Categories
B/X D&D D&D OD&D Tabletop RPGs

Wandering monsters: OD&D vs. B/X D&D

While I was comparing dungeon treasure stocking in B/X D&D and Labyrinth Lord, I noticed something in OD&D that surprised me: The way OD&D handles wandering monsters is delightfully unforgiving.

At a glance, B/X looked pretty different in this regard, so I thought I’d compare the two. Let’s just look at level 1 in both systems, and let’s assume the party is composed of level 1 PCs.

I’ll also assume that monsters with X+Y HD, like hobgoblins (1+1/2 in OD&D, 1+1 in B/X) count as 2 HD monsters. (This assumption is borne out by both systems, which list hobgoblins on their respective level 2 tables.)

Das tables

Here’s the wandering monster matrix from OD&D‘s Book III:

In B/X each dungeon level just has its own table, which includes a mix of monster HD values. Here’s the analogous table from the B/X Basic Set:

OD&D wandering monsters

In OD&D, a party exploring level 1 of the dungeon can encounter wandering monsters with a range of HD values.

The Monster Level tables roughly map 1:1 to HD, but not universally. For example, there’s a 5 HD monster, the ochre jelly, on the level 3 monster table. There are also monsters with suggested values, but no actual entries; giant animals fall into this category.[1]

But for our purposes, “roughly” is good enough. With that in mind, the chances of bumping into different levels — hit dice, more or less — of monsters look like this:

  • Monster Level 1 list, mainly 1 HD or lower: 33.33%
  • Monster Level 2 list, mainly 2 HD: 33.33%
  • Monster Level 3 list, mainly 3 HD: 16.67%
  • Monster Level 4 list, mainly 4 HD: 16.67%

One-third of the time, you’ll meet monsters whose HD match your level. Another third of the time, they’ll be 1 HD higher than you. The remaining third of your encounters will be with monsters 2 HD or 3 HD higher than you.

And that level 4 monster table is going to wreck your shit: wraiths, ogres, lycanthropes — if you’re not cautious and willing to run, be prepared to die instead.

B/X wandering monsters

In B/X, things are a bit different:

  • 1 HD or lower: 70%
  • 2 HD: 25%
  • 3 HD: 5%

The chance of encountering a 2 HD monster is roughly the same (25% vs. OD&D’s 33.33%), but what’s missing? Except for one 3 HD critter (the giant gecko), what’s missing is 3 HD and 4 HD monsters — which are encountered fully one-third of the time in OD&D!

The dungeon of B/X, at least on level 1, is a much tamer place than its OD&D counterpart. Wandering monsters still spell trouble, but not nearly as much trouble.

But wait, there’s more

You know what else changed between 1974 and 1981?[2] How often you check for wandering monsters. (The chance of an encounter, 1 in 6, is the same.)

In OD&D, it’s every turn. In B/X, it’s every two turns.

So not only is the B/X party unlikely to meet a 3 HD monster (5% chance) and guaranteed not to bump into any 4 HD monsters, they’re also going to have half as many random encounters overall. These are completely different dungeons.

Time is a resource in old-school D&D dungeon crawls in large part because of wandering monster checks, but OD&D really squeezes the ol’ temporal vice in this regard. If you don’t get in, grab some loot, and get out pretty quick, you’re playing with fire.

I’ve never played OD&D, but my interest in it has been growing over the past couple of years. This difference clinches it, though: I need to play some OD&D! I want to see this style of dungeon in action, rather than just in percentages.

A wild aside appears!

As an aside, while I’m normally a print guy and the photos I use in posts reflect that preference, I went with screenshots from my PDF copies this time around. This is partly because my OD&D set is in storage, but it’s also because I’ve been working from the PDFs a lot lately.

While I prefer the old covers, the layout and clarity of the OD&D PDFs is fantastic. The quality of the B/X PDFs is also high. Both have been a good investment, especially when I need to search for things while comparing editions.

[1] And then there’s Supplement I: Greyhawk, which removes the “optionally usable “Martian” animals such as Apts, Banths, Thoats, etc.” and adds new monsters to every list, making the picture fuzzier still. I’m sticking with “good enough.”

[2] Yes, I’m leaving out the Holmes Basic set, but only because my copy is in storage and I don’t have it in PDF. I’d love to see whether Holmes looks more like OD&D or B/X in this regard.

Categories
B/X D&D D&D Labyrinth Lord Old school Tabletop RPGs

B/X D&D vs. Labyrinth Lord treasure stocking

My head’s full of Labyrinth Lord at the moment (I’m working on a megadungeon), so I’m prodding the areas where divergence from B/X D&D interest me in some way. So far I’ve looked at dungeon stocking, which is basically the same with a minor flavor difference, and dungeon doors, which aren’t the same at all.

In rereading the excellent post by Wayne Rossi that sent me down this path, Clones and Rules, Inside and Out, I noticed that Wayne called out “treasure stocking” as an interesting difference between OD&D and its principal retroclone, Swords & Wizardry. Here are the two bits that grabbed me, with the middle snipped out for clarity:

Indeed, if you follow OD&D’s logic a bit further, treasure is based not on monster level but dungeon level, which is significant. […] But in S&W, gnolls should always be guarding CR-appropriate treasure, and therefore the reward is determined by monster level, not dungeon level. This pulls the game toward the modern “dungeon combat” genre.

I wondered whether or not B/X and LL differed in this area, so I took a look.

B/X D&D dungeon treasure

Here’s the Expert Set on treasure in dungeons, with the middle excised for clarity:

If random rolls are used, the table below lists treasure amounts found in unguarded rooms (those without a monster) on all dungeon levels. […] If a monster is present, use the Treasure Type listing (p. X43) for the monster to find the amount of treasure in the room.

Let’s poke that with an example, a level 1 dungeon:

  1. If the treasure is unguarded, roll for level 1 treasure
  2. If there’s a monster, use the monster entry instead

Since there are 2 HD monsters, which have treasure more generally associated with dungeon level 2, on the level 1 wandering monster table, that means those monsters likely have more rewarding treasure than an unguarded room.

Most monsters will be 1 HD, though, with treasure you’d expect for level 1, because most of the level 1 wandering monster table consists of 1 HD monsters.

Let’s see how LL handles this.

Labyrinth Lord dungeon treasure

Here’s LL on treasure, again with the part I’m not comparing snipped out:

When a monster result is obtained on the above table, the Labyrinth Lord must roll for a random monster appropriate for the labyrinth level. […] If treasure is present, the treasure will be determined based on the Treasure Hoard Class of the monster encountered, or from the Unprotected Treasure Table based on labyrinth level.

Sticking with the same level 1 dungeon example, that means:

  1. If the treasure is unguarded, roll for level 1 treasure
  2. If there’s a monster, use its entry OR roll for level 1 treasure

That leaves the choice to the GM: Make randomly rolled treasure appropriate to the dungeon level (by only using the Unprotected Treasure Table), or make some treasure — that which is held by 2 HD monsters — more appropriate to level 2. (Or a bit of both, I suppose.)

That first option sounds a lot like what Wayne noted about OD&D, so let’s take a quick side trip.

OD&D dungeon treasure

Book III, The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures:

A roll of 1–3 in those rooms or spaces with monsters in them indicates some form of treasure is present. A roll of 1 in a room or space which is unoccupied indicates that there is some form of treasure there. […] To determine the kind of treasure use the following table[.]

Relative to our example, that’s:

  1. If the treasure is unguarded, roll for level 1 treasure
  2. If there’s a monster, roll for level 1 treasure

No matter what’s in the room, you get level 1 treasure. This is huge in OD&D because of how its wandering monster determination works — I’ll be looking at that in a future post. For now, what matters is that treasure is always dungeon-level appropriate.

Conclusions

B/X: If I’m exploring level 1 of a B/X dungeon and I bump into a 2 HD monster, there’s an incentive for me to try and take its treasure: There’s a decent chance this room has better treasure than the other rooms on level 1.

By extension, in B/X I know that trying to find unguarded treasure, which consumes resources (time, torches, wandering monster checks), is likely to be less rewarding than trying to take it from a 2 HD monster. Maybe over time that pushes me to focus more on taking those tougher-than-me monsters’ treasure, and less on trying to find unguarded treasure. Personally, I think that makes for an interesting choice: Do I take a greater risk in exchange for a greater reward, or risk less and get less?

LL: If I’m delving into level 1 of a Labyrinth Lord dungeon and I find a room with a 2 HD monster in it, I don’t know which option the DM has used. The monster might have the treasure listed in the bestiary, or it might be guarding the treasure listed in the Unprotected table. Maybe I can infer that since using the monster’s treasure is listed first in LL, it’s the default option — but only maybe.

In LL, it’s a crap shoot. I can’t assume a tougher-than-me monster will reward my efforts with better treasure. It’s probably safest to assume it won’t, which makes the dungeon more like OD&D.

OD&D: In OD&D, I know that 2 HD monster will have level 1 treasure. The incentive there is to avoid the monster at all costs, because the treasure’s no better than what I can find in an unguarded room. Over time, that may lead to more of an emphasis on exploration and monster-avoidance.

It’s a bit muddier than that analysis makes it seem, though.

Oh shit, a spider

Let’s use a 2 HD monster that appears on the level 1 wandering monster table in both B/X and LL: the giant crab spider. I’ll limit myself to B/X, since this post is already getting long.

  • In B/X, that spider has treasure type U. That’s a 10% chance of 1-100 cp, a 10% chance of 1-100 sp, a 5% chance of 1-100 gp, a 5% chance of 1-4 gems, and a 2% chance of 1 magic item.
  • Dungeon level 1 automatically gives me 1d6x100 sp, plus a 50% chance of 10-60 gp, a 5% chance of 1d6 gems, a 2% chance of 1d6 jewelry items, and a 2% chance of 1 magic item.

Statistically, that means:

  • If I try to steal that spider’s treasure (setting aside whether I do this by fighting it), it’s quite likely my reward will be…nothing.
  • Conversely, if I instead poke around in an unguarded room, I’m guaranteed to get at least 100 sp, and very likely (50%) to get at least 10 gp. My chances of getting anything else are about the same as they are with the spider.

Unless I happen to know that giant crab spiders have kind of shitty treasure, dealing with the spider isn’t a risk I’m likely to take more than once. Sure, I could get super-lucky — but I could also get super-lucky just poking around an empty room, and I’d run a lower risk of dying.

Moar conclusions

The way LL handles treasure clones B/X, which is LL’s goal, but it also changes the character of the dungeon. The simple-seeming addition of half a sentence — “…or from the Unprotected Treasure Table based on labyrinth level” — does have an impact on the overall flavor of an LL dungeon.

I’m not sure that it’s a significant impact, though. The water gets pretty muddy when you mix in the fact that not all monsters whose HD exceed the current dungeon level have better treasure than unguarded rooms, as well as the option to go the B/X route or the LL route — not to mention the vagaries of the dice.

To me, this difference feels less meaningful than the fact that LL dungeons don’t actively work against the PCs. It’s more of a difference in flavor, much like the increased chance of finding special/unique rooms.

Categories
B/X D&D D&D Labyrinth Lord Old school Tabletop RPGs

B/X D&D vs. Labyrinth Lord dungeon doors

After comparing dungeon stocking in B/X D&D and Labyrinth Lord, I went hunting for a detailed list of differences between the two games. I couldn’t find one (still looking!), but I did come across a post about stuck dungeon doors by Peregrin on RPG.net noting that there might be a difference there. There is one, and it’s fascinating.

Why do stuck dungeon doors matter? It sounds like such a little thing, but it’s surprisingly significant. The nature of dungeon doors plays a big role in defining the character of the dungeon.

To get there, we first have to walk back the cat a little bit — specifically, all the way back to OD&D.

OD&D dungeon doors

Here’s what Book III says about doors:

Generally, doors will not open by turning the handle or by a push. Doors must be forced open by strength, a roll of a 1 or 2 indicating the door opens, although smaller and lighter characters may be required to roll a 1 to open doors. There can be up to three characters attempting to force open a door, but this will disallow them rapid reaction to anything awaiting them on the other side. Most doors will automatically close, despite the difficulty in opening them. Doors will automatically open for monsters, unless they are held shut against them by characters.

There are three cool things in that excerpt:

  1. Most dungeon doors are stuck
  2. PCs have to force them open, but monsters don’t
  3. Most doors automatically close behind the PCs

My favorite interpretation of why that might be comes from D&D blogger Philotomy, whose site has vanished from the web. Fortunately, “Philotomy’s Musings” have been preserved (in several formats). Hit that link and scroll down to “The Dungeon as a Mythic Underworld,” and you’ll find this theory:

Similarly, characters must force their way through doors and have difficulty keeping them open; however, these same doors automatically open for monsters. This is a clear example of how the normal rules do not apply to the underworld, and how the underworld, itself, works against the characters exploring it.

I love that! The dungeon itself is working against intruders. It’s a fun theory on its face, it explains a lot, and it highlights something compelling and quirky about OD&D.

Even if you don’t buy the “mythic underworld” concept, though, dungeons in OD&D do work differently for monsters than they do for PCs. With that in mind, let’s peek at the B/X D&D Basic Set.

B/X D&D dungeon doors

Here’s the B/X version:

Doors in a dungeon are usually closed, and are often stuck or locked. A lock must usually be picked by a thief. An unlocked door must be forced open to pass through it. To force open a door, roll Id6; a result of 1 or 2 (on Id6) means that the door is forced open. The roll should be adjusted by a character’s Strength score adjustment. The number needed to open a door can never be less than 1 nor greater than 1-5.

Once a door is opened, it will usually swing shut when released unless it is spiked or wedged open. Doors will usually open automatically for monsters, unless the door is held, spiked, or closed with magical spells.

The mechanics are a bit different, but it’s not the mechanics I’m interested in — it’s the “active dungeon” element. Most doors are stuck (or locked), stuck doors aren’t stuck for monsters, and they close automatically behind PCs. Like dungeons in OD&D, dungeons in B/X work against the PCs.

Ready for LL’s take?

Labyrinth Lord dungeon doors

Labyrinth Lord on dungeon doors:

Labyrinths often have many doors, some secret and others obvious. Many are locked, and a thief will need to attempt to pick locks. However, characters can attempt to break a door down. In this case, the player rolls 1d6. A result of 2 or less means the door has been broken down. Strength adjustments apply, but no matter what the adjustment there must always be a chance of success or failure. Bonuses cannot take the success range above 5 or below 1 on 1d6. For example, if a character has a STR of 15 he receives a +1 to open doors. He would instead need to roll 3 or less on 1d6 to succeed. A character with STR 5 has -2 to open doors, but since the odds cannot go below 1, if the player rolls a 1 on 1d6, he succeeds in breaking down the door.

Setting side the die rolls, which aren’t my focus, that’s quite different!

Stuck doors aren’t mentioned at all, and locked doors can only be broken down (rather than forced open). Also absent are doors that close automatically behind PCs, but not monsters — doors are just doors, and they work the same way for everyone.

Conclusions

Many small differences between B/X and Labyrinth Lord can be chalked up to maintaining a certain amount of “legal distance” from D&D, or to limitations based on what’s available in the SRD, or both. I’m not sure if this difference falls into that category, but I thought that looking at Swords & Wizardry (which emulates OD&D) might help.

S&W notes that “Stuck doors (and many doors in an ancient dungeon may be stuck closed) require a die roll on a d6 to force open.” That’s part of what OD&D says about stuck doors, but not all of it. It seems odd to me that the rest of OD&D’s rules for stuck doors would be off-limits legally, but I guess it’s not out of the question.

But whatever the reason, Labyrinth Lord dungeons don’t work against the PCs in the same way that B/X (and OD&D) dungeons do. A by-the-book Labyrinth Lord dungeon will have a different character than a B/X or OD&D dungeon, and it will play by the same rules for monsters and PCs.

The differences between B/X and LL dungeon stocking were pretty minor, the most notable being a slightly upped chance of a room being special/unique in LL. That gives LL dungeons a subtly different flavor than their B/X counterparts. The dungeon door difference feels more significant, and it surprised me.

Whether that’s a good, bad, or neutral thing comes down to personal preference, of course — and if you like the B/X approach, it’s just a house rule away.

Categories
D&D Old school Tabletop RPGs

Patrick Wetmore on keying megadungeon rooms

I love megadungeons. I’ve often thought it’d be fun to design one, but balked because I’m not sure I have the chops and because of the sheer size of the undertaking. The solution to the first part of that problem is to just try it, but what about the second, the fact that it’s a big project?

Cue Patrick Wetmore, who designed one of my all-time favorite megadungeons, Anomalous Subsurface Environment, on keying the first level of ASE:

So I’ve got 100 rooms to key for the dungeon. Following the distribution in the back of the Moldvay Basic rules, that breaks out as follows:

1/6 monster w/ treasure = 16-17 rooms
1/6 monster, no treasure = 16-17 rooms
1/18 trap with treasure = 5-6 rooms
1/9 trap, no treasure = 11 rooms
1/6 special = 16-17 rooms
1/18 unguarded treasure = 5-6 rooms
5/18 empty = 28 rooms

That’s 17 traps, and 17 specials. That’s where all the real work lies. Sticking a bunch of monsters in a room is easy, it’s the creative bits with traps and specials that’s hard.

And bam, just like that I realized I could design a megadungeon. I read that post yesterday, and I started designing one last night.

It’s that last part, about focusing on just a third of the rooms — the special, weird rooms — that clicked for me. Seeing the whole chart from the B/X Expert Set (my favorite version of D&D) broken out into rooms in need of keying helped, too. It’s a classic “eating the whole elephant” situation, and I’d never thought of it that way.

Categories
D&D Tabletop RPGs

Rythlondar and gaming group size in the early days of D&D

I was poking around on the Basic Fantasy forums when I came across a post by merias about how folks played OD&D, with a link to the Rythlondar Chronicles (originally uncovered and shared on Risus Monkey).

I’m always interested in hearing about how gamers were playing RPGs before I got my start (in 1987), and one topic that’s always fascinated me is player count. From what I’ve read, it was common for D&D sessions in the 1970s to have what would generally be considered a large number of players these days.

That’s neatly illustrated by the Rythlondar Chronicle, which documents the house rules, players, guidelines, and expeditions undertaken as part of a D&D campaign in Michigan in 1976. It started out with two GMs, John Van De Graaf and Len Scensny, who shared their campaign notes — the Chronicle — with Risus Monkey.

What merias pointed out is on page 9, EXPEDITION RECORDS.

That page (which is much easier to read in the PDF!) lists 12 expeditions, along with the player count and the PC death toll for each session. (I’ve included the fatality percentage in parentheses.)

  1. 12 players, 5 PC deaths (42%)
  2. 12 players, 3 PC deaths (25%)
  3. 10 players, 2 PC deaths (20%)
  4. 14 players, 6 PC deaths (43%)
  5. 7 players, 2 PC deaths (29%)
  6. 7 players, 0 PC deaths (0%)
  7. 12 players, 1 PC deaths (8%)
  8. 7 players, 1 PC deaths (14%)
  9. 15 players, 3 PC deaths (20%)
  10. 14 players, 5 PC deaths (36%)
  11. 8 players, 3 PC deaths (38%)
  12. 14 players, 0 PC deaths (0%)

Just look at those numbers: In Rythlondar, seven players was a slow night. The average player count was 11. (Those death counts are something, too — an average of 2.58 dead PCs per session, or 23%. On any given night, there was only about a 17% chance that no PCs would croak.)

I recognize that play style and game system make a big difference in the feasibility of gaming with a big group. OD&D seems like an excellent fit for this; I can see why it would work with a lot of players. Practices like having a caller make a lot of sense in a large-group context, too.

I start getting twitchy at five players, and six feels unwieldy to me. I can’t imagine running a game for 11 players, let alone 15. But you know what? I’d like to give it a shot.

Categories
B/X D&D D&D Labyrinth Lord Old school Tabletop RPGs

B/X D&D vs. Labyrinth Lord dungeon stocking

Wayne Rossi wrote an excellent post, Clones and Rules, Inside and Out, about the apparently subtle differences between some retroclones and their sources which, in fact, produce non-subtle differences in play. Here’s an excerpt, from his comparison of OD&D dungeon stocking to Swords & Wizardry dungeon stocking:

An OD&D dungeon designed according to its guidelines is going to have “unguarded” treasure. According to the book it should be hidden and/or trapped. But a S&W dungeon isn’t going to have that, if the referee follows the guidelines in the S&W rule books. Over time the game is going to play differently, since the OD&D group is going to be looking for hidden treasure while the S&W group would be justified in looking for combat.

Wayne is one sharp dude, and he has a knack for noticing stuff, prying it apart, and being able to succinctly share what makes it tick. (His OD&D Setting PDF, which I blogged about here on Yore, is a marvelous example of this — and a great read.)

His comparison of S&W to OD&D got me thinking about my favorite flavor of D&D, Moldvay/Cook (B/X), and its closest OSR analog, Labyrinth Lord. I wondered whether or not they differed in the area of dungeon stocking, and I realized I wasn’t sure — I’d just assumed they were pretty much identical.

But what if they weren’t? What if B/X and LL diverged in the same way as OD&D and S&W, or in a different subtle-but-significant way? Let’s take a peek.

Dungeon stocking

Both B/X and LL sum up dungeon stocking in one chart (plus a bit of explanatory text nearby), making them easy to compare. Here’s page X53’s chart from the Expert Set above page 124’s chart from LL.

They both use the same four categories: monster, trap, special (which LL calls “unique”), and empty. They also both employ two die rolls: d6 followed by d6 in B/X, and d% followed by d% in LL. LL’s chart is a bit cleaner, both because it uses percentages (which I find more intuitive to assess than fractions) and because of its layout.

Room contents

Broadly speaking, the percentages for room contents are about the same — except in one case:

  • Monster: 33.33% chance in B/X, 30% chance in LL
  • Trap: 16.67% in B/X, 15% in LL
  • Special/Unique: 16.67% in B/X, 25% in LL
  • Empty: 33.33% in B/X, 30% in LL

The chance of a room being empty or having a monster in it are close enough to identical to call them the same — about 30%. Ditto the chance of a trap, about 15%.

What’s different is the chance of a special/unique room, 1 in 6 for B/X vs. 1 in 4 for LL. That’s not a huge difference, but it’s a difference.

What about the chance of treasure?

Treasure

Here are the percentages for the chance of treasure being present in each system:

  • Monster: 50% chance in B/X, 50% chance in LL
  • Trap: 33.33% in B/X, 30% in LL
  • Special/Unique: Undefined in B/X, “Variable” in LL — essentially the same thing
  • Empty: 16.67% in B/X, 15% in LL

For all practical purposes, those percentages are identical.

Conclusions

B/X D&D and Labyrinth Lord are essentially the same game with respect to dungeon stocking, the chance for a given room to be empty or otherwise, and the chance for there to be treasure in the room.

The only meaningful difference is that you’re somewhat more likely to encounter a special/unique room in LL than you are in B/X (and, consequently, slightly less likely to have the other possible contents come up).

To me, this is evidence of a shared design goal: Give the players a meaningful choice when it comes to seeking out treasure. Which makes sense, because both systems share the same XP methodology: 1 XP for 1 GP, plus XP for monsters, with the bulk of your XP coming from gold.

Dungeon rooms with monsters in them are more likely to have treasure than any other types of room, but you have to deal with the monster (which is itself worth XP). Empty rooms have the lowest chance of yielding treasure, which makes searching them — and expending resources in the form of time, torches, and wandering monster checks — risky in and of itself, but if you’re lucky you find unguarded treasure.

LL incentivizes the same style of play as B/X, which is a testament to its clarity of purpose as a B/X retroclone.

I also like that the one real difference, special rooms, would give an LL-designed dungeon its own flavor when compared to a B/X-designed dungeon. The party would run into a couple more special rooms, and special rooms are neat. There’s a philosophical difference there, albeit a subtle one.

Categories
B/X D&D D&D Dice Tabletop RPGs

How to reduce the value of a Moldvay Basic set by 50% in 7 easy steps

Step 1

Remove box from shelf.

Step 2

Open box.

Step 3

Remove sealed bag of dice from box.

Step 4

Cut open dice bag.

Step 5

Remove dice.

Step 6

Clean dice with soap and water to remove crayon residue.

Step 7

Ink dice with Sharpie.

Bonus step (optional)

Realize your white paint marker hasn’t come in the mail, and save the dark red d12 to ink later because you know black isn’t going to show up well.

Categories
D&D OD&D Old school Tabletop RPGs

OD&D’s implied setting

Via a private share on G+, I followed a link to OD&D Setting, a free PDF by Wayne Rossi of the excellent Semper Initiativus Unum blog. It’s excellent.

In 11 pages of logical observations, it pulls apart the components of OD&D‘s implied setting — the encounter tables, the Wilderness Survival map, etc. — and uses them to infer what that setting would actually look like. Wayne’s conclusion is a handy summary:

So this is the setting of original D&D: a frontier land, perhaps with a single state in its center, with wilderness populated by creatures of myth, legend and giant creature films. It is a world of Arthurian castles, knights templar, necromancers, dinosaurs and cavemen. It is wild, and it feels profoundly like the world someone who watched every cheesy science fiction movie about giant monsters and every classic horror film would make. This is bolted onto a world with openly Tolkienesque elements – elves, goblins, orcs, balrogs, ents, hobbits – and other entries that quickly became generic fantasy because they were in the D&D books. The result is far more gonzo and funhouse than people give D&D credit for, and I think it winds up being a good mix.

Here’s one of my favorite inferences, which was confirmed by Gary Gygax (as Wayne notes in the PDF):

But the real weirdness, and this was apparently confirmed in Gary Gygax’s campaigns, is what is there when you start wandering about the wilderness. Mountains are haunted by cavemen and necromancers; deserts are home of nomads and dervishes. The “Optional” animal listings turns swampland into the Mesozoic Era – rather than alligators and snakes it is full of tyrannosaurs and triceratops. Arid plains are Barsoomian, with banths, thoats, calots and the lot, while mountains are outright paleolithic, peopled by mammoths, titanotheres, mastodons, and sabre-tooth cats.

I love this kind of D&D. It’s rawlished, it’s wild, it’s weird, and — most importantly — it sounds like an absolute hoot to play. It also makes me sad that my OD&D boxed set and copy of Outdoor Survival are buried in our storage unit, more or less impossible to retrieve.

Even if you don’t play OD&D, or want to play in its implied setting, Wayne’s PDF is a fantastic read.

Categories
Books Reading Appendix N

Reading Appendix N: The project, the appendix, and the goal

Back in July, I started a project with a simple goal:

Read every book listed by Gary Gygax in Appendix N of the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Master’s Guide.

I started reading Appendix N books because I wanted to gain insight into the roots of the hobby, and of D&D in particular, and kept reading them because this is an awesome list of books. I respect Gary Gygax and his work a great deal, and it’s neat to discover how much our taste in books and some of our childhood experiences overlap. I love that Appendix N includes authors I’d never heard of, and books I’d never have considered on my own, in addition to well-known works and things I’d read before discovering it.

Having a simple, clearly defined goal in mind has already helped me stay on track when I could easily have been distracted by the oodles of other shiny books in my teetering, ever-growing to-read stack. That’s part of why I’m embarking on this project as a project, and blogging about it, rather than just reading these books without a goal and guidelines (which, of course, would also be a fine way to approach Appendix N!).

Delving into Appendix N has been a fun and rewarding experience so far, and it occurred to me that other gamers, readers, and fans of fantasy and sci-fi might also be new to Appendix N and want to take a stab at reading some or all of its referenced works. “Reading Appendix N” is my ongoing series of blog posts about doing just that, of which this is the first.

What’s Appendix N?

At the end of the 1st Edition AD&D Dungeon Master’s Guide (1979), Gary Gygax included a host of appendices — A through P. All of them provide extra stuff for the game, things like wandering monster tables, dungeon dressing, and the like, except one: Appendix N.

That one, as I’ve discovered over the past few weeks, is a treasure trove of incredible books. Appendix N is only half a page long, but it’s jam-packed with goodness. Here it is in its entirety:

APPENDIX N: INSPIRATIONAL AND EDUCATIONAL READING

Inspiration for all of the fantasy work I have done stems directly from the love my father showed when I was a tad, for he spent many hours telling me stories he made up as he went along, tales of cloaked old men who could grant wishes, of magic rings and enchanted swords, or wicked sorcerors and dauntless swordsmen. Then too, countless hundreds of comic books went down, and the long-gone EC ones certainly had their effect. Science fiction, fantasy, and horror movies were a big influence. In fact, all of us tend to get ample helpings of fantasy when we are very young, from fairy tales such as those written by the Brothers Grimm and Andrew Long. This often leads to reading books of mythology, paging through bestiaries, and consultation of compilations of the myths of various lands and peoples. Upon such a base I built my interest in fantasy, being an avid reader of all science fiction and fantasy literature since 1950. The following authors were of particular inspiration to me. In some cases I cite specific works, in others, I simply recommend all their fantasy writing to you. From such sources, as well as just about any other imaginative writing or screenplay you will be able to pluck kernels from which grow the fruits of exciting campaigns. Good reading!

Inspirational Reading:

Anderson, Poul. THREE HEARTS AND THREE LIONS; THE HIGH
    CRUSADE; THE BROKEN SWORD
Bellairs, John. THE FACE IN THE FROST
Brackett, Leigh.
Brown, Fredric.
Burroughs, Edgar Rice. “Pellucidar” Series; Mars Series; Venus Series
Carter, Lin. “World’s End” Series
de Camp, L. Sprague. LEST DARKNESS FALL; FALLIBLE FIEND; et al.
de Camp & Pratt. “Harold Shea” Series; CARNELIAN CUBE
Derleth, August.
Dunsany, Lord.
Farmer, P. J. “The World of Tiers” Series; et al.
Fox, Gardner. “Kothar” Series; “Kyrik” Series; et al.
Howard, R. E. “Conan” Series
Lanier, Sterling. HIERO’S JOURNEY
Leiber, Fritz. “Fafhrd & Gray Mouser” Series; et al.
Lovecraft, H. P.
Merritt, A. CREEP, SHADOW, CREEP; MOON POOL; DWELLERS IN THE
    MIRAGE; et al.
Moorcock, Michael. STORMBRINGER; STEALER OF SOULS; “Hawkmoon”
    Series (esp. the first three books)
Norton, Andre
Offutt, Andrew J., editor SWORDS AGAINST DARKNESS III.
Pratt, Fletcher, BLUE STAR; et al.
Saberhagen, Fred. CHANGELING EARTH; et al.
St. Clair, Margaret. THE SHADOW PEOPLE; SIGN OF THE LABRYS
Tolkien, J. R. R. THE HOBBIT; “Ring Trilogy”
Vance, Jack. THE EYES OF THE OVERWORLD; THE DYING EARTH; et al.
Weinbaum, Stanley.
Wellman, Manly Wade.
Williamson, Jack.
Zelazny, Roger. JACK OF SHADOWS; “Amber” Series; et al.

The most immediate influences upon AD&D were probably de Camp & Pratt, REH, Fritz Leiber, Jack Vance, HPL, and A. Merritt; but all of the above authors, as well as many not listed, certainly helped to shape the form of the game. For this reason, and for the hours of reading enjoyment, I heartily recommend the works of these fine authors to you.”

The project

Appendix N lists 28 authors, 22 specific titles, and 12 specific book series. With regard to the authors, Gary recommends “all their fantasy writing,” and he includes “et al” for some authors — which I take to mean Just go read all of their books, they’re excellent.

Once I had bought and read my first book from Appendix N explicitly as part of this project — Jack Vance’s The Eyes of the Overworld — I realized I needed some guidelines to keep me focused and on track. Here’s how I’m approaching this project:

  1. Read every book cited by name
  2. Read every book in every series cited by name
  3. Where no titles/series are cited, read at least one book by that author
  4. If the first book in a series, or by an author, is godawful, consider skipping the rest — but it has to be really bad

I haven’t broken out every series by title to see how many books this actually is, but my guess is around a hundred. But where to start?

Tier one of Appendix N

Because my initial goal was to learn more about the origins of D&D, I came up with a “Tier One” reading list based on Gary’s closing paragraph: the works he cites as having “helped to shape the form of the game.”

Here’s Tier One:

  • de Camp & Pratt. “Harold Shea” Series; CARNELIAN CUBE
  • Howard, R. E. “Conan” Series
  • Leiber, Fritz. “Fafhrd & Gray Mouser” Series; et al
  • Lovecraft, H. P.
  • Merritt, A. CREEP, SHADOW, CREEP; MOON POOL; DWELLERS IN THE
        MIRAGE; et al
  • Vance, Jack. THE EYES OF THE OVERWORLD; THE DYING EARTH; et al

This has proven to be a great starting point for me. I’ve already read everything H.P. Lovecraft ever wrote, and all of the Conan yarns. I read The Eyes of the Overworld, Dying Earth, and the first Lankhmar novel, Swords Against Death, before writing this post, and I’ve already bought a couple of the other books in Tier One.

If you want to give this project a shot yourself but are intimidated by the number of books in Tier One, you could always truncate the list a bit further: Just read one book by each of the Tier One authors. I can vouch for the awesomeness of Howard, Lieber, Lovecraft, and Vance, and skimming suggests that de Camp & Pratt and Merritt will also be enjoyable — so as short lists go, this seems like a good one.

The little banner

Given the number of books listed in Appendix N and how little free time I have for reading these days, this project could take a while. It seemed like a good idea to create a graphic for this series to make it stand out from other posts here. Behold my amazing graphic design skills!

I chose the books that appear in the logo based on their significance to me. Left to right, top row first, they are The Dunwich Horror and Others (H.P. Lovecraft), The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian (Robert E. Howard), The Fellowship of the Ring (J.R.R. Tolkien), The Three of Swords (Fritz Lieber), The Hobbit (J.R.R. Tolkien), the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Master’s Guide (Gary Gygax), Nine Princes in Amber (Roger Zelazny), and Dwellers in the Mirage (A. Merritt).

I started reading Appendix N before I knew there was an Appendix N, and long before I became a gamer and bought a copy of the 1e DMG, by reading The Hobbit in second grade. I was introduced to Lovecraft in high school, and he quickly became one of my favorite authors. I got into Zelazny’s Amber series around the same time, and loved his work as well. I tried and failed to read The Lord of the Rings several times as a kid, and eventually succeeded in my 20s; its volumes are now among my all-time favorite books.

In January 2012, Troy Taylor blogged about running red box D&D for his kids on Gnome Stew, sparking my interest in delving into the roots of gaming as a hobby. That led me to Appendix N, and in turn to Conan. I’d never read any Conan tales, and they were excellent — as well as totally not what I had expected. By the time I read the last Conan story, I had decided to read all of Appendix N.

When I finally carved out time to write this post, I was midway through the second Lankhmar book, Swords Against Death, which is part of the omnibus edition in the banner. A. Merritt’s Dwellers in the Mirage was acquired when I narrowed my initial reading list to Appendix N’s Tier One, but I haven’t read it yet — a nod to the long road ahead.

What’s next?

For me, what’s next is a whole lot more reading. In terms of this blog series, what’s next will likely be a couple of posts about the Appendix N titles I’ve already read. Going forward, I suspect I’ll post every time I start on a new author’s work, or whenever I have something Appendix N-y I think is worth sharing.

If you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading this post! I wanted to cover all of the foundational stuff up front, and put the basics in one post I can link back to later, which is why it’s so long.

Happy gaming — and happy reading!