Monday, November 20, 2017

Monsters as Player Characters - OD&D vs. AD&D

I don't know - it looks good to me

I'm taking a three-day break from demons to talk about something I rediscovered while looking for demons. I'm sure what I'm about to point out has been mentioned before, though I don't have a reference.

In Men & Magic, after detailing the three character classes and three additional races, Gary Gygax wrote:
Other Character Types: There is no reason that players cannot be allowed to play as virtually anything, provided they begin relatively weak and work up to the top, i.e., a player wishing to be a Dragon would have to begin as let us say, a "young" one and progress upwards in the usual manner, steps being predetermined by the campaign referee (p. 8).
Now I have no idea how many referees back in the day were coming up with stats on the fly for players who confidently announced they wanted to play a non-standard character, but I think it's indisputable that from the very first many were experimenting with creating their own new character classes, races and types to supplement the ones in the text or customary rules. Arneson's Blackmoor campaign had a Balrog player-character, and Gygax's reportedly also allowed such variations in Greyhawk (which is presumably why he wrote the passage above).

The author of the Dungeons & Dragons "Basic" set, John Eric Holmes, apparently also enjoyed running adventuring parties of non-standard classes or creatures. And he implied as much in the text of that game:
At the Dungeon Master's discretion a character can be anything his or her player wants him to be. Characters must always start out inexperienced and relatively weak and build on their experience. Thus, an expedition might include, in addition to the four basic classes and races (human, elven, dwarven, halflingish), a centaur, a lawful werebear, and a Japanese Samurai fighting man (p. 7).
However, now consider this passage (also written by Gygax) from the AD&D Dungeon Master Guide, six years later:
THE MONSTER AS A PLAYER CHARACTER
On occasion one player or another will evidence a strong desire to operate as a monster, conceiving a playable character as a strong demon, a devil, a dragon, or one of the most powerful sort of undead creatures. This is done principally because the player sees the desired monster character as superior to his or her peers and likely to provide a dominant role for him or her in the campaign. A moment of reflection will bring them to the unalterable conclusion that the game is heavily weighted towards mankind...
The considered opinion of this writer is that such characters are not beneficial to the game and should be excluded.
The later Gygax is of course contradicting his earlier self. Playing "monsters" as characters is now no longer recommended. Indeed, someone who pushes for it might even have psychological problems!

In fairness, Gygax does temper things a bit. He's against doing it, but such a decision should ultimately be left up to the referee - "As to other sorts of monsters as player characters, you as DM must decide in light of your aims and the style of your campaign." And it is preferable to find ways to discourage the practice rather than banning it outright:
Note that exclusion is best handled by restriction and not by refusal. Enumeration of the limits and drawbacks which are attendant upon the monster character will always be sufficient to steer the intelligent player away from the monster approach, for in most cases it was only thought of as a likely manner of game domination. The truly experimental-type player might be allowed to play such a monster character for a time so as to satisfy curiosity, and it can then be moved to non-player status and still be an interesting part of the campaign - and the player is most likely to desire to drop the monster character once he or she has examined its potential and played that role for a time. The less intelligent players who demand to play monster characters regardless of obvious consequences will soon remove themselves from play in any event, for their own ineptness will serve to have players or monsters or traps finish them off (p. 21 for all references).
Of course during this quasi-concession Gygax takes the opportunity to further put down players who might have such a desire - unless the goal is purely experimental, then they either have a will to dominate or are relatively stupid and inept. This might be characterized as one manifestation of what has been called High Gygaxian style. Here an air of wisdom is coupled with silly insults. That's not a criticism (of the style). In fact it's quite entertaining.

It sure beats "In creating the story of your character, work with your DM. Talk to them about your ideas, preferences and feelings."

Is it evil to contradict one's earlier self? Of course not. And for all we know, Gygax had learned from the previous six years of play that people playing dragons or demons was simply more trouble than what it was worth. But it's also an example of how, as the universe of Dungeons & Dragons was in most ways expanding (in terms of text or ruleset length if nothing else), there were walls to that universe that were simultaneously being erected or reinforced. All things being equal, I think that's something to regret.

Now I confess that in saying this I feel like a hypocritical politician. When I played D&D back in the day, I never ran or played non-standard player-characters, and since my rediscovery of the game and subsequent determination that I was now firmly in the more open-ended OD&D camp, I still haven't done so. But let's just say I philosophically or aesthetically favor an approach that leaves open the possibility. Or at least I like to think that I do.

If you want to play a dragon, that's fine. Just give me a few minutes to come up with something.

But don't tell me about your feelings.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Demons in Early D&D, Part 2

The Arch-devil Asmodeus, from the AD&D Monster Manual
See Part 1, here.

Dungeons & Dragons "Holmes Basic" Set (July, 1977): There were only a few passing references to demons in this edition. I assume this was largely because they were too powerful and complicated to feature in an introductory treatment designed to take player characters only through 3rd level.

AD&D Monster Manual (December, 1977): The first AD&D book fleshed out, so to speak, the nine demonic types presented in Eldritch Wizardry and added three more to their number including Manes, Juiblex (The Faceless Lord) and, oddly perhaps, Yeenoghu, who we are told is "Demon Lord of Gnolls." The numbered Types I to V are also given additional names, and the Balrog is renamed "Balor." Interestingly, two of the types - Type IV (Nalfeshnee, etc.) and Type V (Marilith, etc.) feature illustrations that appear to be fairly close copies (though in mirror image) of their initial illustrations in Eldritch Wizardry, twenty months before. (Both sets were drawn by David Sutherland.) As far as I know, this is the only case where the Monster Manual made obvious use of previous art.


Type V Demon (Marilith) from (L to R) Eldritch Wizardry and the Monster Manual

EDIT: R. Nelson Bailey pointed out to me that the Monster Manual illustrations of the sahuagin and umber hulk appear to be exactly the same as those originally found in Blackmoor

As in Eldritch Wizardry, the Monster Manual suggests that
If the name of a particularly powerful demon is spoken, there is a chance that he will hear and turn his attention to the speaker. A base 5% chance is recommended to the referee. Unless prepared to avoid such attention - or to control the demon - the demon will whereupon immediately kill, by whatever means are most expeditious, the one pronouncing his name (p. 16).
One wonders in how many campaigns a referee invoked this rule when the players were joking around.

The Monster Manual tells us that "Demons are able to move from their own plane into those of Tarterus, Hades, or Pandemonium or roam the astral plane" (p. 16).
But what is their own plane? It's not very clearly presented, but the careful reader can figure it out: If the amulet of a demon prince is destroyed, it will "Thus condemn the prince to abyssment for one year." As well, Manes are described as "Those dead which go to the 666 layers of the demonic abyss" (p. 17).

The Monster Manual also introduces devils for the first time. These are primarily distinguished from demons in that devils are lawful evil in alignment whereas demons are chaotic evil. There are eleven types of them, led by the "Arch-Devil" Asmodeus, who are the "inhabitants and rulers of the planes of hell." I actually remember these entities much better than their demonic rivals, perhaps because the illustrations are more evocative and appear to be of a higher quality, and also because of their more memorable and resonant names.

In addition, various creatures are listed outside of the "Demons" and "Devils" sections - imps, larva, night hags, quasists, etc. - who are either "minor" demons or devils, are related to or associate with demons or devils in some way or who, like demons and devils, largely inhabit the lower planes. Curiously, the rakshasa is listed as a "devil" (not a demon as in Gods, Demi-Gods and Heroes) in the Index but that fact is not mentioned in its description.

AD&D Players Handbook (June, 1978): As demons and devils were now official monsters, the second AD&D volume contained a number of references to them, just as it did for other creatures. As one might expect, many of these references were in descriptions of relevant spells such as Protection from Evil and so on. But demons had also apparently now reached a status in the canon where they could be used to stress the imaginative and epic proportions of Dungeons & Dragons:
This game lets all of your fantasies come true. This is a world where monsters, dragons, good and evil high priests, fierce demons, and even the gods themselves may enter your character's life. Enjoy, for this game is what dreams are made of! (p. 7).
In the Players Handbook it is revealed that clerics might be able to turn or control some demons and devils, just as they turn undead. Though players would have to wait until the Dungeon Masters Guide (August, 1979) or the preview of it in The Dragon (No. 22, February, 1979) for charts on this.

I think two other things stand out in the Handbook. First, we see perhaps the first sustained reference to player-characters voluntarily interacting with the demonic in a detailed and explicit way. It's in the description for the 7th level Magic-User spell, Cacodemon:
Explanation/Description: This perilous exercise in dweomercraeft summons up a powerful demon of type IV, V, or VI, depending upon the demon's name being known to the magic-user...The spell caster must be within a circle of protection (or a thaumaturgic triangle with protection from evil) and the demon confined within a pentagram (circled pentacle) if he or she is to avoid being slain or carried off by the summoned cacodemon...
By tribute of fresh human blood and the promise of 1 or more human sacrifices, the summoner can bargain with the demon for willing service...
The components of this spell are 5 flaming black candles; a brazier of hot coals upon which must be burned sulphur, bat hairs, lard, soot, mercuricnitric acid crystals, mandrake root, alcohol, and a piece of parchment with the demon's name inscribed in runes inside a pentacle; and a dish of blood from some mammal (preferably a human, of course) placed inside the area where the cacodemon is to be held (pp. 86-7).
Of course it would be easy to pull this "out of context" to argue that AD&D was attempting to make occult practices attractive to children or whatever. In truth, I didn't even remember the spell, and was only reminded of it when researching this post, even though, at the time, I played AD&D exclusively and thought of the Players Handbook as the defining D&D tome. I suspect I'm not alone in this. Among other things, Cacodemon was a high-level spell and I doubt that many campaigns got that far. As always, I could be wrong.

The second thing to note is that it was in Appendix IV of the Handbook that all of the planes were finally explicitly named and their nature and relation at least somewhat described or explained (using a list, a two-dimensional representation and a three dimensional representation!). So, as for evil places where demonic entities might dwell, we are introduced to:
17. The Planes of Pandemonium of chaotic evil neutrals.
18. The 666 layers of the Abyss of absolute chaotic evil.
19. The planes of Tarterus of evil chaotic neutrals.
20. Hades' "Three Glooms" of absolute (neutral) evil.
21. The furnaces of Gehenna of lawful evil neutrals.
22. The Nine Hells of absolute lawful evil.
23. The nether planes of Acheron of lawful evil neutrals (p. 120).
That demons hailed from the Abyss and devils lived in the Nine Hells wasn't mentioned in the Players Handbook, but the Monster Manual had made that sort of clear, and of course there was also that early chart in The Strategic Review.

Next (Part 3): the AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide, The Dragon and the first modules.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Demons in Early D&D, Part 1

A demon from Eldritch Wizardry

There were plenty of demons in early Dungeons & Dragons (1974-1979). Not only were there many kinds of demons, but demons could be summoned by spells, they could possess people, and characters could even make "pacts" with them, perhaps involving human sacrifices. All of this was described in "official" TSR sources such as the rulebooks and supplements or semi-official outlets such as The Dragon magazine.

There was plenty of red meat for Christian fundies who worry about that sort of thing to get worried about.

But of course that only tells half the story.

While demons existed, they didn't exactly dominate things. In essence they were simply an additional kind of monster introduced to make things more interesting. Back in the day I never used demons in my campaign, and I can't remember ever running into them in the three or four other campaigns that I played in.

For my campaign this was not because I had any particular religious objection to them (unless it was unconscious), but rather because demons just seemed too complicated. In the Monster Manual their descriptions went on forever (or so it seemed to me). They didn't seem Tolkienish enough (a big consideration for me at the time), and they were too high-level for my campaigns. Also I resented the imposition of the complicated and arbitrary (again, so it seemed to me) metaphysical architecture or geography that went with them - all of the hells and planes and so on and so forth. Demons were just too much fuss.

For all I know there were other campaigns that made a fetish of demons. One thing the anti-D&D people never seemed to quite understand is that Dungeons & Dragons, especially in the early days, was what you wanted to make of it. (Of course, logically, this wouldn't have completely disposed of the worry.) Could it be a gateway drug to actual cults or covens? I suppose some people might have played it to make it look that way. But I never saw it.

But the other part of the story is that while demons would eventually stake out their demonic place in the universe of 1970's D&D, they didn't exist for at least the first two years of the game.

This is a companion piece to my earlier post on witches. Witches sort of burst out (at least implicitly) and then fizzled. But demons, while they took their time making an appearance, would by the end of the 1970's be featured all over - again not because they were the raison d'etre of the game or anything like that but simply because they had become an accepted member of the monster canon, along with Unicorns, Dragons and everyone else.

Dungeons & Dragons (January, 1974): The "three little brown books" contained no demons. The Balrog would later become a demon (before having the "Balrog" part of the name deleted for copyright reasons), but he wasn't a demon then.

Greyhawk (March, 1975): No demons.

Blackmoor (September, 1975): Technically, the first use of the word "devil" in an official Dungeons & Dragons publication was in this supplement. And fittingly (for Blackmoor) it was aquatic-related. The evil creatures called Sahuagin were described as "Devil-Men of the Deep."

The Strategic Review (April, 1975 to April, 1976): The first appearance of demons in D&D occurred in the second to last issue (Vol. II, no. 1, February, 1976) of this predecessor to The Dragon. Both demons and devils were featured on the first of two charts in an article by Gary Gygax discussing the D&D alignment system - an article which heralded the apparent evolution of alignment from what had seemed to be a two- or three-point system to a five- or nine-point system.


I imagine that this chart might have been confusing to many. It named four sorts of creatures or beings - Saint, Godling, Devil and Demon - and diverse places - Nirvana, Heaven, Elysium, The Abyss, etc. - none of which had appeared in Dungeons & Dragons before. They came from varying religious or mythical traditions but were all meticulously placed on a chart that seemed to represent some sort of deeper metaphysical or supernatural truth. Why were "Saints" (were these just really good people?) "Lawful/Good" and "Godlings" (whatever they were) "Chaotic/Good"? And why was The Devil on the other side of the chart from a Demon? Were Hell, Hades and the Abyss different places? Why was the Law side of Neutrality Buddhist but the Chaos side of it Catholic? And so on.

Some of us are so used to the religious cosmology of AD&D that we may not fully realize that it was Gygax and D&D that first made a distinction between "devils" and "demons" as two separate but similar evil supernatural beings. In Christian or European tradition, demons were usually equated with the fallen angels (they may also inhabit people and be cast out, etc.). "Devil" was used as in "The Devil," to denote the first fallen angel or leader of them, or was employed as a sort of slang term to describe demons or supernatural monsters in general or even just very bad people.

I'm not claiming that there's anything wrong with Gygax patching together his own novel cosmology out of many different sources, mashing them together and redefining some of the terms - after all, this is essentially what he did with the entire monster canon for D&D - only that it must have seemed a bit confusing to some at the time, especially since it came with little explanation. Advanced Dungeons & Dragons would of course fully flesh all of this out, but at this time, AD&D was still 1-3 years away.

Eldritch Wizardry (May, 1976): Here is where demons not only made a grand entrance but positively exploded into the game, in all their myriad and numbered types. There are 94 mentions of the word "demon" in this booklet, and 4 of "devil." Nine types of demon are given statistics and described - six types simply numbered "I" to "VI" (although VI is also called "Balrog", which was still listed as a "monster" in the then available printings of Monsters & Treasure), Succubi, and the two "demon princes" Orcus and Demogorgon. Various demonic magical items and artifacts are described. Demon psionic strength is explained. And demons now appear in the encounter charts alongside everyone else from Lions to Lycanthropes. Indeed, in many terrain types you suddenly have a 1 in 20, or sometimes only a 1 in 12, chance of encountering a demon if your monster check comes up. This might have been annoying to wilderness adventurers. Interestingly, in Eldritch Wizardry demons are not given a specific home. They're said to "roam" the astral plane, but they appear to actually live in or on some other plane or planes. These are not named. The explicit populating of Hell, Hades and other such places is still months in the future - although, as we saw, it was telegraphed in that The Strategic Review article.

Gods, Demi-Gods and Heroes (July, 1976): There are numerous and varied demons mentioned as part of many mythologies. Their use here is quite nifty in my opinion, and it's of a completely different flavor from the sterilely labeled numbered types in Eldritch Wizardry. This would herald a trend in which some of the coolest treatments of D&D demons would be, so to speak, ethnic.

Here is a description of the Rakshasa, which had earlier been introduced in the "Creature Feature" section of the The Strategic Review, and would appear again in the AD&D Monster Manual, though not explicitly as a demon in either of those texts:
RAKSHASAS DEMONS OF INDIA 
Armor Class: — 5, Magic Ability: (See Below), Move: 18/36, Fighter Ability: 15th Level, Hit Points: 200, Psionic Ability: Class 6 
These demons constantly fought man and Gods alike. Many of their leaders were so powerful that the Gods were forced to call a truce at times and give them concessions. All Rakshasas have these powers in common: shapechange, fight invisible except against Gods, all regenerate as a troll, crave the taste of human flesh, and cannot refuse a gambling bet. Some of the more powerful ones have complete control over forces of nature.
That sort of short but evocative monster description, lumping together such diverse considerations as invisibility (though not against Gods), regeneration, favorite cuisine (people) and a weakness for gambling is in my opinion one of the defining virtues of early D&D. It would soon be lost. 

Next (Part 2): The Holmes Basic Set, the AD&D Monster Manual and the AD&D Players Handbook. 

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Witches in Early D&D

A witch (one assumes) from the "Witchcraft Supplement in Dragon Magazine #5 (March, 1977)
Witches have a curious history in early Dungeons & Dragons (here, I'm defining "early" as 1974-early 1980). They were never statted or described as a monster or class in any of the rulebooks. However, there were two illustrations of them in Monsters & Treasure (in that 1974 booklet, no other monster or class had more than one illustration, and there weren't that many illustrations anyway), there were three fairly long and detailed Dragon magazine articles about them in the space of just two years, and the "Holmes" edition of D&D implied that witches were soon to be a character sub-class.

But, of course, in AD&D at least, there ended up being no witches. Alas, witches were the most prominent monster or class that, for whatever reason, never quite made it.

Here's a breakdown (by quarter) of appearances of witches in early D&D:

01-03/74 - Dungeons & Dragons (3LBBs): two witch illustrations; charisma example; broom of flying (1)
04-06/74
07-09/74
10-12/74
01-03/75 - Greyhawk (Supp. 1): no witches
04-06/75
07-09/75 - Blackmoor (Supp. 2): no witches
10-12/75
01-03/76
04-06/76 - Eldritch Wizardry (Supp. 3): no witches (2)
07-09/76 - Gods, Demi-Gods and Heroes: Tounelea (Finnish) (3)
10-12/76 - The Dragon #3: "Ladies in D&D" - witches as high-level female Magic-Users (4)
01-03/77 - The Dragon #5: "Witchcraft Supplement" for witch NPCs (5)
04-06/77
07-09/77 - Dungeons & Dragons (Holmes): witches presented as an upcoming sub-class; charisma example; broom of flying (6)
10-12/77 - AD&D Monster Manual: no witches
01-03/78
04-06/78 - AD&D Players Handbook: no witches
07-09/78
10-12/78 - The Dragon #20: "Another Look at Witches" player-class supplement (7)
01-03/79
04-06/79
07-09/79 - AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide: no witches but there was a broom.
10-12/79
01-03/80 - AD&D Deities & Demigods: "witch of the fens" (Arthurian), Snow Witches (Nehwon) (8)

1. There were two illustrations of witches in the three little brown books:
Men & Magic, p. 17.
Men and Magic, p. 27. I think I've seen her somewhere before...
In addition, a witch featured in perhaps the most memorable description for how ability scores might be used beyond their explicit effects:
In addition the charisma score is usable to decide such things as whether or not a witch capturing a player will turn him into a swine or keep him enchanted as a lover (Men & Magic, p. 11).
And finally, a Broom of Flying was included as one of the original 29 miscellaneous magic items:
Broom of Flying: This device allows the owner to fly at Dragon speed (24"/turn). The user must know the "Word of Command" to make it function. The Broom of Flying will come up to 24" when its owner summons it with the command word. It will carry two persons but its speed is reduced by one-quarter (Monsters & Treasure, p. 37).
And that broom even made it into the list of long range flying speeds - being able to cover 200 miles in a day (though I assume only 150 miles with two riders):
The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures, p. 16.
However, out of the 77 monsters that appeared in the monster tables and subsequent descriptions, and the 75 that would be suggested as "Other Monsters," appear on the Encounter Tables or rear their heads above water in the Naval Combat section, Witches were not among them.

2. Eldritch Wizardry would feature much "occult" material, including a full catalog of diverse demons and a cover drawing of a naked woman being sacrificed on a stone slab. But there were no witches.

3. A brief mention of a witch would occur in the Finnish Gods and Heroes section of Gods, Demi-Gods and Heroes:
Tounelea: 
Armor Class: 9, Move: 9"Hit Points: 30, Magical Spell Ability: As 11th Level WizardressFighter Ability: As a Wizardress
This was an evil witch type that was opposed to Vinanamoinen (p. 39).
4. In an early Dragon article, "Notes on Women and Magic," also called "Ladies in D&D" in the Contents, Witches made an appearance as high-level female Magic-Users. There was some good stuff in the article, I think. Unfortunately it was drowned out by the outrageously sexist slant of the piece, which was widely derided and mocked (by both women and men) at the time (see Jon Peterson's The First Female Gamers).

5. In another early Dragon "Witchcraft Supplement," a robust non-player-character witch class was sketched out. It included good witches, bad witches and new and unique witchlike spells and magical items. Interestingly, it was authored by someone who has never been identified. It's actually a fantastic piece, and I cribbed some ideas from it (in a hopefully appropriate way) for a handful of Witch spells in Seven Voyages of Zylarthen.

6. In the "Holmes Basic" edition of Dungeons & Dragons, intended to be a cleaned-up version of D&D that would serve as an introduction to the forthcoming AD&D, the witch keeping a "charismatic male" as a lover example was given again, and the broom of flying would make another appearance (this time as one of only ten miscellaneous magic items). Most intriguingly, however, a witch player-class seems to be promised for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons:
There are a number of other character types which are detailed in ADVANCED DUNGEONS & DRAGONS. There are sub-classes of the four basic classes. They are: paladins and rangers (fighting men), illusionists and witches (magic-users), monks and druids (clerics), and assassins (thieves) (p. 7.).
Note that except for the witch, this gets things exactly right. That seems to hint that a witch class was originally planned for AD&D but then dropped. However, a few years ago Zenopus Archives showed that the passage in Holmes' original draft did not include reference to a witch class. Gary Gygax would later claim that the later insertion of "witch" into the final text must have been Holmes trying to force the issue (Gygax didn't know then that the reference didn't come from Holmes) or a "joke" by someone at TSR: "I never had a PC class of that sort in mind for the game," he said on Enworld in 2005.

7. In Dragon #20, a shorter article put forth both original material and some bits cribbed from the earlier treatment in Dragon #5 to set forth a witch player-class.

8. And finally, witches made two minor appearances in Deities and Demi-Gods, TSR's AD&D reworking of their earlier Gods, Dem-Gods and Heroes: In the entry for Arthurian Heroes we learn that Sir Garlon (the invisible knight) was
given the power of invisibility by a witch of the fens for the promise to only use the power for evil (p. 19).
We also learn about Snow Witches in the Newhon Mythos of Fritz Leiber:
Many of the northern tribes have a group of women that have a measure of magical power. These women, after some preparation and working together, can control all forms of cold and ice spells. They also possess, among the strongest members, a limited telepathy when in direct eye contact with a human. Given a group of 5 women and 24 hours of time, limited weather control (chilling) is possible; this effect has a range of 5 miles (p. 96).
***************************

There were a few non-rulebook accessories published in the late 1970's - 11 modules and the Monster and Treasure Assortments, among them. But as far as I know, no witches appeared in any of these products.

If anyone has any other early D&D "witch appearances" to add, that would be welcome.

The witch was the most "OD&Dish" creature to have never officially existed. That's the main reason I included her in Zylarthen. She just seemed to fit the OD&D vibe so well.

As a player-class, a witch might have been more problematic, being fraught with potential controversial associations involving sexism, reverse-sexism and connections with the occult. I have no idea whether these considerations played a part in the poor witch's failure to emerge.

UPDATE (Noon, 11/15/17): The last paragraph of my piece was an attempt to end things on sort of a neutral but suspenseful note. But I actually don't believe that "political" considerations had anything to do with the witch's official absence. In the mid- to late-1970's the "Satanic Panic" hadn't started yet (D&D was still a niche hobby product that was still largely under the radar).

It's possible that "sexism" considerations might have played an oblique roll in why the witch wasn't considered as a player-class. After all, having an entire subclass limited only to females might seem a bit odd. And, of course, there was always the magic-user. Just learn how to cackle, paint your conical hat black and put a brim on it, and you're off.

But the absence of witches as NPCs or monsters is still puzzling to me. Note that there were many female monsters with creepy spells or powers - groaning spirits, lamias, nagas, night hags, etc. - in the AD&D Monster Manual. I think in the end it was just a sort of random whim of Gygax. Or perhaps he felt that a witch was too potentially complex to be a listed monster but too similar to a magic-user to be a class of its own. And then there were those Dragon articles...












Friday, November 10, 2017

"The fact that you can just randomly encounter a Longship filled with Vikings is pretty awesome."


Every week I google "zylarthen" to see if anyone has written a new review or whatever of Seven Voyages of Zylarthen, my OD&D neo-clone. After I gave the game it's somewhat distinctive name, I quickly discovered that one of the benefits is that it's pretty easy to google using just the last part. With "zylarthen" you generally find the game and only the game - the small exception being various characters in obscure fantasy or science-fiction stories (I think there might be at least three) named "Zylar" who occasionally then do something.

UPDATE: Actually, the "advantage" might not be so great as all that, I just googled "swords & wizardry" (without the quotation marks) using my Private Browser function for references in the last seven days. The only hits I came up with were to that game. I was somewhat surprised at this.

In any case, it's not like I often find a long review by some luminary. More often than not it's board or chat room traffic. Often it's by "Anonymous." Indeed, for all I know, "Anonymous" is always the same guy. The comment is often enthusiastic - "Hey, have you played Seven Voyages of Zylarthen? It does X better than any system that I know!" - but sadly, the comment is often left hanging as people go back to discussing Molvay Basic or whatever. Such is life, for me and Anonymous, I guess.

If you're reading this, Anonymous (or group of Anonymities), thanks again. I sincerely mean that.

Today, I found this comment on 4chan:
Anyone else absolutely love the gm sided stuff to 7 Voyages of Zylarthen, the Hex Crawl resources, the great random encounter tables. The fact that you can just randomly encounter a Longship filled with Vikings is pretty awesome.
Probably going to use alot of it's stuff on a project in the near future. It just seems more traditonal and folkloric compared to most other products of it's nature.
Well, even though the comment just hung there (or sank like a lead balloon), I'll take it to the bank. Or perhaps more accurately, I'll take it into my heart.

I'd like to think it gets the vibe of the game, especially as portrayed in Volume 4: The Campaign, precisely right. If you're in Fresh Water or Coastal terrain, a positive Wandering Monster check has a 1 in 20 chance of yielding Vikings (who will probably be in a longship). That's right, actual Vikings. Here's the description from Volume 2: Book of Monsters:
VIKINGS: Hit Dice: 1. Armor Class: 6. Move: 12/15. Alignment: Neutrality. Languages: Type I. Number Appearing: 1-4 longships, manned by 20-80 men each. % In Lair: 15%. Treasure: Class 1, plus 1-6 S.P. ea. Description: These warriors will always be found either on the water or within a few miles of their anchored or beached longships. However, the ships may easily traverse shallow rivers, and thus, Viking raiding parties may be encountered far inland. Each ship will have a Standard Bearer of 2nd-3rd level and a Chieftain of 4th-6th level—the latter usually armored in mail. In turn a squadron of multiple boats will be led by a High-Chieftain of 7th-9th levels. There is a 15% cumulative chance per boat that there will be 3-30 Berserkers, and a 25% cumulative chance that a Priest of Odin will accompany the entire force. Despite their fierce reputation, Vikings are generally intelligent and cultured as well as reasonable and honorable, at least in their fashion. Missiles: die 1-3 = none, die 4 = axe, die 5 = spear, die 6 = bow.
Note my rejection of anti-Viking prejudice - "Despite their fierce reputation, Vikings are generally intelligent and cultured as well as reasonable and honorable, at least in their fashion." - After they kill you, they'll probably write a saga about it.

Or look at it this way: It beats leeches.

Now, of course, many OSR games have this sort of wild side to them. That isn't the right word. I suppose "gonzo" might be better, although it carries sort of a taint, and also doesn't get it quite right either. At least the Vikings aren't wearing clown masks. Then again...

Indeed, Vikings appeared multiple times in the original 1974 edition of Dungeons & Dragons (which is why I chose them for Zylarthen) but then quickly fell out as the system and franchise took a more naturalistic turn.

And it's not all about Vikings. What I tried to do in The Campaign was to create a mechanism or give referees ideas and tables for creating a mechanism to design a vibrant and "real" wilderness, if you will, teeming with whatever the referee thought would be fun and cool, as well as giving the players interesting challenges and problems.

And again, Zylarthen is not unique at all in this. Any OSR or OD&D-like system that has the space to go into detail on this sort or thing does this, or at least should do it. If I did it adequately or even half as well as it was done in The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures, that would make me happy.

The Wilderness Encounter tables for Zylarthen were designed to be somewhat tippy. In Coastal terrain, the expected suspects - Vikings, Buccaneers, Lizard Men Giant Crabs, Harpies - each have a 1 in 20 chance of occurring. But if you roll a 14-20, you go to some other table - Flyers, Humanoids, Men, Other Monsters, etc. - which in turn might lead you to yet another table. It's possible you'll run into Cyborgs or a lone Druid on a raft or even a god or goddess. There's even a 1 in 5760 chance you'll encounter a Black Pudding in your coastal wanderings. I'd love to see what a good referee might do with that.

As for Zylarthen being "more traditonal and folkloric," I'd like to think that's true to an extent, but again, I simply went back to the sources. As I discussed here, every monster in Zylarthen is taken from, or are expansions on something from the 1974 or 1975 texts. It was all there right from the beginning.

What's old can be new again!

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Jacob Bos of 5Realms is a Troll and a Liar

Jacob Bos
The Darker Side of Dungeons & Dragons
I'm sure by now, most of you have heard the name "Dungeons & Dragons". On the surface, it's a game of the imagination, governed by strict rules, and played with dice, maps, and miniatures. Under the surface however, lies the allure of the occult, the temptation to escape from reality, and the desire for power.
So begins the first blog post from a blog called "Secret Evils of the World." Both the blog itself and the profile of the blog's author "Thomas Elder" were created yesterday morning from an address in Canada, with no obvious provenance in terms of the blog or the blogger.

It appears to be an 80's style Christian fundie anti-D&D rant. Those red pictures on the side are depictions of hell.

You may find the link here. Or not - it may have been taken down by the time you read this. But here's what it looks like, and below is the profile of "Thomas Elder."



The first post went up at 5:51 AM CST. (The time stamp is the Blogger default, which is PST.)

Yesterday, between the hours of 6 AM and 7 AM, a minor RPG industry guy named Jacob Bos linked to the blog's first post. He put it up in a number of places on Facebook where it received hundreds of comments and many shares, virtually all of which were predictably hostile to the blog and post, and many of which degenerated into anti-Christian snipes and attacks.

Jacob Bos is the person behind the Myd'Realm fantasy setting and 5Realms Publishing, both of which have a presence on DriveThruRPG. Bos is based in Canada.

The blog post itself received 150+ comments, all of which, as far as I can tell, were directed there by those Facebook posts and shares.

The first comment was posted by Jacob Bos at 6:19 AM, twenty-eight minutes after the anonymous first-time blog from the anonymous profile that was just created launched itself into the ether.



So Bos appears to have found it quite quickly on Tuesday morning.

Maybe the Canadian internet isn't that big...

Well, Bos wrote it himself of course.

And he also inserted himself into the discussion on at least one of the Facebook places where he linked to the post - the group 1st Edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons - laughing along with those attacking those bigoted and stupid Christian fundies. Here's one comment among many. Notice that he comically tries to direct attention away from the troll thesis:



Bos also linked to the post in Old School Gamers, where I first saw it, his own page, his Myd'Realm and 5Realms Facebook pages and, of all places, the group 80'S CARTOONS, T.V. SHOWS, MOVIES AND TOYS ..what do you remember? He also linked to the post on his Twitter account, which ironically got no likes or retweets. For all I know, he put it up in other places on Facebook and elsewhere.

Here are a few of the ways he introduced the post:







Some church.

Organized religion.

You are all sinners! Repent!

LOL

He was a busy man between 6 AM and 7 AM, just minutes after the original blog and profile was created.

The "Secret Evils" blog title picture is from the TV series Freaks and Geeks. Curiously, the same picture was posted on the Myd'Realm page a few months ago (with funny "meme" writing placed on it). While it's true that a similar picture has appeared on other sites, each picture has different dimensions and pixel counts, etc., as one might expect. Except for two them - the pictures for Myd'Realm and "Secret Evils" are precisely the same (in terms of dimensions, pixels, etc.).

I originally was taken in by this hoax like most (though perhaps not all) of the commenters. Indeed, as a Christian D&D player I felt it my silly duty to defend the anonymous blogger from the lynch mob, at least partially - "30%" as I put it - as well as pointing out that the whole thing, whatever the merits of the anti-anti-D&D case had partly turned into an anti-Christian thing.

I should note that at least two Christian ministers respectfully argued the merits of D&D back at the "Thomas Elder."

Bos is of course a troll and a liar. He invented the profile, wrote the blog post and then linked to it either to create clicks and shares for his "setting" and company pages or to gin up anti-Christian hate. I suspect it's both.

He allowed it to be shared and re-shared as an alleged example of Christian or Christian fundie hate. 

See? Christians are stupid and bigoted. They want to control you and stop your fun. They want to condemn people they disagree with to hell. They can't separate fantasy from reality, etc., etc.

And they hate our favorite game, D&D.

Someone must have been channeling the late Patricia Pulling and Jack Chick...

Except. Not.

It was Jacob Bos all along.