20 February 2015

The Classic D&D Campaign Settings part 4: The Known World's Roots

Although the early incarnations of OD&D and Basic D&D (namely, the Holmes and Moldvay Basic Sets) included sample adventures and teasers for Greyhawk and Blackmoor, the Expert set (Cook edition) was the first to truly present a setting to set your adventures in. Cook's "Sample Wilderness" introduces us to the Grand Duchy of Karameikos for the first time, and includes notes on the folk, terrain and settlements of that region. That Expert rules set also included the adventure module X1: Isle of Dread, but we'll get back to that in a bit.

Prior to its publication, the Known World had existed as the home campaign world of Tom Moldvay and Lawrence Schick, and though their world map is strikingly different, many of the locales and names later included in the published Known World are instantly recognizable.  Lawrence Shick recently posted some background information and early maps from that era at the Black Gate website: http://www.blackgate.com/2015/02/07/the-known-world-dd-setting-a-secret-history/#more-95547

It's a great bit of nostalgia and trivia, and it would be possible to use Lawrence's maps with some of the later material to construct an alternate Known World setting, but that's left to individual fans with the time and desire. Let's get back to the Known World as published in the Classic D&D rulebooks.

With the relaunch of the Classic D&D with Frank Mentzer's BECMI series, it was once again the Expert set that really adds material to the Known World setting, though some of the background info in the Basic Set group adventure was later adopted into the setting. The Expert set once more delves into the Grand Duchy of Karameikos, this time showcasing the town of Threshold, a moderately sized city in the mountainous wilderlands of the region. This edition of the Expert set also included the X1: Isle of Dread adventure module, more on that later.

The BECMI series of rules sets continued with the Companion rules, and while there is not a lot of text devoted to the Known World therein, the inside back cover of the player's manual includes a drastically larger map of the world around the "Known World" region, and sets the framework for the fantasy multiverse in which the Known World exists. The net set in the series, the Master's rules, continues in the same vein, presenting the entire world map, and further developing the settings multiverse of planes. Likewise, the final rules set, the Immortals rules, contains a lot more material on the multiverse and the immortals (the Known World's "gods") that inhabit it.

The information contained in either Expert set is plenty for many DMs to start a great, long lasting campaign, and the expanded Companion and Master's world maps add a lot of places to develop a home game, most of which were never detailed in later material.

After the BECMI series, the Classic D&D rules were compiled into the Rules Cyclopedia, a great book that includes an entire chapter presenting the Known World as a ready to use campaign setting, with color maps of large areas of the world and enough information for extensive campaigns in the setting.

The later, black box "Classic D&D Game" Basic sets don't contain any material relevant to the Known World setting, though their sample adventure, Zanzer Tam's Dungeon, could be placed in any setting you wish. It's actually not surprising that all of the Basic D&D rules sets include no real setting information. The Basic game is about dungeon crawling, and the world beyond isn't really dealt with until the Expert level sets.

Some of the Basic level adventure modules do touch on the world around their dungeons, and many of adventures published for the game, at all levels of play, include material expanding the Known World. I'll go down the list, with a brief mention of what material is in each adventure, so you can tell which ones would interest you as Known World resources, not just adventures.

B3 Palace of the Silver Princess (TSR9044)
Look for the orange cover original version, as it includes a map and brief details on the Barony of Gulluvia, a province of the Principalities of Glantri.

B6 The Veiled Society (TSR9086) This adventure is set in the city of Specularum, capitol of the Grand Duchy of Specularum, and includes maps and details on locations in the city. Be aware that this early version of Specularum's maps differs considerably from the revised version seen in later products.

B10 Nights Dark Terror (TSR9149) This adventure explores many different locales in the Grand Duchy of Karameikos, including Threshold, Rifflian and Xitaqa, an ancient ruin.

B11 Kings Festival (TSR9260) Another adventure set in Karameikos, introducing the town of Stallanford. Note that the king referenced in the title is Halav I, a historical figure. In this adventure, Stefan Karameikos is still Grand Duke, not King. There's quite a bit of Karameikan history spread throughout this adventure, it's a great resource for that region of the setting.

B12 Queen's Harvest (TSR9261)
This module continues where B11 left off, and includes more information on the Stallanford region of Karameikos, including maps.

CM1 Test of the Warlords (TSR9117) This adventure expands the Known World setting northward, into the lands of Norwold, and includes maps and information on those lands.

CM2 Deaths Ride (TSR9118) This module continues exploration of the Norwold region, with a close look at the Barony of Twolakes vale.

CM7 The Tree of Life (TSR9166) The first half of this adventure takes place in the elven realm of Alfheim, and has some information on the land's locales and personalities.

CM9 Legacy of Blood (TSR9210)
An adventure set in the Republic of Darokin, including material on Darokin city and the town of Fenhold.

DA1 Adventures in Blackmoor (TSR9172)
DA2 Temple of the Frog (TSR9175)
DA3 City of the Gods (TSR9191)
DA4 The Duchy of Ten (TSR9205)
This series of adventures takes the Blackmoor setting, by D&D co-creator Dave Arneson and sets it explicitly in the northern realms of the Known World. A mini-setting in and of itself, the four volumes include plenty of maps and information on the history, personages and locales in Blackmoor.

DDA1 Arena of Thyatis (TSR9284) As the title implies, this adventure explores arena fighting in the capitol city of Thyatis, and includes a lot of information on the cities locales and people.

DDA2 Legion of Thyatis (TSR9296) Continuing on the DDA1 adventure, this one includes more material on Thyatis city, and a lot of information on the Thyatian army.

DDA3 Eye of Traldar (TSR9271) Set in Karameikos, this adventure features material on the Black Eagle Barony, Fort Doom and the town of Luln.

DDA4 The Dymrak Dread (TSR9272) Another adventure in Karameikos, exploring the Dymrak forest and its surroundings.

IM2 The Wrath of Olympus (TSR9189) This extraplanar romp starts off in the Republic of Darokin, and includes maps and a portal in the Republic's broken lands region leading to Mount Olympus.

M1 Into the Maelstrom (TSR9159)
Before venturing out into the planes, this adventure is set in and around Norwold, and includes maps of the coasts of Norworld and Alphatia, and the seas between them.

M2 Vengeance of Alphaks (TSR9148) Another adventure in Norwold, with more information on the history of those lands, and new color maps.

M4 Five Coins for a Kingdom (TSR9204) This module revolves around the city of Lighthall in Norworld, and includes some information on that city.

M5 Talons of Night (TSR9214) This adventure introduces the Isle of Dawn, a large region northeast of the Known World between Norworld and Alphatia, and includes details of that island and the history of Alphatia and Thyatis's efforts to conquer it.

02 Blade of Vengeance (TSR9108)
An adventure set in the Canolbarth forest region of Alfheim, including maps and details of that area.

X1 The Isle of Dread (TSR9043) I mentioned this adventure while running down the Expert Rules sets because both versions of those rules included X1 as their sample adventure module. Aside from a fun "lost world" style wilderness adventure, X1 includes a nice map of the Known World, including the Sea of Dread and the Island chains to the south. To supplement that map, there is a handy directory of all the Known World's nations, with a thumbnail description of each. Tanoroa village, and the others like it on the Isle of Dread itself is well detailed also.

X3 Curse of Xanathon (TSR9056) This urban adventure is set in the city of Rhoona, in Vestland, and serves as a great source of information on that city and the realms around it.

X4 Master of the Desert Nomads (TSR9068) The desert wilderness where this adventure is set is located west of the Republic of Darokin, providing details on those lands, and the western fringe of Darokin.

X5 Temple of Death (TSR9069)
Continuing the adventure in X4, this module ventures into the Black Mountains and the land of Hule, greatly expanding the Known World to the west of the X1 map.

X6 Quagmire (TSR9081) This adventure details the Wild Lands of the Serpent peninsula, the long strip of land at the southwest corner of the Known World.

X7 The War Rafts of Kron (TSR9079) The adventure in this module takes place mostly on the floor of the Sea of Dread, and details the locations found there.

X8 Drums of Fire Mountain (TSR9127) The Isle of TekiNuraRia, where this module takes place, is located in the Sea of Dread, southeast of Thyatis. The adventure details the island and its inhabitants.

X9 The Savage Coast (TSR9129) The Savage Coast is a big expansion of the Known World setting, far to the west of Hule and the Serpent peninsula.

X10 Red Arrow Black Shield (TSR9160) Combining elements of the Companion Rules War Machine mass combat system and the AD&D Battlesystem skirmish rules, this adventure pits the nations of the Known World against the Desert Nomads from X4 and X5, with details on the armies of all the nations, and some interesting maps.

X11 Saga of the Shadow Lord (TSR9165) This module introduces the realms of Wendar and Denagoth, just north of the Principalities of Glantri, with material on both regions.

X12 Skardas Mirror (TSR9188) The quest for the artifact this module is named for explores some more minor locales around Karameikos.

X13 Crown of Ancient Glory (TSR9218)
The background material for this adventure offers a lot of history and current events information for Vestland, and explores some new locales in that realm.

XSolo1 Lathans Gold (TSR9082) This solo adventure expands on X1 a bit, visiting some new locales around the Sea of Dread, including a nice map of trade routes among the coasts and islands of the Known World.

Beyond the rule books and adventure modules, the Known World blossomed into a complex and detailed world setting with the release of the D&D Gazetteers, each of which explored a different nation of the setting.

GAZ1 The Grand Duchy of KarameikosGAZ2 The Emirates of Ylaruam
GAZ3 The Principalities of Glantri
GAZ4 The Kingdom of Ierendi
GAZ5 The Elves of Alfheim
GAZ6 The Dwarves of Rockhome
GAZ7 The Northern Reaches
GAZ8 The Five Shires
GAZ9 The Minrothad Guilds
GAZ10 The Orcs of Thar
GAZ11 The Republic of Darokin
GAZ12 The Golden Khan of Ethengar
GAZ13 The Shadow Elves
GAZ14 The Atruaghin Clans

The Gazetteer boxed set, Dawn of the Emperors: Thyatis and Alphatia rounds out the Gazetteer series.

There's a few more Known World related products, but I'll save them for next time, where I'll also look at the products for the AD&D 2nd edition's Mystara setting, which is the Known World updated to the new AD&D rules.

14 February 2015

The Classic D&D Campaign Settings part 3: Gateways to the Known World

The Known World, later rebranded as Mystara, is a rather sprawling, large campaign, and choosing where to begin can be a little daunting to a DM or group just getting started. In this installments of the campaign settings overview, we'll look at two options that are ideal for those groups, or even for a DM who just wants a smaller scale map with some settlements and a wilderness in which to place his adventures.

The Thunder Rift
 Many Classic D&D players who got their start in the early 1990s cut their teeth on the Thunder Rift campaign, a small scale "world" made up of a large valley about 40 or 50 square miles in area. The Rift is home to a handful of settlements, as well as a fully mapped out wilderness with a few planned adventure locales and plenty of room for the DM to add his own. The trick is, Thunder Rift is a demi-plane of sorts; and though some fans have plotted a physical location in the known world for the valley, access between the realms is extremely limited to magical portals. The sheer, towering cliffs that form the valley's walls are impenetrable to mundane methods of escape.

Thunder Rift starts out with the Thunder Rift adventure and setting (TSR 9357) and continues with a short series of adventures that develop the encounter areas noted on the map in that book
Quest for the Silver Sword (TSR 9342)
Assault on Raven's Ruin (TSR 9350)
Sword and Shield (TSR 9387)
The Knight of Newts (TSR 9434)
Rage of the Rakasta (TSR 9435)
In the Phantom's Wake (TSR 9436)

Finally, DMR1 Dungeon Master's Screen (TSR 9437,black cover with green dragon art) include the mini-adventure Escape from Thunder Rift, which allows the heroes to venture out into the Grand Duchy of Karameikos (or wherever the DM wants to put them next).

The 1992 Character & Monster Assortment (TSR 9363) bears the now familiar Thunder Rift graphic presentation on its cover, but it's just a collection of fold up 3-d cardboard gaming miniatures and doesn't offer any new material for the Thunder Rift setting.

To those who just want to use the adventures but not the setting, the good news is that these are mostly generic adventures in the tradition of the other Basic D&D adventure modules, and adapt easily to wherever you want to place them.

To learn more and connect with Thunder Rift fans, be sure and visit the Thunder Rift section at The Piazza forums http://www.thepiazza.org.uk/bb/viewforum.php?f=45

The Barony of Gulluvia
Dungeon module B3: Palace of the Silver Princess exists in two published forms, the original orange covered version, and a revised edition with a green cover. The revised edition replaced some controversial artwork (that supposedly represented some TSR employees in an unflattering light) and more importantly, removed the setting map and a few encounters the PCs face on the way to the Palace. You'll want to get the orange cover version, which sadly fetches insane prices on ebay and online outlets if and when you can find it, but don't fret, for many years, TSR/WotC offered this adventure as a freebie pdf download on their website. Now lost on their site due to years of reorganizations, you should be able to easily find the file for download on google.

The Barony of Gulluvia is technically a part of the Principalities of Glantri, a nation of the Known World, but like the Thunder Rift, it features everything you need to run adventures with no further setting material, including settlements, wilderness areas and of course, the Princesses doomed Palace. If your player bore of the adventure hooks in the small barony, just send them out into Glantri and beyond into the Known World, which we'll examine next time.

11 February 2015

The Classic D&D Campaign Settings part 2

Moving along with our look at the campaign setting worlds for OD&D and Classic D&D gaming, we come to the "minor" settings, Pelinore and Averoigne.


Back in the 1980s, the UK boasted a robust community of D&D gamers, and Games Workshop (before they shifted their business model to focus solely on their miniatures wargames like Warhammer and Warhammer 40K) served as the official TSR affiliate there, but eventually TSR seemed to realize the vitality of the British (Irish, Scottish, et al, no offense to any UKers I excluded unintentionally) and European market and TSR UK was born.

The UK companion to Dragon and Dungeon magazines was Imagine; a publication that I honestly find superior in many ways to the Dragon issues of the same time frame. Imagine, and Games Workshop's White Dwarf magazine (again before it became the GW house Organ for WH and WH40k minis wargaming) represented UK gaming excellently, and though it's hard to put into words, there is a subtle yet profound difference between the UK and US approaches to the game. Both magazines are highly recommended by this author, if you can track down back issues.

Imagine covered all the TSR games of the time, with the expected focus on D&D and AD&D, and UK D&D players were treated to the unique campaign setting, Pelinore, which was developed through a series of articles and adventures in the magazine, somewhat similar to the support the Known World / Mystara was getting in Dragon with the Princess Ark and Known World Grimoire articles.

Though presented as a complete fantasy world, which is built on the flat earth model, the bulk of Pelinore's development focused on the settings primary metropolis, the City League. One article presented an overview and map of world, and late in the series the lands directly surrounding the City League were explored a bit, but by far, the city itself got the bulk of attention, due in no small part, no doubt, to the untimely death of the magazine as TSR UK was absorbed by the main company.

The beauty of Pelinore, having considered that most of the material was building a fantasy city from scratch, is that the City League can be easily ported into another setting, even with the local lands around it if you have a small region to fill up on your map. Another option is using ideas and material from Pelinore's City League to flesh out existing cities in your setting of choice.

Obviously, the best source of material for the Pelinore setting is back issues of Imagine magazine, but I'm not the first fan to admit that those can be hard to come by, especially on this side of the pond, so I point you to a fan compilation of the articles:

http://www.gyford.com/phil/writing/2008/12/22/pelinore.php  Phil Gyford's site, the easiest to access the document from. The document is floating around on quite a few websites, and I've seen differing attributions regarding the editor/compiler of it, but since I have no solid information otherwise, I'll accept Mr Gyford's claims, which you'll see on his site.
Although this document is, as I mentioned, well circulated around the web, and has apparently not invoked the wrath of WOTC's legal watchdogs, I cannot vouch for the technical legality of that compilation of copyrighted material from old TSR UK products, just bear that in mind if you download it.

For more information, and to chat with other fans of the Pelinore setting, check out the Pelinore Forum at the Piazza:

http://www.thepiazza.org.uk/bb/viewforum.php?f=71  The Piazza: Old D&D Worlds Forums - Pelinore Section

Clark Ashton Smith's Averoigne

If you've enjoyed adventure module X2: Castle Amber (aka Chateau D'Ambreville), you've dabbled in the fantasy realm of Averoigne, whether you realized it or not! That adventure, in which in the PC heroes explore a strange, seemingly haunted mansion which acts as a sort of planar gateway into the world of Averoigne; a fantasy realm inspired by real world historical France.

I'll be honest here, I've not read a lot of CA Smith's work, and I can't speak authoritatively on his worlds. I include Averoigne in this survey of settings mainly because it is a canonical D&D setting in the same way that a fantasy version of pre-Columbian MesoAmerica is thanks to AD&Ds adventure module C1: The Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan. Both adventures present a stand alone quest for the PCs that is inspired heavily by the material it is based on, and the authors of both products recommend further research and reading to DMs who want to create further adventures in those worlds.

To learn more about CA Smith and his fantasy writings and worlds, check out the following sites:

http://www.eldritchdark.com/ Eldritch Dark - The Sanctum of Clark Ashton Smith
http://www.blackgate.com The Averoigne Chronicles at the Black Gate fantasy fiction site.

Oh by the way:
Stocking the Dungeon has long been a member of the RPG Blog Alliance, a portal to a vast number of excellent gaming blogs. It was recently announced that when the domain name expires in April, the owner will, for various reasons, let it lapse and close the RPGBA site and feed services. You can read the announcement at http://rpgba.blogspot.com/ .

As a veteran member site of the RPGBA, Darva and I, your hosts here, would like to offer a 
hearty thank you to the RPGBA staff, for their contribution to the community and 
service to gaming bloggers! Join us in giving the staff a shout out on the comments 
of the RPGBA blog at the link above.

We will leave the link and network feed, found below (scroll down), active here
 until the RPGBA service goes silent in a couple months. Thanks again to the 
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10 February 2015

The Classic D&D Campaign Settings, part 1

Ask most people what setting comes to mind with Classic D&D and you'll probably get one of two answers, Mystara or Greyhawk. There's much more than those available though, from TSR and some 3rd party publishers of that era. Blackmoor, Pelinore, Thunder Rift, the Hollow World, etc. That's not even mentioning 3rd party settings like the Wilderlands by Judge's Guild. Let's take a brief look at the different offerings and see what's out there.

For the purposes of this short series of posts, I'm going to ignore settings that were never published in any form for Original or Classic D&D. This means that things like the Forgotten Realms and Dragonlance, which grew out of AD&D 1st edition, and later settings like Eberron and Golarion, for the D&D 3rd edition and Pathfinder RPGs will not be covered. A quick google search will turn up tons of info on those realms if you are interested.

I'll start with the "official" published settings from TSR. There's essentially 3 of them only 2 if you shoehorn Blackmoor into Mystara as TSR did, but counting Mystara's subsettings we have:
the Known World/Mystara
the Hollow World
Thunder Rift
and, almost nominally, Clark Ashton Smith's Averoigne, introduced in adventure module X2 but left to the DM to read more about to develop.

Since Hollow World and Thunder Rift are closely tied to Mystara, we'll save those three for last and start out with a quick look at Blackmoor, followed soon by the other realms. You'll also notice a setting initials icon with each entry, which we'll also use in the future to denote which setting, if any, an article post relates to.

Dave Arneson's Blackmoor
Blackmoor first saw print in OD&D supplement 2: Blackmoor with the Temple of the Frog sample adventure therein. Although there wasn't much detail about the world beyond, there's enough to pique the interest of players.

Prior to publication Blackmoor played a huge role in the development of the game itself, serving as the campaign setting for the evolving skirmish wargames Dave was running, incorporating and modifying Gygax & Perrin's Chainmail rules to form the foundation of what would become the Dungeons & Dragons game.

Unfortunately Dave's association with TSR didn't last long after the game was published and the only further material published by them for Blackmoor was the DA series of adventure modules:
DA1: Adventures in Blackmoor
DA2: Temple of the Frog
DA3: City of the Gods
DA4: The Duchy of Ten

These adventures saw Blackmoor added to the Mystara setting, far to the north of the Known World realms, but in reality, they work just fine, or even better, as a setting of their own, especially if you dig a bit and find the non-TSR Blackmoor material Dave developed later.

After parting ways with TSR, Dave coauthored Adventures in Fantasy with Richard Snider in 1979, published by Ecaliber Games, a fantasy RPG that in my opinion shares much of the theme and tone of D&D Supplement 2, but it was 1977's First Fantasy Campaign, a setting sourcebook published by Judge's Guild that really brought Blackmoor to the masses as a whole setting for the first time. If you can find a copy of this gem, there is really no better example of an old school game campaign. As a bonus, like most of JG's material, FFC is presented in a generic fantasy rule system that easily converts to D&D rules. Barring that, in 2004, Zeitgeist Games & Goodman Games brought Blackmoor back as a setting for the D&D 3e/D20 System with a beautiful hardback book that revisits and expands the setting nicely, it's a great addition to any old school library, just ignore the game system.

To me, the lure of Blackmoor is its quirky mix of sci-fi technology and fantasy. If you've enjoyed the Final Fantasy series of computer/console rpgs, you might well like the similar feel of Blackmoor. Dave was also never afraid to not take the setting too seriously, and bits of light hearted silliness actually work well to keep the setting fresh and long lived.

For further information and material on Blackmoor, check out these sites:

The official site of the late Professor Arneson. Lots of cool info and history on Dave's various gaming projects and career, including Blackmoor, and a host of links to other resources.

Havard Faanes is the undisputed master sage of Blackmoor lore online, and his blog is a great starting point and contact center for anyone wanting to learn more about the seting or about Dave's role in the origins of the D&D game. A must read.

17 July 2014

The Differences in Adventure Design Philosophy in Old and New School D&D

It occurred to me tonight, while going over some old Judges Guild stuff (Druids of Doom in particular caused the muse to get her act together and turn a vague idea into something concrete) that I have seen the biggest difference in design approach between Old School and New School/Modern adventure design for RPGs, D&D to be specific. TSR modules had some of the same qualities, but the stuff by 3rd parties like Judges Guild, Mayfair Games and the non-TSR magazines and fanzines really showcase it. 

There's two aspects to the difference:

1. The adventure module works with the game's rules, but is not a slave to them. Old school adventures constantly introduced new, wacky and unique monsters, traps, treasures and encounter ideas in general that had not been done before and really had no precedent in the rules. Sometimes the writer explained how to adjudicate the situation, other times the DM was left to figure out a resolution on her own, but either way, the writer was not afraid to test the limits of the rules, and go beyond them when it made for a fun adventure.

2. The old school adventure writers expected you, the DM, to change their adventure! Many of the scenarios were location based, or "sand box" as the guys in the OSR crowd say today, with a bare bones assumed plot or theme to get the party started and keep them moving in the right direction. A few of the published adventures even came 'un-stocked', ostensibly to teach the fledgling DM how to create and run an adventure, but also allowing the experienced DM to make the scenario her own, tailored to the campaign and party. Many of the adventure booklets, especially the ones by Judges Guild, even have copious space throughout them that is set aside for the DM's notes! No current modern adventure product I know of, except maybe some of the OSR retroclone support products, dare do this.

So, while it doesn't answer the whole question, I now have an answer when people ask me what I consider Old School gaming to be.

Gary and Dave, and the early industry they created, were more than welcoming of house rules, variants and "DM fiat", outside of tournament play, which is one of the primary reasons we got D&D and AD&D. AD&D was the fleshed out, official tournament version, D&D was the barebones 'tweak it to your heart's content' version.

Modern designers, whether of rules or adventures, feel the need to account for every possibility and railroad play into a defined set of rules that can handle anything. A recent rant I commented on lamented the "breaking" of a game by house ruling it, or pushing it to the limits of min/max powergaming.

To an old school player, that is not a problem at all, but rather it's half the fun!