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

delericho

Legend
The PHBR series was great. Though part of me wishes they'd had a chance to "loop back" through the earlier ones - after Bard they seemed to go on a run of very strong entries that left the earlier ones looking poor by comparison.

The one that saw most use at our table was Priests, but that was mostly as DM aid to world-building. It really was good for that, although in hindsight it does go too far in depowering the priest classes. After that it was Fighters, Psionics, Humanoids, and Bards that saw most use (and we had more than a few Bladesingers, of course...).

I did feel that Bards, Rangers, Paladins, and Druids were all very strong entries. Barbarians and Ninjas were okay, though I'd more or less stopped playing 2nd Ed by the time I got them, so I don't think they ever saw table use.

Even looking back, I like the flavour of Dwarves and Elves, even if the mechanics of the latter are iffy at best.
 

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Voadam

Legend
The barbarian fighter struck me as a bit of an odd duck. I was expecting some sort of "barbarian rage" mechanic when I read it (though for the life of me, I can't figure out where I'd picked up the idea that such a thing was supposed to be there in the first place, especially as I hadn't read the 1E class when I first picked this book up), but there's none to be found in the standard class listing. While the barbarian fighter is a lot like a normal fighter in terms of attack progression and saves (except with a d12 Hit Die), his class abilities - as we'd refer to them now - include "leaping and springing" of all things. Apparently barbarians jumped like jackrabbits back in the day. They were also adept climbers the same way thieves were (some sort of reference to climbing trees?) and had "back protection," which was essentially an anti-backstab provision that let them not only avoid being struck from behind, but let them get a retaliatory strike in when someone tried.

The earlier Complete Book of Dwarves battlerager kit gave a substantial rage ability so that could have been the basis for your expectation.

The listed non raging 2e barbarian abilities are straight out of 1e's barbarian which was basically Conan the class with a little bit of viking, mongol, and jungle archetype options thrown on at the end. In the novels Conan is known as a great climber transferring his hill cliffs experience to scaling the Tower of the Elephant as a thief and he is known to respond to danger and ambushes with his panther like reactions attacking while others are caught flat-footed.
 

Orius

Adventurer
Ah the Barbarian's Handbook. I was looking for Conan, they gave me fantasy Indians. I left it on the shelf.

I took a look at it more recently, and basically it's little more than an update of the 1e Barbarian. Why exactly the Barbarian didn't make the cut for 2e I'm not sure, but I suspect a few key factors. The survival abilities were supplanted by the NWP system, it didn't like functioning with spellcasters and got XP for destroying magic items which were probably bad for party cohesion, it had ridiculously high XP requirements, and it was a UA class, and none of those made the cut for 2e's base classes.

So yeah, this book basically updated 1e stuff while removing some of the problematic elements, but ended up with something vague. Then because that wasn't enough to really fill out a 128 page book, it shoved in yet another one of 2e's takes on shamans/tribal spellcasters which by 1995 was pretty unnecessary.
 

Alzrius

The EN World kitten
Before Storm Shadow and Snake Eyes...

Before Scorpion and Sub-Zero...

Before Ryu Hayabusa...

There was...


PHBR15 The Complete Ninja's Handbook for AD&D Second Edition!

Except, of course, it technically came after all of those characters made their debut, coming out in 1995 and all. Which might explain why this book exists in the first place. Because while ninjas weren't new to AD&D, having debuted in Oriental Adventures a decade earlier, it wasn't until this book that they - like the barbarian class from the previous book - were brought forward to Second Edition. And given the wave of popularity that ninjas were riding in the mid-90's, I'm amazed it took them that long.

Now, given some of the recent controversies, I suspect that some people will look askance on this particular book. Personally, I disagree with that; even restricting ourselves to the topic of ninjas specifically, popular culture has much greater sins that need to be accounted for before this particular supplement is taken to task. For instance, I suspect that when players brought characters made with this book to the table, there was at least one instance of someone chanting "Go ninja go ninja go!"



We should all feel guilty.

That said, the ninja class presented in this book is fairly tame, being essentially a rogue with some minor reskinning (in what I suspect is a consequence of its being updated from it's 1E origins). They have the same size Hit Die, access to thieving skills, backstab, etc. Even thieves' cant is replaced with "clan signs." What strikes me as odd are the demihuman restrictions: only halflings and dwarves can be ninjas. Maybe it's just me, but I'd have thought for sure that elves would have been on there; the popular conception of ninjas tends to have them being more concerned with precision than power, and the willowy presentation of elves seems like it naturally dovetails with that. More so than dwarves, at least.

It's when we get to the kits, however, that this book begins to show its true potential. The use of a fairly restrained base class means that the kits can take the ninja in several different thematic directions, which is exactly what it does. The Shadow-Warrior, for instance, sacrifices some thieving skill utility in favor of being better in combat. The Consort is your classic "seductive kunoichi" type (albeit of either sex). The Spirit Warrior can actually learn arcane spells of the illusion school (though not until 9th level, and in accordance with AD&D game balance, they're hit with fairly significant weapon and armor restrictions, as well as a less-generous XP progression table; curiously, they list several new spells here rather than later in the book). The Lone Wolf is a ronin, and the only version of a ninja where you can dual-class as something else after taking ninja levels. While not all the kits are winners (the Pathfinder is just a ninja with some minor bonuses to the Tracking proficiency, and has no followers), most of them are flavorful and evocative, nicely presenting different ninja archetypes.

But it doesn't stop there. The third chapter is where we start getting "shinobi" kits. While the book correctly notes that shinobi and ninja are two different pronunciations of the same word in Japanese (in fact, the parts that are identical are the "shino" and "nin," being alternate readings of 忍), it introduces an artificial distinction here, in that shinobi kits are essentially kits for other classes that turn them into discount ninjas: fighters, rangers, wizards, illusionists (but apparently not any other specialist wizards; did Aaron Allston forget that illusionists aren't their own class in 2E?), priests (meaning clerics), thieves, and bards all have shinobi options. Apparently there are no shinobi druids.

The inclusion of these might sound redundant, but as the opening text of chapter three (where these kits are given) makes clear, it's because ninja clans consist of more than just members of the ninja character class...and that's when it becomes clear that this book is, just like The Complete Barbarian's Handbook, introducing not just an expanded look at a particular character class, or even character archetype, but an entire campaign based on the theme of the class. While not "Oriental Adventures 2E" unto itself, that's sort of what this book evokes. Plug in things like Kara-Tur: The Eastern Realms (technically 1E, but as I recall it was pretty light on game mechanics), the MC6 Monstrous Compendium Kara-Tur Appendix, and some of the 2E adventures from the Oriental Adventures line of products, such as OA6 Ronin Challenge or FROA1 Ninja Wars, and you're good to go (well, mostly; those latter adventures still presumed the use of the 1E Oriental Adventures book; cross-edition compatibility wasn't the big deal back then that it is now).

Given that, it's perhaps less of a surprise that this book revisits the martial arts rules from PHBR1 The Complete Fighter's Handbook...and I have to say, that has a real "end at the beginning" vibe to it, what with this being the last of the PHBRs and all. Like this book just snatched the pebble from the hand of its master.

head hand GIF


Okay, that's not actually ninja-themed, but that's why the GIF has Picard face-palming for a single frame at the end there. :p

Oddly, I don't remember being nearly as excited by the martial arts rules here as I was when I first read PHBR1. I don't think it had much to do with the rules themselves - which also included that book's weapon specialization rules - but rather was because I'd already thoroughly internalized the idea of "spellcasters rule!" by that point. Bruce Lee was cool and all, but he wasn't ever going to punch Elminster's ticket, even if there was an entire adventuring party of him (Conservation of Ninjutsu and all that, to make another pseudo-racist blending of different cultures).

There were several "new" proficiencies too, with the sarcasm-quotes indicating that several are actually proficiencies from other books being reprinted here, albeit sometimes with updated listings. Of the ones that are actually new, we have several notable oddities, such as Waterwalking (not nearly as cool as it sounds; it's basically a proficiency for using a liquid-specific version of snowshoes), Giant Kite Flying (which is a headscratcher until you realize that these things are basically hang gliders), Style Analysis (which is exactly as cool as it sounds: spot the weaknesses in someone else's fighting style!), and Enamor, which...potentially makes a target fall madly in love with you. Wow, and people think that martials don't have the options that casters do, huh? Eat your heart out, charm person!

It's at this point that I should give the book credit where it's due: for all that I went on about it presenting a campaign style as much as a character class, PHBR15 does have Occidental options for what it presents. Ninjas become "spies," with ninja clans being an intelligence service (i.e. for a kingdom); there's virtually no mechanics associated with this, being more of a "tone" thing. Strangely, the book goes and presents another reflavoring for ninjas, that being "killers," even presenting three NPC-only kits to play up the idea of not!ninjas who are skilled at murder (more than your standard PC, at least). The inclusion of NPC-specific material in a PC book induces a bit of cognitive dissonance in me, as does the odd refusal to use the term "assassin" (which is a thief kit anyway). Still, props to the book for at least broaching the idea that there'd be a tone issue with ninjas (it's more than was ever done for monks).

Disappointingly, they don't justify the use of these "killer" kits by saying that only a ninja can kill a ninja, and if you know where that quote comes from then congratulations: you're old.

The fifth chapter has a lot of new weapons, far more so than new armor, equipment, or magic items. It almost feels like a mini-supplement unto itself, and the katana is nowhere near as badass as it should be. Seriously, if one of those things can cripple Metal Gear, it can do more than a mere 1d10 points of damage (2d6 if used two-handed)!

The rest of the book focuses more on the ninja-focused campaign, talking about the role of the clan, making ninja-themed (or spy-themed) adventures, giving sample ninja characters and clans, etc. I don't want to say that it's perfunctory (and it's not), but by this point we're down to the last third of the book or so; it's clear that this one was stuffed to the gills, which makes sense considering how much it's trying to cram in here.

Overall, The Complete Ninja's Handbook really does feel complete, at least in terms of bringing options for ninjas into your game. From an options-replete base class to kits that make other classes into ninjas to campaign options for ninjas to ways to remove the cultural context by making ninjas into spies, plus proficiencies, weapon specialization, martial arts, new mundane and magical equipment, new spells, and more, this one really goes the distance. Personally, I hope that gamer history will look back on it fondly for that, even if it doesn't treat the subject with all of the respect and sensitivity that ninjas receive in native Japanese media.

tenor.gif


And remember: go ninja go ninja go!

I made another funny! :D

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Voadam

Legend
So for the martial arts, was this 1e Oriental Adventures style or a variation of 2e's various martial arts themes? 1e OA base style cost a proficiency and gave you AC, an attack, plus a path for proficiency special abilities. 2e PH martial arts gave a different chart than punching or wrestling for the effect (usually damage) of your attack roll when you hit unarmed.
 

Alzrius

The EN World kitten
So for the martial arts, was this 1e Oriental Adventures style or a variation of 2e's various martial arts themes? 1e OA base style cost a proficiency and gave you AC, an attack, plus a path for proficiency special abilities. 2e PH martial arts gave a different chart than punching or wrestling for the effect (usually damage) of your attack roll when you hit unarmed.
The martial arts system described here in The Complete Ninja's Handbook is basically the same one given in The Complete Fighter's Handbook, albeit with a few tweaks (i.e. it updates the "Martial Arts Results" table so that better hits deal more damage), which insofar as I understand use different mechanics from Oriental Adventures (I have a copy of that book, but haven't read it in quite some time).

That said, PHBR15 does present some optional martial arts rules that it says are "adapted" from guidelines present in OA, the most notable of which are the particular martial arts styles, such as karate, kung fu, tae kwon do, etc., along with rules for finding and training under a master, creating new styles, etc.

It's worth noting that this is one of several different unarmed fighting rules sets that cropped up during AD&D 2E. First were the basic punching and wrestling rules in the Player's Handbook and Dungeon Master's Guide, then the expanded martial arts system (which I believe was compatible with the punching/wrestling rules) in PHBR1 (and PHBR3 for some reason) and revised here, and then we got another system in Player's Option - Combat & Tactics. It was pretty crazy.

I remember that the monk class introduced in the appendix of Faiths & Avatars actually had three different entries for how it received bonuses to unarmed combat depending on which system you used; even weirder was that it explicitly said it didn't endorse compatibility between the monk class and the martial arts in The Complete Ninja's Handbook, despite those being based on the rules from The Complete Fighter's/Priest's Handbook! Presumably they meant in reference to the advanced rules, which were adapted from the 1E Oriental Adventures, but that's about when my head exploded from trying to look all that up. o_O

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Orius

Adventurer
This one must have been in high demand when it came out. I went to Waldenbooks to buy a copy and they'd sold out pretty quickly. I had to have the store put a copy on order for me. So yeah, this might have been a good choice to finish off the category if it sold like this all over for TSR.

The base class isn't bad itself, and the shinobi kits were a pretty good idea. Like you said, it gives the DM the opportunity to run a ninja themed campaign without having everyone be the same class. And the suggestions for using the crunch here in a non Japanese or Asian themed setting gives the book more use.

Overall, I think it's one of the better PHB splats.
So for the martial arts, was this 1e Oriental Adventures style or a variation of 2e's various martial arts themes? 1e OA base style cost a proficiency and gave you AC, an attack, plus a path for proficiency special abilities. 2e PH martial arts gave a different chart than punching or wrestling for the effect (usually damage) of your attack roll when you hit unarmed.

Both. There's a simple option that gives you the PHB style charts for unarmed combat, and there's an update to OA's martial arts rules that expands the original 4 arts to 8 or 9 and adds some new material. Of course this book was released after Combat and Tactics in 1995 which had its own chapter on martial arts.
 


delericho

Legend
This one must have been in high demand when it came out. I went to Waldenbooks to buy a copy and they'd sold out pretty quickly. I had to have the store put a copy on order for me. So yeah, this might have been a good choice to finish off the category if it sold like this all over for TSR.
I wouldn't be surprised if by then supplements had really small print runs.
 

Orius

Adventurer
You're technically correct (the very best kind of correct), but from what I've been able to look up, Player's Option - Combat & Tactics came out in July of 1995, while PHBR15 The Complete Ninja's Handbook came out in August of that same year.

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I could have sworn it was a Q4 release, but then I might be mixing things up with the last volume of the Encyclopedia Magica which was Q4 and which I also had to back order (and IIRC, the clerk thought I was interested in Pages from the Mages instead).

I wouldn't be surprised if by then supplements had really small print runs.
Maybe but the stereotypical gamer who absolutely MUST play a ninja in every game was in place by then, and any of them playing D&D at the time probably grabbed this book if they could. Unfortunately for them, this book does not support the use of motorcycles.

On a related note, why the HELL does this iPad insist on using "turtle" as a suggestion in the autocorrect every time I type ninja?! Not funny. I pity anyone typing up some sort of historical text on Sengoku or Tokugawa Japan. God help us all if it's a text on Nanban interests in Renaissance painters.
 

Alzrius

The EN World kitten
There's some axiom about how wise people learn from their mistakes, but truly wise people learn from other people's mistakes. While I have no way of knowing for sure, I suspect that thought was in the minds of the authors of DMGR1 Campaign Sourcebook and Catacomb Guide.

I have a vague memory of scratching my head at the title for this one. While they're not entirely unrelated in scope, the two topics - a sourcebook on how to run a campaign and a guide to underground adventuring environments - seemed different enough that I questioned why they were together in a single volume. At least The Complete Book of Gnomes & Halflings had thematic cohesiveness in putting the two short races together; this came across like an odd blending of the AD&D 2E Dungeon Master's Guide and the old Dungeoneer's Survival Guide squished into one.

Which, if you read the book's sales page, is exactly what it is. Sort of. Apparently the bulk of this book is advice for running a campaign and being a good DM that was ultimately cut (for space reasons) from the AD&D DMG, and was subsequently padded out with some dungeon overviews that aren't technically updated material from the DSG, but might as well be (isometric maps and all).

The problem, at least for me, was that I simply had no interest in a general primer on DMing (despite the fact that, in hindsight, I could have used it). My interest was focused squarely on two things: lore and crunch, both of which are completely lacking in this particular work. Maybe it was because I didn't have a regular group at the time I picked this up, maybe it was my rebellious teenage self thinking that advice was condescension, or maybe it was just that I'm not wise enough to learn from other people's mistakes, but every time I flipped through this my eyes began to glaze over. As it was, I think I picked it up purely for completeness; it certainly wasn't because I wanted to sit down and read it.

Going back through it now, that's a shame, because when I did get a regular group, I made several of the mistakes outlined here. Having said that, I'm still struck by the fact that this is ultimately a how-to book, which means that it's made to be outgrown. Other than brushing up on the fundamentals, this isn't a tome that experienced DMs are going to need to crack open. Even the sections on dungeon adventuring are overviews about various considerations to take into account, lacking any sort of in-game material or rules mechanics; the most you can take away from these are the sample dungeons, which are keyed but still need to be populated with monsters and treasure.

I do, however, have to take a minute to talk about the interior art here. Specifically, the black and white interior art. While there are several full-page color pieces that are quite talented, the black and white artwork has a tendency to be hilarious in a way that the color pieces aren't. It's not quite the blatant humor of the old AD&D 1E illustrations, which often felt almost like doodles, but it's no less amusing for it. Look at this illustration that accompanied the book's section on "hack 'n' slash"-style gaming:

rPPWYNL.jpeg

This piece deftly captures the sense of absurdity that a lot of people see as being emblematic of that style of play. Just look at how the fight's right hand is curled into a fist at his hip, the way he's knocking a goblin away just by breathing on him, or the utterly stupefied face on that one goblin who's been decapitated. It's a laugh riot! And it's not the only one:

fzQ1RFt.jpeg

There's just so much here to snicker at, I hardly know where to begin. Look at how the idol is wearing Madonna-style bra-cones over her two rows of breasts. The way the "Int is my dump stat!" fighter is grinning like an idiot while he scratches his head. The Rube Goldberg-style mechanical setup that requires several party members to put together in their attempt to get at the idol without triggering any traps. It's funny because it's all so true!

All laughter aside, this book is one that's timeless for how everything in it is not only edition-neutral, but for the most part is system-neutral as well. The vast majority of what's here can be used for almost any tabletop RPG, which is certainly laudable, but at the same time its didactic focus means that if it works as intended, you'll have less and less use for it. Overall, it's a DM's self-help book more than reference material; take from that what you will.

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delericho

Legend
I count DMGR1 as probably the best D&D product I own, of any edition. It taught me more about DMing than anything else. After the serious disappointment that was the 2nd Ed DMG, this was extremely welcome. (And, frankly, most of it is material that should have been in the DMG - either by expanding the page count of that book to closer to the 1st Ed version, or by cutting much of the material that did make it in. But I digress.)

Unfortunately, DMGR1 did also create another problem: the rest of this series then felt rather disappointing by comparison. But that's not really this book's problem.
 

Orius

Adventurer
This one I didn't have. TSR didn't keep the DM splats in print like they did with the PHB ones, and I think this one was OOP by the time I got into the game. I never saw a copy of it at any rate.

The fact that they put DMing advice cut from the DMG in here, is somewhat inexcusable IMO. There was no need to reprint saw all of the PHB chapter on combat in the DMG while leaving out stuff the DM needed to know! There's just too much stuff in the DMG that's just filler, while too many things were left out. I think that's one reason gameplay slowly shifted away from 1e norms over 2e's lifetime, because some material was just left out.
 

TwoSix

Unserious gamer
Supporter
I count DMGR1 as probably the best D&D product I own, of any edition. It taught me more about DMing than anything else. After the serious disappointment that was the 2nd Ed DMG, this was extremely welcome. (And, frankly, most of it is material that should have been in the DMG - either by expanding the page count of that book to closer to the 1st Ed version, or by cutting much of the material that did make it in. But I digress.)

Unfortunately, DMGR1 did also create another problem: the rest of this series then felt rather disappointing by comparison. But that's not really this book's problem.
Not to jump ahead, but I think the Complete Book of Villains and Creative Campaigning were both extremely helpful books.
 


Alzrius

The EN World kitten
DMGR2 The Castle Guide is a book which I was apparently misremembering rather badly before I sat down to reread it.

Prior to my taking another look at this in anticipation of writing this post, I was under the impression that The Castle Guide was just about that: castles. That is, that the entire book was fixated on nitty-gritty details of various modularities involved with constructing a fortification in a fantasy campaign setting. And to be fair, there are elements of that in here, but not quite in the way I was thinking, and there's also more besides.

In hindsight, I suspect that I was recalling the Stronghold Builder's Guidebook more than this one. Though at this point I wouldn't put it past me to be incorrectly recalling what's in that tome also. I seem to remember that there were some cost-guidelines for various aspects of a castle in the AD&D 1E Dungeon Masters Guide as well.

The Castle Guide, however, is a book that's not only concerned with the building of castles, but also with most other aspects surrounding them. That is, it wants to go over the sort of pseudo-medieval setting where castles - in their classical idea of a keep surrounded by a curtain wall - would be built in the first place (and in this regard, hews a bit closer to the quasi-European tropes than baseline D&D does), the knights that make use of such structures and the activities they pursue (jousting and tournaments get their own chapter), and the role of the castle in war.

This last one is worth noting. While the book desperately wants you to use the Battlesystem Miniatures Rules for any sort of battle large enough to involve besieging a castle, it does dedicate an entire chapter to "quick resolution" rules that don't require a separate product to run.

I should mention that the book does try and round things out by glancing over things like demihuman approaches to knightly orders and what sort of castles other classes and races would construct. Insofar as the castles that non-fighters would raise, I confess to chuckling, simply because of how much this transported me back to the days when "name level" was a thing and everyone got their own stronghold as a matter of course (usually 9th level or thereabouts). I can almost see the divide between players who would want to pull this book out and go over the details of their new keep in exacting measure, and those who'd want to just gloss them over. Of course, anecdotal evidence suggests that most players eschewed being tied down like this, and would want to keep adventuring, leading to what I now think of as the loss of D&D's endgame.

That, however, brings me to my major criticism of this book. Maybe it's because I'm approaching this right after having gone back over the Campaign Sourcebook and Catacomb Guide, but I'm struck by how there's no real advice here about how to transition your campaign into one where having a castle - along with the attendant people and territory - under your command is a feature rather than a bug. Maybe it was because the advice in the aforementioned book was taken to be generic enough that it didn't need to be called out here, but if that was the thinking then I disagree with it heartily. The Castle Guide makes a good showing of what having a castle is for, but never gets around to why PCs would want to command one in a D&D game; that this leads to a new kind of adventuring rather than an end to it.

This is the reason I've been so enamored of the Adventurer Conqueror King System for several years now: it ties the evolving nature of the campaign into the rules at a fundamental level, to the point where it's in the name of the game. The Castle Guide, by contrast, is exactly what it says on the tin: a guide, not a system for running campaigns where the PCs are more than tomb-raiders and dungeon-delvers.

To be give credit where it's due, TSR did try this with the Birthright Campaign Setting, which I remain interested in playing to this day but grow increasingly doubtful as to whether I'll have the chance to. Even then, reading over the various supplements suggests that the line was very much a mixed bag, as it had a lot of unique enemies (found in Blood Enemies: Abominations of Cerilia, a book that I purchased before I bought the actual campaign setting) who were intriguing for the fact that they were political, economic, and military opponents as much as things to kill in a tactical skirmish, but also insisted on feeding us unappetizing supplements like Player's Secrets of Stjordvik.

But I digress. The Castle Guide is good at what it does, but does a poor job at explaining why you'd need it in the first place. That's a shame, since I think that what's here could be used as part of a great campaign, one that all too often goes ignored in favor of endlessly killing monsters and taking their stuff.

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Voadam

Legend
I was in the middle of a 1e long term campaign where my character had become a merchant prince member of a ruling triumvirate for a city state when the Castle Guide came out. I had very little interest in the Castle Guide and picked up stuff from the Basic Gazetteer system Minrothad Guilds and Republic of Darokin in particular to scratch any interest I had in possible D&D rulership systems. Being a D&D ruler narratively with a little focus on appropriate skills in the homebrew skill system we were using was more than adequate for any mechanics needs we had, and the in-depth rulership politics and roleplay aspects of the campaign was fantastic.

I was glad to have D&D be more narrative on this type of stuff instead of going like GURPS where everything became point buys out of your character for narrative stuff that would leave you hurting for points for anything else.
 

Orius

Adventurer
And here comes my rant.

I never had a physical copy of this book, it was another that went out of print apparently. There was however a plain text file of the book along with some image files in the 2e downloads section of WotC's website some years back and I grabbed that. The rules for castle construction were my main interest, but it was a while before I took a look at it. And in the end, I was disappointed with it.

The main disagreement goes back to what I said under Paladin's Handbook: TSR was very firmly in their "the standard D&D game is set in a psuedo-European fantasy world" mindset is here. And this book is very much written with this in mind. I've had problem with this for nearly 20 years now.

It goes back to me buying a copy of 3e's Oriental Adventures back in 2002 or 2003. There was a lot of good usable game material in there, but the idea seperating real world based cultures in a manner similar to the real world makes it harder to use the material. Look at how vast the Eurasian landmass is; to mimic it in a homebrew campaign world means the far ends of such a continent are going to be difficult to reach, and probably only with fantastic means like teleportation. So how often is non-European material really going to get used? Plus I find using real world cultural bases to be creatively restrictive. And TSR's material of this sort from that time, like Kara-Tur, the Horde, Maztica, some of the Gazetteers, etc, are also very dry and dull, because they stick too closely to their historical influences and fail to make them interesting from a gaming PoV. OTOH, using real world inspired cultures can be a useful shortcut for things like naming conventions which are harder to make up from scratch and often too easy to do badly. One can come up with something very unique, but then you run the risk of making something like Empire of the Petal Throne which might gain critical acclaim but be far too inaccessible or unfamiliar to players. It's a hard balance to maintain and it's something I struggle with in my world building.

Another problem with this book is the same as the previous book -- it has material that should have been in the DMG to begin with. @Alzrius is right, stronghold building and domain management is basically the D&D endgame, and 2e really screwed things up by putting the material here in a separate book. And because castle building and domain management really isn't enough to fill 128 pages, we get padding about how to make your game a psuedo-European snorefest.

Anyway because material that is supposed to be part of high level gaming got shoved into stuff like splats or a campaign setting that was released as TSR entered its terminal decline, it became a less important aspect of the game. Then when 3e came along, and players really started to notice the balance problems of high level play, there was no end game to transition to. 5e gives some brief lip service to it in its DMG, but I can't comment on whether later material in the edition covers it.
 

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