Monday, August 27, 2012

Thanks For Dropping By...

I just want to thank everyone who recently popped over from UNDERWORLD INK to check out my blog. It was nice to get a smattering of funny and encouraging comments - from those of you who took the time to share a personal quip, ask for more information, or just give me the digital thumbs up for blogging on. It was nice to get some feedback. So, thanks for stopping in and checking it out.
I've been very busy, trying to finish off the Touch of Evil mini game, but as with most things in life, unpredictable events have side trekked my efforts to meet another self-imposed deadline. It's nothing I can really control. When people are counting on you, you gotta be there. Even when you know it's gonna be lame or, worse, a heavy emotional deal. Hopefully, things will be running smoother in another week or two, and I can finish up A Touch of Evil soon. Believe me, as I said to some of you in e-mails, I want to finish it as soon as I can, just because that advertisement has been on the UNDERWORLD INK since March. I agree...very unprofessional. My apologies. I won't be surprised if some of you have written this project off as another example of vapor-ware. I assure you that is not the case.
No, the reasons are pretty common: I spent the past year working on two larger modules (a wizard's tower and a swamp hag's forest) and numerous side projects. Back in February (2012), fearing I was drowning in stacks of papers and notebooks, Jason suggested I take one of my smaller modules, package it as a mini game, and print it up as a tangential follow up to Zogorion. I had an undead minotaur encounter called A Touch of Evil that seemed to fit the bill : A special random monster encounter list , a self-contained setting, and a series of clever traps. I liked his suggestions, but I had to disentangle myself from a larger modules I was writing at the time (a lengthy tale involving an Invisible Stalker and three earth elementals). Plus, I was trying to think of things that people could down load for free (like Jason's Cosmic Slough single page adventure).    
When I started re-writing it, I ended up doing what most game designers do at some point in time - and added more stuff. Stuff I had lying around that seemed to work within the context of the game. Then I had a couple of miscellaneous items that I could freely drop into the game (and I did). Six months (and some play testing rounds) later, and I'm closing in on the finish line.

In the meantime, check out this hyper cool piece of animation. I think it's one of the best things I've seen in a while. I think it's part of the new DC's Hour of Power cartoon on Carton Network. It's Batman, Bane and Catwoman in 1930's Shanghai. It's pretty cool. Thanks again everybody.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

In Memory of Joe Kubert

Joe Kubert  Sept. 18, 1926 - August 12, 2012

I thought I'd take a moment to honor one of the legendary greats, and a personal favorite of mine, Joe Kubert, who recently passed away...

A fantastic page from Vertigo's Between Hell And A Hard Place DC2012

Accept no substitutions-Joe Kubert was an artist's artist!

One of my first Joe Kubert comics was a Sgt. Rock annual from 1972. Or was it 73? I can't remember, and my comic collection has thinned out considerably since my days as a nine to twelve year old. I do not have the comic anymore, but...

Back when we lived in Santa Cruz California, my older brother worked at a corner convenience store and they would get a spinning rack or two of comics each month. When he came home, he'd have a dozen comics stuffed into his coat. Plus, he knew older boys who had 'out grown' comics and unloaded them onto us. By the end of the year, we had three or four giant stacks of comics. The stacks were so high, you could sit on the top of the bunk bed, and pull a comic book off of the top of the stack (so, maybe 6, 7, or 8 feet tall), without a fuss. And we had everything! I was reading Amazing Spider Man and Richie Rich and Superman and Detective Comics and Avengers and Sgt. Rock and, well, just about anything else. When I think of having to leave those comics books behind when we moved (my mom did not want us to pack them up, and 'rot our minds' etc) from Santa Cruz to Fresno, I cry a little inside, because I'd be a freaking rich guy in today's comic book market. I shudder to think...

I digress...My brother loved Sgt. Rock and Haunted Tank and all the Easy Company stories. I liked those too, but I was partial to Tarzan, Enemy Ace and the Viking Prince. And later, Tor (of course) ! It's very rare to find a comic book artist that can draw everything, especially wild animals (and WW I and II airplanes, tanks and automobliles, and the fashions of the  time period). But, for me, Kubert's beasts inhabit that twilight area of a realistic looking animal, yet stylized to convey a scary intelligence, or an aggressive vibe. But he could also convey deeper meanings with a pen stroke (bust open any 1972 Tarzan comic book and study the ape's expressions, and you'll know what I mean). Whether it was a giant crocidile, an enormous snake, or some sort of prehistoric monster, it always looked great. His style was unmistakable. His layouts were clean and consice, yet groundbreakingly cool. And nobody did blooming plants, arched trees, and over grown jungles like him. And his street level, big city themed comics (Abraham Stone, for example) were second to none. Forgetaboutit !    

The last Sgt. Rock story I read was 2012's Between Hell And A Hard Place, (with Brian Azzarello), and even though he was pushing into his 80's, (and, I'm assuming, fighting cancer) he still delivered an awesome WW II story. Another one of many. His works still brings me great ideas and wonderful pictures. If you haven't read (or seen) any of his books, I highly recommend you do so soon. Prayers and good luck to the rest of the Kubert family (who are also spectacular artists in their own ways). He was a great man who lived a great life. Let's celebrate his Awesomeness !  


Saturday, August 11, 2012

Another Day Another Dungeon

There's a ton of mega dungeons out there ! If I was more computer literate and ambitious, I'd take all of those mega dungeons out there on the web and come up with a way to tie them all together in one humongous super mega dungeon! 500,000 chambers, 3,000 underground lakes, 235,000 secret doors and an endless series of pit traps, exploding sigils and dimensional portals. And that's just the first half of the dungeon...The problem with mega dungeons is that they are mega dungeons...So, realistically, nobody I knew ever played a mega dungeon from level 1 to sub level 900...We'd joke about attempting it when we were all retired old guys, and everyone we knew has passed on, and we'd have nothing but time on our hands. Then we'd give it a serious shot. 

As the Advanced Dungeon and Dragon relaunch burns up, I'm in a reflective mood. I know D+D is a unique game. If you can dream it up, then you can play it out. It invites you to make up your own rules to the game, devise your own plot lines and create a sense of place and time, best replicated in novels, films and other games etc. While other games were easier to manage, D+D certainly rewarded repeated playing: in thousands of gold pieces, supernatural powers, and influential prestige. Ya know, things that are near impossible to get in real life.

Since I've been thinking back to those early games with the guys, I'm surprised how much I'd forgotten. Throughout the 1980's, the divorce rate in my neighborhood went up. And some of the families were Brady Bunched - Up, with some new step sons and step daughters, and a new cat or dog thrown in, just to shake things up. In some ways, D+D (and films, TV shows, video games, and comic books) became a common denominator. Ironically, it gave everybody a little more stability in an unstable environment. Because, whatever was happening at home, the tension (or whatever) would spill into the game-and kind of forced some stuff out into the open. Some guys peeled away, others came on board, and a few never left. We'd just kept playing the game. After all, if we didn't find the Sword of Resurrections in time, the Kingdom of Lion Rock would fall to the forces of evil. From that stand point, it was imperative for the team to work together. Even if they didn't like each other to begin with. It sure beat doing homework in your room all night. 

I often wondered something...The groups that rallied against D+D for being a tool of Satan back then...Were a lot of those folks dealing with divorce and mixed families (something we wouldn't think twice about now-a-days, but back then, was a huge 'Kramer vs. Kramer' kind of ordeal). It was not easily accepted, nor was it preferred. And there was a deep sense of anger running through there- looking for someone to blame...I don't know...and I'm not trying to be provocative...And calm down, my parents split up too...and just as I was becoming a crazy-ass teenager too...I'm just wondering... If I was more interested, I'd look into that...maybe when I'm older with more time on my hands...Okay, back to work!    

Saturday, August 4, 2012

HG Wells + OPEN SOURCES = The Best Idea Ever!

The open gaming license essentially says "you can use our game to make up anything you want", in a way, it's 'legal plagiarism'. As one lawyer said at the time (I'm paraphrasing) ..."The game is dice and statistical math, how would you regulate that ?" Believe me , they tried to regulate it. All through the 80's and 90's , there were tricky lawsuits related to copyright infringement, and the OPEN GAMING LICENSE was WotC's answer to put a stop to it. Why couldn't they just make it illegal to use the rules? Well, these rules everybody is stealing and changing to make their own game are partially derived from an article written long enough ago to be considered "public domain" ( ie "open soucre" material). This legal snag tends to turn off copyright and intellectual property lawyers. It's an article written by HG Wellls ( and since it wasn't in print for 75 years, it became "public domain"), and legally, is "free". TSR managed to protect the rights to the games, but not the rules, per say, since it's a 'reinterpretation' of this HG Well's article. This is what they call "a gray area".

Back in the 1880's HG Wells (of War of the Worlds fame) invented the "war game". Yes, when he wasn't turning out classic sci-fi novels, he was inventing a new kind of game. He drew up the instructions in an article: basically, a game played with miniature figurines (of soldiers, calvary units etc) and models of castles and towers. Each piece was assigned points and a number of spaces it could move. Craftsmanship of the miniatures is a big fetish here. These are elaborate set ups, with working (doll house like) cut aways, opening / closing drawbridges and so forth. Then you move your men around, and plan (in miniature) large scale 'war games'. It's was a nice diversion to help take your mind off of Jack the Ripper.

Now a days, if you are a hot shot video game maker, and you are hired to make the next Spider Man video ("movie tie-in") game , you already know you'll need to add certain devices to play the game. For instance, the player, as Spider Man, will need a virtual life bar, a power bar, a map or layout of the city, and inventory list of items you need to work through the game. If your running the new Sims game, you need similar stuff. Ditto for those computer games...everything from Civilization to the new Tom Clancy "first person shooter" games. All that stuff, you have to thank, in a round about way, HG Wells. Because it's public domain, anyone can use these "devices". His rules on minature war gaming have been worked into countless games. But we're getting ahead of ourselves here.

"So, HG Wells plays with toys...So what?" So, flash forward to the 1950's...Boardgames are huge moneymakers...Sure they've been around for years, but when the mass production apparatus is put into place, they go global. And in a few years, RISK and STRATEGO become hot hot hot! And they are , basically, HG Well's miniature soldier game...for kids! But the game that didn't make it as big were these other games, which added the "alternate history" dynamic to the game. Imagine how the south could have won the Civil War...what would Germany need to do, in order to win WWII...Yeah, well, these games appealed to history buffs...and Gary Gygax and Dave Arnoson were big history buffs. Up Next! NERDS UNITE!

Thursday, August 2, 2012


Since this is a blog about role-playing games, I guess I should include some kind of outline for what a role playing game is, and how exactly you play a role playing game. I assume most visitors to the lowly blog are already well-verse in the mechancs of the game, however for those few who stumbled over here, I'm including this entry just to clarify specifics and, maybe, convince the occasional newcomers to give the games a try...

A role playing game (RPG) is a sophisticated form of make believe, in which players ( 4 to 6 of them, 5 being ideal) create their own game persona (called a "player character"), and verbally acts out the part of that persona in a specially designed "game world" controlled by the referee (or "Game Master"). Let me clarify that:

The players pretend to be fantastic heroes, and the Game Master pretends to be everyone else. When D+D talks about 'play acting/ role playing' they mean, the player controls their character's action in the game world. The player does not stay ' in character '  like a theater performance, (although, there are times when the player will have to act out his/her intentions, or introduce their song title / catch phrase etc) but rather refers to their character in the third person , like:

" Sir Justice the Brave will go down the halls, and stop 10 feet in front of the door. He looks on the ground for any clues as to who went through the door ( and then breaks into 'character' and says something , with a hero's humorous inflection, along the lines of... ) "Do I , Sir Justice the Brave, notice any of my enemy's footprints? I would spot such signs, for I am, The Bounty Hunter of Botany Bay. "

And then the Game Master, who acts as world builder and omniscient narrator, would look at the map of the hall way and inform the player:

 "Yes, you see your enemy's tracks, and it looks like he was dragging something behind him, possible another body..." or ..."No, you see that this hall is deserted, and has not been traveled in many hours..." depending on what the map indicated. The map is key.

During a game, the players will interact with each other, and act cooperatively in pursuit of a common objective, (mostly accumulating wealth and power), in a risk filled adventure (also called a "module"). Only the referee (Game Master) knows the contents and logistic of the game world, and it is up to the players to explore and discover it's secrets.

The Game Master also operates the populations of these worlds (called "non player characters" ), some which actively help, or hurt, the players over the course of the game. The more the players discover, (and the more goals they achieve), the more their character's abilities improve, and the more their character's personality is developed, as he/she advances in experience. For example, the player acting as the wizard would gain experience points, (and an "in game reward"), for casting a spell that slays an attacking troll (so many points for the troll, and whatever treasure he had nearby). So, even though the Game Master created this world, players can actually gain enough experience and power to actively change the world. Instead of competing directly against each other ( technically there are no winners or losers, but the Game Master portrays neutral, good, and evil characters), the players work as a team, (because success is easier with the combined skills and abilities of various player characters), thus increasing their chances for survival, which increases their chances to climb up the experience ladder, and effect the game's setting (a Utopian kingdom, or the Game of Thrones type world). Ultimately, as long as the player characters survive, there's no end to "the Game".

The 'rules' of the game are only used to determine the outcome of a decision- some degree of success or failure -and reflects the chance of that success or failure as realistically as possible. During the 'adventure', the players will inform the referee of a proposed action ( "Sir Justice will walk up to listen at the door. Do I hear anything beyond ?") and the referee will inform him of the outcome by referencing the rules ( The rules say Sir Justice, an elf charactrer, has heightened senses and can hear as far as 60 feet ), saying, "Yes, you can hear the scurrying of rats running away from the door" or "you hear the sound of metal on metal, like a machine, off in the distance" or whatever is within 60 feet from the door ( the villian dragging an unconscious ally). It's the Game Master's duty to prepare, design and run an interesting , well balanced adventure through which the player character's will journey. It's time consuming. It's a labor of love.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

A Couple Weeks After Free RPG Day

Sometimes the future just staggers the mind. If I told my 12 year old self that there would be a free role playing game day, he'd think I was a some old geezer, who skipped his medication and is talking crazy... "Oh no, it's true! Free RPG Day is when you can go down to your local comic book store, and pick one or two free role playing games- made with fancy paper and lavish painted artwork- or pick up a painted miniature or an over sized map of a fully functioning fantasy realm..." That's when the 12 year old me looks over and says, "There's no such thing as comic book stores."  

 People have been printing and producing material for the other editions of D+D for years and it's akin to the whole "fandom" writing phenomenon (protected as a free speech kind of deal, or, depending on your perception- legal plagiarism). Yes, regular folks can write scripts and stories, (based on their favorite books and TV shows), and then post their mini-masterpieces on line, in the hopes of being hired by a Hollywood production company. Or  else capture a large enough Internet audience to pay for their book version of , say, "The Further Adventures of Benjamin Franklin, Vampire Hunter and Inventor Extraordinaire" or "The Fifty Shades of Sexy Vampire Loving", or "Star Trek vs. Star Wars: Vampire Edition".

But D+D gamers, like myself, were doing the same thing 30 or 40 years ago, except, with the settings and plot lines geared not for a best selling novel, but rather, for a goofy role playing game. Sherlock Holmes, for example, has solved more crimes than Conan Doyle could ever write, including ones in outer space, in King Arthur's Court, and in Prehistoric times. He has teamed up with everyone from James Bond to Hercule Poirot (aboard the Orient Express) to Zorro. And he has confronted such over the top villains as Ying and Yang, two Japanese teen aged girls - with psychic powers, and trained in the dark art of assassination- and their 300 feet tall Mecha-Godzilla type monster, Killzilla. He battled Lady Nightshade and her super powers of deadly misfortune (enabling her to conjured up an Anti-Sherlock Holmes, a short, lumpy gent dressed in a black leather jacket, and bent on killing the original Sherlock Holmes, because his drug addiction was destroying the two of them, ala The 7 Percent Solution). And of course, Dracula, the vampire !

And now-a-days, there's a game for every genre: Western, mystery (murder dinner train tours), science fiction (Star Wars and Star Trek were not around back then, but Traveller and Star Frontiers were), but there were some based on different types of movies (The James Bond role playing game for instance). This also ties in with live action role playing games ( or LARPS : think Renaissance Fairs, Civil War re-enactors, and even, ahem, Harry Potter Qudditch matches- basically a socially acceptable way to beat the stuffing out of someone, and not go to jail).  And there's the "cos play" (costume design) hobbyist: dressing up in outfits / costumes of famous people in the past (that Guy Fawkes mask protesters wear, while playing their guitars on Wall Street) or comic book characters (derived from the world of steam punk, Star Wars movies, and Japanese animation) as a fashion / life-style "statement", and that eventually leads into everything else ( especially if 'everything else' means spending countless hours making an outfit of Iron Man, as seen through the prism of an 1880's inventor). Basically, it's a bunch spirits...And whether they know it not, all influenced by nerds like me who used to secretly play Dungeons and Dragons...I say secretly because, back then, as difficult as it may be to believe now, this game was definitely not for everyone.

See, there was a strong negative connotation back then...Not only were you labeled a geek and weirdo (for reading all of those strange books), but, depending on the circumstances, you could be pegged as Anti-American (Game Theory was not the chic thing it is today), or a drug crazed occultist holding secret rituals in the sewers, or in the forest (I'm proud to say that all of my pets died of old age, and were not sacrificed in an attempt to move the evil spirits to help me get laid), or worst, a loner who kept to himself and dreamed up ways to upset the status quo, because "he plays that game." 

The teenage years are rough on everyone. And some people NEVER outgrow them, which can be frustrating. The other day I heard an interview with Piers Anthony and he commented that he had a rough ride in his teenage years, and said that one of the best ways to get though them (and I'm paraphrasing here) "was to keep your head down, ride out those years as best you can, and move on when you're old enough...Some people need their imaginations and their fantasy worlds just to get through life...I was like that, and it was impossible to convince other people that I wasn't wasting my time..." Pressed for time, he recounted a story about how his high school teacher took his copy of Weird Tales magazine away and never gave it back to him. And now that he's a hugely successful writer, that same high school is always hitting him up for money, and he never gives it to them. I know where he's coming from...

In the meantime, enjoy this humerous rendition of (possibly) an actual D+D game:

It's entitled 'magic missile at the darkness' and I think it's prettty funny...So, I'm passing it along...  

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Wizard Needs Food

The new super-deluxe (spare no expense) editions of Gary Gygax's Advanced Dungeons and Dragons core rule books ( DMG, PH, and MM at once ! ) looked pretty impressive on the store's bookshelf the other day... From what I can tell from the outside. It's a shame. The plastic wrap is a nice layer of protection for the book, but it'd be helpful to flip through a store copy or something - given the price of the books. Each book features a framed portion of the iconic pictures from the originals, like a piece from a fondly remembered puzzle. When the price of the book sank in, my wallet made the decision. They may look like magic spell books, but this wizard needs food. I, regrettably, will have to pass.

Now, if you'll indulge me while I begin thinking beyond my means, get up on my high horse, and offer some harmless suggestions to the folks at Wizards of the Coast.

There's no question that these books were made using high quality printing tools and techniques, but a give-away contest may help move them off the selves with a positive word of mouth. Some kind of coupon download to help curb the cost wouldn't be out of line, since the economy feels like the 1970's meets the 1930's. There's always the "less fabulous paperback edition for half price" route. And finally, the dreaded download option..."The books are yours in three hours !"  I'd shy away from making a You Tube video, presenting the interior of the book (in all of it's graphs, charts, and fantasy art glory) and what not- it might feel too much like "rule-lawyer" porn ( it's like cake porn, but with typeface instead of frosting ). But, then again...You'd get some hits. 

Yes, they are well crafted volumes and yes, a chunk of the profit goes into the Gygax Memorial, and yes, there are only so many printed and they will sale. So, why bother taking any of my suggestions? Well, some of us old timey D+D fans believe Hasbro could just buy a statue of Gary Gygax since, ya'know, they made a ga-zillion dollars on the Transformer movies (worldwide and all). Wizard of the Coast, by association, tends to get thrown into a similar light (ala vast sums of cash lying around in off-shore bank accounts). It's probably through no fault of theirs, since Hasbro decides where the money ends up...But hey, it is what it is.* If Hasbro wanted a Gygax statue, there would be a statue.

So, think of this as a fan-based high five on the down low. Since WotC 'rescued' D+D all those years ago, I'm hoping they'll pay homage to TSR's roots in the Independent Press and help spread the word, not just the wealth.

But, yes, I understand there is a G.I. Joe movie sequel set to roll out next summer, so it may take a while to pull that off. I'm naively optimistic.

* I suspect the pitch for the Gygax Memorial fund wasn't as flashy as the pitch for  Battleship: The Movie, when it came time for Hasbro to divide up the money. I figure it went something like:

Time: Afternoon
Place: Interior: Hasbro Board Meeting

"What do you got ?"

"There's a request for so much money to help fund a statue of a guy with a strange last name, who inspired a generation of gamers."

"Un Huh...What do you got ?"

"Rhianna in a low-cut, aboard an aircraft carrier, shooting down flying aliens with a giant gun turret. And Liam Neeson."

"Oh Yeah...People have got to see THAT ! Funnel our money to that project immediately ! Meeting Adjourned ! "

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Random Encounters

I was surprised to hear that Encyclopedia Brown creator Donald J. Sobol passed away earlier this month. Those books had a big effect on my 7th grade self. I rarely ever figured out the mystery, but I loved lifting those stories and incorporating them into my adventures.

When it comes to writing adventures, I'll include a strange mystery plot line. It's an old habit I can't break. I had more cliff hanging endings than most, and worked up more " Whodunit " revelation-scenes before the end of Act 2 (being an Ellery Queen fan at the time also had a lot to do with that). I would whisk the players to a flying city or an undersea kingdom, and there would be a mystery to solve, a score to settle, or a criminal to catch (and punish). It's not that surprising, given the fact that I was raised on everything from The Avengers to Mission Impossible  to Star Trek re-runs, and caught the peak years of Scooby Doo cartoons. Plus, I read Sherlock Holmes all of the time. I cannot tell you how many Sherlock Holmes adventures I either designed and ran or was run by somebody else, but it was something of an obsession back then. And of course, Encyclopedia Brown.

The problem: It became one twist and turn after another. A series of surprise endings can quickly end up becoming quite dull and boring. And reveals a more serious defect. I couldn't tie up loose ends. Over time, I realized the benefits of the non-lethal, yet still surprising, unpredictable encounter. That brings me to the matter at hand. Below are five clever- "didn't see that coming"- plot twist to place in your game. So, when you need to get something done before the next gaming session, but your suffering from writer's block, see if any of these mini mysteries are up your alley...

1. Strange cloud gives the nearby villagers mild insanity, telepathic/telekinetic powers, and strange treant like powers: People can hear the trees speak, but they cannot understand the language. Some turn into trees (or at least, gain bark-like skin and receive visions relating to events that occurred thousands of years ago in their area). Later, the  cloud is the result of decaying piles of dead leaves left behind by treants.

2. One of the court wizard's apprentice has created a living 'back lash' from a spell gone wrong. The back lash arrives in the shape of an invisible ochre jelly which slithers around the castle,  causing blindness and (later) starts devouring a few royals, sending panic throughout the town. Unlike a normal ochre jelly, this monster is immune to fire and cold attacks, but can be turned like a wraith.

3. A criminal was executed last week ( death by decapitation), and it's head still lives on (singing a bard's curse) that wrecks havoc on the townspeople ( the pitch of the song is so high people cannot hear it, however, dogs, cats and especially, monsters are drawn to the source of the music). Pandemonium ensues!

4. An evil leprechaun runs around the town and hits unsuspecting villagers in the knee caps with his magic shillelagh of polymorphing others. He turns the people into non magical pixies and starts bossing them around. First order of business: Brew more wine!

5. A lizard man (disguised as a human, with an ring of illusion) arrives in town, carrying a large wooden chest. He's friendly and open minded (quite charming to boot). He books a room at the local hotel, visits the bars and cavorts with the "ladies of the night". Later, he lures them back to his (or her) place, with the promise of fine treasures held inside his wooden box. The box actually contains a hungry young lurker above (shaped to look like a fabulous dress that's 'too die for').

Have fun!

Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Traveling Monster Show

I started with 15 monsters inside a 35 room dungeon and converted the whole thing into The Traveling Monster Show ! I started with the idea of a monster owned and operated book mobile. It would drive around to the various wee-witches and tempestuous trollkins, delivering everything from recipe books for potions to comic books for the younglings (a favorite being, Sirius Payne, Human Head Hunter). Eventually, I kept adding to it, and turned it into a caravan of attention seeking misfits and sketchy misanthropes. It was easy to make up adventure hooks, (since these monsters had a mobile headquarters), and could get into the mix as fast as Fred could drive the Mystery Machine. 

The set up was simple: PCs meet the caravan on a lonely road, outside of town. They meet the performers and are offered a job. PCs are hired as bodyguards to protect the players, while putting on the show (and replenishing supplies) once inside the town. They will act as the monster's "go between", in order to ease racial and alignment tension. The monster's secret plan is to abduct a towns person (or heist the local bank, or both) during the last night of the performance. In the play, the protagonist is falsely imprisoned for a crime he did not commit. He escapes the prison by switching places with his old dead friend, and is pitched into the sea, and swims away. During that scene, the monsters will smuggle a victim/ treasure into a false bottom of the book mobile, end the play and drive away. PCs that discovered the theft are framed for the crime and left behind, to face the villager's wrath. 

Now a days, the caravan has become as ubiquitous as the opening bar scene to countless adventurers. It's a device that's been taxed out, but I had dreamt it up before I read The Gypsy Trail in Dragon magazine. Plus, the Traveling Monster Show was a clever location in of itself. I wrote it up years before Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and played out that train scene (with River Phoenix as 'young Indy') a handful of times before the movie. I had trap doors, sliding walls, false floors and ceilings, with trained animals sitting nearby, in secret compartments, next to trunks full of disguises, pyrotechnics and stage props, with monster-centric possessions (everything from the classic 'eye of newt' to the less familiar 7 to 12 feet tall phosphorous strangle weed). It was eleven caravans long. Each one, it's own deathtrap dungeon.

 It also worked on another level: These monsters (having been exiled by their own kind) were an adaptable bunch, and smarter than the average monster (with IQ's of 10 or above, these monsters could think 'long term' and adjust to events on the ground, quicker than a monster stuck on the lower levels of some dungeon, controlled by an evil wizard). They were also more socially aware and had an intimate knowledge of the towns and cities in which they performed: specifically, where all of the gold was stored, where the weapons were stashed and where the orphanage was located. Disguised as normal races, the monsters were able to hob-nob with the local big wigs, pick up supplies from the market and pass through border patrols, given their reputation as 'seasoned thespians' ( think Kevin Bacon-like popularity, but for a half orc with a photographic memory, disguised as a charismatic elf). Well known and easily recognized, (in their altered shapes) it was not uncommon for the monsters to have garnered fans along the way- even those willing to unintentionally help them with their illegal capers. 

I really had not thought about these adventures in years. If I ever get around to going through all of my old D+D files, I've got to rescue these adventures. I'll try to  post some of the stuff from those games in the future. Right now, I'm much too busy trying to finish off a batch of things I started a few months back-and I can't afford to get too distracted, just because I'm so close to the end. But yes, sooner than later...    

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

It's Not An Exaggeration...

By 1982, I was pretty much a TSR kind of kid. Those crazy deathtrap modules (Ghost Tower Of Inverness and Vault of the Drow) had turned me from a casual player into a determined Dungeon Master.I was going to memorize the spell tables and invent new monsters. There was only one problem: When I was writing up my 15th monster, The Blind Beholder From Beyond the Veil, I realized I didn't have a story hook or (more importantly) a game to play. Not really. It was 15 monsters wandering around and waiting to kill or be killed in 35 rooms ( this ratio of "15 monsters to 35 rooms" was very dominate in my early D+D thinking, and I'm not sure what the reason was, if anything. Maybe I read it somewhere, or ripped it off of one of my DMs, I can't remember). Nevertheless, it was kind of boring. All combat. Yawn. 

Thankfully, I was reading The Count of Monte Cristo, stacks of Star Log and Future magazines, and piles and piles of comic books. Years ago there was a book store called B.Dalton Booksellers, and they carried TSR modules and Dragon magazines. In the summer, a group of us guys would ride / walk over there and hang out in the magazine aisle, reading (and pretending to buy) everything from Rolling Stone, Fangoria, Karate, Gun Collecting, Sports Illustrated, Puzzle Books and pretty much anything else. They even had Chainmail for sale. Not to mention, this was before there were solid boards over "forbidden tomes" like Playboy, Hustler and Playgirl, (which was a big rite of passage thing for high school girls, back then). I was told it's similar to 7th and 8th grade boys and Playboy magazines, but with more giggling and a scarier embarrassment, if the girl's parents found out. Sometimes, we'd get to the aisle, and there were two or three high school girls, sitting around the corner, with an opened Better Homes and Garden magazine, screening the Playgirl they were actually looking at...Cosmo was big too... The other cool thing- A satelite for the public library was a few stores down. So, when we did get chased out of there, we'd meander into the library and rummage through their piles of comic books.  

And so, in typical DM fashion, I started tying all of these loose threads together and designed a bizarre twist: The PCs were surprised to meet a caravan of travelling monsters. You know, a cross between charismatic flim flam artists (magically disguised) and serious professional actors dedicated to their craft. A travelling monster show. As yes, ladies and gentlemen, they'd be happy to perform their renowned version of The Count of Monte CristoOf course, all of that is a smoke-screen while the performers (acrobats and sleight of hand masters) rob the town's bank, armory, or kidnap a couple of kids to cook up for dinner. And , thus, it was the start of a beautiful relationship...    

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

To Blog or Not to Blog...

Why would I start a blog? It started as a quick "get rich" scheme set up to ride the tiny coat tails of Wizard of the Coast's re-release of Gary Gygax's Advanced Dungeon and Dragons rule books, using the blog as a PR tool to sell my hyper-cool, tantalizing, fantastically fun-packed role playing games. Modules in a mini zine format.

I'd write about my early D+D days, maybe name drop an old TSR module or two, in an effort to connect with the reader, and generate enough interest ( sympathy, luck etc), and sale a few adventures. The only thing stopping me? My desire to put all of this together. Realistically, I've put more work and time into building this blog than I do into the games. If only I'd stuck to my "I'm not going on-line" guns. Apparently, the Internet blogs (tumbler, webisodes and pod casts etc) are the new mediums for today's modern artists. "The Internet is great," they tell me. "It cuts out the middle men, and gives you a global stage". But I like middle men ( layout designers, production staff, pushy, yet charismatic salesmen, exacting proof-readers, researchers, computer literate geniuses, and a staff of copyright/corporate lawyers).

Believe me...I tried to contract this out to friends and family who were way more in tune with the Internet than I'd ever be...And who refused to type up my ramblings about the first time I fought a troll, a ghoul, or a rust monster. Or how big an impact the movies like Brazil, Akira, and Wings of Desire (and more) had on me; and were the end of 20th century cinema and the beginning of the automated sequel. Listening and supportive, they each bailed out of "The Project", saying " You'll get the hang of it in no time." A year later, I still don't know what I'm doing...

Making problems worst...WotC announced that they were pushing the release date back, which means the AD+D micro-vibe will probably be hitting it's mini peak over the summer or early fall. I don't have anything that interesting to talk about for that long. I've got, maybe 10 good articles in me (and those are already up).  I, believing I was taking matters into my own hands, ended up getting lost, wandering around a digital wilderness. What can I say? It's a nice place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live here. If the place came with an electric eel infested moat and a few miles of quicksand that could kept out intruders, then maybe I'd consider it...Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to proof read, re-edit, raise money, figure out copyright laws, draw up maps, re-scan artwork, and layout my mini masterpiece right now. Eventually, it will be packaged and ready for distribution (and luke warm reviews, due to the poor showing of the "blog as PR" experiment). But first, I need to call up the R&D guy and make sure that these monster stat boxes are correct...(sound of cell phone dialing)..."Research and Development...This is John..."        

Friday, June 22, 2012

The Lost City on the Borderlands

The Caves of Chaos Theory

When The Keep on the Borderlands first came onto the scene in the spring of 1978, The Middlebury Fighters Guild was a "band of brave fighters sworn to protect the lands of An-kar". Then, like a murder of crows that would steal your eyes, we'd trek into the dark forest, mountain ridges, and   underground caves, shamelessly slaying the monster inhabitants and taking their treasures (which, in our minds, was rightfully ours, because the monsters probably stole the treasures from the elves, drawves, and humans in the first place). Borderland was a strange experience for our group, because we'd all read it beforehand. Everybody owned it. Kids were reading it in the basement, on the back porch, or at school. The gang was looking forward to the existential nightmare that was The Caves of Chaos.

There was only one problem: Everybody knew everything ahead of time.

Yes, it's a classic module, and it's a serious effort to hook new players, but around my early gaming table, everyone (from the newbie ten year olds to the jaded high schoolers) had read the thing from cover to cover, and every time we tried to play it, somebody would start an argument with the phrase "that's not in this module." So, we never "played it". We'd cut out sections of the town and re-designed the caves to fake out the players. 

The result? More arguments. So, after our 30th encounter with the town's NPCs, the Middlebury Fighter's Guild moved to Paul Scheckley's* house (part time DM and self appointed game theorist) and began playing a module that none of us had read, The Lost City. He had connected one of the Caves of Chaos to a buried pyramid, and we were totally blown away by the Underground City Map. 

We re-named the Cynidiceans to Cyclopedians, because the word looked like Encyclopedia (and we had some Encyclopedia Brown fans, including me, in our group). Paul was also angling for a historical tie in: It seemed reasonable that Zorgon, having a single eye, would have created a race of cyclops in the past, who later rose up aganist him. The dream-entranced humans had a poor translation of the word, and were working under a misconception about Zorgon (thinking that he's a god). Suffice to say, we didn't get very far the first time out of the gate (those of us that survived the stirges, ended up getting stung to death by giant bees in the treasure room).

More importantly, all of the NPC interactions in The Lost City actually paid off. After we joined (disguised ourselves to appear as) the Brotherhood of Gorm, our expedition made it further into the adventure. However, I suspect that there was some DM dice fudging because there were a lot of early PC deaths in this module. Plus, this module was famous in our group for the number of monsters we encountered for the first time (since we 'officially' skipped out on Borderlands). This was our first time run in with: a banshee, the doppleganger (trying to take over a party member), were-rats, a gelatinous cube, some gargoyles and owl bears. Disguised as Cynidiceans, our thieves caused a commotion in the gambling chamber, while the rest of the team went after Darius, the evil cleric of the adventure. We ended up killing him with Lord Alexander's magic sword, but that was after losing three of our six guys to hobgoblin warriors...Some quotes from my notes are : "Lost our minds in The Lost City", which refers to "underground- setting- fatigue", commonly called "Undergrunnd" ), and " Burn...Burn it all down..." is a reference to when a group of cult members caught on fire and started running around and setting other cult members on fire...Then they ran around and set the monsters on fire, and... Presto! Chaos Theory!  

These days (well, back then too) players / characters wouldn't move from game to game, but we'd already made (and played) several adventures dealing with a "monster infestation" (most likely influenced by Borderlands ). Plus, The Lost City included a list of lower levels, ending with a HP Lovecraft inspired monster on the 15th level chamber, named Zorgon. We never made it beyond the seventh level of The Lowers Levels, but I'm sure Paul worked in some of those monsters into other games. Then we began converging modules, (with a cave leading into the Isle of Dread adventure, and then into my version of In Search of the Unkown...but, that is another story).

(* His name has been changed, because I owe him money, and we had a 'falling-out' of sorts, so I don't want him more ticked off at me than he already is...)     

Monday, April 23, 2012

Monty Haul Adventures: Part 3

The continuing report on items deemed "ridiculously powerful" by normal players and DMs everywhere...

6. The Ring of Super Powers

Origins: A fighter named Falbern stole the ring from the land of An-Kar (a dangerous realm populated by giant size monsters, 25 feet or taller) and threw it into the Dark Endless Pit (a 15 levels deep underworld type realm, which was not endless). Unbelievably, Paul gave it to our party of 6th level fighters (bestowed upon you by "Durin the warrior, to aid you on your quest").

Powers: The ring (3 times a day) could detect: magic, illusions, traps, secret doors, approaching characters, animals, invisibility, and ESP. It gave the wearer 50% magic resistance, and reduced your saving throw scores by 2. It was made of light iron and had a bird's head engraved on it (allowing you to fly and climb at a movement rate of 40'/25" per round). Any class could us it, so we passed it around among ourselves during our adventures. Our treasure trove increased almost 4 times than usual, the ring of super powers considerably swaying our chances to discover hidden stashes of gold and gems.

DM versus PCs: Okay, bear with me here for a minute. Technically, it couldn't detect alignment. Or detect poisons. It was worst than it sounds. Paul threw in the evil double of the ring (which was exactly the same as the good version of the ring of super powers in every way, but it was evil and poisonous). We passed it around, and, apparently, didn't notice the switch- a neutral half elf ally "borrowed" the ring, and 'unknowingly' mixed up the rings (and turned the good ring over to an evil wizard, disguised as the half-elf's best friend). It hurts just thinking about it. Half of us got sick. The other half died. I was in the half that died. The evil wizard,"Mal-Vred, the Wicked Wizard of the West ", still has it, as far as I know. 

7. The Ring of Legends (for magic casters only)

Origin: This ring was created by dwarves and wizards to help increase one's innate magical abilities, (and obviously allowed the wearer to gain all of the bard’s abilities). It was discovered in a troll's treasure trove, inside of Ice Peak Mountain.

Powers: Nobody played bards in my early gaming career. I'd heard of it being done, but I never sat at the table with a bard PC until much, much later. But the bard's powers were pretty impressive. The ring of legends was a way to get around all of the multi class headaches, and gain all the bard's battle/magic enhancements (allowing the spell caster to know two additional spells per level when worn). It also increased the number of spells per day you may cast (3 extra spells + 1 spell per level of the caster). How? Well, the ring of legends was home to a genie type creature named Wordsworth, who was styled after British rock stars (mostly, it was a way for us to "out top" each other with our Beatles imitation). We lived by kids who took piano and guitar lessons, (my family included) and the music of The Beatles was very popular around our parts, because we eventually learned how to play their songs. And while nobody actually sang at the table, we did do our, " Beatlesques" routine ("This is bloody insane, mates. We're getting gongs. Then the blooming stage caved in..."). Then we saw Spinal Tap. It was impossible not to say “Even up to eleven” sometime during the game. But I digress.

The ring's main purpose was to allow a magic user to gain more spells earlier (since the spell listing had so many spells to pick from, it was easier to try and get them all, instead of trying to choose the spells you'd may or may not need) and it gave the magic caster a better chance at surviving more than 4 combat rounds (and maybe to fifth level). Plus the whole legend/lore business sped up the game ("Just ask Wordsworth what that insignia, symbol, or ancient rune means").

DM versus PCs: The ring of legends fell out of use, when the group started to splinter off-the kids moved away, John Lennon was murdered, and D+D was slowly replaced by TOP SECRET and computer games : Video games from the arcades could be played in the comfort of your living room, and Adventure (and later, Ultima) was slowly cutting into time we'd spend playing D+D. Everybody I originally played D+D with was gone by the time D+D's second edition came out. Those books never appealed to me. It would take the D+D Rules Cyclopedia book (and Jason's DMing) to revive my D+D playing career. In the meantime, I had other interests. I wasn't playing anymore, but I kept writing stuff up anyways. "Phantom Gaming".

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Monty Haul Adventures Part 2

We all tried to play magic users, but we never made it past fourth level, unless there was blatant “fudging” of the die. So we came up with…

3. The Box of Magic Missiles - The power to wield a special wand of magic missiles, like an 8th level magic user, without the class restrictions, and in "cigar box form".

Origin: This item was found in an expanded network from the Caves of Chaos. We didn’t really “play” the caves, as much as we built off of them. You'd have to drop down into a large chasm filled with cold black water. And if you swam through a tunnel, you'd surface in the middle of the underground island named Aurora (We were all big fans of early Aurora model kits). We discovered the box in an abandoned old ruins belonging to a long dead mad wizard pirate, Captain Zander Black. He was kind of the overlord of that part of the world. His offspring went on to be one of our biggest nemeses, (Zander Black the 12th). He was a villain's villain, but I digress...

Powers: The box would unleash magic missiles that hit anything for 1d4 +1 points of damage. Specifically, it will fire 3 separate magic missiles per charge and could fire 2 charges in one round (a total of six magic missiles or 6-24 points of damage). And don't forget, it's an automatic hit (a non magic user does not require a "to hit" roll). After we wiped out dozens of opponents, Jeff decided to put some restrictions on the box.

DM versus PCs: After "three weeks" of zapping and blasting our enemies, it had to be recharged (with magic missile spells from a magic user of 8th level or higher). But that was a ploy. In reality, the box was subject to an enlarge and wizard lock spells (making it physically and magically impossible to open- you'd need a strength of 25 to move the box, or an 18th level magic user's knock spell to lift the lid). He said after using the box so many times, week in and week out, we had triggered it's secondary effect. Needless to say, we didn't use it much after that. Nobody wanted to find out it's other effects. Luckily wands of magic missiles started showing up after that.  

4. The Libram of Magic Speed Reading ( or Spencer's Speed Reading Hand Book for Wizards, M.M.E.O. Member of The Most Excellent Order of Wizards from the Serge Alyn (pronounced “Surge - Ah - Lynn” like “Adrenaline” ) Empire. The Serge Alyn, (outlined by my younger brother and myself), was a race from our Twilight Gods campaign, a Deities and Demigods inspired game world.

Origin: Found in the Land of the Sleeping Dragon. Early on, we killed many young (and adult), dragons in our games. It was customary to end with a dragon battle, having been huge fans of The Hobbit (the book, and parts of the Rafkin Bass cartoon) and Godzilla movies. It was a hard habit to break. Besides, it was called Dungeons and Dragons.

Powers: You spend six hours reading how to become a special speed reader (this book was available to all classes) and then you could read all those books and manuals listed in the DMG (which take a week to a month to read, and then disappear to ‘who knows where’) and it reduced your reading time. After reading the hand book, the player was imbued with the power to read magic, any languages, or any spell book, libram, or grimore (and what would take a week to read only took an hour, a month to read only took a day). Basically, the PC could read anything up to 10-20 times faster than normal.

It was designed to speed up our adventures and "over haul" the rules pertaining to magic books. In one adventure, I allowed a thief to read a book on magic traps in less than 3 minutes, so he could build a fire trap to stop an attacking mummy in the nick of time (thank you Star Trek’s Arena). The handbook also had the power to 'locate object': it'd point the possessor into the direction of any desired magical tome (and was a great way to start a new game).

DM versus the PCs: The handbook was accepted and regularly used in our games, but others were outright banned from being allowed into the campaign (The Book of Endless Wishes, The Libram of Power Words, The Symbols of Dragon Control, The Guide to the Universe, with built-in teleporter / dimension door and the Book of Super Improved Back Stabbing, to name a few). Other DMs didn’t allow it, spotting it for the power shifting tactics it granted.

But that was nothing compared to…

5. The Cloak of the Grand Master

Origin: This cloak was found in a lower sub chamber in the Lost City, located in the Swamp of the Nagas.

Powers: This black cloak gave the player the powers of a 10th level assassin or a 10th level monk (in was interchangeable because everybody wanted to be either a ninja or Caine from the TV show Kung Fu). It was also our way to get the thief's abilities, and the fighter's riding ability and the clerics saving throws scores. The wearer could also employ the following illusionist spells (at their character's true level) three times a day: change self (altering the body, clothing and equipment for 3d6 rounds + 2 rounds per level of experience), fog cloud (it looked like a green cloudkill, but functioned like an obscuring wall of fog: a cube of smoke measuring 6 feet per side/ per level of experience), and magic mirror. Best of all, it had a secret pocket that acted like a bag of holding.

DM versus PCs: It was everything but fireproof, cold resistant, or able to reflect lightning bolts. And no matter how often my group tried to have Jeff send us on a quest for more fabric to mend, replace or save the cloak, he'd never allow it. He realized later what a mistake it was to have one player running around with gloves laced with poisons, able to dole out numerous (and devastating) 'open hand' attacks, climb out of any deep pit, and get paid extra for “neutralizing the threat”. And that was just for starters. I think the cloak lasted three of four sessions before it dissolved into dust. Maybe less.   

Monday, April 16, 2012

My Monty Haul Adventures Part 1

The following magic items were some of the more famous examples of "Monty Haulisms" (and represent only a small portion of the early treasures). They live on because they were eventually turned against us (one way or the other), by the cruel streak that takes over every DM (myself included), in the stages of playing the game. So without further delay, here are a few of the most ridiculous artifacts to pop out of our AD+D adventures. Enjoy!


1. The Armor of the Cosmos

Origin: A magical suit of armor made from a magic slab of adamantium, dating back to the Era of the Volcano Kings. And before the Jackie Chan movie!

Powers: Of course it was weightless and gave the wearer automatic '18's in every ability score, was fire resistant (to both normal and magical fires), and gave you an AC score of 2, but it didn't stop there. Every third round of combat, it'd improve you Armor Class by 2 (so, after 9 rounds of combat, you'd be impossible to hit with an AC Score of -4). And it’d stay that score for the next 12 hours. Plus, if your opponents landed a hit, the armor absorbed half of the total damage, and the other half was automatically re-directed back to the opponents on your next successful 'to hit' roll. It was our answer to a force field-type device (without fussing over magic resistance issues). And 3 times a day, it was able to cast the following spells, like a 7th level magic user: burning hands, cure serious wounds, fly, invisibility (15’), mirror image, and protection from evil, 10'. It was the armor that could turn any 3rd level fighter into an indestructible demi-god.  

The DM versus the PC(s): There was only one way to stop it: A failed saving throw vs. a thrown vial/potion of gaseous form. Poof, the armor dissolved into a harmless gas, leaving the PC behind, standing around in his cheesy padded undergarments (AC 9 or 10). Then the DM used it against us, explaining that, due to our over reliance, and poor maintenance, the armor had become cursed, and was imbued with all fire spells (cast by a 9th level magic user). The last time we saw it, (after shooting 90' long jet flames at us), it was flying off into another adventure, beyond the Sea of Mists. 

2. The Mask of the Banshees

Origin: A silver helm/mask from beyond the Phantom Gateway in the Land of Skulls.

Powers: It's better to run away and fight another day, unless you are wearing the Helm of the Banshees. Aside from enabling the wearer to, at will, 3 times a day, (we thought that Black Bolt from “The Inhumans” was cool), unleash a banshee's death wail (opponents, in range, must make their saves or die, or if 10+ levels, suffer 10d8+10 points of damage), it also forced a saving throw (vs. a geas spell), to those outside the wail's range of effect(up to 20’). The geas spell could command subjects of 10 HD or less ("to drop your weapon, and stand still"). Plus, twice a day, the crown enabled the wearer to steal 15% magic resistance from magical creatures. And once a day, you may chose one opponent in combat as your "rival monster", granting you an extra +5 for 'to hit' and damage rolls, as well as a +3 penalty to their saving throws.

The DM versus the PC(s): Eventually, the DM decided enough charges had been used without any side effects. So, one was created. Using any of the mask's powers opened the wearer to a Constitution Check with a +4 penalty to the roll. Failed rolls meant the wearer passed out for 1d6 hours, days, or months (DM's choice), and the helm was inoperable until the wearer regained consciousness. Frankly, it was got to be too risky to use after that. And besides, the other players got tired of dragging the unconscious adventurer around for most of the game.

As a side note: The mask was in a treasure chamber blocked by a series of traps designed around the early British import modules/magazines, to challenge the PC's balance ( Dexterity + Strength/2 = the number you had to roll under to successfully climb, swing, or navigate over two 20' deep pit traps), the PCs toughness ( Willpower + Constitution/2 = the number you had to roll under to successfully walk through a hallway of never dying walls of fire) and then there was some strange writing you had to decode carved over the entrance way ( a straight Intelligence Score check meant you got it, even if you, as the player, couldn't figure it out at the "get go"). But even after by-passing all of these traps; didn't mean you were 'home free'. There was also the monster guarding the treasure trove. Of course, it was a dragon, not a banshee.

 I mention this because, as far as I know, the Helm of the Banshee is still hidden behind a loose stone in Lord Byrne’s bedroom (all these years later). It’s practically unguarded.



Friday, April 13, 2012

Monty Haul Games: Introduction

These next posts are dedicated to all those great, silly, misinterpreted 'monty haul' adventures we played back in the day. I'm including seven of the more famous magic artifacts. These tossed 'game balance' out the window, and provided something of a wish fulfillment for the players (ex. Like wielding a magic sword that mimics the power of a light-saber).

I suppose there are two types of "Monty Haul" adventures. 1). The PCs get an exorbitant amount of gold pieces and magic items. 2). The PCs get an artifact that possesses 22 powers and abilities (thus, magically 'over-hauling' the rules of the game). We were guilty of both types, but at the time, it was great fun for us (not so much for Jeff, James, and Paul - my rotating DM's at the time).

Embracing Advanced D+D didn't come easy at first. We fell into the typical trap: "Monty Hauling" (i.e. "splurging") on magic weapons and killing ancient dragons with millions in gold pieces for experience points. Over time, we eventually settled into something that resembled a RPG.

When our old DM, Jeff Berkley*, took away Tom’s  Armor of the Cosmos, we knew our Monty Hauling days were numbered, which not only worked up a new love for the game, but also helped us to uncover the game's strange little details (ex. Everything has  limitations). And when we started reading the letter's section, Sage Advice, (thank you Skip Williams), and the "how to" articles by Gary Gygax and the rest, in Dragon magazines, we started to get a good idea of the "game mechanics", which gave us innovated ways to tweak the rules.

For instance, before entering the dark cavern, we'd cast a light spell on an object (a cup or bowl), then throw said object into the center of the room, to see what waited for us, in the darkness. Or we'd send the thief to scout ahead, imbued with clairaudience, and potions of invisibility (to sneak around), spider climb (to remain hidden) and a cure moderate wound and strength (for the trek back). Sure, it’s “dungeon crawl 101” now, but back then, it was the wisdom of game designing masters (at a time when “game theory” was hardly considered “main stream”. In fact, in some circles, it was ‘Un-American’).   

More than anything, though, we'd been tailor-making the game (our character sheets, treasure maps, and scenarios) since Holmes, Moldvay and Metzler. Long before it fell into the quagmire of skill boxes, proficiency charts, and the ever expanding spell listings. In these early days, it was hard to find D+D material, so you were forced to improvise and make up your own rules. As a result, our games were home to some outlandish magic items that would “freak out” the average rule lawyer. It didn't help that one of the rules of the game was "make up your own rules". It gave you permission to play the game the way you wanted, and not always the way it should be played (which was always an issue back then- The letter's section in early Dragon magazine are littered with comments about the drastic differences between one DM to another, and pleaded for some sort of definitive unified rules set).

It was one of the many pitfalls you faced when you told people to use their imagination. So, enjoy this trip with me down the magical laden lands of Monty Haul Adventures.  
(*His name has been changed to protect highly sensitive documents from falling into the wrong hands).