Saturday, August 2, 2014

First RPG Gamemastered: Dungeons & Dragons

Note: I edited the last post to add a year to the dates. I played Melee, Wizard and Death Test in the fall of 1978, and first encountered Dungeons & Dragons in the winter of 1978-79. I was in 10th grade.

At the start of 1979 the final book of the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons trilogy, The Dungeon Masters Guide, was nine months away from being published. I believe that the three little brown books and the supplements were still technically in print, but I don't remember them being easily obtainable or something that new players sought out. The Holmes Basic Set was on sale, but I think my view of it and the view of other high schoolers in my circle was that it was the "baby" edition, only suitable for one's kid brother, or whatever.

So I used the Judges Guild Ready Ref Sheets for combat tables. Dragon Magazine also had a "preview" of the Dungeon Masters Guide featuring attack and saving throw tables that we circulated Xeroxed copies of.

The only TSR AD&D modules available were high level adventures such as Against the Giants or the Drow series. (The low level modules were for "Basic D&D". Again, kids stuff.) Therefore, I didn't draw from any published examples. 

I don't know where I obtained a list of magic items, but I must have gotten them somewhere, as my dungeon was full of them.

So the point is that during (what I now know) what was an explosive period in the game, the rules were in flux and incomplete. Kids were patching them together from all sorts of sources, "official" and not.

But it didn't matter. The game was glorious.

My "megadungeon" had five levels, drawn out on 8 1/2 x 11 inch graph paper. I think it was an abandoned Dwarven (or perhaps Gnomish) mine. You had to travel for weeks through a secret Gnome tunnel under the mountains to get to the underground entrance.

And after passing through the great double door, you encountered The Stirge Room.

I didn't design it to be deadly. But it turned out to be. I think three parties TPK'd before one of them defeated the resilient critters and was thus able to move on.

I suppose looking back there were a number of "lessons":

1. Characters died quickly and often (at least at first) but that was fun. It became a challenge: "This time we're going to kill those blood-sucking bastards."

2. Alignments were silly (or at least they were the way we played them). My characters were usually Chaotic Evil (I think my players thought that gave them more freedom) but when it came to their relationship with other party members they were practically holy. I remember, during the final TPK, the Chaotic Evil Fighter shouting (as he was being pecked to death by Stirges), “Fly, friends! Go through the north door. Don’t worry about me! I’ll hold them off!” I haven’t talked to him in a while but I think he’s now the chairman of a Philosophy Department.

3. The concept of a dungeon was fun and interesting: “Let’s go down to second level!" “No, we’re not ready!" “I don’t care. I don’t want to go back and forth through that bloody underground tunnel again. What if they rebuild things before we return?” “Okay, we’re powerful enough now. Let’s just clean out those Goblins (whatever level they live on) once and for all. We owe them that!” And so on.

This wasn't based on anything, let alone, reading old school blogs (obviously) or whatever. It just happened.

Here's to you, Soma, Bromarle the Green Wizard, Khumzaal, Peras, Corwin and all the rest of the crew. You killed the Goblin King (on the fifth level) and moved on to defeat the Slavers and the minions of the Temple of Elemental Evil.

I remember.

May God grant you peace, wherever you are.

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