Adventures Dark and Deep Player’s Manual: A Gygaxian Vision Made Manifest by Joseph Bloch

From a certain perspective, the act of playing in a roleplaying game is essentially a tag-team game of “What If?”. Although role playing can be a lot more immersive than that, particularly for those players who enjoy creating nuances to their characters’ personalities, yet there is still a “what if” posed to the Game Master with every action a character takes.

What if my warrior leaps down the staircase and drives his sword into the dragon’s back?

What if my starship captain pilots the ship into the outer edge of the gas giant to hide from the space pirates?


What if my investigator tries to cast this spell from that evil book to try and send that icky tentacle back to wherever it came from?


But when a “what if” question is the foundation for how a particular role-playing game was written, it can take the whole idea of roleplaying to a whole new meta-level.

So when author Joseph Bloch asked himself, “What would the second edition of AD&D have looked like if Gary Gygax had been allowed to keep developing the game?”, it became an opportunity for a whole new high fantasy RPG to be born. Published last year by BRW Games, the Adventures Dark and Deep Player’s Handbook attempts to answer that “what if” question with a “2nd Edition” version of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, drawn from the writings of Gary Gygax himself.

Adventures Dark and Deep (Player’s Manual)

  • Author: Joseph Bloch
  • Illustrators: Christian N. St. Pierre (cover); Mollie Carson-Vollath, Luigi Castellani, Chantal Fournier, Mark Hyzer, Chris Letzelter, Ian MacLean, Frederico Pancaldi, Jay Penn, Brian “Glad” Thomas, Jeff Ward
  • Publisher: BRW Games
  • Year: 2013
  • Media: Hardcover (254 pages)
  • Price: $29.95 (Available from RPGNow in hardbound, soft cover, and PDF formats)

Adventures Dark and Deep Player’s Manual
is a roleplaying game system based upon AD&D, drawing on various books and articles written by Gary Gygax and his version for a second edition of the game. The rulebook contains all the materials to create a character for Adventures Dark and Deep RPG, including ability scores, races, classes, backgrounds, spells, and equipment. The Adventures Dark and Deep Player’s Manual also includes rules to handle combat encounters, and has a set of appendices of useful tables which can be reprinted for use at the gaming table.


Production Quality

The production quality of Adventures Dark and Deep Player’s Manual is very good, containing excellent writing by the author and a layout style reminiscent of the “old school” AD&D books. The author’s writing style seems to capture that of the original AD&D Players Handbook, which is quite appropriate for a published work of this kind.

However, the book does suffer from a bit of difficulty trying to find specific rules, having only a table of contents to guide the reader. There is no index, and no real feeling for where one section ends and another begins. This might be troubling to some readers, who need to find a particular rule reference and are forced to do a lot of page turning to find it.

The artwork in Adventures Dark and Deep Player’s Manual is quite good, and they do homage to the odd bits of black-and-white heavy ink and sketch art found in the original AD&D books. By comparison, the cover art is a bit disappointing, with very muddled lighting and colors, and some difficulties with the anatomy of the cleric in the foreground. The raw idea is pure fantasy, but the overall execution of the piece was less than stellar.


What if…?

The author Adventures Dark and Deep Player’s Manual set quite a task before himself in attempting to create a new version of AD&D as a “Second Edition”, drawn from diverse sources such as Dragon Magazine articles, the Unearthed Arcana, and other writings by the Great Gary Gygax. While he denies that ADaD is not a “retro-clone” of AD&D, but instead a “new creation, unique unto itself”, it is undeniably a retro-clone and an OSR RPG by the general understanding of many in the RPG community. This is not to say something negative about ADaD, quite the contrary, but is merely a qualifier as to the nature of this roleplaying game for the general understanding of the readers of this review.

The Adventures Dark and Deep Player’s Manual is divided into three major sections – Character Creation, Combat, and Magic. In the Character section, there is everything needed to create a new ADaD Player-Character. Those familiar with AD&D and other retro-clones will recognize the character ability scores and their bonuses, although some of the tables have been streamlined and a few tweaks added. Classes include Bards, Jesters, Cavaliers, Paladins, Clerics, Druids, Mystics, Fighters, Barbarians, Rangers, Mages, Illusionists, Savants, Thieves, Acrobats and Mountebanks, and for races there is the standard AD&D fare, plus some sub-races such as Gray and Hill Dwarves, Dark Elves and Half-Drow, and Deep and Hill Gnomes. Race choice does restrict class choice, while Humans can use any class – and multi-classing and dual classing are handled much as it was in AD&D. Many of the class features and abilities have been altered slightly, and the new classes like the Mystic and Montebank are pretty interesting options to play. The Assassin is also a potential player-character here, but it is listed in its own appendix at the end of the book, with notes that it is mainly an NPC and an optional PC.

But there are additional character building blocks in ADaD, which include Secondary Skills, and random tables for Social Class, Family, and Birth Order. Secondary skills are interesting, in that they are a cross between the D&D 2nd Edition non-weapon proficiencies and the AD&D random secondary skills – except they can be leveled by diverting experience points to them instead of to the character’s main class! Finishing touches in this chapter include starting money and age, and a page of sample names by race. Equipment costs, hireling charges, handling transportation and movement are all covered rather thoroughly in this section and hearken back to its AD&D roots with some tweaks and streamlining evident.

The Combat section includes a system that feels very AD&D like, but with some serious streamlining and more concise rules. Minute long combat rounds, AC ranging from 10 to -10 and big tables with to hit target numbers are all in here, as are the old saving throws versus Paralyzation/Poison/Death, Petrification/Polymorph, Rod/Staff/Wand, Breath Weapon, and Spell – a definite blast from the past! But what took dozens of pages in old AD&D has been seriously edited to be, presumably, quicker and easier to play. Optional rules about modifiers for weapon types against particular armor types are included in an appendix, in case DMs want to add them for more realism.

The section on Magic is the largest part of the book, with almost 130 pages devoted to spells and information on all things magical. The author is pretty thorough covering various spell casting aspects such as spell books, resting and memorization (yes, it’s Vancian), dealing with spell effects like invisibility and illusions, and even potion compatibility tables. There’s even a short bit on the ethereal and astral planes, creating potions and scrolls, as well as permanent magic items. The optional rule about using human sacrifice is a bit disturbing, but hey, it’s a good way to cast those wish spells and still keep your youthful appearance. Spells are copious, and are handled in a more modern RPG format, with several caster classes sharing some spells, and having others owned only by a particular class. Spells are many one would recognize from AD&D and OSR RPGs, as well as a few effects that remind one of newer versions of spells from Pathfinder and 3.5 spells. Overall, the spell list is quite thorough as one would expect from a retro-clone, and new spells definitely match the flavor of their respective class type.


Overall Score: 3.7 out of 5.0


Conclusions

Adventures Dark and Deep Players Handbook
has a lot going for it and offers a real upgrade to the original AD&D rule set. How accurately the author carried on the work of Gary Gygax and his vision for D&D 2nd Edition is hard to tell without considerable research, but what is apparent is that the author truly admired the creator of AD&D and designed game rules that feel like the next step in an evolution parallel, but distinct from where the game went after Gygax left TSR, Inc.

Fans of OSR and AD&D style RPGs should have no trouble enjoying the character generation, combat and spell options in the Adventures Dark and Deep Players Handbook. It’s a solid game system, and includes a lot of fun new content to explore, offering in a completely unique RPG experience. The price for the ADaD Players Handbook is decently priced, looks great, and is definitely a very cool OSR retro-clone to try out with one’s gaming group.

Editorial Note: This Reviewer received a complimentary playtest copy of the product in hardbound format from which the review was written.

Grade Card (Ratings 1 to 5)

  • Presentation: 3.75
  • - Design: 4.0 (Old school writing and layout)
  • - Illustrations: 3.5 (Decent cover art; interior illustrations very retro!)
  • Content: 3.75
  • - Crunch: 4.0 (Incredible blending of rules from multiple D&D resources)
  • - Fluff: 3.5 (Mostly rules, but some decent fluffy bits thrown in)
  • Value: 3.5 (Decent price for a solid rulebook)
 

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I like the idea of Adventures Dark & Deep, but beyond being a historical curiosity, I'm not sure what it has to offer my own C&C-based game. I'm incorporating material from other games -- allowing clerics to convert prepared spells to heals, bringing in Mighty Deeds of Arms from DCC for fighters -- but I'm unclear, beyond the new classes, which I know are available under a separate cover, what this book line offers that's new and different, assuming I'm not interested in the skills.

Are there a lot of "new" spells, or are they things we've all seen in other editions of the game?

When/if you review the monster book, the same applies there. I don't need another source of all the SRD monsters, for instance, although I get such is useful for those who just use this as their core system.
 

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