Dungeons & Dragons Review Guide

Maintained by Mark Bertenshaw

Contents

I am planning to do this roughly sequentially. However, if anybody really wants something reviewed, , and I will weigh up the votes of the requested items to decide which item to review next.

Introduction

First of all, I'd better explain that I am one of the minority of people who never got into the rarified game of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons. At the time, I never really understood why you needed all those hardback books. Well, the answer is that AD&D players didn't, but it made them look a lot more impressive. Not for me, the unnecessarily complicated and long-winded rule books! So I made my principled stand, and swore never to touch a single AD&D game accessory, regardless of the fact that this was the only one of the two games that TSR seemed to support. Actually, that is a big lie: my reasons for not going down the AD&D route were entirely practical: it cost too much, and I had a better chance of having a complete collection of stuff (yes, I can understand the collector urge).

It does beg the question: why did TSR feel that they needed to have two extremely similar, but distinct games? When I got my Basic set, dated 1981, there was no mention of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons. Instead, they specifically say on the third page that they would be creating two additional sets of rules: The Expert Set and the Companion Set (or "Supplement" as it is called on page B61). In fact, there is no mention of "Advanced Dungeons and Dragons" in the entire book. However, if you look at the blue Basic game Dungeons and Dragons rulebook (compliments of the TSR 25th Anniversary box set), which was dated 1978, it says "Players who desire to go beyond the basic game are directed to the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons books.". I guessed that this was typical of the eccentric decision making that effectively killed the company: why divide your market? And I suppose that I wondered who would buy a game with "Advanced" in the title other than alpha geeks?

To be fair, after some research, I did find out the reason for the two product lines. Whilst searching Google for something completely different, I came across the Acaeum (which apart from explaining this issue, has a lot of other information about TSR and D&D). The "original" D&D set was a little A5 affair which was based on a medieval war miniatures game called Chainmail by Gary Gygax. At this time, it already had a "fantasy supplement". D&D's official co-creator, Dave Arneson was playing a customised version of the game which had more monsters and ideas borrowed from Tolkien. He wrote up his ideas, sent them to Gary Gygax, who then compiled the first D&D rulebooks based on this manuscript. There are many arguments to who invented what, but it does seem likely that Gary Gygax added quite a few ideas of his own beyond those which Arneson created. Unfortunately, as with many things, we will never know the exact truth as to who was the majority creator. There were a few more supplements for the game, but the general idea was that D&D was meant to be customisable. This was to change when work started on AD&D, a pure Gygax game (allegedly to ensure Arneson didn't get credit). The philosophy behind that game was that the rules were meant to be adhered to, and shouldn't be modified.

Anyhow, the point is that you will not find any Advanced stuff here ... nor 3rd and 4th edition D&D for that matter. Neither will you find things like scans of front covers of books and boxes. But still, the Acaeum does a great job of things like that, and so I have included links to that site if you want cover art.
One of the reasons for this website is to dissipate the annoyance I got after the nth site which said something like "My D&D collectoin" [sic], and then promptly listed every thing in their sodding collection, how much they paid for it (just to rub it in), a 2M JPEG of the front and back covers, the advertising text... In fact they gave you everything except the really interesting pieces of information: What is it about? Is it any good? Sometimes I get the feeling that the person has never actually read the damn thing (I hear that some people are obsessed enough to buy special storage boxes, and never even touch their expensively won treasures lest their value declines!).

I also want to go against examine many modules which seem to have an almost "sacred" reputation, regardless of actual merit. I think that in many cases, this is due to pure nostalgia. I attempt herein to make as objective a judgement on the merits of TSR's D&D adventures. For instance, many people swear on "classics" such as B2 - The Keep on the Borderland and X1 - The Isle Of Dread, but these are simply modules that were bundled with the rulebooks, and in both cases, they aren't really that good.

Finally, a WARNING. Since these are reviews, I am afraid that very occasionally I will describe things that only DMs should know. It may seem obvious, but I ought to point this out now. So: no peeking, especially if you're not a DM. You are entering spoiler country!

Recent Changes (As of 31 August 2014)

Recently Added

Last year, I have actually run a D&D game based on X4 and X5, and as a result, I feel slightly more motivated to continue this little project.

In Flux
Upcoming [still]

I am roughly doing this in order of release, although I will be reviewing the Gazetteers so that I can tie them into the X10 review.

Abbreviations and Naming Conventions

To save typing, I may use the following:

Abbreviation Meaning
BD&D "Basic Dungeons & Dragons" I generally mean this as "not Original, not Advanced, not Third Edition", thus encompassing the 2nd Edition D&D rules, and all the subsequent boxed sets: Basic, Expert, Companion, Masters, Immortals, the "New Easy to Master" set, the Cyclopedia, and the Classic Dungeons & Dragons game.
D&D "Dungeons & Dragons" May be OD&D or BD&D
NPC "Non Player Character" i.e. characters who are not run by a player, but the DM.
OD&D "Original Dungeons & Dragons" Not an official name; I am using it to describe the version sold as Dungeons & Dragons before Basic and Advanced came on the scene; the boxed set with three booklets.
PC "Player Character" i.e. characters who are run by a player rather than the DM.

Each product listed has a summary containing the stock code, design credits, and a rating. I have taken credit information directly from the book, so it might not be consistent from product to product, particularly earlier in TSR history. The stock code I took from the Acaeum's complete stock list. The rating is purely a personal viewpoint in terms of whether I enjoyed reading it and whether I enjoyed playing it. The scale goes from one to four stars ... so far. I will probably revise this in course.

Final Words

I will be the first one to admit that this is 1. not complete, and 2. not perfect. The first point is very much in my mind, but I have only so much time to devote to this, so I beg patience. As to the second point, if anyone spots any flaws (grammar, spelling, factual, and web-related), then please inform me. One thing that I have had trouble with is the attribution of artwork. In some modules, the art credits have been mixed together (I separate them into interior and cover artists); and in a few, there are no art credits at all (for instance, M1 - Blizzard Pass). In order to ascertain the credits, I have been forced to try and spot the artist's signature. Failing that, I have made an educated guess based on the "look" of the artwork.
As to web aspects, I have tested this site on Netscape 4, Netscape 6.01, Firefox 1+, and Internet Explorer 6.0 without losing any information. Netscape 4 looks strange because of the bugs in the stylesheet engine, and the expandable lists cannot be implemented. This may even work on IE3, if you're lucky. This is because I make great use of style sheets and Javascript. I think that I have finally sorted out the Javascript to work with both Internet Explorer 4+ and DOM 2 compatible browsers e.g. Firefox . However, there might be some bugs still in there. Anyhow, I would be extremely grateful for any corrections - I hate looking like a fool, especially in front of the whole Internet. Please for any comments you may have.

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