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D&D 2E Looking back at the leatherette series: PHBR, DMGR, HR and more!

Stormonu

Legend
I'm pretty sure you have the part about which gods were overcome backwards. :unsure:
I don’t think so? :unsure: (Unless I’m missing a Nilbog joke here...)

From Volo’s Guide, p 182

When Maglubiyet conquered the goblin gods, he in-tended to leave only Khurgorbaeyag alive as a harsh overseer who would keep the goblins under heel. But the goblins' pantheon included a trickster deity who was de-termined to get the last laugh. Although its essence was shattered by Maglubiyet, this trickster god survives in splintered form as a possessing spirit that arises when goblinoids form a host, causing disorder in the ranks un-less it is appeased. Goblins have no name for this deity and dare not give it one, lest Maglubiyet use its name to ensnare and crush it as he did their other deities. They call the possessing spirit, and the goblin possessed by it, a nilbog ("goblin" spelled backward), and they revel in the fear that a nilbog sows among the ranks of the bug-bears and hobgoblins in the host.
 

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Alzrius

The EN World kitten
I don’t think so? :unsure: (Unless I’m missing a Nilbog joke here...)
What I meant was, DMGR4 tells us that Maglubiyet is the is the overarching "goblinoid" god, with Khurgorbaeyag being the god of goblins specifically and Nomog-Geaya being the god of hobgoblins specifically. Bargrivyek is strongly implied to also be a goblin deity, as his entry makes reference to goblins specifically rather than goblinoids in general. So while it's not the most robust pantheon, there are still goblin gods in Monster Mythology.
 

Alzrius

The EN World kitten
With DMGR5 Creative Campaigning, we've officially reached the halfway point, not just for the DMGRs, but for this retrospective as a whole. The twentieth leatherette book out of a grand total of thirty-nine, from here on out the majority of the series is behind us.

That being said, I can't quite bring myself to get excited, simply because this book wasn't one of my favorites.

Maybe it's an issue of lack of nostalgia, since I only picked this one up a few years back, but a lot of what's here didn't do it for me. Though I strongly suspect that would have been the case if I'd gotten this back when I was a teenager as well. That's because this is, to a very large extent, an "ideas" book, and I've never been very fond of them. Ideas, to me, are a dime a dozen; what I want is practical implementation. Give me mechanics - or, alternatively, expand on the canon/lore - rather than just a few paragraphs of "this might be a cool thing to try out."

Now, to be fair, this book does have a good amount of mechanical heartiness to round out its ideas. The first chapter, exploring various settings for campaigns beyond the typical medieval European fare, has not only sample NPCs - some of which expand on some of the ones seen in Legends & Lore; I particularly loved that this gave us stats for Gilgamesh and Enkidu, something we don't otherwise get in 2E (save only if you note that "Gilgamesh" is an alias of Gilgeam's in Powers & Pantheons) - but also things like statistics for weapons that you'd find in a Renaissance society, or even a future one! That's the sort of thing I like to see! (I wish the example campaign world developed here, Chanak, had appeared in some later products - even if only as a cameo - rather than being completely forgotten.)

Other chapters, however, left me cold. The "Alternative Adventures" chapter at least tries to present stats and a few fairly heavy outlines, making them halfway to being prefab modules, but the rest of the chapter comes down to plot seeds and random encounter generators (the latter of which don't expound on their results beyond a few detail-oriented tables). Those aren't particularly bad, but leaving aside the fun of running with randomly-generated results, not something I find particularly helpful.

The entire book is uneven this way. The chapter on alternative rules (e.g. different ways to make ability checks, new uses for proficiencies, etc.) and advice for how to mix up treasure distribution is good stuff. The chapter on "freestyle" campaigning - which consist of adventures with smaller portions of the group (potentially one-on-one sessions) that have a heavy focus on role-playing and skill-use rather than combat - feels avant-garde to the point of almost coming across as though it wants to advertise another game entirely. While I appreciate that D&D, in any edition, doesn't have to be about killing things and taking their stuff, the guidelines here were a little too "eschew the rules, immerse yourself in your character" for me. I enjoyed the HHQ series (i.e. HHQ1 Fighter's Challenge, HHQ2 Wizard's Challenge, etc.), but "freestyle" felt like something else, what with it's lack of discussion about things like gaining XP, handling combat if it breaks out while a PC is alone, etc.

Unfortunately, the book misses more than it hits. The section on "types of players" felt like should have gone in the DMG or in DMGR1 Campaign Sourcebook and Catacomb Guide. The "Grand Tour" of AD&D campaign worlds felt pointless (if you were inclined to like those settings, the odds were you were already checking them out, and so didn't need to be sold; if you didn't like them, these overviews were unlikely to change your mind). And the chapter on the "medieval mindset" - while, again, not bad in terms of what it offered - felt like it should have been part of the Historical Reference series (which it never mentions).

It strikes me as fitting that this book has no introduction, preface, or foreword, because this book is a mishmash of ideas with very little in the way of a unifying theme beyond "non-standard campaigns." The blurb on the back is as good as it gets here, and while I'm aware that this is due to the book having several different authors, its lack of cohesiveness just feels like a lack of direction. It has just enough development that I can see how it could have been great if it had just been a little more focused.

As it is, Creative Campaigning is certainly creative; I just wish it had more follow through.

Please note my use of affiliate links in this post.
 

Orius

Adventurer
This one I didn't have, and I don't think it stayed in print very long because it was released around the time I first got into the game. I did eventually take a look at it, and I agree that it's pretty weak. Just a lot of ideas without anything really backing them up. What advice was in here, I've seen similar in Dragon an online, so I don't really think it was terribly useful.

Now the next one's a different story.
 

Voadam

Legend
What I meant was, DMGR4 tells us that Maglubiyet is the is the overarching "goblinoid" god, with Khurgorbaeyag being the god of goblins specifically and Nomog-Geaya being the god of hobgoblins specifically.
Straight out of Dragon 63 building off of Maglubiyet's Deities and Demigods entry

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Alzrius

The EN World kitten
DMGR6 The Complete Book of Villains is a book that, after I purchased it and actually started reading it, struck me as having some seriously false advertising.

That wasn't actually the case, of course. The back of the book flat-out says that it presents "guidelines [...] offered on creating villains for role-playing games." So clearly, I didn't read the description closely enough (and, for whatever reason, apparently didn't flip through it before I bought it), because I thought for sure it was going to be a book of pre-fab villains that could be dropped into a campaign. Something like MC15 Monstrous Compendium Ravenloft Appendix II: Children of the Night, Villains' Lorebook, or Blood Enemies: Abominations of Cerilia. Of course, I wouldn't get any of those until years later, but they were what I had in mind when I picked up DMGR6.

Having spent what little money my broke teenage self could scrape together on a book that wasn't what I thought, I did the only thing I could do: I sat down and read it. And as I did, I slowly found my disappointment fading away, because while this wasn't the gallery of baddies that I'd hoped (though, to be fair, it does have a few pre-made NPCs), it was actually pretty good for what it did. While I have very ambivalent feelings about "advice books" - as I've noted before, the fact that their goal is to obviate themselves if you internalize and utilize their advice always struck me as a sort of built-in obsolescence - I can't deny that the advice here is very good.

In a nutshell, this is a guide to making villains be characters rather than pastiches. From talking about their history and motivations to an examination of the different levels of organization they make use of to practical overviews of how to integrate them into your campaign, this book's advice is utterly rock solid. Notably, it never forgets that it's presenting advice on using villains in a game, rather than writing a novel; whether it's discussing special considerations that go into making a villain from the Monstrous Compendium into a villain or how you actually present them (and, more often, their deeds) to the players at the table, the practicality of this book is never pushed to the proverbial backseat.

Having said that, I'll note that the in-character boxed text present throughout the book was tremendously engaging, not only for how effectively it illustrated whatever point was being presented, but also because it was always entertaining. Rarely more than two or three paragraphs long, these were so snappily written that you couldn't help but want more. For instance, consider this demonstration of why "the heroes unintentionally drive someone to villainy as a result of their actions" is a weak way to introduce a villain to bedevil your PCs:

We had just ridden out of town when we hard hooves thunder behind us. We wheeled around to see a strange man charging toward us on a donkey.

"Fiends! Fiends!" he shouted. "You fiends! When you left town one of your horses kicked a stone which broke my window! My wife went to the window to see what happened, and while she wasn't looking my little daughter wandered out of the house and fell in a well! She likes it so much in there she refuses to come out! Argh! I will stalk the forests and hills until I have wreaked revenge!"

Now, that might come across as overly ridiculous, but it's undeniably funny. It's also in service to the point I mentioned before about the book never forgetting that it's an RPG supplement. Telling the players that their actions have resulted in some sort of narrative contrivance that they didn't know about and couldn't possibly have anticipated, the effect of which was to create a nemesis who's now targeting them, is more likely to be tick the players off than engage their interest.

I never ended up using any of the example villains (all of whom receive stats at the end of the book, after it has helpfully used them to portray ways of putting its advice into practice) in my games - though I was tempted to use The Corn Kings, a cult dedicated to an evil harvest deity, for their name alone (though that may have been because of my having watched the segment of The Tomorrow People involving Colonel Cobb) - but looking back, I made use of a lot of what's here with when portraying bad guys in my game.

That's really the highest endorsement I can give this book; if you're a GM, you'll get a lot of mileage out of it when you sit down to play.

Please note my use of affiliate links in this post.
 
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Voadam

Legend
The back of the book flat-out says that it presents "guidelines [...] offered on creating villains for role-playing games." So clearly, I didn't read the description closely enough (and, for whatever reason, apparently didn't flip through it before I bought it), because I thought for sure it was going to be a book of pre-fab villains that could be dropped into a campaign.
I did read the description, so I passed on getting it entirely. :)

Good to hear that it has good advice. I have found a lot of advice in this area more aspirational than practical.
 

Orius

Adventurer
The Complete Book of Villains is probably the single best of the DM splats.

Yeah, it's advice, but it's a lot of solid practical advice, and the book includes photocopable worksheets for the DM to use in developing his campaign. The advice is pretty varied, and it not only edition neutral, but possibly even system neutral to some degree. IIRC, Applecline's overview of the book on DriveThru notes that even professional fiction writers have used the book to help sharpen their writing skills. It doesn't just cover individual villains, but also villainous organizations and rivals for the PCs, as well as advice for structuring a campaign. There's some random dice tables in the back on villain methods and motivations which I think got at least partially lifted for the 5e DMG.

The warlord Bakshra is a pretty damn memorable villain, even if he's little more than a bunch of examples here. The other lesser villains given as examples are all pretty good too.

I did read the description, so I passed on getting it entirely. :)

Good to hear that it has good advice. I have found a lot of advice in this area more aspirational than practical.

Your loss. This book really is as good as I said it was.
 


Alzrius

The EN World kitten
Has it been long enough that I can make a "thread necromancy" joke yet?

If not, I don't care. The next leatherette book in the series is DMGR7 The Complete Book of Necromancers, and this book is too good for me not to talk about any longer. Exceeded only by my love for DMGR4 Monster Mythology, and equaled by my zeal for PHBR5 The Complete Psionics Handbook, The Complete Book of Necromancers is, to my mind, one of the best supplements to come out of this particular line. It's so good, I wonder if author Steve Kurtz had this guy for his "ghost" writer:

tales from the crypt GIF


Now if only I could add the Cryptkeeper's laugh into that GIF. 💀

Terrible puns aside, there's a fun little story with me and this book. Back in the days after it came out, I quickly found out about its existence, but couldn't find it anywhere. I mean not anywhere. I can't recall if it had a small print run, but I distinctly recall that special ordering copies from my local hobby shop was a complete non-starter, leaving me with no way to get my hands on a copy. Except, then I did. Sort of. Bear with me for a moment while I explain.

These days, when people think of AD&D CD-ROMs, they think of the Dragon magazine archive that got WotC into trouble with Kenzer Co. Not many people remember that there was also an AD&D 2E Core Rules CD-ROM which bundled the PHB, DMG, MM, and DMGR3 Arms and Equipment Guide along with several digital tools for character-building, treasure-generating, and other features. Of those who do, even fewer remember that there was a 2.0 release of that CD-ROM which added in the Player's Option series. And of those who remember that, even fewer remember that there was an expansion CD-ROM that added in a whole bunch of the PHBR series. And among those people, even fewer remember that there was a downloadable expansion for the expansion that added The Complete Book of Necromancers.

I know because that's how I first got to read this book.

A lot of the times, when you hear stories like that, they end with some sort of anticlimax about how the hard-won prize wasn't really worth the effort. But that's not the case here; unlike with the previous book in this series, DMGR7 was everything I'd hoped it would be. It served a heaping helping of new mechanics with a side of lore, and I couldn't have been happier, with my appreciation for what's here having yet to wear off. To put it another way:

Dungeons And Dragons Meme GIF by Hyper RPG


I think what impressed me most about this book was just how cognizant it was of making sure the game rules mapped to the thematic archetype of necromancy in AD&D. You know how arch-wizards (of any sort, not just necromancers) are often described as being centuries old? This book tells you how to do that; sure, potions of longevity and elixirs of youth are in the 2E DMG, but this book actually overviews their use and risks, along with things like using a wish spell to slow aging and new spells to move your soul into another body, along with opting into undeath when you can't delay the inevitable anymore. While there'd been articles in Dragon about becoming a lich, this was by far a more comprehensive take on the overarching subject.

And that's just the start. For one thing, the book is (surprisingly) aware of other takes on necromancy under the game rules, and makes no bones (heh) about cribbing from other sources or simply referencing them directly. For instance, the idea of accruing corruption - gaining new abilities, but also various penalties, as a result of making deals with vile powers - is lifted right out of Ravenloft. The presumption that vampires and liches will likewise gain strange new powers is not only taken as a given, but you're referred to RR3 Van Richten's Guide to Vampires and RS1 Van Richten's Guide to the Lich for more details. Under other circumstances that might have bugged me, but I owned both of those, so I was instead rather impressed that it wasn't trying to reinvent the wheel (even if I was a bit confused, since I thought those expanded powers were only for vampires and liches in Ravenloft itself).

The book was also no slouch when it came to clerical necromancy either. Not only do "death priests" have a chapter all to themselves, but the book also overviews several evil deities to boot! Admittedly, it tries to frame them in the archetypal presentation of PHBR3 The Complete Priest's Handbook. Fun fact: "The Lord of Undead" is also called Thasmudyan here, and the book drops hints that he's actually a baatezu who reached divinity. That makes Thasmudyan one of the extremely few devil gods in AD&D 2E, along with Asmodeus in the Guide to Hell and Gargauth in Powers & Pantheons.

Oh, and did I mention that this is also an off-brand Al-Qadim supplement? It's true! The sample adventure location and NPCs - who are repeatedly mentioned in each chapter's framing fiction - are presented as being part of Zakhara, which technically makes this entire thing canon to the Forgotten Realms. Given that Steve Kurtz also wrote Al-Qadim products such as Ruined Kingdoms and Cities of Bone prior to this, I can't help but wonder if he had material left over which he turned into this book, if he just really loved Zakhara, or both. Either way, it's a surprising bit of campaign-grounding that's not found in most of these books...at least until we get to the CGR leatherettes.

Having said all of that, there's still so much good stuff here that I've barely covered. A discussion of necromantic specialization among various monsters? It's here. An overview of what psionic powers work best for a necromantic character? Be still my heart! Guidelines of advanced familiars for your necromancer? Yes, now you can have a succubus for a familiar, which is more than just a case of having a drop-dead sexy companion: fiendish familiars grant you all of their special resistances and immunities and you can prepare and cast spells at +1 level higher!

I should note that this book is stated to be for NPCs only, a topic I'll speak about more when we come to the next supplement in the series, but other than most of the options here being dark enough to mandate an alignment change if you're not already evil, there's little reason why that needs to be so. In fact, I suspect that a great deal of this material could be used for most any wizard, since necromancers are - strictly speaking - just a specialization of magic-user. While some of the kits are necromancer only, the new magic items and spells don't seem to have any restrictions against non-specialists using them (and you have to wonder if some goody-goody would want an aasimon, i.e. an angel, as a familiar).

Or, you know, I suppose you could always try to play some sort of good-aligned necromancer, or even a benevolent undead creature. But really, who ever heard of a character like that?

Confused Tim Burton GIF


Please note my use of affiliate links in this post.
 
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Voadam

Legend
These days, when people think of AD&D CD-ROMs, they think of the Dragon magazine archive that got WotC into trouble with Kenzer Co. Not many people remember that there was also an AD&D 2E Core Rules CD-ROM which bundled the PHB, DMG, MM, and DMGR3 Arms and Equipment Guide along with several digital tools for character-building, treasure-generating, and other features. Of those who do, even fewer remember that there was a 2.0 release of that CD-ROM which added in the Player's Option series. And of those who remember that, even fewer remember that there was an expansion CD-ROM that added in a whole bunch of the PHBR series. And among those people, even fewer remember that there was a downloadable expansion for the expansion that added The Complete Book of Necromancers.
Yes I knew about and got the Dragon Archive CD. Yes I knew about the Core rules CD but passed on it as making characters out of the books was fine for me. Yes I knew about and got the 2.0 CD-Rom for the PHBR and PO and DM books in RTF format which was fantasitc.

WAIT! THERE WAS A DOWNLOADABLE EXPANSION FOR COMPLETE BOOK OF NECROMANCERS?!!! I really wish I had known this when the download was available.

I had a roommate with the CBoN and it was a really nice dark magic D&D sourcebook. A highlight of the series.
 

The Complete Book of Villains is probably the single best of the DM splats.

Yeah, it's advice, but it's a lot of solid practical advice, and the book includes photocopable worksheets for the DM to use in developing his campaign. The advice is pretty varied, and it not only edition neutral, but possibly even system neutral to some degree. IIRC, Applecline's overview of the book on DriveThru notes that even professional fiction writers have used the book to help sharpen their writing skills. It doesn't just cover individual villains, but also villainous organizations and rivals for the PCs, as well as advice for structuring a campaign. There's some random dice tables in the back on villain methods and motivations which I think got at least partially lifted for the 5e DMG.

The warlord Bakshra is a pretty damn memorable villain, even if he's little more than a bunch of examples here. The other lesser villains given as examples are all pretty good too.



Your loss. This book really is as good as I said it was.

I remember loving this book (ad warlord Bakshra has always been something I remembered from it). It has been ages since I read it. No idea what my response would be if I re-read it today. But back when it came out and I was in high school, that thing was one of those purchases that added so much to my GMing. It definitely helped me think differently about villains.
 

Stormonu

Legend
I absolutely hate the complete Necromancer book. It came out at a time we had the likes of the Diablo II Necromancer, so its condencending attitude and limiting it to being a "blue book" ticked me off. I very much found the 3.5 Secret College of Necromancy book to be a much, much better rendition.
 

Alzrius

The EN World kitten
I absolutely hate the complete Necromancer book. It came out at a time we had the likes of the Diablo II Necromancer, so its condencending attitude and limiting it to being a "blue book" ticked me off. I very much found the 3.5 Secret College of Necromancy book to be a much, much better rendition.
Well, there was always the necromancer class from Diablo II: The Awakening.

EDIT: Interestingly enough, the first Diablo game (January, 1997) wouldn't come out until almost two years after The Complete Book of Necromancers was released (March, 1995). Diablo II - which was the first game to have necromancer be a playable class (the original game's only classes were warrior, rogue, and sorcerer, with the Hellfire expansion adding the monk) - didn't come out until June of 2000.
 
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Alzrius

The EN World kitten
WAIT! THERE WAS A DOWNLOADABLE EXPANSION FOR COMPLETE BOOK OF NECROMANCERS?!!! I really wish I had known this when the download was available.
If you still happen to have your AD&D 2.0 Core Rules CD-ROM and the Expansion CD-ROM, you can still get the download for The Complete Book of Necromancers via a Wayback Machine cache of WotC's website (it's a viable download, I checked).

EDIT: Hm, trying to run the executable file is turning up a "part of the file is missing, might be corrupted" error. So it looks like this one might be out of reach after all. :(


Wait, no, the download from this archive works! :D
 
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Sithlord

Adventurer
Just goes to show mileage varies. The Gnome and Halfling book is one of my faves and I even recommended a current 5E player in my group playing a gnome read some of it for flavor.

I don't remember much about the humanoid book, but the one I remember being the worst was the Priest's book.
I loved the last gnome kits for illusionists. Very limited access to schools. Only 3 if I remember correctly. But I enjoyed playing the very illusion specialized version of the illusionist class.
 

Sithlord

Adventurer
In
Sadly, their attempt to bring back the Monk into 2E (I think in the Complete Priest) was woefully inadequate. I think eventually some Greyhawk supplement (focusing on the Scarlett Brotherhood) brought back a better version.

There was also, of course the Complete Ninja...

I was always disappointed that the Complete Necromancer was a blue DMG book instead of a brown PHB series. Frankly, the TSR code of conduct policy really made that book toothless, especially for players interested in getting something out of it.

As for the green books, Charlemange's Paladins (Charlemange!), Vikings (Vikings & Trolls!) and A Mighty Fortress (Guns!) were the three I liked best, but I do also have a bias when it comes to Charlemange anyway...

I still adore the scarlet brotherhood to this day.
 

Voadam

Legend
If you still happen to have your AD&D 2.0 Core Rules CD-ROM and the Expansion CD-ROM, you can still get the download for The Complete Book of Necromancers via a Wayback Machine cache of WotC's website (it's a viable download, I checked).

EDIT: Hm, trying to run the executable file is turning up a "part of the file is missing, might be corrupted" error. So it looks like this one might be out of reach after all. :(


Wait, no, the download from this archive works! :D
Cool, thanks for looking that up. I vaguely remember it now. I only had the 2.0 expansion CD so I only have access to the rtf versions of the sourcebooks and the CBoN download was for the core rules software and did not provide an rtf.
 

Alzrius

The EN World kitten
Cool, thanks for looking that up. I vaguely remember it now. I only had the 2.0 expansion CD so I only have access to the rtf versions of the sourcebooks and the CBoN download was for the core rules software and did not provide an rtf.
I went and re-installed my copy of the Core Rules 2.0 and the Expansion on my computer last night (which, to my shock, worked on Windows 10 despite having been made for Windows 98), and installed the CBoN update as well; I can confirm that there is an RTF file of the book in there ("NecroBk.rtf").
 


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