Tuesday, January 26, 2010

REVIEW: Advanced Edition Companion

Admittedly, you could say my understanding of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons is pretty limited.  In fact, I was born a decade after the original game and, while I was certainly aware of D&D by the late 90's, my roots in this hobby are more accurately located in the early computer adventures like Zork et al.  Yet text-based adventure games and roleplaying share a common ancestry in Gygax and Arneson, and I came to the "old school" editions years later, drawn in by games like HackMaster and communities like Dragonsfoot.org.

One of the core principles of those original "old school" games, in contrast with modern game design, is that the rules are unapologetically suffused a certain implied setting, but are not sacrosanct.  Indeed, if the original Dungeons & Dragons game was unambiguous in anything, it was clear in its demand for immediate renovation and construction.  The "retro-clone" games, modern offerings that emulate these classics, have by and large done a good job at achieving the sense of an implied setting, but only fairly recent offerings have demanded referees to step out of the bounds of the written word to construct his own gaming bricolage (Swords & Wizardry WhiteBox deserves this honour).  Advanced Edition Companion, from Goblinoid Games, completes a trilogy of retro-clone games (including Labyrinth Lord and Original Edition Characters) that realizes a fundamental truth of those original campaigns from the early 80's: no one plays with just one set of rules.  Instead, campaigns were more often then not a mad mix of Basic D&D, "three little books" and a couple of odd AD&D hardbacks.  I, for one, am excited to see parties of Level 3 Elves and Half-Orc Assassins adventuring together again.

Advanced Edition Companion offers 153 pages of new options for your Labyrinth Lord game.  There are 7 races, 10 classes, 56 pages of spells, 17 pages of new magic items, 37 pages of new monsters as well as a slew of other new rules options and random tables to make your game a little more "advanced."  While Labyrinth Lord emulates Moldvay and Cook's Basic D&D, with its clean, consistent and simple system, Advanced Edition Companion portrays the heady days of Gygax's Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 1st Edition.  While these games were never fundamentally very different, the aporia at the heart of this combination has always been the varying levels of power between the two systems.  In the early days, this was bridged by sheer enthusiasm (and lack of other options).  Goblinoid Games has done an excellent job bringing this new supplement (along with the previous Original Edition Characters) into balance with the core rules, allowing referees to turn the detail "up" towards Gygax's AD&D or "down" towards Arneson's OD&D without ever having to worry about parity.

Of, the 7 new races, 4 are familiar and 3 (Half-Elves, Half-Orcs and Gnomes) are new to Labyrinth Lord.  All have been drawn up with the requirements, ability modifiers, minimums, maximums and racial abilities and class modifiers familiar to anyone with the "demon cover" book.  Similarly, 4 classes return while 6 are new (Assassins, Druids, Illusionists, Monks, Paladins and Rangers).  Again, all have been tweaked to match their "advanced" lineage.  The experience tables and hit dice are all perfectly consistent with Labyrinth Lord, although there is even a special option for "advanced" hit dice to bring all your characters up to the strength of the advanced game.  Among these rules, you also find optional rules for multi-classing, random age, weight and height, "advanced"alignment, secondary skills as well as some informative notes for comparing OEC, classic LL and AEC classes.  To match the new classes, the ability tables have been expanded to cover new ground (including "Spell Learning Probability" for high Intelligence and "Survive Resurrection" percentage for high Constitution).

The new spell section is divided into Cleric, Druid, Illusionist and Magic-User (high level Rangers cast from the Druid and Magic-User lists, while Paladins can eventually cast from the Cleric list).  I count over 200 new spells (approximately 80 new Magic-User spells, 60 new Druid spells, 50 new Illusionist spells and 20 new Cleric spells), which are basically drawn straight from AD&D and its supplements.

The monster section details nearly 200 new monsters, again drawn from the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons corpus.  In particular, the classic demon types are represented, as are devils and demon lords, with an impressive amount of new art.  Orcus is here, with his wand, as are other AD&D classics such as the Beholder (ahem, the "Eye of Terror," I mean) and Otyugh.  I am happy to see that many of these entries have been updated with some subtle new tricks to keep your players on their toes, while largely retaining their old feel; perfect for new and old gamers alike.

There are about 120 new magic items, with tables that incorporate all of the classic "B/X" magic items from Labyrinth Lord with the new material.  With the monster and magic item sections, I appreciate how Goblinoid Games was careful to key entries that were new to AEC, to distinguish from those that could be found in the original LL rulebook.  The new items are seemingly drawn from the original sources without many differences, although it is nice to have the random item tables from different games brought together in one handy reference.

Aside from these main sections of Advanced Edition Companion (including the obligatory equipment section), it's hard to overstate the usefulness of the sundry minor rules options spread throughout this book.  There is an excellent discussion on monster habitat densities and lair encounters, a plethora of new combat options (covering helmets, parrying, subdual damage, two-weapon fighting, magical stunning and paralysis, and a detailed treatment on poison), new rules for adventuring in the underworld (including infravision, ultravision, chances to notice invisible enemies, potion mixing tables and a useful table on humanoid spell casters).  There is a detailed discussion on cosmology (including the different planes of existence), as well as a very useful sampling of random tables (random tavern patrons, dungeon furnishings, traps, atmospheric effects like sights and sounds, miscellaneous room features and contents as well as a more detailed treatment of laboratories and torture chambers).

Overall, I think Advanced Edition Companion is a great success.  This supplement really expands the horizons of the already considerable Labyrinth Lord game, bringing the "advanced" feel to arguably the most popular retro-clone game on the market.  Furthermore, by allowing players and referee alike to mix options to suit their taste, Advanced Edition Companion pioneers new ground in reincarnating the exciting days of early 1980's gaming.  The biggest advantage here, however, is the simultaneous appeal to fans of three traditionally disparate editions of Dungeons & Dragons (Original, Basic and Advanced).  With the core game and now two supplements being built off the same solid foundation, referees can now host many different players, play styles and interests without slowing down the game one bit, allowing for even more players at the table.

Score: 1-5 on a d6 (Excellent)


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