Have you heard the soundtrack to Hotline: Miami? You haven’t? Well listen to it here, for free! Now, after you listen to it, if you’re like me, you’ll think that Track 5 is the best one. When I listened to this soundtrack, I immediately had to find more music from Perturbator. Their main page on Bandcamp is here. If you are a fan of cyberpunk, science fiction, industrial, etc. then I think you’ll be a fan of Perturbator.
Thanks to eBay I have copies of the various printings of the Basic edition of Dungeons and Dragons, starting with the Holmes blue book, followed by Tom Moldvoy’s red book, Cook and Marsh’s blue expert book, and Mentzer’s basic red books.
The Holmes basic set was clearly written as a short intro to the D&D game and rules; there are numerous references to the AD&D game, and encourages users to move to that ruleset after finishing the basic set at level 3. When Gary Gygax was ready to move from OD&D and all of its supplements to AD&D, it was J. Eric Holmes who approached Gygax/TSR about re-writing the original OD&D books into an introductory set. Little did they know how popular it would become over the next 20+ years.
Once released as a boxed set with dice, it was clear there was a market for this. While the AD&D books would mark the first time the core rulebooks would be released as 3 separate hardcovers (a trend that continues to this day), the Basic Set followed the tradition of OD&D of thinner paperback books in a box. While AD&D was very popular in its own right, Basic D&D more than held its own. The rules, while simple, were written in a very clear way (especially compared to the excessive wordiness Gygax employed in AD&D). For those who had never played before, and perhaps didn’t know anyone who already played OD&D and/or AD&D, the Basic Set was perfect introduction both for Dungeons and Dragons as well as the hobby in general.
Several years after the Holmes set later came the release of the Moldvoy-edited Basic Set. Similar to the Holmes edition, this set was a very clearly written ruleset designed to draw in new players. However, unlike the Holmes version this one did not reference AD&D nor encourage players to move onto that ruleset. Due to its increasing popularity, an Expert ruleset soon followed that expanded on the rules and levels offered in the Basic set. This marked the beginning of the parallel development of Basic D&D and AD&D, a “split” that would last until 3rd Edition’s release in 2000.
While the Moldvoy-edited Basic Set and Marsh/Cook-edited Expert set both referred to a Companion rulebook/set, that never materialized. However, in 1983 yet another Basic set debuted, edited by TSR veteran and friend of Gygax, Frank Mentzer. Featuring the artwork of Jeff Easley and Larry Elmore, this edition boasted the cleanest artwork and layout of any of the editions so far, although some felt Mentzer’s writing began to veer a bit more toward Gygaxian excessiveness. While that may be up for debate, there’s no doubt that the Mentzer edition represents the height of Basic D&D. No fewer than 5(!) boxed sets were released: Basic, Expert, Companion, Master and Immortal.
The release of so many boxed sets wasn’t the final release however. TSR decided to incorporate the rules of almost every boxed set into a master rulebook, named Rules Cyclopedia. Released during the same era as AD&D 2nd Edition, the Rules Cyclopedia became of the TSR’s all-time most popular items. Today this rulebook routinely sells for over $100 on eBay. While many have been happy with Wizards of the Coast re-printing the AD&D 1E books (and 2E following soon), most of us want a reprint of the Rules Cyclopedia.
The long lineage of Basic Dungeons and Dragons ended with the publication of the Third edition; it also brought the demise of the”Advanced” tag on Dungeons and Dragons. There was only one ruleset now, called Dungeons and Dragons. This has continued through a Fourth edition, and now Next is in testing. After the publication of Fourth edition Wizards of the Coast released a red basic set in the spirit of the Mentzer red box (even the same cover art and look!) but it did not fare anywhere near as well. In contrast, the Pathfinder Beginner Box released by Paizo has received great reviews and has drawn even more players into the expanding Pathfinder realm.
The spirit of Basic D&D lives on though. Popular retroclones such as Labyrinth Lord, Basic Fantasy RPG, Dungeon Crawl Classics and Adventurer Conqueror King use those rules as their foundation, and many have used those clones simply because of that fact. Very recently Wizards of the Coast has allowed the sale of PDFs to resume, and right now the Molday Basic and Marsh/Cook Expert PDFs are already top sellers (Holmes, Mentzer and Rules Cyclopedia hopefully coming!). There’s no doubt that while Gygax himself wanted to add more complexity and depth to Dungeons and Dragons, many others were happy with the small but rock solid foundation of Basic D&D, inspired by the original OD&D releases. Thanks to the OGL, retroclones and PDF releases, we are able to enjoy this particular version of one of the greatest roleplaying games for even more decades to come.
Troll Lord Games’ Castles and Crusades has been around for quite some time. It was one of the first retroclones published under the OGL, although it’s not a “true clone”, as its Siege Engine is a massive overhaul of mechanics. Starting from a first printing that had a horrific layout and serious typos, it’s currently on its Fifth printing, with a nice new full-bleed cover illustration from resident artist Wayne Bradley along with most typos fixed, new encumbrance rules, and revised Barbarian and Illusionist classes.
The game’s Siege Engine is quite a departure compared to all other retroclones. It ties into a character’s stats to determine how difficult a savings throw will be. As someone who always wondered why a character’s stats weren’t more vital, this system makes perfect sense to me. One unusual thing about the game is that the classes are listed before races. Once you have your stats rolled (or even before rolling them) you choose a class, where each class has a prime attribute. Most of them make sense: high strength means you should consider a fighter. High intelligence? Wizard. Some have made house rules to change the prim attribute for the Ranger and other classes, but if you’re likely playing as a human you’ll have 3 prime attributes (rather than 2 for all other races) anyways. As mentioned in my review of Swords & Wizardry Complete, Castles and Crusades doesn’t have any restrictions for races and classes; if you’d like to be a halfling monk, go for it!
The look of the Castles and Crusades Player Handbook has evolved with each printing. The newest fifth printing has a full-bleed cover; compared to the fourth printing it’s a definite improvement, along with the new logo (although now I want to see all the other books re-released with new covers and the new logo…). The interior of the fifth printing is now in “full color”, which apparently for Troll Lord Games means “dynamic browns”. Unlike the new cover, I don’t like the new interior. Some of Peter Bradley’s images look great in color, even improved. Many look washed out with all the browns, and a few even look downright strange (the Rogue and Illusionist have blue highlights why?). Some of the artwork is unfortunately laugh-out-loud horrible. The Rogue (p. 15) has a comically large right hand and head. I’m all for “bucking trends”, but does the wizard have to wear that stupid hat in every image? To counter that, I will say some of the images are nothing short of amazing. The combat example (p. 129) would make an awesome cover image. The knight (p. 28) has amazing colors. Why don’t more, if not all, of his images use colors like this? I don’t know if he’s using inks, but Bradley’s shading is un-matched. Now I also like “hand shading” such as Mullen’s cross-hatching, but there’s no denying that Bradley makes excellent use of shading and highlighting, something far more retroclones could benefit from (I’m tired of ugly line-art!). The new interior may look great on-screen and in their printings, but there’s no doubt that printing to black and white would look horrible. Like Swords & Wizardry Complete, I may need to just print the new cover out in color, and then print the rest from the previous printing (considering Monsters and Treasure is still black and white, I’d prefer that consistency anyways).
As far as the rules go, not a whole lot has changed in the fifth printing. The barbarian class has been re-written, as well as the spells available to the illusionist. The encumbrance rules have been redone as well, but as I personally ignore encumbrance for the most part so that doesn’t really matter.
Along with a character’s prime attributes, the Castle Keeper calculates the Challenge Level for any skill checks, ability checks, and combat. What’s unique about the Siege system is that for combat an enemy’s level is also taken into account; so even though player characters will increase in level there is still a definite challenge, especially against traditional heavy hitters such as dragons. Many don’t like that there is this “consistent challenge” throughout a character’s life, but I think it maintains the excitement and danger that’s inherent in a dungeon crawl.
Castles and Crusades has its roots in AD&D 1E (in fact Gary Gygax worked with Troll Lord Games prior to his passing), along with some refinements from later editions. While I do have an affinity for all the retroclones based around B/X D&D, I personally started with AD&D 2E so I have to admit there’s something about those editions that do “speak to me” in a way. Are they more epic?; encourage grander adventures, campaign settings, etc.? It’s certainly not the rules, especially in Castles and Crusade’s case.
Choosing a ruleset these days isn’t easy. Besides the editions of (A)D&D itself there are so many retroclones, each boasting their set of improvements, refinements and more. Castles and Crusades is a strong contender, supported by a small but great and fun-loving company. As one of the first retroclones released it received both a lot of praise by those still playing AD&D 1E and older editions, but it also received a lot of criticism. Its first printings were riddled with spelling mistakes and other errors. Multiple printings have brought multiple covers, logos and refinements to the rules. There’s no doubt a group of players could begin playing within a very short amount of time, while offering more than what some other more basic systems could offer, while still being flexible enough to allow any house-ruling desired. While I’ve dismissed Castles and Crusades multiple times in the past, it has currently moved back into favor as one of the top choices for my preferred system.
It took me a long time to check out the Complete edition of Swords and Wizardry. I’ve been a fan of the Core edition for quite awhile now, but I always dismissed the Complete edition as a more “commercial” version. Of course, that’s hypocritical of me; I also support Goblinoid Games, and they’ve certainly made a strong commercial push as well.
The higher price of the Complete PDF was always a turn-off, and the fact that Frog God Games had run out of hardcovers. I generally prefer to support those who use Lulu or other print-on-demand services for their paper copies. So for this rulebook, it is only because of its recent Kickstarter for a second printing that finally convinced me to purchase both the PDF and hardcover. The PDF can be purchased from DriveThruRPG here.
Putting aside the changes the new printing have brought (mainly a new cover by Erol Otus and errata/typos fixed), there’s a lot to take from this edition. Compared to Core which only had 4 classes available (if the thief is used), Complete has 9 available, pulled from all OD&D supplements released by TSR before it moved on to AD&D. There’s some that I know I’d never use (Monk and Druid), but it’s good to give other players and DMs more options.
Like the other 2 editions of Swords and Wizardry, Complete is still a game that relies on the rulings of the Gamemaster and the active imaginations of the players to ensure an enjoyable gaming session. Despite a few more rules and options, this is still a rules-light game compared to modern systems. Complete is rooted in OD&D and its encouragement of actually roleplaying.
Unlike Core, the interior of Complete is totally black and white, including the charts. That’s not a huge complaint, but the colors used in Core are very easy on the eyes. Where Complete does shine is its artwork. I don’t think there’s a single piece I don’t like (unlike in Core), and several of them are nothing short of stunning. Unfortunately the text isn’t as great, as its small size makes it hard to read; this is primarily with the PDF, the hardcover is a bit easier on the eyes. As the total page-count isn’t very large, I’m not sure why a slightly larger font size wasn’t chosen like in Core.
There is one thing about the Complete rules that does bother me: class restrictions. Of course this isn’t limited to Complete, as it’s something OD&D and AD&D have as well. Compared to newer editions of D&D and Pathfinder, or the broad classes offered by S&W Core and Labyrinth Lord, Complete basically says no to a lot of options. Want to be an Elven ranger? Sorry, no can do. A halfling assassin? Wrong again. Most of the “non-core” classes are listed as human only. Now, it would be pretty easy to house-rule that away. But compared to adding a custom class to Core, I’m already having to strip away something from Complete that I don’t agree with. As mentioned later editions of D&D and Pathfinder have no such restrictions; even Castles and Crusades list “typical classes” for each race, but by no means does it restrict a player’s choice. Of course, if I wanted to play an Elven ranger in Core I would need to be an Elven fighter on paper, but simply equip with a bow, etc. to be a ranger in my mind. In Labyrinth Lord and other B/X editions I would simply be an Elf.
The new printing of Complete also leaves some questions in my mind. The new cover by Erol Otus is definitely an improvement over the first printing, but it’s still nowhere near the excellent Peter Mullen cover of Core (of course I’ll admit I’m a huge Mullen fan and wish for a retroclone solely with his work…). The PDF I was sent by Frog God Games is a fraction of the size of the PDF for the first printing, the images are horribly pixelated (except for the new cover), and there’s no back cover. I’ve emailed them to see if this can be fixed.
So compared to all the other retroclones, editions of (O)(A)D&D and Pathfinder, etc. why would one choose Complete? Well, one reason is just to support Mythmere Games; while Matt may get a small profit from printings via Lulu, the higher costs of Complete (hopefully) offer more support to him as well as to show support for future offerings for Swords and Wizardry. Would I choose Complete over the Labyrinth Lord AEC? Probably, since it’s just one volume. Would I choose it over Castles and Crusades? Probably so, again since it’s one volume and is superior in layout and readability. The best thing to do, in my opinion, is to start with the free Core edition. If you enjoy that game, and Matt’s writing, and wish to have more options, then by all means go for Complete.
DriveThruRPG is having a New Years sale. Among them are stand-outs such as Trail of Cthulhu, Conspiracy X 2.0, Fading Suns, FantasyCraft, Myth and Magic Player’s Guide, Shadowrun, Traveller, and Vampire: The Masquerade 20th Anniversary. I’ve been looking at all of these in the past, and now they’re all 40% off! I won’t be able to get many of them (well I could, but too much to read as-is…), but I will certainly be picking up at least a few of them.
So go check it out, 2 days left!