May of 1990 saw the release of one of my favorite titles which I forget about more often than not. During this review I was kicking myself in the pants because if I would had remembered it and picked it up, it would have saved me many headaches. DMGR2 The Castle Guide is the result of a collaborated effort between many writers and researchers, and it served to fill in some large gaps left in the system for a very long time. Property! At 9th level, most PC classes gain the ability to benefit from property, and this opens up a large can of worms for many DM’s and players, namely one of law and government.
We are aware that the default government for any fantasy world with swords and sorcery is Feudalism. Even if we have different forms of rule, it still boils down to Feudalism. Researching feudalism is tough, and for the most part we can play our games in a way that completely ignores it, and we have to if we have no other options! Well, that is where this book comes in handy. The rules for a fighter becoming a lord at 9th level, and attracting followers is not very well detailed, and there are a lot of misconceptions with it: that it limits play, that it requires BATTLESYSTEM, that it takes a lot of boring bookwork; but what the rule eluded to, was that a local hero should become a national one, an epic hero!
We players of the AD&D system are good at writing around things that we aren’t experts at. We are writing fiction! And this book doesn’t change that; it isn’t a historical text, it is a guide book that allows DMs to add a dimension to their games which we might not normally have, and it works for all settings: published or home-brewed.
Well, let’s crack it open.
CHAPTER 1: The Feudal Setting
This chapter is a crash course in government as it applies to our fantasy societies. The complex philosophies are broken down in a way that is fast, fun to read, and informative. It isn’t overwhelming, the language is kept simple, and this is all practical information that is system neutral (or dependent) which can be applied to existing games with no issues. It is thorough enough to allow us to be able to see society itself: how they live and die, so that we can remove some of the modern baggage which we take into the game. This chapter doesn’t limit play, it actually cleans it up! If we apply it to the settings, the maps make more sense, we get a better picture about what is going on, especially in regard to all of the things that had been left out.
CHAPTER 2: The Days of Knights
Knights need not be fighters, and this book is about more than just castles, but it does focus on the “Lord” clause hidden in the system. It identifies exactly what this means, how one can become a lord, what they are responsible for, and gives ideas on how to apply this concept to our games without having the entire campaign high-jacked by one PC.
It also redefines the Laws of Chivalry in a cleaner way than in previous publications that doesn’t result in suicidal characters, nor does it give rules lawyers the ability to take over the table. It is a lot more functional!
For those that do wish to pursue it, the book does examine the Knights Path as it was, and also touches upon demi-human equivalents to knights. It is fun to read! It gives tons of ideas for NPCs as well as story applications.
CHAPTER 3: The Tournament
For many of us, these things are either used to take a break from our normal game, or they are ignored, but its place in Feudalism is a very important one! Tournaments were not just sport, this was medieval politics in action, and it gives the DM a clear understanding of this, and how to apply it to their games. Tournament, was how lords typically did war with one another; it was a means of grabbing more power or proving your dominance over your allies and enemies. Under feudal law, it is illegal to murder a lord, but if one is challenged to a duel, and the other accepts, a lord can be legally slain in tournament.
On a technical level, this chapter provides two quick systems, one for handling jousts, and one for handling contests of archery, but also gives a couple of ideas for other displays of power better suited to none-fighter classes.
CHAPTER 4: The Evolution of Castles
Once it gives details for the world of castles, it then explains the castles role in society, and what happens there. The word Castle itself is used to describe many different buildings, this chapter identifies a castle’s role in its environment, and details a few different styles of them as well. It also begins the technical details of construction by listing what materials can be used to build them.
CHAPTER 5: Castle Construction
This chapter is fun, as it provides details for its own system of play that is completely independent of the core AD&D rules. It has tables and explanations which make it possible to determine how long a building will take to construct, how much it will cost, and even a fun chart of random events that can take place during the construction!
The chapter also offers a detailed example of play using all of the rules applied, including a map of the finished product.This is sandbox play at its finest! It allows the DM and the Players to focus on aspects that they want to, and ignore those that they don’t. If one doesn’t want to play this scenario out because they are currently busy with bigger fish, they can pay others to oversee the construction and the DM will be able to know when it will be finished, or this can be a fun part of the game; and one that the players will remember!
Now the downside of this system is that it details how to construct a building from scratch, it does not detail how to take an existing structure and improve it, for that you will still need to use the 1st Edition DMG.
CHAPTER 6: Unusual Castles
As noted before, this guide allows any structure to be built, not just castles! From simple wooden forts, to enormous palaces, anything is possible. This section is an idea factory so that the DM and the players can work together to see these things built.
CHAPTER 7: Warfare!
There are two game systems that can be played with our structures once they are constructed, BATTLESYSTEM and AD&D, these are two very different games. While it recommends BATTLESYSTEM, and sets out to revise and expand rules for handling a siege, it also allows this to be played out through AD&D rules, which is writing around the mass combat. Yes, it offers quick play rules for very complex things, but it also seeks to empower a DM with the knowledge that he needs to feel up to the challenge of writing scenarios that can be technically terrifying for them.
Detailed in this chapter are military strategies and concepts for both sides, and the most comprehensive details of siege engines and mechanics that has ever been undertaken by TSR. It also reprints materials found in Dragon Magazine which detailed unusual means of attacking a castles walls such as Giants beating the things down, and while the systems detailed in this book focus mostly on historical data, it does give you warnings on how the effects of magic, if left unchecked, are going to destroy society and render it back into the stone age. Unlike real castles, these have to withstand attacks from wizards and dragons as well, and while the book can’t provide the answers to all of our problems, it gives us enough information so that we can be prepared for the them.
CHAPTER 8: Quick Resolution Systems
This chapter addresses two problems inherited in the system, the level of detail that we are wanting to achieve, do we want to play this out with BATTLESYSTEM, do we want to stick to AD&D, or do we want to use a combination of both? Either way, a siege can last months or years, regardless of the methods we want to use to determine who wins, we are going to want to speed up the clock from time to time.
We want a mixture of random and character driven events, and this offers a few different methods for dealing with it. No method is perfect, but it will get you started, and at least comfortable with the idea of dealing with anything from orcs testing the defenses to all out war, regardless of what side of the walls your character is standing on.
CHAPTER 9: Generic Castles
The biggest failure of this book is the noticeable lack of examples. Including the example found in chapter 5, there are only four maps, and three of them are those worthless forced perspective maps. While sitting down with your players and designing a castle from scratch can be fun for some tables, that is not playing D&D. DM’s know how to draw maps, but players typically only think about the game when they are at the table, and players who sit down and draw detailed maps of dungeons is kind of a lost art now, simply because we play differently than we used to.
Thankfully, today we have the Internet, and many examples can be purchased 3rd party. I personally recommend PDF versions of Castle Book I (1978) and Castle Book II (1981) that were put out by the Judges Guild, as you’ll get more bang for your buck with them. TSR did follow up this title in 1991 with Castle Sites, but it only offered seven examples that were limited in use and too overly detailed for my taste. It is also acceptable to steal maps from modules; even if the module is trash, sometimes they at least have a map or two that you can lift and have your players key it.
This book is one of my favorites, and it is well designed! I like the fact that it offers lots of options and, historically, in AD&D, this was the precursor to the Green Series of historical settings. The Castle Guide stands on its own as a fun campaign, I played it in a one-on-one scenario and it was one of my all-time favorite games! Granted, it isn’t without problems, as it still requires Gary Gygax’s Dungeon Master's Guide, at least in my opinion, but I think that this is as close as you can get to a perfect book that is easy to grasp and fun to play. Its usefulness is limited, but that does not take away from it, as what it does do is superb in execution. I give it a B-, it did push the game further and allow anyone to play high level campaigns easily, it also helps us up our medieval game without being snobbish.
As far as value, this book got a huge print run, but not as large as the "Complete Class Handbooks" did, so it’s going to cost a bit more. For a copy in good and gently used condition, you are looking at between $20-$35, a beat up copy should run you no more than 5-10 dollars depending on just how bad it is. A near mint copy I can see getting a fair market value of $55-$75 max. If you own this book, take care of it! Use it, as it is fun and very helpful, but since they aren’t going to make any more of these things, once one is destroyed, then it is gone. PDF’s are available for it, and while they’ll do in a pinch, if you do use this book, you’ll be doing a lot of page turning, so the physical copy is preferred.
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?
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.
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|
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!
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