Originally written August 1999
It has been twenty-five years since the small company called TSR released a limited print run of a fantasy rules supplement for miniatures wargaming. Nobody suspected what would result from this little box with three little books in it.
Now, as the final moments of the 20th century begin to wind down, TSR (now owned by Wizards of the Coast) has released a commemorative boxed set of some of their most popular products ever.
Some of you may have seen the surveys that went out last summer — they listed almost the entire line of modules released for Dungeons & Dragons and Advanced D&D. TSR was soliciting fan input on the most popular “classic” adventures of the past 25 years to reprint for the anniversary of the game. What we have here is the collected results of that survey.
So just what do you get for your sixty bucks?
Well, there is a rather sturdy cardboard box/slipcover that packages the whole thing. It is (naturally) silver in color, with a big, full-color TSR logo on the two largest sides. It looks nice sitting on the shelf. UPC and price info is on the bottom so it doesn’t show up when sitting on the shelf.
In the box is a 32-page book that gives a capsule, year-by-year history of TSR. Included in this book is an opening essay by the old man himself, Gary Gygax, as well as several other anecdotes from old-timers associated with the company. Also included is a report on the growth of GENCON.
Also included in the box is a Jeff Easley print. Easley has done some of the best known artwork for TSR, and his classic style is some of the finest straight-up heroic fantasy I’ve ever encountered. There are some artists I like better, but I think only Larry Elmore would have been a better choice for the “anniversary piece”.
Then we get to the meat of the product — silver anniversary reproductions of several “classic” products. All of these are extremely faithful reproductions of the originals, the only detectable difference being the addition of a “silver anniversary” seal on the front cover. Aside from that, everything (including the old logos, product listings on the back, and so on) is reproduced exactly.
The reproductions include:
The 1978 version of the classic “blue book” Basic Rules. The cheesy artwork, the low production values, all of it is reproduced faithfully.
Module B2 – The Keep on the Borderlands. Originally included in the basic set, more people cut their teeth on this classic than any other module (at least as far as I know). Once again, this is an incredibly faithful reproduction of the original. I compared it to my old copy (which is a little worse for wear) and everything matches. Even the ludicrous “rumor table”.
The “G” Series — Against the Giants This is reproduced in the original presentation — three modules with monochrome covers (as opposed to the single-volume version that was released later). Combined they may amount to only 32 pages, but they have created a large quantity of memories. (Incidentally, you can also get these adventures modified for 2nd edition AD&D in the Against the Giants: The Liberation of Geoff adventure in stores now.) Once again, these are an almost identical reproduction of the originals.
I6 — Ravenloft: The module that was so good, they created a setting for it. Nothing ever really topped the original, though — even the second edition reprint (entitled House of Strahd) they did several years ago. Once again, every detail from the original adventure is reproduced, down to the “double cover” used to handle all the maps in this monster.
S2 — White Plume Mountain: Tomb of Horrors was done last year, or that certainly would have been in the box instead of this one. Still, you’ve got to admit that this is one of the best high-level adventures ever created for AD&D. Personally, I would have chosen Expedition to the Barrier Peaks because of the interesting science fiction crossover, but still, the combination of sheer hack & slash glory and bizarre puzzle solving makes for some great memories.
And finally, there is “The Last First Edition Module ever published” — L3 Deep Dwarven Delve. This adventure has never been seen before now. It was originally planned as the conclusion to the “L” series (which included L2 The Assassin’s Knot), but it never saw the light of day. It is now available, and reading it over brings back all sorts of nostalgia. Nothing ever really compared to opening a new module, reading it, and chuckling at the torments you would soon inflict on your players.
Still, aside from L3, there isn’t anything really new in here. I personally already owned copies of this stuff (except S2). Half the fun was opening the box with a bunch of friends around, looking at what was included and telling stories of old times. Many of us have moved on to other game systems, but I must admit I still hold a soft spot in my heart for the “classics”.
I was afraid that I would end up getting ripped off for my sixty bucks, but I think it was worth it. Younger players may get a kick out of looking at the old designs of stuff, where story made little to no difference and what was important was the size of your sword. Old-timers will relish the feel of going through these classics and fondly remembering the old days of orc slaying and dragon hunts.
But if (like me) you already have copies of what’s in here, I don’t think I can really recommend it unless you’re a hard-core collector. You’re not likely to play anything included (although I must admit I am tempted to put together a group to run through L3) and $60 is a bit pricey for one new product, however nicely it may be packaged.
But still, with the last year of the 1900’s running down, it may be a good thing that we are given this opportunity to look back where we’ve been. Maybe we’ll be able to gain some insight into where we’re going.