Tuesday, August 3, 2010

A Gaming Regret

Lest it be forgotten that this is a gaming blog, I wanted to talk a bit about one of my gaming regrets.

Back in the late 80s, as 1st edition AD&D wore me down with its relentless series of ill-conceived hardcover expansions, I was about ready to call it quits. The advent of 2nd edition briefly renewed my interest in Dungeons & Dragons, but it didn't take long before 2e recapitulated the history of late 1e and the same feelings of dissatisfaction I had a few years earlier resurfaced only much more definitively. I continued to play AD&D but much more sporadically and without the same level of devotion I'd had earlier. Over the last few years, I've come to realize that the late 80s and even early 90s weren't quite as bad a time for D&D as I felt at the time. Sure, those years aren't undiluted gold but neither were they utterly devoid of interest.

A good case in point was the Dungeons & Dragons Gazetteer line, each of which described a region/nation/culture of the Known World (I refuse to use the name "Mystara," which always struck me as silly). I was always fond of the Known World setting, going back to the Summer of 1981 when I seemed to be running The Isle of Dread non-stop. The Known World is a very "broad" setting after the fashion of Howard's Hyborian Age, borrowing real world cultures and societies with glorious abandon and then making enough changes to fit them into a fantasy setting. It's frankly a solid method of world building, even if some turn their noses up at it.

But I never bought any of the volumes of the Gazetteer until quite late in their run and then only a handful of them. To me, they were too strongly associated with "kiddie D&D" and so I avoided them. As it turns out, I missed out on a lot of well-done products during this time. As AD&D continued to spiral downward into incoherence, the D&D line seemed to be experiencing a renaissance of sorts, expanding in a lot of neat directions while still retaining the simple, straightforward rules that nowadays I consider so appealing.

More than once in recent years, I've heard several old schoolers speak fondly of the late 80s and early 90s D&D line, which I am given to understand was considered such a "minor" line by TSR that its designers had pretty much a free hand to do with as they wished without much interference from the higher ups in the company. Re-reading them now, I can fully understand why such fondness exists. Despite their length, the Gazetteers are surprisingly full of good ideas -- "stuff," as I call it -- and don't (generally) engage in the kind of voluminous fantasy ethnography that turns me off setting books these days. In short, these products are usable and I'm sorry I missed out on a lot of them.

I've slowly been acquiring many of the Gazetteers but it's a difficult endeavor. For various reasons, they command high prices in second hand markets, especially if you want copies that include all the maps, counters, and other goodies that made them so special in the first place. I'm in no hurry to get them all, since I've already got my own setting, but they make nice research materials nonetheless. Plus, they're a reminder that there's no expiry date on creativity, especially when it comes to roleplaying games.

62 comments:

  1. I couldn't agree more strongly with the sentiments expressed in this post. One of the consistent thorns in my side about the (A)D&D gaming community was the knee-jerk reaction of turning up one's nose at materials produced for the D&D line, even in the face of some amazing products. The Gazetteer line is one of the high points of TSR's published output - I was able to snag last week a copy of GAZ2 (Emirates of Ylaruam), which, so I gather, is generally viewed as one of the weaker entries, and even I, as someone inclined to enjoy the GAZ line, was really surprised to see the level of quality. I mean, really, if you can squeeze workable, enjoyable D&D gaming ideas out of a Saudi Arabian-flavoured setting, you're really doing some fine work.

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  2. It would be appropriate here to praise Bruce Heard, TSR's ace Acquisitions Editor during the Known World's heyday. Bruce lavished attention on the Known World and the Gazetteer line as beloved children. You might also mention designer Aaron Allston, who did standout work on several Gazetteers and the Hollow World boxed set, as well as the massive D&D Rules Cyclopedia. More than a few fans still assert the Cyclopedia was the finest incarnation of the D&D/AD&D ruleset.

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  3. Back when I was in middle school, almost all of our adventures were in The Grand Duchy of Karameikos and the Empire of Thyatis. I have fond memories of fighting of Dymrak goblins and sneaking into Baron Black Eagle's fortress.

    The Known World, as I recall, grew into Mystara over time, and a lot of stuff (like Blackmoor) was actually ret-conned into it as it expanded. And then they started producing the Almanacs. If you're going to do metaplot, an almanac series is a darn good way to summarize it, although I imagine a lot of Old School folks probably cringe at the very concept of metaplot.

    At some point, you should try to summarize all of your opinions about how AD&D (both 1st and 2nd) "went wrong" for us "non-Old-School-Renaissance" folks. For me, the early-to-mid '90s was when some of the best setting material was being produced, and my favorite products are from that era.

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  4. I only ever owned one of the Gazetteer line: The Shadow Elves. I remember being very fond of it, indeed. It is a shame that this and the Rules Cyclopedia seemed to get lost in the cacophony of 2nd Edition.

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  5. As I recall, the Known World became Mystara when it was turned into an AD&D2 setting, so there's another thing to level at it. ;)

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  6. I, too, have always called it the "Known World".

    Back in the 2E era, I randomly picked up two Gazetteers at a local game shop (All-Star Games in Diamond Bar, CA) - GAZ2 Emirates of Ylaruam, and GAZ3 Principalities of Glantri, because they seemed to cover "historical earth" areas that I had in my own campaign world, and I was looking for ideas. And there were ideas aplenty in these! I always regret that I never got any more of them in print versions, but I was able to acquire some as PDFs before WotC stopped selling their OOP materials in PDF format.

    The Known World, like you mentioned, reminded me very much of the Hyborian Age kindgoms from REH's Conan, and I always really liked that way of world-building. My home-brew campaign world is built in much the same way. It's also one of the things I like best about Paizo's "Glorarion" Campaign Setting - it's easy to see the inspiration from real-world cultures, and drop them into your own setting when you have a need for an area with that kind of flavor.

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  7. They were indeed a great resource. I may have only used a fraction of the material throughout my games, but they were a great read.

    My only regret is having had to part ways with my entire collection of them due to moving and space constraints over the years.

    Ciao!
    GW

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  8. So. what's silly with "Mystara"?

    I'm getting more and more amazed how much ideas about what's serious and what is "kiddie" stuff have influenced what people game.

    I have a bunch of the GAZ books. One of these days I will use them, for something. I have a hard time imagining using them together, since they jam together different cultures a bit too close for my taste. There we go again. It has to work and be "serious"...

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  9. It is regrettable that so many good products are "collector's items" now. I missed this run it was a little before my time but what I've seen is really great. You know I think I'd buy a new line of Gazeteers for instance, Dwimmermount Gazeteers.

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  10. I managed to buy all the pdfs that WOTC legally released. For some reason GAZ10: Orcs of Thar pdf was never released. Between those & eBay, I managed to get them all: including Hollow World and Dawn of the Emperors. I had them coil bound at Kinko's to have hard copies on my shelf as well.

    Frankly, the GAZ series is a mixed bag. Some aren't so hot (or downright goofy), but all have at least a few nuggets to mine.

    GAZ1 (Karameikos), that you pictured above, is my favorite, and probably the best of the bunch.

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  11. Hey, do any of these Gazetteer's have a decent, large map of the Known World? Most of my D&D maps are for the Hollow World, which I can't see getting nearly as much use. My copy of Rules Cyclopedia does have a map of the Known World, but it is bound within a book, and I'd rather have something to fold out.

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  12. I think I've told you a few times this was my default D&D campaign setting. When I was playing D&D it was in this world. I love it, for all of its wonder.

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  13. I managed to purchase all of the racially-based gazetteers, and I have been using the material in them to "spice up" my LL games at cons. Personally, I have to agree that they were a wonderful idea. However, I do prefer the Hollow World setting.

    Guilty pleasures. Ah.

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  14. I don't know that there was ever a printed map of the Known World, but various fans have produced such things over the years. The Vaults of Pandius are your best searching spot for finding them (that's a website, in case you didn't know). I will second BigHara's pronouncement that GAZ1 was the best of the line, primarily because the whole thing was written with playing low level characters in mind, rather than cogent world building. There is even a cultural reason for every snot-nosed teenager in the land to become an adventurer, even if just for a year. The Dawn of the Emperors boxed set is my second favorite of the run. Glantri stinks, in my not so humble opinion. Too much silliness for my tastes, though even then I did get some gaming use out of it by toning down the crazy to a tolerable level.

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  15. Growing up as young kid in the 80's, I hold the Basic D&D game very high on a pedestal as a rpg of choice. But I hold the Gazetters as sort of a mile marker, that I suspect is similar to how a lot of AD&D old schoolers hold Dragonlance/Ravenloft. Before the Gazetters, the Known World was just a template to hold together adventures and expand upon by the dungeon master. After, each country was detailed in excruciating minutia, all packaged in a set of 13 accessories for $15 a piece. Not to say, they are all terrible. The orcs of thar is almost like a rules supplement, and I hold it in high regard. But others have a rather slapdash feel to them to me, and go into a lot of details that I would not use.

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  16. Kingdoms of Karameikos (the 2e "GAZ" box set) had some color maps: one of Karameikos, the other of the Known World. They were set a few years (30?) after the original GAZ-series (AC1000), so some changes had occurred and were represented on maps.

    Vaults of Pandius (Thorfin's maps) is the place to look, IMO.

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  17. Having begun my gaming career with the B/X set, I have always had a soft spot for the Known World setting. Thus, when the GAZ series came out, I quickly snapped up the first one. GAZ 1 is easily one of the best of the line, it was enough to get me to buy all of the others (even if the quality between products was somewhat uneven). Particularly good were GAZ 1, 3, 5, and 6. Particularly BAD were GAZ 4 (Irendi, played for laughs- A tropical island paradise with a 'Fantasy Island' ripoff and "Magnus, P.I." a viking adventurer who rode around in a red chariot. Ugh.), and GAZ 10 (Orcs of Thar, which was also played for "laughs"). Both of these reminded me of that horrible spoof adventure of Castle Greyhawk. The rest of the GAZ series were solid, in my opinion, and useful as hell in generating ideas, even though I never once ran a campaign in Mystara (or at least not after it became known as Mystara).

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  18. @AVarney My favourite incarnation of the rules until very recently were in that Cyclopedia, and I have to admit that I bought it, and the GAZ series, mostly because of the names Aaron Allston and Ken Rolston (because of their work with other games). I'm very glad indeed that some years ago, I managed to round out a sizeable collection of Known World products from a used game sale. At the moment, I'm embarking on running an old school set of adventures using "Labyrinth Lord" and the Ux series of modules, but it could just as easily have been done with the Cyclopedia and the GAZ line (and other Known World products).

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  19. Hey, do any of these Gazetteer's have a decent, large map of the Known World? Most of my D&D maps are for the Hollow World, which I can't see getting nearly as much use. My copy of Rules Cyclopedia does have a map of the Known World, but it is bound within a book, and I'd rather have something to fold out.

    TSR released a couple of "Trail Maps" of the Known World around 1990, which where huge foldout amalgamations of all the maps from the Gazeteers. One was the Western Lands (most of the setting from Karameikos and all points West) and the other was Eastern Lands (Thyatis out to the Isle of Dawn and beyond). Combined they made for something like 20 square feet of map; for cartography nuts, they're pretty much porn.

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  20. Hey, on the same setting, has anyone tried out the Poor Wizard's Almanac books? How do these compare with the Gazetteers?

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  21. I've never regretted using my own game world pretty much exclusivly for over 30 years. Sure, as a kid I mucked around with things like City State of the Overlord and such, but nothing beats a world you started from scratch and watched grow through over 120 years of game continuity. It truly belongs to you and you alone.

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  22. True, and that's what I've done (same world since around 1989 or so, but only "actively" used it as a game world since 2001). But, even those of us who create our own worlds can sometimes use a fresh perspective to add new and different things we didn't consider.

    At least - that's how I feel. I've taken little bits and pieces from all sorts of different campaign settings, novels, TV shows, movies... I've even been contemplating how to incorporate some of the cool Dwimmermount ideas that James mentions in his blog.

    If I had my preference, I'd want to have three or four different games all going on at the same time that all had different worlds so I could keep the ideas distinct. But, as it is, I pretty much only have time to referee one game, so I'd rather use the ideas in my current world than sit on them hoping that "one day" I'd be able to use them. I'm not getting any younger!

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  24. I had a handful of those and sold all of them during my Great RPG Purge of the late 90s. The halfling one and the one about the North played huge roles in my Jr High/early High School campaign. They were much higher quality IMO than a a lot of the late 1e/most of 2e stuff.

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  25. Indeed, I was just bidding on GAZ1 on EBay last week (no such luck). The only ones I got at the time were GAZ10 (Orcs of Thar) and the Western Trail Map.

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  26. I consider the Gazetteer Series the best line of setting material ever produced. Although the quality varies somewhat, the line has aged remarkably well. Why some old schoolers dislike the name Mystara is beyond me. That is the only name for the setting as a whole and it existed long before the unsuccessful transition to AD&D (in the boxed set Champions of Mystara for instance). I will second Allen Varney's praise of Bruce Heard and Aaron Allston, but looking at the list of other authors involved with the series there is a surprising number of names of people who later became legends of their own in the industry.

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  27. Ah F*ck. I just wrote up a extensive overview of my opinion and play experience with the Known World, only to see it dropped by the blogger software as I submitted. Damned if I feel like typing that all again now.

    Here's the short short version: Early Known World is fantastic, especially Grand Duchy of Karameikos, but the later releases mutated the world into a cartoon-parody version of mass-market fantasy seen through D&D tropes, and thus becoming largely irrelevant to actual play, was therefore useless.

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  28. One of the consistent thorns in my side about the (A)D&D gaming community was the knee-jerk reaction of turning up one's nose at materials produced for the D&D line, even in the face of some amazing products.

    To be fair, TSR's own marketing and promotion of the D&D implied in subtle and not-so-subtle ways that it was for "kids," whereas AD&D was the "real" game. I don't think anyone who hasn't looked back at these products can be blamed for simply assuming, as I did, that they weren't very good.

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  29. It would be appropriate here to praise Bruce Heard, TSR's ace Acquisitions Editor during the Known World's heyday. Bruce lavished attention on the Known World and the Gazetteer line as beloved children. You might also mention designer Aaron Allston, who did standout work on several Gazetteers and the Hollow World boxed set, as well as the massive D&D Rules Cyclopedia. More than a few fans still assert the Cyclopedia was the finest incarnation of the D&D/AD&D ruleset.

    I've praised the Rules Cyclopedia in the past for its compendiousness. I think it's a very fine version of the game, though not my personal favorite. Bruce Heard is someone about whom I know very little and whose contributions to the history of the game are ones I'm looking to highlight in the future, but I'm still very early in my researchers, so I hope I can be forgiven for not yet composing a paean to him and his collaborators.

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  30. At some point, you should try to summarize all of your opinions about how AD&D (both 1st and 2nd) "went wrong" for us "non-Old-School-Renaissance" folks. For me, the early-to-mid '90s was when some of the best setting material was being produced, and my favorite products are from that era.

    My "Ages of D&D" post linked in this post is a good summary of my feelings on the subject to date, although I might well have to revise it in light of my growing appreciation for some of the output of the Silver and Bronze Ages.

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  31. It would be appropriate here to praise Bruce Heard, TSR's ace Acquisitions Editor during the Known World's heyday. Bruce lavished attention on the Known World and the Gazetteer line as beloved children.

    I always enjoyed Bruce's "Voyage of the Princess Ark" series in Dragon Magazine back in the day.

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  32. I only ever owned one of the Gazetteer line: The Shadow Elves. I remember being very fond of it, indeed. It is a shame that this and the Rules Cyclopedia seemed to get lost in the cacophony of 2nd Edition.

    I'm very fond of the Shadow Elves book myself, as it's a neat implementation of science fictional ideas within an otherwise fantasy setting. It's actually had some influence on my Dwimmermount campaign.

    And, yes, it is a pity that the D&D line was drowned out by 2e, as I think there's a lot in it that still holds up today, whereas that's not quite true for much of 2e.

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  33. @E.T. Smith: I totally disagree with your opinion of the later installments of the series. Dawn of the Emperors, The Golden Khan of Ethengar and The Shadowelves were all published late in the product line (1989-90) and were all high quality, serious products IMO.

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  34. So. what's silly with "Mystara"?

    Mostly, it sounds like a name self-consciously given to a fantasy world, as opposed to the kind of name any real culture would come up with.

    I'm getting more and more amazed how much ideas about what's serious and what is "kiddie" stuff have influenced what people game.

    It's a byproduct of the mass marketing of gaming in the 80s, I think, where you get competing cultures -- one with roots in the 70s and one that arose in the aftermath of the Moldvay/Cook/Marsh books.

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  35. You know I think I'd buy a new line of Gazeteers for instance, Dwimmermount Gazeteers.

    I'm not sure I'm up to writing such products myself, although I do have in mind several shorter products that highlight certain races/cultures of the setting, along with "stuff" to use along with them, so that might be of interest to you.

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  36. Frankly, the GAZ series is a mixed bag. Some aren't so hot (or downright goofy), but all have at least a few nuggets to mine.

    "Mixed bag" is a nice way to put it, but, overall, they're pretty good and, as you say, they all have at least a few nuggets to mine, even some of the really bad ones like The Kingdom of Ierendi.

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  37. However, I do prefer the Hollow World setting.

    The Hollow World is indeed awesome.

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  38. Glantri stinks, in my not so humble opinion. Too much silliness for my tastes, though even then I did get some gaming use out of it by toning down the crazy to a tolerable level.

    That's one I don't own myself, but must admit I'm very curious about.

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  39. ...I do have in mind several shorter products that highlight certain races/cultures of the setting, along with "stuff" to use along with them

    I'm totally waiting for this! Seriously - I do still game, so I'm not just looking for "reading material." I've found a ton of inspiration from reading your blog posts and I've started to consider potentially running a second game that's set around Dwimmermount and then pulling out all of my old AD&D 1st Edition and my Moldvay/Cook Basic/Expert modules and using them.

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  40. But, even those of us who create our own worlds can sometimes use a fresh perspective to add new and different things we didn't consider.

    Exactly. I rather wish that that's the perspective TSR had taken with OD&D's Supplements back in the day -- each one an overview of how one referee used the LBBs to fashion his own world, now presented to others as inspiration.

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  41. I think 'Mystara' is a stupid name for a game world. Seems like something a 12 year old would come up with.

    As for myself, when I create a game world (typically called 'The World'), I do it all from scratch and prefer to use my own ideas to that of others (such as the Gazeteers, modules, etc...). However, I did on occasion borrow ideas from choice Dragon magazine articles.

    Maybe I will give my next game world a name. How does 'Bob' sound?

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  42. I always enjoyed Bruce's "Voyage of the Princess Ark" series in Dragon Magazine back in the day.

    I had abandoned reading Dragon long before this series was ever started and, from what I've gathered, it was a pretty remarkable thing.

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  43. (typically called 'The World')

    The funny thing is that that's exactly what I call the world in which Dwimmermount exists. There's no special name for it, except perhaps among esoteric scholars and no one listens to them :)

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  44. Glantri stinks, in my not so humble opinion. Too much silliness for my tastes, though even then I did get some gaming use out of it by toning down the crazy to a tolerable level.

    At the time, I didn't really like Glantri because, as my friend puts it, it was mixing "chocolate and peanut butter." There's a heavy science fiction under-pinning to the Gazetteer that involves radiation from an ancient artifact in Blackmoor that exploded (the "Known World" version of Blackmoor, that is). I just didn't like that setting back when I was younger.

    Now, I think it's awesome! It's just chock-full of ideas and, based on James' reviews of the early pulp literature that influenced the founders of the hobby, it seems right in line with what D&D is all about.

    I also really enjoyed the different schools of magic that the Gazetteer described, as well as all the "power groups" from different countries and races. That section alone helped me to shape a large part of the way I viewed "politics" in a D&D setting.

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  45. At the time, I didn't really like Glantri because, as my friend puts it, it was mixing "chocolate and peanut butter." There's a heavy science fiction under-pinning to the Gazetteer that involves radiation from an ancient artifact in Blackmoor that exploded (the "Known World" version of Blackmoor, that is). I just didn't like that setting back when I was younger.

    Yeah, that's exactly why I'm curious about Glantri. I don't know if its ideas are well implemented, but I don't think the notion of a science fictional underpinning for magic is necessarily a bad thing. Indeed, these days, I think it's pretty nifty and much more in keeping with the kind of settings that interest me.

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  46. I think the number of different authors is what made the gaz's interesting. Each author wanted his setting to rule the world. It read like propaganda by each culture.

    tegeus

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  47. Yeah, that's exactly why I'm curious about Glantri. I don't know if its ideas are well implemented, but I don't think the notion of a science fictional underpinning for magic is necessarily a bad thing. Indeed, these days, I think it's pretty nifty and much more in keeping with the kind of settings that interest me.

    You made me dig it out of my bookcase! It's... interesting, to say the least. This is from the "Welcome To Glantri" section on Page 2. It's pretty heavy-handed.

    "... This power, called the Radiance [my comments: this is basically the radiation/fallout from the explosion, from what I remember], enhances the powers of wizards and, at very high levels, may allow a particularly gifted mage to attain Immortality in the Sphere of Energy. As the player characters adventure in Glantri, they should gradually discover the existence of teh power and its effects. The first goal of this campaign is to provide an example of how to reach immortality. This should be the conclusion of a long series of adventures and of the campaign itself."

    So, most of that doesn't appeal to me. But, the idea of having this "background radiation" that enhances/alters the powers of magic-users sounds pretty cool as an idea.

    The Gazetteer then has a short time line, descriptions and stats for different "Houses", "Clans", and "Organizations", then a map of the city's different quarters, descriptions of "Living in Glantri City" (laws, magic, festivals, etc.), then information on the "Great School of Magic" and creating spells and magic items, and descriptions of the "Seven Secret Crafts of Glantri" (basically magic-user options for Alchemy, Dracologists, Elementalists, Illusionists, Necromancers, Cryptomancers, and Witches).

    The information on "The Radiance" and the "machine from another age" and produces nuclear energy do not come until near the end of the book and are limited to about four pages.

    After having just skimmed through it again, I think that if you're looking for interesting ideas on implementing some science-fiction into your campaign, this probably isn't the book for you. While there are some interesting ideas in here, the overwhelming bulk of the book is about other topics that you might not find as useful.

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  48. I liked the Gaz's and did play them. In fact, they are what kept my group playing BECMI longer than we should have before finally going into AD&D 9and shortly after that the pitiful 2e came out).

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  49. It's funny that the Gaz's were considered a kid's campaign setting. Yeah the Orcs of Thar was too cartoon-like. But it dealt with some serious some, and the Kingdom of Irendi did have a nude beach mentioned in it. I don't ever recall Greyhawk having a nude beach.

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  50. In worlds I've created, I've used names from the Gaz's, and have used Glantri or Glantri society ideas often.

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  51. The GAZ series is one of the best product lines for any game ever, and is where most of my affection for BD&D comes from.

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  52. I owned all of them at one point. Glantri had a number of interesting ideas, and the factions of the wizards were varied and believable. It's right next door to the Khanate, so there were always renegade clerics risking death by going undercover in Glantri to spread religious belief. I didn't like the Radiance aspect because the Gazetteer made it clear that using magic drained the Radiance and that over time the magic would go away. The timelines quoted weren't even that long.

    GAZ 1 is the best in my opinion. The Alfheim and Rockhome ones were good. Dawn of the Emperors was somewhat interesting, but Alphatia was ridiculous. It was full of 36th level magicians addicted to drugs who sat around all day and did nothing. I couldn't get into the setting.

    Shadowelves was also good.

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  53. @ JM: I am SO in this boat with you. When I decided I wanted to return to D&D, it was BECMI that first brought me back and I have struggled mightily to acquire these Gazeteers. They ARE a bit of a mixed bag really targeting multiple different demographics within each one. I've got all except 4 or 5 (Glantri was actually one of my favorites, fully codifying the BX/BECMI magical research rules), but the Orcs of Thar is my "Holy Grail." One day...one day...

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  54. Another long-time fan of the series here, as my avatar probably gives away. I picked up most of these when they were new, and I added the rest from ebay over the years. I'm very happy with my complete set. Full of inspiration.

    Bruce Heard and Aaron Allston both have my thanks. I'd add Stephen Fabian to this list. He did not illustrate all the Gazetteers, but he illustrated most of them, and his illustrations really brought the setting to life for me.

    It's always seemed to me over the years that fans of the setting have tended to agree on a few favorites, including Karameikos and Glantri. My personal favorites are Glantri and Alfheim. I was actually surprised to see people bagging on Glantri, but I think I see where that's coming from -- a sense that it's not serious enough. A little too gonzo, even? My love of it is mostly due to it being both enthusiastically imaginative and very densely packed with adventure hooks. Those, it seems to me, are some of the best qualities a D&D setting can have.

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  55. GAZ1 must be one of my all-time favourite supplement for ANY version of D&D. I bought it when back in the day, and to this day is one of my most valued possessions (and I still use it).
    GAZ7 (Northern Reaches) is also a very fine product (it introduces a system of character traits like in Pendragon), as are GAZ3 (with its Clark Ashton Smith references) and GAZ5. Dawn of the Emperors is not bad, but not brilliant.
    The others I have in pdf, but I was not overly impressed.
    Overall, I would suggest the above as an "essential" set of GAZs.

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  56. If you are looking for a good poster map of the Known World you should try and find the module X10 Red Arrow Black Shield (I think that was the name - X10 is definitely right tho). It had an excellent map of all the nations.

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  57. but the Orcs of Thar is my "Holy Grail." One day...one day...

    Amusingly, I just snagged a copy of it -- in the shrink wrap, no less -- just yesterday and not for an ungodly price. =)

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  58. "Yeah, that's exactly why I'm curious about Glantri. I don't know if its ideas are well implemented, but I don't think the notion of a science fictional underpinning for magic is necessarily a bad thing. Indeed, these days, I think it's pretty nifty and much more in keeping with the kind of settings that interest me."

    The best thing about Glantri IMO is the presentation of a cleric-hating magocracy. I also enjoy the ideas of the dwarven hatred and that non spellcasters are 2nd class citizens. The bureaucracy is sort of cool too.

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  59. I think I've reacquired the whole set. Didn't dump them the first time, there was this fire...

    But anyway, I had no interest in Gaz 1, didn't need another generic fantasy locale. OTOH, Glantri is my absolute favorite, and I managed to run a campaign there for a while. It's a compact little fantasy Europe, and while I did crank back the humor level a little bit, I enjoyed Bruce Heard's style and think it suits my gaming style very nicely. I was running 1st ed AD&D, and bumped against the rules both underlying and custom, but it wasn't a game-killer.

    The Khan of Ethengar was an awesome neighbor. I also loved Orcs of Thar, and still want to try the board game. Shadow Elves was a great read, the boxed sets were good, and the elf/dwarf stuff looked useful. The rest I, too, found to be hit or miss. Not as inspiring to me as Bruce's stuff. Wish there had been more by him.

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  60. I couldn't agree more: the Gazetteer line to me is a model of what a good fantasy setting product should be. Some entries were weak (Ierendi was never to my tastes), but some, such as Karameikos or the Norse equivalent setting by Rolston are superb. One of the great "features" of the line is that you didn't need to buy it all. If all you wanted was Karameikos, then you had all you needed in that one pack and could develop the outside world as you wished.

    I consider these to be part of the "never part with" core of my collection.

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  61. I had a much longer post that got ate by the new log-in procedure.

    Anyway, the point of it was that the GAZ series is quite good, and even the lesser lights in the series - GAZ4 Ierendi, GAZ10 Orcs of Thar, and GAZ14 Atruaghin Clans being the three most often named, the first and last fairly, the middle unfairly - are worth at least reviewing if not obtaining.

    The contemporaneous HWA and PC series are perhaps a notch below, but are still quite good for early 90's TSR, with the best of these - particularly PC4 Night Howlers and HWA3 Milenian Empire - as good as the better GAZs.

    Of the four boxed sets - Dawn of Empires, Hollow World, Wrath of the Immortals, and Champions of Mystara - the Hollow World boxed set is the only one I'd recommend without reservation, and even that one has problematic portions. Although all have superb cartography.

    In fact the entire product line's cartography is great, and as the other poster noted above, the two Trail Map entrees are like porn for map lovers.

    Of the contemporaneous adventures, HWQ1 Milenian Scepter is the only one I'd recommend at all. But then, I don't think I need to warn anyone off of late '80s/early '90s adventures. If you're already wary of the style, you know what to expect.

    Anyone who has access to the Dragon CD Rom Archive should take a look at Bruce Heard's Princess Ark series. His presentation of that area of the World (the fluff of which, but not but a fraction of all of the crunch of which, is presented in the Champions of Mystara boxed set) is superior to both the prior and subsequent versions.

    I think the first three almanacs (the "Poor Wizard's" variety) are decent overviews of the setting, but are extremely redundant unless you're wedded to the meta-plot. Only the first two are for D&D, and the third is statted up for 2e, which may make it more or less attractive to you depending on what system you're running. The fourth (the only "Joshuan's Almanac) is downright insulting.

    Of the other 2e products, the only one that I'd call remotely good is the Mystara Monstrous Compendium. The remainder is either redundant with BECM era products or just plain bad.

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  62. Don't think I ever posted, but I had to after seeing my favorite D&D products ever discussed. I concentrated on Basic products for a long time, only switching rulesets for Dark Sun. So many great memories! I enjoyed just reading the GAZ books as much as using them in my campaign.

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