Saturday, March 8, 2008

Gygax Tribute Game

I just got back from playing in a 3.5 version of Gary Gygax's Tomb of Horrors. I own the original adventure and have both played in and ran it as dungeon master, but that was 25 or more years ago. I was pleasantly surprised to find that I remembered almost none of it, other than some iconic traps that you could never forget. I let the new guys figure those out the hard way.

I played a Radiant Servant of Pelor variant, aka a cleric who kicks butt against undead. Unfortunately there weren't any in the tomb for the six hours I played before having to leave. It shows how much I remembered! Despite the 3.5 upgrade, the adventure has a first edition feel, starting with why this crazy lich would create this tomb which seemed to serve no other purpose than to challenge adventurers to plunder it.

Occasionally there would be disconcerting things that seemed to serve no other purpose than to vex adventurers. Often you were forced to roll the dice and move through traps and portals because there was no other way forward. If I had a dime for every time the rogue searched for traps - pretty much every 5' square we traveled. After years of learning about things like "dungeon ecology" and adventure pacing, it was strange to play in this often capricious and illogical adventure. It's how we did it in the old days.

Despite the old school ways, some of my best D&D memories are Gygax adventures: Sneaking around the sleeping giants in the "G" series. The one-way stadium turn style in White Plume Mountain. The sphere of annihilation mouth in Tomb of Horrors. They're not only good memories, but iconic encounters that we all stole and used in our own adventures. These adventures stretched us, challenging us to write our own stories. I often had more notebooks in my school backpack for D&D than I did for school, as the binders of characters and adventures multiplied. I don't recall ever staring at a blank piece of paper, worried about writing a school essay, but I do remember quite a few creative blocks while staring at a blank piece of graph paper, the only deadline that matters being the D&D game with my friends that weekend.

Tomb of Horrors: Go ahead, stick your hand in there. I dare ya.

White Plume Mountain: One way in, no way out (unless you rolled your "bend bars/lift gates.")

Steading of the Hill Giant Chief: The thing with the giant adventures was the true perception that things could get out of hand very quickly. There was no adventure pacing, no safe place to rest, just a big lair of giants you're invading. This was D&D without a net and many a character never returned from these adventures. Get them angry and woken up and you're in a heap of big trouble! This sense of fear and the possibility that anything can happen is missing in todays more formulaic D&D.


  1. Radio Scotland contacted me on Friday at 3pm to see if they could record an interview with me and some members of ORC Edinburgh - - the gaming community that I organise/run/manage/herd; and also the first 10 minutes of a D&D game. This will be edited and broadcast on Tuesday as part of the BBC Radio Café arts programme. They are interviewing Mark Barrowcliffe about his novel The Elvish Gene where he tells tales of playing D&D in his teens. The show will obviously touch on the death of Gary Gygax.

    So I ran a D&D (3.5) game which was cobbled together late on the Friday night from some stuff online and mixed in a few classic beasties like the rust monster (what's not to like) and a purple worm.

    Having never been interviewed or indeed recorded whilst running a game I think it's going to sound crap, but what do I care. A little bit of embarrassment and a lot of fun went toward a celebration of the life of the man who started it all.



  2. A game in progress sounds like crap even to other gamers. Even to gamers in THAT game! It just doesn't translate well.

    What would be interesting is to have someone translate the social context of a game, the "meta" of what's happening with each player in the context of play. Invite a psychologist along who takes notes about the social interaction. It might be insightful. It might just be embarrassing. I'm not saying you should do it, but I would pay to hear that.