Dave Trampier Thursday - Goblin


For my money Trampier's version of the Goblin is the definitive one. Page 47 of the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Monster Manual. Every thing about this one is perfect. This screams First Edition to me.



Dungeon Mastering - Micro Kingdoms

I have recently been thinking a lot about creating a new campaign world and have been inspired by quite a few different sources. One of the ideas I am kicking around is that of micro-kingdoms.

My idea is that there would be many small kingdoms each basically ruled by a stronghold, keep, wizard's tower, temple or the like. While the players go about their adventures there would be many small turf wars, rivalries or outright battles between these factions, their allies and their enemies. Think Game of Thrones but on a much smaller scale.

A large faction would have around 100 to 150 men at arms or troops to call on. A small one might have as few as 25 or 30. I feel that this will allow me to build a campaign world where the political lay of the land is always in flux, with smaller factions grouping together for strength and larger ones always attempting to grow and expand.

One inspiration is a forest with too many trees. All are trying to thrive and get sunlight but sometimes there just isn't enough room. Some wither and die others thrive. This is where player characters come into play in the early game. They become the foresters so to speak, either trimming down and paring large trees or destroying small ones, either way they change the landscape of the forest.

By having smaller kingdoms characters are able to put their stamp on the world as a whole in a large way. Even a large kingdom that loses 30 of 150 men at arms will be highly impacted. They now are forced to rebuild and regroup while others may fill that power void. The landscape will change and the players are the fulcrum throughout their entire careers.

Another advantage comes in the late game when characters may be building strongholds and trying to forge territories of their own. Do they gain these through force, subterfuge or by way of reward for loyalty and service? These are all viable options in this sort of setting. This also gives all alignment types and play styles a viable way to gain power. Whether they decide to be an assassin or a paladin there are large gains to be had. Would they prefer to rule behind the scenes through a figurehead or sit on a throne themselves? Anything seems possible in this sort of setting.

To me this seems like the ultimate in sandbox play. Many times kingdoms and worlds are static and merely a story that the DM has already written. My goal is to design a place that makes players feel like their actions matter in huge ways. I want them to be those few touched by fate. Destinies, lives and kingdoms rise or fall, live or perish, and are dependent for the most part on their actions or perhaps even their inaction. Well, I think I have a lot of work to do...




Community - ...and now for something completely different

Today was a nice relaxing day spent catching up on some reading. While doing so I noticed that a couple of blogs that I enjoy have fewer followers than my own.

I don't mean to brag about my massive following of thirty some souls, far from it. Thirty some followers is laughable, not that I care much anyway but I would like to thank you all for coming here and reading my ramblings. What's the best way to do that, you ask? Well, maybe by sharing a bit.

So without further delay I direct you to something completely different, Wampus Country and Carapace King.

Wampus Country takes DnD into the 1800's, granted it's an 1800's with trolls and whatnot but hey thats what makes it particularly interesting to me. Erik has put a lot of thought and effort into his campaign setting and it really shows. It is also fairly unmined territory ever since Boot Hill. I very much enjoy his efforts and highly recommend the blog.

Next up is Carapace King by Christopher, a bit harder to describe, but here goes, think of an era when metal is scarce and giant insects and their corpses are not. Weapons and other things are manufactured from their chitinous exoskeletons.

As you can hopefully tell by my inadequate descriptions both of these blogs give the community something quite different from the norm and both are fertile idea mines for any DM. Enjoy their hard work!



Oubliette Goodness

Man. I'm speechless. I hate to gush, and I know I already posted about the magazine but I just got all the back issues of Oubliette I ordered and I cant resist. I knew the content was great from the PDF's but just take a look at this goodness. Something about holding them in your hands and then putting them on your bookshelf speaks volumes to me.

I had to put a picture up for size comparison. If you dont have the physical copies you are definitely doing yourself a disservice. Damn, my only complaint is I can't subscribe...


Dave Trampier Thursday - Fire Giant

Ok, so it's Friday. Apologies for not getting this up yesterday, I realize I am a day late but here is another beauty from Tramp (and hey, you can't complain too much, I did give you two for one last Thursday!).


This week is my favorite from Trampier's series of giants which he drew for the Monster Manual. I never much cared for the most of the Trampier giants honestly. The Hill giant always reminded me of a big, dumb, doofus and not something tremendously scary (as it should be I guess). The Stone giant always looked too much like Lurch. The Cloud giant, well, let's just say he was a little effeminate for me. But the Fire giant, ah, the Fire giant, majestic!


This illustration is probably the reason my younger self wanted to include Fire giants everywhere and anywhere. In fact Trampier's fearsome Fire giant illustration is probably responsible for carnage on an unmitigated scale, as I remember wiping out many a party with it as my inspiration.




Dungeon Mastering - The Wilderness Survival Guide

The WSG by Kim Mohan or The Wilderness Survival Guide if you're not into the whole brevity thing, can be a fairly divisive book among First Edition faithful. In fact, some will say it is not even a First Edition book, labeling it as a 1.5 offering. I personally don't differentiate a 1.5 edition of ADnD, but that is a topic for another day. What makes this book a point of contention?

In order to answer that question, we must take a look at the evolution of the game up until the WSG's publication in 1986. What started out as an open, free flowing, organic, system in the White Box was growing into an ever more rules orientated beast. Moving from Chaos to Law if you will permit the analogy. Naturally, this trend rankled some and unfortunately some of Gygax's own words in his introductions and throughout his works exacerbated the situation. Gygax was most likely "towing the company line" when he seemed to say at various points, in various ways, that these are the rules and it is strongly suggested you follow them. Clearly it was not something he subscribed to in his own games and differed greatly from his early stance of the DM using his best judgement and common sense for rules resolution.

By this point you may be asking, "Okay, but what does this have to do with the WSG?" Well, to answer that question, quite a bit. I feel that a lot of the animosity toward the book is not so much directed at it's content as it is at the misconception that it must be used. I believe many felt required to use it's contents due to some of Gygax's earlier statements covered above.

The fact is that many of us are now used to mixing and matching bits and pieces of systems that we like and discarding those that don't work for our groups or play styles. The OSR has made this a perfectly acceptable practice but back in the day there was a perception that you were either following the rules or you weren't. I would posit that higher adherence to the published books was the norm at the time. Therein lies the problem. No one could be rightly expected to follow and use every rule in this book. Doing so would be an exercise in tedium. However, I would argue that as a sourcebook and supplement the volume is excellent.

There are a lot of wonderful ideas, charts and systems in place for those who choose to delve into them. In fact for a book with a $15 dollar price point at the time (likely even cheaper now in most cases) this was/is an absolutely spectacular value for the amount of data and content it provides. $15 dollars at the time was basically equivilant to two modules by the way. Quite honestly if you are running outdoor adventures or a sandbox style campaign this book really is a no brainer.

If you have ever had qualms about picking the WSG up set them aside and try it out. Even if you can find nothing of value in the text of the book, which I believe is virtually impossible, the art alone is worth the $10 to $15 dollar investment. As a bonus most of these books tend to be in excellent condition due to the large amount produced at the time.



Review - Oubliette Magazine

Over the weekend I downloaded a couple of Oubliette PDF's and I am hooked. In fact I ordered the physical compilation of issues 1-4 and all the other issues released since then. It's fantastic, just in case you didn't know.

Why? Well that's the confusing thing... I'm not really sure. I guess if I had to put it in words I would describe it as a sense of cohesiveness. This is a magazine with a voice. Don't get me wrong, I've read quite a few issues of Knockspell and Fight On!, and while I like them both well enough I never was tempted to get every issue immediately and in a physical form no less.

Oubliette reminds me of the feeling I used to get when I received my new issue of Dragon in the mail, and I was a Dragon subscriber in the magazine's heyday. Oubliette may not always be the slickest or prettiest girl on the block but for my money it's better for it. There's a big heart beating in every issue and it's easy to see that every page is a labor of love.



Review - Barrowmaze


I'll just cut to the chase, if you don't have Barrowmaze by Greg Gillespie yet then buy it now. It's absolutely amazing. In fact, it's spectacular, if it was a woman I think I just might marry it. So in lieu of a review of my new favorite OSR module I'm going to do a simple list of pros and cons.


  • New magic items, monsters and spells. Normally this might not be a plus for me but these follow the rule less is more. They make sense and are implemented well.
  • Compatible with anything with a small bit of tweaking.
  • As a change of pace this is not the typical multi-level dungeon but more of a large very spread out dungeon. A nice feature that, with the setting, helps differentiate the dungeon.
  • Random tables to help flesh out and dress the dungeon. A table for "re-stocking" the dungeon.
  • Interesting and effective usage of time in the dungeon. Notes on time are given for random monster checks, searching rooms and alcoves and other time sensitive actions.
  • Great risk and reward considerations are constantly presented to the player. For example, is the noise caused by knocking down a burial chamber wall and the risk of discovery worth the potential gain?
  • The dungeon feels alive. The use of time, noise, dungeon re-stocks and different factions of monsters/opponents all contribute to an organic, ever changing dungeon environment.
  • Definite old school difficulty curve. The back even states, "Don't forget the 10 foot pole."
  • Amazing old school style art full of homages and implied narrative, take a look at that shield on the cover. Where have you seen that before?
  • At 300 "rooms" it is large enough to be used as a "megadungeon" but it is also easily broken down into smaller sections.
  • Clear and concise but with enough details to give the DM a guideline while still allowing creativity and spontaneity.
  • Blue maps! Always a plus for me, I know, I know, I'm a sucker for anything old school.
  • Pre-rolled characters and character sheets.
  • A hireling named Patsy. Genius.
  • It costs $6.66. Awesome.

  • I am not partial to the square font used for the letters and numbers to label the dungeon. I found it a little difficult to read.
  • I would have liked to have seen a full fledged town with buildings, residents and some backstory built in. I know this is being a tad greedy but I want it anyway because I loved the rest of the package so much.
  • Only available in PDF form presently. According to the author a print version should be available for purchase very soon.
  • I feel anger and resentment at Greg Gillespie because he made the dungeon I always wanted to create. This, in turn, makes me feel like a bad person.


Barrowmaze is a labor of love that manages to combine fresh new ideas with old school sensibilities in surprising and fantastic ways. A ton of content is included for a very fair price (in fact, the author has submitted even more artwork that will be availible in the print version and via update for the PDF). At times some OSR products, especially modules, can seem a bit like a money grab, Barrowmaze is definitely not in this category and in fact, sets the new gold standard for excellence in the category.







Dave Trampier Thusday - Remorhaz

This week is special in that you get two great pieces by Trampier. Both feature the Remorhaz. I love the detail of the mouth on the "head shot" as you can see the feet of an unfortunate person and what might be a piece of rope (the creature swallows it's target on a to hit roll of 20). This is an excellent example of Trampier's use of "implied narrative", additionally, the feet provide a sense of scale.

According to the Monster Manual the Remorhaz is a 21' to 41' foot long creature colored ice blue everywhere except for a white stripe that runs the length of it's back. Much of the white stripe would be an orangish-red due to the intense heat generated by the monster.

Trampier is very consistent with the look of the Remorhaz. Both drawings are very similar although there is no telling how far apart in time they were created. Most people are probably more familiar with the bottom image from the Monster Manual. It almost appears as if the top image is merely a zoomed in view of the bottom image seen through a camera that turns everything into old school black and white line art goodness. Enjoy!




Dungeon Mastering - What I Run

What am I running? Well... Almost everything! I love the Byzantine complexity of the First Edition game, plus I love Gary's voice. Jeez, it is a tad bit complicated though. Even more so when I insist on utilizing portions of The Dungeoneer's Survival Guide and The Wilderness Survival Guide, both of which I am quite fond of. Hmmm, let me think for a second.

Hey! I know! I'll just use OSRIC in addition to streamline things! There is some pretty great stuff in Swords and Wizardry too, gotta love the simplicity there, it's almost zen like, and since I am running a first edition game I might as well utilize Swords and Wizardry Complete too (plus some Core).

As you can tell by my last post I am starting to develop an appreciation for Moldvay as well, there is a gold mine there. I have to use a pinch of that. Oh yeah, Labyrinth Lord! Duh! I have to use some of this, and again since I am running a First Edition game (he said haughtily), I might as well be using the Labyrinth Lord Advanced Edition Companion.

Whatever I do, I can't forget about house rules of course, Akrasia's fighter subclasses are a must for instance. God only knows how many random tables and charts from obscure sources I am utilizing or even worse, trying to find a way to utilize.

What am I playing, HA! Even I don't know anymore! But you know what? I LOVE it! Can you do this with baseball? Football? Gin Rummy? Hell no! You can do it with Dungeons and Dragons however, I know, because I'm making it work.

The great thing is that the DM is in charge and to me there is only one law that they must live by. Impartiality. Above all else. First and foremost. If you can maintain impartiality as a DM you can run ANY set of rules or any amalgamation thereof. To me that is beauty of form in what many might consider Chaos. Plus, you never know, that jaded party who thinks they know every stat and law of the game world might just have to think outside of the box for once. Always keep 'em on their toes and never let 'em see you sweat. They'll thank you for it later.



Rethinking Moldvay's Basic

Come on, admit it. You thought Basic was a kiddie game for babies. Ok, maybe you didn't but I sure did. Everybody I ever played with did. Oh, I still bought it, I just didn't let any of my friends see it. It didn't matter that we didn't fully understand the complexities of the First Edition game in the beginning. There is no way we would be caught playing anything but the real deal.

I'm sad to say that I attached that stigma to Basic by Tom Moldvay for all of my early gaming years. In fact it's an attitude I maintained until very recently. It only changed after reading a stellar series of posts by Al at the excellent blog Beyond the Black Gate.

Al discusses some of Moldvay's Dungeon Mastering advice and it's really good stuff, so good that I tracked down my old Basic set and dusted it off. Guess what? I was surprised to find a lot of stuff I really like in there. You mean to tell me there's variable weapon damage in Basic?! Huh. I never knew. Guess I need to find that Expert set that I stowed away and take a look at it next.



Review - Crypts and Things

If you are familiar with Swords and Sorcery Core and Akrasia's House Rules (In fact, the title page shows the author as being Newt Newport with Akrasia) then you will recognize the skeleton upon which Crypts and Things is built. In fact the rulebook spends the first 35 pages or so presenting these two systems clearly and concisely to the reader. Additionally in this first "Player's Handbook" section you get some great art and a few minor deviations from the norm.

Some of these deviations are that there are no demi-humans in Crypts and Things and that the Undead can't be turned either as a class abilty or by a spell. Additionally, there are no alignment systems, the reason being that the world itself is an amoral one. Also of interest is the fact that magic Is almost always a bad thing. This implies that there is a price to be paid for magical power, not only for spells either, artifacts and magic items can carry a toll as well.

This is where the game really starts to show it's greatest strength, and the Swords and Sorcery aspect really starts to shine through. What is the game's greatest strength? Undoubtedly the setting and the ambiance. Newt Newton's world-building, milieu and overall vibe really start to assert themselves in the "Crypt Keeper's" section of the book. He includes a map of the continent with different locations that are well realized and each is given a small description.

Two more sections that do an especially good job of getting you into the Sword and Sorcerey mindset are the "Ill Gotten Gains of Dark Desire" (treasure and magic items) and the "Compendium of Fiends" (monster manual). Many of the magic items and monsters are tailored to fit the setting and it provides a nice immersion factor.

In addition to everything I've already mentioned you get a small adventure, a character sheet template and a very strong selection of appendices. These were perhaps the best part of the work other than the setting for me. They include such varied things as, The Role of the Crypt Keeper, Random Objects, City Events, Horror and Heroism, Descriptive Phrases and quite a few others. Most are tables of sorts but some like The Role of the Crypt Keeper are advice sections. All are designed to fit within the setting.

Crypts and Things by Newt Newport is a lot of things. How many of these things you need will determine how much mileage you get out of it. If you are confident in building a Sword and Sorcery world yourself and don't feel the need for inspiration then perhaps Akrasia's House Rules are sufficient for you. However, if you are a big fan of Swords and Sorcery or the fantasy worlds of Howard, Lovecraft and Lieber then Crypts and Things moves into must buy territory. It also bears mentioning that the game can be tailored to fit almost any rules system and is very adaptable, it can be used for anything from a single adventure to the basis for an entire campaign.




The Wisdom of Gygax - On Hearing Noise

The following paragraph appears on page 60 of the 1st Edition Dungeon Masters Guide. The punctuation and spacing are exactly as they appear there.

Hearing Noise: When a die roll indicates a noise has been heard, tell the player whose character was listening that he or she heard a clink, footstep, murmuring voices, slithering, laughter or whatever else that is appropriate. (Of course, some of these noises may be magical, e.g., audible glamer spells, not anything which will be encountered at all!) Be imprecise and give only vague hints; never say, "You hear ogres," but you hear rumbling, voice-like sounds." Failure to hear any noise can be due to the fact that nothing which will make noise is beyond the portal, or it might be due to a bad (for the listener) die roll. Always roll the die, even if you know nothing can be heard. Always appear disinterested regardless of the situation.

I love it. The distinctive voice behind the words. Archaic and a bit professor-like in it's way but never cold or impersonal. Also of great import here is the advice given to those looking for it, gems of knowledge strewn throughout for the observant reader.

Pay close attention to these words from the above excerpt, "Be imprecise and give only vague hints" and "Always roll the die, even if you know nothing can be heard. Always appear disinterested regardless of the situation."

These are words all DM's should heed, and not only in regards to hearing noise. All this in less than two inches of the book's column space. Perfect.



Art by Stefan Poag from the module Barrowmaze by Greg Gillespie



Module Retrospective - The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh

I plan to do one of these module retrospectives every week or so, I also plan to keep these relatively spoiler-free. In order to do this I will simply give some of the highs and lows without a tremendous amount of detail.

The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh or module U1, is first on the chopping block. This module is suggested for play with characters at levels 1 through 3. Read on to see how it fares.

Originally released in 1981 and written by Dave Brown and Don Turnbull, The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh, or SSoS from here on, was the first in a series of three modules developed in the United Kingdom. To me the module has always managed to convey a unique sense of "Britishness". There is even an interesting aside in the beginning of the module regarding some of the differences in spelling between the UK and US. They also explain that Americans may find the text a little "flowery".


  • There is a lot offered in this package, essentially you are getting two smaller adventures in one module. One with a haunted house atmosphere and another on a ship.
  • The setting and plot are different from your average fantasy tropes and may not end up being what you initially expected.
  • The module unfolds nicely and outcomes could be somewhat different for a second playthrough with another party.
  • There is a nice difficulty curve to the module as well as a natural stopping point between the two halves, at this point characters are expected to return to the town of Saltmarsh and this in itself could be considered a micro-adventure of sorts.
  • The DM gets to do a little role playing and the adventure requires the DM to juggle a few balls in the air. These are positives to me, if you consider them negatives, be forewarned.
  • Great old school art, particularly the full page illustration on page 14 by Stephen D. Sullivan.
  • Although the module is suggested for characters at levels 1-3, I would not recommend it for a party of amateurs. This module is designed for a "smart" party to get the most out of it. Not to say that a party could not bash their way through, but ultimately the savvy and canny player is rewarded accordingly with experience (I like that tremendously) as well as treasure. This could be seen as a positive to some.
  • The module requires an experienced DM as there is a good bit to consider in regards to some of the enemies encountered, their movements, and party actions that can result in varied outcomes.
  • The town of Saltmarsh is not mapped for the DM. You are left to create your own version following the modules basic template and instructions.

This module offers a lot to the player in terms of varied approach and just as importantly, is a blast for the DM as well. Often the involvement of the DM is taken for granted but one of the strengths of SSoS is its ability to "work" the DM yet remain clear, concise and engaging at the same time.

The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh is one of the best modules I have ever been in the DM's seat for. I remember reading it for the first time and thinking that it was unique, I had played quite a bit by that point so maybe it was just leaving the dungeon, so to speak. Upon re-reading it for this post however that uniqueness came flooding back and I feel confident in saying it has withstood the test of time.

Final verdict: Highly Recommended.




Dave Trampier Thursday - Orcus

I asked myself, "What would I want to see on a blog?". The answer? Art by Dave Trampier. An icon and a master.

Regardless of what inane and unremarkable topics I may end up blogging about, those of you who return here on Thursdays will find another piece of beautiful artwork by Tramp.

Good fortune and good health to you DT! Wherever you may be.




The Adventure Begins...

This blog is intended to touch on topics about 1st edition Advanced Dungeons and Dragons and the OSR revolution in general. First, however, by way of introduction, a story and an acknowledgement.

When I was in sixth grade I was fortunate enough to receive one of the greatest gifts ever. My Mother bestowed me with the three cornerstone books of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons and a set of dice. Why was this such a great gift you ask? Well, to give a short answer, I would have to say that to me these were not only books but the gateway to another world.

For similar excitement of this sort back then I could read fantasy novels, which I did voraciously. Another option was to stomp around the countryside hacking weeds with my +1 stick, which, I am embarrassed to admit, was a task I performed to the best of my meager ability scores.

Upon receipt of these tomes however, I suddenly had a toolset that enabled me to build worlds in their entirety and a foundation for the underlying laws that would govern them. I suddenly went from being an slightly-geeky adolescent to something else, something bigger and infinitely cooler.

I'll never forget the smell of those books (you know if it if you've ever played). More importantly though was the ability they gave me to stop being controlled so much by my world and to instead create and control my own, with the help of Gary Gygax and friends of course.

I spent hundreds of hours reading those books, playing the game with friends and escaping from my goofy, awkward teenage body and into that of a powerful Ranger, a sly Thief, or a wizened Magic-User. Many would say this was a waste of time, a useless pursuit, some at the time even considered this to be a dark and sinister pastime. Years later, in college, it certainly came in handy. Imagine the ease of textbook navigation for someone weaned on the obtuse, Gygaxian prose of the first edition.

I learned much more from those books and I also eventually gave them up and moved on to other things before picking them up again years later, but those are stories to be shared another time.

In the end, when my story is complete it will be one infinitely familiar to anyone who ever played the game. You know the one, it's probably similar in some ways to yours, it's the one about the young farm boy who starts small and ends up becoming a part of something much, much larger.

Thanks Mom. You don't know how much that gift you gave me years ago changed my life...