Friday, February 5, 2010

REVIEW: Advanced Edition Companion

When I describe my earliest gaming days, I typically claim that I played Advanced Dungeons & Dragons almost exclusively. After all, the books and modules my friends and I were using had the AD&D logo on their covers and we loved the depth provided by the reams of races, character classes, monsters, spells, and magic items. Yet, if I were to be honest about it, we weren't playing AD&D at all, at least not according to the full rules of the game. We ignored weapon proficiencies, segment-based combat rounds, grappling/pummeling/overbearing, helmet rules, and a host of other distinctive elements of AD&D. In truth, our games were closer to Holmes or Moldvay, with lots of AD&D-derived options tacked on. In speaking with many other players of my vintage, this seems to have been a common experience.

That's where Dan Proctor's Advanced Edition Companion enters the picture. Like its predecessor, Original Edition Characters, AEC is a supplement to Goblinoid Games's Labyrinth Lord, offering up optional rules to emulate many of the distinctive elements of AD&D, but mated to the elegant LL rules. Using AEC would thus be very close to recreating the way my friends and I played "AD&D" back in the day, something Proctor himself notes in his foreword: "the goal in writing the Advanced Edition Companion (AEC) was to create an expansion of Labyrinth Lord that is a natural evolution (with compatibility) of advanced first edition but keeping the slick original game engine. I think you'll agree that I've succeeded. If you play using AEC you will be playing advanced first edition rules as most people played them"

And succeed he has. AEC covers a wide range of topics within its 160 pages, presenting straightforward adaptation of AD&D distinctives for use with Labyrinth Lord. So, you get expanded races and classes, along with spells, monsters, and magic items -- nearly everything you'd find in AD&D -- without most of the "fiddly bits" that most of us didn't use anyway. It's all here, from gnomes to assassins to creeping doom and the demon prince Orcus. There are even plenty of inspiring tables (such as random tavern patrons and random sounds), as well as discussions of planar cosmology, potion mixing, and more. Reading through AEC, it was very hard not to want to pick it all up and drop it into my Dwimmermount campaign right away. Much as I've enjoyed the "purity" of a more OD&D-inspired campaign, there will always be a part of me that longs for the baroque diversity of Gygaxian AD&D and the Advanced Edition Companion reminded me of this fact more than any other game book I've read in recent years.

What's most remarkable about this product is not its contents but that the entire thing is open game content. That means anyone can use it to create their own advanced-flavored products and I hope many people do so. Heck, I'm tempted to do so myself. Goblinoid Games has helpfully provided the complete text of the supplement (without artwork) for free here, making it easy for anyone to create compatible and/or derivative products of their own. I hate to gush about this, as it undermines what little objectivity I might have on this subject, but I find it difficult to do otherwise. AEC is a great gift to the old school community, particularly publishers. That, in its outlines, it's rather similar to my own idea for a "D&D 0.75" probably says a lot about my own love of it.

The retail version of the Advanced Edition Companion is nicely presented, looking very much like other recent Labyrinth Lord products. The text is clear and readable and I didn't notice any significant typographical errors or editorial issues. The text is highlighted by many black and white illustrations by Steve Zieser, Sean Aaberg, and Jeremy Pea. Most of the artwork is superb, beginning with Zieser's stunning cover, although Aaberg's illustrations of demons and devils are also noteworthy for having won me over after initially disliking them. What I most like about AEC's artwork is that it's all distinctive, harkening back to the illustrations of the Golden Age without explicitly imitating them. AEC, like Labyrinth Lord generally, manages to pay homage to the past without feeling the need to ape it -- a fine approach in my biased opinion.

Advanced Edition Companion is available in three retail formats: paperback ($22.95), hardcover ($32.95), and PDF ($5.95). This is one of those rare products I'll probably grab in hardcover at some point, in spite of my distaste for Lulu.com. AEC is simply that good and I'd like to have it in a format that'll hold up to all the use to which I'm likely to put it, both in play and in writing. I imagine I won't be alone in this feeling.

Presentation: 7 out of 10
Creativity: 9 out of 10
Utility: 9 out of 10

Get This If:
You want to add the depth and flavor of AD&D to your games without all the additional complexity.
Don't Get This If: You have no interest in the peculiar Gygaxian flavor of AD&D.

28 comments:

  1. It's an excellent product, indeed. The only thing I find irking is that the races do not get the additional abilities they had in AD&D, e.g. stealthy and charm-resistant elves, or racial enmity abilities for dwarves etc. I understand it was done to allow in the game also the racial classes. But still.
    Also, oddly, the cleric class has been opened to all of the races, but the halfling got the shaft; not even the druid is accessible.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I think I like Goblinoid’s product line-up better than I ever did TSR’s. I’m very tempted to “switch” from B/X to LL.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I like Steve Zeiser's art style. Reminds me of Gary Chalk (old GW/Lone Wolf), or the interior art of the FF Sorcery series (John Blanche IIRC).

    ReplyDelete
  4. I've been waiting for this for awhile. I'm running a game in it right now, and writing a module for it...

    ReplyDelete
  5. Thanks for the review, James, it was too kind! Sean Aaberg is, among his other artistic interests, what you might call an underground comics artist. So he has that sort of style, and the character he lent to the demons and devils is unique but at the same time so old-school it makes me giggle like a little girl! His style is awesome and I hope to wrangle him in to some future projects. Steve really came through for me on this project too. That cover illustration is, to me, probably the most fantastic b/w illio I can think of from any old-school artist, contemporary or otherwise. In print you can really appreciate it that much more compared to the electronic book. Jeremy did the "level up" illustration at the end of the spells section. He had this neat idea for a teenager "leveling up" at the game table and it turned out pretty cool. You might recall that Jeremy did a bunch of work on Mutant Future, one of which is that scene in the beginning with the mutants sitting at the table playing an RPG called "real people." It's a really fun illio. He seems to like to do illustrations that sort of "bridge" that fantasy worlds we construct with these games and superimpose them on the real world, creating fun subject matter.

    ReplyDelete
  6. It would be cool to have this book and the Labyrinth Lord book blended together so as to make a single, seamless book.

    But even without that, LL and the AEC are very cool. :D

    ReplyDelete
  7. I still don't understand the concept of racial limit to classes.
    But this is pretty neat.

    ReplyDelete
  8. I am really anxious to pick this up in print. I have looked over both the original game and the advanced expansion in their free versions and I am very impressed. I think this is a marketing model that other game publishers should consider. Game buyers want two things from their games: [1] A game to play; [2] A book to read and cherish. The thing is many publishers manage one or the other, but somehow miss the mark when it comes to providing both. The great thing about Labyrinth Lord is that by offering option [1] for free in a glutted market they make it possible for players to play the game and thereby create a market for [2] A book to read and cherish. I know that the more I play and enjoy a gaming experience the more value I place on those books that sit on my shelf and the more I look at them.

    I do have a question. As an amateur RPG designer myself, I have been considering LuLu strongly for my self publishing ventures. Can I ask why the expressed disdain at their expense? In the interest of having all the facts that I need to make an informed choice, I'd like to know.

    Thanks!!

    Jeff Moore

    ReplyDelete
  9. @Jeff: I think the main gripe people have with Lulu is that the shipping is high. I can't really defend that entirely except that when you receive a book from Lulu you can see that they spared no expense in the packaging. Those things are packaged very securely. Also I suspect they over charge a bit because they work with different printers, so for instance if you order a hardcover and some paperbacks in one order, that hardcover is shipping separately from another location, so you are effectively really paying for shipping twice.

    Aside from that, their quality is top notch and while printer errors do occur, it actually isn't bad for the high volume one-off printing they do. From a publisher's perspective, today they are the best all around POD option. At least until RPGnow gets going with their program, then we'll see. But even then they will be printing from the same printers, so there will be no quality difference. I have other tips and things about Lulu, and feel free to email me if you have any questions.

    ReplyDelete
  10. My order is in for a hardback copy of the AEC. For this particular product I do not mind the extra cash for the hardback price or the cost of shipping.

    Three cheers for Dan Proctor!!!

    ReplyDelete
  11. Chris, yes, it was Blanche who drew all that creepy, twisty art in the Sorcery! books.

    ReplyDelete
  12. I have seen a lot of reviews for this in the last week.
    And all of them good.

    I agree, it is not AD&D, but rather AD&D how we played it.

    Where was this product 27 years ago when I was trying to figure out how to play AD&D from the point of view of a D&D player??

    Dan: this is of course a fantastic product. Plus it is nice to always see another Eden guy do good!

    ReplyDelete
  13. Is this going to be available at local game shops?

    ReplyDelete
  14. @Tim: Thanks man. Yes, I haven't dropped by the Eden boards in a long long time. As you know I got my first start publishing through Eden and the fan page I used to maintain. Wow, all the stuff that's gone on in my life since then makes it feel like a whole other life now.

    @Korgoth: Yep, that's the plan. It will take a few months for that to happen.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Man, I got at least two copies of each 1st ed. book, so I guess I'll be sticking with my own bastardized version of AD&D. Why find something that is like a game "as we played it?" Just play AD&D the way you played it.

    I mean, if I didn't have any of the old books and was playing LL, then I would love this. But that ain't the case. Still, I'm always happy to see more O.G. ("Original Gamer") stuff come out even if I will never buy/use it.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Does anyone know if there's an AEC character sheet? Or is that unnecessary?

    ReplyDelete
  17. @nextautumn - not sure a special character sheet is really needed but a free PDF version of an Advanced Character Sheet is available on Goblinoid's web site.

    ReplyDelete
  18. I hate to gush about this, as it undermines what little objectivity I might have on this subject, but I find it difficult to do otherwise. Some things are gush-worthy.

    ReplyDelete
  19. This is a truly great product and one of the best things the OSR has produced. I've been running the free version for two sessions now (my new campaign started on January 3rd using the 1e PHB), and I'll be ordering a stack of the hardcovers on payday.

    I am particularly fond of Sean's illustrations. His style reminds me of a punk rock version of Ed "Big Daddy" Roth*. If Dan ever puts out a LL version of the Fiend Folio Sean Aaberg should illustrate the whole thing.

    *dude. He should totally do a t-shirt with Orcus driving a crazy Rat Fink-style hot rod. His wand could be the gear shift! I would buy that in a second...

    ReplyDelete
  20. I can hardly wait until my copy arrives from Lulu. Heck, I'll probably break down and get the PDF as well, just to look at it this weekend!

    ReplyDelete
  21. *dude. He should totally do a t-shirt with Orcus driving a crazy Rat Fink-style hot rod. His wand could be the gear shift! I would buy that in a second...

    Be great to see al the demons in one vehicle or another like Demogorgon in suped-up Camero or Juiblex in a garbage truck.

    ReplyDelete
  22. huzzah,

    we have come full circle,
    1st edition rocks
    (except for that silly descending AC)

    NOW, I wonder if wizards is going to reboot AD&D

    ReplyDelete
  23. Argh! Gonna have to buy this one after I buy LL.

    ReplyDelete
  24. I still don't understand the concept of racial limit to classes.

    What's to understand? It's intended as a disincentive to play demihumans. While it's certainly not the only -- or even the best -- way to achieve this goal, it does achieve it in my experience.

    ReplyDelete
  25. Can I ask why the expressed disdain at their expense?

    Lulu's shipping costs outside the US are highway robbery. That's my main reason for disliking it.

    ReplyDelete
  26. Why find something that is like a game "as we played it?" Just play AD&D the way you played it.

    That's fine if you and all your players still have your old AD&D books, but that's not the case for everyone. AEC is a great "emulator" add-on for LL and has the advantage of being available now. It's not intended as a replacement for AD&D for those who have and own those books, but it's a great substitute for those who do not.

    ReplyDelete
  27. "Why find something that is like a game 'as we played it?' Just play AD&D the way you played it."

    The LL rules are available free. That's a plus.

    ReplyDelete
  28. I was actually hoping to see race-as-class write-ups for gnomes and (especially) half-orcs. I still hate what became of gomes from the 2e "tinker gnomes" onward and the 3e "half-orc berserkers" onward. Guess I'll need to dig up that Dragon article on class construction (issue 88 or so?).

    But I'm happy to see AD&D available in the LL format, without all the ballast from UA onward! I may not play but I like to know it's there.

    ReplyDelete

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.