Friday, September 11, 2009

Thoughts on D&D/AD&D Chronology (Part II)

Here is another collection of random thoughts related to Chris Tichenor's chronology of D&D/AD&D products. Today's post begins with 1983, an important transitional year in my opinion.

1983
Though my fondest memory of this year is the release of Monster Manual II, for which I still have an inordinate love, the main event was the publication of the Frank Mentzer-edited Basic and Expert sets. My love for these is not great, as I've noted before, but I'm apparently in the minority among gamers, since, by most accounts, these were the best-selling versions of D&D ever. I personally find them too slick and soulless, compared even to Moldvay's rules and there's no question that the esthetics of the Mentzer edition are rooted in the Silver not Golden Age. 1983 also sees the release of a large number of modules, including the conclusions to the "Desert of Desolation" series and Ravenloft, forerunners all to what awaits the hobby in the following year.

1984
With the exception of the D&D Companion Rules, which I actually enjoyed, the majority of this years releases were modules -- a lot of modules, most of them quite forgettable. Among them are the first five Dragonlance modules, about which I've written before. I also notice two other things. First, there are a couple of licensed modules (the Conan ones), but also a great many geared toward supporting the Basic, Expert, and Companion rules sets. That's almost as big a story as Dragonlance in some ways, since it suggests that TSR sees adventure modules as the pre-eminent support product for these lines and, by extension, the primary means by which the game is meant to be played.

1985
Not a good year in my opinion, although many products made their debut, among them Oriental Adventures and Unearthed Arcana, two flawed "classics." I call them classics because I have fond memories of both, as I think many gamers from that era do, even though now, in retrospect, I can what they presaged for the game and the hobby. The Master Rules are thin gruel intended to fill out a schematized business plan rather than any compelling need within the game. There's yet more licensed properties (Lankhmar) and even more modules than 1984. Of these, only Gary's The Isle of the Ape is a stand-out and even it is marred somewhat by its heavy use -- and dependence on -- material from Unearthed Arcana. However generous one is willing to be to 1983 and 1984, I don't think one can easily argue that the Old Ways were all but dead by 1985.

1986
Not one but two hardcover books released this year, both of them largely worthless (though I loved them as a young man). Clearly, TSR had come to the conclusion that more hardcovers equals more cash and ran with that idea, laying the groundwork for what was to come. The Immortal Rules are even less useful than the Master Rules, being effectively a different game entirely and not a particularly interesting or well-designed one at that. If I'm going to play a wacky immortal in training, I'd rather play Tom Moldvay's Lords of Creation any day of the week. Tons of modules, most of them forgettable, appear this year as well. The only standouts in my opinion are B10, which is unexpectedly good, and the Blackmoor modules.

1987
Yet more hardcovers and not very good ones at that. It's also the dawn of the Pre-Fab Campaign Age, with the release of not just the Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting (which is better than its reputation among old schoolers would suggest), but also Kara-Tur and the GAZ line for D&D (which is more of a mixed bag in my opinion). Lots more modules -- including the Official RPGA Tourney Handbook -- but, once again, only the Blackmoor modules hold much interest.

1988
One more sub-par hardcover, Greyhawk Adventures, and tons of campaign setting accessories, both for the Realms and the Known World. Indeed, the number of actual adventure published this year is negligible, as they give way to setting information as the new cash cow of TSR, something that would reach its fullest flower in a few years. This is also when Castle Greyhawk appears, a module whose origins and purpose remain subjects of much debate more than 20 years later. Regardless of the true intentions behind it, I think it's a fitting capstone to the end of the post-Gygax AD&D.

52 comments:

  1. Hi James,
    Interesting take on the chronology of d&d/Ad&d items. I like hearing other peoples views on the older products TSR released during its heyday, I have to disagree with you on some points though, such as the Mentzer basic and expert set, I somewhat see what you mean by polished look, but this was the version that first introduced me to d&d and even to this day, I find it clear and easy to understand. I remember fondly how it help me when I designed those early dungeons, giving me innumerable hints and ideas for dungeon traps and designs. (I'm thinking of you skeleton with magic missile fingers). Beyond the nostalgia affect though, when I re-read the expert set recently, I felt as if it still had new advice to offer on how to open up my world to adventure beyond the dungeon crawl.
    So although I love some of Mr Otus' artwork from the earlier version, I must say that for me Its the Mentzer books that are king.
    We're just going to have to agree to disagree on this one.

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  2. Looking at this chronology (and your comments) makes me realize how memory telescopes the past. I think of myself as having played D&D throughout my childhood and adolescence, but the last book I owned was published in 1983 (MMII) when I was 11, and the last I was even aware of in 1985. Though to be fair it seems like I didn't miss much...

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  3. It's funny how nostalgia tinges our perceptions of quality. I disconnected from most things TSR between the foundation laid by the first AD&D big-three books, and then the release of the GAZ modules topped by the Cyclopedia. I have no romantic fondness for any of the 80s production other than those two book-ends, and while my collection now has no "original AD&D" hardbacks, it does include a copy of the Cyclopedia, all the GAZ modules, and several other D&D items from the same "Mystara" generation (all the Hollow World items, the annuals, the four interesting "foes" items).

    I'm not sure I'd ever want to really seriously go back to any of these old school TSR books; as a moderator, I rather like what I find in the D20 Pathfinder RPG, and 4ed (for different reasons). I don't discount the appeal of "old school" though; it's just that my notions of "old school" have more to do with playing Classic Traveller, BRP, and the Charette/Hume series of games... 8/

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  4. Very interesting take on things, but I must admit, my main takeaway was wanting to know your thoughts on Forgotten Realms, James. Have you written about it before and I've simply missed it? And am I wrong for thinking of Forgotten Realms being inextricably linked to 2e? Thanks again for the thought provocation.

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  5. I remember 1987 as a very strong year. The release of the FR boxed set (1st edition) started up many a new gaming groups in my area, as the World of Greyhawk had been undersupported and shoved off to the side the years before by the Powers That Be. FR box set originally was a helluva nice sandbox, too bad it got examined and codified and extrapolated to death by more and more supplements; in it's purest (1E) form it's quite a spectacular achievement. BTW, the reason why it's reputation among "old schoolers" isn't great is because old schoolers had stopped purchasing TSR products in 1984, and most have never read it. It falls under the same category as any TSR product post-EGG, and thus was ignored by them.

    This plus the release of the GAZ series for basic make it one of my most memorable years of D&D.

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  6. LCM, Forgotten Realms was firmly 1E from it's release up until the roll out of 2e, and then became firmly linked to the new system (the face of 2E, so to speak). The original boxed set, plus the first few 1E supplements (FR1-FR6) are all quite well written and if TSR had stopped there I think the Forgotten Realms would be fondly remembered. Instead of a cool sandbox with a few more in depth digressions where you could set a campaign (Waterdeep, Moonshaes, Empires of the Sands, Savage North, Thay/Rashemen) it became TSR's goal to have every nook and cranny of Ed's world done up in spectacularly unexciting detail. Compare the spare yet very useful FR1 Waterdeep and the North (1988) with the bloated and over the top boxed set of Waterdeep (City of Splendors, 1994) years later to chart the trajectory of TSR into the crapper. (sorry for the hijack there James)

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  7. [i]Badmike said: "BTW, the reason why it's reputation among "old schoolers" isn't great is because old schoolers had stopped purchasing TSR products in 1984, and most have never read it. It falls under the same category as any TSR product post-EGG, and thus was ignored by them." [/i]

    Also, I think some probably see it as a betrayal of Gygax. I'm pretty sure one of the main reasons TSR pushed FR so hard was to break away from Greyhawk, since that was Gary's creation.

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  8. I think that Oriental Adventures got short changed. I mean the whole book made the D&D world look like a Chinese painting! And the character classes were awesome! The magic and spells were just a tad different, so much so, that I use the OA Wu Jen spells as a separate "school" that is used by the earth walking demons and their minions who are the campaign antagonists.

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  9. LCM, Forgotten Realms was firmly 1E from it's release up until the roll out of 2e, and then became firmly linked to the new system (the face of 2E, so to speak). The original boxed set, plus the first few 1E supplements (FR1-FR6) are all quite well written and if TSR had stopped there I think the Forgotten Realms would be fondly remembered.

    Presumably you haven't heard that thousands and thousands of people play Forgotten Realms campaigns, read the bestselling novels, obsess about the 'betrayal' that is the 4e revision, etc., etc., etc.

    You might not like the later stuff, maybe no 'OSR' types do, but lots and lots of people do (or in any case did). The Realms stayed a TSR centerpiece for a reason. Those with no vested interest in Gygax-boosterism tend to have no opinion about these 'betrayals,' and treat the Realms just like every other sub-Tolkien collection of minutiae.

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  10. "Also, I think some probably see it as a betrayal of Gygax. I'm pretty sure one of the main reasons TSR pushed FR so hard was to break away from Greyhawk, since that was Gary's creation."

    Bingo. Plus it didn't help when Greyhawk material post-EGG was pretty lame recycled tournament adventures (on purpose?) and the excreable WG7. FR was definitely seen as a "break" from the past. Even I, in my insulated Texas gaming existance (I had no clue until years later, and the internet, why EGG had left TSR) could see the very definitive pre- and post- FR mindset at TSR. The emphasis on supplements rather than modules (with the new Dungeon magazine taking over module publishing duties; all good 2E adventures are in Dungeon magazine) was one of the most easy to follow signposts. Gone were the years from 1983-1986 when a whopping 88 adventures were published; with Dungeon mag taking up the slack, post-1987 module publishing was a fraction of it's heydey.

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  11. Greyhawk was so much darker. I have the original World of Greyhawk supplements, love the post-apocalyptic feel of it. Forgotten realms are fluffier. More like Al Qadim, Kara Tur and a bunch of other geography kaleidoscoped and rolled into one. Greyhawk is a bit more accurate in its reproduction of the European continent drained and impoverished by centuries of war, something that U.S. Grant alluded to, after he toured the world.

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  12. Brooze, the FR started out dark also. Read the original boxed set and the first few supplements, you feel that the bad guys are all right around the corner...they spent an entire supplement detailing the Red Wizards of Thay, for instance. Plus there was an evil god roaming the Moonshaes, an entire city ruled by demons in the Savage North, the country of Tethyr was involved in a civil war, Zhentil Keep and the Zhentarim were in danger of taking over the Dalelands, etc. The "fluffiness" didn't come until later. I dare anyone to read the original FR box and come up many many examples of "Fluffy" (even the Dalelands themselves were just coming out of a nasty civil war in the timeline of the 1st FR boxed set). Unfortunately the opinion of the FR has suffered from the bulk of the post-2E publications, which were explicitly geared to making the setting less of a sandbox and more "adventurer friendly".

    Remember also a lot of players/DMs (myself included) were never entirely onboard with the "European continent" thing...Runequest, for example, has a more explicit "fantasy world" setting than WOG. I think FR was a step in that direction.

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  13. It must have made sense, from a business perspective, to move away from DM-centric publishing model, and towards Player-centric model. I suppose the thinking was you could sell more stuff to players, rather than catering to a smaller subset, the DMs.

    I have to wonder, though, if the glut of player (and substandard) material, and the propulsion towards more complexity and detail, isn't the cause of TSR's spectacular failure, and the decline of the D&D player-base.

    The ones "who left" D&D were the casual gamers, the ones that benefited from the DM-centric model. Those casual gamers are still gaming, but they are playing MMORPGs. Those games assign all the heavy lifting to the programming, just like OD&D assigned the heavy lifting to the DM.

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  14. I'm a big fan of the GAZ series, though I'll admit there were a few clunkers in the line. But there were some real gems, too, such as Karameikos, Ethengar, and the Shadow Elves. I've long had the impression that, because this was a secondary line for TSR, the writers were allowed to be more creative.

    security word: "Wormyish." Kind of fitting, when you think about it. :)

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  15. "The ones 'who left' D&D were the casual gamers... OD&D assigned the heavy lifting to the DM."

    I like this point a lot.

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  16. We're just going to have to agree to disagree on this one.

    I suspect lots of people to disagree with me about this one. The Mentzer boxed sets sold very well and probably introduced many more people into the hobby than did the Holmes or Moldvay sets. They're definitely clearer from a pedagogical perspective, but, for me, that clarity comes at the cost of flavor, which I think is a quality that's often overlooked.

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  17. I don't discount the appeal of "old school" though; it's just that my notions of "old school" have more to do with playing Classic Traveller, BRP, and the Charette/Hume series of games... 8/

    Old school games all, just not the ones that I tend to focus on here, although Traveller remains a great love of mine.

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  18. Have you written about it before and I've simply missed it? And am I wrong for thinking of Forgotten Realms being inextricably linked to 2e?

    I've written about the Realms in a few places, most notably in a post entitled "In Praise of Ed Greenwood." Contrary to many old schoolers, I love the Realms, at least in its original form. The "old gray box" is a terrific 1e product that's very much a sandbox setting. It has a different feel than does, say, Greyhawk, but that's not a bad thing in and of itself. In my experience, most of the complaints about the Realms stem either from caricatures of the setting -- of which there are many -- or from too little exposure to its best products and too much to the hackwork that was placed under the brand name.

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  19. BTW, the reason why it's reputation among "old schoolers" isn't great is because old schoolers had stopped purchasing TSR products in 1984, and most have never read it. It falls under the same category as any TSR product post-EGG, and thus was ignored by them.

    That may be true for some old schoolers, but many have other valid objections to the Realms -- or at least the way TSR developed the Realms during the 2e era. For myself, I still very much like the Realms and consider it an old school setting equal to Greyhawk and Blackmoor in its creativity and open-endedness. It's certainly a different kind of fantasy setting than either of those, but that's hardly a crime.

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  20. Also, I think some probably see it as a betrayal of Gygax. I'm pretty sure one of the main reasons TSR pushed FR so hard was to break away from Greyhawk, since that was Gary's creation.

    While I agree that some of the more paranoiac old schoolers do see it as a "betrayal" of Gygax, I suspect the simple fact of the matter is that, at the time, TSR was looking for a new setting it could more readily support in accordance with its new product line paradigm and the Realms seemed ready made for that.

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  21. There is something special about that period 78-82 where the company was just bursting with creativity and great products. A time that has yet to be matched in terms of sales, market penetration, and that unique gene se que

    My mom bought Deities and Demigods for me at K-Mart of all places!

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  22. I guess I'm the only one, but I think 1985 was one of the best years AD&D ever had.

    Temple of Elemental Evil, Unearthed Arcana, Isle of the Ape, the bulk of the DL Dragonlance modules (yeah, I like those), Swords of the Undercity, and Red Arrow, Black Shield, one of the finest BD&D modules ever.

    A really good year.

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  23. Interesting. For me, Temple of Elemental Evil was a huge disappointment after years of anticipation and marked a major acceleration of my disillusionment with TSR and my move away from AD&D.

    Tastes differ and all that. :)

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  24. Temple of Elemental Evil is the greatest module of all time.

    So yeah :)

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  25. Actually, I'm also willing to say that 1984/85 was something of an Indian summer for TSR. I liked the Dragon issues at the time, the Marvel Superheroes RPG, etc.

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  26. I agree that the Dragon issues during '84 were strong. Also, '84 brought us the strong Mordenkanien's Fantastic Adventure.

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  27. Yeah, I loved Fantastic Adventure as much for the write-up of Mordenkainen and crew as much as the adventure itself I think.

    I love the Conan modules for the same reason.

    That, and Conan is awesome. He totally smokes Tolkien as a fantasy author.

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  28. Badmike, awhile back I tried to figure out thr cocneptual differences between the Greyhawk and Forgotten Realms. What I finally came up with was that Greyhawk was essentially Western Europe after a magical Nukewar. Forgotten Realms is based on Central Europe and the Balkans in all their civil war gory. This only makes sense, Greyhwk was published and released at the height of Cold War, and Forgotten Realms were written at the time when Balkans were just entering in the news and to most people it was just a place on the map, same as Vietnam and Iraq once were, but to anyone who bothered to look deeper, the bloody history of the region became apparent.

    I shall definitely look for the original Forgotten Realms Grey box based on what you have told me. Thanks!

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  29. That, and Conan is awesome. He totally smokes Tolkien as a fantasy author.

    Wow, I was unaware that Conan was a writer as well as a bloody-handed reaver. Multitalented. Ya learn something every day.

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  30. Brooze,

    I think you are over-reading into events. Publication dates don't have anything to do with when the campaigns were invented. In fact, Greenwood says he started creating his world in 1968 as a fiction exercise, then D&D solidified his direction for his personal use. In fact, I suspect Greenwood's campaign is a bit older than Gary's.

    Yeah, I agree that some "right winger" D&D purists think Greenwood's campaign was "the devil", but the way things were going--if the Blume/Gygax war didn't happen, I suspect Ed would have ended up doing major freelance work for TSR and we might have still gotten his FR campaign no matter what. Greenwood shaped a lot of things in early D&D, even though he was mostly contributing via Dragon.

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  31. The problem with FR isn't the original boxed set, its all that stuff that came after.

    That world was smothered in supplements (and novels) that left no part of it untouched or left to be explored.

    And those supplements tainted the world even if you didn't use them yourself.

    As a DM, I ran into many players who knew FR way better than I did, and that made it far less appealing to me as a campaign setting.

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  32. John, you got me there...
    I forgot that I read Greenwood's recollections how one day eh drew a map fo the world and put Moonsea (was it?) in the middle.
    Still, there is soemthing to my comparison there, fantasy writers are influenced by the current events of the times they are creating in. Still, one of the negatives of the FR setting is that it leaves nothing to the DMs imagination, and I dodn't think that I ever met a DM who wasn't a world builder at heart.

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  33. After 1985 the D&D line was much stronger than the AD&D line, in my view. The Gazetteers were, for the most part, excellent (there were a couple of duds, e.g., "Irendi", but for the most part they were great IMO), as was the Hollow Earth box set and the Dawn of Emperors box set. The DA modules were also quite good (despite the annoying and unnecessary 'time travel' connection to Mystara).

    In contrast, most post-1985 AD&D material, both modules and hardbacks, strikes me as rather poor in quality. I don't own any of that stuff now, and don't feel like I'm missing anything. "Island of the Ape" is the last AD&D TSR module I purchased and still own.

    I suspect that the main reason why the D&D line maintained a high level of quality can be attributed primarily to Bruce Heard, who seemed to have a genuine love both for the game and the Mystara setting. Most of the D&D material was produced by freelancers (including Aaron Allston), and Heard apparently was quite careful about what was accepted. In contrast, most AD&D material was produced 'in house'.

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  34. Brooze: Interesting concepts on the European War theory of fantasy world influencing. It's why I love discussing this stuff, concepts I never imagined come up all the time...

    "Still, one of the negatives of the FR setting is that it leaves nothing to the DMs imagination, and I don't think that I ever met a DM who wasn't a world builder at heart."

    I really think that's a function of later writers and edicts; the original boxed set leaves entire chunks of the world untouched, as well as giving very short shrift (2-3 pages most) to such essential areas as the Dalelands, Moonsea area, Cormyr and anything south and east of FR3 Empires of the Sand. Even the first few supplements only detail Waterdeep, the Moonshaes, the North, and a few scattered empires (again leaving essential areas alone), and in most cases very general outlines are given rather than specific details. I almost wish I had the time, I bet I could run a helluva sandbox using just the 1E stuff and filling in the holes myself.

    When we first started using the FR, all we had was the boxed set, FR1 and FR2. We filled in all the blanks ourselves and think in many cases "our" FR did a better job!

    But no argument that later events led to far, far too much minute examination of every corner of the FR world.

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  35. Akrasia: After 1985 the D&D line was much stronger than the AD&D line, in my view.

    Yes! Absolutely. Though as is usually the case, its a "follow the author" situation.

    Aaron Allston wrote a lot of those GAZ products (as well as the Rules Cyclopedia) and he's one of the best RPG writers of all time.

    Hell, Aaron Allston did a couple of Kit books for 2e and they were good too. It's almost like the guy had talent or something.

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  36. "I dare anyone to read the original FR box and come up many many examples of "Fluffy" (even the Dalelands themselves were just coming out of a nasty civil war in the timeline of the 1st FR boxed set)."

    I recall the section on Aglarond to be pretty lame. Ditto Silverymoon, when Ed got around to detailing that.

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  37. "In fact, Greenwood says he started creating his world in 1968 as a fiction exercise, then D&D solidified his direction for his personal use."

    Somehow, I doubt that bore too much resemblence to what was published for D&D. Unless he also claims to have used Vancian magic, drow, beholders, and all the many, many D&D tropes in the original set back in the 60s.

    Probably by 1987, all that was left over was a handful of proper nouns and maybe, maybe a map or two.

    "In fact, I suspect Greenwood's campaign is a bit older than Gary's."

    This is just ridiculous on its face. Do you have any evidence whatsoever that Greenwood invented the RPG as we know it prior to Gygax, Arneson and their "midwest crew?" Has Greenwood himself ever claimed any such thing? Frankly, I doubt it, since I've never seen any indications that the man is a venal liar.

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  38. "I recall the section on Aglarond to be pretty lame. Ditto Silverymoon, when Ed got around to detailing that."

    I don't see a lot of fluff in the description of Aglarond; Silverymoon isn't even detailed in the original boxed set. Later publications, as in most cases, are where the "fluff" enters the picture. The below description of Aglarond from the original FR box set sounds pretty..well...grim.... It wasn't until way later that the Seven Sisters became far too powerful and thus uninteresting.

    "Aglarond cannot boast a field army of any size, nor a navy, but within its woods The Simbul's foresters are expert and deadly troops, adept at firefighting and at using "coastboats" (long, canoe-like open boats handled with lateen sails, oars, and
    poles) to raid by night. These foresters are equally well-trained for traveling in the treetops and fighting amongst the foliage. The foresters are alert and grim; the menacing might of Thay is uncomfortably near, and Aglarond's blades are all too few. At the battles of Singing Sands (1194 DR) and Brokenheads (1197 DR), Aglarond's forces turned back invading hosts from Thay, but the cost was great. Skirmishes with raiders hoping to win glory for Thay, or mercenaries hired by
    Thay, are common."

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  39. Will,

    I'm not arguing the existence of Greenwood's setting as being a "campaign", if you define it as a group of gamers around a table. And clearly he got other influences involved. Not just D&D, some of his original gods were from existing fiction such as Aslan. And he was very inspired by EGG's writings.

    What I am saying is that Greenwood created a world back in the late 60s and kept developing it, even to this day.

    I'm not trying to get into a pissing match of "who did what first". What I am saying is that from what I've read about Greenwood, he has been working on this for a long time as a hobby, with the same diligence Tolkien had for his world.

    From what I know of Gary having worked with him, Gygax doesn't get that detailed unless he needs to. Gary has engaged in a lot of world building, but he's started from scratch several times. He's also economically savvy enough to stop developing when he lost rights or it wasn't financially viable. I know for a fact when he lost control of GH in 1986 he stopped using it personally, same with Aerth in 1994. (He would still use "the castle", but not as a detailed campaign).

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  40. I don't want to jump on a FR bashing bandwagon; because I do feel those referring to the quality of the original boxed set have a point. However I have to say that a couple of the things that always bothered me the most about FR were:

    1) It ended the era of general modules being released, it seemed to me every new module (particularly by 2ed) was for the realms, and really took some work to remove it from that local.

    2)More annoying though was the plethora of powerful heroic NPC's, it made me feel that as 1st level characters, our presence in this world as heroic people, would have been redundant; especially when Eliminster, to name one, could just pop in at anytime and save the day. Maybe I didn't know enough about Forgotten Realms, but it came across as a world were the "good guys" were more powerful than the villians. Even many of the novels (which lets face it, most of which were not well written) felt this way to me. I don't mind a world were there were heroes in the past that the pc's can emulate or try to surpass in fame, but I believe that the campaign world needs some sense that the good guys (if your going for heroics anyway) are the underdogs with some sense of urgency or desperation (maybe not the best words but I hope you get my drift). I think a could comparison could be made to the DC/Marvel rpgs of the past. They had great game mechanics, but if we had played in the same world as Superman or the Avengers, why would there be any need for our lowly new heroes.

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  41. "I'm not arguing the existence of Greenwood's setting as being a 'campaign', if you define it as a group of gamers around a table."

    Being all RPG enthusiasts here, that's going to be the common understanding of "campaign", though.

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  42. "Maybe I didn't know enough about Forgotten Realms"

    I think this is a valid complaint about FR bashers, except replace "Enough" with "Anything" and you are a bit more accurate.

    Dungeon magazine was releasing 4-6 adventures bi-monthly from 1986 onwards, the majority NOT set in the FR, and many as good or better than "offical module" material (Kingdom of the Ghouls, Mud Sorceror's Tomb, etc). Plus, I'm unaware of any extensive contortions it takes to convert a FR adventure to any general D&D locale, anymore than it takes extensive work to convert L1, T1 or N1 (all, btw, which I've run many times in my own campaign world without much problem).

    The "Heroic" characters complaint doesn't fly either, because unless someone was holding a gun to the DM's head the decision to use any, all or none of the NPCs was entirely his or her decision. I played in the WOG for over a decade and can't recall a single campaign Mordenkainen, Bigby, Robilar, Iuz or any name character put in a personal experience. If your DM had guys like Elminster or Tenser popping in his D&D games as deus ex machina he probably should have been running a nice game of Stratego instead. In the parlance of sports (in honor of the first full football Sunday of 2009 season), don't hate the playah, hate the game.....!

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  43. "played in the WOG for over a decade and can't recall a single campaign Mordenkainen, Bigby, Robilar, Iuz or any name character put in a personal experience."

    If I'm not mistaken, none of these characters are:

    a) Detailed in the GH folio or boxed set.

    b) "Heroic" in the sense of being of good alignment.

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  44. Edit:

    Iuz is detailed in the boxed set, of course. As a potential antagonist, and not a "hero", however.

    Badmike, did it occur to you that you might be a little too aggressive in your defense of the FR set? It seems like you're insisting that there's no valid reason whatsoever for anyone to dislike anything about it. That's silly.

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  45. They are, however, given a full write up treatment in the 1980 "Rogue's Gallery" supplement (which, BITD, everyone including myself loved because it gave us a more detailed glimpse of characters we had only heard tidbits about). In terms of "name" characters, Tenser and Serten (In Rogue's Gallery) are designated as LG, while Mord and Bigby are "N" (not good, but neither are they evil). Mordy even takes the active role of recruiting the characters in Isle of the Ape to hunt down a magic artifact...his motives may ultimately be selfish but in the short run they serve the cause of good. But alignments and motivations aside, the point being, none of the above NPCs (nor any detailed in any product) can make an appearance in a campaign if the DM doesn't make it so. So whatever "powers" that are given them in a published work are immaterial as any DM is ultimately MORE powerful than the character on paper. A roundabout way of saying that if you are pissed Elminster (or Mordenkainen, or Blackstaff, or Robilar) popped into your campaign and saved your character with a snap of the fingers, your DM is probably an unimaginative tool...why blame the material? It's only there to inspire and set the stage, anyway. I guess to me the appearance of heroic NPCs doesn't tip me one direction or another in my enjoyment of the material (YMMV of course).

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  46. As for being a FR apologist....my aggressiveness is a result of actually having the material, and having read it, I am constantly puzzled by the conclusions of others that are not backed up by empirical evidence. Over the years I've concluded that many of the detractors are simply repeating ad hominen arguments and most of their contact with the FR is second hand...they played in a campaign back in 1989 and their DM had Elminster appear every adventure and save their ass. In most cases I'm surprised as simply reading the original material would clear up a lot of misconceptions. For example, to this day I run into many old schoolers (some who have been gaming longer than I have) who are 1E junkies that are surprised to learn the Forgotten Realms was originally a 1E publication (ditto with much derided lines such as Dragonlance). In fact I think only Dragonlance (which is continually referred to as a 2E line) gets blamed for more poverty, war, famine and disease than the FR line, yet some of the most ardent detractors have never read a single supplement (of either FR or DL). That's just lazy.

    Like Dragonlance, which comes into more than it's share of condemnation from old schoolers, there is a lot of legitimate criticism you can level at the FR line, especially post 2E/1990. Badly written product, product bloat, unneeded expansion diluting the mystery and wonder of the setting, formerly passive descriptions and storylines becoming far too agressive, tacit approval of munchkinism, hell, bad writing in general drags the entire line down in the 90s. However, rarely are these reasons pointed to...it's always "Elminster sucks" or "I hate anything 2E anyway" or "Gary would never have approved". Please. For instance, I disagree with a lot of what James writes in his blog, but I'm always impressed by his willingness to become familiar with the material before criticizing it, or admit he doesn't have anything but a very general knowledge of the subject in question and will have to do more research before commenting further (or soliciting that research through the posts). I guess I just find the intellectual laziness involved in a lot of the FR criticism upsetting because it comes from generally intelligent people that would be appalled should the same type of arguments be used against 1E, WOG, or EGG.

    Since this has wandered far afield from the original subject I apologize to James for taking this in odd directions...I'll continue any futher discussion on my blog...

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  47. What Badmike said, totally agree.

    In the end the quality of a game falls onto the individual DM.

    I think it's funny that people despise the Realms and say it's not sand boxy, I ran a campaign set in the Moonsea area, off the contents of the original FR box set and the Pool Radiance - Adventurer's Journal from the C64 game. And that ran for quite a few years.

    Just because there's official supplements doesn't mean that the game police are going to kick down your door and take your dice for not using them.

    Seriously what's with the ......

    SWEET MOTHER OF GOD THE GAME POLICE HAVE FOUND ME AGAIN! (GHRRRK)(Snik)(THUD!)

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  48. "They are, however, given a full write up treatment in the 1980 "Rogue's Gallery" supplement (which, BITD, everyone including myself loved because it gave us a more detailed glimpse of characters we had only heard tidbits about)."

    But are we not comparing apples and apples here? If you're going to discuss the original FR set as a self-contained entity, I don't feel it's fair to bring up published GH lore other that what was in the introductory folio/boxed set for that world.

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  49. "Just because there's official supplements doesn't mean that the game police are going to kick down your door and take your dice for not using them."

    This is an argument I really hate. Nothing but a transparent excuse to derail discussion of a published work.

    "I hated Supplement X. It added tons of raw detail to the setting, but it was all tangential trivia, IMHO. Not worth publishing or using."

    "Well, YOU DON'T HAVE TO USE IT."

    "Yes, but IT STILL SUCKS."

    "Well, YOU DON'T HAVE TO USE IT."

    "Yes, but IT STILL SUCKS."

    "Well, YOU DON'T HAVE TO USE IT."

    "Yes, but IT STILL SUCKS."

    Times infinity.

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  50. I was in heaven with the plethora of modules coming out for a while there. There were some I didn't think were so great, but there were a huge number I did. Dragonlance, Ravenloft, Desert of Desolation, I loved those. I was also a fan of Unearthed Arcana and Oriental Adventures, and still use them. I thought the Kara-tur set was great for OA, and I picked up subsequent Mongol and Arabian sets. Just never got around to using them. I didn't have much interest in FR, but I adore the GAZ series. Glantri was throroughly enjoyable, Orcs of Thar was tons of fun. I didn't get nearly enough chance to use the GAZ series.

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  51. '"Just because there's official supplements doesn't mean that the game police are going to kick down your door and take your dice for not using them."

    This is an argument I really hate. Nothing but a transparent excuse to derail discussion of a published work.'

    But it's ok to derail a discusion by dragging in every other published FR work, when the discusion is about the original FR boxed set?

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  52. Yes, there was a decline in the old thinking but the old school was very much alive in the pages of Dragon Magazine. You will remember before the launch of AD&D 2e that Dragon was alive with discussions, essays and treatises on a wide variety of minutia and sh*t(here I am using it in a positive light - that being the fertilizer in which new ideas were growing).

    For when they introduced DL, clearly, the executives were already thinking of product viability rather than the game or hobby. Gary, I am sure, was also interested in keeping the brand alive and saw DL not as the bane that you protray but just as a way of continuing the brand.

    For his own Greyhawk was very different than what was published as Greyhawk and he reportedly was happy with both (at least when I spoke with him just before his death). It was starting indeed with Ward's retrofit that Gary's worlds began to fall apart till they were unrecognizable to old school gamers and even the young Turks who one can associate with the Hickmanian Revolution/FR fans.

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