Sunday, June 28, 2020

Undermountain Map Origins

As documented on the Ruins of Undermountain sales page, "TSR didn't actually use Ed Greenwood's original maps," at least not in their entirety. This post documents the sources for parts of the Undermountain maps. (Let me know any other sources you can find.)

B1 In Search of the Unknown

Possibly the most well known source is the Upper Level map from B1 In Search of the Unknown, whose features figure recognizably—if not identically—on the Undermountain Level 1 map:

B3 Palace of the Silver Princess

The majority of the First Level map from B3 Palace of the Silver Princess contributes its basic layout to the Undermountain Level 1 map, just below where the B1 map appears. The B3 map has been rotated 90 degrees counterclockwise:

B5 Horror on the Hill

... and B5's Dungeon Level 1 map appears just above the B1 map:

Dave Sutherland's Empire of the Petal Throne campaign

The Ruins of Undermountain sales page also mentions that some of its maps are Dave Sutherland's maps from an Empire of the Petal Throne campaign. Thanks to an eBay auction in 2018, those campaign maps came into public view (you can see them yourself) , and some compose most of the Undermountain Level 3 North map:

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Dreamblade Seattle Preview Day – 2006 June 22

Posting this here for lack of a better place, so skip reading if you're only here for the old-school D&D content.

This video depicts a preview day for the Dreamblade game, hosted by Wizards of the Coast on June 22 2006, for gaming media and a small group of players from some of WotC's other competitive games. (I was fortunate to be part of that latter group.)

John Siadak (one of the other invited players) wrote a report of the event for the WotC web site, which is still available in the internet archive:

I also posted a report on/around June 24 2006, probably on some forum or other. See further down.

This video was originally posted by (now defunct) on July 2, 2006. (See this internet archive page for post date corroboration.) I am not affiliated with or whoever acquired their IP (maybe Inquest). I found this video on a backup DVD and wanted to make it available again. If you are the copyright holder and want to make this available on your own account, contact me and I will provide the original .mov file.

My report from around June 24 2006, without any contemporary edits:

When the kind folks at WotC invited me to a special Dreamblade event, I couldn't refuse. Well, that's not quite true. I could have turned down the offer, especially since the event took place on my son's first birthday. However, my son's party isn't until this Sunday, and my wife gave me the "okay," so it was off to Washington for me! Woo! :)

First, some background...

I had virtually no exposure to Dreamblade until two days before the event, when I played the online demo, read the online rulebook, and skimmed through some of the other articles. I knew several of the other attendees already had considerable Dreamblade experience, but I assumed WotC wouldn't mind if I went in cold.

To be honest, if I hadn't received the invitation, I probably wouldn't have ever played Dreamblade. Although the game has an impressive list of designers & developers (some of whom I've had the pleasure to interact with as part of my D&D Minis net rep responsibilities), I just don't have enough spare time to pick up another hobby. Between my family, work, ice hockey, and D&D Minis, my free time is very limited. Virtually all of my hobby time is devoted to D&D Minis, and I don't want to cut back on that to make room for another game -- especially since I recently gave up Star Wars Minis just to make room for everything else.

I went to the event thinking that I'd be able to a) try out Dreamblade and give WotC any feedback they needed from me as a test subject, and b) spend some face time with the WotC R&D guys so we could more quickly work through some D&D Minis issues. I had no expectations of continuing to play Dreamblade after the event. If we were allowed to take any minis with us, I expected to give them away to local enthusiasts after the game is released.

Anyway, I returned home from the event last night. I had a great time!

Dreamblade is *very* fun, and pretty darn deep. With only a few matches under my belt, I can't say just how far the depth will go, but I'm eager to dive down to find out! I can't wait for it to get released so I can play some matches with local opponents.

I'm excited enough to spend a small amount of my hobby time on Dreamblade, and I don't plan on cutting back on my other activities. I guess sleep will be sacrified. Appropriate, huh?

Although I can't give you any new spoilers, I can talk about my overall impression, tactics, and so on...

The minis themselves look awesome. The sculpting detail and paint jobs are top-notch. The text is easy to read. The minis even *feel* good. They're solid and stable, and they definitely add to the appeal of the game. In particular, the Locations are very visually striking.

Coming from a D&D Minis background, I really like that you don't have to keep track of a card separately from the miniature. All of the info you need is on the bottom and/or the top of the mini. Occasionally, you might need to look up some ability details in the rulebook, but this happened infrequently in my games.

The map is high quality, but could use some improvements, IMO. I like the fact that each cell fits exactly nine miniatures, since the game allows up to that many minis per cell. I wish the map had dedicated space for your reserves and graveyard (including a special not-yet-redeemed-for-extra-spawn-points area). The scoring track could be removed or shrunk to make space for the other stuff; you can keep track of your score with a d6.

The Dreamblade rules are somewhat complex, but still pretty easy to learn & teach. If I were a game designer, I'd feel compelled to say something about Dreamblade offering a lot of "design space." The options afforded by the general rules are pretty narrow, but there is a lot of depth provided by special abilities that allow you to break the genearl rules or interact with minis in  interesting ways. I'm sure future minis will add even more options and depth of strategy.

It's very satisfying to roll a big handful of dice. :)

Movement abilities are very important. My sealed pull (the selection of creatures in my starter & booster) had just two creatures that allowed me to make various forms of free movement, and both of those creatures were very weak. In contrast, my first opponent had at least 4-5 such minis, and some were physically strong. As a result, she was able to get a superior board position early in the game, which allowed her to capitalize on a dumb mistake I made, and she crushed me pretty hard after that.

Spawning in places other than the portal is very important. It allows you to make the most of your limited movement. In my first match, I had the chance to spawn creatures in the middle column, but I decided to put them all in my portal, and they simply couldn't get to the action in time. (Remember the dumb mistake I referred to above. That was it. :()

Serious players will learn & develop standard opening move strategies that minimize your chances of falling behind in turns 1 and 2. They'll also need to bring several defensively efficient, low cost creatures to make sure they can execute those strategies, even when they have very few spawn points.

What's true in real-estate is also true in Dreamblade: The most important thing is Location, Location, Location. Well, sort of. Locations aren't the most important types of minis, but some of them are *really* strong. Good thing there is some Location counter-tech in the set. Too bad I didn't have any in my first match. :weep:

More to come later...

...continuing where I left off above...

After cracking open my starter & booster, I tried to quickly analyze the various minis. I was having a hard time mentally categorizing everything I was looking at. My brain is trained for D&D Minis, so this made me stretch a bit. Because of the higher number of creatures in Dreamblade, as well as the necessity to bring creatures of a wide range of costs, it's challenging to sort your Dreamblade minis into "playable" and "not playable" buckets. Weak (low-cost) creatures are both playable and important. At that point, Mike Donais made a great suggestion: Group your minis by aspect, shove one aspect aside, and then prune a couple from there until you get down to 16 creatures. This made my warband selection process go much faster. I pruned out Fear right away, since I only had about 4 Fear creatures, then removed others in an attempt to give me a fairly balanced set of costs.

I already mentioned some of the key points of my first match (against Joyce, the editor of Scrye ... I hope I spelled her name right). Although I had some early success picking on her fodder with a beefy, high-cost Passion creature, she eventually disrupted it and avoided my other beefy creature because of its Defender disability. (See the glossary for details.) Once she got her Locations into some strategic places, her superior mobility and board position ended the game quickly.

After seeing the strengths and weaknesses of various pieces, I tweaked my warband for better synergy. I used all four aspects, since I would have more cost-effective creatures that way. I also included more tech creatures that would let me break various rules and perform actions when & where I normally wouldn't be able to.

My second match was against Eric (Balduran I). He's played a number of matches already (using the virtual starter & booster?) and was giving me lots of advice during the match. He showed me the merits of various deployment strategies over the first two turns, and showed me how you can win init on turn 2 and still manage to not lose that turn. (Apparently, it's common for the player who wins init on turn 2 to lose the turn.) Between Eric's advice and a bit more thought on my part, I figured out how to get some mileage out of some of my creatures despite their disabilities. I put my beefy creature with the Defender disability in an important cell that forced Eric to move his creatures in to contest it. I used my Doomball to contest a cell occupied by a low-power, high defense enemy. That enemy couldn't didn't have enough muscle to disrupt the Doomball, so my Doomball never needed to attack back; I had the cell pretty much locked down. We both spawned the same high-cost creature with an ability that costs spawn points. Although I can't go into specifics, I can say that triggering offensive abilities during the spawn phase is *really* cool. IIRC, we had to end the game at a score of 5-5 because our bus was getting ready to leave. (The event was held in downtown Seattle, and the bus was headed back to Wizards HQ.)

The trickiest creature name in the set is "Hawk-Eyed Instigator." Several people (including myself) called it the Hawk-Eyed Investigator. He doesn't investigate, he instigates!

When we got back to Wizards HQ, I played Jeff (klyngster). He's been running & playing demos, studying spoilers, and paying lots of attention to the game, so I knew I was in for a tough battle. On top of that, he had made quite a few trades with some of the other folks that attended, so he was able to build a really tough warband. His superior skill and superior warband combined to crush me utterly, but that's okay. I still had fun, and I still learned several things. Jonathan Tweet helped me with strategy during the match, which was very cool.

After additional swag acquisition, I ended up with 40 minis. Mike Donais went through them and built a respectable two-aspect warband. As it turns out, there are enough playable minis in my collection to field a 2 different two-aspect warbands at the same time. If only I could convince my wife to play :)

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Saving Throw fundraiser fanzine for James D. Kramer

You may know Jim Kramer from his Usherwood Publishing modules & supplements, or his work helping produce works like OSRIC and Knockspell. You probably didn’t know Jim had multiple brain surgeries to remove tumors, and the battle has gotten much harder. To help Jim and his family during this difficult time, a group of his friends, collaborators, and first edition enthusiasts banded together to make this fundraiser fanzine, where all royalties go directly to Jim and his family.

Get it here:

This 60+ page issue of Saving Throw contains:
Introduction by Ron Redmond
Island Tables - random generation and inspiration tool by Steve Smith aka “EOTB”
Sorcerer’s Stone - dungeon level by Keith Sloan
Trolls of the Simpolo Swamps - leech-mated trollish variations by Joseph Browning
Perladon Manor - adventure module by Gabor Lux
By The Runes - fiction by Dan Rasaiah
Magic Item Intrinsic Material Values - variant magic item value rules by Guy Fullerton
Goblin Garbug Cavalry - new monster by Andrew Hamilton
The Tiled Labyrinth - mini-dungeon by Guy Fullerton
Lotus Blossoms - magical and special properties of these exotic flora by Keith Sloan
Burly the Baker - ready-to-use NPC and cantrips by Gary Francisco
Darkworld Troll - new monster by Bryan Fazekas
Offig’s Tomb - treasure map by Steve Smith aka “EOTB”
Lizard Man Lair - outdoor module and new monsters by Steve Smith aka "EOTB"
Mephitic Geysers of the Intaglio Rift - treasure map by Allan T. Grohe, Jr. (“grodog")
The Mere Beneath - dungeon level by Guy Fullerton, Allan T. Grohe, Jr. (“grodog"), and Henry A. Grohe
Sarendra’s Crew & Kelurrin’s Crew - ready-to-use NPC parties by Allan T. Grohe, Jr. (“grodog")
Rescue from the Sanctuary of the Leopard Goddess - dungeon module by Matthew Riedel
Featuring illustrations by Jimm Johnson, James D. Kramer, Wind Lothamer, Gabor Lux, Denis McCarthy, Peter Szmer (soon), Del Teigeler, and Alex Zisch.

For the lucky price of $13, you get two treasure maps, three referee tools, five new spells, six modules, at least nine new monsters, twelve ready-to-use NPCs, and more. Plus the knowledge that your purchase helps a family during a difficult time.

Thank you!

Note: We plan to make a print version available soon. When it becomes available, will send drivethru coupon codes to everyone who purchased the pdf so they can get a print version at a discount.

Note #2: We are still in the process of gathering artwork for some of the articles, so don't be surprised by any of the blank spots. We will notify everybody when we update the pdf with new art, and you can download the latest version from your library.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

New Reference & Handout Pack available for The Hyqueous Vaults

From the Better-Late-Than-Never Department, I just uploaded a Reference & Handout Pack for The Hyqueous Vaults, that includes an un-keyed map for virtual tabletops. Many thanks to Allan Grohe for reminding me about this! It's only a year late!

Click Here for the Download Page

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Art & Arcana review Barnes & Noble version

This review of the "exclusive" Barnes & Noble edition of Dungeons & Dragons Art & Arcana: A Visual History supplements Trent Foster's detailed review of the (different) Deluxe Version. Go read his review if don't already know what this book is, because I'm not going to cover the basics.

Overall, the exclusive edition has plusses and minuses. It adds some content—cool! But it adds it in an unfortunate way that visually disrupts some of the other content—blah! Is it worth it? Well, I bought it, but I also have the (IMO much better) Deluxe version that Trent's review showed; if I could only have one, I would choose the Deluxe version, not the B&N exclusive edition.

The "exclusive" edition's red cover differentiates it from the two different black covers used in the regular and Deluxe versions.
Back cover of the "exclusive" edition.
Exclusive? Yeah, meaning you can only get it at Barnes & Noble. And it has extra stuff not available in the other two versions. According to the B&N web site:
"The Barnes & Noble Exclusive Edition features a unique cover, plus six full size gate-folds including additional game maps, draft sketches, panels from past adventures, non-player character illustrations, and additional levels of iconic dungeons."
The gate-folds are interspersed throughout the book, and have extra details about whatever topic the book is covering at that point.
Gate-fold #1: Tomb of Horrors.
Left panel shows art from the 1975 tournament version, that isn't in the A&A regular edition, but is in the deluxe edition.
Gate-fold #1 pt 1: Illustrations from Keep on the Borderlands, where the bottom one is from the French edition.
Gate-fold #1 pt 2: More from Keep on the Borderlands

The Unfortunate Part...

The extra content is fine enough by itself, but they stuck it into the book in a way that sorta wrecks the surrounding content. Case in point: That Keep on the Borderlands gate-fold sits right in the middle of a two-page depiction of a preliminary cover illustration, making it kind of hard to appreciate the preliminary illo in its full glory:

The gate-fold section blocks an all-at-once view of the Jim Roslof preliminary B2 cover illustration 
For comparison, here's the same spread in the Deluxe version:
NOT the the "exclusive" edition—you can see the preliminary illustration as it was intended.
The Keep on the Borderlands gate-fold is the worst offender, but the 5th gate-fold (Labyrinth of Madness) has a similar issue, in that it splits a depiction of the maps from the inside cover of that module. (I'm not taking a picture of that one, mainly because I don't really care about Labyrinth of Madness, but also because the interrupted content is normal "released" content from that module, not preliminary art like in the B2 interruption, so it's not as annoying in a historical preservation sense.)

Back to the Gate-folds...

For completeness, here are the rest of the gate-fold sections:
Gate-fold #3: Illustrations from Village of Hommlet and Temple of Elemental Evil
Gate-fold #4: The rest of the maps from the first Undermountain set. (The main book already shows the Undermountain level 1 map.)
Gate-fold #5: Illustrations from Labyrinth of Madness
Gate-fold #6: From some later edition thing that I didn't care enough to try to remember.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

New Free PDF Module: The Hyqueous Vaults

A new dungeon module—written in celebration of OSRIC's 10th Birthday—by Rebecca Dettmann, Allan T. Grohe, Jr., Jimm Johnson, Matthew Riedel, Alex Zisch, and myself. With illustrations by Brian "GLAD" Thomas and Alex Zisch.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Happy 10th Birthday OSRIC!

On this day 10 years ago, OSRIC was first shown to the world. Thanks to Papers & Paychecks and Mythmere for helping people feel comfortable making for-profit products for 1e, and getting them into stores. More importantly — thanks for helping people learn & understand AD&D!

What the critics said:

"This is official notice that I'm making the OSRIC owners aware that they have failed to comply with the terms of the OGL, and have thirty days to fix it." Steven J. Ege, who isn't at all affiliated with WotC, lol!)

"I wouldnt touch that with a 10' pole." Clark Peterson, of Necromancer Games