After taking a look at the old Lankhmar: City of Adventure supplement and reporting upon all that which I therein beheld, people asked for more reviews of old things. So here goes...
This time, the kind people at Troll & Toad have delved into their warehouse full of used game stuff and sent along The Best of Dragon Magzine Volumes 1-5.
So, what's in there? Mostly, what's in there falls into the following categories:
-Has Long Since Been Integrated Into The Game: i.e. Here's a new class: the ranger! If you're a historian of the game, like James M. or have a penchant for saying "what kind of great game could I throw together by taking what appears to be a misprint here in the illusionist description seriously" like Jeff R., then this is great. If you're like me and let James and Jeff comb through first drafts of old game ideas so you don't have to, this is filler.
-Conceivably Useful To Some Other DM Somewhere, But Not To Me: i.e. "Shlump Da Orc" explaining that asbestos weighs 125-175 pounds per cubic foot or Roger Moore finally explaining what exactly the fucking Astral Plane is.
-NPC Classes: If it's an NPC class, do we really need all these level-progression charts and shit? Do your PCs really go "Well we'll consult the alchemist--but only if you can tell me exactly how many experience points she has." And if you've managed to snag a professional jester or duellist and make them into a henchman long enough that s/he's started accumulating xp, can't you just say s/he advances as fast as the slowest advancing member of the party and be done with it?
Most of these NPC classes do exactly what you'd think they do, and so don't really seem worth the expense, with the exception of the oracle and the witch, which seem to have had some genuine research and/or creativity put into them and have ideas in them which might conceivably make a campaign more interesting and complex.
-Random Tables Full of Random Adjectives: Hey, I like my random tables as much as the next guy, but the day I can't find "5-Orange, 6-Blue and bumpy" on the internet or just make it up is the day they need to put me in the ground.
-Antedeluvian DM Advice: "When drawing your map, first sketch in major terrain features..." Ok, sure, I'll try to remember to do that.
Stripping out all that, what struck me as interesting was...
Volume 1 has an article on witches comparable to a really long and involved entry by one of your favorite D&D bloggers about how you might run a witch class, with spell descriptions and items that never made it into canon. Not gold, but solid. And wacky.
Also, Volume 1, predictably, corners the market on retrogroovy ads and pictures, including the wad of solid genius illuminating the top of this here blog entry. The other Best of Dragons are sadly light on cool pictures--in many cases they seem to have commissioned newer, lamer art to replace the art from the original issues.
Volume 2 is the best of the lot, and includes an article containing short but evocative descriptions of alternate vampires (including the Blautsauger, which has no skeleton and huge eyes, and the Alp, which appears to be a butterfly) complete with esoteric vampire-killing methods.
It also has two excellent articles on how to use the mathematical concept of the tesseract to generate crazy Escheresque dungeon architecture with weird gravity. They do a great job of not only explaining the geometry well enough that you could map it, but describing it convincingly enough to make it sound like fun in a game. Inspiring as fuck.
This volume also has a lot of Gygax musings, if you're into that sort of thing, and the notorious-but-boring "Politics of Hell" article wherein Satan is provided with D&D stats.
Volume 3 is pretty dull if you strip out all the stuff that later made it into Unearthed Arcana. This begins the more clearly Silver Age products--corporate design, no ads.
Volume 4 has a decent roll-a-one fumble table that includes damage to the weapon, and a detailed article on runes including both history and possible D&D uses.
Volume 5 has the Oracle class--containing 20-odd forms of -mancies, what kind of information can reasonably be gleaned from each, and what level the oracle has to be to perform them. Full of adventure seeds, if you think about it
It also has a couple Ed Greenwood articles on pre-modern firearms, in historical context and with game stats. Though I'll probably never use this stuff, it is thoughtful, careful, interesting, and displays pole-arm-like fine detail.
And if you still need to know more before handing over your hard-earned dollar, just hang on for the comments, where lots of people will write in about all the awesome articles that they like that I didn't.
On Gygax Design II
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