Greyhawk Adventures & The Fate of Istus review




The World of Greyhawk, the world created by the originators through play. The world of the true pioneers of our hobby! You know it already. It is the world designed for very advanced users of the game. The nay-sayers like to say that TSR kept Greyhawk from Gygax when he left the company, just to bury it. The world of Oerth never got the amount of support shown to the other settings, but that is why it is so favorable! You buy the box set, read the little pamphlets and look at the map, and you start writing! Much of the support that was given to Greyhawk was ignored. It is a world that supports the imagination, each table running the box completely different from one another. Today this setting is a huge cult hit: You want to go back to the roots of D&D; you roll up some Greyhawk characters and see what happens!

By 1989, the thought of discontinuing the setting was nixed. While the company was slowly and carefully establishing Forgotten Realms to be as marketable as possible, they needed to keep some income flowing, thus the Greyhawk Adventures product line was kept as a grindhouse-like money maker. Modules for the setting paid the bills, and they suffered from a lack of quality.

I thought that it was Dragonlance that first entered the 2e era, but I had totally forgotten about Product 2023: Greyhawk Adventures, written by James Ward and published in August of 1988. It isn’t a true 2e book: it is a hardcover with the compatibility starburst, that attempted to introduce the world to 2nd Edition, but they didn’t have much information to work with! The quality of the material inside is extremely high, and not found in any other book out there. Ward credits it as a fan created project:  he solicited the D&D community to give him feedback, and feedback he got! What this book reads like is a huge, hardcover issue of Dragon Magazine, focused completely on the world of Greyhawk, and it is awesome!

There are very few 2e mechanics in the book, namely THAC0 and the spheres & schools of magic system was hinted to. While this hardcover wasn’t as functional as Forgotten Realms Adventures was, it is still a really really great book! As far as Greyhawk goes, it was marketed to advanced users of the game; users that could competently make their own conversions, so the designers could get away with just addressing the barest minimum to the setting.

While Greyhawk Adventures addressed what was added, it was up to a mega-module called WG8 Fate of Istus to address what was to be taken away. Again, this module does not run as a 2e product, it is intended for established 1st Edition player characters, but by the end of it, it says that all of the characters will be 2e compatible.

The module itself has four different authors, and it is written in a very grindhouse style so there really is no way to actually run this product smoothly, not logically anyway. It is a collection of ten mini adventures in which each 1st edition PC class is tested and their fates are decided. I personally don’t think that this product is all that necessary, however it does have a few positive points worthy of noting, namely the fact that there is a lot of stuff that a DM can lift from this booklet! NPCs, maps, descriptions, items; as a whole, the product isn’t very strong, however, cut up, it’s basic parts are desirable to a DM who is strapped for time filling in sections of his world that don’t really require his attention; but the best reason is actually one of the books greatest failures, it is a chance to compare the writings of 4 very talented men; specifically, this book features one of the few times that you can actually read the work of the legendary Robert J. Kuntz. That alone is worth the price of admission!

Module WG8 seems to be more of a product to be read, than one that should actually be ran. DM’s who had ran parts of it were happy with the results, however many agree that as a whole, it is deeply interesting but something to be ran only if you want to make your players miserable. Is it worth owning? YES! But I would recommend Fate of Istus as a PDF. In regards to Greyhawk Adventures, I rate that product as a B, just because it is so damned fun! I’m not sure how usable the thing really is, but you will still love reading it. It offers unique spell lists from major NPCs that are cool (many names you’ll recognize from the PHB), and written in the style of Ed Greenwood’s Dragon Magazine articles. It also features unique monsters (a few making appearances in the Greyhawk Monster Appendix), and a system for running 0th level PCs.

OVERVIEW

Greyhawk users are a different breed of player that put self-expression and invention over established canon; as far as I am concerned, Greyhawk as a setting has been completed for a very, very long time! There is still some gold to be mined from published works, but they are far and in between. The lessons of Greyhawk can spill over to the other settings! Even Forgotten Realms works best when most of the supplemental material is completely ignored! A designer’s vision is best established through play, not through memorizing a bookshelf of stuff created by others. Where one user sees an overly generic and incomplete world, what one is really looking at is freedom! 2e didn’t force itself on the setting, if it did then it would had been ruined. Advanced users know that you can still use the 2e system as well as keeping what they really love from the first edition rules and be fine! While Greyhawk was a huge financial failure, as art, I feel that it is far superior to any other product out on the market.

Insperations: A Child of the 70's



A couple of my blogger buddies had been inspired to reveal their beginnings, which I always find to be interesting. I am not a grognard, I played once in the 70’s and hated it. I didn’t play officially until 1993. When I was a teen, I had enough social problems to deal with without tacking on Dungeons & Dragons.

I’m a country kid, I mean to say that I grew up in the city of Council Bluffs Iowa, but in the early 80’s my folks were able to save up enough money to move out onto a rural route, I spent most of my formative years out there, but until that time I lived across the street from my cousin, who was like a big brother to me. I have been lucky to always live next to woods, and I spent a lot of time out there. Our parents typically kicked us out of the house, and we’d run around the woods until we got hungry. 

We had toys, but if you take toys out into the woods, you usually won’t get them back, so we’d play pretend! Star Wars, Robin Hood, super heroes, this became our favorite game. We especially loved finding branches which we’d clean off and have sword fights, or staff battles. We fancied ourselves to be quite good at our sword fighting!

We did other stuff too, this was before central air conditioning was all that available, so the theatre downtown would host a children’s matinee, offering free pop and popcorn while they played those classic sci-fi, adventure, and monster movies from the 50’s and 60’s to get us out of the heat for a little bit, and we loved them! Those pulpy things were expertly written to attract susceptible young minds in the perfect way! Once the movie was over, we’d go back out in the woods and talk about what we’d seen, and sometimes we’d even pretend to be those characters! Especially with the monster movies, what kid didn’t love them? We’d all be the heroes and invisible monsters would chase us all around! There would be casualties here and there, but after a dramatic and heart-wrenching death scene, you’d be right back into the game. Rules? Who needs rules? Sometimes the game required you to stay dead, but the best one’s never did.

There weren’t hundreds of channels to choose from, if a buddy had cable television then he was popular! But, for the most part, everybody watched the same stuff. V, Battlestar Galactica, Buck Rogers, and lets not forget the reruns of Batman & Robin,  Twilight Zone, Star Trek, and Lost in Space! Cartoons only ran on Saturday mornings; most of them were terrible, but there were some shows that were popular, Superfriends, Scooby Doo, Land of the Lost, and such, but our favorite was Dungeons & Dragons! Everybody in my neighborhood watched these programs, and we talked about them! We tried to play D&D, but we weren’t ready for the strict rules, and my cousin was bossy enough without me having to call him Dungeon Master!

That period of time also had MUST SEE movies. Again, this was a shared experience. Everybody went to the theatre, mom and dad needed to get out of the heat too, and there was no VCRs in our part of town, so you either watched it at the movies, or you had some friend tell you every last detail of it. Well, there was MAD Magazine that helped out too, but the big movies, everybody saw. Besides Star Wars, which is a given, there was Flash Gordon, Clash of the Titans, Dragonslayer, and Excalibur. HBO even did a special deal for kids at the time with Excalibur, were they edited out all of the naughty bits. I remember our whole family getting together for this, all of my mom’s brothers and her sister, and all of us kids. We filled up our tiny little living room and watched it, it was a big deal!

Reading was a kin to some mysterious art, once our teacher started to let us into that secret world, I took right too it. I eagerly wanted to learn! My mother was a big fan of true ghost stories, monsters, and ancient secrets, but she wouldn’t read these to me. I was stuck with Sesame Street books and all of that kids crap because she said that those books were too scary, so I had to learn to read! And she was right. Those books were really scary!

I always loved reading after that; my favorite books were those “Choose Your Own Adventure” books! Again, this was a shared experience, once the library got a new one, there was a LONG waiting list to get your hands on a copy. The neighborhood I lived in was really poor, but we had the RIF Program which I was always thankful for and still support. Once a year they would come to our school and fill up the gym with tables and tables of books and you could choose one to have, and we always went after the “Choose Your Own Adventure” titles!  I loved my mom’s scary books too, but I had to sneak a lot of them, much like I had to sneak up late at night to watch Creature Feature with Dr. Sanguinary, so horror stuff was kind of like being naughty! I became a story teller from them; my friend’s parents didn’t like them watching that kind of stuff either, so I would tell them all about this secret world and they’d just eat it up!

Once we moved out into the country, my social influences stopped. I love the country! That is where I spent the majority of my youth, and it was a tradeoff. Yes, I was extremely isolated, all social influences outside of my relatives stopped, but I would spend most of my time not spent doing chores out in the woods which were even bigger than my old stomping ground in Council Bluffs, out there I found discovery. I love the outdoors; I had a creek and miles of wilderness to play in. My yard was huge! I played alone most of the time, which really builds up the imagination. I had a couple of friends out there, but none of them were all that interested in fantasy stuff. I suppose that the other kids thought that I was into what they saw as “kids’ stuff” but I really enjoyed it, and I still do!

It was out in the country where I started playing video games, and I loved games like Haunted House, and Adventure! My cousins and I would create a makeshift space ship and play Star Raiders. ATARI games were great, they still required that element of imagination, but you could also actually role play while you were playing them! ATARI games still fascinate me, they could do so much with so little it just boggles the mind! This post uses up more disk space then what they had. Many of the games were really well designed, and better thought out that the stuff that one plays today. The Nintendo was another love affair with me, particularly Legend of Zelda. I really sucked at video games, but I could play me some Zelda, now! What Nintendo lacked in the imagination and role playing department, it made up for in size. Legend of Zelda was a HUGE game, and it rewarded you for exploring. Exploration games: that is what I loved more than anything, but Zelda also offered a challenge, and you couldn’t play it by yourself. While others thought that I enjoyed kids’ stuff, Nintendo wasn’t kids’ stuff. I found lots of secrets but Zelda brought kids together because everybody would find different things. It took a long time to first beat the game. Years later, when I cracked the game I found stuff in there that I had never seen before! It was really a magnificent program and one that I still enjoy playing.

Living in the country, I would read a lot. I didn’t fit in anymore, at school I was a poor country kid who the other country kids couldn’t stand because I talked nonsense to them, so I stayed by myself and I’d read. I discovered the occult and ate it up! Archeology and history was a love of mine, but it was scattered. I had no sense of direction; I just absorbed what I could. I learned way more outside of school than I ever learned in it. I didn’t find like-minded friends until after I graduated, and it was them that got me into D&D.

It wasn’t really all of these things that inspired me, it was my cousin who was my first best friend and brother, it was my uncles who ate that stuff up! It was my mother whose love of things that go bump in the night possessed me. And it was my father, whose love of Westerns and rural history is firmly embedded into my very being as well. It was the woods, infested with monsters and filled with discovery! These things made me what I am. Imagination is such an important part of my growing up, and I kind of feel that the kids of today may have been given the short end of the stick. My favorite toy was a stick! In my hands it was always more than just a simple stick, it was a thing of almost endless possibilities.

Dragonlance & In Search of Dragons



The first 2e product of the year, wasn’t the PHB, but a module . . . this module, Product 9243, or DLE1 In Search of Dragons written by Rick Swan for the Dragonlance Champaign Setting.

The first modules for 2e are pretty easy to spot; they have a starburst on the cover that says that they are compatible with both first and second edition, however, this is the only module that was published with no 2e rules to support it, but that doesn’t matter because DLE1 provided everything that you needed to play it, all you needed was the original DMG and a 1e PHB. Once the new PHB came out, you could use it too, but it was completely independent from the Dragonlance boxset as all of the background history was in the module itself.

Why Dragonlance? Forgotten Realms was chosen to be THE world to host 2nd Edition; that was supposed to be the intention anyway. No other company had ever changed the rules on its users before, and the folks at TSR knew that there would be deaths as some classes were being cut to appease Mom. It also wasn’t known how far Dave Cook would push the new rules, but it was decided by management that all of the campaign settings would all, in theory, have to be rebooted. They didn’t know if 1e users would buy into the new system, they made it as attractive as they could by cutting down on the books needed to play, but if the 1ers did buy in, would they update their characters or simply start new ones? That really wasn’t up to TSR to decide, but they did try to help with some products which would ease tables into the 2e era.

I’ve talked about the 2e module style, which is story heavy. Today we’ve gone back to the original Gygax methods, but the Gygax method doesn’t make money. TSR’s new head, Lorraine Williams knew that table top gamers were also readers, so she expanded the TSR line beyond just modules and gaming guides, and began to publish novels, and the Modules either supported or tied into the novels.

Today you see people putting down the story style of play, a cooperative story telling game isn’t role-playing, they say. Well, they are wrong. You can play any way that you want to, and at the time players enjoyed this style of play. 2e supported it, and from a marketing standpoint, TSR made a lot more money! People who didn’t play Dungeons & Dragons saw the Dragonlance novels, and they bought them. The modules allowed the players to play as the characters in the books, which was a concept that is rather unique to Dragonlance.

The story style first appeared in 1983 with a little module written by Laura and Tracy Hickman called Ravenloft, maybe you’ve heard of it? It was this husband and wife team who transformed the abstract and incomplete module form into a real working interactive story. Ravenloft’s success was a huge deal! So it was no wonder that Laura and Tracy were contracted to create a story driven setting, this setting being Dragonlance.

This formula was the basis of what 2e was meant to be. For better or for worse! It wasn’t Forgotten Realms that was the true spearhead, but Dragonlance!  And, it was Dragonlance that was already prepped and ready for 2e, the “War of the Lance” was over! A new age had dawned.

In Search of Dragons was the first of a three module series. The only thing that made this 2e was a brief explanation about movement, as the system had slightly changed and labels had been added to tell the DM if a different form of movement was used. Today we know that 2e added more than it took away, and one can always pull from 1st edition if they really want to, but TSR had to first prove itself. In a way, this module was kind of a gift. Imagine! A module that didn’t try to enforce the use of additional source material!  It didn’t care if you used 1st or 2nd edition, it was functional all by itself, which is cool.

I, myself, had never been formally introduced to Dragonlance. I’ve never played a game, nor have I read any of the books. Dragonlance was not my cup of tea, but it still important to the hobby. I do have a few modules that I had inherited from here or there, and while I love a good story, I to have adopted a more old-school style of play. I still have story elements in there! But instead of the players trying to survive the story, I like them to seek it out, and I definitely try to keep them the main characters!

DLE1 is intriguing, and I love how it is self-contained. Maybe if I’m ever strapped for ideas and someone wants to play a game, I’d run it, but I’m not really a module guy. I love it for its historic value. The first use of that beautiful blue and white 2nd Edition logo! I have no idea how to grade it, but some things don’t need to be judged, do they.

2106 Forgotten Realms Adventures reviewed



The original purpose of The Forgotten Realms was to provide a fresh world for 2nd Edition play. TSR had a lot of cleaning up to do; the game had entered a national spotlight and achieved a pop culture status! Dungeons & Dragons itself was closely scrutinized and people asked if a game like this was really appropriate for children, and the suits controling TSR said, no. It wasn’t appropriate for children, so they knew they had to change.

A total revamp had never been done before, and nobody knew exactly what changes would be taking place, nor how long the project would take to get into the hands of customers, not to mention the fact that the user that may reject it after it is completed! Existing character classes which promoted evil acts would be dropped; thus, the players playing them would have their PCs die from the system itself. Magic-user and Cleric spells were changing and the spell list was huge. A new campaign setting made sense! Of course, this didn’t happen.

Forgotten Realms was published, and it was unique from Greyhawk, but it was released 2 years before the 2nd Edition, there was a lot of stuff that needed to be developed, many new users weren’t all that into creativity, they wanted a fully finished product now, and TSR knew that they could make money by heavily expanding the original box set with supplemental content, and the folks who were more about DM control and creativity could fall back on Greyhawk, which wasn’t cancelled. What this meant was that players did lose characters, if they followed the rules; of course the user style had also changed. It was a rare player who actually played from 1st to 20th level, now the DM was more of a story teller than before, deciding what level would best suit the story that he wanted to tell, and the players rolled up new characters for that adventure.

This turned out to be a very wise decision; it was lucrative for the company and allowed users who wanted it, a more complete world to play in. To correct the 2e rules changes, an incredible story called The Times of Trouble was developed, it addressed all of the changes to the core rules in a way that made sense and was fun! Not everybody read the novels, and D&D is about specific rules, so product 2106 Adventures was released which addressed all of that and greatly expanded the playability of the Box Set. This hardcover book, which made a great companion to the Box Set, was written by Jeff Grubb and Forgotten Realms creator, Ed Greenwood.

There are those out there that hate this book, which I never understood. I didn’t start playing in the Realms themselves until recently, but I bought this book a very long time ago! And have used it right along with my other core books; not for the content, but for the format. Creating content is easy, but keeping content in a format that is actually functional is not easy at all. This book, beyond creating excellent content, supplied me with a method of writing down my ideas in a very productive way! But, let’s look at the book itself.

Chapter 1: The Forgotten Realms, Post-Avatar

This chapter deals with all of the changes unique to the Realms, which were many. The gods had been punished and the nature of magic is unstable. It addresses changes to the world due to new core mechanics, but even in this chapter, it went the extra mile. It goes through many of the 1e PC classes and addresses them each individually; it even goes beyond the Core Handbooks by expanding the classes beyond 20th level, up to 30th. It also added a new weapon class to the core system, Firearms, and methods of limiting their use so that they aren’t abused by player characters.

Chapter 2: Gods & Their Specialty Priests

This chapter provides even DM’s who don’t play the Realms an excellent example of what an Avatar system should look like. It provided a good templet for creating your own fantasy religion. It does a wonderful job of adding specialty priests into the world; and for realms users, you get full color art of many of the Avatars themselves, as well of every sigil for each god and goddess. It also covers the dead gods which had perished, just in case a DM would want them.

Correction: Google Plus User  Markus Wagner pointed out that the pictures are not of the Avatars, but of the specialty priests themselves, which to me is even cooler

Chapter 3: Magic & Mages in the Realms

The schools of magic are better explained, and it is worth noting that this book was published before the Complete Handbooks for Wizards & for Priests. Besides explaining things, this handbook gives you new spells which are unique to the Realms, and I’m not talking just a couple of pages of throw away spells, this list greatly expands those that the Players Handbook offers.

Chapter 4: Cities of the Heartlands

The Forgotten Realms boxset had mapped and keyed a few towns and cities, this book has them, and a lot more locations fully mapped and better keyed. The format of this chapter has been lifted by myself since day one, and it is still my favorite templet for designing your own cities. I will also admit that I’ve used the maps and keys in other settings for towns that didn’t warrant a full write-up, or just because I was lazy.

Chapter 5: Secret Societies of the Heartlands

This brief chapter identifies a few of the main groups which appose each other for power and control of the realms. Great for users of the Realms! I’m not sure when they added groups and secret societies which hide within a political system and have their own agendas and motivations into the game, but it did inspire me to always do this. Compared with the rest of the book, this is its weakest section, however the hierarchy of leadership within any large order can be lifted.

Chapter 6: Treasure

Beyond the formatting found in this book, another great thing about it is that it expands the Gem and Art Object treasures into something very cool and fitting for all campaign settings.  Some players want to know this stuff, and it adds color to any session for DM’s who want to hide mechanics as much as possible.

Overview

Like much of the “GOOD” Forgotten Realms material, it has its uses regardless of campaign settings. The book itself is well organized, and fun to read! My copy is very well used, the binding doesn’t appear to be as sturdy as the three Core books, but it is nice to have a supplement that is actually hard-bound, especially since it is so usable.

This book did set a new standard for the game, it provided a patch to the system until further products could expand upon ideas to be focused on later products, but it also had its own direction and personality. It provided material and inspiration, which is exactly what you want to have in any product! At the time, and now, I give the product a A. It is still available on the used market and you can find copies cheap!

Adventures Negative Feedback

I have never understood the public hatred for this book, but I think that it has more to do with people not realizing that they can ignore content, and lift what they want. While the content of this book may not be everybody’s cup of tea, and it may had stepped on the DM’s toes by publishing material that the DM had already created; what it does offer greatly out-weighs what some DM’s feel that it takes away, which it can; if you let it! But that is the nature of any product, isn’t it?

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