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Category Archives: Appendix N

It’s Coming!

 

Get ready, y’all. This one’s gonna blow you away!

The Emergent Fantasy World of AD&D

Tam Robinson is a babe.

I’ve been tough on the players.

I just had no interest in running a game featuring kobolds and goblins like happens so often when you run Keep on the Borderlands by the book. But you know, with three healing spells at first level for each cleric, high powered rangers and paladins holding things down, and with enough money in the game that the fighting-men can afford plate armor now… hoo boy, they can hold their own up against some pretty tough opposition. Tougher opposition means bigger payoffs– a tradeoff that seems quite satisfactory, at least when the players are winning.

The magic-users are kind of hysterical. Gone are the predictable Sleep-tossing special weapons units of my B/X games. We really are seeing a lot of weird stuff crop up in play: Spider Climb, Burning Hands, and Read Magic have been the spells that been used so far in the game. Such off the wall spells! The players are one spell scroll away from fundamentally changing the balance of power between the classes, but even if they do they still have to make the “chance to know” rolls to get the good stuff. Spell books and spell components add yet another limitation to the magic-users. Magic is strange and weird and mysterious again!

Meanwhile one cleric is very, very close to leveling up. Several others of the tough guy types are maybe halfway to second level. Another good haul could could cause characters to take a break from adventuring in order go take care of their training requirements. Guys that drop to zero or less hit-points miss out on both the big scores and the experience.

The effect of finding significant treasure last session can’t be understated. I had worked up new rumors and new NPC’s for the tavern but nothing else mattered the moment that a significant treasure haul was discovered. Talk about having a motivation for your characters! It was so intense it was palpable.

And the collision of the wandering monster tables with the encumbrance rules made for a surprisingly elaborate scenario– one that came out of nowhere, really! Weird magic-user spells combined with relatively elaborate morale rules added a lot of color to stuff that would have been a little more predictable under B/X.

The game has its own internal logic and it sure does assert itself quite strongly. My desire to create a sort of auteur type monster setting is overruled by the capriciousness of the dice, the rapaciousness of the players, and eclectic specificity of the rules. (And on the player side, my smart aleck spin on the AD&D half-elf begins to look ludicrously out of place.) As I revise my rough notes for the game, refresh and restock areas, and ponder what is needed, the AD&D game begins to shape me much more than I anticipated.

The rules are ponderous, sure. But once the essence of the game is extracted from the manuals, I have to say… it sure does work. AD&D is alive. It is packed with gaming insight. Random tables like the city/town encounters matrix are a godsend, solving longstanding game design problems with just a few rolls of some percentile dice.

Most of all, Gygaxian wisdom brings a depth, breadth and scope to your game that is far richer than the stories that you might think to impose on it. You can do a lot worse than take a chance and see where all of this stuff leads.

The Hole in the Sky

Well I don’t think I have ever run AD&D before unless you count that one disastrous attempt to run “Roarwater Caves” from Dungeon Magazine issue #15 a long, long time ago. Times have changed! With many years spent studying the ancient texts and an all star crew of players on hand, now was a great time to seize hold of gaming dreams from another time.

My first encounter with AD&D or any kind of role playing game at all was with a strange kid at a YMCA summer camp that was willing to run a couple of elementary school students. It was a weird and very brief experience. The guy let us use someone’s continuing characters that were carefully recorded on this parchment-like paper. The kid that was playing with me wanted to crawl into the mouth of the green devil face, which would famously annihilate anything that was placed inside it. The dungeon master was mortified as his elaborate character sheet became invalid for continuing play.

But that’s D&D for you.

I open up with the players in the tavern. A farmer is complaining loudly that he is sure that the dragon has woken up early from his hibernation– much of his cattle have disappeared in the night. A ranger speaks very seriously about increased activity among the wild men to the south. Many of the signal fires can be seen as they communicate over great distances. Finally… there is Zanzel Melancthones drinking himself to a stupor at the bar.

The players ask who Melancthones is and I say the local high level magic-user. They ask me to describe him and I say he’s the sort of guy that’s liable to have to have 1d6 scrolls on him. The assassin walks straight up to him and buys him a drink. Alas, he gets a 01 on his reaction roll. Melancthones erupts from his chair, shoves the assassin to the floor, and beings pummeling the poor adventurer with his fists.

The rest of the party restrains the old wizard as he laments bitterly that no one believes him. With the other party actively distracting him, the assassin attempts to pick pocket him. The chances were slim due to the assassin not getting his thief skills until level three, but the roll was a 20 on percentile dice and I declared that he managed to pilfer two scrolls off the old guy! The casting of a read magic spell would later determine that the scrolls contained lightning bolt and protection from magic. Kind of a nutso haul right out of the gate, but okay!

The wizard takes them to his tower and shows the party this amazing device he created– it’s a long tube with glass on each end. He claims it can allow you to see far away places as if they were nearby. A player magic-user then takes the device and sure enough views the northern jungles, the western hills, and the southern sea as if they were just across the street. But then in this other direction which he can only describe as “yonder”… well, the player magic-user can’t seem to find it. But the second player magic-user can. There it is… the hole in the sky!

The players are hired to go check it out. 50 gold pieces now and 500 when they come back with news of the place. Also they manage to borrow a patented Melancthones’s Magic Farseeing Tube and gratefully accept his offer to pay for their horse rental. They set off into the yonder. After a days ride they encounter a pack of some kind of howling dogs. They confront them, kill one, injure another and send them packing. As they travel on they hear in the distance the dim sound of horns which are off key, followed by screams.

The players reach the ends of the earth. The see that there really is a hole in the sky. The edge of the world slopes upward gradually. A magic-user strikes it to no effect and then laments not having any iron spikes to hammer into it. The party takes stock and realizes they only have half as much rope to reach the hole. The assassin runs back to the farmsteads and takes another 50′ of rope from a barn. Meanwhile the rest of the characters throw rocks into the hole. They hear the strange horns coming from the hole and hear screams there, so they throw a rock with light cast on it up into the hole. Even with Melancthones’s Magic Farseeing Tube they cannot see what is happening inside.

The party is stumped about how to reach the hole in the sky until he recalls that he can cast Spider Climb. He takes out a vial with three live spiders inside and eats one of them. Then he consults the players handbook and calculates that he will only make it half way up! The thief elects to climb the celestial dome up to the hole in the sky and makes it up there, then calls down, “you ate a spider for nothing!” The 80′ x 100′ room he is in is filled with dried old vines covering everything. He ties the rope to them and the party makes it inside.

They note that the floor, walls, and ceiling are perfectly flat, perhaps made from some sort of metal. There is a lever next to the hole in the sky which the assassin impulsively pulls. The hole snaps shut as flat metal plates spiral into place. The rope is unfortunately cut in the process. The players are left with about an eight foot length.

With a bulls-eye lantern to light the way, the party elects to explore one of four strange passages leading from the room.  These passages are neither man-made looking nor like natural caves. The angles of everything are in all directions, not quite crystalline. After a while the party experiences a moment of vertigo, wondering if there is something non-Euclidean about the shapes of the passageways.

The passage begins to slope downward and then gradually begins to widen. The party comes to a stream formed from a foul, oily liquid oozing out of cracks in the walls. The assassin attempts to set it on fire with his flint and steel, but nothing happens. When the party jumps over the stream, they hear the blaring sound of the out of tune trumpets… and then screams. In the pulse of a sort of strobe light they see humanoid forms coming towards them.

The players discuss various options including something involving flaming oil, but then decide to hold their position and wait for these things to arrive. I rule that weapon length determines who goes first. The players manage to take out two of the seven humanoid things. When killed, they disappear in a puff of greasy vapor. The monsters manage to drop a magic-user and knock the thief down to one hit point. Looks like trouble! The players discuss their options, maybe fleeing or even just jumping back across the stream. The cleric offers to cover everyone’s escape, but then the thief points out that he is the only hope to save the mage. The mage who has run a very faithful AD&D campaign points out that the rules for retreats are not favorable. The players may as well stand and fight!

In the next round, the players lose initiative and the monsters take down everyone but the cleric. The cleric had previously told everyone not to worry, he has a back up deity. In this dire moment before his final act of the game, he holds aloft a very beautiful hard back book about everybody’s favorite game. The cleric says he appeals to the creator of this tome for divine assistance. I regretfully inform him that it has no effect. He rolls his attack and it comes out to a natural 1. He then falls in the mass of screaming, howling creatures that claw and bite him to pieces. His last conscious thought being to wonder if such things are capable of consuming his very soul.

Rest in peace:

  • James King, Human Cleric, 5 hit points, level 1, 0 XP.
  • Azirian, Human Magic-User, 6 hit points, level 1, 0 XP.
  • Zordak, Human Assassin, 6 hit points, level 1, 0 XP.
  • Verrod, Human Thief, 6 hit points, level 1, 0 XP.
  • Tundar Neverflim, 3 hit points, level 1, 0 XP.

Killed by screaming, humanoid monsters in the hole in the sky.

Not Brand X: Dracoheim, 3d6 in Order, Fantasy Vietnam, and the Beating Heart of SF/F

Fantasy (Misha Burnett) American Fantasy — “That’s what I set out to do with Bad Dreams & Broken Hearts. Dracoheim is not on any version of Earth–the Settled Lands are on a world with a different year and a different climate than Earth, the physical/metaphysical laws are different there. Yet the setting is recognizably American (despite a sprinkling of UK terms to describe the government and courts). Dracoheim is Los Angeles in the middle of the 20th Century in the same way that the Shire is rural England at the end of the 19th Century.”

Books (Jon Mollison) Bad Dreams and Broken Hearts — “Erik Rugar makes Harry Dresden look like a chump, and makes Discworld look like a set from Scooby-Doo. Imagine if Bright wasn’t so preachy and had some solid romance subplots. It’s that good.”

D&D (E. Reagan Wright) The 3d6 Grease Trap — “Guys who run Big Boy D&D understand that how a character is rolled has no impact on the way the game runs. The best DMs do not craft worlds and challenges for characters, but for players. The sandbox gets stocked with high challenge areas and low challenge areas. The wheels of the campaign churn away with neutral efficiency. It is up to the players to determine which is which by throwing bodies at the campaign with the same reckless abandon as a Soviet lieutenant yeeting prisoner units at German machine gun emplacements.”

Brand Echh (Jon Del Arroz) Is Publishing Just A Scam For Power? — “Alan Moore is right. Editors don’t have taste. Publishers don’t have taste. They have no idea. It’s why the comic stands are filled with crap, it’s why there’s nothing even worth picking up when you make a Barnes & Noble trip. Everything that’s worthwhile is on the new frontier of self-publishing.”

Brand X (Kairos) The Fap Cult — “One thing both cults have in common is their elevating of personal preferences over the good. Fundamentally, they do away with the concept of objective value altogether and seek validation solely from their choice of weird sexual hangup or entertainment product. Nor will they countenance neutrality. You must join in their liturgies and partake of their sacrifices. Just try pointing out that transsexuals are mentally ill or that Big Brand X is a shame ritual that bilks money from paypigs for the pleasure of insulting them.”

Short Fiction (Rawle Nyanzi) The Persistence and Promise of Cirsova — “Though fiction writing in general is a tricky business, one stands to make more through a series of novels than through any number of short stories. I often wonder if he is wasting his time due to the poor economics of the enterprise, and yet, he continues to publish. The short story used to be the beating heart of SF/F, but now, it is little more than an appendix; through continual publication of short stories, P. Alexander may be able to revive the form.”

Brand Zero (Cirsova) Rawle Nyanzi’s Brand Zero and a Look at Some Cirsova-Published IPs — “The short version of it is a mindset to put fully behind the failing corporate fiction brands that continue to disappoint and instead focusing on new brands, new properties, either by creating them or supporting them. Talk up these new IPs instead of spending time and effort on complaining about how let down you are by the old brands. Brand Zero has picked up a lot of traction in the last few weeks, but it’ll be interesting to see if it gains real momentum beyond a few writing circles.”

Fantasy F***ing Vietnam (Brain Leakage) Kitbashing D&D: Skills, Resolution Mechanics, and Combat — “Every patrol to and from the Keep should be a tense cat and mouse game, as the PCs watch out for goblin ambushes, senses alert for any sound or sign that the enemy is near. Meanwhile, they’re trying to move like ghosts through the underbrush, staying to the darkest shadows they can find. Every snapped twig or dropped water skin should cause their little hearts to race, wondering if they’ve just given themselves away.”

Canceling Fantasy (RMWC Reviews) Pink Slime Review: The Man Who Came Late — “In short, everything about the world and characters that made them unique and loveable, from the magic to the culture to the weirdness to Holger’s blockheaded goodness, are stripped away and replaced by stewpots, housework, and boring people living boring lives. Faerieland and the forces of Chaos have been replaced by something far more sinister: ‘Realism.'”

Brand Zero (Paul Lucas) BrandZero Reviews of Indie and Self-Published Authors — “Here you go folks, copies of the reviews I’ve posted to Amazon for the work of independent and self-published authors. All of these people publish work that at least verges on the Weird, however you want to define it, and some of them roll around in Weirdness, completely naked. This is my small attempt to help support non-mainstream creators by focusing on them and not on the products of large media companies – naming no names. Go #BrandZero!”

Appendix N (The Charmed Circle) What’s in Your Appendix N? (Memories of the First Books #4) — “Appendix N was a list, written by Gygax himself, enumerating the works of fantasy and science fiction which were influential in the creation of Dungeons & Dragons. These were the books which shaped Gygax’s imagination, what he brought to the creation of the game, and what the game would become over time. Some of the authors are considered icons of the field, and some of the works are seen as classics. Others are less known, obscure, even out of print. All of them are, in a sense, part of the game’s DNA.”

From the Comments (Sacnoth’s Scriptorium) The New Arrival: APPENDIX N (The Book) — “As other reviewers have mentioned, his reviews revolve around creating strawmen who somehow ‘hate’ classic sci-fi/fantasy (because it is too politically incorrect or features male protagonists) and then he encourages the reader to ‘fight the power’ and read the classics anyway. It’s nonsense, none of these authors are ‘condemned’ by his mythical ‘them’ who are out to destroy fantasy and keep him from reading books about ‘heroic’ characters like himself.”

Life After 1980: RPG Consent Forms, Broken Elfs, and No Concept of Economy

D&D (John Blacktree) The Nature of Consent Forms in Role Playing Games — “There are great DM’s and awful ones. It’s a roll of the dice. (pun intended) but when something like a consent form is brought forth you are exerting an unearned level of control over others fun. They didn’t sign up to be whipped and burned with candle wax. They just want to play a game.”

Fantasy (Dutrope) Editor Interview: Cirsova Magazine — “For some reason, we get a lot of elf stories. Unless you’re doing something Dunsanian, no elves! Look, we can fix formatting, we can add page numbers to the footer of your manuscript, but we can’t fix a story that has generic D&D elves in it.”

Writing (Dean Bradley) Fighting Style and Character — “Before the renaissance in traditional European martial arts, a katana conveyed a much more seasoned and developed fighting style than a bastard sword. We now know that the fighting style of European knights was every bit as systematic and developed as that of the samurai, but the truth mattered less than the viewer’s impression of skill and study.”

Books (Castalia House) Swords & Dark Magic — “The better sword and sorcery writers who came out of the 1970s got their start in the small press. They started out writing short stories, then novelettes. A few then made the jump to mass market paperbacks that were generally 80,000 words long. Now it is backwards, the writers of the past ten to twenty years start out writing 700 page novels for seemingly never ending series. They have no concept of economy.”

Appendix N (Grey Dog Tales) Tarzan Reborn! — “I have no way of knowing exactly how the late Fritz Leiber approached the job, but I can easily imaging him watching the movie over and over, along with reading the original script treatment, making copious notes on what did and didn’t work. Frankly, he did an astonishing job of it. I was recently reliably informed that Philip José Farmer considered this to be one of the best Tarzan novels he ever read. I can’t disagree with that appraisal.”

D&D (The Alt-right DM) How Consent Works — “When you sit down to my D&D game, you consent to play my games. Both the RAW B/X game, and the head games that are part and parcel of dealing with a maniac like me. Like my second ex-wife’s ass cheeks, there a lot of overlap between the two.”