Fifty years ago the first fantasy campaign was announced thusly:
“There will be a medieval ‘Braunstein’ April 17, 1971 at the home of Dave Arneson from 1300 hrs to 2400 hrs with refreshments being available on the usual basis….”
Verily, this is a VERY SPECIAL date in gaming history and Dave Arneson would in a few short years go own to co-create with Gary Gygax one of the most remarkable games ever conceived. On this anniverary of what was the dawn of the fantasy adventure gaming hobby, it is altogether fitting and proper to reflect on just how far we’ve come since then. Or rather, how far we have fallen and how little we appreciate what men like Arneson actually accomplished.
Let me explain.
In the back of the third rules booklet for the original D&D game is a page that is frequently cited by gaming critics and commentators. This is the place where the designers give their parting advice for the revolutionary game they had put together. Rather than write to them with rules questions about how things should work, they suggest instead that “the best way is to decide how you would like it to be, and then make it just that way.” After all, they asked, “why have us do any more of your imagining for you?” Several decades later the vast majority of people within the D&D hobby act as if this were the ONLY significant rule within the entirety of those small booklets.
On that same page is something little remarked upon:
As the campaign goes into full swing it is probable that there will be various groups going every which way and all at different time periods. It is suggested that a record of each player be kept, the referee checking off each week as it is spent. Recon the passage of time thus:
Dungeon expedition– 1 week Wilderness adventure– 1 move = 1 day 1 Week of actual time– 1 week of game time
The time for dungeon adventures considers only preparations and a typical, one day descent into the pits. The time for Wilderness expeditions would include days of rest and recuperation. Actual time would not be counted off for players “out” on a Wilderness adventure, but it would for those newed in their dens, hideholes, keeps, castles, etc., as well as for those in the throes of some expedition in the underworld.
Why this rule is there exactly is not immediately obvious. If you experimented with it at all, you would understand that this simple and strange sounding idea is one of the best ideas in gaming history BAR NONE. If you were also familiar with just what precisely Dave Arneson did with Blackmoor, you would realize that this rule was the key that allowed him to manage as massive and complex of a campaign as he in fact did.
But this story does not end there. This strange rule did not evaporate with the Blackmoor campaign and it did not remain as little more than a bizarre footnote to the amateurish looking original edition of D&D. In 1978, when Gary Gygax published his phenomenal Player Handbook for AD&D, the type of gameplay that results from this rule is presented as being synonymous with AD&D and a fundamental element of the AD&D game. Behold:
As with most other role playing games, this one is not just a single experience contest. It is an ongoing campaign, with each playing session related to the next by results and participant characters who go from episode to episode. As players build the experience level of their characters and go forth seeking ever greater challenges, they must face stronger monsters and more difficult problems of other sorts (and here the Dungeon Master must likewise increase his or her ability and inventiveness). While initial adventuring usually takes place in an underworld dungeon setting, play gradually expands to encompass other such dungeons, town and city activities, wilderness explorations, and journeys into other dimensions, planes, times, worlds, and so forth. Players will add characters to their initial adventurer as the milieu expands so that each might actually have several characters, each involved in some separate and distinct adventure form, busily engaged in the game at the same moment of “Game Time”. This allows participation by many players in games which are substantially different from game to game as dungeon, metropolitan, and outdoor settings are rotated from playing to playing. And perhaps a war between players will be going on (with battles actually fought out on the tabletop with minature figures) one night, while on the next, characters of these two contending players are helping each other to survive somewhere in a wilderness.
Again, this brief description of how AD&D works is not tucked away in some obscure appendix. It’s right up front just after the introduction in a section that is entitled as “The Game.”
On this, the fiftieth anniversary of the Blackmoor campaign, I am telling you that this is what D&D really is. Further, it is clear from everyone’s comments on this rule that you really have no idea how this sort of game works. You’re just plain clueless. The questions you ask about this are so stupid, it is obvious you haven’t the faintest notion of how to play the sort of game that Dave Arneson and Gary Gygax created.
Even worse than that are the nasty and very ugly people that bend over backwards to trumpet the most flimsy and spurious reasons for why this isn’t actually significant or relevant to understanding the D&D game. These are without a doubt some of the sorriest people I have ever had the misfortune to encounter.
But, hey. Happy “Blackmoor” day, anyway.
Maybe some of you will even play this game called “Dungeons & Dragons” some day.
So there is a new Appendix N book out. Which makes sense, I suppose. After all, who can get enough of the authors that Gary Gygax so famously listed in what was once an obscure corner of the 1979 Dungeon Masters Guide?
Mind-bendingly stellar authors like A. Merritt, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Leigh Brackett, Roger Zelazny, L. Sprague de Camp, and Fletcher Pratt– authors who not only had a direct impact on the development of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons but who defined fantasy for ALL of the game designers creating the first big wave of role-playing games. And I have to say, it is nice to have a big bunch of Appendix N packed within the pages of spiffy paperback. Or it least it would be, anway. As none of the INCREDIBLY INFLUENTIAL YET CRIMINALLY OVERLOOKED authors I just mentioned appear within these pages.
In their place are three authors that are “sorta kinda almost” Appendix N authors due to their appearance in the anthology Gygax gave a nod to, Swords Against Darkness III.Omissions are one thing and borderline inclusions are another. And I suppose it would be fine if that were the end of it. But for some reason, stuff that doesn’t even have a tenuous connection to Gygax’s list shows up in here.
I don’t get it.
Why are C. L. Moore and Clark Ashton Smith present in a volume that purports to be a compendium of Appendix N stories? The Appendix N list is the compelling time capsule that it is precisely because of its idiosyncrasies. There are no valid grounds for embellishing it– unless the book isn’t really about Appendix N as it is, but rather Appendix N as someone would like it to be. Appropriating the title and subtitle of my PHENOMENALLY SUCCESSFUL book would seem to argue for the former, but the sleight of hand here of casually introducing new literary landmarks as if they had always been present is another thing entirely. Bebergal wants it both ways. I doubt he bothered to read my book before co-opting its title to his purpose.
Anyone who had read it would know why the hatchetmen associated with traditional publishing are INCAPABLE of shedding any light on this topic at all. They are, after all, the ones responsible for suppressing the fantasy canon in the first place!
We opened this session double checking our rules for wilderness travel on horseback. The DMG page 58 gives a rate of two 30 mile hexes a day for normal terrain by a light mount and one 30 mile hex a day for a warhorse moving over normal terrain. Last week’s session took 2 days for the cleric/assassin to arrive at the Octagon building and 6 days for the party to go to the archeological dig and back. So at the time of the game, that party was still one day out into the future and thus out of play. We can pick their thread with the Shield of Nergal again during the following session!
It had been a long while since we had checked in with the other party over in Opar with the cavemen and the mushroom people. Somehow, most of the players that were here for the last session at this location were pretty well all reunited. Very surprising!
Had to tell one player he was running his second level monk that was the sole survivor of Spirit Cooking of the Rich and Famous and not the Lawful Good cleric with the Pegasus. The ridiculous Bob Dobs that had wreaked havoc in the Undead Quarter was back. As was the newer characters Chadria the Chad-Medusa magic-user and Hans the assassin. Fluid the Druid, the stupendously high level Druid was also back in action. This group of player characters could not be ANY MORE DIFFERENT from the other one!
The biggest loose end from this group’s previous session was the Dark Crystal. We had a few weeks of time for Chadria to experiment with it. It shocks most organic material that comes in contact with it, but a female mushroom man (?) that touches it changes colors. Chadria gets some kind of psychedelics from the mushroom men and communes with the Dark Crystal… after which he appears to have some sort of psychic bond with it. The crystal levitates and follows along behind him wherever he goes.
Fluid the druid meanwhile has an influx of trollops looking for a way to drop out. Business in general and the nightlife in particular has been lousy for them ever since hundreds of goblins had established Nilbog in the crater just outside the city limits.
Finally, with everything caught up it was time to decide to figure out what the group wanted to do. I think this took a fair amount of time as it involved a lot of planning. The players wanted to take their caveman army and any mushroom men that could be spared and then have everyone in the army bring a faggot of sticks with them. The idea was to go smoke the frogmen and maybe even the sorceress out of Mount Glovermore. And them mob them with the insane mount of force at their disposal.
Gosh, looking at those rates of travel this is going to take six days to get to Mount Glovermore even though it was only two 30-mile hexes away. On the way there they sight another group of flying creatures that circles around and then heads off to the norteast.
The players show up to Mount Glovermore and I really have to set the scene again. It’s a granite slab at a relatively steep angle heading up to the big Danny Glover head. I decide it takes one turn to go up to the mouth, but two turns to come back down. (Also it’s a thirty minute hike around the back of the head to the crevasse area from the mouth.) It’s too steep to position an army on the rock face, so the players put 30 mushroom men in their center, Fluid the Druid with Ringo Star and 30 cavemen on the right, and then Bob Dobs with 30 cavemen on the left. Chadria and Malalip are positioned on Danny Glover’s upper lip, awaiting anyone fleeing from out of the mouth.
At this point I have to just decide what happens given everything that has happened in the campaign so far. I make a d12 table with every possible outcome on it. Some indicate total surprise and very poor preperations on the part of the Mount Glovermore inhabitants. Others indicate the players have fallen into a trap. There are a couple of entries that are kind of nuts. I roll a d12 and the specifics of the session’s scenario are finally nailed down.
The players light the faggots inside of Danny Glover’s mouth. His eyes light up and smoke starts coming out of his ears. Then a bit of a ways down, smoke starts coming out of a place the players weren’t expecting. They start to reposition to investigate this location, but then at the very bottom of the rock face, a cunningly hidden rock-portcullis is raised and frog men start marching out of it.
Fluid the Druid is quick on the draw and casts Entanglement on some seeds he had scattered in that area by their gate. I decide that 30-60 frogmen get out of the passage before it is blocked. They take harassing fire from Malalip the monk. A body of 30 frog men collide with Bob Dobs’s group of 30 cavemen. This is total chaos and not really real medieval warfare so I rule that is is a total free-for-all. Five cavemen get exchanged for 15 frogmen and the frogmen lose their cohesion, fleeing into the jungles. (Note: I forgot to give the cavemen their free attacks to a fleeing foe. But this did not impact the substance of the battle, so no matter.)
After the way is cleared, 145 frogmen spill out of the mountain crashing into the players’ line. They finally get a good look at the enemy captain: monkey head with ridges, trumpet-like ears, huge flat green eyes, flat misshapen nose, pig-like rubbery torso, fat, stingered tail, humped back, insect-like arms and claws, and suction cup tentacle legs. This monster was more inspiring than I had anticipated. The players were REALLY IMPRESSED with this one. Somebody said it was like a He-man figure or something.
What followed was a full turn where the frogmen hacked away at the entangled vines while the monk continued to to harass them with ranged weaponry. Chadria attempted to commune with the Dark Crystal and ended up sensing some sort of ominous force directing the frogmen below. Fluid took his group of 30 cavemen and repositioned them by the mountain entrance.
Now I was imagining the battle as if there were five different rectangular chainmail units in play. The bloodied caveman unit was being attacked head on while the second group of cavemen flanked the mob of frogmen. On the players’ right, the monkey man’s army of frogmen crashed into the mushroom men. For the second round of battle, there was an even exchange of 10 frogmen for 10 cavemen on the players’ left. On the right, the frogmen were down 20 and the mushroom men had ZERO casualties. The cavemen made a morale check after seeing their unit cut in half. Meanwhile the frogmen on the right fell back in dismay at the awesome power of the mushroom men. Fluid the druid then unleashed an insect swarm on the weird monkey man.
Things were looking pretty strong for the players going into the third round. But then the mushroom men whiffed on their attack and lost a third of their fighting force. Meanwhile on the players’ right, an even exchange of 10 frogmen for 10 cavemen went down. Somehow the five remaining cavemen in Bob Dobs’s group made their morale check. (The bless he cast on them at the beginning of the battle did the trick.) Everything looked like it was about to collapse for the players. Chadria was trying to use the Dark Crystal to demoralize the frogman army on a psychic level. This didn’t have a visibile effect, but then Hans the Assassin realizes that the insect-swarmed monkey man in a prime target for an assassination attempt. I cross-reference his level with the level of the monkey man and get the percentage chance. And holy moly! wouldn’t you know the guy actually made it. This triggered a morale check for his frogmen. This was evidently so dismaying to the frogmen that they threw down their weapons and begged for mercy.
For the fourth round of combat, the remaining frogmen face 30 cavemen on one side and 20 mushroom men on the other. Thirty frogmen bite the dust and the rest beg for mercy.
Thus ended the Battle of Glovermore: 25 of the original 60 cavemen dead, 10 of the original 30 mushroom men dead. 100 frog men killed and 70 frog men captured. The coolest NPC I ever made also dead.
(Note that these combat turns took about 15 minutes each. I switched to 1:5 for the first round and then 1:10 for the rest. I would roll to-hit and damage normally and divide the damage by the average hit points of the units to get the number of kills. The next time I do this I would probably not roll damage but instead use the average damage for the unit’s weapon type. I would definitely track total damage a unit has taken rather than just raw casualties so that the “no effect” results would be less harsh. Finally you can let the players attack normally if they wish and then divide total damage by the scale and just add that to the tally. Players asked about their chance of being killed when attached to a unit. I suggested possibly stealing the rules for that from Commands & Colors: Ancients. But it really isn’t a huge chance.)
The mushroom men had successfully stalled a threat to their foothold in the world for minimal losses.
The cavemen had enough frog legs to sustain the federated tribes for the rest of the winter. Ringo Starr directed his men to dress the kills and deliver them to caves throughout the northeast.
The players still wanted treasure. They bullied the grovelling surrendered frogmen and the drug out chests full of loot in an attempt to placate the players. I ran through the treasure type results for the frog men multiplying results by 6. A reasonable amount of coin ensued but then… I actually got the magic item result. Multiplying that by 6 gave 12 magic items. Oh well. If I knew what the result should have been I wouldn’t have rolled for it. The luck on the magic items was perhaps balanced by the ABSOLUTE WORST outcome for the gem value roll.
My friend Bdubs1776 says that the dungeons of my campaign are like npcs. There is always one that the players get taken with and it never quite makes sense and you can’t really control it. But yeah, Mount Glovermore is THAT DUNGEON in this campaign. Oh, and after talking to the frogmen (Hans the Assassin speaks french) the players now know that the sorceress is on the second level somewhere.
Finally, this game demonstrated that we could run Chainmail-like combats in the context of a normal AD&D session and NOTHING REALLY MAJOR CHANGES. It took a good ten minutes to resolve each turn, but the payoff for the investment seems to be about worth it. (Less chance of PC death for better treasure is what it looked like. Though if the players had been defeated, Fluid might have covered the fleeing characters with a fog, but Malalip and Chadria would have been captured more than likely due to their position on the rock face.)
Anyway, while I was crunching through the turns I remember apologizing for it taking time to sort it all out. People were like, eh… noone’s ever done this before! Don’t know what the next big battle will be or win, but we all know now how it can be done. Even relatively low level AD&D characters can have a significant place on the battlefield.
Treasure and Experience
100 XP for Chadria ONLY for the scroll.
6289 gold value in coin and gems divided up by the players comes out to 1257.8 each.
20,095.5 XP for monsters and treasure. 55 henchmen with 5 player characters means it is divided 32.5 ways. XP shares for players comes out to 618.
Gotta divide up the magic items later. Don’t forget!
Oh and Hans the Assassin took the stinger from his fallen foe.
Cast o’ Characters
Chadrian — Half-Elf Fighter/Magic-User that looks like Chad-Medusa (Session 26, 27, and 30) 0 + 31 + 718 XP and 1257.8 gold.
Bob Dobs — Human Veteran/Acolyte (Session 22, 23, 24, 27 and 30 )XP at 1517 + 698 + 1097 + 31 + 618 = 3961 XP for 1980/1500 as fighter/cleric. 1376 + 330.5 + 807 + 1257.8 = 3771.3 gold.
Malalip the Initiate — Level two monk. [Sessions 18, 19, 21, 27, and 30] 2250 + 106 + 400 + 31 + 618 XP. All saving spent on training. 63 + 1257.8 gold. Sole survivor of level 10 of The Tower of Ultimate Darkness. Potion of Strength 18/00.
Fluid the Druid, Initiate of the 2nd Circle — Level three druid. [Delve 9, 10, 11, 14, 15, 17, 19, 20, 21, 26, 27, and 30] 4000 + 106 + 369 + 400 + 618 = 5493 XP. Should be broke from training. 63 + 160 + 1257.8 gold. Procurer of the fabled Boobs of Opar. Potion of Strength 18/00.
Hans the Assassin (Sessions 27 and 30) 31 + 618 + 700 XP and 1257.8 gold. Note: the 700 XP is for assassinating the monkey man.
During the hiatus the real time rules we pioneered last year were a powerful incentive to set up impromptu games even if it was on the same night as other people’ games. The medusa head was a powerful item… but if we waited too long to play again, it would be completely rotten when we resumed. If the players could pick up from the next day after their last session they could clear out multiple dungeon levels by leveraging the awesome power of the gaze attack. Or maybe they could have someone take the Pegasus, fly back to Trollopulous, and then turn Elric to stone.
Big things could happen. The player with the Medusa head asked if he could turn it into a permanent magic item. This is not directly addressed by the rules, but judging from the spell research rules I declared that he did not have the resources, expertise, or laboratory assets to make this work.
Days ticked by. Opportunities evaporated as gifts were exchanged. The game world continued on even if we weren’t actively playing it!
Finally we got back together for a game. I told the players that the Medusa head was held together only by the magical energies of the creature they’d cut it from. They sensed somehow that they could get one or more uses from it… but any successful use would result in a chance of causing the head to disentegrate.
Lotsa discussion about what to do ensued. Not one thought was given for the Dark Crystal, Cave Men, and mushroom people on the other side of the map. Should the players go to Tharktopia with the head? Hobgobiton?
But then there were questions about the cleric/assassin that was spying on the group of 60 Venger Satanis clones six hexes away. There was no strong consensus about what to do with the session, so when the cleric/assassin player mentioned that he didn’t have another character prepared I knew EXACTLY what to do.
I apologized to the other players and switched to the cleric/assassins situation. He doesn’t fit in with the Venger Satanis people at all. But they seem to tolerate him. There is this super long dig going on and he goes down and checks out their progress. Everyone is excited. The diggers think they will break through ANY MOMENT NOW. Going back topside, the cleric/assassin witnesses flying creatures circling in the skies above. Also, in the disance… dirt plumes indicating the arrival of a whole lot of SOMETHING within a couple of hours.
The cleric/assassin retires to a nearby ridge to observe the carnage. A couple hundred horsemen roll in an completely annihilate the Venger Satanis clones. At this point, the cleric/assassin decides that NOW would be a good time to head for… I dunno… the Adventurer’s Aid Society octagon six hexes away.
There he meets a group of adventurers that just so happen to have a Medusa head on their hands and nothing exciting to use it on. Fagor was having drinks with a statue of a bard– the cleric/assassin’s previous character that had died last time. While the party buys rations, horses, and gear I check the wandering monsters for five hexes of plains travel. Some large spotted lions are seen about a hundred yards away. The players opt to steer clear of these beasts.
Arriving at the dig there is now a gigantic burial mound that wasn’t there before. The players decide to leave the two sumo wrestlers with the horses and head down the excavation tunnel after Peero demonstrates its usage. They get down to the bottom and are surprised to find a few digging tools down there. The players start digging and having dirt and rocks lifted up back topside. A couple of hours later, a hole appears in the floor and a red light is coming out of it. The players decide it must be Hades or something, but insist that digging through to the other side of the earth and into an Oriental Adventures campaign would be better.
Peero is lowered through the passageway and reports that there is a maze down there with the negative space being all fire pits. I tell the players how beautiful it is. Like… it’s totally been drawn by Dyson Logos. The crosshatching is superb. At this exact moment, Big Chungus lays down on my gaming notes and rpg books and I tell him to take a hike. Embarassing!
Anyway, the players have Peero make a map of the maze on the some monk-skin parchment– all that is left of ANOTHER of the cleric/assassin’s dead characters. (Harry Plinkett the magic-user saved this back the time the monk got turned into Pizza Rolls.) The players lower themselves down to the maze and it turns out that it takes two trips to do this. They are on the maze, but at one end of the cavernous room there is a passage way leading into the darkness. At the other there is this giant statue of Nergal– really cool Babylonian dude with lion hindquarters. The party heads through the maze with Peero in the lead, but Fagor starts to lose his nerve. He has spent 29 sessions building up a 4th level half-orc fighter and this just feels like a big fat trap. He is finally persuaded to move on through the maze.
Half way to their destination twelve dragon heads poke up from the horrible fire pits. The cleric-assassin (“Pikachu” I think) and the fighter with the Medusa head (Franz) declare that they are going for the statue or bust. Fagor debates whether or not to flee the dungeon entirely but ends up staying when he realizes that anyone pulling themselves up 200 feet on the platform.
All hell breaks loose. Fire shoots out of the dragon-mouths but I read the monster manual entry wrong and use the rules for bite attacks instead. So this was really the non-firebreathing hydra with flame attack chrome. Many of the hits land on Harry Plinkett and he is completely incinerated along with his magic hat that he never once used. Peero also got burned up. Fagor, Laurel, and Hardy all took modest amounts of damage.
At this point the Medusa head gets held aloft. I ask someone to roll a die on camera and this goes terribly but somebody announces like a 15 or 16 or something. The players are like, this is not good! I tell the players that it must not have worked due to the smoke, the haze, or the poor lighting or something.
The cleric/assassin Pikachu then prays to his god Nergal for divine assistance. Like many things in D&D, there is also a small insignificant chance for just about anything. I pause the game to look this rule up because I know I saw it in there at some point. I was suprised that none of the players knew about it. I think it’s a 10% chance for something to happen. I roll percentile dice and boom… it comes up 01. This is so awesome I am sure the players think I am fudging this for them, but wow. Play enough D&D and this weird stuff happens eventually. Just like that one guy that gets psionics in a year.
So the giant Nergal statue is right there and laser beams shoot out of his eyes, knocking the hydra into the firepits. The players complete the maze and arrive at the Nergal statue. Pikachu the half-orc cleric/assassin carefully gets the large black shield. Mission accomplished, the party prepares to head out but the hydra has crawled back up into the maze and is coming to meet them. There is much cowering behind the black shield and maybe seven more breath attacks. The medusa head is yet-again held aloft and the saving throw die comes up with 8.
The hydra turns to stone and everybody leaves except Franz who wants to find more treasure. He finds this scribe’s room with a writing table, some large feathers, and a chest that is so heavy that he ends up calling Fagor for help. They drag it back to the lift and then realize it is too heavy to go up in one go anyway. Fagor bashes it open and it is just loaded with coin.
The party exits the dungeon through the cieling and then decides to head back to the Adventurers’ Aid Society octagon building. (I offered to attempt to quickly resolve the trip back to Trollopulous, but it was so late the players decided not to.)
Note that due to time effects, this event just happened 12 days in the future so the campaign gets a break from these characters whether it wants it or not.
Treasure and Experience
14,139 XP divided 4.5 ways is 3,142 XP for PCs and 1571 XP for henchmen. (Note: Nasty and Dernhelm only get XP for gold not monsters.)
7025 gold divided 5.5 ways is 1277 XP for PCs and 638 for henchmen.
Cast o’ Characters
Fagor the Half-Orc Hero [Delves 3a, 3b, 4, 5, 6, 6b, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 17, 19, 20, 23, 24, 25, and 28] — 8000 + 603 + 3142 XP and 314 + 1277 gold. His horns have grown incredibly large. Looks frightening and diabolical. Cloven hooves His name means “astonishing hero” in orcish. Member of the Order of the Knights of Trollopulous.
Logan — Level 2 (16 hit points) [Delve 12, 13, 14, 15, 17, 19, 20, 23, 24, 25, 28, and 29] Plate mail and shortswords. 130 + 403.5 + 157 + 638 = 1328.5 gold and 2000 + 548.5 + 301 + 1571 = [Frozen at 4000 XP until he levels] XP.
Nasty and Dernhelm — Level 2 [Delve 12, 14, 15, 19, 20, 23, 24, 25, 28, and 29] Just a codpiece and a spear. 130 + 403.5 + 157 + 638 = 1328.5 gold and 2000 + 548.5 + 301 + 638 XP. (Trained for dedicated grappling)
Laurel and Hardy the barbarians (Session 28 nd 29) Henching for Fagor after meeting him at the Octagon. 301 + 1571 = 1872 XP and 157 + 638 = 795 gold.
Franz the Veteran (Session 28 and 29) — Made his saving throw versus gaze attack. Something to talk about in the tavern back home! 603 + 3142 = [Frozen at 2000 XP until he levels] XP and 314 + 1277 = 1591 gold.
Pikachu the Half-Orc Cleric/Assassin — In session 29 he picks up 3,142 XP and 1,277 gold. Frozen at 1500/1500 XP until he levels!
Harry Plinkett — Human Prestidigitator (Session 22, 25, and 28) Turns dead player characters into pizza rolls. Has enough XP to level but not enough gold. Has magic hat and a scroll with several high level spells on it. +29.8 gold for session 28. Killed by a 12-headed pyro-hydra in the underworld of Nergal.
Peero the Sweeper — (Strength 15 an 7 hit points) [Delves 19, 20, 23, 24, 25, and 28] 31 + 80 + 165 + 403.5 + 157 = 836.5 gold and 53 + 119 + 349 + 548.5 + 301. Has antique monocle from 5th aeon. Killed by a 12-headed pyro-hydra in the underworld of Nergal.
Okay, this session is very, very modest. But there are a lot of little things going on that I am really happy with.
The big thing is that campaign has bifurcated. I think things are really cooking over in the jungles of Opar. The United Federation of Cavemen, Servants of the Secret Egg, Defenders of Opar and the Sacred Mushroom Circle, FOE TO ALL THINGS THAT HOP is threatening to bust out all over the campaign map. That is in connection with the Dark Crystal, an ancient artifact of unknown power. Not to mention a hot sorceress with a frog man army, her demonic alliance… oh, and the kingdom of Mushroomia, beachhead from another dimension.
If I was playing in a campaign like that, I wouldn’t want to quit! But thanks to my rather insane interpretation of the Gygaxian “real time” rules as we have begun to call them, I have to tell all the players that helped make all of that happen that THEY HAVE TO WAIT ANOTHER WEEK BEFORE THEY CAN PICK THAT PARTICULAR THREAD BACK UP.
Nobody plays D&D this way. Nobody does this.
Here’s what I get out of it, though: more time to ponder how I am going to deal with that artifact and how I am going to run the inevitable clash of armies out there. I get a break from some challenging dungeon mastering problems WITHOUT HAVING TO TAKE A BREAK FROM THE CAMPAIGN. Meanwhile, the players are drafted in helping to make another situation many hexes away turn into something AT LEAST AS INTERESTING. What a challenge! Can they pull it off? READ ON!
So the players are back in the Valley of Bones where Trobelor has just gotten done training Fagor up to Hero level. The group of sixty Venger Satanis clones have been going nuts in the neighboring hill hex with some kind of archeological dig. A Cleric/Assassin conducted a spying mission to find out that the Shield of Nergal is purportedly a great ways straight down from the spot where Crubash the betrayer died. HOWEVER, this party does not know this because the spying mission took 7 days to execute and the assassin won’t be back to tell them for another three days.
Imagine telling players that they have to role play as if they didn’t know this had happened and then playing something COMPLETELY DIFFERENT instead. But hey, that’s our table. I admit, I wasn’t entirely sure I could persuade the players that this was the right way to do it. Lucky for me, they were all in on ELITE LEVEL AD&D and had no complaints.
Now my prep the past few weeks has been about establishing nearby Chainmail units, drawing up a mega-dungeon side-view style as directed by Gygax in OD&D, and filling in many more hexes on the campaign map. The players were now eleven hexes away from Trollopulous and looking for trouble. It turns out all of this was EXTREMELY USEFUL to someone that was going to have to whip up a brand new play area with just a rough ideo of what the players were even wanting to do.
On the other side of the mountains, I announced, to the west in the desert wastes is Tharktopia. To the southwest not terribly far away is… the legendary city of HOBGOBITON. And I have to tell you… just mentioning the names of these places IS ALL YOU NEED. This sort of thing just kills, I’m telling you. There was more stuff I wanted to talk about drawn from my maps, but everyone started talking over every else just at the mention of these two AWE INSPIRING ADVENTURE DESTINATIONS.
We had two new players last time that were back again this time and had to make new characters just for this session. (Which is insane. Just plain insane.) Meanwhile the player with the Cleric/Assassin needed a replacement character, too. I’ve got this big problem of explaining where all of these people are coming from if they are not coming from Trollopulous. So I just declare that there is an Adventurer’s Aid Society that builds octagonal shaped hostels for travellers in scenic wilderness locations. Typically they are CONVENIENTLY LOCATED near exciting and well stocked dungeons.
The players were really keen on this for some reason. Possibly because waiting for everyone to arrive, helping new people make characters, explaining the bizarre time paradoxes that dictate what we are doing, and describing the area nearby all takes a great deal of time that is both EXCEEDINGLY IMPORTANT TO ADVENTURING but yet somehow not quite the same thing as ACTUAL ADVENTURING.
But while we’re on the subject, let me tell you. Even a half-assed campaign like mine produces so much esoterica and unanticipated nuance that IT TAKES A GREAT DEAL OF TIME TO EXPLAIN IT ALL. There is back and forth about the nature and significance of every compelling detail. To collectively come back down and consciously enter into ADVENTURE MODE it takes effort, discipline. WHY WOULD YOU EVER PAY MONEY FOR AN RPG SUPPLEMENT WHEN THIS STUFF NOT ONLY HAPPENS AS IF BY MAGIC BUT YOU ALSO HAVE TO SEVERLY LIMIT HOW MUCH OF THIS YOU EVEN INCORPORATE INTO YOUR GAME?
So the players are heading to the Adventurer’s Aid Society building. I try to hassle them about their lack of supplies but the players have a Pegasus in the group. They claim this would make hunting trivial. Okay, whatever. They are going to travel two thirty mile hexes and it dawns on me that the players can just know of any nearby monsters and then probably avoid them with ease. Streams, ponds, and migrating buffalo herd, too. So I tell them that there is a pack of twenty dog men cruising through the area on some kind of errand. The players elect to avoid them and make it to the Octagon unmolested.
(Again, the nature of these dog men have to be explained by the old players to the new players.)
They walk in and there are these two barbarians [note: Unearthed Arcana is NOT in play] lounging around, each with a bad case of thousand yard stare. Fagor had just attained fourth level so he approaches them and attempts to hire them on as henchmen, pointing out how his men had actually leveled under his direction. The tall one, named Laurel, draws up to his full height of seven foot four inches and suggests that mayhap Fagor should hench for HIM. Initiative is rolled and (with apologies to the new players that have no idea what is happening) page seventy-two of the Dungeon Masters Guide is consulted to resolve an unarmed combat action. The insanely baroque rules are followed closely and we determine that Fagor has picked up Laurel and THROWN HIM OUT OF THE WINDOW.
Fagor buys two beers with his last bit of silver, offers one to the fat barbarian named Hardy, and then walks out to revive his erstwhile foe. Laurel comes to, sips his beer, and Fagor tells him, “Trovelore says a warrior must not turn away from his traumas. He must turn towards them, face them directly… AND [CENSORED]!”
(This was hilarious and weirdly poignant as Fagor had rolled a 1 for his hit points AGAIN the other day and all of this was a was a very beautiful expression of these demoralizing dice results. So sad for the new players who merely experience this as a throwaway preamble to the game and not the entire point of the game. But how could they know?)
Now one of the new guys had rolled up a magic-user and somehow he got Unseen Servant for a spell. And I think when he had heard that there was a dungeon near the Octogon had (two hexes ago, now) suggested that he send his unseen servant to the dungeon in order to retrieve a winged demoness such as an Erinyes. Needless to say, the Unseen Servant and the game don’t really work this way. And I, laboring under a crippling definiciency in social skills myself, had gently attempted to steer him into the ethos of this particular game.
Now, this magic-user now excitedly tells these barbarians about how he is looking for an Erinyes. The men are somewhat baffled by this at first until something dawns on the fat one. He runs over to the lounge, rifles through a stack of magazines, and comes back with one full of pictures of naked demon women. The magic-user is like perfect, exactly. Where is she, he asks? The barbarian shrugs and the points to the bathroom. The magic-user goes and searches it and comes back to report that there were no winged naked women inside.
(This is of course Infocom for “you see nothing special.”)
Now the players ask about the dungeon. They say they went in with a group a few weeks ago and got completely slaughtered. Only they lived to tell of it. Standard deal: pit trap at intersection, weird humanoid monsters, total chaos. There’s probably seven or eight left. One got killed with a Magic Missile. At least one was cut down in battle. These guys are tough but not indestructible.
The party gears up, hashes out a marching order, and heads to the dungeon. The proprietor makes them fill out waivers before they leave. Also gives them day glo bracelets to wear. They go to the dungeon entrance not far away and go through the turnstiles. They come to the pit trap and identify it. The brand new aspiring bard character wants to force the pit trap open so he presses on it with his halberd while someone else holds on to his belt. The trap opens with a very loud clang.
It is of course extremely important that this aspiring bard explores this pit trap. It’s a doozy, too. Thirty feet down with terrible, nasty spikes at the bottom. Someone lowers down the bard. He is about halfway down when I ask for initiative.
It’s rough. The players’ front line wins initiative and hurls missiles at these grey, ragged, glow-eyed things coming their way. None of these guys drop in spite of a direct hit with the flaming oil. The person lowering the bard guy into the pit gets hit from behind and drops him. I roll two dice for this bard guy hoping to kill him but they both come up ones. Foiled again!
At this point the new guy with the magic-user bows out. This distresses me greatly as I was in the midst of making as much of a good faith effort to bring this guy into the game as I could figure out how to do and it was all RIGHT AROUND THE CORNER. Everything fit, too. But dang.
Before the second round there is a pretty major Theater of the Mind fail in that there was major disagreement about where the party and the monsters were in relation to the pit. I rule that during the first round the monsters had lept over the pit into a chaotic melee. There is a couple more rounds of damage to tally before the monsters finally PASS a morale check and then fight to the death. There are coin pouches on the monsters and the bard guy finds a bunch of silver down in the pit trap. At this point the players take all the silver, retire to the Octogon, spend maybe two days healing up, and then come back. I don’t know if placing the silver in the trap was a good idea or not, but there you go. PLAYERS THAT TAKE SIGNIFICANT DAMAGE AND GAIN ANY AMOUNT OF TREASURE AT ALL ARE GOING TO GO BACK TO TOWN. Everybody knows this is the way.
Real time play can fortunately discourage this sort of thing maybe and yield natural consequences for it… but not with this particular situation. The players go back in, head right at the intersection, and find this room with bedding and so forth. They find a case of electrum, too. They throw over all the beds looking for secret passages and find this trap door that leads to a stairwell. They go down a long ways. The stairs sort of zig zag every which way. They come out into a very large dungeon room that has been so flooded that everything is covered in lime stone. Caveification. The players aren’t sure about this. Someone says to stop and listen for a moment. I tell them that they hear a sound like a stomach growling.
That does it. They are gone.
They go back up the stairs and try the other way at the intersection. They come into a room with a prison cell. Inside is a BEAUTIFUL NAKED WOMAN. She beseeches the party to please either bend bars or life gates so that she can be free. They talk about maybe taking her to Trollopulous. A new (but seasoned) player with a fighter announces that he has somehow managed to succeed as his required roll of 10%. The woman (who has a figure like Ben Shapiro’s sister) comes into the firelight as the bard guy is coming towards her with something to cover up her shame. Only too late does he notice the snakes for hair!
New guy fighter makes his saving throw but bard guy does not and he is turned to stone. One player stops the game to explain that his henchman “Peero” is actually inspired by Ben Shapiro and his whole schtick is that he is always looking at things and if you say, “don’t look!” he is the type of person that absolutely HAS to look. Well, Peero Shapiro makes his saving throw. Which makes sense given that it was his sister in there at least after a fashion.
Fagor throws his Lava Lamp Javelin and makes a direct hit. The woman is knocked back, crying in shock and agony. The two sumo wrestler henchmen closed in on her and went to work. One of them successfully executed a full frontal bear hug while the other put her in an arm lock. These guys should have been bitten by snakes here, but even the snakes were screaming in agony due to the Lava Lamp Javelin.
The damage was just stacking up, illustrating just how fragile “super awesome” monsters are when they try to work alone. I was wondering how they were going to play this as this monster was technically a treasure if she was sold to the upcoming Monster Girl exhibit as the Tower of Ultimate Evil. I asked the new guy with the fighter what he was going to do and he hauled off with his axe and chopped the thing’s head off.
How long will a putrescent monster head retain its utility? We shall see! (Good thing we are playing in a game where time actually has meaning, though.)
Meanwhile, after the game the player of the Cleric/Assassin gave me instructions for his character:
PHB p.29 “The secondary function of the assassin is spying. This mission can be coupled with the stealing of some item.”
This is my assassin’s current goals.
Infiltrate the cultists (done I think) Determine who they worship. If they worship Nergal, as an acolyte of Nergal openly ingratiate myself with any higher level Nergal cleric in the cult in an attempt to become mostly above suspicion. If the dig actually finds the shield of Nergal, steal it. If discovered flee, if possible, to the valley of Bones. Seems likely I’ll be discovered somewhere along this path (only first level after all). But, if I find out #2 will adjust as needed.
With this declaration, we have three independent groups operating in the campaign. Three!
I can’t tell you how foreign this is to role-players and how hard it was to persuade the players to actually run multiple characters in the way that Gygax discusses in the Dungeon Master’s Guide. I have been fought tooth and nail over this. But I am telling you it is a REALLY GOOD IDEA. As soon as this happens you HAVE to have consistent rules in order to be able to adjudicate these parties faithfully. No one party commands the spotlight or has special priviledges. The campaign NATURALLY takes precedence over all of them.
Even better, the entire world seems to blossom as more of it gets developed concurrently. All while the “real time” rules force you to have to wait for things to transpire in their appointed season.
Very fascinating to watch this happen. Very unusual way to structure an rpg.
Very objectively an integral part of AD&D, OD&D, and old school play in general!
Treasure and Experience
The first delve resulted in 306 XP for killing monsters. 3063 silver, 56 electrum, and 28 gold were recovered. The new magic user that left half way through the session gets XP for killing the monsters, but DOES NOT GET A TREASURE SHARE. (Attendence matters!) Total gold value here 209.15. XP shares here are 515.15/8 = 64 and gold shares are 209.15/7 = 29.8. (The henchmen get 19 XP and 14 gold this time.)
The second delve resulted in 869 XP for killing monsters and 3000 electrum. Both magic-users were gone from this one so XP shares are 2369/6 = 394 XP and 1500/6 = 250 gold. (197 XP and 125 gold for the henchmen.)
Total haul for most PC’s is 603 XP and 314 gold. Total haul for the henchmen is 301 XP and 157 gold. Magic-users can suck it!
(Note: I owe the players a negligible amount of XP from the Valley of Bones session.)
Cast o’ Characters
Fagor the Half-Orc Hero [Delves 3a, 3b, 4, 5, 6, 6b, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 17, 19, 20, 23, 24, 25, and 28] — 8000 + 603 XP and 314 gold. His horns have grown incredibly large. Looks frightening and diabolical. Cloven hooves His name means “astonishing hero” in orcish. Member of the Order of the Knights of Trollopulous.
Logan — Level 2 (16 hit points) [Delve 12, 13, 14, 15, 17, 19, 20, 23, 24, 25, and 28] Plate mail and shortswords. 130 + 403.5 + 157 = 690.5 gold and 2000 + 548.5 + 301 XP.
Nasty and Dernhelm — Level 2 [Delve 12, 14, 15, 19, 20, 23, 24, 25, and 28] Just a codpiece and a spear. 130 + 403.5 + 157 = 690.5 gold and 2000 + 548.5 + 301 XP. (Trained for dedicated grappling)
Peero the Sweeper — (Strength 15 an 7 hit points) [Delves 19, 20, 23, 24, 25, and 28] 31 + 80 + 165 + 403.5 + 157 = 836.5 gold and 53 + 119 + 349 + 548.5 + 301. Has antique monocle from 5th aeon.
Laurel and Hardy the barbarians (Session 28 only) Henching for Fagor after meeting him at the Octagon. 301 XP and 157 gold.
Rubiest — Human Ovate (Session 22, 25, and 28) Has a Pegasus for a best buddy because being “good” has its priviledges. 1500 + 603 XP. +157 gold for session 28.
Harry Plinkett — Human Prestidigitator (Session 22, 25, and 28) Turns dead player characters into pizza rolls. Has enough XP to level but not enough gold. Has magic hat and a scroll with several high level spells on it. +29.8 gold for session 28.
New Guy Magic-User (Session 28 only) — Really wants to find the monster women. 64 XP for session 28. No treasure!
Franz the Veteran (Session 28 only) — Made his saving throw versus gaze attack. Something to talk about in the tavern back home! 603 XP and 314 gold.
Note to players: with the campaign bifurcating, accurate records of expenditures, XP, activities, and location becomes much more important. People should be able to reconstruct how we run this game from your character sheets along. These records will be audited when you attempt to level and your grade will be adjusted accordingly. Thank you!
Note to self: To speed up the combat sequences I will take the time to make improved Referee control sheets that include armor class and significant stat bonuses. I like not knowing how much hit points people have as that forestalls temptation to fudge rolls.
Step up your game!
The Grave Yard
Lucas Mild Mantle, Veteran (Session 28 only) — He qualified to be a bard. He fell into a nasty pit trap. But he was turned to stone by a Medusa that looked like Ben Shapiro’s sister. His statue currently stands in the Octagon building of the Adventurer’s Aid Society.