Saturday, May 17, 2008

Is this how D&D is supposed to be played?

(Also note: Is This How D&D Is Supposed to Be Played - One Year Later)

A few months back, Gary Gygax died. While it was sad, it wasn't too sad, as he lived a full life that touched and inspired
millions of people. We should all be so lucky.

One of the positive effects of Gary's passing was that many were inspired to play old versions of D&D as a tribute and memorial to him. I think that opened a few eyes to how good the old games actually are. But they seemed to be largely the same type of adventures: pure dungeon crawls and monster bashes.

You see that attitude all the time, both on the internet and in real life. "D&D is 10' rooms with orcs and a treasure chest." "D&D was good before I learned to appreciate more sophisticated kinds of things." Variations on that theme. And this attitude isn't just prevalent amongst the White Wolfers and the Forgies, but amongst the 3.x+ crowd. An actual response when I put up flyers around town advertising my BFRPG campaign:

I've been thinking about that your old-school game and finally I
decided it´s too "old" for my liking. I mean, there is little over
dozen character options (reminds me of old Hero Quest game where there
was only 4 options, but it was never a "real" RPG) and the game takes
3.5 as a starting point and throws away many good ideas that came in
3rd edition/3.5 edition. For example there are no feats and it was
feats that really allowed you to make your archer-fighter different
from your two-handed-sword-fighter who just happened to use bow
because enemy was far away. Also one thing that doesn´t make me
excited is those "mage can´t wear metal" rules.

I´m not saying you can´t like this type of game, I´m saying I don´t
like it. So have fun, kill many orcs and get much gold.
Characters aren't different, it's barely a role-playing game, and killing orcs and taking gold is all we're going to do. Yeah, that's an uncharitable reading of that message, but the attitude is still present, whether I'm exaggerating it or not.

I have long thought that the way D&D was presented in the rules, and the way D&D was actually played, were two entirely different beasts.

And I think I know why.

I got into RPGs because I bought a couple of modules and the Mentzer Basic set in the early 80s. I had no idea what I was doing, and I didn't know anyone else that played this game. My first attempts at playing involved laying the map down like a board game and moving little pieces along the map like we're playing Clue. As we figure more stuff out, we move towards playing the game "properly," but we have no guidance from the previous generation of the hobby. In fact, it wasn't until I started frequenting Dragonsfoot a few years back that I started to encounter people that started playing before I did. So how did we learn to play this game?

Adventure modules. And it's a funny thing... I discovered D&D in very late 1983, but when it comes to modules, I really didn't get so many of the then-modern ones... it was mostly the classics. Let's list all the modules I had for AD&D and BEC (never had any MI modules) D&D, just for shits and giggles...

A1 Slave Pits of the Undercity by David Cook
A2 Secret of the Slavers Stockade by Harold Johnson and Tom Moldvay
A3 Assault on the Aerie of the Slave Lords by Allen Hammack
A4 In the Dungeons of the Slave Lords by Lawrence Schick
B1 In Search of the Unknown by Mike Carr
B2 Keep on the Borderlands by Gary Gygax
B3 Palace of the Silver Princess by Tom Moldvay and Jean Wells
B4 Lost City by Tom Moldvay
B5 Horror on the Hill by Douglas Niles
B6 Veiled Society by David Cook
C1 Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan by Harold Johnson & Jeff Leason
C2 Ghost Tower of Inverness by Allen Hammack
CM1 Test of the Warlords by Douglas Niles
CM2 Death's Ride by Garry Spiegle
D1-2 Descent into the Depths of the Earth by Gary Gygax
D3 Vault of the Drow by Gary Gygax
EX1 Dungeonland by Gary Gygax
EX2 Land Beyond the Magic Mirror by Gary Gygax
G1-2-3 Against the Giants by Gary Gygax
H1 Bloodstone Pass by Douglas Niles and Michael Dobson
H2 Mines of Bloodstone by Douglas Niles and Michael Dobson
H3 Bloodstone Wars by Douglas Niles and Michael Dobson
H4 Throne of Bloodstone by Douglas Niles and Michael Dobson
I1 Dwellers of the Forbidden City by David Cook
I3 Pharaoh by Tracy and Laura Hickman
I4 Oasis of the White Palm by Philip Meyers and Tracy Hickman
I5 Lost Tomb of Martek by Tracy Hickman
N1 Against the Cult of the Reptile God by Douglas Niles
Q1 Queen of the Demonweb Pits by David Sutherland III and Gary Gygax
S1 Tomb of Horrors by Gary Gygax
S2 White Plume Mountain by Lawrence Schick
S3 Expedition to the Barrier Peaks by Gary Gygax
S4 Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth by Gary Gygax
T1 Village of Hommlet by Gary Gygax
U1 Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh by Dave Browne with Don Turnbull
U2 Danger at Dunwater by Dave Browne with Don Turnbull
U3 Final Enemy by Dave Browne with Don Turnbull
WG6 Isle of the Ape by Gary Gygax
X1 Isle of Dread by David Cook and Tom Moldvay
X3 Curse of Xanathon by Douglas Niles
X4 Master of the Desert Nomads by David Cook
X5 Temple of Death by David Cook

Plus little supplements like the Dungeon Geomorphs Sets One-Three by Gary Gygax and the Monster & Treasure Assortment Sets One-Three: Levels One-Nine.

What did these teach us?

  • Most adventures are located in a fixed location with an "end area" with a big bad enemy and the big treasure. You "win the adventure" by defeating that enemy and getting that treasure.
  • Some adventures are epic quests, that take you to many places, where you defeat the underling big bad enemies before getting to the grand finale where you defeat the really big bad enemy and take its treasure.
  • Activities involved between adventures involved such a variety of activities as healing up and traveling to the next location.
And for many of us, this is all that D&D was, and that view was supported by the published material. I brought this up on Dragonsfoot a couple of years ago, and that discussion can be found here.

Now some of you will think that's absolutely ridiculous. Nowadays, I too think that's ridiculous (although it still greatly colors my play). But a big heaping helping of people got into D&D in the 80s, when those books and boxed sets were in general toy stores. Those things sold millions. I daresay with those numbers, the majority of people buying and playing had no prior connection to the hobby, had no interest (or real knowledge? Who pays attention to ads in the back of game books?) in the RPGA or Dragon. And we had absolutely no contact with people that had role-playing experience when we sat down and figured this RPG stuff for ourselves. How many were like me, a pre-teen kid gathering some friends to play this cool new thing? What could we possibly know?

Of course all of this was predicated upon ignoring large chunks of the Dungeon Masters Guide. The problem is, even with the modules including tutorials (the first three Basic modules!), there was absolutely no in-print support using any of that campaign-level stuff. Or naval combat. And we had fun, and met up with other clusters of newbie role-players who played much the same as we did. And it was always the same. Run modules, or create our own adventures that followed the exact same format as the modules. A good campaign was interacting with NPCs instead of slaughtering them wholesale, having a reason in the first place, to go into the adventure location, and having everything tie together in some sort of epic quest like the GDQ series or Lord of the Rings.

Is this a problem?

No. And yes. Repeating the point: We played this way, and we had great fun. We didn't see that the vast majority of the adventures we played were "tournament" style modules. (At least we never used the pre-gens.) We didn't get the concept that these were indeed "modules" to be placed within campaigns (although we placed them within the worlds we meticulously designed) instead of being the entirety of the campaigns.

I really wish that these modules had been designed and released with less consideration as to how nice they'd be for a session or three's adventuring, and more consideration for what they displayed concerning the game as a whole.

The problem isn't this style of play in and of itself, but the ignorance and assumption that this is all that there was. You see, us millions of Johnny-come-latelies were the face of the hobby for awhile. The vast majority of us didn't go to conventions and such, you know? So when we'd recruit people into the hobby, we'd hit them with our understanding.

I didn't realize how short-sighted I was in my approach until several things happened: White Wolf's "Storyteller" system and its focus on pretending that it was "telling stories" and not doing the dungeon-bash thing started creating a breed of gamers hostile to D&D's assumed focus. That only works if large numbers of us are playing D&D in a one-dimensional way that hampers its potential.

Then people making new versions of D&D were using this shit against us. Ryan Dancey's "20 minutes of fun packed into four hours" became a favorite quote for people to take completely out of context and attack previous editions of D&D because they didn't deliver what (it was assumed) gamers wanted... and obviously 3rd edition did, through it's careful selection of feats and power-ups and balanced encounters and battlemat-styled game play.

As if that wasn't bad enough, let's not forget Goodman Games' Dungeon Crawl Classics series, which are supposed to ape 1st edition in terms of atmosphere and play style. The tag line for those things?

Remember the good old days, when adventures were underground, NPCs were there to be killed, and the finale of every dungeon was the dragon on the 20th level? Those days are back. Dungeon Crawl Classics don't waste your time with long-winded speeches, weird campaign settings, or NPCs who aren't meant to be killed.

What the fuck is that? I may have been a module-addicted isolated retard of a child gamer, but holy fucking hell we never played like that. But I fear that's what the D&D culture of modules-as-campaigns has spawned. We did show some ingenuity, in creating our own modules, in putting personality into PCs and NPCs and making interaction as meaningful as we were able, in making alterations to make these disparate modules fit together into a cohesive campaign together (even today, a lot of people picking up traditional D&D ask for suggestions of a succession of modules to be their campaign, not to supplement it), in trying to make this world "real" and not just the connection of unrelated dungeon crawls (or wilderness crawls as the case may be) that was laid out before us.

But if you weren't so far into it, and all you saw were dungeons and monsters in endless succession, of course the White Wolf "storyteller" tag would fool you. Of course you could believe such an important man like Ryan Dancey when he talked about how all of us poor gamers were being so poorly served that we were spending over 95% of our time not having any fun. And of course modern gamers could easily believe that some random dungeons (those generators were in the books...) and random monsters with no substance other than running around killing things were the entirety of the game.

It would be so simple to just blame the modules. In some ways, that's a fair accusation. It seems that the people writing the material completely missed the disconnect between their gaming style and those of the millions out there entering gaming culture through a random discovery at Toys'R'fuckin'Us. All the Dragon articles and RPGA ads weren't going to help them get through to us when the meat of most of their published adventures was "here's the dungeon, here's a reason to go in if you're lucky, have fun!"

And that influence was so pervasive that Dungeons and Dragons, as presented by Wizards of the Coast, is nothing more than a reflection of the surface of the game as presented by 1970s and 1980s gaming products.


And yet the parade of like-minded products continues. OSRIC attempted a new-school revival by providing an umbrella for 1E material to be published again - and what have we gotten? More dungeons and modules that are simply set-pieces with monsters and treasure arranged in variable levels of cleverness.

In my enthusiasm around the time I started work on Insect Shrine, I bought the first few new modules released for 1E under various guises. They were Matthew Finch's The Pod-Caverns of the Sinister Shroom, Rob Kuntz's Cairn of the Skeleton King, and Harley Stroh's The Iron Crypt of the Heretics.

It was all the same old shit. Not that means these products didn't have quality or weren't worthy and highly gamable purchases, although all were deficient in one way or another, examples being Iron Crypt's shit-ass artwork and Cairn's GIANT FONT TO FILL SPACE. The issue is that they didn't do anything to solve the basic problems the old modules had, and they certainly didn't do anything to showcase the possibilities that we, as adults able to read the Dungeon Masters Guide and understand the implications and applications of all those rules, have when it comes to traditional, and proper, Dungeons and Dragons. Each is simply a self-contained location (OK, Cairn had exits to future modules, only one of which has appeared since) with monsters to kill and problems to solve. The only advantage to using these instead of the established classic modules is that it's far less likely that any group of players will know these adventures inside and out already.

And some of the stuff is just downright offensive. I keep threatening to throw the Pod-Caverns across the room every time I open it, because of this:

CAGE B: This cage is enchanted, making anything within it seem to be a grumpy, uncommunicative dwarf. It actually contains a troll.

That is the most stupid fucking thing I have ever seen in my 33 years on Earth. That is not an exaggeration. That's dumber than pro-Nazi metal bands from Poland or Russia or France. And that's from the guy that started the OSRIC project in the first place. Granted, minus such old-schoolisms best left dead, on the whole the adventure is quite effective at being what it intends to be. But a dungeon that gets plopped down in some random place is all it is.

I soured on the new releases of 1E adventures for this reason. They're no different than the stuff I scrap together for my weekly games, only with fully-described locations right there in writing. (not that fully-described locations are anything to sneeze at - it's the only reason why I haven't released module after module yet... but I can make up something marked "Location 10. Kitchen" just fine in play with no written text, I just have trouble sitting down and writing a publishable and complete description for such a room... shit... I wonder if I should just release modules without all that description? 38746238742638742 releases in the next month, here I come!)

Now I may have missed something good. It's not like I've seen all the releases from the publishers linked on the right side of the page. It's not like I've seen any releases from some of them. Maybe they're A-list stuff that demonstrate the possibilities and add something to the amount of 1E material other than just being more of it. Please tell me if this is the case.


So if modules are these really evil things that grossly distorted the heart of true Dungeons and Dragons play... what then?

I mean, most of these things only made sense to be released. Tournament adventures are designed to have random groups go through with a standardized adventure experience for each. Why not release them? The problem is when they're perceived as the expected norm of Dungeons and Dragons play.

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

Going through...

B1 In Search of the Unknown
As an adventure, this is in many ways execrable. But that wasn't the point. Before you can walk, you have to (dungeon)crawl. It provided a fully-described dungeon, and left the stocking of the dungeon to the referee in question. It's an excellent beginner exercise (as befits the first module released for a Basic game!) and a great introduction to the execution of game play. I would never in a million years play this now, but that's not the point. It's not for the people that have been playing for a quarter of a century.

B2 Keep on the Borderlands
ahhh... here we go. A non-static dungeon environment (the Caves of Chaos, with its interconnected series of lairs and tribal relationships and notes on what different inhabitants do in response to adventurer activities), surrounded by a larger environment (the wilderness!), a home base civilized area (the Keep!) filled with all sorts of characters, a dungeon identified by not in any way developed so the individual referee can make it his own, and not a lot tying it all together in terms of plot or direction for what the PCs are supposed to do. I will say that the Keep is one of the best adventure modules ever created, because it has it all. All of the advice and explanatory text helps the game itself make sense. The nature of the Keep itself means that in-character discussion between PCs and NPCs has to happen, and with none of the NPCs so much as named, a referee simply must start creating things either on the fly or before play begins, and every decision made starts to fill in details about this mysterious world that everyone is about to begin exploring. Hell, many people (never my group though) treated the Keep as yet another "dungeon" full of enemies and loot (and damn if the map provided of the guild didn't help this idea along...), and the beautiful thing is nothing prevents this from being just as proper as invading the Caves! Keep is often named by D&D detractors as being nothing but hack and slash, but the fact is that a group must come to a conscious decision to play it that way. It is impossible to play this module without engaging in basic world-building and character-defining activities unless you deliberately decide to (not) do so.

B4 Lost City
I am ashamed to say that I saw this module as incomplete when I was a child, and I was completely ignorant of the inspiration behind it. The amount of work necessary to make it sing is much greater than B2, and it provides much less help to do it. Now my memories are kind of hazy (I haven't seen it in decades), but it's this open-endedness and lack of handing everything to you that makes for a good adventure module in the hands of experienced referees. And here's some inspirational reading.

CM1 Test of the Warlords
CM2 Death's Ride
I don't particularly like a lot of the details from Test of the Warlord, but the first Companion modules do what modules should - they take ideas out of the rulebooks and show how they would be used in play. If more AD&D modules took this approach to showing off how rules work (because the Basic etc. line was considered by a lot of people as the kiddie line), I think the collective consciousness concerning traditional D&D would be much, much different. There should have been adventures specifically geared to showing off psionic combat, naval combat, sieges, making reaction rolls (and perhaps hireling roles) important. Showing off all those wilderness rules. Modules that referred to and actually used all that mystical gem info and "herbs, spices, and medicinal vegetables" needed to be made. (not all in the same module, please!) How about an adventure where it would be necessary to create a new spell or magic item to successfully complete it? Sure, it was supposed to be Advanced, but again, millions of people with no experience and no clue were getting hold of this, TSR encouraged that, and more should have been done to show off everything the game was supposed to do. I know Gygax didn't like some of the rules (like psionics), but they were there, and somebody should have written something to support it more than an odd encounter here or there.

D1-2 Descent Into the Depths
D3 Vault of the Drow
Awesome simply for all of the things that they don't fully describe. That wild underground wilderness map, with all of its completely undescribed wilderness areas, cry out for personal invention and experimentation, since they're all supposed to be the equal to the fully-described areas in terms of scope. What's there as far as the D1 area (what are they called again?) and the kuo-tuo shrine are simply examples, not definitions. The shrine doesn't even have to be interacted with! At all! As for D3... Erelhei-Cinlu is epic, and scarcely defined when one thinks of all the detail later editions put into products like the Menzoberranzan box. And it demands intrigue and role-play - NOBODY hacks and slashes through that place. The D series are perfect inspirations, which is what modules should be.

H1 Bloodstone Pass
I won't really vouch for the quality of the module, but hell, it directly supported a rules expansion (Battlesystem), so it actually had a purpose beyond being just another adventure.

I1 Dwellers of the Forbidden City
A playground! This is similar to the Lost City module, I think. There's lots here, and only a little of it is detailed. To adventure around this place, the referee must invent. The act of necessitated invention within a commercial product is a very powerful thing, and I think a stronger creative inspiration than doing so freeform with no previous structure. By creating within an existing structure, you get to think about the structure itself, and I think that is valuable. Not only do you invent new things within the structure, you start thinking about other structures to create within.

S1 Tomb of Horrors
The killer dungeon must be represented. Dungeon crawls could (should?) be severe challenges of ingenuity, and not how your pile of stats (sometimes called a character) measures up against other piles of stats (called monsters). The Tomb is a great balance against the "smash the door down, kill the orc, and take its pie" approach D&D is supposed to take. Of course, it gets its own criticism for being a big death trap, but here is the trick: Player skill matters. If you start characters at level 1 and actually conduct a quality campaign where all characters honestly and genuinely reach level 10-14 (the recommended level of the dungeon), I don't think this place is such an unfair dungeon. The act of playing for that long, with the same characters, in a quality way, creates a better player. If you're a casual player and are given pre-gens or just make up some 12th level guys... yeah, you're fucked. I love this module.

S3 Expedition to the Barrier Peaks
Now this is how you go gonzo and introduce a bunch of really weird shit into a game. The DMG had Boot Hill and Gamma World conversion information, and this module showed that strict fantasy wasn't all that could fit into the confines of D&D rules. I also loved loved LOVED the implication that so many strange critters weren't native to Greyhawk (and by extension, a "normal" D&D campaign world), or the result of magic... but that they're aliens. Rock on! A mind-expanding module in every way.

T1 Village of Hommlet
It's funny, I got Village of Hommlet at the same time as Keep on the Borderlands, and I got both before I ever got any rules. These adventures are tied together in my personal gaming history, and I have trouble untangling them. It's odd that these two beginner's examples found their way into my possession first, and my life as a gamer might have been very different if my first modules had been, say, Tomb of Horrors and In the Dungeons of the Slave Lords. I was really bad in depending on modules, and too young to understand a lot of what was there, but leaning on Hommlet and the Keep as my first adventures (and the first I ran after getting the rules and after I began to understand something about how an RPG session was supposed to run) kept me from being so much worse. In many ways, Village of Hommlet is an advanced example of many of the same things Keep does. The home base is there, but fully fleshed out with names, personalities, and all sorts of fun stuff. There is a sense of history with the past issues with the Temple of Elemental Evil. There is an explanation of what the moathouse is and why it's there. There is a future being built toward, as the castle is being constructed. And within the town, there are all sorts of characters with their own agendas that the party can benefit from or fall foul of. Lots of gaming without ever going to an "adventure location." But I bet some people would think that phase of play falls into the three hours and forty minutes of unfun, eh? Some have said that the amount of detail provided to Hommlet is overkill, and that since it's not the main location for "adventuring activity" that the description is wasted. I disagree, and posit that this was intentionally done to highlight overall campaign possibilities and de-emphasize the idea that the game is simply all about the dungeon... which is something the DMG doesn't do very well; for all its rules about a million things other than dungeon crawling, do notice how the example of play glosses over everything leading to the dungeon, even going so far as to neglect the upper ruins as worthy of showing in example play. Not that the example as written was bad, but it was sorely inadequate and other facets of play should have gotten that same detailed treatment. But what we get is the next best thing in the Hommlet module. This thing is enhanced even more by the idea that it's extremely unlikely that a group of beginners will be able to walk in and clean up the moathouse - they'll need allies, which Hommlet can mercifully provide. And there are consequences for clearing out this dungeon! The PCs make enemies, will require allies, will have a need to learn the background of the place, they will interact with the populace and in all they will be starting a proper campaign just based on the 16 pages presented here... with not a hint of "you must do this!" plot attached. Awesome. Class act.

U1 Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh
U2 Danger at Dunwater
U3 Final Enemy
This is a class series of modules just for the fact that you're not just supposed to walk up to everything and stab it in the face. You can't do that. If you hop on the Sea Ghost and just start attacking, you're dead. If you attack the lizard men in Dunwater, you've really screwed everything up. If you go into that sahuagin lair with the idea that you're going to clear it out... you're dead. I love it. All three adventures provide plenty of opportunities to fight lots of things, but you're really not supposed to. They are perfect for illustrating a different kind of play than modules usually provide, and each module in the series has a different means to success - none of which involve putting everything to the sword. And the underwater rules finally get a workout in Final Enemy. The only complaint I have with the series is a lot of the set-ups are whitewashed - Saltmarsh isn't described, or even dealt with at all. There's no engagement there and no sense that anything's missing if you just start with reading a short script and starting outside the door of the haunted house. In the Final Enemy, the scouting mission isn't something that naturally comes out of play, it's basically a plot point happening that the players really have no control over. So the series isn't perfect, but the series does do different things than the classic modules of the game.

Honorable mention should probably go to L1 The Secret of Bone Hill... but... I never owned it during my formative role-playing days, and never even saw it until it was available for free download on the WotC site. Sucks to be me.

(As I finish up this blog I see another thread has formed about this very subject here. Interesting stuff.)

... and you know what is completely fucked up? After all this, I'm writing modules and planning on releasing them. What did I get myself into... "You have your work cut out for you, you loud mouthed git!"

I challenge myself, and everybody releasing modules that lay claim to be "old-school," to create modules that are something different, that add to the possibilities of the game, that focus on oft-ignored facets of the game, and that inspire something new within the people that are using the modules. We don't need anymore simple dungeon crawls. We don't. To focus on reproducing the worst and most cliche elements of traditional gaming is not a celebration of days gone by, but a bastardization of it, and it plays right into the hands of what the detractors ignorantly claim the game is all about.

With the attention that traditional gaming has gotten from the passing of the progenitors, and the division caused by the new edition of what claims to be D&D these days, there is a chance here for a renaissance of commercially feasible and creatively vibrant products. If we don't take advantage of that, then all we have is nostalgia and if all we're doing is reminiscing about a "better time" then the only place we'll go is away.


  1. Excellent, excellent post. This is exactly the kind of thinking we need in the old school community. It's very close to my own ideas, so perhaps I'm biased, but, even so, this is good stuff.


  2. This is such a well written and thoughful post that I ended up with a book-like comment. Rather than write it here I'm linking on my blog.

    Great post, James. Thank you.


  3. Great entry, James. I always thought the DCC tagline was an amusing joke, but now that you point it out, it might indeed be reinforcing a negative (and imaginary) stereotype constructed by one community about another in order to define itself. If you have ever read Edward Said's Orientalism, you know what I am yabbering on about with that long winded sentence.

    Lots to think about there.

  4. This was a very thought provoking read. I think I may have been brain damaged by those early modules as I have a real problem seeing adventures that don't happen in dungeons.

  5. You should really pick up B10, Night's Dark Terror. Probably the best module ever made, and very few real dungeons in it.

  6. I've always heard the UK series was for the most part excellent as well, but I haven't seen those either.

    Any classic third-party (Judges Guild, Mayfair) stuff stand out in the manner the blog suggests?

  7. What james said.

  8. Verbosh, City-State, Wilderlands, etc showcase the non-dungeon aspect of D&D. Random Table in the Ready Ref Guide and other supplements covered a lot of different thing that players could run across in their travels.

    As for the challenge, when I updated Thieves of Badabaskor for Goodman Games, I created a plot that not only the original entries but also make a mini-setting for the "Thieves" that inhabited Badabaskor. Since the focus on the Dungeon itself it is sketchy. There is lots of room for the referee to expand on it and various entires in the module tie into that background.

    Nice Post

    Rob Conley

  9. I think the adventure booklet in Second Edition Gamma World is a great toolbox for a GM. The starting adventure, Rite of Pasage, is fairly heavy-handed and plot driven, but there isn't much to prevent the PCs from blowing it off entirely if they choose to burn their bridges with their home village right away. Even better, most of the book is devoted to brief, suggestive descriptions of a couple dozen villages, cities and ruins, detailing local/regional politics, outside threats and the influence of "cryptic alliances"

    As a youngster it gave me a straightforward hex-and-ruined-city "dungeon" to run, but also suggested many further adventures which were largely up to me to develop. No shortage of ruins in which to go hunting for treasure and technological artifacts, but also treaties to be negotiated, a despot to appease or topple, hordes of nihilist barbarians to repel...

  10. Complain and ye shall receive answers! Pod-Cavers author Matthew Finch has explained the reasoning behind the grumpy dwarf trap:


    "I did try not to spell too many things out for the reader. I must have edited out what I thought was obvious about the troll. Where do you get a regenerating supply of plant food? A regenerating critter. That's why he's in the room with the great big grinder. A leg here, a leg there, grow them back, and repeat the process. The Shroom originally had considerable powers of illusion (shroom, yeah), which was the dwarf thing.

    Throughout the module, the idea is that the Shroom is intelligent enough to double-up his resources into defenses. He's got dangerous resources, and he deployed them strategically to defend a dungeon area that can be assaulted either from below or above. He's sitting on a highway route from surface to lower levels, and he's quite cognizant of that fact. So, he uses his powers and intelligence to best effect, as I said, using his resources as traps. Why a dwarf? Okay, you've got me there. But assuming that there's an illusion trap to turn the food-source troll into a trap as well ... I just picked a dwarf and made him look annoyed at the situation. Certainly the troll would be grumpy in his circumstances."

  11. Just started reading your blog, which is really fantastic. I swear, the brain power the old school renaissance has going for it is really something.

    It strikes me that Matt Finch's Tomb of the Iron God is a perfect fit for what a module should be by your lights. While it doesn't have all the possibilities of a T1 or B2, it is relatively open-ended. But more to the point, it's intended as an introduction to S&W, and it looks like it would do a pretty good job of teaching both the DM and PC's a thing or two.

    Then again, it's just occurring to me that Finch may have written that module after having read this very post, in which case that wouldn't be surprising.

  12. Nice post, just stumbled across it in a link from rpgsite. I admit I started my D&D career with the Keep on the Borderlands, and the first session was very nearly a TPK. It was very, very quickly that I and my cohorts got in to the spirit of world-building and story-telling, though, integrating dungeons of our own and published modules as minor events in the grand scheme, and not the point of the whole game. I have always felt that a major potential influence for early RPGers depended heavily on literary influences; we were all reading Howard, Tolkien, Eddings and Anthony at the time, and so we relied heavily on the works of these authors for inspiration and direction. It also helped that we didn't have any "older gamers" around, I felt, to exhibit more traditional dungeon-crawling as seems to be representative of the old-school movement these days to tell us we were "doing it wrong." Especially key to the evolution of my early game style was the discovery of other RPGs, too; Runequest, Palladium, Traveller and Tunnels & Trolls were as influential to me as AD&D, and because of that my RPG style was never focused on methodical dungeon crawling/hack'n'slashing. Anyway, just some thoughts.

  13. B4 and A2 were and probably still are my personal favourites out of that bunch, although some of the others had merit in different ways, they all contained elements I couldnt resist tweaking here and there.
    I never owned B10 but have skimmed the PDF and it looks pretty damn good from where I'm sitting.

  14. One of the best dungeon-crawl types that I ran in my early D&D days was "Caverns of Thracia" by Judges Guild. This book introduced to me the idea that the inhabitants of a dungeon complex would have alliances with each other, and would mobilize and cooperate to deal with intruding adventurers.

    I don't remember any specifics from the time I ran it (other than a cursed magical scroll that turned the party's wizard into a small, ineffectual lizard), but I do remember that this book launched a 3-year-long campaign.

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