Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Bloat

I've been in a happy place for the last year or so, as I've rediscovered my love for AD&D 2e.  I've managed to grab just about everything that I had before the Great Purge of '96, and now I'm gathering peripherals and stuff I wished I had been able to have back then.

So it was that I found myself staring at a copy of Hellgate Keep at my local Half Price Books yesterday, thinking, "Why not?"  It was five bucks, and while I probably would never use it, it might have some good ideas that I would spring on the guys at tonight's game, so what the heck.

Later that evening, as I settled into bed, I flipped it open and started reading.  I made it to the second sentence, which reads as follows:

"No rules are necessary for this adventure beyond the core AD&D rules ( the Player's Handbook, Dungeon Master Guide, Monstrous Manual Tome, and Tome of Magic), the Complete Psionics Handbook, Players Option: Skills & Powers, the Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting Box, and Faiths & Avatars."

Oh, is that all?

No, actually, it isn't, as the next sentence helpfully informed me:

"However, having access to the North Boxed Set would provide more background on the region the adventure is set in and its recent history, and Volo's Guide to All Things Magical provides more information on the Gatekeeper's Crystal, an artifact prominent in the recent history of Hellgate Keep."

Wow, that's alot.  Surely that's all I need?


"Folks also might find some Planescape materials useful in expanding the details and backstory of some of the more fiendish inhabitants of Hellgate Keep."

All of that for a 32 page adventure, priced at $9.95.

Obviously, by the time this came out, they were in a full-on, "how can we squeeze every last drop of money out of the people who play this" mode.  I mean, seriously?  Five hardcovers, two boxed sets, and three softcovers?  Not even getting into the multiple boxed sets Planescape generated?  For a 32 page adventure?

I can definitely see how this sort of marketing would have upset people way back when.  Hellgate Keep was released in 1998, so it seems as though I got out just in time.  Had I been getting into the hobby at this point, I would have looked at the laundry list and ran, not walked, back to the bookstore to return this incomplete thing that had been foisted upon me.

Steve at Howling Tower was talking about how each system starts off popular because a complete product is initially delivered.  The product takes off because it's easily accessible.  The public demands more, though, which means more product - more rules, more monsters, more line expansion.  This continues, until the line collapses under it's own weight, at which point the next iteration emerges, to perpetuate the cycle.  I think the type of shameless, cash-grabbing thinking that generated that opening paragraph is pretty indicative of the snake choking on it's tail.

I still love me some 2e, don't get me wrong.  I actually think it's a better system, now that everything (official) that will ever come out for it already has.


  1. Pretty sure the blog you're refering to is Howling Tower.

  2. Okay, I see that Chartreuse needs to prepare for Gates made of Hell tonight. How does one do that? Hmm . . . a bucket of water?

    "Chartreuse goes to the local adventuring store and buys a fire extinguisher."

    There - problem solved!

    - Ark

  3. So, question:

    Once you got to the meat of the module, are any of those books actually necessary? (I mean, was the adventure dependent on the prior material?)

  4. Some yes, some no. It depends on how much you want to run "on the fly". Unless you want to run random encounters, you don't need the Monstrous Manual, for instance - they provide stats on all the monsters. The Psionics Guide is pretty necessary though - if you don't know how to run Psionic Powers, you're in the dark when they rattle them off in the stats for some of those monsters. There's lots of namechecking going on, and if you're not familiar with the Forgotten Realms stuff, you either change the names or pick up the boxed sets. That sort of stuff. I think an experienced DM could work around most of the challenges, but that was the problem, IMO - it was a very user unfriendly product. It assumed a level of sophistication that would turn off all but a small subset of their target audience.


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