Player Map of Asylum

Bleak house came with a forced perspective map; I don't know about you, but I hate those things. I had originally redrafted it to graph paper, but the players wanted a map too, so I made this and thought, why not share?

Gothic Earth Episode 2: Asyum!

The monthly game was great! Prep was pretty intense, it was time to put all of my ideas into order and actually commit to a plan which I’ve been thinking about for years. We ended up playing a very different style of game than I have ever played before, I am running the Asylum section of the Ravenloft Boxset Super Module “Bleak House”, I have no plans to run the rest of it, but this section has always intrigued me. It is probably more challenging to run than it is to play. It isn’t a railroad at all, but the players are confined in a large house, with the villain who they can’t physically attack, well they can but there is severe consequences, and they first must discover exactly what is going on and formulate a plan of attack which will be hard, and the villain has no interest in killing them, just experimenting on their minds. The damage that he does is permanent, and will follow the players for the rest of their days, thus it is more dangerous than just losing a couple of hit points.

As far as DMing goes, the cast of characters is too large to prep, from inmates to orderlies, the house is large enough to support a lot of people! The challenge comes in the dance, I want the players to feel confined, but not railroaded. Their identities have been stripped from them, paranoia is rampant as you never know if you are talking to a fellow patient or if it is an orderly. In regards to role-playing, this thing is fun as hell! I get to play many extreme characters, but there is a problem. Part of the game also involves isolation, which as a DM made me nervous. I knew that I had to have a plan to deal with that. I’ve always had to remind them that we need to stick together and never separate as when that happens a portion of the table is just sitting there listening, but in this game they are forced to do the opposite. This is definitely outside of my comfort zone. The question I had was how to do this without the game getting boring for those that aren’t technically in the scene at all. I had some ideas, but as luck would have it I had recently purchased Creative Campaigning, and it featured a small section on what they called “Freeform Gaming”, it is a very literary style which is more akin to a novel-like approach rather than the typical RPG format which we all have adapted to. I don’t know if I would want to play that style long term, but for this game, it had to be adapted.

How do you keep a table full of players engaged? Once you find out how to do it, then you are a decent Dungeon Master, but changing your normal approach is scary. I knew that I’d have to break them up from time to time, but I did give myself a safety net, I put them all into a “Guest room” until we got to playtest some and get comfortable with the format, and then we’d complete the process by placing them all into cells, which worked great! We got to ease into it.

I knew that when I was running scenes for individual players, I had to make sure that they were interesting to listen to, and I had to really watch the speed and tempo of how the scene flowed. We also had to limit PC to PC Role-playing, which I really hate doing, but I’ve got to control the pace like a RPG Nazi! I did allow them to do it, I had too, we got a new character, but I had to make sure that PC dialog was always productive.
As far as the module goes, while it is confined to the mental hospital, the setting is surprisingly open. There are only a few key events that must take place, but they all are up to the discretion of the DM to trigger once I am ready, so I am allowed to set a good pace, add my own material and what not.Though it is a 2nd Edition module, it is written along the lines of the early modules where they just detail the setting and the rest is up to you, like Vault of the Drow but not that big. It wasn’t that difficult to add my own material into it, and cut out what I didn’t like or things that just don’t work.

As far as the narrative goes, it wasn’t as difficult as I feared. Prior to play I warned them what was about to happen, and to just be patient (ha ha ha), we were just going to take our time and work through this thing, but at the end of the night I wanted to get their feelings about it, which were positive! I found that we could do things that we had never been able to do before, I could have little cliff-hangers, give players time to think about their actions, or even enhance feelings of helplessness. We adapted just fine and the players even took to the style, and initiated it themselves a time or two.

I do have experience with DMing One on One games, meaning one PC and one DM, and really enjoy how deep we can go, so adapting to this style suddenly wasn’t as difficult for me as I feared that it would be. I was able to switch between characters or groups of characters fairly briskly, and keep everything interesting to everyone.

Another difficult aspect of Asylum is railroading, while it isn’t done by the module itself, the players are prisoners, and the villain has more control over their movements and decisions than they do, but it is very passive. I want the players to feel this, but without getting so railroaded that we are just scene jumping, I am reacting to them and they are reacting to me, it isn’t just me playing by myself telling the PCs what they are doing unless they are restrained and receiving treatment. They must comply with the Doctor’s rules, but they still have lots of choices to make, and everything gained from him must be earned.

In a nutshell, THIS THING IS FUN! I had to adapt it from Ravenloft over to Masque of the Red Death, which was easy, with the exception of placing it in my world. In the module the asylum is on an island, but in my world it is near Berlin. Looking at Google Maps, I was able to place the Asylum in an old forest, by looking at the terrain I could guess at what this area looked like in 1890 and  draw a decent map, it doesn’t match the real world scale, as I am not a cartographer, but it is functional for our purposes.

I have no idea how or if the party will escape, so I had to prep the wilderness and surrounding areas generally, just enough so that I am ready for anything that could happen out there. Inside of the Asylum I was rather stuck. Typically I create a time-line of triggers, but that just didn’t seem appropriate to me. What I ended up doing was writing each of the characters names down and writing short and very brief stories for each of them, THAT got me excited and ready to play!

Story-wise, this is a game of secrets, exploration, and torture.  Everything that the players have discovered thus far only leads to deeper questions. They’ve assembled a decent amount of clues, but they have no idea how they fit together. Once they know more I can post more.

We did finally get to an NPC that has been referred to and evidence pointing to, but never actually encountered, for years (real-time), Boyd Weathermay. As a boy, he murdered his little sister and the crime was covered up, Boyd has spent every day since locked up in this mental institution, and driven mad. He didn’t murder Isabell willingly; it was the demon which possesses him. I’ve been building this idea and building it, and in this game finally came the payoff. Fiends are special monsters, you don’t want to use them much, and when you do you really want to play them up. If you get into a quarrel with a fiend, you want to have the party walk away with lots of scars to remember the encounter by. We never want this one to become old hat, they are some of the greatest monsters in a DM’s arsenal! It was great fun finally getting to role-play this character, in his mind he is still 10 years old, if he is allowed to speak, as he is mastered by this creature.  

This isn’t the only character that was important to me either, my original players don’t know it but they had encountered Dr. Dominioni before, it was the first truly complex Villain that I had ever played as a Dungeon Master, in that game the party escaped. His first appearance was in the very first module specifically written for the Ravenloft Setting called “Feast of Goblyns” and while we never finished that module, as it is a really long one, and, at the time, well beyond my ability to DM anyway, we did play through that part, and I probably botched it. This time I can give this NPC the attention to detail that he deserves, so in a way, I have come full circle! I’m allowed to cover up an ugly tattoo with a beautiful one.

So, in a nutshell, prep was very intense, and took the entire month to prepare, but what I have prepared is going to last me a very long time. The most challenging aspect of it is controlling the pace without controlling the PCs, and I must say that I am enjoying it! It is rare to be challenged by a module. Typically I try to avoid using them, but there are really good ones out there that are worthy of playing through, and Bleak House is one of them.

2115 The Complete Wizard's Handbook review

The last of the Core Player Class books was released in July of 1990, and was written by Rick Swan. Before we begin, I would like to say something that I have been waiting to write about until we got to this book. I think that we all walk into the game for the first time with preconceptions about what should and shouldn’t happen in the game, and some of these are utterly false. Before rolling up my character, and reading through the rules for the first time, I wondered why the stats didn’t change. Couldn’t one get a higher STR, or work on improving their DEX naturally? Well, the answer is that this is a game, and it really doesn’t matter what your STR or DEX is, not in the long run, but that misconception was there, and an even bigger confusion for new players first walking into the game is the wizard class.

We all know what a wizard is, or at least we think that we do, we’ve read about him in fiction, and watched his antics in movies. This is probably the most attractive class for new players who have no idea just how weird the mechanics are for it.Many players hadn't read anything by Jack Vance prior to playing the game. I understand why the Vance method of spell casting was chosen, if it wasn’t then the other classes would be over-shadowed and this would no longer be a cooperative game, but that doesn’t change the fact that we might not really be able to play our version of what we think that this class SHOULD be.

There is also another common complaint that players have about 2e: At low levels the characters are incompetent (which I don’t find to be true, but assuming that it is), no 1st level PC is harder to keep alive than the Wizard. The wizard is attractive to first time players, and it is the hardest class to play. Experienced players love the challenge! You are playing a completely different game than everybody else is, and once you figure that out, then you can start keeping these guys alive and if you play smart, you’ll be the most powerful guy at the table. The problem is, getting good at this class. By the Summer of 1990, very few players were good at this class, and not very many Dungeon Masters knew how to DM for them. Even though it seems like most of the PHB and DMG is dedicated to the mage, there was a much left unexplained. A lot of work was done in Dragon Magazine, but as far as reference materials, Dragon has never been at the top of the list for ease of use; which is where this book comes to play.

Like its predecessors, this book is dated , but it works well in conjunction with the core handbooks. Lets crack it open and see what is inside!

CHAPTER 1: Schools of Magic

This new mechanic put a wrench in lots of games, add the bloated list of spells which 2e offers and it doesn’t make sense, unless you ponder the school system. Under 1e rules all wizards were pretty much the same. You play one, you’ve played them all. What the school system sought was unique mages, or a system that made world building easier. Instead of inventing your own magic system, you might simply pick a few schools, put them at odds with one another, and make general wizards a crime punishable by death and you are good to go!

The schools, as explained in the PHB, left much to be desired; but this book does an excellent job of properly explaining each school, and offering a decent template to use. It still doesn’t enforce the adoption of dedicated schools, but it does make it attractive.

CHAPTER 2: Creating New Schools

This chapter works over-time and is very helpful to those people who are crazy enough to want to world build. Not only do you have suggestions and minimum requirements for creating new schools of magic, but you also get a great collection of material which allows you to create your own spells that can be easily excepted into the existing magic system. This is the formula which TSR used, and instead of keeping it a secret, they shared it with the users, which is awesome!

CHAPTER 3: Wizard Kits

Just like the other books in the Complete Series, this offers options and ideas for stepping outside of the box and tailoring specific kinds of wizards for your campaign. Many of these kits are for low technology, savage societies, or examples of altering the class without actually altering the schools of magic, which is helpful in world-building.

CHAPTER 4: Role-Playing

As I’ve said before, role-playing is a strange concept to new players, and through role-playing we can take common classes and make them into unique characters, and since everybody already has established ideas about what a wizard is prior to play, this chapter helps us shatter that mold, and role-playing while playing the wizard class is something that you are going to do a lot of! Especially since the only interaction you have during combat is knowing when and when not to use your small list of spells that you have allotted to you.

Of all the Core Class Complete books, I think that this role-playing section is the most advanced, which is appropriate, especially considering the limitations of our preconceived notions about what it is to be a wizard. It also talks to the DM about his NPCs, there are only so many times that going out and fighting the evil necromancer up in the haunted mountain of doom is going to be fun, but it also encourages DMs to not just write adventures for Fighters, but always examining the wizard class’s role in the party and providing him with things to do which won’t drain him of his abilities in the first 10 minutes of play.

It is my opinion that not only is the wizard class the most difficult to play, but it is the most difficult to DM for. This chapter helps out those poor DM’s who had never been allowed to play for a few years before becoming or being forced to DM, but it also gives the players who read it an edge at keeping their pathetic PC with 4hp alive . . . maybe.

CHAPTER 5: Combat & the Wizard

This is what helped make the class playable for many first timers. It gives you advice on how to choose your spells wisely. According to the core rules, spells are selected prior to play, and while that sounds limiting, it does give the person who is playing it more time to game, because he is spending less time looking over his spell lists. Combat is the most dangerous time to be a wizard, and people who try to play the class like they are fighters are going to be rolling up a new character before combat is finished.

It also addresses the weapon restriction, and how much a DM can lift it if he chooses too.  This is complained about by players, but at higher levels, it is going to be the fighter that is complaining about his inability to strike multiple targets at once, so in the end it balances itself out.

CHAPTER 6: Casting Spells in Unusual Conditions

I want to say that much of this chapter is in the DMG, but this book puts it into the player’s hands, and it is more expanded and better explained then the basic rules kept secret in the DMG. All sorts of fun ideas are in here; of course tips on world-building, but also pointing out what can happen if a mage's senses are impaired.  Many DM’s have a hard time calling a game for Wizards unless they’ve played one. Subtle changes to the environment can alter how a spell functions, and by looking at what happens to spells when they are cast underwater, or by realizing that a wizard who is silenced can still cast some spells, it allows the DM to have a better chance of making a call correctly regardless of the exact circumstances that can come up during play.

CHAPTER 7: Advanced Procedures

by: Clyde Caldwell
Unlike the other books in the Core Complete series, this one has guidelines to take a wizard beyond 20th level, which is crazy as I find that the integrity of the system is barely stable at 20th level, never the less 32nd level! But that is just my perspective,; to each their own! But that is a very small fraction of what this chapter offers. The most important aspect of playing the wizard isn’t the rules themselves but the player’s ability to think creatively. As we gain experience as players, we come up with all sorts of tricks as we’ve learned how to be creative with spell casting, this chapter examines 18 common spells and offers some ideas on using them, and/or offer further guidelines for spells that had proven to be game busters for DM’s.

Some spells were just poorly written in the PHB, notably Illusions. It offered no hints or guidelines for a player to go by, so this chapter spends a bit more time talking about what these spells can and can’t accomplish, and I feel that once you've learned how to play and DM for an Illusionist, you can play or DM anything!

It also has more complete rules which define Spell Research, which is an ability gained at middle-high level that allows a mage to create their own spells, as well as creating magical items.

CHAPTER 8: New Spells

For those of you who felt that the list of spells in the PHB wasn’t bloated enough, here are even more of them! Not surprisingly, this still didn’t convince people that enough is enough. Why offer methods of creating your own spells if you are going to exhaust them all? People went crazy for this kind of stuff though, and they still do.

CHAPTER 9: Wizardly Lists

This may sound archaic, but back when we were first playing the game, there was no such thing as the World Wide Web. There were no blogs, or anything! We got ideas from actually talking to each other, and if an idea was really good, and really fun, then it might make it into Dungeon or Dragon Magazine! This chapter has been replaced by all of the silly ideas that we bloggers have come up with over the years, but guess what . . . these lists are still fun!

Bringing magic schools to life (way before Harry Potter), random crap that can be found in a wizard’s lab, new magical items, stuff just waiting to be enchanted, there is a good assortment of this-and-that which stimulates personal creativity rather than limit it to what is published.


Finally you get two items that you can photocopy and use to design your own schools of magic, as well as you own kits. It would had been nice to have a character sheet and spell sheets back here as well, but that is what makes me such a crummy capitalist.

By Lerry Elmore

Flipping through this book, much like The Complete Priest’sHandbook, it would appear that there is nothing in it but fluff, however once you begin reading this thing, it becomes obvious just what $15 could bring to the table. It encouraged DMs to write for the players, and teaches the joy of background events! I, however, don’t feel that it is as complete as it should have been. It addressed many things, but it also left a lot to be desired, for instance a list of spells which are expensive to cast, spells that are actually quest spells but they had been snuck in there anyway, and better definitions for spell books and common components found in a spell casters bag all would had been helpful, but with a class as customizable as this one is, the more rules that we apply to it, the less functional it becomes when world-building.

Regardless of what we may think about it, the fact is that PHBR4 was the standard for many many years. Yes, other spells were added in later publications, but these rules stayed core and unchanged until Player’s Option:Spells & Magic was released in 1996, and even today, many 2e players prefer this handbook over the updated version. One can say that the Player’s Option book didn’t rewrite the facts found in this book, but simply provided an addendum to it.

While The Complete Wizard's Hanbook did accomplish its goal of aiding players in excepting the Vance system of magic as the base, and providing tons of ideas to add to our arsenal of ideas, is this book required to play the game? No. Did it push the genre further? Yes, I believe that it did. I feel that this book can add things to our campaigns regardless of skill level, while it may overwhelm a beginner, even just reading the thing will improve his game, and for advanced users, it offer's enough to keep this book around.

At the time of its release, I will admit that I didn’t read it. I never read it until after I was already DMing games. I had ran into several problems in regards to DMing for wizard PCs: they were ripping my world apart and/or getting bored because lack of attention. Memorizing the entire spell list in the PHB is not an option, but this book helped me address and fix the situations above. For that, I give it a rating of a B. It will enhance your 2e games, if not actually improve them.

The Complete Wizard's Handbook is not a collectors item; it has been reprinted many many times and left unaltered. As far as value, I’d price it from 5-10 bucks, $15 for a really good copy, but no higher than $20, and that would be reserved for 1st printing that is in perfect condition.

The book itself wears the same as the rest of the books in the complete series; careless abuse causes the cover to fall off, and pages to fall out, but if it is kept on a shelf and properly used, it will last forever without the glue spontaneously getting crispy. I’ve  got the 1st printing and it has held up like a champ!

Sorry Dragon's Lair

My birthday was a few weeks ago, and I got to expand my 2e library some! The wife picked me up some really nice books from the Oriental Adventures line, I had always been a fan of the original hard cover 1e book, which we had always used in our 2e games. I had known that these books were out there, but never actually saw them.

Kara Tur brought the world of Oriental Adventures into the Forgotten Realms setting, and the Horde, which is a really cool book series. She got me the classic DM's Guide to Immortals for the D&D line, and a book that I always thought that I had, but I guess that I didn't . . . Monster Mythology.

I had previously hated the book, you'd be reading something and all of a sudden they refer you to this strange book, which irritated me because I felt pressured to go buy it. It was one of the sales tactics of TSR that I despised. Why not just print the information, and be done with it? If I want more, I'll go get the book. Well, I had never bought the book because I never found a used copy. I thought that I did, but what I was using was the Humanoids Handbook, they had brief descriptions of monster beliefs, and that was good enough for me. Now that I do got it, and I was able to flip through it, there is some really awesome stuff in there! It actually would had come in handy during my orc campaign, as it expanded the standard spell casting levels found in the MM and Humanoids Handbook. I ended up doing this myself, and it took a lot of time that I would had rather spent doing other tasks. I would like to start that campaign over, but for now that is not in the cards.

My mother had also given me some cash and I wanted to spend some of it on gaming materials, I had gone to Dragon's Lair and they had nothing, so it was back to internet shopping!

I  ordered the "Creative Campaigning" book, but it hasn't come in yet. That is another title that I thought that I had, but I didn't.  I probably weighed it in my hand many times, but always chose to get the other title. I've never had much money to spend on gaming, so I had to choose things as wisely as a could, and yes I do regret putting a few things down and grabbing something stupid instead, just because it said RAVENLOFT on the cover.

I completed my DM's REF series by finally getting the "Arms & Equipment Guide" which I have always considered a luxury item. It is tremendous to own! But completely unnecessary, yet people still love it. I had ran into situations where I really wished that I had it on hand. Some of my players are totally new at this, and I've been asked really good questions, like What the difference between a long sword and a bastard sword? What do they look like? I've got pictures of that kind of stuff, but nothing available fast, now I can show them the picture in the book! There are also items which I had no idea what they were, but we used them anyway. It has always been one of my favorite books that I've never owned.

But, Ripper, you say, why don't you just google it? I don't allow computers at the table unless absolutely necessary. I find them to be a distraction and we all prefer to play old-school, no technology aids. It also sucks when players google the area that you are gaming in, and end up finding spoilers for what you are doing.

I also completed my Player's Option collection and got Spells & Magic. In the past I had hated this series as well, but today I find that my attitudes towards it has flipped. We don't use the entire thing! We don't use them to roll up characters, for example, but there is a lot of great material in them that you can easily pull out and add it to your 2e classic games.

I only wanted to spend $50, and I am happy with what I got. I was hoping to pick up some classic modules, but the prices for them have risen, even really bad modules like "Web of Illusion" which is terrible, was high. I was also dealing with my terrible memory. There is a third party adventure supplement that added dangerous plants to your monster collection, but I can't remember the title, I know it's an old book, but after spending several hours looking for it I just couldn't find the thing. Somebody had recommended it to me, but I can't remember who it was.

Oh well, that is that for this week. Sorry it isn't all that interesting, but I've got a lot of prep to do yet for the next game, and a whole lot of reading to do! It's been a while since I got to read some new 2e content! I'm kind of excited :)

The Complete Priest's Handbook book review

Six months after the release of The Complete Thief’s Handbook, TSR finally released, in June of 1990, PHBR3: The Complete Priest’s Handbook. Written by Aaron Allston, this title was unlike the other books in the series, and a lot was expected of it. Of all the core classes, the most effected was the Cleric, with the inclusion of Spheres dictating spells, this book had to bridge all of the products that had been released previously, and in this task, the Priest’s Handbook went above and beyond the call of duty, becoming not just a Player’s aid, but one that was used by the DM as well. One could almost say that the Priest’s Handbook should had had a blue cover, instead of the brown!

Priests, Gods, & the World

Unlike the other Complete Class Books, this one focuses on world building; and this chapter immediately get down to business of helping you create a pantheon. Even in published settings, the gods can sometimes be ignored, and they really shouldn’t be. Besides evil gods which the players may come into more contact with, the NPCs need gods, including ones that don’t matter much to the players . . . at least on the outside. What this book seeks to do is help you make a more advanced world with more opportunities for adventure. If you are starting a world from scratch, or just trying to make up for the fact that you don’t own some supplement that examines the pantheons, this book has you covered. It also has a worksheet at the end of the chapter that helps you organize your thoughts, which is always helpful.

Its primary concern is with giving your world background. An epic past, detailing things that had come before!

Designing Faiths

Again, more world building, but this chapter details, not specific gods themselves, but how they are seen. It does not force you to make every campaign world controlled by pagan deities, which is available if you want, but it offers more suggestions. Religion can be philosophical only, or one god can control every aspect of faith. Through Faiths we can insert conflict, and it is nice to see such a detailed chapter. TSR did a fantastic job of offering multiple options, which really sets it apart from later supplements, and it doesn’t stop there!

Of all the classes in the Core PHB, it is the cleric that leaves the players wanting. As the PHB is a reference book, many people who use it, don’t actually read it. You learn the game by playing the game, not necessarily by reading. There is a little itty bitty passage in the first paragraph that tells you the powers of a generic cleric, and it is so short and sweet that many players who have played this game for years still haven’t seen it, what one does see is some large lists of suggestions that are all dictated to the player by the DM. A good question is if the cleric really gets to pick from that stuff at all, or are those suggestions all within the domain of a priest? Where does a cleric fit into the system? Is he just under the paladin? This is all lines of questions which must be figured out by the Dungeon Master.

There is also an old joke which refers to the Cleric as a medic. I don’t think that anybody thinks that that is really true, as the cleric is a competent fighter, but TSR and players did want this class to be a bit more advanced. Sure, he was the only character who could restore lost hit points, but he should also be role-played. He is a teacher of faith! He is a religious and pious man, and one can’t properly play that if one has no religion to be found in the game.

Sample Priesthoods
This is a poorly named chapter which makes this book such a workhorse. At this point in time, the reference manual for gods and goddesses was still the 1e Legends & Lore, which is a great book! However since the 2e system altered the class by adding Spheres of Power, the DM was left to figure this stuff out on his own, which isn’t impossible, but not something that a new DM could easily do. It also goes back to the Lazy DM who didn’t create religions, or a table which didn’t own or care to own a book that’s only purpose was to talk about gods.

This book was an incredible tool while playing Greyhawk. Personally, when playing a setting, I just want to use the original boxset material, everything else I create myself. I never owned anything beyond the original Greyhawk box, so all of the gods and goddesses were up to me to flesh out, and it was this chapter that made it possible to do so with consistency. That is the beauty of a generic product!

I have also used this product as a player, not all DM’s want to work on this stuff, so I could easily submit powers for an adventuring cleric that was balanced enough so that any DM could say yes to, without worrying about me pulling any munchkin tricks later on.

As a DM, it helps us quickly make gods which are aimed towards the mundane aspects of my worlds, or Gods for the Every Man. Religions which probably aren’t all that well suited for adventuring, but adventurers will run into them from time to time in their own travels. It saves time and gives the illusion of a complete world.

This chapter also gives us a very useful template for creating our own religious aspects, which quite often, a template is a more useful tool then the charts themselves! It allows the users to be creative more productively, which is definitely the case here. You can either use the material as written, or create your own, that is, once again, offering options to the user, which makes this book so useful!

Priest Kits

At this point, the book begins falling in line with the rest of the books of the PHBR series.  This chapter gives players ideas for stepping outside of the bounds of the PHB, but in a fair way, to make a completely unique character. Of all of the player classes, I think that it is pretty safe to say that each character really is its own kit anyway, but this helps us with themes which can be interesting. It is sometimes a rare thing for a player to willingly play a cleric. Sometimes he is press-ganged into it by the other players as the group really needs one, or the campaign is getting so difficult that they may need more than one, so players who don’t normally want to play this class, have options which get them interested right away.

I think that it also separates clerics in our worlds even further, a barbarian priest who can get plants to grow in the inhospitable north would be seen with greater reverence than a priest who does the same in a fertile environment. Also, within one church, clerics of the same deity would have different jobs and bring different sets of skills to the table.

This chapter also returned to players the Monk class, which had been initially edited out of the PHB, not because Mom said so, but for budget reasons, and the limited amount of space which Dave Cook had to work with.


I’ve mentioned this before. Today this chapter sounds silly, but at the time, and for new players, this chapter is a game changer. It is easy to roll up a cleric, and play it exactly the same way as the last one. It is the rare player, indeed, who plays the cleric as it is supposed to be run. Of all the core classes, this one depends heavily on the role-playing aspect of the game, because he probably doesn’t have the same thought process or beliefs as the player does.  Even how he interacts with the other players would be different. Is he going to heal the heathen fighter whose been stricken by disease? While he may not demand payment in gold, he will demand payment of something else. He may heal his body, but he will also want to heal his soul.

Besides different styles of role-playing, this chapter gets more involved than the version in the Fighters and the Thief’s Handbooks, as a cleric’s power doesn’t truly come from himself, but from a deity, and, if he displeases the deity in any way, he may lose his powers until he appeases the god once again.

It also makes suggestions for power structures found within a church, as well as suggesting that the DM create a calendar, and/or add religious days and festivals which would be important for this class to observe. Thus, we go pretty deep into aspects of this class, which really set it apart from all the others.

Yes, all classes involve role-playing, but role-players love this class! Thus, this chapter is helpful to even advanced players of the game.

Equipment & Combat

The last chapter of the book helps flesh out items which were only briefly defined in the PHB, such as the holy symbol, but it also adds some new weapons which were brought up within the book, or added some weapons that were left out of the PHB.

Since the Monk class is restored to 2e, martial arts were also restored, and this was the 2nd Editions first attempt at doing so. This system isn’t perfect, but it is functional! I played a fighting monk as written in this book and had a blast! I personally don’t think that AD&D has ever found a decent way to handle hand to hand combat, as it is an elusive thing, but the system invented by Aaron Allston is sound, as it can be used in two ways, to either knock-out or to do harm. What makes it such an elusive mechanic is that hit points are not defined (which I see as a good thing), but in unarmed combat, a hit is most definitely a hit. What Allston didn’t do was add a critical hit chart, which I’m sure that Mom wouldn’t approve of, as we always see in Kung Fu movies, instant kills and broken limbs, which breaks the rules of AD&D, as we don’t want to be forced to deal with violence in our games if we don’t want to, but this is something that can easily be fixed by the DM if that is the style of game that he wants to run, and he can still use this chart to get the job done.
I have heard that a later book in this series called The Complete Ninja’s Handbook offers a better matrix for handling this sort of thing, but I’ve not seen it, nor have I used it myself. This table has always been good enough.


This books original function was to replace or help the DM/Player modify the information found in older books. This predates the 2e Legends and Lore book by only 2 months, but compared to PHBR3, Legends and Lore is a very limited book.

The Forgotten Realm’s book, Adventures, does a great job of beautifully updating and identifying the gods, but honestly, it can’t compete with this book's generic usefulness; it replaces it, as well as religious based supplements found in later products. Is it as fun to read? No. But it is still a superior product to those who are on a budget or wish to handle these details themselves. I also want to point out that the information within this book is not aimed at any specific civilization, so it can be used for any time period, and any setting. If the players wish to space jam, or dimension jump, by using the tools in this book, a DM can very quickly set parameters and prep an entire world in one session.

This book not only clarifies rules, mechanics, and items found in core products, but it also offers options and suggestions so that it doesn’t leave one hanging in the wind. It asks questions before your players do, it allows content to be created during play, and it is can be used by both players and DM. When a reference book does this much, it is no longer just a supplement, it is core. It is a great companion to the Dungeon Master's Reference series, & a must have for world-builders of all skill levels.

At the time that this book came out, I think that we all bought it, but we all didn’t quite understand just how much was actually in there. Even today one can say that it is still ahead of its time. The Generic aspect of the book can cause it to be dismissed,  admittedly, it isn’t a beautiful book to look at and there was confusion about if it was written for players or for DM’s, which led to both ignoring the thing. It was a book that expected to be read prior to adding it to the game, which turns people off as well, but if you can get over the cosmetic aspects, and sit down and read it, you will see it as the tool that it is. Unlike the Fighters, the Thief’s, and the Wizards Guides, which I see as supplemental, I consider this book to be a core rule book. In later years, setting guides sought to replace this title, but they never have.

Back in the day I’d give this book a C-, I played under more than one DM who disallowed all of the PBHR books right off the bat because they hadn’t read them nor did they have any intention of doing so. Once the players who had read it began DMing games, THEN it became more and more excepted.

Today, my opinion of it has definitely improved. Instead of grabbing Forgotten Realms Adventures when dealing with religious matters, I grab this book first and foremost. It is faster and more accurate, and allows more creative freedom to those of us who now consider it core. I give it an A-, it isn’t all that useful if you aren’t playing with 2e rules, as the most important aspect of the book was to supply you with suggestions for spheres, and it did predate the Tome of Magic, so those spheres are not included in this title (which really isn’t that big of a loss as far as I’m concerned). It isn’t perfect, but it is a title that is in the stack of my prep material. Can it be used to prep 1e games? I would think so. I, like many AD&D users blend the two editions together. I would think that the formula and worksheets would be backwards compatible, even if you aren’t using the NWP-system, which this book really doesn’t depend upon too heavily.

What Aaron Allston did was write one of the most complete and helpful titles in a DM’s tool chest, and it isn’t just this title either, as he also wrote PHBR1 The Complete Fighter’s Handbook, as well as the RPG Masterpiece, The Dungeons & Dragons Rules Cyclopedia. For some odd reason, Wikipedia does not credit him for PHBR3, but he is listed as the only writer in the book’s credits, so why Wikipedia left this title out is kind of a mystery to me.

As far as PDF vs. Hardcopy, this book is readily available, and not collectable in any way. I wouldn’t spend more than $15 on it, but I would highly recommend the hardcopy. It is one of those books that I find myself reaching for more often than I give it credit for.


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A 2nd Edition AD&D holdout, I've played since 1993 and still love it!

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