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

Orius

Adventurer
Necromancers was another very good book with an excellent balance of crunch and fluff. I still say Villains slightly edges it out because it has a much broader scope, but the two are definitely the best DMG splats hands down.
 

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Alzrius

The EN World kitten
I really feel like I should open my next retrospective with a Seinfeldism: "So what's the deal with NPC classes?"

I ask because, notwithstanding the non-player-character slant of the previous leatherette book, I think that DMGR8 Sages & Specialists might be the first time we actually see fully fleshed-out NPC classes in a D&D product that isn't a magazine. (Though I'm sure you guys are rushing to check me on that even as I type this.)

Some quick checking through the Dragondex turns up roughly thirty-odd NPC classes in Dragon back in the day, which I strongly suspect is where most D&D aficionados know them from. After all, that's where we got the anti-paladin, the death master, the jester, and several other classes that were eventually reprinted in Paizo's Dragon Compendium Vol. 1. Beyond that, NPC classes are largely something that were formalized in Third Edition, which not only gave us five right out of the box, but also had the magewright introduced in the Eberron Campaign Setting. I like to think that the magician class, from the Birthright Campaign Setting is a sort of "spiritual ancestor" to the magewright - also being a sub-par arcane spellcaster that's setting-specific - but the book doesn't specifically say that it's NPC-only. Likewise, the templar is also technically a PC class when we see it in the original Dark Sun Boxed Set, though given its political class abilities and alignment restrictions it probably shouldn't have been; that was likely why it was quietly removed from the Dark Sun Campaign Setting (Expanded and Revised Edition).

But having overviewed NPC classes in D&D generally, what's in this book in particular? Well, basically it's ten full-on character classes dedicated to various niche roles that are, quite frankly, either too boring or too unimportant for PCs to worry about. I'm going to try not to retread the same ground that the Product History on the book's sales page on DriveThruRPG covers - since going into the nitty-gritty on ten different classes, NPCs though they be, is too tall an order for this overview - but I'll go ahead and reiterate what these are: apothecary, appraiser, blacksmith, cartographer, engineer, guide, healer, historian, scribe, and seer.

The book prefaces the introduction and each chapter (since each class gets its own chapter) with the tale of Martia, a warrior who goes to each of these sages/specialists in turn to help her complete her epic quest. The illustrations, I'll note, do a good job of following the action, being black and white pieces that spotlight each example character, with many of them having Martia also, and an ensemble piece after her quest is finished at the end of the book. The cohesiveness in this regard gives the book a very tight feeling (though I can't help but smirk at how we get a stat block for each of the example NPCs, but never one for Martia herself).

The classes themselves are given coverage that's so thorough it's exhaustive, making sure to overview the ability score requirements, how many proficiencies they get, their individual XP tables, etc. (odd note: apparently none of these classes actually belong to any of the meta-class groups, such as Warrior or Rogue. Also interesting: unless I'm misremembering, none of these classes are restricted by race). It feels weird for me to say that in a pejorative manner, because I'm all about completeness and new crunch; it's just that the book doesn't go into much detail about how to integrate these classes into your campaign. That's not too surprising, since what they're good for is fairly self-evident, but despite the case that the framing fiction tries to present, I'm honestly not sure how well it sells the idea that these are really useful...or at least, that they warrant this much coverage.

That is, I suppose, what the last section of the book is for. It talks about a system where you basically attach NPCs who've taken levels in these classes to your PCs, letting them gain levels as the characters do. I'll admit, this I liked, as it hearkened back to the importance of henchmen, hirelings, and followers which - while still technically present in AD&D 2E - was rapidly falling by the wayside. Creating a system to keep a "supporting cast" of NPCs who played non-combat (and quite often non-adventuring) support for the PCs seems like a good thing to me, as it helps to keep the party cognizant of the greater game world beyond the dungeon.

Having said all that, I'll note that there are a few interesting bits tucked away in here that could be extracted for use elsewhere, such as the system for damaging armor, shields, weapons, and magic items, a method of producing "concoctions" (similar to potions, though they don't have to be magical), and a handful of new proficiencies (though they're tied pretty hard to the new classes here).

I'll say in closing that this book was one I only picked up a few years ago, when I was completing my leatherette collection, and while it was certainly better than I expected it to be, I still felt justified in turning my nose up at it years earlier. What's here isn't bad, but it's given more of a spotlight than it arguably deserves. Were there any DMs out there who really needed an entire class based around decoding maps or copying spells for wizards?

Overall, this product feels like it vindicates the idea of limiting NPC classes to Dragon and similar venues, rather than giving them greater prominence.

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

Adventurer
As for 1e's NPC classes, you left out the Witch and the Cloistered Cleric. :) And those classes were reprinted in the Best of Dragon long before Paizo touched them.


Remember the praise I heaped upon Villains and Necromancers? Well the DMGR series took a huge nosedive off a cliff with Sages.

The idea of NPC classes isn't a bad one, but 3e did a better job of it than this book. All the classes here could be much better handled with an Expert or Adept with the right focus. These classes are basically just a stripped down Fighter, Mage, Cleric, or Thief with a particular focus, and they tend to be pretty niche. And some are even more niche than others. I'd just backport a 3e NPC class into 2e to do this stuff, and they can be customized to serve particular needs. Some of the abilities aren't too bad, but I'd just use them to expand on existing NWPs. And some of the NWPs in this book aren't even new ideas and had appeared in 2e before if not the PHB.

Martia's story is okay, but stil pretty generic (not like Bakshra from Villains). The idea of attaching these NPC classes to the PCs as allies and support staff isn't bad, but it would have worked better if the classes weren't so specific. I think this book would have been better served by presenting one or two broad NPC classes like the ones from 3e that could have been customized with particular NWP focuses that could have been open ended enough to fit a wider variety of roles depending on what an individual campaign required. This book was really one of 2e's biggest letdowns for me.
 




Voadam

Legend
You mean from the "Tribal Spell Casters" section (p. 40)? Because those are essentially just clerics and cleric/wizards with highly-restricted spell lists (and very low level caps, though that's apparently a function of the races listed).
Exactly, 1e versions of 3e's adepts. :)

NPC Magic Users whose only offensive spells are push and scare.
 

Alzrius

The EN World kitten
Exactly, 1e versions of 3e's adepts. :)
Not to nitpick too much, but adepts are actually quite different from other classes. Their spellcasting ability goes up to 5th level - something no other class has - and their spell list, while not too expansive, is a mixture of cleric and druid spells, with a few wizard spells thrown in. Plus, they can summon a familiar despite technically being a divine spellcasting class. It's really an interesting oddity for how it's designed (even if the theme is clear, in that it's meant to be a "hedge witch"-style character).
 

Voadam

Legend
Not to nitpick too much, but adepts are actually quite different from other classes. Their spellcasting ability goes up to 5th level - something no other class has - and their spell list, while not too expansive, is a mixture of cleric and druid spells, with a few wizard spells thrown in. Plus, they can summon a familiar despite technically being a divine spellcasting class. It's really an interesting oddity for how it's designed (even if the theme is clear, in that it's meant to be a "hedge witch"-style character).
Right, adepts are not a perfect analogy, they are sort of a witch doctor multiclass cleric magic user combined into one class with no turning.

But 3e's warriors are PC class fighters with no bonus feats and smaller HD. Like 1e shaman are PC clerics with less spell selection and no wisdom bonus to spells.
 

Orius

Adventurer
Right, Adepts are basically 3e's answer to AD&D's shamans, witch doctors, hedge wizards and the like, with a consistent base.
 

Alzrius

The EN World kitten
For the final book in the DMGR line, we're going out to sea and beneath the waves! That's right, it's DMGR9 Of Ships and the Sea, which brings us to the nautical realms of singing pirates, mermaid princesses, and anthropomorphic sponges! Except, of course, that this is D&D, so you'll find exactly none of those things here.

season 5 GIF by SpongeBob SquarePants


Yeah, I'll be honest here: waterborne adventuring - whether on ships or underwater - has never interested me. As much as I like pages and pages of new rules, those can only do so much to capture my attention when the topic that they're quantifying is one I don't care very much about. That's because adventuring in the water always just seemed like a big middle finger to adventurers. I know it isn't meant to be that way, but it always seems to come down to two things: 1) massive changes to various rules, all of which hamper, impede, or restrict what the PCs can do, and 2) intelligent enemies targeting whatever's allowing the PCs to breathe and/or keeping them mobile.

That last one doesn't sound like a big deal when you get down to it - how many enemies can really afford to cast dispel magic over and over again in hopes of knocking out a presumed water breathing spell, or will somehow intuit that someone's wearing a helm of underwater action and try to steal/sunder it? - but that sort of thing tends to come up for big, climactic boss fights. This is D&D; spellcasters are everywhere, and you can't expect those guys not to go for the throat when it's a battle to the death. And yet every spellcasting kraken and sahuagin high priestess and ancient sea wyrm seems to forget that they can just knock out the PCs' life support magic and then let the environment do their work for them.

For that matter, point #1 is kind of the same issue. Even if you're fighting on the deck of a ship, expect any monster that clamors up over the side to try and knock you into the drink, where you're going to be hit with massive environmental debuffs. The whole thing is a sticky wicket from top to bottom, unless you're playing a race whose natural environment is underwater, in which case you're either playing an entire undersea campaign (which probably makes you the only one) or you're comfortable taking, in all likelihood, some degree of penalties for spending time on land, which is where most of the action's going to be.

Needless to say, this was a book that I turned my nose up at time and again. The DriveThruRPG sales page says that DMGR9 had a small print run, but I could swear that I saw this everywhere, in store after store, untouched...though I suppose that explains why WotC wouldn't feel inclined to print it again. As with quite a few other leatherettes, I picked it up purely to fill out the collection.

As it was, when I first sat down to read this, I remember being quite exasperated at how this book felt compelled to reinvent the wheel. I'd picked up a copy of the Naval Battle Rules: The Seas of Cerilia before this, mostly because I was going through a mass-combat kick, and the rules for ship-scale battles weren't usable with what's here. The same is true for FOR3 Pirates of the Fallen Stars.

The actual underwater adventuring rules are slightly better in this regard, mostly because - outside of some low-level overviewing in the DMG - the topic hadn't really been covered much in AD&D 2E. Which, I maintain, is evidence of how unappealing it is. The topic got some coverage in GA1 The Murky Deep, for example, and The Inner Planes (i.e. the Elemental Plane of Water), and probably sporadic coverage elsewhere. I suspect that it was a big part of Evil Tide, Night of the Shark, and Sea of Blood - that is, the three "Monstrous Arcana" adventures that went with The Sea Devils - which were apparently meant to be used in tandem with this book.

For what it's worth, I don't hate all aquatic sourcebooks; Sea of Fallen Stars was absolutely packed with new lore and PC-facing information, a lot of it new races, and was something I quite enjoyed; that book made me believe that it might really have been possible to do an entire underwater campaign, even if I still doubt anyone ever did. Since, you know, a lot of enemies - not all of them, but a lot of them - will have an easy way to escape:


Now, this is usually the part of the overview where I go over some of the specifics...but in all honesty, what's the point? You already know exactly what's in here. It's rules for being on a ship, piloting a ship, ships in combat, combat modifiers for fighting underwater, spell modifiers for using magic underwater, a handful of underwater-specific spells and magic items, underwater environmental effects, etc. I don't know how a book about the wettest of environments can be so dry.

Overall, this book felt - for lack of a better word - perfunctory. It was done because waterborne scenarios are the go-to for "switch up the environment" adventures. Sailing and swimming are both different enough from being on land that they require a boatload (heh) of new rules to adjudicate. The only real question was if there was enough to make a stand-alone sourcebook for it all instead of cramming it into a more generic book on "unusual adventure locales" or something like that. Someone decided that there were, and so this was what we got, ending the DMGRs not with a splash, but with a whimper.

Buried treasure, this one was not.

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

Legend
In 3e I got a copy of Broadsides! by Living Imagination and read it through. It had a section on running boats and naval combat and I thought it was a great set of simulation rules including things like momentum and currents and wind direction for sailing. It was really neat if you wanted realistic boat chases and such, but I knew while I appreciated the rules (I've done enough canoeing to appreciate momentum and currents and issues in turning boats) I was never going to use them. When I play D&D I generally want the focus to be on the boat narratively as a means of transport, as a location, and the interactions to be more focused on things boarding your boat to fight you, not navigation rolls or tracking realistic position relative to another boat on a map.

And my signature character is a viking sometimes merchant wizard who did a lot of spelljamming and traveling on boats in games and I've run boat focused adventures like RA2 Ship of Horror.

The closest I got to buying specific ship rules during the AD&D period would have been Basic's GAZ9 The Minrothad Guilds which had ship combat rules, a merchant prince magical class, speculative trading rules, a developed setting area with a mercantile focus, and trade route maps. I never really ended up using it though.
 

Orius

Adventurer
Os Ships and the Sea is an okay reference myself, at least I don't actively dislike it like The Castle Guide or Sages and Specialists.

The main issue with specific rules for ship combat is that they were tied in with specific campaign settings -- Birthright and the Realms for the examples mentioned -- where a core set of rules that could be used anywhere would have been the better approach. I personally didn't bother with a lot of the settings myself, so it never helped when they had rules that would have been useful outside the setting. It's really part of a general problem with 2e as a whole. This is a book that should have been done several years earlier TBH.

The naval combat rules do seem to be pretty complicated though. I suspect they're a lot of trouble, but I've never really gotten any opinions from people who've actually used them.

The underwater rules are very comprehensive. There were such rules and guidelines before in 2e, but they were scattered around; this book at least presents a single, definitive set of rules for underwater adventuring.

As for the sahuagin sourcebook and adventures, TSR seemed to have an aquatic theme running for 1997. There was this book, the sahuagin stuff, and the fourth MC Annual, which compiled a lot of various aquatic monsters together. TSR's bankruptcy disrupted that though, with the MC being delayed until the end of 1998.

Anyway, I think this is a useful book to fill out a 2e library, and it should be very useful if running any sort of aquatic campaign, but it's also a set of rules that won't be needed all the time.
 

delericho

Legend
"Of the Ships and Sea" has the distinction of being the last 2nd Edition book I purchased, and I absolutely got it to solely round out my collection (of the "blue cover" books). I'm sure I read it, but equally sure I never used it for anything - I had been taking an enforced break from gaming for about a year at that time, and would only ever run one more 2nd Ed campaign.
 

Alzrius

The EN World kitten
With the PHBRs and DMGRs behind us at last, we come now to the Historical Reference series. That's a bit awkward for me, simply because there are several critiques I have about these works as a whole, rather than being aimed at any of their constituent products. I'm going to set those aside (at least for now), however, in favor of trying to cover each book on its own merits and foibles.

With that said, let's turn our attention to HR1 Vikings. These guys need no introduction, being the ones who gave us Thor, "spear and magic helmet," and showed us all how to train dragons. Though for me, they'll always be the most awesome side to choose when playing a rousing game of Crossbows and Catapults.

D&D, however, doesn't quite slot vikings into any of those molds. In fact, while the Norse pantheon tends to remain one of the top-three most popular real-world mythologies to appear in the game (alongside the Greek and Egyptian gods), Vikings themselves don't appear in the game very much. Mystara got them in GAZ7 The Northern Reaches, and Birthright spotlighted their Viking analogues in Tribes of the Heartless Waste, but beyond that you had to start looking for more generic "barbarians in cold climates" to find similar parallels, such as the various Uthgardt tribes of the Forgotten Realms, covered in The North: Guide to the Savage Frontier or the Wolf Nomads of Greyhawk, but even then, the Viking connections become sketchier.

While it goes without saying, this book - like all of the Historical Reference works - doesn't add to those campaigns (outside of whatever cherry-picking a DM might decide to use it for). Like all of this particular series, it's not a generic sourcebook per se, but rather is set on semi-historical Earth, in this case in the Nordic region of Europe in a period covering roughly the 9th through 12th centuries. I'll also take a moment to note that this book (like the rest of the HRs) included a poster map attached in the back; if you're a collector, be aware of that if and when you go shopping for used copies.

Having said all of that, this book sets the pattern for the rest of the series in how it tries to straddle the line between being a game resource and also being a primer to a historical culture. In terms of what's here, it does a fairly decent job, though I suspect I think that because this one seems to skew just a little bit more toward game resources than trying to turn readers into armchair experts when it comes to Vikings.

For instance, there are only two available races here: humans and trollborn. The former get a Gift, which has you roll a d20 for some quirk that you're born with, either because of the Norns, the actions of your ancestors, or something else. Ironically, this isn't necessarily a straight power-up: you can get detrimental Gifts, or no Gift at all. Trollborn are the offspring of humans and Norse trolls (whom the book calls out aren't like typical D&D trolls), but otherwise come across as your typical demihuman race, with some ability modifiers and infravision, class restrictions and level limits, etc. Honestly, I would really have liked to see some of those appear in a Planescape module somewhere; you're really telling me that nothing in this book could be found on the plane of Ysgard?

It's the new classes that are most notable, however. Or rather, one new class. While we do get a special berserker class - who have shapeshifting powers in addition to your standard "kill everything in sight" battle-fury - we also get a runecaster class. And this is a martial class, not a spellcaster. Even so, their magic system gets its own chapter in the book; long story short is that you can't really use runes in combat: each one takes 15 + 1d20 minutes to activate, has several usage requirements that aren't individually burdensome but can be collectively limiting (e.g. runes must be carved instead of just drawn, must be activated as soon as they're carved, require a successful Wisdom check, etc.). However, they're never "used up," and so can be put to use as often as you want, though the listed runes are all fairly tame in what they can accomplish (e.g. the rune to speak with animals, which apparently has no limit on its duration, will only let you speak to a single specific animal each time you use it).

If that of that sounds familiar, I should note, it's because this is almost identical to the rune magic and runecaster class found in FOR7 Giantcraft. By contrast, the totemic inscriptions in FOR5 Elves of Evermeet are similar, even if several of the particulars are different.

After this, however, the mechanical alterations largely become an issue of what's not to be found, i.e. disallowing various classes, not using certain monsters, etc. This isn't something I dislike; removing existing options is - to my mind - just as important for creating the feel of a given campaign. That said, I always think of how the Dark Sun campaign made sure to add new stuff in conjunction with refusing various other options; this book can't really go that far, since it's one product rather than a game line. The end result is that, while the aforementioned new stuff is nice, this still feels somewhat minimalistic due to how much it rules out.

Actually, no, "minimalistic" isn't the right term. It's more that there's an expectation that what you do use will have greater depth to it. Monsters aren't going to just be throwaway encounters, and magic items aren't just a dime-a-dozen items sitting around in dungeons waiting to be looted; that's the expectation here. It's more about impact than quantity, though to be fair that's more me reading between the lines than anything I recall the book explicitly saying (and is, once again, something that could easily apply to the HR series as a whole).

I've been focusing on the mechanical aspects of the book because those are the parts that interest me most. In terms of its overview of Viking life, the book does okay, but I always found these to be the metaphorical vegetables on my plate. It can absolutely be useful to know about the different strata of Viking society, along with a timeline of events, but I'm of the opinion that the book would have been better off presenting new monsters, highlighting more about the Norse gods, or even presenting some sample adventures. As it is, this feels like it's going just far enough to make sure we can get the pastiche correct, and no farther.

That's really my big critique for this book. As much as I liked what it gives us, at the end of the day it's like being given a bunch of lumber and tools and told to build a house. I still need a blueprint - that is, practical advise on adventuring in a Viking setting - in order to get started. This tells me what a Viking campaign would have, but not how it would play.

That won't be the last time I make that complaint.

Please note my use of affiliate links in this post.
 

Sithlord

Adventurer
With the PHBRs and DMGRs behind us at last, we come now to the Historical Reference series. That's a bit awkward for me, simply because there are several critiques I have about these works as a whole, rather than being aimed at any of their constituent products. I'm going to set those aside (at least for now), however, in favor of trying to cover each book on its own merits and foibles.

With that said, let's turn our attention to HR1 Vikings. These guys need no introduction, being the ones who gave us Thor, "spear and magic helmet," and showed us all how to train dragons. Though for me, they'll always be the most awesome side to choose when playing a rousing game of Crossbows and Catapults.

D&D, however, doesn't quite slot vikings into any of those molds. In fact, while the Norse pantheon tends to remain one of the top-three most popular real-world mythologies to appear in the game (alongside the Greek and Egyptian gods), Vikings themselves don't appear in the game very much. Mystara got them in GAZ7 The Northern Reaches, and Birthright spotlighted their Viking analogues in Tribes of the Heartless Waste, but beyond that you had to start looking for more generic "barbarians in cold climates" to find similar parallels, such as the various Uthgardt tribes of the Forgotten Realms, covered in The North: Guide to the Savage Frontier or the Wolf Nomads of Greyhawk, but even then, the Viking connections become sketchier.

While it goes without saying, this book - like all of the Historical Reference works - doesn't add to those campaigns (outside of whatever cherry-picking a DM might decide to use it for). Like all of this particular series, it's not a generic sourcebook per se, but rather is set on semi-historical Earth, in this case in the Nordic region of Europe in a period covering roughly the 9th through 12th centuries. I'll also take a moment to note that this book (like the rest of the HRs) included a poster map attached in the back; if you're a collector, be aware of that if and when you go shopping for used copies.

Having said all of that, this book sets the pattern for the rest of the series in how it tries to straddle the line between being a game resource and also being a primer to a historical culture. In terms of what's here, it does a fairly decent job, though I suspect I think that because this one seems to skew just a little bit more toward game resources than trying to turn readers into armchair experts when it comes to Vikings.

For instance, there are only two available races here: humans and trollborn. The former get a Gift, which has you roll a d20 for some quirk that you're born with, either because of the Norns, the actions of your ancestors, or something else. Ironically, this isn't necessarily a straight power-up: you can get detrimental Gifts, or no Gift at all. Trollborn are the offspring of humans and Norse trolls (whom the book calls out aren't like typical D&D trolls), but otherwise come across as your typical demihuman race, with some ability modifiers and infravision, class restrictions and level limits, etc. Honestly, I would really have liked to see some of those appear in a Planescape module somewhere; you're really telling me that nothing in this book could be found on the plane of Ysgard?

It's the new classes that are most notable, however. Or rather, one new class. While we do get a special berserker class - who have shapeshifting powers in addition to your standard "kill everything in sight" battle-fury - we also get a runecaster class. And this is a martial class, not a spellcaster. Even so, their magic system gets its own chapter in the book; long story short is that you can't really use runes in combat: each one takes 15 + 1d20 minutes to activate, has several usage requirements that aren't individually burdensome but can be collectively limiting (e.g. runes must be carved instead of just drawn, must be activated as soon as they're carved, require a successful Wisdom check, etc.). However, they're never "used up," and so can be put to use as often as you want, though the listed runes are all fairly tame in what they can accomplish (e.g. the rune to speak with animals, which apparently has no limit on its duration, will only let you speak to a single specific animal each time you use it).

If that of that sounds familiar, I should note, it's because this is almost identical to the rune magic and runecaster class found in FOR7 Giantcraft. By contrast, the totemic inscriptions in FOR5 Elves of Evermeet are similar, even if several of the particulars are different.

After this, however, the mechanical alterations largely become an issue of what's not to be found, i.e. disallowing various classes, not using certain monsters, etc. This isn't something I dislike; removing existing options is - to my mind - just as important for creating the feel of a given campaign. That said, I always think of how the Dark Sun campaign made sure to add new stuff in conjunction with refusing various other options; this book can't really go that far, since it's one product rather than a game line. The end result is that, while the aforementioned new stuff is nice, this still feels somewhat minimalistic due to how much it rules out.

Actually, no, "minimalistic" isn't the right term. It's more that there's an expectation that what you do use will have greater depth to it. Monsters aren't going to just be throwaway encounters, and magic items aren't just a dime-a-dozen items sitting around in dungeons waiting to be looted; that's the expectation here. It's more about impact than quantity, though to be fair that's more me reading between the lines than anything I recall the book explicitly saying (and is, once again, something that could easily apply to the HR series as a whole).

I've been focusing on the mechanical aspects of the book because those are the parts that interest me most. In terms of its overview of Viking life, the book does okay, but I always found these to be the metaphorical vegetables on my plate. It can absolutely be useful to know about the different strata of Viking society, along with a timeline of events, but I'm of the opinion that the book would have been better off presenting new monsters, highlighting more about the Norse gods, or even presenting some sample adventures. As it is, this feels like it's going just far enough to make sure we can get the pastiche correct, and no farther.

That's really my big critique for this book. As much as I liked what it gives us, at the end of the day it's like being given a bunch of lumber and tools and told to build a house. I still need a blueprint - that is, practical advise on adventuring in a Viking setting - in order to get started. This tells me what a Viking campaign would have, but not how it would play.

That won't be the last time I make that complaint.

Please note my use of affiliate links in this post.
I love randomly generated abilities. Love them. Anything to offset min/maxing.
 
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Voadam

Legend
but beyond that you had to start looking for more generic "barbarians in cold climates" to find similar parallels, such as the various Uthgardt tribes of the Forgotten Realms, covered in The North: Guide to the Savage Frontier or the Wolf Nomads of Greyhawk, but even then, the Viking connections become sketchier.

FR had specifically fantasy vikings who invaded the Moonshaes and the short eastern europeanish Rashemi berserkers.

Greyhawk had the Snow, Frost, Ice, and Hold of Stonefist kingdoms as the explicitly fantasy viking analogues.
 

Orius

Adventurer
I think FR's Viking equivalents come from Ruathym, and there's some Viking touches with Luskan. Birthright's Vikings come from Rjurik which cross them with Celtic flavor, Vosgaard is a Slavic/Mongol culture.

The poster maps aren't really a big deal unless you're a collector and completeness matters; the HR series describes real world historical cultures so if you really need a map, grab an atlas. Or Google Earth. The maps generally tend to reflect each culture's view of the world anyway.

The restrictions don't bother me to much; some D&Disms really don't work in the real world. And it makes sense to put the mythological monsters with the cultures that created them.

The thing that bothers me about the series as a whole is that I don't think D&D works for the real world very well at all. The series itself has some good entries, but even a magical Earth, which is a given possibility with the series, kind of doesn't work. I tried getting some of these books after the World Builder's Guidebook pointed them out as inspiration for real world cultural analogs, but I didn't think they were as useful as they could be. As a whole I found them disappointing.

Still, this wasn't a bad start to the series. I just don't find it to be that useful, and it's one of the better HR books.

The minimalism might come from the fact the HR series ran 96 pages rather than the usual 128 pages typical of 2e's softbacks.
 

delericho

Legend
We're now onto books that I don't own - I made sure to get all the PHBR and DMGR books, but skipped much of the HR series. I've always regretted that somewhat, as these books tend to be extremely well regarded. On the other hand, I made fairly little use of the few I do own, so maybe I'm not missing that much. :)
 

Orius

Adventurer
That depends on how much you want to run a game in the real world or not. The HR series is focused on setting up anything from a strictly historical game, to a more fantastic magical Earth where monsters and magic exist, but it's going to be much more low magic than a typical D&D game. There's usually not a lot of crunch that's useful for a homebrew campaign.
 

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