Sean's Picks of the Week (0319-0323) - Tales of the Five Editions Week!

The World's Most Popular Roleplaying Game - Dungeons & Dragons - inspires more discourse and controversy over rules decisions than any other game I've ever known (RPG or not). OK, no, Magic the Gathering creates more, but D&D is up there. Every iteration has its diehard fans, and there are always solid reasons for that. So this week, inspired by a submission for the Picks from some DM's Guild folks, I decided to take a walk through the Five Editions and show a neat thing from each...


I often get my inspirations for a theme based on products folks send in and ask me to look into, so here’s that semi-regular reminder to folks to keep those suggestions coming!

This week’s theme is Tales of the Five Editions, in which I will Pick something from each iteration of Dungeons & Dragons. Naturally, we’ll start with the First and this excellent gem from that era. The World of Greyhawk is one of the earliest and best examples of genuine world-building within the tabletop RPG hobby. Frankly, it’s one of the inspirations for my own Shaintar, and I’d wager a great many fantasy worlds owe a good bit of their organization and attention-to-detail to this colorful and helpful product from the earliest days of gaming.

So the players have been complaining that the campaign is too dull, eh? Not enough detail? Why is this country at war with its neighbors? How can trade routes exist with all those wandering monsters? Most importantly, why do all of those unsacked, unlooted dungeons and ruins stand so close to the one big city all of the adventurers in the world hail from?

Rejoice, Dungeon Masters, and relax! All of these questions can be answered by following the example of the volume in your hands. The World of Greyhawk is here, and is suitable for use as the backdrop of a new campaign without changes; or, as an alternative, city, country or geographical descriptions can be used to fill in details for existing campaigns.

The World of Greyhawk is in the form of a gazetteer written by a historian native to the region, and as such includes the calendar systems used by the peoples of Oerth, a history of the major nations over the last thousand years, a discussion of climate in the different regions of the world, and even an appendix listing many runes and symbols (and their meanings) which are found in ancient and magical writings.


As we march through Tales of the Five Editions Week, we come to 2nd Edition and this absolutely classic module – Curse of the Azure Bonds. Not only was this one of the most compelling, non-dungeon-drive adventure experiences in D&D, it started out as a great novel by Jeff Grubb and wound up as one of the best D&D computer games of its time. Jeff and my friend, George MacDonald (of Champions fame) wrote this masterpiece.

Day breaks, and the crowing of a distant rooster wakes you from an all-too-short sleep. Another day for adventure, you think as you arise – but then you stop short. You, and all of your companions, have an elaborate blue tattoo covering most of your sword arm!

And there is more to these marks than a drunken prank. As you try to find out the source and meaning of your new adornment, you are drawn further and further into danger and mystery. Will you become a pawn in somebody else’s power game, or will you fight for your freedom and individuality?

Curse of the Azure Bonds is an adventure set in the Forgotten Realms game word for the AD&D 2nd Edition game. It is based on the best-selling novel, Azure Bonds, by Jeff Grubb and Kate Novak.

(Excerpts from the Product History)

FRC2: Curse of the Azure Bonds (1989), by Jeff Grubb and George MacDonald, was the second and final adventure in a series adapting the SSI gold box computer games to AD&D. It was published in April 1989.

Act I: The Novel. Curse of the Azure Bonds started out as a novel, Azure Bonds (1988). Jeff Grubb came up with the idea of an amnesiac swordswoman, Alias, seeking her origins while she fought against the azure bonds that sometimes controlled her. In order to tell this story, Grubb outlined a novel that mixed swords & sorcery with mystery. He then pitched it to his wife, Kate Novak, and she agreed to come on as a co-author – although in the process one of the characters swapped sex, with the bard Oliver becoming Olive.

Azure Bonds was scheduled as the fourth Forgotten Realms novel, following Douglas Niles’ Darkwalker on Mooshae (1987), which had originally been written for an epic TSR UK campaign that was cancelled; R.A. Salvatore’s The Crystal Shard (1988), which had been sent to TSR as a semi-unsolicited submission; and Ed Greenwood’s Spellfire (1988), which he wrote after completing his work on the Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting (1987). Grubb figures that TSR liked having him as their fourth author, because it would be easy to cancel the book if the Forgotten Realms line didn’t do well. Fortunately, it did well – quite well – so the Azure Bonds novel was published in October 1988.

Act II: The Computer Game. Meanwhile, TSR had licensed SSI to produce AD&D computer games. The first of them was Pool of Radiance (1988). SSI’s George MacDonald then joined with Jeff Grubb to write the plot for the second computer game. They opted to use Azure Bonds as its basis because the plot focusing on mystery and discovery would make for a good computer game. Rather than directly adapt the book, Grubb and MacDonald created a sequel to Azure Bonds. The resulting Curse of the Azure Bonds (1989) computer game was set after Azure Bonds and featured the player characters wakening with magical bonds just like those that had once controlled Alias. As the PCs investigate, they discover that a New Alliance is trying to use the magic of the bonds.

The Curse of the Azure Bonds computer game was also a sequel to the Pool of Radiance computer game; thus Tyranthraxus – the adversary from Pool – is one of the members of the New Alliance.

Act III: The AD&D Adventure. TSR opted to adapt the Curse of the Azure Bonds computer game as an AD&D adventure, just as they had with Pool of Radiance. Grubb and MacDonald wrote most of the adventure book, but the deadline was very tight, so other TSR staffers chipped in, including Tracy Hickman, Kate Novak, James Lowder, and Steve Perrin. Grubb says that he found the work on the Curse of the Azure Bonds adventure for AD&D tough, as it was literally the third time he’d written the same material, for a different medium each time. Of course doing so gave him insight into the advantages and disadvantages of the fiction, computer game, and RPG mediums.

Amusingly, Grubb would return to the characters from Azure Bonds in a fourth medium when he used the characters of Alias and her companion Dragonbait in issues #2-4 of his Forgotten Realms comic (Oct – Dec 1989).


Today’s the day we look at the third of five in our Tales of the Five Editions Week. When 3e came out, it had been quite a while since D&D had gone through a major change, and it was one of the Big Events of gaming history. The Red Hand of Doom is one of the most highly praised and respected adventures to come out of that time – called a “super adventure,” it’s pretty much a campaign all its own.

Who Can Stand Against the Son of the Dragon?

The Wyrmsmoke Mountains shook with the thunder of ten thousand screaming hobgoblin soldiers. From the phalanx emerged a single champion. One by one the tribes fell silent as the warlord rose up, blue scales gleaming along his shoulders, horns swept back from his head. A hundred bright yellow banners stood beneath him, each marked with a great red hand. He stood upon a precipice and raised his arms. “I am Azarr Kul, Son of the Dragon!” the warlord bellowed.

“Hear me! Tomorrow we march to war!”

Red Hand of Doom is a DUNGEONS & DRAGONS® adventure designed to take characters from the 6th level to the 12th level. Confronted with the relentless advance of Azurr Kul’s horde, the characters must undertake vital missions to influence the outcome of the war. Can they shatter the armies of the enemy, or will Azarr Kul’s dreams rain destruction upon the human lands?

(Excerpts from the Product History)

Red Hand of Doom (2006), by Richard Baker and James Jacobs, is a super-adventure for D&D 3E. It was published in February 2006.

Continuing the Super Adventures. D&D adventures from Wizards of the Coast were shockingly rare during the 3E era (2000-2008). That’s because they expected d20 licensees to focus on adventure publication, taking the brunt of one of the least profitable sorts of RPG publication.

Super-adventures from Wizards that were larger and more important were even rarer. Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil (2001) and City of the Spider Queen(2002) were the only two in the early 3E era, then Wizards almost totally abandoned adventures for three years, with the exception of some Eberron modules. Red Hand of Doom thus marked a big return for Wizards. It would be followed by several other Wizards adventures in the final 3E years, most of them in the “Expedition” series (2006-2007).

To qualify Red Hand of Doom as a super-adventure, designers Baker and Jacobs made sure it was both “huge” and “epic”. Though it’s not a full-fledged adventure path, it should support 6 months of play.

Origins. Red Hand of Doom was written as a classic adventure that could be used in any setting. To make the adventure classic, Baker and Jacobs focused on one of best-known races of old: goblinoids, with plenty of class levels to make them dangerous foes. To make the adventure generic, they created a new locale, the Elsir Vale, that could be placed in any setting.

Sources. Baker based the plot of Red Hand of Doom on something he’d seen in many fantasy novels, but that was less common in D&D adventures: “the Army of Evil … trying to conquer everything.” He didn’t muddy that concept with dungeon delves or macguffins — instead wanting to focus on the armies themselves and the sort of challenges that they presented. It was an adventure style that hadn’t been seen much since the “Bloodstone Pass” adventure series (1985-1988).

Jacobs notes a few more disparate influences: the Return of the King movie (2003), World of Warcraft (2003), and a Chris Thomasson adventure called “Foundation of Flame”, which appeared in Dungeon #113 (August 2004).

Hail to the Designers Notes! The biggest innovation in Red Hand of Doom is the inclusion of about a dozen designers’ notes. These boxed notes talk about the philosophies and expectations behind some of the encounters. Wizards had never done anything of the sort before.


The Fourth Edition gets a lot of bad press (and, frankly, it’s not all undeserved), but as we roll on through Tales of the Five Editions Week, it’s important to acknowledge the edition that (a) lots of people still love and (b) brought many new gamers to the table. The attempt at appealing to the computer gaming crowd met with mixed results, but there’s a lot of noteworthy innovation to give a positive nod towards.

As anyone who’s followed me over the years knows, I will always have a special place in my heart for the Keep on the Borderlands. The very first module to bear that name came in my first D&D boxed set. Upon its foundations, Shaintar was built.

At Restwell Keep, you’ve heard that fortune and glory await those bold enough to brave the dangers of the Chaos Scar, a valley carved ages ago by a fallen star. The same tales warn that this Chaos Scar draws wickedness to it. Perhaps you can help stem this tide… and gain some treasure along the way.

(Excerpts from the Product History)

“Keep on the Borderlands: A Season of Serpents,” by Chris Sims, is the adventure series for Season 3 of D&D Encounters. It was released for play in Fall and Winter 2010.

Continuing the Encounters. “Season of Serpents” generally follows the model of the previous season’s adventure, “Dark Sun: Fury of the Wastewalker” (2010). It presents a multi-week adventure as a set of individual encounters, each of which is meant to be run as a single session lasting 1.5 to 2 hours. Again, the adventure is broken up into chapters, each of which contains multiple encounters; at the end of each chapter, characters are given the opportunity to rest.

“Season of Serpents” is the longest Encounters season ever, with five chapters of four encounters each, resulting in 20 total sessions of play. Considerable effort is expended to differentiate the chapters and the overall play experience; thus, PCs adventure in broadly different areas during each chapter of play. Nonetheless, many GMs found the adventure too long—mainly because it made it hard to bring in new players late in the season, something that matters more in an organized play environment.

Each chapter of “Season of Serpents” was released to DMs as an individual booklet, which was the same format used for “Fury of the Wastewalker,” the only Encounters season divided up in this way.

About the Homage. Though the first two Encounters seasons returned to the classic settings of Undermountain and Dark Sun, they weren’t exactly homages: Rather, they were totally new stories told in the old settings. That changed with “Season of Serpents,” which is obviously an homage to B2: “The Keep on the Borderlands”(1980). It’s probably no accident that this Encounters season went hand-in-hand with the introductory red box for D&D Essentials—just as the original “Keep” was packaged with D&D’s first red box (1981).

(OK, technically the 1981 edition is now widely called the “magenta box,” to differentiate it from the 1983 edition, but you get the idea.)

That said, “Season of Serpents” is not a return to the actual setting of the original “Keep on the Borderlands”; it’s more of a thematic homage. You get the story of a civilized keep and nearby monstrous lands: Here, the stronghold is the dwarven-built Restwell Keep, while the monstrous lairs are in the Chaos Scar, a location that also received considerable attention in the online Dungeon magazine.


Closing out Tales of the Five Editions Week with, naturally, a 5th Edition product. One of the coolest things about the latest iteration of D&D is the Dungeon Masters Guild, a place where creators of all types can bring their best and most interesting ideas to life for other fans of the system. The Mines of Chult is actually the inspiration for these week’s theme, one of the latest such presentations that features the top-three selling creators on that site.

Presenting The Mines of Chult! This Savage Encounters adventure supplement features nine mini adventures from three best-selling DMs Guild authors. Featuring adventures for character levels 1 through 16, your PCs will challenge several new monsters, discover fascinating new magic items, and interact with some wickedly fun NPCs. Though designed with Tomb of Annihilation in mind, each of these adventures can be easily adapted to any campaign setting. With over sixty pages of thrilling 5th Edition D&D adventures ready to go, what are you waiting for? Dig in to The Mines of Chult!


Hope you enjoyed my little jaunt through the five stages of D&D. Think I'll have to do that again sometime, since there's a ton of stuff for each iteration to share.

My sincerest thanks to everyone who's been supporting our Freedom Squadron Kickstarter so far. It's going really well, and I am excited about all the neat stuff to share in the future. As we've (more than) teased in today's update, there's a lot more planned ahead for what we call Project: Awesome, so stay tuned!

The Adventure Continues!

Note that I use affiliate links in all my posts as a way to generate additional revenue for my efforts; I make my Picks and other article choices, however, based on the desire to share a wide variety of things with you. Thank you for your support.

Sean Patrick Fannon
Writer & Game Designer: Shaintar, Star Wars, Savage Rifts, Freedom Squadron, and much more!
Please check out my Patreon and get involved directly with my next projects!

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Jacob Lewis

Ye Olde GM
I concur with the selections for 4 out of the 5 editions (I'm not familiar with the last, and not currently participating in the current edition). Red Hand of Doom is particularly dear to me, and I had used the setting itself for a 4e homebrew PbP campaign.

And as much as I approve the Keep on the Borderlands for 4e, I must say that the Neverwinter Campaign Setting for that same edition was a real high point. It presented a complete campaign that did not span kingdoms or continents, did not lay out a predetermined path for how the story should progress, and provided a veritable toolbox for DMs to utilize with enough depth and complexity to run whatever stories you felt like telling, which could be done within easy reach of one large city.

Oh, and gold box games! I played Curse several times back when I had a Commodore 64!


Impressive collection. Thanks for the shout out on Mines of Chult! I'm humbled that something with my name on it might get discussed in the same time zone as those other amazing works.


Ah good times. I remember the one time I walked into a cave in Curse, somewhere in the Moonsea region, and when the screen was done loading about 50 beholders were all siting there waiting for me. Good times.

I feel like I may be the only person to think Red Hand of Doom was really mediocre, no offense to the writers.


I don't completely disagree with your assessment of 4e, Sean, but you undersell it by leaving out its greatest contribution to D&D: it introduced a lot of core mechanical improvements over 3.5e, many of which continued over to 5e (hidden, but definitely present). 4e definitely missed the mark as a successor to 3.5e in a lot of ways (too many unnecessary fluff changes and problematic class design are the worst offenders), but it pushed D&D forward in a lot more ways than the PF crowd gives it credit for.


Could you go one article without knocking 4th. Geez man, just show the product. Everyone has their opinions set by now and those who liked the edition don't appreciate having it sniped.


That guy, who does that thing.
Glad to hear that the Keep on the Borderlands Encounter season was so good -- I'm not sure as many people got to play it as should have, though. In our own area, we had so many gamers turned off by the unnecessarily brutal Dark Sun season that preceded it that we stopped running Encounters and didn't get enough interest to start it up again until March of the Phantom Brigade, the homage to 'Ghost Tower of Inverness', the season after Keep. We never got a full two tables of Encounters again, but we got back to consistently filling one table by the time Season Six: Lost Crown of Neverwinter came out (which suggests that Jacob Lewis's recommendation of the Neverwinter Campaign Setting as the real gem of 4E is a solid one).


aramis erak

There are at least 7 major editions, not five...

AD&D 1
AD&D 2

OE's not covered, not BX, in the original post...

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