Time for another round of old school Dungeons and Dragons, taken from my long-running twitter series!
Dragons (1986), by Cory Glaberson. Here is another supplement in the Role Aids line for D&D that was produced by Mayfair Games, originally under the untested premise that TSR couldn’t sue them for making unlicensed products!
Role Aids produced game supplements and adventures with annoyingly generic names. Like “Undead,” which presented an entire undead nation campaign setting and intro adventures.
“Dragons” is also a surprisingly detailed product, despite the uninspired name. It presents tons of details and new rules for dragons, a new character class, an entire campaign setting, the Dragonlands, and linked adventures as an introduction to them!
As a nod to Tiamat, it introduces a new dragon type, the spectral dragon, which is the most powerful type and always has more than one head (though not typically as many as Tiamat).
“Dragons” provides rules for players actually roleplaying dragons, though it provides stern warnings about how a dragon can unbalance the party at low levels.
There are some detailed drawings of dragon anatomy, in case you ever wondered what a dragon’s brain looked like.
There are also descriptions of some dragon physiology. Ever wonder how a dragon, despite its size, manages to fly? “Dragons” has you covered. Buoyant gas-filled extra lungs! (Not terribly fond of these rules, tbh.)
Another fascinating bit of detail is a list of common ailments a dragon can suffer, including both diseases and parasites. For me, though, these rules feel like they take away a bit of the “magic” of dragons.
One set of rules that I really like adds to the magic of dragons through their dreams. When dragons dream, they alter the world around them, changing the weather or even causing catastrophic events to happen! There’s a random table to roll for a dream.
In another bit of curious world-building, dragons are described as having made an alliance with giant termites, who perform all the lair-building activities in exchange for protection.
Most fascinating, however, is the campaign setting: the Dragonlands, where dragons rule over human settlements and humans and dragons coexist. Dragons can visit the towns to make proclamations and even have meetings.
Along with this human/dragon collaboration, a new fighter subclass is introduced, the dragonlords, who can ride dragons in a cooperative agreement.
(One strongly suspects that the dragonlords were inspired by the dragon riders in the Dragonlance series, which began publication several years earlier.)
The adventures involve the characters traveling to the Dragonlands to prevent an all-out dragon-human war. The first part is a mini-boardgame, where the PCs must avoid enemy patrols to reach their destination. (I kinda want to try this idea in a game myself now.)
Overall, “Dragons” doesn’t quite come together for me as a coherent campaign setting. But it is obviously a labor of love for its author, and there are a number of cool ideas worth adapting for one’s own campaign setting!
PS forgot to mention that “Dragons” was a cross-promotion with Grenadier miniatures, which was running a Dragon Lords “Dragon of the Month” series of minis! You can find more info at this link.
L2: The Assassin’s Knot (1983), by Len Lakofka. Next, we take a quick look at a classic!
In this module, the Baron of Restenford has been assassinated, and the characters are hired to find out who the murderer is and stop them before they strike again! Clues found at the crime scene point to several suspects in the sinister town of Garrotten nearby.
The adventure was groundbreaking for several reasons. Number one: it was one of the first, perhaps *the* first, published adventure where characters must solve a murder mystery and do more investigating than fighting!
The town and its inhabitants are very well fleshed out, making for an excellent roleplaying session. For example, the investigation takes the characters to the local theater, where they must question various performers.
Number two: it was one of the first adventures that adhered to a strict timeline! If the characters dawdle in their investigation, the assassin will strike again and again, until their sinister plot is achieved! Players cannot passively wait for things to develop.
A number of inhabitants in the town are in on the scheme, and happy to send PCs in wild goose chases (or wild giant octopus chases, in this case) to drain away days. Players must use their wits and be very focused.
As noted on the module cover, this was the second in a series of modules by Lakofka set in his Lendore Isles campaign setting, following “The Secret of Bone Hill.”
A third module in the series, “L3: Deep Dwarven Delve,” was supposed to be published in 1986. However, at that time Gygax lost control of TSR, and the company refused to do business with Gygax’s friends. L3 would remain unpublished until…
Wizards of the Coast bought out TSR, and in 1999 released a Silver Anniversary boxed set for D&D, which included L3! (Image via Wayne’s Books, an excellent seller of vintage gaming stuff! I buy from him regularly.)
Lakofka wrote and published a fourth module in the series, “L4: Devilspawn,” which can be downloaded freely online, as well as a “Lendore Isles Companion, L4C!”
CM3: Sabre River (1984), by Douglas Niles and Bruce Nesmith. Okay, I’m onna post some significant spoilers for this one, so if you plan to run it, maybe skip this part of the post? The reason I’m mentioning them, however, is to show how ridiculously obvious a lot of early D&D plot twists were.
So “Sabre River” is the 3rd in the CM “Companion” set of adventures for “basic” D&D, based on the 1984 Companion Rules boxed set.
This set covers levels 15-25 for characters, enabling ridiculously powerful characters and absurdly difficult combats to survive. It also gives rules for characters to establish their own strongholds and kingdoms, and many adventures leaned into the “defend your kingdom” idea.
In “Sabre River,” the titular river in the barony of Norwold has become polluted, bringing death and/or madness to all those exposed to it. The PCs must learn the origin of this corruption, and eventually travel to the source of the river to put an end to the pollution.
Along the way, the PCs meet a strange child named “Cutter” who is the key to undoing the threat to the SABRE River. It probably goes without saying that he is not what he initially appears to be. Today, I find this twist laughably obvious.
I used to be really fond of this adventure when I was a teen, but as an adult I find it less inspiring. It does have excellent perspective maps, which were a trend at the time.
The rewards for such uber-powerful characters are simply INSANE. Check out this treasure trove that a collection of undead have stashed away in a key dungeon early in the adventure.
These troves do not exist simply for the players to use themselves; the equipment in them can be taken back and given to underlings who manage strongholds!
The adventure introduces one new monster: the sabreclaw, which fights in swarms. The trick is that they function as one being with all their hit points combined, so you can’t kill any of them until you’ve literally killed all of them!
I should note, as I have in previous series, that the cover art is by Keith Parkinson and is one of my favorite dragon art pieces ever!
So, overall, not a super-compelling adventure, but a good one to kick the crap out of ultra-high-level characters. At least until they hit level 26, when you break out the Master Rules!
The Seven Sisters (1995), by Ed Greenwood. The final entry for today’s post is another one of those products that I didn’t even know existed until recently!
“The Seven Sisters” is a sourcebook for the Forgotten Realms, a setting first created by Greenwood pre-D&D in 1967 and which became the default D&D setting in 1987.
The Forgotten Realms is ridiculously detailed, but I wasn’t a fan at the time, as I preferred Gary Gygax’s Greyhawk setting. But when I came across “The Seven Sisters” book recently, I was intrigued.
In short: though the wizard Elminster gets most of the love in the Realms, some of the most powerful magic wielders in the world are the seven sisters, who were blessed, like Elminster, by Mystra, the goddess of magic.
I was intrigued! It’s rather unexpected to find extremely powerful women in early D&D lore, much less seven of them related to each other! The sourcebook details the history, stats, and personalities of all seven.
I won’t describe them all, but a few are worth mentioning. There is Alustriel Silverhand, good-aligned ruler of the city of Silverymoon, and a 24-level mage!
There is Dove Falconhand, who serves primarily as a ranger but is also a spellcaster of some significance (as are all the Seven).
And there is Qilué Veladorn, a drow cleric who serves both Mystra and the good-aligned drow goddess Ellistraee.
All the sisters are incredibly powerful. One is even dead — she sacrificed herself to kill an ancient red dragon in a duel — but still hangs around as a ghost!
All of the sisters are also good-aligned. Some are rulers, and some are adventurers. Due to their blessing by Mystra, they have inherent spell abilities and spell resistances. Some spells just don’t effect them at all!
The book contains little stories about each sister to flesh out their characters. Almost all the stories involve some dude underestimating a sister and paying dearly for that choice. (In one tale, Elminster warns a haughty mage not to mess with a sister, or he’ll certainly die.)
The sourcebook includes incredibly powerful spells created by the Sisters in their magical research. For example, there’s this devastating curse on a wizard, where the wizard LOSES EXPERIENCE LEVELS EQUAL TO THE SPELL LEVEL every time they cast a spell!
With The Simbul’s Spell Trigger, a wizard can prep up to four spells to go off simultaneous as one spell! A great way for a wizard to instantly buff up if they are ambushed.
And then there’s the mind-boggling Alamanther’s Return, which allows the wizard to duplicate the effects of any spell they have every seen cast, even if they can’t cast it themselves! See someone cast a wish, now they can cast a wish!
The sourcebook also includes descriptions of special magic items that the seven possess, such as Qilue’s powerful singing sword.
Overall, it is a fun sourcebook that details some really powerful characters for the Forgotten Realms. They could be used as patrons for party members, sending them on quests.
Okay, that’s it for this post! Tune in again soon for more old school D&D!