The Grognard Speaks about Greyhawk

Many, many moons ago when fire was cutting edge technology and large lizards roamed the Earth I discovered Dungeons & Dragons. This was back in 1974 when I was nine years old. Of course, we had no idea what we were doing – the campaign setting (such as it was) was limited to the “town” and the “dungeon”.

D&d_Box1stOriginal D&D, the very first D&D set published in 1974. I still have my Original White Box sets (very rare and I am told I can sell it for $500 or more on eBay but I keep it for nostalgic reasons). Wizards of the Coast has published a new version that retails for a still-pricey $149.99 (at dndclassics.com) in an illustrated wooden storage case, a homage to the Original D&D’s brown wood-grain cardboard box. I persuaded my saintly mother (obm) to buy it for me. It became an instant hit for me and my brothers (and our more nerdy friends).

D&d_originalIn 1977, TSR released the box set with the dragon on the cover, which was a real refinement of the OD&D white books. The box included 48-page stand-alone rulebook featuring artwork by David C. Sutherland III, a set of polyhedral dice, monster and treasure lists, dungeon geomorphs (which I still use, having scanned them into my computer as PNG files) and a set of (cheesy, by today’s standards) polyhedral dice and a crayon to mark them with.

The rulebook covered characters of levels one through three, rules for adventuring in dungeons, and the concepts of the game in terms that made it accessible to new players. Although the Basic Set was not fully compatible with Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, players were expected to continue play beyond third level by moving to AD&D. I picked up a copy and we happily continued in our “town” and “dungeon” setting.

PlayersHandbook8CoverLater in 1977, TSR released what would become the great grand-daddy of all FRPGS and still my favorite – Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. With AD&D role-playing entered it’s golden age and for me, some of the happiest memories of my childhood. For those who never saw AD&D in the “flesh” so to speak;  it was an updated version of D&D that reorganized the rules of the game across three hardcover rulebooks, compiled by Gary Gygax, between 1977 and 1979. The Monster Manual (1977), the Player’s Handbook (1978), and the Dungeon Master’s Guide (1979). Major additions included classes from supplements like assassin, druid, monk, paladin, and thief, while bard, illusionist and ranger that had only appeared in magazine articles were also added.

Later supplements for AD&D included Deities & Demigods (1980), Fiend Folio (another book of monsters produced semi-autonomously in the UK – 1981), Monster Manual II (1983), Oriental Adventures and Unearthed Arcana (1985), the latter of which mostly compiled material previously published in Dragon magazine and others.

All of a sudden, there was an above-ground portion of the game. The world had become bigger than the “Town” and the “Dungeon”. So where would we set our game? The maps of Middle Earth quickly became our first choice… of course, the problem was the Good Professor had pretty much told us the entire story of Middle Earth – and the Silmarillion filled in what gaps the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings left open. We muddled through using maps cribbed from various paperback fantasy novels… but in 1980, E. Gary Gygax came through with  Greyhawk, also known as the World of Greyhawk

Although, strictly speaking it was not the first campaign world developed for Dungeons & Dragons (Dave Arneson’s Blackmoor campaign predates it by a few months) the world of Greyhawk was the setting most closely identified with the development of the AD&D.

Combined with the “Greyhawk’s World” articles from the original Dragon magazine (back when TSR insisted that it be called THE Dragon) – Greyhawk seemed almost real. Sure, its culture and society made little sense, its religious system was laughable and its geography dodgy – but I loved it all the same.

The world itself started as a simple dungeon under a castle designed by Gary Gygax for the amusement of his children and friends, but it rapidly expanded to include not only a complex multi-layered dungeon environment, but also the nearby city of Greyhawk, and eventually an entire world. In addition to the campaign world, which was published in several editions over twenty years, Greyhawk was also used as the setting for many adventures published in support of the game, as well as for RPGA’s massively shared Living Greyhawk campaign from 2000–2008.

My current campaign is homegrown – based on the Arden supplement originally developed for Chivalry and Sorcery – but my version of Arden owes more than a little to those original AD&D games played in Greyhawk.

Thanks for the good times, Gary.

 

Free Resource for Gamemasters

Many moons ago, I discovered a great book covering life in the feudal era. The games I run tend to be based on the feudal world (in an SCA sort of way – making allowances for 21st century sensibilities). Thanks to Archive.org and University of Connecticut it is available for free at http://archive.org/details/lifeonmediaevalb00davi

Life on a Mediaeval Barony by William Stearns Davis, PhD.

Gary Gygax Day

Gary Gygax “A DM only rolls the dice because of the noise they make.”
-Gary Gygax

There has been much interest in E. Gary Gygax Day ever since it was posted on the KOSB events page. We’ve decided to create this page so that other groups can celebrate this holiday.

Gary Gygax Day is celebrated on or near July 27th, Gary’s Birthday. Our group usually celebrates on the closest Saturday.

Setting a Place for Gary

Whether or not you believe that the spirits of those who have passed on are able to visit the living is up to you; however we always set a place of honor for Gary at the head of the table. Here are some essentials that should be laid out:

  • A full set of dice
  • A drink
  • Some Gold & Mild cigars
  • Bic
  • An empty Altoids can (for an ashtray, wintergreen preferred)

The Meal

Fondue PartyGary’s roots are Swiss so we begin with a fondue party. Alternatively you can celebrate with other Swiss cuisine like Raclette, Rösti, Zürigschnätzlet or you could research some of Gary’s favorite foods (you will find melted cheese a recurring theme). If you choose to do fondue you should have no trouble finding the necessary books and equipment for a fondue party (pretty much anyone who was alive in the 70’s has a fondue pot somewhere in their basement). Books and equipment are also common at thrift stores and garage sales. We usually go all out and have the cheese fondue, meat fondue and dessert fondue.

The Drink

cask conditioned ale is ideal, being one of Gary’s preferred libations. Others are: Aquavit, vodka, and glug. Also, Gary once referred to Samuel Adams as “well-brewed”  non-sarcastically).

The Reading

There should be a reading from one of Gary’s texts. It could be a passage from a book, module, magazine article, internet posting or anything else scribed by Gary that you deem appropriate (or inappropriate).

The Toasts

Here are the six toasts:

D6 Side 1 To [your Role-playing Group].
D6 Side 2 To Role-players Everywhere.
D6 Side 3 To Departed Characters.
D6 Side 4 To Tactical Studies Rules.
D6 Side 5 To Hell with Lorraine Williams!*
D6 Side 6 To E. Gary Gygax!

(intended to be done in order, but if you ever need a random toast…)
* Lorraine Williams, who despised gamers, took over T$R in 1985 and forced Gary to leave. Other possibilities include: The Blumes (who, according to Gary, grossly mismanaged TSR while he was in Hollywood), and Wizards of the Coast (for those who hate 3rd edition). In any case the 5th toast should be a hostile toast.

The toasts should be done in a traditional style (check the Internet) with yours or Gary’s favorite drink. Here’s how we do the toasts: Everyone raises their glasses (tankards, steins, etc.) and one member of the group proposes the toast; everyone repeats it, drinks, raises their glasses again and slams them down; repeat, taking turns proposing.

The Elephant Joke

Gary had a well rounded sense of humor that included bad puns (the worse the better) and elephant jokes. If you don’t have an elephant joke of your own, go to Google and search for elephant jokes. Some are funny. Many are painful. You’ll find enough jokes to last until the end of time.

The Entertainment

Gary as an Action RangerThe natural choice is an episode of the Dungeons & Dragons cartoon, produced by E. Gary Gygax in the 1980’s. The entire series is now available on DVD. Some other alternatives are:

  • Futurama episode 29: Anthology of Interest I, starring Gary Gygax
  • Dexter’s Laboratory episode 45: D&DD, where Dexter wants to role-play with his 27th level warrior mage: Gygax

The Game

Monsters & Treasure No evening would be complete without a Tactical Study. Dungeons & Dragons would be an excellent choice (1st Edition, Basic, Advanced, Expert or be a real man and get yourself a White Box set, or even better, a Brown Box set). Or you could play Chainmail or Cavaliers and Roundheads, miniatures games created by Gary Gygax and Jeff Perrin. Another possibility is Don’t Give up the Ship, a tabletop game with sailing ships by Gygax and Arneson. Or if you would like something newer, play Lejendary Adventures, Gary’s latest and final RPG. Chainmail

We hope that Gary Gygax Day will become an annual tradition for Role-playing groups all over the world. It would be a fitting tribute to celebrate the man who made possible our favorite hobby. If your group celebrates, please drop us a line letting us know how it went and if you did anything different.

If you’ve found your way here, the following links might be useful:

Photos courtesy of the Gygax family, Julien29, 30th Century Fox and Tactical Studies Rules. Other references include the Wikipedia, Charlie Brooks’ History of Dungeons & Dragons, countless internet postings, the guys from Lake Geneva.

The Grognard Speaks about “Classic Monsters: The Manual”

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Classic Monsters: The Manual

MSRP: $24.99. hardbound and 144 pages. Also available on Kindle for $9.99.
Written by Kim Hartsfield.
Edited by Tim Burns.
Cover by Sarah Walker.
Interior art by Peter Bradly, Sarah Walker, and Jason Walton.

The Castles & Crusades Classic Monsters Manual has over 200 monsters, all of them with C&C statistics. About half of the monsters come from the Tome of Horrors by Necromancer Games, and contains a many monsters that had only shown up previously in modules (Vegepygmies, for example). This book is not a reprint of the Tome of Horrors, rather it aims at supplementing the Monsters & Treasure book to make every monster from the original AD&D Monster Manual (with the noticable absence of the Devils and Demons which will be dealt with in a forthcoming volume). Of course, the utility of this book is pretty much restricted to people who use Castles and Crusades.

I ordered this book as part of a Kickstarter package to get my hands on an advanced copy along with some very cool Swag. There have been significant delays in the physical product getting into the hands of those eager to get it. I still have not received my dead-tree versions of the books. However, Troll Lord Games did release the PDF to those who pre-ordered it. This review is based on the PDF.

In the beginning of the book is a very short article on running monsters with their own motivations and it succeeds rather well in a fairly short amount of space. This primer is very much the heart and soul of the work. The monsters are meant to be a little different, and most certainly meant to be generally intelligent opposition. There’s a repeat of the “how to read the monster stat blocks” section in the Monsters and Treasure book, and then the monsters. The monsters take up about 100 pages, the introductions take 4 and the index is about 31 pages.

“Classic Monsters: The Manual” is a step in the right direction. It adds the monsters from the original Monster Manual I and II books and Fiend Folio that weren’t in the Monsters & Treasure book. Kim Hartsfield takes a look and updates these classic creatures for use in C&C. One of the neatest features of the new book is the ‘index’. It is a complete summary listing of all creatures along with their stats from the ‘Classic Monsters’ book as well as the original ‘Monsters & Treasures’ and the ‘Monsters & Treasures of Aihrde’. This easily makes the index one of the best aspects of this new book.

The book is certainly convenient. Combined with Monsters & Treasure, it adds the rest of the monsters from classic AD&D. However, C&C is aimed squarely at the gamer who liked 1e AD&D, in general these grognards also have access to a variety of other published work which can be just as easily converted and used for their games.

Many Castle Keepers run 1st edition modules and use the stat blocks pretty much as-is. Most AD&D or D20 material would only require the minimum of tweaks to use it in personal C&C campaigns. Having the monsters readily available and in print is a nice touch. No need to convert old material, just add plot and stir well. Additionally, there are those that don’t have or no longer have all these other books. This book covers a variety of needs.

As for the presentation of the book itself, it is reminiscient of the original Monster Manual for AD&D. The art is black & white – some of it compares favorably with the Dave Trampier art from the original Monster Manual and some not so much. In places the art is more ‘sketch-like’ than that of the original Monster Manual.

Art is a very subjective thing but it’s consistent enough that there isn’t any one piece that draws my dislike. If there is one aspect of the layout that really bugs me it’s that  there are instances where the stat block (as opposed to the description) is ‘cut’ and split at the bottom of one column to resume at the top of the next. Worse yet, at least a couple of instances has this across two pages! This issue is not a deal killer but they have avoided this in the past. Hopefully this will get fixed in the print version.

Like every other TLG products, this product has its quirks. For example, the new book includes the Cloaker, which is also in Monsters & Treasure. We probably didn’t need two entries for this monster and even more amusing; they are also both listed in the Index.

Overall, I like the PDF and am looking forward to seeing the the ‘real’ finished product. If you are a C&C fan and run a game and want some more 1e goodness, then you should you buy the book. The cover price of $25 is reasonable for a hardcover RPG book (the original Monster Manual hardcover had an MSRP of $11.99).

When I do finally get my physical copy, I’ll post about it and see if there are any substantial differences between the PDF and the version that ended up going to printers. I’ll see if I can include a couple of pics as well. I just wouldn’t expect them anytime this month!

How do I get into the &*^&*%* PDF I just bought?!

Okay, bit on the direction hobby publishing is going. If you are like me, you are buying a lot of new (or OP) books on sites like drivethrurpg.com, they are cheaper than dead-tree books and you can copy out relevant bits for use in your games… or can you?

A lot of those PDFs come locked and you can’t get to the juicy bits to copy them. Well, fear not citizens! There is a great little utility called A-PDF Restrictions Remover, and it’s a steal at a mere $9.99! I have been using it for years on PDFs I’ve purchased from a variety of vendors and it has never failed to let me in to access the content anyway I please. After all, I paid for the the PDF, shouldn’t I be allowed to use it as I see fit? Don’t take my word for it, go to their site and download a free trial for yourself at www.A-PDF.com

The Grognard Speaks about Wizards & Fiends

Okay, time to start adding things from my DM’s notebook. Let’s start with the specialist wizards from AD&D 2nd Edition and  one of my perennial favorites- the Witch.

I’ve always liked the idea of wizards specializing in schools of thought – magic is Chaos incarnate, to treat it as a monolithic block seems to do violence to the very idea of a Master of the Arts Arcane.

I am also beginning to post the work I’ve done with the Fiends, the Angels and other assorted monsters. I have the introduction to the Fiends of the Hellish Host up – new content to follow quickly as I am able.