This review was done using the writers personally owned copies of the product
Adventures Dark & Deep is published by BRW Games.
Adventures Dark & Deep is written by Joseph Bloch
Gary Gygax along with Dave Arneson and others brought us into the world of Dungeons and Dragons in 1974. The basic version of the game was later updated to its more intricate state of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons in 1977. TSR went through some turbulent times in the early 1980’s, and despite his innovative nature, it was not enough to save his role in the company, and soon the creation left the creator. What we do know is, Gary was already making plans for a revised or “2nd edition of AD&D”. He spells this out over multiple Dragon articles as well as the forums of various RPG sites. Still, long-term fans have been stuck wondering what if? Joseph Bloch and BRW Games answer this question with Adventures Dark & Deep.
This review will be a bit different
In order to do this product justice, I need to delve a bit into my personal AD&D collection. If you want apple to apple comparison…well you kind of got to look at apples. I will state before I break into the review, I do not feel this game is a retroclone. It’s more of a historical exploration of the mindset of the games creator. That puts it in a unique position. Unlike OSRIC, it is not a restating of the rules minus copyrighted material. While it does “build” on the original rules, it’s arguably built using the original creator’s ideas and material. Mr. Bloch sourced material from places such as Dragon Magazine issues 65, 67, and 103. He also discussed the design process on his blog.
Adventures Dark & Deep Player’s Manual will be the first portion of this system I will review. I will later move on to the Adventures Dark & Deep GM’s Tool kit and wrap up with Adventures Dark & Deep Bestiary. Time and life allowing I would also like to look at Castle of the Mad Archmage as well, which I feel though an adventure product, ties in nicely with our walk down Gygax what if lane.
The review process
Instead of walking you through the exact process of creating a character I will instead discuss what is different about Adventures Dark & Deep Player’s Manual in comparison to its forefather 1st edition Player’s Handbook. I am going to make a leap of faith and guess most of the readers of this article will at least have a passing familiarity with 1st edition rules. So going forward, please understand the article is written with that assumption in mind.
Foreword and Introduction
Mr. Bloch gives a brief but clear preface as to his reasons for making Adventures Dark & Deep in the first place. This is the product of painstaking hours of combing articles in Dragon, looking at feeds on Dragonsfoot and EnWorld as well as others. The introduction assumes no knowledge of gaming on the part of the reader but does a bang-up job of laying out the acronyms, dice conventions and basic terms a new player needs to know. Overall, just enough to wet your beak, all summed up in one page!
As is standard, character creation begins with the rolling of abilities. The first change in mindset occurs here. Originally, methods for rolling abilities were listed on page 11 of the DMG. I suspect the reasoning was to leave the control of which method was used to the DM. Mr. Bloch offers what I believe are the three most common methods of 3d6 in order, 4d6 drop the lowest, and 2d6+6.
First off Mr. Bloch covers ability checks. This is sort of a catch-all for any task a player wants to do that the GM believes there is a chance of failure for. The GM picks an ability the task would call upon, The player rolls 3d6, if the roll comes up under the players score they are successful. Ability score bonuses or penalties are given up to 25, a departure from the 18 cap in the PHB. This is from the explanatory notes section of Deities and Demi-Gods.
Strength remains unchanged. Intelligence gets a cleaning with the redundancy of minimum spells known removed and the introduction of immunity to illusion/phantasm spells at 19+. Wisdom gains an immunity to charm spells at 19+. Dexterity changes the language from reaction adjustment to Initiative, adds in the missile attack adjustment, and changes defensive adjustment to Armor Class. Gone are tables in this section for thief adjustments. Constitution adds in the mechanic of re-rolling hit dice for both low and high scores. So if you have a low score, you will not get to keep high hit point rolls due to your poor constitution. If you have a high score you can ditch some low rolls. Charisma removes a percentile henchmen loyalty check for a +/- modifier for morale.
Unearthed Arcana collected together a bevy of races and racial subtypes. Adventures Dark & Deep includes most of these with the exception of Valley Elves (Which were a Greyhawk specific elven race if I recall from the Vale of the Mage module). While we lose Valley Elves we gain Forest and Hill Gnomes so don’t feel short-changed! <PUN> There are a few changes to classes that races can be, but I will discuss that in the class section. Anything pertaining to level, physical or mental limitations of a specific culture are cleanly shown within each sub-races blurb.
The only way I can properly handle the class section is to go class by class and compare. That is the only way I feel I can do justice to what Mr. Bloch has given us.
Bards were relegated to Appendix II of the Player’s Handbook originally. Bards could only be Humans and Half-Elves in the 1E iteration. In Adventures Dark & Deep they can be any Elf except for Wild Elves, Any Gnome, Halflings, and Humans. Appendix II stated they had to be a fighter until level 5, in which they switched to being a thief (Dual classing) until at least level 5 where they then had to drop thief to become a bard and begin studying with a druid. Adventures Dark & Deep does away with the dual classing and simply has them start off as a bard. The Adventuring musicians are given numerous new skills that flesh out their abilities to perfection. Verbal patter gives a mechanical way to handle many bard talents, such as swaying an audience to your viewpoint or enraging them towards a specific target.
Bards still cast druid spells but they are directly tied to their performance instead of a gesture/incantation. Their thief-like abilities are limited to hiding in shadows, listening at doors, reading languages and sleight of hand. I feel these choices make much more sense in light of what a bard does than simply having them get 5 levels of thief to no real avail. They also get a lore ability that can allow them to identify magic items. They have their own spell line to boot which is not solely Druids. So Bards as a whole received a major overhaul mechanically from their 1E entry.
In Adventures Dark & Deep, The Jester is a subclass of Bard. The idea was first seen in Dragon #60 and refined by Gygax in issue #65, and issue #103 in concept. In this case, Adventures Dark & Deep allowd Humans, Halflings, and Gnomes, with the latter being limited to 6th level. I most assuredly agree Dwarves do not really fit the mold. Jesters are a bit more restricted in armor use than their bard parent class. This is due to their increased mobility demands. These guys are rarely standing still!
Adventures (as I shall now call it), removes wisdom from ability requirements and further opens up alignments disallowing only lawful ones. This makes perfect sense for a Jester. Jesters are given their own unique form of Verbal Patter. In fact, their forms of guile are even more effective in some ways than the bards. Jesters really know how to tick someone off. Jesters Verbal Patter abilities are as follows: Assure, Befuddle, Demean, Distract, Enrage, Entertain, Question, Second Look, Trust, & Value. With these, they can bring the house down with laughter, cause a target to be looked upon negatively or even get a mob fast on their heels. Tumbling and Performing add in all sorts of fun talents like knife throwing, fire-breathing, balance, and juggling.
Jesters even dabble in magic, having their own interesting spell line. They can also use any other casters scrolls. Whats funny is, Jester’s can read everyone else scrolls, but most cannot read theirs. Even in that simple feature the jester is “biting his thumb at thee!”. The Jester is a work of art I was frankly not expecting. I want to be a Jester, and I never play wild characters.
The Cavalier first appeared in Dragon #72, was later published in Unearthed Arcana and received a final touch in Dragon #148. All of these iterations made so many changes, I could spend half this review recounting them. What really resulted was a very muddy version with a lot of contradictions, and arguably an overpowered class despite cosmetic social restrictions. Mr. Bloch has sifted through these variations to create what is arguably the best version of the Cavalier class to date. All Cavaliers in Adventures must be lawful. This makes a TON of sense. They might not be good but they are a class predicated on honor. Races allowed remain close to the original text with Humans, Half-Elves and Some Elves (High, Gray, and Dark) being choices.
Starting Equipment is largely dependent upon the starting social class. This is all provided by a liege lord, establishing fully the link between society and the Cavalier. Cavalier To hit bonuses, as well as horsemanship abilities, remain largely unchanged from the Unearthed Arcana version. Gone are most of the alignment restrictions that only gave benefit to “good” Cavaliers. Overall, while many of the tropes of being a Cavalier are unchanged from the UA version, Mr. Bloch has made a far more legible and easy to read version that spells out everything perfectly.
The Paladin is a subclass of Cavalier in Adventures. This is a change that first occurred in UA. I must admit that I always found this strange. While I understand that Paladins and Cavaliers clearly share ideas of honor and loyalty, the religious link the Paladin maintains is not really part of the Cavalier background. There are plenty of knights around whose loyalty was to a King and not a church. They now must be of upper-class social standing. Again if they were a servant of the church, their social standing would honestly depend on societies view of the church itself. I can reconcile this as Mr. Bloch being true to the source material. I know I would probably nix this rule myself.
The Paladin remains as having some of the harshest ability requirements of any class in the game. If you want to be a paladin you need a 14 Strength, Dexterity, & Constitution, 10 intelligence, 13 Wisdom & finally 17 Charisma. Only humans can be Paladins. Essentially to become a Paladin a shaft of golden light must erupt from the heavens and blast your dice with pure benediction. I can honestly say Gamemastering since 1982 and running mostly 1E games, I have seen 2 players in all that time roll paladins, and one of them was using the 2d6+6 method. Personally, I think it is appropriate. Paladins should be like Unicorns, rarely seen.
Very little changes with the Cleric class in Adventures Dark & Deep. One significant change though is the inclusion of the concept that weapon use is related directly to the Deity that is worshipped. While a small change, this changes the old ideology of “forbidden to use edged and/or pointed weapons which shed blood”. Clerics are also given the ability to create magic items, which per 1st edition was normally the purview of magic users with the exception of holy water and special holy artifacts. This was reserved until the 11th level in 1st edition and remains so in Adventures, though Clerics can begin scribing scrolls at 7th level.
Ahh, the druid..the consummate tree-hugging force of neutrality that is arguably one of the harder classes to roleplay. Treebeard from Lord of the rings said it best “Side? I am on nobody’s side, because nobody is on my side, little orc.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien
Nothing sums up the Druid more than this quote. One thing Mr. Bloch does a great job of is sensibly laying out a Druid’s mentality. They will not die needlessly to defend their forest. They also will not get bent out of shape at the tiniest infractions “such as stepping on a blade of grass”. The idea that good and evil, order and chaos are all necessary in order for natural balance to be possible. Most of their innate abilities such as identifying plants, animals, and drinkable water have been lumped into woodcraft, as well as the ability to pass through normally impassable woodland terrain and conceal their passing. Druids still have the option at 15 to advance outside their order with a slight change to allow for copyright issues.
Druids have the option to forgo being the Grand Druid and instead retire to become a Vates (pronounced VaY-tEES). A Vates does not gain in spell knowledge instead bonding with the raw elemental forces themselves. The Vates is granted a greatly increased lifespan, the ability to shift their form to appear older, younger, larger or smaller within a mere 6 seconds. At 17th level, they can enter the elemental planes themselves and survive as though a native to them. They can also summon up elementals to do their bidding. Woe betide those who anger one of these ancient priests.
The Mystic was first mentioned in Dragon Magazine #65. It was a sub class of cleric with a focus on prediction and detection sort of like a holy wise man. Most of their spells were listed as being divine or detection based. In Dragon #106, someone writes in asking for more information regarding the Mystic. At the time they were told to wait for the 2nd edition of the game which Mr. Gygax was working on. Sadly, it never came to light that is until now!
The Mystic is both holy man and wise seer. Their knowledge extends to the metaphysical, though they lack the martial prowess of a monk. Rather then recieving spells from a deity, the Mystic recieves spells through his understanding of the multiverse as a whole. Mr. Bloch has created a complete list of spells for them that are a mix of completely unique and clerical as befitting the description of the class. Mystics manage Chakras, using them to open pathways, they use crytals to channel healing or improve their abilities temporarily. This leads to a very Middle Eastern/Asian mind set while having a decidingly Robert E. Howard (Priest of Ibis) feel to it. The mystic at first glance is not like any other class within standard 1E AD&D, despite being a subclass of cleric. A true delight to read and very interesting in play. (I have a player with a level 2 mystic now in my playtest game and he is having a blast being the indifferent whimsical mystery man.)
Mystics use meditation to strengthen their bodies and minds. This allows them to prolong lack of food or water, function past the point other characters would be at risk of death, and even travel the astral plane. Truly a unique class that in gameplay balances well with the original classes.
This is where I will end part 1. Join me in 1 week for Part 2 as I continue examining the class changes in Adventures Dark & Deep and begin examining the other changes present in the game.
Seeya then and remember if you like what you are reading please subscribe!