Friday, July 18, 2008

Friday Flashback


Time for another Flashback. OK, so take a moment to realize that this next band is truly one of the great american rock bands. If you can look past the kitsch, the theatrics, the smoke, the pyrotechnics, the over the top outfits, and yes, the weird make-up, you can hear some really good hard rock tunes. Perhaps they felt they needed some gimmicks to get noticed, but the fact is, I think they would have been taken much more seriously if they just played music, but who can fault them for having fun and doing it their own way? Not I.

A few years back I played their first studio album, which I also own on CD, at a little party/get together with some of my old pals. No one knew who the band was, but everyone seemed to enjoy the seriously hard rockin' sounds the band recorded way back in 1975. Finally someone asked, "Who is that on the stereo?" I smiled knowingly, and answered, "Only the band that ruled the world for a few years in the late 70's, KISS."

If you take the stance that many of my peers did and still do, KISS might me considered child's play or throw-away pop rock. Wrong. For proof, here's a clip of them from 1975 playing a rock tune which was normally their show-stopper, Black Diamond, as sung by their original drummer, Peter Criss.

If you think KISS is just a bunch of silly dudes prancing about in make-up with gigantic boots, minimize this page and just listen to the music. You might change your mind about who they were in the early days. You'll hear a band that was performing edgy, raw, proto-Metal during their pre-mega stardom days, a damn good rock and roll outfit playing what is simply a classic song.

KISS in 1975: Gene Simmons: Bass and Vocals, Paul Stanley: Guitar and Vocals, Ace Frehley: Lead Guitar, Peter Criss: Drums (and occasionally Vocals).

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Memories of Games Past

Brian Murphy recently posted an excellent write up about S1, Tomb of Horrors, which posed some thought provoking questions regarding that classic AD&D module. Personally, I’m very opinionated about what I consider to be one of Mr. Gygax’s career highlights, that timeless adventure which, to this day, sends chills of fear down the spines of my players.

Brian mentioned to me that I should share one of my own experiences from running that very adventure back in the early 80’s, so I’ll take the time to set the table, try to reconstruct the sequence of events, and share my sordid tale with you here at Ye Auld Grog ‘n Blog.

Back when we were considered youngsters, we couldn’t rush out and buy every single D&D item being published. Why? Well, none of us had jobs, and we relied on our tight-fisted parents to buy such things for us. We were wet-behind-the-ears D&D novices in 1980, and most of us were lucky to own even a few TSR items. After all, one could play with no printed materials whatsoever, provided the DM had the basics and was willing to run a game for a bunch of greenhorn High School freshmen.

We played the game rabidly, and with minds like a sponge, many of us developed rapidly into excellent, logical players and DM’s. And so it was, a couple years later, we were truly D&D veterans after countless hours not only at the After School D&D Club, which is were this particular tale takes place, but also in friend’s basements or at the Rec Club on the weekends and evenings during our free time.

Still, most of us owned no more than a handful of TSR items, and what we couldn’t afford, we shared amongst one another. Amazingly enough, back then, only the DM’s bothered to actually shell out cash for those awesome monochrome modules. So, for the most part, the now very well known TSR classics, the G series, the D series, the C series, the S series, were mysteries waiting to be explored for most of the players. While Home Brew was the predominant gaming form, many young, enterprising DM’s were able to lure players to their table by promising to run one of the monochromes. Players had possibly heard tales and legends of these, and not owning them, jumped at the chance to finally run a character through one of these destined to be classic adventures.

Somewhere along the way during my first years in the club, I became a DM. I was one of the few that owned S1, Tomb of Horrors. While I’ve never actually entered the Tomb as a player, I consider myself very lucky to have been able to DM said module no less than three times for my fellow After School D&D Club members.

Not once did a single party come anywhere near the Demi-Lich, and after the first two times I ran this module, it’s reputation was cemented; it was an unfair, relentless death-trap of a place, and only the utterly masochistic might dare its treacherous halls. Certainly such an undertaking would NEVER be performed with one’s real character, the kind that had been created a few years earlier, and clawed and scraped it’s way through various DM’s adventures to become something of a local legend, right?

Well, one such character, who I’ll never forget due to this particular tale, had done this very thing. Brian was the player’s name, and I will simply call his Paladin Mr. Fancypants, because his name is lost to me now. Mr. Fancypants had become, through sheer grit and tenacity, a character who was well known amongst our little D&D club. It surely helped that even at age 15-16, Brian was one of the smartest guys and players I have ever known. I think he went on to become a Scientist of some sort, and last I heard was in Florida talking to dolphins.

Local legend spread, and one afternoon I was approached by Brian to allow him to run Mr. Fancypants through the Tomb of Horrors. Brian convinced a handful of other regulars to join him, but they all brought random pregenerated characters, just to experience S1 for the first time. So it was agreed, and the following week, after leaving me a few handwritten notes about preparations Mr. Fancypants was undertaking before the adventure, I opened up S1 to run it for Mr. Fancypants and Co. It would be the final time I would DM that module at the D&D Club.

Despite my out of game warnings that the Tomb of Horrors was a real meat-grinder, Brian enjoyed such challenges, and laughed off my ominous protestations. Mr. Fancypants would conquer this legendary crypt, and claim victory; snatching fame and fortune in the process.

Brian decided to take plenty of anti-Vampire precautions, including having a glass-blower craft an empty glass vessel, which I suppose he intended to use to capture a fleeing Vampire’s gaseous form. This was in his Portable Hole before departing for the tomb, along with the standard mallet, wooden stakes and garlic. Little did he know that he would not access any of these tools while in S1.

If I had to guess, I would say that these particular sessions took place in 1982. Here I sit 26 years later, and honestly only a few moments from that expedition into the Tomb of Horrors stand out. I know for a fact that the mutated, four-armed Gargoyle terror took out one of the characters; I also remember the false tomb really played havoc with this group (so much so that I even ‘rolled-to-hit’ with an illusory Magic Missile to give the players a hint). By the time the group had reached the false tomb, I remember that a handful of club members had gathered to watch the proceedings. I had made it known that this group, including the infamous Mr. Fancypants, had made it farther into the tomb than any band of delvers thus far.

By the time the next gaming session commenced, we had not only the actual players in attendance, but also everyone in attendance that afternoon gathered around the table to see exactly how Mr. Fancypants fared. There had been some character attrition along the way, not only actual deaths, but as per the norm in that club, some players just didn’t show up. If I recall correctly, the group was down to just three characters now. While the Paladin had not yet been subjected to the humility of being teleported nude back to the entrance, one of the other characters had been, and as a matter of fact, I’m fairly sure that one of the players who basically ‘gave up’ had been teleported to the Forsaken Prison and left to rot. Most bands would have given up at this point, but Mr. Fancypants was never one to give in, no matter the odds. Call it overconfidence, call it Paladin-like zeal, call it raw determination, in the end it was his own undoing.

One thing I know for sure, and recall as if it happened yesterday, is the exact moment which sealed the deal for S1, and whether or not I would ever DM it again at the D&D Club. It was a moment paramount in my own DM’ing development, as I nearly reneged on exactly HOW it was meant to play out. But in the spirit of S1, Tomb of Horrors, I ran it in the manner in which the module was written, with no apologies. The adventure ended right then and there, and, as instructed by the author, I showed everyone Graphic #23.

“No Saving Throw?”


There was a hush through the room, then nervous laughter.

Brian stood up, picked up his character sheet, and ripped it in half right then and there at the game table. Mr. Fancypants was no more. I folded everything up, and congratulated the players on making it farther than any of the prior expeditions. It was a hollow victory. Whether or not Brian ever ‘resurrected’ that Paladin is not known to me, but I can assure you that Mr. Fancypants was never seen again at any of the gaming tables in that old After School D&D Club.

Furthermore, no one ever asked me to allow them to take on S1 again. While wisdom might often be lost on youth, it was common knowledge that the Tomb of Horrors, as DM’ed by yours truly, was an impossible death-trap of a dungeon. And so that monochrome of diabolical design sat gathering dust in my gaming closet for a few years.

A veteran group of D&D regulars did end up defeating the Demi-Lich years after we had graduated from High School, but again, it was a hollow victory, as I know for a fact that some of them owned the module and were probably very familiar with it. Sure Acerak and his traps claimed a couple of the characters along the way, but it was the last time I actually allowed anyone to take on the module. I realized at that point that S1 would remain shelved for all time. It’s nearly impossible to conquer when refereed properly, by players unfamiliar with the design, and not very rewarding when completed by veteran players who are knowledgeable about the dangers that await them. If you’re ever going to bother to run this module, do it with no bias, and perhaps you’ll see what I mean. I can’t see how anyone can survive this Tomb without the ability to take numerous expeditions and survive character losses.

I could certainly open it up and run it for my own wet-behind-the-ears family of somewhat reluctant D&D players, but I already know what would happen, and unless I am willing to intercede and be a kinder, gentler DM, it would again be called an unfair death-trap, just as it was over 25 years ago in that humble little D&D Club which I was a member of when I was but 15 years old.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

PS: The scans above are taken from my own copy of S1, Tomb of Horrors. To this day it remains, for whatever macabre reasons, my favorite AD&D module. I credit Gary Gygax for my vast appreciation of iron levers and illusions.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

One Grognard's Vision

As a Blognard and Neo-Grognard, I often enjoy reading about other fellow D&D players various old school campaigns, adventures, and rules. There often seems to be an air of old school acceptance amongst many of my ilk. What I mean by this is that if your campaign is considered too ‘over-the-top’, it isn’t acceptable to the true Grognards. Things should hew closely to the rules, and the worlds in which these adventures take place should be rooted in classical fantasy, and have a certain verisimilitude about them. The other stuff is too far out and considered immature, childish or often hackneyed.

When I returned to the D&D scene recently, I was exposed initially to some serious grognardation. There are more than a few forums across the fabulous, wondrous internet that espouse these values. D&D and the campaigns in which it is set should be serious affairs, not prone to ideas which bend the very rules of reality. As if there are rules in fantasy gaming to begin with. I have more lately come to recognize that there are indeed many old school gamers who take delight in the possibilities of the genre, and aren’t as narrow-minded as I once believed this sect of old guard, grumbling veterans to be.

I accept that individual GM’s might want their personal campaigns to look and feel downright medieval, but I also accept the gonzo visions of the Hargrave School of gaming. When I say the Hargrave School, I mean no disservice to the other influential GM’s out there who were clearly working independently of Arduin, it’s simply a catch-all phrase I use to describe the anti-Gygaxian approach to D&D and it’s descendants.

I have referenced Mike Mornard in the past, aka Old Geezer, and much of his insight into the history of D&D has certainly opened my eyes to what it was really like before AD&D sent it down a very narrowly focused path. I’ve come to the conclusion that most of the so called Grognards in and about our little gaming world are more so disciples of Gygax, Greyhawk or AD&D than of true old school gaming. There were no rules of acceptance, players and GM’s exercised and invoked the actual spirit of the game, and did whatever they felt was fun at the time. Realism and historical influences be damned.

This is not meant to be an attack on any single gaming approach, as I mentioned I respect and enjoy any good game. I also realize that one cannot simply write off either gaming style because it might not fit into what your individual preference might be.

And so in these few short months I have come full circle back to my somewhat gonzo old school roots. Blackmoor, Greyhawk, Arduin, Tekumel; these are all possible settings, each worthy of note, but each different and not the standard for D&D. These were examples of exactly what an individual referee might do with the concept of D&D. Might one of these be your favorite? Sure. Take the concept of D&D, using what I call the Empty Room Principle, and mold it into whatever you think will be enjoyable for you and your players. "Go Nuts", as they say.

I recently came out of my shell a bit, and shared some gonzo Junk From My Closet from the old days. You know what, I ran a crazy over the top campaign back then. Funky items such as Cloudburst were commonplace. Through it all I managed to achieve a certain campaign balance, and damn it everyone had a blast. Would we have had a blast playing in Gygax’s vision of D&D, running around Oerth battling the Scarlet Brotherhood? Probably. We pushed the envelope, though. High levels were explored; cosmic interplanetary struggles were undertaken; extraplanar, epic battles were spilled out across the table top; Gods and Demons slugged it out next to the player characters; but through it all, there was a balance. Characters died, goals were lofty, challenges were intense.

It was all my fault in the end. I’m the one who had to constantly home brew and tinker to keep things interesting. You see, it was a Monty Haul campaign to some, but to us teenagers experimenting with the D&D concept, it was pure heaven.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Importance of Playing

One of the interesting pursuits of this fine hobby of ours is the creative aspect which most of us enjoy undertaking and indulging ourselves in. For the most part, the individuals I rub elbows with here and there across the internet are fellow Refs, DM’s and Judges. We spend much of our free time dreaming up rules variants, tinkering with game mechanics, building worlds, and designing adventures. As I’ve found recently, I can spend hours upon hours doing this very thing, even when I know that my creative ‘behind the scenes’ time has grown exponentially over the years, while my actual time spent behind the screen, running my campaign, has shrunk to a miniscule amount.

Recently, I have stepped back from my endless labor of building Solstice into a vital OD&D campaign. I realized that I have a veritable mountain of work invested into Solstice, relative to the actual game play time that will be spent in that setting over the next couple years. In other words, I could stop working on it now, and probably not have to add anything at all for a few years. There’s that much dungeon completed and waiting to be explored. This is not to say that I am at a loss for creative inspiration, just that I have reached a point that I feel it might be better to allow the actual play of the characters determine where the campaign goes before proceeding too far on one project.

As usual, I do have numerous pokers in the fire; projects that are in various stages of development. I enjoy having more than one creative outlet. These are all D&D related, of course. Sometimes these various projects need a ‘bump’, something that pushes them over the hill and into completion. It is with this notion that I have realized that all of us eternal referees and GM’s need to experience actually playing a character in someone else’s campaign. It brings about a new level of creative inspiration.

I’ve recently taken the plunge into the realm of PBP with Vardo Winx, and while this is not your standard table-top game, I know for a fact that even the tentative steps our group has taken are going to infuse me with ideas along the way.

During my D&D heyday, I had a particularly long running campaign, which was played weekly for years. The sheer amount of hours spent in that world was staggering. Every Saturday would see us playing for a minimum of 8 hours at a time, and then 10-12 hours once we relocated the gaming site to a friend’s basement from the old Rec Center. At one point in the campaign, I had the idea to give each player his own continent within my campaign world, to do with as they pleased. Once one of the players felt he had a suitable adventure drawn up, I would assume the role of a character, and we would essentially play musical chairs, as they took turns behind the screen.

Those days were so enlightening, so inspirational, and filled me with an almost competitive spirit. My creative process kicked into overdrive, and I returned to the labor of designing my own adventures with a newfound zeal. My eyes were opened to new possibilities and ideas, ones which I know for a fact would not have had the same impact were I simply reading them in a module, or on the internet. Actually experiencing D&D, as a player, shed these aspects of gaming potential in an entirely new light.

The point of my rambling here? Get out and play in a campaign as soon as you can, be it Tunnels & Trolls, Encounter Critical, Mazes & Minotaurs, or whatever. Start rolling some dice, and get ready for a major infusion of inspiration for your own works.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Dungeon Drawings

Driver aka Scott is looking for some information in regard to a particular old school gaming supplemental tool he found an ad for in an old copy of The Dragon magazine from the early 80's called Dungeon Drawings. Here's the image (which I assume Scott scanned himself, so kudos to Driver):

While I personally cannot be of any help in his efforts to locate said product, I can take this image one step further. Not only has it inspired me to possibly (given the time) make some crude pencil sketches in the same motif, but I'm thinking it might be an entertaining exercise in showing how a referee might actually use the images pictured above.

So, with that I'll tackle the 'middle image'; that of the chamber with the door flanked by the pair of crossed weapons mounted on the wall.

Stay tuned for the room details.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Friday, July 11, 2008

Vardo Winx

My first D&D character in...well, in a very long time is named Vardo Winx, and will be my initial foray into the world of Play-By-Post gaming. I was lured into trying this game form out by Driver's upcoming Wilderlands OD&D campaign. Scott encourages players to make an 'old school' character sheet, to share with the other players (and earn a small bonus later in the campaign, provided you make it past first level).

So, since I'm fairly sure the forum for this campaign is closed, due to the fact that Scott will be running more than a single party of adventurers through the same world, I thought I'd share my own character sheet for Vardo Winx, Acolyte of The Cult of The Thousand Face.

What is the Cult of The Thousand Face? Hugoman, patron Deity of The Thousand Face, takes on countless forms. The members of said Cult believe that each and every Deity is simply another face of Hugoman, and that in fact, we all have a little Hugoman inside of us. Well, that's my version. How Scott plays this in the campaign is up to him, but that's what I envisioned when he said we could make up our own Deity or Cult.

Being new to PBP gaming, I blew most of my gold (I started with 80 GP) on armor, and included some delving gear from the get go. I'm walking around with but 8 GP now. I still need someone to bring along a hammer or mallet for using the dozen Iron Spikes I invested in. I wanted to start with a Hammer as a weapon, for utility, but only a Mace was available. Besides, I can still toss them down deep, dark holes and listen for the 'clang', or use them to fend off Rust Monsters which might be looking to dine on my Mail armor. I like Iron Spikes.

There won't be any updates per se, for the multi-group reasons, but if and when Vardo meets his demise in the Wilderlands, I'll let you know.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Friday Flashback

Hey! It's Friday! Here's a little ditty some of you might know. Crank this one WAY UP while you're sitting in your office cubicle.

40 years is a long time, but the roots of this next band go even deeper if you can believe it. Originally The Polka Tulk Blues Band, four veteran musicians, formerly of Mythology and Rare Breed, and later named Earth, formed a hard rock blues band in the style of that popular rock sound of the late 60's.

As it turned out, there was already another Brit band called Earth (wonder what ever happened to them?), so inspired by a Boris Karloff horror flick, the band changed names again. Shortly thereafter their unique sound was developed, and was considered alternative and progressive at the time. It flew in the face of the established Peace, Love and Hippy movement, and retained the band's blues roots.

The rest, as they say, is the stuff of legend. While receiving little or no radio play circulation at the time, the band managed to sell over four million copies of their second LP. This second LP is perhaps one of the five most influential LPs of all time, in my opinion. It's big single, the bands only ever Top Ten hit, was actually written at the last minute based on a guitar riff, and recorded in it's entirety in about 25 minutes. Unheard of in this day and age. That single? Paranoid, which became the name of this second LP.

Here's a clip from 1970 in their stripped down, bare bones days, performing one of my favorite songs.

Ozzy Osbourne: Vocals, Tommy Iommi: Guitar, Geezer Butler: Bass, Bill Ward: Drums. Black Sabbath went on to sell over 100 million records worldwide, and they're far from finished at this point. To call them the greatest Heavy Metal band of all time doesn't do them justice. They created Heavy Metal.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Zombies are not Ghouls!

So why does Hollywood (the Industry) portray modern Zombies as more Ghoul-like than Zombie-like?

Perhaps this is strictly a view only I would take, as an avid D&D player, but Zombies as far as I am concerned, move slowly, groan a lot, and are reanimated corpses from strange, unholy rites.

Movie Zombies have become Ghouls; often fast moving, relentless flesh devourers who sometimes have a society of sorts. Zombies not only do not eat flesh, they don't eat anything.

What ever happened to Voodoo inspired Zombies?

I suppose pretty much any reanimated or infected formerly living monstrosity in Hollywood is simply thrown under the Zombie umbrella, but I enjoy the stitched shut eyes and mouthes of the proto-typical Zombie; those undead servants under the power of some juju black magic, sent forth to exact the spell-caster's revenge upon the former friends of the now mindless killer with rotting flesh.

Here's the first ever movie Zombie. She lacks the stitched shut eyes and mouth, and the rotting flesh, but she's a real killer and carries out her Master's evil deeds!

Times sure have changed.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Thursday, July 10, 2008

What's a Bugbear?

OD&D provides very little if any descriptive pieces on the Monsters contained therein. I learned what these Monsters looked like from the illustrations in the Monster Manual, so I never got to experience the mystery and creative potential of OD&D. After AD&D 1e assumed the D&D Crown, we all learned what the Monsters looked like. The game was becoming standardized, as was our imagination.

We were using illustrations to imagine what Orcs, Gnolls and Kobolds looked like. These images have ingrained themselves into my own understanding of what said Monsters look like. D&D as a whole has defined not only images through illustration, but also actual terms. I'm ashamed to admit that until recently, I actually thought that a Troglodyte was an evil subterranean Lizardman. I'm sure there are other examples and assumptions I've made which can be attributed to a one Mr. Gygax of Lake Geneva, WI (R.I.P.)

As I've mentioned before, in converting to OD&D I often find myself striving to engage in what I call 'AD&D Disassociation', the exercise of reimagining what these Monsters not only look like, but also tailoring them and perhaps tinkering a bit with their traits and abilities.

I've often wondered what it was like to play OD&D back before the Monster Manual filled in our imaginations for us. For example, imagine playing D&D when the following two illustrations by Greg Bell were your point of reference. These are found near the end of Supplement I, Greyhawk.

Of particular interest to me is the Bugbear drawing. It has been said that this was a miscommunication between Gary and Greg; and in fact when relating what he imagined the Bugbear looked like, Gary meant a big roundish head when he said "A head like a pumpkin...", and not an actual pumpkin. Nevertheless, the illustration stayed as originally drawn, with a big pumpkin-headed Monster.

So for about three years, every D&D player was battling pumpkin-headed Bugbears. That is, until the Monster Manual was published and set everyone straight.

But what about the Monsters with no illustrations provided for the referee to reference? Surely Orcs weren't pig-snouted, and Kobolds weren't little scaly dog-things.

I've received inspiration in my AD&D Disassociation efforts from Jeff Rients and Driver aka Scott, among others. Originally from Jeff, and recently from Scott (in particular from Scott in my own retooling of the Solstice Elves).

Solstice includes greedy, evil Gnomes and Frankenstein Monster Ogres, as well as Kobolds as player characters, and Goblins as beings spawned in pools from the very essence of Chaos in the Deep Down Underworld.

So, while I enjoy being creative and trying to remove the Monster Manual images that have been with me for decades, I have decided to tip my hat to Greg Bell's misunderstanding and include pumpkin-headed Bugbears in Solstice.

The seeds contained in their pumpkin-heads can be gathered and planted in order to grow more Bugbears. Thanks Greg Bell, your little mistake has helped me further disassociate myself from those AD&D images.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

*post script update* I'd like to quote James Maliszewski here, who made this comment over on Scott's Blog:

I once asked Gary about the pumpkin-headed bugbear. He explained that it was the result of a misunderstanding on the part of Greg Bell, the artist. Bell didn't know what a bugbear should look like, so Gary said, "Big furry guys with these heads shaped with a pumpkin or football." Bell took it literally and thus was born the guy in the illo at the back of Supplement I.
I knew I wasn't making that up! I'm sure I heard about this from James in the past, but there ya go.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Power Inflation?

You be the judge.

You really need to check out this post over at hack/ on the subject before you decide.

There's a great series of posts on the increasing strength of the Fighting-Man through D&D versions. So great in fact that I'm going to ask the author if I can copy the image and use it myself here at Ye Auld Grog 'n Blog.

What are you waiting on? Go check it out!

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

*post script update* Ask and you shall receive! Permission granted, and you can now see the image over on the right side of this very blog.

Arcona Makes Good

On the so called Blogo-Bet. While the idea didn't gather the momentum I had hoped it might, a bet is a bet and today Arcona posted his ideas on the D&D theme which I provided. Arcona has a nice blog, and I was happy to dilute his usual high quality subject matter with my somewhat silly theme. To recap those who may have missed it all, here's a link to the Die Poll Results, and here's the info I provided:

Here’s the theme for our Gentleman’s Bet on that so called Cross-Blog Poll thingie:

The theme is a simple one that I’ve been giving some though to of late; a 10’x10’ room with an Orc guarding a chest. How would you incorporate such a description into a ‘real’ room in your own campaign? In other words, that is what’s seen at first blush, but what is actually awaiting the players?

No time limit to your post, and most importantly, use your creativity and have fun!

As he mentioned, never back a d4. I particularly liked the direction he took with the second idea called The Abandoned Orcish Stronghold.

Hats Off, Matthew! Excellent response to our little Blogo Bet!

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

OD&D: Earning Experience

Every D&D version I’ve ever played or refereed used the 1 XP per GP method for awarding experience from plundered treasure. I also include a magic item experience award in Solstice, but I’m beginning to rethink that approach (and to echo others, the magic item itself is reward enough). From what I understand, this is not the case in modern D&D versions where experience is awarded for slaying monsters but not from recovering their loot.

There are alternatives for gaining experience in all versions of D&D, as determined by the individual referee and his or her campaign, but I want to focus on the tried and true 1 XP per GP method.

Let’s get one thing straight right from the start, original D&D was never about a hack and slash approach to gaming. Certain referees may have developed adventures or entire dungeons and campaigns with such a theme, but this was never the intent of D&D. Even the earliest players of D&D realized that Rule Number One of each campaign was simply survival. By surviving each game session, adventure or dungeon crawl, the characters accumulated experience and increased in power.

To quote Trollsmyth from this post, "the players were simply scared to friggin' death of the dice." As I commented back then (and apologies for quoting myself!), "I've always felt that in OD&D, the idea was to avoid encounters whenever possible." and that, "Monsters are supposed to be deadly, not just walking bags of experience. Avoiding their claws and spears is normally a good idea."

At first level, the players actually strived to avoid rolling the dice at all. Rolling the dice meant someone was potentially going to be creating a new character. Clearly this is almost always the case throughout the D&D character’s career, but the point is that at first level, a single 10’ pit trap or single blow from a Goblin’s spear might mean that the player must begin anew with a zero experience character.

At second level, the characters begin to develop a hit point buffer, and can choose to take on more difficult challenges, or continue to fight those same 1-1 HD Goblins while avoiding those same 10’ deep pits. Getting to second level should be the goal of every first level character, and this is accomplished by surviving.

Using the 1 XP per 1 GP method promotes this survival mentality. It is actually a GOOD thing to perhaps parley with those Goblins, or avoid them, or trick them into leaving their hidden stashes of Silver unguarded. Certainly some referees will award experience for ‘overcoming’ monsters without actually slaying them (an alternative, as mentioned earlier).

So, why then are these first level characters even adventuring if they are trying to avoid melee and the experience that is inherent with slaying the bad guys? You need to stop and think of this from the character’s perspective. They’re Human, after all (well, most…but you get the idea), and they are in search of the almighty Gold Piece. What good is treasure hunting if you cannot emerge from the dungeon and enjoy the spoils captured therein? These guys are risking life and limb to, quite simply, get RICH.

Sure, you might have the odd character from time to time who has sworn to eradicate the Goblin scourge upon mankind; or the devout Cleric charged with clearing the Ghoul infested sepulchers beneath their Temple (and good luck bringing along any other adventurers to face said Ghouls without the promise of cold, hard Gold), but for the most part, they’re in it for the money. Plain and simple.

The players, on the other hand, are in it to attempt to make their characters successful (with whatever that entails for each individual player). It’s about survival and treasure. There just happens to be traps and monsters between the characters and their goals.

Traps and Wandering Monsters are the bane of dungeon delving for these intrepid adventurers, obstacles along the way to their ultimate goal of securing a comfortable living for themselves and their family, or of making a name for themselves, or of becoming more deeply vested in the magical arts. Traps and Wandering Monsters are to be avoided if at all possible, for they often mean high risk, and little or no reward. All monsters yield some experience, but as a character, the most important ones, those monsters worthy of actually risking one’s own life, are those guarding coins, gems and possibly magic items. The rest are just ‘in the way’.

Zulgyan over at the original D&D forum started a thread a while back about dispensing with all experience from monsters, and simply awarding experience for treasure. I think he gets it; the notion that the characters are involved in this dangerous business of dungeon delving in order to get the treasure, and not seeking out walking meat bags of experience points. While I cannot say I’d use such a method, because logically characters should gain experience from slaying monsters, the idea is worth discussing, and you can do so here.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Junk From My Closet: Wizard's Aide

Here's an old bit of gaming history that's been tucked in my collection since the early 80's. Wizard's Aide by Matt Whalley. Back when I purchased this booklet from Patowmack Toys in Columbia, MD, I was entrenched in my old AD&D/Arduin campaigns. I leafed through the booklet once or twice, and shelved it. It's designed for OD&D. What is it?, you might ask...well, for me it's no more than a relic of gaming days past. As I've mentioned before, I have a soft spot for game booklets, and I used to buy any booklet, especially brown or beige ones, related to D&D.

The booklet includes Birth, Social Class, Wealth and Skills Tables, Class and Racial Skills (such as Fortune Teller, Taxidermist, Barrister), Random Character Abilities, a Spell Point conversion system, a handful of Magic Rings, a Reincarnation Table, and a Random Name Generation Chart. In other words, a real mish-mash of home brew from Matt Whalley's old D&D campaigns.

Clearly a lot of ideas and labor went into this project. It's crude and oh so old school. I decided long ago that I would never make any use of this booklet at all, and even now as an OD&D convert, I find it of little value other than a relic of gaming history, or Blog material.

I did leave out what I consider to be the meat of Wizard's Aide, Mr. Whalley's conversion of the OD&D Combat and Saving Throw Tables to percentile dice instead of 20-siders. Effectively, this method has done what I myself did in later years with my home brew Blackthorn rules; get rid of the 'chunky' advancement from character level to character level. With a larger numeric range to work with, the character can realize some increase in both Combat and Saves with each and every level, rather than every three, four or five levels. I like this, but I don't like using percentile dice for Combat and Saves.

But a big thumbs up for thinking outside of the box in 1977 is owed to Matt Whalley. I'm curious to see if any of my readers own or have seen this book? I've never seen any references or mention of it before.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

OD&D: Awarding Experience

I’ve subscribed to the OD&D rules of 100 XP per HD of slain monsters. I am, of course, using the 1 XP per GP rule (this is what we did in AD&D for all of those years, and it promotes the fact that treasure should be sought out by any means possible, even if it entails avoiding monsters who might possibly KILL you).

The 100 XP per HD OD&D system actually evens out at higher levels, when slaying a 10 HD Dragon only yields 1,000 XP. Under those rules, that monstrosity could easily kill an entire party of 10th Level PC’s, and the reward is miniscule. It’s cash reward, though, might be worth ten times that. Fitting in my opinion. Look at a Vampire in AD&D. The average Vampire in AD&D yields 4,268 XP. In OD&D, a Vampire yields…800 XP. It encourages players to actually AVOID a Vampire. Who in their right mind wants to face a foe that can drain two full levels of experience from you in a single hit?

There’s nothing inherently *wrong* with the OD&D rules. When I say the OD&D method of 100 XP per HD, I am referring to the original Vol. I-III set up. Gary Gygax, in Supplement I, Greyhawk, refuted the original system as ‘ridiculous’, and set forth the model for what would become the AD&D experience system. So, if you play OD&D, you either using the proto-AD&D Greyhawk experience system; or the one I use.

One of the reasons I enjoy the original experience system is it’s ease of use. For the majority of the first session, there were 10 characters. Talk about a simple system. “OK, you dispatched 11 Zombies,” I mighty say after a melee encounter, “That’s worth 1,100 experience, or 110 points each.” After a character death, we had to engage in actual math, dividing everything by nine. Still, it seems so simple.

There's no complex system for Base XP, XP per HP, XP for Special Abilities nor XP for Exceptional Abilities. Might some monsters be a bit more powerful but yield that same flat 100 XP per HD amount? Yes. Look at a handful of the OD&D 4 HD monsters; Ogre, Wraith, Medusa, Gargoyle. Should all four of these monsters yield the same amount of experience? If played properly I'm of the opinion that each is powerful in it's own right, but there's no doubt that the Medusa could crash a party fairly easily, let alone the Wraith with it's defense and special attack. If one adopts the OD&D method, one must accept that certain monsters pack more lethality per XP than others. It might be a good idea for adventurers to avoid or retreat and regroup when faced with the lethal monsters. After all, it's the treasure the characters should be after in the first place.

The OD&D system will clearly promote faster advancement to Levels 2 and 3, but as noted above, the Greyhawk/AD&D method and the OD&D method equal out somewhere along the way to level 6, and from that point on, OD&D advancement is downright slow.

Another quirk which always bothered me with AD&D was the 'and one' experience tables. I attribute this to an error in editing. In OD&D, the experience amounts were expressed in such a way to show how much experience was needed for the levels, while in AD&D, experience point ranges were given on tables. Thus, a second level Cleric in OD&D needs 3,000 XP to advance to third level; while in AD&D, that same Cleric needs 3,001. Yep, 'and one'. It's on all of the AD&D tables, and I always found it annoying.

While none of the characters earned enough experience to reach second level, I am mulling around the idea of doing away with “training”, and allowing characters to advance in level mid adventure. I’ll have to revise my Cost of Living rules, and also reconsider how cash and items yield experience.

I can fine tune the experience rules as the campaign progresses, and if I end up agreeing with Gary that the 100 XP per HD method is unbalanced, I can address it then. I think the players will enjoy surviving the trials and tribulations of first level, and reaching second level after slaying 200 Orcs or Zombies, instead of 2,000 of them. This of course discounts experience from treasure, but so far they’ve only looted a single treasure trove. Said trove was in the 500 gold piece value range, that’s only 50 XP per man so far from treasure.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Monday, July 7, 2008

Welcome To Your Demise

OD&D fan and fellow poster over at the OD&D forum, Driver aka the 99th Problem aka Scott has entered the realm of Blognards with his very own Wilderlands OD&D Campaign Blog.

I'm looking forward to reading this one, and I'm adding it to my extra special Blogroll. OK, really there's only one Blogroll, but I like to think it's extra special.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Friday Flashback

So, yeah...a wee bit delayed this week due to Independence Day festivities.

In light of the long 4th of July weekend, I've plumbed the depths for a pair of domestic contributions. The subject matter itself is of no particular importance whatsoever, but here are two Cali bands from yesteryear worthy of note.

The first, Camper Van Beethoven, has a huge catalog of ska-punk mish-mash awesomeness, but is best known as a one-hit (if this song can ever even be considered a 'hit') wonder. Quite a shame really.

Here then is Santa Cruz's Camper Van Beethoven video of Take The Skinheads Bowling, a post-punk anthem of sorts:

Next up is the greatest three man band in the history of Punk. Also from the great state of California. These guys figured it out early on, and sadly D. Boon passed away in a car accident in December 1985. The Minutemen, while arriving at the tail-end of the Punk movement, redefined what Punk was, could be, and should be.

We Jam Econo wasn't simply jargon; these three working guys from Pedro were Punk incarnate.

To quote D. Boon:

Punk is whatever we made it to be.

There should be a Rock Band on every block, because it could happen.

Here's a clip of the greatest three man band ever, San Pedro's own Minutemen live in 1984, at one of my old local haunts, the 9:30 Club in DC:

And what the heck, since I'm a day late this week, let's go for a triple. If anyone ever told you Punk bands couldn't play their instruments (which by the way, clearly is not a prerequisite to forming a band at all), show them this. This song rips through pretty much anything else like a raw visceral buzzsaw of energy, Cut, with Mike Watt on vocals for a change:

If you are new to the Minutemen, do youself a huge favor and check out Double Nickels on the Dime, NOW!

One of the great unsung, underappreciated bands of all time.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The Blogo-Bet

Thanks everyone for taking the time to select your favorite D&D die in the first ever Cross-Blog Poll Contest doohickey, the Favorite Die Poll. It was close for the first few days, but the building block of gaming managed to pull ahead of the tetrahedron and ultimately claim victory in the Sham vs. Arcona Blogo-Bet. The loser of the little d6 vs. d4 Gentleman’s Bet has to write a post on his blog using a D&D theme selected by the winner…me! Here’s the comment I was going to send to Arcona aka Matthew of The Dwarf and the Basilisk fame:


Here’s the theme for our Gentleman’s Bet on that so called Cross-Blog Poll thingie:

The theme is a simple one that I’ve been giving some though to of late; a 10’x10’ room with an Orc guarding a chest. How would you incorporate such a description into a ‘real’ room in your own campaign? In other words, that is what’s seen at first blush, but what is actually awaiting the players?

No time limit to your post, and most importantly, use your creativity and have fun!

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

I’m posting it here because I don’t have Arcona’s email address, I didn’t see an appropriate place to leave the comment on his blog, and I’m sure he’ll see it soon enough.

Matthew will post his article sometime in the near future on his own blog, so keep a look out for it there. I look forward to seeing how he handles the theme.

Here’s a copy of the poll results:

d20: 14 (21%)
d12: 18 (27%)
d10: 7 (10%)
d8: 9 (13%)
d6: 11 (16%)
d4: 6 (9%)

Further comments about the Favorite Die Poll:

I had assumed the d20 would win going away. It had a late flurry of votes, but still finished second to the 12-sider.

The d12 has long been a favorite of a couple of members of my old gaming crew. It really only ever saw much action in our older games of AD&D when a character was wielding the ubiquitous Long Sword against a Large monster. I did home brew in a lot of magic items that used the d12 for damage in my past campaigns, since I like the d12 as well.

Before coming to my current appreciation of the d6, I was long a fan of the d10. Maybe because it was ‘new’ back in the early days. You youngsters might not realize that the d20 used to be marked 0-9 twice. So it could be used as a d10, d20 and d00, among other things. Players would normally color one half of the old d20 to represent the 11-20 numbers. Poor old d10 only bested one of the other dice, though, in this scientific research poll.

The d8 surprised me. Maybe it’s all those AD&D weapons that deal 1-8 damage that helped it’s cause. I had assumed that the d8 would be the ‘middle child’, or forgotten die.

The d6. I think I’ve beaten that topic into the ground. Third place behind the d12 and d20. I had no idea where it might end up, since my opinion of this die is skewed.

The d4. Poor tetrahedron. One of them had to finish last, and it was the plopping d4. It’s unique qualities weren’t enough to garner further votes.

It’s clear that lots of people love dice, myself included. Session One of my campaign didn’t use anything other than d10’s and d6’s. As I progress, I’ll come up with ways to incorporate all of the dice into the game. Each has it’s merits, and playing with the numbers and possibilities is what makes using them satisfying.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Session One Report

Session One ended early Sunday morning. Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending upon how you look at it, the game was rolling along and keeping me so tied up in things I forgot to get pix of live play, OR of the post game table! We kept pushing for just ‘one more room’ to the point that my Wife had to come remind me to fire up the grill a few times.

I allowed players to show up ‘anytime before 5 PM’, so we had a rolling start which allowed me to help each player get his Primary Character and Loyal Follower written and geared up. I related an abridged version of the campaign intro, dumped them at the entrance to Dim X, and began describing the old worn spiral stone steps that lead down into Room 1 of Krawlspace, the upper level of that megadungeon.

Aside from the break to grill and serve food, we played from 5:30 PM to almost 2:30 AM Sunday morning. Roughly eight hours of old school D&D fun. This translated to two separate excursions into Dim X, the first lasted for six hours of dungeon crawling campaign time, with a break in between, and a second excursion which didn’t last long, under two hours of campaign time before they retreated to rest, and we called the game just before 2:30.

We had a new guest player, one cancellation, one late arrival, and two no-shows. The party managed to maintain a decent size, running with from seven to ten characters the entire session. Between the methodical, thorough veteran approach to dungeon crawling that was used, and some excellent early dice rolling, the players did very well, and avoided any major calamities. There were two character deaths, three characters reduced to -1 HP, and one who was poisoned, reacted quickly, made two dice rolls, and was lucky to be ‘revived’.

The mix of characters was not what I had expected. Apparently Kobolds and Barbarians are very popular! Of the 12 player characters created Saturday, there were three Kobolds and three Barbarians. Only one Elf, and NO Dwarves! The racial breakdown was Humans: 6, Kobolds: 3, Hobbits: 2, Elves 1, Dwarves: 0 (and Fauns: 0). Not what I had expected. Here’s the other shocker to me; no one played a Cleric. Seems like old times.

Everyone was very enthusiastic and aside from some unavoidable slow moments during game play, a good time was had by all. It was one of those sessions where you KNEW that if we were teenagers back in the early 80’s, we would’ve played right through until Dawn. But alas, players have families and Sunday plans, so I think playing until almost 2:30 AM was quite a surprise (especially considering a few of them drove over an hour to get here). I sent the players home well fed and satisfied, and we talked about arranging the details for the next game day.

Here’s a scan of the player map thus far:

I decided to hand out experience immediately after it was earned, so after each encounter, I told the party the total experience which was to be divided equally. Most of the encounters were of the Wandering Monster variety.

Within the first room the party found a Bumble named Nozzle, and his Welcome Inn; an extra-dimensional tavern of sorts, with a warm fireplace, cots, and a seemingly endless supply of free stew, ale, tea and biscuits. After some serious paranoid role-playing, the characters partook in the services provided. Kobold Henchmen were available for hire, but no one could afford any at that time. The Bumbles are the stewards of Krawlspace, they clean halls, remove corpses, reset traps, and make the entire place inviting for adventurers. What these Gnomes receive from all of their efforts is not known, and they remain just another mystery and oddity of Dim X.

The Northernmost set of rooms, The Terrible Temple, took up a large portion of the day, as it involves swiveling fountains, levers, evil clones of the characters, and a large rift from which 1d4 Vile Spirits emerge each round while living beings are within the temple proper. The whole system of levers and swiveling fountains is rather complex, but ultimately pitted one character against the clone of another character, trapped alone in one of the side rooms.

The party also found The Cartographer's Crypt; a room within which the restless spirit of the dungeon’s architect exacts his revenge upon his former masters by attempting to reveal the dungeon’s secrets via crude drawings and messages on the wall (which are constantly wiped clean by the stewards within).

One major battle was in the room entitled The Pool and the Predator, a secret chamber guarded by a Gargoyle. This beast slew one character, and rendered two others unconscious. Just prior to this encounter the party had slowly made their way through a long niche filled hall choked with dense, silvery mist (called the Fourteen of Smithereen due to the fourteen mysterious iron statues in those niches, each of an Orc with a strange name). Upon exiting, they found themselves caked in this silvery glitter like residue. Little did they realize at the time that this mist temporarily enchants all metal to +0 magic. A few of the characters declared that they were spending a couple turns cleaning it all off. Once they faced the Gargoyle, and realized that it was only struck by magic items, they were second guessing that decision. Nevertheless, one of the characters rendered unconscious in that melee dropped his silvery glitter covered Battle Axe, which was taken up by no less than two others as they finally dispatched the Gargoyle in this melee which was probably very close to turning into a total party kill.

Within that room the characters found their first treasure trove. It was a hard won pay-off, to be sure. One dead, two unconscious.

Another difficult melee, with a few scares, was a simple roaming pack of Zombies. That was the final encounter, after which the party licked their wounds and we called it a night.

Rooms encountered and left for later were the Moldy Mess chamber, with the annoying skeleton named Heckler; and No Moss, a chamber with a huge 15 ton round boulder which clearly rolled around (due to the recessed tracks of it’s various paths).

One other room of note, in which the party encountered a group of Kobolds arguing about who would drink from The Mermaid Fountain, produced two interesting moments. Graffiti on the wall read “These waters heal wounds” and below “So drink deeply, but only from the falling water”. The assumption was then that drinking the spouting water would heal you. One of the Barbarians, reduced to a single HP after a nasty pitfall, decided to do just that, and drink from the falling water. All of his wounds were instantly healed, but he missed his save vs. poison, and dropped dead on the spot. Interestingly, one of the players had a fast burst of inspiration when his loyal follower has poisoned by a Giant Spider just before entering The Terrible Temple. The character snatched up the Hobbit’s body, rushed him back to the magical fountain, and put his mouth under the falling water. I gave him a % chance to survive the poison based on his CON of 8 (he rolled 05), AND he needed to save vs. poison to survive the fountain. Both rolls were made, and the player earned the only Style Point of the day, for quick thinking under pressure.

All in all I am satisfied with the session, and I am looking forward to future dungeon crawls within Dim X. One thing’s for sure, at this rate I have enough dungeon made up for a very, very long time.

~Sham, Quixotic Referee