Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Review & Commentary on Advanced Dungeons & Dragons - REF5 Lords of Darkness For Your Old School Campaign

"The Undead. Denied the eternal rest of Death, cursed to wander the many planes and worlds forever, their very existence a mockery of life they constantly crave yet cannot have. Created by the foulest of magics, they have only one thought, on burning goal: revenge against the living. Or do they? "

Back in Eighty Eight I received  REF5 Lords of Darkness (1e) as a gift one Christmas from my family. The book is a great adventure anthology & one that's very fitting for Halloween. But confession time I hate the Forgotten Realms with the passion of a thousand suns. 

I loath the Forgotten Realms it represents everything I hate about harmonized Advanced Dungeons & Dragons second edition. From cookie cutter settings to having to buy tons of books just to learn the secrets of the setting which were well known to players. The Forgotten Realms remains my least favorite second edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons campaign setting. The fact of the matter second edition remains one of my least favorite incarnations of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. Forgotten Realms sucks. It is the archetype of generic fantasy with no character whatsoever. I understand that dungeon masters like the Forgotten Realms  because it gives them a lot of flexibility, but  the trade offs are not worth it. I suggest choosing a more interesting setting. My opinion was formed because of the Forgotten Realms novels & no I will not read a single one ever again.
Now with all that said REF5 Lords of Darkness isn't any of those things at all. This book is a solid anthology of horror & the undead which shouldn't even have the Forgotten Realms label on it. Because REF5 Lords of Darkness works with just about any Advanced Dungeons & Dragons first or second edition campaign. It works very well for all of the right reasons & if you don't believe me then let's take a look at what Jim Bambra had to say back in Dragon magazine No. 151 (November 1989); "Jim Bambra reviewed Lords of Darkness for Dragon magazine No. 151 (November 1989).[2] Bambra felt that the style of presentation for the fictional pieces describing the undead in action "is far superior to the dry style adopted by many supplement writers".[2] He noted that four of the adventures lack maps, reducing their usefulness as plug-in scenarios, and that two adventures "are set in castles that cry out for at least schematic diagrams to show their layouts".[2] Bambra felt that the quality of the adventures also varies greatly, and that while most are "fairly good", he continued "[a] few are so thin and underdeveloped that I wondered why they were included".[2] He contended that the adventure dealing with zombies is "the worst of the lot", partly because the characters would be facing "opponents who are likely to stomp them into the ground", but called the mummies' tomb and the lich's lair "fine examples of the dungeon designer's art".[2] He called the optional Horror Check rules "a laudable attempt to instill fear of the undead but not sufficiently developed to be effective", because "the system isn't integrated into the AD&D rules in a satisfactory manner, as characters will deteriorate to the stage where they are unable to function effectively—a situation contrary to the spirit of the game and more in keeping with the grim tone of Chaosium's Call of Cthulhu game".[2] Bambra said the accessory "expands greatly on the background of undead in the AD&D game and provides a source of short adventure settings."[2] He also said it was a good resource in terms of "new necromantic spells" and "information on the ecologies of the undead", but concluded: "its lack of maps and the underdevelopment of some of its adventures make it a merely useful rather than essential item.""
From here you can see REF5 Lords of Darkness is a solid addition to any AD&D dungeon master's tool box. These encounters & adventures represent everything right about this as a second edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons product.

Everything within REF5 Lords of Darkness can easily & completely be used in an OSRIC or Labyrinth Lord Advanced campaign with little modification that's because of the nature & solid adventure construction within the contents; 

""Tales From Beyond the Grave" (pages 4–75) presents ten complete adventure scenarios, each one highlighting a "classic" undead type, with the challenges increasing from one scenario to the next. Creature notes accompany each adventure. The scenarios are from five to nine pages each, and include the following: "Skeletons", by Deborah Christian; "Zombies", by Michael Stackpole; "Ghouls and Ghasts", by Paul Jaquays; "The Tombs of Deckon Thar", by Steve Perrin; "Shadows", by Christian; "Mummies", by Jaquays; "Vampires", by Vince Garcia and Jean Rabe; "Ghosts", by Garcia; "Oriental Spectres", by Christian; and "The Dread Lair of Alokkair", by Greenwood.
"The Night Gallery" (pages 75–84) details the main character or creature of each adventure and can be used to plan a series of encounters. "A Mundane Guide to Wards", by Greenwood (pages 85–91), explores the magic and lore of dealing with undead. "The Lords of Darkness", by Greenwood (pages 92–96), presents new spells for necromancers.
Cover art for Lords of Darkness was done by Jeff Easley and interior art by Karl Waller, and the book was published by TSR in 1988 as a ninety-six page book.[1] Editing was by Scott Martin Bowles, and cartography by Dave LaForce.[2] This supplement was perfect bound, and released for the first edition of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons[2] with product code TSR 9240."

What makes REF5 Lords of Darkness work is the sheer variety & depths of these adventures & how they can even be applied to a product such as Lamentations of the Flame Princess or even the Sword & Sorcerous depths of Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea. 

REF5 Lords of Darkness is one of those books that I feel should be on the shelves of any series OSR or old school dungeon master. Five outta five in my archives. 

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