Christmas 2016



I hope that everybody had a great holiday! The weekend went really fast, and I’ve got a game to prep for. We all have our weak points, one of mine is 100% improve, I can do it, but it isn’t very satisfying to me, and it isn’t my greatest skill, though I do work on it from time to time, I prefer to DM games where I have a better understanding of where it is going. While this takes some doing, on game day, everybody at the table, including me, can have a bit more fun. I tend to feel singled out and too much in the spotlight when we do improve games, our time to play is limited, and when a game doesn’t feel up to par for me, I take it very personally. We are our harshest critics!

My family did help me out for this kind of thing; wilderness adventures are not my strongest point, I’ve improved at it over the years, but it is still something that I need to work on, so this Christmas my kids got me Outdoor Survival by Avalon Hill, this is an old RPG Board Game put out in the 70’s which was recommended by the Original Dungeons & Dragons ruleset to play wilderness sections. Even in modern games the principals of this game are still present, however this was one of the few times when D&D strongly recommended a competitors product to play the game. Of course TSR quickly developed their own system, but talking to OD&Ders, this method is still far superior to anything else. It allows a more advanced game, and provides techniques that can add more depth than what I may currently have. I did get a chance to look everything over while I made sure that the game was complete, and I really wish that I had this thing for last game! I’ll have to have some players come over sometime so that we can just play it as is.

I was thrilled to get it! My very first Avalon Hill game! These things just were never available in this area, but it was something that people talked about. On its own it is a game that is supposed to test wilderness survival techniques, another interest of mine, plus I can use it for D&D? Needless to say I am very stoked to finally have it.

My wife also went way above the call of duty; I’ve been using the same DM screen the entire time I’ve been a Dungeon Master, the original REF1. I take really good care of it, but it is a paper product and since it has seen regular use for over twenty years, it is very very worn and starting to fall apart. I’ve got a tear on one of the spines that I’ve been meaning to tape up but never do and every game it just gets worse and worse. Replacing it isn’t an option because the market says that this is now a collector’s item and the prices are nuts, but my wife hates looking at that poor dilapidated old thing, mentioning it every game. She did some research on-line and came up with an idea of making one out of wood. We love DIY projects, but she is a nurse who keeps nurses hours, which are crazy, and for the last few weeks, unknown to me because I work graveyard shift, she’s been staying up until 3am working on this project. This is one of those things that really makes me kind of emotional, she didn’t have to do that; but it emphasizes the kind of person she is. That takes so much love!

She says that she’s not quite done with it, she’s got some hardware coming in the mail that she wants to put on it, and she wants to put some magnetic strips on the inside so I can hang papers from them, but this thing is just so beautiful already! I mean, look at this thing!



It gives me more room, better security behind the screen, but I can still see over it, it stores nicely and this one is not ever going to wear out. A good screen is something that we all take for granted, and I use mine a lot! She even put some nice pictures on the back. Words can not describe how this makes me feel, just the time and effort on her part makes this my favorite present! As far as I’m concerned, she won Christmas!



Anyway, this weekend went fast, and next won’t be much better, and then it is game night, so I’m not sure how much I’ll get done on this blog, in the next few weeks but we’ll see how it goes. Once again, happy holidays, friends!

Seasons Greetings

Merry Christmas! Taking it as easy as I can this holiday season, and working real hard to show my gratitude to all of the people that love me.

May all of your Saving Throws be high, and all of your Ability checks be low.

Gothic Earth Episode 4: Spring-time in Germany

Last night we had a pretty full house! Almost everybody showed up, which was nice, however because of the nature of this game it made things even more difficult. When we last left off, the former German Prime Minister had been saved from the asylum, in another bizarre twist of fate that was unplanned, Bismark's childhood house was just down the trail from where I had placed the asylum, which made things awfully convenient.

We had to play catch-up with the wizard before we could begin. He was able to locate his spellbook and escape the fire and then we started playing one of the oldest and most difficult games that one can do. The Hex Crawl, but unlike fantasy where we can just make stuff up, since we are playing a historical game, the terrain is already laid out for me, as are the towns.

I had already prepped a map in case the players tried to escape the asylum, but for this adventure I wanted an even larger map. I anticipated that they would either try to go to Berlin or Nuremberg, with my preference to Nuremberg because that is a longer trip which I felt would give us as much play-time as possible. I looked at google maps, and was able to get a rough idea of the terrain and found a free online map of Germany in 1890 which was really helpful. I also had to define the old territories as these people would all have different ideas about the current political system that had been set in place.

For Hex Grids, I just use colored pencil to mark the terrain type, then go back over it with regular pencil and mark and label towns. I was able to connect them with roads that were labeled on the 1890's map.  It isn't completely accurate, I deleted much of the railroad, wanting to limit travel. The whole reason to get to Nuremberg is to board a train. For each color that I use I make lists of things that might be out there, and I make random encounters lists. Nothing too advanced. I know that my map isn't to scale, but it has to be compatable with D&D, so each Hex = 6 miles, which I found works the best.

I also wanted to speed up the time-line for the German Military, so I've fictionalized a lot of my own history here. This made it more interesting and I could tie everything together with military encounters. I marked bases on the map, and just kept the Soldiers listed in the MM and gave them guns.

That was the extent of my prep, the rest was done ad lib. I had planned a survival run, but that didn't happen, so it was a good thing that I didn't over prep.

THE STORY

The heroes started out in bad shape. They are not dressed appropriately, and they still have the masks locked onto their faces which mark them as mental patients. It is spring and constantly rainy, they are wearing thin ropes, and no shoes. The gun-fighter has a magical item which hid some supplies from hospital staff, so they made a quick inventory. They had 2 pistols, with a few bullets, an iron shank, and a staff.

The effects of Ravenloft started dying once the Doctor was dead, but before that could happen the cleric made an error and started healing the party, which doesn't go well. The explorer with the broken arm got a useless and deformed arm, the sailor who had been horribly burned now looks like he is on the last stages of the black plague, and the cleric herself developed disgusting scales. This actually kind of worked in their favor!

After searching the grounds and gathering tools that they could use for make-shift weapons, they started a building on fire and tried to sleep the best that they could, until morning when they decided that it was time to find their way out of these woods. Bismark wanted to go to the farmhouse that he was born and raised, which they were able to find without getting lost.

Bismark was able to get some food from one of the last remaining neighbors still living in the area, the party came up with a plan that I had not seen coming, they decided to earn some money by putting on a traveling freakshow. They traveled to Stendle and actually made money, purchased supplies from town, and got the hell out before the novelty wore off.

From there they started working their way south, keeping to the roads, they had planned on repeating this at every town which they entered, but as DM I couldn't let them get rich, and they instantly got greedy, going to a bigger town that was out of their way to make even more cash, they got caught by the military and were arrested because they had no papers. Word hadn't gotten out yet about Bismark escaping, so that wasn't yet an issue; they were brought before the Captain in charge of Lower Saxony, they were getting no resistance from the locals, and young men were gladly signing up in droves!

I didn't want it to be too easy, so I questioned everybody, and yet another strange event happened, all of the players were able to successfully roll their crappy CHARISMA checks, all of them! They were able to get visas and told to leave the country as fast as they were able. There is to be no more shows as Entertainment has been banned by the government. Germany was preparing for war.

Off they go! They were able to buy a beat up old wagon and a couple of nags to pull it and they moved south. They were even able to buy a tent with the slim funds that they had left. Instead of scavenging for food, they were eating at inns and roadhouses.  

My players were allowed to smooth talk their way through the countryside, with only one combat encounter, that had been with a small party of orderlies that had escaped the fire at the asylum. Finally, though, their good luck ran out. They were stopped in Bavaria, a land that was currently being repressed by Berlin, by military bullies that were demanding everything. At this point it was known that the Generals in Berlin wanted all foreigners arrested and brought back to them, the Lieutenant didn't know that Bismark was the real target, and greed was this mans motivation at the moment. He demanded guns, all of them.

DM NOTES

Running an NPC that is traveling with your players is difficult. You have to remember that they are there, you don't want them making decisions, and you don't want them to get all the glory. Even though Bismark is a major NPC, I did not engage in combat. I offered no ideas unless asked. He would give advice and thoughts when asked. I did use him to make the game a bit more challanging, not only did they have to get him out of the country, but he placed another stipulation upon the group by forbidding them to commit murder. Any murder, even in self-defense. These were his people and he'd rather die than to know that any harm befell even the soldiers because of him.

Completing role-playing objectives within the game is how my players earn most of their XP.  

BACK TO THE GAME

There was no way that these characters are going to be vulnerable again, not after what they went through in the asylum, so turning their guns over was not going to happen. It turned into a mexican stand-off, six armed PCs verse fifteen soldiers of an unknown level.  Just as one of the players is about to pull the trigger, blowing the head off of the Lieutenant and definately getting shot for doing it, the cleric suddenly pipes up and casts Charm Person, instantly stopping the stand off, with no blood shed. Her quick thinking saved the party and secured the objective of not committing violence.

From there, they were able to make it to Nuremberg where I stopped the game.

Summery

I dislike playing this style of game, I've got a very good grasp on the rules, but it is not anywhere near thorough enough to ad lib. I used my percentile dice a lot to make up for mechanics that I couldn't remember and didn't have time to look up. I really like to be prepared so that I have a better chance of controlling the pace of the game, and this one was very clunky.

My biggest error, I feel, was where I chose to sit. I like to be by my books, but since all of my players but two showed up for the game, if I would had sat at the center of the table, instead of my usual spot on the end, I would had been in a better spot because half of the players were much further away than normal. Seating matters! Another thing that I could had done was have the person at the other end of the table be the caller, this might've helped force more communication with the entire table.

This was our last game of the year and the clubs Xmas shindig, my wife made an awesome dinner, Rosemary Beef Stew and a Yule Log cake, there was also some spirits and this year has been pretty tough of folks on personal levels, so we weren't at our best. I don't think that we ever really hit that level of focus that we like to, but that is to be expected when the DM is making stuff up as he goes.

All things considered, this wasn't our best, but it was still a great time. We finally got the Wizard leveled up, and he's got his book, which was bothering me.

My next task is to prepare something for Nuremberg, the players want to head back to England, they want to contact Van Helsing, and they want to resume their search for the Si Fan. THIS I can work with! I've got me some prepping to do!   

PHBR5 The Complete Psionics Handook Review



Psionics are strange things, first appearing in Supplement III: Eldritch Wizardry in 1976, they have been supplemental material in every edition of the game with the exception of the 1st Edition of AD&D, which they were core. When asked about this on the Dragonfoot BBS, Gary Gygax said that he himself never used them, but had been talked into adding them to the PHB at the last minute by a group in Chicago, a decision which he quickly regretted because they weren’t written clear enough and they didn’t match up with the rest of the handbook.

It is a mystery as to the exact source, or inspiration behind psioncs, however the strongest candidate appears to be novelist Andre Norton, who appears in APPENDIX N, and in 1976 (the same year as Eldritch Wizardry came out) Gygax had flown to her home in Florida to run a game with her.
Gary had planned on omitting them from the 2nd Edition of the rules, feeling that they were unnecessary and didn’t meld well within the fantasy setting; a feeling mirrored by David Cook who did cut them from the 2e Core rules, probably planning to add them as supplemental later on. Later on turned out to be February of 1991.

Psionics have a rabid fanbase, and sooner or later they were going to have their way, but I’m not sure if PHBR5 The Complete Psionics Handbook, written by Steve Winter & Blake Mobley, was a product that anybody really wanted. While Gygax agreed that the rules needed to be rewritten for clarity, going from seven and a half pages in the PHB to a 128 page book is perhaps a bit much. This bloating has been an issue with supplemental material in the past, they would take small concepts written by Gygax and make an entire book around them, as crazy as this is, we consumers ate it up!

INTRODUCTION

This book completely reworked the system, and greatly expanded it. Thankfully everything in this book is supplemental, so the DM always has the final say, which is needed. Players must understand that this is a book of options, and it has many many options.

CHAPTER 1: The Psionicist

The biggest change to the system is right here, it added a brand new player class who specializes in psionics. All of the information that a player needs to create their character is right here in this chapter, which is kind of nice. I know that when getting back into D&D after a long absence, we could had used something like this.

Also in this chapter, Psionic Strength Points (PSPs) are explained as well as that other cryptic stuff that mystified us when we saw psionic monsters in the Monstrous Manual.  I actually think that those things were a big motivator to selling this book, I remember that it really bugged me that I couldn’t use those monsters because I didn’t understand them, and once I bought this book, I still didn’t use them, but what are you going to do?

Additionally, there is a traditional Psionic chart for random generation of powers, now called Wild Talants (it was the 90’s and we loved being WILD), however this flips the number on the d% that you want to hit, and it’s dangerous because if you roll high it turns you into a retard.

CHAPTER 2: Psionic Combat

I always remember this stuff as being overly complex, but it really isn’t. It does require you actually reading it, but it isn’t any different than anything else in D&D, you learn more from playing than you do from reading about it.

Determining combat is fairly simple, it is treated like a proficiency check, the hard part has to deal with the weird terminology. I am a smart guy, and very well read, but the language that this book uses sometimes borders on the over-educated. Of course it also brings to mind terms found in the pulp fiction stories that inspired this genre, but that doesn’t make the terms less clunky because you or your DM will probably get terms mixed up.

CHAPTERS 3-8: Psionic Powers

This is actually where the bulk of the book comes from, the list of Sciences and Devotions was greatly expanded, and all of them are listed here. What is nice is that it is all complete to itself, you don’t need any other books; just this one. That is bonus points for it, unlike another class that shall go unnamed where the player can be required to have more books than his character does.

This is also one of this suppliment's issues, there is a lot of stuff here, yes they wanted to fill out an entire class, but it is not one that is completely supported by the core rules.

CHAPTER 9: A Psionics Campaign

This chapter squishes everything that we’ve enjoyed about the other Complete Handbooks into a diluted blip. I’ve got to say that I miss the Role-playing section. I kind of wish that they would had given a bit more attention to it; instead, the team that made this book knew that the small hardcore clubs that go crazy for this kind of thing will buy this book, and so will the completists, which were still around at this point: those trusting souls who purchased everything that TSR put out, believing that the company had the best intentions. For them, they are going to have to be sold this idea.

They talked about adding it as core into all of the different published settings, how psionics react to magic, some real world examples of psionics in history, and a suggested reading list. Overall, this chapter is only seven pages of content; it is rushed and to the point, but it really offers nothing of any true value, because it doesn’t properly do what it set out to, it was an afterthought, and ill edited.

MONSTERS

This was odd. At this point the Compendiums were still in use, these were loose-leaf monsters that the DM kept in a binder, and spent much of his time repairing. The psionic monsters were published in the back of this book and were not removable, so the players had full access to them. Whatever, our players generally know the stats of our monsters anyhow, and I dig this, kind of. On one hand everything you need is in this book, but on the other, you’ll have to flip back and forth a lot, and I’m not sure that the books binding can really take that. You can generally tell who uses it and who doesn’t, based on the condition of their book. There are brand new monsters, as well as a list for updating established monsters from other sources, with the exception of XP.

http://forum.reapermini.com/index.php?/topic/60043-ral-partha-mind-flayer/
Ral Partha mindflayer
One thing that doesn’t make sense is that they never properly added psionics into the calculated XP value, thus all of the monsters which can be harder than hell to fight, aren’t worth what they should be. Take the mindflayer, we all know what that is, and in my opinion, psionics was reintroduced to empower this monster. Because we aren't used to psionics, it takes longer to design our mindflayers, who at the table are incredibly dangerous because psionics aren’t magic, they can have their way with any party that isn’t prepared, and one hiding in a party of magic-users casting psionics is going to be even worse! However this Illitithid is only worth 7,000xp, vs. the 9,000xp gained by slaying a magic based one. To me, these psionic varieties could be the elite, as they are better in tuned with the mother brain.  Granted, I had never play-tested one, and maybe there are some problems, but looking around the web, folks complain of psionics being overly powerful, but this isn’t reflected in the XP, not even in the Handbook dedicated to it!

APPENDIX

At the back of the book there are summaries of powers, as well as an index so you can find each power fast.

Summery

This book is more visually attractive than the others in the series, but this ended up increasing its cost to $18, and the splash pages take space that could had been better served by actual content. There is a ton of material; too much perhaps. To me, psionics should be used to enhance the game, not provide a new class, but I can do that with this book too! It’s just that most of the content that made it into the book isn’t something that the average user is ever really going to use, it is just in the way. There are sources online that do a much better job, and in a pill that is easier to swallow.

Psionics were updated later, and, as we all probably remember, this book was made core to the Dark Sun campaign setting. I would say that this product is for pretty advanced tables, it lacks much of the exposition that is typically required for new users, and while those that are really into this kind of thing tear these books up, for the average users, these are things that we must remember to dust off from time to time.

I feel that this entire book has become out of date, even to us 2e hold-outs. It is a nice luxury item and something that we can use to enhance a monster here and there, so 18-20 dollars is a fair price for that. I would rate this book as a C-, perhaps if I used more psionics and was able to play-test it more thoroughly, this rating would change. It isn’t a bad book, it is just a bit too long winded to be practical.



Gygax's Seven Principals of the DM's Function


There has been some online complaints made by dungeon masters who feel that they had already played their best game. This thought is one that I do not find acceptable; in fact, by entertaining thoughts like that we are allowing ourselves to become complacent. If this happens, than it is probably time to sit on the other side of the screen for a while. The DM has many many functions, and it is his duty to never stop working on improving his ability to become better; true mastery, I feel, is unattainable. If we lose the ability to critique our work, we cannot grow. We must be critical of ourselves, but what is it exactly that we actually do? According to the games co-creator, Gary Gygax, he identified seven principal functions which we are responsiblefor; while it is very easy to become good at each, a true level of mastery is not actually possible, we can always improve our skills.


BECOME A MOVING FORCE

This skill does not mean that you railroad the players: that is simply providing the function, but it is a very weak attempt at doing so. To become a proper mover one has to plant seeds as one goes. This does not mean that you go out and buy the latest and greatest module and force your players to sit through it. There are many layers of storytelling that we are seeding, small ones as well as large ones. Most of this can be provided by identifying plausible and unexpected consequences. As soon as the game starts, and the players are making decisions there are consequences for these decisions, some good, and some not so good. We must also seek to become unpredictable, we offer many options as the game flows and the players chose which options that they want to pursue, this alone probably removes most modules from play. Your players will also be unpredictable, but if they get stuck than it is our job to move them before this even happens. We have to be aware of what seeds we are planting, and what unresolved plots are doing; if the players chose to ignore something today, it could spiral out of control and we have to let it do this.

We still want the players in control of their own destinies, however they still need us to guide them. If we offer no options then we are offering too many options. Decisions must be made, but in order for the players to make decisions they must be offered questions. This isn’t as easy as it sounds, we don’t want to lead the party, but we also want to keep everybody engaged. The party moves as one, but they should also move as individuals as well, meaning that some of the seeds that we are planting are for specific players, they are the stars of the show, they are calling the shots.

If you had spent three weeks designing a mine, and the players decide to not go into this mine, we’ve got to figure out a way to either encourage them to enter through encounters, else put it away and save it for later. Under no circumstances should they be trusting you. A good rule of thumb for me is that if you feel that you are being railroaded into something, then you’d best get off the tracks because you are being manipulated. Becoming a proper moving force takes years of practice, you don’t want to get caughtdoing it, but you don’t want to leave your players unaware of what there is to do. They must feel that they are agents of free will, because they are, but there is a balance to doing it well that is not static in any way. Finding quiet and different ways to nudge the party along when they need it is a subtle skill, and one can always do it with more creativity and tact than we’d done previously. We must never allow something to become passé.

CREATOR

Even if we use a published setting, we are still responsible for creating everything in this world. We do so because of necessity, but we are also exploring creativity.  This is more than just imagination; we must also be organized to properly catalog our world when it is required. This is a non-stop learning process, just because we have a map and a brief synopsis of what an area is like does not mean that we are ready to play there. We create on paper, as well as create at the table while playing the game; this goes back to adventure seeds and becoming a moving force. We must be inspired to create, and allow ourselves to enjoy doing it. Not only do we create basic necessities, we can always go just a little bit further, add just a little bit more detail. Create thoughtfully and with intent to move things along.

DESIGNER

Paying someone to design stuff for you is boring. While it is fine to steal and twist established ideas, if one does nothing but use the designs of others, what is it that you are really accomplishing here? Designing and Creating are linked together, but they aren’t the same thing. We create an orcish war party, but we must design how this war party will try and attack. We create a dungeon, but first we must design it.

I don’t care who you are, you aren’t an expert designer, things can always be tighter, we want everything different, there are also many play styles to try, and they all haven’t been invented yet. It is okay to open every game out with a goblin war, as long as you can design it to flow and function differently each time. Becoming repetitive and complacent go hand in hand, if an encounter falls apart, you’ve got to identify why and how you can design it better next time. Even if the design worked perfectly, it will never be repeated, no matter what, this is a major part of our job.

ARBITER

We must be aware of our rules; our chosen system represents the physics of our realm. Some people feel that they get bored of a system; this typically means that they are not focusing on the other principle functions. The rules are there to make our lives easier, and they allow us to do things consistently, that is all. One need not be an expert of the rules, but they do have to be aware of them. We depend upon our rules to help us design. We create new rules to either improve our base system or to speed up play. It doesn’t matter what this system is, you must master it and once you’ve got a system mastered do not switch systems. Have we ever got a system mastered? Probably not, and it would be a waste of time to try and memorize every chart and rule in it. Mastery, in this sense, is knowing your way around the books, being able to find something fast, or better yet, before play. The rules are tools which you can depend upon. They help us design by filling in all of the gaps so we can work on other elements of the design.

OVERSEER

We supervise and manage people. Managing people is a skill, even if these people get along, which hopefully they do, we must keep them productive. We pit players against each other, but we must also help them to resolve that issue. A role-playing session that goes on for too long leaves everybody not involved in it out in the cold, we’ve got to keep everybody engaged, and this is a dance that we are always learning and tinkering with. We make sure that the quiet people have a voice; that those who are following must lead; that those who have become complacent players in their own right must be challenged. DM’s are interactive with a group of people and we can’t forget this. If the players fail to accomplish their goals, this may be because of some fault of our own.

Many problems which happen at the table usually can be traced right to this source. A player who is a bully in an extreme situation, must be dealt with, but somebody who just gets excited, and tends to talk over everybody else probably isn’t doing it on purpose. Usually when a problem is happening it isn’t identified right away, not until it becomes an issue; thus, learning how to catch this stuff before it blows up is something that is learned over time though experience.

The Dungeon Master is the boss, and while it is our job to make the character’s lives miserable, the players depend upon us to be a good manager, to provide a safe and productive environment in which everybody can imagine and create and make something meaningful together.

DIRECTOR

Besides creating the world, we also bring it to life. Wemust be aware of our audience, what their expectations are and making sure that these expectations are being fulfilled. While we are all creating, it is our duty to bring the setting to life, and to do that we have to learn proper pacing. We seek to manipulate the emotions of the players, we speed up play, we slow it down, we don’t want to read giant text blocks to force a specific picture into the players heads, we have to draw simple and basic shapes and let their imaginations fill in the rest. This is a skill that is also learned over time. This is where your personal style and voice comes in. If you can discover these things, then you can offer your players an experience that they can’t get just anywhere.

Knowing when to break out the miniatures so that everybody is on the same page, but knowing when not to as well; knowing when to separate the party and when to keep them together, there are many tricks and formulas that you’ve got to use, and you are never going to master this, but if it isn’t there in any shape or form then everybody is going to get bored.

REFEREE

While a high degree of passion is required to be a Dungeon Master, we must also allow the dice to function. We have to blend rules with design. We have to make difficult calls, and we have to stick to plans. We have to bend rules, yet abide by them. We’ve got to have faith is our system to allow it to have its influence upon the game.  If the dice decide to up and kill everybody because of miserable rolls, we have to say, “Well, that wasn’t very much fun. Let’s try that again, shall we?”  However if somebody takes a risk, you also have to allow them to fail. We must be impartial, yet passionate. We must design but not become a slave to them. We are allowed to say “No.” But we are allowed to say yes too.

We must be fair, not just to the players, but to ourselves as well. If the monsters win, then they’ve won. If somebody at the table does nothing but make called shots, then you as the DM should be doing it as well. We must be able to interpret rules, and apply them as accurately as we can. We must invent rules on the fly to keep a pace going, but we must stop the game sometimes as well, just to refresh everybody on how a situation will be judged so that everybody is on the same page. Being a referee takes experience, and quick thinking. It involves making a decision and sticking to it. It involves being unpopular sometimes, keeping the players honest, allowing a system to function and knowing when it isn’t.

2121 Tome of Magic review



The Tome of Magic, I just want to say that I don’t really care for this book, but I will try my best to give it a fair review. There are those out there that love this book, and those out there that hate it . . . I am neither. I have no feelings about this book at all. I bought it years ago and on the rare occasion that I pick it off of the shelf, I usually set it back down without finding anything of any value what so ever. I want to say that in all of the years that I’ve owned it, I have only found one single instance where I used it, which was last month; that is many many years of gaming, friends. I don’t know, maybe I’ve used it before and promptly forgot about it, the Tome of Magic is that kind of book.

It was released in June of 1991, and is the cumulative effort of David Cook, Nigel Findley, Anthony Herring, Christopher Kubasik, Carl Sargent, and Rick Swan. It also features some nice art. I always thought that it was strange for this book to be hardbound, the material found within it isn’t stuff that you are really going to use all the time, it came about because Dave Cook thought that there was some holes in the 2e spell list, which is really kind of crazy, 2nd Edition has some severe bulk issues when it comes to spells, there are lots of them in the Player’s Handbook which people complain about because many think of them as throw aways.

CHAPTER I: How to Use Tome of Magic

In case you don’t know how to use a book, then this section is for you! Just kidding. This section is very dated, it was written when this information was brand new and they thought that people wanted to logically explain why clerics suddenly get new spells that they didn’t have before, which isn’t relevant anymore. One of the things that it does offer is adding the Wild Mage to your core rules. Personally, I’ve never really done this. I’m not opposed to it, it just isn’t anything that has really come up in my campaign. Looking at them, they look like a DM’s nightmare, I always found NPC wizards difficult already and I honestly don’t want to deal with even more book work, maybe it just looks harder than it really is. These rules and alternative tables look more interesting and more advanced than the version introduced to us in Forgotten Realms Adventures.*

The Tome also does some modifying to the cleric’s spells and how they function, specifically in regards to cooperation, which is very welcome into the game.

CHAPTER II: Wizard’s Spells

None of these spells are all that exciting, but they weren’t supposed to be. They aren’t spells that are all that useful, or different from the core spells found in the PHB, except if you specifically write for them, but there are two camps: Those that want lots of spells, and those that think that there are just way to many, admittedly I think that there are way to many, but at least with wizards, there are limits on how many spells that a character can have, while you want to make sure that the mage has a good balance, it is nice to have lots of spells to choose from to fill in their lists, but how much is too much? I suppose that that is a personal question that everybody has to ask themselves. What really irritates me about the mage is that at 9th level they can create their own spells, which is difficult when there are so many spells already out there, however I know that I am nitpicking. When you are playing a wizard you tend to notice the holes present in the system more than the Dungeon Master does.


CHAPTER III: Priest Spells

This could had been a mess, but thankfully this book added new Spheres, for the most part, over just adding spells to the existing ones. Clerics are hard to play! Especially when magic is required, and this book tends to make it even more difficult, instead of speed reading one book looking for ideas for something that you can do, now you have two books to go through.

Another big problem with this section is that the new spheres aren’t in The Complete Priest’s Handbook, as the Tome was written afterwards. As a cleric, I generally ignore this thing unless I’ve got a huge problem. The way that I have found to get around it is through scrolls.

The Tome does offer a concept which they call “Quest Spells” that are pretty interesting. These are very powerful spells for both PCs and NPCs which can add story elements that you can’t normally achieve without ignoring things. I guess to me it is an attractive concept, and it is fairly well written so that it doesn’t break everything around it. By making sacrifices you can introduce some awesome concepts to your games which can take some interesting directions.

While I do have mixed feelings about adding this book as core to the 2e system, I always end up doing it simply because these spells have been play-tested, now I’m not afraid to write my own, but that can take a lot of book work to figure out something that at the end of the day really doesn’t matter. It is just easier to look through the handbooks for spells, and when it comes down to writing one, it is nice to have lots of examples to look at so that you can categorize it properly. What this books spells do do is offer nice and tight mechanics, which I might not be able to achieve on my own.

CHAPTER IV: Magical Items

I never use this chapter, I think that the DMG wastes too much space with detailing these things, and then you’ve got this book which adds even more. As a new user, I liked reading sections like these, but as a well-seasoned DM I find them absolutely worthless. I almost always create my own magical items for the game, I am stingy when it comes to them and when I put one into play there is usually a reason.

APPENDIX I-III

These are nice, they collect all of the core spells and categorize them; there is one for wizards and one for priests, and then an index which cross-references with the PHB. Now I prefer playing with the old PHB, and I use the first printing of the Tome of Magic as well, thus this index is accurate, but if you use the black PHB, unless you have the appropriate version of the Tome, these page numbers won’t be right.

SUMMARY

This is a popular book, there is no denying that. It saw many reprints and even reappeared for 3e. It does offer options, but I wish that it would had offered more than it does. I remember when I first bought this book I had some expectations and once I got it home and read it, I didn’t feel that those expectations were met.  I just don’t have much use for this book. I would had liked to see the clerical magic system reworked, but that never happened until Wizards of the Coast took over. I probably should use this product more than I do, and I would if I  played more magical settings than I typically run. It would make the NPCs that I create different, but honestly, this has never been a noticeable problem for me, but that is due to my personal style.

The physical specs of this book are incredible. Because I used to be a mobile DM, this book was almost always on the bottom of the bag and took a lot of punishment, which it handled like a champ. It is weird that it was hardbound, it boosted the price up, but because it was hardbound I think that more people bought it than normally would had. Typically the hardbound handbooks are awesome, which personally I don’t feel to be the case here. You can play the game for the rest of your life and never once need this book. It isn’t even a very good luxury item. At the time I originally bought it, I felt ripped off and gave it a D-, but as it has sat on my shelf for many years now, and I do pick it up from time to time, I can see how this book can spark some creative slumps, and give a campaign a little bit more color than it normally might, so I’ll improve this rating to a very shaky C+. This book was written for a specific market, and I do not fit this market, so admittedly, I’m just a bad judge of this thing because I have little use for what it offers.

Cost wise, you’ve got to be careful with this one, like I said before, if this book doesn’t match up with your Players Handbook then you won’t be able to use the index, which is one of its best features. Don’t trust pictures, if you use the black PHB you’ll need to buy the ToM printed after 1995, and likewise, any ToM published after 95 won’t match the handbooks printed before it. PDFs are probably better here, but honestly, this book really isn’t even needed to play the game so you can skip it unless you find some cool deal where you can get away with spending 5-10 dollars on the hardcopy while perusing your favorite used book store.  

*EDIT: The Tome of Magic introduces the Wild Mage as a playable character, the concept of Wild Magic was introduced in Forgotten Realms Adventures

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