Friday, May 30, 2008

Friday Flashback

Hell Yeah, it's Friday!

Capping off my look at R&R HoF bands for the month of May, I'm going back to one of my old faves, the young, sexy Chrissie Hynde of The Pretenders. I always loved her tough look and great guitar and singing talent. I normally favor live vids if I can find em, but I'm offering a double header since I couldn't find Talk of the Town live. This first vid is from the ABC TV series Fridays, live Louie, Louie circa 1981.

Here's Talk of the Town, a song I've always appreciated. It's a lip sync and the audio is off a bit, but Chrissie looks great! And her voice is really a treat in this song.

The Pretenders, R&R HoF Inductee 2005

Have a great weekend!

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Map Development

As promised, I wanted to post a bit about my process for map development. I love drawing maps, and as referee, a good looking map makes me enjoy running that particular adventure more than staring at a boring or confusing map. Now, my style is particularly neat and clean for the most part. It’s just how my maps turn out. I love seeing other people’s maps, and I am usually envious of the raw, unrefined style that, for me, is so often evocative of old school, home brew adventures. Nevertheless, this is my style and I make maps this way, for better or worse.

Normally, when I set about to drawing a map, I already have thought out the theme for that adventure. Whether that theme defines the entire map, or just a portion of it, I have it worked out beforehand. By this point, I have a handful of ideas and features planned based on this theme, and I might even have a half dozen or so major rooms fleshed out a bit on paper.

Often, I will draw these features and major rooms first on the map, and connect them later. Other times I just start drawing lines and fit these particulars in as I go. I want to use the map I’m submitting for SGotC for this example. I’ll repost the map I started with a few days ago here.

My first step is the outline. Simply lines with no detail or features of note, as shown below.

Once I am satisfied with the overall lay-out, I will consider further details of the adventure. This in depth analysis allows me to proceed to the next step, that of adding details, doors and making minor fixes, as shown below.

The next step is more involved, as it takes into account the actual description of each of the soon to be keyed areas. During this stage, I sit down and rough out a list of rooms and small descriptions for each. Next I number the map in as logical a manner as I can, as shown below.

Normally, at this point, I go about the process of actually writing the entire adventure. This allows me to draw further details on the map, make notations if necessary, then title it and dress it up a bit. For this post, I am proceeding to the last stage before actually finishing the written adventure, but I am fairly satisfied with the map as is, and I have most of the entire dungeon level worked out on paper and in my head. The example below is fairly close to what I will end up submitting to Fight On!.

I’m fairly gun-shy right now about adding shading or delineating lines, and I feel once numbered this particular map is fairly distinct and easy to understand. I’ll probably add delineating lines and submit two versions in the end.

There's not much difference between versions 3 and 4 in this example, but I suspect that by the time I've finished writing the adventure, there will be plenty of details added here and there.

A few complaints. The erasure marks scan in too damn well. The numbers I drew for keying are too large, and detract from the finished map. I'm very rarely satisfied with the flow of the numbering on my maps, and this one is no different. Area 3 is kind of messy.

Lastly, yep you guessed it, I'm an anal bastard when it comes to my maps.

I hope you enjoy these maps, and I would like to provide further step by step examples in the future. Hopefully my next series of maps will not include any caves, as I believe my pure brick and block maps are much more interesting.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Good Things

You know the old adage, good things come to those who wait. If such is truly the case, my upcoming campaign had better be damned good. If you’ve been following my blog, you know I’ve been spent the last several months gearing up for a new campaign with my old gaming crew. The crew that formed in the early 80’s. Yep, we’re all 40+ years of age, we have families, and we are scattered about Annapolis, Baltimore, Washington and Virginia. None of us has really ‘moved away’ per se, but we are certainly fairly far flung as far as table top gaming potential goes. There’s never been a reason to move away from this greater region, as it offers pretty much whatever you might seek in regard to career and family. For that I am thankful, even though I would personally rather be in a more remote, less expensive area with better weather and fewer cars.

Thanks to the wonders of the interweb, I have been able to track down those members who I had lost contact with over the last six to ten years. I think the last time the entire crew was assembled they were preparing to enter Akt-Elam’Da, the fabled Vault of Night, 1996 or thereabouts. After that a few of us would meet periodically for a diversionary dungeon crawl campaign, which ended in 2000 or so, I’d guess.

So, needless to say, it’s been a long time.

Well, the stars have aligned finally, and our first game session, to kick-off the Of Fortunes and Fools campaign in Solstice has been set for the end of June. I’m already considering more preparation I should take care of before then, but honestly, it’s ready to go. And you know that first session will be full of lots of BS’ing and only a little bit of actual dice rolling, as it should be.

If I had to guesstimate, I’d say I’ve been DM for over 250 sessions, in various forms. For whatever reason, I’m actually more anxious than I’ve ever been as a DM. I’ve no idea why, after all it’s my old gaming crew. I suppose I’m really concerned with making sure the campaign is entertaining for all involved, since we are all going through great lengths to actually play now. In the end, I’m sure as soon as the first d6 for damage is rolled, and the first saving throw is called for, everything will fall into place and run smoothly.

These sessions will be the basis of more than a few posts here at the Grog ‘n Blog, and they will also likely be the first games I’ve ever run while a laptop is sitting next to me. I’m hoping that my players will all share a laugh or two when the first total party kill occurs, and that these upcoming sessions will be regarded as good things by all.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Entourage Approach

Players in the OF&F campaign, in Solstice, will be portraying the role of a player character, but with a small wrinkle that will change the way we have normally played D&D in the past. Each and every player will be charged with developing an Entourage or stable of player characters. I will call this method the Entourage Approach.

Each Entourage will consist of a Primary Character, and a Loyal Follower, further members of said Entourage will be standard hirelings, also known as Henchmen. The Primary Character’s Loyal Follower will not count towards the hireling total permitted by his CHA score. Furthermore, the hireling total will rise with experience for each Primary Character, reflecting his fame and influence as he gains notoriety throughout Solstice.

Upon the untimely death of a Primary Character, the Loyal Follower, by law, is able to claim all of the slain former leader’s possessions which are upon his character, and is able to claim, after paying a 10% tax to the state, that deceased individual’s estate, such as it is. At this point, short of a potential Raise Dead, the Loyal Follower becomes the Primary Character, and must then choose a new Loyal Follower from amongst his own Entourage.

At the beginning of each session, the player decides who from amongst his Entourage is going on this particular adventure. Typically, either the Primary Character, or the Loyal Follower must be present during an adventure. Some of the members of the Entourage might stay behind to tend to matters at home while their brethren assume the dangerous duties of adventuring. Later in the campaign, the players might decide to attempt an adventure which is surely beneath their Primary Character’s or even Loyal Follower’s level of expertise. In such a case, the player can opt to play an adventure using the Henchmen members of their Entourage. Temporary Primary Characters will have to be established during those adventures.

Experience is effected by the number of characters, obviously, so it is not always the best idea to tackle an adventure with three dozen members, but it IS possible. Primary Characters receive one full share of divided experience, Loyal Followers and Henchmen receive but one quarter. This might make for some complicated numbers crunching, but the referee will make the entire process fair and equitable.

A Primary Character gains an additional Loyal Follower at experience levels three and six. Again, these members of the Entourage do not count toward the Primary Characters maximum allowable number of hirelings. The player must still designate a pecking order amongst his Loyal Followers, in order that inheritance is clearly defined. There will be further rules for the Entourage when a particular Primary Character builds a stronghold, at the Lord, Wizard or Patriarch levels.

If a Loyal Follower or any other member of an Entourage attains an experience level higher than the Primary Character’s, he or she will leave the Entourage (and possibly establish his own and continue adventuring, at the player’s option).

Morale is an important game feature when using the Entourage Approach. Henchmen are fairly transient in Solstice, but eventually, each Entourage will consist of some very loyal members, even at the Henchmen level. Nevertheless, the OD&D rules shall be followed each time a new hireling is added.

First, the Reaction Table on p. 12 of M&M is used during the hiring process. There is a possibility that said hireling will end up with +3 Loyalty at this stage. Then, the referee secretly rolls 3d6 to determine the hirelings Loyalty, adjusting for CHA, amount of gold offered, and possibly by that +3 from the Reaction Table. A number is generated from 1 to 25 after adjustments for CHA and gold are made. This Loyalty number determines one of seven Morale factors, from deserts at first opportunity, to need never check morale, with adjustments of -2, -1, 0, +1 or +2 in between.

To make a Morale Check, the referee rolls 2d6, makes the Loyalty adjustment, and refers to the below table:
2: Hostile, will attack or endanger Primary Character.
3-5: Deserts Immediately, will attack if prevented from flight.
6-8: Hesitates, if situation does not improve, roll again at -1 in one turn.
9-11: No effect. If situation does not improve, roll again in one turn.
12: No effect, no more rolls required for this situation.

The referee will make on the fly adjustments for particularly perilous situations. Morale should also be checked at the conclusion of each adventure to see if the Henchmen remains in the Entourage. Fair treatment and fair pay will normally mean that no check is required. Henchmen who have witnessed their mates perish, or come to within a breath of their own demise, will normally have to check with a penalty. Gold and Gems can normally help to convince even the most reluctant Henchmen, though.

Players will maintain an index card for each member of their Entourage, and the referee will keep track of the Henchman’s Loyalty base. Loyalty scores for members of the Entourage are never seen by the players, but might become evident over the course of the campaign.

Under certain circumstances, a player with available space within his entourage can actually add intelligent Monsters to his Entourage on a temporary or even permanent basis, given that said Monster can be accepted by his Henchmen mates, and further by those members of society whom might have to accept said Monster!

The process of actually attracting and maintaining a successful Entourage will be a large part of campaign play in Of Fortunes and Fools. Most of all, this Entourage Approach will open up game play opportunities for all involved. A player with a cohesive Entourage could even elect to play solo, or have successful adventures with only one other player, should the need arise. A player is never required to bring members of his Entourage on adventures, but the benefits of maintaining a Loyal Follower, at the least, are clear.

In Solstice, the standard Henchmen fee is as follows: 5 GP retaining fee per level of Henchmen, and one quarter a share of all gold plundered on adventures. Thus, four members of an Entourage would be able to claim, rightfully, one share of the treasure. Magic Items are not included in such hand shake contracts, though. When an Entourage consists of more than four members, it is assumed that the Primary Character will simply award that same full share, and it will be equally divided amongst the Henchmen.

Bonuses to Loyalty base are normally afforded by exceeding this standard amount, while penalties are incurred when awarding less than this standard amount.

The Entourage Approach has been inspired from some notes by Mike Mornard, in regard to how Gary Gygax handled his campaign back in the early days, to quote:

“Gary ran a weekly game. His total player pool was about 12 to 15.

Usually, only about 2 to 5 of us could make it any given game day.

So, everybody acquired henchmen to "fill out the group" if somebody wasn't going to be there.

And it didn't take long for players to start arranging other times and playing alone or with henchmen.

Heck, it even reached the point where from time to time we'd just play our henchmen to level them up.

And yes, the original D&D assumed an endgame where you would build your stronghold, acquire vassals and tenants, and become A Major Player In The World's Politics.

That endgame seems to have virtually disappeared.”
With Solstice, I hope to bring back that end game that has virtually disappeared. We’ll see how it goes!

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Junk From My Closet: Devil's Throne

This is the first installment of Junk From My Closet. Hat's off to Jeff for the idea. I can waste plenty of time scanning in old garbage and yacking about it, and...that's what I plan to do.

My first offering is an old map I dug up from my never finished Antholerin campaign. I'll probably find more Junk from that setting in the closet, but this is a map I always liked and I never used in actual play. Antholerin was a long running campaign, centered around multiple levels of 'undercities' which led, eventually, to the Deep Down, my version of Arduin's Great Wyrm Road, or the Underdark. The lowest reaches of the Deep Down were drawn out on a hex map, ala D1-3 inspired by Gygax's map, with keyed hexes. Devil's Throne was one of those hexes, in this case the hex directly under Antholerin.

Devil's Throne was probably drawn around 1995 or so, so it's fairly recent as far as most of the Junk From My Closet goes.

Devil's Throne is the legendary Trollhome. Within resides clans of Giant Trolls, Trolls, and Troglodytes, as well as the Great Troll Overlord. Here's a rough outline of the keyed areas.

1: Temple of Vathakk. Region shared by two clans, the Vor Clan (ruled by Gelbar) and the Nes clan (ruled by Irenis).
2: Byrfellag, the Great Citadel. Ruled over by Aragen the Massive, the Great Troll Overlord. To the south, Slave Pits and Royal Mines, and the Rior clan of Giant Trolls.
3: Walled Siv clan home (ruled by H'ree).
4: Temple of Kavring. Region shared by two clans, the Pel clan (ruled by Ridues) to the far north, and the Ain clan (ruled by Eakeh) surrounding the Temple.
5: Temple of Gorog-Nor (The Hungry One), surrounded by the Une clan (ruled by Natue).
6: Walled Pril clan home (ruled by Vorad).
7: Walled Eiun clan home (ruled by Leum).

Devil's Throne has eight Troll clans, totaling over 10,000 Trolls, and one Giant Troll clan of 600.

I can no longer remember, but some of the Temples might be named after Demons from Arduin.

This region occupied hex number 21 on the Deep Down overview. If I find that hex map, I'll scan it along with the other hex notes.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Sham's New Toy

OK, so I’ve got a new toy. Rather, I should specify, I had my computer literate and all-around wonderful Wife show me how to actually USE her scanner. I think I’ve discovered a new tool that will keep me busy rooting through my gaming closet and posting images.

One of the uses of this new tool will be an upcoming post that details Map Development for my upcoming submission to Fight On!. The finished version of which will only be found in the actual publication, but I’ll walk through some of the steps I use when hand-drawing a dungeon map.

So, in order to test the waters, so to speak, I’m scanning the map of SGotC as it is right now, before it’s fleshed out.

Once I have some time I’ll scan some of my ancient hand drawn maps for your viewing pleasure, along with tidbits here and there ala Jeff Rients.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

OD&D Anthology

In this post I want to direct readers and potential OD&D players to the Essentials section at Philotomy’s Musings. Philotomy made a very valid point in that OD&D is not limited in scope to Vol.s I-III and the supplemental brown books, and that there are other excellent sources of gaming information that many players of the original edition have found invaluable.

My reason for initially pointing players new to OD&D to the Vol.s I-III of the original edition is because at only six bucks for the PDF, you can decide if OD&D’s for you, and not feel as though you wasted a sizable amount of coin. On the other hand, RPGNow does offer all of the OD&D books, plus Chainmail, bundled together for thirty bucks (a savings of about $6.00).

Now, since Dave Arneson still has rights to Supplement 2, Blackmoor, he is able to offer it in PDF form, for FREE. So, there’s several dollars saved right there, anyway.

Nothing in this anthology of printed material, other than the Original Edition of LBB, is in fact essential. I prefer the idea of just using the original game as is, and building from there in the tradition of the old home brewers from those halcyon days. As Philotomy points out, the supplements are inspirational, if nothing else. Remember, though, if you end up actually using all of the material and rules presented, you are almost to the point of simply playing a disorganized version of AD&D.

Personally, I already owned a copy of Supplement I, Greyhawk, which I found several years back at a used book store for $3.00, and I had Best of the Dragon Vol. I in my gaming closet. I picked up the LBB, Chainmail, as well as the Judge’s Guild Ready Ref Sheets and the Monster & Treasure Assortment collection, all in PDF. I’ll comment a bit on these, since I’ve read them.

Original Edition, the LBB: Essential, this is OD&D.
Supplement I, Greyhawk: Radical rules changes. The Thief is added. You can see how Greyhawk, Mr. Gygax’s campaign setting, was the precursor to AD&D. I’ll use the Monsters and Treasure, but not much else.
Supplement II, Blackmoor: Luckily this one’s free. I find no use for this publication, other than the Monsters and Treasure, although it’s interesting to read Temple of the Frog.
Chainmail: I’m glad I have it because I was very curious, but it’s not needed. Philotomy does a good job explaining how it might be useful.
JG Ready Ref Sheets: I love and heartily recommend this. Even if you don’t use any of the various house rules presented, it still has some very handy reference sheets of the collected tables from the LBB. Oh, and it’s a $3.00 PDF.
Monster & Treasure Assortment: A collection of tables which a prospective referee might find very useful for randomly stocking dungeons, rolling encounters on the fly, or just as inspiration.

These are all linked at Philotomy’s musing, so follow those links and judge for yourself. I’d start with simply the LBB and build from there. Getting everything at once will likely bog down the process of sorting out the original edition information.

Kudos to Philotomy for compiling all of this information and linking it.

Personally, the OD&D material I am currently most interested in is Dave Arneson's First Fantasy Campaign, as well as some other long out of print Judge's Guild modules that I missed back in the late 70's and early 80's.

Remember that all you need to get going on some serious old school gaming is Vol.s I-III, those LBB. As Mr. Gygax said,
"...why have us do anymore of your imagining for you?"

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Friday, May 23, 2008

Old School Revisited

To borrow a term used quite often in OD&D circles, the game is a tool-kit. In the right hands, it is the perfect model for constructing the game that you want. This is OD&D in scope and in spirit. It’s the ephemeral definition of the old school philosophy in it’s purest form.

But, indeed, there is more to the story. As I was actually finishing up my four part OD&D article, I was enlightened by a few posts on the ‘net about other aspects which I have not given much thought to in the past, but are topics worthy of investigating further.

First was this excellent insight provided by Coffee of the OD&D forum, to quote and chop to taste:

I am increasingly of the opinion that the only thing that makes a game "old school" is the Gamemaster.

Look at the origins of the game: Dave Arneson's medieval Chainmail campaign. Dave was the referee and his decisions were final. Rules Lawyers needn't apply. In fact, Dave said in an interview that he had so ingrained the "decision of the ref is final" rule into his players that when they started running adventures in his game, HE didn't argue with them, either. It just wasn't done.

Sadly enough, it was Gary himself who allowed for the rise of the rules lawyer (albeit unknowingly, I'm sure) with the published strictures against the house-ruling of AD&D.

The problems of "new school" gaming, for me, boils down to this: There are so many rules, it truly takes a rules lawyer to master them all. And once that happens, you don't have an old-school game any more. You could, if that person is him/herself the referee, but how many times have we seen that happen?

This may sound like edition bashing; it's not.

The Old School DM is responsible for his campaign. He is also responsible to it -- if it comes to a choice between making the player happy or keeping his game intact, the Old School DM rules in favor of his campaign. Same with conflicts between the campaign and the rules as written -- the campaign wins.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that the motto of the Old School DM should be: The Buck Stops Here.
Coffee nailed it with this post. Again, this is not edition bashing, as mentioned. It is, more or less, another effort to add meaning to the oft quoted phrase, ‘old school’. I know old school is not for everyone, and this is not an attempt to prove any points, simply a look back at how things have, indeed, evolved.

The very next day, a few of my fellow bloggers pointed out a very interesting thread over at Dragonsfoot written by Tim Kask. Mr. Kask was relating a few tidbits of reverential knowledge that only one such as he might actually be able to lend credence to. To paraphrase:

AD&D…maybe isn't such a good thing; it seems to have encouraged a generation of players who enjoy fussing over the wording of the rulebook instead of deferring to their DM's judgement.

We had no idea [with the release of AD&D] that we were corrupting the original players into a flock of nit-pickers and rules lawyers.
Very interesting stuff, indeed. I’ve mentioned many times in the past that I often butted heads with people who knew the AD&D rules better than myself, but didn’t know D&D better. In other words, while I may never have been (or wanted to be) an AD&D rules expert, I surely knew how a good game and campaign was run. I never enjoyed having to crack one of the hard covers open mid session in order for a ruling, and I despised being called out in the same manner in mid combat. Even back then, in D&D’s early days, there was a certain attitude developing that the rules were the game, rather than the fact that, as written, the D&D rules support the game, but do not define it.

It’s terrible when you begin to think blasphemous thoughts. If I continue with this opinion, I’m afraid I’ll blurt out something insane like ‘AD&D is not old school’. How can this be? I was ALWAYS an avid AD&D player and DM. I love AD&D. I suppose this comes back to the whole ‘I was never really playing AD&D’ epiphany deal I’ve been coming to terms with here at the Grog ‘n Blog. The fact is, AD&D is old school, clearly. As Mr. Kask points out, they (TSR) had no idea at the time that the end result of adding such depth to the D&D rules would create rules lawyers. D&D should be the antithesis of such an approach to gaming. It’s not Advanced Squad leader, after all. Players are not competing with one another, or with the referee.

I was recently directed to this new blog which, by the way has some great posts so far and has been included in my blogroll. I found a nice little nugget of insight with this post by Noism. Again, to cut and paste and cut some more:

What is the Shared Vision behind which we are all supposed to unite?

For me, what it boils down to is one passage in the 2nd edition Player's Handbook, which had a great effect on me when I read it as a 12 or 13 year old, and which you could say has informed my D&D philosophy every since.

The passage in question is What the Numbers Mean, and it can be found early on in the book just after the descriptions of the various Stats and what they stand for. The writers introduce a character called "Rath" - Rath has rather 'poor' stats - but the writers demonstrate both how to turn those stats into an interesting character (twice!) and how to have fun doing it.

It is exactly the spirit in which I think D&D should be played and in which I love to play it, and if I could define Old School Gaming it would be in one line taken from that passage: if you take an interest in the character and role-play him well, then even a character with the lowest possible scores can present a fun, challenging, and all-around exciting time. In other words, what is important is what you, as a player, bring to the set of dice rolls that make up your character. The game is about you making the most of what you get. Later editions of the game changed the emphasis to the power of the character, and that is where, I believe, the line in the sand between Old and "New" Schools lies.
That’s some seriously great insight into the genre and the evolution of the game we all enjoy so much, old guys like me, and younger guys like Noism.

So, we see a delineation of the loss of reverence of the DM, as he is seemingly dwarfed by the sheer volume of rules in AD&D, and then further, with 3e in the rise of the importance and power of the character.

These two changes have surely led to one distinct change, the rise of the player. The DM’s role has been deemphasized by the rules, and the rise of the player has seemingly relegated the DM to nothing more than a chaperone, there to ensure some sense of ‘fairness’.

It’s a game, and it should be fun for everyone, DM and players alike. Old School or New School, OD&D or 3.X D&D, it’s all good. These games are meant to be fun, but it’s also fun at times to notice the many differences amongst the various approaches taken to pursue this hobby. The differences that perhaps help define the actual subgenres within our quirky gaming genre.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Friday Flashback

Better later than never, I always say! Continuing with the R&R HoF theme, I present to you another video which I hope you might enjoy. Crank it up and let 'er rip! Have a Great Long Weekend! I present Ramones, live in London in 1977.

Ramones, R&R HoF Inductee 2002.
Joey Ramone, Dee Dee Ramone, Johnny Ramone all R.I.P.

Here's an interesting fact: Ramones concert number 2,263, their final show, was in Los Angeles on August 6, 1996. Yep, 2,263 shows. I'm happy to say I was at seven of them myself.

Today's FF is a double feature. I have good news on a personal level, so I wanted to send this video out to one of our MIA players who just emailed the gaming group today. John was our resident Billy Idol fan back in the old days, so this one goes out to him. Generation X from 1978! Yes, before Billy 'sold out'.

This is of particular interest to Grognards out there. How? Check out the comments at 2:34. It makes for a good 'old school' analogy methinks!

Enjoy this one, and get a kick out of how young Billy actually is here.

Rock On!

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Why OD&D? part 4

As I’ve stated before, this blog is not concerned with belittling any of the subsequent versions or editions in the D&D family. After all, they are the offspring of OD&D, and all of us share an interest in the hobby for one reason, and one reason only. To have fun. As long as you are having fun under the D&D Umbrella, regardless of which edition you might use, please, carry on, but perhaps take a moment to read why I like the original version so much.

So I’ve explained the D&D concept, talked about why OD&D is for me, and theorized about why OD&D is probably not for everyone. Now comes the hardest question fromThe Why Of It All, that being How would I go about sharing my enthusiasm with others?

Well, for one, I have my tiny, often confusing little Grog ’n Blog, wherein I attempt to make people understand what exactly I am trying to talk about, to varying degrees of success. I can certainly share my enthusiasm, but if no one wants to actually hear or see it, I find it’s ultimately pointless. Us old school fans are so often, as my blogging buddy Max says, prone to a general vibe of phlegmatic crankiness, or worse, fogged up with complaining about the new and amen-brothering the old. This gets me nowhere fast. I’m not here to preach to the choir and get some pats on the back. I’d genuinely like to somehow dispel the OD&D misconceptions, and share some of my enthusiasm within our little corner of the gaming world.

It’s not about converting the masses, it’s about enlightening and showing the unbridled fun and limitless approach of OD&D. Perhaps it’s an essence of gaming greatness that was in the air back in the late 70’s, an innocent feeling that anything is possible, so why not dream it up, and go play it. Perhaps it is actually fool’s gold, a rarified time that will never be experienced again. Somehow, though, when I think about OD&D, and that philosophy that surrounded it, I can’t help but become enthused about playing it.

So how then? Word of mouth worked in the 70’s, but can it still do anything for OD&D? I’m afraid that simply talking or writing about it isn’t going to help accomplish the task of dispelling OD&D’s misconceptions. Much like actually learning, understanding and embracing that original D&D concept, I believe that people need to be shown. Players need to be willing to look past the shortcomings I posted about in the last article. The only way, I believe, is by letting the players play, and letting the DM take on the prospect of running OD&D.

So in that vein, I encourage anyone reading this who has not tried to play OD&D to do some research, discover the nuances of OD&D that make it appeal to you, spend some time considering the advantages of the original version, admit that you agree that playing the real thing is enticing, explore the wonderful resources available (thank you Al Gore) on the internet, and as Philotomy says, Approach it fresh. Read the rules, and don't assume that you know how things work. There are differences that may surprise you. Fluff it up, dress it up, make it your own version, and then play it! If you can share my own enthusiasm, we will, each of us a handful of players at a time, be contributing to dispelling the misconceptions of OD&D.

To get your own PDF copy, follow this link. For the price, I can't see why anyone wouldn't want to own the original edition of D&D. Also, check this out to make a facsimile copy in booklet form from your PDF's.

Aside from that, I will continue to post here and share my enthusiasm for the game. It’s not one limited to OD&D really, and much of what I ramble on and on about here can be applied to any of the various games I enjoy. Hopefully that enthusiasm will rub off and spread and possibly contribute in some small way to realizing once again that elusive essence of gaming greatness.

Why OD&D, part 1
Why OD&D, part 2
Why OD&D, part 3

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Why OD&D? part 3

As I’ve stated before, this blog is not concerned with belittling any of the subsequent versions or editions in the D&D family. After all, they are the offspring of OD&D, and all of us share an interest in the hobby for one reason, and one reason only. To have fun. As long as you are having fun under the D&D Umbrella, regardless of which edition you might use, please, carry on, but perhaps take a moment to read why I like the original version so much.

Now that I have addressed the reasons why I prefer the original version of D&D, both conceptually and rules-wise, I will continue with my initial questions posed in The Why Of It All, in particular: Why do I think others don’t share my appreciation of the LBB? This post could be titled Why Not OD&D?

OD&D is presented in a very rudimentary format. The three volumes are certainly lacking in organization. Closer inspection of the rules reveals much in the way of vagueness and ambiguity. Actual play, without guidance from some wiser soul, and without prior knowledge of other forms of D&D, can lead to many questions as holes in the rules are found. Certain aspects are glossed over, and the references to Chainmail can be maddening at times.

D&D grew by word of mouth, and by actual examples of live play. I’m convinced that the LBB, as written, were very difficult to comprehend out of the box. Players discovered this game at conventions, and later in gaming clubs and groups, being taught how to play by referees who had learned from someone else along the D&D playing word of mouth chain.

Out of the box, OD&D is certainly not user friendly. It takes time to interpret and understand. The concept itself often eludes beginners, and actually applying the rules once you have located them can be confusing. The fact of the matter is more concise treatments of the game were needed in order to foster it’s growth. AD&D was intended initially for players who had already embraced the D&D concept. It was a grand treatment of the rules and added layer upon layer of complexity to D&D. It also compiled many of the various supplements and articles which had sprung forth from the seeds of OD&D.

Before jumping into AD&D, given the rather crude initial publication of OD&D, TSR intended players to discover and learn using a ‘cleaned up’ version of OD&D, a sort of pre-AD&D version, thus the Holmes Basic D&D box was published. It served to right many of the wrongs of OD&D, but it was intentionally limited in scope, because it was intended as a lead in to Advanced. Basic to Advanced was the concept, even though AD&D, once the D&D concept was understood, indeed stood on it’s own, and didn’t require Basic at all.

While this approach has merit, the underlying fact of the matter is that the rules changed between the transition from Original to Basic and Advanced. By now, the supplements were becoming much more than simply supplemental information, and were being ingrained into the rules of D&D itself. The end result was newer versions that did not keep the LBB concept and rule-set intact. Having said this, I admit that I enjoy Holmes, Moldvay and AD&D. Particularly in the case of the Basic versions, they are clean, concise and user-friendly, unlike OD&D. AD&D is a masterpiece of gaming. My only issue with AD&D is that it sent D&D down a much more narrow track, and it’s rules, more often than not, got in the way of the game itself. It’s cumbersome and unwieldy if one attempts to use all of the rules, and it claims that if you change things, you aren’t playing AD&D, and so what’s the point?

OD&D is probably the most intensive version in terms of gaining an understanding of how it works. I believe that it requires the highest level of input by the referee, both in terms of deciphering the concept and the rules, and of actual play. More often than not, the referee is charged with making on the fly decisions, and ad-libbing. The job of the referee can be eased by house rules. The scope of these house rules is left entirely to the individual referee. That was one of the charms of OD&D, but is also a primary reason why I think people do not share my appreciation of the LBB. It requires quite a bit of behind the scenes work on behalf of the referee.

The simple fact that OD&D has been out of print and unsupported by TSR/WotC for three decades certainly is one of the major reasons that it’s greatness has been lost and twisted by misconception over the years. But, the truth of the matter is that OD&D is indeed disorganized, vague, lacking, rudimentary, amateurish, demanding and very basic. When compared to modern D&D, it is these aspects of OD&D which I think have prevented players from seeing it’s sheer genius. Modern D&D is in fact organized, concise, complete, polished, and ready to play ‘out of the box’, so to speak.

Then there’s the artwork. Not much needs to be said that hasn’t already been said in regard to the OD&D art, or lack thereof. It’s art, and it’s appearance are facets of it’s amateurish approach. These traits do hinder the willingness of modern players to see OD&D as little more than some old fashioned, outdated version of the game.

Perhaps modern players desire a professionally produced game, and don’t enjoy the idea of taking on the task of deciphering OD&D, and putting so much behind the scenes work into a campaign based on those rules. I prefer the creative potential that OD&D affords me. Maybe OD&D is a referee’s game, while modern D&D is a player’s game.

To change this, players would need to see that in fact, the game itself, and not the rules, determines the level of fun for all involved. Modern D&D is certainly a boon to DM’s in general, in that it is so easy to manage a cohesive, well though out game and campaign. OD&D, on the other hand, requires a DM willing to spend a lot more time and imagination to reach such a point.

To summarize my thoughts about why OD&D is not embraced by modern D&D players:

1. Lack of Availability
2. Lack of Support
3. Difficulty of Play
4. Time Investment Demands
5. Amateurish Publication

Perhaps no one needs to ramble on about the D&D concept, or the fact that it’s a vehicle for creativity, as I have been doing. The fact is that players and DM’s alike might simply want to get on with actually playing the game, and not sit around filling in the gaps, dreaming up house rules, and constructing campaign worlds.

Nothing is going to change these facts in regard to OD&D. It is what it is (or was). Maybe I’m in some tiny minority that enjoys deciphering the original text, theorizing on the concept presented, appreciating the sheer genius and originality, enjoying the creative potential, and then sitting around and writing house rules, adventures, maps and kibitzing to no end on the internet. Perhaps if I were involved in a weekly modern D&D campaign, I wouldn’t be here right now trying to understand why OD&D is not embraced in gaming any longer. I’d be having too much fun to worry about it. Somehow, though, I feel I would be missing out on the real thing.

Why OD&D, part 1
Why OD&D, part 2
Why OD&D, part 4

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Why OD&D? part 2

As I’ve stated before, this blog is not concerned with belittling any of the subsequent versions or editions in the D&D family. After all, they are the offspring of OD&D, and all of us share an interest in the hobby for one reason, and one reason only. To have fun. As long as you are having fun under the D&D Umbrella, regardless of which edition you might use, please, carry on, but perhaps take a moment to read why I like the original version so much.

So, perhaps you already understand and appreciate the concept presented in OD&D. That this game is one limited only by your own imagination, and that the rules are presented as guidelines on how to play. More so than any later version, OD&D embodies this concept. To quote myself and restate the Empty Room Principle:

D&D is a vehicle for creative input. Logically, therefore, D&D is hindered when the potential for creativity is reduced.

The Empty Room is a metaphor, it represents the potential space provided by the designer or author of a game, to be used by the players of that game to exercise some form of personal creative input.

OD&D trumps all other versions. It is a vehicle for creative input in ways that modern versions are not. How? By keeping things simple.
To borrow a term used quite often in OD&D circles, the game is a tool-kit. In the right hands, it is the perfect model for constructing the game that you want. This is OD&D in scope and in spirit. It’s the ephemeral definition of the old school philosophy in it’s purest form.

My fellow blogging friend Brian pointed out, quite rightly so, in his comment in part one of Why OD&D? that my post read as if I was saying I love the rules because there are no rules. While that is not entirely the message I was conveying, it sort of is the point. As I stated, I believe that D&D could have been introduced to the gaming world in a simple 12 page pamphlet. From there, the core rules could have been used as a basis for future publications and versions which hewed closely to that 12 page pamphlet. Such a gaming model would have preserved the OD&D rules and concept for decades. Instead, TSR took a different approach and redefined the actual game.

What is packaged together with those core rules, in the first three OD&D volumes, could have been the first example of how to use them. In this case, a fantasy setting of Goblins, Wizards, Trolls and Dragons. TSR made other games based on D&D, but it should have stood apart as the core rules, the framework upon which these other milieus were built.

I work in an industry that frequently relies upon engineering standards, specifications that designate compatibility for certain products within the field. It is generally accepted that when a new specification has been met by manufacturers, that this new standard not only supersedes but is also backwards compatible. D&D has taken the opposite approach, and subsequent versions have become more and more narrow in focus, to the point that versions are almost linked to their own setting or gaming world. Not so, as I have pointed out, with OD&D.

As promised, I do want to state, specifically and without theorizing quite as much, what I like about the OD&D rules, and not simply the game.

1. OD&D uses a class model based on the three pronged crown of Fighting-Man, Magic User and Cleric. In other words, no Thief. I like this because it allows any player to engage obstacles with critical thinking and logic. The players are interacting with the game world, and not simply reaching for the dice.

2. OD&D employs a rather abstract combat model. It’s the perfect basis for keeping it as is, or expanding and detailing the act of conducting melee. The abstract approach keeps combat moving quickly.

3. OD&D employs a minimal amount of ability based bonuses. The only benefit for having an exceptional score in a prime requisite is a percent increase to experience gain. This approach allows for perfectly viable characters with less than average ability scores.

4. OD&D does not assume that characters begin as heroes. That potential is there, but it’s a status which must be earned through overcoming the challenges set forth by the referee. Anyone can become a hero. Such potential is not limited by ability scores.

5. The Charisma ability, as it relates to the other five abilities, is just as important in OD&D as it’s character defining brethren. The de-emphasis of the other scores serves to accentuate the usefulness of this often underappreciated ability. Hirelings and monster reaction are two aspects of D&D often lost in later versions. Being proficient with a sword will only get you so far in OD&D.

6. For lack of a better way to explain my next reason, I will borrow some terms bandied about in role-playing. OD&D is the antithesis of min-maxing, power gaming and bonus inflation. Therefore, even the most basic magic items do not lose their allure. Players need not fret about poor character ability scores, nor do players spend time engaging in meta-gaming thought patterns. The focus of the game is in the play itself. To quote Philotomy: increases of all sorts (including increases in PC level) have greater significance in OD&D, relative to later editions of the game.

7. Originally, the d6 was used for all monster hit dice. All attacks deal a base 1d6. There is synergy here. With this model, a stab from a dagger can indeed slay normal men. Furthermore, later editions of D&D have managed to weaken two of the signature Magic User spells. Fireball and Lightning Bolt are much more effective when monsters have not been subjected to hit point increases. By all rights, those two spells should have increased in potency along with character and monster hit dice. I prefer this original synergy.

8. The simple alignment system of OD&D accentuates the fact that alignment should not determine some moral code for how a player controls his character. Just play the game. The referee will keep track of who is on what team, and use this simple system as it relates to character-monster reactions and role-playing.

There’s not much else in the very basic rules of OD&D that wasn’t carried into later editions. The Attack and Saving Throw Matrices, the Spell Tables, the Experience Point Tables, the Races and lists of Monsters and Treasure were all repeated in OD&D’s immediate descendants; Holmes, Moldvay, and AD&D.

To summarize:

1. Three Classes
2. Abstract Combat
3. Basic Abilities
4. Hero Potential
5. Impact of Charisma
6. Focus on Play
7. d6 Synergy
8. Basic Alignment

I am probably missing some of the aspects of OD&D that set it apart even from it’s closest descendants. Clearly, my preference for OD&D goes beyond the rules themselves but these are the differences in such terms which have led me to prefer OD&D.

I must give acknowledgement to the collected wisdom of the members of the OD&D forum, and to Philotomy for his excellent insight into OD&D.

Why OD&D, part 1
Why OD&D, part 3
Why OD&D, part 4

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Why OD&D? part 1

As I’ve stated before, this blog is not concerned with belittling any of the subsequent versions or editions in the D&D family. After all, they are the offspring of OD&D, and all of us share an interest in the hobby for one reason, and one reason only. To have fun. As long as you are having fun under the D&D Umbrella, regardless of which edition you might use, please, carry on, but perhaps take a moment to read why I like the original version so much.

First and foremost, I really want to stop having to use the acronym ‘OD&D’. It’s D&D, plain and simple. By all rights, the original boxed books, Vol.s I-III, aka the Little Brown Books (LBB) from 1974, should be the only edition which uses the D&D title. Much like Star Wars, that first epic film from 1977 was known then simply as Star Wars. It was and always will be Star Wars, regardless of what title or episode number is attached to it in hindsight.

In order to enlighten the masses, 1974’s publication of the grand daddy of them all is also referred to as Original D&D, OD&D for short. I will begrudgingly continue to call it such, in order to avoid any confusion. After all, D&D, much like Star Wars, is now a brand name. But don’t go around here talking about A New Hope. It’s Star Wars, damn it.

As a relative new comer to *ahem* OD&D, I have discovered some basic truths about the game which have convinced me that it is the best version of D&D. Initially I was drawn to the publications out of curiosity, and a sense of nostalgia. I’ve always been a sucker for little brown books, from Arduin, to Booty and the Beasts, to The Necromicon. For reasons I have related before, though, I was so mired in the belief that AD&D was the more improved/streamlined version, that I never really took the time to understand OD&D.

Blessed by the internet, and cheap PDF’s, I have discovered, all these years later, how wrong I was. If it weren’t for Fin’s OD&D forum, I may never have come to this realization, though. Check it out, it’s a fabulous community.

But, Why? Why do I find myself in such appreciation of the original version of the game? Furthermore, why do I feel the need to tell you about it? Perhaps I do not need to tell you about it, you might already be a fan of OD&D. If so, I hope I can share some thoughts I have about the game that you can relate to.

I believe that given the time or guidance to understand what OD&D stands for, and how to use it, many more D&D players would also come to the conclusion that OD&D is, indeed, the superior version. That’s Why, in a nutshell.

Truthfully, I believe that D&D could have been introduced to the gaming world in a simple 12 page pamphlet. Everything else in OD&D is essentially an example of play. What’s so great about that, you are probably asking. Well, let me continue a bit. OD&D was a concept. It was the first game to ever say, “OK, let’s play make-believe. We need an author (referee) and then players to get together, and share their imagination.” This was and still is, the concept. The concept which changed gaming forever.

To quote a bit, this is from the Introduction in Vol. I:

…they are guidelines to follow in designing your own fantastic-medieval campaign. … your time and imagination are the only limiting factors…
Guidelines only. Not hard and fast rules. Imagination is the key element, given you have time to exercise it.

From the Afterward in Vol. II:

We have attempted to furnish an ample framework, and building should be both easy and fun. In this light, we urge you to refrain from writing for rule interpretations or the like unless you are absolutely at a loss, for everything herein is fantastic, and the best way is to decide how you would like it to be, and then make it just that way! On the other hand, we are not loath to answer your questions, but why have us do any more of your imagining for you?
That passage speaks volumes about this concept of which I speak. To surmise, Gygax and Arneson explained this concept, gave us examples for making rules to actually play this game, and then said, do it how you want to do it. Not only that, but they then tried to get out of the way in order to allow players to use this concept to it’s fullest extent. Not by telling them what to do, but by telling them how to do it.

As explained in the Scope section of Vol. I:

the scope need not be restricted to the medieval; it can stretch from the prehistoric to the imagined future…
This reiterates the fact that OD&D is a concept, not confined by the examples and guides proposed in the first three volumes.

These truths of OD&D are the basis around which I have played throughout my entire D&D career. In order to pursue these most important aspects of D&D, one cannot get weighed down by rules, per se. The important thing is the concept. This is role-playing, and it is fueled by your imagination, NOT by endless volumes of rules specifically telling you HOW to play. You decide how to play, and you make your own rules.

Once you embrace this concept, you might even realize that you don’t need any of the D&D rules, and in fact, you can make your own entirely home brewed campaigns. After all, they are just guidelines! Guess what, you are still actually playing OD&D. The end result of your gaming exercises might not actually follow the very basic rules of OD&D, but the intent of this masterpiece written over 30 years ago is to tell you that yes, you have now mastered the concept which we were trying to explain.

OD&D, of all of the various versions within it’s family, provides the maximum potential for imagination, role-playing, logic and critical thinking. How? Simply by providing a very basic framework. Referees cannot rely on published material or rules for every situation. Players cannot rely on character skills or dice to resolve every situation. This approach demands the most from it’s participants. It’s a style of play which offers the most potential for all of these various aspects. Aspects which generate the purest forms of the genre, and maximize the fun for all involved.

The rules do not get in the way of a good time. In an upcoming post, I will detail some of the actual rules suggested for play which I have come to appreciate so much.

This is Why I love OD&D. It’s a concept with no limits.

Why OD&D, part 2
Why OD&D, part 3
Why OD&D, part 4

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Why Of It All

All this talk of an old school renaissance and what it might mean in the broader scope of the RPG community has brought up many familiar issues that remind me why the genre is so segmented. I began to reflect a bit on my own theories and beliefs concerning D&D, and how exactly I came to be where I am today. I consider myself a Neo-Grognard. In other words, I worship at the altar of OD&D, but I tinker around with the rules quite a bit, and home brew to no end.

As I wrote in my first post here at the Grog ‘n Blog, I came to an epiphany several months back that shattered my own belief that I was an avid AD&D player. I never was. I was playing OD&D in spirit all these years, and was under the misconception that it was AD&D. It’s a realization that many of my fellow D&D fans have come to over the years, now that OD&D itself is more readily available. Many D&D players, myself included, have now discovered that collected wisdom of real OD&D players made possible by the internet.

I had all of the little OD&D books in my collection at one time or another in the past, but loaned them out, regrettably. I never bothered to read them until this year, after I got the PDF’s. Back in the 80’s, I knew all I needed was the three volume hard cover AD&D books, paper, pencil, and my creativity. That fueled my campaigns.

It wasn’t until this year that, in retrospect, I realized I didn’t actually need those hard covers at all. I had been using the wrong tool-kit to make my own games. It was like a great weight had been lifted from my shoulders when I discovered that the OD&D tool-kit was what I should have been using all along. It’s simply better for my approach to gaming. Easier to build upon, and much less cumbersome. AD&D is downright unwieldy in comparison.

Can one make AD&D work for rules tinkering and heavy home brewing? Sure. I did so for nearly 30 years. I’m still kicking myself for not reading and taking the time to decipher the LBB back when I really could have made them work for me. Perhaps the timing was never right for me, until now. It was nearly impossible to do anything BUT play AD&D in the 80’s.

I wonder if it’s a maturity thing, a nostalgia thing, or just a personal thing. Those little brown books always held a certain mystery for me. I never really understood them back then. Maybe I didn’t want to, but now when I see them, they just do something for me. Realizing that they are so malleable has attracted me, too. So, it’s a bit of nostalgia, and a bit of a personal thing, I suppose. I can’t say that it’s a maturity thing, really.

I will never, ever, decry AD&D. I still absolutely without reservation love those three books. From a purely nostalgic view, those ARE D&D to me. I’ve said it before, but the DMG by Mr. Gygax is still my favorite RPG book of all time. Bar none. If my old gaming crew could not embrace OD&D the way I have, we’d be whipping out those AD&D books in a heartbeat and using them. Although, I just wouldn’t tell them that, in fact, they were playing OD&D and just didn’t realize it yet. And maybe they never would. That would be just fine with this ‘Dungeon Master’.

So, what exactly do I like so much about OD&D, anyway? Why do I think others don’t share my appreciation of the LBB? How would I go about sharing my enthusiasm with others?

Updated Links:

Why OD&D, part 1
Why OD&D, part 2
Why OD&D, part 3
Why OD&D, part 4

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Monday, May 19, 2008

Forward, March!

The Grognards are gathering! I love this post by the Greyhawk Grognard. The proposed OSGA, since it appears that this could very well be the acronym that such an undertaking might adopt should it gather momentum, sounds like a fantastic jumping-off point for an old school renaissance.

I’d be 100% behind such a group, and I’d be willing to participate in whatever way I could. The notion of an Old School Gaming Association does bring up many concerns here at the Grog ‘n Blog, though.

The first step, of course, would be defining exactly what ‘Old School’ is. If such a group can get beyond that first monumental hurdle, I like it’s chances of impacting modern role-playing. I’ve tried to define 'old school', as have others. It’s not as easy as it sounds. There are in fact varying degrees of old school. Old, Older and Oldest is simply the beginning.

I’m not sure that this first hurdle won’t be a proverbial mountain, though. Removing modern D&D from the equation still leaves such an organization with a nearly endless amount of games to consider. It has been proposed that a universal system might be the appropriate vehicle for such an undertaking. It has also been mentioned that various retro-clone systems would be the proper approach for an OSGA ideal. In the comments section of the above post, Jeff Rients also mentioned that he’d support it if new games in the old school mold were included.

This leads me to believe that even in it’s current brainstorming infancy, something that sounds as great as the OSGA will first need some sort of galvanizing philosophy in order to bring together all of us Grognards and Neo-Grognards under a single banner.

Now, where do I apply to join this OSGA thing?

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Moving Right Along

In an effort to keep my sanity and pride intact, after removing my last post, I’ll be moving on to greater and greener pastures. No, sorry to disappoint you, but I’m not shutting the doors at the Grog ‘n Blog. What I am doing is putting away my soapbox for now. I’ve made my opinions on old school gaming quite clear, and I don’t want to continue to decry the modern versions of D&D. I know for a fact that if some local D&D club recruited me to play in some 3.x version of the game, I’d do my best to role-play my arse off and have a fun time. So, rather than be a hypocrite in regards to old school vs. new school, I am going to take James Raggi’s thoughts to heart.

What does this mean? It means my creative output is going to be less observation and commentary on the ceaseless edition wars, and more on bringing life and vitality to my preferable genre, old school D&D.

I think enough has been said on this topic, by writers, posters and bloggers with far more insight than myself. As far as I am concerned, bashing my rather thick head against that wall isn’t going to convert or influence anyone to change their opinions. Perhaps, though, I can embrace this notion of the old school renaissance. In my own enthusiastic fashion, perhaps I can, in some small way, help breathe a bit of life back into the old school genre.

Why am I assuming this attitude? Because really I am not educated enough, or even inspired enough, to comment on modern D&D. I have neither the time nor inclination to explore the many facets of 4e D&D. I realize that my tiny blog is really only reaching out to fans of the old school genre. For the most part, these fans do not need another site that only preaches to the choir. There are other better written blogs with a much broader audience that can take up this task.

I will nevertheless stand by my primary principle, but not in an effort to belittle modern D&D. In fact, I hope that eventually the Grog ‘n Blog will not be limited in scope to such fans, but will, ultimately, reach out and offer something, however minor, to all of us. Us fans, players and referees of the greatest game ever made, D&D.

So, with that I am off to consider exactly how I might move forward in my efforts to aid in the proverbial old school renaissance.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Shattering the Myth

Yet another James with some great writing skills! Check out his great comments on the state of the retro movement. I'm no expert on modern retro modules, but James seems to have a good grasp on the topic.

I had such a long response that I'll make it here instead, but go read the whole thing. If you care about old school gaming, you'll be enlightened by the message.

To quote and respond:

I had no idea what I was doing, and I didn't know anyone else that played this game. My first attempts at playing involved laying the map down like a board game and moving little pieces along the map like we're playing Clue.

Identical to my own beginnings, except I used B2’s map on the kitchen table.

And yet the parade of like-minded products continues.

I understand what James is saying here. Clearly there is a market for this style of adventure, though. How big that market is, I have no idea.

I put forward the idea that the only excellent modules are ones that introduce and exemplify game and rules concepts to the individual campaign, or that provide open-ended adventure possibilities that cannot possibly be explained in the confines of the adventure itself.

I agree with this whole-heartedly. With the caveat that any experienced DM can take a published module, even the most narrow minded dungeon crawl, and make something of it. Likewise, an inexperienced DM could take an excellent adventure like T1 and make nothing of it.

create modules that are something different, that add to the possibilities of the game, that focus on oft-ignored facets of the game, and that inspire something new within the people that are using the modules. We don't need anymore simple dungeon crawls.

I support the spirit of this statement. In fact, this is the true advantage of using those older, rules light systems. You indeed have more potential for introducing game concepts. Inspiring something new can be challenging. I enjoy open ended possibilities in modules, whether it means player determined paths, or simply vague tidbits that can be detailed by the DM before (or during) play.

The problem as I see it, is that many modern players, and DM’s alike, aren’t looking for vague tidbits. The notion of filling in the blanks often gets lost somewhere in the transition from old school to new school.

Top this off with the misconception that old school equates to dungeon crawls, orcs and chests full of gold pieces, and we see the gaming void of which you speak. A gap between using modules only as written, and the notion of DM interaction with that module.

The path of least resistance for these publishers of retro modules is to simply hammer out a dungeon crawl that doesn’t challenge the DM or the player. It’s up to the DM to take it to the next level. In fact, the concept of dungeon crawls truly seems to be a modern comment on some perceived idea of what D&D was. It’s almost as if retro publishers are allowing modern D&D to define what old school is.

As James pointed out in his module synopses, there are classic examples of D&D’s possibilities out there. The problem I see, is that modern D&D players do not want modules with gaming potential. They would rather everything and every possibility is spelled out in the module, or in the rules.

there is a chance here for a renaissance of commercially feasible and creatively vibrant products. If we don't take advantage of that, then all we have is nostalgia and if all we're doing is reminiscing about a "better time" then the only place we'll go is away.

We know that old school does not equate to dungeon crawl. Sure, it’s the preferred adventure style for many, many fans of old school products, myself included. But what dungeon crawl means to me is surely NOT the same thing that it means to modern D&D players.

The allure of old school is not in the adventure style, it’s in the approach to gaming. Endless possibilities, that open ended spirit that many dungeon crawls, including some of the classics, managed to remove from their module, in order to organize and assert more control over the adventure. A willing DM could still take even the most rudimentary dungeons and make them work for his campaign, make them speak to his players in ways the authors never intended or envisioned.

Shattering the notion that old school equates to dungeon crawl seems to be the best hope for this renaissance. But let’s face it, the retro rules and old school rules ARE available for modern players to discover, I’m just not convinced that producing modules that aid in correcting this misconception is going to help them do so. I’d love to be proven wrong, and it is certainly worth the effort to find out.

Thanks James for such an insightful post!

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Friday, May 16, 2008

Friday Flashback

As I mentioned last week, the Grog 'n Blog has a spotlight on R&R Hall of Fame bands for the rest of May.

I'm proud to share a video from my favorite band of all time, commonly referred to as "The only band that matters." Well, 30 years ago maybe. There are so many awesome songs by this band, and it took me a lot of time to finally select my favorite video. Alas, the embedding feature for that one is disabled, so I offer up this one instead:

The Clash, live in Manchester, England circa 1977. Joe Strummer: Rhythm Guitar and Vocals, Mick Jones: Lead Guitar, Paul Simonon: Bass, Topper Headon: Drums.

It's clear why they are still considered one of the most influential rock bands ever. They could do it all, but I prefer their early, edgy formative years.

Here's the original video I wanted to embed. This one will knock you out of your seat:

The Clash - White Riot

EDIT: Damned Youtube Nazis.

Here's the link (albeit poorer quality) of the vid that was yanked:

Damnit do yourself a favor and watch it!

The Clash, R&R HoF Inductee 2003.
Joe Strummer 1952-2002, R.I.P.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Spawning Grounds of the Crab-men

Calithena, one of the head honchos behind the new old school gaming fanzine Fight On! has started a thread over at the Original D&D Discussion forum. The idea is to launch a community Megadungeon project, one level or module at a time. Each willing author can design his or her own level, and these self-contained levels will be published in subsequent issues of Fight On! Each will be a stand-alone adventure for now. The goal is to eventually fit each level together for a complete published Megadungeon in the future.

Oh yeah. I jumped on this idea. This is all under the assumption that my submission will be accepted and published. This would indeed be the first published material for yours truly, so I'm taking this seriously. At the same time, I need to consider the audience of Fight On!, and the limitations I'll be working under.

Here's a quote from Calithena detailing some of the aspects of this project:

The Darkness Beneath

and here are some details. Note that if we made this a community project everyone involved would have ample opportunity to get creative with their own levels/sublevels and even add new ones, even where it overrode what I have already used in my games. I would want modest control over some big picture stuff but I think you all know I'm pretty flexible.

The following indicates the levels of the dungeon, with the levels they connect to in parentheses:

Surface Level: The Jagged Plinths (Kuranes, 1, 2)
Level 1: The Upper Caves (S, 2, 3, 5)
Level 2: Warrens of the Troglodytes (S, 1, 5)
Level 3: Spawning Grounds of the Crab-Men (1, 4)
Level 4: A Mysterious Crystal Hemisphere (3, 7)
Level 5: The Lower Caves (1, 2, 6, 8)
Level 6: The Fane of Salicia (Kuranes, 5, 8, 10, 12)
Level 7: The Palace of Eternal Illusion (4, 8, 9)
Level 8: The Deep Caves (5, 6, 7, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13)
Level 9: Citadel of the Dark Trolls (7, 8)
Level 10: The Hall of Mirrors (6, 8, 14)
Level 11: The Caverns of Slime (8, 13)
Level 12: The Blasphemous Shrine of the Tentacled God (6, 8, 14)
Level 13: Fungus Forest and Mold Falls (8, 11, 15)
Level 14: City of the Ancients (10, 12)
Level 15: The Tomb of The Black Lord of Nothingness (13)

I liked the sound of The Fane of Salicia, and The Blasphemous Shrine of the Tentacled God. But, in the end I asked if I could have the honor of writing Level 3, Spawning Grounds of the Crab-men.

Why? Because Crab-men are cool.

My vision thus far for the level is in it's formative stages. I am not sure how in depth I'll get on an ecological stage, since that sort of minutiae is kind of counter-old school. Besides, in the spirit of Megadungeons, if things make too much sense, the mystery of the underworld is lost. The inexplicable is a necessary ingredient in order to maintain that other-worldy feel. Others might certainly take their favored approach in writing for The Darkness Beneath, but this is simply my preferred method for Megadungeons.

So, the purpose of this post is actually two-fold. First off, to direct potential fans to the project, in order that they too might be able to participate in this interesting project, AND

I'd like to get some seeds of inspiration germinating for my own Level. I have quite a few very vague ideas jotted down, but here's what I'm looking for from the blogosphere:

A Half-Dozen Ideas for Spawning Grounds of the Crab-men.

Simple, one sentence suggestions are what I want. Be as detailed as you like, but I'm not looking for anything more than basic ideas, from which to design my major rooms within the dungeon.

I won't tip my hand concerning the project too much, as I think you should purchase Fight On! if you want to see the end result, BUT I'd love to witness some cross-pollenation of ideas from the blogosphere from which awesomeness could spring forth.

Oh, and please! Let this be the first and last reference to the Crabman from the Fiend Folio. I am NOT using the FF Crabman.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Time may change me, but I can't trace Time.

Am I afraid of change? Nope, but I found the above nugget when looking for a suitable image for this post, so it stays...and I enjoy poking fun at myself.

Excellent post today by the inimitable Trollsmyth. To quote:

I know 4.0 ain't my cup of tea, either. It's embraced game-isms and balance and neat abilities with only the flimsiest setting-based rationales. And that's fine, too. I know before I've spent a penny that the game won't give me what I want, and I can spend my time and treasure pursuing other games and dreaming up houserules that bring the fun for me and my players.

Emphasis is mine. Preach on Brother!

This really annoys me about D&D these days. There’s no magic, there’s no wonder, and there’s no mystery or allure. There’s just stat and roll bonuses, lists of powers, and dueling spreadsheets beneath the thin veil of your adventure path’s railroad plot.

Let's quit denying the facts. WotC is in indeed using MMOs and WoW in particular as a business model for D&D 4e. More power to them. I hope it's a ringing success and brings more players into the realm of pen and paper.

But do they have to use D&D as the vehicle that takes them to that great cash cow in the sky?

They won't be getting my gold coins, that's for sure. I don't mean to belittle the many, many pen and paper players out there who are eager to dive in and start enjoying 4e right away. I'm sure I could sit in on a 4e game and have a blast. It's just not my type of rules system for making my own campaigns.

I do the MMO thing myself from time to time, but I don't want my mashed potatoes touching my peas. I enjoy the two on their own merits.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

REH, Pulp and Me

Most of you probably share with me a love of pulp fantasy in the Howard style. I find it rather interesting that most of the Grognards I rub elbows with across the interweb probably fall into the Howard camp more so than the Tolkien camp. D&D, of course, doesn't fall into any camp, and it's literary influences were simply generic fantasy as a whole. It took a bit from Tolkien, a bit from Vance, a bit from Howard, a bit from DeCamp, a bit from Leiber, a bit from Anderson, etc. All of these little bits blended together to form a somewhat generic milieu intended to get the creative juices flowing for other aspiring referees who also might want to host fantastic medieval wargames.

What we ended up with, ultimately, in AD&D, was an all-inclusive generic fantasy setting which eventually became the default D&D worlds, inspired by Gygax's Greyhawk, and later, Greenwood's Forgotten Realms. I'm a big fan of Greyhawk, and I appreciate the Forgotten Realms, but at the end of the day, both are somewhat generic melting pot settings of fantasy inspiration. This is not a knock on either, just an observation that both share many accepted D&D standards.

In the past, many game designers, authors and individual fans of particular settings and styles have indeed taken up the torch and molded D&D into more narrow settings. For example, the very first D&D game I ever played (not refereed) was a home brewed OD&D LBB campaign that was all Tolkien, all the time. It was a helluva lotta fun. Clearly, because I am still playing this silly game 30 years later, and can even recall quite clearly those first sessions.

Recently, I have rediscovered my fondness of Robert E. Howard, thanks in no small part to Del Rey books and their reissuing of Howard’s works in their original state. It began in 2003 with The Coming of Conan The Cimmerian. Recently I started reading the sixth such book in the series, Kull: Exile of Atlantis. I read (and reread) the three Conan books; The Coming, as well as The Bloody Crown of Conan and The Conquering Sword of Conan. I also thoroughly enjoyed Bran Mak Morn: The Last King, and The Savage Tales of Solomon Kane. I highly recommend ALL of these excellent volumes. I purchased all but Kull, which I grabbed at Borders a few days ago, from

Back in the day, I loved the chronological Conan Del Rey paperbacks. It was great fun collecting them and reading them, and (in case you haven’t noticed) I love Frank Frazetta’s art. At the time, I didn’t realize that most of the stories within that long running series were not even written by Howard. Now, in reading these original works, it’s quite clear which of the stories were actually Howard’s own. They jump off the page and crackle with raw, visceral energy. I’m a huge fan of DeCamp, too, but he could never quite do Conan justice. In the end, the DeCamp and Carter fillers simply detracted from the real Howard stories. DeCamp was at his best with his Harold Shea series with Pratt. But that’s a topic for another post.

The new series presents Howard’s work in the order in which the stories were written, and makes no efforts to fill in the gaps or ghost write anything to make it into a complete life and times of Conan. If you aren’t familiar with the real Conan by REH, do yourself a big favor and read The Coming of Conan The Cimmerian. I’d bet that you’ll end up reading all six books. (Del Rey is also publishing other pulp works by REH, I think it’s his Westerns and Boxing stuff. If it’s REH, it’s probably good. But knowing what I know about REH, S&S was his love, the other stuff paid the bills).

This brings me to my recent interest in pursuing how I might incorporate my love of REH (and Lovecraft, too) pulp fiction into my D&D games. My two major side projects right now, No Future and Project X, are basically my dream of somehow blending REH and HPL into an OD&D campaign setting.

All of this has also led me to download and print an awesome stripped down version of TSR’s mid 80's Conan RPG called ZeFRS.

It might be just what the doctor ordered to plug into my No Future setting. But, on the other hand, you know as well as I do that I’ll end up opening my little tool-kit with those LBB and making my own house rules for D&D in a grim, gritty, low magic setting. If I can ever get my hands on the actual TSR game:

I'd be one happy fanatic.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee