Thursday, May 21, 2020

Recaps & Roundups part 65: Judges Guild Installment N - Barbarian Altanis/Glow Worm Steppes

This package was sent out to Judges Guild subscribers in August/September of 1977.  It contained the following products:

  • JG43 Booklet N - Barbarian Altanis/Glow Worm Steppes
  • JG44 Barbarian Altanis/Glow Worm Steppes Campaign Maps
  • JG45 Journal N
  • An additional notes sheet, that just has some stuff about subscriptions on it.  I don't need to cover it here.

I'm not sure if the cover above was used for Booklet N or not.  It's the first printing of Wilderlands of High Fantasy, into which Booklet N will be incorporated.  The price tag and the line at the bottom mentioning five maps makes me think it's not the proper cover, but I couldn't find an image of the legit one anywhere.  In lieu of any other evidence, I'm going with it.

JG45 Journal N

I don't have a copy of this, just an image of page one.  I'll quickly run through what articles I can.

  • "Jocular Judgments": This column kicks off with some refutation of recent NASA revelations regarding Mars, as it doesn't mesh with Edgar Rice Burroughs' Barsoom stories.  Of more interest is the section praising the recently released Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set.  I have that product being released in September.  Installment N came out in August/September, so I'm thinking that perhaps I should shift all of the Judges Guild installments to late in their second cover date month.
  • "Shrewd Slants from the Sagacious Sage" by Bob Bledsaw: This article mentions one Terry Tout, who wants to get a con running in western Canada, where there haven't been any before. .It then asks whether JG subscribers prefer dungeons or campaign setting materials, and ends with some advice to limit the powers of gods when the PCs call upon them (or draft the PC in question into service).  I'm not really sure what the point of this column is other than letting Bob Bledsaw write about whatever takes his fancy.
  • "Scrolls from the Archives": This begins what looks to be a write-up of a D&D game session. It only gets as far as showing the stats of the PCs before it gets cut off, but I can use those PCs somewhere: Vadi Mackvallen, a 7th level fighter/magic-user; Shartra, a 3rd level cleric; Nori, a 5th level dwarven fighter; Old Drussus, a 6th level druid; and Captain Angriff, a 4th level fighter.
  • "Tips from the Tower": This talks a bit about Judges Guild answering fan requests by providing two maps with this installment.  It also talks about some correspondence they had with with Gary Gygax, which they use to defend the number of high level NPCs in JG products.  Of note is the tidbit that there is a blacksmith in the City of Greyhawk who is 7th level; I'll have to remember to include him or her when the time comes.  Also mentioned is the arrangement that TSR has with Judges Guild for their products to be officially licensed.  I guess this arrangement starts around the time of this installment.  Finally, it's mentioned that JG37 First Fantasy Campaign - which details Dave Arneson's Blackmoor campaign - is available.  I have that as being released in September, which is more evidence that I need to push back the JG installments in my chronology.

JG44 Barbarian Altanis/Glow Worm Steppes Campaign Maps

These two maps were printed on both sides of a single sheet of paper.

Barbarian Altanis

Glow Worm Steppes (although it's actually labelled on the
map as Valley of the Ancients)

No indication of how these maps relate to each other, or to Campaign Map 1 that was in Installment K.  Based on a map that came with JG10 Guide to the City State, the Barbarian Altanis region is south of Campaign Map 1, and the Glow Worm Steppes/Valley of the Ancients map is to the northeast of Map 1.  Probably my biggest complaint about the JG product line is that the content is so scattered.  There's loads of it, but good luck finding anything quickly.

JG 43 Booklet N

This booklet provides details of the regions shown on the maps above.  It will later be combined with Booklet O, and sold as JG48 The Wilderlands of High Fantasy.  The information presented here is incredibly terse, and presented in the same style as it was in the booklet that accompanied Campaign Map 1.

Villages on the map are detailed, with a name, population, the race that lives there, leader, alignment, level of civilisation, and major resources.  Most of them are good springboards for a DM to riff on.

"Ruins and relics" are a list of odd items guarded by monsters, generated by tables which I'll talk about below.  A lot of them are nonsensical, as can happen when using random charts, but there are some gems.  "Crystallized titan's skeleton fully covered with vines - 3 TROLLS" is a personal favourite.

There's a list of citadels & castles, which has little more than bare stats for the ruler and the number of troops.  That's followed by a list of monster lairs, which simply have the name and number of monsters.  The real gem of this section is the list of islands, which provide a one-sentence description of what can be found.  Pretty much all of these are great, and could easily be expanded into a whole adventure.  "Isle of Ekur - 2 giant lizards attack all who land".  "Isles of Jynoquil - haunted by ghosts of dead sea men".  "Isle of Zueringi - Numerous zombies protect a magic-user attempting to strengthen their kind".  None of it's too out of the ordinary, but these short descriptions can be just what you need sometimes, especially when you're winging it as a DM.

All of this content is well and good, but they give little indication as to what these regions are actually like.  Culture?  Climate?  Perhaps the details given do cohere into something when used in  a game, but if there's sense to be found here I can't see it.  So far, what I'm seeing is a patchwork of mostly random elements held together with some really cool maps.  For me, the Judges Guild materials come alive when focusing in on smaller areas, not the big picture stuff.

As usual with JG products, the booklet is also packed with charts and new rules, which I'll go through below.

  • There are extensive tables for generating random ruins and abandoned relics.  On first glance I thought the results here were fairly mundane, but looking further down the list I saw things like rat chariots, space craft, and even a nuclear submarine!  I rolled on the charts to generate some results, and came up with the following comparatively boring results:
    • A ruined, eroded citadel keep with four towers and a moat, partially covered in slime and inhabited by a catoblepas.
    • Crystallized or petrified scraps of papyrus, hidden in a crevice and guarded by werewolves.
    • A pair of greaves, half sunken and unguarded.
  • There's a chart for determining the type of lair a monster has, based on its type: burrower, migratory, underwater, airborne, animal, and troglobite (which means something that lives underground).
  • Extensive charts are given for randomly generating cave systems, based on the terrain you're currently in.  I started making one, and got as far as creating a limestone cave that's entered through a 400' diameter sinkhole that's 110' deep.  After that, you generate tunnels - including height and width - and it all got a bit too much.  For my tastes, it looks a touch too complicated to use during a game.
  • A quick method is given for generating dungeons on the fly.  It's perhaps a little too simple, and the random dungeon generation tables from The Strategic Review are suggested as an alternative.
  • A quick chart of random burrows is included, featuring things like a giant anthill, worm tunnels, weasel burrows, and hobbit smials.  Also mentioned are "glow worm caves", though no indication is given of what a glow worm is in D&D terms.  I guess it could just be a reference to real-world glow worms.
  • Charts are given for dwellings and camps, but they're so cursory in comparison to the caves above that they needn't have bothered.
  • A system is given for what players might find when searching a 10'x10' area.  There's some good inspiration here, although results like "cabinet" are somewhat ludicrous.
  • A "keen sighting" chart is given, which shows a PC's likelihood of spotting something based on terrain, height, weather, etc.  This is a case of Judges Guild getting lost in the weeds a bit, I feel.  Rules are all well and good, but there's a limit to what can be implemented effectively at the table.  I guess it might be necessary for when the party is exploring that big campaign map though, to see if they actually find the encounters in the hex they're exploring.
  • A chart for "hydrographic terrain" is given, that details the smaller waterways (not shown on the map) that PCs might discover.  None of the results on the tables are of particular interest.
  • Rules are given for prospecting, which is somewhat more useful.  The charts provide the type of deposit, yield, and all manner of other data that gets a bit mathematical for me.  I suppose it's a way for characters to get rich, but it doesn't sound like as much fun as heading into a dungeon and skewering some orcs for their gold.
  • Finally, the booklet ends with an example of how the larger map hexes break down into smaller hexes.  The example given is the hex containing the City State of the Invincible Overlord, which is obviously the most useful place to start.  Rules are given for movement on that smaller scale, complete with rules for fatigue.  As with most of JG's rules material, I find it a little unwieldy.

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