Friday, July 23, 2021

Gary Gygax's Necropolis - AD&D Conversion Notes

As I've mentioned many times before, I was lucky enough to play the Tomb of Rahotep section of Gary Gygax's magnum opus adventure Necropolis with the man himself back in 1988. At the time, the adventure was planned for publication under the generic-stats "Fantasy Master" line, but in those games Gary used AD&D rules. The PCs were all 18th level and the adventure was billed as the toughest and deadliest thing Gary Gygax had ever written - the next step in challenge and difficulty beyond the infamous Tomb of Horrors. It lived up to that billing and then some, combining the deviously punitive and unfair tricks and traps from that module with a ton of really difficult combat that puts the Hall of the Fire Giant King and Isle of the Ape to shame. This was, to me, the ultimate expression of AD&D - by far the most difficult and challenging adventure I ever played in, but also by far the most fun and exhilarating. 

Alas, Gary's company New Infinities closed up shop before Necropolis was published, and when it finally did emerge five years later it had been converted to Gygax's Dangerous Journeys: Mythus system which (TSR's lawsuit claims notwithstanding) is a totally different and incompatible game system that maintained and expanded the flavor and feel of Gygax's AD&D but with a totally different set of rules. A decade later Necromancer Games released a version of the adventure converted to the then current d20/D&D 3.0 rules, but that wasn't much help to AD&D fans.

In much there same way as I mined ideas from Dangerous Journeys and converted them over to AD&D in The Heroic Legendarium, I also wanted to be able to run this adventure under AD&D to recreate something like my experience playing in it. So, relying on my memories of those games, as well as my knowledge of both the AD&D and Mythus rules, I created a conversion document for the final section of the adventure, the Tomb of Rahotep, and ran it for an all-star group of players at SoCal Minicon in 2010, where it lived upon to its reputation as the ultimate meat-grinder - to quote one of the players from that game, "Gary must have been in a very, very dark place when he wrote this module."

Around that same time, Necromancer Games' assets passed on to Frog God Games and I learned from my friend Matt Finch (one of the principals in that operation) that their license for Necropolis was one of the assets they had rights to and that eventually they were likely to produce a new edition converted to the Swords & Wizardry retro-clone system. I mentioned the conversion work I'd already done (and the basis for it from having played in it with Gary) and he assured me that when the time came they would definitely reach out to me to leverage that knowledge and work. 

That was the last I heard about this until yesterday when I learned that Frog God has launched a Necropolis Kickstarter for 5E and S&W. I wasn't consulted, which is okay (although it would have been nice if I had been), but what really bothered me about the announcement is the repeated notes that the adventure is "based on the original work by Gary Gygax" but has been "updated and rewritten" (further quotes from the Kickstarter comments: "a very deep conversion, with lots of changes" and "the essential plot is the same, as are the characters, but it's a very heavy re-write"). Compounding those red flags is the fact that the adventure is being billed for character levels 7-9. There is simply no way that the spirit and feel of the original adventure can be accurately portrayed in the context of a mid-level adventure - the entire premise that this was the ultimately deadly and most challenging adventure to reduce even the most expert veteran players to tears, the capstone achievement in Gary Gygax's adventure-writing career, is undermined by making it suitable for mid-level characters. So although I haven't seen what Frog God is producing, and am sure that in terms of art and cartography and printing quality with deluxe leather-bound hardcovers and such, it will be very nice, the entire premise is fundamentally fatally flawed and it's impossible that this shadow-version won't be an insulting travesty compared to the original.

So, as a counter to that, and because there's no reason to hold onto them now that Frog God isn't interested in them, I've decided to share my conversion notes, based on my memories from those 1988 sessions and as used in that 2010 game, for anyone who's curious. These notes only cover the final section of the adventure (though following their example you could probably convert the rest of the content without too much difficulty) and you need a copy of the original to actually use these notes (they're written based on the Dangerous Journeys version (GDW, 1992) but can presumably also be used with the d20 version (Necromancer Games, 2002) since from what I can tell that was a very close conversion), but using that text and these notes I am confident that the end result is something that will be MUCH closer to Gary's original conception and how it was originally run that whatever ill-conceived, watered-down version Frog God is releasing. 

While obviously not anywhere near as well known as the adventures he wrote for TSR, I remain fully convinced that Necropolis really was Gary's magnum opus as an adventure designer, the ultimate expression of his style and approach to play. And as such it deserves to be preserved in something approximating its original form - as a relentlessly and devastating cruel meat grinder that even the highest-level characters and most expert players will find near-impossible to survive and defeat.

The notes are available for viewing and download here. I hope some of you will get to run it someday for some overconfident players with high level characters and that it will humble and cut them down to size just as Gary intended. Enjoy!

Friday, June 4, 2021

Heroic Legendarium print edition now available at DriveThruRPG

Quick note that although my book got pulled off of Lulu it is now available at DriveThruRPG in a print edition as well as the previously-available pdf. If you're one of the people who already purchased the pdf version you should have received an email including a coupon code allowing purchase of the print version at a discount (the difference between the cost of the pdf version and the cost of the print version, to cover printing costs and mirror the bundle option that wasn't available previously).

I hope everybody who's already purchased the book is enjoying it and finding things in it to use in your games, and that everybody who hasn't purchased it yet will now do so since there's no further reason to wait!

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Heroic Legendarium available for purchase

Finally, just over 20 months after it was initially announced, The Heroic Legendarium is finally available for purchase from DriveThruRPG (pdf and eventually print as well, once I've approved the proof copy). 

This was an extended labor mostly of love, but also of frustration as I realized I utterly lacked the skills and resources to turn my Google Doc text document into a publishable book. Struggles with that ate up more than a year, before I ultimately decided to just release the book as-is and let its contents speak for themselves. Which means you'll get no art, no fancy graphics, and no advanced pdf features like bookmarks and hyperlinks. But what you will get is 154 pages of solid, gameable 1E content, almost all of it new and original (a few spells, monsters, and magic items are adapted from 1E-era sources but have been revised and modified as presented here, and in any event make up no more than about 5% of the total content). 

If you've seen the earlier (non-OGL-compliant) version of this book, copies of which I know are still being privately traded even though I stopped distributing it several years ago, you're already familiar with about two-thirds of the contents, but even so enough new content has been added to hopefully make it worth taking another look, including:

  • Three new PC races (note: the preview at DriveThruRPG includes these pages)
  • The savant class, including 68 new spells
  • Complete system for territory development and management by PCs
  • 32 new magic items
  • 49 new monsters
  • New essays on tips and tricks for players and GMs, dungeon design, and extra-planar adventuring
  • Assorted other minor additions and revisions
The page count of the new version is increased by 42 pages over the old one, but that number undersells the amount of new material because much of the earlier edition's appendix material (i.e. direct copy/paste reprints of magazine articles and monsters and magic items from modules) was removed, or at least reworked and adapted. 

The earlier version had a narrower scope of compiling uncollected Gygaxiana and recreating "lost" system additions that he had mentioned (or were reverse-engineered from his later works). The savant class still fits within that mold, but the scope of the book generally has expanded to include more of my own voice and my own preferences and is less beholden to things that Gygax may or may not have planned or intended to do. While that might make it less valuable or interesting to some people whose interest is more historical or who want to keep their games as "pure" as possible, I am also confident that my additions and modifications maintain a consistency of style and flavor with that other material and are complementary to and will fit seamlessly alongside it. Having spent more than three decades immersed in this material and style of play I have developed a pretty solid feel for it.

Therefore, I would urge everybody who enjoys (or is curious about) the original creative and design paradigm of the First Advanced Edition to check this thing out, even if you already have the earlier version, because I am sure there is at least some material within it that you'll be able to use in your games to expand and freshen them up and help keep your players engaged, entertained, and challenged. 

[And it's all been designated as "OSRIC Reference Content" so other authors and publishers are not only allowed but strongly encouraged to use this material in their OSRIC-branded adventures and supplements as long as you refer back to this book. Nothing would make me happier than to see this material picked up and adopted by others and for my contributions here to become part of the common lexicon of 1E gamers, existing ones and new ones alike.] 

Edit/update: Lulu has unilaterally pulled this title and terminated my account (and will presumably keep the ~$400 in royalties I had earned from sales to date) because they determined that the old "AD&D Companion" (which I had put up on Lulu for private at-cost sale a few years ago) "may" be in violation of their Member Agreement by including third party IP - without any opportunity to appeal or to take down the possibly-offending title while leaving other titles in place. Since that book was uploaded ~5 years ago, the timing of this account termination feels fishy, like possibly some spiteful anti-fan found a link to that private page and reported me. Sorry to anyone who placed an order through Lulu because I have no idea whether you'll actually get the book - presumably if it's already shipped you will, but if it hasn't I'd recommend contacting Lulu customer support.

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

AD&D Alignment Notes

Alignment in D&D is one of those perennial (and perennially frustrating) topics of discussion, because everyone has their own ideas about what the words mean, and the definitions provided in the books are overly vague and generalized to the point of being essentially meaningless, so there's a lot to argue about and for people to accuse each other of being both Wrong and possibly A Bad Person. 

What it ultimately comes down to is that each individual DM should decide how they want to define and handle alignment in their campaign world and let the players in that campaign know what they've decided early on rather than assuming everyone is in agreement and then getting into arguments later on when the players do something based on a different interpretation than the DM. While that's surely wishful thinking (because players who disagree with how the DM defines things aren't going to disagree any less if they see it in writing in advance) I've nonetheless collected some notes both on how I view the alignments in my games along with some representative examples of characters from fiction and media who I feel fit into each of the alignment buckets, and figured since I've gone to the trouble to write this stuff down I might as well share it. The examples serve a second purpose as well, by drawing characters from a variety of sources that I'm interested in and feel are relevant to the style and flavor of the games I like to run (as opposed to other lists you can find online, which tend to be limited solely to examples from comics, Star Wars, and Harry Potter). 


AD&D ALIGNMENT NOTES


Lawful Respects (and expects) authority and loyalty derived from formal structures (title, office) and hierarchical organizations

Chaotic Respects (and expects) authority and loyalty based on individual personal qualities (strength, charisma, renown, family ties) and fluid or informal power-structures

Good Seeks to help others, especially the weak

Evil         Seeks to exploit others, especially the weak

Neutral Pragmatic, opportunistic, or indifferent 


Representative examples from fiction and media:


Lawful Good John Carter (Edgar Rice Burroughs), Agent Dale Cooper (Twin Peaks), Roland Deschain (Dark Tower), Hermione Granger (Harry Potter), Spock (Star Trek)

Neutral Good Cazaril (Curse of Chalion), Jake Chambers (Dark Tower), James T. Kirk (Star Trek), Harry Potter, Shimrod (Lyonesse)

Chaotic Good Lyra Belacqua (His Dark Materials), Eddie Dean (Dark Tower), Katniss Everdeen (Hunger Games), Kickaha/Paul Janus Finnegan (World of Tiers), Peter Pan

Lawful Neutral Judge Dredd, Inspector Javert (Les Misérables), Agent Albert Rosenfield (Twin Peaks), Severian (Book of the New Sun)

True Neutral Ged/Sparrowhawk (Earthsea), The Gray Mouser (Fritz Leiber), The Man With No Name (Sergio Leone movies), Nifft the Lean (Michael Shea), Rhialto the Marvelous (Jack Vance)

Chaotic Neutral Harry Mudd (Star Trek), Loki (Marvel movies), Skafloc (The Broken Sword), Captain Jack Sparrow (Pirates of the Caribbean)

Lawful Evil Casmir (Lyonesse), Lady/Dorotea Senjak (The Black Company), President Snow (The Hunger Games)

Neutral Evil Kane (Karl Edward Wagner), Khan Noonien Singh (Star Trek), Steerpike (Gormenghast

Chaotic Evil BOB (Twin Peaks), Cugel the Clever (Jack Vance), Voldemort (Harry Potter)