Monthly Archives: January 2019

The Isle of Dread

X1: The Isle of Dread… not quite as iconic as B2: The Keep on the Borderlands, but most players who started playing with B/X or BECMI are familiar with it. Like The Keep on the Borderlands, it was included in the Expert set boxes and was intended to show DMs how to run wilderness adventures.

As a sandbox, it doesn’t have much of a plot, per se. It’s an environment. Oh, there are hooks to get the PCs there, and most PCs, especially back in the days when treasure gave you XP, didn’t need much of a reason beyond “There’s treasure over there!” to go adventuring. Rory Barbarosa’s letter speaking of a great black pearl was all most groups needed to explore the Isle of Dread.

Goodman Games has re-printed this classic wilderness adventure in a hardbound tome containing three versions of the adventure: the first printing, the fourth printing, and a 5E update.

The differences between the 1st and 4th printings are less subtle than those in The Keep on the Borderlands. Mostly, some encounters have been replaced to make them more sensible. When I read that, the first thing I did was flip to the most infamous encounter to my home group: the flooded temple on Taboo Island. In it, several members fell prey to albino mako sharks. Saltwater fish, in a flooded temple on top of a mile-high plateau several hundred miles from the coast. That encounter has been changed (I had no idea there were multiple versions I ran it; I don’t think I have a first printing, but my copy is from the first three printings before the encounters were updated). Losing two characters to WTF sharks?? so demoralized the party, they retreated back to a village where one of the surviving PCs retired completely and it more-or-less rang the death knell for that campaign.

The meat of the module is unchanged between the three copies. There are still several unique tribes of creatures on the isle, from the arachnid Aranea, to the monkey-raccoon Phanatons, to the Lovecraftian Kopru, and more. Whether or not these tribes are friendly, hostile, or indifferent is up to the PCs’ approach and the DM (except the Kopru, those dudes are evil… but don’t let that stop you from joining the cult of an Elder God and taking over the world). There are dinosaurs, random encounters of the “OH CRAP, RUN!” variety (which kills many PCs because running is anathema to many players), environmental hazards, and mysteries.

Goodman’s 5E update preserves all of these, and provides more guidelines for use of the random encounters. For many groups back in the day (especially us young, self-taught groups), a random encounter was synonymous with random combat. So, if that die roll indicated a Wild Black Dragon appeared, then you were fighting a black dragon, even if you were woefully under leveled. If the DM was nice, they might let you run away. A lot of DMs weren’t nice (hence the reputation of Old School play for being adversarial Player vs. DM).

One thing I should point out, and this holds true for Into the Borderlands, too, is that while the original versions of these adventures printed in these books are cleaned up scans of the original (nicely cleaned up, in fact–that’s a lot of work), the 5E updates have good-sized print and are easy to read. My aging eyes really appreciate that.

Next month, at Gary Con, it’s expected Goodman Games will announce the next volume in their Original Adventures Reincarnated line. I’m having trouble thinking of any more BECMI adventures that are as iconic as B1, B2, and X1, but I look forward to the announcement (even though I won’t be there myself to hear it). Personally, I would LOVE to see an update of the AD&D adventures EX1: Dungeonland and EX2: The Land Beyond the Magic Mirror (actually, I would LOVE LOVE LOVE to work on that, because adore the Alice in Wonderland stories and wrote several papers on them in school, and I LOVE those adventures; I’ve worked one or both of them into campaigns I’ve run for just about every group of my adult life; and yes, that’s a hint if anyone from Goodman Games reads this :p).

I have one more Goodman Game’s reprint to showcase here: Metamorphosis Alpha. I’ll be reading that next, then… who knows? Something fun, something classic, something cool.

Categories: D&D, Reviews | Tags: , , , , , ,

Into the Borderlands

Recently, Goodman Games released a hard bound reprint/update of B1: In Search of the Unknown & B2: The Keep on the Borderlands called Into the Borderlands. It includes 2 different versions of the original publications, plus 5E updates of these adventures.

B2 was my first D&D experience back in 1982. The GM used it as the basis for the first 3E campaign I ever played in in 2001. I ran it for my first 4E campaign in 2008. I was really unfamiliar with B1, though. I’d heard about In Search of the Unknown, of course. I’d heard it was just an empty dungeon that DMs needed stock themselves and to pre-teen and teenage me, I didn’t see the point.

So, Into the Borderlands contains a reproduction of the original publication of B1, an updated reprint version, and a stocked 5E update of it. Naturally, you can strip out the 5E encounters to use your own (more in a minute on that). The original B1, indeed, is an unstocked dungeon, but don’t mistake that for just a map with empty rooms. Each room has a description rich with the history of what WAS. Why it’s there, what it was for when built. It gives you a good background to use when deciding how to stock the location. Are bandits looting it now? A team of historians? A tribe of bugbears? Are they just random looters, or related to the original builders?

So, B1 is much more robust than I ever thought it was. It includes suggestions on how to stock the rooms, as well. Goodman also includes 3 stocked versions by their designers before the 5E update. It also mentions that the designers intend the word “dungeon” to refer to ANY of the myriad unground complexes ripe for exploration and not just trap/monster-filled lairs of illogical coincidences or literal dungeons used as jails under castles. It makes me wonder if Monte Cook had this in mind when he expressly called the complex of lairs, caves, and ruins under Ptolus “The Dungeon?”

I’m sure almost everyone who’s been playing since the ’70s/early ’80s has their own memories of Keep on the Borderlands. Either the mad hermit in the wilderness, or the ogres that served as a serious wake-up call for unsuspecting adventurers. The Keep on the Borderlands is a beloved classic adventure. For many people (myself included), it is an integral part of our earliest D&D experiences.

One interesting thing I noticed in B1 is that the original 1979 map & text uses Roman numerals for the rooms, in excess of 40 described locations. The 1981 update keeps the Roman numerals on the map, but uses standard Arabic numbers in the text. That’s not confusing at all. Fortunately, the 5E update uses Arabic numbers on both the map AND the text. The 5E update also fleshes out a few locations mentioned on the map that were not covered in the 1979 or 1981 versions.

Included in this hefty tome are also three version of B2: The Keep on the Borderlands. Two of the earliest printings (including the one I have several copies of from my Basic sets), and a 5E update. B2 doesn’t seem to have changed all that much between printings, except for that minotaur illustration. The print run of B2 determined which minotaur you saw. If B2 was your first adventure, your first minotaur was either the Erol Otus minotaur chowing down on a chicken/turkey/??? leg or the Willingham armored minotaur. The armored minotaur was my first. Every copy of B2 I have features this guy, except now, for the first version of B2 included in Into the Borderlands.

Back when I first started playing D&D, B2 was the 1st adventure I ever played. We didn’t know what we were doing, so my fighter went through it cave by cave wiping out everything single-handedly. I had several notebook pages of loot. I don’t have any specific memories of running B2 from back in the day. I used it as the basis of my first D&D 4E campaign. It taught me that rooms FULL of monsters are A) hard to use on battlemaps and B) make for REALLY long 4E combats.

In retrospect, I shouldn’t have just swapped out the monsters with their 4E counterparts, but 4E was such a shift in playstyle from what I was used to, I had no idea. The adventure itself, though, the Keep, the Caves of Chaos, the sandbox nature of it, but not TOO sandboxy, it holds up.

Into the Borderlands includes two old versions of B2 and a 5E update. Without scouring the text line by line, the only change that stands out to me between the old versions is the aforementioned Minotaur art (and the color of the cover). The 5E update of B2 has much the same content, though the encounters have been adjusted to account for close to a 1/2 dozen edition changes (depending on how you count). The ogre is still there, & the Minotaur, both of whom could be a nasty surprise. Back in the day, the monsters in the Caves of Chaos were there to be killed (and have their stuff taken). I’m sure there were group who weren’t unabashed murderhobos, but I didn’t know those groups. More RP is encouraged these days between the PCs and the “monsters.” There’s no reason everyone in the Caves of Chaos have to be devotees of the cult, no matter which edition you play.

Using the Caves as a competing non-human settlement with the Keep could make a pretty rich campaign. Another change I noticed was the Mad Hermit is now a Druid instead of a Thief, which makes more sense (the druids were an unknown class when B2 was initially published). Together with B1, B2 as republished by Goodman Games is more a mini-campaign setting than merely two classic adventures. Of course, they were all along, but it’s nice to be reminded of it. Maybe in the future, I’ll run a game set there.

Next, I’ll look at Goodman Games’s reprint/update of X1: The Isle of Dread. After that, I’ll have a look at their reprint of the original Metamorphosis Alpha.

Categories: D&D, Reviews | Tags: , , , , , ,

I’m still here

My Tomb of Annihilation game didn’t fade away; we missed a couple of sessions due to illness running around the group. Then, my wife’s sinus infection didn’t get better (my wife plays Baersora). The fevers didn’t subside.

They drew blood. They did MRIs, more blood, CAT scans, more blood, a bone survey, more blood (over 50 vials in all). For four months, a fever of 102°F+ every day. Just before Christmas, we got the dreaded diagnosis: diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (non-Hodgkins). It was confirmed by a biopsy and a PET scan  that lit up her lymph nodes like a Christmas tree.

She got her infusion port implanted (she’s a cyborg now!) and on Dec. 21st my wife endured her first chemotherapy. Merry Christmas. They were still waiting on the results of a FISH test to determine whether or not she had a double-hit or triple-hit lymphoma which would change her one-day every three weeks chemotherapy (using the R-CHOP regimen) to a five-day in-patient every three weeks (EPOCH). Yesterday, the result of that test came back: NEGATIVE.

So, with a MASSIVE load off our shoulders, we prepare for her second out-patient chemotherapy in two days. Due to a variety of factors, the game is on hiatus until she’s past this (or she tells me she feels well enough to continue, which, I suspect, won’t happen until after her chemotherapy is finished.

In the meantime, I’ve been reading Goodman Games’s Into the Borderlands and posting my thoughts about it on Twitter. Once I’ve finished that, I’ll compile them into a blog post for this site and then move on to The Isle of Dread.

Look for my Into the Borderlands post this weekend or early next week.

Categories: D&D | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

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