Thursday, March 6, 2008

D&D Past and Present

There's an air of acceptance about the new Dungeons & Dragons. Since the D&D Experience event, players who follow such things have come to terms with the new game. They may like it, they may hate it, but many have made up their mind. We're taking pre-orders on the new books and the interest in reserving a copy has increased this week. Maybe it's also that we're in March, and June doesn't seem so far away anymore. It might also have to do with the death of Gary Gygax.

One father came in with his son and bought a D&D starter set, because it seemed like the way to honor the founder of the game. All of my D&D buddies are hunting for impromptu D&D games to play this weekend in Mr. Gygax's memory. They're all talking about current versions, but I think I would only clear my schedule for a true, 1st edition, Gygax adventure. This is the man who brought us Tomb of Horrors, the Giant series, Keep on the Borderlands, Village of Homlet and many more. Some of my best memories of this game are from those adventures. Check out Gary Gygax's credits here.

Designing a 4E Campaign
As a gamer I've accepted 4E is the direction I'm headed, which means I've been working in earnest on my campaign, trying to get a world framework ready for when we play. I've learned from my current campaign, with its 50 page players guide, that less is more. That D&D 4 has taken this less is more approach makes it feel that much more appropriate. No need to create names for your currency and fancy language trees unless there's a real use for them. No need to sand under the drawers.

Most DM's can either create a world or create adventures, not both. Several college students have proven me wrong, but for those of us who work, there are limits to our time. World building is far trickier than adventure writing, I think. The biggest pitfall is overbuilding. For example, I'm trying to create a space where we know the current country and it's surrounding neighbors, not the entire world. It has to add flavor to the adventure. If the adventure isn't going to the land of Amazon one-breasted women, then there's no need to create sketches of their garb (although you're welcome to e-mail them to me, if you feel so inclined). I also cheaped out and chose an alternate earth. You could spend days creating fancy calendars and weather charts for your three mooned two sun world, or you could be having sex with a woman. It's up to you.

Adventure building is tricky and right now impossible, since we lack the 4E resources to do it. Some people have a knack for it and they're able to spout off premises, clever encounters and adventure arcs on the fly. I envy them. Some people actually run adventures on the fly. I lack the personality for it and it's all I can do not to create call-out boxes that I read to my players -- for adventures I wrote! Yes, I don't have a lot of faith in my improv skills, and I know I'm not a great DM, but that's part of why I keep practicing.

Creative adventures though are really where a DM can shine. How clever can I be by running someone else's adventure in my sandbox? How much of the flavor of my world is present? That's also part of the pitfall of world building; ensuring that your work is relevant to the task at hand, that of flavoring the adventures and making them yours. In the end it's about what's fun for you. If making maps and language tables is your thing, go for it. If you think you would make an excellent evil mastermind, show off your stuff with your own adventure.


  1. At the request of several of our regulars, we've decided to have a memorial pick-up game day later in the month. I'm jokingly telling people: "It's a day where we'll actually listen about your 12th-level Paladin". Sincerly, I'm really blown away at how much customer response we've had regarding Gygax's death. Really touching stuff.

  2. Agreed,

    We have an article about his death taped to the counter, but most people came in already knowing about his passing. If only I get get other information out there as easily! But really, I've noticed some of my regulars just wanting to talk about it for a while, which I'm usually happy to do.

  3. Playing a 3rd edition game is a reasonable tribute, but I've seen the question asked whether Gygax had ever actually played 3rd. The answer, from those who are apparently in a position to know such things, is no. Or at least not if given a choice. His system of choice throughout the WotC era of D&D was his own Dangerous Journeys.

    By the way, if you haven't heard it, NPR did a nice short piece on Gygax featuring the owner of Trol Lord Games:

  4. I suppose I'm pickier for a tribute game, since I play D&D regularly already.

    I'll check out the Troll Lord Games interview. Steve is one of the nicest industry guys I've met.

  5. I probably won't be able to play any sort of tribute game. I did join with several others in changing my BGG avatar to a D&D related image for the week. The cover of the old basic set with the Erol Otus painting of a fighter and wizard fighting a green dragon.