Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Tools of the Trade II

Back in June I posted a modest picture of the gaming supplies I used in my devising of scenarios and such while preparing my new campaign in Helsinki.

I called it Tools of the Trade, after the Carcass song.

Now I'm preparing another campaign in Helsinki, as I've been mentioning often, and I've got a whole new set of tools. Many of these tools were decorated and embellished by my new wuvvy duvvy Maria, who will also help me model my new gaming implements.

First is the master shot of Command Center Theta, which houses my computer, all my supplies, and a really cool view of some modern Helsinki office buildings, an arts center, and a little bit of the harbor.

Next is the cart which usually sits behind me when I'm at the desk. It's got three drawers, and there's a three-tier file tray on top of it. The bottom drawer has my printer paper and ink supplies, the middle drawer has my miscellaneous supplies like rulers, rubber bands, thumbtacks, and all sorts of fun stuff like that, and the top drawer has... well...

It has my supply of graph paper (note the three different sizes, so I never feel compelled to oversize a dungeon just because there are that many more squares to fill!) and a couple of notebooks.

Now on to the Maria craftworks. This first one is a leather cover for a notebook, complete with wolf's head thong fastener.

This looks like a common notebook, but in Finland it's graph paper that's commonly used for everyday notebook paper, and lined paper like this is harder to find. Pretty much a reverse situation from the States, so putting a leather cover on a notebook like this isn't complete overkill.

This next one is really cool. Maria took a box and made it my gaming box. Note how excited she is to show it to you all.

Of course, it's the inside of the box that's cool. Not only is the exterior painted black, but the interior is lined with grey felt. Inside are a dicebag (that can fit four sets of dice) with black velvet exterior, grey silk lining, and silver ribbon drawstrings. Also inside is a rolling cup, also painted black with grey felt lining. The top of the box is also lined with the felt so it becomes a rolling surface. No more watching my dice flying off the table or otherwise going out of control. Just flip the rolling cup and deposit the die on the proper surface. The felt lining should also help dice keep their proper edges.

Then we come to the binders. Plain binders for this campaign just won't cut it. Here is my "working binder," which contains various essays, dungeon-building methods, the Monster and Treasure Assortment book, the latest updates to my Creature Generator, and all the tools I need to generate adventure materials. The covers have classic (and classic-to-be) images placed on the surfaces with a découpage technique. There are also pictures on the inside of the binder covers. Note the Green Devil Face as the front cover, constantly reminding me when creating adventure material that the best threats are the ones that are obvious and tempt players into killing their own characters without any outside influence at all.

Here are a series of silk-covered binders with various things in them. The red one contains the Holmes Basic book, the Moldvay Basic book, and the Marsh/Cook Expert book, all printed on A5 paper for easy handling. I won't deal with full-sized books anymore. Gaming materials serve my needs, not the other way around. The blue binder will hold the character, equipment, spell, and whatever sheets for the new campaign. The black binder, also featuring decorative stitching, holds the finished details of Olden Domain locations. Right now it just contains the beginning area of the hex map and the basic outline for the closest exploration area, but I hope to fill that thing up in the months to come.

Next is my binder with the 1974 D&D booklets, first three Supplements (screw Supplement IV, and I have a genuine hardcopy of Supplement V so no need to print it out on A5 to stick in a binder; it sits on the desk and might be barely visible on the master Command Center photo), and Chainmail. I had wanted it to be white silk to match the others, but Maria advised me that the white cover will likely get dirty and silk would not be simple to wash. So my "White Box" binder is covered in white flannel. Albino Grunge!

I just had to show the inside of the binder and my original edition D&D printouts. They rock.

There is one more item that was created... see, I've accumulated a lot of dice over the years, and the dice bag that goes in the gaming box only accomodates a few sets. I don't use the remainder, but don't want to lose them, so a bigger dice bag was made for them. It too is black velvet lined with grey silk, but with a yellow ribbon drawstring. And since it's unfair to tittilate you with all these cleavage shots and not give any payoff, Maria and I figured we should show you a little more to showcase the bigger dicebag:

Happy New Year! :D

I'm in a Different Hobby than All These Other Folks...

My ranty rant here may have been a bit over the edge, but my "I'm washing my hands of them and declaring them a completely different hobby altogether," line seems to have raised a few eyebrows.

Here are some examples of why I feel this way. Admittedly, these are cherrypicking other internet nutcases in order to make my case, but... it's a scary internet out there.

Check this out. "My players wasted time looking for stuff that wasn't there. Was I wrong to have it not be there?" Perhaps it's a nice thought exercise about how to run games, so the premise really isn't that absurd (my opinion on the matter is included in that thread), but it's this inanity that really makes me want to hand myself by my dicebag drawstrings. This guy who claims that a flying wizard with no stairway access would break his suspension of disbelief because... he feels the flying wizard would need stairs sometime, just because. And then there's Mr. "Gaming is a Wonderful Fancyland", who declares that whatever feels most happy at the time is the correct thing to do.

Sometimes players just suck, and sometimes even excellent players get sidetracked with nonsense or don't figure something out right away. Crappy players don't improve by caving in, and excellent players will appreciate that an earned victory means more than one given to them because that was the most fun thing to do at that moment.

Reading some of the responses in that thread, I get the feeling that they'd be happier if the ref, or GM, or Player Fun-Facilitator or whatever his title is, should just throw the adventure down in front of the players and ask for the players' descriptions of how their characters beat the adventure and call it a game.

I guess this is all part of the greater phenomenon of thinking everything has to be awesome at all times. That shit-ass website calls this The Rule of Cool. Basically, this rule says that if you numb someone with sensory overload, you can do anything, and they'll like it, and they think this is a good thing. is a top driver of traffic to this site since somebody over there completely misinterpreted my I Hate Fun thing, and it's also a piece of shit website because instead of exposing the cliché garbage that TV peddles (like I was hopeful it would do from its name), it peddles these clichés as true and awesome culture, else it wouldn't be repeated so often on TV, right? TV is our god.

The Rule has its adherents in RPG circles as well. There's a load on Recent blog posts here and here advocate it. Robin D. Laws was all about this in his much lauded Robin's Laws book.

You know what? Cool stuff is cool, but the Rule of Cool is absolute Crap and following it, especially on the spur of the moment, will lead to more Mortal Kombat II finales than it will... um... I really can't think where The Rule of Cool ended well, ever. That Was Cool is a fleeting fart of a sensation. That Was Well-Done and/or That Was Impressive are completely different sensations and ones more well worth pursuing.

I'll tell you another idea-pox upon this hobby that I supposedly share with thousands of people across the globe:

All RPGs are wish-fulfillment. Unless there is a "Full-time Paid Referee: The RPG" or a "No Conflict, You're Just Always Right: The RPG" out there, this is pure hogwash from my point of view. Most activities that occur in RPGs are things that I would never want to do, even if I knew I would always succeed in the end. I have taken absolutely zero steps in my life towards becoming rich, or a great warrior, or much of anything besides a big blow-hard that pontificates about shit with zero meaning to the "big picture," really. Being powerful and able to kick ass is all well and good, but frankly if I was in a situation where being powerful and kicking ass was something that had to be done, I'd feel pretty shitty about the whole thing. It doesn't matter if I somehow could handily dispose of (in whatever genre-appropriate fashion) a gang of thugs that was trying to mug me... the fact that someone tried to mug me would ruin my evening regardless of whether they took a dime or whether I got a scratch on me or not.

And as a referee I design dark and dangerous hellholes. As if I'd build a house full of man-eating tigers and booby-traps if I ever won the lottery and had enough money to make my every wish come true.

In fact, people who do use RPGs as wish fulfillment are really kind of sad. You really want to be a dashing hero (or explorer, or murderer, or whatever)? Then go do it and stop sitting around pretending to do it!

I can't be arsed to search out other living examples of these-people-aren't-doing-the-same-activity-I-am I've read recently, but there is a lot of the type that inspired the I Hate Fun essay going around the message boards. Lots of talk about game balance (I think precipitated by the above factors to provide a "safe adventuring environment" which is about as oxymoronic a phrase as there is), lots of talk about miniatures (can we at least be unanimous that miniatures collecting and painting - and LARPing, while we're here - are separate, although related, hobbies from role-playing?), dead games and the horridness/impracticality thereof (that's right, games not currently in print and easily available and actively supported by a slew of totally game-changing new rules don't really count to a lot of people... can you imagine AD&D 1E with a new Unearthed Arcana appearing every month or two? Fuck), discussion on licensed RPGs (and the apparent necessity to have a separate one to play that setting since a complete game these days comes with a setting so of course you can't use an existing game to... AARRRGGHH), the treatment of industry news as relevant to their gaming hobby (I'm torn on how the Zagyg/Gygax Games saga fits here; I was never going to run Castle Greyhawk anyway, so would my interest in it, especially a newer interpretation, even if it had been by Gygax's own hand, actually be a part of my actual gaming hobby?), being a collector of role-playing books (would those 10 books you got for Christmas be for reading, shelving, or playing?)

Keeping in touch with the greater hobby is healthy. It's a source of fresh ideas and new perspectives. So the mood-soothing advice of, "stop cruising the internet," is detrimental to my gaming in the long run, as there are some prime peanuts of usefulness out there. But it's increasingly difficult to pick those peanuts out of the feces because it's difficult to find discussion along the lines that are actually relevant to my gaming.

Awesome. This was just going to be a quick explanatory note and it turned into I Hate Fun the Holiday Edition.

Happy frickin' New Year.


An Idea: The Price of Magic in a Dangerous World

In a sandbox campaign, there will be (and should be, else what's the point of a sandbox?) creatures and challenges that characters can stumble upon that they can't overcome... at least not without another level or three on them.

The entire fun of a West Marches style campaign (if it works and there are multiple groups or cliques within the one campaign) is that coming back after you've leveled up just might not be an option if someone else decides to make a run at this more-challenging situation and gain the (hopefully) commensurate loot that goes along with it.

So there just might be the occasional mass PC slaughter as underpowerful characters make runs at the big prizes. Who dares wins, yes? And in the end there might be success, as a lone survivor (or a couple, or whatever) gain a great magical treasure, paid for with their companions' sacrifice.

Magic shouldn't be treated as lifeless technology. "Anyone that operates it just so should gain the benefits." Nope! I think that "living magic" is a principle behind class-specific magic items in D&D, and the question is always how to make magic items more unique and really weird.

So here's an idea that players should be taking notes on: How about one of these hard-won magical treasures requiring a command word that is not a static, constant thing. Perhaps the command word will be the names of the characters that died in the battle to gain the item!

This works best when research (and sages and the appropriate expenses) is needed to learn command words, and the information about how to activate an item isn't given in the same session in which the item was gained.

... and suddenly, you have to remember the names of the deceased PCs from two sessions ago, which might have been weeks of real-life time ago... characters who might have been created that day, who might have been replacements for characters that died earlier that night and had a life span of 45 minutes of real-time, played by a guy you just met that night and haven't seen since.

Can you bestow upon your fallen comrades the grand and glorious honor of remembering their names, or do you now have a magical item of fabulous power that might as well be a stick enchanted with Nystul's Magic Aura?

And if it's a high mortality campaign, this might be a good incentive for players to continue to give their characters decent names. Who wants a Staff of Power activated by the invoking the names of Fighter Bob the Fifth, Shorty the Dwarf, and Gandorf Conway?

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Olden Domain - How I'm Doing It

So I have flyers out and the beginnings of the campaign are finished.

You know what else I've done?


I have this sheet of hex paper with tiny-ass hexes on it, and it isn't filled in any more than that player's starter map on the Olden Domain mailing list site.

I have a basic sketch for one of the dungeons (where the mega-dungeon will be), and a few random encounter tables.

I have a full notebook page of ideas for locations (just lists, mostly), with a rough idea for level spreads and themes, and how they are connected.

But detailed maps?

Not one. And no keys made for these maps that don't exist.

The way I'm doing my sandbox is to not touch anything until somebody says they want to visit. Then I will pour my current ideas into that location, decide what clues that location will have for locating other locations, as they are encountered. This ensures that I don't have to be committed to detailing The Great Pyramid tomorrow because it's the next closest thing on a map I made six months ago if I really want to showcase a brand new idea I had yesterday.

Nothing exists until someone wants to go there!

Wasted creativity, and especially tearing your hair out detailing every damn thing before knowing if it will ever be used, is a referee killer.

What if The Olden Domain absolutely bombs and nobody wants to play in it? (eek!) No time wasted on detailing locations within it.

What if people get excited about that mega-dungeon and don't want to bother with the rest of the wilderness? Or what if they want to explore as much as possible and not fool around with a huge hole in the ground?

I can accommodate their wishes without having any investment in the locations they leave behind. I really hate making a dungeon, leaning on the players to check out this really cool place, and then have them go somewhere else. There is this pull within me to railroad them into it anyway, when the correct thing to do is just let go.

I'm looking at this little sandbox I've planned, and I'm astounded by the enormity of it. To do this properly, there must always be first level-appropriate places to handle the needs of new players (and new/replacement characters!), while also being a succession of locations suitable for whatever level after that. I could sit down and write enough to match the entire output of 1E TSR and still not have a thoroughly detailed setting. At the same time, I don't feel totally comfortable winging an entire dungeon. Sure, "Location #5, Kitchen," I can improvise off of that handily, but I want to know where the kitchen is before anyone walks in the door.

So I'm not even going to start the process yet (OK, I might sketch out a few maps for my own amusement...). I have ideas, but that's how it stays until someone steps through that door.

Monday, December 29, 2008

The Problem with Having a Blog...

... is that you go a few days without blogging and suddenly you feel guilty about it, as if you should be writing something on the blog, even though you have absolutely nothing to say.

So here is my nothing to say:

I spent 5 hours putting up flyers today for The Olden Domain campaign.

I also got linked from an interesting article. Go read that as your content for the day.


Thursday, December 25, 2008

Flyers. Your opinion?

This is the idea for the flyer. I have to make a small adjustment or two (the left- and rightmost contact pieces get cropped on printing) but this is what I'm working with. Is your opinion of which font to use still the same? What about the wording of the flyer itself? (the version that gets posted to webboards will have the contact info differently formatted, these are for tear-off purposes).

Any other suggestions?

(new addition based on "put a picture in there" advice:)

Christmas, Markets, Realizations, and Birds to the World

Somebody found my blog by searching for the phrase, "supplement to make a horse falk come out and fat," on Google. I was #2 in the results. I was #3 in the results for, "holmes d&d." #2 for the same search on the Finnish Google. #1 in the results for, "feces movies," on the Turkish Google (really!). #1 on a Yahoo search for, "Mythmere's OD&D Primer."


So it's Christmas. Has been for 38 minutes as I type this sentence. But in Finland, they do all the Christmas stuff (big dinner, family gathering, opening presents) on Christmas Eve, so the Big Day is already past. I've spent the past three Christmases in three different towns with three different families, and this past day has been the most comfortable of the three (the 23,000€ stereo and six cats I got to be around in Töysä last year notwithstanding), so that was nice. Later today/tomorrow/after sleeping I get to make the full American-style Christmas dinner I promised I would make. Turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, the works.

Problem is, I have no clue what I'm doing. My idea of cooking is putting the fish sticks in the oven for 20 minutes. But I can make my own bread, so that must count for something. Now I have a turkey to cook (I was forced to watch that hag Nigella's show on preparing a turkey... ay ay ay), my Stove Top stuffing didn't arrive in time from the US (nor did the cook book I'm getting for Maria) so I have to do that from scratch... and mashed potatoes? I should have thought this through. I have never even peeled a potato before this past Tuesday.

So that's Christmas for me. And, ah, this is supposed to be a role-playing blog, isn't it? Right.

In between all that I'm preparing for The Olden Domain campaign. I still need to put together the final rules document (I've determined everything I want to use, but I still have to put it together in a booklet I can give to the players), finish the flyer, and finish the design of the starting hexes for the players map and put together the starting rumors so people can decide where they'd like to explore in the first place.

Once that preliminary work is done, I am going to cover this city with flyers. I'll have a first batch of 50 flyers done up, and have them up in every library and grocery store bulletin board in the area. My short-term goal is 20 players (not all regulars, mind you!) within a couple months, and we'll see how it goes from there.

Here's the key though... I realized I'm not really after role-players or gamers with this. Not that I'll refuse them, mind you (although I think I'm going to throttle anyone who talks to me about "elegant designs" or "unified mechanics" or "narrativism" or any other exists-only-online terms), but I have realized that those of us in bloggyland are really different than most modern gamers. It's gone beyond the point where I'm trying to argue that modern games are completely different than the classic games. I'm washing my hands of them and declaring them a completely different hobby altogether.

Why not?

Fuck 'em.

We don't need 'em.

Gary and Dave and company started this hobby from nothing, drawing on the player base of an already existing, but fundamentally different, hobby. They just didn't realize it was that different yet. And it exploded.

We're doing that. Right now.

The way to grow and maintain a hobby isn't commercial products (the things I put out are things that I use in my actual gaming, or that amuse me... and note how my efforts to publicize that which amused me didn't reach beyond this blog or forum signatures). It's not getting product into shops and it's not marketing and it's not blogging and it's not creating gathering places on the internet.

The way to grow and maintain a hobby (this hobby, anyway) is to do that hobby and play with as as many people as you can.

Play. As often as you can stand.

And don't play with just your group. Play with new people. Often. If you care about the hobby as a whole, your friends aren't important. They're already playing with you, right? The system you want to play? No? Then hang out with them and do something else, and pursue gaming with people who will game your style. Have a few stock dungeons (or have your megadungeon ready with a new "undiscovered" entrance to a beginner sublevel that connects into the rest) ready in your folder for pick-up play for when you find one of these people.

Make your own photocopies or printouts of page 2 - 22 of Mentzer's Basic Player's Guide (you know, the How to Play D&D section) and give them to anyone who shows an interest. Yes, I am advocating pirating that section to hell and back. Not comfortable with that? Then someone make a simulacrum of that section, please.

I think I lost my point somewhere along the rant here (blame the people that game me all that chocolate earlier...), but between the discussion in the comments section a few days ago about appealing to "mainstream" gamers and reading threads earlier today on the RPGSite and (like this shit here), I realized they might as well all be playing checkers and kickball for all my gaming has in common with their gaming. I'm more interested in getting someone that has no idea what role-playing is all about and putting them in my dungeon and asking, "What do you do now?"

I have come to realize that my goal in writing this blog and participating on a scale greater than just my home game is not to change the world or make my gaming style more influential to the world at large. It is exploration and a desire to find my way in this hobby and then surround myself with artifacts of that way and discard the rest. My attitudes have changed a good deal since I discovered this blog-o-world in April and started participating in May, and I expect them to continue to do so. And as with everything I am interested in, my preferences seem to be the "earliest and most pure" of the thing in question.

And I guess this is also a "reflect on the past year" post, starting the year with no real plans to even be alive by mid-year, and when that time came I ended up moving cities with no plan or real preparation aside from having a place to store my stuff and having someone's floor to crash on (at right around the same time I started the blog!), and now I'm looking at actually having a future where I feel connected to somebody again. I came to Finland because I had the opportunity to live the kind of life that people simply don't get to live. I've succeeded in that, although I was quite wrong about how that was going to play out. But one thing I wrote a few years back seems to live true, so if you'll permit me the conceit of quoting myself from the last printed issue of the LotFP metal zine I managed to put out, two years ago now:

When you have a passion, whether it be a hobby or a career or anything else, do not let anybody ever tell you that it is not important. Do not let any other person decide what should and should not be a priority in your life. Any “normal” person looking at the time and money lost on LotFP would be horrified, and when I tell people that there were points early on that I couldn’t afford to feed myself because of the money I was putting into the magazine, they talk to me like I’m a fool and an idiot. But there are rewards greater than money. There are paths that lives can travel on other than the path that you’re “supposed” to follow. LotFP, and the heavy metal which inspired its creation, has given me everything in my life that has meaning. It is not luck that brings great things, but the will to continue when the sane thing to do is stop.

This past year, role-playing has moved into the primary position in my creative life as a separation from my music collection for six months and a refusal to download has meant that metal just wasn't there. I'm warming that back up, but metal has changed too much and gained too much popularity for me to have a voice in it anymore. But this Old School Renaissance? I have 9 years more experience in RPGs than metal, more ideas in my head, and a city to conquer. Let's light this thing on fire.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have worlds to create and plans to set in motion to bring people to those worlds. The next step in that process is reformatting OD&D spell descriptions so they aren't referring to inches anymore. Let me tell you how thrilling that is.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Olden Domain Campaign Background

Living in a decadent age is difficult for those who refuse to settle for a common life.

For hundreds of years, the Great Empire has ruled. And for hundreds of years, the frontiers have gotten pushed further back, more land transforms into quiet farmland or bustling commercial towns. The very same creatures that just a few generations ago made the people cower in fear are now believed to be nothing more than fictitious foolishness invented to frighten children. Magic fades as humanity imposes its reality on the world.

But still there are lands which are wild, dangerous, and free. Beyond the Barrier Mountains is such a land, known as The Olden Domain. The Great Empire never expanded into this land, and it remains wholly uncharted. Whether this was because of the petty wars it was constantly fighting on its far-off borders, or whether it feared the ancient pagan curses that legend tells were laid upon the land, no one knows. All that is certain is that a great fortress town sits at the mouth of the pass in the Barrier Mountains between the Great Empire and The Olden Domain, and no one dares enter the unknown.

The Olden Domain is a land that is said to be full of ancient ruins, great treasures, evil spirits, blasphemous monstrosities, magic, and sudden death.

The Olden Domain is also your only chance to not be doomed to the life of a farmer, or merchant, or beggar, or worse yet, a soldier fighting for the sake of some noble’s dreams of more land and riches.

Riches. Glory. Magic. Power.

Are you brave and clever enough to claim it?

Monday, December 22, 2008

Logo and Font Testing... Your Input Please

... I threw this together as the start of an idea for a new header for this blog... what do you think? What would work for a slogan/tagline?

... and my upcoming sandbox/megadungeon/West Marches thing will be called The Olden Domain... hear are some fonts I'm thinking of using for the flyers. Which do you like best?

Friday, December 19, 2008

A Weighty Issue


Players don't want to track it because it's just pure paperwork to do something that hinders their character.

The referee doesn't want to do it because he's got his own crap to take care of without worrying about every coin that every character is carrying.

But I believe encumbrance is important, and not just for "realism" reasons.

Encumbrance affects movement rate, which becomes an issue when needing to run from a monster. Can you outrun the monster? Can you if you drop that big fat sack of loot you're carrying? Can you outrun the dumb bugger who won't drop his big fat sack of loot?

Loot or equipment? My current campaign is plagued with a lot of oil flask bombings, which I'm admittedly soft on. But every coin, if 10 coins = 1 pound, creates a dilemma. "Do we need this many torches? This many flasks? Or do we want this treasure instead?"

I like that it creates choices.

My main problem in enforcing encumbrance isn't keeping track of the weight. That's easy. The problem is a measure of capacity.

You know, the guys carrying a ten foot pole, a lantern, shield, sword, plus having holy water, oil flasks, and his scrolls and potions at the ready. He's also carrying the group's treasure and mapping. And if something happens while he's checking for secret doors, this is all at hand anyway.

Because I'm dealing with five to eight people and dealing with the environment and its inhabitants too, I can miss this. I'm not even sure if this is happening. I'm just suspecting that it might be. Yeah, I keep everyone's character sheet between sessions, but a simple list of equipment ("It's on my horse!") isn't enough for a conviction. It's not that I think they're cheating or anything, it's just that if I'm not keeping track or seeming to care much, why would they?

I need a solution to this. Here is what I am going to try.

Index cards!

Every player will have two index cards standing folded in front of him at the table, each representing one hand of the adventurer. One side of the fold will be non-combat, the other combat. And I can enforce some simple rules:

Torch or lantern takes up a hand.
Shield takes up a hand (I won't believe that an adventurer is walking around for hours with a shield strapped to a raised arm carrying something else).
A non-empty sack takes up a hand.
Mapping takes up two hands (did your character buy his mapping paper?)
Weapon takes up a hand.
A staff takes up a hand, can't be stuffed in a sack or anything.

Each player will also have an index card representing his body (belts and straps to hold things), one representing his backpack (they've all got one, and your characters should too!), and one for each sack or other container being carried.

Carried items will not be placed on a general "equipment sheet," but on these index cards, in order to regulate the carrying capacities of each item. I shudder to think how much stuff some of my players might have stuffed in a sack, you know? No "group treasure" list, unless somebody's backpack is the group treasure receptacle.

I'll tell them it's up to them to keep track of their items, and I have the right to "audit" their equipment lists at any time however often I want. On first infraction, I issue a warning. On second infraction, I confiscate one of their packs (preferably one with the party treasure or the mystic key to open the important doodad) and say they dropped it somewhere and dungeon filth carried it off...

What do you think?

Closed Circles of Old Truckers Hurdy Gurdying

Everything's moved in, everything's been unpacked. Command Center Eta is fully operational.

My mood is more evened out.

And I said something that bothered me. In this post a few days ago, I said this:

"And I'll say it right now, Labyrinth Lord leads the charge in rules restatements... in presentation, making an effort in getting to market, catering to a variety of approaches (see the Original supplement), and making this whole "Old School Renaissance" seem like a future viable commercial niche that welcomes a new generation of players instead of looking like a closed circle of old fuckers jerking each other off."

That was a bit... harsh. But I'm more and more of the opinion that the simulacra are not such a good thing. Not in the way they are developing, anyway. Especially when the original rules, of all editions, are so easy to get, legally or otherwise. Especially when the simulacra are increasingly a presentation of extrapolated, rather than legally restated, material. Especially when massive amounts of effort are being expended just to provide the equivalent of things that have been available for 25 - 35 years.

And when the simulacra is released? Accolades. Not undeserved, looking at the amount of effort and the quality that is the results of that effort. But it seems so... pointless. "Yay, you've legally restated the First Edition Rules! Hooray! Look at that layout!"

I just imagine the effort that had gone into OSRIC 2 instead going towards producing original material. What awesomeness would have resulted?

The rules are already there. Gamers already know about them. They're accessible as it is. Those things aren't the reasons why there aren't larger hordes playing older Dungeons and Dragons.

What this movement needs is a string of releases that highlight why these older versions are worth playing, feature the differences that make the old editions distinct, and do them in a way that entices gamers not already playing to give it a try.

The simulacra producers obviously want to reach new blood. It's the only reason for all that effort. I just fear that the effort is wasted in redundancy. The crew that produced these games have much knowledge and a lot to say about their games.

That is what I want to see, read, and hear. And that's also what I think will grow this movement.

That the effort doesn't seem to be going in that direction... well... that frustration is what led to the quote noted above.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Lord of the Rings movies are Feces

I swear, Peter Jackson rapes Tolkien's masterpiece and there are a whole lot of you saying that since it was wearing a short skirt, it deserved it.

But we'll get to that in a minute. It seems my earlier claim of "You can make a decent fantasy movie. Maybe. Theoretically. Although they really do tend to be total crap, and I can't think of a single one off the top of my head that's actually good. The best I can seem to come up with is, "not a total farce," or at least, "not disrespectful to the source material." (which disqualifies that awful, yet attractive and shiny, Jackson LotR trilogy)."

A bit of discussion popped up, and there were cases made for a variety of movies. There are two examples that caused me to reconsider, but we'll get to that in a minute. Right now, I want to talk about the Dumple Shitskins that people have been championing as "good movies."

First, remember there is a difference between, "I giggled/gasped/forgot about my car payment for the ninety minutes duration," and, "good movie."

Second, a soundtrack does not make a film good. Conan the Barbarian has a marvelous soundtrack. Undoubtedly! Buy the CD. Conan may have been a decent sword and sorcery movie, but unfortunately it had the Conan title, and it was a shit Conan movie. I forget who pointed this out, but this grand atrocity presented the Origin of Conan as, "He walks around in circles for years." And is a slave! And... yeah. That's ass. And that homage they played to
Bêlit's ghost saving Conan... maybe it would be nice if you didn't pay homage to Conan stories in a Conan movie. SHOW CONAN STORIES. But it had blood and guts and didn't make us ashamed to say, "I liked that movie," so it's a masterpiece, right?

They did the same thing to Lord of the Rings. Listen to the commentary as Jackson and his cronies talk about how "dramatically incorrect" Tolkien is in his stories. Because for fifty years audiences were just so dissatisfied with what they were reading and were clamoring for someone to correct them, hmmm. Or was the movie made for people who didn't like the books in the first place? The problem is, the "corrections" terribly undermine the entire point of the story! Hundreds of millions of dollars could never fix the problem of a hack director (I love his early work as rather transgressive entertainment, but come on) deciding he was better than the story he was adapting.

In fact, the budget helped kill the movie. Can you imagine attempting that animated Legolas bullshit if they didn't have hundreds of millions to throw around? Can you imagine Gollum being presented, not as a cartoon, but as an actor? Kill the budget and he would have been. I don't care how well animated he was, the fact is that a major character was animated for no good reason. Andy Serkis with a few prosthetics on his face, makeup, and a baldy cap would look just as good and give an added benefit of seamless interaction with Frodo and Sam. But they had to show off their digital penis-waving skills and instead stroked themselves to orgasm with the Gollum monologue at the end of Two Towers for a character that was created in a lab. Fuck this shit.

It seems the Lord of the Rings movies was made for people who didn't like reading the books. The books are written in a dry, scholarly tone, because it's not as much an adventure story as a chronicle of the history of Middle-Earth. That's why Tolkien goes on about the flora and fauna and all those songs and every single "non-essential" thing that was cut out of the film for "pacing" purposes (Bombadil, which necessitated removing the barrow-wights, etc, and the interesting conversation about him at Elrond's Council) destroyed the rich fabric of the history of Middle-Earth that bound the whole story together! The world was much bigger than the story being told, and the movie massacred that concept.

And Liv Tyler... I sympathize with you guys that enjoy thinking about her while you masturbate (I know I'm using that comparison a lot... but if the fist fits, pump it... yes, I've been watching a lot of Harvey Denton on TV), but she adds nothing to the movie. For all the "chaff" that Jackson cuts from the story to fit his needs, he takes a story found mostly in an appendix and puts it front and center in the plot... when what was needed for the films was an appendectomy. That Liv's character replaces others is just another example of how the removal of the "unnecessary" characters wears down the depth of Middle-Earth in the name of satisfying the immediate story, which isn't at all the real story behind Lord of the Rings.

But lets forgive the common sins. Animated Legolas Ninja, Comedy Relief Gimli, Falls-Off-A-Cliff Aragorn, Bombadil, Sauron's relationship with Saruman, elves at Helm's Deep, and all that lovely stuff. It's all good!

Peter Jackson's "Lord of the Rings" completely screws up the beginning and the ending. The beginning of the movie takes years in the books. Gandalf's researching the ring (which is done with a quick montage in the films) has him gone decades. Frodo is quite the mature hobbit when he finally leaves, after six months of planning to carefully cover his tracks (none of this "OUT THE DOOR! HURRY!" crap). Even the Nelwyn in Willow had competent members amongst them, for crying out loud... but for the sake of false suspense, all the hobbits in Jackson's LotR had to be childish and woefully unprepared. It's disgraceful. As if the journey and task before them isn't daunting enough, right? And for what? A couple more minutes of meaningless heart-pounding "danger?"

And the end... Well (as he often does), James Maliszewski hits the truth of the matter, responding to this post here. The Lord of the Rings was not simply an epic tale of derring-do, or about Aragorn's ascendance to the throne, or anything that was sold by hucksters and apologists as the plot of the films. Tolkien put far more into the story than that, and seeing that isn't reading too much into it. It was all put there on purpose and intentionally. Tolkien was a great literary man (and I fear I'd come terribly close to disparaging several authors dear to my heart if I made comparisons to the authors that, unlike Tolkien, were heavy influences on D&D) and worked all that usually boring literary stuff into a grand mythology that again was conceived with great care. It isn't a moment's escapist entertainment.

The "crap" that a lot of people were glad to see cut out was the heart of what Lord of the Rings actually is. All the usual excuses ("they spent x dollars on it and had to ensure that it would appeal to the average moviegoer" is a common one) just brings me back to the line with which I opened this post.

But apparently cinematography and other things that budget can buy are a film, and mimicking (or more accurately, mocking) the trappings of the source material is enough to be the source material if it looks the part. If you enjoyed the spectacle of Jackson's LotR, fine. If you were blinded by their prettiness around the time of release, fine, beauty does hide a rancid personality for awhile, it fools the best of us every now and again, but it's half a decade after the close of the trilogy, and you just can't disregard the fact that it does claim to be Lord of the Rings. Dismissing complainers as "Tolkien nerds" or "Middle-Earth geeks" or whatever doesn't wipe away the fact that you're ignoring a great deal in order to accept these movies as The Lord of the Rings.

Jackson should stick to making guilty-pleasure horror-comedies, or direct National Geographic specials, instead of ruining a succession of 20th Century classic stories.

As Dungeons and Dragons has shown us for well over a decade now, just because the name on the tin says something, that doesn't mean that the contents are that thing. Names mean something and it is a sad commentary on our society and our integrity as human beings (yes, you read that right) that the meanings of things shift so easily. Invent something new, or at least new twists on these old ideas. Star Wars and Indiana Jones, for two examples, were new tales (whether they were original is completely besides the point) ripped from specific kinds of stories. They were able to be what the creators wished them to be , and celebrated rather than denigrated their source material because they didn't claim to be that source material... but both those "franchises" (I should use the Picard Facepalm again when needing to utter that word) couldn't leave well enough alone either, could they?

As to a few movies brought up as being quality fantasy films... I yield on but one and a half examples.

The Princess Bride is indeed one of my favorite movies. It's well made, and while I could do without Fred Savage and Peter Falk (and I do usually loves me some Peter Falk) interludes to skip ahead in the narrative, but to me it's all about the witty dialogue and the plot. But is this really a fantasy movie in the sense we're talking about? I have my doubts... I want to read the Princess Bride book but I fear what that will mean for my appreciation of the movie.

Excalibur was also brought up. I love this movie, but to me it seems like a Cliff Notes version of one particular vision of King Arthur. But my nitpickings can't obscure some simple truths. It's undoubtedly a fantasy movie in the sense we're talking, and it's undoubtedly a good movie in the sense of good movies. So yeah, we've got our Good Fantasy Movie. woooo! Too bad it's the Pendragon movie and not applicable to the D&D movie category. ;)

Fair Warning

I am in a mood.

On Monday, it was decided that I was moving in with my girlfriend.

For the past several days, I've been moving.

This means several things:

I've gotten an internet connection here. There wasn't before, which was why blogging has been sporadic lately, as I haven't been anywhere I could post. So there should be regular content rather than every few days.

Tools of the Trade II should come along very soon. I still haven't assembled and put away my office space yet, but a sneak text preview: Custom game box, handmade velvet and silk dice bags, and more graph paper than you can shake a megadungeon at.

I've been moving. I have a lot of books. I'm a bit pissy from carrying around so many books. I have two articles that will be put up today (one here, one on the metal blog). I've been preparing them all morning... just not in writing. At the grocery store it was noted that I was pacing around... a sign that I'm preparing articles in my head. A warning... my byline should be Ranty McRanterson for these things. The RPG blog will be a follow-up to the D&D films post, and the metal one will be about the Cynic/The Ocean show I saw on Monday night.

Prepare for bile by the end of the day. And I've got the belly for a quite a lot of bile.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Popularity Contest

I've gotten two of these (with the oh-so-annoying picture), so I suppose I should participate. Let's get this over with.

First, the rules.

  • Each Superior Scribbler must in turn pass The Award on to 5 most-deserving Bloggy Friends.
  • Each Superior Scribbler must link to the author & the name of the blog from whom he/she has received The Award.
  • Each Superior Scribbler must display The Award on his/her blog, and link to This Post, which explains The Award.
  • Each Blogger who wins The Superior Scribbler Award must visit this post and add his/her name to the Mr. Linky List. That way, we'll be able to keep up-to-date on everyone who receives This Prestigious Honor!
  • Each Superior Scribbler must post these rules on his/her blog

I suppose they're serious. So...

So... I shall pass on this award (like a bad case of gas) to 5 most-deserving... uh... bloggy friends.

Bloggy friends?


I would like to point out that I read all of the blogs over there to the right that are on my blogroll. If I didn't, I wouldn't list them. But these are supposed to be my special little bloggy friends.

Grognardia. If gaming blogs all went away forever, I think this is the only one that would really be missed. Probably the only important blog writer out of all of us. Grognardia is also the reason I started blogging. Grognardia is at its best when it sticks to being "an exploration of the history and traditions of the hobby of role-playing," and not at its best when presenting the adventures of Tek Janson... er, Ya'govian of Volmar.

The Society of Torch, Pole, and Rope. It features lots of gaming content and useful inspirations for actual games.

Ars Ludi. West Marches!

Kellri. The guy is a complete twat, but his blog and netbooks and pdfs are all about immediately useful gaming charts and inspiration in the traditional style. Less sci-fi and more D&D-applicable stuff, please.

Sham's Grog and Blog. Mainly for his explorations into 1974 D&D, particularly the Why OD&D posts, and the currently ongoing D&D Cover to Cover series. I just first laid eyes on OD&D myself this year, and this guy, along with this page, really has helped acclimate me to the features and differences that make OD&D unique.

So there are my five. I picked them more for relevance to my game table and overall attitude towards gaming more than their actual writing ability (not to say that they suck at writing) or how well I get along with the writers (obviously).

Honorable mentions for writing ability and/or getting along with the authors or clever ideas that don't necessarily impact my game table:

Geoffrey McKinney's CARCOSA. I have the book so all the advertising is really unnecessary to me, and who the hell really needs a serialized set of fiction posts... but the blog does represent what I consider the shining light of traditional publishing projects (rocks the boat and takes ownership of traditional gaming rather than kneeling before it like a religion or blatantly copying what has come before), and Mr. McKinney has been quite helpful and supportive of my projects as well.

Confessions of an Amateur RPG Publisher. I like this more for the idea than the execution so far... but when it comes to the retro-clone movement, I'm more interested in the execution of publishing original material (rather than rules restatements) and I think there really should be some sort of central meeting ground for that sort of thing. Some will say there already is, but... bleh.

Uhluht'c Awakens. Look at those opening posts. You can just feel the insight and the knowledge ready to just burst right through the page... but then he has to concentrate on real-life world traveling bullshit instead of sharing his RPG scribblings with us. Bastard! And I'll say it right now, Labyrinth Lord leads the charge in rules restatements... in presentation, making an effort in getting to market, catering to a variety of approaches (see the Original Edition Characters supplement), and making this whole "Old School Renaissance" seem like a future viable commercial niche that welcomes a new generation of players instead of looking like a closed circle of old fuckers jerking each other off.

The Tao of D&D. Some of the time I'm thinking, "What the hell is this guy talking about?" Some of the time I'm thinking, "Haha, what a magnificent bastard!" Some of the time I'm thinking, "This guy likes to talk a lot." None of the time I'm thinking, "I'm bored."

There. Don't you love how these internet awards bring everyone together and warm everyone with that community spirit?

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Last Sunday's Game was Influenced by Mumbai Terrorists!

So when all that crap was happening in India, I was reading some weird news articles. This line in particular seemed interesting:

It is understood that some of the gunmen were carrying bags of almonds to eat during a long siege.

So there I was in the grocery store before the game Sunday, trying to figure out what snackies to get for the game.

I decided that if eating nuts was good enough to keep a bunch of freako terrorist nutcases going in deadly combat, then nuts could keep me going running a game for five people!

It worked! I didn't feel fatigued! Awesome!

But I forgot something. If I eat a lot of nuts, I get a terrible tummy ache later.

And absentmindedly popping a lot of nuts while running a game is a given, right?

So that night (luckily after the game had ended) I had some awful stomach pains and monstrously loud and smelly flabby-flabby woof-woofs. Weapons of gas destruction, those were.

Damn you terrorists!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Unlimited Adventure, Low Preparation

So I'm going insane trying to figure out ways to make adventure writing easier for both my regular game (which has been meeting erratically, to put it charitably, for a bit now) and the upcoming "megadungeon" game, which I've decided I'll be running West Marches style (and the five West Marches posts have gone into my referee binder!).

The problem is, I have occasional flashes of, "Ooooh, that's a good idea!" And often times, I just put together meat-and-potatoes ideas. Meat-and-potatoes ideas are very underrated because they are quite boring to read. But they work just fine in play because they can still provide a challenge to the players and interesting to read and interesting to play often have absolutely zero correlation. They may even be at odds! That adventure ideas are not wowie-zowie all the time shouldn't be a problem as long as the final result is not predictable.

But I hate spending actual effort on meat-and-potatoes adventure writing, and if I'm going to make a true sandbox campaign, that's a lot of meat-and-potatoes to generate.

So I have a shortcut that I practice that I call 101 Locations. It's an old trick (first published, as far as I've found, in The Dragon #9, with James Ward's Tombs & Crypts), certainly not anything I'm claiming to have invented or innovated or advanced, but it's still something worth mentioning and it makes generating adventure locations much easier.

It's simply a quick location randomizer to generate a wide variety of possibilities for instant play.

My megadungeon is going to be located in a sinkhole. The walls of the sinkhole are lined with caves with ledges leading up to all of them. At night, the inhabitants wander out and feed on each other and whatever unfortunates are wandering around the sinkhole.

# Rooms in the Cave: d6-1 (0 indicated just a dead-end "hallway")

Cave Inhabitants:
1 Giant Spiders (d6)
2 Giant Bees (d6)
3 Giant Ants (d6)
4 Carrion Crawlers (d4)
5 Giant Centipedes (d6)
6 Outcast (Fighting Man level 2d4)
7 Wights (d4)
8 Ghouls (d6)
9 Skeletons (d10)
10 Stirges (2d10)
11 Giant Bats (d6)
12 Harpies (d4)
13 Goblins (2d6)
14 Pteranodons (d3)
15 Zombies (d10)
16 Wraiths (d2)
17 Gargoyle (d2)
18 Giant Scorpion (d2)
19 Shrieker (d4), will summon a random encounter (roll again) that will come in the cave behind the PCs
20 Empty

Then roll once (75%) or twice (25%) on the table to determine what dead (and mostly-eaten) carcasses are in there. This cave system is highly competitive, with creatures always trying to establish their dominance over the area.

1 d% copper
2 d% silver
3 d% gold
4 d4 x 100 copper
5 d4 x 100 silver
6 d4 x 100 gold
7 d6 x 100 copper
8 d6 x 100 silver
9 d6 x 100 gold
10 Tomb! roll again, plus 1 scroll (45%), 1 potion (45%), or both (10%)
11 - 12 Nothing!

(note that the treasure isn't necessarily in coins; just the overall value is important)

Roll randomly to see which chamber of the cave the treasure is located in and which chamber(s) the monsters are nesting in, and which have the bodies of the previous inhabitants.

Keep in mind this is a place where beginning characters can be expected to tool around, but since it's close to the entrance to the dungeon, it'll be there for characters of much higher levels too. Note that the risk vs rewards is potentially seriously out of whack - and that's necessary to the approach. Perhaps an empty cave holds 600 gold and a scroll and a potion... and maybe four wights inhabit a cave yet possess nothing. Most results will be somewhere in between. This is as it should be!

This idea can be extrapolated into many larger dungeon areas where there are a lot of similar locations that may or may not have something in them, but who the hell wants to stock 1000 individual apartments in the Abandoned Dwarven Moria-alike Realm?

Just create a "random inhabitant" list (which could mirror the wandering monster charts for the area rather closely), a "random stuff to find within" list, and don't worry about it.

In this way, with different lists for different areas of the environment, you could easily fill in details (or prevent the need for filling any in) for your Lost Cities, Megadungeons, Random Mountain Caves, Forest Lairs, Sewer Chambers, Tombs, or whatever your campaign needs, granting your creations a lot more space and many more individual locations, all while saving your creativity for the locations that really count.

There Will Never Be a Good D&D Movie

No matter how many people wish there to be one.

It just isn't possible.

You can make a decent fantasy movie. Maybe. Theoretically. Although they really do tend to be total crap, and I can't think of a single one off the top of my head that's actually good. The best I can seem to come up with is, "not a total farce," or at least, "not disrespectful to the source material." (which disqualifies that awful, yet attractive and shiny, Jackson LotR trilogy).

For some reason, whenever people are using swords and magic in the same film, it's the drizzling shits. And what would make a movie "D&D" instead of, say, Generic Fantasy Piece of Shit? A parade of Intellectual Property that can't make any sense together in the same narrative? A Group of Unlikely Companions on a Grand Quest?

And in the end, it'll be a 90 minute, $50+ million "let me tell you about my cool character!" experience that'll have people with functioning brains clawing out their eyeballs. Because there has to be cool characters, right? You do realize how many tossers will be trying to join your game to play a two-sword wielding dark elf after this? Because we all know who a well-regarded D&D movie would feature... don't we?

The bottom line is that what works on the printed page doesn't necessarily work in a visual medium. The actual story and plot or most fantasy (and horror) literature is often abysmal, but that's not what we're there for, is it? At least I'm there for the imagery and the stimulation of my imagination, which is ignited by clever or unusual wordcraft. A movie will just show something, and then there is no fantasy happening because my brain is passive and accepting imagery rather than generating it.

I want to make my own D&D movie, which will be the definitive D&D movie. It will feature a bunch of older teenage malcontents who don't want to grow up on the farm or apprenticing into their fathers' professions, so they go looking for some fame and fortune in a cave. After an hour of poking floors and walls with a big stick (if the game is one of exploration, it wouldn't be proper to truncate it with a montage, now would it?), one will die when a big spider bites him, three more will die when some goblins rush them from the darkness, and the other four will die when a wandering evil magic-user surprises them from behind with a sleep spell and cuts all their throats.

The sequel will be another group of people, completely unrelated to the first although they all seem to have similar personalities as the deceased forerunners, having a more successful expedition to that same cave. The end of the film will feature the stunning climax of the group killing the wizard and his evil henchmen while suffering minimal casualties, finding a booby-trapped chest under a hidden flagstone, splitting up some coins and gems, and going home.

That'll be some thrilling cinema, for sure. But it'll be as D&D as anything ever put to film.

The excitement from D&D comes because nobody knows what's going to happen next, and the satisfaction comes from people successfully imagining the same thing at the same time as a group. The satisfaction from genre films and literature seems to be the gradual revealing that somebody Has a Special Destiny so all the geeks out there can falsely identify with it so they can be filled with a sense of, "Maybe I'm more special than I realize too!" (not being too cynical today, am I?)

Role-playing games and storytelling are antithetical. If you try mixing the two, you're going to get either crap role-playing, crap storytelling, or (most likely) crap role-playing and crap storytelling.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Holmes D&D - An Overview

In just the past few weeks, I was able to acquire a copy of the Holmes basic D&D rules. Before taking off for the quite long weekend, I had it scanned and converted it (as I do all my RPG materials these days) into an A5-sized Word document (those who wonder why FFV and the original version of the Creature Generator look the way they do... well, I make all my game books that way, no matter where they came from) and put it into my cool new D&D binder (when my Gaming Box is completed, be on the lookout for Tools of the Trade II). During this offline time, I not only went through my reformatting looking for typos, but I also made notes about the peculiarities of the Holmes rules, so I could see if they were Holmes quirks (intentional or through miscommunication or misunderstanding concerning How Thing Work is irrelevant here) or things I never noticed that are in other editions as well.

So in the spirit of Sham's D&D Cover to Cover, but in one installment because giving you too much to read in one sitting is how I critically roll, here are my notes about Holmes. Note that I won't have page numbers since I'm working on a personally formatted copy.

First off, the Holmes-edited D&D Basic Set was published in 1977, the same year that the AD&D books began to be published. Holmes was intended to be a lead-in to AD&D, and contained only rules for the basic four character classes (Fighting Man, Magic-User, Cleric, and Thief) and there are many mentions of more options being available in AD&D. But as Fighting Man in that list shows, there are many (truckloads) of artifacts that put this closer to the original 1974 D&D rules than AD&D, and part of that is what gives Holmes its flavor and why there continues to be a great fascination with this particular set of rules as not a basic set to move on to AD&D, but as the foundation for an entire game on its own.

Get your copy out and read along.

We wish to extend our sincere thanks to the following individuals who helped to make this possible through their idea contributions: Brian Blume, Ernie Gygax, Tim Kask, Jeff Key, Rob Kuntz, Terry Kuntz, Alan Lucien, Steve Marsh, Mike Mornard, and Jim Ward.

Who are Jeff Key and Alan Lucien?


While it is possible to play a single game, unrelated to any other game events past or future, it is the campaign for which these rules are designed.

Not designed for one-shots, so certain balance issues aren't issues when played as the game is intended.

In fact you will not even need miniature figures...

Just because I hate people telling me that newer D&D is just like old D&D in needing figures ("It says so right on the box!").

The most extensive requirement is time. The campaign referee will have to have sufficient time to meet the demands of his players, he will have to devote a number of hours to laying out the maps of his “dungeons” and upper terrain before the affair begins.

Lest we forget that people who tell us that the "old school" is all about improvisation and playing it fast and loose... (which is not necessarily contradictory to the above!)

There should be no want of players, for there is unquestionably a fascination in this fantasy game...

This was written in 1973, before the first edition of D&D was ever published. There was no role-playing hobby to speak of. None. Zero. If you don't have a current local group, and you want one, find one. If you're not playing, the only person to blame is the one you see when you look in the mirror. Get a game. Now.

Those wargamers who lack imagination, those who don’t care for Burroughs’ Martian adventures where John Carter is groping through black pits, who feel no thrill upon reading Howard’s Conan saga, who do not enjoy the de Camp & Pratt fantasies or Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser pitting their swords against evil sorceries will not be likely to find DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS to their taste.

I love when passion and personality are obvious all over the game manuals. Here is Gygax being contentious from the very start. That passion is what it's all about, not neutering opinions to reach the biggest possible audience, and poo on people that buy a game book with the expectation of being in league with the writer, or expecting to be catered to and never shocked or offended by what might be said.


Dungeons & Dragons is a fantastic, exciting and imaginative game of role playing for adults 12 years and up.

Holmes' background in neurology serves him well, as 12 years is about the age that a person's mental wiring is becoming fully developed. And this fits with both this quote and the fact that Gygax played the game with his children. "Adults 12 and up," is such a great phrase. As someone that regularly games with people less than half my age (and catches some grief for it), I appreciate this sort of thing.

...if a group is playing together, the characters can move from dungeon to dungeon within the same magical universe if game referees are approximately the same in their handling of play.

A blast from the past. Who does this these days?


The game requires at least two players, one of whom is the Dungeon Master and has prepared the dungeon, the set of dice, pencil and paper for keeping records and maps, and optionally...

Optionally is not important ("a table top to represent the locality of the adventurers with some form of markers for the characters and the monsters they encounter.") here, just the requirements. Note that the rules aren't even mentioned (which isn't to be taken for granted, as the OD&D books did mention the rules as a requirement!). So aside from the dice, everything you need to play, forever, can be found at your local convenience store. How's that for a totally rad hobby? People who claim roleplaying is an expensive hobby is clearly participating in a different hobby (such as collecting, or 4e) than I am.


This is almost the same as OD&D. Notable how the prime requisite is so important (and not required to be 9 or higher as in some other editions), and how few bonuses there are overall. Too bad D&D never embraced the "a class for every ability score as prime requisite." Are Constitution and Charisma really that difficult to find archetypes for?


Fighting Men... After they reach the fourth level of experience they also increase their ability to get hits on an opponent, but experience levels that high are not discussed in this book and the reader is referred to the more complete rules in ADVANCED DUNGEONS & DRAGONS.

It's interesting that this is mentioned under the Fighting Man class and no other. It couldn't possibly have ever been planned this way, but thinking about the disparity in character classes, taking this literally and deciding that only fighters get better in combat could be one great way of keeping the fighter competitive at higher levels.

The cleric is forbidden by his religion from the drawing of blood.

Note that no distinction is made between good and evil clerics here. This could have interesting repercussions and definitely establishes, in Holmes at least, a firm standard of clerical behavior.

Thieves are not truly good and are usually referred to as neutral or evil, so that other members of an expedition should never completely trust them and they are quite as likely to steal from their own party as from the Dungeon Master’s monsters.

Another interesting look at expected playstyles from the early days.

Elves progress in level as both fighting men and magic-users, but since each game nets them experience in both categories equally, they progress more slowly than other characters.

Even though this is very poorly explained in Holmes, given the Holmes rules' frequent reference to AD&D and using that version's perspective on this statement, I think it's clear that elves were supposed to use multi-classing rules as they work in AD&D. The only question is, if elves use d6 hit dice (instead of rolling d10/2 when gaining a fighter level and d4/2 when gaining a magic-user level), when are those rolled? I would say when the level in question is completed in both classes, but would be a house rule because that's never specified here.

If his hit score falls to zero he is dead... Each day of rest and recuperation back “home” will regenerate 1 to 3 of his hit points for the next adventure.

Unforgiving! Also worth noting that "resting out in the field" doesn't heal a single point. Use healing magic or go home and rest there or your hit points never return, although the rate of recovery once home is potentially much quicker than some other editions.


Plate Mail 50
Helmet 10

I will never understand what they were thinking making plate mail so easily accessible by beginning characters. Since no class is limited to chain mail as their best armor, only a low-money-rolling sad sack is going to have less than the best armor available at the beginning of the game. AD&D fixed this right up, but damn...

And Holmes gives no rules as to what use a helmet by itself could possibly have.


There are a number of other character types which are detailed in ADVANCED DUNGEONS & DRAGONS. There are sub-classes of the four basic classes. They are: paladins and rangers (fighting men), illusionists and witches (magic-users), monks and druids (clerics), and assassins (thieves).

Interesting that at one point witches were going to be in AD&D as a sub-class for Magic-Users and the Monk was going to go under the Cleric.

At the Dungeon Master’s discretion a character can be anything his or her player wants him to be. Characters must always start out inexperienced and relatively weak and build on their experience. Thus, an expedition might include, in addition to the four basic classes and races (human, elven, dwarven, halflingish), a centaur, a lawful werebear, and a Japanese Samurai fighting man.

This is like that line from OD&D where there are no limits on what a character can be. That there were no real guidelines for such things and wanting to accomodate such requests (as per the rules!) probably crashed more than one referee's campaign, I would say it's no wonder that Gygax came down so hard against this in the Dungeon Masters Guide a couple years later.


Sometimes the universe of chance allows a character to appear who is below average in everything. At the Dungeon Master’s discretion, such a character might be declared unsuitable for dangerous adventures and left at home.

Not so unforgiving on first read, but how many characters are truly below average (in this context I'd take it to mean having a score less than 9) in everything?


If a character is killed, then for the next game the player rolls a new character. The new character, of course, starts with no experience.

Harsh! Definitive! And expected for an era when not everyone was expected to be the same level (or necessarily even close!) on an adventure.


The player wishing to hire a nonplayer character “advertises” by posting notices at inns and taverns, frequents public places seeking the desired hireling, or sends messengers to whatever place the desired character type would be found (elfland, dwarf-land, etc.). This costs money and takes time, and the referee must determine expenditures (rolling a 6-sided die for 100’s of gold pieces is suggested).

So much for, "Beginning characters are expected to have hirelings with them in the dungeon," school of thought.


Characters may be lawful (good or evil), neutral or chaotic (good or evil).

Five alignment system. We'll get to this more later.

Neutral characters, such as all thieves, are motivated by self interest and may steal from their companions or betray them if it is in their own best interest.

Again with the thieves as people within the party not to be trusted. It fits with the idea of the sneaky ne'erdowell, but it annoys me that the "gentleman adventurer" or "skilled explorer" concept of the thief is really kicked in the nuts in this book.

If the Dungeon Master feels that a character has begun to behave in a manner inconsistent with his declared alignment he may rule that he or she has changed alignment and penalize the character with a loss of experience points. An example of such behavior would be a “good” character who kills or tortures a prisoner.

Clear indications of what "good" means in the game, even though under some interpretations (especially using non-modern, or Guantanamoic, ideas) this isn't the ruling.


Movement Exploring/Mapping Moving Normally
unarmored, unencumbered man 240 480
fully armored man, or carrying heavy load 120 240

This is double what we're used to, and far more reasonable than later D&D movement rates. But both OD&D and Holmes use this scale (although OD&D hides it a bit by mentioning it as an aside), but neither seems to have scaled the monsters' movement to match this scale. Are we really believing a pegasus flies only as fast as a normal unencumbered man walking normally? Get out of town!


A back pack or sack will hold weight which equals approximately 300 gold pieces. For game purposes all forms of coins weigh the same. A character carrying 300 gold pieces would not be considered to be heavily loaded — assuming that the other equipment he or she carried was not excessive — for 300 gold pieces are assumed to weigh about 30 pounds. A character with 600 gold pieces is likely to be considered as being heavily loaded, as the weight of the other equipment normally carried will make the character’s load in the neighborhood of 75 pounds minimum (a fighting man will be far more loaded down, but it is assumed that such individuals are trained to be stronger and so able to carry more weight).

And there are all your encumbrance rules.


A good torch will burn for six turns, while a flask of oil in a lantern will last 24 turns. Either allow the bearer to see 30 feet.

The same for light.


Many dungeons contain traps, such as trap doors in the floor. If a character passes over one a six-sided die is rolled; a roll of 1 or 2 indicates that the trap was sprung and he has fallen in, taking one or more 6-sided, dice of damage.


A roll of 1 or 2 indicates that a door has been forced open.


When the characters come to a door they may listen to detect any sound within. A die roll of 1 for humans, 1 or 2 for elves, dwarves and halflings, indicates that they have heard something, if there is anything to hear.


If elves pass by a secret door or passage, roll a six-sided die and a 1 or 2 means they sense something there. If the party is searching for a secret door then an elf will locate it on a roll of 1 to 4, other characters on a roll of 1 or 2. Of course, the Dungeon Master will lessen these possibilities in lower levels of the dungeon.

Secret doors. Interesting that the idea is that secret doors should be harder to find as you go deeper into the dungeon.

Holmes is incredibly concise yet complete for dungeoneering.


If the party decides to flee they may be able to delay pursuit by discarding some of their possessions. Unintelligent monsters will stop to pick up food half the time (roll 1 – 3 on a 6-sided die) and intelligent monsters will stop for treasure half the time (roll 1 – 3). Burning oil will deter monsters (referee’s discretion).

I like that this is put out there as a guideline and isn't just left for referees to decide out of the blue. It gives a real incentive for players to run away if they know that there are things they can do and a spirit of the rules they can point to so a crap referee can't just say, "Tough shit, hahahah!"


Experience for treasure recovered is on the basis of 1 point for every gold piece.

That's the standard in these rules. Got it.

If, for some reason, one character gets more of the loot, such as a thief stealing gems from the saddle bags on the way home, then he should get the additional experience points.

Another incentive (and rulebook validation) for backstabbing your fellow party members.

Monsters killed or overcome by magic or wits are worth experience points to be divided among the entire party.

You don't have to kill the beasties to get the XP for them. Although I don't believethat "sneaking past" or "successfully parleying" is "overcoming."

If the defeated monster is lower in level than the character who overcomes him, less experience is gained.

The XP chart is similar to the other Basic sets (HD + Special Abilities, but not Hit Points, determine experience point values), but this bit is from the OD&D white box. Interesting mix. AD&D mentions such a thing but it sounds like such a vague notion there that I don't know anybody that ever did this in that version.

The Dungeon Master should have the option of lowering the number of experience points gained under special circumstances. If one character sneaks out of the dungeon with all the treasure while the rest of the party is being eaten, he should gain some experience points but not necessarily all of them!

I think this contradicts the bit about stealing from the saddlebags, and the other thief quote earlier. "Stealing from them is OK and advantageous, as long as you don't abandon them!" Okiedokie chief!


Note that they have Remove Trap, but not Find Trap, in the abilities.

When the determination of a percentage probability is called for, as in the thieves table above, use the 20-sided die. Roll 2 such die (or one die twice) and designate 1 die the tens and one the units. Let us say a red die will be tens. Then a roll of red 6 and white 2 with a pair of dice is 62%.

Poor bastards didn't have ten-sided dice back in those days, let alone ten sider pairs specifically designed for percentile rolls.


More important, as the spell is recited it fades from the spell-caster’s mind and he can not use it again! He must go back to his study and re-learn the spell. This takes at least 1 day. Magic-users can not bring their magic books into the dungeon with them. Always assume that more than 1 day has passed between expeditions, so that a magic-user who leaves the dungeon and goes home may start a new game with all his spells ready, but the appropriate time lag must be carefully noted.

Like the healing rules, this really discourages "camping out" in the dungeon.

The AD&D Chance to Know Spell, and Min/Max spells per level rules are here as well.


I think the only mentions of "Normal Man" in Holmes are in the saving throw charts and character combat charts.

(Use a 20-sided die)... Numbers can be generated as follows: Mark one set of faces on a 20-sided die by coloring with a red permanent marker on one of each faces — 0, 1 , 2, 3, etc. The marked faces will be considered to have a ten added to them — 1 = 11 , 2 = 12, 3 = 13, etc. Unmarked 0 = 10, marked 0 = 20. This die will also be used to determine the results of combat from the combat table.

Poor bastards not only didn't have ten-sided dice, they didn't even have twenty-sided dice that went all the way up to 20.


Magic Missile... Roll the missile fire like a long bow arrow (Missile Fire Table).

The oft-remarked upon "must roll to hit with a magic missile" which is unique to Holmes.

Read Magic... The means by which incantations on an item or scroll are read.

This spell wasn't just for reading scrolls, it was for identifying items! Somewhere between AD&D and oblivion, this excellent (and dead-simple) idea got trashed.

Detect Invisible... A spell to find treasure hidden by an invisibility spell. It will also locate invisible creatures.

Fascinating that the detecting creatures bit is secondary... Invisible treasure! Talk about old-school... that's just mean! But there it is, expected to be fairly common at least since there's a spell just to foil it.

ESP... A spell which allows the user to detect the thoughts (if any) of whatever lurks behind doors or in darkness, or whatever a creature in range is thinking.

In all my games, ever, with me as a referee or as a player, ESP has been used as an interrogation (often surreptitiously) tool. But it seems that it's quite the low-level recon tool, and another reason why the referee doesn't need to feel guilty about putting something damn nasty behind a dungeon door.

Locate Object... In order for this spell to be effective it must be cast with certain knowledge of what is to be located. Thus the exact nature, dimensions, color, etc. of some magical item would have to be known for the spell to work. A well-known object such as a flight of stairs leading up can be detected by this spell, however.

This spell seems to be in every D&D edition, but I can't remember a single player ever choosing it. I think that may have to do with the long-term dungeoneering (with multiple levels with multiple access points) being mostly a relic of the past. With adventures these days being full of features that are meant to be found (or even necessary to advance the plot!), these sorts of spells are redundant - of course you're going to find the hidden thing, right?

Phantasmal Forces... Damage caused by the illusion will be real if the illusion is believed to be real.

That's pretty straightforward.

Strength... This spell increases a fighter’s strength by 2 – 8 points, a thief’s by 1 – 6 points, or a cleric’s by 1 – 4.

F-U M-U.


Know Alignment... Thus the cleric will be able to know whether a neutral person tends towards any of the four alignments.

I think this implies that Neutral isn't an alignment, but that it signifies the lack of any alignment at all.

Silence: 15’ Radius... Allows the user to cast silence in a large area so as to prevent sound or allow his party to move noiselessly. It can be used to silence some object as well. Note conversation is not possible under a silence spell.

I have only ever seen this spell used in play as an offensive weapon to remove the threat of enemy spellcasters. The idea that it would be a good tool in covert exploration never even crossed my mind... nor, apparently, my players' minds, over the course of over two decades.


Evil clerics have basically the same spells as do good clerics. However, spells in italics are reversed for evil clerics.

I think that this implies that good and evil clerics do not have a choice about whether or not they get the straight, or reversed, versions of the spells.


(The more complex system used for advanced play allows for varying amounts of damage by different weapons and by various sorts of monsters.)

This advanced system is not included in Holmes, so the variable weapon damage is not present, but the monsters all have variable attacks and damage.

The combat tables used by D&D gamers are often extremely complicated.

Haha, how many games say that about themselves these days? And it's not even true in this case!

Melee is the most exciting part of the game, but it must be imagined as if it were occurring in slow motion so that the effect of each blow can be worked out.

I didn't quote it, but the game has ten second rounds, with turns in combat being one minute forty seconds long (ten rounds to a turn) but ten minutes out of combat (and that's not an error or oversight - the book specifically mentions this difference as intentional). Combine that fact with this quote, and I think it's pretty clear that Holmes combat is not abstracted.

Also, judging from all the talk around armor class in this version, I do believe that AC2 (plate + shield) is the absolute best there can be. At least there is not even the slightest reference to anything better (magic armor and such subtract from the attackers' to-hit roll instead of improving AC).


This section should be titled "Flaming Oil," but it is interesting that the section basically disallows the molotov cocktail option and makes the flaming oil weapon a two-step process. Douse and then ignite. But damn... the damage... d8 the first round, 2d8 the second. Holy flaming cowpats!!!


The effects of a vial of holy water on the undead are the equivalent of a flask of burning oil on other creatures.

Tons more powerful than other editions...


Also, unless in a very high roofed area, all slinging, as well as long range fire, is not possible.

"Archery" implies arching, doncha know. But slinging as well? Tough room!


Once the party is engaged in melee, arrows can not be fired into the fight because of the probability of hitting friendly characters.

That's one easy way to deal with it.


Magic weapons are usually designated as +1, + 2, +3, etc. This means that they give the wielder that many points to add to his roll for a hit. They may have other powers, do additional damage, etc...

It is not standard for a magic weapons 'plus' to be added to the damage roll!


Light weapons such as the dagger allow two blows per round. The heavy two-handed sword, battle axe, halberd, flail, morning star, and most pole arm can be used only once every other round. The light crossbow takes time to cock and load, so it likewise can be fired only once every other round. The heavy crossbow takes twice as long to load and fire.

This has to be an editorial oversight, or at least not meant to be used unless variable damage is used. Are you really telling me they meant people to get two attacks every round with a dagger, each doing 1d6 damage with a hit, while a battle axe wielder gets one attack every other round, which may also do 1d6 damage?

Not likely. That has to be wrong.

And with a 360' charging speed, that "every other round" light crossbow isn't going to see very much use, and neither is that "every four rounds" heavy crossbow.

This does establish the battle axe, flail, and morning star as two-handed weapons though, which is contrary to how most campaigns (or at least any I've ever participated in) handle those weapons.

Remember that spells and missiles fired into a melee should be considered to strike members of one’s own party as well as the enemy.

OK, I guess it is allowed. :P


The character with the highest dexterity strikes first... If dexterities are within 1 or 2 points of each other, a 6-sided die is rolled for each opponent, and the higher score gains initiative — first blow.

Very simple and easy. Awesome and cool, even.

One problem.



It takes one melee round to draw a new weapon.

This makes perfect sense in a 10 second round. (and really makes the 1 in 6 chance to drop your weapon if you're surprised a really nasty thing!)


As a guideline, it should take a group of players from 6 to 12 adventures before any of their characters are able to gain sufficient experience to attain second level. This guidelining will hold true for successive levels. Note that it is assumed that the 6 to 12 adventures are ones in which a fair amount of treasure was brought back — some 10% to 20% of adventures will likely prove relatively profitless for one reason or another.

Why this is mentioned under the Monsters section is puzzling, but the math is pretty brutal. If I have done the calculations right, these rules suggest it taking between 7 and 14 sessions to gain a level. Playing once a week, every week, this would mean that you might be anywhere from third to seventh level, say fifth level average, assuming you don't suffer a character death. That's glacially slow compared to modern versions, but quite cool I think when thinking long-term for your campaign. Slow and steady wins the races, don't you know.

What I find interesting is that this is a Basic rulebook, designed for character levels 1 - 3, but there are all sorts of high-level beasties included in here. Black pudding, griffon, giants, four dragon types, purple worm... it can get pretty hairy. And makes me suspect there was some effort to make this a complete game in and of itself, even if the intent was to move people along to AD&D.

The hydra is interesting. In my reading, I didn't see where it defines what die is used to roll monster hit points. There is this line:

Each head is represented by one hit die of 6 points, so a three headed hydra has 18 hit points, a 6 headed one, 36.

So is a six-sider standard? Or is this just a hydra thing?


Place a few special items first, then randomly assign treasure and monsters to the other rooms using the selection provided in the game or appropriate tables. Many rooms should be empty. Roll a 6-sided die for each room. A roll of 1 or 2 indicates that some monster is there.

That's a decent and plainly stated standard for how full a dungeon should be. Modules, and my campaign sadly, have a lot of dungeons that are just full of stuff, and I think that does have negative ramifications for campaign play.

Traps should not be of the “Zap! You’re dead!” variety but those which a character might avoid or overcome with some quick thinking and a little luck. Falling into a relatively shallow pit would do damage only on a roll of 5 or 6 (1 – 6 hit points at most) but will delay the party while they get the trapped character out.

Pits aren't so deadly in Holmes, are they?

The possibility of “death” must be very real, but the players must be able to win through with luck and courage, or they will lose interest in the game and not come back.

Well said!

When characters swear they call on the wrath of their appropriate deities, be it Zeus, Crom, Cthulhu or whatever.

Cthulhu? Yikes.

One player should map the dungeon from the Dungeon Master’s descriptions as the game progresses.

A mapper. Yay!

One of the players should keep a “Chronicle” of the monsters killed, treasure obtained, etc. Another should act as “caller” and announce to the Dungeon Master what action the group is taking. Both mapper and caller must be in the front rank of the party. If the adventurers have a leader, the caller would logically be that player.

The idea that the mapper and caller are character, and not just player, roles is just... odd. Maybe not the mapper. But the caller?

Obviously, the success of an expedition depends on the Dungeon Master and his creation, the dungeon. Many gamesters start with a trip across country to get to the entrance to the dungeon — a trip apt to be punctuated by attacks by brigands or wandering monsters or marked by strange and unusual encounters. The party then enters the underworld, tries to capture the maximum treasure with the minimal risk and escape alive. The Dungeon Master should have all this completely mapped out, hit points and attack die rolls calculated and recorded, so that the game will proceed most rapidly at the exciting moments when the enemy is encountered.

Another encouragement for those that prepare.

The imaginary universe of Dungeons & Dragons obviously lies not too far from the Middle Earth of J.R.R. Tolkien’s great Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Oh, Eric, you dolt. :D

A final word to the Dungeon Master from the authors. These rules are intended as guidelines. No two Dungeon Masters run their dungeons quite the same way, as anyone who has learned the game with one group and then transferred to another can easily attest.

"Don't be a tight-ass."


The Dungeon Master should read the background material above to the assembled players and then let them decide how they will proceed.

The "background material above" is five paragraphs and 388 words. Not quite Isle of the Ape levels of inanity, but anyone complaining about boxed text in "newer" TSR adventures needs to look at this and fingerpoint correctly.


Comments, corrections, arguments, and much more is very much appreciated and indeed begged for.