Wednesday, August 23, 2017

PREVIEW: Monster Summoning for Book of Spells


For the forthcoming Book of Spells, Supplement I for Seven Voyages of Zylarthen, I thought it would be fun to add a little color and detail to the Monster Summoning spells, as well as to add two lower-powered variations for use as 1st and 2nd level spells.

In my experience, people either love or hate the Monster Summoning spells. We love them because summoning monsters to do one's bidding is fun. We hate them because it may seem that the monsters that one gets are not very powerful relative to other spells at that level. I actually think the set is underrated, though some of it obviously depends on the situation and what one gets. But the least I could do was to give them a bit more flavor. What actually appears is, of course, random.

For good measure, I also fleshed out the Divine Aid spell for Zylarthen's Evil High Priests and High Priests (see end). In that case, the Priest gets to choose the monster (if he has a choice).

Monster Summoning I-IX:



Divine Aid:

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

What do Ability Scores Mean in Old School D&D?

With a strength of only 6 there was no real chance for him to become a fighter.

Over at Treasure Hunters HQ, Scott Anderson has written an interesting and fun series of posts on the meaning and use of ability scores in Old School D&D, specifically focusing on pre-Greyhawk OD&D (to Anderson, that's true old school). He frames the question by asking what it would mean to have a minimum score of 3 in each ability:

So You Rolled a 3: Strength
So You Rolled a 3: Intelligence
So You Rolled a 3: Wisdom
So You Rolled a 3: Dexterity
So You Rolled a 3: Constitution

Each is accompanied by a funny and appropriate picture. I particularly liked the one on constitution - it's one of those scientific looking drawings of an anatomically see-through person communicating an airborne disease to another anatomically see-through person.

Anderson also adds:

A Most Unfortunate 3 (you only have 30 gold pieces)

I'm hoping he'll continue the series - hit points, weak spells?

But back to the abilities. One of the most intriguing but also potentially confusing (and for many, even off-putting) things about D&D as it is presented in the original 1974 three little brown books is how ability scores don't seem to matter very much. For the primary abilities - strength, intelligence and wisdom - they almost don't seem to matter at all, at least unless you count the marginal effect they have on accumulating experience. (Minor exception: a higher intelligence also means you can speak more languages). For the other abilities, dexterity and constitution might give you small penalties or bonuses, although some are a bit cryptically or confusingly presented, like the "chance of surviving" percentage for constitution. Oddly, as Anderson points out, it's charisma that seems to be potentially the most important ability in terms of what it allows you to do (have more hirelings), although the rules on this are often neglected.

Now, it's also true that in Men & Magic, Gygax mentions that ability scores might have other effects that are not explicitly referenced in the rules:
Strength will also aid in opening traps and so on.
In addition the charisma score is usable to decide such things as whether or not a witch capturing a player will turn him into a swine or keep him enchanted as a lover.
But precisely how ability scores should be used to "decide such things" is not explained.

Interestingly, this minimalist conception only lasted for about a year. Greyhawk, published in 1975, pumped up the effect of low or high scores for all abilities, setting off a sort of inflationary chain reaction. If ability scores didn't make that much explicit mechanical difference, then rolling three dice in order was fine. But once their effect was magnified, an incentive was created to come up with new dice rolling schemes for abilities to preclude the creation of a "weak" character.

Xylarthen (never heard of that guy), the sample character in the three little brown books, has these ability scores:

Strength: 6
Intelligence: 11
Wisdom: 13
Dexterity: 9
Constitution: 12
Charisma: 8

This sample character has a sum of scores that are actually below average - the six scores average to only 9.8 as opposed to an expected value of 10.5. The highest score is only 13, and as we're about to see, even the primary ability score for the selected class will be 11, only a tad above average.

According to Gygax:
This supposed player would have progressed faster as a Cleric, but because of a personal preference for magic opted for that class. With a strength of only 6 there was no real chance for him to become a fighter. His constitutional score indicates good health and the ability to take punishment of most forms. A dexterity of 9 (low average) means that he will not be particularly fast nor accurate. He is below average in charisma, but not hopelessly so.
(It isn't clear to me why if Xylarthen could have been a Magic-User, he couldn't have also been a Fighter. It also wasn't clear to me six years ago. See here and here.)

But by the time you get to AD&D four years later, Gygax would write:
[I]t is usually essential to the character's survival to be exceptional (with a rating of 15 or above) in no fewer than two ability characteristics.
Having a score of only 11 in one's primary ability would presumably be almost unthinkable.

The incredibly popular and successful Holmes Basic Set, first pu
blished in 1977, preserved the minimalist conception. But I imagine that most players who kept up with the game sooner or later "graduated" to AD&D or the Moldvay/Cook version of D&D, both of which essentially riffed off the Greyhawk mechanic.

Ironically, it was some of the retro-clones, among them, Swords and Wizardry White Box, Delving Deeper and (I hope) Seven Voyages of Zylarthen, among others, that sort of resurrected an interest in the more minimalist conception.

I prefer the minimalist view. Among other things, it provides opportunities for fleshing out your character in interesting ways without feeling punished or constrained by the scores. And it de-emphasizes any tendency to think of scores in terms of tiresome "power-gaming." Your fate will not be determined by your initial scores, but rather by you. Though, as always, a bit of luck is also required.

One thing I've always believed is that your ability scores are NOT (or most of them are not) representative of where you stand in relation to the general population. You have a 1 in 216 chance of rolling, say, a strength of 3. But that doesn't mean you have the strength of a five-year-old child or your bed-ridden great-grandfather or whatever. That would be absurd. Rather, the range represents a cross-section of fit adventurers, roughly tracking, say, that of contemporary athletes. A strength of 3 would be like being a 5' 10" guard in the NBA or a 150 pound baseball player, etc.

Also, as Anderson points out, there are other subtleties. Having a charisma of 3 does not mean you're a hunchback with bad breath. Rather, it means that for whatever reason, you're not an effective leader of people - at least in so far as your ability to retain hirelings is concerned. These considerations are of course mentioned in the original books as well as their spin-offs but are neglected by many. You're either ugly, sexy or average with not a lot else going on. Recall the "zero-charisma!" taunt in E.T.

One of the chief sticking points for me is how to detach ability scores from the real-world abilities of players. Again, you don't want to put annoying constraints on anyone (I'm referring to players not player characters). For the physical abilities - strength, dexterity and constitution - that's easy. Your own (as a player) strength, dexterity and constitution should have nothing to do with that of your character. No one would want it to be so. It's a game, after all.

But with the non-physical abilities it's different. Our own intelligence, wisdom (or lack of it - "I'll open that chest!") and, yes, perhaps even charisma (in terms of leading or guiding the direction of the party) will or should come into play during the game.

As an example, part of the fun of the game is using your smarts to solve "puzzles" - not just some bizarro sadistic referee created Rubik's Cube trap thing or whatever but simply surviving in a hostile underground environment with claws, tentacles and slime coming at you every few turns. But what if your player-character doesn't seem to have any smarts? Are you supposed to therefore "play dumb"? Some people, especially adults who enjoy acting like children, think that kind of role-playing is fun. I don't. I tried to solve that question in Zylarthen by equating player-character intelligence with formal education:
For player characters the term “intelligence” actually denotes formal education or knowledge, especially that relating to books and literacy. It has nothing to do with how smart the character is or is perceived to be. Nor does it match up with one’s facility with the spoken word or one’s attitude toward learning in general. A player character’s wit, curiosity and cleverness are the player’s wit, curiosity and cleverness. On the other hand, when intelligence is referenced for non-player characters and monsters, the ability will have its normal meaning.
Anderson takes a somewhat different approach. But one way or another, the problem (and I think it is a problem) must be confronted. I've always thought it was a bit weird that the issue is not really explicitly addressed in OD&D, AD&D or Basic/Classic, as far as I remember.

As has been said before, in old school D&D you're not Superman, but Batman - Michael Keaton Batman. What you might have in your Bat Belt, so to speak, - a ten foot pole, rope, a magic item or two - might help. But for the most part, you're just a relatively ordinary person gutting it out. There's plenty of room to make that romantic, but it all depends on you, not your stat block.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Bob Bledsaw Jr. on Gary Gygax, Dave Arneson and his Father: "These were good men."

Gary Gygax, 1969

Last month on Save for Half, "DM Jim" Wampler posted an audio recording of Bob Bledsaw Jr.'s recent North Texas RPG Con seminar on the history and future plans for Judges Guild - the groundbreaking game company originally co-founded and run by his father.

I highly recommend listening to it, and listening to the Save for Half podcast, in general.

For this Dungeons & Dragons history buff, it was an utterly fascinating hour-and-a-half, with many interesting and fun anecdotes about Judges Guild and the early years of the hobby. Bledsaw Jr. also spends a fair amount of time talking about the personalities, and personal relationships between his father, Gygax and Dave Arneson.

All three men passed away within the space of thirteen months in 2008 and 2009.

As Bledsaw Jr. narrates it, Gygax and his father had had an earlier falling out, but later reconciled, partly based on their shared understanding that they had both experienced similar emotional crises in their careers and family lives. And after Bledsaw Sr.'s death, Arneson would form a sort of protective friendship with Bledsaw Jr., initially not telling him that he, too, was ill.

According to Bledsaw Jr., the only time he ever heard Arneson use the F-word was when Arneson told him he should ignore then TSR's stricture that licensed products should only be compatible with its new 4th edition.
Dave said: "F__ em. Print what you want and tell them I gave you permission. I'm the one who created role-playing games, and I'm telling you, you can print what you want."
Dave Arneson

Bledsaw Jr. narrates an earlier phone call that Gygax made to his father. Gygax had lost his company, and Bledsaw's company had failed. It seems that Gygax called Bledsaw to buck him up, but also to repair their friendship.
These two men hadn't really spoken to each other in years ... From what I gathered, Gary oscillated between being hurt and angry, and then, kind of, he reached out to my dad because he knew that my Dad had been on the ropes. And he actually apologized to my Dad, saying, "there was no reason why we couldn't have been better partners to each other." And my Dad said to him, "the industry just outgrew us."
After the call, Bledsaw told his son, "I really feel sorry for that man."

Bledsaw was bed-ridden and dying when he learned of Gygax's passing. "Gary's upstaged me again," he said. "He's up to his old antics."

According to his son, the last time Bledsaw signed his name was on the card he sent to Gygax's family.

Bledsaw Jr. doesn't hold back on mentioning his father's personal weaknesses and failings, and at one remove, some of the imperfections of his father's partner, rival and friend, Gygax. There are elements of a soap opera. Or a tragedy.

But another thread also runs through the entire talk - that of the admiration and personal respect he came to have for all of them. Or as Bledsaw Jr. put it, midway through his presentation:
These were good men. These were moral men.
It's not all about paper, pencils and miniature figures.

Bob Bledsaw, Sr.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Book of Fiends Preview: Additional Gods

Skadi Hunting in the Mountains by Mary H. Foster (1901)

ONCE UPON A TIME there was a catalog of monsters that some people hated and some people loved.
So begins the Introduction to the soon to be released Book of Fiends, the first supplement for Seven Voyages of Zylarthen.

Two other supplements are currently close to completion - one is a complement to both Zylarthen and Book of Fiends, featuring new (sort of) spells and various miscellaneous additional rules, from tables on age and aging to how to use teleportation in outer space. It will be available as both a stand-alone booklet or as additional material for an expanded E-version of Seven Voyages of Zylarthen.

The other is the long-awaited (for me) Sleeping Beauty's Dungeon.

Book of Fiends is an OGL and SRD compatible version of, you know, that book, yes that one with the blue cover and the scary/silly monster holding that big sword - the book you either hate or love.
A few months ago, unsolicited by me, my young son discovered this catalog, adopting it as his favorite “adult” book in a way that I assume a child of the 19th century might have taken to Grimm’s Fairytales. Through him I rediscovered it and very quickly decided that it would be fun to re-imagine the work for the world of SEVEN VOYAGES of ZYLARTHEN.
Every monster in the original book is represented here—at least in some form.
But partly for legal reasons (though not entirely because of them), many of the creatures, including their names, are quite different from their previous descriptions, if not in some cases unrecognizable.
Why another book of monsters?
Well, why not another book of monsters?
The original fantasy adventure game was not a “closed system,” but rather a magic box that promised unlimited possibilities for mystery and delight. Or so it seemed to each one of us at the time. The game should always be fresh. Book of Fiends may be viewed in that spirit.
As far as I know, no one has riffed off of the book before, at least in any methodical manner, which is one of the reasons why I decided to try it. But I also found the tone of the original book conducive to the vibe I was trying to create with Zylarthen, recreating what I saw as the vibe of OD&D - not Chainmail set in Middle-Earth but Narnia plus Dinosaurs and Robots, as I wrote once. Or now I suppose I should add, Narnia, plus Dinosaurs, Robots, Strange Gods, inhabitants of Pluto and the other outer planets, Coffer Corpses and Maggot Men.

Book of Fiends increases the store of Zylarthen monsters by over 50%, adding close to 200 to the canon. In terms of pages, it's actually slightly longer than Zylarthen's Book of Monsters.

The first preview highlights seven new gods and goddesses, rounding out the total number of those entities to 27. Were these in the original 1981 book with the blue cover? One was, though she has a different name. The others are substitutes for a set of related creatures that I decided not to map for legal and other reasons. But you might still say they are versions of a set of entities in that original book. As with the first 20 gods of Zylarthen, most of the new gods are taken from myth or fantasy fiction. Enjoy!
ANU LORD OF THE SKY: Anu is said to be the patron of all good kings and the guarantor of their authority. He is also the guardian of justice and enforcer for the punishment of criminals. He appears on earth as a champion wearing a horned crown, and any encounter may include some form of moral test. His daughter, Lamashtu, is a hideous beast-demon with the head of a lion and the feat and talons of a bird. Recently, a respected sage claimed that the major temples of Anu had been thoroughly infiltrated by secret adherents of Lamashtu. Unfortunately, the sage was killed before elaborating further.
BLACK WIDOW GODDESS: This thoroughly malign entity used to be of human appearance until an attempt to take her own life out of hatred and self-absorption caused her to be transformed into a giant spider. She is worshipped by the Black Elves, and thus the higher gods occasionally allow her to take the form of a Black Elf maiden. Whether this is out of mercy or caprice is unknown, but it inflames her hatred of the other gods as well as of most creatures and things not associated with the Under-Earth. She is usually encountered under her more hideous guise, accompanied, of course, by spiders.
HANUMAN THE ACCURSED: The Temple of Hanuman features a statue of a hideous giant ape, made out of black marble with glowing rubies for eyes. Though the statue is inanimate, the stone will be felt to slither if touched. During the day, many will make gifts of various kinds to placate this deity. But after nightfall, all with give the Temple and its priests a wide berth.
PTAH LORD OF THE SPACE BETWEEN WORLDS: Whether Ptah is a true God, or merely a powerful and ancient extra-solar astronaut is perhaps unimportant. It is said that High Priests of this entity are granted the ability to safely travel to other planets and even stars. It is also claimed that strange  “visitors” often frequent their temples. It was a devotee of Ptah who first invented the perspective tube, a device that allows the user to observe far objects in space or see features on the surface of other bodies—such as the spiraling towers of the Selenites or the artificial waterways of Mars.
RAN: Ran the ocean goddess is said to delight in shipwrecks and deaths upon the sea. She appears as a woman swimming between the waves, holding a net that she uses to lure mariners to their doom. Sailors often darkly joke about being favored by her: “Now on Ran’s bed must I soon be a-lying.” But Ran is also said to love gold, and thus it is the practice of some to toss treasure into the ocean to placate her, perhaps before a storm. Cults of Ran usually erect their temples near dangerous reefs.
SKADI: Skadi is the goddess of winter, snow, the mountains and hunting. She usually appears as a beautiful maiden wearing skis. (In the world of SEVEN VOYAGES of ZYLARTHEN, skis are utilized by many of the Northern peoples.) It is said that if a mortal man succeeds in making Skadi laugh, he will be greatly rewarded. Failure may have other consequences.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Gender Based Strength Maximums in Old School D&D

Only one of these characters has their strength capped at 16. Can you guess which one?

Yesterday, I called out Kotaku blogger, Cecilia D'Anastasio, for making a "howler" about early D&D in her recent post, Dungeons & Dragons Wouldn’t Be What It Is Today Without These Women. She claimed that a "mid-70's" ruleset of D&D capped strength for female characters at 14. Here is what she wrote:
Part of why this flew [misogyny in early D&D art] was because, in its very ruleset, D&D assumed a mostly-male audience. In the mid-70s, that ruleset faced accusations of chauvinism when it became clear that women characters’ strength was capped four points lower than men’s. It compensated with the “Beauty” attribute, a substitute for “Charisma” [the link are from the original].
But this, as anyone even cursorily familiar with any of the early editions of D&D could tell you, was false. I identified the origin of the error in a mistaken reading of an account by Jon Peterson in his essay, The First Female Gamers:
The first serious backlash against perceived chauvinism in Dungeons & Dragons arose in 1976, after the publication of Lenard Lakofka’s article “Women & Magic,” which he distributed in the July 1976 issue of his obscure fanzine Liaisons Dangereuses. In October, the third issue of The Dragon reprinted the article and added the subtitle, “Bringing the Distaff Gamer into D&D.” In keeping with the wargaming tradition, Lakofka tries to specify a simulation of how women might measure up as adventurers. Virtually all of the level titles are changed: women Fighters, for example, may be “Battle Maidens” or “Valkyries.” He suggests that women “may progress to the level of men in the area of magic and, in some ways, surpass men as thieves,” though “only as fighters are women clearly behind men in all cases.” For Strength, Lakofka has women roll one d8 and one d6 (for a range of 2–14) instead of the traditional three d6; he furthermore grants women a “Beauty” attribute as a substitute for Charisma in baseline Dungeons & Dragons.
I then mentioned that while there weren't any mandated gender differences in OD&D - the most plausible candidate for D'Anastasio's "mid-70's ruleset" - there were gender-based caps on strength for some demi-humans in a ruleset that would follow. As I put it:
One other fairly well-known actual fact that D'Anastasio could have mentioned, but didn't, is that in 1st edition AD&D, while human females are not limited when it comes to strength, some demi-human females have their strength capped a few points lower than their male counterparts, with no compensating advantages. It's particularly egregious in the case of gnomes and hobbits, whose male/female strength maximums are 18/15 and 17/14, respectively. But for some reason, female half-orcs can be just as strong as half-orc males. Don't ask me, I didn't write it.
Thus, in AD&D, as far as humans are concerned, there's no four-point difference or, indeed, any point difference in maximum strength caps by gender. "[H]uman females are not limited when it comes to strength . . . these [differences for demi-humans] didn't apply to humans, nor did any sex differences [for caps on strength] appear in 'mid-70s' OD&D."

Or so I claimed.

Actually, the last statement, above, is, if not completely false, not exactly precisely true, either, as two people reminded me on Google+ and the comments section of my blog. While there were no differences in strength maximums for genders in "mid-70's" D&D (OD&D), nor differences in maximum strength points for human genders in late-70's D&D (AD&D), tucked away in fine print on the strength chart on page 9 of the AD&D Players Handbook is the fact that for fighters with a strength of 18 - who are then entitled to a further percentile roll for exceptional strength - the strength of female fighters, is capped at 18(50), and that of female fighter half-orcs is capped at 18(75). Male fighters can theoretically get as high as 18(00).

I think I probably knew that back in the day but subsequently forgot about it, even though for some weird reason, those odd caps on female strength for smaller demi-humans will always be etched in my memory. It might have been that the rule never really came up in play - we didn't have any women fighters in the group, let alone women fighters with a strength of 18. And indeed, we knew warily from experience that anyone with a strength of 18 had probably cheated. He or she would have been the person who wanted to play the anti-paladin or whatever.

But in any case, I want to correct the record. Again, thanks to those two commenters.

And by the way, this appears to be exclusively an AD&D thing. Even though rolling percentiles for exceptional strength was first introduced in the OD&D supplement Greyhawk, no sex differences are mentioned.

So was Gary Gygax responsible for adding that into AD&D (even thought he hadn't put it in previous editions)? I think it's unclear. Many people had a hand in putting AD&D together, though Gygax obviously signed off on most of it.

Where does that leave us? Gender based strength maximums did not appear in OD&D, either in the three little brown books (1974) or the three supplements (1975-76). They did not appear in the Holmes Basic Set (1977).

They did appear in AD&D (1978), amounting to a difference of 1-3 points for elves, dwarves, halflings and gnomes, as well as a difference for half-orc and human fighters (but not other character classes), not in maximum points per se but in limitations on maximum exceptional strength - female fighters were denied the possibility of going past 18(50) (humans) or 18(75) (half-orcs). Here are the relevant charts:


Player's Handbook, p. 14.


Player's Handbook, p. 9.

They didn't appear in the Moldvay Basic Set (1981), nor in 2nd edition AD&D (1989). I suppose it's possible they were taken out of later printings of 1st edition AD&D, but I cannot verify that either way. Perhaps someone else with a later printing could let me know?

What does all this mean? Frankly, I don't intend it to mean anything, other than to accurately present what the rulesets actually said. I hope this is the last word. But with my luck, someone will point out that in 5th edition D&D (first printing), Transgender Tiefling Mage-Paladin-Assasins who are female on a Wednesday are limited to a 13 strength against their non-male-on-Wednesday comrades (who could potentially have a 14 strength if they made their knowledge roll).

As long as they didn't have a double Fizzbin.

I know, I shouldn't joke about sexism (or transgenderism, for that matter). It's not funny. Not funny at all.

Or, as they say in one particular gaming group, "I'm going to notify an Administrator."

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

More Historical Howlers from Cecilia D'Anastasio

D&D history as herstory

I assume Cecilia D'Anastasio would describe herself as a liberal feminist. Just to be clear, I have no issue with that when it comes to gaming or gaming journalism. If you want to write about gaming, I don't care what your politics are.

The problem is that D'Anastasio's politics constantly gets in the way of her journalism, to the point where, at least when it comes to Dungeons & Dragons, she's a terrible journalist, making factual mistake after factual mistake.

I criticized the inaccuracies of a previous article here. But she's just come out with another one, Dungeons & Dragons Wouldn’t Be What It Is Today Without These Women, which in many ways is worse. Among other things, it contains a number of factual howlers. Is she lying about the facts? I'm not going to go that far. Rather, I think that in her zeal to confirm her political narrative - that D&D used to be horribly sexist and chauvinist, largely due to the misogynistic views and behavior of Gary Gygax, but now it's emerged into the light of progressive tolerance and diversity - she's not very interested in getting the facts right. So she ignores things, or misunderstands things or just gets things wrong because, well, because she doesn't really care about the facts, per se, unless they serve an ideological purpose for her.

Women are stupid, at least when it comes to gaming. They don't even really care very much about gaming, or at least, real gaming. They're just posers trying to fit in with currently hip geek culture.

I don't believe that, of course. But if I did believe it, or were inclined to, I might think that D'Anastasio would provide excellent evidence for it. She's just about the best thing now going for that misogynistic stereotype.

Let's try this one, instead:

Dishonest political hacks shouldn't be trusted when it comes to game journalism.

And that applies to men as well as women, by the way, and to political partisans of both the left, right, center or wherever else one might choose to hang one's flag. That in game writing, these days, much of this tends to come from liberals or leftists - the so-called "SJW" crowd - is obvious. But let's stipulate that this is an arbitrary historical accident. In an alternate universe, it might have been moderate Republicans or monarchists or anarcho-capitalists or whatever. Or so some would argue.

But on to D'Anastasio's latest article. No, Diplomacy was not a "play-by-mail game," although like many games at the time it could be (and was) played by mail.

But here's the most outrageous howler. I'm excerpting the entire paragraph, to be fair:
Part of why this flew [misogyny in early D&D art] was because, in its very ruleset, D&D assumed a mostly-male audience. In the mid-70s, that ruleset faced accusations of chauvinism when it became clear that women characters’ strength was capped four points lower than men’s. It compensated with the “Beauty” attribute, a substitute for “Charisma.” D&D also featured a “Harlot Table,” a bounty of twelve “brazen strumpets or haughty courtesans” players could summon with the roll of a die [the links are from the original].
Now, the Harlot Table claim is quite true, as one can verify by clicking the link provided. It did in fact appear towards the back of the 1979 Dungeon Master's Guide, although I'm not sure what she means by the "summoning" part. If you're interested in this sort of thing, there's notoriously much more of it, in, say, early Judges Guild products, such as the Ready Ref Sheets and City State of the Invincible Overlord.

One other fairly well-known actual fact that D'Anastasio could have mentioned, but didn't, is that in 1st edition AD&D, while human females are not limited when it comes to strength, some demi-human females have their strength capped a few points lower than their male counterparts, with no compensating advantages. It's particularly egregious in the case of gnomes and hobbits, whose male/female strength maximums are 18/15 and 17/14, respectively. But for some reason, female half-orcs can be just as strong as half-orc males. Don't ask me, I didn't write it.


Later edit (7/3/17): The above claim, "human females are not limited when it comes to strength [in AD&D]," isn't precisely true. See the follow-up post on 6/30/17, here.

But these didn't apply to humans, nor did any sex differences appear in "mid-70s" OD&D. That "in its very ruleset . . . women characters’ strength was capped four points lower than men’s (but was) compensated with the 'Beauty' attribute, a substitute for 'Charisma'" is just out and out false.

So, where did D'Anastasio get this from? Interestingly, she provides a link to her source, a 2014 article by Jon Peterson, The First Female Gamers. But here's what Peterson actually wrote:
The first serious backlash against perceived chauvinism in Dungeons & Dragons arose in 1976, after the publication of Lenard Lakofka’s article “Women & Magic,” which he distributed in the July 1976 issue of his obscure fanzine Liaisons Dangereuses. In October, the third issue of The Dragon reprinted the article and added the subtitle, “Bringing the Distaff Gamer into D&D.” In keeping with the wargaming tradition, Lakofka tries to specify a simulation of how women might measure up as adventurers. Virtually all of the level titles are changed: women Fighters, for example, may be “Battle Maidens” or “Valkyries.” He suggests that women “may progress to the level of men in the area of magic and, in some ways, surpass men as thieves,” though “only as fighters are women clearly behind men in all cases.” For Strength, Lakofka has women roll one d8 and one d6 (for a range of 2–14) instead of the traditional three d6; he furthermore grants women a “Beauty” attribute as a substitute for Charisma in baseline Dungeons & Dragons.
So it was in an article in the early The Dragon magazine (which was quickly slammed by many), not part of any edition of the rules. D'Anastasio simply misread Peterson. Anyone could have misread it, too, I suppose. But any gamer who know anything about the contents of, say, the 1974 Men & Magic or the 1978 AD&D Players Handbook would have instantly realized the mistake. D'Anastasio obviously has no such internal check. She writes about early D&D all the time - contrasting "bad" old D&D with "good" new D&D - but she literally has no idea what she's talking about, having almost certainly never read the early rulebooks. She doesn't even seem to be able to understand the claims of her secondary sources.

There are all sorts of other problems with D'Anastasio article that I won't go into here. The irony is that there is an interesting story to tell about women in the early days of D&D, and, to some extent, that story broadly maps D'Anastasio's desired theme - a small number of women, many largely forgotten, making important contributions to the hobby, within a male-dominated gaming culture that might have often validly been compared to that of a locker room if the participants hadn't been so nerdy.

But with all of her bias and carelessness, D'Anastasio isn't the one to tell that story. For now, read the fascinating Peterson article, instead.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

FBI Unabomber Investigation Report on Gary Gygax: "[Redacted] considers GYGAX to be eccentric and frightening. He is known to carry a weapon..."

Gary Gygax in 1999

What follows is a funny and fascinating piece of history.

A year ago, C.J. Ciaramella, a criminal justice reporter at Reason, filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for any FBI files on TSR. Among other things, Ciaramella appears to have been looking for information pertaining to the FBI search of TSR offices in 1980, an incident based on a misunderstanding that a note written on TSR stationary involving the game Top Secret, alluded to a real-life assassination plot.

Ciaramella received back five documents. None of them were connected to the infamous 1980 search. Rather, there were two documents concerning a 1983 investigation into cocaine trafficking in Lake Geneva, which appeared to name Gary Gygax as a possible source, witness or even suspect (the crucial passages that would explain this are redacted).

In addition, and more interestingly, there were three 1995 documents concerning the Unabomber investigation. The FBI seems to have been following a lead that the bomber might have had some connection to a legal dispute between TSR and the Fresno Gaming Association. So they apparently interviewed someone at TSR.

The primary document spends a number of pages explaining the history of TSR and wargaming/roleplaying, I assume making use of information largely or entirely picked up from the source. It humorously gets a few things wrong, and (in my view) exaggerates an alleged feud between wargamers and roleplayers. As part of that, it records the snooty attitude of its TSR source towards wargamers:
[Redacted] advised that war gamers are generally extremely intelligent individuals. Often they will live frugally to support the cost of the war gaming hobby. [Redacted] further advised that the typical war gaming enthusiast is overweight and not neat in appearance.
Then the topic moves on to Gary Gygax, who was not at that time part of the company (having essentially been kicked out a number of years, before), but was still living in Lake Geneva. There was still a lot of bad blood between TSR and Gygax, and one can only imagine the barely suppressed glee that the unnamed source had in describing Gygax to the FBI in the most unflattering possible light. He was a drug abuser, gun nut and tax evader who had a weird obsession with prisoners and prisons. Perhaps he had some connection to the Unabomber?
In 1986 TSR bought out GYGAX's stock and guaranteed him a royalty on his gameware from 1986 through 1989. That agreement involved approximately $3 million. GYGAX later infringed TSR copyrights and was sued by TSR. [Redacted] determined that a settlement was more financially sound and GYGAX was guaranteed $50,000 per year for ten years. In the early 1980’s, GYGAX had been generating about $1 million per year in income. [Redacted] advised that GYGAX spent his money frivolously. GYGAX was involved in an unpleasant divorce and [Redacted] further advised that GYGAX was a drug abuser. GYGAX is approximately 55 years of age and is currently [redacted]. He lives on Madison Street in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin and may be contacted at (414) xxx-xxxx. GYGAX maintains a mailing address as follows: P. O. Box 388, Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. [Redacted] considers GYGAX to be eccentric and frightening. He is known to carry a weapon and was proud of his record of personally answering any letter coming from a prison. GYGAX set up a holding company in Liberia to avoid paying taxes. He is known to be a member of the Libertarian Party.
The actual Unabomber, Theodore Kaczynski, was arrested less than a year later. As far as I know, it was never determined that he had any connection to the wargaming or roleplaying hobbies.

During his bombing campaign, Kaczynski used the initials "FC," to describe his "group." He would later explain that it stood for "Freedom Club." But at the time, the FBI was desperately asking sources whether they had any ideas as to its meaning. This is what they came up with at TSR:
In the historical war context, F.C. stood for "Forward Center" which was a troop movement designation. It was also inscribed on cannons in the Franco-Prussian War, probably as an insignia.
Before presenting the document, let me say that in his short blog post, Reason reporter Ciaramella frames the situation misleadingly. He oddly does not reference the Unabomber case at all, and sort of implies that the FBI "kept a file on" Gygax. This isn't really true (as far as we know). And whatever one thinks of the FBI in general or the FBI in 1995 or whatever, I don't think it unreasonable for the agency to have followed all possible leads in this notorious pre-9/11 terrorism investigation - including even, I suppose, checking out wargamers and roleplayers. After all, the Unabomber turned out to be highly intelligent (especially in mathematics), eccentric, individualistic, socially awkward and very dedicated to his particular "hobby." That describes a few of us, I think. Or at least a few of us, back in the day.

And finally, who is "Redacted"? I assume it is Lorraine Williams, who headed TSR from 1986 until 1997, and had a dislike for both Gary Gygax and (according to many reports) gamers in general. Presumably, FBI agents are trained to take down the statements of sources and witnesses accurately, whatever they might think of their motivation or bias. And I imagine that veteran agents would have seen everything, including gossipy people dishing the dirt on former colleagues.

So, I think this is not so much an FBI thing, but a Lorraine Williams thing. It's not the government, say, tracking the activities of a potential subversive, but, rather, Lorraine Williams dissing Gygax - her former boss and the man who hired her - to the FBI.      

Here is a cleaned up version of the full document. The actual scan can be found here.
May 25 1995
FBI – San Francisco
[Redacted] TSR, INCORPORATED 201 Sheridan Springs Road, Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, telephone number [redacted] was advised of the identity of the interviewing Agents. The interview was conducted in an attempt to determine the relationship between TSR. INCORPORATED [redacted] as FRESNO GAMING ASSOCIATION AND COMPANY. TSR was present during the interview. [Redacted] provided the following information.
TSR, INC. (TSR) is an entertainment industry which produces publications and holds licenses related to fantasy role-playing games. The games are researched, written and illustrated by TSR employees or by freelance artists. The material is finalized and forwarded to a print agency and returned to TSR for packaging. TSR derives a majority of their profits from publications and the licensing of its copyrighted gaming materials. TSR licenses computer games as well and participates in numerous industry conventions nationwide.
TSR founded and operates the largest gaming convention in the world called GEN-CON. GEN-CON was originally named with reference to the GENEVA CONVENTION. The convention attracts approximately 25,000 attendees and focuses primarily on role-playing rather than war gaming. It is routinely held in August of each year and is marking its 27th year in 1995.
TSR employs approximately 120 persons and is considered to be the largest national role playing gaming corporation. [Redacted] noted that TSR has an extremely high concentration of very intelligent persons in employment. She added that many of the employees have parents in academia, often outstanding in' their respective fields. TSR formerly operated two offices in California, one in Beverly Hills and one in Westwood. Both California offices have been closed and TSR only maintains offices in Lake Geneva and England. TSR originated in the 1970s as a direct result of the gaming activities of persons affiliated with the GENEVA WAR GAMING ASSOCIATION. TSR originally was an acronym for TACTICAL STUDIES RULES, however only the initials have been retained as the name of the corporation.
War gaming and fantasy role playing differ in that war gaming involves a reenactment of historical wars and fantasy role playing involves adventures of fictional scenarios and characters. War gaming traditionally involved the staging of one day of battle in one war for strategic review by the war gamers. Miniature figures, often hand painted in the appropriate colors for the battle, would be arranged in a manner identical to the troop placement at the actual battle. The subsequent day of battle may not be reenacted for a month while the strategic possibilities are examined. The miniature figures originally were 25mm lead figures, but were-later formed of aluminum and pewter alloys. [Redacted] advised that war gamers are generally extremely intelligent individuals. Often they will live frugally to support the cost of the war gaming hobby. [Redacted] further advised that the typical war gaming enthusiast is overweight and not neat in appearance.
DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS (D & D) was a fantasy role playing game originally named CHAINMAIL, produced by GARY GYGAX and DAVE ARNESON in 1972 and sold from GYGAX’S basement. In 1973, GYGAX, DONALD KAYE and [Redacted] formed a partnership in the gaming industry that evolved in 1975 into TSR. GYGAX operated the TSR branch office in Beverly Hills, California, doing business as DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS ENTERTAINMENT CORPORATION (DDEC).
In approximately 1976, the war gaming industry experienced a realignment that resulted in the traditional war gamers becoming very angry and resentful toward TSR. A major war gaming company named SIMULATION PUBLICATION, INC. (SPI) encountered significant financial trouble and was purchased by TSR. At the time of the buyout, SPI was a war gaming company and TSR was a fantasy role playing company. Many of the war gamers believe that SPI was sabotaged by TSR so that they could be acquired and quashed. [Redacted] believed that the purchase of SPI, which occurred [redacted] involved a forgiveness of debt and no funds actually changed hands. [redacted] has not been able to locate an itemization of game titles which were included in the deal and advised that there is still some confusion about the details of the purchase. [Redacted] noted that some war gamers continue to hold the anger from this purchase. She recalled a message on the Internet approximately three weeks ago which recalled TSR's acquisition of SPI in a derogatory connotation.
War gamers from the era of the 1970s are now aged in their late 40s to early 50s. Following the sale of SPI, they became further enraged at TSR when TSR began to scale back the war gaming portion of their company until it was almost non-existent. [Redacted] advised that war gaming appealed to a small but fiercely loyal population and war game production was not even profitable enough to be maintained at SPI's levels. A major portion of production costs were devoted to “counters" which were cardboard punch-out pieces designed to represent war vehicles. The "counters" reduced the profits of war gaming sets to a level that TSR found unacceptable. [Redacted] noted that fantasy role playing sets seldom required counters, could be produced for a fraction of the cost and appealed to a much larger audience.
In the [redacted] FRESNO had promised the reissue of the SPI titles to their constituents and had allegedly engaged in copyright infringement of certain games which had not come under their legal control. TSR dealt with litigation against FRESNO for years and then forwarded the management of the copyright infringement matter to JENNER BLOCK, 1 IBM PLAZA, CHICAGO, ILLINOIS. Through JENNER threatened to sue FRESNO. Attorneys for TSR forwarded a “Cease and Desist" order and [Redacted] learned that FRESNO blamed TSR for their impending bankruptcy. The attorneys at JENNER & BLOCK who handled this matter included [Redacted]. All records related to this litigation are maintained at the offices of JENNER & BLOCK. With the sale of the SPI titles to DECISION GAMES, the litigation against FRESNO became the concern of DECISION GAMES. TSR retains only 7 or 8 war gaming titles of the original 200 obtained with the purchase of SPI.
[Redacted] described the company as financially unstable and in need of reorganization [redacted]. TSR continued to produce war gaming sets and even sold several strategy modules to the Pentagon, however [Redacted] found the interaction with GYGAX at TSR to be very difficult. In 1986 TSR bought out GYGAX's stock and guaranteed him a royalty on his gameware from 1986 through 1989. That agreement involved approximately $3 million. GYGAX later infringed TSR copyrights and was sued by TSR. [Redacted] determined that a settlement was more financially sound and GYGAX was guaranteed $50,000 per year for ten years. In the early 1980’s, GYGAX had been generating about $1 million per year in income. [Redacted] advised that GYGAX spent his money frivolously. GYGAX was involved in an unpleasant divorce and [Redacted] further advised that GYGAX was a drug abuser. GYGAX is approximately 55 years of age and is currently [redacted]. He lives on Madison Street in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin and may be contacted at (414) xxx-xxxx. GYGAX maintains a mailing address as follows: P. O. Box 388, Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. [Redacted] considers GYGAX to be eccentric and frightening. He is known to carry a weapon and was proud of his record of personally answering any letter coming from a prison. GYGAX set up a holding company in Liberia to avoid paying taxes. He is known to be a member of the Libertarian Party.
GYGAX is probably familiar with [redacted]. [Redacted] believes that GYGAX would be extremely uncooperative if the Federal Bureau of Investigation FBI attempted to interview him regarding his knowledge of [Redacted] FRESNO. [Redacted] added that war gamers are very loyal to one another and interviewees should be selected carefully so that the investigation is not jeopardized.
In 1988 TSR sold approximately 25 of the war gaming titles which TSR had acquired of SP1. The purchaser of these titles was WORLD WIDE WARGAMES which may have been located in Bekersfield, California. [Redacted] were affiliated with WWW at the time of the sale.
In 1994 TSR sold about 100 of the former-SPI titles to DECISION GAMES.
[Redacted]
[Redacted] FRESNO GAMING ASSOCIATION (FRESNO) prior to the acquisition of SPI by TSR. FRESNO was an informal club composed of a variety of war gamers however the organization did not appear to function as a company. Ultimately, FRESNO may have incorporated to collect dues to cover the cost of publication. [Redacted] was not aware of [Redacted] official capacity in the organization. She recalled that [Redacted] was involved with SPI prior to TSR’s purchase and had offered a small amount of money for war gaming titles which TSR had made available for sale. [Redacted] did not obtain the rights to any of the titles.
In the historical war context, F.C. stood for "Forward Center" which was a troop movement designation. It was also inscribed on cannons in the Franco-Prussian War, probably as an insignia.
[Redacted] were presented with the photographs of the wooden box utilized for the Improvised Explosive Device (IED) which was mailed aboard American Airlines flight #444 on 11/15/79. Neither could provide information regarding the origin or purpose of the box. Neither was familiar with the hinge on the box as depicted in the photographs and further described by the Agents.
[Redacted] were presented with the composite drawing of the suspect in the captioned matter. Neither had ever met [Redacted] and therefore could not comment on any possible resemblance. I advised that TSR employee [Redacted] and may be contacted regarding this.
[Redacted]
[Redacted]
TSR was the victim of two separate bomb threat incidents. No detonation occurred and the perpetrator(s) were never determined. The first incident occurred in 1986 and involved a series of phone calls which served as a countdown to the alleged day of detonation. Another threat in 1992 or 1993 was also received at TSR. TSR agreed with the conclusion of the Lake Geneva Police that most recent threat was probably just a prank. The Lake Geneva, Wisconsin police departments should have record of these incidents.
[Redacted] could not provide additional information regarding these threats. She advised that she would contact TSR’s [Redacted] for additional information.
[Redacted] that it would not be in the best interests of TSR to broadcast the receipt of the aforementioned threats. Further, [Redacted] preferred that the employees were not made aware of the presence of Agents of the FBI at TSR. [redacted] added that this kind of information could easily end up posted on the Internet system by the end of the day.
[Redacted] suggested that the dates of the placement and detonation of the captioned case devices may coincide with events of the Vietnam War. [Redacted] recalled the passion of the students at UCB during the War and suggested that the suspect may have arisen from that era. [Redacted ] also recalled a scandal in the mid to late 1980s involving several Professors at UCB and some east coast universities wherein renowned research was later determined to have been plagiarized.