstrosities aplenty. Another of his creations, Demolition man, who may have badass strength and toughness, but also has a serious heart condition that could kill him any time. He really ought to get some Stark co medical assistance if he wants to last long as a hero. And on the definitely villainous side, we have Flag-smasher and the terrorist organization ULTIMATUM. Seems like they're going through one of their periods of political disillusionment, with grey being pitted against black, and no-one coming out brilliantly. It'll take a bit of work to get that reset button pushed without it seeming ham-fisted. As ever, I'm interested in hearing people's opinions on this arc, particularly if you were reading the comics at the time. Just how well was it handled, and did it mesh with contemporary concerns?
The role of computers: Shadowgate is another brutal old skool fantasy game, where you have to solve puzzles using the items you encounter along the way in your quest. Save frequently, click on everything, and be prepared for much frustration as you try and figure out how to get through this place. If you enjoyed the Tomb of Horrors, this is one for you.
S.D.I is an arcade game where you have to defend the USA from attacking soviet rebels. It has a pretty broad set of objectives, and you need to master both tactical and strategic thinking to survive and win. Still, once you've got the hang of it, it doesn't have that much replay value.
In to the eagles nest features another of our legitimate real world bad guys. Nazi's! Infiltrate the eponymous nazi stronghold, rescue prisoners from it, them blow the place sky high. A nice combination of shoot-em-up, and strategy game, as you have to sneak around, and conserve your health and ammo carefully.
Plenty of other mini-reviews in this month as well, including one of an after-school special, Drug Alert! and Delta patrol, another arcade shoot-em-up. Looks like it's back to business as usual for this column.
U2 kan ern BIG BUX: Another amusing questionnaire (and beefcake pics of Rogar of Mooria ) finishes off this year's articles. Just how experienced an adventurer are you? Have you got what it takes to make a living by killing people and taking their stuff? Or would a nice accountancy job suit you better? Do not take their advice seriously, for it is not meant to be done so, and may result in the unfortunate loss of much of your money. Another good example of Roger bringing more of a sense of mischief to his job than Kim did, even in the non-april issues. Which is one change I have no real objection to. This year may have seen things become more erratic than they were under Kim's tenure, but there's still been plenty of entertaining moments. Whether things will get better or worse next year is still uncertain, but it's still going to be interesting finding out.
The 1988 Dragonlance calendar. And a dragonlance graphic novel as well. I guess quite a few people like it.
Things go horribly wrong again in snarfquest. Dragonmirth is unusually highbrow this month. Wormy once again has the ogres think they're smart when they aren't.
A pretty good finisher to this year. As I'd hoped, skipping the theme also meant they mostly skipped the filler, with most of the articles at average or above. Let's hope that doesn't mean they've exhausted their current buffer of good stuff, and the next few issues are going to be crap again. A little consistency is just what they need to recover their lost readerbase. So let's press on, through these borderlands. We've left behind the old ways, but we still haven't reached 2nd edition. Just how painful will the next year of transitions be? Read along with me, or skip ahead, and see for yourself. As ever, the choice is yours.
108 pages. Another month, another return to familiar themes. Back in 1982, we had a whole series of issues devoted to the various demihuman races. This time, they're all getting lumped together, and being given a special collectively. Well, at least it's not a straight off rehash. Since Roger was responsible for writing the originals, that means the contents probably won't be a straight recycle either. And it has been 6 years, so it wouldn't be too unreasonable if they did reuse a bit. Can they surprise me this time? Onward, through another year.
In this issue:
Letters: A letter asking two basic questions about the contents of the magazine. Yes, we do have an article on running a business. No, most of our short stories are self-contained works.
A letter asking for Top Secret mini's. Use GI joes!
A question on the winners of previous year's Origins awards. Also, what does the S.I in the new top secret stand for? Special Intelligence, apparently.
And we finish off with some of the amusing titles people sent in for issue 127's cover. Ha. Unfortunately, none of them really tickle me.
Forum: Scott Whitmore is not happy with the restrictions on weapons and armour faced by wizards, finding them illogical. Clerics are almost as good at spellcasting, and they still get to wear heavy armour and be fairly capable in combat. It can't just be because of game balance. A passionate argument, but not enough to overcome decades of design inertia, I'm afraid.
Kurt R A Giambastini, on the other hand, warns against powering up wizards. Anything you do to make them balanced at lower levels will result in them outclassing everyone else even more at higher ones, unless you do a complete redesign. Not to deny that tweaks aren't needed, but if it were that simple to balance them someone would already have done it.
Larry Madden is also against the idea of powering up magic-users further. They really do not need it, especially when played cleverly. Ironically, he suggests as a joke, and then mocks, ideas that would go on to be taken seriously in 3rd ed, such as allowing higher level casters to use certain lower level spells at will. The joke's on you sir.
Bruce Johnson also has amusing contributions to make on the power of magic users debate. Overall, it seems people do not want it powered up further.
Keith Sutton, on the other hand, thinks that they should be allowed to wear armour, but suffer chances of spell failure on spells with somatic components. How very visionary. Once again we see that quite a few things that would become actual rules in 3rd ed were being used as houserules in people's games long before.
Elizabeth Atwood takes a tangent, picking apart the ridiculous size and thickness of magic-user spellbooks. How the hell are they supposed to carry these things? What exactly are they made of. Even the biggest real life books aren't that big. Yes, but real life books don't let you cast spells. Maybe if we did make books of those dimensions, they would.
Douglas M Burck picks holes in the arguments of several other recent forumites. Oh, Globbits.
Stephen C Paylor dislikes the idea of putting a character in jail for things that they probably would have logically done, but their player didn't explicitly say they did. One of those cases where both sides have a valid argument, and I'm really not sure which to support.
Arcane Lore: Once again Len Carpenter takes this series away from covering the same old wizardly tomes, with some discussion of, and new spells for dwarven clerics. You certainly can't expect them to regard and apply their spells in exactly the same way as humans. So this is approximately 45-55% advice on existing spells and new spells. Since most of them are designed for the underground lifestyle, they are generally pretty useful for adventurers as well. After all, detecting precious materials, extending your senses through the ground, and healing your siege fortifications can lead to great profit. As it also includes optional rules removing some spells from their list, but also adding some appropriate MU ones in turn, it definitely helps differentiate dwarven clerics from other races. Since this is pretty good, both mechanically, and flavourwise, this is one I would rather like to incorporate into my own game. Another strong choice to kick off a section with.
Children of the spider goddess: Ahh, drow. One of the great jackass prettyboy races. Even more so than regular elves, they attract a certain kind of fanbase. When you combine the dominatrix females, the brooding outcasts, the spider fetishism, and the quite considerable amount of magical tricks and powers they have up their sleeves, it's no wonder people flock to them. But how do they hold together as a society, when they're so arrogant, backstabbing and chaotic? The answer, of course, is ego, and tribal loyalty. By constantly competing to prove their family superior, they ensure their individual badassedness, and even if a family dies, the race survives. This is one of the articles that probably increased the frequency of good Drow PC's quite a bit, as it talks about them as an entirely viable PC option, and goes into detail on the way they tend to approach each class, and other races. The awesomeness of Drow rangers is mentioned (Drizzt is coming, Drizzt is coming!) and we get plenty of roleplaying hints. So another pretty solid article, that has something to say that hasn't been detailed before. Course, they get whole books on them later, so it will be said again, in far greater detail. Such are the rewards of notoriety.
Give demihumans an even break: Hmm. UA included twinked new ability generation methods, but restricted them to humans. Of course, some people aren't happy with this, even though they did get a substantial boost to their class capabilities, and want yet more equality. Once more unto the power creep here, as they give a new optional system for ensuring your various races have appropriate high stats, with a few wiggle dice to allow you to customize for your desired class. Sigh. No thanks.
Don't sell them short: A halfling exclusive class? Hee. How very interesting. It's not even a direct analogue of an existing class, a la the Elven Cavalier. Well, given the huge number of classes only open to humans, someone really ought to redress the balance. So here we have stats for the Halfling Defender. Closely analogous to rangers and paladins for humans, they are fighters with modest nature affecting powers at higher levels, and a duty to defend their communities and the halfling race in general. Really, it's close enough to Rangers mechanically that if they were allowed to become them anyway, this could be represented by a minor tweaking to powers and accessable spells like the dwarven cleric one earlier. In any case, it doesn't look particularly overpowered, so even if it isn't hugely imaginative mechanically, it's another one I'd have no objection to my players trying out.
Entering the Drider's web: Drow get a second article this month, proving that they must already be pretty popular amongst certain freelancers. Lolth is a weird one. Putting promising drow through a test of skill and loyalty, failures are cursed with awesome, and sent back to the prime material to serve as an object lesson, a boogeyman to both the drow and other races in the underdark, and a massive source of fossilized angstium to power future generations of mary sues. Makes a certain degree of warped sense, especially when you consider that one of a god's primary pleasures in life is watching mortals do stuff and playing with them like pieces in a game, throwing obstacles in their way to keep things interesting and advance their cause. This is essentially the footnotes of an ecology without the fiction coming first, expanding on their entry in the fiend folio, and detailing exactly how all their capabilities are changed by the transformation. Useful if you want to have one as a major villain, or possibly as a PC, (although that might be a bit tricky to engineer plotwise. ) this does still feel curiously incomplete without the fiction. Goes to show how much of a fixture those ecology articles have become over the years. It also makes a few curious mechanical decisions, and requires you to reference issue 119 to fully understand all the new capabilities given in the article. So overall, it is a somewhat flawed one, that is an interesting read, but could definitely have been handled better.
The role of computers: Tower of Myraglen is the main review this month. It's one of those adventures where you have to explore a massive dungeon complex, find stuff, and complete the quest. So far, so familiar. It does have several distinctive features to recommend it though. Proper stereo sound that also gives you clues as to what's around corners and through doors. Interesting tactical considerations, including the ability to move and fire in different directions independently. Design that encourages you not to kill everything and grab every tiny bit of treasure. Plenty of clues and hidden bits. And like the sound, the graphics also show off the new advances in computer technology if you have an up to date machine. If not, sucks to be you.
The rest of the column has the usual assortment of news, game tips and mini-reviews. From a pinball game, to a sex comedy (ahh, leisure suit larry. Of all the deranged series to remind me of.) they cover a pretty wide variety here. It's not just RPG's and wargames anymore. Which makes it a very pleasant diversion for me, with lots of contextual stuff on the wider gaming industry around.
A sorcerer's supplement: New spells for runequest. Another game that had an article here years ago, and nothing since. I know there's at least a couple more to come, but how infrequent will they be? Anyway, here's 12 new spells. From basic temperature control, to reversing aging, this is about 50-50 cool stuff that puts a distinctive spin on the spell idea, and dull stuff that simply converts it from D&D. Overall, a pretty decent article, with several ideas that I'd like to steal and back-convert. (creating the illusion you're wearing clothes? Now there's one you can make plenty of jokes about. ) While they may not be covering as much non D&D stuff in terms of page count as they did in the days of the ARES section, they do seem to be trying to cover a wider variety these days. That's not a bad thing.
Sage advice is absolutely huge this month. This is what happens when you skip them. You wind up having to binge later on. Everyone knows that aint healthy.
How should you divide experience (Equally amongst everyone, even if they died or were lazy bastiches. Other methods promote competitive play, and may result in bad blood. And we can't possibly risk that in the new safehappy family friendly TSR.)
How much damage does a two handed staff do. (Same as it ever was. This is not your beautiful 3.5)
What is a concealed door (one hidden by having something put in front of it. It's like a secret door, only an amateur production.)
Can a good creature be convinced to join an adventuring party. (Hmm. Can you convince a good creature to tag along with a bunch of random humanoids for some indiscriminate killing and looting. Tough sell. )
How do you get yellow mold spores out (neutralize poison. For even the toughest toxins. )
When can you exchange ability scores (Only during character generation. And really, you should just roll a new character instead. S'not like they're hard to come by in BD&D )
Can crossbows hurl rocks? Can clerics use them if they do (yes, no. We don't want to mess with established game balance. Clerics'll have to stick to slings. )
How long is a round (10 seconds. Doesn't that make waay more sense than AD&D's minute long ones. )
How do you determine how fast you move. (Encumbrance table, muthafucka. Do you use it. Honestly. Skip swears that if he see's one more person ignoring encumbrance, Skip is gonna kneecap that bitch. )
What's the difference between chain mail and plate mail (Do the books not have diagrams? Is Skip gonna have to carve one on your chest?)
What's the difference between different races of elves (None. This is D&D, not AD&D. That would be way too fine a granulation for a quick pick up and play game. )
If elves are such great archers, why don't they get a bonus. (Again, you're thinking of AD&D, not D&D. The two are completely separate games, and we have to keep them so, otherwise Dave Arneson will sue us. )
What is encumbrance (What are you, some kind of computer with no experience of the real human body. Pick stuff up. See how much you can carry before you can't walk. That's encumbrance. )
When you use a wand of magic or enemy detection, who can see the glow. (everyone, including the creature detected. Violence may ensue rapidly)
Which monsters have infravision (Nearly all of them. It really isn't fair on humans, is it.)
Do you turn to stone if you see a medusa using infravision (Yup. No weaseling out that way. )
Can you see undead with infravision (probably. Even cold bodies don't radiate heat quite like the surrounding air. As for the insubstantial ones, it would be entirely in genre for them to artificially chill the air around them )
Can you see invisible things with infravision (no. It's be a bloody sloppy spell that only affected the visual spectrum. That'd be the kind of cut price variant Bargle would sell people. )
Can you use a mirror to look around a corner with infravision ( not unless it's made specially. As infra red is of a longer wavelength, it diffuses into objects more readily, plus the longer the wavelength the lower the resolution of fine detail in general. But enough of real world physics. What place does that have in a D&D game? )
Do character levels equal hit dice for purposes of calculating how something is affected (in most cases. We'll probably think up some arbitrary exceptions at some point.)
Can you copy spells from scrolls into your own book (yes, but this erases the scroll. Conservation of something is at play. Not sure what exactly.)
What's the penalty for using a weapon forbidden to your class (none, you just can't do it. It's like asking out a really hot girl. No matter how much you'd like too, you just can't make that move. And then you watch the bloody jock do it no trouble and you're left wondering why and how. Bitter, Moi? )
What's the highest level (36 for humans. Other races generally have lower limits. )
What's the best saving throw you can have (2. Failure is always an option.)
What does 2 in 6 mean (Are you Dense? Are you retarded or something? I'm the Goddamn Skip Williams. Roll a d6. if you roll a 1 or 2, you succeeded. How much simpler do you need it?)
Why aren't there rules for half-breeds (Again, simplicity. To squeeze the game into 64 pages, you need to leave stuff out)
How many Hp do you regain when you eat (none, this is D&D, not a computer game. )
How do you determine hit points (What is this, the remedial class? What happened to the hard ones about specific spells and social contracts. Skip so does not need this. )
How much food does a pack of iron rations have (A weeks worth. Not a very nice or satisfying weeks worth, though. )
Can you turn a stoned character back (yes, but you'll need a 12th level wizard to help you out. This may not be easy, depending on how rare high level characters are. )
How much Xp are rats worth (1. A good ratcatcher could gain several levels in a year. Don't underestimate your NPC's)
What's the AC of a sprite (5. I can't even be bothered to rant about how dumb you are this time. )
How long does a potion of gaseous form last (same as any other. 7-12 turns. I'm now going to be an idiot, and forget the difference between rounds and turns. Oopsie daisy)
Do area attacks hit automatically (yes. You're doomed. This is why smart teams treat their wizards like artillery)
Which weapons can halflings use (Any that are small enough. It's not some arbitrary absolute restriction like the spellcasters have to deal with. )
How do you run missile fire (Same as melee. If they're in range, shoot. If you hit, roll damage. Skip would be happy to demonstrate using you as a target, because skip is not having a good day. )
Can you restore hit points without magic (You get 1 hp per day of rest back. Getting better from being sliced up takes a lot of work in D&D)
Are holy symbols magic (no, but clerics can't cast spells without them. They're like a catalyst in chemistry. Or a beacon so your god doesn't forget where you are and to grant you spells )
Are creatures that need magic weapons to hit immune to paralysis (not nececarily)
Can you get a benefit from one gauntlet of ogre power (No. If one gets eaten by the washing machine, you might as well throw the other one out)
How many charges do rods have (none. They aren't like those one trick wands or flashy exhaustible staves. Rods can go on and on and on. Yeah baby. Who's the daddy now then?
What's the encumbrance of a magic item (normally the same as a normal item of the same type)
What's the Xp value for monsters (calculate it using the table. It's easy enough. )
I don't understand why you need to keep track of time ( You're gonna have a tricky time getting on in life then, and get fired from jobs pretty damn often. Knowing who is where doing what when is vital for maintaining a consistent universe. This can not be stressed enough. Write it down, because it's less stress than trying to remember everything everyone has done and intends to do. )
What do you keep when you become undead or lycanthropic (DM's choice. What you don't get is to keep them as a PC. They're a monster now, raaar. )