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
This post is continuing my review of Adventures Dark and Deep. This is part 2 of that review series. Part 1 can be read here.
Traditionally the fighter has always been one of the linchpins upon which D&D rested. The stalwart class is the tank, the brute, the armored bastion upon which the enemies break. The first edition initially had the fighters using 1d10 for hit points, they had the best attack bonuses, could wear any armor and use any weapon. Unearthed Arcana added weapon specialization, which allowed for specialist multiple attacks and increased to hit bonuses and damage. Weapon proficiencies were a subject of much aggravation for me as a young DM. Fighter players would always point me to the verbiage “Use any sort of weapon or armor”. So when I would enforce the use of weapon proficiencies I would be told I was unfairly making restrictions.
Essentially, multiple attacks per round, specializations, and proficiencies were a mire that was largely left in place by 1st edition rules as written. Page 36-37 of the player handbook outlined the proficiency system for weapons but referred you to the combat section for actual effects of not being proficient. Page 25 listed off multiple attacks but it was strictly versus creatures of 1d8 HD or less and only with thrusting or striking weapons (No blunt?). As is the story with many rules in the first edition, it’s not mentioned there. The fighter in Adventures Dark & Deep is a shining example of where Mr. Bloch has taken and consolidated very confusing rules that were spread across multiple books into one easy to find location.
First of all, Fighters are given multiple attacks versus 1d4 & 1d6 Hit Dice creatures. The number of extra attacks is based on their level. Against 1d8 Hit Dice creatures or greater Fighters get their normal attacks per round, which is 1 for levels 1-6, 3 attacks every 2 rounds for level 7-12 and 2 attacks every 1 round for levels 13 and up. If a Fighter specializes in a weapon this further increases the number of attacks per round with the chosen weapon. Essentially, Adventures scrubs up all the confusing bits surrounding the Fighter class and makes it easy to follow. Vast improvement in clarity.
The Barbarian has always been the class I loved to hate. The obvious influence of Conan upon the class was a bittersweet affair. I loved Conan as a character, but I also understood how over the top he was in terms of character progression. By all rights, he was a fighter/thief that eschewed armor for mobility. Something that was not reflected by the rules as written prior to Unearthed Arcana. A naked fighter essentially was wearing a permanent kick me sign. What was released in Unearthed Arcana was an unstoppable juggernaut of destruction that many complained was vastly overpowered in comparison to other classes. Of course, they also required the most experience to level, making them a slow leveling class so one could easily argue their slow progression was a balance to the abilities they gained.
The Barbarian in Adventures Dark & Deep is little changed from that of the one present in Unearthed Arcana. Perhaps the best change is that many of the Barbarians abilities are clearly outlined and displayed as opposed to the Unearthed Arcana entry in which they were in the text for sure but not directly highlighted or made obvious. Adventures Dark & Deep excels at making commonly missed or perhaps read over bits of information visible and in a format that draws attention to it. The Barbarians benefit greatly from this.
Rangers much like fighters are given multiple attacks per round vs 1d4 & 1d6 Hit Dice creatures. Nothing changes in regards to this, other then once again the format is much easier to follow. Tracking has been moved to a secondary skill but follows a very simple mechanic which adds skill level times 10% for rolls and unlocks different details that can be tracked as skill level increases. Overall a vast improvement to the tracking function.
Rangers maintain casting spells at 8th level, dabbling in both druid and magic user realms. I have never quite understood where the magic-user side of casting came from. Druid made perfect sense, but why or how would a ranger learn to use magic-user spells, something that arguably required a lot more practice and study to get right. I am sure there is a well thought out explanation, but it will remain something that just does not quite fit for me.
The Mage aka the Magic-User does not really change much from their 1st edition counterpart. The often argued about XP amount per level remains the same (There has been a part of the community that has long grumbled that the cost of experience to level vs the low hit dice, the single spell cast of 1st level, the lack of armor and weapon use makes the 2,500 XP requirement very impractical). I must admit I have always been partial to this argument. There are no answers to be found here. Mr. Bloch is only fixing or adjusting things that Mr. Gygax himself expressed an interest in addressing. Essentially the descriptions and verbiage are cleaned up and everything is delivered nice and neat.
The Mage does see one small shift in that they can create magic scrolls at 7th level and magic items themselves at 12th level. At 16th level, their effects on magic items can be made permanent. This is different from the PHB which granted them the ability to do both at level 11. Strangely absent however is a mention of strongholds and followers for Mage and their subclasses.
Ahh, the illusionist, that most overlooked and rarely played at my table class. I have read in a few different places the Illusionist was Gary’s vision of what a specialist magic-user would look like. It was upon this template that clever game masters could build their own specializations for each of the schools. This is exactly what I and many others did! The illusionist received very little in terms of changes here other than a defined path for scroll creation and magic item creation. Oddly scroll creation remains at level 7 while magic item creation comes in at level 11 and level 14 Illusionists can make their effects permanent. Perhaps their lower levels of item crafting and permanency are due to their more narrow focus than the generalist mage?
The Savant is one of the new classes taken from Gary’s notes that has been added to Adventures Dark & Deep. I remember reading the description in Dragon Magazine all those many years ago and thinking “Who would play that it sounds boring?” Of course, I was a pre-teen at the time so I am sure that played a large part in my not being able to see the utility of the class. The Savant straddles the line between cleric and magic user but in a different fashion than the mystic class. Where a mystic receives a vision from the gods, a Savant quite simply “knows things”. This is due to their extensive knowledge from study as well as their diviner like spell abilities. Savants also get the Scholarship secondary skill for free. This gives them a sage like quality that allows the player to steer the direction of things with their findings rather than having a nameless NPC in a dusty library do it.
Savants have their own unique spell list that combines the divinatory spells of mages and clerics together. Savants very much appear to be utility classes. While some might scoff at their lack of battle magic, that is not the purpose of a Savant. The Savant is the guy you take that magic sword to. They are the lady that uses their magical prowess to see the dangers ahead and thusly avoid them entirely. In fact with a Savant in the group a lot of normal dangers that a group might face become somewhat marginalized if the Savant is being played to their strengths. Overall, the single biggest thing that probably caused Gary to hold off including the Savant was the nature of the players at the time.
By that last statement, I mean the truth of maturity and time. As an adult I can clearly see the purpose, utility and function of the Savant. As a youth though I am quite sure I would have overlooked this resourcefulness as would have my players. Ahh the nature of youth and the desire to play things that look the most destructive ignoring the more subtle powers that in the end are more useful. But I digress!
Very little changes with the thief. Much like the other core classes where Adventures excels is at clarifying and displaying information in an easy to digest and find format. The inclusion of climbing speeds based around surface being climbed is a nice addition. It is nice to have that information there rather than in the GM’s handbook as it really should be common knowledge to the player. After all in game context it would be the thieves visual interpretation that would determine if they thought they could climb a surface and how carefully they would approach it.
The Thief acrobat remains a subclass of thieves, with an emphasis on cat burglarly over the standard thief outlook. The specific talents of the thief acrobat cause them to forgo the more standard thiefly abilities of picking pockets, finding/removing traps, opening locks, and reading magic past a certain level. Where the difference lies in versions is the Unearthed Arcana version of the thief-acrobat stopped in skill gain at level 5. Adventures instead bases the stopping point upon the dexterity of the thief for determining the level they stop. They are also allowed to read magic scrolls at 10th level, as opposed to losing the ability all together. This makes the Thief Acrobat a far more attractive choice than it was before.
It was always offputting that this thief could scale cautiously up the side of a wall, walk across a thin rope only to be foiled by a locked window. Thankfully, this is addressed and the Thief Acrobat becomes a far more viable option under Mr. Bloch’s care.
This class was by far and away one of the aspects of Adventures Dark & Deep I was most interested in seeing. I always liked the idea of the shuckster, the con man. The Charlatan that makes his/her living playing on the confidence of others. Much like the Savant this is a finesse class. It is a class predicated on good roleplay interaction. Proof that Mr. Gygax was not just about Murder Hobo adventures as many have claimed in the past. The Mountebank similar to a bard is all about presentation, Unlike a bard though this presentation is all a deception. Often they will disguise themselves, use sleight of hand to perform “magic”. They have knowledge of alchemy for making tinctures and potions, in the vein of “Try my miracle elixir GUARANTEED to cure what ails you!”.
The Mountebank couples this with verbal patter skills similar to the bard, which allows them to further convince crowds of their product quality. Overall the Mountebank feels very solid as a confidence man with a believable collection of skills and abilities that truly make them shine. Where the dungeon is the domain of the standard thief, the city or wilderness is the church of the Mountebank. Further proof that Gary saw beyond diving into holes in the ground to a much bigger more political/roleplay centric game.
Overall alignment remains unchanged in function. The bonus that Adventures gives us is clear descriptions of each alignment with quotes that exemplify that alignment in action or ideology. For instance its easy to see a paladin uttering the words “Laws and justice to help those who cannot help themselves”. Its just as easy to Darth Vader saying “Know your place”. It leaves little doubt which is the good version of the lawful dogma versus the evil one.
Okay, so here is where I go off the deep end regarding first edition rules versus the rules as presented in Adventures. Simply put, the idea of secondary skills in 1st edition was garbage. It was relatively unclear, did not offer a lot of choice and honestly from polling a lot of GM’s from that era was an oft ignored aspect. The first problem was of course the fact this skill system was presented in the DMG instead of in the player’s guide. It was never made clear as to why leaving one to guess perhaps Gary knew the idea would be unpopular with GM’s and simply wanted to make sure it was an option instead of an expectation.
In Adventures Dark & Deep however the secondary skill system is worked out to perfection. Each skill is given an xp cost to learn. Yes, this means instead of just magically gaining knowledge of this skill, you are taking experience earned in adventuring to instead buy a level in a skill. This represents the player taking time off of adventuring to focus on say alchemy, or to train with a ranger in the finer arts of setting up an ambush. As many of these skills would take a considerable amount of time to become decent at, the expenditure of XP lends credibility to the idea of spending this time outside the normal adventuring routine.
Skills are handled by rolling under a specific attribute associated with them. Every point in a skill lowers the roll the GM makes by 2. As long as you come up equal to or under your attribute associated to that skill, you succeed. 36 different secondary skills are listed giving players a fairly large selection to choose from.
Adventures has this habit of taking things from first edition that were glossed over, or perhaps not given enough depth and whole heartedly embracing them. Social Class is something where while present, rarely were the impacts or benefits to the player made clear. In fact the initial rules on page 88-89 of the DMG start off by stating that there will be no table to randomly determine standing as those factors for adventurer’s are negligible at best at helping to advance story. However, as with most things in 1st edition, Gary changed his stance and we see social rank appear on page 82-83 of Unearthed Arcana.
Adventures Dark & Deep does not alter any of the information found in UA. Instead it cleans up the language and consolidates it into easy to find tables. It also situates it in a location where other items such as literacy, monthly expenses from lifestyle and familial data is located. This section falls under the finishing touches category. It seamlessly interweaves social standing and birth order to affect things like income and literacy. Which in turn can impact various aspects of the characters starting and continuing story.
Closing for now
Well as much as I loathe to do this, I am 2500 words in roughly, and I still have more to say about this product. Join me in one week for the rest of my review of Adventures Dark & Deep Player’s Manual, as well as the my summary and purchase recommendations.
Until next time ,
Keep rolling them bones!
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