Friday, January 29, 2010

Megadungeon Design Review Comittee


As far as Old School gaming goes, my cohort Bob and I are strictly amateurs. But between the two of us, we're sitting on a pretty big gob of experience and training in construction design and planning. As such there was one incident during our recent foray into The Castle of the Mad Archmage that piqued our professional interests.

So we’re blundering through the dungeon in our distinctly ignorant fashion when we head down a long passage to the next level that’s labeled “slope 5°.”

Bob: What’s the elevation change between levels?
Me: I think it said 30'

[We do some math: 5° is equal to a 1:9 slope, which means there needs to be 270’ to get down to the next level. Feel free to check our work.]

Bob: Let’s see if this ramp is long enough ... [gleefully counting 10’ squares] ... Oh he’s got it made, well over 300’ here. Even accounting for the landings at the turn and the intersecting corridor.

And, satisfied that our dungeon creator is on top of his game, we move on.

About halfway down the slope there’s a numbered encounter.

Bob: What's that say?
Me: "slope in the corridor is too subtle to be detected under normal circumstances. Dwarves etc. have their normal chance to detect”
Bob: [chuckling] I guess that makes us dwarves.

To put things in perspective for any non-math nerds out there, a 5° slope equals a vertical change of ~1' (rise) for every 9' of horizontal (run). This is significantly steeper than the maximum allowable slope for an ADA (handicap access) ramp, which is 1:12. Without belaboring the point, a 5° slope is not at all subtle. A consultation with the Joe the Dungeonmaker—isn’t the internet grand?—assures me that it should read 5% slope not 5°. A 5% slope is a much more reasonable 1:20, but no biggie either way, Megadungeon rules apply; if it says it’s too subtle, then so be it. And besides, Bob and I are both looking at the dungeon plans anyway, the cat was already out of the bag.

But then, even if the corridor were perfectly level, the cat would have snuck out in its own surreptitious fashion. There’s something about long, unbroken corridors, you expect to come out of them in a place that is somehow different from the place you just left. Maybe they don't realize that they've left one level and arrived in another but they're expecting a change of one sort or another. Think about going to the zoo: you’re walking along a path with a bunch of savanna animals on either side, then you hit a stretch of path where there are no exhibits for a stretch. Then you find yourself in a new cluster of critters, chances are, these exhibits are somehow different from the savanna you just left. Maybe they’re monkeys--you’ve entered the jungle portion of the zoo. Or maybe the savanna predators are here, isolated from their prey in the previous exhibit. If it was just more gazelles and zebras, you would wonder how they’re different from the critters you left behind, and you might start to think that this zoo needs to diversify its collection.

Just walking that distance gives you time to exit one experience and prepare yourself for something new. It’s the concept behind labyrinths—as opposed to mazes—that the journey itself is transformational. And this works the same in table-top play as it does whether you’re walking through the zoo or traversing the pattern underneath Castle Amber. Even if your players have no idea that they have technically just entered a new dungeon level because they didn’t notice the elevation change, they already know that they left something behind. Walking the length of the passage has provided them a moment of cautious respite, and they’re prepared for something new.

That said, I wouldn’t advise a dungeon designer to redraw his map. Unless the sole purpose of your design subterfuge is to confound the player’s mapmaking efforts—it would be fun to watch the confusion unfold as their map starts bumping into itself in the Southwest quadrant—one needs to not only disguise the elevation change but also hide any other signs of transition as well. Say, if the entire first level, rooms and all, were juuuuuuust so ever slightly sloped—0.5°, 1:100, 1%, choose your labeling convention—toward the northwest,until the party opens a nondescript door off of an unassuming room and, unbeknownst to them—POW!—they’re facing a whole new wandering monster table!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Death to Timrod! All Hail Timrod! or Who's running the damn cleric this time?

Timrod was the name of a character I ran during my hard core playing days as a youth.             Actually, that doesn't do him justice; he was a serial character that I and others in my gaming group ran.   He was the token cleric in our party when none of the players wanted to play one; a very common problem in our campaigns. The original Timrod was my henchman, and I named him in a direct and blatant attempt to annoy an itinerant player in our group whose name was Rodney.   And, to further the insult, I played the ‘Rod—we always allowed the PCs to “run” their own henchmen—as a sycophant who was more dedicated to my PC than to his chosen deity.

Timrod was killed in action at 2nd or 3rd level, but at the time we had a rule that allowed all dying characters one last non-combat action before they went to the great beyond.  Since Timrod still had a Cure Light Wounds spell handy, I figured why let that go to waste; I had him leap to my PCs side and with his dying breath, call upon his deity to heal me. The DM—my brother, who was generally supportive of my more ridiculous shenanigans—allowed it and it became one of those legendary moments of our group that is still discussed on those rare occasions when a few of us find ourselves in the same town for a few moments.

The idea of tormenting poor Rodney was such a hit that other players in the group started calling their cleric henchmen—the chore of henching the cleric was generally alternated between the players—by names derived from Timrod: Dimrod, Rimnod, Timroyd, Midrot, etc. I’m actually impressed that none of us stooped to naming him Nimrod; that would have been over the top. Though the original Timrod was a human, his successors were of any race and, at first anyway, they were all characterized by their adulation of certain PCs of the party. After several incarnations, however, the Timrods seemed to become more and more cynical and jaded. The worst was the above mentioned Midrot, a half-orc whose PC-employer declared was the reincarnation of the original Timrod and who therefore treated my PC with great antipathy. It mattered not that I was no longer running the same PC as Timrod the First’s employer.

Timrod was prevalent for a couple of years during jr. high and then the franchise died out when we started taking the game a bit more seriously in high school. Besides, the player whom Timrod was created to annoy had left the fold. So the ‘Rod had been dormant for almost 2 years when I decided to bring him back, but this time elevated to the role of PC. He was a half elven Cleric/MU and, like his predecessors, was somewhat lacking in self esteem; he had a low charisma and I drew a particularly unappealing character sketch of him. Actually, until I drew the sketch I had intended to run an elven fighter/magic user, but after finishing the drawing, I knew immediately that this dude was Timrod the Next. But Timrod needed to be a cleric; so a few abilities were re-arranged, “half’ was added to his race—as Per PHB, only NPC elves could be clerics—and voila!

Unlike his predecessors who often tended to be boisterously sycophantic or aggressively disgruntled, he was brooding and sullen (unusual for a character run by a 15 year old boy, no?), though kind and helpful to those he felt worthy of trust. He simultaneously revered and resented all full elven characters and magic users. He felt his role as cleric was a burden to him and was confounded by his own limitations as a MU—we played with the race-level limits for PCs as per the PHB. I decided that he was the child of a great human wizard whose legend cast a shadow on his life long after the parent's death. He sought out the career in the cloth to, hopefully, gain recognition and acceptance in the elven culture of his mother.

The party of which Timrod the Next was a member went defunct before completing a single adventure, but he continued on as a journeyman, cropping up in a campaign when someone of his skillset was required, drifting off again when his limitations made him less useful, or if I just got tired of playing him. He slowly amassed a large fortune and a hefty spellbook, and, though he could achieve name rank in neither of his chosen fields, he did build a large estate and became a prominent authority in whatever city he lived in—we generally based all of our PCs out of the Wild Coast, and I actually can’t remember which town Timrod settled in.

Because, I think, he was such a departure from the stable of rogue-ish fighters and good-natured thieves that were my main fare as a player, Timrod eventually became my iconic character. He was seen as moody and complex by other party members and they often went to some length to placate him. This, of course, was an extreme reversal of fortune for the Timrod franchise. Most telling, he was the only one of my characters that no one else ever played. While it was a common practice for us to alternate DMs within a single campaign, usually if the DM had a PC in a particular adventure, his character was passed off to one of the other players.  But if I was running a dungeon and the players wanted T-rod to take part, I ran him as an NPC.

Although I stopped playing the game pretty much completely by the time I went off to college, I have one friend who kept on at it—and still plays regularly to this day. He says that he has used Timrod NPCs from time to time in both incarnations: Timrod the Peon, faithful cleric whose sole purpose is to bring succor to the more important characters of the party, and Timrod the Wise, an enigmatic figure who commands respect before dispensing sagely knowledge.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

L4 New Lendore Isles release



For those who know me well it will come as a surprise when I confess that I am very nearly giddy with excitement about the news that Len Lakofka has released Module L4 Devilspawn and L4C—the Lendore Companion. I haven’t opened the files yet, but I read at Beyond the Black Gate that they offer a hefty amount of info on campaigning on the Lendore Isles and that they revisit the old Restenford/Garroten adventuring axis.

For those of you who don’t know me, I should disclose that I have been a vocal critic of the work of Mr. Lakofka, calling his 2 modules (L1 Secret of Bone Hill and L2 Assassin’s Knot) half baked and juvenile and provoking internet arguments with those who might praise them. That said, no other AD&D accessories—except perhaps the World of Greyhawk Folio—have provided so much fertile ground for my imagination as these two works.

Without getting all balled up in the flaws that I take sadistic pleasure in finding in his work--few people would have been helped by a competent editor more than Lakofka--what I absolutely love about the Lendore series is the flavor of these adventures. I love that towns are such a prevalent part of his adventures, I love the odd little NPCs who inhabit these towns, and I love the loose ends he left hanging in his 2 previous adventures. More so, I’m glad that these loose ends have flapped freely in the breeze for nearly 30 years, as they have provided me with countless opportunity to attach my own tangle of webs.

And it’s for that reason that I am hesitating to open the freshly downloaded PDF that will potentially tie those loose ends off. Will he explain away the motivations of the mysterious party that has infiltrated the village of Garroten? Will we learn more about the participants in the siege of the castle on Bone Hill? Will the Duke of Kroten finally show his true colors, whatever they may be? I have too much invested in all these foibles of Lendore to lightly step across the threshold into L4. But I will.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Death to the Mad Archmage! or We actually play the game.


Following up on our hockey night/character generation session Bob and I actually got together the next night to get started on our Old Style quest for 1.6 oz. coins and positively integered magical armaments. Bob has approved my decision to use Joseph Bloch’s Castle of the Mad Archmage (CotMA) based on the high quality of his blog posts over at Greyhawk Grognard and the nice price tag of his module. Actually, those are my reasons for choosing it; Bob’s reasoning goes more like this: “Whatever, let’s just play.”

And to Mr. Bloch I owe a humongous apology for the butchering his handiwork receives here. Please folks--and thank goodness there are few of you reading this--don’t allow my experience to taint what, in the hands of a competent DM, is a fine adventure.

I should explain our methods a bit, as they’re more than a little unorthodox. As discussed previously, we rolled up 6 characters, one from each of the classes (Fighter, Magic User, Cleric) and races (Elf, Dwarf, Hobbit-gnome-leprechaun) available in S&W who we’re pretty much running jointly, like so many pieces on a chess board. And for various reasons that don’t seem at all reasonable now that I'm trying to type them up for public review, we thought it would be perfectly ok if, rather than having one DM, we would alternate the task at each encounter, depending on a roll of the dice (low = Bob’s the DM, high = Me). Neither one of us has read the module, so we’re going in this blind and stupid. And oh yeah, we’re calling the DM the “Reader.”

Essentially, we are co-playing 6 players while simultaneously co-DMing a dungeon that is unknown to either one of us. Let me know if anyone cares anymore.

To make matters worse, neither of us has a functional printer to print out either the rules we’re using (Swords & Wizardry) or the module, and we’re way to cheap to print them out at a copy shop, so we’re just reading the PDFs straight off the screen of Bob’s laptop. Holy crap is this annoying, but here we go!

We skip all the traditional meeting up in the tavern business and head straight down the stairs to the 2nd level: and a huge spider drops on our asses. Actually our heads, but it misses. We don’t know for sure how a huge spider differs from any other spider,  but neither of us has rolled a 20-sider in combat since the Mulroney administration, so we have at it with extreme gusto. The party retaliates, both of the fighters in the front row (Sigurd the Ranger and Polvo the Dwarf, for those following at home) hit for some pretty hefty damage and the spider immediately realizes that it’s in over its head and skitters back into its web. We break out the missile weapons and take pot shots into the web until the critter’s corpse falls to the floor. We ended up breaking a lot of arrows this way; next time we’ll torch the webs like good old schoolers, but we really wanted to roll them 20 siders. [Edit: one of the ways in which huge spiders differ from the other varieties is that they are not web-builders. Insert blushing emoticon here. --Dice-chucker, 5/29]

We randomly chose one of the two doors out of the room, walked down the hall and popped open the first door we found on the left: 2 armed dudes. This time I am Reader and, reading that they are part of a posse of brigands who normally steal from half-dead stragglers wandering out of the dungeon, and that they have cohorts in several adjacent rooms; I decide that they will try to parlay until they can set off the alarm that I’ve decided is in their room, thus alerting the rest of their gang. They manage to engage the Party in conversation and trip the alarm. Suddenly the doors to the other rooms open up and the rest of the brigands come out in the hall.

Then this happens:

Bob: Hold on! You aren’t the Reader of all those rooms, only this one!
Me: But they’re all part of the same group; they act as a team!
Bob: Too bad, that wasn’t in the agreement. We’re supposed to roll for each door.

Bob is having none of my loosey-goosey rule adherence tonight—he hasn’t had anything to drink and there’s no hockey game to distract him—so we roll for each of the rooms that the brigands came out of and more or less split them. We decide that upon hearing the alarm the party backed out of room 35 and prepared weapons. Suddenly faced by 10 brigands instead of 2, they brace for combat.

Bob and I quickly confer about what kind of strategy these brigands would have in place and agree that our party looks far to fresh and are conspicuously lacking in bulging sacks of coinage to be of interest. So the brigand leader calls out: “Ahoy, wayfarers, welcome to the CotMA; don’t be alarmed; we’re dungeon security. We make sure none of the critters wander out and stuff. Let us know if you need anything, we’ve got torches aplenty if you find yourself in the dark.” And they let us pass. We decide that the party is dubious and decides to return down the hall to the spider room rather than risk an ambush as they pass through the midst of this gang. "Suit yourself, and have a happy adventure” yells the Brigand leader as we beat a cautious retreat toward the spider room.

Ok, so the incident itself was pretty uneventful but here’s the bizarre thing, our co-DMing thing had lead to us actually working together as a team to determine how the dungeon would react to the presence of the players within its confines. We were playing the part of the dungeon! Man, this was mind blowing. My enthusiasm for this experiment just went through the roof!

So we turned tail and retreated down to the spider room and proceeded through the other door, wandered down and popped open another door. Roll the dice: Bob’s the reader.

Bob: There are a bunch of troglodytes in this room and in two adjacent rooms, how should we run them? [it’s now assumed that any multi-room encounters shall be run cooperatively]
Me: Troglodytes? I don’t remember much about them. How smart are they? Are they neutral?
Bob: [does a search on the S&W PDF; now that’s kinda’ handy] uuuuh… no troglodytes here.
Me: and I didn’t bring my Monster Manual.
Bob: You wanna fight them?
Me: Not feeling it, no.
Bob: Me either. Screw it, these rooms are empty

And so we moved on. Lesson for the kids: A little preparation here would have really helped the situation.

We come across the little closet of a room off the main hallway—remember, we’re both looking at the maps. The dice say that I’m the reader:

Me: Two skeletons in here, and they attack!
Bob: Should we have Brodsky [the cleric] turn them?
Me: There in a freakin’ closet, where would they go?
Bob: I don’t know; I say we do it and find out.
Me: Your call, I’m just the DM around here.
Bob: [rolls a 17] Sweet! Can you change them to wraiths; I would have turned them too!
Me: They turn tail and run… to the furthest wall of the closet and try to climb it.
Bob: We bash them to bone meal to put on my rose beds [merciless—though inept—dice rolling ensues]
Me: Does attacking them break the spell?
Bob: You’re the Rules Fascist.
Me: Having survived your onslaught they turn to attack
Bob: Asshole
Me: You called me a fascist, what’d you expect?
Bob: You relished it last night.
Me: I still do.

Now we’re back to a more traditional approach; when faced with a mindless opponent, Bob and I are no longer a team running a dungeon, we’re merely alternating the DM role on a room to room basis. This seems a lot less intriguing, especially considering that neither one of us has an idea of what’s going on in here—we didn’t read the front matter of the module and, although we can see the entire layout, we don’t have any idea who or what is behind each door. It kinda’ feels like we’re playing Dungeon, which shouldn’t be surprising since we’ve injected all of the interest and complexity of a Parcheesi piece into this event. I think I'm gonna' have to take some drastic measures to bolster the atmosphere around here, like maybe read the front matter before we play again.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

First date with Swords & Wizardry: getting to know each other and (already) making demands



As I mentioned in my previous post, my friend Bob and I decided to drag the 20-siders out of the closet after a decades-long dormancy. Armed with a downloaded copy of the Swords & Wizardry rules, a fistful of 6-siders and with an entire Saturday evening at our disposal, we embarked on our re-acquaintance with roleplaying.

Our first night was spent scanning through the rules and rolling up characters. This took a surprisingly long time because we were not even done rolling up our first dude when we decided to house rule a new character class. Plus we were drinking beer and watching Hockey Night in Canada.

The plan was to roll up one each of the 6 character classes/races available in Old Style: Fighter, Magic User, Cleric, Elf, Dwarf, and Halfling. We agreed—or, rather, I insisted—to use the fatalist approach to character generation: before we even rolled a single 6-sider for ability scores, we had to determine the character’s race/class and gender and write them down—in ink—on the character sheet. In fact, we even came up with their names ahead of time. So our first character was to be Sigurd the fighter, and for his strength we rolled… a 9. Not too impressive for a fighter, Sigurd. We had a chuckle and debated starting over, “that one was only practice” and all that, but decided to stick with it since a low strength in Old Style is not really very meaningful—even to a fighter. The rolls came in: Str 9, Int 11, Wis 13, Dex 15, Con 16, Cha 5.

We agreed that it was really too bad that none of the classes benefits from a high dex, and that if anyone should it would be fighter. I also mentioned that, when toying with Castles & Crusades a couple of years ago, I had devised a rule that fighters could choose as their prime either Str, Dex or Con to encourage different types of fighters within the class. What came of this discussion was:

House Rule #1: Ranger, a sub class of fighters, have dexterity as their prime ability rather than Strength. They are limited to non-metal armor and lose the combat machine ability but can sneak around and have tracking abilities.

We hadn’t worked out the mechanics of the tracking or sneaking, but figured these would develop as we played. Also, we considered going with “Scout” as the name of this class to distance it from the baggage of Aragorn and the AD&D ranger but we couldn’t get over the little girl in To Kill a Mockingbird. Ranger it is.

Then Bob raised the valid point that we had already decided on Sigurd’s class and we couldn’t go changing it now that we’d already rolled him up, so, on the spot, I came up with:

House Rule #2: You may opt to change a character’s class to a sub class of the initially chosen class if that subclass came into existence after you started rolling your character but before you roll up his or her starting gold.

The hockey game had started up again so Bob didn’t put up a fight.

A few characters later and we’re rolling up Polvo the Dwarf who turns out to be the smartest (Int 15) and most charismatic (18!!) member of the party but when we rolled his Con, we got two 1s and a 2—a friggin’ 4! Neither of us could live with a Dwarf having a 4 constitution, so we made house rules #3 & 4, which go thusly:

#3—Dwarves prime ability is constitution, not strength.
#4—If a player rolls an 8 or less for their character’s prime ability, they may re-roll the lowest dice a second time and take the higher of the 2 results.

The courts approved the ruling, we re-rolled one of the 1s and got a 5; Polvo’s Con was now 8—not too good for a dwarf but at least he was suffering no penalty.

At this point I should point out that to roll the abilities we’ve been using the three 6-siders that came with a Tunnels & Trolls box set I recently acquired. These dice have a goblin (troll? alien?) head on the “1” face instead of the traditional single pip. I should also point out that these dice are generally located beside the computer my wife and I share and that it is a common practice in our house for us to roll them to see who gets the most “goblins.” The rules for this game are ever-changing and arcane in the extreme—my wife would make a good RPGer if she would ever stop scoffing at the idea—but the upshot is that the more goblins I see when I roll, the happier I am.

This is relevant because after we finished off Polvo, we started on Glebberd the Halfling and what do we roll for his wisdom? You guessed it: 3 of a kind! I literally jumped for joy at the site of the unbeatable 3 goblins staring up at me. Bob, of course, looked on in bewilderment. I laid down the story about the dice game that Alice and I play and told him that I refused to accept that a 3 of goblins could be anything but the best roll imaginable—despite Bob’s entirely reasonable response “But it’s a 3.”

House Rule #5: if a Player rolls a natural 3 for any ability, it is automatically an 18. This only applies if your dice have cool faces for 1s.

Bob’s response was “You just make up the rules to please yourself, you’re the rules fascist.” And henceforth shall my title be Old Style Rules Fascist.

I know what you Old Schoolers are thinking, “Sellout! He’s on the slippery slope to ability inflation.” But c’mon! Sure, the odds of getting an 18 have now been doubled—to 2 in 216. That’s still less than 1% and, given the relative insignificance of an 18 ability roll in Old Style rules, I think the game will survive.
So we had our 6 characters—one from each race/class—we were half way through a 12 pack and the hockey game was into the 3rd period (it eventually went into overtime; Calgary won in the shootout, if you’re concerned), so we put the game to bed for the night.

But later that night as I lay awake—I admit, I was pretty excited about actually playing the game again—I kept thinking about how silly it was that Halflings are pigeonholed into a class whose prime ability is Strength—something it is absurd to expect a 3’ tall dude to be well endowed with. Instead, they armor-up and step into the trenches, thus drowning out their innate skill at sneaking around. I remembered reading somewhere on the internet how some dude (sorry, I have no idea who I’m cribbing this idea from) house-ruled in his Holmes edition game that just as elves are both fighters and MUs, Halflings act as both fighters and thieves. Old Style has no thief class, but hadn’t we just created a sneaky fighter class? Of course! House Rule #6 came to me in a flash:

#6 Halflings are, by default, members of the ranger class instead of the fighter class.

And in my capacity as Rules Fascist, it became so.
One other house rule that we (I) decided on:

#7 Magic users in the Intelligence bonus (15+ in S&W) get to memorize 1 additional spell of their choosing above and beyond the amount they cast.

This rule does not directly affect our game yet since neither our MU nor Elf* have an INT of 15 or better, but I’ve mentioned this rule elsewhere on the internet, so I thought I’d better add it here.

* Also:
#8 Elfs may choose either Str or Int as prime.
#9 Out of disrespect for a former player in my group, elves shall be referred to as elfs. At least until it annoys me too much to continue to do so. Actually, I'm already annoyed by it and not a little embarrassed at my own peavishness. Strike this one from the record.

We didn't get nearly as far as I'd hoped, but we agreed that it was a night well spent. Next time, I hope to actually make it to the dungeon.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Hello friendly Commenter(s, should others ever decide to speak up)

Update 1/20/10: I've now tried to post a comment on your blog, Daddy Grognard, but have met the same malfunction. It's too bad, I was looking forward to trying those Mtn Dew Doritos.

I seem to be unable to comment on my own blog. Mainly, I suspect, because of my severe ineptitude. Every time I hit either preview or publish, the page thinks for a few seconds and then erases my comment.

That said, I just wanted to say thanks to Daddy G. for signing on before I even posted anything! Thank you for the incredible show of faith; I hope I do not disappoint.

I didn't want to seem like an unappreciative prick or aloof a-hole or something. Also, I'll be keeping an eye on you as well--in the least creepy fashion imaginable of course.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

What’s going on here?

At long last I have coerced my friend Bob into playing D&D. More specifically, the original D&D as published in 1974. Well that’s not quite true either, we’re going to play Swords & Wizardry, a—pardon me—retro-clone. Man do I hate lingo like that, but that’s what the kids are calling it these days. Since I am a card carrying absurdist and a contrarian of the highest order, I have decided to refer to the game—both my game specifically and all other versions, be they the original or an homage version—henceforth as “Old Style.”


It all began when Bob and I started spending the occasional Saturday night—after the wives and kids go to bed—getting together to play games and drink beer. Usually they’re games of strategy: Chess, Stratego, Risk, Axis & Allies; crap like that. And usually Bob beats me pretty handily. I tend to take either a ridiculously conservative approach and lose in a long, tedious war of attrition or else I take humongous, ill-conceived gambles that, though they sometimes make the game interesting, have yet to result in victory for the good guys.


Anyway, we both played a lot of (A)D&D back in the day (80s) but haven’t really played it or kept up with the hobby since. A few years back I invented this thing called the internet and, at first purely for nostalgic reasons, started loitering in RPG boards, seeing what people had to say. I found some interesting facts. Apparently TSR kept publishing more gaming material after 1986; I had no idea. Also, there was some magic card game in the 90s that was so popular that it ate D&D like a giant frog swallowing a halfling. Stranger still, the company that bought TSR was located in a shitty suburban office park within walking distance of where I was working in the late 90s. I was that close to Lake Geneva West and had not a clue.


Eventually I got married and settled down and found myself with free time in my evenings that had, for many years, been occupied with beer drinking, show-going, laid-getting and various other activities of young adulthood. That’s when Bob and Saturday game nights come in.


So anyway, Bob and I had often reminisced about our D&D days though neither bothered to broach the notion of playing such a game. Then about a year ago, after losing my 237th consecutive strategy board game, I finally had had enough. “Let’s try D&D, man,” I said.


I had secretly been working on some Byzantine house rules for AD&D in my basement laboratory and when I presented them to Bob for possible playtesting, he scoffed. I won’t go into details, but he had every right to do so. I had cobbled together an ink and paper golem from vintage 80s rule books that I’d been slowly acquiring over the last 5 or 6 years. Besides D&D I have DragonQuest, MERPS, GURPS, Fudge, Heroes, Call of Cthulhu, Champions… you get the picture. Though in my opinion I had created a Frankenstein’s monster akin to the Mary Shelley version—strong, fast, sinister, yet eloquent and introspective—Bob felt that it more resembled the Mel Brooks rendition: clubfooted and a bit Abby Normal in the head.


The relative worth of my house rules aside, the real problem was that Bob had his own ideas about how he would re-make the game in his own image, and they differed greatly from mine. After a few rounds of verbal taunting and outright mockery, we both agreed that we couldn’t really sit down and play AD&D without drastically altering the rules, nor could we agree on how they should be altered.


That’s when I came across the blog of a one Mr Grognardia. His little piece of the internet is chock full of really cool content: book and game reviews and retrospectives, interviews with historic figures of the game, opinion pieces that are informative and enjoyable to read—not like anything you’ll see here—and posts on his own campaign, which he is running using the original D&D rules as published in 1974, Old Style gaming at it’s purest. Also, he just can’t be beat for the amount of content he chucks up every day.


Now neither Bob nor I have ever played Old Style—we started with Holmes and/or Moldvay Basic back in the very, very early 80s—so we thought this would be enough of an unknown entity that we could look upon it with fresh eyes yet it’s also the root of the game that we gleefully wasted our adolescence playing so it’s familiar enough that we’ll know what we’re doing.


That’s where this here bloggy thing comes in. I decided to document the development of our game as we play it; mostly for my own nefarious purposes but I’m putting it out there on the old intertubes as well ‘cuz I’m an exhibitionist at heart. If, somehow, someone manages to extract a milligram of amusement from this, then I’ll call that gravy.