As I write, it's a sunday morning and I'm digging back into a glimmer of a thought I had.
It's just a feeling on the edges of my consciousness.
I'd like to say that I am super genius boy, but I'm not. I keep learning things from the guys: Ara Winter, Dan Boggs, Michael Wittig, and the new guy Michael Calleia.
The research team that has been working to make sure Secrets of Blackmoor is factual, has extensive conversations about game theory. They end up being these expansive email chains that are difficult to keep in your head. Sometimes these email chains last for months, there may be one or two that have lasted years now.
Most of the discussions revolve around the concept of: How Did We Get Here From There?
The feeling I have and that is repeating in my mind is triggered by a comment Ara Winter made during one of our extensive discussions several months ago.
It was something like: Armor Class is a Saving Throw.
For those who are not analyzing games in great detail this may not seem like much, but it is a very profound concept. It gives great insight into how Dungeons & Dragons became what it is, even today.
From the very beginning of the game, player enjoyment was critical to the evolution of the published rules of the game. In 1971 Bob Meyer complained about being killed by a troll with one blow. That was likely the first ever play test response for what would later become D&D.
It set the stage for player expectation. Players need to feel like they get more than one chance. In fact, players want to feel lucky!
As always, I like to remind you that one concept is to be kept in the back of your head, as it's the core of the discussion here.
Well, in this case it's sort of two concepts: Saving Throws and Player Experience.
The role playing method itself is such an exhilarating creature that everyone who has learned the Arneson RPG method has gotten a desire to attach the perfect set of rules to it. When Gary Gygax learns how to play from Arneson, he launches on his own interpretation.
Sure, Gary and Dave worked together on D&D, but much of it is being filtered through its editor, Gary Gygax, and the end result is actually a real mess. But it is a beautiful mess. I am so glad it did not get cleaned up too much.
OD&D cemented a lot of core concepts that are later either abandoned, or perhaps, never fully understood and changed.
My feeling about how the rules are designed can be summed up by examining mechanics, but it's how the mechanics change our perception of the in-play experience that I may not be able to fully explain.
It's just a feeling.
The greatest, and to my thinking, oddest change within the game is any direct application of Attributes to Mechanics. OD&D has a concept of Prime Requisites, or Attributes, yet they are barely used within the game system during play. I feel like Gygax had the glimmering of half of an idea here, and then somehow lost the thread. I think this one concept is a truly different idea and Gygax should be credited for its level of abstraction and elegance as part of the Class System he devised, and yet, he later abandons it for a much more linear line of thought.
When we discovered the Spanish Royals Character Matrix we felt we'd unearthed a Rosetta Stone for how Arneson ran Blackmoor before it became D&D.
If you look at the sheet you see an entire group of characters. This grouping, or CLADE as Ara would probably call it, has one thing in common which is the Attribute categories along the top of the list:
A casual observation reveals that we have two sets of traits. A set of values that are active values. And then the dates, which although passive, or static, indicate the presence of some kind of narrative, or story that exists in a temporal reality. While some may doubt the purpose of this list, to me, it is clear that here we have the oldest example of Characters in an RPG. Even if Arneson absconded with this idea from somewhere else, he is the one who uses it in an RPG, and then we see it appear in D&D and everything else from then on.
Inside the matrix are what we can only assume are the actual values of the attributes.
Since the cross indexed values on the grid are all different yet fall within a very small range, we can know these values are rolled on 2 dice, perhaps with modifiers for age.
Of those top six attributes, something else is very compelling. Most RPG's use a six trait attribute list and that is what we see here in 1971. This will expand and contract over the next few years. In the end, D&D uses only 6 as well.
We asked several of Arneson's players from his napoleonic campaign about this sheet, and they all say that Arneson would use these character attributes to determine events for these characters. Sure enough in Corner of the Table Top one can find an update of events within the game that describes personal events such as marriages, offspring, and illness.
This indicates that the HEALTH Attribute was likely used as a Saving Throw vs. getting sick and dying at the beginning of each campaign turn.
I don't want to go into the details of what each attribute represents for the Nappy Campaign, or how it evolves into other parameters in D&D. I'll save all of that for another discussion, and to be honest I feel Michael Wittig has done so much work on the Attributes that he should publish first.
The main point here is that Arneson saw Attributes as being an active component in both his Napoleonic Campaign, and then not long afterward in Blackmoor.
Arneson was partial to mathematical equations for mechanics as opposed to using charts. This likely comes from his long exposure to Totten's: Strategos via David Wesely. Letters exist where Gary Gygax is telling Arneson that mechanics should rely on a chart, as that is what most gamers are drawn to and can understand easily. Thus one can also see that Gygax is writing OD&D toward a particular audience based on his experience as a game publisher; this preference will continue throughout OD&D.
A MECHANIC FOR OD&D REFS
For those who still play OD&D, I suggest adding Attribute Saving Rolls back into your game, as that is the one missing element which leaves a huge hole in the rules when it comes to resolving many of the unwritten situations that can arise during play.
Make sure to keep it simple. I do a d20 roll of equal, or under your attribute.
I won't cite any sources here, but one should also consider that Arneson was likely not using hard binary rulings, but rather modifying his responses based on how well or how badly one rolled vs. an attribute. This again is a concept coming from Totten's Strategos.
These variable result rolls are something I refer to as a GREY ROLL.
SUMMING UP ATTRIBUTES
As they are, Attributes seem to be a fixed element for characters in OD&D. They never change regardless of how weak or powerful a character gets. For a gamer who is coming back at OD&D from later systems this will seem very strange and illogical.
In order to understand what Attributes represented one needs to drop all their bias and just look at how they affect a character mechanically. This is where you see several approaches already emerging out of OD&D that contradict each other to some extent, or perhaps indicate what direction the combat system design is going to go in future iterations of the rules.
Here is the chart for Charisma. It has a modifier that relates to the probability of getting a high or low attribute. This is what I like to describe as a Linear, or Literal, interpretation of an attribute where the precise value will alter a Secondary Die Roll.
A high Charisma character gets bonuses due to having a greater social power. This is similar to the direction Greyhawk supplement, and later editions of D&D, follow when using attributes to modify die rolls as a representation of greater or lesser force.
CLASSES AND PRIME REQUISITS
Since there are only three Classes in OD&D, we have the three Class related Prime Requisites, or Attributes:
-Strength for Fighters
-Intelligence for Magic Users
-Wisdom for Clerics
There are small hints that these attributes also impact undefined saves, or checks.
"Strength will also aid in opening traps and so on."
"Intelligence will also affect a referees' decisions as to whether or not certain actions will be taken, and it allows for additional languages to be spoken."
"Wisdom Rating will act much as does that for Intelligence."
OD&D booklet 1, Men and Magic, P10
These are vague comments that point to different ways of representing, or simulating reality within the game mechanics themselves.
-Charisma is covered in its own section and relates to how many hirelings a player may have
-Constitution is described in the same section as the Prime Requisites as far as the mechanical properties of the attribute are concerned
-Dexterity too is described as a mechanical element along with the Prime
Constitution has a direct impact on hit points, as it gives a -1, 0, or +1 bonus to one's hit points. Once again we're seeing one set of values modifying a second die roll. It also makes reference to an unclear Survival Percentage roll, and or Adversity.
Dexterity affects how well one uses Missile Weapons much in the same way as Constitution affects hit point rolls. Again, we have an Attack Bonus as a clear indicator of how Attributes will directly corellate to combat later on in Greyhawk supplement.
With OD&D a Prime Requisite does not have any effect on die rolls within the game. Where you see it having an influence is how a character accrues experience points - BIG FLASHING LIGHTS - this is THE CLUE!
My conclusion is that what we see in OD&D are many different design paradigms. I also feel that Gygax left all the concepts in the rules because all of them are interesting in their own way.
Thank you Gary!
At this point I see four core themes in the use of attribute values:
- An attribute can be used as a value to roll a saving throw against, per the unwritten Arneson play style
i.e. A direct roll vs. the value of the Attribute
- An attribute has a direct impact on the tallies for secondary die rolls via bonuses
i.e. Modify secondary die rolls: hit points, hireling loyalty, and missile accuracy
- An attribute is an abstract concept that applies to ones advancement in ability*
i.e. as one gains levels, one gains greater fighting ability, greater magical ability, and better saving throw odds.
For Combat try to remember to think Abstractly. A fighter's attack probability goes up slowly at +2 per 3 levels, yet the Secondary Saving Throw, or Hit Points, goes up roughly one hit die per level.
-The rules for Magic Swords reveal yet another system I won't go into here as magic swords have an extra attribute called Ego.
*Intelligence has a dangling rule for the number of known languages that does not relate to any other rule for Attributes. it is an anomaly, perhaps the use of a fixed value of 10+ for number of languages was an incomplete idea relating to the combat system. Or, is this a fifth Attribute Theme? We certainly see something similar in later games.
IN OD&D ATTRIBUTES REPRESENT POTENTIAL
The concept of innate potential or affinity for certain skill sets is built right into the Class System.
In OD&D a character's Attribute's are being used as a function of innate talent, thus if you are a more talented fighter you will gain levels faster if your Strength score is higher. Here is the Abstraction I keep trying to define. Think of these potentials as both mental qualities as well as physical.
Yes, this is kind of weird to think of a dual purpose behind an attribute.
I am a strong warrior but I got this way because I am inclined to want to do strong warrior things and am good at strong warrior things.
I suppose an apt semantic difference is the meaning behind the word Talented vs Skilled.
Where Talent is an aptitude that a person is born with, Skill comes through training and experience.
It also points to another way the attributes are being perceived. The value is a break down of probability into low, normal, high, and exceptional. One is not supposed to look at this value as a number, but rather as a probability range that results from 3d6.
This is a very nuanced abstraction for how one should think of their Attributes, yet it is a real world kind of thing. We all know someone who seems to do a particular task seemingly effortlessly, while the rest of us have to struggle to learn it.
This difference in how Attributes are being applied creates a difference in the game that is reflected in how one feels about the system. Does this feel right or wrong?
In the end, my conjecture is that how the mechanics feel is ultimately the most important element. I highly favor attributes as the abstraction that is presented within OD&D -- It just feels perfect.
A lot of people are not comfortable with thinking abstractly, I suspect that the reason that D&D ended up moving toward linear and literal machanical concepts, is because the people using the game demanded it, thus Player Expectation was the ultimate driving force once again. This is not a judgment of the changes in the system. I think it is relevant to consider just how the game could have evolved if it had stayed with the original concepts for Attributes and Classes.
I will end today's discussion here, then follow up with part 2.
In Part 2, I will talk more about the awkwardness of having so many different design concepts within one game system and how it ends up leading to some really crazy mechanics, where several concept are working at odds against each other.
I am finally back from Gary Con and still a bit frazzled from my long drive.
My last day I always tend to notice the little things going on around me, as opposed to day 1 where I am agog at being in a huge hotel with MY PEOPLE!
I was taking a break from my last game, David Wesely's: Banania Braunstein, when I noticed a small table tucked into an area near the stairs. People were still gaming away on an adventure, but this was just an open game table. I got curious and I had to ask what was going on.
I suppose what caught my attention was that seeing a group of gamers, tucked away in a corner somewhere, reminded me of my first gamer group that met in a local library decades ago. For me, this is what rpg's are all about; getting together with friends and creating epic adventure together.
This is how I met the DM for the game and learned the story behind the creation of the Order of the Owl.
For the past three years a table is reserved at Gary Con for the Order of the Owl. This is a pick up game of D&D; think of it like a game of basketball at the local park, only in this case it's for RPG'ers.
The host at the table, Mark Jeranek, was friends with Gary Gygax. Before Gary died, Mark made a promise to Gary; he swore that he would reach out to people and teach as many new people as he could about the wonders of Role Playing Games, specifically D&D.
The foundation was laid for a little personal project that honors Gary Gygax: The Order of the Owl.
As I write this blog post, I realize my clipped facts do not do this project true justice. When Mark described the how and why of his humble little gamer event, I was deeply moved by his experience. I may be a Blackmoor historian, but Gary is such an integral part of the whole story that I also enjoy hearing from those who knew him well, like Mark.
If you get a chance to attend Gary Con, make sure to stop by Mark's table and consider dropping into this little back water of gaming for some quality adventuring.
Gary Con is getting bigger, yet you may find that the most innocuous events will leave the greatest impression on you. I was so deeply touched to hear Mark's story that I wanted to write about this one game, and bring your attention to it.
Sometimes it's the little things that matter most, like a man taking the time to honor his friend by running a game that anyone can take part in.
Thanks for taking a minute out of your game to speak with me Mark.
Last of all, I want to bring your attention to some hard gamer facts. There is only one more day before the KickStarter Backer Kit Store closes.
This will be your only chance to order a double DVD/Bluray set that comes with the bonus interview DVD.
Don't miss out on your chance for this exclusive historical artifact on the game that changed the world.
Do you Blackmoor?
Do you Come Back Inn?
When we began researching the movie we knew almost nothing about the history behind RPG's. What we needed most was to find people who were already experts in their own right when it came to Blackmoor lore.
Kevin McColl had a lot of resources, such as Dave Arneson's address book, with names of friends and people in the game business. Then Kevin suggested something odd "There's a couple of guys in Europe who run a Blackmoor Forum called the Comeback Inn--you gotta talk to them!"
Suddenly our reasearch went from being focused on Minnesota, to being world wide, as Havard and Rafael came into the fold as researchers. Back then we had a hidden message group on Facebook: Circle Blackmoor. Circle Blackmoor became a hotbed of discussions about all Blackmoor related things.
The Comeback Inn Forum is a very useful resource for information. There are people who visit that site from all over the world, and their collective knowledge makes the forum the unofficial home of Blackmoor. What's more, many of the original Minnesota players and some of the original Lake Geneva players respond to posts on that site. Our first contact with Greg Svenson was via messages on the Comeback Inn Forum.
Havard tells us these facts about the site:
"The forum goes back to 2002. The forum (in its Blackmoor form) is from 2009. The blog was also started in 2009"
Havard's most recent Blog Post talks about the difficulties he has had in keeping things going, yet he is very passionate about the site he is definitely not throwing in the towel any time soon. The one thing that stands out in his post is a lack of reciprocation on the side of the new people running forums in the gamer community.
This is an issue we have run into, and try to mitigate. For instance, if we use an image from someone else's site, we put a tag on the image to let people know where they can find the original source.
Normally we actually embed tags on the image, here will just cite the source: We got it from Havard!
We want to thank both Havard and Rafael for their support. Rafael has moved on from helping run the Comeback Inn, and is now working on his writing career--Good Luck Rafe! Both of them volunteered everything they knew about the Blackmoor Bunch, and also helped us contact people early on; that is why they are listed as part of our research team in the movie credits, as they did a lot of heavy lifting during the early 2 years.
Chris and I have always believed that reciprocation and cooperation is the true path to success. We want to take a moment and praise Havard's work on both his blog and the Comeback Inn forum. Thanks again, Havard!
If you Blackmoor, well then, you better ComeBack Inn:
And you should also check out Havard's Blog:
Take a minute to check out our KickStarter Campaign that is now live:
Shown: the box and contents of the 1975 edition of Empire of the Petal Throne
"[…] So I simply state that it is the most beautifully done fantasy game ever created. It is difficult for me to envision the possibility of any rival being created in the future […]"
Gary Gygax, from the forward to Empire of the Petal Throne (TSR, 1975)
Here we pose a question: What if you were to enter a Sci Fi world where your primary goal as a player is to understand the rules of this very different and ancient society you are confronted with?
Now we pose another question: What if there are many different kinds of RPG's, and the way to understand them is by examining the underlying purpose of the game?
Keep these two questions in the back of your mind as you read on.
Even after 45 years, M.A.R. Barker's world of Tekumel can still claim the laurels that were bestowed upon it by none other than Gary Gygax. In fact, Barker is often called "The Unknown American Tolkien" due to his extensive development of the history, languages, and alphabets for Tekumel. Yet many gamers seem to be un-aware of this paradigm in game world creation. The most likely explanation is that Tekumel is a deeply personal world; most referee's will have trouble understanding how to run game in Tekumel. Secondly, when it was first released, the game was expensive!
Oh, but what a game!
The cover art on the box is enough to make most gamer's mouth's water. Peering inside the box one finds a surprising package of goodies.
The rule book is standard page size and contains artwork that has forever placed its mark on all the later editions of D&D. If you look at the monster on the cover of the Fiend Folio, you see big pointy shoulder armor, this is indicative of what was originally created in Empire of the Petal Throne. Even the Monster Manual has it's Tekumel influences, which are too many to list here, yet are clearly lifted from Barker.
Consider that if you have been playing AD&D and use the Monster Manual, you are also playing a little bit of Tekumel.
Shown: Artwork excerpt from the Empire of the Petal Throne rule book
Credit must be given to the original artists for bringing something truly unique to gaming.
Further digging and one finds even more oddities inside the box. The game comes with a full color map of the great port city of Jakalla. Then one discovers a two part wilderness area map. This is not just an ordinary wilderness area; the two maps comprise an entire planet!
As far as we can tell, Barker's published city and world maps are a first in RPG history. (We are always open to being corrected though.)
Shown: A close up of the map of Jakalla
The title right below the author's name is yet another paradox -- "Rules for Fantasy Adventures and Campaigns on an Alien Planet." Since Barker's game was released in 1975, it is the first Science Fiction RPG ever published.
Remember, Metamorphosis Alpha does not get published until 1976.
Empire of the Petal Throne is also most likely the oldest Sci FI/Fantasy game setting ever created. Much like Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, Phil Barker was a great fan of Sci Fi and Fantasy literature. Being much older than both the other RPG creators, Barker was reading everything he could find in the 1940's and this began the creation of his own world setting around that time as a young man.
Just like Gary Gygax, Barker wanted to be a writer. As a side note, he did write some novels based in his world of Tekumel. (It is still possibile to locate copies of Man of Gold.) Yet, his most impressive effort was the creation of the game and world setting itself.
It wasn't until his arrival in the Twin Cities in 1973, that he began to consider adapting his sci fi novel setting to a game setting. As the the future Faculty Advisor of the U of M gaming club, he was immediately exposed to D&D via Michael Mornard who was running D&D games using pre-publication rules. These very same rules are now known as the Mornard Fragments.
More on that manuscript here: http://playingattheworld.blogspot.com/2013/12/gary-gygaxs-1973-d-working-draft.html
Another item of historical interest, is the discovery in Phil Barker's garage of the manuscript known as The Dalluhn Manuscript, or Beyond This Point Be Dragons.
More on that manuscript here: http://boggswood.blogspot.com/2018/03/secrets-of-not-dalluhn-manuscript.html
When tracing how these games came about, one should consider that Barker was watching Mornard run D&D. Thus one can find it plausible that Mornard is in essence, Barker's teacher on how to be a good D.M. Additionally, although Barker begins the creation of his own game after January 1974, his exposure to Mornard's game makes it very plausible that he was either planning things in his head, or making hand written notes before that version was typed up.
Those who are close to Barker will say that E.P.T. was created over a 6 week period. Certainly this is highly plausible, as Barker was a professional scholar. Yet, it seems that there is a missing component to this design path that is also worth consideration -- the element of time.
It takes time to learn how to play these games - Barker is watching and playing with Mornard. It also takes time to read and fully understand the rules for these games - The presence of Dalluhn in Barker's possessions many years later is a strong indicator for Barker having had a blue print of sorts.
It is possible that Barker began to imagine his own game as early as 1973. If Barker could hold entire languages in his head, you'd think he could arrange a game in his head.
And of course, there are at least 2 drafts of his game that are self published in the Twin Cities for the players in his inner circle. The first of these drafts we've seen, is covered with hand written notes and is undated. The second is dated to 1974.
Shown: one of the two world maps of planet Tekumel, Tsolyanu being the primary human enclave on the planet
If one looks at Empire of the Petal Throne, one finds many things that are similar to D&D, yet the combat tables are actually more likely derived from The Dalluhn Manuscript.
With D&D, the value needed to hit AC 9 at first level is 10, or a 55% chance, rather than 11, or 50% which is what Barker uses and also matches Dalluhn. This would indicate a high plausibility for Barker's not having used an actual copy of D&D when he created his own game, but rather a derivation of pre-publication D&D.
Conjecture is a lot of fun. Another even crazier idea, is that Barker's E.P.T. could have been the influence for The Dalluhn Manuscript. (Not very likely, but lets put that in the hopper just for fun.)
One thing we find to be curious about E.P.T. is that although primitive in nature, it is the first published game with Character Skills in it. You can have a character who is a baker and a warrior when you play E.P.T. This points to some of Arneson's ideas that never made it into D&D, yet they appear on David Megarry's "Character Matrix", and in Blackmoor as specialists. It makes us wonder if Arneson and Barker were sharing ideas since they lived in the same cities, and gamed at the same club. We do know that Arneson gamed in Barkers group as Captain Harchar. He was active in that group whenever he would visit the Twin cities, even after he moved to california around 1985.
Lets consider some other aspects of Barker's world.
While D&D is very focused on creating wild adventures, Barker took the original concept farther and grafted it to what was interesting to him as a professional researcher. And the one thing that is very clear, is that he was fascinated by other cultures, thus he made the first game where you get to be a stranger in a new culture. Playing E.P.T. is like an exercise in being a Cultural Anthropologist.
His rules are also extremely rigid in certain ways. This goes against the play style most D&D players prefer. Sitting back and recalling my own first impressions of Barker's game, I too had similar thoughts upon first seeing it back in about '77, or so. This is most evident in how Barker handles his skills and spells, which I will get to shortly.
Shown: A Shen and a Ssu locked in mortal combat, note that the Ssu has four legs; many creatures of Tekumel have additional limbs.
First one needs to understand how Barker's World Reality is different from D&D.
Perhaps the most important aspect of EPT is the social and societal one. Certainly how Barker arranged his skills is odd to most, but he is imbuing his world with both the mechanical aspects of a RPG system, and the social aspects of an alien future society. You could even say that he is bending the rules to match his society, rather than the other way around.
Barker's societies look like amalgamations of what one would find in india, and what one would find in Central America with the Mayans and Aztecs. He may also be drawing from all human history, thus even Feudal Japanese society may be an infusion. And a key component of what Barker creates, is a society that is very hierarchical and organized -- Don't Rock the Boat!
Barker's chosen discipline was linguistics, yet he was likely very widely read. The cross over into cultural anthropology is very strong. Even with languages, ideas about clan and belonging within a social order are present.
We no longer use Thou in english, yet it was a very important way of showing respect through formal language.
D&D draws it's societal ideas from Chain Mail, with its ideas of Lawful, Neutral, and Chaotic.
E.P.T. treats alignment as a form of religious connection. E.P.T. has Gods of Stability and Gods of Change. If you play E.P.T. your character cannot exist without social connections, such as a clan and temple affilitation. This is where a D&D player will shrink away from E.P.T. The D&D gamer approach is generally one of: I get to do anything I want without any limits at all. Upon seeing Barker's layered system for skills and spells, it just seems like it is all wrong, yet within Barker's ideas about a stratified society with strict taboos about appearances, it makes complete sense.
Again, a good contrast to this is the looseness of most D&D games where Clerics simply declare a god, or can even make one up, without any kind of social retribution for not fitting into the norm.
E.P.T. is all about fitting in with your clan or other organization. How a Fighter or a Magic user gains ability within Barker's system is closely tied to "This is how WE do things, because WE have always done it this way." Sure, you may know how to use X weapon, or spell, but if you are part of our cohort, we do not do that. Please put that long bow, or spell away, or you will embarrass the entire unit.
Shown: Examples of Tsolyani Alphabet from E.P.T. rule book
These ideas in Barkers game come from the real world, and how real cultures work.
A while back I read several interesting papers: one was about spear head design in Africa; the other was about personal adornment within early societies.
The spearhead article talked about how testing of the different shapes indicated that the form was not evolved as a process for increasing function; rather, the shape of a certain tribe's spear heads was an indicator of affiliation. When they asked members of one tribe why another tribe made their's differently, the response was something like when you ask someone why they like the Vikings and not the Packers, "Because those guys are jerks."
The article on adornment was equally as informative. Our modern assumptions about clothing and makeup have to do with wanting to be different and being unique. We assume that people want to stand out. Yet, the researcher who was examining these other cultures was seeing the exact opposite result. What she was seeing, is that all the outrageous make up and adornment is not a way to draw attention to yourself. It is a way of fitting in and becoming anonymous within the society. People in most societies want to fit in.
Barker designed Tekumel long before either of these papers were written, yet he understood that without family, friends, clan, and temple, we don't survive long in any society.
Shown: detail of map showing the surrounding area near Jakalla
One of Barker's original inner circle of gamers is Chirine Bakal, I often speak with him about Tekumel. My impression from these conversations is that Barker was trying to teach his group to change their social paradigms when playing EPT. One thing he did not want, was for people to use western ideals about morality and propriety.
Consider this old parable about Buddha. It is an apt example of how western thought is different from eastern thought. I will paraphrase a bit: Buddha is on a boat trip with a group of people. At a certain point, he becomes aware that one of the people is plotting to sink the boat thus killing everyone. In order to keep the person from killing everyone onboard, Buddha picks the person up and throws him overboard and the man drowns.
In a western society, we will think that Buddha had to do that because it was the only way to save everyone's lives. Yay, Buddha saves! A buddhist might say that Buddha was trying to prevent the man from accruing bad karma in this life, that would lead him to be reborn as a lower form in his next life. Since Buddha has already attained a great deal of enlightenment, he is willing to take on the bad karma himself, while saving the other man from suffering through a longer path to enlightenment in his future lives. Buddha has made a great personal sacrifice in killing the unstable man.
Maybe those examples and ideas will help you understand the why of how E.P.T. is designed the way it is, and that the first thing you have to completely let go of, are any preconceptions about individuality and free will, as those are modern constructs of how you are as a real person. If you insist on keeping your modern values, you won't do well in a game of Empire of the Petal Throne.
This is all built into the original EPT rules. A 1st level character isn't given free reign to wander around the city. As a visitor who has just arrived in Jakalla, you are limited to staying within the visitors quarter of the city. This is how the society tells you that, you either learn to adapt to our rigid society, or we will deal with you accordingly, and send you on the high ride -- impaled by a big stick on the city walls.
Shown: Drawing titled, Two Pei Choi Exploring the Underworld - from the E.P.T. rule book
Remember those two questions we posed to start with? Is it possible that his game is so heavily weighted with a unique background and flavor, that although this is an RPG, its real purpose is the exploration of history and cultures?
While many would like to define Barker's game as merely a D&D spin off, the fact that his game is being created at such an early date would imply that it is much more than that. What is more, while Blackmoor and Grey Hawk are both deriving their world settings from a mishmash of Western Fantasy literature and Faery Tales, Tekumel is an entirely self contained invention. Nothing is being lifted directly from traditional fantasy.
Although E.P.T. has always had a great following from its die hard fans. It has never really gained the wide appeal that traditional game settings have, which is somewhat of a sad state of affairs, considering that both of the creators of D&D, Gary and Dave, praised Barker as a referee and his Tekumel as the Cadillac of world settings.
If you are lucky enough to locate someone who is well versed in the cultures of E.P.T. and is willing to run you through a game; my best advice is to sit back and enjoy the ride. I personally feel fortunate to have played in Victor Raymond's E.P.T. game at GaryCon last March, yet it is really difficult to find referee's who learned at the feet of M.A.R. Barker himself, and the game has been out of print for some time.
Yet, there is still hope!
Last year, the Tekumel Foundation republished the original game. It comes in a beautiful hard bound edition, a soft cover edition, and as a downloadable PDF. Even if you don't plan on running Tekumel yourself, it is a must read volume for every serious referee.
For more information and links to game products visit - http://www.tekumel.com/
Make sure to keep up on latest developments on the documentary, get on the mailing list here on this website.
Busy busy busy...
We keep hinting about our KickStarter and how much time it is taking, and there is a reason for that. We are working hard to provide a lot of really cool gifts with this KickStarter.
We got some more artwork from Bob Bledsaw Jr. today.
Many of the older gamers will know immediately who Bob is. Bob was a teenager back in the 70's when his father ran this super cool company called Judges Guild. Judges Guild produced many of the classic modules of that time, and they are still reprinting them for today's gamers to use with newer systems.
For anyone who began gaming in the mid 70's, Judges Guild was right up there with TSR as far as D&D products were concerned -- everyone had the Judges Shield back in the day!
More importantly, Bob Bledsaw Jr. was just a kid when he made drawings, and spent countless hours scribbling little hashmarks on the dungeon maps, that were printed in Dave Arneson's: First Fantasy Campaign.
For some time, we've been hinting about publishing Greg Svenson's Tonisborg Dungeon in a book. So for about 8 months we've been quietly working on the manuscript and it is nearly done and ready for typesetting. Yet a dungeon module isn't complete without artwork. We didn't want just any artist working on this project either; Tonisborg is special, and it is part of the Blackmoor and Twin Cities lineage of game environments. So we immediately called up Bob.
I don't think we were even done explaining what the dungeon was before Bob said: Yes, I'll do it!
And so a partnership began between Secrets of Blackmoor and Judges Guild to produce a high quality dungeon module with an OSR, or old school twist.
We had already roped Daniel Boggs into helping write the manuscript as well.
Since we wanted to do an old school game, we also needed rules. Daniel Boggs happens to have published a set of OGL rules called: Champions of Zed. We cut out some of the sections on wilderness adventures in order to make these rules specifically for running in Tonisborg and added them to the manuscript. This means that the Tonisborg Dungeon book will be an all inclusive game module complete with rules.
Greg Svenson's Tonisborg Dungeon published by Judges Guild and Secrets of Blackmoor: A classic dungeon module from 1973, will be one of many featured thank you gifts on the Kick Starter.
More details about the project coming soon.
We're looking forward to running the dungeon with our own group this weekend. Hope your gaming goes well to.
Today is Dave Arneson's birthday, also known as Dave Arneson Game Day.
Dave Arneson promo still from D&D movie
"The way that Dungeons and Dragons, Arneson's version came about, was some sort of inspiration that he had.
I was not there when he first introduced it to the gaming group. And so it leads to different understandings as to how it came about.
Duane tells me, says that it was while they were waiting to set up a battle that he tried it out on some of the players that were there.
When I came down, a couple weeks later, it was the story that I tell. Rather than a napoleonic battlefield in the middle of the table, there was this castle sitting there.
And they were telling me, this was-fantastic thing that we were doing.
And it's like, what is it?
I mean you know -- and then slowly but surely it became apparent that it was a cool thing."
David Megarry describes his first encounter with Dave Arneson's fantasy game idea
excerpt from an interview with Secrets of Blackmoor
Consider that, in 1971, David L. Arneson is only 23 years old when he begins to create the first fantasy RPG campaign, or Blackmoor; and that since then millions of people around the globe are still using the exact same play style that originated in that game.
If you talk to the Twin Cites gamers, none of them want to say "this is where it began" and point to any single moment within their history. They will simply say that it is an accrual of ideas that culminates with Dave Arneson inventing Blackmoor. The path from playing war games with miniatures to inventing a new game is a long one for them, and they will talk about many events that they think helped propel them forward in their quest for realism and fun.
Their game realism comes from one thing, they wanted to create realistic battles. Any historical account of any military campaign, or battle, will reveal one thing; If you do not mimic -The Fog of War- you aren't dealing with the same problems a real military commander is confronted with on the battlefield.
Explaining all of the ideas that they explore within their games is a lengthy process. Many historians will argue about where any single rule, or mechanic, first appears.
Historians seem to be obsessed with asking things like:
- Where do hit points come from?
- Where does the combat system for D&D come from?
- Where do the first magic spells come from?
Yet to examine those details without context, is to misunderstand the source and true inspiration for the RPG as it was first played by Arneson.
Arneson is famously quoted as saying, "There are no rules."
This one quote is often used to diminish and dilute what Arneson brought forth as the true creator of RPG's. Yet, if you look deeper into what Arneson was doing in his games, you'll find that his statement is very profound. Certainly, Arneson was using rules in his games. Yet, he kept most of the rules hidden from his players. Thus his statement of - there are no rules- is pointing toward something essential to all RPG's.
"[…]the written rules are subservient to the conceptual system as we are dealing with an ongoing, shifting, elastic reality wherein ALL rules cannot be ascertained UP FRONT, that is, prior to and during the ongoing game play taking place in an infinitely variable environment."
Robert J. Kuntz, taken from personal correspondence (8.16.2018)
Photo by Dave Arneson, Blackmoor Castle Model with 19th Century Ships
Kuntz sees how the game works very clearly when he describes Arneson's "Game Engine", or the "Conceptual System", in his book: Dave Arneson's True Genius.
This Conceptual System results in a formula that can be seen in every game since Blackmoor and D&D:
A. Here is the situation. (Reality is cemented in this one moment and described by the referee)
B. What do you want to do? (The players say how they want to alter reality)
The players rarely know everything about the situation, and must interact with "reality" to figure it out, in a constantly changing world model. Thus the formula is a recursion as each reaction to Part A: the situation, will generate a whole new Part B: the reaction, in an endless repetition.
This is kind of like story telling, but it isn't one sided, it's different.
David Wesely, creator of Braunstein, likes to call it "Interactive Story Telling".
You could even take it one step further if you consider what Lawrence Schick has to say about it in his book: Heroic Gaming, and call it Interactive Performance Art.
Who doesn't like a good IPA, right?
Randy Hoffa, owner of CinC miniatures company, described a war game to us that they once played in their group. It isn't an RPG by most people's standards, and yet most of what they are doing in their war game parallels everything one sees in a dungeon game.
As the commander of one army in the battle, David Wesely was back in his camp looking at maps and sending out orders to his troops. They simulated this by having Wesely seated in another room and unable to see the actual battle field table.
All that Wesely can do is wait to receive written messages from his players about what is happening on the battlefield and make notes on his maps of the enemy troop disposition. Based on this information which may not even be up to date, Wesely then has to make decisions and send orders back to his commanders on the field. Although this is not set in a fantasy world and he is not exploring a deep dungeon in search of treasure, Wesely is being forced to explore the unknown.
As the battle raged on, the enemy side sent some cavalry out to explore behind enemy lines. They took the right turn at a crossroads and found themselves riding into Wesely's camp. The battle ended with the enemy players walking into the other room where Wesely was seated and proclaiming that he was being taken prisoner.
This particular game they played reveals the nature of what Arneson was saying when he said "There are no rules." Wesely's experience of the battle required no rules. While his players may have been examining troop types and combat charts on the battle field, Wesely was not playing with any rules, he was playing as a real commander.
Additionally, the Twin Cities was not the only place where gamers were exploring ways to create the fog of war. An examination of war game history reveals many RPG's. There are many examples of Role Play Method coming out of America, Great Britain, and Europe.
Yet, Arneson is the one person who saw the potential for something truly different. He is the one who makes the huge leap and abandons the rules and a playing surface completely; all it needed was a referee who is all knowing, Arneson, and a handful of players who are willing to follow his lead, and to play make believe and explore the unknown.
Arneson and the creativity of his players should be recognized for their contribution. The extent of what Arneson jump-started has created a billion dollar industry. This is not mere conjecture, this is fact.
A young man, gaming with his friends in a basement in Minnesota, made it so that we can all explore the wonders of the unknown, instead of playing yet another game of Parcheesi, or Monopoly.
David Megarry (continued):
"What was different and cool about what David had done, was to translate story telling into a physical action.
Before that, we had somewhat been playing around with the Braunstein ideas, where we could be our own people. And we were a variety of different commanders.
Because we had a Diplomacy aspect to the napoleonic's, we did some of our strategic planning and machinations following 19th century diplomacy sort of ideas -- So, I'm the Emperor of Austria and you need to treat me accordingly.
But that was sort of -- very abstract, and disjointed.
When we got into sort of a dungeon expedition, or an adventure, we were all acting together as a group --Together -- that was different!
Because, most of the time we came to the table we were on opposite sides, and battle -- duking it out with each other.
Here we're now -- we're, actually duking it out with Arneson -- and, which -- that's a different thing.
And it's not even that we even -- we even understand that it's Arneson that we're playing.
For us it's the problem that he is presenting to us: You got a castle in the middle, there's tunnels, what do you want to do?
And that sort of -- Magical -- what do you want to do? -- Is -- is probab -- the kick -- you know -- that's the turning point in my mind -- What Do You Want To Do?
It opens up all these possibilities, that before you were confined by a set of rules -- Miniature rules, that said you could only move 5 feet -- and -- and you, the types of questions you answer -- What Do You Want To Do?- were really confined by what the rules said you could do.
Whereas when you get into a fantasy game, or a story telling game; now it just opens it up -- What Do You Want To Do?"
An update on Movie things:
We are working hard to produce a new trailer that we will be using on a Kick Starter project. As we draw closer we will use the Kick starter to begin taking pre orders on the movie itself, along with many special bonus gifts.
Some of you may want your name in the movie credits, others of you may want the chance to play Blackmoor, Dungeon!, Braunstein, or even a napoleonic miniatures game with the creators of these games. All these ideas are being pondered as a way to fund the last stages of movie production -- What do you think?
We Still have T-shirts for sale in the Shop on this site. Scroll up and click for designs, sizes, and colors.
Image from: http://zenopusarchives.blogspot.com/ You should check his blog out.
Las week I finally broke down and purchased Lawrence Schick's book: Heroic Worlds.
People often tell me that I should read ___ Fill in blank with name of book here ___.
Yet, making a film is much different from making a book. Film making lends itself to creating new documents for the historical record in the form of interviews that can be preserved for future generations. A movie is a collection of ephemeral moments that have been stitched together to tell a story, yet the movie itself is not ephemeral because it exists in time and can be seen over and over.
The Family Album of RPG History
Shooting interviews is like making a family album of everyone who was there when something happened, and their first person accounts are much richer than mere photographs. If you consider the experience one has if their family was fortunate enough to make home movies of holidays and events on super 8 movie film, or even early video recorders; even silent films give one a peak at how someone is because, you can watch how a smile forms on their face, and the look in their eyes.
Image taken from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mqaSOw1WhjI
What is your feeling about this film of Samuel Clemens and his daughters?
Secrets of Blackmoor is not a book report. It is a shared observation in real time. We apply anthropological methods in order to grasp underlying concepts about the gaming culture in the Twin Cities. More importantlty, we bring you as a viewer into the room with us, so you can get to know all of these people, and see their expressions and hear their voices. We hope that you will feel like you've gotten to know them a little bit.
Another video example of how films preserve the ephemeral - taken from Secrets of Blackmoor
We intentionally did not read other history books about the creation of D&D. Conducting our own research and gathering interviews was a freedom we wanted to preserve as long as possible.
Yet over time, we've ended up talking to other historians and we can share and compare views, not to mention artifacts within each other's collections. And we now read their books in order to glean new theoretical concepts that could change our own research.
Much of what historians are doing within research has to do with looking at game rules, articles, and ephemera from games. We do this as well, it can reveal a lot, yet we also try not to get sucked into looking only at documents because we feel that RPG's are so much more than just a set of rules.
Appreciating the Ephemeral
I tend to skim books at first and just hunt and peck at passages until I run into a compelling idea.
Consider what Mr. Schick says on Page 15:
"The fact that role-playing is not generally recognized as art, despite millions having participated in role playing games, is largely because role-playing is an ephemeral art -- it exists only while a game is in progress.
There are other ephemeral arts -- dance, for example -- but dance can be performed before large audiences. In role playing games, the audience are also the performer, in a performance that is inherently limited to a few players. It's hard for someone not involved in the game to appreciate the group creation, since it's not directed outward toward an audience, and this limits its wide appeal."
Lawrence Schick, Heroic Worlds/ - Prometheus Press (1991)
Image from: https://www.broadwayworld.com/houston/article/BWW-Interviews-Sara-Webb-Talks-Houston-Ballets-SWAN-LAKE-20140602
This is likely the first time anyone has compared RPG's and dance. Schick is pointing at the sublime. By making a relationship between RPG's and dance, he is very subtly leading us to something we gamers overlook -- gaming is challenging -- and a lot of people may not be able to appreciate our art form.
I've embedded several videos in this blog post, but this example is something worth viewing in order to gain further understanding.
Before you watch, ask yourself: Do I enjoy, or understand dance?
And if you find this video challenging to your senses, ask yourself: Does this seem strange because it isn't ballet?
And of course the last thing to ask yourself is: Maybe I just haven't learned to appreciate this art form yet?
Which leads us full cricle to: Those who have not yet understood the beauty of RPG, should consider trying it and perhaps learning.
Additionally, Schick has outlined a guiding principle that all game historians should consider and apply within their own work: these games only exist as they are being played, thus analysis of war games and RPG's that is limited only to written documents will lead to flawed conclusions. If you want to understand these games, then you must experience them as they are being played.
While making the film we spent a good deal of time video taping games. We have a napoleonic battle using Strategos-N rules by David Wesely. We recorded and played in several American Civil War minis games using Dave Arneson's plastic Air Fix soldiers from the 60's. And of course, we now have parts of 2 different sessions of Blackmoor being played by the original gaming group in the Twin Cities.
A still image of the Twin Cities gamers playing Strategos-N from Secrets of Blackmoor
The Curtain Falls at the Closing of a Great Performance
I am very taken with Lawrence Schick's proposal that RPG's are an ephemeral art form. Most of us are innately aware that any game session is a intimate communal experience, yet we don't really think of it as a performed event and we really should.
David Wesely's Braunstein games are designed with the core structure elements of story telling: prologue, or beginning; game play, or middle of the story; and the debriefing, or conclusion.
At the end of each of his games Wesely briefly interviews everyone who played, so that all the players can find out what everyone else was doing in secret while the game was being played. This lets everyone know how the entire story played out during the game.
Maybe we all need to add a new tradition for the end of our own game sessions. It can be as simple as asking everyone to stand up and clap in appreciation of everyone's performance during the game. Or, it can be like David Wesely's debriefing sessions. The DM could stand and then describe something about each character during the game, moving from player to player.
Lets take a moment to thank Chalice for her healing spells that kept you from dying after the battle with the goblins.
And Earl, who nearly died when the party opened the door to the room with the ghouls.
And most of all, for Harvii the Dwarf, who gave up his life while fighting, so that the rest of you could escape!
To all of you who are going to be performing this weekend -- we applaud you in advance for your coming virtuoso performances. ;)
Secrets of Blackmoor T-shirts are available in our store.
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?
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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. :)
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Secrets of Blackmoor is a Feature-length documentary about the birth of the “Mother of all Games;” Dungeons & Dragons.