Friday, December 4, 2009


As 2009 begins to wind down I am easing back into the blogosphere and once again finding myself amazed at how our community continues to expand. When I cranked this thing up here at Ye Olde Grog n' Blog twas but a few of us, now we are many. So many in fact that I KNOW I've missed some good new authors rolling out their first posts and opinions on the olden ways. Somehow I missed Havard's Blackmoor Blog, but it is now dutifully linked in my list (which by the way is in need of some housekeeping).

So I ask: please drop me some links to gaming blogs I should be in tune with. It's been three months since I updated here, and nearly four since I posted anything game related. Fall is always an extremely busy time for yours truly, but enough with lame blog-excuses, it's best to just post and not offer reasons for one's back-sliding. I'll make up for my absence with an extremely long post now. The quick-hitters and casual fans can move along.

During my hiatus I played around with a few pet projects and began toying with decks of cards. You know, the old fashioned 52-card types. I devised a few D&D related uses for that venerable game tool, including dice-less play and chargen rules using cards sans dice. But you know I love dice so it was, for the most part, just a futile foray into numbers crunching and card-flipping. One item did spring forth from my musings, and I wish to share with you a little something I've been fine-tuning these past weeks called w/o Walls.

I'll link up a few PDFs later if you care to dl them (and I can remember my mediafire account info), but in the meantime here is a copy/paste of the basics along with my own example using the template.

A card based dungeon system for your favorite RPG. w/o WALLS was originally designed for fast-play dungeon adventures. The goal was to allow an individual Ref the opportunity to exercise his or her creative freedom and ad-lib skills to improvise while entertaining players during a session of role-playing. The system may also be used for Ref-less gaming in a solo or cooperative set-up. The end result is a flexible, unique style of dungeon exploration.

w/o WALLS demands that participants accept the illogical lay-out of the fantastic underworld into which their characters have departed; as you shall see there is no method to return the way one has traveled, and there is no actual map. Turns are taken by the players drawing and revealing a single card at a time. The card drawn will determine what the adventuring group has found in the dungeon.

If you are planning on a traditional approach to dungeon crawling with you as the Ref, then prior to play, in as basic or involved a fashion as you desire, you will need to design the following items for your w/o WALLS dungeon level (or just wing it and ad-lib with zero prep):

[Card]: Item (Qty)

[2]: Single-target Traps (4)

[3]: Area of Effect Traps (4)

[4]: Tricks (4)

[5,6 of S,C,H]: Wandering Monsters (7)

[6 of D]: Fellow Delver(s) (1)

[7]: Empty Room (4)

[8,9 of S,C]: Rooms w/ Monsters (6)

[9 of H,D,10]: Rooms w/ Monsters & Treasure (6)

[J]: Level Exits (4)

[Q]: Secret Chambers (4)

[K]: Hidden Stashes (4)

How to play:
1. Shuffle one 52-card deck and place it face down. Designate an area near the deck for a discard pile.

2. Play begins on Dungeon Level One (or any level from which a returning character has taken a Magic Portal to Town in a previous expedition).

3. Take a Turn by drawing the top card and revealing it. Resolve that card before discarding it and drawing another.

4. Set drawn Aces aside. Aces may be used by players at a later time to escape/trump the last card drawn.

5. Once the drawn card has been resolved or trumped, discard it and any Ace used as a trump.

6. When and if the entire deck has been revealed, the characters must return to town and regroup while the dungeon replenishes itself.

7. If at any time the party ascends or descends to another dungeon level, or returns to town, shuffle all cards back into the deck.

Tricks: One or more should lead to a lower level.

Empty Rooms: Or whatever you prefer. I allow limited hit point recuperation in these areas only.

Level Exits: Include Up, Down and Magic Portals to Town.

Secret Chambers: If the secret door is not found, treat as an Empty Room. Hide things like Fountains, Statues, Pools and Magic Portals to Town here.

Hidden Stashes: If the secreted treasure is not discovered treat as an Empty Room.

Suit Theme: In general, Spades are the worst and Diamonds the best for their respective categories.

Game Prep: Keep your notes simple, and create three or four levels at a time.

As a creative exercise, try to detail a full level of 48 cards in 30 minutes using the w/o WALLS Fill-in Template.

This latest version is simplified quite a bit, but fits onto one page. The previous version was two pages long and discussed the various play styles and possibilities. The original versions were just way too involved for something designed to be fueled by user input. I have play tested w/o Walls solo, with one player, and in a two player cooperative style. It works fairly well, and imho is more satisfactory that any of the random dice-driven auto dungeons I have seen in the past.

I would like some feedback and input from those who take the time to digest all of this.

The blank template is included as a PDF, as well as my initial example, which I'll copy/paste below:

w/o WALLS Fill-in Template

Dungeon: ECHO DARK
Level: ONE

Single target Traps
[2S]: Covered Pit. 10' deep. Slippery mud walls, bottom is quick-sand like mud.
[2C]: Trap-door Pit. 15' deep. Zombie waiting below.
[2H]: Transmogrification Beam. Turns target into a Giant Rabbit.
[2D]: Jabbing Spear Trap. Deals 1d6+1. A save of 1 equates to a lost eye.
Party Traps
[3S]: Deadly Fumes. Lose 1 CON each round over the next turn. Those under 1 CON perish.
[3C]: Spiked Gate Trap. Slams from wall for 2d6+2, save for 1d6.
[3H]: Volley of Mini-Darts. Struck by 1d6, save to 1. Each deals 1d2 damage.
[3D]: Evil-Eye Trap. Curses party members to fail their next three attacks or saves.
[4S]: Utter-Dark Passage. Party lost. Reshuffle all cards back into deck and commence play.
[4C]: Swiveling Hallway. Deposits group one level down and resets. Deals 1d6 damage.
[4H]: Screw-Elevator. Forces group up one level and resets.
[4D]: Dimensional Hall. Returns group to Town. Does NOT count as a Magic Portal.
Wandering Monsters
[5S]: Anti-Cleric and Thugs (5). Here on business. Will pose as good guys.
[5C]: Evil Elf and Bandits (6). Here to recruit, extort or rob adventurers.
[5H]: Clean-up Crew. Grey Ooze (1) on the move quietly going about its duty.
[5D]: Zombies (5) rounding a corner, dragging a corpse back to their master.
[6S]: Skeletons (6) on patrol. Two w/ maces, two w/ spears, two w/ swords.
[6C]: Goblins (8) looking for a lost sack of door knockers. Armed with clubs and daggers.
[6H]: Giant Rats (7) searching for an easy meal. Will follow until forced away or they find food.
Wandering Monsters (Ally)
[6D]: Friendly Berserker (1). Leather armor, Sword and Spear. Looking to slay Goblins.
Empty Rooms
[7S]: Columned Empty Room. Graffiti scrawled in common: “Go seven, then four. Stop”.
[7C]: Cob-web choked Empty Room. A few old pieces of ruined and useless gear are in a corner.
[7H]: Ransacked Empty Room. Splintered bench conceals a sack filled with crude door knockers.
[7D]: A very Empty Room. Footprints of massive proportion seem to walk through the walls here.
Rooms w/ Monsters
[8S]: Granite Span. Manned by 12 Phalanx-Skeletons and a Wight Commander.
[8C]: Circular Catwalk. Skulking Man-eating Apes (3) attempt to attack with surprise.
[8H]: Shallow Pool. Grey Ooze (1) resting spot. Two empty chests rest in pool's center.
[8D]: Stepping Stones. Goblin Javelin-throwers (7) take pot shots at intruders and demand gold.
[9S]: Filthy Mess. Slime-covered Zombies (8) picking through the rubbish looking for brains.
[9C]: Collapsed Chamber. Giant Rat Nest (13). Each round 1d6-3 more arrive.
Rooms w/ Monsters & Treasure
[9H]: Black Shrine. The Zombie-Lord, his Acolytes (5) and Zombie slaves (9). 2,400 GP, 3 Magic.
[9D]: Smoke-filled Hall. Evil Elf Conspirators (4) plot the overthrow of Man. 1,800 GP, 2 Magic.
[10S]: Putrid Cave. Harpies (3) torturing caged captives on ledge above. 370 GP, 1 Magic.
[10C]: Smoldering Pit. Gargoyle (1) rises from mists. 220 Gold, 1 Magic.
[10H]: Flophouse. Drunken Zombie Pirates (12) guard casks of rum and a sea chest. 590 Gold.
[10D]: Stacked Barrels. Giant Cockroach (1) looking for a mate. 120 Gold.
Level Exits
[JS]: Steps Up and out of dungeon, or continue on this level.
[JC]: Steps Down to 2nd level, or continue on this level.
[JH]: Steps Down to 3rd level, or continue on this level.
[JD]: Shimmering Magic Portal to Town operated by Adventurers Guild, or continue on this level.
Secret Chambers
[QS]: The Fickle Fountain. Cures the sick, poisons the healthy.
[QC]: The Scholarly Statue. Asks questions, punishes those who do not answer.
[QH]: The Whispering Pool. Decipher to become fully healed.
[QD]: The Musty Tapestry. Unlock to form Magic Portal to Town.
Hidden Stashes
[KS]: Great heap of rubbish. Conceals sack: 190 GP.
[KC]: Fungus-filled dead end. Conceals panel: 320 GP.
[KH]: False Stairwell. Conceals cubbyhole: 380 GP, 1 Magic.
[KD]: Crumbling stucco. Loose floor stone hides sack: 490 GP, 2 Magic.

For example purposes I've added headers for the various card categories. These are not included in the template nor in the example PDF.

So there you have it. w/o Walls is, at the very least, fun to fill in using the template to see how quickly you can make a dungeon level. I went over my suggested 30 minutes because I was doing a lot of copy and paste while editing various items, but I think with a bit of practice and familiarity one could really crank out dungeon levels at blinding speed.

After I finished the example, I realized I'd truly enjoy making a map out of my ECHO DARK ONE example, but that is not the point of this project. Nevertheless I find that while I'm a huge fan of well-made, handcrafted maps, w/o Walls triggers something within me as a Referee that I find challenging and satisfying.

How's that for a return from absence update? Oh, by the way I am busy working on the updated Dismal Depths project from a new angle. Never fear it is one I am certain will cater to the expectations of those who have been asking for more updates and information on the Dismal Depths this past year. Here's to hoping I'll update again before the New Year.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Friday, September 4, 2009

Friday Flashback

Words cannot describe the legacy of Lee "Scratch" Perry. Below is a minor sampling of his staggering body of work which spans five decades. "The Riddim of the Ghetto and the Lyrics of the Streets"; 70 years old and still recording and touring, Lee Perry is credited with over 70 albums.

Eccentric? Unbalanced? Genius? In his own words:

"Good evening and greetings to you people of the Universe - this is Lee "Scratch" Perry, the mighty Upsetter, madder than mad, dreader than dread, redder than red, dis ya one heavier than lead. We are here at the turntable terranova, it means we are taking over..."

"I am an alien from the other world, from outer space, I don't have no land, no estate, no property, no house. Not on this earth. I live in space - I'm only a visitor here. Some people are only here to collect property. I am here with my suitcase to collect only the good brains."

"I, Pipecock Jackson, Jack Lightning, Jesse The Hammer, Lee 'Scratch' Perry, Daniel Dandelion the Lion, Jah Rastafari the crumbler, the ghost of King Arthur, put a curse on BBC radio and television, and BBC government, that they can never undo until they start playing Mr. Perry records morning, noon, and night, and around the clock - tick tock."

Rainy Night Dub

Skanking Dub w/ King Tubby

Zion's Blood

Have a great weekend!

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Friday, August 28, 2009

Friday Flashback

This week we indulge in the Dub stylin' of the late, great Mikey Dread.

Dub? You don't know what Dub is do ya?

Mikey is here to learn ya:

Have a Dub-ful weekend.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Friday, August 21, 2009

Friday Flashback

Oh no he didn't!

Yes, The Pioneers and Time Hard, a song popularized in the great Brit Ska revival by one of my favorites of the time, The Selecter. I can't find a version of the studio classic Everyday (Time Hard) from The Selecter's Too Much Pressure LP, but here's a live clip of Pauline Black solo doing the Pioneers cover she once did with The Selecter nearly 30 years ago in 79-80.

But wait...there's more to the story! Time Hard is actually a cover of Buddy Holly's Everyday! Who knew? Or is it? I'm so confused.

Well, anyway, The Pioneers Time Hard is pure genious, and George Dekker, Desmond's half-brother, was a member of the band.

Have yourself a great damn weekend and "Hold your head up high"!

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Friday, August 14, 2009

Friday Flashback

It's finally here...Friday!

I hope everyone has a great weekend. Here's a classic to kick the whole thing off with the right attitude:

The legendary Toots, with his Maytals. Words cannot describe the awesomeness that is 54 - 46 That's My Number (also known as 54 - 46 Was My Number):

Enjoy and stay outta the hoosegow.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Much Ado 'bout Ol' Schoo' part 3

9. The Great Unknown and The Great Unwashed: One of the early lessons I learned with D&D is, I think, still true to this day. There is a correlation between how good the game is, and how much unpleasantness one can stand. A pleasant, inviting and friendly DM might run a crappy game of D&D, but one will play in it week after week because of friendship, respect or just the social aspect and the rest of the players with which to mingle. At the other end of the spectrum is the altogether weird, antisocial mess of a DM who runs the most enthralling game of D&D ever. Games move back and forth between these two extremes, sometimes meeting at that sweet spot where you find a DM you might actually hang out with outside of the game who also happens to run the best games of D&D you've ever played in. Once that sweet spot is found, you'll probably have a gaming crew for many, many years. You might even chase off newcomers that you find seated at your table in order to protect the traditional balance of the group. In order to find the right balance, though, you need to experience as many different DM's styles and approaches as you can. Even if it means politely finishing a game when you would rather stick your pencil through your eye.

10. Writ by the Finger of God: I'm not sure this is true any longer, but at one time, early on, the entire collection of various groups I mingled with waited with baited breath for anything new offered by TSR. The Dragon was our regular fix, and the modules were our irregular binges of gaming goodness. By the time Monster Manual 2 came out, this feeling was waning. Before then, however, it felt like we were a wild-eyed, crazed pack of Gygax-addicted junkies. We'd arrive at the after-school club hoping we were the first ones to have this vital new information. Man was it cool to be the first to show up with Dragon 83 and tell the players that today they would be entering Roger Moore's The Dancing Hut. Yep, I did that. It was new, it was from TSR, and I had to limit the number of participants for fear that they might steamroll the adventure. At the time it seemed like it was impossible for TSR or anyone else to publish too much material. We were ripping through all of it and asking for more.

11. The Radiant Egg: By the time we graduated in 1984, things had turned quickly from TSR-worship to Gygax-bashing. I suppose we had devoured everything we could, and found ourselves wanting. There were some new, interesting non-D&D titles on the shelves that took the Gygax & Arneson concept, and offered fresh new themes and settings. Perhaps it was a time for change. I do think the TSR marketing at the time had a lot to do with this. D&D ads were in comic books, and there was a Saturday morning D&D cartoon that made us cringe. Only a year later Gary was actually gone from TSR. We turned upon TSR and ridiculed Gary and Greyhawk. We stopped accepting and playing everything from TSR. We started homebrewing a lot as we had done in the earliest days. I created an alien planet in my campaign called the Radiant Egg; a parody of Elves, Dwarves, Hobbits and the high fantasy of Gary's efforts, all ruled under the iron fist of a ruthless tyrant. We all had a good laugh for a number of years and settled in to a customized/kitchen sink hybrid one would loosely call D&D now. The years passed and people stopped talking about Gary. AD&D 2E was out, but by then we didn't even pay attention. Our regular games weren't quite as frequent. We had sealed ourselves off from the industry. To this day I look back and realize that the Radiant Egg was some sort of misguided pent up frustration stemming from our own reliance on TSR. Along the way we had learned enough about D&D and its concept to continue playing in perpetuity without any outside source of gaming material. In just six years we had seen it all, and come full circle back to taking pencil and paper and making the game our own. I miss Gary, I miss the old TSR, and the Radiant Egg will never be a part of any of my games in the future.

12. Winter of our Discontent: Not long after the heady days of twice a week play, after college saw many of us scatter and eventually reform, we found ourselves in something of a transformed state. Interestingly enough, our state of mind also coincided somewhat with the state of affairs at TSR. The great 80's fad of D&D was on a major downswing. Gary Gygax himself had been ousted from the company. None of us gave a damn about AD&D 2E. The guys were settling down; some engaged, others already entering the careers which they would still be in nearly 20 years later. I'm not sure if it was the gang getting older and facing real responsibilities, a loss of teenage gusto, or the game not being as fresh to us at is once was. I think it was a combination of all of these factors. We had separated and reunited after some very formative and influential years. Sure we gamed a lot during college as well, but it was never like the marathon Saturday games of the early 80's. Something happened, though. The games became more serious, more realistic, more grounded, more mundane. We had entered the long winter of our discontent, and slowly over the course of the following years the group drifted apart. Again, was this families, careers and kids, or a lack of interest in this more mature version of the game? Whatever the case may be, I have shed such unnecessary and burdensome concerns and returned to my roots; what matters now is the concept which once united us, best enjoyed in its undiluted form.

So what is old school? I'm just a Proto-New School Neo-Grognard, why the hell are you asking me? I know for a fact, based on the divergent styles I experienced in the first six years, that many readers who played during that era will offer entirely different memories and observations from the period of 1979-1985. The fact is that D&D exploded onto the scene in those years, and very soon after nearly went bankrupt. From the penthouse to the outhouse, as they say.

If hard pressed my only answer is that old school embodies the free form approach of the first decade of D&D. The one unifying element at the time was that there was no right or wrong way to play, and that everyone did so differently.

Thanks for reading, even if you only skimmed the initial summary in part one.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Much Ado 'bout Ol' Schoo' part 2

3. Wet Behind the Ears: Additionally there were already, in these early days, various divisions in the fan base. Not only did I experience the normal school boy underclassmen – upperclassmen prejudices, but there were D&D prejudices at every turn. These opinions had little to do with whether one was playing original, basic or advanced D&D. In fact, pretty much everyone was, by that time, playing AD&D. The Dungeon Master's Guide was the latest addition to AD&D, and by then it was basically old news. I owned all three volumes shortly after I joined the D&D Club. Few of the groups I played in, in retrospect, played the game in the manner envisioned by Gygax and TSR, but your street cred was established by using the AD&D books. Only a silly Freshman, like me, would show up with the basic D&D box. Most of the time us underclassmen had to make our own games, and they were, shall we say, probably what you might expect from a bunch of 14 and 15 year olds. I suppose you could say we were the Proto-New School of the time, and our games were somewhat unconventional. The only defining aspect of our Proto-New School was that we definitely ad-libbed and made rulings on the fly much more often than the older players, and we were all just fine with that.

4. A Spork in the Road: It wasn't long before us Proto-New Schoolers were the upperclassmen of the club. By then I had developed something of a reputation as one of the go-to DM's, and my regular group was expanding quickly. Soon it grew to include weekly gatherings on Saturdays at the Rec Center. So I was averaging 12 to 14 hours playing twice a week by then. I watched as the hobby grew. I witnessed the various media stories, and how preconceived notions of the game spun out of control. We were undaunted, and luckily our parents, with a few exceptions, had open minds. Especially my own, as I was consumed with the hobby. DM'ing that many hours a week meant I was spending a lot of free time in game prep. I watched as the non wargamers came onto the scene. Thesbians, Ren Fair folks, comic book guys, burn outs, the occasional jock or two, and the curious older siblings. None of which had any idea what they were getting into, and had never rolled dice except to move past Go and collect $200.00. The game was changing; the second revision of basic D&D was out. It was the first time that I felt uncomfortable with the way I saw the game being played, and was probably when I began running into Rules Lawyers more than ever before. Suddenly I was being told I was doing it wrong. The AD&D 1E Rules Lawyers caused us to become insular and selective, and from there we departed down a narrow path that would eventually seal us into an early 80's time capsule.

5. Because It's There: One of the things that many of us took great pleasure in accomplishing was a result of what was in print at the time. If Experience Tables went out to Level 29, so did we. Grandfather of Assassins? Check. Grand Master of Flowers? Check. Sword of Kas? Check. And so forth. I even recall one game that actually rubbed me the wrong way; I had a Dwarf who discovered all the pieces of the Rod of Seven Parts in the first game session. Now that's a really bad example of what I mean, the point is that we explored all the aspects of AD&D, including taking on various gods from the Deities & Demi-Gods hardcover. I mean come on, they had Hit Points. We had god-like PC's. Who says we shouldn't or couldn't? We did. And we talked about it for years afterwards. While my own campaigns ended up being of an extremely high power scale, the side effect was that I was forced to home brew a lot in order to keep things challenging. My players were crafty and shrewd. They were, and still are, meta-gamers. The game is a challenge, and they use every tool in their arsenal to persevere. After all, we were wargamers and we approach D&D with the same mentality; winning was more important than role-playing for us. If you print it we conquer it because it is there. Gamers will be Gamers.

6. Nebulous Stirrings: Obscure inspirations and unconventional themes always scored plenty of style points back in the day. At the time it was much easier to impress players than it is now, of course. There is very little new under the RPG Sun nearly 30 years later. Now we are often left with theorizing, philosophizing and waxing poetically about the old days. The concept is what was being explored. Mechanics and rules were secondary. Things worked, players understood the game, and the creative energy was spent on coming up with these unusual challenges or settings. Back then there was only one dungeon with aliens, mutants and robots. Yeah, that was old hat. You had to be much more original than that. The thing is that while the boundaries of the game were being pushed as far as themes and weird settings, no one, not a soul, even had the time nor inclination to worry about the rules themselves. The days of nebulous stirrings are long gone, and now it seems that mechanics and style are keeping everyone occupied. It was much more interesting when good ideas and interesting themes weren't simply rehashed ideas, and when the technical side took a backseat to the creative side.

7. Fire Burn and Cauldron Bubble: The mindset of the average D&D enthusiast during that ascent to TSR's peak was one which was likely forged by the fellows at Lake Geneva themselves. AD&D 1E had been foisted upon the masses in what was a stroke of marketing genius. First of all it was “advanced”, and second of all those hardcover books were, for their time, glorious and overflowing with Gygax's gushing descriptions. We ate it up. The thing is, we had been trained, by TSR no less, to essentially pick and choose the bits we liked, and change or ignore the rest. This of course left plenty of room for throwing the veritable kitchen sink into our games. Not only did we have OD&D and its supplements, Holmes D&D, AD&D and The Dragon magazine, we also had tons of Judges Guild material, and oddball “unofficial” publications galore. You never knew what to expect from one DM to the next. The mechanics themselves were nearly always the same across the board, but the options were never limited to AD&D. If you pulled out the Critical Hit table from the Arduin Grimoire, nobody blinked twice. If you used some strange monsters from the White Dwarf magazine, you were outwitting the players. That was part and parcel in the wild and woolly games of the day; the cauldron was bubbling over with material from a seemingly unlimited amount of resources. Even if you never once took up pen and paper and designed custom monsters or magic items, the scene was bloated with offerings in print from countless sources; and they were never out of place in anyone's campaign.

8. Under the Big Top: While this may have been more or less a reflection of the scene at the time, I have never since witnessed it again. In both our D&D Club and our Rec Center games one would find players who arrived at the game table with one or more “traveling PC's”. I've shared a story of one such famous Paladin in our club who met his demise in the then infamous Tomb of Horrors. Traveling PC's were almost expected. Very rarely did someone simply create a high level PC in order to join into a game. In such a case the DM awarded the new player with an exisiting NPC, who for one or more sessions went from Henchman to Hero, or the new guy rolled up a 1st level character and hoped that the other players would have mercy on him and keep him safe until he could contribute. Short of those options the player would show the DM his traveling character, and after possible alterations said character would be introduced to the party. I had some fun with this too many times, to the point that my players would essentially tie up and interrogate all newcomers. I had hardened them through the long campaigns. What I took from this over the years was that there was a unique sense of community amongst all of us; we were sharing in this hobby and marveling at one another's accomplishments at the same time. Even if said traveling PC's bit the dust in one of my dungeons.

~Sham Quixotic Referee

Friday, August 7, 2009

Friday Flashback

A classic from 1969: Desmond Dekker and the Aces, The Israelites

And the 1980 Remix from Stiff Records:

Have a great weekend!

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Much Ado 'bout Ol' Schoo' part I

A dozen observations from the front lines by a Proto-New School, Neo-Grognardian Dungeonista.

What follows is a collection of thoughts and observations that I recall from my own experiences in what many now call the old school era. Ranging from 1979 to 1985, these were my peak D&D playing years. All 6 of them, yet it feels like a landmark event in retrospect. Very little changed in fact after 1985; that is until 2007 when I embraced OD&D. But that is not the topic at hand.

My motivation for sitting down and collecting these memories is to tackle the oft asked question, what is old school? I'm part of something dubbed the Old School Renaissance. I'm not sure what the rest of the members of the OSR think old school is, or what they believe the OSR represents, so I cannot speak for anyone else other than to say that I support the OSR because I'm a fan of TSR era D&D. Plain and simple.

I was unaware until recently that many believe the OSR has a doctrine, or some unifying philosophy. As far as I'm concerned we're a collection of vastly different fans of D&D. In that regard I do not think anything has changed since 1985, when Gary Gygax left TSR.

In the effort of keeping this easy to digest, I have broken the post into three parts, and will offer up a summary that was initially going to be included at the end.

So what are the salient points for those not wishing to dredge through the sordid details of a 40-something's recollections? I will attempt to highlight them below and hope that they form some sort of understanding and not just the realization that I'm a crusty old stick-in-the-mud.

1. A wargames background that helped us form a game simulation approach to D&D, as opposed to some desire for or notion of realism.

2. There is no right or wrong way to play D&D, and each DM did it his or her way.

3. The only defining aspect of our Proto-New School was that we definitely ad-libbed and made rulings on the fly much more often than the older players.

4. The AD&D 1E Rules Lawyers caused us to become insular and selective, and from there we departed down a narrow path that would eventually seal us into an early 80's time capsule.

5. Winning was more important than role-playing for us. If you print it we conquer it because it is there.

6. It was much more interesting when good ideas and interesting themes weren't simply rehashed ideas, and when the technical side took a backseat to the creative side.

7. The scene was bloated with offerings in print from countless sources, and they were never out of place in anyone's campaign.

8. There was a unique sense of community amongst all of us; we were sharing in this hobby and marveling at one another's accomplishments at the same time.

9. In order to find the right balance you need to experience as many different DM's styles and approaches as you can.

10. At the time it seemed like it was impossible for TSR or anyone else to publish too much material. We were ripping through all of it and asking for more.

11. In just six years we had seen it all, and come full circle back to taking pencil and paper and making the game our own.

12. What matters now is the concept which once united us, best enjoyed in its undiluted form.

1. Gamers will be Gamers: I discovered D&D on my own in 1979. No one told me about it, nor taught me how to play. The thing was, though, back then, thanks to an older brother, I had already played numerous Avalon Hill and SPI table-top wargames. My older brother didn't like D&D, but he never gave it a chance. I suppose it was because his little brother had “discovered” it. None of his die-hard Diplomacy buddies knew anything about it. I grew tired of Diplomacy; it had swept away the other wargames I enjoyed before then, like Panzerblitz and Afrika Korps. I eventually discovered other D&D players. Like me, every one of them was also a fan of wargaming. Table top wargaming to be precise, miniature wargaming was still as foreign to them as it was to me at the time. We were arriving at D&D from a wargames background that helped us form a game simulation approach to D&D, as opposed to some desire for or notion of realism.

2. Unbridled Ambition: As my circle of fellow D&D enthusiasts grew beyond the first meager gatherings, I realized that this thing was bigger than I had ever imagined. By the time I was plunged into the Wargaming Club and the D&D Club in High School, there was a palpable feeling of excitement in the air. D&D was still expanding in popularity, and would continue to do so for years afterwards. Although we didn't know it, we were riding the waves of enthusiasm that were to herald in a new era in gaming and popular culture. I arrived on this scene thinking I knew all about both wargames and D&D. I was dead wrong. It was in this atmosphere that I discovered the many different approaches and playstyles popular amongst the various groups there. The gamers were exploring many different possibilities, not simply the Tolkienesque games I had experienced prior to High School. What I learned first and something I have never forgotten since; there is no right or wrong way to play D&D, and each DM did it his way.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Time in the Game

Yesterday's post, Too Much Time, was a stream of thoughts and notions likely too lengthy for most sphere dabblers to digest. Today I emphasize the end result of the treatment; the Time in the Game PDF linked under Sham's OD&D Stuff over on the right, listed as "Game Time".

But Why? I'm fairly convinced that most referees have no idea how tracking time in OD&D actually works. Time in the Game presents an organized method that replicates the orignal system while removing references to minutes, and pushes combat into an easy to fathom game turn which gives no regard to the oft ridiculed one minute D&D combat round.

Maybe I'm in the minority that finds great value in distilling such elements down to the game essentials, but I am presenting this with the assumption that it might "turn the light bulb on" for other fans of OD&D.

After all, I am the Dungeonista. I dig this sort of stuff.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Too Much Time

The biggest abstraction in D&D is Time. One of the first complaints leveled at 0e combat is the one-minute round. Many assume that the single Roll to Hit (RTH) and the single damage roll after a successful RTH are an abstraction representing how masterfully the combatant performed in that time, and that the hits dealt represent various attacks and blows in those 60 seconds. This depends upon how you interpret the guides. Look no further than the ruling used for magic shields which spells out the chance to block a single successful blow (attack). Others assume in that round that the combatant has exercised all of his experience and know-how in positioning, parrying, exchanging harmless blows, side-stepping, and generally Errol Flynn-ing it up in order to arrive at the single important RTH representative of that one meaningful attack. Maybe so. If you subscribe to that theory it's hard to justify tactical positional modifiers in your game. In reading the OD&D rules over and over, I've come to the conclusion that there was only ever one attempt to strike the opponent per round. Take into account Missile fire. In one minute a skilled Archer could loose half a dozen arrows quite effectively, and probably empty his entire quiver with non-stop launching. Again, I maintain that OD&D melee assumes but a single attack per round. I know this flies in the face of the standard oe acceptance of abstract combat. The issue is not truly one of combat, but rather the time associated with it.

For another example of the abstract treatment of the passage of time in D&D, look no further than Movement rates. The D&D Turn is defined as two moves in the Underworld. Characters take two moves per 10 minutes, ranging in distance from 60 to 120 feet. That's a rate of 120 to 240 feet in 10 minutes. Those rates may be doubled when the characters actually run in a panic situation. Hardly realistic at all.

Outdoors in the Wilderness (defined as unexplored areas, cities and castles; basically anything not in the Underworld itself) these numbers are tripled; a slightly more palatable 120 yards to 240 yards in 10 minutes. Not quite realistic either, although once in the light of day on the surface play normally becomes what is now known as hex-crawling; each Move constitutes one Turn which is equal to a single Day. But you get the idea. Don't let anyone tell you that glossing over Wilderness travel isn't old school. It was designed with the notion of rapid simulation in order to bring the player characters to their destination.

Take the rules for Surprise as another example of this abstraction of time. Surprise awards a free move segment or action, which can be taken to attack if the surprised foes are within range, and then a round of uncontested attack. If close enough the non-surprised combatant can use its free move segment to attack, followed by its free melee turn; that's two free attacks before melee proper begins. That's well over 60 seconds of attacks prior to a response by the surprised side.

Turns in 0e are so ingrained in the war gaming philosophy which gave birth to D&D that the original scheme was readily accepted, as it should continue to be. The fact is that time in D&D is all relative. It is based on Turns which begin at the high end outdoors in the Wilderness representing one Day, continue to the Underworld representing 10 minutes of movement or other non-combat activities, and end at the oft ridiculed one minute exchange of combat.

Does it really matter that a round (melee turn) is one minute long? Does it really matter that it takes 10 minutes to search a small 10 ft. section of dungeon wall? I think not. If you disagree feel free to adjust combat rounds to six seconds and Move Turns to two minutes, or whatever floats your boat. The simple Day-10 Minutes-Minute system is hard to resist for its ease of tracking. Yes the Move Turn could be changed to five minutes I suppose, but the abstract method first devised works very well if you employ it as written. When you keep it at 10 minute Turns, the characters are allowed five Turns before rest, thats 10 Moves followed by one Turn of rest, or one Hour. The Wandering Monster check is easy to track as well; in 0e it is made each Turn, or every 10 minutes.

The length of the melee turn is almost irrelevant. Whether an encounter takes 2 rounds or 8 rounds, referees will simply restart the clock post melee in most cases. So does it matter that 12 seconds or two minutes have passed? Downtime after the encounter normally rounds out the start of the next Move Turn. In my games combat normally represents 10 minutes. With 0e you almost get the feel that combat pauses the Underworld clock and moves to an abstract measurement of time in which sides simply take turns whacking at one another until the encounter is over and everyone has licked their wounds before restarting the clock once again. It's a fairly tight and simple system if you can accept the fact that it is nothing more than an abstraction and that the varied-duration game turns are all relative.

To recap, that's 10 Moves in 5 Turns, with 5 Wandering Monster checks, followed by one Turn of rest and a final Wandering Monster check. One Hour has passed. It is a simple and easy to remember system for tracking time in the Underworld. Each encounter will expend another Move Turn for every 10 exchanges of combat, or portion thereof. A typical Underworld expedition will embody up to 10 hours which includes all time spent underground and the return trek to the surface. Adventurers not resting as required, or surpassing the standard 10 hour allotment will become taxed or even exhausted.

Now we can stop talking even further about time with a few tweaks. Hours become Full Turns, and 10 Full Turns in the Underworld constitutes one Day. Other than the Day itself, all other references to time in the way of hours and minutes has been carefully removed. Suddenly we are returning to the table-top feel where time is all relative, or almost irrelevant. The true concern is using Turns wisely and effectively in the game Day.

To seal the deal consider this: All encounters which result in Combat expend one Move Turn; the first action being the melee itself, the second being rest and regrouping. Now Combat is merely the exchange of blows, each side taking turns until the outcome is determined.

I've whipped up a new PDF which considers the above information. It is now embedded in my OD&D links section to the right and is entitled Game Time.

EDIT: 3:00 PM EST: I made the changes necessary to the Time in the Game PDF. As a note, it does indeed replicate the OD&D rules with one exception; that all melee is considered to occur within the span of one Move (or roughtly five minutes for those keeping track).

I hope you find it of use. If nothing else it should help fellow fans gain a better understanding of the original system and its wargame underpinnings.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Monday, August 3, 2009

On Deck at THM

Amityville Mike has officially announced that his long awaited Stonehell megadungeon has reached draft status. Chgowiz and I have had the copy in hand for a couple of days now, and we've both been reading it over. I cannot provide any spoilers, but what I have had the pleasure to read thus far has certainly exceeded my expectations. Like many of the entries in the One Page Dungeon Contest, Mike's Stonehell pushes the boundaries set forth and becomes its own unique vision of the minimalistic approach adopted by the author.

Stonehell was perhaps the unifying force of Three-Headed Monster Games when the idea for a gaming coop was taking shape behind the scenes at the web logs maintained by the two Mikes and myself. It was clear very early on that Mr. Curtis is blessed with remarkable devotion and creativity, and that good things lay ahead for Stonehell.

I'll withhold further praise for the megadungeon until the three heads have ushered the project along through the creative pipeline. Like many others who have followed the development of Stonehell, I have very high hopes for the finished product; which is to say that we'll be holding this publication to some lofty standards. I am convinced that the collaborative spirit of THM Games will see to it that no one is disappointed.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Friday, July 31, 2009

S&S Indeed

Swords & Sorcery ain't got nuthin' on Spears & Spells! OK, yeah that's a stretch. What about Spears & Shields?

Swords seem to have captured the genre with a muscular grip of thick Hyborian sinews, but Spears should be just as important, if not more so, than Swords. I fully understand that Swords are widely considered the pinnacle of hand-to-hand melee technology. It's just that by the time the Sword actually took the title of undisputed champion, by way of the long sword, firearms were but a few generations away.

Compare that to the oft disregarded Spear. The reign of the Spear was far, far longer in the greater history of warfare. In the truest example of fiction/fantasy influence, D&D coughed up the crown to Swords. In OD&D Swords account for 1 out of every 5 Magic Items discovered. Spears? A paltry 1 out of every 200 Magic Items. Something's amiss here.

Also, consider the Shield in not just OD&D, but all editions. Shields improve Armor Class by one. Really? OK, I can live with that in the greater scheme of things, but Shields are realistically much more valuable in hand-to-hand combat.

Perhaps the Sword is the more romantic of the two. Perhaps the image of knights in shining armor is likewise more evocative of the fantasy genre which D&D embraces. The fact is, take a Spear & Shield and you're good to go melee wise, armor be damned.

Would it be heresy to make the unjustifiably disregarded Spear the predominant weapon in a campaign? Would it be blasphemous to make the disrespected Shield the basis of one's true Armor Class in a similarly conceived unconventional campaign? I think not, and I believe that such notions are both historically and logically sound.

So there you have it. The Spear reigns over all melee weapons, and the Shield is the backbone of any defensively-minded Fighting Man in said campaign.

The Spear is useful with one hand or two, as an effective deterrent to charges, tactically due to reach and usefulness in cramped confines, and further as a crude missile weapon. Nothing really needs to be said about the Shield; it is clearly as important as armor, regardless of whether one is clad in scale, chain or plate mail. That D&D made the Shield as effective as leather armor is laughable.

The Spear & Shield campaign replaces magical and sometimes intelligent Swords with Spears. It also rearranges the AC rules as detailed below:

No armor: 9
Leather: 8
Chain: 7
Plate: 6, reduces Move by 3
Shield: -3 AC
Large Shield: -4 AC, reduces Move by 3

Just thinking out loud. Carry on, but give the Spear and Shield their due or I'll get all Spartan on your Barbarian scum hides.


Thursday, July 30, 2009


Look, I'm one of a very tiny niche of a niche of a niche that loves both 0e D&D and Punk. Yes I went to some lengths last year to explain the ethos shared by both. So suddenly Punk is another bad word to level at 0e fans, just as fatbeard is another to utilize similarly. What have I wrought?

Unplugging from the sphere for a while to focus on the reason I'm actually here: D&D.

With the occasional "How ya like me now" video. In parting,


Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Out of the Frying Pan

Well, actually off of the Back Burner:

I'll be covering some of my future plans and projects over at Three-Headed Monster Games. Some of the tidbits discussed there will be linked here now that I have a new sharing account after the Orbitfiles debacle. Thanks for the various suggestions, but I've settled on MediaFire for the time being.

In the meantime I'll clutter my bandwith here at Ye Auld Grog & Blog with the scans I made. Apologies for the smudges in certain areas; my printer didn't want to cooperate with the way too think paper I was forced to use, but the images get the idea across effectively. There is one Open Office file and a pair of PDF's I've shared on MediaFire. The first of the files is Sham's OPD Template, seen below:

Using the "Check Method" will require the Open Office file entitled Treasure Tables. Once you grok the Check Method the small table on both the example and template will make sense. It's not nearly as complicated as it might at first seem; you'll grasp the idea quickly and find that it's simple as can be.

Finally I made a quick PDF of an Example OPD, borrowing old info from the Dismal Depths, level 1B; The Chambers of Zod. There's an error I just spotted on the map (forgot to change the 1A bit), but I'm sharing it just to give an example of the new template version, as seen below:

Feel free to dl the template, change the tables, add to it, whatever. More information can be found in my post over at the THM Lair (AKA the Head Shed).

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Friday Flashback

Yes, I know it's actually (at this point) quite technically (who's counting?) Sunday.

Let me remind you whose name is hanging on the placard out front: Moi.

Yes this is the "Friday" Flashback.

Some history: I DVR'd the movie: What We Do Is Secret. A biopic of the influential early LA punk band, the Germs.

The plan was to watch said flick and get a post ready by Friday. Well, here we are over 24 hours later trying to get our act together.

The Germs. Love 'em, hate 'em, there are what they are. (Or were, thanks to a very timely Darby Crash suicide/OD):

First off the REAL s**t:

And an interview for Germs fans:

Realize that Darby died in 1980; the Youtube catalog is somewhat limited:

Now go get in-freekin-infected by some Germs. Oh, one more:

You'll thank me later.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Friday, July 24, 2009

The Good Major Weighs In

David Wesely added to the comments section of the lengthy Q&A with Greg Svenson with insight into polyhedral dice, the co-founding of RPGs, and other tidbits which will be of interest to many readers. Thanks again, David!

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Friday, July 17, 2009

Friday Flashback

A few flashbacks for your listening and viewing pleasure tonight, from the inexplicably never-big-in-the-States mod/punk trio The Jam. One of the greatest three-man bands ever? Had I the time that would be a fitting tribute to yesterday's unveiling of Three-Headed Monster Games, but for now three from this legendary threesome will have to suffice:

In the City, live at the Circus:

All Around the World, live on the Marc Bolan Show:

And finally, the classic To Be Someone, live:

Enjoy and have a great weekend!

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Dirty Work Afoot...

Born when the world was young, a trio of ancient powers, long trapped in time, have been fused together by inexplicable energies and emboldened with newfound vigor. Unchained at last the creature emerges from its otherworldly lair, a half-dozen eyes gleaming with steely determination, bearing three keyboards bristling with untold arcane force…what? Keyboards?

Announcing Three-Headed Monster Games, brought to you by, well, three heads, myself included. The other pair of heads is a pair of Mikes, namely Michael Curtis and Michael Shorten. Yes, those two characters better known in this realm of gaming as Amityville Mike and Chgowiz. I had the pleasure of becoming online blogging acquaintances with these two last year. In December the three of us began to trade advice and critical thoughts centered on the One Page Dungeon idea. Shortly thereafter we formulated the notion of publishing material with one another’s insight and assistance.

From that concept grew what we are unveiling today with Three-Headed Monster Games; a working cooperative and collaborative gathering place for like-minded gaming enthusiasts to congregate. Tapping into the collected talents of its members, Three-Headed Monster Games seeks to establish itself as a functional think tank and design space for both writers and artists who can maintain complete control of their ideas while publishing under an identifiable brand.

For the time being the effort involves just the three founders, Mike, Mike and Dave. You are invited to follow our plans, projects and progress at the new web log, which is sure to give plenty of tidbits on upcoming publications. The galvanizing force that prompted us to finally move forward with this concept is being unveiled as I type this. I’ve had the pleasure of a sneak peek at this book, and I am proud to announce the first in what promises to be a long line of quality material from Three-Headed Monster Games.

That book? Michael Shorten’s elegant Swords & Wizardry Quick Start rules. Mike has managed to create an effortless no frills set of low level rules, and the only analogy I can come up with is also the highest compliment I can conceive of; it is to S&W as Holmes D&D was to 0e. No I am not comparing the two or claiming that this is the new Holmes edit, just that it fills a similar role, serving as a great jumping off point for beginners while catering to the needs of dedicated low-level enthusiasts. The Dungeon of Akban is perfectly positioned within to provide invaluable examples for both the neophyte GM and the hardened veteran, and even if you own Swords & Wizardry already, you may find yourself reaching for this before the Core Rules themselves. If it’s not already available, it should be soon at Ye Old RPG storefront.

There are already other ideas percolating in the THM pot, and the Swords & Wizardry Quick Start is just the beginning. So pop by and say Hello. Just let me warn you, there’s dirty work afoot at Three-Headed Monster Games. You have been warned!

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Summer Doldrums

It’s been a bit quiet ‘round these parts of late. Only four posts in the past 30 days time is a clear sign of summer. Nearly a month ago I announced I’d be absent for a dozen days so I could focus on judging the One Page Dungeon Contest, and devote spare time to wrapping up a rather large submission to Fight On!

Agreeing to get that adventure done in one month was me being over-confident in my writing capabilities. I didn’t meet the deadline, but was able to estimate the size so it could be planned around. I should’ve known I wasn’t giving myself enough time; I’ve had nothing but delays and, well, writer’s block with that adventure since day one back in August of last year.

It’s been submitted for a number of days now, but I figured I’d make a post in regard to the blasted project tonight. It’s something of a flight of fancy in many ways, and I’m hoping the editor is bold enough to cut out chunks of the text I wasn’t able to part with. It is truly the polar opposite of the One Page Dungeon, overflowing with information and threatening to collapse under its own weight.

I don’t even know if it’s coming back to me with a nasty letter and orders to revise the thing. It was submitted in font size 9, weighing in at 31 pages, 10 of which are devoted to the adventure’s appendix. It features in the neighborhood of 90 rooms, 70 NPC's, 20 new monsters, 24 new magic items, 20 rumors, 20 suggestions/events, and some tables. That room count includes guest rooms and sub-caves, and many of the NPC’s are just names. Don't let the high page count mislead you, although it is wordy where it needs to be, it is still crammed with substance.

Here's the altogether dense mess of a map that I'm hoping will be in FO! 6:

It was something of a challenge working a functional Adventurer’s Inn into the dungeon. My insistence on including a detailed background and loose plot further complicated matters. Wrapped around all of that I plugged in what I hope are realistic cave and spelunking features using speleological terms.

With an Inn so close to the action I had to take a few things into consideration. Resource management becomes easy mode if this is a normal dungeon level, having a safe house and resupply point around the corner. How can I ensure that players would want to continue to make use of the Inn, even after they are “done” on this level? What on earth, or beneath it, would make anyone want to run an Inn down here?

To combat the proximity of the Inn I undertook two goals. First I would make the caves difficult to negotiate, much like a real cavernous complex. They’re difficult to map, even harder to traverse, boast secret sub-caves and hidden tunnels. Jogging back to the Inn after each encounter is time consuming. Second I deliberately made many very challenging encounters. Most of which can be retreated from safely, but add even more in ensuring that although the Inn not too terribly far away, the level is downright nasty for 5th level characters unless they have large numbers and play wisely.

There’s another plot driven aspect to the Inn that actually might deter characters from spending the night within, but that’s GM adjudicated and shouldn’t be something that prevents them from using it altogether. The Inn is really the focal point of the level.

In an effort to make the Inn actually feel like an Inn and not just a collection of dungeon rooms, I wanted to add enough creative opportunity for GM’s to be able to craft endless possible adventures revolving around the establishment. How successful I was there remains to be seen.

Lastly, why would Jalen Longspear want to open and operate such a place? Reasons are given in the adventure and I think they hold up well enough that players won’t consider the whole affair ludicrous…that is as long as they don’t consider megadungeons in general ludicrous.

In the end I think that the Inn has some nice sand-box aspects to it, as there are plenty of areas to discover and explore. The NPC’s in the Inn offer a plethora of city-type adventures with a crafty GM at the helm. There’s some history and an involved story that can be uncovered but is not essential to the level. There’s some really weird eerie old magic infused throughout.

As I told Calithena, if nothing else the 10 page appendix might be worthwhile for the additional homebrew within. I’ll have more on this submission once I learn whether or not it is seeing print, and then I can give away more information as it is warranted.


This long hiatus has also involved something which I’ll be announcing tomorrow. There’s a six eyed monstrosity stirring in its deep, dark lair, and I think it will awaken on the morrow.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Friday, July 3, 2009

Friday Flashback

Live version of 1971's Queen Bitch, which is cited by many as the starting point for Glam Rock, was David Bowie's tribute to Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground:

Here's the studio LP track found on Hunky Dory being used in the end credits for The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou:

Which is Director Wes Anderson's video tribute to the end credits found here:

Yes! The always awesome Buckaroo Banzai! So, when's that sequel again?

Oh, and I forgot to mention, the music score for Life Aquatic was composed by Mark Mothersbaugh. Yes, that Mark Mothersbaugh. Wes and he have teamed up for Bottle Rocket, Rushmore, and The Royal Tenenbaums as well.

Enjoy, and have a great weekend!

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

112 Page Dungeon Contest

As most are aware at this point, the highly successful One Page Dungeon Contest (OPDC) Winners have been announced. I'd first like to thank Chatty DM and Chgowiz who together took on the bulk of the effort here; announcing the contest, assembling a staggering array of prizes, accepting entries, and remaining flexible during the entire process. They also served as judges, and brought in myself and a few other innocent bystanders to help in that department, namely Alex Schroeder, Amityville Mike, and Dave the Game, for a total of one half dozen judges charged with reading and evauluating all 112 entries, and coming up with winners.

By the time you read this my esteemed cohorts will have already compiled the Honorable Mentions, Runners Up, and Winning Entries. Rather than make you read what has already been posted, simply follow these links from three of the judges involved. I'd like to thank all 112 of the contest entrants. It was an honor to be able to get an early look at these dungeons, and to be able to evaluate each when formulating my list of favorites. To say I was impressed with the creativity of many of the entries would be an understatement.

Here's the little scan I made back in December of last year that started this whole thing. Wait until you see how many of the contestants interpreted this simple idea and made my original flounderings seem laughably rudimentary by comparison!

I'll have a lot more to add in regard to the contest, and I'll be focusing on some themes and individual entries in the future. In the meantime, hearty handshakes go all around to everyone involved with the One Page Dungeon Contest.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Friday, June 19, 2009

Friday Flashback

A word to the wise: Youtube is both a blessing and a curse. Watch these videos at your first opportunity. More than a dozen of my Friday Flashback videos have already been removed from the site due to the Big Brother record company spies out there. Not that I can blame them, but nonetheless let these words remind you that Youtube music is best served fresh or not at all.

On to this week's heaping helping. I've been somewhat remiss in my 70s offerings so I'm taking a short break from my speleological research for the Lower Caves to correct that issue. A glaring oversight is about to be filled (and then some) with this serving of classic GLAM ROCK.

First, the stunningly awesome original of a 70s classic from Sweet, the Desolation Boulevard UK LP version of Fox on the Run:

And the US single top 40 hit take on the same song, which most readers will recognize immediately:

Lastly, the rare demo version of the same song which cannot be embedded but at 1:44 long is worth a click in order to hear the complete Fox on the Run history.

Fox on the Run Demo

Damn, Sweet could jam.

Have yourselves a GLAMorous weekend!

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

One Dozen Days

For the next twelve days or so I'll be fairly scarce here as I have two pressing tasks which I need to see through to completion before the 28th. First is my contribution as one of the judges for the One Page Dungeon Contest. I'm nearly done with that effort. The second is finishing up the long lingering, somewhat troublesome Lower Caves of the Darkness Beneath level for Fight On!, something I've been wrestling with for far too long.

Speaking of the One Page Dungeon Contest, little did I know when I signed on to help judge these entries that we'd end up with so many! The daunting task of reading through the sheer number of entries was compounded by the fact that there are numerous fantastic One Page Dungeons in the mix, making the rating process harder than I would've imagined. There's some real talent out there and I'm convinced that once you see the winning entries you'll agree.

After many hours gnashing teeth and wringing hands, I am moving forward with a revamped, plot-lite version of the Lower Caves. The involved backstory and entangled scenarios of the original notes were proving to be too much. The sheer weight of the project was causing me to continually set it aside for another date. After 10 months of stop and start I've reworked those notes and begun anew. The map and most of the encounters remain unchanged, but the bulk of the story, ramifications of player actions and adventure paths have been expunged.

Before I sign off to focus on the above items, I'll tip my hand just a bit. For your viewing pleasure, below the break you'll find a sneak peek into my adventure design methods.


Welcome to the Lair of Sham! Here you will discover images detailing my three step dungeon writing process; Inspiration, Notes, and the magic of Technology!

INSPIRATION must not be rushed. The One Page Dungeon Concept came to me here after an unfortunate TP supply oversight.

Me and my Lower Caves NOTES. Definitely one of my better photos. I know, I know, Brad Pitt...I get it all the time. Thank you Nutri-System!

Where the MAGIC happens! Hard to call myself a Grognard with all these new fangled geegaws. Oops, forgot to empty the wastebasket before snapping that photo.

I'll be lurking in the shadows until I've finished judging those entries and writing the Lower Caves. Once those two tasks are wrapped up it's back to semi-regular blogging and another long lingering project, this time thankfully one with no deadline.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Hidden Chests

Nick of Castle Dragonscar recently shared a nifty little OD&D dungeon he made using the Distribution of Monsters and Treasure guide from Vol. III, The Underworld and Wilderness Adventures. I enjoy using that guide for both random fills and restocking, as well as determining the contents of random treaure troves.

Longtime readers will remember how I made a single roll table with odds derived from those guides, one which changed slightly and has now morphed into Version 3.

Version 1:

Restock (1d6)
1 - Monster
2 - Monster & Treasure
3 to 6 - Empty (1in6 chance of hidden treasure)

Version 2 (below) succeeded in requiring less dice rolling while maintaining the same odds for hidden treasure.

Restock (1d6)
1 - Monster
2 - Monster & Treasure
3 to 5 - Empty
6 - Empty (4in6 chance of hidden treasure)

While considering how to streamline this process further, I realized I could do away with that last step in Version 2 altogether by introducing a new standard to the Dismal Depths, Hidden Chests.

Version 3:

Distribution & Restock (1d6)
1 - Monster
2 - Monster & Treasure
3 to 5 - Empty
6 - Empty (Hidden Chest)

Every dungeon has Traps and Secret Doors as well as suggestions on how to allow characters to sense or find them. Adding a third item to this concealed feature set seemed plausible and logical.

The Elf, in OD&D, has a 2in6 chance to sense the presence of a Secret Door, and double (4in6) the odds of locating one while searching in the proper area.

The Dwarf has the racial ability to note traps underground. As I've shared in the past, I use the Elf - Secret Door example as a precedent for judging this vague ability, allowing the Dwarf a 2in6 chance to sense the presence of a Trap, and double (4in6) chance to locate a Trap while searching in the proper area.

It only seems natural for me to handle this new, third standard in much the same fashion. Pick your campaign's burglar/robber/scalawag type (even if he's no more than a Fighting Man class-wise), be it the Hobbit, 'obbit, Halfling, Hobling, or Hoblit, and make that greedy little blighter the Hidden Chest expert. Again, using the Elf precedent:

The Hobbit has a 2in6 chance to sense the presence of a Hidden Chest, and double the odds (4in6) of locating one while searching in the proper area.

My concerns with the notion of Hidden Chests as a new standard include the fact that Traps and Secret Doors are found outside of rooms or chambers just as often as within, and that neither Traps nor Secret Doors are included on random tables like my latest Distribution & Restock Table. Well, not to worry, Hidden Chests can also be placed on the map with a symbol and legend description, just like Secret Doors. Nothing revolutionary here, but then I realized...why aren't there any random Traps on such a Distribution table? Hidden Chests takes care of that as well now.

But wait Sham, there's still no Traps on that there table! Ah, that's where I realized that the new standard would work well for my dungeons. The 1 out of 6 randomly filled rooms in your dungeon that end up with a Hidden Chest result can be, as always, filled manually, or one can roll on the subtable below:

Hidden Chest Table (All Locked)
1. Empty
2. Trap, Empty
3-4. Treasure
5-6. Trap & Treasure

And viola! I have Traps in my latest Restock table. Oh, and yes, there will be an optional Chest Traps Table for a half-dozen Trap examples. I'm still trying to decide how that will mesh with the Dismal Depths Trap Guide.

For those keeping score at home, this new version still maintains the original ratios. One third of the rooms have Monsters, of those one half have treasure. Two thirds of the rooms are empty, of those 1 in 6 have hidden treasure. Overall rounded percentages, for the original guide as well as all three single table versions, look like this:

Monsters 33.3%
No Monsters 66.7%
Treasure 27.7%
No Treasure 72.3%

Version 3 Features:
Hidden Chest 16.7%
Trap 8.4%

The notion of Hidden Chests might introduce a new Magic Item for the Dismal Depths as well, single use Magic Keys which disappear after opening a Hidden Chest. This depends upon whether or not there are any ne'er-do-well rapscallion types included in the campaign or not.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Mt. Rushmore of D&D Monsters

"Mt. Rushmore", in this blog's context, means the four most iconic or important items from a particular D&D topic. Today's topic is Monsters. The previous topics were Spells and Magic Items.

What would your Mt. Rushmore of D&D Monsters look like? You're only allowed four and for this exercise make the list without consulting any D&D books. After making your list, proceed to comments to see mine.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Friday, June 12, 2009

Friday Flashback

Friday Flashback: Retro-Clone Version!

In the spirit of Labyrinth Lord and Swords & Wizardry, I present musical Retro-Clones of that other significant 70s revolution, Punk (yes, D&D was not the only important thing to happen in that decade). After 30 years, these guys GET IT!

First off, I can't resist these French babes and their garage retro Pop-Punk sound, The Plasticines and their rockin' song Loser:

Next, former Blur member Graham Coxon shells out some pure retro PUNK with Freakin' Out:

And, in the Art School CBGBs style, DIG THIS retro Punk from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and the effusive Karen O singing Rich (apologies for the audio interruption and cut-off):

The delivery might be updated, but the attitude is what matters, three decades later. Punk will never die.

Have a great retro-freakin-weekend.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

The Mt. Rushmore of D&D Magic Items

"Mt. Rushmore", in this blog's context, means the four most iconic or important items from a particular D&D topic. Today's topic is Magic Items. The previous topic was Spells and next will be Monsters.

What would your Mt. Rushmore of D&D Magic Items look like? You're only allowed four and for this exercise make the list without consulting any D&D books. After making your list, proceed to comments to see mine.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Mt. Rushmore of D&D Spells

I'm kicking off a mini-series today, a short lived theme called Mt. Rushmore.

"Mt. Rushmore", in this blog's context, means the four most iconic or important items from a particular D&D topic. Today's topic is Spells, future topics will be Magic Items and Monsters.

What would your Mt. Rushmore of D&D Spells look like? You're only allowed four and for this exercise make the list without consulting any D&D books. After making your list, proceed to comments to see mine.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee