Saturday, May 3, 2014

(Review) Save or Die! Podcast

Not too long ago, in what feels like a galaxy far, far away, I worked with one of the former hosts of the Save or Die! Podcast.  It focuses on the elements of "Classic" D&D, largely any older edition without the "Advanced" preceding it.   I've caught a few episodes here and there and found most of them passable.  Early episodes focused on generic terms such as designing a "big bad" for your dungeon/adventure, or sometimes interviewing individuals associated with the "Classic" side of the brand.

After a long hiatus, when I wandered over to see what they had been up to, I noticed a recent episode (#88) covered the Gazetteer for the The Grand Duchy of Karameikos, so I downloaded.

In hindsight, perhaps I expected too much from these guys.

*Disclaimer  After the Basic and Expert boxed sets, I believe this may be my next earliest gaming purchase.  I personally find the supplement a wealth of untapped potential.  Enough information is provided for you to flesh out Karameikos as you seem fit.  In discussions with other "basic" D&D players, if GAZ1 is not the best of the Gazetteers, it's in the top three simply because it provides the template for the rest of the series.*

After twenty years since I last played in a straight-up "Known World" game, I was amazed that I had forgotten more about the world than these four hosts actually knew.  It may be the play styles or personal gaming timelines missed an entire product line that release that produced 15 supplements over 5 years (including the Dawn of the Emporers boxed set).  Not that I didn't learn a thing or two from the podcast.   I either never knew or completely forgot that the vague map of the planet from the Master Rules (aka Black Box) from 1985 was dervied from a map of Earth 135 million years ago.  Of course the Thyatian peninsula is definitely overstated per the map from X1 Isle of Dread, but that would be resolved with the Dawn boxed set.   Why that has any bearing on a supplement that doesn't include said map is merely tangental.

The fact that they have limited knowledge of the B-Series of modules that were shoe-horned into the game lowered my expectations a bit further.  Given how some of the module (B5: Journey to the Rock, in particular) are just odd adventures to fit in, and others oddly generic, it was impressive how coherent the book is.

History and Mythology: Early on, one of the hosts goes on a mini-rant on how the entire backstory and mythology of Karameikos/Traldara are just stolen legends and mythology.  Waitaminute, isn't just about every campaign world, fantasy book line, etc, just a mishmash of legends with the serial numbers written off?   Even better, when one of the other hosts praises the oral history of the Legend of Halav, he almost completely does a 180. 

Religion: One sizable complaint was the lack of a deity for the Church of Karameikos.  Our hosts forget the last few pages of the player's book from the Menzter red box.   While they suggested players can choose some god to worship, clerics were more directed to alignment (lawful, neutral, chaotic) than anything else.  Following that precept, it makes perfect sense to have churches that worship concepts, rather than spell giving gods.

Legal system:  Another sticking point was the "considerable" crime and punishment section.  Considering this was the first campaign supplement for D&D, why wouldn't you cover this section, especially since future Gazetteers would probably have wildly different legal systems.   Despite the "Paper and Paychecks" argument against the trial system, it's rather quick and the whole encounter with it might take an hour out of a evening session, IF you're elaborate about it.  To counter the suggestion in the book that says "Get a party member arrested to try it out" is railroady, I simply say, why wouldn't a rival group (NPC party, Veiled Society, Iron Ring) try to set up the party?   

Black Eagle Barony: They did persevate a bit much over Duke Stefan's cousin Ludwig a bit much, although I must give them props for their time on Bargle, just for nostalgia's sake.  History is full of corrupt, despicable people right under the ruler's nose, and if the Duke can't stop slavers from operating on the main trade road between Threshold and Specularum, how is he going to do anything about a family member with probable connections back in Thyatis (and far more chaotic places as well).    The Black Eagle Barony is the wild west of Karameikos, so long as halflings don't invade from the Five Shires, Stefan will leave him alone.

The hosts depiction of the Baron as some over-the-top evil villain better suited for a movie serial on a Saturday morning in the 40's isn't too far off.  Karameikos has some incredibly safe areas for the PCs.  Their legal system is NOT like the City-State of the Invincible Overlord for that reason.  The small strongholds of civilization are meant to provide the PCs with a safe base of operations as they penetrate the the rest of this large swath of wilderness, be it goblins, slavers, or now 15th level magic-users that killed off your hot cleric chick friend way back when.  

Unlike later Gazetteers, The Grand Duchy of Karameikos was meant to be the launch pad for tens of thousands of Basic and early Expert level characters.  While the hosts completely agreed with the process of the Shearing, they failed to recognize the supplement as a whole was covering the Shearing for players.  Everything is set up for new players to get indoctrinated in the game system and campaign play before they venture out into the other countries of the Known World.  Let's put it this way: You're not going to see beginner players in a Glantri campaign and have it successful without a phenomenal DM.

I can honestly say I'm not enticed to listen to future episodes covering the other Gazetteers, especially after the hosts gave an average of a 2.75 rating for the book.  GAZ2: Emirates of Ylaruam might not even register a 1 in their books.   

On the Gaming With the Gnomies acclaimed 5-gnome system, I give the Save or Die! podcast two gnomes.

Save or Die!  suffers from the opposite problem of a podcast such as Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff.  Ken Hite and Robin Laws can talk greats lengths about overwhelming issues or the finest minutae and do it with a depth of experience and detail than can turn the casual gamers off.  The Save or Die hosts are casual gamers, who, despite gaming years before I even pondered it, never left their small spheres of influence.   WotC's surveys over a decade ago confirmed that there are millions of "casual" gamers still playing their preferred variant of D&D, so the podcast has a huge potential audience.  I'm just not one of them. 

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