QUICK AND DIRTY DISPOSABLE DUNGEONS - PART 4: BOGDAN SZWARC TALKS ABOUT HIS D&D CAMPAIGN FROM POLAND
Photo: An example of what happens when game ideas and inspiration strike
Today we have an interview with a gamer from Poland: Bogdan Szwarc.
When we went public about the documentary we discovered that there are a lot of Table Top gamers in Poland. This has led us to making friends with several of them who we are keeping in touch with.
(We have plans to visit in person and do some gaming too.)
The first gamer we made friends with was Bogdan. We talked a lot about all kinds of things, but at the forefront it was always gaming. well ok, we also talked about food and beer.
His current campaign is being run as a Core Rules OD&D campaign. That means that all he is using are the 3 Little Brown (Tan) Books and he doesn't even have Thieves in his game. In our own gaming we're using what we've always used, the 3 LBB's, a Greyhawk Supplement I, a 1st ed. Monster Manual, and a Judges Shield. It's pretty much the same, yet Bogdan is going even more OSR by only using the 3 little books.
We were really curious about playing with so few rules, so we began an interview to find out more about running a pure OD&D campaign, and also about gamer culture in Poland.
How long have you been a gamer?
It's difficult to determine the exact date. And what does it mean to be a gamer? I was a rpg sympathizer since my childhood, when I saw AD&D 2ed ad in some comic book (around '94-95?) and first read about such games in a computer game magazine (maybe '96?). I didn't have access to any rpg books until later, so in my excitement I wrote my first rpg system without even playing an actual game before. It was based on German rpg The Dark Eye, I believe, since I based the mechanics on Realms of Arkania rpg series I was playing at the time (or shall I say: on the mechanics as I understood i - probably not very much). Even without actually playing any games I totally knew that it's a hobby for me. Since early '90s
I was also playing the shit out of Polish Talisman edition, which I house-ruled heavy to get it more rpg-like. Not enough to be called a grognard, but in terms of portions of my life: more than 2 in 3 !
Are you strictly a RPG'er or do you also play war games?
I used to play board games a lot, but now I'm strictly a rgp person. I was never into war games, however I have a stock of miniatures (still growing) which I sometimes use in my rpgs.
Is there a lot of gaming happening in Poland?
Since I'm a gamer and have a lot of gamers as friends and do a lot of gaming, my impression is that - yes, there is a lot of gaming in Poland. And in reality? I believe that also - yes.
Few years ago rpg's were in crisis, but it looks like we have a kind of revival now, some big names going to be published in Polish (D&D5, WFRP 4, CoC 7, Witcher RPG) and more new people are getting into the hobby looking for quality fun so I'm quite optimistic about the nearest future. And I was stunned by how many people are into Adventurers League, it was a mayhem on the Pyrkon convention some time ago.
Why do you choose to play the original rules without even adding thieves in to your game?
I don't like the Thief concept as envisioned in early D&D, it replaces interaction with a die roll. Disabling or finding a trap (picking a lock, staying stealthy etc.) as a kind of mind game between DM and player is far more appealing than just rolling the dice. And if you discard Thief skills, there is no need to keep the Thief in. Also I don't like the wide range of attribute modifiers. +1/-1 is enough. I noticed that when I DMed Labyrinth Lord and Lamentations of the Flame Princess: if you can have a +3 modifier, players will be unhappy if they have no modifier or even a +1 one. It shifts the focus from the game as an interaction with the setting to the game as a contest in optimizing your mechanical performance. Of course - I like games which rely mostly on dice rolls. But modern games are doing it far better than the old ones. So, if I want to play the old game, I would like to keep it at it's best - minimum defined mechanics, maximum interaction and discussion between the DM and the players. If I want to roll for skill checks I'll grab D&D 5e, since it is optimized for this kind of play after decades of development.
Photo: The Land of Koban
How long has your OD&D game been running?
This particular campaign (called Amberpeak) started December 2017 and we have 27 game sessions as for today. And still counting! We're playing on a weekly basis and there is no end planned. There are 3 active players, plus one which retired and one who took a break and will be back in October. Now their characters are 3rd-4th level, but initially there was a real meat grinder and dozens of 1st level PCs died before the current heroes emerged. Players noticed that little paragraph about multiclassing in Men & Magic, and decided to try it, so we have two F-M/M-U characters. Initially I planned a rather straightforward campaign about exploration of new and strange world with a mythological theme, but starting from game session one, thanks to player creativity and some lucky die rolls there is a kind of main story arch of evil Wizard Aristotle trying to seize control of the land (and one of the PCs being his former student). And now PCs were transformed by a powerful curse into human torch, treant (or rather something like Groot) and an undead. It gets more and more interesting.
I also noticed the little fragment titled Other Character Types in vol. I so the undead player (who is both a Hero and a Medium) will now progress in the Un-Dead class, starting as a Skeleton/Zombie to eventually become a Vampire.
In terms of how long I've been into OD&D - not so long. I'm a newbie, but a very dedicated one. This is my second OD&D campaign, the first one was very short.
What is your world like? Is it based on something related to polish culture, or more like world wide fantasy trope culture?
My previous OD&D campaign was taking place in far future dying earth style Poland, but it was mostly for cryptic satire reasons. Amberpeak has a theme of Greek mythology, with some twists however. I'm trying to use only 3LBB monsters, but give them a mythological skin, theme or twist. Where it is necessary, of course, Medusa or Minotaur are sufficiently mythological on their own. I posted a more detailed description of the setting outline some time ago, you can have a look: http://wolfgangschwarzenatter.blogspot.com/2018/06/amberpeak-campaign-setting-outline.html
The creation was inspired by a Rush song, how cool is that?
Since we mostly do research on old games, and particularly war games, the idea of returning to Original D&D is fascinating to us. This truly retro approach leads to fascinating play. How do you handle situations where a thief would usually take over and use Special Skills?
Even if you play OD&D with supplements, there are a lot of situations not covered by the rules. And, you need to handle them somehow, right? So, my basic answer is that I handle the thief situations as any others not covered by the rules - with detailed description and some ad hoc rulings, usually some form of x in 6 roll or reaction (bell curve) roll. So, e.g. we have a chest to be opened. The players ask questions about the structure and a possible lock, I answer them making things up or rolling if I don't know (-Are there any inscriptions on the chest? -Hmmm (1 in 6 roll), yes, there is a sign in an alphabet unknown to you). And the players describe what they do, which leads to my decision what happens (supplemented by a roll sometimes). When deciding the outcomes of an action I bear in mind that we play for fun. So the more unexpected the outcome is - the more the fun. And usually it turns out that such situations are not resolved in a standard fashion: chests are not simply locked with a key, secret doors are not opened by pushing the right brick etc. Since there is no time-consuming mechanical crunch in OD&D, we have plenty of time to do a complex narrative over situations which in other games are resolved with a skill check.
How do you run a situation where there is a trap that needs to be noticed and then, either understood, or disarmed?
I don't usually use standard traps, like you notice that one of the floor tiles is slightly raised which then triggers a spear being shot from a hole in the wall etc. Everyone has seen dozens of such devices in crpg or tabletop games. I prefer less obvious traps including sets of buttons in need of pushing in correct order, laser-shooting statues, poisonous or corrosive gases or liquids and my personal favorites: magic curses. It usually starts in a 2 in 6 roll to spot something odd and then the narrative comes in as I described earlier. As an actual play example: the PCs entered into a room with two bronze statues with black hole-like void in place of heads. When they approached them, two stone slabs blocked their path and a graffiti in an unknown language appeared near the statues. They wandered around the dungeon some more and found an imprisoned werewolf, who they freed and learned from him that the graffiti says "A sacrifice of that what is more valuable than blood." They tried to throw different kinds of objects into the void-headed statues, to no avail. They discovered that gold thrown therein is absorbed, but did not continue to use it (I decided that it needed 50 GP of sacrifice to lift the slabs). Instead they took their picks and other mining equipment and spent 3 days gouging their way through the slabs. Did they need a Thief for that? Absolutely not!
Even a trapped chest seems like it needs a thief to deal with it.
You're right: it seems. ;)
But when there is no skill check to disarm and open such chest, there is plenty of room for a real adventure, it is more interesting than roll for disarm, yeah, you opened it, good for you.
We really love home made, or home brew games of any kind; what is gamer culture like in poland in regard to using rules and adapting them to your own creation, or world setting, as opposed to merely buying pre-fab modules?
Wow, that's a tough one and a good topic to have a long discussion. RPGs in Poland got popular in the 90s and due to some publishing decisions and coincidences WFRP became the most popular system, while D&D was disregarded until early 00s when 3.0 became wildly popular. WFRP (1st and 2nd editions, the ones popular in Poland) is a very flawed game. At the same time - it became a default game, most widespread among Polish RPG fans. And it was (and unfortunately still is) converted, hacked and house-ruled with absolutely no rhyme or reason; people played everything using WFRP ruleset. There is a joke (it's funny because it's true) that when someone is asking for an opinion on some system on the internet, the first comment will be "why use X rules, if you can take Warhammer?" As a backlash: there is a justified "no-houserule, system matters" movement prominent in the fandom. On the other hand - there is another extreme of, let's call them: The Keepers of the Deep Lore, who run around the place and yell that you are not playing the real game if the banner of the City of Thousand Spires has a griffon with three claws instead of five like it says in Splatbook #347. They are particularly pitiful, since they usually oppose making our hobby more inclusive. Probably I'm over simplifying here, it needs a thorough discussion.
Luckily, as we are catching up with the rest of the world (in large thanks to the indie movement), homebrews are getting their respectful place among the fans. However - as with all geek-culture markets the majority of the audience wants to have splat books and ready to go modules/adventures which leave little to no space for your own creation. That's the case with D&D5e unfortunately that's why I have mixed thoughts on that system, it discourages players to create their own worlds. And for me - that's what RPG is about, I'm all about DIY approach.
Photo: The player's map of the first level of Kepoi dungeon
Since you've been running a very core rules OD&D game, we are also interested in how your players are experiencing these games.
You definitely need a special kind of players to do a core OD&D game. They need to know what to expect and accept the outcomes. In my previous OD&D campaign I tried to run the game for nearly everyone who wanted to join in. And it was a disaster. Modern players are not familiar with the concept of taking the plot into their own hands with no mechanical support and are spoiled by the challenge rating system (if there is a monster, they assume that it needs to be slain right here right now, in a chivalrous duel with no dirty out-of-mechanics tricks). My current players came to me after my lecture ar a convention in my hometown and they definitely knew what they wanted. They take the game idea for granted and try to make the most fun of it. The setting is equally created by my imagination and their actions.
Do your players seem more engaged with the make believe in your OD&D, and also, is OD&D as deadly as we keep telling people it is?
Yes, they definitely are. I think it's a kind of an epiphany - suddenly you understand what it's all about and start to mold the game world. My players are not re-active, they are absolutely positively active ones. They are the Fred Funk kind of players, that should be understandable. ;)
I believe that they became more like this thanks to OD&D served straight.
And yes - OD&D is as deadly as you keep telling people. And even more. It's difficult to imagine if you don't try it yourself.
I don't keep a detailed body count, but I think that something like 20 characters have died in this campaign. In the previous one we had two or three TPKs over a very short period. In Amberpeak players hold a contest of the most stupid death. Current no. 1 is a first level Cleric with 1 HP, who died bitten by underground mosquitoes. You can't have a non-deadly game if the characters have 1-6 HP and each blow deals 1-6 damage. Not to mention poisons, death-rays and level drain. It does improve however, when the PCs reach level 3 and up. And it depends heavily on retainer availability. If you have a dozen or two of mercenaries acting as human shields it definitely improves the odds of survival.
Does it force your players to be more inventive?
Definitely yes. They are collecting all things they encounter in hope of utilizing it one day. They devise new kinds of equipment, flamethrowers, smoke bombs, inventive ways of providing light, and much more. Magic-Users make every possible use of the few spells they have. They arrive at each game session with brand new ideas. Some of the ideas are stupid, but if they're fun - I always try to give them a go.
How are your players using such a basic system to improve their odds in encounters?
It is the other way round - the system is so basic that it does not limit the players in any way. They need not to think in terms of game mechanics. They can think of literally ANYTHING which may improve their odds. It's thinking outside the box at the most basic level - there is even no box. Of course - it needs cooperation on the referee's side. It usually looks something like this:
How about doing X?
Well, looks interesting, but I see a possible issue with the Y aspect.
Oh, you're right. Maybe doing it in the Z way will help?
Yeah, that looks reasonable. If you roll 1 in 12 it fails, otherwise it works.
And they try literally everything, limited only by the time of game session. Like developing alternative revenue sources such as holding fighting tournaments, or employing charmed humanoids as artisans and clerks.
Photo: Kepoi dungeon, level 4
How much pre-planning have you done for your game?
Most of my games start from a single inspiration. In the case of my current game I was driving home from work and listening to Hemispheres by Rush. Suddenly I had an idea powered by the record and the image of broken in half moon from Thundarr TV series: an ancient Greece themed world which is divided in two eponymous hemispheres - one inhabited by mortals and the other by gods. Then (as usual) I spent few weeks in a frenzy making notes, reading source material and fleshing out the details of the setting: names, monsters, general outline of the location of the game. Then I launched Hexographer, drew a map, rolled for some additional locations, placed the points of light, rolled some story cubes for rumors, prepared some basic encounter tables, printed some basic dungeon maps and hey presto! We can start the game.
Is that a lot of pre-planning? In terms of working hours spent on the setting - quite a lot. But it all was just setting the canvas for a painting to be painted during the gameplay. In terms of preparing the plot - none of this happened. I had no idea what would happen during the campaign.
My previous setting was inspired by a single joke that one very popular Polish preacher would be an Evil High Priest in D&D. And it spawned the same kind of reaction.
What have you used for the country and dungeon maps?
As to the Wilderness - my imagination, a pen and a piece of paper. Then Hexographer. And then some random rolling for features like ruins, tombs, etc. When it comes to the dungeons - I had little time before the start, so I printed some random maps found online. It was a good idea, since on the first game session the players decided to delve into a dungeon. All other dungeon maps were prepared from scratch. I doodled them in my spare time and designed a vertical structure of the mega-dungeon (there are a dozen or so of levels and sub-levels).
In our research on Blackmoor, it really reveals how Blackmoor was operating on a many levels, unlike many other Fantasy campaigns we know of. Players build armies and the Egg of Coot is always scheming to invade Blackmoor town. Do you see your own campaign expanding into that level of a game, or are your players happy with the Dungeon Adventure type of game?
Players are not building armies (at least not yet, but the one PC who became an undead is scheming to build a massive army by means of level drain when he reaches the rank of Wight, but Aristotle the Great Wizard is definitely scheming to invade the colony of Derbent, not to mention his numerous minions who have their own agendas. Additionally, players who have some personal feuds with the Wizard are scheming to foil his schemes. Of course there are the Forest People and their Ancient masters, and the Witch from the Mangrove Forest with her hundreds of charmed slaves. And what about space and time travelers from the City of the Thousand Spires, subject to the White Spider Queen of the Black Spider King? And what about the mysterious city of Naissus ruled by the Invincible Overlord -- sounds familiar, doesn’t it? So, definitely yes, I see that my game is expanding to the Arnesonian level. PCs are relatively low-level (the strongest one is a Hero), but as their power progresses there will be more and more involvement in the grand scheme of things and political agency. I really love it, and of course that will not mean that they’ll abandon the dungeons; they need to have a steady flow of cash after all, and it’s still pretty far to have a barony of their own.
And as an addition to the last question: have you made use of the air combat rules, or the sea combat rules in your game yet?
Not yet. There was only one maritime encounter so far: a Giant Octopus has eaten alive one of the PCs. And no aerial fight as for now. To be honest, I’m not a particular fan of the sea and aerial combat rules in OD&D. They seem to be out of place: gratuitous splash of simulationism in a generally simple and abstract game, artifacts of a wargaming legacy.
Every dungeon master has their own tricks, do you have any short cuts, or secret rules that you have in your games?
My main trick is: Fake It Till You Make It!
Players should never feel that there is a halt in the game because you are downloading new data or rendering the environment because they trespassed your expected area of play. Take the first thing from the top of your head, insert it in the game and think about reasoning behind it later. If you have a clear view of the basic themes of the setting that should not be very difficult. And a more specific trick: after few game sessions I make a list of adventure hooks, plot points etc. which appeared in the game so far. And then, when I don’t have any idea how to introduce an encounter or explain it: I roll to determine randomly what past event it is tied to. It allows for a sense of consistency and enhances the feel of a living world. And another one: after each game session I sit and try to determine what will be the world’s reaction to what just happened. Alliances are formed, wars waged, and seeds of future events sown. I very much enjoy all the behind the scenes mini-games. I usually try to determine the outcomes with a reaction-like roll, so that I’m equally as surprised as the players are.
Thank you for letting us know more about games and gamers in your country. You will have to keep us posted on gaming in Poland. Maybe you can do a report on your big gaming and comics convention next year. It sounds very interesting.
Thank you for giving me an opportunity to talk about it! I’m just a humble gamer and a big fan of your project. Sure, I’ll be more than happy to share a report from Pyrkon - the biggest convention in Poland, but as you mentioned - that will happen next year. This year we’ll have a con in my hometown called Copernicon. Much smaller one, but also much more focused on RPGs. And together with Marcin who you also know we’re holding the first Polish dungeon exploration tournament. It’ll be a lot of fun. The event starts Friday, September 14th.
Thank you for your time and really looking forward to see the film!
We hope you enjoyed this interview. We're planning on contacting other gamers around the world to discuss old school play in future articles.
Just to review what Bogdan talked about a tiny bit. How do you feel about this style of Zero Rules gaming?
We've been using thieves in our games, but this is making us think we should go even more basic for a couple of sessions, just to see how it works.
The idea of not being able to die roll your way past things in a dungeon is fascinating, and very much how we think Gary and Dave played in the early days. Would you be willing to have a game where every situation requires true interaction?
We're seeing positive results with the T-shirt sales. Help us speed up post production by buying a T-shirt today -- Check out our Shop! :)
Dan Boggs has finally revealed one of the the most astounding discoveries in RPG research.
Here is the link:
Few photos of Richard exist: Richard is in profile with his brother John
Now for a bit of background and some thoughts on this discovery.
A while back Dan Boggs decided to dig deeper into the mystery of the Dalluhn Manuscript a.k.a. Beyond This Point Be Dragons.
BTPBD is an old D&D manuscript. No one really knew its provenance for many years. We felt it was likely more closely related to Arneson than anyone else, as did Dan. This led us to contact Dan since he was one of the few who was saying: It was found in M.AR. Barker's garage, thus the most logical avenue of investigation is a connection to the Twin Cities gamers.
This has led to a very fruitful relationship with Dan, and others on our team, regarding the many documents we've found. We passed a lot of things onto Dan in order to get an outsider evaluation, a good example is the Spanish Royals Character Matrix.
Yet Dan does his own digging as well; and when Dan goes digging, he usually finds gold.
The continuing debate on the origins of BTPBD led Dan to finally trace it to a MMSA gamer, Mark Bufkin, who would commute from northern Minnesota in order to play with his friends in the Twin Cities.
Oops, a correction via Dan Boggs:
"Mark Bufkin - as far as anyone knows, Mark didn't ever commute to play in the TC and I don't think he was in the MMSA. He was a gamer at Chuck Monson's table in Duluth where in 1973 Monson ran Duero's Tower, his Blackmoor spin-off campaign. Monson gave Bufkin access to whatever papers he brought back from TC. It was Monson who did the commuting and was in the MMSA."
As with many of these searches, this led even farther into D&D history, because amongst his papers was yet another even more compelling document made up of 6 pages.
Dan calls it The Richard Snider Variant. We tend to call it the Snider Variation. (It's quicker to say that. ;)) It is likely the oldest actual rules set from an RPG.
Since Dan found it, we've pestered him to reveal more of its content, as it is his find and we felt we couldn't publish anything about it ahead of Dan -- because it is Dan's find.
We did put an excerpt from it into our latest video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gM8GHeFVHyA&feature=youtu.be
Surprisingly, no one seemed to notice, or comment, on this undiscovered manuscript within the video. It just slipped by everyone.
We have some thoughts about these rules ourselves and our interest lies in the innocuous. While others may want to look at combat systems and character attributes, our greatest fascination lies in how these rules deal with Secret Doors.
Yep, within the Snider Variation is a short sentence that deals with Secret Doors.
Anyway, this is a very exciting day for us. Dan's discovery of the Snider Variation is actually yet another goldmine of evidence that points to what our research group has been saying all along: If you want to find the origin of RPG's, you have to go to Minnesota!
Enough about what we have to say, go look at what Dan's post IS saying, because it is a bombshell.
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The Area Surrounding the Town of Blackmoor - Rendered with Game Stamps
Most of us are map freaks; and not just about game maps either. Show us an old city map, or National Geographic country map, and we can spend a lot of time tracing our fingers across it and thinking about faraway lands; it's part of being a gamer.
And of course, when it comes to making our own maps -- We Make Them!
Whether we use high quality pens and papers, or just scribble on the nearest scrap of paper, map making is one of the many hobbies within a hobby, that are part of being a gamer.
Additionally, when it comes to maps for fantasy games, there is an artistic quality to home made one of a kind maps, that cannot be equaled. Those of you who still have some of your old maps that have been played on for years and years will surely know what I'm talking about.
Not long ago we came across a website for some map making tools that caught our eye. We're really into everything, and anything, that can best be described as Old School when it comes to RPG's and these Game Stamps really do have that hand made look and feel.
Another thing we really love, is small companies that produce unique products for gamers. Back in the day, that was the basis of the indy game design revolution that made that era feel special. These new little companies still have that exact same energy. They are companies that are accessible to their fans. Their driving motivation is their passion for gaming and game product design.
A sample map taken from the Game Stamps website
Seeing the examples on the web site got us pretty excited already. We're also not shy about pestering people, so we contacted the creator of Game Stamps, Brendan Day, and had a long email exchange about his Game Stamps and what his plans are for the future. Like all gamers, we also had some of our own ideas about future stamps we'd like to see. We really want a 3 hex Sea Monster stamp!
Here is the Secret Sauce on Game Stamps.
Game Stamps is going to be launching a Kick Starter to fund their line of wilderness hex ink stamps before too long. We felt it was worth giving you a preview peek at these new map tools as well.
As of now, Game Stamps has developed a Basic Set of 8 Landscape Hex Stamps:
Desert, or Shore
Examples of the actual stamps with hex shaped bases
The Landscape Set can also be augmented with a Landmark Set:
Castle or City
Ruin, or Dungeon
There are also a variety of other stamps just waiting to be added to this product line as well. You can find that extensive list on the website: gamestamps.com/artwork/
Examples of the actual stamps with square shaped bases
Since we do not have our own set of Game Stamps, we decided to do a test of sorts.
We asked if Brendan could make us a map of Blackmoor with his stamps, just to show us how these stamps could be used in a real game. We sent him two different maps of Blackmoor and he made us a sample of his interpretation of the area around Blackmoor town. (see the top image on this post)
The result of the test reveals a very versatile tool that lends an old printing press look to the maps. Clearly, we're a bit taken by these stamps and can't wait to get some of our own -- they just hazez the right look and feel!
We look forward to seeing Brendan's Game Stamps have great success via the coming Kick Starter. If you think these are a cool addition to your own map making tool kit, you can sign up to get notified when the Kick Starter launches on his website:
We are still looking to our fans, gamers like you, to help support the movie project. Go to our SHOP link (above) and purchase a T-shirt and Free 35 minute movie sample. :)
The French language AD&D module G1 by Gary Gygax taken from: https://www.donjondudragon.fr/univers/greyhawk.html
Lets talk about what it means to own your Dungeon.
With the publication of D&D's 5th edition, the one thing that is missing is a variety of game environments. Sure, there are some modules out, but you might also want to consider that there are also lots and lots of vintage modules for both, earlier versions of D&D, and other game systems entirely like Tunnels and Trolls, and many others.
So why not take an old module and update it a bit so you can replay it with your friends?
Image taken from: https://hiveminer.com/Tags/map,module
Our recent blog posts have been about Quick and Dirty Dungeon Design with a focus on home made dungeons. We had some responses on game forums that we visit where people mentioned that they like modules.
We do too. We just use them differently.
In fact, we don't hate them at all, we're just more into Do it Yourself games. In our current game we're actually running Greg Svenson's Tonisborg dungeon; which is essentially a module, because it comes with room keys. We aren't removing anything in Tonisborg, what we are doing is adding to it, in order to make it feel real.
Tonisborg by Greg Svenson (1973)- Level 10 example
Being a very old Dungeon, it is done in a very personal style that worked for Greg Svenson at that time. If he designed it today it would likely be completely different. His dungeon key is also very sparse because he was playing in the old style where a lot of it is kept in the D.M.'s head.
When we play it, all we do is tinker with it a bit to make it feel like our own dungeon. By changing it we also make it seem as if it is our own creation. Now we can -- Play it as Our Own Dungeon.
We have added little details when we run it. For example in the last session, the players found a passage they wanted to go through that was choked with big rope-like cables. Greg's notes say nothing about anything in that tunnel. These turned out to be old giant spider webs and the players burned them away before passing. As you can see, this isn't changing the dungeon at all, it's merely adding some flavor to an already wonderful and scary place.
Additionally, a big problem with running a published module, or someone else's dungeon, is that often a D.M. won't expand on what is there, or feels they can't change anything. The end result is that these dungeons can end up feeling like they are frozen in time.
The last thing a D.M. wants do to is give the players the feeling that any RPG game environment is static and dead, unless it's full of undead of course. :) The goal should always be to bring any place to life. The best way to do that is by making the dungeon your own and altering it.
Think of it this way: you paid for it when you bought it. It's all yours to do whatever you want.
Why not upgrade one of these classics and play it once again?
A great resource is one of the many dungeons created by Gary Gygax. Module G1: Steading of the Hill Giant Chief is a perfect example for revamping and upgrading. We are showing one of the level maps and it is pretty straight forward and standard looking. But things have changed since those days and most Game Masters make their own games much more flavorful. Additionally, this module was limited by more real word limitations, such as the cost and difficulty of printing it; thus they were likely squeezing as much as they could into a small number of pages and using few colors in doing so.
These Classic Dungeon Modules have also been around forever. Some of your players may actually have bought the modules themselves back in the day. Having either read it, or played through it, they can't experience it as if it was brand new.
There is still hope though -- apply OWNAGE to your classic module and make it your own. And then watch your player's jaws drop when they realize everything has gotten a bit of interior decorating and the place feels kind of fresh and new.
Another issue with Dungeon Design, is that there are so many fantasy game systems available now, that if your group is running in a different game system, you may still want to personally port an old module to your newer game, just because you love it.
This is why, no matter what Dungeon you choose to run, you have to Smack it with some -OWNAGE- and make it your own!
Consider these two options:
-Change the Map
-Change the order, location, and even content of the room descriptions
1. Changing the Map
Let's say your are running Module G1, you can easily upgrade this module's map.
Today we have the internet. A quick search for "Medieval Castle Blue Print" produced this link:
Oh my, now you don't even need to draw a map!
All you have to do is print out these plans for personal use, and write down which room from the module's Room Descriptions goes where. Pretty easy right? Of course, there's even more you can do to Own this Dungeon. You've come this far, so why not alter the original plans to suit your needs. Those maps may be actual maps, but your game may need something to make them more fun.
The scale on old castles is actually quite small, so you might want to double it, to make all the rooms bigger!
You can add a some secret passageways below the castle, or even some tiny ones, that the Giants are too big to use, that are right inside those huge walls! Maybe there is a secret passage that leads to the inside of the well from outside the castle, now you have a way for your players to sneak into, or escape from, the castle.
Is there a dungeon below this castle? If your players are having fun with the module, why not expand under ground?
Or, if you want to get weird, you can add some sort of, above the castle, dungeon in the clouds. A floating cloud room, or dungeon, will make this castle seem even more fantastical.
2. Change and Add to the Room Descriptions
You can also alter what is in the room keys to suit your own game better.
Now that you aren't locked into an original map, you can add spice to the game. Maybe the Giants have some pets they keep somewhere. Or, there are things the giants don't bother to remove from their castle and are just a nuisance to them, but can be an enemy, or an ally to your players. There's no reason to not add some faeries in the garden right? Or, something they don't even know about, like a hidden crypt that was built by the castle's previous owners and is full of traps and undead.
The options on expanding the encounters on an Owned Dungeon are limitless, so we won't say more on actual encounters. Yet, there are details that one can use in the hallways to add flavor to an adventure: crumbling and unsafe passages; water running down the walls and pooling on the floor; mosses and lichens; or anything else you can dream up.
And in some instances, you can use these simple elements to freak out your players.
D.M.: You hear some rustling in a pile of debris.
Player: Ok, I draw my weapon and approach carefully. What do I see?
D.M.: As you get closer you see a mouse dragging something across the floor to a hole in the wall.
Player: What is it dragging?
D.M.: It looks to be a freshly severed human finger.
Our primary objective with these articles is to help newer gamers who may be having trouble as they explore the world of Fantasy gaming. Yet, we are also sharing some of our own experience with RPG's. It's easy as a D.M. to run out of energy. Sure the weird ideas are coming along fine when you sit down to design an adventure, but you are stuck in the same old way of doing things and your in-game-play may be suffering because of it.
Consider this: If you change how you think about your games, it may also add to how you run your games.
We hope some of these ideas are helpful to all D.M.'s new and old.
If you have not checked out our videos -- make sure to visit David Megarry's Dungeon! channel on You Tube.
Here is the link to one of the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gM8GHeFVHyA
Disclaimer: The internet is full of words. Words are hard.
Sometimes we use too many words. There is even a word for using too many words and it's kind of hard too:
It's a lot of work to read all that crap.
The Bards of Greyhawk hate words, here's their video:
We've been so busy working that when we added up how long it had been since we last played D&D it had been 3 months!
Not that the crew hasn't been begging for more abuse at the hands of Greg Svenson's Tonisborg dungeon, but scheduling has been tough since everyone has real life commitments.
Sadly when we sent out notice for the last game, it was short notice, and we only had a DM and 3 players. Crisis briefly set in because many years of experience has proven that the ideal number of people is 4-5 players and a DM, with each player running 2 characters.
A traditional Secrets of Blackmoor Iced Tea glass can be seen in this photo
Then we realized that we do know of some experienced gamers we could call on to help fill out the party -- The Bards of Grayhawk!
Disclaimer: The internet is full of words. Words are hard. There is also a video to commemorate this fateful meeting.
A quick FB message and it was all set up, The Bards of Greyhawk would join up with Secrets of Blackmoor for an epic and possibly weird gaming session.
Ritch asked for an address, but I refused to give it to him until the day of the game. I told him to think of this gaming session as something like the old days of Raves, where you didn't really know where the party was until the last minute.
When Saturday night rolled around we had the pleasure of meeting Jeremy and Ritch in person for the first time over a very laid back session of OD&D.
A few minutes of dice rolling and some equipment purchases later and the Bards were ready to Rock -- You gotta love OD&D when it comes to fast set up and play.
The Bards are in da house!
Randall had the two dwarf characters again. It has become a tradition that when a dwarf gets killed it gets re-used as yet another of a very large family of dwarf brothers, cousins, and extended family. Thus the family name of Har* gets carried onto other characters, that never have to be re-rolled, and which have similar names:
Harvii - (with two i's is pronounced Harv-eye) who died in game 1 of Tonisborg
Harvi - who died in game 2 of Tonisborg
Scarvi - who can't seem to get himself killed no matter what
Marvi - who is taking up slot 2 and can be expected to live a very short life
*A brief historical note: Randall is following Lord of the Rings dwarf naming protocol so this is all fully within regs.
And of course we had the rest of the regular party of characters, Rosa's, Chalice, and Elie, and Chris with Ned* and Earl*.
*Note: Ned and Earl are names that come from a long and ancient line of sub urban mobile castle peoples.
We're still playing the old game
By this point all the bad puns and jokes were already flying; most of which cannot be put into print. Yet when it comes to Epic Gaming there have to be bad jokes, or it won't meet our standards of Huzzah!
The game was again to be a journey into Tonisborg dungeon which dates back to 1973. It likely has not been run since about 1982, when it was "misplaced".
As the party approached the ruin, the DM dropped his first hint via an NPC: Are you going to take the little stairwell, or the big stairs? I was doing that thing you do as a DM, where you can't tell them to do something but you can suggest it.
A while back we did a blog post about Tonisborg and talked a bit about the dead-li-fication (real word -- google it) of this dungeon. The first level has some 4th level encounters on it that will destroy a weak party quickly and it's actually a bit safer to go straight to the 2nd level. In fact, Tonisborg is what inspired us to come up with the Killer D.M. concept in the first place.
The players ignored the DM's subtle hint about perhaps going to the second level of the dungeon where things might be easier and headed back to the place of carnage known as level 1.
I always wonder when people draw while I am Dm'ing, is it really that boring Ritch?
I won't go into a blow by blow retelling of the adventure since the one thing I hate most, is when someone bores me with extended long winded apparently unique special and funny tales of their own D&D games. I will try to be brief and show what is relevant about old dungeons like this one.
After a very short time in the dungeon, Tonisborg once again proved its reputation is well earned -- Tonisborg is a Killer. Almost every encounter was something that the players deemed too big to handle and they ran away from it.
Rosa even proclaimed: If this is 1st level, I want to go to kinder level!
Ever notice how dice in photos look almost as if they were placed there?
And then things went from worse to a lot worse, as the players finally reached Rooms #1 and #2. A very bad place indeed. Yet the players were doing really well and playing very tactically as they used a thief to explore the passageway solo so he would not alert anything, or anyone, of the party's presence.
I love when players treat Dungeoning as more than a jaunt through the dungeon and approach it as a kind military mission with scouting and planning -- Nice Move Jeremy!
Pencils too, can look almost as if they were staged in the photo
Of course, the party had no way of knowing that death was waiting for them in both rooms and seeing as it was their choice, there was nothing to do but play on and watch things unfold.
The thief listened at the door to the room with wraiths in it and heard nothing. Then he listened at the door with the Theurgists and he heard some voices chanting. Well, so far so good.
The thief rejoined the party and a quick debate took place about what to do. It was decided that the non-noise door was the safest option. As DM, I was thinking, "Oh goody I get to kill now." So the 2nd level fighter and the 1st level thief went back to the door, thinking they could open it quietly and explore the room.
One failed door open roll later and the fighter and thief found themselves facing 2 wraiths.
After that, all hell broke loose. The wraiths killed the thief in one blow. The theurgists came out of their door to help the wraiths. The Fighter started running and said something along the lines of "AAAaaaaaaahhhhhhhhh!!!!"
Somehow everyone else got the cue that running was a pretty good idea.
Tonisborg: 1 Party: 0
We go fully medieval -- No Printing Presses means no Graph Paper!
Having decided that enough is enough the players chose to leave the dungeon for good. This led to a quick die roll to determine a random encounter which once again came up with giant weasels. A previous game we ran had weasels as a wandering monster encounter as well, and the party was already familiar with them. For instance, Scarvi the Dwarf still wants to find out how to capture and tame one, so he can "ride the weasel" -- Dwarves are weird.
Since the encounter range was only 10 feet a battle broke out immediately. One of Ritch's charatcers went below zero hit points in the first round. Since we play a very home brewed game we have our own simple system for dealing with this.
If you go negative hit points the party can still save you with healing and by binding the wounds (Only clerics for 1d4 per character) after the fight is over. So the -5 got healed by the cleric to a +3 and that player survived.
This all brings me to the whole point of today's blog post. It's always really wonderful to meet new gamers. And The Bards of Greyhawk are our kind of gamers. They are funny and they like to have a good time. They fit right into our group and the game went smoothly.
A good example of this happened during the weasel battle when there were just two weasels left and I asked Ritch, "Which weasel are you attacking".
And Ritch said, "Well, I'm a hobbit, and everyone knows that most hobbits will choose the lesser of two weasels."
If you have not heard of the Bards of Greyhawk, you should check them out.
Our personal favorite is this german electronica inspired tune they made for CafCon:
They also have a website with more info here: http://www.bardsofgreyhawk.com/
As I write this little missive from my humble jail cell in the Dark-Site run by the Dungeon Design Code Infractions Secret Police, or DDCISP, I am forced to ruminate on my crimes.
I was delivered to this vile "dungeon" of despair because I did not use graph paper. I did not follow the lines. I was a sloppy and lazy Dungeon Master. I acted without any concern for my players and actually faked half of the adventure -- I am the worst kind of Dungeon Master because I am a cheater.
And most of all, I disrespected the memory our great founding fathers, St. Gygax, and St. Arneson.
I am a traitorous comrade and deserve my fate. My living conditions are abysmal and I am being tortured daily as I am forced to listen to bad slavic rap music round the clock...
…and must eat healthy food: oatmeal. The low sugar diet will kill me -- Please Send MTN. DEW!
Ok, everyone relax!
There is no secret police force that keeps tabs on how people design their dungeons, so if you think someone is peering in your windows to see what your maps look like, either take your meds, or call the real police.
Now, lets look at Quick and Dirty Dungeon Design some more.
This is yet another truly shaming example of how I do dungeons. (See Exhibit A)
Exhibit: A (also known as The Walls of Shame)
If you examine Exhibit A, you once again see a a lot of personal shame -- my own. No one was ever supposed to see this, ever!
Lameness abounds, except for the fact that we had a blast playing it. This little piece of garbage dungeon lasted 4, or 5, sessions and I kept adding to it between sessions to keep it fresh and new. If monsters got killed, monsters got replaced. None of that clearing things out stuff; every mission required whole new monsters to be dealt with before getting to unexplored areas.
I think it took me maybe 2 hours to whip up and I didn't even bother to make a separate page to note the monsters on. What I did instead was to CHEAT. I made little notes and drew little designs next to places on the map. These are all just memory triggers for me to use as I am running the dungeon.
This is once again a bit heretical because at some point, someone decided that dungeons were supposed to be really painstakingly complicated and throughly annotated straight jackets. This probably came about because of all the published modules.
We've all seen these pre-made dungeon modules where everything is described in minute detail:
…as the players enter the room, the first thing they will notice is that there is a trail of glistening and damp saliva leading from a wooden chest in the corner to a dead orc sitting with his back against the wall on the opposite side of the room…
Ok, Some people love modules. I won't fault them for it. I use them as inspiration and STEAL IDEAS from them; yet I actually find modules incredibly difficult to run -- Too much to remember for my little pea brain.
I find that making my own dungeons is much easier, and the process for making them can be done in simple stages.
You can either make your map first, or create encounters first, I tend to mix it up and make half the map and then populate it to see how the rest of the map should be drawn. I'm jumping ahead of myself though; I need an overarching concept before I do anything.
First I come up with A THEME. In this case I have a double theme, one of which is that half the dungeon is silly because it is dedicated to Fred Funk. There is some scrawly graffiti in a triangular room that says: "Funk, King of all the orcs was here!" Along with a scary pumpkin face. The other is that a clan of kobolds is living here and the nearby village peasants are angry because of the raiding parties to steal their cows and occasionally people. There's more, but it does not matter. Ok, three overlapping themes, but whatever.
So what if the kobolds discovered a room where a demon is trapped inside a statue and that this is a really bad place for the players to find.
Themes can be anything that inspires you, be it a location like the River Cave complex from the last post, or who lives there, or maybe just a mood - I want this to feel scary like a haunted house. I want to emphasize that mood is important,
I even make notes in some rooms about the kind of mood I want to evoke during play. Is there fogg, is it silent? Telling your players that everything is suddenly silent is a powerful moment in any dungeon dive.
Once I have a map and a theme, I make a list of EVENTS like so:
-Area of map is controlled by kobolds
-There is a tunnel that over time will become infested with what look like insideout rat
-The wizard's chamber is empty, right now, but on the desk is a magic dagger. If it is touched, it animates and can fly around stabbing people. It is AC2 and if hit by a player it will deactivate and fall to the ground until touched again
-The players hear footsteps running away from them into the darkness - Boo!
-A supernatural gust of wind and rain suddenly occurs and then immediately stops And then a voice is heard laughing maniacally
These examples are actually much more detailed than my actual lists of ideas. Some of my ideas may be wandering monsters that talk to the players, I just didn't list those. Yet they are all just little memory triggers for me, so that when I run the dungeon I remember what is there and what should happen. I also embellish all my notes in real time as I actually play the encounters out. I am always faking my way through the game, Yes, I cheat!
Once I have my list, I simply plonk everything into the rooms.
The players will already know something unsavory lives here, because there are filthy symbols scrawled on the dungeon walls. Look closely and you see some symbols marked on the map - yep kobold graffiti. (Sorry if you are a bit too prudish to see these symbols. I make really scary dungeons.)
If you look at the kobold warrens, you see 6k, 7k, 8k, next to some of the rooms. My kobolds are nasty little buggers, if they are losing they will run away and warn the other kobolds, so you can see where one kobold survived and ran up to join the kobolds in the next room as a curved line and a +1. Now the next room as 8 kobolds, and then it happens again, they retreat and now the players are up against 14 kobolds and the tables have turned as the players beat a hasty retreat!
The rat tunnels are like sewers and as we played I really went to town describing how the players are trudging through ankle deep water and then they see all these little eyes reflected back at them by their torch light. This is standard run of the mill stuff, but it can scare players, and as they found out: It can still kill you!
For the record, our crew beat a hasty retreat and everyone survived.
And of course the uninhabited Wizard's lab. I cheated on that too. When I made the map I put it on the extreme upper right hand side as a secret chamber. The players never found it, so I moved it to a room marked spider in the upper middle of the map ,they found that one. I like to RECYCLE planned encounters, if they are not discovered, and why waste a good chance for fun?
Most of the time I cheat when I run a dungeon. I make half of it up on the spot and I move interesting things around as I play to keep things interesting. Sometimes my notes are not enough and I make things up in game time, or alter them based on player behavior. I said - sometimes. :)
And I can hear all of you out there saying things like: But that's not FAIR!
Well cupcakes, life isn't fair -- and I cheat my players when we play. The thing is, am I really cheating them?
Cheating players, is when they die because something they have no chance to resist kills them. Yet a core reason for playing is to have a stimulating experience and interact with all kinds of situations. I am just being lazy because I only prepare a few special encounters before each session and pad it all out with monster combat encounters and strange events. again, I try to maximize player enjoyment with, you got it, CHEATS to keep the game interesting. If the players do not go to that side of the map, well then, maybe something interesting ends up over here.
I also don't bother to use random charts to make combat encounters. I've been playing for decades and I just decide what I want where, and make a note on the map.
Some people have commented to me, Yes - Dan Boggs - I am talking about you, that it is not fair to populate your dungeon intentionally. Dan, It's just that I have monsters that I hate to use, so I find it easier to put monsters into rooms that I feel an affinity for, and I tend to make up one shot home made monsters a lot. It's a map and even if my placement is not random, what passages the players choose is, so it's still random.
Of course a first level dungeon like this requires a bit of restraint.
In the previous blog post I talked about referee mystique -- Players do not know what you are doing and this allows you to keep them nervous and afraid of your dungeon, as well as just keep them out of your business; so you can go about making things more intense in your game session -- by Cheating!
I like to run fast games and my Cheater System actually helps me run a quicker game. Which also brings me back to
MY PROBLEM with pre-made modules. There is so much detail in a pre-made one, that I can often forget those details and the players may never get all the details. This also happens in my cheater games, I forget things, and yet the players do not know this and have fun.
I used to really feel anxious when I missed some key element during a game, I was really hard on myself at times. I've finally realized that if the players don't know about it, they can't care -- JUST HAVE FUN and keep playing!
I also think the THROW AWAY DUNGEONS sometimes end up being some of my best work. Since I don't care too much about it, I feel much more freedom in making it.
Well, now you've seen another of my truly embarrassing maps. And hopefully , you will consider trying some of my sloppy and lazy technique in order to speed up your own dungeon making for your campaign.
There is no reason that game preparation should take too long, as long as your game judging ability still provides for an entertaining evening of gaming.
If you try a test run of a home made Quick and Dirty Dungeon, you may find your players are having just as much fun as when they run through an expensive pre-made one. In fact, you may find you are a better dungeon master than you realized too.
And another thing to consider -- Some encounters will never happen:
The players met an NPC named Boaty. Boaty is actually a pair of twin magical boats who say the same thing at the same time in chorus. They are very freindly and helpful. They will take you anywhere you want in the watery areas of the map.
They asked the players if they wanted to go to Happy Island - NO. Then they asked the players if they wanted to go to Dragon Island - NOPE. And finally they asked the players if they wanted to go to Laser Penguin Island - A DEFINITIVE NEVER EVER!
Consider that any truly big and dangerous monster, or place, in your dungeon is well known. The characters will hear about it from the NPC's. And perhaps, if they are smart, they will just not go there. These mythic places that players never want to visit will become epic in your games. It's been nearly a year and the players still mention Laser Penguin Island despite never having been there.
Ok, now it's time to apply this technique and see what happens. Get some paper and a pen(cil) and get to building and populating your own module. Set your Theme, make a List of Events and Creatures, Then note everything on your wonderful new map -- Instant Dungeon Module!
The methods for Quick and Dirty Dungeons are really just a tool. It may not work for everyone.
Try it, if you do not like what you've made, consider that this style of design allows for redo's. These sloppy maps can be rough drafts and practice. You can throw the map away, or better yet, look at what you have, take what you like, and make a newer and better map.
Don't forget to check out our SHOP as well as the Gary Con Movie Draft Sample here:
Image from: https://www.foodiebaker.com/skocjan-caves-slovenia/
Everyone is an expert on map making, just google dungeon map tutorial, or something similar, and you'll get a gagillion hits that lead to sites where people tell you that they have the answer to how it is supposed to be done.
It's sort of funny to think that some people will try to tell you that there is a right way, and a wrong way.
Not long ago, we got to visit a cave complex in Slovenia. It was fascinating to see just how big the caves are. And also how high the ceilings were, or how deep a canyon can be underground:
This site has an interactive that is pretty awesome too:
Being in a real cave complex makes the little wheels in your head start to turn, and the idea of a river cave dungeon complex was born.
Because the original rules suggested using graph paper, that is exactly what we do, and most of us end up following the lines and treat the graph paper like the lines in a coloring book. It's sort of amazing that all of our underground places align to the cardinal points like the streets in Mayberry U.S.A. And of course, because so many of us have seen pre-published dungeon modules, we try to make our own hand drawn maps look as tidy and professional as what you see in the commercial products.
So, what if we just stop caring about it so much?
Map courtesy of: Worlds Lamest Map Makers and Bic Ball Point Pens :P
This is a map that was drawn yesterday while lying on the couch. It isn't even finished. It's really sloppy. It's embarrassing to share this publicly because the only award it will get is as World's Worst Map Ever.
There are places that upon further inspection, we'd like to alter a bit. Well, it's drawn in pen, so the next step will look even worse!
Having played for a long long time, we're less and less obsessed with dungeon map perfection. In fact, we have stopped using graph paper and just draw what comes to mind on whatever piece of paper seems to be handy. This means that the actual distances and dimensions during a game are estimated on the spot. The little tunnels are about 10' wide. The pathways around the canyon walls are likely more like 20' wide, which should make the players begin to worry about just exactly who lives here?
Most of the maps in our current game are really chaotic because of this, but it doesn't seem to change anything and the players have no clue just how sloppy they are!
You may be wondering why we do this, there are several reasons:
-The Dungeon Master Mystique. No one will ever see our maps because players aren't ever supposed to know what the Dungeon Master knows.
-Anachronisms. Even though players want to have exact duplicates of your map that they create: there are no such things as graph paper and mechanical pencils in our fantasy world!
Never mind surveying poles and equipment.
-Old School Play. We play a fully immersive game, where all of the action takes place as a verbal exchange. We prefer to only use minis in order to determine marching orders. Once a battle starts, the action is all in your head like so:
Ref - There are two orcs standing in the room.
Player - Ok, I run over and attack the one on the left with my sword - RAHR!
Frenzied die rolling follows. ;)
If you play the verbal style of RPG things can also move really fast and you can clear half a dungeon level in one night.
-Confusion. It's fun to trick the players about what direction they are traveling in and we make maps with lots of squiggly passages that angle in all directions. This makes it so they end up with their own sloppy, but realistic maps -- and sometimes they get lost.
-Game Time. Sure, the players can do a very accurate map, but this will take time, and guess what -- the DM gets to make more wandering monster die rolls.
-Scale. If you use graph paper and use a scale 1 square = 10', your dungeon is actually a really tiny thing, how the heck is a dragon supposed to get in there?
-Real World Time. Mapping and populating an entire dungeon could literally take weeks. Our players can clean out a dungeon in just a couple game sessions. When they are done with a dungeon, they just move on and forget about it. All that effort and OCD detail gets put in a drawer, possibly forever.
-D.I.Y. That's right -- DO IT YOURSELF. The essence of the original set of rules for D&D was that they were a template for how to run a game; a lot of it was not defined. Every DM played differently and made things differently. This means that each and every D&D dungeon was a unique experience to be delved into.
The most important part of all of this, is that making maps is actually fun to do. It's like a hobby within a hobby. All you need is a pencil, or pen, and a piece of paper, and you can descend into a magical world that is all your own.
Remember the words of the greatest Dungeon Designer of all time...
A few hours of day dreaming on paper and you end up with an instant home made Dungeon Module!
Our attitude is that maps don't really matter. They can be as poorly made as possible, and the experience of playing an RPG is still the same -- it's how you use the map that matters.
So relax and have fun. better yet, get a piece of blank paper and a pen(cil) and get drawing!
Oh and --Thank you Dave Arneson, for inventing RPG dungeons!
Don't forget to check out the T-shirt and FREE 35 minute online screener offer,
just click the SHOP button at the top of the page :)
On The Use of Strategos for the Implementation of Hit Points and Experience by the Twin Cities Gamers - by Michael Wittig
Today we have a guest author on our blog- Michael Wittig.
A well done documentary requires many disciplines. Sure, there is the obvious shooting and editing, but what is just as important is a great deal of painstaking research.
As the film began to reveal a very complicated history it was necessary to reach out to other investigators who were involved in similar endeavors. Thus we got to know our small group of game experts: Michael Wittig, Daniel Boggs, and Ara Winter.
Any concept, or theory, that pops up during the making of the film has to run a gauntlet of debate within our small group of researchers. Often as we discuss one item, it will lead us to reveal other equally important elements.
Today's article is a case in point. We had been discussing (Read this as vehemently arguing) how it is likely Blackmoor began earlier than the dates found in Corner of the Tabletop. We won't go into any of the details on that debate except to say that there are hints that Blackmoor could have begun on christmas of 1970, or earlier.
This is very troublesome because it implies that Blackmoor begins before Gygax and Perrin publish Chainmail in 1971.
It was during this debate over origins that Michael Wittig revealed some charts to the rest of the group that he had extracted from Arneson and Hoffa's adaptation of Strategos.
While it is very clear that other games will create admixture within the eventual Dungeons & Dragons publication, certainly Chainmail is part of this, the antiquity and familiarity of Strategos within the Twin Cities, seems to indicate that Totten's game is the true ancestor of all modern RPG's.
Michael Wittig's observations follow:
On The Use of Strategos for the Implementation of Hit Points and Experience by the Twin Cities Gamers
By Michael Wittig
Some writing about the origins of D&D have suggested that Chainmail (1971) provided Dave Arneson with inspiration for Hit Points and Experience in his seminal Blackmoor campaign.
An example of the use of hit points from Chainmail's "Fantasy Supplement":
“Ogres are killed when they have taken an accumulation of six missile or melee hits in normal combat.”
Interestingly, this rule only applies when Ogres are attacked by normal troops and not those from the Fantasy Supplement
—if an Ogre is attacked by a Hero, or even another Ogre, for example, the rule doesn’t apply. Still, the mention of an “accumulation” suggests that normal troops need to deliver a total of six hits to kill an Ogre, regardless of whether the six hits are delivered over one turn or multiple turns.
Arneson frequently stated that he used a combat resolution chart from Chainmail, yet only for a short period at the beginning of his Blackmoor campaign. Thus, over time, many have come to assume that everything he designed in Blackmoor must also be a derivation from Chainmail.
It appears odd that Dave Arneson, already a published game designer, who is well versed in most of the game systems of his time, would not look to other sources in order to solve problems within his Blackmoor game systems.
While it is clear that Arneson drew inspiration from Chainmail as well, a more likely source for the application of Hit Points and Experience in Blackmoor must come from something that is much closer to home: his own rules for Strategos-A, which he and Randy Hoffa (founder of CinC Miniatures Company) wrote and published in Arneson’s local newsletter The Corner of the Tabletop in 1969. Strategos-A is a set of wargaming rules for “refighting battles during ancient times,” and was based on David Wesely’s: Strategos-N (1968).
Strategos-A states under War Machines that Elephants require “5 hits to kill”:
Anyone familiar with Arneson’s: The First Fantasy Campaign (1977) might recall that Arneson alternates between the modern term “hit points” and his original term “hits” throughout his campaign notes. What is perhaps more fascinating is that Arneson actually appears to have used the same “hits to kill” from Strategos-A throughout the Blackmoor dungeons, albeit abbreviated to “HTK”:
But Hit Points aren’t the only thing that Strategos-A appears to have inspired. Again, some have suggested that Arneson’s development of experience levels was influenced by Chainmail’s division of Wizards into Magicians, Sorcerers, Warlocks, and Wizards, but this division did not appear in print until January of 1972—long after the Blackmoor campaign evidenced progression based on experience. Yet again we find more likely influences in Strategos A, where soldiers are granted advantages based on how many battles they’ve previously fought in:
Arneson and Hoffa’s Strategos-A in turn drew from Wesely’s: Strategos-N, which incorporated similar advantages based on troop experience:
While it is possible that Chainmail inspired Arneson’s Hit Point and Experience systems, we find it more likely that Arneson simply drew from his own extensive experience playing Strategos with his friends in the Twin Cities.
More from Secrets of Blackmoor:
We find Michael's observations to be very compelling.
While some historians do not place much historical value on the use of Strategos in the Twin Cities, what we find over and over, is that Strategos is the primary source for all of their wargaming -- it's their go-to system of choice!
By all indications, they discover Strategos: the American Game of War (1880) possibly as early as 1963, and will adapt it for their own use shortly thereafter. David Wesely will not publish his version called Strategos-N (napoleonic) until 1970, yet the existence of other manuscripts based off of his work support his claim that he had a typed draft by 1968. Greg Scott (founder of GHQ Miniatures Company) describes using Strategos shortly after he joins their group in 1964.
Early derivations of Wesely's work appear in1969. This is when two new versions of Strategos are published in Corner of the Table Top: Strategos-RT (russo-turkish war); and Strategos- A (ancients).
Early drafts of Don't Give Up the Ship typed up by Dave Arneson utilize the morale mechanics from Wesely's Strategos-N, and David Megarry's Dungeon! board game, which is designed in 1972, has components that come from Strategos.
The pathology created by the Twin Cities gamers as to their preference for, and use of, Strategos is very clear.
Sometimes we get interesting emails from the O.G.'s, as we like to call them; the people in either Minnesota, or Wisconsin, who took part in creating these games, either by actually designing them, or by play testing them.
Recently, Bob Meyer wrote us a quick note about a game he got to play in:
"[…]Just wanted to let you know that I made it to a game that Jeff ran at The Source in June…
(He's talking about Jeff Berry a.k.a. Chirine Ba Kal an original member of Phil Barker's gaming group)
[…] This is actually the first time that I have seen Jeff run a game.
It was interesting to see Jeff running the game the same way I have been running Blackmoor.
Of course Jeff was running an EPT adventure. (Empire of the Petal Throne by M.A.R. Barker: TSR game company,1975)
It should not be a surprise to me that our styles as a gamemaster are the same, considering that we both go back to the origins of the games."
Here we have one of the original Blackmoor players making an observation about an original Tekumel, or Empire of the Petal Throne player. Bob didn't go into any more detail on how Chirine was running his game in the same way. We'll have to email back some questions.
Perhaps what is most interesting is that the two -Keepers of the Flame- for both games, were in the same room. Bob is the current Blackmoor referee, and Chirine is doing the same for Tekumel by being the oldest active referee from Barker's group. One was running a game and the other was noting how they played the game in the same way despite any difference in the rules.
And just to add some more commentary, when we sat in on the most recent Blackmoor game, David Megarry's praise for Bob's ref'ing was bountiful. He said things like, we played it exactly as we did when we first began.
It's a tribute to Dave Arneson that his Adventure Game play method continues to be passed down to new gamers when these original players run a dungeon game.