Monday, August 8, 2011

Adventures Dark & Deep: A Gygaxian Legacy

Some time ago I started thinking about a project. What would Gary's second edition have been like, had he been allowed to actually create it. I'm sure I'm not alone in this ponderation, but I did start to make notes about what would be included in the game. As I began to search the web for quotes and ideas from Gary on what exactly this might be I ran across a post from Joseph Bloch, the Greyhawk Grognard. Excellent stuff, as usual, from Joseph. But what excited me even more was that Joseph had already had the same plans for some time and was working on what he was calling Emprise--the recreation of a Gygaxian Second Edition. This was very cool, and saved me tons of work that I was probably not up to the task of performing anyway. Well, 2010 saw Joseph working feverishly to release what he ended up calling Adventures Dark & Deep. Nice acronymal play I must say--AD&D. Though the real acronym used for the game would be ADD.

Well, the game has been released in playtest form, which you can download from his ADD site. The books are divided into A Players Manual, Gamemasters Tool Kit, and Bestiary. Joseph is also working on his first supplement, or more accurately a tie in game called Adventures Great & Glorious still in development. Now, let me say that there are any number of retro-clones out there to choose from for an older style of play. There are also a great number of variants and indie games being published and on the market. You can literally pick your fruit according to your tastes, likes, desires and preferences. Many games have in fact tried to recreate what other games have done more accurately or completely. But ADD stands a bit apart in my opinion. For what Joseph has achieved is to write a game very much like what Gary might have written had he been allowed to rewrite AD&D 1e.

Every quote and reference Gary made or wrote about his thoughts on changes that might make it into an AD&D revision seem to be incorporated into Joseph's ADD. The game is a beautiful tribute to Gary's AD&D dreams and legacy. Now, we all know that Gary changed over the years in his opinions of gaming, games and the industry as a whole. He became a bit bitter and cynical about some things. To be fair he was up against treachery and villainy time and again. I personally believe Gary's strength, his forte, his calling was the creation of games. He loved games and he was a creative and inspirational person. His business acumen, unfortunately, left something to be desired. And his good faith in others led him to ruin, which is a sad statement on the cold harsh reality of life. Many say the Lejendary Adventures was Gary's legacy, but truly he was forced into that game by circumstances. When he first had the option of creating a new game he did so with Dangerous Dimensions which was his attempt to return to AD&D. But his own company sued him for copyright infringement and stopped that project. It was only after the suit that he went in a different direction.

Joseph, with careful reverence attempts to take up the torch. And I for one think he has done an admirable job. So much so, that I am now raising ADD to the top of my list for consideration of my game of choice and for the potential publishing of my own material at some point in the future. I am now giving all the rulebooks a careful re-read and like what I am seeing even more than I did previously. The project makes Gary and the game come alive again. And in a small way you honestly feel that maybe Gary is still alive, in spirit at least. The "what if" scenario Joseph talks about in his forward seems more like reality than fancy. Perhaps this is Gary presenting us with his rewrite and revision of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons at long last. Yes, what Joseph has done here is inspired.

To give a detailed review would take pages of material, and I truly refer you to Joseph's books to see and experience for yourself. But a few highlights are:
  • The game is based on 1e mechanics and rules
  • Inclusion of almost all primary races and their subraces
  • Well written and revised classes of Bard, Barbarian, Cavalier and Acrobat
  • Addition of Jester, Savant, Mountebank,  and Mystic classes
  • The best skill system within a class based game I have read yet to date--directly connected to experience points *excellent work Joseph*
  • Nice section on PC background, social class, naming and the like
  • PCs start at max hp + Con bonus at first level
  • Well researched medieval based equipment lists including poisons and musical instruments
  • Good info on hirelings and henchman
  • One of the most complete and streamlined AD&D combat systems gathered in one place. I can't say enough about this. Here Joseph's expertise with AD&D shines. He knows AD&D combat and has incorporated the rules in a seamless, intuitive and unified system. Some might say he deviated from Gary here, as Gary himself admitted to not always using rules like weapon length and speed. But it seems that Joseph has internalized the motivation behind each of these rules and included them in a way that I have never before seen achieved. Truly Joseph has retaught me AD&D combat. And the amazing thing is that it works, beautifully.
  • Very useful chart for surprise, and brand new and innovative to hit tables. Everything is literally all in one place.
  • Missile misfire table--(very useful and more fair than my improvised way of doing this)
  • Excellent initiative rules
  • Simple, optional rules for critical hits and fumbles
  • Wonderfully in depth section on magic that includes all magical items and magical regions
  • Assassin is included optionally and psionics is excluded
The Gamemaster's Tool Kit, which I have yet to read completely includes game related information more applicable to GM control than PC knowledge. It looks excellent after first perusal and I will give more in depth information after I re-read the Players Manual and complete reading the GMTK. After just skimming it thus far I am very impressed with the detailed info on ships and aquatic travel. I am also dying to read the campaign creation section. In it Joseph includes information of the various ages of man and suggested reading lists for inspiration. "Living in a Mythos Haunted World" was music to my ears as Joseph included sample sanity check rules and hints on a haunted tone. Deities are covered in general principles which allows GMs to manufacture and create their own fantastic yet believable world mythos and religion. Joseph is not just a gamer and game designer his scholarship shines through as well. Something that was a signature of Gary's work in AD&D. Much of the information is rooted in history and mythology as much as fantasy literature. The tools here simply go on and on. This is truly a GMs tool kit. And I for one can't wait to start using some of his info. And I've been GMing for almost 30 years.

The Bestiary is a complete encyclopedia of most of the familiar fantasy nasties one might encounter venturing forth in a dangerous fantasy worlds. It is divided into Wilderness and Dungeon Monsters, Aquatic Monsters, Prehistoric Monsters and Extraplanar Monsters. There is also a nice appendix for modifying existing and creating new creatures for your adventures. Another nod to the concept of mythos haunted, where beasts and nasties are never quite what you expect. The only thing really missing from the bestiary are pictures. Now granted unless someone steps up to offer art for free, Joseph is likely to be limited to public domain stuff. Which thus far has worked great for the Players Manual and maintained a nice archaic feel to his works. And truthfully I think can work great for the Bestiary as well. Various Medieval and Renaissance Bestiaries included old drawings of nasty beasts of yore. All of this artwork would be public domain as well. I might start submitting options to the forum myself.

All in all I am very pleased with this game. It does something for me that no other game has yet done. It roots me in the game I love AD&D 1e and takes me to another level both imaginatively and in my GameMastering skill. I have been sort of following the ADD forums and you can expect to see more of me there as I work my way through the ADD books and begin to incorporate them into my play. And as I said before, I like Adventures Dark & Deep so much I may be trying to contact Joseph soon and ask him about writing adventures under the OGL compatible with the game. It pushes my plans back, of course, as I will wait until playtests are over and the official release is made. Which will give me time to test drive some of these new rules and get a feel for them. Something I am increasingly excited to do.

Do yourself a favor if you haven't already done so and check it out yourself:

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