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

Alzrius

The EN World kitten
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.
I recalled the Moonshae invaders, but presuming my memory was correct, they didn't play a very large role in things (though to be fair, my impression of the Moonshaes is largely formed by the first books, where the rest of the Faerunian pantheon really wants in there for no reason that I was ever able to figure out). Likewise, the Rashemi strike me as an example of the difference between barbarians and full-on Viking analogues. (I'd say the same for the Greyhawk tribes you mentioned, but I'm not very familiar with them.)
 
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Alzrius

The EN World kitten
Having covered the Vikings, we now move on to HR2 Charlemagne's Paladins, showing us the Carolingian dynasty that was the natural enemy of Vikings everywhere...and I'm already lost.

The DriveThruRPG sales page, both for this book and the previous volume, talks about how HR1 and HR2 were meant to be a complementary pair in that they were set in roughly the same time period, with two groups who were natural enemies. Now, maybe I'm just a poor student of history (actually, scratch the "maybe"; I know I'm no history buff), but I really don't recall anything to that effect. While I'm sure that Viking raids along the northern coast of the Frankish Empire were a thing, I was under the impression that Charlemagne's military prowess was largely directed towards the Moors and Saracens. I mean, isn't that where the classical idea of the paladin comes from?


To be fair, this book does mention the whole "threat of the Norsemen" angle a few times, but it's not exactly a major theme, which I think was the right way to go. Instead, it tries to stand on its own rather than being half of a greater whole. Of course, how well it succeeds is something else altogether.

If that sounds like I didn't care for what's here, well...I didn't. For one thing, this was where the Historical Reference books started trying to have their cake and eat it too by splicing different modes for their campaign presentations depending on how realistic or fantastical you wanted them to be. By itself that's not necessarily a bad thing, but the books would have been stronger overall if they'd used a uniform presentation in this regard. Spoiler alert: they didn't. I know I said I'd try to focus on each book individually rather than critiquing the series as a whole, but this really bugged me. HR1 presented a single campaign style, where Norse-themed magic and monsters went hand-in-hand with history. Here, we have three different presentations: historical, legendary, and fantasy. Other books will have just two options instead of three. It's a lack of consistency that still irks me to this day.

Moreover, those options aren't even aptly named. The "historical" campaign, for instance, limits your class options to fighters, thieves, and clerics...the latter of which can still cast spells. Not very many, to be sure - the availability of magic is, along with class restrictions, the major difference between those campaign styles - but they're still there, which strikes me as being rather at odds with a "historical" campaign, even with the necessities of game-play. Fun fact: at the other end of the spectrum, there are some classes that are still too fantastic for even the "fantastic" campaign, those being druids, generalist mages, and psionicists.

For all my complaining, I do like the overall picture painted by the restrictions on magic in the "historical" campaign option. While the "fantastic" campaign (and its west-central European locale) makes for a play experience that's pretty close to bog-standard AD&D (save, perhaps, for the absence of demihumans, or at least not presenting them as just being humans in metaphorical funny hats), there's some really good guidelines here for running a low-magic campaign, especially on the clerical side of things. For instance, beyond the swaths of spells that are flat-out disallowed, there's a note that magical healing can't raise your hit points above 50% of their maximum, that certain spells will only work in consecrated areas (i.e. holy ground), and that certain disallowed spells can still be used, but only by as miracles, which are something you petition for rather than something you cast. Shear away the historical part, and this could be the low-fantasy world that a lot of people wished D&D could be.

Having said all that, shearing away the historical aspect of the book would mean cutting out a lot. I don't know if this book spends more pages going over the history, setting, and beliefs/practices of Carolingian France than the Vikings book did for the Vikings, but it certainly seems that way. It's not necessarily all flavor text, as there's an interesting set of stat guidelines for pagan spirits, but that's the exception rather than the rule. (Though I found it amusing that it referenced the Saxon pantheon, saying that it was basically a variation on the Norse gods; we'd see the Saxon pantheon given full Faiths & Avatars write-ups in Dragon #263 "Hearth & Sword: Deities of the Dark Ages.")

Also, pet peeve here: if you're going to spotlight particular characters, give them stats! Seriously, how does this book devote an entire chapter to discount King Arthur Charlemagne and his peers and not give them any stats?! Not even suggestions! Don't even give me that tired old excuse of "they're not supposed to be fought"; it's my game, so my players and I will decide what's supposed to be done, thank you very much! If I don't need stats, I can always not use them, but if I'm paying for what's essentially half of a history book, the other half darn well better bend over backwards to make the first half game-able, and that means stats! Less is not more, in that regard: more is more!

To the book's credit, it does close out with some adventures, though these are necessarily more abridged than your typical adventure presentation. Still, it's probably the best way to present the tone that this is going for, so I'll acknowledge that it was a wise decision to include them here.

Overall, HR2 was a book whose weaknesses eclipsed its strengths, but in doing so spotlighted how its strengths could be put to very good use elsewhere. Re-reading this, I couldn't stop thinking about how interesting the low-magic rules could have been if you separated them from the historical setting. It's like there was another game hidden inside here, a low-fantasy that D&D often hinted at but never truly offered. Whether or not that's enough to make this book worthwhile, however, is a question I'm still trying to answer.

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

Adventurer
Never even bothered chasing this one down. This is basically standard Middle Ages here, and I didn't think it would have anything particularly useful for D&D. These days, I think trying to copy the Middle Ages isn't the right approach for D&D, and I have even less use for this book.
 

Never even bothered chasing this one down. This is basically standard Middle Ages here, and I didn't think it would have anything particularly useful for D&D. These days, I think trying to copy the Middle Ages isn't the right approach for D&D, and I have even less use for this book.
Charlemagne is not really standard Middle Ages, it’s a few centuries too early for that. Just the architecture alone looks more late Roman that what you would see in the later centuries.
 

Voadam

Legend
Charlemagne's paladins is something I've been curious about, I've never really read anything about them or their tales so knowing it is the basis of D&D paladins is something I keep planning to check out sometime but never quite get around to.

From listening to audiobooks on viking history there was a lot of viking raids and invasion of the Frankish empire for a long time, particularly taking advantage of the civil war among Charlemagne's kids and it was a big thing historically. You get the Normans in France out of it eventually.
 

Stormonu

Legend
Being pre-internet, these HR books made great “jump-off” points for researching elements the game was drawn from. I think they were less designed as for running pure games set in fantasy Europe than they were meant for readers to extract information to insert into their own games, or provide some background on where certain fantasy elements were derived from.

I do wish the Charlemange Paladins had gone into more detail and kit options for knights, as it was Charlemange who had a huge influence on the establishment of knights to defend his sprawling empire.

Although, thinking back on these, I wonder why they never matched the books to the cultures from Legend & Lore (Babylonian, Celtic, Chinese, Japanese, India, KING ARTHUR), before expanding into the other time periods. The one that seems most out-of-tune with D&D‘s tropes is A Mighty Fortress (and seems mainly to have been chosen for its guns - due to the questionable inclusion of the arquebus in core 2E).

‘Also, I find the “discount King Arthur“ comment hilarious- that’s like referring to the Lord of the Rings as a discount World of Warcraft :).
 

Voadam

Legend
Although, thinking back on these, I wonder why they never matched the books to the cultures from Legend & Lore (Babylonian, Celtic, Chinese, Japanese, India, KING ARTHUR), before expanding into the other time periods.
They did have Norse, Celtic, and Greek which match up.

And their plan for loose twin pairings meant Chalegmane with vikings, and Rome with Celtic.
 

Alzrius

The EN World kitten
‘Also, I find the “discount King Arthur“ comment hilarious- that’s like referring to the Lord of the Rings as a discount World of Warcraft :).
I wouldn't say it's THAT inept. It was meant to be a joking reference to the fact that Charlemagne came after King Arthur by roughly three hundred years, and yet the latter has largely eclipsed the former in terms of which figure we consider the exemplar of the "chivalrous king and his knights" ideal.
 

Voadam

Legend
I wouldn't say it's THAT inept. It was meant to be a joking reference to the fact that Charlemagne came after King Arthur by roughly three hundred years, and yet the latter has largely eclipsed the former in terms of which figure we consider the exemplar of the "chivalrous king and his knights" ideal.
Not sure if you mean latter as in chronological (Chralemagne) or in the sentence (Arthur), but I'd say King Arthur and his knights are the iconic exemplars here.
 


Orius

Adventurer
Charlemagne is not really standard Middle Ages, it’s a few centuries too early for that. Just the architecture alone looks more late Roman that what you would see in the later centuries

I don't think a lot of players are all that well versed in the differences between the Early and High Middle Ages. In any case, my disinterest comes from the fact that the book is still pretty close to base D&D.

Although, thinking back on these, I wonder why they never matched the books to the cultures from Legend & Lore (Babylonian, Celtic, Chinese, Japanese, India, KING ARTHUR), before expanding into the other time periods.
From what I've read, OA had a decent sized fanbase, but wasn't as popular as some other 1e materials. So TSR apparently thought it wasn't very profitable to do a lot of non-Western fantasy. Besides OA and stuff like al-Qadim, most of this sort of thing got relegated to Dragon. And there's the D&D Gazetteers too, but I don't know how well those sold; the D&D game slowly lost ground to AD&D after the mid 80s.
 

Alzrius

The EN World kitten
So now we come to Vikings II: Electric Boogaloo. Otherwise known as HR3 Celts.

If you're scratching your head at that, it's because this book seems to take a lot of inspiration from the first entry in the Historical Reference series. Once again, we have a culture from the far reaches of Europe (in this case, the far west/northwest ends of the continent), presented in opposition to a more centralized culture (i.e. pitting the Vikings of HR1 versus the Carolingians from HR2; in this case, it's the Celts versus the Romans in HR5), and have "barbarian" overtones (e.g. berserker warriors, a lower tech-level than the culture they're set in opposition to, etc.). The book even formats itself in a similar manner, not just in terms of only having only one default for how fantastical the campaign should be (unlike other books in the series, which vacillate between campaign modes such as "historical," "fantastical," and/or "legendary"), but even in specific ideas, such as all human characters having potential Gifts as part of character creation.

Of course, I'm overstating the similarities (mostly by understating the differences), but it's easy to see how the presentation for these campaigns can be taken as similar. What I found interesting, however, was that there's less of a narrative straitjacket surrounding the idea of Celts than there is for Vikings.

What I mean by that is that pop culture has a relatively cohesive idea as to what Vikings/Norse tropes are, which is why no one needed anything explained to them when the first Thor movie for the MCU came out, nor needed a lot of handholding when God of War reinvented itself with a Norse setting. Not so the Celts; besides the name of a basketball team, they don't really occupy much place in contemporary cultural consciousness. A few people might know old Celtic myths and legends, and every so often you'll find a fan of Conan who knows that Cimmeria is analogous to the lands of the Celts, but that's about it.

Well, that and that Alan Rickman line in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.

Of course, D&D players will note that the Celtic mythos is a bit stronger in the game. While the Celtic pantheon didn't make the cut in the Third Edition of Deities and Demigods (I recall someone from WotC once saying that if there'd been one more pantheon in the book, it would have been that one), AD&D 2E's Legends & Lore made no such omission, nor did the god books for previous editions (i.e. Deities & Demigods and Supplement IV: Gods, Demi-gods & Heroes). Celtic overtones were also present in FR2 Moonshae, along with C4 To Find a King and C5 The Bane of Llewellyn. So people picking up this book probably had a slightly better sense of what they were in for.

So what was here? Well, after covering the requisite bases - outlining their history, including the conflict with the Romans, noting that the Picts seem to be a separate, possibly pre-Celtic people, and overviewing the eternal debate about whether it's pronounced "Keltic" or "Seltic" - the book jumps right into building Celtic characters.

I mentioned the Gifts thing before, but it's worth noting that while the list here is shockingly similar to the one in HR1 (to the point where it quite clearly had to be more than just parallel development), there are several differences, mostly in that several of the results are more powerful than what you'll find in that book. For instance, if you roll a 17, you then roll on the Mixed Blood sub-table, which can get you a +2 bonus to an ability score, infravision, or even the ability to advance as a multi-class character - despite being human - with mage added to whatever character class you've chosen (except druid; you apparently can't mix those two). Oddly, that last option is also what you get if you roll a 20 on your Gifts roll. Did the author run out of ideas, or was this their way of trying to make that option a little easier to get?

This appears to be the only way to play a generalist wizard (at least I assume that you multi-class as a generalist), since they're only one of three classes (along with the paladin and cleric) that you can't play in a Celtic campaign. Except you can play paladins and clerics...they just have to be foreigners. Wizards can't learn conjuration/summoning or necromancy spells (or, presumably, be specialists in those classes), but even here the book hesitates to draw a hard line, saying those spells could potentially be learned if your Celtic spellcaster visited a different culture which practiced those magical traditions.

The bigger rewrites are for druids and bards, the two classes with genuinely celtic flavor two them; naturally, the changes make them much closer to their historical counterparts (as we understand them, at least). What that means is a fairly substantial reduction in power, with druids losing most of their special abilities and their spellcasting being sharply curtailed (though, for bards, this is also a return to 1E-style divine spellcasting). There's also the new manteis class, which requires that you roll the divination Gift to take, and who have access to all spells of the Divination priest sphere and Divination wizard school...and I'm suddenly remembering the seer class, from DMGR8 Sages & Specialists. Apparently, the Celts did it first.

Really, the big winners here are the fighters, because the book then introduces new "heroic feats" which are insanely powerful for what they can do! Not all of them, but enough. That's appropriate to the tone of the old Celtic myths, which sometimes come across like something out of a shonen manga, but even so, letting characters do these things in AD&D 2E, whose power level is decidedly not over nine thousand, is shocking.

For example, Del Chliss lets you deal double damage with a thrown spear if you beat your enemy's AC by 2 or more. I know AD&D 2E didn't presume to use critical hits, but that's like an easy-to-get critical hit. Stroke of Precision lets you, with a weapon you've specialized in, potentially land a hit that severs a limb as per a sword of sharpness. And at the top of the heap is the Gae Bolga, where you kick a barbed spear ("gae bolga" being what a barbed spear is called) so powerfully that you multiply the damage dealt by your level! I know all of these require multiple proficiency slots to take, some require proficiency checks (with greater-than-normal nonproficiency penalties for unskilled use), and even have modest drawbacks when used correctly, but still...damn!

The magic chapter highlights another interesting aspect of a Celtic campaign: it's all about location, location, location. While the book does talk a bit about magic items, there are multiple tables for enchanted places. Seriously, there's Magical Islands, Magical Lakes, Springs, and Wells, Magical Fortresses, Hidden Magical Places, and Stone Circles, though that last one is largely a note about how those were actually pre-Celtic, and then refers you to Legends & Lore.

The monsters chapter does what I wish other books in this series would have done, and presents its new monsters using the full-page Monster Manual format. Which isn't to say that it doesn't do the usual "here's what standard D&D monsters are and aren't appropriate for this type of campaign"; it does. But when it gets to the "modify these standard monsters like so" it talks about actual mechanical changes to be made, rather than just presenting the cultural context to the creatures. I can't tell you how much I enjoyed this, if for no other reason than it made for some great cherry-picking, as well as presented a few interesting ideas for playable characters: did you know that the offspring of a human and a gwragedd annwn (swanmay) are entirely human in every way, but gain the Healing and Herbalism non-weapon proficiencies for free? See if you can talk your DM into letting you play such a character for a free, albeit very minor, power boost!

Speaking of playable characters, the book seems to be uncertain as to whether or not it wants the sidhe, fomorians, and firbolgs to be playable characters or not. The sidhe seem to have enough information presented that they could be, but the latter two races are much iffier.

The section on equipment was exactly what you'd expect it to be, and I'd say that the chapters for Celtic culture and a brief gazetteer were the same, but there's some interesting notes on the gods. While we don't get any real expansions to the Celtic pantheon (I was always hungry for new information about D&D deities, since the implication as I saw it was always that such gods were to be found in the wider D&D multiverse), but it mentions several deities who are different from the ones in the aforementioned deity books, and even a few new gods altogether, though they're only given a few sentences of description. Ah, if only we'd gotten a fuller write-up for Epona! Though it's not hard to guess what her avatar would look like:

the legend of zelda horse GIF


Interestingly, the book has an appendix about "enech", which is basically the Celtic version of "face," i.e. honor. Much like the Oriental Adventures take on the concept, it goes from 0 to 100, where higher is better; if your enech drops to 0, you're character is out of the game! While there aren't any major "lose all of your enech" penalties, try to avoid breaking an oath or slaying your kin (at least until you've got enough to get away with it).

Overall, HR3 is essentially following in the footsteps of HR1, but to my mind does a better job of it (albeit only slightly). It not only has greater conceptual space to work in, but presents more usable information that can be potentially lifted for other campaigns. Between one new class and two variant classes, higher-power Gifts, and what's essentially a chapter filled with new and variant monsters (seriously, the variant monsters are a gold mine of new ways to mess with players who are used to typical nixies, vampires, or similar creatures), there's a lot that you can use even if you don't play a strict historical-fantasy game.

...which, I'm coming to realize, is quite possibly the most valuable part of the Historical Reference series: how they can enhance the pan-cultural pastiche that is D&D, rather than getting away from it.

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Orius

Adventurer
I thought Celts was one of the better HR books myself, there's bits and pieces here and there that have use. The magical places in particular is an interesting part of the book, because such things apparently were important in Celtic mythology and some of that still influences Western folklore.

One problem with understanding Celtic culture is that the druids had a writing taboo so there really aren't much in the way of first hand accounts. We have to go by what others wrote of them, and others usually means Romans whose accounts are known to be biased for a number of political reasons. Post-Roman accounts generally come from Christian monks who had their own biases, and by then, most of the Celtic cultures remaining were in the British Isles. There is of course archaeology to fill in the gaps, but that can only tell so much on its own.
 

Alzrius

The EN World kitten
With HR4 A Mighty Fortress, the first thing that jumped out at me, as I began re-reading it, was how we're back in France. Again.

HR1 Vikings dealt with raiders along the northern coast of France. HR2 Charlemagne's Paladins was about the Carolingian Empire, based out of France. HR3 Celts included the Celtic people of Gaul, which is the old name for France. And now, we're focused on the "muskets and duels" Elizabethan era, with its focus on the likes of D'Artagnan, Richelieu, and the Man in the Iron Mask. So yeah, France again.

Now, obviously, I'm being rather unfair, here. Notwithstanding questions of just how much presence the Carolingians had in England, most of what I've just said could apply to the British Isles as much as it does Surrender Central. But that's kind of my point: as much as we're going through time with the various Historical Reference works, we're still sticking to an increasingly well-trodden part of the world.

The reason for that is self-evident, since the HR books have all focused on different cultures - though arguaby this book, covering the period between 1550 AD through 1650 AD (an oddly artificial delineation compared to most of the other HR releases) is more focused on social class/religion - but it still comes across as limited in scope. While I don't believe it has any moral duty to do so, I find myself once again wishing that the series had been willing to venture further abroad. Was aboriginal Australia or sub-Saharan Africa really too much to ask for?

Still, as far as stepping outside of the norm goes, I'll give credit to where it's due: this book, with its Renaissance-era focus (and, more importantly, its ubiquitous guns) goes far outside of D&D's typical comfort zone. I don't think it's a coincidence that after this, the closest we'd see Dungeons & Dragons come to revisiting this particular period would be the Ravenloft spinoff Masque of the Red Death and Other Tales and its supplements, A Guide to Transylvania and The Gothic Earth Gazetteer (which were all set several centuries later) and d20 Past, which wasn't technically for D&D at all. Though, to be fair, the mainstream Ravenloft adventures Hour of the Knife and Howls in the Night also evoked an "early modern" feeling, even if (like MotRD) it was more Victorian than Elizabethan. But apart from aberrations like these, D&D was largely more at home in fantastical pastiches of earlier times.

So what about this book itself? Well, unfortunately the "mighty fortress" is in reference to a hymn from Martin Luther, where it's used to describe faith/God, rather than some sort of swashbuckling version of Metroplex. How cool would that have been, I ask you? To see this guy, if he'd been built by Leonardo da Vinci:


But that's not what we got. Instead, we have a book that wants to evoke the sophisticated era when armor was on its way out, but guns hadn't entirely replaced swords yet. Where faith was as much a matter of politics as it was religion. Where pirates were villains in one nation and patriots in another. All while the noble classes struggled to hang on to power even as the merchant-fueled middle class continued to grow.

And to be honest, that does sound like a pretty cool idea. The problem, of course, is that HR4 doesn't really know how to put all of that into game-able material over the course of ninety-six pages.

It's most obvious impulse is to follow its predecessors by leaning hard into the history, and credit where credit is due: it did a decent job of making that interesting to read. The comparatively brief period of time covered makes for an engaging historical snapshot. The list of the rulers of various dynasties is useful. Even the overview of the staples of daily life managed to get things down to a few useful paragraphs on each topic, which worked well in terms of presenting the characteristics of the time period.

But none of that helped me figure out how to set an adventure, let alone a campaign, in that era. The game rules suffered from a similar problem. Presenting ten new kits (which, I'll add, were sometimes unclear as to whether they were meant to be put on particular classes, or were applicable to any members of a particular class group, i.e. rogues - which are thieves and bards - instead of just thieves), with the caveat that all PCs must belong to one of those kits, would have been a nice way to enforce a particular feel. But most of the kits seem like they're reinventing the wheel; couldn't the vagabond kit have just been a modified thief? The forester warrior kit actually refers to itself as a ranger, at one point. The scholarly mage kit is the only mage kit available, and its special benefit is "you can cast spells (subject to the changes outlined later)," with its drawback being "you must be a specialist, but not in necromancy or alteration."

I need to take a moment to talk about the picaro kit, which is a rogue kit that basically makes you into Sancho Panza. In addition to not being bound by the honor rules, this kit requires you to serve a master until you reach 9th level, and the book strongly encourages having that master be another PC. I can already see big red flags here, but we're just getting started.

Every time the picaro, bumbling goof that he is, either upstages or embarrasses his master, he gets bonus experience points. That is says "bonus" here struck me as significant, since it meant that a picaro can still gain XPs in the normal fashion; thank goodness for small favors. But that's not the half of it: these bonus XPs are actually drained from the master! Nor is this limited to just the master; while the rate of drain is reduced, this goes for anyone else in the party whom the picaro makes an idiot out of. The note at the end of this kit talks about how only someone committed to the role should play a picaro, but that really seems to miss the point, since I can't imagine anyone else in the party wanting to adventure in the company of a jester with what's basically a level-drain power and whose shtick is to embarrass them.

I mean, again, props for trying something different, I guess, but I predict that any picaro in the party will wind up dead in very short order.

Oddly, and in contrast to what I remember; there are no varying options for the use of magic. They're instead all regulated by the spellcasting kits available, of which there are only three (well, two really). The preacher kit allows for a few spells to be cast, but the list is eminently small. Defenders of the faith are essentially de-powered, spell-less paladins. And the aforementioned scholarly mage has restrictions all his own (e.g. all casting times are increased by one category: rounds become turns, turns become hours, etc.).

I'm honestly less concerned with any of those than I am with how this book very pointedly tiptoes around the most obvious point of religious inspiration where adventures are concerned: fighting the servants of Satan. This is the time period when Discovery of Witches was written; suppose everything in it had been true? Shakespeare's Macbeth was written right around the middle of this book's time period; suppose the Three Witches were real? How is it that this book didn't hit upon the idea of your party taking on those who serve The Devil? Instead, we get a table outlining what religion you likely were depending on what province of what country you were born/raised in.

Obviously, TSR was still, even at the end of 1992, very concerned about angry mothers with pitchforks, and worried that even mentioning Lucifer - regardless of the context - would have validated their detractors. I'm not well-versed in all the nuances of the Satanic Panic, but I was under the impression that by the 90's it was largely in the rear-view mirror and getting fainter all the time. Either way, if I was going to run an Elizabethan campaign, it would definitely be a "holy roller"-style game.

Having said all that, it's firearms that I suspect really enticed everyone into picking this up; I vaguely recall that was what made me check it out, back in the day. "D&D with guns" is one of those ideas that everyone experiments with at one point or another, even if it's just a thought-experiment, and here's where we get to see what happens if you go beyond the arquebus. To summarize, guns let you ignore armor at short range (with decreasing penalties to the armor's effectiveness at longer ranges), and you can get exploding dice on certain damage rolls. There's a little more to it, such as jams on bad attack rolls, but those are the big ones. It's almost a disappointment, but I wonder now if I'm viewing that through the lens of having seen similar rules in, for instance, Pathfinder, along with similar RPGs. Maybe these were a bigger deal thirty years ago?

Now, that wasn't all that the book presented in terms of demonstrating how an Elizabethan campaign should feel different. It had, for instances, rules for social standing (which was basically a second Charisma score), but while it talked about honor being important (i.e. your characters are gentlemen adventurers), it didn't back that up mechanically (and I'll note that I snickered at how, with the celts having their enech rules, that seemed to suggest that they were more honorable than the Elizabethans).

Dueling is given decent mechanical coverage, as is being part of a military skirmish; the latter follows the usual route of giving abbreviated rules which, to my eye, were more succinct and more useful than the Battlesystem Miniatures Rules it unsurprisingly refers you to if you want a more detailed resolution system. It's an amusing callback to how Original D&D gave you an "alternative" combat resolution metric if you didn't have Chainmail: Rules for Medieval Miniatures handy.

The book closes out with some coverage of the major wars of the period, and even an adventure outline, but nothing that seems worth mentioning, to my mind.

When I first got this book, I recall being intensely bored with it almost from the get-go. In hindsight, I was shortchanging it, but only somewhat. It presents a good backdrop of the period (mostly), and the mechanics are focused. But as I've noted before, this is the equivalent to giving you a pile of lumber and some tools, with no blueprints or instructions for how to actually build a house.

In looking at the previous book, I noted how I was becoming more convinced that the best use of the HR supplements was to mine them for mechanics and ideas, rather than using them as-is. To that end, I found it delightfully ironic that this book's introduction includes an explicit (albeit brief) acknowledgment of the utility in transplanting parts of this book into fantasy worlds. A mighty fortress HR4 might be, but if were ever to run AD&D 2nd Edition again, I suspect I'd find myself breaking it down for parts.

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Orius

Adventurer
This one was kind of disappointing IMO. Yeah, I was lured in by the whole D&D with guns angle too, but Combat & Tactics has firearms covered pretty well, making that part of Fortress redundant. To be fair, Fortress did come first.

The Eurocentric scope is a bit disappointing too, but given that this book is trying to cover the Reformation, the Thirty Years' War AND the English Civil War in 96 pages, well that's a pretty significant chunk of history right there. It's a shame too because we're at the Age of Sail here, and you've got the whole world to play with. Well, except Antarctica. And maybe Australia.
 

Alzrius

The EN World kitten
I am a man who will fight for your honor
I'll be the hero you've been dreaming of
We'll live forever
Knowing together
That we did it all for the
Glory of Rome


Next in the Historical Reference series is HR5 The Glory of Rome. This was one that I picked up early, and while it wasn't my first HR sourcebook (that distinction goes to the next one in the series), I still recall lingering over various interesting tidbits found herein.

One thing that's always struck me about Rome is how its mythology is (in terms of the popular consciousness, anyway) deeply intertwined with Greece, and yet historically its very much its own entity. We all know how, a few mystery cults aside (particularly that one that caught on later; Chris-something or other), the "Roman pantheon" is pretty much the Greek pantheon with Latin names attached. More notably, the Roman take on the Greek gods didn't really add anything to their overall mythology; for the life of me, I can't think of one specifically-Roman take on Jupiter, Mars, Neptune, etc. I mean, maybe they were tangentially involved in the story of Romulus and Remus, but that seems like all there is.

And yet, this couldn't be less true when we think of terrestrial Rome, which retains its own identity in our cultural understanding of it. Caesar, gladiators, an expansionist empire, etc. are all things that still come across as Roman in flavor without having a Greek overtone to them.

Of course, that doesn't mean that Roman analogues are plentiful in D&D. As the book's sales page notes, while the occasional splash of Roman inspiration can be found in various products (e.g. the city-state of Balic, which premiered in the Dark Sun Boxed Set), there was Dawn of the Emperors: Thyatis and Alphatia, and that article on the Roman gods in Dragon #133 (for AD&D 1st edition), but that was about it. Presumably, the particulars of a Roman setting (e.g. weapons, armor, magical assumptions, etc.) were just different enough from your bog-standard pseudo-medieval Europe that it wasn't easily done. Hence this book.

So what's actually in this particular sourcebook? Well, once we get past the obligatory timeline overview, we come to the section on Roman characters. I'll note that this book is paired as the natural opposition to HR3 Celts, but as with all of these opposed books, this is very much a minor point. It mostly comes up with regard to druids being disallowed as a character class for Romans, noting that the closest that were available would be Celtic druids, of whom the Romans had little tolerance for.

To my mild surprise, this book doesn't hew to a historical/fantasy dichotomy in terms of what's allowed for characters. Instead, it directly allows a few classes (fighters, clerics, and thieves), flat-out disallows several others (rangers, generalist mages, psionicists, and bards), and leaves a few up to the DM (paladins, specialist mages, and the aforementioned druids). While it doesn't say that characters have to be built with one of the kits later in the chapter, that seems to be the default presumption. Also, get this: there are no non-human PC options. None. While that was the case in the previous book as well, I'm a little surprised at that restriction here: I'd have thought that this was close enough to a "mythic past" to allow for something like that, but apparently not.

Of course, that's driven home by the Birthrights table that PCs can roll on. Unlike the legendary gifts available to Celts and Vikings, this one is far more down-to-earth, with results like "your father was a senator" to "you're particularly attractive/ugly." The most supernatural thing on the table is the "Felix" result, which means that you're lucky and so receive a +1 bonus to all rolls with a particular die (e.g. d6, d10, etc.) and get omen results that are twice that of other characters, good or bad (more on that later).

The kits themselves lean heavily toward fighters; in fact, the entire book leans heavily toward fighters, as evidenced by how fighters don't just have kits for things like Legionary and Gladiator, but also "Roman Politician." I feel like there's a joke here about politicians being thieves instead, but nope, the only kit for thieves is the "Charlatan-Thief," who pretends to have magic; interestingly, there's a note about how an enterprising DM (particularly if keeping the campaign low-magic) could allow for a Charlatan-Thief to eventually dual-class as a specialist mage, though it advises that this should be quite the undertaking.

Paladins, rather oddly, don't have a kit, but are instead given one or two minor tweaks. These are mostly related to the fact that you can only play one as a servant of the god Mithras, as though they were a specialty priest unique to that deity, which is an interesting twist.

What really made me quirk a brow, however, was how the two magic-user kits were gender-specific in presentation: the Roman Witch (female) and Philosopher-Mage (male). At the risk of being politically incorrect, I found that to be very interesting, and not just for making Pratchett-esque "equal rites" jokes. It's one of the ways the book tries to address the role of women in a historical setting without limiting itself to an awkward "things sucked for women back then, and that's kind of window dressing for the campaign, but you really shouldn't push that onto anyone playing a female character." (Notably, the book also presents tailored rules for women rolling on the Birthright table.)

But it was the priest kits that got the majority of my attention, back in the day. That was mostly because they split the specialty priest information between the four kits presented here, and the general section on religion in the next chapter. The four kits are "Priest of the State Religion" (i.e. the gods of the Roman pantheon), "Priest of the Mysteries" (i.e. Isis, Cybele, Ceres, or Bacchus), "Mithraic Priest," and "Christian Cleric." The last three include specialty priest information formatted in the same way as Legends & Lore.

For the first kit, however, you need to turn to the next chapter, where it goes over the Roman interpretation of the Greek gods from the aforementioned book. I poured over this section as a kid, trying to puzzle out what this meant if you presumed that everything here was found in the Great Wheel cosmology. For the most part, that wasn't really significant. Like, we're told that Jupiter is Zeus, Juno is Hera, Mercury is Hermes, etc. Those are obviously aliases for those gods, which is why we don't see them in, say, On Hallowed Ground. No biggie, there.

But what about the Roman gods who don't have an easy Greek equivalent? Bellona is the Roman goddess of foreign wars, and we're told to "use the statistics for Mars," but Mars' entry tells us that he's the equivalent of Ares. So are specialty priests of Bellona identical to those of Ares in L&L? I don't know, but it's fascinating to try and figure out. Quirinus is the deification of Romulus, and we're told to use the "God of Community" entry from PHBR3 The Complete Priest's Handbook, which I likewise considered interesting since it was the first time I'd seen those template divinities put to a practical use. Plus, of course, there were other deities with partial information given in the last chapter, such as Cybele and Mithras.

I feel like I should cover more of the rest of the book, but these were the parts that really hooked me. There is a section on omen reading that - essentially - can grant you either a bonus or a penalty to morale checks (presumably the ones you cause enemies to make, since PCs aren't subject to the morale rules), which was pretty cool. Likewise, I think this is the first of the HR books to present new spells alongside the new magic items. The monster section, disappointingly, went back to just listing thematically appropriate monsters in terms of how they were viewed at the time, rather than giving us firm mechanical changes to represent their mythological sources.

However, I can't be too upset at the monster section, as one entry manages to redeem the entire thing. No, it's not the one new monster to get an MM-style presentation (that being the caladrius, a bird with healing powers). Rather, it's the brief entry given for this guy, whom I swear I'm not making up:

The Martian woodpecker.

Now, this tells us that woodpeckers were sacred to the god Mars, but my brain fused out at the sight of that name, meaning that I wasn't able to move on and read that explanation. Instead, I just stopped and stared, imagining some mixture of Woody Woodpecker and Martian Manhunter. I have no idea what such a character would be like, and I don't think I want to know: the ideas are so incompatible that they boggle the mind. But ultimately, the sheer mindfreakery (to put it nicely) earns mad props in my book.

Also, I have to make note of some of the stuff available in the equipment section. This isn't just the usual Roman weapons like a cestus or a pilum. No, this is where you have tables for things like owning houses, making bribes, buying slaves, and senatorial expenditures like sponsoring plays, holding an election, or sponsoring gladiators in combat. I did mention that social strata was part of what you determined with that Birthright roll, right?

The section on non-monster enemies is likewise worth taking a look at. Remember how I said that fighters were given a heavy focus in the book? It goes back to that whole "expansionist empire" thing I mentioned before, since there's a slant toward at least some of the PCs being involved in Rome's military. So we get listings of various countries/regions with overviews of what their warrior units are like. Amazingly, it manages to do this without telling us to use the Battlesystem Miniatures Rules (which isn't to say that it isn't mentioned, just that it's not being heavily pushed the way it is in some other sourcebooks).

Also, the book has a pretty cool black and white overhead map of Rome itself. I actually like that more than the full-color poster map in the back (though, to be fair, I've never detached it from the book in order to unfold it).

Overall, this was a book that almost lived up to its purpose - giving us an interesting and game-able historical setting - rather than being most useful when broken down for parts. While the book clearly acknowledges the potential for elements of the fantastic to be present, it takes a disappointingly low tenor with them, focusing more on military and political slants rather than magic and monsters; I find it unsurprising that there are no sample adventure outlines or overviews here. Apparently, the wealth of knowledge we have about Rome runs counter to heightening the fantasy. That's a shame, because I think it would have worked well if the book had been less restrained in what it presented (albeit only a tad bit more).

The more of these books I read, the more I think that history makes for a good backdrop, but that less is very much more when it comes to worrying about fidelity to accuracy (at least when it comes to D&D).

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Voadam

Legend
More notably, the Roman take on the Greek gods didn't really add anything to their overall mythology; for the life of me, I can't think of one specifically-Roman take on Jupiter, Mars, Neptune, etc. I mean, maybe they were tangentially involved in the story of Romulus and Remus, but really seems like it.
Its been a while since I studied them, but my memory is that Ares and Mars was a bit of a tough correspondence for syncretism because Mars was so important and defined natively for the Romans to start. Ares is more the unrestrained barbaric horrors of war while Mars is the strategic war victory god and specific Roman Empire patron, sort of a Chaos versus Law contrast in their base myths. Also that one of them is associated with agriculture in a way the other was not.

Rome also had things like the Julian family line (including Julius Caesar) claiming descent from Venus, which is interesting and not Greek but not much of an add to the mythology for stuff Aphrodite did and was known for.
 

Alzrius

The EN World kitten
This is the story of a time long ago
A time of the mid-1990s
When tabletop RPGs were petty and cruel
And they plagued gamers with suffering
Only one sourcebook dared to challenge their power
HR6 Age of Heroes


Of course, the above is wildly inaccurate, which is kind of the point; historical campaigns in D&D, in my opinion, aren't supposed to be about accuracy, they're supposed to be about larger-than-life mythic campaigns. I mean, isn't that why the original Chainmail sourcebook had its famous "fantasy supplement" at the end? Because there was a desire to move beyond pure history?

Nowhere is that desire truer than mythic Greece, whose tales are among the best-known to us today. From Jason and the Argonauts to The Odyssey, Greek mythology retains a strong presence in the cultural consciousness, and not just in specific epics either; the basic elements of particular Greek gods, characters, and even certain items are all so strongly defined that they can be uprooted and placed into new stories with no loss of understanding. Just look at the God of War video game series.

Heck, even purely historical Greek events are well known thanks to works like 300, which demonstrate the unbridled fun of painting over history with myth. That's what the HR series should have done, rather than going in the opposite direction. The American Revolution is exhaustively detailed, to the point where I suspect that role-playing it would feel like gaming in a straitjacket, but it looks a lot different when you treat it like this:


Ironically, we've seen D&D move in this particular direction before. IM2 Wrath of Olympus was a Greek-inspired adventure for Immortal characters in the BECMI rules. It wasn't the only product under that banner to do so, as HWR3 The Milenian Empire was also Greek-themed, and it was set in Mystara's Hollow World. It even had an accompanying adventure, HWQ1 The Milenian Scepter. I'd say that the oddly-coded M2/MSOLO2 Maze of the Riddling Minotaur also drove home how the Known World had plenty of Greek influence, but that adventure has never been canonically placed in that setting.

Of course, what most people think of when they think of the Greek influence on D&D is the Greek pantheon. They've been around from the very beginning, appearing in Supplement IV: Gods, Demigods & Heroes, Deities & Demigods 1E, Legends & Lore, On Hallowed Ground, and Deities and Demigods 3E (note how the 3E version ditched the ampersand). The Vortex of Madness and other Planar Perils deserves special mention as well, because of the focus that one of its adventures puts on the Titans.

But again, this book takes very little direction from any of these, opting to ground itself when it should have aimed for the very peak of Olympus.

If all this sounds a bit rant-y on my part, it's because I picked this one up when I was younger, and I can still feel the echoes of my disappointment. While Percy Jackson and the Olympians hadn't come out yet, that was pretty much what I was expecting; that your characters would have personal connections to the gods, go on epic quests, and perform heroic deeds of legendary scope! But instead, the gods are barely here; contrast this to how they're basically hanging out in taverns in OP1 Tales of the Outer Planes (even if it is the World Serpent Inn), and you can see why this was such a letdown.

Instead, what we get is the typical Historical Reference format: the book opens with your usual historical overview (which, I'll note, is absolutely massive compared to the other HRs; this one goes from 2200 B.C. to 279 B.C., covering almost two thousand years).

The available character classes are divided into the familiar historical/fantasy split, and by this point I was already rolling my eyes, because who would ever want less fantasy in their Greek D&D game?

I'm going to digress here, because it was when I was re-reading this part of the book that I had a belated realization: this book didn't need to exist. I don't mean that in any sort of mean-spirited way (despite all my complaining), but rather that AD&D 2E (and most other versions of D&D) already have everything necessary to run a Greek campaign. The basic equipment, the monsters, the magic items, etc. are all already present; it's just a matter of disallowing things that break the cultural theme. Make sure no one uses, say, plate armor, restrict non-human races to things like centaurs, minotaurs, and satyrs, make magic items rare in their discovery and unique in their functions, and keep the monsters to things like harpies, hydras, chimeras, medusas (yes, she was a specific individual, but that's not that much of a sticking point) instead of couatls, vampires, ogre mages, and leprechauns, and that's pretty much all you need to do. We didn't need a sourcebook about this; a large article in Dragon magazine would have done it.

Even when it mentions these things, I found myself disagreeing with HR6 more than once. For example, it says that the only appropriate undead are incorporeal ones, as a result of never receiving a proper burial. Did the author never see the old Harryhausen movies?

Ray Harryhausen Odyssey GIF by Turner Classic Movies


Now, to be fair, when the book does introduce restrictions to keep things to a Greek theme, it hits a lot more than it misses. Most classes have kits from their corresponding PHBR sourcebook recommended (and in some cases, mandated), and naturally, these are the ones that evoke a Greek feeling, such as the Amazon or Myrmidon kits for warriors. Thieves and bards have their Open Lock abilities penalized because of how rare locks are in ancient Greece. And of course, the spells that characters can cast are altered quite a bit.

That last one deserves some more coverage, as magic is a major component of any D&D campaign. Wizards are restricted to specialist mages, no surprise there, but the book then rules out necromancers, evokers, and abjurers. Necromancers are NPC-only, but the latter two are disallowed altogether; there are only a few evocation spells allowed, and abjurations are completely removed. That last one struck me as interesting; I can see ruling out raising the dead, and flashy fireball-type spells are among the first things to go when lowering the power level of spellcasting, but abjuration? That one's all about the flavor of the campaign, so I can't help but approve.

Wizard spells once again have their casting times increased by an order of magnitude, but here we also get specific overviews of spells that are disallowed or altered, covering the PHB, PHBR4, and Tome of Magic. Also, several spells have their level changed; the gods help you - literally - if you want to make a magic item. Also, much like Mystra in the Forgotten Realms, you better acknowledge Hecate, Greek goddess of magic, if you want your wizard to keep his or her powers.

Greek divine spellcasters are another story. These guys (by which I mean clerics; druids are oddly noted in the class table as being allowed (with DM approval in "historical" games) with changes, but they don't ever specify anything particular to their class) have no increase in casting time, comparatively fewer prohibited spells, and while only clerics of certain deities can bring the dead back to life, that's still on the table here. The book flat-out notes that this reverses the dynamic of divine spellcasters being second fiddle to arcane ones, which is another change that I liked.

Oh, and this book assigns the new clerical spheres from the Tome of Magic to the Greek gods from Legends & Lore. Hallelujah! Now if only it talked about the use of quest spells in a Greek game.

Speaking of the Greek gods, I have to give this book major props: it actually introduces a new god. I don't mean in a brief overview the way HR5 did (though it does do that for the rest of the pantheon), but it actually presents a new, full-page write-up in the style of L&L for Asclepius, god of healing. That has to mean this guy is in the Great Wheel cosmology, right? Here's hoping @AuldDragon remembers to cover Asclepius after finishing with the monstrous deities!

That said, the book is disappointingly low-key in everything else it covers. We get a few new kits, for example, but even the highest-powered among them (the Hero Warrior) is comparatively modest in what it offers. Same for the new magic items. There are guidelines on making monsters like the Nemean lion (and a new monster entry for Scylla), but there's also long overviews of daily life in ancient Greece, complete with pictures of everyday items, clothing patterns, and black and white maps of generic towns. The section covering Greek heroes from the epics has, once again, no stats! They should have called this sourcebook God of Bore, because I can't see this being useful to anyone outside of a few historical recreationists, while the rest of us wanted this:

video games GIF


There's an adventure, almost ten pages long (which makes at the shorter end of full-length, since we've seen AD&D 2E adventures that size in Dungeon magazine before) and with pregen characters, at the end, but it's about competing in the local games. I mean, I suppose saying that your character is an actual Olympian is cool, but I think I'd rather have the Blades of Chaos than an olive wreath.

That really sums up everything that's wrong with this book in one sentence.

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Orius

Adventurer
Both of these aren't too bad. I always wanted to pick up Rome BitD, but I did have Heroes, and I liked that book. But then again, I think God of War is over the top and ruins what could have been a tragic character by pandering to adolescent sensibilities at least in the early games. The gods never took kindly to mortals who were full of themselves in the classic myths, so low key is fine with me.

In any case an enterprising DM could take Celts, Rome, and Heroes and mash them together to make a pretty good Iron Age Europe campaign and throw in the outlying regions with a bit of research. My main problem is what I stated earlier, I don't think D&D is a really good match for the real world.
 

Alzrius

The EN World kitten
So now we come to the last volume in the Historical Reference series, HR7 The Crusades, and I find myself wondering "why?"

Not so much "why did they pick this, of all things?" But rather, "why oh why did you remove the poster map at the back of the book, teenage me?! WHY?!" It's one of the only times I've removed those perforated maps, and I still regret it now. Not that I've lost the map or anything; I was very careful on that front. I just wish it was still attached. Apparently I wasn't nearly as concerned with condition and collectibility when I was younger.

That said, the former question is an entirely valid one, to my mind. As much as I've whinged about how reluctant the HR series has been to go outside of its European parameters, I can't help but find this to be an extremely technical answer to that particular complaint. More importantly, this is perhaps the most D&D-like HR supplement in the set, surpassing even HR3 Charlemagne's Paladins. Given the aforementioned book's existence, you have to wonder exactly what niche this one was meant to fill.

The cynic in me can't help but wonder if there was some need to fill out the timeline. That's clearly not the case, and yet I can't help but take notice of how it fits rather nicely into the historical procession. Glancing back through the earlier books in the series, they shake out like so:
  • HR6 Age of Heroes: 2200 B.C. - 279 B.C.
  • HR5 The Glory of Rome: 753 B.C. - 476 A.D.
  • HR3 Celts: 600 B.C. - 900 A.D.
  • HR2 Charlemagne's Paladins: 711 A.D. - 987 A.D.
  • HR1 Vikings: 800 A.D. - 1100 A.D.
  • HR7 The Crusades: 1095 A.D. - 1192 A.D
  • HR4 A Mighty Fortress: 1550 A.D. - 1650 A.D.
If I were being more ingenuous (the opposite of disingenuous), I'd say that the appeal of this idea was the wartime backdrop, particularly with its religious, political, and other dimensions providing fodder for gameplay. But if that was the idea, I wonder how well it actually works in practice, particularly for an extended campaign. The usual rule for a war in D&D is to have the PCs either be the ones leading it, or to be a quasi-independent commando unit, given goals to achieve with little oversight regarding how they achieve them. At least this book didn't trip over itself to recommend that we use the Battlesystem Miniatures Rules. (Though, having said that, I find it ironic to compare this book to FR12 Horde Campaign, a book about a crusade in the Forgotten Realms that has only three pages of (Battlesystem) stats, with the rest of it being flavor text!)

Before I go any further, it's worth mentioning that this book does have the distinction of being one of the very few AD&D 2nd Edition books to receive a web enhancement, presenting two kits that were cut for space. Oddly, it also adds some minor benefits to the "Templar" and the "Hospitaller," describing them both as "Holy Order Knights." Don't go crazy trying to find any kits with those names in the book, however. In fact, they're actually part of the Monastic Warrior kit (pg. 27-29), since you choose one of those orders when you take the kit.

More generally, I have to give this book credit on a mechanical level, because it tries hard to make the crunch match the setting. While I rolled my eyes at this being - once again - spliced into three different levels of fantasticalness (in ascending order: Historical, Legendary, and Fantasy), it eschews presenting modifications to classes, instead going with its predecessor volume's tact by outlining appropriate kits for each class (though once again, druids are conspicuously absent). Smartly, the book itself adds only three new kits (not including that web enhancement) - the Warrior Priest, Monastic Warrior, and Pardoner - with the others being drawn from the Complete Fighter's Handbook, Complete Thief's Handbook, Complete Priest's Handbook, Complete Bard's Handbook, and Al-Qadim: Arabian Adventures. That last one is referenced quite a few times over as the sourcebook for more fantastical instances of the Middle East (the entire book being set in Outremer).

But the book doesn't stop there. Not by a long shot. The kit table not only lists which religion (Christian or Muslim) each kit is used with, but also which sub-culture/sect they belong to. So Hakima priestesses (from Arabian Adventures) are not just Muslims, but Sunni Muslims, whereas Holy Slayer rogues are Shiites, and the aforementioned Monastic Warriors are Frankish Christians, rather than, say, Italians. Also, the book outlines that women are limited to a much narrower subset of kits.

This is, in other words, a book that would never be written today.

After we get the usual breakdown of how magic is more plentiful/usable as you turn up the fantasticalness dial, and the requisite lists of banned spells/magic items, we do get some interesting restrictions and alterations to how magic works. For instance, while spellcasting once again takes an order of magnitude longer, the lower-magic campaign options compensate for this by having durations be increased proportionally as well. Likewise, certain categories of priest spells aren't considered to be spells at all, but miracles, which have a percentage system on the likeliness that God will grant them (which, interestingly, is presented as being Christian in scope; Muslims are instead told to use the alternative "Calling Upon Fate" (where "Fate" is clearly meant to be "God") rules in Arabian Adventures). Holy relics can use spells from the banned spells list. Clerical turning works on extraplanar creatures of all types as well as undead. Along with several other new rules, such as how resurrection is a particularly hard miracle to receive, and the limitations of healing spells. It's quite interesting if you want to run a low-magic game.

I will note, however, that I found myself running into a few errors here and there as I re-read this. Nothing major, in fact they were usually quite the opposite, but small enough things that they made me frown. For instance, at one point the Hakima priest kit is referenced as being one of the only wizard kits allowed. Likewise, the book talks about how its meant to cover the First through Third Crusades, but its timeline in Chapter Five only covers through the end of the Second. And, of course, it doesn't mention what an epic rap battler King Richard the Lionheart was:


As much as it doesn't fit the focus of the book, I somehow still find myself wondering if a greater focus on Robin Hood - since the Third Crusade was the backdrop for that particular story - would have made this book more useful. I doubt it, since that particular story is tied rather strongly to the specific individuals involved, but it feels awkward somehow to have this book be so perfunctory in its acknowledgment of how that story was also going on. I can just see the PCs in a Crusades campaign deciding to quit the field and go back to England because they want to stomp all over Prince John.

I'll say again that this book is absolutely overflowing with flavor text regarding the feel of the campaign. Not just the timeline - the latter of which is presented at least twice, once in a year-by-year overview and once by outlining each of the first three Crusades - but also in terms of presenting the Crusades from a Christian standpoint and a Muslim standpoint, as well as a primer about life in Outremer, and a basic examination of how the various wars and battles were conducted. It's exhaustive and exhausting at the same time. Of course, there are only a few adventure hooks at the end of the book, rather than anything more substantive.

Going back over this one, I found myself wanting to like HR7 more than I did. Maybe it's just because I'm already burned out on the entire Historical Reference Series, but this one just seemed to exemplify everything that was wrong with the books. The setting could just as easily have been any standard D&D pastiche. The overviews were long and obtrusive, trying much too hard to evoke a feeling that I doubt many players were concerned with. The minor errors that cropped up here and there. It was all just a major downer, one that they admittedly-insightful low-magic rules couldn't compensate for. Monsters were barely even mentioned in this volume, for instance.

Overall, this was probably as good a place as any for this particular series to stop.

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