The word is out that next D&D book/campaign setting is going to be Ravenloft and I could not be more pleased!
What do we know so far?
It will be released on May 18th, 2021 and it has both the normal and game store exclusive covers. I have already preordered both.
Thirty Domains of Dread will be detailed. These include Lamordia, Dementlieu (both from the original 2nd Ed set), Kalakeri (new), and Falkovnia (revised).
Likewise, we are getting old, new, and revised Darklords. One that seems to be causing a stir is Dr. Viktra Mordenheim and her creation Alyss. Not sure if she is a genderswapped Viktor, a daughter or something else. I mean, lets be honest, even Hammer did the wives and daughters of all their great movies. Ravenloft can too.
Gothic Horror will be covered as well as more traditional "ghost" stories, psychological horror, dark fantasy, and D&D's own brand of cosmic horror. Which is good, I love all that Far Realm stuff.
While the book is called "Van Richten's Guide" the eponymous Van Righten disappeared before he could complete his last volume "Van Richten's Guide to Witches." So I am expecting, and am promised, new monster hunters to carry on his legacy. Our cover girl appears to be Ezmerelda d’Avenir, one of the newer vampire hunters in Barovia.
There are two new sub-classes, College of Spirits Bard and the Undead Pact Warlock.
For lineages, there are dhampir, hexblood, or reborn characters, which offer vampire, hag, and undead lineages, respectively.
Characters can also get "dark gifts" to aid them in their fights...or to help them become the monster they truly want to be.
There will be 40 pages on monsters; some new and some familiar ones. I am expecting to see a Brain in the Jar myself.
And a new adventure. A new take on the House of Lament.
It also sounds like they have a wide variety of voices and inputs on this which is great; horror is a universal concept. Many are horror authors. I while I do love my Gothic Horror, I also love all horror. I am looking forward to seeing the Vistani become something more than an uncomfortable stereotype.
So folks are complaining about the "loss" of Falkovnia, but's let's be honest here. Falkovnia and Vlad Drakov were nothing more than the "leftovers" after Barovia and Strahd mined all the Dracula lore. I never even used it much back in the 2e days and I am certainly not missing it now. Falkovnia is now a zombie apocalypse land and I think that works better to be honest. We didn't really have one of those.
Sithicus may or may not show up, but Lord Soth certainly won't. Also not a surprise really. Those rights were a tangled mess anyway.
I am rather looking forward to this book. Ravenloft was MY game for all of 2nd Ed AD&D and college. I bought every campaign book, adventure, and yes even novel I could get my hands on. I was contributing to the Kargatane official netbooks of Ravenloft material. My 2nd Ed AD&D is Ravenloft; I don't separate the two.
My only question is do I put this on my D&D5 shelf, my horror shelf, or my Ravenloft shelf?
Well. Not actually, but I am considering completely redoing all the Outer Planes in my D&D-like games, and the lower planes in particular.
My goal here is to restructure it is such a way that it works better for me and what I am doing in my games, and yet still be compatible enough with other iterations of the game, de that original game, OSR, or other OGL sources, that I can grab something off the shelf and make it work.
Over the years I have talked about Hell, the Abyss, and other places such as Xibalba, Tartarus, and Tehom. Pathfinder has added some of these realms into OGC, or rather have made SRD connections to Public Domain names (like Abaddon).
I would also like to work in places like Sheol as well and homes for all the demon species I have been working on.
Hell of the D&D universe is much more akin to the ideas of Hell from Greek myths, Dante, and Milton than it is from Judeo-Christian sources. There are some ideas here from other myths as well.
According to Dante, the main named devil in Hell is Lucifer/Satan. He also mentions Geryon and names 12 individual Malebranche devils ("evil-claws") on Hell's eighth level, called here Malbolge.
According to Milton, the main devils are Beelzebub, Belial, Mammon, Moloch, and Satan. But on his way to Hell, possibly when he passes through Night and Chaos, are Orcus, Demogorgon, and Hades.
One of the first things I need to do is at least come up with some names for the Nine Circles / Nine Layers of Hell. At least most people agree on nine.Layer Name (D&D) Name (Pathfinder) Name (Dante)* Deadly Sin (Dante) 1 Avernus Avernus Limbo Virtuous Pagans 2 Dis Dis
Lust 3 Minauros Erebus
Gluttony 4 Phlegethos Phlegethon
Greed 5 Stygia Stygia City of Dis Wrath 6 Malebolge Malebolge
Heresy 7 Maladomini Cocytus
Violence 8 Caina Caina Malebolge Fraud 9 Nessus Nessus Pandæmonium* Treachery
I can't use the "D&D Column" with an OGL/OGC book, but the "Pathfinder" one is fine. Well. It is fine, but lacks something for me. For now though I am going to use these.
*City of Pandæmonium
From Milton (Not Dante). This is the great city in the lowest circle of Hell. I am certainly going to use this.
Once I get my layers worked out I'll need to figure out who rules them. The current (and some former) rulers are here. Using D&D layer names.Layer Name Archdevil Deadly Sin (Mine) 1 Avernus Druaga/Tiamat/Bel/Zariel * 2 Dis Dispater Envy 3 Minauros Mammon Greed 4 Phlegethos Belial/Fierna Sloth 5 Stygia Geryon/Levistus Wrath 6 Malbolge Beherit/Moloch/Malagard/Glasya Lust 7 Maladomini Baalzebul/Beelzebub Gluttony 8 Cainia Mephistopheles Pride 9 Nessus Asmodeus *
I do like the idea of aligning Lord/Layer with a Deadly Sin.
Now, not all of these Archdevils are OGC, and frankly I would rather use one of the Ars Goetia demons as the rulers. In other cases, I am making changes. Tiamat is a Chaotic Evil "Eodemon" in my games. Geryon is also now a "rage demon." Druaga, or maybe now just Druj, will also be something else.
At the moment I have about 650 demons and devils detailed for my Basic Bestiary II but none are sorted or detailed beyond basic descriptions. I need to start figuring out who "lives" where.
Here is a monster that has been rummaging around in the back of my mind for a while now. I have renewed my search for this creature thanks to getting all caught up on the new "Nancy Drew" series which has a solid supernatural vibe to it.
The word seems to come from Beowulf, but there is a lot of debate over what it means exactly.
We can go to the root word, āglāc, which can mean distress, torment, or misery. It later derived the Middle-English word egleche meaning warlike or brave. The Dictionary of Old English describes it as an awesome opponent, a ferocious fighter. There is so much confusion and speculation on this word there is even a recent Master's Thesis on it, Robinson, Danielle, "The Schizophrenic Warrior: Exploring Aglæca in the Old English Corpus." Thesis, Georgia State University, 2015.
Given the Beowulf connection, I did look to the troll connection; I always thought of Grendel as some sort of troll. But I have already done a Troll-wife (a type of hag) and a Trolla (a type of troll witch). There also seems to be a demonic or even diabolic association with this creature. But I have also already done demonic trolls. Given the Old-English and Middle-English sources of the word I even thought that something along the lines of a proto-hag might work, but I have done those as well in the Ur-hag.
Robinson details some comments from Tolkien on his reading of Beowulf and spends time talking about the monster (and true to her thesis, the noble warriors) that appear in the poem.
Both Grendel and his mother are described as aglæca. While I like to think of Grendel as a troll and his mother as more of a troll-wife, maybe there is more to it.
Grendel by Joseph Ratcliffe Skelton
Frequency: Very Rare
Number Appearing: 1 (1)
Alignment: Chaotic [Chaotic Evil]
Movement: 180' (60') [18"]
Armor Class: 4 
Hit Dice: 8d8**+16 (52 hp)
HD (Large): 8d10**+16 (60 hp)
Attacks: claw, claw, bite
Damage: 1d6+4 x2, 1d8+4
Special: Cause fear, magic required to hit, regenerate 1 hp per round, infravision, sunlight sensitivity.
Save: Monster 8
Morale: 12 (12)
Treasure Hoard Class: XIX [D] x2
XP: 1,750 (OSE) 1,840 (LL)
The aglæca is a large humanoid creature that appears to be something of a mix of both ogre and troll. It is blue-ish grey in color with patches of dark blue that are the color of bruises. It smells of rotting meat, decay, and the sea. Its long muscular arms end in large hands with great claws. Its mouth has large fangs and tusks and maybe most disturbingly, its eyes burn with a fierce intelligence.
It is believed to be a descendant of the great giants and Jötunns of the north and the ancestor to the more common ogre and troll. Some scholars speculate that there is a bit of demonic blood in this creature, or even something more evil and primal.
The aglæca causes fear (as per the magic-user spell cause fear) to any that sees it. It will use this power to fearlessly attack opponents. It will use its claws and bite in an attack. While it is intelligent and knows the value of weapons in combat, its berserker-like fury will cause it to abandon weapons in favor of its own hands. The aglæca will take anything it kills back to their caves to eat. Their preferred food is humans followed by elves, halflings, and dwarves.
Only magic weapons or magic can hit it and it can regenerate 1 hp per round. The aglæca prefers to fight at night or in the dark. It attacks at -1 in light and at -2 in bright sunlight. Aglæca speaks the local languages and giant. They are fearless in battle.
The origins of the aglæca are a mystery. It is speculated that they are very, very old creatures. Thankfully they are very rare and getting rarer to find all the time.
Grendel's Mother by Joseph Ratcliffe Skelton
Frequency: Very Rare
Number Appearing: 1 (1)
Alignment: Chaotic [Lawful Evil]
Movement: 180' (60') [18"]
Swim: 180' (60') [18"]
Armor Class: 4 
Hit Dice: 6d8**+12 (39 hp)
Attacks: claw, claw, bite
Damage: 1d6+3 x2, 1d8+3
Special: Cause fear, magic required to hit, regenerate 1 hp per round, infravision, witch magic.
Save: Monster 6
Morale: 12 (12)
Treasure Hoard Class: XIX [D] x2
XP: 1,250 (OSE) 1,280 (LL)
The aglæc-wif is the smaller female of the aglæca species. It is conjectured that there may in fact be larger female aglæca that are not aglæc-wif and the aglæc-wif might be another related creature. So far the only aglæc-wif that have been recorded have been a pair with a larger aglæca.
Like the aglæca, the aglæc-wif appears to be related to the troll and/or ogres. They also are quite intelligent and while they are perfectly happy to murder and eat any human they see, they are not just ravenous monsters. The aglæc-wif also possesses the infravision of the aglæca but is not hampered by light or sunlight. Also, like the aglæca, these creatures feed on humanoids, but they prefer humans to all other forms of food.
An aglæc-wif can attack with claws and bite like the aglæca, but she is also capable of using spells as a 4th level witch of the faerie, sea, or winter traditions. Their preferred spells are charm-based. Any magic that provided protection from or special damage to Sea Hags is also effective on an aglæc-wif.
It is speculated that like a troll-wife the aglæc-wif can join a covey of hags as a third hag. Though none have ever been reported as doing so.
It's been a bit since I did a Friday Night Videos, but maybe it's the dark of winter that has my mood looking to some new music from some of my favorite women-fronted bands. And while we are at it let's make this a #FollowFriday too! Follow them all and don't forget to buy their songs, albums, or whatever they have. People have been saying "we don't need artists during this quarantine" and to that I say bullshit! Artists have kept me living in all of this. We need them more than ever.
Let's get into it!
Up first is a favorite of The Other Side, Arden Leigh.
Arden fronted the band Arden and the Wolves. Now she has a new project she is doing Prospertine. Which consists of her and Jeremy Bastard. Their first single is Home.
You can follow her, The Wolves, and Prospertine on the web at:
Arden and the wolves
Another favorite here is the sister group Neoni. Their newest song Notorious is now out. It has a serious Lorde vibe and I mean that is the best possible way.
Neoni also gave Fandom the gift of covering "Carry On (Wayward Son)" for the Supernatural Series Finale. For this alone they have earned a solid place in geekdom.
You can find and follow Neoni at:
Taylor Momsen of The Pretty Reckless has been putting out some great music for while now. Their newest album, Death by Rock and Roll has a lot of great songs on it. Personal, Taylor is getting better with each album and I have to admit I am pleased she quit acting to do this full time.
Witches Burn grabbed my attention right away.
It's going to be interesting to see where she is in a few years because I think she is just getting better with each album.
Find The Pretty Reckless here:
Speaking of getting better.
Confession time. When they first came out I really didn't care for Evanescence. I mean I recognized that Amy Lee had a powerful voice, but they never connected with me really. Fast forward a few years and I am listening to her doing duets and singing background on other artists' songs and I am just impressed with her. I think she is a better singer now than she was 20 years ago. Here is Evanescence's most recent one and as a bonus Lzzy Hale is singing backup.
You can find Evanescence on the web here:
Check them all out!
I do not own all of these games, nor am I planning to hunt them all down. My FLGS has a few of them but I have other things on my list to find and buy first. That being said having them all would be kind of fun.
There were eight total games and I own the first four, the same four that appeared in the 1981 Gateway to Adventure catalog. The links below take you to their Board Game Geek pages.
Vampyre, my first one. This is for 2-6 players. Players hunt the minions of Dracula in an attempt to find and destroy his coffins. There is a "wilderness" map and a map of Castle Dracula. Designed by Philip A. Shreffler. Art by Erol Otus.
Revolt on Antares. This game is for 2-4 players and is a "Sword and Planet" style adventure with three modes of play. Typical this boils down to the Terran Empire being the antagonists, protagonists, or neutral. Designed by Tom Moldvay and art by Bill Willingham and Erol Otus. Black Dougal makes an appearance here as well. Also listed for art are Jeff Dee (cover), David LaForce, and Jim Roslof
They've Invaded Pleasantville. For 2 players, a "Town" player and an "Alien" player. Aliens have invaded Pleasantville as part of their global takeover plan. The town player must either stop or kill the alien sub-commander "Zebu-Lon" (wait a minute...) or get more than half of the townsfolk back to normal. Designed by Michael Price with art by Erol Otus, Jeff Dee, David LaForce, Jim Roslof, and Bill Willingham.
SAGA. For 2-6 players. Players amass treasure, lands, and glory. The one that has the most glory at the end of 20 rounds wins. Designed by Steve Marsh with art by Erol Otus, Jeff Dee, David LaForce, Jim Roslof, and Bill Willingham. Willingham's cover is one of the best and this also features some great Erol Otus art.Minigames, the Gateway to Adventure!
All the games feature a 16-page booklet with black and white art and a fold-out map. Sometimes full color (Saga, Pleasantville, Antares) or two-color (Vampyre). Vampyre is also the only one with the maps printed on both sides. Each game also came with counters and two d6s.
They are all certainly playable and fun on their own. I had a lot of fun with Vampyre back in the day. But that is not why we are here today. No today I am going to dip a toe a little bit into my Traveller Envy and mix these with my current D&D games. Let me start out with my old favorite and one I have used as an adventure in the past.
Minigames as B/X Adventures
There is a lot to love about these little games. The Souvenir font really hits that nostalgia button hard for fans of the Moldvay/Cook Basic and Expert sets. Not to mention some of the best-looking Erol Otus art. This troll not only belongs in D&D, but he is BEGGING to be in D&D.Erol Otus Troll from SAGA
Maybe it is the font, maybe it is the art but when I got these games the first thing I wanted to do was play them as part of my D&D games. Of course, back then that meant Basic and Expert D&D. Some of it also came from the desire to get the most out of my purchase with my limited paper route money.
My first minigame. Now I am a HUGE Dracula and vampire fan so when I got the Cook/Marsh Expert Set and saw that there were vampires in it my first thoughts went to vampire hunts. My first character was a cleric for this very reason. The game Vampyre is set during the events of the novel Dracula with the same (or rather similar) characters. So set in the 1890s. Since Ravenloft Masque of the Red Death was still a decade and a half away, I converted this to a simple Expert D&D monster hunt. If I were to redo it I'd up the threat of Dracula. In Expert, I made him a Greater Vampire.Vampire chic, circa 1981
The dual map, a "wilderness" and a "dungeon" again BEG to be used in the Expert game. The parallels between this game and the Ravenloft adventure. No surprise since both draw from the exact same source materials. The trick the next time I use this is to make it less like Ravenloft.
This is the next piece of "low hanging fruit." Like Dungeon! the connections to D&D are obvious here. SAGA has heroes fighting monsters, exploring, gaining treasure. Sounds D&D like to me! There is a nice little Risk-like map of the Viking world. This includes all of England, Denmark, and some of Sweden, Norway, and Ireland. The map also had "Thule" about in the place where Iceland would be expected (and to the map's odd scale). The map is also just great to look at.
Outside of the troll featured above the monsters include Dragons, Drow (not just dark elves), Ghosts, Giants, and Witches! I am happy to see that witches are the next more dangerous creature after dragons. The game has some fun spells and magical runes with simple effects and some named magical swords.
While there are no dungeons in this game it is full of ideas.
This got me thinking about how Vampyre and SAGA could work together. In SAGA you travel from mainland Europe to England for treasure and glory. In Dracula, the last act is the heroes traveling from England back to mainland Europe to hunt the monster. Maybe with something like Draugr & Draculas as the connective tissue the mini-campaign can be changed from one of just glory to one of monster hunting across the continent to stop the master vampire. Call it Vampyre Saga. Hmm. That sounds a little bit like a supernatural teen show on the CW. I'll play with it a bit.
The next two are a little hard to fit in.
They Invaded Pleasantville
The premise of this game is great and recalls 50s alien invasion movies. But as Carl Sagan pointed out in The Demon-Haunted World today's alien abductions were yesteryear's demon possessions. So swap out the aliens for demons and now this sleepy Midwestern town is a village in the Realms where demons are running rampant. Stop the Alien Sub-CommanderDemonic Lord.
Revolt on Antares
This game is a fun Sword & Planet game, but remove it from it's setting it is a fairly generic "Us vs. Them" game of rebellion and oppressors. Sure there are a lot of ways I could use this, but it gets it further and further away from its basic premise. Maybe it would make for a good Star Frontiers game.
In any case, there is a lot more fun to be had here.
I was debating on whether or not to remark to the latest (and maybe the last) of the ongoing drama with Joss Whedon, but I think at least a summary and retrospective might be in order. Besides one of the reasons of for the existence of this blog was due to the earlier incarnation of The Other Side getting hacked all the time by Whedon fanboys because they did not like my message then. So. Here we are nearly 20 years later.
First, let's start with the most recent news. On February 10th Charisma Carpenter took to Twitter to talk about how she had been treated by Whedon while filming her last season of Angel. While widely known to many people in the fan community at the time, this tweet was a revelation to many. Among the other issues were asking her if she would get an abortion to accommodate the Angel shooting schedule and storyline. What followed was a tsunami of posts from fellow actors and people associated with Buffy, Angel, and Firefly.
- Charisma's Tweet (2/10)
- Amber's Tweet (2/10)
- Clare Kramer's Tweet (2/10)
- Ray Fisher's response (2/10)
- Christopher Golden (2/10)
- Sarah Michelle Gellar's Instagram post (2/11)
- Michelle Trachtenberg's response to SMG with more details (2/11)
- Anthony Head (2/11)
- Eliza Dushku (2/11)
- J. August Richards (2/11)
- James C. Leary (2/11)
- James Marsters (2/11)
- Jose Molina (Firefly writer) (2/11)
- Marti Noxon (2/12)
- David Boreanaz (2/14). He also mentions that he has sent her his support in private.
- Julie Benz (2/14)
The question that some are asking is why is this all trending now versus 18 years ago? Or why are the actors all coming out now as opposed to then?
Well, keep in mind that a lot of the actors and people involved DID come out with these allegations. I remember talking online about it at the time, in particular, Charisma Carpenter's firing because she got pregnant (which is illegal by the way). What is different?
First, the actors above have the advantage of a more robust social media infrastructure. They can get their message out to more, quicker. Cases in point all the Tweets and Instagram posts above.
Second, there was the MeToo movement which shifted the lens of belief from the auteurs to the actresses. There are countless stories of Kubrick, Hitchcock, and of course Weinstein but that all changed in the last few years when such behavior would no longer be tolerated. This gave Ray Fisher a chance to speak out about how he was treated on the set of Justice League. Cases in point were the comments made by Kai Cole, Whedon's ex-wife on The Wrap. This was also one of the reasons that Stunt Coordinator Jeff Pruitt And Stuntwoman Sophia Crawford shared their story yet again and that James Marsters felt he could share his story as well.
I mentioned Jeff Pruitt and Sophia Crawford above with a "yet again" they shared this story before. Back in 2000. It was detailed by Jeff, quasi-anonymously, in his "The Parabal (sic) of a Knight." He is the Knight, Sophia is the Handmaiden and the Young Prince who becomes King is Whedon. It is also fairly negative to SMG, but that is not what I talking about today. While he had to hide this in a story, the Buffy fandom at the time dismissed all of Jeff's and Sophia's claims. It only took 20 years before the fandom took them at their word.
Related to that is my third point. The fandom that revered and protect Whedon is largely gone. Back in 2003 or so, Whedon was on the top of his world. Any complaint would have been drowned out by the screaming fans that worshipped him. Case in point. Anytime I would post something to my older version of The Other Side my host would get attacked. It got so bad that between 2005 to 2009 there was no "Other Side" on the web. I created this blog since I figured Blogspot/Google would be better protected. Of course by that time I had decided to move on.
People talk about "toxic fandom" and how it can be directed in a negative way at creators. One facet they don't mention is how un-checked praise and even worship of creators can also be damaging to others that are trying to warn us about those creatives. Woody Hall, Harvey Weinstein, Stanley Kubrick, Quentin Tarantino, and yes Whedon all built their cult of personality and auteur status. These same cults also shielded them from scrutiny.
The "Big Question" everyone is asking is "Why now?"
As I mentioned above the climate has changed. These actors are no longer in a place where Whedon can damage their career. They have moved on to other things. Charisma has roles, SMG is living the stay-at-home mom dream she has always wanted (and her husband Freddie Prinze Jr. is doing great), Amber has books out and has been behind the camera more than in front of it. So the control he once had on their lives is not there. The fan network has largely gone away as well.
Also, and this can not be stated too many times, other people do not have to conform to your timeline of healing. Michelle Trachtenberg said it took her years to even come to terms with it. Eliza Dushku only talked about the sexual abuse she suffered at age 12 three years ago. Michelle Trachtenberg mentions that it took her till she was a woman of 35 to deal with things that happened to her as a teenager of 15. I know others he has been involved with as well. The gaslighting he has done to them still bothers (enrages) them. You don't get to dictate how others heal.
The question also comes up of why didn't others speak up or stop it. Well, I think I covered that, the ones that did were blacklisted and deemed "difficult to work with." You also have actors like Anthony Head and Amy Acker that said they did not see this abuse but support the others all the same. Again, it can't be said too many times but abusers work by targeting those they know they can abuse and get away with it. Bullies always pick on those weaker than themselves. In terms of the power structure, everyone was weaker than the Grand Auteur.
Back in the early 90s I had a job at a head injury facility. I was a Qualified Mental Health Professional for the State of Illinois. I took the job because my own research was on cognitive development. The job was so depressing. I would call my girlfriend every night after my night shift (she was living 300 miles away at the time; its ok though we got married in the end) complaining about how awful it was. Not the staff, they were great, it's just the despair. She asked me many times why I don't just quit. I couldn't. Apart from needing this on CV for my Ph.D. program, I also needed to eat, pay rent, and have a job that a working grad student could do at night. I couldn't just leave. Neither could these actors, and I didn't have a contract holding me in a place like they did.
The Second Big Question is, for me, Why do I even care?
Over the years through my work on the Buffy, Angel, and Ghosts of Albion RPGs I have gotten to know a few of the people involved here. They are good people. In the years following, I have been able to get to know more. They are also good people. They deserved a lot better than what they were given.
I guess really it is no surprise when given the chance to do my own versions of the Buffy-verse the people that made it over were "played" by Charisma, Amber, Michelle, Eliza, and also Alyssa Milano and Rose McGowan.
Truthfully the only answer one needs to give to a question of "Why should you care?" is "Because what happened was wrong."
Last week I talked a bit about Holmes Basic in regards to another game TSR put out in 1977, Warlocks & Warriors. This led to a few more discussions online and some more reflection on my part. It got me thinking about how much gamers of a certain age keep going back to Holmes.
I mean I get it, really. There is a simplicity with Holmes that has appeal. This is not the strange mix that is OD&D or the complex rules for everything as AD&D. It sits neatly in the middle and has a rule book that might be one of the clearest that 70s D&D has to offer. It paved the way for Moldvay and Mentzer Basics, but it stands pretty well on it's own.
Holmes Basic and the Monster Manual
Once upon a time in the years between the Bicentennial and the dawn of the 80s was a time when the only Star Wars was "Star Wars" and home computers were just getting started there was D&D variant that I personally think a lot of people played.
For me that year was 1979. The D&D was Holmes Basic and the Advanced D&D Monster Manual. I, like many others, didn't care that "D&D" and "AD&D" were supposed to be different games. In fact I don't think I even knew until I got my Expert Set much later. I mean yeah there were articles in Dragon about it, but I never saw those till much, much later. Even then I don't think I cared.
But none of that mattered really. Holmes Basic was likely set up as the gateway to AD&D and not really it's own line yet. As has been discussed by others, most notably Zenopus Archives ("The Monster Manual is a Holmes Supplement." go read it), that the Monster Manual draws on Holmes for quite a lot of detail. In particular it uses the "5" point alignment system of Holmes rather than the "9" point one of AD&D. For example there are no Neutral Good, Neutral Evil, Lawful Neutral, or Chaotic Neutral monsters in it. Those all don't appear until the adventures (GDQ series for example) and the Fiend Folio and Monster Manual II.
It also doesn't hurt that there are artistic similarities between these two books, not just their respective covers.
This was the central core of what was "D&D" for me.
Looking over at the publication dates of various publications from TSR prior to 1982 you see there is a world's worth of playing here. Again, h/t to Zenopus Archives for this. Even prior to 1980 is full of great material.
Holmes Basic, the Monster Manual, and Eldritch Witchery give me so much potential.
Warlocks & Warriors & Witches
Something dawned on me while reading some of the replies to my Warlocks & Warrior post. What if the eponymous Warlock and Warrior were none other than Zelligar the Unknown and Rogahn the Fearless from adventure B1 In Search of the Unknown respectively. It fits with the covers to be sure.
So if the Warlock is Zelligar and the Warrior is Rogahn, who is the Princess? Well, if you spend any time here at all then you know who she is. She is Marissia (yes I am sticking with the wrong spelling).
In my running of B1 Marissia is the daughter of Zelligar and one of the first witches in my games. While there is a Melissa described in the adventure, I was really set on the name Marissia.
From Melissa's room (key XXIV Mistress' Chamber)From Roghan's room (key XXV Roghan's Chamber)
Melissa/Marissia, again I was 10.
So how about this. "Warlocks & Warriors" is a game played in my D&D worlds that is an homage to the time when the King offered the famed adventures Zelligar and Rogahn the hand of his beautiful young daughter to whoever rescues her first. It doesn't matter who won because the daughter Marissia was having none of that. She decides to go with the much older Zelligar who adopts her as his own daughter and trains her to be a witch. She then also becomes the lover of Rogahn. Sometime later the former allies Zelligar and Rogahn turn on each other. That is the cover of the W&W game and why "Melissa/Marissia" is looking on in cool detachment. Their falling out with each other is what leads to their stronghold, the Caverns of Quasqueton, to lie in ruins. Again, turning to Zenopus Archives, there is a good place to put B1 on the W&W wilderness map.
This slight revision still fits with my original idea that Marissia/Melissa is Zelligar's daughter and Rogahn's lover. While in 1977 having a blonde on your cover was no great stretch, she does have a similarity to all the versions of Marissia I have done or thought of over the years.
It works since "Milissa Wilcox" premiered on Scooby-Doo with a Leviathan Cross in 1978. The ghost had green hair, but the person behind it was blonde. That episode and Scooby-Doo, The Phantom of the Country Music Hall would have certainly been on my mind in 1979. This is the strange alchemy that fueled my earliest D&D adventures and is still called a "Scooby-Doo Adventure" by my wife.
Yeah, a load of coincidence, and my former Advanced Regression Prof is likely shaking his head at me now. But it works for this.
The point is there is a lot packed into all of Holmes' Basic set and I know we didn't know what treasure we had back then.
Today is President's Day. Since we just got rid of the President from Hell, let's talk about a President of Hell. One of the things that I always found interesting reading demonology texts was the term President of Hell. One, in particular, is the Pseudomonarchia Daemonum, The False Monarchy of Demons.
One of the first Presidents mentioned was Buer. Here is what is said about him.Buer is a great president, and is seene in this signe [*]; he absolutelie teacheth philosophie morall and naturall, and also logicke, and the vertue of herbes: he giveth the best familiars, he can heale all diseases, speciallie of men, and reigneth over fiftie legions.
Kind of cool really. In this case, a President is someone that runs a government. The Pseudomonarchia Daemonum lists 14 such Presidents. How they fit into the Gygaxian vision of the Nine Hells and the Archdukes remains to be figured out; likely two presidents per layer of hell.
Buer also appears as a President in the Ars Goetia of The Lesser Key of Solomon.
Buer then would be classified as a devil in the Gygaxian taxonomy.
Large Fiend (Diabolic)
Number Appearing: 1 (1)
Alignment: Chaotic [Lawful Evil]
Movement: 120' (40') [12"]
Centuar: 180' (60') [18"]
Spirit: 240' (80') [24"]
Armor Class: 3 
Hit Dice: 15d8***+45 (113 hp)
HD (Large): 15d10***+45 (128 hp)
Attacks: trample, bite, spells
Damage: 1d6+2 x5, 1d8+2
Special: Devil abilities, spell casting
Save: Monster 16
Morale: 12 (NA)
Treasure Hoard Class: XXI [B] x3
XP: 4,200 (OSE) 4,350 (LL)
Buer is a great President of Hell. He controls fifty legions of demons (a legion is 6,000 demons). He will appear to mortals as a great red centaur. His true form is that of a lion's head with five goat legs radiating from this central head. His whole body is aflame.
Buer can cast spells as if he was a 13th level magic-user. He can cast any spell dealing with fire (produce flame, fireball, etc) twice per day with additional memorization needed.
He is a great patron of witches and warlocks, in particular warlocks. The familiars he grants can heal their warlocks once per day for 1d6+ hp of damage and cure disease once per week.
Buer is summoned by demonologists and malefic witches for his knowledge on logic, moral philosophy, and the sciences, of which he is particularly knowledgeable on. He can grant a familiar to those that summon him. These will be imps but can appear as a natural animal. These familiars will work to bring their master to greater and great acts of evil. If the magic-user (or witch or warlock) dies while they have this familiar their souls will be sent to Hell where the familiar becomes the new Master and tortures the former magic-user for eternity
So a few things I have to consider. Buer is a President, one of 14. I need to figure out which ones go where. I am still thinking two per levels 2 to 8, with none for the 1st and 9th levels. I also want to come up with new names for the levels and the rulers, more or less.
Now I know that Buer was featured in Dragon Magazine's famous "The Nine Hells Revisited, Part 1 and 2" and there is some written about him there. While it is all good stuff, I want to reorganize these as I like.
I am certainly going to do a lot more with thses.
Dungeon Crawl Classics Horror: The Corpse That Love Built – 2018 Halloween Module opens with the inhabitants of Portnelle and the Player Characters in the local church. Recently, the townsfolk have suffered a rash of abductions and mutilations, and as a fierce lightning storm rages outside, the senile Father Giralt cries out that he has been granted a vision identifying the person responsible for both. None other than Doctor Lotrin von Weißgras-Geisterblut, a local Elf who resides in a strange castle down by the coast and a recluse who has long been estranged from his family. Of course, as the local priest makes his declaration, there is a crash of lightning, the doors get knocked down, and the congregation is attacked by strangely earthy golems! Who could have ordered such an attack, could it have been Doctor Lotrin von Weißgras-Geisterblut?
Armed with the few rumours they know about the reclusive Elf—the adventure comes with an extensive rumour table—the Player Characters proceed to Castle von Weißgras-Geisterblut! Behind its high walls, they will find all manner of strangeness. First is that the tower keep has been transformed into the head and torso of a woman reaching up out of the earth and into the sky. Second, there is all manner of odd constructed creatures. They include things like ‘Crude Fleshy-Contraption Archers’, collections of gears and levers, powered by enchanted sinews; ‘Weredoggins’, a combination of were-hound and scorpion, whose traditional curse is more spiritual than medical in nature; and the ‘Halfling-Hand Luck-Sucking Lizard’, which is as weird and as nasty as it sounds. There is some enjoyably inventive monster creations here, so it is a pity that so few of them are illustrated in the module. However, the signs of Doctor Lotrin von Weißgras-Geisterblut’s research can be found throughout the tower and together with the constructs, they add to the sense that a mad scientist is at work, which pervades the scenario.
Ultimately, signs point to the top and bottom of the tower. At the top of the staircase which climbs all the way up the arm can be found a local woman, imprisoned and at the mercy of the lightning storm, whilst at the bottom is Doctor Lotrin von Weißgras-Geisterblut’s laboratory. Between the two runs a lengthy coil of mithril. Could the mad doctor be seeking to harness the lightning for a purpose of his own? To which, of course, the answer is ‘yes’, and it is one that the Player Characters will confront—as depicted in the scenario’s centrefold of the Bride Giant, an obvious homage to Bride of Frankenstein!
There are one or two issues with Dungeon Crawl Classics Horror: The Corpse That Love Built – 2018 Halloween Module. One is that the dungeon, essentially, the inside of the tower, is small, just nine locations. It does not feel like somewhere that Doctor Lotrin von Weißgras-Geisterblut lives and perhaps another level, one in the ‘head’ of the tower, could have been included to flesh it out a little. Another is that although Exact Spirit Animal, the spell that works in conjunction with the effect of the bite of the ‘Weredoggins’, is included in the scenario, another spell, Geisterblut’s Squirming Flesh, is not. And there is also the matter of the scenario’s centrefold of the Bride Giant. It is not titillating as such, but there is plenty of ‘flesh’ on show, and it may not be to everyone’s taste.
If the horror in Dungeon Crawl Classics Horror #1: They Served Brandolyn Red is gothic, its inspiration that of Edgar Allen Poe, then the horror of Dungeon Crawl Classics Horror: The Corpse That Love Built – 2018 Halloween Module is that of Universal Monsters—in particular, Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein, as well as Hammer Horror. The scenario is horrifying, challenging, nasty, and in the right hands, campy fun too. That though is Dungeon Crawl Classics Horror: The Corpse That Love Built – 2018 Halloween Module as a standalone scenario.
As a sequel to Dungeon Crawl Classics Horror #1: They Served Brandolyn Red, this scenario is disappointing. Not just the fact that Dungeon Crawl Classics Horror #1: They Served Brandolyn Red is a Character Funnel for Zero Level Player Characters and Dungeon Crawl Classics Horror: The Corpse That Love Built – 2018 Halloween Module is designed for Second Level, meaning that the Judge will need to run a scenario or two to get the Player Characters who survived Dungeon Crawl Classics Horror #1: They Served Brandolyn Red up to the required Level to player this scenario, but that there are so few links between the two. Dungeon Crawl Classics Horror #1: They Served Brandolyn Red ended by indicating that Dungeon Crawl Classics Horror: The Corpse That Love Built – 2018 Halloween Module is a sequel, but as written, the links between the two are underwritten. The villain of this scenario, Doctor Lotrin von Weißgras-Geisterblut, is a nod at least to Lotrin Whitegrass, husband of the betrayed Brandolyn from Dungeon Crawl Classics Horror #1: They Served Brandolyn Red—and besides the fact that the two scenarios are set in the same location, Portnelle (whether town or village), that is really all there is in terms of links. There is no family set-up as there is in Dungeon Crawl Classics Horror #1: They Served Brandolyn Red, there is no advice to link the two, which is both frustrating and disappointing. It just means that the Judge will have to create some of his own.
Ultimately, as a standalone horror scenario, Dungeon Crawl Classics Horror: The Corpse That Love Built – 2018 Halloween Module is entertaining, being a fan and campy challenge. As a sequel to Dungeon Crawl Classics Horror #1: They Served Brandolyn Red, it is very much a missed opportunity.
Instead what we have here are a few select gods and monsters for D&D fare. I am quite certain that anyone that knows more about this than I do will notice some glaring issue, but for the moment let's look at it for what it is rather than what we wish it to be. This is good because "what it is" is a fascinating, if sometimes problematic, read.
There are a few gods and creatures here that not only would make for great demons (in the Demon category of the Monster Manual) they are creatures that made many appearances in my games. Again this is taking them "as is", not "as they should be" but I will detail that in a bit.
An issue I should address is spelling. Translating between Chinese and English is often half linguistics and half art. Even when the spelling is agreed on it can change later, "D" and "T" are notorious. What does that mean to us? Well, it makes the research a bit harder on some creatures. To get into the myths and stories behind these creatures would take a lot longer than this post and outside of the scope of One Man's God, but as always I will try to pull in the research when I can.
One of the better sources for these myths is E. T. C. Werner's "The Myths and Legends of China" whose earliest publication date appears to be in 1940. The book is in the public domain and would have been available to the authors of the D&DG. While there are other books, I am going to go to this one for confirmation on what is here. Now Werner could have a bunch of issues all on his own. I am not qualified to judge those either.
Finally, I want to give credit to the artist of this section of myths, Darlene. I don't think she gets the credit she deserves half the time (outside of her FANTASTIC map of Greyhawk). Her art really captures the feel of these myths for me.
This guy typifies the problem I speak of. A search for him online reveals only sources that were obviously taken from the D&DG. The only other mentions are people asking where he is from. Now I have no issue with making something up whole cloth for a game (I do it every day) but does that make him a part of Chinese myth? In any case, Chih-Chiang Fyu-Ya looks and acts more like a Monster Manual devil than he does a demon. My feeling is this guy was made up for the D&DG.
He does not appear in Werner's book.
Ma YuanSo Chih-Chiang Fyu-Ya is the punisher of the gods, that is someone the gods send out to punish, much like Erinyes. Ma Yuan is the Killer of the Gods. He kills the gods. He is also a unique beast and fits our definition of a demon well. He is Chaotic Evil, 70's tall, and has 300 hp. He could mop the floor with Demogorgon! Well...maybe not mop. Ma Yuan also appeared in many of my games back in the day as a giant monster of destruction (and ignoring his "High" intelligence rating), his sword is one of just a few fabled weapons in my world that can kill a god.
In Gods, Demigods, and Heroes for 0e he is called Ma Yuan Shuai. This is very interesting since Tian Du Yuan Shuai is a figure of Taoist myth (though he could have been a real person) and he is associated with Okinawan Gojū-ryū karate. This was interesting to me because I studied Isshin-ryū karate in college and grad school, they are similar in many of their katas. But going done that rabbit hole was a dead end despite how interesting I found it.
"Yuan Shuai" is also a rank in the Chinese military rank that is equivalent to Marshall in other militaries. Ma Yuan Shuai could mean something like "Horse Marshall."
Going with this name I head back to Werner's book, I find this:Ma Yüan-shuai is a three-eyed monster condemned by Ju Lai to reincarnation for excessive cruelty in the extermination of evil spirits. In order to obey this command he entered the womb of Ma Chin-mu in the form of five globes of fire. Being a precocious youth, he could fight when only three days old, and killed the Dragon-king of the Eastern Sea. From his instructor he received a spiritual work dealing with wind, thunder, snakes, etc., and a triangular piece of stone which he could at will change into anything he liked. By order of Yü Ti he subdued the Spirits of the Wind and Fire, the Blue Dragon, the King of the Five Dragons, and the Spirit of the Five Hundred Fire Ducks, all without injury to himself. For these and many other enterprises he was rewarded by Yü Ti with various magic articles and with the title of Generalissimo of the West, and is regarded as so successful an interceder with Yü Ti that he is prayed to for all sorts of benefits.
Doing research on this guy reveals that I was not the only one taken with this character (not a surprise really). Here Spes Magna Games updated his stats to 5e D&D.
Ma Yuan though is a great being. I would say that he is a great sleeping demon (though his "in lair 10%" seems to preclude this) that is only roused when needed. Werner's description seems to favor demon really.
Some success? Lu Yueh appears as a figure using a magic umbrella to spreading plague in a 1922 painting by an unknown artist.
He also appears in Werner's The Myths and Legends of China. Called Lü Yüeh here he seems to be more of a hermit than a demonic god. Also, he only has one head. He still causes plagues though.
I am prone to be forgiving in cases like Chih-Chian Fyu-Ya; creatures made up to serve a purpose or a niche for a game. Or even Lu Yueh and Ma Yuan; myths extended and/or changed to fit into D&D a little better. But what they did to Tou Mu? No. This is just terrible research at this point. I have avoided being too critical of the D&DG because I know the authors did not have the same access to materials I have now and, not to be a dick about it, but I have been trained to do Ph.D. level research. I have had 30+ years of professional research to draw on. They did not. But this case really goes to the critics of the D&DG.
Background. Tou Mu was something of a celebrity back in Junior High among the people I played D&D with. First she looks way freaking cool, secondly, she had a Charisma of 5! She had a ton of great and unique magic items and some DMs even gave her the dancing sword of lightning (as if she didn't already have enough). She was an Endgame Boss.
In actual Taoist mythology, she is Dǒumǔ (斗母) the 'Mother of the Great Chariot' or the Big Dipper. she would not be a "Chaotic Evil Lesser Goddess" but most likely be a Lawful Good Greater Goddess, though a Lesser (but powerful) Goddess would also be acceptable. Though I am not sure what I find worse, the evil alignment, the 5 Charisma or the 3 in Wisdom.
Here is how she looks in the D&DG,
versus how she is depicted in the real world,
Seriously, how could they have messed this one up so bad? Turn a beloved goddess into a monster?
Again, let's see what Werner has to say about her:Goddess of the North Star
Tou Mu, the Bushel Mother, or Goddess of the North Star, worshipped by both Buddhists and Taoists, is the Indian Maritchi, and was made a stellar divinity by the Taoists. She is said to have been the mother of the nine Jên Huang or Human Sovereigns of fabulous antiquity, who succeeded the lines of Celestial and Terrestrial Sovereigns. She occupies in the Taoist religion the same relative position as Kuan Yin, who may be said to be the heart of Buddhism. Having attained to a profound knowledge of celestial mysteries, she shone with heavenly light, could cross the seas, and pass from the sun to the moon. She also had a kind heart for the sufferings of humanity. The King of Chou Yü, in the north, married her on hearing of her many virtues. They had nine sons. Yüan-shih T’ien-tsun came to earth to invite her, her husband, and nine sons to enjoy the delights of Heaven. He placed her in the palace Tou Shu, the Pivot of the Pole, because all the other stars revolve round it, and gave her the title of Queen of the Doctrine of Primitive Heaven. Her nine sons have their palaces in the neighbouring stars.
Well, in many ways I supposed that is what OMG is kinda based on; One Man's God is another man's demon. Still, it doesn't feel right to turn Dǒumǔ into Tou Mou. I also suppose this also is part of the criticism landed at TSR/WotC's feet back in July of 2020 about the Oriental Adventures book. which, by the way, despite what all the Chicken Littles were saying back then you CAN still buy it in it's unedited form.
I said at the outset I know far less about Chinese myths than I like and far less than I do about other mythologies. What I do know there are SO MANY great stories about gods, demigods, monsters, and human heroes that doing this one right would fantastic.
It has been a while since I had done one of these so I thought today might be a good time to bring it back. One of my favorite classes has always been the bard. Back in the AD&D days I managed to get only two characters ever to become Bards. One very early one who was later killed and another, Heather, who ended up being my last ever AD&D 1st Ed character before 2nd Edition was released. These days though I am all in on Basic-era D&D. Holmes. Moldvay. Even some BECMI. But those versions of the game did not have a Bard really. Today, thanks to the Old-school gaming movement and clones I have many choices for Bards.
I'll point out that is a continuation of my Class Struggles: The Bard from all the way back in 2015.
The Basic Bard, Review
Basic-era D&D never had a proper Bard. The version in the AD&D Player's Handbook was difficult to get into and harder still to get DM's will to allow it. Second Edition AD&D had a Bard that was part of the Rouge Class, but it felt bland for lack of a better word. I enjoyed playing Bards when I could and I considered doing my own Bard Class to go along with the witch. Thankfully others have stepped in and up to do all that work for me.
Before I get into my new entries, I want to recap the Basic-era or even Basic-like versions of the Bard from my previous post. More details can be read in that post.
Richard LeBlanc, over at Save vs. Dragon
and to be featured in the Character Class Codex.
Richard LeBlanc has given this class a lot of thought and energy. His Version I has more thief skills, his version II has more magic. I think in the end I prefer his version II Bard. I tend to like a magical flair in my Bards.
Barrel Rider Games
James over at BRG has given us a number of Bard-like classes.
Running Beagle Games, B/X Blackrazor
The Complete B/X Adventurer from Jonathan Becker has a "Loremaster" style Bard.
Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea
While not "Basic" the Bard from AS&SH 2nd Edition would fit well into a Basic-era game.
The New Bards On the Block
When the Advanced edition of Labyrinth Lord was released I was hoping for a Bard class, but not unduly surprised when it was not there. No problem I think, plenty of others (see above) to choose from. But in the last few years, a bunch of new, Basic-specific Bards have come out.
One of my favorites is the BX style Bard from Old-School Essentials Advanced Fantasy. Part of the Old-School Essentials line delves into the more "Advanced" features and in particular classes. This is a single class bard as expected and redesigned to fit more with BX D&D than Advanced. It uses Druid spells and is sometimes known as a "Divine" Bard for reasons I'll detail in a bit. It has language skills like I like and lore and charm abilities, but no thieves skills. Since this Bard uses Druid spells I like to refer to it in my games as an Ovate.
With the recent OSE Advanced Kickstarter there was an exclusive "Inaugural Issue" of Carcass Crawler a Zine for OSE. This zine included a new Bard. This Bard uses Magic-user spells and has some thieves skills but no charm powers or languages. Called an Arcane Bard in the zine I tend to call this one a Skald. Both work great in a game.
This is not my first time with this particular version of the Companion Rules for B/X, nor is it likely to be my last. Like Advanced-OSE above this set gives us a Bard, an Illusionist, a Druid, and Gnomes. The Bard in this expansion also has the Bard casting Illusionist spells which I rather like to be honest. Something that Gnomes (races as class) also get. The Bard has some nice features, but what I think I would do is redo the Arcane Bard/Skald from above and have it cast Illusionist spells as per this Bard.
Likely the most complete Bard class this is a separate PDF from James Mishler. This one is so new that the post he announced it in is still fresh! This Bard has all the skills I want and like. The spells list is a combination of both Divine and Arcane (Cleric and Magic-User) spells, likely as it should be really. But what REALLY makes this bard a great class are the renaming of the spells. Each spell is named like a song or a piece of music. Really gives this Bard a different feel. If I were to import say some more Illusionist and/or Druid spells to this one I'd have to come up with some new names for the spells.
All three (or four) are really great and I can see each one fitting into the game.
A final Bard would be the semi-official Bard from Vol.2 Issue 1 of The Strategic Review from February 1976. This Bard is for OD&D and there are 25 total levels for it. It can charm and has Bardic Lore. It also casts Magic-user spells. I use this as my basis of comparison for Bards going forward.
The proof they say is in the playing. So despite all the warnings, the Internet seems to want to share, I think a party of Basic Bards might be in order just to see how they all work out. While none are great combatants they all would bring various magical and thief skills to the mix. Oh! I can see it now. A D&D version of the Beatles OR better still, The Monkees! I'd use my Hex Girls, but I need four, unless I ignore the Arcane Bard.
It could work.
No names or dates are attributed to these four paintings, all variations of Bruegel's engraved series "The Seven Deadly Sins."
Additional engravings based on the works by Pieter Bruegel the Elder were previously shared here.