D&D 2E [COMPLETE] Looking back at the limited series: Player's Option, Monstrous Arcana, Odyssey, and more!

Alzrius

The EN World kitten
So basically, what your saying is, if your gonna play 2nd Edition, the best bet, without too much of a headache, is to just use the Complete Fighter's Handbook for your Martials/Weapon Specializations, The Ninja Handbook for Martial Arts. and not worry about using Combat and Tactics book aside from perhaps taking the Critical Hits rule from it, unless you 5E the Critical Hits.
I wouldn't characterize that as "the best bet" per se, though it'll certainly make things simpler. Rather, it depends entirely on how familiar you and your group are with the various options, how much they slow down game-play for you, how much that impacts your enjoyment, etc. Those options are very modular, and it shouldn't be hard for each group to mix-and-match the ones that make the game work best for them.
 

log in or register to remove this ad

Orius

Hero
I prefer C&T myself because it brings material together from the splats and tries to smooth over the differences while experimenting with new ideas about combat.

Tale of the Comet is interesting to be sure -- it's basically Terminator crossed with the Borg and Stargate in a D&D world -- but it's also the sort of thing that can permanently transform a D&D setting for good. That's probably one reason it's left so open-ended, so a DM can decide just how far to go with it. This can transform a campaign world into a science fantasy space opera if a group really want to run with it, and not everyone is going to want to do it. So there's talk of letting the players decide to seal their world off from the Overseer or go totally High Crusade with it.

This adventure seems to have been intended as 2e's answer to S3, Expedition to the Barrier Peaks, but I don't think it's very well known. TSR originally had it scheduled for release in 1997, but I think it kind of got swallowed up in the bankruptcy. WotC did manage to give it a 1997 release, but it doesn't seem to be all that well known.

I'd probably convert to 3e myself if I were going to run it and use d20 Modern to handle the sci-fi stuff. Damage reduction seems like a better way of handling the tech disparity and the two systems have much closer compatibility.
 

delericho

Legend
So basically, what your saying is, if your gonna play 2nd Edition, the best bet, without too much of a headache, is to just use the Complete Fighter's Handbook for your Martials/Weapon Specializations, The Ninja Handbook for Martial Arts. and not worry about using Combat and Tactics book aside from perhaps taking the Critical Hits rule from it, unless you 5E the Critical Hits.
For anyone who is dabbling in an edition (and thus likely to ask this question), my advice would be simply to ignore it all - the closer you can get to core rules only (and indeed without house rules), the smoother you'll find it.

Of course, if you know the system already, and answer becomes simpler: use what you know. :)
 

Mark Hope

Adventurer
I just got through running the first half of Tale of the Comet (the players declined to accompany the Rael back to their own universe after thwarting the invasion of our campaign world) and it was very interesting in play. It made for some really unusual dynamics and interactions - we had lots of fun with a rival party of adventurers who were competing with the PCs - and the robots were a real challenge in combat due to the nature of their arms and armour. The players loved getting their hands on technological gear but the absence of magic (and magic items) in the Rael's home universe was enough to dissuade them from throwing themselves wholeheartedly into the second half of the story ("what's the point of going to a universe where we won't get any magic items?")

Several characters in the party still have blasters, flamethrowers, and a couple grenades, I think (which I love - cross-genre games are a favourite of mine) but they only bust them out when they absolutely have to. We're deep into Slumbering Tsar right now and there are a few enemies in that with high ACs and magic resistance, so the blasters come in super handy against those. Sooner or later, of course, the ammo will run out...

I really enjoyed it as an addition to the game and would run it again :)
 

Alzrius

The EN World kitten
And now we come to the first in the trilogy that makes up the bulk of the Odyssey print line, Jakandor, Island of War.

The entire Jakandor line is one that I've never been partial to, which now that I've started reviewing the books themselves strikes me as strange, because the idea of them is something I like. You have two cultures that are wildly different, both with their own virtues of which they're justifiably proud and flaws to which they're near-totally blind, who see each other as degenerate savages who need to be annihilated. The fantasy cultures of each have excellent flavor text, backed up by new and interesting game mechanics, and it's not like you need to track down a bajillion old supplements to find everything Jakandor-related. On paper this mini-series of products should be a home run.

So why is it that I just can't get excited about these?

I think part of it is that these books come across as exactly what they are: a "campaignlet" that you play for a few weeks, maybe even a few months, and then move on once you've exhausted the central story. That's not me being uncharitable, either; it's how Jeff Grubb, who dreamed up the idea for Jakandor (even if he's not the one who wrote it), described the idea.

Maybe it's just me, but I've never been fond of that. I like one-shots as one-and-done fun, and conversely, I think that long campaigns are the ideal for tabletop RPGs (those guys with the forty-year campaign are heroes in my book), but something like this, meant to be played just long enough to start feeling like a campaign before its planned obsolescence kicks in? I dunno, it just...seems like giving up just when things start to get interesting.

That said, my other major issue is that the investment to really get into the mindset of a character from a foreign culture seems like an awful lot of effort. I hate how that sounds – it seems almost like it goes against the entire idea of role-playing – but a lot of players, in my experience, play casually, not getting too into things because their idea of fun is being able to kick back and not take things too seriously. They still play their characters, of course, but there's a threshold where remaining cognizant of myriad aspects of their character's culture feels like work rather than fun.

Having said all that, I'll note that those two issues aren't technically opposites; you can have a long campaign that doesn't require major commitments of deep characterization from the players. That said, we do tend to correlate one with the other. And in any event, I've found that most of what I like out of my RPGs tends to be a minority opinion anyway, so your mileage may vary.

Either way, the Jakandor series (how do you even pronounce that, by the way? Is it "jaKANdor" or "JAKandor"?) was one that, insofar as I know, never caught on with players.

So what can be said about this book in particular, as opposed to Jakandor in general?

I think the first thing that comes to mind is how oddly the book itself is structured. For one thing, it's not just a book; it's two books and a poster map. The main, 112-page supplement is a player's guide to the Knorr barbarians, while a 32-page DM's guide covers their enemies, the Charonti necromancers. A four-panel poster map showcases the island of Jakandor in its entirety. So if you buy this on the secondary market, make sure you're getting all three components.

With regard to the Knorr barbarians who are spotlighted in this particular supplement (the Charonti are the focus of the next one, Isle of Destiny), I'll refer you to what I said before about a richly-developed culture that's smartly supported by the game rules. In fact, re-reading this now, I found myself thinking that this was a better take on barbarians in a D&D-style fantasy setting than we got in the actual leatherette guide to barbarian characters. Heck, at least this book makes it clear that it's showcasing a particular culture rather than presenting itself as a book of PC options and then slipping in rather bland, generic barbarian-isms.

As it stands, the Knorr are sort of like D&D's own klingons. It's all about clan and honor with them, particularly via warfare. Smartly, the book ties this into the AD&D game rules not only with new mechanics, but by overviewing how basic aspects of the game work in relation to the Knorr. For instance, there's an entire section (albeit only a few paragraphs) about how they look at resurrection in their society, noting that it's rare because it diminishes the honor of the killer and puts an onus on the resurrected character to take revenge on their slayer.

That said, new mechanics are here in abundance. Kits are put to good effect, because each kit represents a particular social niche in Knorr society, most (but not all) of whom revolve around beast cults that exemplify a particular style of combat. So the Howlers (cult of the hyena) are berserkers, while the Windlords (cult of the eagle) are strikers, etc. Of course, there are various kits for the priests, rogues, and even one for the few wizards among the Knorr as well. The priests, especially, are notable because the Knorr have also got their own form of collective ritual magic alongside not only a bunch of new priest spells, but also a new priest sphere (which is something you're hard-pressed to find in AD&D 2E outside of the Tome of Magic).

Oh, and did I mention they also have shapeshifting kit for priests, who can not only change into animals but can also use clerical turning against lycanthropes? Seriously, these guys turn werewolves; how cool is that? Plus, the book introduces all sorts of minor rules for things to flesh out Knorr society, such as scars or counting coup.

We haven't even mentioned the giant sentinel mechs that they create, one of which is made out of wicker but isn't powered by a sacrifice whose eyes have been put out by bees.


Overall, there are a lot of ideas that I'd steal from this book if I ever wanted to present a barbarian culture in a fantasy world. Heck, I'd probably just rip most of this off outright; it's just the keeping it confined to the Jakandor paradigm, where these guys are locked into a seemingly-genocidal war against the Charonti, with no real presence outside of the island (the Knorr, the book tells us, think that the rest of the world has been destroyed) that would need to be changed. Council of Wyrms also segregated the new setting it created this way, and while the cultures of Jakandor don't seem like they'd have the outsized influence of a society of dragons, artificially limiting both cultures like this just feels confining, even if it makes for easily inserting them into your campaign world.

To put it another way, of all the products I don't like, this is the one I like the most.

Please note my use of affiliate links in this post.
 
Last edited:

Voadam

Legend
Juh-KAN-dor for me. :)

The Knorr are an interesting mix of Celts, Vikings, and American Indians with a strong emphasis on warrior societies. D&D can focus a lot on the casters and it was nice to see some options for the warriors. The hatred of wizardry, and particularly necromancy, ties into the 1e barbarian tradition of hating magic in a way that works a bit more as a D&D society, but it is still fairly tough to integrate into a normal D&D party, just like the awkward 1e barbarian flavor tradition.

I like Jakandor a lot. I got all three supplements in print when they came out and I got the PDFs but those have a big problem of no OCR. My main problems with Jakandor are the lower than standard 2e power level of the mage society so the cool kits and stuff integrated really poorly with standard D&D if you were not using Jakandor straight. The knorr concepts not working well with any wizardry is a second blow to using this stuff straight as part of a home campaign that is not centered on the island itself.

The Isle of War setup is pretty good on its own. The Knorr have arrived fleeing an apocalypse and are now colonizing the island, finding magical ruins with monsters and dangerous magic that represent threats that must be taken care of, and decadent hostile necromancer remnants of the local population. So lots of skeletons and zombie bad guys and dungeons to explore.

It is a bit tough to pick up and recontextualize as part of a bigger world and not just its own thing.
 

Orius

Hero
I never got the Jakandor stuff myself, but I've long though this was the model TSR should have used for their campaign settings. A small, self-contained area that any DM could drop into a personal world without much trouble rather than the spawling affairs with boxed sets and splats and novel lines that ended up having little compatibility with each other. Keep things open ended enough that DMs could chain any number of them together in a unique homebrew. Jakandor took a fairly typical fantasy trope -- barbarian warriors vs. wizards -- played with the trope and made it so that either side could be played. I think that was a pretty good approach.
 

Voadam

Legend
I never got the Jakandor stuff myself, but I've long though this was the model TSR should have used for their campaign settings. A small, self-contained area that any DM could drop into a personal world without much trouble rather than the spawling affairs with boxed sets and splats and novel lines that ended up having little compatibility with each other. Keep things open ended enough that DMs could chain any number of them together in a unique homebrew. Jakandor took a fairly typical fantasy trope -- barbarian warriors vs. wizards -- played with the trope and made it so that either side could be played. I think that was a pretty good approach.
Two points undercut using Jakandor as a plug and play in another setting as an island.

1 for the Knorr a big issue of the setup is that they escaped a thing to migrate to Jakandor, if Jakandor is just an island that is reachable from Waterdeep or Lankhmar or the Spindrift Isles then that undercuts a big part of their setup and drive in Jakandor.

2 as developed in the later Charonti wizard culture book, they have a really cool set of magical colleges and kits and such, but it is not really set to the baseline 2e power scale. 2e Diablo had a similar issue with their player options.

The Gazetteers from Basic D&D or the Forgotten Realms regional sourcebooks or Pathfinder's regional sourcebooks were much more plug and play in that sense. It was easier to throw the elven nation from GAZ5 The Elves of Alfheim into your homebrew or use stuff from there in Greyhawk's elven kingdom of Celene.
 

glass

(he, him)
I just got through running the first half of Tale of the Comet :)
I have had it on my shelf for literally decades, but have never actually run it. How did you pitch it to your players? ISTM, that if you tell the players that technological aliens are going to land, it will lose a lot of its charm. But OTOH, if you don't, then the players will not be playing the campaign they signed up for.

Either way, the Jakandor series (how do you even pronounce that, by the way? Is it "jaKANdor" or "JAKandor"?) was one that, insofar as I know, never caught on with players.
The former for me, based on nothing in particular except that the latter sounds too much like Jackanory.
The priests, especially, are notable because the Knorr have also got their own form of collective ritual magic alongside not only a bunch of new priest spells, but also a new priest sphere (which is something you're hard-pressed to find in AD&D 2E outside of the Tome of Magic).
Out of curiosity, what was the new sphere?

_
glass.
 

delericho

Legend
I have had it on my shelf for literally decades, but have never actually run it. How did you pitch it to your players? ISTM, that if you tell the players that technological aliens are going to land, it will lose a lot of its charm. But OTOH, if you don't, then the players will not be playing the campaign they signed up for.
For something like that, I'd be inclined to pitch it to the players as something along the lines of, "I want to run something weird. I can't say much more, because spoilers, but would you be up for it?" It does of course require the players to trust the DM... but that's probably a good thing anyway.
 

Mark Hope

Adventurer
I have had it on my shelf for literally decades, but have never actually run it. How did you pitch it to your players? ISTM, that if you tell the players that technological aliens are going to land, it will lose a lot of its charm. But OTOH, if you don't, then the players will not be playing the campaign they signed up for.
I basically did what @delericho said. I told them that the new campaign (set in a familiar area) would start out like the previous arc but would then get weird. They were on board with that, and off we went. Now, neck-deep in the horrors of Slumbering Tsar, they look back on their days on the Isle of Dread and the whole crashed spaceship thing with nostalgia :D
 


Alzrius

The EN World kitten
So now we come to the second Jakandor sourcebook, Jakandor, Isle of Destiny, which focuses on the Charonti, the post-apocalyptic society of mages which, er...

Wait, so this really isn't available on DriveThruRPG? The other two books have been up for sale for five years now, but this one isn't? I mean, I can understand getting them mixed up; the titles are similar enough that when I picked up all three sourcebooks a few years ago at a convention, I came back to find that I'd actually bought Jakandor, Island of War twice. Ironically, it was Isle of Destiny that I'd overlooked. I think. It was a little while ago.

Either way, this book is the counterpoint to the previous one. Whereas the last sourcebook focused on the Knorr, giving only a brief booklet to showcase the Charonti (pronounced "sha-RON-ty"), that dynamic is now reversed, and we get the Charonti's side of the story.

Somewhat like the Knorr, the Charonti are also a post-apocalyptic people. Once a great magical society, a plague has decimated them, and they've lost most of what they've attained. It's only since the Knorr came to Jakandor (which the Charonti have long inhabited) that they've started to get their act together, uniting now that there's a common threat. With a heavily stratified society, one which sees undeath (if properly managed) as an exploitable resource similar to technology, and a, shall we say, strained religious tradition, the Charonti aren't your typical D&D wizard empire.

A major reason for that is just how limited the Charonti's magic is. If you're used to thinking of wizard nations in terms of Netheril: Empire of Magic, then you're in for a surprise here. The Charonti are, in many ways, a society defined by what they've lost (and are now trying to recover). As the book tells us, spells over 3rd level are virtually unknown, and even the spells that they have recovered are sharply limited in terms of how many there are. Don't think you can go into this campaign setting rolling on the starting spell tables in the Wizard's Spell Compendium; even most of the PHB is going to be off-limits here.

Compounding this is the restrictions given via the kits. The Charonti's caste system expects wizards to specialize in a single magic school, and the associated kits (and the campaign does make it clear that the kits are what really drive the flavor Jakandor; you really can't not have one if you want to buy into the premise of the setting) make it very clear that you can only learn spells from that single school. Sure, you gain one or two other minor benefits for doing so, but these are nowhere near enough to make up for how onerous that limitation is (and the kits also come with special drawbacks also). I mean, a Sandman (i.e. graduate of the college of Illusion) has eidetic memory, but is also mistrusted by people who don't cotton to having everything they say and do recorded when in a Sandman's company. So your illusionist can be an outcast in addition to being largely ineffectual.

Now, there is a kit for generalist mages (the Dilettante), but they're near the bottom of the Charonti's social ladder, as specialists are the ones who are held up as responsible wizards who serve society. And, of course, Dilettantes have a % chance to learn new spells that's rather, shall we say...punishing: [(class level x 10) / spell level]. Compare that to the normal % chance you have based on your Intelligence. Ouch!

It's not all bad news if you want to be an arcane spellcaster. There's a selection of "elder spells" that any specialist can learn, one that's expanded from the usual "school of Lesser Divination" (which here is just part of the college of divination). Likewise, there are several new spells which make life easier for a wizard, such as protection from interruption, giving you a chance to successfully get a spell off even if something disrupts your casting. Even better is nefti's spell recall, which lets you cast it to regain another spell of the same level, enhancing your versatility. Things like these are supposed to make playing a wizard challenging rather than an exercise in frustration...though I wonder how well that works in actual play.

There are also divine casters here, but as noted the Charonti are something of a post-religious society. Kits denote various faiths, but all of them have fairly muted sphere selections. Pantheists, for example, who find meaning in all religious traditions, have access to every sphere...but only minor access. Philosophers start with minor access to the All and Divination spheres, and at each level gains either minor access to a new sphere or major access to a sphere that he already has minor access to. There are a few others, but you get the idea. And of course there are are some rogues kits (and one fighter kit), but they're also fairly pigeonholed in what they allow for.

The main thrust of a Charonti campaign, besides their ongoing war with the Knorr, is raiding old ruins to find lost magic. In that regard, I think that being generous is the way to go here; if I were running a Charonti campaign, I suspect that I'd want the players to be finding at least a couple new spells with every outing. Of course, I also suspect that this is the sort of campaign that most lends itself to the old "adventuring parties in the form of small armies" style of play. You'd want to have quite a few wizards in the party to make sure the various spell schools were represented, some fighters to protect them, a rogue with the Chirurgeon kit, and a priest or two, just to make sure all the bases were covered. Characters should make a name for themselves early on as the guys who are extremely competent/lucky for how successful they are.

I should mention again the use of necromancy here. As noted, this isn't done with any sort of malicious intent; indeed, the Charonti see death – or at least, the death of their own citizens – as being something of a waste; the body decays, and the spirit is lost to the realm of supernatural agents (i.e. gods and various angels/demons/etc.). Far better for them to be put to good use serving society! They've even developed special spells/items for this, and the undead they make aren't simple zombies or skeletons. There's something to be said for the amorality of this, as evidenced by how many Internet discussions there've been about why animating the dead is considered to be an evil act in mainstream D&D.

So what's the final verdict on Isle of Destiny, at least for me?

Ironically, my take on this is the same as it was for the previous Jakandor product: that this is probably one of the best books I don't care for. It's just that it's for completely different reasons.

The Charonti almost seem like a deliberate attempt to avoid the usual D&D clichés. They're a wizard society that isn't drunk on power. They rely heavily on undead, but aren't depraved about it. They hate and war with a society of magic-scorning barbarians, but for reasons more substantial than mere arrogance/prejudice. Throw in the not-inconsiderable pages spent on telling us about their culture and society, and it looks like a surefire recipe for an intriguing campaign.

The issue, or at least what I think the issue will be for a lot of players, is how flat the power-curve is. For all that I've heard people complain about munchkins, min-maxers, and other overpowered players, the shift of the game has been a (mostly) straight increase in power across the editions, particularly for casters. This is a book that dials those limitations up significantly, and so anyone who finds the normal AD&D 2E constraints on casters to be unpleasant will be particularly uncomfortable with what's here. Even non-casters will likely chafe at a few of the burdens they're saddled with (though not nearly as much).

While I personally think that limits help very much to define the feel of a setting (just look at Dark Sun), that's not a positive if the feel of the campaign is one that you don't find yourself liking. The Charonti are a society that needs dynamic heroes, but the game rules here seem like they're in place specifically to keep the PCs from being too effective. I can't see that as being anything except frustrating for a lot of players.

But maybe I'm not giving Isle of Destiny an entirely fair shake. The final Jakandor supplement is supposed to have a more practical focus, putting the first two into actual play. Let's see if that one can put a more entertaining spin on things.

Please note my use of affiliate links in this post.
 

Orius

Hero
It looks like the Charonti get beaten hard and repeatedly by the nerf bat here. AD&D spellcasting can be restrictive enough on its own. But no spells above 3rd level AND restricted to a single school on top of kit restrictions? That's with the slowest XP table, the smallest Hit Die, the worst armor and weapon selection, etc. That's an exercise in frustration. Diviners aren't going to have any fun, that's for damn sure. The school restriction is pointlessly over punishing really, since everything else is kind of rough. Limited magic levels could make for an interesting magic archaeology campaign if things weren't made so difficult.
 

Alzrius

The EN World kitten
But no spells above 3rd level AND restricted to a single school on top of kit restrictions?
Just in case I was unclear, spells above 3rd level do exist, but only a smattering have been (re)discovered or invented; the PCs will need to go and find/invent most of the higher-level spells they want on their own.
 
Last edited:

Voadam

Legend
The lower power level also meant it was really its own thing and you could not just make it an island off of Waterdeep or use a sandman as a kit for a mage from Greyhawk.

It had great flavor. AD&D zombies and skeletons are neutral and not evil and are simply necromantic corpse robots. Animating them they are completely under your control and only follow your commands. Without the uncontrolled attacking everybody aspects implied by later D&D evil animated undead the reasons against using them basically come down to that they are icky and necromantic and dead people's bodies and undead so a lot of people are culturally uncomfortable. Change the cultural setup and it can work.

The heavy cultural use of zombie labor and soldiers was a precursor to 3e's Scarred Lands Hollowfaust city of Necromancers which is a Lawful Neutral society of necromancers who make non-predatory undead to serve and protect their city from multiple dangerous threats around them. The change of mindless undead from neutral in 3.0 to evil in 3.5 and beyond undercut the validity of that setup a bit, but it is a neat D&D concept.

The points of light recovery after the supernatural plague magic empire crash is also a great setup for classic D&D dungeon crawling. It was used for a great 3e POL campaign setting setup at full normal casting levels in The Argyle Lorebook by Silver Branch games.
 

Orius

Hero
Just in case I was unclear, spells above 3rd level do exist, but only a smattering have been (re)discovered or invented; the PCs will need to go and find/invent most of the higher-level spells they want on their own.

Oh no, I got that. The implication though is that a player can't just choose a higher level spell when leveling up and things like that, spell acquisition is even more strongly in the hands of DM than normal. And if the DM is advised to be even more conservative about it, it's going to feel nerfed.

The lower power level also meant it was really its own thing and you could not just make it an island off of Waterdeep or use a sandman as a kit for a mage from Greyhawk.

Fair enough, but the setting should be more remote than that. But if a DM is dropping into a homebrew, that's a different matter depending on how much he wants to integrate it into a larger setting.
 

glass

(he, him)
Oh no, I got that. The implication though is that a player can't just choose a higher level spell when leveling up and things like that, spell acquisition is even more strongly in the hands of DM than normal.
I may be mistaken, but I don't thibk "just choose a [...] spell when levelling up" was a thing yet in 2e, so Jakandor did not make anything worse in that particular respect.

_
glass.
 

delericho

Legend
I may be mistaken, but I don't thibk "just choose a [...] spell when levelling up" was a thing yet in 2e, so Jakandor did not make anything worse in that particular respect.

_
glass.
Specialist wizards automatically gained a spell of their school on reaching a new spell level. Mages didn't. It was 3.0e that introduced the auto-learning of spells as standard - though I'm sure it was a fairly common practice before then!
 

glass

(he, him)
Specialist wizards automatically gained a spell of their school on reaching a new spell level. Mages didn't. It was 3.0e that introduced the auto-learning of spells as standard - though I'm sure it was a fairly common practice before then!
I stand corrected. I had forgotten that particular detail.
 

An Advertisement

Advertisement4

Top