A monster on the verge of eating an adventurer.


Dungeons of Dread Update

by Ramanan Sivaranjan on May 06, 2013

Tagged: tsr wotc garygygax lawrenceschick ad&d

Here’s a nice update to my post on Dungeons of Dread. Wizards of the Coast’s has published the illustrations booklets for each of the adventures. This makes the hardbacks so much more useful as a gaming resource. (I had asked Mike Mearls about this on Google+, and he had mentioned it was probably something they would do.)

Wizard’s also got Jason Thompson’s to make walkthrough maps of the 4 modules, and they are amazing: Tomb of Horros, White Plume Mountain, Expidition to the Barrier Peak, Lost Caverns.


Reading the DMG: Time is like a clock in the heart.

by Ramanan Sivaranjan on April 02, 2013

Tagged: readingthedmg ad&d dmg gygax


Strong words from Gary Gygax on running a campaign. This is one of the few places in the Dungeon Masters Guide where text is set in all caps. This is important: you’re just fucking around until you start correctly tracking the movement of time in your campaign.

On some level D&D is a game of resource management: do I have enough torches, food, spells, etc, to survive exploring this dungeon. If you aren’t mindful of how time passes one aspect of what makes the game difficult disappears. (AD&D takes this to extreme levels with combat and rounds being split into segments.)

That is time at the micro scale. In this section Gygax is referring to time at a more macro scale. How much time passes between adventures. Do other adventurers have time to sweep in and steal the choice treasure before the PCs get another shot? Gygax was running games with multiple groups of PCs operating in the game world at the same time. The interplay between the groups will be different depending on what each group gets up to and how long it takes. It’s easy to hand wave what happens outside of the dungeon, but there is some interesting game play to be had IF STRICT TIME RECORDS ARE KEPT.”


Gorgonmilk's Vancian Magic Supplement

by Ramanan Sivaranjan on March 30, 2013

Tagged: osr dnd odnd ad&d

I printed out and bound the Vancian Magic supplement from Gorgonsmilk. I find all the folding and sewing relaxing. The book seems like it is actually a little bit too big to work as a saddle-stitched booklet. Maybe i’m just not good at making them. At 90-odd pages its a pretty meaty supplement. The book collects 2 stories by Jack Vance, 4 articles about magic in D&D by Gary Gygax, and a re-imagined Vancian spell list for D&D.

I had never read anything by Jack Vance before. I found the two short stories presented here really quite good. Vance produces a very evocative world in just a few pages. Both stories contain plenty of examples of the bizarre version of magic one finds in D&D: wizards can memorize a handful of spells, which they can cast just once before they are forgotten until they are memorized again. The stories definitely increased my appreciation of the magic system used in D&D.1 Previously it felt both arbitrary and not particularly fantastical.

The articles by Gygax are all great picks. Gygax explains why he went with Jack Vance as his source for magic in D&D. Briefly, Vancian Magic lends itself well to balanced and fun game play. One of the articles is from 1980 and discusses magic in AD&D. It’s full on Gygax raging against people doing it wrong DMG style and its fantastic.

Finally we get to the re-imagined D&D spell lists by Shadrac MQ. The spells have great names and really imaginative effects.

This supplement is free, features art from Moebius, and collects some great writing: why haven’t you grabbed it already?

  1. The stories both contain footnotes with commentary about how the fiction relates back to D&D: a good idea poorly executed. Most of the footnotes offer up obvious insight or simply repeat what you just read. Anyway, it’s a small gripe: the footnotes are small. 


Review: Dungeons of Dread

by Ramanan Sivaranjan on March 21, 2013

Tagged: tsr wotc garygygax lawrenceschick ad&d

Dungeons of Dread

I picked up a copy of the new limited edition S-series adventure compilation Dungeons of Dread. It’s a nice hardback book that collects 4 modules released by TSR that were meant to separate the wheat from the chaff when it came to D&D players. Those modules are: Tomb of Horrors, White Plume Mountain, Expedition to the Barrier Peaks, and The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth.

This new edition begins with an introduction by Lawrence Schick, author of White Plume Mountain. He briefly explains the history of the series and of each module. Following this is a short table of contents and then each of the modules presented exactly as they appeared however many years ago. If you’ve seen the AD&D reprints the quality is much the same: that is to say quite good. Like the AD&D reprints the illustrations in Dungeons of Dread seem a bit higher contrast than the originals. The art work is reproduced reasonably well, but I suspect some detail has been lost in scanning the originals for their inclusion here.

Unlike the AD&D reprints Dungeons of Dread is much more of a collectible than a gaming aid. Presenting the 4 modules together like this is nice if you just want to read them, but to use them in the game would probably be unwieldily. The illustration booklets you’re supposed to show your players are bound in the book, as are the maps for each adventure. That’s not to say you couldn’t use this book at your table, but it’s a step back in usability compared to the original TSR modules. Really, something like this would have been better presented in a box set, but no one makes box sets anymore.

If you’re a fan of the old modules this collection is well worth a look. As I don’t own the originals, the choice was simple. I picked up my copy for $30 on Amazon, which is less than i’d pay for each module used on eBay.


Review: F3: Many Gates of Gann and F1: Fane of the Poisoned a Prophecy from Chaotic Henchmen

by Ramanan Sivaranjan on December 21, 2012

Tagged: osr module ad&d

I recently purchased both of the modules put out by Chaotic Henchmen: F3: Many Gates of Gann and the F1: Fane of the Poisoned Prophecy. The modules are a throwback to AD&D adventures of yore, but with much better typesetting and layout. In fact my main impetus for picking up the adventures was to support someone who took the time to put together a good looking well laid out product. This is something sorely lacking in a lot of RPG books I buy.

And now for some spoilers.

The F3: Many Gates of Gann describes a fairly large dungeon built by a wizard to house a terrible weapon. The wizard has since moved on, but left a small army of servitor apes to run the place. Oh hells yes. The layout of the dungeon makes it perfect for round about exploration. There are all sorts of ways of interacting with the apes that manage the compound. In addition to the apes there are a faction of snake monsters that have snuck into the compound through a lower level and a few of their minions. There are plenty of groups in the dungeon to befriend or fight. There is lots to love in this module. It’s a little bit quirky and different than your typical fantasy dungeon.

F1: Fane of the Poisoned a Prophecy is another interesting setting. An oracle who has set up shop in an ancient crypto-moon temple has been kidnapped by werewolves who have descended into the temple from the moon via a lunar staircase. Read that again and tell me you don’t want to play that game! This dungeon is smaller than The Many Gates of Gann, but it is surrounded by a few smaller environs for players to explore. The main dungeon itself is also well laid out, and like F3 encourages some round about exploration.

Both modules have some interesting traps and mechanics that take them a step above your typical dungeon crawl module. Chaotic Henchmen have done a great job with two modules. I think I like F3 more than F1, but they are both worth checking out.


Reading the DMG: Matching Capes

by Ramanan Sivaranjan on October 08, 2012

Tagged: readingthedmg ad&d dmg gygax

Duties It is not practical to try to determine the time and expenses necessary to accomplish everything possible for the scores of standard hirelings possible to employ, so each DM will have to decide. For example, assume that a player character hires a tailor to make plain blue cloaks for all of his or her henchmen. This will take only about 1 day per garment and cost the stated amount of money plus 5 c.p. (10% of the cost of a cloak) per cloak for materials. However, if the same cloaks were to be fashioned of a material of unusual color and have some device also sewed upon them, time and materials costs would be at least double standard, and probably more.

This is the sort of wonderful throw away paragraph that makes the Dungeon Master Guide such a fun read. Gary Gygax begins by telling you, the DM, that he can’t possibly enumerate all the things a player could hire a person to do. That’s a fair point. You don’t want to make the rule book any loner than it already is. He then goes on to provide the fiddliest of rules for making matching capes. The rules seem so specific. Was this something that came up all the time in old-school games? I picture an entourage of dungeon delvers decked out like a boy-band fighting Orcus.


Reading the DMG: On Thieves

by Ramanan Sivaranjan on August 25, 2012

Tagged: readingthedmg gygax dmg ad&d

Gary Gygax introduced the world to the thief class in the first supplement to the original D&D books, Greyhawk. They of course lived on in Gygax’s magnum opus AD&D. Clearly he was unhappy with how they were being used under the loosey-goosey rules of OD&D.

Climbing Walls: This is probably the most abused thief function, although hiding in shadows vies for the distinction.

You sons of bitches. Gygax clearly wasn’t out to model spiderman when developing his thief class. To aid DMs when their players attempt to scale oil slick glass walls, the DMG includes a table–of course–that outlines how hard it is to climb up surfaces of various textures based on how slippery they are. I recently learned Gygax was an actuary, which actually explains so much about Dungeons and Dragons.

And I know you are dying to know what he has to say about hiding in shadows.

Hide In Shadows: As is plainly stated in PLAYERS HANDBOOK, this is NEVER possible under direct (or even indirect) observation. If the thief insists on trying, allow the attempt and throw dice, but don’t bother to read them, as the fool is as obvious as a coal pile in a ballroom. Likewise, if a hidden thief attempts movement while under observation, the proverbial jig is up for him or her.

I have to wonder how many times this came up in his games. I’m guessing more than once.


Reading the DMG: Watch out for those Charlatans.

by Ramanan Sivaranjan on July 19, 2012

Tagged: readingthedmg ad&d dmg gygax

I picked up copies of the new Premium AD&D 1st Edition reprints earlier this week at Hairy Tarantula here in Toronto. I was on the fence about getting them as I don’t have much interest in actually playing AD&D 1e. I decided to buy them because I heard they were great books on role-playing games in general, and an important part of the history of the game. I’m also a big fan of the art from that era–back when no one working for TSR really knew how to draw. The reprints are really well done1 and I’m quite happy with my purchase.2

The Dungeon Master Guide is the biggest of the three books that comprise the core AD&D 1e rules, and it is fascinating. I plan to post little snippets from the book as I make my way through it.

A word of warning. Many products might purport to be satisfactory for use with ADVANCED DUNGEONS & DRAGONS, but only those noted as OFFICIAL or Authorized AD&D items should be accepted. Do not settle for substitutes or second-rate material in your campaign; ask for approved AD&D products only!

I can only imagine what was happening in the table top gaming community back in the 70s, but clearly Gygax was unimpressed with the work being done by 3rd party publishers. I wonder what his thoughts about the OSR community would be. Gygax’s writing is full of exuberance and passion, but the start of the Dungeon Master Guide is full of talk of official rules and playing the game properly. It seems to run counter to ethos of old school gaming, as I understand it.

Of course, we then get to a table about contracting parasites while adventuring so why are you griping about Gary Gygax? Please!

  1. Wizards of the Coast wrote about the process they went through to create these reprints, and it’s really quite incredible. All three books pre-date digital typesetting, so they had to redone by hand. The designers at Wizards of the Coast had to recreate the layouts from scratch. It’s actually quite amazing when you look at a page from the original books and then the reprints. 

  2. I need to begin a moratorium on book buying. 


The Random Dungeon Generator as a Dungeon Map

by Ramanan Sivaranjan on May 30, 2012

Tagged: ad&d osr kickstarter art

Random Dungeon Generator as a Dungeon Map

The Random Dungeon Generator as a Dungeon Map by Paul Hughes was the first D&D product I backed on Kickstarter. It’s really through this project that I ended up discovering the community that surrounds old-school D&D. I have since spent far more than I ever thought I would on other D&D crowd funded projects. There is something so earnest about these projects I just can’t resist.

The poster arrived today and it looks really great. It’s massive, so I’m not sure how well it would actually function as a game aid, but as a piece of art is is definitely cool. I really need to frame it so my wife tell me I can’t hang it up on our walls.