Saturday, October 15, 2011

S&W: Tome of Horrors Complete

I've finally had an opportunity to sift through the Tome of Horrors Complete for Swords and Wizardry.

I do think it has excellent upside, but I can't give it a resounding endorsement either.

Initially, I wanted the hardback book. The book is $99 from the Frog God Website (I still think they have a few available). When you add $30 shipping to Ontario, Canada plus and addition $20-30 in duty it totally wasn't worth it. I asked the guy at Frog God if he'd work with me, which he wouldn't. I understand, he has to cover his ass with shipping insurance, but you don't have to go far on the web to know that the OSR is alive and well north of the border. It would be nice if folks producing stuff in the US kept us in mind. So, I bought the pdf for $29.99 as I can get it printed for free on a super-sweet printer. That's better value than the better part of $200.

In terms of the content, this looks looks and feels like a Third Edition book - which it is and it isn't. The art (largely) has a black and white third edition aesthetic. That can be off-putting for some, I would include myself in that group. Old school D&D should look like old school D&D not 3E. You can see Frog God has applied this logic to the rest of the S&W stuff. That's a real shame and something Raggi commented about just the other day. Frog God needs to let go of the Third Edition vibe. To my mind, Mythmere had it exactly right in terms of using his own stuff (he's a good artist) and others like Pete Mullen.

I have one other issue with this book. The S&W ToHC is loaded with monsters you'd never see in an old school game. For many (but not all) an orc with a spear is enough. I've written about this before. Do old schoolers really need a Vapour Dire Rat, or a Flame-Spawned Troll, or a Plant-Imbued Ape? Really? Really? Let's leave all that behind with Third Edition, thank you.

In addition to players/DMs, I think the real value of this book rests with those who want to publish their own adventures and want to use/cite monsters from the MMII or the FF like Coffer Corpses, Groaning Spirits, Mudmen, or Sandlings. With the ease of translation between OD&D, B/X, AD&D and their clones, this could very well become a foundational text in the OSR moving forward. I suppose that depends on the monster books (if any) that other OSR publishers put out. There are other gems inside as well, including little enounter ideas and a set of demons for the plane of agony, but these are secondary to the monster access.

So, my 2cp are the following: If you want to publish adventures in the future this is a great resource to have, although there are a bunch of monsters I'll never use. Also, if I'm paying top dollar for an old school product, I want it to have an old school aesthetic. The art is critical.






  2. In terms of art and content, the book was initially a 3rd edition book. While it would be impressive if Frog God redid all the art for it, well, it didn't happen. And as there are many pieces in there that are just good quality pieces, I can't say that's a bad thing on my part.

    In terms of 'weird' monsters, you and I must have been playing different versions of D&D since many of the monsters are lifted whole cloth from original 1st edition sources like the Fiend Folio and other 'classic's. Dragon Magazine was also filled with many an interesting beast back in the day.

    Now mind you, that's me coming at it from a 1st-4th edition view. I started with 1st and moved up to 2nd, 3rd, 3.5, 4th, and mess with various game in between like Rolemaster, GURPS, HARP, Harn, Stormbringer, etc... so perhaps to someone who only wants some OD&D material this is out of place.

    But perhaps not.

    In terms of price, $99 for the page count and value, since if you preordered you received the PDF for free, is very low. Lesserton and Mor is for L&L and is $30 for a book that is less than 100 pages. Tome comes in at something like 800 pages. Page per page is very inexpensive.

    But that's like shopping at Sam's. If you can't afford the membership card, or can, but then can't afford the high bulk items despite the savings, then indeed, this is not for you.

    Just my two cents.

  3. I didn't preprder, just bought the pdf.

    I want to play Gygax D&D so any editions after 1st are a stretch.

  4. AS an aside, I bought the Monster book from S&W from lulu and enjoyed it quite a bit. It would have been nice to see some of those monsters switched out for some of the more 4E feeling ones. I'm sure that was considered at some point, but perhaps there were legal issues.

  5. You've pretty much hit all of my buttons for this book. Thanks very much for doing a review of this.