Influences, part 3 (More D&D)

Now that we’ve briefly detourned into the spectral world, let’s get back to the RPG books that shaped (warped) my view of gaming and its possibilities.

There are only a few books I recall the immediate moments of purchase, but are quite so vivid as when I purchased “The Lost City” (aka Dungeons and Dragons module B4).

Mine was three-hole-punched though...

It was the summer of 1983, as I recall, and my family was visiting my grandparents in Minnesota.  We went for a walk to the nearby shopping plaze (really not much more than a grocery store and a few shops) where at what I recall was a drug store, I spotted his beauty on the shelf.  I’d gotten the Red Box for Christmas and was slowly building on my supply of books… I think I owned the basic rules, the AD&D monster manual (itself a somewhat confusion revelation) and Keep on the Borderland (B2) but not much more than that.

B4 is the pulpiest sort of scenario- heroes taking refuge from a sand storm in a forbidding ruin only to discover the entry way to a lost civilization- but when you are nine you’re not jaded or picky.  I remember racing back to my grandparent’s apartment, peeling off the plastic wrap, and being totally enraptured with what I found within… masked societies, ancient tombs, traps… it was an imagination bomb in my mind.  Best of all (though I was very unhappy with this at the time) the lower levels of the dungeon were left unmapped!  I had to make it up for myself, damn you Tom Moldvay (save of course for some nifty notes about what was generally to be found below including a whole city in a cavern, a forest of fungus, and, of course, Zargon.

What is Zargon, dear reader?  He was THE beastie, the Big Bad, the Monstra Ex Dungeona, the big, tentacular cheese.  He wasn’t the greatest monster in the history of AD&D, let alone in the pantheon of great nasties, but he was my first tentacular, semi-alien monstrosity.  While he bears more than a little similarity to the “Kraken” from 1982’s Clash of the Titans, I still think of him as my first taste of the (vaguely) Cthulhu Mythos.

Zargon will see you now.

The weird cults that sprung up around the cult of Zargon, all in a drug-induced haze, wearing animal masks were also fascinating.  I also found the back story embedded into various locations – murals of the fall of the city, the treasures and tombs of the now-deceased leaders – gave the whole place a depth far in excess of any dungeon that had come before (admittedly there weren’t that many, but hey).

Finally, I think it important to say a few words about Tom Moldvay.  Like too many of the leading lights of Dungeons and Dragons, he died too soon and mostly forgotten.  From what I understand he lived alone in a small apartment in Akron.  I met him once, thought as a 12 year old I didn’t connect his name to his books.  At best, I fear I annoyed the hell out of him (and everyone else at the RPGA table).  If you are interested, check out his bibliography and remember.


My influences, part the second

While I know I promised more musing on my rpg influcences, I had a looksee at my bookshelf and noticed a certian book that truly shaped the way I approach scenario writing:

Judging by the date of publication I must have purchased this book in 1982 or ’83 (my copy appears to be the 6th edition).

According to the back cover…

“Haunted Houses.

Phantom Ship.

Demon dogs.

Ghosts can appear any place, and in many forms.  This book will help you be ready – in case you come across one!

*See the kinds of places where ghosts gather!

* Learn how to hunt for ghosts in your neighborhood!

*Find out how to spot a fake!

You’ll amaze your friends – and terrify yourself – but you’ll know everything there is to know about demons and spirits from the world beyond.”

While it wasn’t my first foray into the spooky realm (which was probably either “In Search Of…” or Disney’s Legend of Sleepy Hollow), this book cemented two tendancies I have retained in my interest in Call of Cthulhu – skeptical investigation and what I call the “oooooooh” factor, that tingle-inducing moment where fear gives your rational mind a beating.  The former is easy (hey, this kid’s book claims to be the authorative treatment of “demons and spirits from the world beyond”) but the latter… now that is hard (but fun!).

Here is a partial list of occult or otherwise creepy phenomena I first remember reading of in this book:

Gibbets, poltergeists, lemures, Reverend Richard Dodge, the Great Eastern, UB-65, Black Shuck, Gef the talking mongoose, screaming skulls, the village of Pluckley, the eating ghosts of the Banks Islands, Yurei, scientific ghost hunting techniques (Ghost Hunters et al might learn something, sadly), the Brocken Spectres, spirit mediums (and their fakery), telepathy, the Raynam Hall ghost, Doppelgangers (not the AD&D kind), and Will-o-whisps.  (Was some of this stuff bogus?  Of course, but does that matter for a fictional game?)

Combine that with some rather nice color illustrations, and I was hooked.

Next time: more AD&D, I swear.

My influences, part 1

Life keeps me busy and opportunities to finish my current project are limited (sorry Oscar); I’d like to add a few comments in response to Dan’s newest post on Aylesbury, but for now I’ll just talk a bit about my influences as a scenario writer as that might be of interest to my reader and anyone considering writing some material of there own…

Like nearly every gamer of my generation, my first exposure to the hobby came from Dungeons and Dragons. While most of the early modules were little more than a series of vaguely linked monsters and/or traps (Hello Against the Giants and your 10×10 room with six trolls) there were a few modules that influenced my perspective on what gaming- including ‘Call of Cthulhu’ -can be.

The Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan– A Mesoamerican influenced tournament

Love that E.O. cover

scenario, which while little more than the aforementioned monsters and traps, made use of its unique setting and gave its pre-generated characters personality. Using mid-level characters it allowed interesting albeit mundane threats to take center stage (poison gas, relatively weak monsters used in clever ways, encounters where fighting wasn’t always the solution) showing me the possibility of dungeons as real(ish) places rather than simply monster holding pens. Additional points for encouraging me to read up on the Maya and Aztecs. Finally, that cursed axe that cast a shadow of a human arm really creeped me out.

Is that the false lich encounter?

Contrast this to the inexplicably popular Tomb of Horrors. Here is a dungeon without rhyme or reason, a tedious slog of arbitrary trap to the next arbitrary trap. I can recall at least three automatic death traps without even cracking my old copy open. What is the point, unless you really hate your players? “Oh, you picked the left door? You die, no save.”. Ever the final battle with Acererak is a crap-shoot of guessing which spell might hurt a Demi-lich. Are there clues on how to beat it? Nope. I’m not surprised to read that Gygax created the module to “test” powerful characters; he always seemed obsessed with proving the DM was “the boss”. At least the art booklet was nifty.

Up next- more D&D, including a haunted house, a forgotten temple, and a cute little guy named Zargon…