Friday, March 27, 2015

Review - Monsters of Myth & Legend

Monsters of Myth & Legend is a 1984 monster book published by Mayfair Games, under the Role Aids label. It contains roughly 80+ pages of monsters compatible with 1e AD&D.  It contains creatures from six very different mythologies (Native American, Australian Aborigine, Chinese, Greek, Irish, and Norse).

These monsters are treated in more detail than those in many early monster books and each have their own individual feel. The book is organized much like Deities and Demigods in that s organized by mythology rather than all mixed together.

Old School Credentials: Because it is an AD&d (1e) compatible product published in 1984, it's automatically "old school" to me.

The Good: The internal art is quite good, with the mischievous fox spirit and wise-looking monkey spirit being a couple of favorites.

This is a monster book and most of the monsters are quite interesting. For example, he Chinese section's Roc Demon is too powerful too add to a campaign, unless it is on a far away continent. But a monster that is so powerful that it warps the very nature of the planes in a 500 mile radius and can permanently destroy a target's magic using ability, has potential as an ultimate opponent for a campaign, or it could be used merely as an easy, though terrifying for magic users, means of traveling to the outer planes. The other monsters in the book are less powerful, but are mostly very intersting.

The Bad: The print quality is inconsistent with some pages suffering from extremely bad bleed through. About 5-10% are seriously marred by this, the worst I've seen outside of cheap newspapers.

Some of the monsters will be very difficult to use in most campaigns. For example, the White Elves / Black Elves from the Norse section are just the classic Elves (High, Wood, etc.) and Drow in rawer, mythological, not modern fantasy, interpretations. Making them fit with the modern interpretations would be challenging, likely relegating them to alternate worlds or planes, at best.

It's not the fault of this book, but a few of the Chinese monsters have since gotten "official" versions in Oriental Adventures, which came out a year later. The "animal spirits" of MoM&L and the Hengeyokai of OA clearly share the same origins, though they are quite different interpretations. 

Likely Use: This monster book is likely to used two different ways. First, like the Fiend Folio, there will be a few monsters that the purchaser loves, but most will be largely unused. However, because each section is based on a specific mythology, it is invaluable to any campaign set there. For example, if I were starting an OA campaign, I would certainly use the monsters from the Chinese section.

Value: Like any used product, the value is likely to vary greatly. I paid less than $12 for my copy from Amazon earlier this year. Today, the cheapest I could find in good or better condition is $16 (counting shipping). At $12, it's a pretty good value, at $16 it's still a fair deal.

Overall: I love this one, but I'm less certain that someone who isn't especially fond of comparative mythology would like it. It has many interesting monsters, but some would be very difficult to integrate into a typical D&D world.  For me this book is an A, but I fear that most people would give it a B or C.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Review - Return to Quag Keep

Return to Quag Keep by Andre Norton and Jean Rabe (mostly Rabe) is a 2006 sequel to the classic D&D novel Quag Keep by Andre Norton. This book continues the story of a group of a group of real world gamers who find themselves in their characters bodies, with their memories constantly shifting between character and player. In Return to Quag Keep they are trying to find a way home and trying to find out why they were brought to the world formerly known as Greyhawk.

Old School Credentials: Return to Quag Keep is a sequel to Andre Norton's classic 1978 book, Quag Keep, the first D&D novel. As such, its connections to old school gaming are strong, even though they aren't evident in book itself.

The Good: The book is well written, the story flows well, and there are a couple of good ideas in it.

The Bad:While not the abomination that some reviews make it out to be, Return to Quag Keep has numerous flaws. Perhaps the worst flaw is the lack of a setting. Quag Keep was solidly set in The World of Greyhawk, although a less defined pre-1980 folio version. For whatever reason, this novel does not, likely could not, use the Greyhawk setting, but doesn't create a new one either. Because of this insistence on being generic, the reader will get sick the words "the city" faster than I would have imagined possible. Whenever Rabe breaks away from this genericism, the results are good, but it happens all to rarely here.

It's obvious that a few of the original characters weren't to the new author's taste as one is killed and two are sent away for virtually all the book. This, along with the generic setting, makes the book seem even less like a sequel than it should.

Another minor annoyance is the excessive overuse of "modern" music such as Danny Boy and She's Always a Woman to Me and the nearly non-stop reference to real world locations gets old very quick.

Without giving away any spoilers, I will just mention that the ending is the worst problem with the book. The book ends with the characters in a new predicament that would have likely been the focus of the third book in the series if it had ever been written/published.

There are a few other problems that other reviewers have noted that I'm willing cut Rabe some slack on. A few critics have had conniption fits over a minor spelling change in the name of a tertiary character ("Afreeta" vs "Alfreeta"). Considering that Rabe based the story, at least partly, on notes from a respected, but elderly, author who misspells Wollheim in the introduction, a little tolerance is in order. (Even the original had spelling issues as "Harvel's Axe" is "Marvel's Axe" on the back cover).  And the personalities of the characters are very different than they are in the first book. However, this can be rationalized by the fact that their game personas are somewhat dominant in the first book, while their real world personalities are in nearly complete control in the second. 

Value: It's tough to put a value on a used book, but with the book available for $4 ($.01 + $3.99 shipping) from Amazon, I call it a poor value. It's just not that good a story. However, if like me, you want it as much for a collection as for reading then its a decent value. 

For the larcenous GM: Surprisingly there is a bit here that could be used to enrich many RPG campaigns. Glothorio, the god of coin gatherers, and his tattooed priests could certainly be added to most worlds. As a minor deity, he could certainly add a bit of flavor and the tattoo/sigil magic that they use in casting their clerical spells is interesting. There are also a couple of interesting magic items that could be put to better use than they are in this book.

Overall: Even if you aren't expecting much, this book is likely to disappoint. Removing the setting just sucked the magic completely out of this book.*  I can only give this book a D. Only Rabe's competence at storytelling saves this from being an F.

*Yes, that is a reference to something in the book.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Review - Basic Fantasy Role-Playing Game + Field Guide

The Basic Fantasy Role-Playing Game is in their own words a "rules-light game system modeled on the classic RPG rules of the early 1980's. Though based loosely on the d20 SRD v3.5, Basic Fantasy RPG has been written largely from scratch to replicate the look, feel, and mechanics of the early RPG game systems."

The Basic Fantasy Field Guide, is a collection of additional monsters for The Basic Fantasy Role-Playing Game, is similar to the Fiend Folio, QuasarDragon's own Treatise of Twisted Terrors, and numerous other monster books.  It adds additional monsters to the Basic Fantasy Game, mostly classic D&D monsters, but some are new.

I'm not going to o into too much detail here because both of these are available as free PDF downloads HERE. However, I do want to strongly recommend the print versions if you like what see in the PDFs. The production quality if far better than you would expect for such a cheap price.

Old School Credentials: The Basic Fantasy Role-Playing Game is very much an "old school revival" game system, feeling a bit like a streamlined, compromise between the old Holmes Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set and 1e AD&D.

The Good: The game just feels right. It is a good introduction to old school gaming and it has enough depth for a decent length campaign. The art ranges from charmingly amateur to good old school style. 

The Bad: There's not really much new, there's no label on the spine of  The Basic Fantasy Field Guide, and much of the the art will not be to everyone's taste.

Likely Use: While more experienced gamers are very unlikely to make this their game of choice, it is an almost perfect for new and casual gamers. This would make a good, cheap gift to a potential gamer.

Value: Exceptional! I just purchased the the print versions of these two for a combined total of $7.68 from Amazon! That's probably even less than the Holmes D&D would have cost in 1980 and unlike that one, this doesn't stop at 3rd level. The binding and print quality are about the same as the typical softcover game book, which makes the value even more shocking.

Overall: This is an easy A. Even if you just skim it and put it on a shelf, it's a bargain. It really captures the spirit of Basic D&D, but has enough detail for a lasting campaign.