I’m a big fan of Dungeons & Dragons, Vol. III, The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures. More than any of the original trilogy of rules, this volume actually aids the neophyte Referee in understanding how to prepare and play a session of D&D. Does it answer all of the questions that arise when preparing to take the plunge into the whole role playing concept? No. Nothing replaces actually playing and learning through hands-on experience, but whereas Volume I is mostly the actual ‘rules’ of the game, and Volume II gives examples and ‘stats’ for Monsters and Treasure, Volume III puts forth a decent effort in pulling the whole concept together into a cohesive system. It spells out exactly HOW to play.
Granted, a large portion of this third volume has never seen any use in my own campaigns. I am referring to pages 25-35, which cover rules for handling various rarely used (again, in MY campaigns to date) combat situations. Despite this fact, I find myself coming back more and more frequently to appreciate the importance on this little book. It’s essentially the Father of my favorite D&D book ever, the Dungeon Master’s Guide by Gary Gygax. It’s missing the game rules that are found in Volume I in this original set, and the treasure that is found in Volume II, but otherwise it’s information intended for the Referee’s eyes only. It wraps everything up in a nice, neat, tidy format and says, “OK, so here’s how the previous two volumes are intended to be used.” And when I say “nice, neat, tidy format” I actually mean “disorganized, vague, ever so fun to peruse format”. So sue me, I like the rough around the edges feel of the ‘Real Thing’ that is Dungeons & Dragons (aka OD&D).
Less often these days I find something ‘new’ to my eyes within these pages, but I still enjoy picking up all three volumes and spending a few moments reading a passage or a table contained therein. While working on my current project for Fight On!, my mind was wandering and the seeds of a separate adventure (in other words, an idea that simply would NOT fit within my current project) were being sown. I decided to refocus a bit and grabbed the volume I’ve been sticking my nose into more frequently of late. Lo and behold, on page 19, an interesting outdoor random encounter met my eyes.
Our intrepid adventurers, searching for the Long Lost Geegaw of Golliwag, trekking near and far, seemingly lost and at the edge of madness, spy a dark figure approaching them. Flowing black cloak whippping in the wind, jet black armor glinting in the sunlight, the mysterious visage appears to be accompanied by a pack of (result 5 on a d12) White Apes toting ebony crossbows. The party weighs their options: Flee, Parley, Fight. The choice is clear, given the flat, trackless environs, Parley, but prepare for melee. As the black figure closes in, he motions his White Apes to hold, and approaches the party of adventurers rather boldly. Just as the player character leader of the band begins to open his mouth to speak, the dark figure draws a blazing, glowing sword of bright red energy, and with a flick of his other hand sends the party leader flying through the air with some immense, invisible, telekinetic force. Landing unceremoniously thirty feet behind his adventuring mates, the leader thinks he sees a brightly costumed figure flying through the air, directly at the silent, black cloaked menace, just before he blacks out from pain.
Sith, huh? Honestly I don’t recognize many of the other entries on that particular Arid Plains table. My best guess is perhaps these are more Edgar Rice Burroughs influences. There’s already a cool Desert (Mars) table on page 18, just before this one, that likewise includes Tharks. Result 2 on a d12 for the Arid Plains table is Banths! Ya think George Lucas was a John Carter fan? Aren’t the big mounts in his sci-fi space opera called Banthas? Yeah, I think there’s a pattern here.
I know that SITH is an acronym for Sick In The Head, but this deserves further research. So this led me to turn to the infallible world wide web, and Google the word ‘Sith’. After sithing...err sifting through the first several pages of results, I found a reference NOT related to Star Wars. Awesome! As it turns out, Sith is Gaelic (or Celtic) for…get ready for it…‘Fairy’. Furthermore, the mythical Cu Sith, or ‘Fairy Dog’, is a huge canine with a greenish coat. Didn’t sound familiar to me until I further read that Cu Sith is pronounced "Coo Shee".
The results of my brief and utterly unscientific research have led me to a few conclusions: that Cooshee isn’t just some lame throwaway entry from Gygax’s Monster Manual II (it’s actually based on Celtic Myth); that George Lucas was/is a John Carter fan boy; and that Darth Vader is, in fact, a Fairy.
But what of our intrepid adventurers, face to face with some deranged Referee’s ad lib version of a Sith encountered in an Optional Arid Plains setting? By now you may have guessed, that rather than end the campaign here so unceremoniously, the Referee thought quickly on his toes, and placed the party, unbeknownst to them at the time, between two heated adversaries. Yep, that fleeting glimpse of a colorfully costumed flying figure was indeed the Lord of a nearby Fortress, found on the Occupant column for the random Castle Guards/Retainers table on page 15, to be exact, result 2 on a d6.
And the party leader gains consciousness to witness his unscathed companions enjoying delicious piping hot mugs of result 4 on the d4 roll in that Occupant’s row.
I’m sure glad to have Volume III to show me how to play this game that lets me pit the players against sci-fi and comic book characters, with modern trappings to take the edge off. Now, make mine a Grande Coffee of the Day, black please.
~Sham, Quixotic Referee