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M1 Blizzard Pass (Basic)
by Jean-Sebastien D. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 07/01/2020 10:52:22

For collectors only.

I grabbed this module because I was feeling nostalgic of D&D BECMI edition and wanted a solo game. I had just played the solo scenario that is part of the Basic (red) player's guide and was expecting something deeper and longer. To be completly honest, you will have a lot more fun playing a Choose Your Own Adventure book!

It's extremely short. You can die after reading 3 paragraphs or reach the end after reading 20ish paragraphs. The map is so simple it doesn't really require you to draw one.

It is meant for a Thief of level 1 to 3. Made the wrong choice? 3 damage! That kills most Thief level 1. Lock picking, stealth, detect traps and such abilities are not even resolved using % rolls, but by picking "invisible" numbers (that were originally revealed with the magic pen).

I'm giving 2 stars because there is at least a section at the end of the module to run this mini-dungeon multi-player. Could fill a game night.



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
M1 Blizzard Pass (Basic)
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One Grung Above (5e)
by Randall S. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 06/30/2020 11:38:42

While it was super awesome to have Grungs introduced, there wasn't anything amazing about this document. The first page is an intro to Grungs, then an advertisement for a Stream. A few NPCs are introduced and that is it, no adventure hooks, no basic Grung village map, not even a page on Grung hierarchy and culture. On top of that, it does not make the Grung an offical playable race. It's fun, but it should have been around $2.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
One Grung Above (5e)
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D&D Immortals Set (BECMI ed.) (Basic)
by Timothy B. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 06/29/2020 16:15:00

Originally Posted here: http://theotherside.timsbrannan.com/2020/06/becmi-immortals-set-review.html

D&D Immortals Set (1986)

I am reviewing both my rather beat up and water damaged version of the Immortal set (I only have the book, not the box) and the PDFs from DriveThruRPG.

A couple of notes. The set now lists Frank Mentzer as Author. No mention of Dave Arneson nor Gary Gygax here. The year is 1986 and Gygax had been removed from TSR the previous October. Frank had been very closely allied with Gary so his time at TSR was also going to come to an end soon. The Immortals rules and the module The Immortal Storm would be his last books for the company. This had two rather obvious impacts on these rule books. First, the art that had been getting more sparse with each set now hits an all-time low. No in quality mind you! But in terms of amount. There is just not that much art in these books.
Secondly, it also meant that the company focused more on its perceived cash cow, the AD&D line. Gary had been talking about the AD&D 2nd Edition game, but now that project was turned over to Dave "Zeb" Cook of the B/X Expert Set rules. Others have played the conjecture game of what might have been, so I will not go into that here. What I will say though is it left Frank and the BECMI line alone for the Immortals set to go into some very weird directions.

If BECMI is the ultimate update of the OD&D rules, then the Immortals rules cover part of what Eldritch Wizardry and Gods, Demi-gods & Heroes.

Players' Guide to Immortals 32 pages, color covers, black & white art. Your character, now 36th level and has pretty much done everything from dungeons to the planes hears the call to become an Immortal! Certainly, this was the goal of those quests and battles. Immortality. But now the game, both actually and metaphorically, has changed. Just like when you moved from Jr. High/Middle school or Grade school to High School you go from being the most powerful of mortal kind, to the least powerful of the immortals. This book covers how your character now becomes an Immortal. There are five spheres, four of which characters can access, detailed here. These are the same spheres that have been hinted at since the Companion set and introduced in the Masters set; Matter, Energy, Though, Time, and Entropy. characters choose one of the first four usually corresponding to the class they had in life; Fighter, Magic-User, Thief, and Cleric respectively. Experience points gained will alive now become PowerPoints on a 10k to 1 basis. We get our first hints at a proto-point buy system in D&D here since PowerPoints can be spent. Now the Initiate Immortal can begin to do some Immortal things. PowerPoints are used for a lot of things, but mostly for magical or spell-like effects. Your sphere will determine which ones you can do easily and which ones are harder. There are a lot of interesting rule changes along the way. AC is now Ascending for Immortals; so Immortal AC 20 is the same as mortal AC of -20. AC 0 is the same. Ability scores can be raised. First to a max of 25 (the AD&D max of the time) but also all the way to 100!
In a lot of ways the PP mechanic is similar to what we see in other Point Buy systems used for super heroes. It makes sense really.
Though for all of it's detail there is very little information on what an Immortal should do. Right now they seem, at best, super-powered mortal characters. There is some implicit ideas, but nothing spelled out yet.

DM's Guide to Immortals 64 pages, color covers, black & white art. The DM's book spends some time covering the planes of existence. While a lot on specific planes is left vague, there is a lot of details on how planes are designed. The artwork and some of the notes appear as if the author and artists were checking on what the AD&D team was doing "down the hall" there is a unique feel to the BECMI multi-verse. A lot of emphasis is given on "doing it yourself" including room for the DM to pencil in their own % for monsters occurring. There is a bit more here about the planes, in particular the Prime plane. We learn that the Known World doesn't just look like Earth from 150 Million Years ago, it IS Earth from then. This explains the map a bit better. We also learn that this Earth is the predecessor to our lands. Though, in the spirit of everything else in the book, this can be changed. The Solar system is the same, save for a few notable differences. Mercury and Pluto are not in their orbits yet and between Mars and Jupiter where the asteroid belt is there is a planet called Damocles. Fitting named for a doomed planet but doesn't fit with the names of the Roman Olympians. Damocles will be destroyed and the two largest pieces will fly off to become Mercury and Pluto. Imaginative to be sure! But Mercury is only 35 million miles and Pluto is closer to 3 billion miles from the sun. The asteroid belt is roughly 300 million miles from the sun. So Damocles is not really in the middle of that. No big deal, this is D&D not Astronomy. I DO however love the idea of a doomed planet in the current or future asteroid belt. Maybe a MiGo outpost or something like that. I want to talk more about the Known World/Earth a little more in just a bit. Plus there is one more bit of information I want to collect. It would be interesting to compare and contrast the multiplanuar mechanics and rules here with the various Manual of the Planes. This is followed by the Immortal Campaign. Or, what do Immortals do? There are some ideas given but for the number of rules on immortal characters and planes you would expect some more to be honest. Our "Monsters" section is now called "Creatures" since they "cannot be adequately called monsters." All these monsters...creatures now have expanded stat blocks to cover their immortal statuses.
One of the first things I noticed were the inclusion of demons to roster of D&D BECMI monsters. I am not sure why this surprised me since these are the same demons from Eldritch Wizardry. Well...same in name but these demons got a serious upgrade. Let's compare. A Succubus in AD&D is a 6+6 HD creature (average hp 33), her physical attacks are not great, but her kiss drains 2 life energy levels. In BECMI a Whispering Demon has 15* HD and 70 hp! Oh and her AC is -6. Orcus and Demogorgon have 39 and 40 HD with 620 and 660 hp respectively! Yikes! We do get some art of them.

In addition to being able to summon other demons Orcus and Demogorgon can summon Gargantua.

We get more inhabitants of the nightmare dimension like the Diabolus which are...checking the description...well they basically tieflings. And they can take any human class. So all the Grognards out there complaining about "monster races" have no ground to stand on. Here are the rules from 1986. The Dragon Rulers are updated to Immortal stats and so are some of the elemental rulers. There is the Megalith and it is ... WHAT??? More on that in a bit! A few more creatures and some, ok a lot, of tables on magic.

Crisis on Infinite Urts So there are a couple of new-to-me bombshells in the Immortal rules. First, the world of the PCs, aka the Known World is Earth of 150 mya. Secondly, this Earth is in actuality a creature known as a Megalith ("big rock") and it is known to the Immortals as "Urt." It's tucked away in two different places, but this is a revelation really. The Known World as living planet known as Urt. Imagine what the "Mystara" line might have been about had this thought continued? No Hollow World to be sure. Frank Mentzer pretty left TSR soon after this and the Immortal Storm were complete, so we never really got to see what his ultimate vision was. We do know that Gygax considered his Oerth and later Aerth for his Dangerous Journeys to all be alternates of Earth. Aerth was a little more on the nose about it. Frank was set to design parts of Oerth a few years back, but that project fell through. It might have been the closest we would have seen to a fleshed-out Urt.
At some point between 1986 and 1991 (the publication of the D&D Rules Cyclopedia) the world of Urt became Mystara.

So here at the end of all things what can I say about the Immortals rules? It is an inconsistent set of rules to be sure. There are a lot of really interesting ideas connected together with bits of fluff that may, or may not, work well. The concepts of Immortals is a compelling one and D&D would come back to it in big ways at least two more times with Wrath of the Immortals and Dungeons & Dragons Fourth Edition where Immortally was the goal after 30th level.

Still. One can be impressed with the scope of the rules and how it caps off a set of rules that began in 1983 but has roots going back to 1977 and to the dawn of D&D. For that reason, it gets a few points more than it might have gotten on its own.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
D&D Immortals Set (BECMI ed.) (Basic)
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Return to the Glory (5e)
by A customer [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 06/25/2020 22:16:43

As already stated required a little bit of work to be done by the DM, but if you enjoy adding flavour to adventures you can certainly make this a memorable one for your characters. And your money is going to a good place.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Return to the Glory (5e)
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M1 Into the Maelstrom (Basic)
by Timothy B. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 06/25/2020 13:24:38

Originally posted here: http://theotherside.timsbrannan.com/2020/06/review-m1-into-maelstrom-becmi.html

M1 Into the Maelstrom is really a fantastic adventure for the D&D Master's Set that realizes that set's potential. It is also a great lead-in to not just the Immortals Set coming up, but also the future of the Mystara-line and even pre-sages Spelljammer and the adventures of the 90s. Additionally, and somewhat forgotten, this book introduces us to our first named Immortals and introduces demons to BECMI.

In some ways, I do wish I had read M1 before I had picked up M3. I had picked both modules up around 10-13 years ago while looking for a good epic level adventure for my kids then D&D 3.x game. They were into the epic levels of D&D 3, with the lowest level at 24 and the highest at 29. They were on this huge campaign against what they thought was the machinations of Tiamat. M1 was very good choice since I love the idea of flying ships (D&D should be FANTASTIC after all) but the base plot didn't work for the adventure in mind. M3, along with some other material, worked rather perfectly. Plus I can't deny that the Carnifex played a huge role. So M3 went on the table and M1 went back on the shelves.

There is a lot going on here. Let's get into it.

For this review, I am going to consider my original print module and the PDF from DriveThruRPG. There is a Print on Demand version as well, but I do not have it.

M1 Into the Maelstrom By Bruce and Beatrice Heard. 32 pages, color covers, black & white interior. Cover art by Jeff Easley, interior art by Valerie Valusek and maps by Dave "Diesel" LaForce. Into the Maelstrom deals with the machinations of three Immortals, Koryis (Law), Vanya (Neutral) and Alphaks (Chaos), and are featured on the cover. Alphaks is our focus here. He is the focus of the next few adventures and is one of the "Big Bads" of the later BECMI and Mystara lines. He was the ancient Emperor of Alphatia AND he is the first demon we see by the name demon in any BECMI book to my knowledge. He is a "Roaring Demon" or what 1st Edition calls a Type VI or Balor demon. We won't learn more about them till the Immortal set, but here they are. Demons in Basic D&D.

Our adventure starts in the Known World. We bring back King Ericall of Norwold and he needs the characters to investigate the source of some poisonous winds coming from the north between Norwold and the Island Empire of Alphatia (to the east). The poisonous fog/winds are the result of Alphaks trying to reenter the world via a two-way portal from the Sphere of Death (call back to Death's Ride!)

The three immortals are essentially playing a game. Alphaks wants into the world, Koryis doesn't want him in and Vanya is going to side with the winner. As the adventure progresses each immortal will earn points for the actions, successes and/or failures of the PCs. The DM keeps track. The PCs can also gain curses or boons as the adventure continues.

So another new addition is the "Sea Machine" or water-based battles as an addition to the War Machine. Pretty nice bonus add if you ask me.

The first part of the adventure goes pretty normal. That is until the seagoing vessels encounter the titular maelstrom. The PCs are sucked into the swirling vortex of death and spit out into a starry void with air they can breathe! How's that for adventure?

Here this becomes a proto-Spelljamming adventure, there are several locations (Islands) that the PCs can stop at, but each has their own unique set of hazards.

The PCs must navigate, in all senses of the word, the machinations of these three immortals. There is even a giant battle with a navy of the dead controlled by Alphaks.

In addition to the new monster stats (the Roaring Demon), there are PC/NPC stats in back for characters to use in the adventure.

So for the first time, we get a BECMI adventure into the other planes. Here the characters get a chance to travel the outer planes via a flying ship and even dip a toe into the Astral plane.
Depending on the outcome the characters can also be set on the path to Immortality.

This adventure is "bigger on the inside" as has been described. There is a lot here that can be expanded on to a near-infinite degree. With a ship that can transverse the planes a good argument could be made about even returning to the Known World and Norwold.

Let's also take a moment and talk about Diesel LaForce's maps. These things are works of art really. I am not sure how as a DM you can look at them and NOT want to run this adventure. "Dimensional Guide to the Star Kingdoms?" Hell yeah!

Into the Maelstrom, along with the other modules in the M series work not just as a Master's level set of adventures, but also our introduction to plane hopping and dealing with immortals in the D&D game. Compared to the same treatments in AD&D, such as the H Series, the M series is more subtle in it's approach. The H series is largely about kicking in doors, killing monsters and taking their stuff. Only in the H series, the doors are planes, the monsters are gods and demons and their stuff are artifacts.

Going back to the beginning, if I had known more about the arc (let's call it the "Norwold Saga") then all of these adventures do tie into all the others in a nice, dare I say it, Adventure Path. Maybe that is something that WotC could do to reintroduce Mystara is give us this for 5e rules.

Keep in mind that this "Adventure Path" or even meta plot was alive and well in the mid-80s. Long before the 90s that this sort of gaming is most associated with. I might have to explore this idea further.

In the meantime, M1 Into the Maelstorm stands out as not only a great adventure, but a groundbreaking one in many ways.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
M1 Into the Maelstrom (Basic)
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Ghosts of Dragonspear Castle (D&D Next)
by Greg T. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 06/24/2020 00:50:10

An instant classic of the Forgotten Realms, easily converted to 5E.

Ghosts of Dragonspear Castle is a complete campaign for the DnD Next Playtest rules (the precursor playtest of 5E). In addition to a sprawling campaign made up of four mini-adventures, you also get a complete copy of the DnD Next rules as they existed at the time of this adventure's release. This makes it a must-have for DnD historians or collectors.

The campaign is great on its own merits, especially as an "intro" campaign for new players. It provides a well fleshed-out home base (Daggerford) and a variety of quite different dungeons around it that make good use of NPCs, wilderness travel, varied combats, and traps and environmental puzzles. Your adventures variously take you to a classic "lair" style dungeon themed around lizardfolk; a "crazy wizard crypt" full of magical puzzles; a mutli-level "living dungeon" that can be solved in any order, using either combat or diplomacy; and finally a set-piece staged boss battle. It's got more variety than many official hardbacks, and is a great sampler of what DnD has to offer.

In addition, it's filled with unique, attractive art, including portraits for NPC characters, full-colour maps, and incidental images.

For DnD grognards, you'll love that the campaign is an explicit homage to the classic adventures "Under Illefarn" and "Hordes of Dragonspear Castle", and contains fun references to both - through the lens of a Forgotten Realms that's marched on 100 years. For those who care more about the 5E era, it's worth noting that this adventure introduces multiple plot threads that are continued and paid off in the Tyranny of Dragons hardbacks, including Sir Isteval, Alagarthas, the green dragon Chuuth, the Red Wizards, and the town of Daggerford itself. It also has themes that are echoed later in Princes of the Apocalypse.

Converting the adventure to 5E is a breeze. All monsters in the module appear in the eventual 5E Monster Manual, and in almost all instances you can just use the Monster Manual stats. A few monsters got a power boost in the final rules - notably the vampires and behir that appear in the final part of the adventure - and a good DM should probably swap these out for replacements to avoid unfairly wiping the party. (The vampires are easily changeable to "vampire spawn". The behir needs a substantial edit of its stats, or to be replaced with another monster entirely.)

You may also need to pay attention to skill checks, as not all of those listed line up with the final 5E skill list and recommended difficulties, but this should be trivial for an experienced GM.

Print on Demand edition: The POD version of Ghosts of Dragonspear Castle is as good as you could hope for from a DM's Guild softcover hardcopy. It's largely in line with the best of DM's Guild's POD products. The interior is clear and high res, while still a little less crisp than a professional publication. The paper is quite high-gauge, making the book itself fairly thick. The cover is a full-wrap, with authentic colour and titling on the spine. It's perfect-bound, and the binding appears strong. The cover is made of relatively thin card stock - more than adequate as a cover, but not tough enough to take much of a beating. The layout is appropriate to the book dimensions, and there are none of the awkward gutter-loss or orientation issues that appear in some other DM's Guild PODs.

For collectors, I should say that no one is going to mistake this product for the original Wizards release. The content is identical but the final product looks quite different. This is a product for someone who wants to use it, or have it on their shelf for reference, not for someone who wants to own the original book as published by Wizards.

After running the entire campaign over some months, my copy of the book is still in good condition and looks fine on a shelf, so I certify it as 100% suitable for actual use.

Note: For the sake of clarity, this product does NOT include Scourge of the Sword Coast (available separately from DM's Guild) or Dead In Thay (at this stage not available for sale anywhere, although the second half of it was reprinted in Tales from the Yawning Portal).



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Ghosts of Dragonspear Castle (D&D Next)
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DDEX2-12 Dark Rites at Fort Dalton (5e)
by Greg T. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 06/24/2020 00:17:31

Attempted brevity leaves little actual content.

Dark Rites at Fort Dalton is written to be played in two hours or less. That's a tough goal for a 5E adventure, and the module suffers for it at every turn. There's barely a complete adventure here, and what little you do get is generic, linear and stale.

"As all good adventurers do, the party has accepted the role of bandit hunter." That's a direct quote, and it sets the tone for what follows. If you've played a Season 2 AL module, you've seen all this before, most specifically in The Drowned Tower. There's an isolated location, water cultists, water-themed monsters. Everything is by the numbers. There's "exploration", but it's meaningless. There's a quick social chat before each fight, but they're mostly just to set the tactical position that each fight starts in.

For a module that's effectively just three boring combats, it's worth mentioning that no maps are included in the module. There's no battlemaps or exploration maps, despite some of the locations in the module being keyed to numbers. The locations are small and generic enough that it really doesn't matter, but it's another sign of a module that ends up feeling rushed and incomplete. An included Fantasy Grounds conversion presumably has some maps, but as I don't use FG I can't comment on that aspect.

If you're playing through all of Season 2 Adventurer's League, this adventure just begs to be skipped. There's nothing here you haven't done before, and better, and nothing that happens here matters to the overall season plot.

I can't recommend it.

Note: If you're an actual Adventurer's League player, this adventure has a nice item - the Sentinel Shield - but if you're playing crappy adventures just to power up your AL character then I have to say that you're doing Dungeons and Dragons wrong. (Opinions! I've got lots of them!)



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
DDEX2-12 Dark Rites at Fort Dalton (5e)
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DDEX2-11 Oubliette of Fort Iron (5e)
by Greg T. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 06/24/2020 00:01:41

A silly adventure that makes little sense and is at least blessedly short.

Oubliette of Fort Iron begins with the party climbing into the anus of a giant monster, and doesn't improve thereafter. Nothing about this adventure makes much sense - it's a handful of quite disparate encounters thrown together without rhyme or reason.

For those playing the entire Season 2 of Adventurer's League, this adventure is especially disappointing. It's yet another voyage to solve Mulmaster's mining woes - after the vastly superior Mayhem in the Earthspur Mines - and ties into the overall plot of the season so poorly that the eventual inevitable appearance of an Earth Cultist feels shoehorned in. Adventure hooks originating in Mulmaster that ask the players to do favours for NPCs they've previously met don't line up with the actual content of the adventure, whereas the only "native" hook relies on the players being motivated solely by gold.

The fact it's a level 1 to 2 adventure means I should also note it's a terrible first adventure for new players. Two of the three "pillars of play" - social and exploration - are completely absent. It's a linear march through a series of unavoidable combat encounters and environmental puzzles. Don't run this for newbies, lest they never come back.

Is there anything good about it? Well, it comes with plenty of maps, and it's probably the only Adventurer's League module I've seen which can actually be played start-to-finish in two hours without any stress. So there's that.

I can't recommend it.



Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
DDEX2-11 Oubliette of Fort Iron (5e)
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D&D Master Set (BECMI ed.) (Basic)
by Timothy B. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 06/22/2020 13:42:22

Originally posted here: http://theotherside.timsbrannan.com/2020/06/becmi-master-set-review.html

Moving every up we are now at the apex of BECMI D&d Play for normal characters. The journey that began at level 1 in the Basic set is now seeing its end at levels 26 to 36 in the Master Set.

This particular set was never on my radar and I only picked one up a couple years ago. The box was beaten up and the contents were water damaged, but still readable. The box also had an extra copy of the Immortal rules inside, so that was a nice bonus. But this has always been something an "other" for me and my D&D game.

Today I look into these rules for the first time in detail.

The Master set covers levels 26-36, following right from the Companion rules. I am going to say that in my reading of both sets I am convinced really that they likely should have been combined into a single set of rules. Big set to be sure, but the overlap is often very significant.

D&D Master Set (1985)

As with the previous BECMI Sets, I am reviewing both my boxed set and the PDFs available from DriveThruRPG.

The Master Players' Book

This book is the smaller of the two at 32 pages. Color covers, black & white interiors.

There are some interesting things to note on page 1. First, we are told this is the Dungeons & Dragons game by Gary Gygax. Dave Arneson is no longer listed. Also, this book is "compiled by" Frank Mentzer as opposed to "written by." I am not going to try to read too much into this. Writing on the book was complete in Spring 1985. It would be published that summer in July but it would soon be eclipsed in sales by the Unearthed Arcana for AD&D which had sold well. Though in 3-4 months it would all change and Gygax would be ousted from TSR. But that is a topic for another day.

Like the previous books, this one covers all the details needed for characters up to the vaulted 36th level. Clerics and Magic-users see the most text devoted to them. Clerics gain additional turning abilities which include more monsters and the ability to affect more monsters. They also get more spells but still top out at 7th level. More druid spells are also presented here. Magic-users also get more spells including the most abused spell in D&D history, Wish. Again they top out at 9th level spells. Even clerics get access to Wish if they are 36th level and have a wisdom of 18 or greater. Magic-users also get Heal. Which I admit seems a little odd to me.

Fighters get half of a column or 1/6 of a page for their updates. Thieves get a page. Dwarves, Elves, and Halfling get a page to share. There are some new armor options, but the biggest inclusion is that of Weapon Mastery. This mimics the Weapon Proficiency we will see in the Unearthed Arcana and future editions of D&D. Essentially fighters are better with a chosen weapon. while I have heard and read that this can lead to fighters becoming too powerful at early levels, I don't think this is really a big deal. I like the idea that a fighter should be able to train with a weapon exclusively and become better at it.

We get expanded weapon and damage charts to include all the weapons that have been added since the Basic set. Plus some Pole-arms (maybe Frank was looking over Gary's shoulder a few times!) There is even a section on siege weapons that can be used with the War Machine rules. So a lot yes, but nothing that really screams Masters to me. A lot of what is here could have been added to the Companion rules for a 48 page Player's book.

The Master DM's Book

This is the larger at 64 pages. Color covers, black & white interiors.

One of the neatest bit of this book is finally getting a map of the Known World. It is so great that I am going to devote an entire post just to that later this week.

Like the books before it, this section is given over to Procedures first. First up is a ruling on Ant-Magic Effects. Good to have really for any version of the game. some detail on characters are also given including Character Background. It is 1985 after all. A couple of other things stand out. We get our first taste of the Immortal rules here with the introduction of the idea of Immortals as the "next level up."

Monsters get an upgrade here with expanded to hit tables; Creatures to 33+ HD and Armor Classes from 19 (yes +19) to -20. But that is not all. Monsters also get an average Intelligence rating. All creatures from all four sets are covered. Along with this intelligence rating, there is an optional change to charm based on intelligence. It's neat, but I would rule that intelligence has no effect at all on charm magic. No that is the realm of Wisdom. In my copy I would cross out "Intelligence" and replace it with "Wisdom."

Included here for some reason is also the Mystic class. Expect it is not really presented as a full class. It is not the Mystic that Gygax was talking about in Dragon magazine, but rather a different version of the AD&D monk. It appears again in the Monster section.

Another update to monsters, in particular, non-human monsters are spell casting monsters. Dragons are discussed, but we also get the Shaman NPC class (Clerics) and the Wicca NPC class (Magic-Users). There are some interesting ideas here and some level limits for a large variety of monsters. I am curious as to why Frank choose "Wicca." I am sure that the meaning here is "witch" and that is not just my biases. If you look back over the various BECMI books Wicca, Witch, and Wokani get used failry interchangeably. I discussed this in a recent Class Struggles post.

On the other end of the spectrum from Immortals, we also get Undead Liege Lords and how they can control lesser undead. Also useful for any version of the game.

The next big section of the book belongs to the Monsters. Like the Companion Set this one is broken up into Prime Plane creatures and outer plane creatures.

Here we get some very new looking monsters that would only later move on to the main AD&D/D&D lines. We also get what I like to call BECMI versions of some others. The Devilfish is essentially an Ixitxachitl. Blackballs remind me of Xeg-yi. We do get new Dragons in name, Crystal, Onyx, Jade, Ruby, Sapphire and Brown. But they share stats with dragons we already know. We also get the four rulers of the Dragon kind, Pearl, Opal, Diamond and the Great Dragon. There are Drakes which are not exactly like the Drakes of later D&D and closer to shapeshifters. These could even pass for the elusive Mystaran Dragonborn.

We also get Faeries, Hags and Liches to round out what I consider some of the classical monsters.

Part 3 of the monsters listing includes stats from all sorts of B/X and BECMI monsters published elsewhere (other rules, modules) and then brought into the fold of the full BECMI rules. So even the oddities like Brain Collectors and Lupins from X2 Castle Amber are here.

The last 20 pages of the rules cover magical artifacts; something we have not seen in BECMI to any degree yet. There are detailed rules for artifact creation and a number of new artifacts. Many I have never seen before and none copied over from the AD&D DMG.

In fact, there is so much here that I am going to cover it all in a future post.

There are only a few "normal" magic items listed at the end.

Ok. So the Masters Rules feel very uneven to me after the Companion Rules. I could see where it might have been better to instead take both sets and merge them into one and maybe top out at 25th or 30th level really. We will see that re-organization in the future.

Fighters went from getting all the new fun details to nearly nothing in going from Companion to Masters. Clerics and Magic-users get more spells, but that is about it. Thieves suffer the most for now having to have their abilities amortized over 36 levels.

There are some great new monsters in the Master's rules, very few save for the various "rulers" even have Master's level HD (26+).

The artifacts though are great and really gives a feel for what a Master's Level game could be about.

The art feels lighter in this set than the previous ones. The only Elmore art is the cover.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
D&D Master Set (BECMI ed.) (Basic)
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Elemental Evil Player’s Companion (5e)
by Christopher W. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 06/22/2020 08:29:47

I've allowed my PCs to incorporate your extended spell loists into my campaign as they advance levels and are able to garner new spells - they (and I) love the new choices, especially the Druid! Fantastic!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Elemental Evil Player’s Companion (5e)
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DDEX2-10 Cloaks and Shadows (5e)
by Kristy C. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 06/20/2020 22:53:03

My players LOVED this.. they tend to enjoy RP and the combat that was scattered in. Because it was about giving them a chance to explore new high level characters , and new subclases, they had a lot of fun with it. After this module, I followed it up with a level 10 combat heavy module so that they could also explore the battle-abilities.

It's hard to find one-shot modules that include opportunities for role play and different options, without feeling too linear. And this was perfect for us.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
DDEX2-10 Cloaks and Shadows (5e)
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CM2 Death's Ride (Basic)
by Timothy B. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 06/18/2020 09:16:14

Originally Posted here: http://theotherside.timsbrannan.com/2020/06/retrospective-review-and-refit-cm2.html

Ah. Death's Ride. I have such fond memories of this adventure.

CM2 Death's Ride: Retrospective

Death's Ride is one of a few adventures I have had the privilege to both play in and to run. While overtly for the D&D Basic rules, Companion set, it can be run (and we did) under AD&D. Though some of the special features were lost I think.

I bought this module and gave it to my DM to run back in the day and I ran it using the 3.x version of the D&D rules and then again most recently using the 5th Edition rules.

The Barony of Two Lakes Vale gave us ample room to move about and try different things, but then it was the NPCs that captured my attention the most. Ulslime, Wazor, and Korbundar lived on in my games for many more years with both Ulsime and Korbundar even threatening my players in the 3rd Ed. game. One, and I am not sure if he was an NPC in the game or one my DM made up, went on to torture my characters for many more adventures after this.

The Death Portal was an interesting bit of necromantic trickery to get the players something to focus on and the new monsters were a lot of fun (the Death Leech nearly took out my characters back in the 80s.)

But before I wax too much more into nostalgia, let's review this adventure proper.

CM2 Death's Ride: Review

by Garry Spiegle, art by Jeff Easley, 32 pages, color covers, black & white interior art. I am reviewing both the DriveThruRPG PDF and my original copy from 1984.

Death's Ride is one of our first Companion level adventures. The code for this series in CM, since C was already taken. Both CM1 Test of the Warlords (with it's Warduke-like cover) and CM2 Death's Ride were designed to be introductions to Companion level play. Both were supposedly designed to work with each other, both being set in Norwold. However, they really don't work together other than this thin thread of Norwold. That does not detract from its enjoyment.

The basic premise is this. The adventurers, already powerful and famous in their own right, are summoned to the Barony of Twolakes Vale by King Ericall of Norwold (Background on King Ericall is given in Companion adventure CM1.) The local baron, Sir Maltus Fharo, has sent no taxes, caravans, or messages in several months. A small body of troops sent by the king to investigate has not returned. At this time, Ericall doesn't have the resources to send a large body of troops, so he is asking the characters to go to the barony, find out what's wrong, and if possible, restore contact. The king gives the characters a royal warrant and permission to act in his name.

The problem is much worse than the King suspects. A gateway to the “Sphere of Death” has been opened in Two Lakes Vale. It's up to the characters to determine who or what opened the gate. They must also close the gate forever. The characters should not actually enter the Sphere of Death in this adventure; their goal is to close the gate. Twolakes Vale holds only an inflow portal from the sphere. Consider any character who actually reaches the Sphere of Death as killed (or at least removed from the campaign until other characters can launch a formal rescue operation).

Here they will encounter death, destruction and our three main Antagonists. Wazor an "Atlantean Mage", Ulslime a cleric of "Death" and our cover boy Korbundar the huge blue dragon. No, the skeleton riding him does not appear anywhere in this adventure. Nor does the lake of fire.

The adventure proceeds on a location-based adventure. The characters move from location to location in the Twolakes Vale, which is described well except for where it is exactly in Norwold, finding clues, fighting enemies. Until the final confrontation and destruction of the artifact (the "deathstone") opening the Sphere of Death. Of course, you need another artifact to do that.

The NPCs are very detailed and out trio of bad-guys are so much fun that both Ulslime and Korbundar were made into semi-permanent NPCs of note in my games. It got to the point where my kids would be like "Is that Korbundar!!" anytime a blue dragon was used in a game.

The other issue with this adventure, and one that was lost on me until recently, is that is doesn't really fully feel like something from the Companion Set. It has been described, by most notably by Jonathan Becker at B/X Blackrazor, that this adventure really runs like a high-level Expert set adventure. A wilderness hex with various points within the hex that need to be investigated.

There are some of the new monsters in the adventure, but when I played it and ran through it we substituted the monsters from AD&D/D&D3 as the case required. There are Wrestling Ratings to the monsters and a chance to raise an army, but nothing about domains or ruling kingdoms.

Of course, this would all come later on in the CM adventures, so I guess that is not too big of a deal.

Calling it a "High-level dungeon crawl" or "High-level Expert Set Adventure" is fair, but it leaves out a lot of what made this particular adventure so much fun. I still have my original copy of this and it holds up well. So despite the criticisms of it as a "Companion Adventure", it is still a very fun "D&D Adventure" and one that holds up.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
CM2 Death's Ride (Basic)
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D&D Companion Set (BECMI Ed.) (Basic)
by Timothy B. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 06/16/2020 12:06:04

Originally posted here: http://theotherside.timsbrannan.com/2020/06/becmi-companion-set-review.html

I don't think it is too much to say that the Companion Set contains some of the most interesting changes and updates to the D&D than any other product TSR had published to date. I will talk more about these in the review, but first a look back.

I had eagerly awaited the Companion set for D&D ever since I got my Expert Set. That is, by B/X Moldvay/Cook Basic and Expert Set.

The Companion Set, as promised by the Expert Set rules, mentions that characters will now go to 36th level and there will be a way to cure undead level drain! Such promises. Such hope!

Though it was not to be and the B/X line stopped there, only to be "rebooted" in 1983 with the BECMI line, though we were not calling it that back then.

By the time the Companion did come out I had moved on to AD&D. I no longer had any interest in the Companion rules having discovered the world could also have Assassins, half-orcs, and 9 alignments.

I did manage to read it once. I was in college and it was at Castle Perilous Games in Carbondale. Of course, at the time AD&D 2nd Ed was the new hotness and I had no desire to look backward. What I saw though at the time did not impress me. I think the entire Mentzer set at the time (AT THE TIME mind you) made me think of it as D&D for little kids (now I see it differently).

Looking back now I see I made a BIG MISTAKE. Well...maybe. I mean I would not have traded my AD&D time for anything, but I do wish I had given the BECMI rules more of a chance.

Now I can fix that.

Today I am going to cover the BECMI Companion Rules. I am going to cover both the DriveThruRPG PDFs and my recently acquired box set.

The Companion Set follows the rules as presented in the BECMI Basic and Expert books. But unlike those books, the Companion Rules sets off into uncharted directions and gives us some new material.

While the claim can be made that Frank Mentzer only edited and organized the Basic and Expert rules based on previous editions, the Companion set is all his. While there may be some influences from earlier editions such as Greyhawk (with it's 22nd level cap [wizards] and some monsters) and AD&D (some monsters and the multiverse) this really feels new.

Companion Player's Book 1 The player's book is 32 pages with color covers and black & white interiors. Art by Larry Elmore and Jeff Easley. Opening this book we get a preface with a dedication to Brian Blume. A nice touch and yeah he is often forgotten in the tale of D&D's earliest years. The preface also firmly situates us in time. We 10 years out from when D&D was first published. The design goals of this book, and consequently this series, have never been more firmly stated. This is an introduction to the D&D game and designed to be fun, playable, and true to the spirit of D&D. It certainly feels like this is the successor to the Original D&D game; maybe more so than AD&D. One page in and we are off to a great start.

The title and table of contents page tell us that this game is now "by" Frank Mentzer, based on D&D by Gygax and Arneson. As we move into the book proper we get a feel for the "changing game." Characters are more powerful and once difficult threats are no more than a nuisance or exercise. The characters are ready to take their place among the rulers of the world. This makes explicit something I always felt AD&D only played lip service to.

We get some new weapons that have different sorts of effects like knocking out an opponent or entangling them. We also get some unarmed combat rules. Now, these feel they really should have been added to the Basic or Expert rule sets. Maybe they were but were cut for space or time.

Up next is Stronghold management from the point of view of the player characters. Again here D&D continues its unwritten objective of being educational as well as fun. More on this in the DM's book.

Character Classes Finally, about 11 pages in we get to the Character updates. Here all the human character classes get tables that go to level 25; again maybe a nod to Greyhawk's level 20-22 caps, and caps of 7th level spells (clerics) and 9th level spell (magic-users). Clerics get more spells and spell levels. The big upgrade comes in the form of their expanded undead turning table. Clerics up to 25th level and monsters up to Liches and Special. This mimics the AD&D Clerics table; I'd have to look at them side by side to see and differences. One difference that comes up right away is the increase in undead monsters. There are phantoms, haunts, spirits, and nightshades. Nightshades, Liches, and Special will be detailed in the Master Set.

Something that is big pops up in the cleric listing. A Neutral cleric of level 9 or higher may choose to become a Druid! Druids only resemble their AD&D counterparts in superficial ways. They have similar spells, but the BECMI Druid cannot change shape. It is an interesting implementation of the class and one I'll discuss more in a bit.

Arguably it is fighters that get the biggest boost in the Companion Set. They gain the ability to have multiple attacks per round now and other combat maneuvers such as smashing, pairing and disarming. This is a big deal since they got so little in the Expert set. Fighters can also "specialize" into three paths depending on alignment. There are Knights, Paladins, and Avengers. Each type gives the fighter something a little extra. Paladins are not very far off from their AD&D counterparts and Avengers are as close to an Anti-Paladin as D&D will get until we get to the Blackguards.

Conversely, Magic-users do not get as much save from greater spells. We do get the restriction that any spell maxes out 20dX damage.

Thieves can now become Guildmasters or Rogues. A name that will come up more and more with future editions of D&D.

BECMI "Prestige Classes?" The Druid, Knight, Avenger, Paladin, and to a lesser degree the Magist and Rogues represent what could arguably be called the first Prestige Classes to D&D. Their inclusion predates the publication of the Theif-Acrobat in the AD&D Unearthed Arcana. Prestige Classes are classes that one can take after meeting certain requirements in other "base" classes in D&D 3.x and Pathfinder. Often at 10th level, but can occur anytime the character meets the requirements. This concept is later carried on into D&D 4 with their "Paragon Paths" (chosen at 11th level) and even into D&D 5 with their subclasses (chosen at 2nd level). The BECMI Avenger and Paladin are the best examples of these working just like the Prestige Classes will in 15 more years. This is interesting since it also means other classes can be added to the basic 4 core ones using the same system. An easy example is the Theif-Acrobat from UA or even the Ranger from AD&D. Though here the problem lies in the alignment system. Rangers are supposed to be "good" for example.

Demi-Humans Demi-humans may not advance any more in level, but they are not idle. This is also the area of the Companion Set that I most often go wrong. Each demi-human race has a Clan Relic and some demi-humans could be in charge of these clan relics, making them very powerful. There are also clan rulers and they are also detailed. What does all that mean? It means there is a good in-game reason why demi-humans do not advance in levels anymore. They are much more dedicated to their clans than humans. So after a time it is expected that they will return home to take up their responsibilities to the clan.

That is not to say that these characters do not advance anymore. Each demi-human race can still gain "Attack Ranks" as if they are still leveling up. They don't gain any more HP, but they can attack as if they are higher-level fighters. They also gain some of the fighter's combat options. Each class gets 11 such rank-levels. It seems to split some hairs on "no more levels" but whatever.

We end with a map of the expanding Known World. This is the continent of Brun of Mystara, but we don't know that yet. But I will discuss that later this week.

This book is a lot more than I expected it to be and that is a good thing.

Companion DM's Book 2 The DM's book is 64 pages with color covers and black & white interiors. Art by Larry Elmore and Jeff Easley. There is a lot to this book. First, we get to some General Guidelines that cover the higher levels of play and planning adventures accordingly. There is sadly not a lot here. We follow up with Part 2: The Fantasy World. This continues some of the discussion of stronghold management and dominion management as well. Now here is quite a bit of good information on what happens, or could happen, in a dominion. This section also includes the hidden secret of the D&D BECMI series. The War Machine Mass Combat system.

War Machine Around the same time TSR was also developing the BattleSystem Mass Combat system. The two are largely incompatible with each other. I always thought it was odd that two systems that do essentially the same things were created and incompatible with each other. Later I learned that D&D BECMI lived in what we like to call a "walled garden" in the business. It was out there doing it's own thing while the "real business" of AD&D was going on. The problem was that D&D Basic was outselling AD&D at this point. This was not the first time that TSR would woefully misunderstand their customers and sadly not the last time either. War Machine has an elegance about it when compared to BattleSystem. I am not saying it is simple, but the work involved is not difficult and I am happy to say it looks like it will work with any edition of D&D.

The Multiverse A big part of any D&D experience is the Multiverse. This section allows the DMs and Players to dip their toes into the wider Multiverse which includes the Ethereal Plane and the Elemental Planes.

Space is also given to the discussion on aging, damage to magic items, demi-human crafts, poison, and more. We also get all of our character tables.

Monsters About halfway through the book, we get to the section of monsters. A lot of familiar AD&D faces are now here, though a bit of digging will show that many of these are also from OD&D up to the Greyhawk supplement. Most notable are the beholder, larger dragons, druids (as a monster), and many elemental types. Monsters are split into Prime Plane and Other Planes. Among the monsters featured are the aforementioned Beholder, larger Dragons, and bunches of new Undead like haunts, druj, ghosts and more. A few that caught my attention are the Gargantua (gigantic monsters) and Malfera. The Malfera REALLY caught my attention since they are from the "Dimension of Nightmares." More fodder for my Mystara-Ravenloft connection. Monsters from the Other Planes focus on the Elemental planes.

Treasure Lots of new treasure and magic items.

Adventures There are three short adventure or adventure hooks for companion level characters.

All in all the Companion Set is full and had many things I did not think it had given my very casual relationship to it over the years. Reading it now and in-depth for the very first time I see there is a lot I could have used in my games back then.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
D&D Companion Set (BECMI Ed.) (Basic)
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Wayfinder's Guide to Eberron (5e)
by Rob K. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 06/15/2020 08:24:05

This was great before Rising from the Last War was released. They updated this book with the absolutely awful rule changes from Rising, most of which I simply cannot stand. If earlier versions of this file are made available I'll change my review back to 5 stars, but for now my suggestion is to stay away from this version and try to find a previous version somewhere else on the internet.



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[1 of 5 Stars!]
Wayfinder's Guide to Eberron (5e)
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OD&D Dungeons & Dragons Original Edition (0e)
by Edward A. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 06/14/2020 01:18:20

You guys already know how good an idea this was to bring this book back to life. What a great rendition of a classic piece of nerd history. Thank you for bringing us this book in two formats! Can't wait to run my next adventure!



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[5 of 5 Stars!]
OD&D Dungeons & Dragons Original Edition (0e)
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