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FRANK MENTZER (Compiler of the BECMI boxed sets; compiled from the Dragonsfoot forums through Sep 4, 2006. Posts relating only to Aquaria were not included.)

Q: In the Known World mythos, with Immortals and all, is it ever explained how the FIRST immortal gained his status, or was that left open to whatever the DM could figure out, if a PC ever got the chance to ask?
A: Well of course not. Even the (current) immortals don't remember. Tho there has been mortal worship of Gaea the Earth Mother as The First, the Immortals Set removes that possibility: planet-sized beings are of the Sphere of Matter, and relatively common (well, at least as sentient planets go; depends on your neighbourhood I guess). Similar speculations about primordial Chaos are again 'way below the mark.

There are, however, tangential references in Immortals to an even greater group of immortal beings who exist (or once existed) beyond even the conventional immortals, perhaps beyond the 5th dimension, or beyond the known Multiverse, or whatever. Wherever They are, they don't want to be disturbed, and withdrew without leaving so much as an answering machine, let alone proof of Their existence.

So even if you can get your head around the details presented in Immortals and grasp the entire Great Scheme Of Things, the story does not come to an end; there is always Something More.

Q: Was the whole cosmic law / chaos struggle and balance ever intended to be a major part of the game and its mythos (ala Moorcock), or was it simply and always intended as a basic guide to "good guys and bad guys"?

We've played with both and they both work, though the resulting game is obviously quite different in flavour and feel. I'm just curious as to what the original intentions were (and if they changed between your D&D and AD&D).

A: This would seem to be something more appropriately asked of Gary; I was a latecomer and didn't hit Lake Geneva until January 1980.

The Moorcock influence is obvious, as are Vancean magic and other elements, but I don't think any of those factors became a metaforce shaping the broader game; Gary's will and imagination are too strongly individual for that. And of course we all witnessed the artificial dichotomy of D&D Basic, "Law=Good, Chaos=Evil" and its underlying presumption that behaviour accurately reflects motivation. How droll and cartoonish...

A cosmic law v chaos struggle can work, but you have to built it into the very essence of the work or campaign. In my own, it's magic v tech. In realworld 1800s it was federal v state, or free v slave if you prefer. There are always vast seesaws a-teetering; the question is whether you want to devote your gaming to one in particular.

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A few things about my campaign... It is set on Ceti Tau, circa 2700 Terran dating. It is also the World of Greyhawk. Axiom #1 (multiversal) is that Belief is a finite and mensurate quantity (per being, per intelligence point, or however) and that any quantity of Belief dedicated to Tech is not available to support gods & magic -- which is literally the gods' source of all their power.

How can Physics survive in this world of magic, you ask? Axiom #2: The distance of an interplanar boundary (i.e. from the Prime to the Ether and/or to the 4 Elements) varies by the position of the observer. When the boundaries are distant (e.g. near Terra), magic is rare and science (including physics and its precepts, usually but ignorantly termed 'laws') is dominant. When the boundaries are proximate (e.g. near Ceti Tau), the reverse applies: the practical use of 'magic', and the lack of applicability of the so-called 'laws of physics', are in direct proportion to this datum.

This fact has not been discovered by Terrans because all of their (few) tests have been performed in one highly provincial neighbourhood of the Prime. They would have to conduct similar tests at a far distant place, several light years away at least, to get meaningful results, or even to grant the theory to be plausible and not mere fiction created by imaginative writers.

Q: How much of your rules (referring to all five boxed sets) meshed, or at least were ported directly from the original (brown/white box) game? How much of your own material went into the boxed sets?

A: They were all supposed to mesh neatly with OD&D... while leaving Blackmoor out (legal issues). I did use them for the source material.

Also for legal reasons I was listed as "compiler" or "editor" in most of the sets; TSR had enough problems between Gygax & Arneson, no sense giving me grounds to add my name to the list. However, the further it went, the greater the amount I 'compiled' from my own ideas; there's very very little in Masters and nearly nothing in Immortals that had ever appeared before.

(Re Immortals, the above may be for good reason; it's one of the strangest mainline game products ever published. *I* grasp it fully and use it all the time in my AD&D campaign, but few others have ever found a way to bridge the gap between mortal PCs and their immortal futures. I don't use the methods I included therein... I've added considerably to the starting framework given in the set. Perhaps I'll put it in Dragonsfoot some time, it would never be published.)

I really *must* note that for Companion, I pondered the situation greatly since I had many things to do at that point, and something had to give. So although I wrote most of it, I turned over one section lock stock & barrel to a pair of designers who showed interest in carrying the ball for a few downs: Gary Spiegel and Doug Niles. I directed 'em and gave specific instructions, essentially as follows: give me a fast, easy-to-run, uncomplicated but expandable, comprehensive but not tedious, all-new state-of-the-art method for handling REALLY large battles, something that newbies could embrace but that old-schoolers could use without squawking. I tweaked it along the way and kept my nose in, of course. I think they did a great job with the War Machine. The design gave someone the idea of doing an AD&D version I believe, i.e. BattleSystem.

Mr. Spiegel left TSR within a year, as I recall, axed in one of the cutbacks (tho he may have worked with the TSRefugees, aka Pacesetter Publications, for a time; I don't remember). Doug of course went on to find his calling in novels for TSR and others.

Q: So I could assume that (besides War Machine and the Immortals stuff) everything in your boxed sets are just like they were in the original game?

A: A lot of mechanics are the same, and the spirit is as close as I could make it... but the flavour of the writing of that earlier age, and the primitive nature of the rules for the first-ever RPG, make the OD&D set a one-of-a-kind experience.

(A poster stated): You've been a nice addition to the Dragonsfoot community.

Past tense, huh? You cur. Have I been asked to leave?

Seriously tho, I thought War Machine was extraordinary, and I'm happy to point admirers toward the true designers, Gary and Doug.

Q: So given the option of going back and modifying based on your own subsequent gaming, what would be different?

A: Gee, you ask easy ones. (NOT) First my usual codicil: it's been two decades, dude, I don't remember all the details of what I wrote.

{rant on}The most important influence on the changes would probably be not my subsequent gaming but rather the abrupt changes made to the integrity and spirit of the AD&D / D&D game after it was controlled by others, WotC and then Hasbro. It was once possible to grab an hour or two and play some D&D. Now it seems that you have to become familiar with overly comprehensive rules, buy and set up a lot of miniatures, and devote all your spare time to it; a pickup game is nearly impossible. We did devote one helluva lot of time to it in the old days, but that was our choice, not a mandate from the suits. {/rant}

(Gutnote: There is a growing need for a FRP game system that appeals to young and old gamers alike, something that retains great flexibility and playability without making too many demands. That may be C&C from Troll Lord; we shall see. I am actively investigating it at present, and Gary and I have come to agreement on terms as regards a co-authoring project for that system. And in case you didn't get it, a gutnote is a footnote that appears higher up, ba-dum bump.)

I'm OT as usual... hrmph. Okay, what would I have done differently... another situational effect presents itself, the lack of open warfare between the original co-authors. I'd stick more closely to the original rules set, not banning certain aspects that were then labelled as belonging to Dave Arneson or AD&D Gygax -- but while modifying certain rules and systems based on many many years of experience. There are many details in the original that blatantly reflect the lack of usage in real play, but all such can be easily revised without changing the flavour of the work. The original was an outgrowth of fantasy wargaming, and some elements can and should, imho, be revised slightly to enable and encourage that but not require it.

I'd probably also cut down on the levels somewhat. Few have the time or interest to work their way from 1st to 36th; 25 would seem a reasonable compromise, with a corresponding compression of ability escalation. I'd also tone down the urging toward regional leadership, logical as it may be; some personality types reach Greatness without becoming leaders of the masses. It's an avenue but should not be advocated so strongly.

The only other thing that comes to mind is Classes. While various archetypes (a concept that was new in the 1950s, btw) are appropriate, those given are obviously Western European (that being the cultural heritage of most readers) and specifically Medieval. But rather than tossing that for a reorientation that would probably be TOO broad, I'd include extensive notes on optional cultural modifications, with examples, and guidelines for creating your own heroic classes of any type you want -- cavalier and barbarian (from AD&D of course), the many sub-varieties of religious persuasions, the notably different mindsets of military Planners vs Doers, and perhaps even ::quiver:: Politicians. It's fantasy, so anyone can become a Hero.

Q: Would you have done away with "race-classes" or retained that feature ?

A: Hard to say, but I think I would scrap it and allow demi-humans to choose from career options. The earliest version is so utterly humanocentric as to be insulting in some ways.

There was initially a widely held belief that too much power or ability given to demi-humans would trigger an exodus away from human PCs. In Tolkien the hobbits save the day, but the humans (aided by the elves) are the race ascendant, about to inherit the world in the new Age, and that of course strongly influenced all fantasy gaming through the '70s.

But a lot has been learned about game balance. Over time we've moved away from the limited parables of Tolkien and embraced a broader equality amongst all races, finding plenty of fun in playing non-humans while preventing the exodus from humanocentrism. One of the only dominant aspects is the alien factor; it's easier (especially for newbies) to role-play a human than otherwise.

Truth Warning: I'm biased on this topic. My own campaign is a logical backlash response: the hoomanz screwed everything up so completely, in their obsession with power and control, that vast numbers of them were wiped out. They still dominate Oerid (circa CY 300, our current phase), which lies far west across the Solnor, but in Aquaria they are a minority, clinging to their old cities amidst lands filled with half-olve (the dominant race), olve, noniz, and a few dwur.

Q: On the subject of avoiding Arnesons work, aren't parts of the boxed sets based on some aspects of Blackmoor? Have I remembered incorrectly, but isn't the 'monk' character class in Blackmoor, and isn't that rather like the Mystic in the Masters rules?

A: This was discussed at the time and it was decided that logical classes like the Mystic, though slightly similar, were not derivative (a legal term in publishing). We took care not to duplicate (plagiarise) any Arneson material, nor did I base anything in the D&D rules sets on his unique non-collaborative material. Simple enough not to; there are plenty of ideas in the realm of FRP.*

Note that once the legal fracas died down, TSR did publish some DA works as D&D scenarios & accessories.

* There are in fact SO many good ideas out there that no professional publisher will touch anything that could even possibly smack of plagiarism or derivative legality. If you submit anything to anybody, it's handled on their end by a Submissions person who NEVER mentions any part of the details to any other staff. If they did so, a wannabe might later claim that something from that publisher was stolen from his (declined) submission. If a potential blockbuster comes in from an unpublished author, fine; you get back to him immediately and lay some legal groundwork before continuing. Copyright hassles just aren't worth the trouble, so the pros are very tight on these procedures. There's a common myth that publishers steal great ideas from amateurs, and nothing could be further from the truth.

Q: Frank Mentzer, are you the creator of classic DandD? If so, I have a question about the cleric class.

A: I wrote the boxed rules sets that appeared in the 1980s -- red Basic, blue Expert, green Companion, black Masters, and gold Immortals, all with dragon artwork by Larry Elmore. If that was the 'classic D&D' line to which you refer, then you've got the right person.

Q: Did you allow nondruid clerics to be TN in alignment? If yes, what is the maximum level that can be reached by a TN-alignment cleric? ...Also, in the classic DandD forum... a TN-alignment cleric is limited to a lower level than clerics of law or chaos. What is the reason for that?

A: I don't recall limiting clerics that way; it introduces a new subclass (Druid) right off the bat, and best to keep things simple for the newcomer's first exposure to the game (D&D Basic). My memory may be faulty. Best place to get reasonable answers and guesses would be the D&D forum, then.

Q: Do you play your version of D&D or Gary's? By that I mean the "Basic" or the "Advanced"?

A: I started with OD&D in the 1970s but converted to AD&D1e as soon as it came out late in that decade. Some elements of 2e were satisfactory and were added when that arrived in the '80s. I have utterly ignored every version since.

However and contrariwise, I started formulating some parts of what became Immortals as far back as the late '70s, codifying the whole around 1984 for the published work. Various elements were both unifying and intriguing, so an expanded version of Immortals formed the multiverse surrounding my longstanding campaign, and has overtly intruded over the last 8 years.

Thus, what I have DM'd since the late 1980s (I never seem to play) is AD&D 1e with some 2e and a lot of D&D Immortals mixed in.

Q: Do you have any information regarding the soul vs spirit debate regarding elves?

A: Not much except to point back to mythology and fiction. "Elves" (also called sprites, brownies, faeries, leprechauns, sylphs, and a host of other names) were classically pagan entities that did not accept salvation through Jesus Christ and were thus soulless and doomed.

Next, note that Tolkien's elves were immortal and distinctly unhuman in essence while being the most human in appearance... unlike the dwarves and hobbits which seemed to be kin of humankind, despite their more overt physical differences.

Fantasy writers spun tales of many "elves", differentiating between many varieties (often in accordance with oral traditions of various cultures), and we gamers of today know full well the difference between all the titles given above. But those are modern developments.

To brew up Gary's mindset in the '70s, take a cup of historical mythology, add Tolkien humanocentrism, shake well, and presto: "elves don't have souls". The emphasis on human PCs, and the corresponding penalties to non-human races in many versions of the game rules, all combine to set the stage for a ban on elves returning from the dead.

Steve Marsh (editor of the Expert Set) added: Yep, they get stuck with that reincarnate spell from the local magic user.

BTW, the "elves don't get psionics" rule came from a dwarf partisan.

(True, and Dwarves get souls too, same reason).

Q: The Immortals box sounds like it would be a fun game. Is that a game in itself, or would you have to run the characters up through to higher levels first?

A: It works either way, but the latter only if have patience (or monty-haul-itis, if you can remember back far enough for that pejorative). In my campaign, tho, I came up with other ways to blend it in gradually. My newer developments in applying the Immortals rules to either D&D or AD&D games have yet to be published.

Steve Marsh added: The Immortals rules are worth picking up on e-bay. Frank did an excellent job with them and got the entire heroquest concept into some rules long before anyone else did.

Q: Regarding the games you play (i.e. AD&D with 2 edition stuff thrown in), do you mean to say that after years of writing and putting out D&D Basic, Expert, Companion, etc. that you've never actually played them?

A: You're confusing your tenses. Of course we playtested the rules... Basic the most, Expert somewhat, the WarMachine of Companion a great deal... but frankly, quite a bit of it all was never actually playtested before publication. Not enough time or resources. But the dozen or more modules & tournaments I wrote (Falx, Hydell, Egg of the Phoenix, Doc's Island, Rod 7 Parts, Bugbear Hunt, Bigby's Tomb, Gypsy, and more) were never playtested (including Needle and ToEE) by real people. I just write it and it comes out debugged the first time around.

Rest assured that I thought out all the rules most carefully before committing to paper. The delays drove the editors mad, but I don't do outlines, and I don't give previews; there's too much that can change as I play it all out in my head and find overlooked details or glitches.

But the games I run (present tense) are as described:
C=1e+(2e/4)+I.

Q: The first D&D sets I ever owned were your Basic and Expert sets, and they were great (LOVED Elmore's work BTW). But the first I ever played were the Moldvay/Cook sets. I'm wondering: What are your opinions on those sets, considering they tend to rate a lot higher here at Dragonsfoot than your own.

A: If the hardcores around here are mildly appreciative of my boxed sets, it could be argued that I did my job right. I was supposta write a D&D rule system in a way that the mass-market public could digest... NOT aimed at the hardcore. And I think you'll find most of the 'lower ratings' posted hereabouts apply to Basic/Expert (the two side-by-side comparisons) and far less to my Companion & Master sets. (Hardly anybody's read Immortals, and those that have can't figure out what to do with it, so it's kinda exempt from all this.)

I remember reading thru the M/C BX, and found them OK but insufficient -- 'cause I'm a hardcore too. Don't recall much about the works, and tho I'm sure I own copies (somewhere in the lair) I haven't even looked inside 'em for many years... and am thus not fit to offer a design opinion at this time.

I have always praised Zeb's work, and Gary has always mildly disagreed with me on that. Tom and I worked side-by-side for a time, and our personality types and design preferences clashed a bit. :/ But I know he was good with both ideas and the mechanics (the writing of pay copy), and I've enjoyed certain other works of his.

btw, I'm not at all offended by folks' personal opinions, even if they go against me. I did have the satisfaction of watching my series translated into 11 languages and millions of copies sold worldwide. I musta done a goodly bit right, regardless of the opinions of my peers, the hard-core gamers I hang with.

Q: Frank, I've often wondered why gnomes never appeared in classic as a PC race until really, really late (the Creature Crucible series, a little after the Rules Cyclopedia). While you expanded on the human classes available in the Companion and Masters rules (mystic and headsman or thug only needed a little work to make them new classes, and of course paladin, knight, avenger and druid worked like what later became 'prestige classes' in 3e), the demi-humans always seemed to be somewhat lacking. No new additions to their ranks.

Races like fairy and centaur and the like can work within a party of PC'sm and of course the gnome became a staple in AD&D. Was there ever a specific reason why you didn't add them?

A: Well sure; they weren't in OD&D. Passing over the obvious for the first two, the gnomes (or noniz, in original Greyhawk & Aquaria) were portrayed tangentially as 'reclusive cousins of dwarves' (Book 1 Men & Magic), and came up in monster tables only. Dwarves were limited to being 6th level fighters at best, i.e. more humanocentrism (see other post).

And in addition, since Gary portrayed gnome PCs in AD&D, he very well may have mentioned at the time (tho I don't recall) to keep that for his AD&D and not mix it with the disputed D&D system.

(A poster stated): Well, the RC has some basic rules in the conversion chapter, for running gnome characters. If one was adding a gnome class though, illusion spells would be a must.

Beg to differ.

I've always liked the 'gnome tinkerer' concept, giving that race the best skills for gadgets, and that's come through in my own long-running campaign. Extend that logically, and the gnomes become the classic gadgeteers, eschewing magic.

Consider the utility of a PC race (i.e. gnomes) with some innate anti-magic skills, i.e. able at times to deliberately tinker with some magical effect (wizard lock, wall of force, etc.) and cause the dweomer to fail...

Tantalizing possibilities. And I don't think it's been done. (Rebuttal, anyone?)

(Statement by a poster): The gnome, as presented in PC2: Top Ballista (a 'creature crucible', one of the four of these supplements for Mystara at about the time of the Gazetteers) gave us gnomes as mad inventor tinker types, and they were a lot of fun. Didn't have magical tinkering ability as such, but the methods by which they were tinkering (fantasy physics, magical engineering and meddling) were kind of magical. Wouldn't have worked if not done by a gnome. Nice character concepts, but in my opinion the game designers at that time had too much interest in balancing Mystara products for conversion to AD&D 2nd ed, so to actually use the character races from those supplements in BECMI or RC D&D you need to fiddle with the XP tables a little.

The idea that they might 'tinker' with magical effects is an interesting one. Level of the gnome tinkering versus the level of spellcaster who created the effect, based on the same mechanic as dispel magic perhaps.

(Another poster stated): I do believe that EGG did something very similar right back in the 70's; dwarfs and gnomes cause certain magic items to function intermittently (cf for example DMG, page 129, column 1, paragraph 6.)

Yeah, I think I'll play around with that. Prolly not with gnomes, tho. Maybe heminomes (half human have gnome)?
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Okay, since things are quiet (praps since the forum's been inaccessible half the times I've tried this week ), I'll blather.

The topic is Print Runs of early modules.

Back in the late '70s and early '80s, TSR was trying to ride a dragon that was expanding in size every week. The original company was not composed of publishing professionals, so many standard practices were unknown; only basic copyright & trademark laws were applied.

When you find an old D&D or AD&D adventure from that era, the exact print run CAN be determined with a bit of lore. As a general principle (working backwards):

The later editions have two long numbers -- a product code and an ISBN (International Standard Book Number) -- usually stacked on the back, at the bottom.

If the ISBN is not present, that's a slightly earlier edition.

If there are NO numbers on the back cover, it's even earlier.

Finally, the first printings of several early modules circa 1979-81 (such as the "A" series) were taller than the later editions, by about 1/4 inch. If you have multiple modules of any sort, just line 'em up; if something sticks up, it's probably a 1st Printing.

Q: Draedens. Perhaps the most fascinating snippet of a race I've seen in other-planar works. All I've seen is the Immortal DM booklet's write-up (about a column worth of text). Does anything else exist on these creatures? Did you have something in mind for them that didn't make it to a product? Do you have them or a variation of them in your campaign? I'd love to hear more about these mysterious, alien beings.

A: Ah yes, Them. Capsule for those who aren't in the loop: HD 100-200, size 1000' per HD, Atk 20 bites each Dmg d%; composed entirely of Thought and immortal Power, immune to almost everything, and arrogantly contemptuous of everything material; lots of tentacles. You really don't want to meet one.

As noted in the set, these are supposedly the descendants of Them What Created It All, before the immortals ever showed up, and are impatiently waiting for the material universe to self-destruct so they can resume their solitary custody of the multiverse.

Sure they're in my campaign, tho they've never been encountered. The PCs' Otherselves (their immortal portions who are waiting for them to finish this silly mortal hero business and get on with eternity) are careful to avoid trouble whilst traversing the Astral; the worst they've picked up are a few minor proteans -- the little ones, only 75-100' across -- and (once) a Repeater a Repeater.

I'm sure draeden arise somewhat from Lovecraft, exhibiting two similar traits to a certain race therein: the unspeakable horror if seen in true form, and their arrogant superpower attitude that small mortal things aren't even worth noticing (except to occasionally and utterly destroy after driving them mad).

Be careful at this scale. We're far beyond "be afraid, be very afraid." We're even beyond the Immortals. Draedens have no peers and against them you have no defence but escape.

(A poster stated): Frank, yes, the monsters in the Immortals set were quite unique. I loved every one of them. Great job. The Baak (an immortal-power construct, best thing is that strategy written right into their description about using cureall), Draeden (connected to dragons? contemptuous of even immortal beings), Flickers and Notions and Tonals (living light, thought, and sound), Jumpers (time thieves), Protean (planet- and plane-sized amoebas), Repeaters (repeaters). Those are really the most creative creatures I've seen for D&D. When it came to the later Planescape products, their extra-planar beings were not even slightly imaginative. Favourites: Draeden and Repeaters. Least favourites: Diaboli and Nightmare creatures...I never liked the idea of the Dimension of Nightmares and the beings there-in.

Please note that the "dimension of nightmares" and all related material isn't mine. An earlier module -- praps something from Zeb Cook in the "X" series -- referred to this whatzit, and I was stuck with including its existence, no way around it.

The diaboli are inspired by a work by Arthur C. Clarke, of course... a very dry writer (at his best with straight extrapolative SF) who has some flashes of brilliant innovation.

Q: I've dropped hints of the Draedens existence in my campaign, but I've never dared use them as a foe. Great creatures though. Some of the other beasties in the Masters and Immortals sets are also quite intriguing. One of my favourites is the blackball; Frank, you mentioned in the Masters rules that the immortals can control them, but in the Immortals rules you put them beyond even their reach. From what you've just said about the Draeden and their link to what came before (the Old Ones?), is there a link there? Or do even the Draeden have to fear blackballs?

A: ::sigh:: Dimensional Vortex stuff. Like the Dimension of Nightmares material, this comes from other writers, and had to be included and rationalised. A vortex is (generically) a place or situation regarded as drawing into its centre all that surrounds it; or, the shape of something rotating rapidly. None of that seems applicable to any portion of the Immortals multiverse. Ah well.

A 'blackball' is of course much like the AD&D Sphere of Annihilation (see other thread in 1e section), and is included as a life form only within a very broad definition; it does not communicate or reproduce. Its functionality is thus identical to a nonliving Device.

I had a problem integrating any of the Dimensional stuff with the Immortals setup, but since I had postulated and developed a pentaspacial multiverse, it was expedient to place a "dimensional barrier" of mystic and indeterminate characteristics where the 6th dimension ought (mathemagically) to be, thereby tying in the previously published Dimensional referents and overlaying a rationale for stopping with 5. Now the entire thing may be a hidden glimpse of Truth and Reality, still awaiting discovery by Terran scientists and theologians, and revealed unto me in deep trance states. Or it may all be provincial humanocentric rationalisation ludicrously based on the numerological "law of fives" found in certain Illuminati literature. I'm certainly not sane enough to tell which option is more likely.

If you're the type to go on a train ride and keep looking ahead, ignoring the lovely landscape you're passing through, then the tagline (listing for Vortex Creatures, 'Background') is right up your alley: "Immortals suspect that blackballs can pass through the Vortex, and that they serve the Old Ones, but all this is conjecture." If true, and if Draeden are related -- servants or even vestigial remnants of the Old Ones -- then they would of course interact satisfactorily. Further deponent sayeth not.

Q: Pop quiz: Draeden versus Tharizdun: who's gonna win?

A: Mr. T. would be smart enough to get the heck outta Dodge and not place his physical form in such jeopardy.

I repeat: you REALLY don't wanna meet a Draeden. Even if you're the Hierarch Immortal of Earth or something and in charge of a large part of the universe. You really don't.

(A poster stated, regarding the Draeden): For Mortals, I'd probably pick something like a beholder or undead beholder, but since more people know about dragons I might select one of those.

Try a Nightshade, they're among the nastier undead that I created.

The nightwing is weakest. I like the nightwalker (the ebon giant) more than the worm, tho.

Of crucial importance, note certain things common to ALL nightshades (repeating here for emphasis):

It gets to save vs. Turn attempts (and usually succeeds), Immune to +2 weapons (or less) and L1-5 spells, and has a poison touch that adds to every successful hit (save or die). And it hits REAL good. At Will abilities include Haste & Invis (itself), Cause disease (you can't Cure damage while you're diseased, remember), Charm & Hold, Cloudkill, Confusion, Dispel, Finger of Death (!), and Summon Undead.

By the time it takes 3 rounds to close on you it's done at least 3 of those AtWills -- like Haste self, Summon to add some distractions, and Dispel on you just to screw up your preps.

These things are smart. They will close quickly; they know they're tough. Properly played, just one can trash a pretty good party. Be discreet with 'em.

(A poster stated): There's one of them in the Return to the Tomb of Horrors adventure, in Acererak's fortress near the end...

A nightshade in AD&D? They must have ported it across and never told me nor gave me any credit.

(A poster stated): They appear in the Monster Manual v.3.5 (first time I ever saw 'em until I looked through some PDFs of your stuff).

Thievin' bastages!!

Now now, I got paid for what I did (it's called a salary & benefits) and my output all belongs to them in return.

I do find it interesting that they felt that a lot of my creations (there have been many other instances from BECMI) were appetising enough to feed to the latest mutant.

(A poster stated): Frank, cheers for the answer. I'll mull on it. I've got a lot to think about for coming up with a major, apocalyptic event for my high level campaign, and it's been really useful seeing such things as draeden discussed here.

I've never really been comfortable with the dimensional thing, it didn't really sit well with the rest of the multiverse from the boxed sets. The version that came later, RC/Gaz era, had the dimensions as entirely different realities, new whole sets of planes, rather than other dimensions layered on top of the ones perceived by mortals (and immortals). I like that even less.

I kind of like the idea of the draeden being stuck on the lower dimensions; suppose they ARE in some way related to the old ones, to the ancient beings that came before the multiverse. They wander around the void, resenting the multiverse and resenting the fact that they can't rejoin the other old ones, that they're the ones left behind. Maybe they were the servants of those who came before, abandoned by their former masters as they ascended and left the multiverse in their wake.

Maybe they know what really IS going on in the multiverse, and they're working quietly towards the ends of their former masters; the blackballs come and go at the behest of the old ones, doing odd jobs that can be assigned to slow moving disintegrators, but the job of the draeden is to remain, to outlast everything else, and to come in mob handed when denizens of the multiverse start to aspire to higher things, or when the immortals somehow threaten to break through the barriers that keep the old ones separate.

Ultimately, I plan for the current lot of PC's in my game (25th-26th ish level at the moment) to start investigating these huge mysteries; they're fighting to prevent Arik (of B3 fame) from escaping his prison dimension (I've left him trapped in the dimensional vortex, rather than the dimension of ice as in B3). Arik, they know, sided with another force against the immortals in an ancient war, and is patron of the beholders. That force could be the draeden, which makes a lot of sense to me. The plan that the immortals have had to increase their numbers over the millennia, the 'secret' plan, has been to maintain sufficient numbers to battle the potential menace of another war, and the draeden seem like the ideal candidates to be the ancient enemy of the immortals.

This opens up an intriguing possibility of relating draeden, beholders, and blackballs in some way. It could mean that the beholders are in on the greatest conspiracy in the whole multiverse, that their entire purpose is something not even understood by the immortals.

I have to think this through a little...

(Frank replied): When you visit ToonTown you discover that even the buildings, and everything else that you took for granted as an inanimate object, are sentient. The same realisation can come to those who transcend the prime plane and discover the materiality of the multiverse. For example, you may be living on a Megalith (an amiable planet-sized stationary being who is so slothful that an outer crust forms and supports life).

When PCs break out of the provincial neighbourhood of their town, country, continent, planet, and even planetary system, they will be faced with a far broader reality. The Prime is important, sure -- the source of most immortals, praps because it has more interplanar connections than any other place -- but is a very small neighbourhood in the big scheme.

A mere puddle (called an Ocean) on a megalith is vast and its surface hides much. One cannot even imagine the scope of things hidden in the infinite Astral sea, and the origins and motives and goals of the residents... and to transcend even that, to consider Everything ((i.e. the multi-trillion year history of the pentaspacial construct forming the multiverse as it is perceived by all sentient beings in known existence) from an even greater perspective, is a daunting task.

Q: You wrote an article for Dragon magazine back in 1985 with the title "Plan it by the Numbers". It presented a system for tailoring encounters based on character level and monster hit dice. The system is suspiciously similar to the Encounter Level system used in 3rd Edition D&D. Do you know if it was an inspiration?

A: As with much of 3e, one may presume so but I have no data.

Personally I've used a system like that for most of my DMing life... but a lot of folks don't do well with math. So whatever works for you.

Q: Have you ever thought about sharing with us here in the forums or in an article of the Dragonsfoot or some other equally accessible spot your inspirations and alternate ideas for attaining Immortality that you came up with in your own game or other suggestions for it. Because I did love the option of offering that to my players, those precious few who ever glimpsed that close to greatness.

Of course I've sort of melded some of the later WotI boxed set with your work, though I liked much about the wonder and feeling of awe and strange, mind-warping bewilderment you gave my teenage mind.

I would welcome any and all extra thoughts you had on Immortals rules, the gold box, those freaky dimensions, or other such metaversal bits of goodness.

A: I shall consider it. Could post a few titbits here, I think. But to write for publication -- including Footnotes hereabouts -- I spend serious time and skull sweat, for I have found that however humble my intentions, my words in print come back to jeer at me for decades thereafter.

Q (in regards to the Immortal Yog from the Aquaria campaign): There wouldn't be a -Sothoth attached to that 'Yog', would there?

A: Nope, no relation. (Apparently the immortal equivalent of Smith or Jones...)
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(Frank stated, in regard to the TSR lettering scheme): Back then, each letter stood for something: A for Aerie (the slave lords), B for Basic D&D, C for Competition, D for Drow, etc.

I took R for RPGA as soon as I created that beast, in late '80 and early '81. I wrote, edited, and did layouts of the first RPGA magazines entirely on my own (up to #4 or 5, I recall) and then turned it over to our new editor Mary Kirchoff as we expanded. Mary went on to become a senior exec with Wizards, I think, and may still be there.

By '82-83 the lettering system got problematic (DL for DragonLance, CM for Companion D&D, GH for Greyhawk, M for -- uh-oh -- either Marker-Pen or Master D&D...) so my successor in the RPGA started a new series coded RPGA, featuring other authors of renown like Tracy Hickman. The RPGA managers didn't last long, tho, and by 1986 a change of control at TSR itself resulted in the whole RPGA project being back-burnered and, imnsho, butchered.

Q: Frank, there are some of the monsters from your boxed sets that intrigue me, and which seem not to have quite taken off since then.

One of the ones I've always liked (and the one I'm most curious about) is the metamorph; they have a nice set of abilities, they look like they could adapt well as a PC race, and they're distinctly different to anything else in the boxes (or elsewhere in D&D and AD&D). But they're tucked away as an entry in the Masters rules, not making appearances in the modules (at least not that I can recall) or in the later Gaz series. Where did the metamorph idea come from, and where do they 'fit in', as it were?

A: Ahem. I've delayed in responding here 'cause I had to take a lookabout and see if I had the Masters set handy. Sadly, I do not. (Most of my game stuff is 5 hours south of here, in my Archives.)

I must thus ask if you Cab, or anyone else, would post (or PM or email) the published details of the Metamorph, to jog my memory. I promise to answer once stimulated thereby.

(Response after someone posted the Metamorph stats):

I derived Metamorphs from various mythological referents. Shapechangers (aka shapeshifters or skin-changers) of course have a long lineage in that regard, dating back to pre-Christian eras. The ability to polymorph seems to come in two principal forms, natural and lycanthropic. As much (praps too much) has been written about were-creatures, this race of course deals with the natural variety.

They can indeed be a viable PC race, but given sufficient imagination on the part of a writer or DM they could form the basis for an entire campaign. The metamorphs have not adopted the ways of magic per se, despite their talents -- nor technology of course -- and would thus be more naturalistic than (humanocentrically) 'civilised', and this could pose unusual design challenges.

Now about those possible forms...

I based the parameters of the metamorphic shapechange on options that had practical application to the game, applying a taxonomy (Linnaean, obviously) specific to certain phyla of the animal kingdom. I came up with ten, and someone added an extra; see below. (Though other domains such as bacteria & archaea are moot, they have no practical game application and also open up a can of germs ;> by introducing an scientific system contradicted by the Greek elementalism that is fundamental to the underlying hypotheses of BECMI.)

(In taking a Linnaean approach I thus disregarded the fallacy inherent in attempts to force reality to fit an imaginary organisation. If you're sceptical about mankind's insistence on projecting order onto the universe, study Epistemology and, if you get really interested, Emmanuel Kant.)

Not much is game-applicable amongst invertebrates, tho within the annelids we do find earthworms (and leeches which, within class Clitellata along with the worms, reveals the ignorance of this lone editorial tack-on). The phyla of arthropods and chordates provide the bulk of the options. The former offers arachnids, centipedes, crustaceans, and insects. From the latter (subphylum vertebrata) we have fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals. It prolly wouldn't hurt to add Turtles (the lone survivors of anapsids).

For research try the Celts & Druids & related Faeries of the British Isles, the classical mythologies of Egypt & Scandinavia, and the tribal tales of the Native American Lakota (sub-nation of the Sioux). You may also find The Chronicles of the Cheysuli (Jennifer Roberson) of interest as a literary treatment.

(A poster stated): I've been using metamorphs as reclusive, naturalistic humanoids who have faced repression from humans and demi-humans for centuries due to the assumed link with lycanthropy; they work well like that, but I haven't considered basing more of the campaign around them before. I can see how it might work. Shame they first appeared in the Masters rules; they work really well as foes at Expert level, and I missed out on that for years

I'll admit to having changed the forms to one that makes some more sense to be, being:

Mammal
Bird
Reptile
Amphibian
Fish
Insect
Arachnid
Worm (annelida and the like, including leeches)
'Lower' arthropods (centipedes, millipedes, tardigrades and the like)
Molluscs
Simple animals (covering jellyfish, sponges, flatworms, etc).

For metamorphs from 'lost world' areas, I swap out mammal or bird (as appropriate) for dinosaur. And not all metamorphs know all of the forms (few, for example, ever study lower arthropods...).

It's still simple, but it makes a deal of sense; I'll probably simplify it further at some point.

I've been thinking of having metamorphs act as messengers, scouts and 'knights' for the druids in my campaign. Makes a kind of sense.

(Frank replied): Oughta work, especially if they're tight with droods. ;>

Q: Frank Mentzer, has there ever been any info. rule from the classic DandD rulebooks that allows players to role-play their characters when not adventuring? I mean if a player or/and DM is allowed to at least mention times when a PC is: maintaining equipment and doing other things between encounters or when the PC is staying at home before going on an adventure and what the PC does at home after the adventure.

A: To your question: No specific rules that I can recall, no. Various places in the rulebooks do refer to 'off-hour' activities, such as training, replenishing standard supplies, etc. These are not specifically required to be role-played, but there's nothing that says you can't, either. As the boxed sets continue, so do the levels, and various 'assumed' activities can involve things as broad as the Running of the Realm, setting taxation rates, training militia, etc. (at the Companion Set level of course). But that's unusual; most Routine details are mundane and minor.

In my campaign the players do their own bookkeeping for mundane purchases, and simply update their character sheets. otoh, each time I've started off a new group, we've played all that at the table, continuing regularly until they got the hang of both the mechanics and the lack of importance of such stuff. It tends to become a matter of priorities; do you spend valuable group playing time on epic adventure or on routine matters?

Nevertheless, a DM may wish to insert plot points, Rumours & leads, and other details in the course of in-town shopping, training periods, etc. And of course given any excellent reason like that, one should feel free to get into the scene as deeply as appropriate.

Finally, I've found that professional adventurers tend to stay together more and more as they become less and less like ordinary people. The adventurous life becomes their constant reality, and breaks from it become merely that, as opposed to their former Normal life between unusual jaunts.

Hope that helps...

Q: Do deities of the Sphere of Entropy have heroes who pursue the path of the polymath for divine ascension?

A: Can happen, I guess. Entropic Immortals need to recharge their ranks as much as anyone. But you'd have to be really bad to qualify.... kinda like playing a CE or NE party in an AD&D 1e game -- the kind, if properly role-played, that you really don't want anybody else to hear about.

It's important to note that the goals of the Sphere of Entropy correspond precisely to the function of entropy in our nongame parlance. All the other Spheres work against it, united in the face of extinction. Since Entropy has a natural edge (all things come to an end eventually), the 4-to-1 odds balance things out.