Monday, August 27, 2007

Gaming Magazines Reviews

Dragon #342 (April 2006). Grade: E. To be fair, there are almost 50 pages of good/useful material in this issue, but with a page count of about a 100, that means half of it is fluff/filler. If it was a 50 page magazine, I’d be giving this an A.

Dungeon #134 (May 2006). Grade: C-. Even by the same harsh standard I just applied to Dragon, Dungeon has always stacked up much better. But this is not the same Dungeon of 10 years ago. The layout is much harder to follow than the old adventures. The main adventure is so densely written that I can’t even spot a “Players Start” section!

Whether it’s art, ads, or bad articles, a wasted page is a wasted page. Any way I look at it, I have half a magazine I don’t need or want. This is why, when the library was still subscribing to Dragon, I would just photocopy articles I wanted.

It was the “Age of Worms” adventure I was referring to. If I can’t follow the adventure by skimming its contents, then the writer didn’t organize his material well enough. I didn’t even get around to mentioning how lame I felt the “beetle herding” adventure looked, so the C- grade is based purely on the potential of the other two adventures.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Gaming Purchases Mini-Reviewed

Caverns of Thracia (2004) - one of the earliest big, mega-dungeons ever revisited, Caverns of Thracia is just too bulky for its own good. There is plenty of good material here, but I’d edit out about 25% of it to make a leaner module out of the best of it. Grade: C+.

Dungeon Crawl Classics #3: The Mysterious Tower (2003) - I REALLY like the “old school” look, the Erol Otus cover (I bought the module for those two in the first place), and the humorous premise of the scenario (I recall Ron laughing out loud at it). But once you get down to reading it…there’s just not enough there to make a great module. I blame 3E and those annoyingly huge stat blocks, and Goodman’s decision to reprint the stats everytime a monster appears instead of just once. Grade: B.

Dungeon Crawl Classics #4: Bloody Jack’s Gold (2003) - Could it be coincidence a module about undead pirates came out the same year as the Pirates of the Caribbean movie? I was hesitant to buy a high-level adventure (when am I going to DM for 10-12 level PCS?), but got it for the same reasons as #3 above and was pleasantly surprised. It looks like a lot of fun. My main gripe is that it isn’t very “old school,” what with its dependence on half-fiend templates. Grade: B+.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Munchkin Review

Munchkin is fun.

Yes, that seems like an awful short review. Munchkin, for those who don’t know, is a card game that parodies Dungeons & Dragons. You start out with blank characters that you only fill out by getting stuff (including races and classes). You take turns drawing dungeon room cards that mostly have monsters or curses on them. When you beat monsters, you get to draw treasure cards and collect more stuff for your character. Also when you beat monsters, you go up a level each time. The goal is to be the first to reach 10th level. It usually takes an hour for one in a group of three players to get there. Tammie [my ex- ]and I have played it three times with Tyler [our son] so far. Sometimes it’s a little rough for Tyler. Maybe we should remove the more confusing cards from the deck before play, as we always have to check his cards and explain to them what they can do. Fighting the monsters sometimes scares him a little too, but he insists that he likes monsters and asks us to play it with him. So far, with help, Tyler’s won twice. Last night’s game was close, with Tammie at 9th level and me at 7th level. I was sitting on a giant, ancient shrieking geek that would have been 26th level that I wanted to lay against Tammie, but couldn’t draw a wandering monster card I needed to use it against her. Tyler won mainly thanks to the Swiss army polearm that adds four to your level. I was just unlucky and drew the least number of monster cards from the dungeon deck.

What makes Munchkin so easy for Tyler is the basic mechanic of combat – if your modified level is higher than the monster’s level, you kill it and get to loot its treasure. The only time a random die roll is needed in the game is if you need to run away from a powerful monster, but that happens infrequently and usually only towards the start of the game when your characters are weaker. The most interactive mechanic of the game, which nicely encourages cooperative play, is that you can team up to beat really powerful monsters. With weaker characters, you may have to convince everyone at the table to join forces with you, usually by offering to split the treasure cards. If you only need the help of one of them, you can sit back and watch them bid to help you and pick the one who asks for the least of your stuff.

Dungeons & Dragons is a violent, bloody game and Greyhawk is a violent, bloody campaign setting. As most of you know, I’ve long dreamed about running a violence-lite campaign, and worked on and off on the “Happy Valley” campaign setting. I even have some rules I’ve been working on for nonviolent conflict resolving game mechanics, which I have posted already to Superland and may repost here. If actual violent conflict came up in such a campaign, I would probably use Munchkin’s system to keep the violence short and minimal rather than drawing it out round after round. We won’t be abandoning AD&D for Munchkin anytime soon, but I would like us to try it sometime.

OGRE Review

After owning it for 3 years, I finally got Tyler [my son] to play OGRE with me. Is this ever Old School! After playing Heroscape with its painted minis, Ty was disoriented at first by wargaming with chits. The layout of the tiny rulebook was confusing and I had to flip around a lot before I realized I simply had to keep a bookmark on the attack tables page buried in the middle of the book. Basically, unless there were more rules than I understood there to be, the OGRE tank always wins unless through some fluke. I was defending with infantry and a heavy mortar. Tyler delighted in running over and shooting down all my infantry units. I managed to only slow his movement by 1/3 by shooting at his tank treads and disabled 3 of his 8 laser cannons. Maybe you’re supposed to try only one tactic or the other, but there was no way I could try both before my troops were gone.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Heroscape Review

Tyler [my son] got Heroscape for Christmas. He wanted it for the minis inside, and I think I’ve enjoyed playing it more than him. First of all, the game has a huge set-up time as you’re supposed to build the terrain out of these Lego-like interlocking pieces. It can take me up to an hour to make the layouts as shown in the instruction book. The actual combat mechanic is nice. There are attack dice and defense dice and you want to roll more skulls on your attack dice than your opponent can roll shields on his defense dice. In the basic game, this means a kill, but there is a “hit points” mechanic in the advanced version we don’t use. Big monsters (particularly the robots) have lots of defense dice, so you basically have to keep attacking and hope to just get lucky. Also, a lot of the figures have special powers. Tyler loves these aliens that can clone themselves when they’re in water. I have to take them down fast, or they just come back faster than D&D trolls! The scenarios can take 1 to 2 hours to play out. Tyler hates scenarios with goals other than “kill everybody,” as he then has to out-think me rather than out-fight me. Most other scenarios are “capture the flag”-like setups.

Thunderhold Campaign Sketch

[The following is a rewrite of a document that can be found here - Alterations were made, anticipating a campaign I had once proposed running.]

History of Thunderhold

The Dwarfs of Thunderhold originated in the Majestic Vastness, or Majestatisk Vidstrackthet, deep in the Majestic Mountains. They were forced from their ancestral home by eight dragons led by the ancient wyrm Analegorn approximately 450 years ago. Most of the displaced dwarfs resettled to the north in the region of the Sunstone Caverns, or Solsting Mycket. Here they found the ground rich with gemstones and mithral, but had to fight for the region from the forces of the Gnole King. The dwarfs quickly took control of the underworld and fought with the gnoles only for control of the surface land.

The gnoles had built their kingdom with the help of the Moonrakers, an orichalan tribe of humans who had taught the gnoles to build castles. Relations with the gnoles had broken by the time the dwarfs arrived, and the humans and dwarfs soon found themselves allies in trade and defense. One Moonraker, a wizard named Lychin, still favored the old alliance with the gnoles and with the help of his own minotaur minions rallied the gnoles against the new allies. The dwarfs defeated Lychin’s forces and the wizard fled, though Lychin continued to plague the dwarfs for decades afterwards.

Zephrus Draggroder became King of the Dwarfs of Askabevara, or Thunderhold. One of his first actions was to establish ties to the nearby City State of the Invincible Overlord, made easier by the Overlord’s then-recent problems with dragons in his northwest territory. In return, the Overlord recognized Zephrus as a tributary king and gave him a vote in the Senate. Thunderhold and the City State maintain close ties to this day, with Thunderhold exporting gems, mercenary troops, armor, and workers – in roughly that order of importance – in exchange for importing wood, food, and finished goods.

In honor of their alliance, Moonrakers were allowed to live in Thunderhold, and more humans followed. Today, some 600 pureblood descendents of the Moonrakers remain, with the majority of humanity being mixed orichalan-tharbrian.

The dwarfs had venerated only Geb, an ancient god of earth, and Kazadarum, the first dwarf. Mankind added worship of Vulcan the Smith, Dunatis the Castellan, Rosmerta the Fire Goddess, and Cybele and Demeter, the goddesses of nature untamed and tamed respectively.

Thirty-two years ago, a powerful winged construct that appeared to have been sent by the gods soared over Thunderhold and crashed in the fields beyond. The construct, called Foxbat, survived mostly intact. One limb of Foxbat was said to be given to the Overlord, but the rest is in the keeping of King of Thunderhold. It is also believed that Foxbat carried gunpowder or the secret of gunpowder, because two years later when the Axe Banner Legion of Thunderhold went to drive a tribe of hill giants out of its western reaches, they went armed with arquebuses.

Spider-Man 2 Review

Last night [8/8/2004], I finally got to see Spider-Man 2! What an incredible experience. So much was spot-on in this film. Particularly Dr. Octopus. What an inspired casting!

I loved all the bits from the comic books. This movie had a lot of the Stan Lee/John Romita run from the late 60’s in it. The costume on the garbage can is from the cover of Amazing Spider-Man #100. Peter DID own a motor scooter in his early college days. Peter “talking” to Uncle Ben was an unusual choice, though. It was never done in the comics until David Micheline wrote it in #350! I think there’s only three named characters in the whole movie who were made up for the movie.

The theme of responsibility carries over from the first movie, of course, but you just can’t do Spider-Man and ignore that issue. More interesting is the reoccuring theme of gravity. There’s the battle up and down the side of the building, on the side of the train, and even Doc Ock’s machine bends gravity. It’s not a theme that’s integral to the character, of course, but it helps link everything in the movie together.

I never thought it would happen, but this just might be the movie that surpasses Unbreakable as best comic book movie EVER.

V for Vendetta Movie Review

[written in March 2006, before viewing]

Alan Moore is a difficult author for me to read usually, as his work is bitter, cynical, and dark — none of the things I look for in my fiction choices. I was barely able to get through reading League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. I worry that V for Vendetta is going to be too faithful to Moore and darker than I’m interested in. All this talk I’m hearing of Natalie Portman being tortured in the movie doesn’t help (although being made to find a little kid attractive in Phantom Menace could have been torture too…).

[written in March 2007 after viewing]

With Tyler [my son] away on holiday to Michigan for the weekend, I’ve been left with lots of time to write and watch movies.V for Vendetta was a great movie, better than the original Matrix, and possibly one of the better comic book adaptations. It was certainly the best adaptation to film Alan Moore is likely to see in his lifetime, and his refusal to advocate it speaks volumes of his ego. Indeed, the movie actually succeeds in improving upon the graphic novel, particularly in terms of Evie.

I cannot give the movie an A+ though, downgrading it to an A for the Wachowskis’ love of violence. Not only is the bloody ending a gratuitous nod to Matrix fans, but I oppose the way they depict violence in all their movies. In the “making of” feature, someone said the Wachowskis leave the viewer to interpret the movie for themselves, which is undoubtedly true, but they fail to present multiple viewpoints for the viewer to choose from. If no sympathetic character in the movie says, “What that V is doing is terrible” or “he acts both like a hero and a villain, but can the latter justify the former?”, then 80% of the viewing audience is going to be too lazy to process the movie and insert that viewpoint for themselves. Lazy watchers will come away from the film simply with the notion that V was cool because he killed people in slow motion.

The Family Man Review

I watched The Family Man with Megan [my girlfriend] last week [Sept. 2006], as I continue to catch up on movies I wanted to see 6 years ago. I understand it was not well-reviewed, but I thought it was pretty good. I give it a B, maybe even a B+.One of the good things about the movie is seeing Jeremy Piven again, one of the better parts of the old Ellen tv show. He was robbed when his show Cupid was canceled. But it’s Tea Leoni, not Nick Cage, who owns this movie. Nick is playing a character when his role calls for an everyman, but Tea shines as someone we can care about and empathize with, an anchor of normalcy in an otherwise weird movie. I remember when Deep Impact came out and Tea was being raked by the critics as a nobody from television and what was she doing headlining a movie? Well, here she really shows what she can do emotionally and she hits the notes just right.

It’s the movie itself that detracts from itself. It’s like It’s a Wonderful Life where Cage gets to see what his life would have been like had he stayed with his girlfriend. Unfortunately, he is sent to see this glimpse by an obnoxious criminal/angel played by Don Cheadle whose motivation seems unclear, but he possibly has done this so he can drive Cage’s Ferrari in the new timeline. Cage confronts Cheadle twice about messing with his mind and his life like this, but Cheadle gets off scott free for it. I would have liked to see Cage kick him in the nards.

I mentioned timeline because the movie seems to be suggesting that, instead of altering time for Cage, Cage has been shunted to an alternate timeline and displaced the Cage in Timeline B. This really stinks, because Cage A stays there in Cage B’s place for a whole year while Cage B is — where? Hovering in limbo?

My third problem is that timeline B is more interesting than timeline A, yet only timeline A is resolved by movie’s end. What about Piven? Are he and Cage B ever friends again? Will they ever win the bowling trophy? This stuff matters to me more than Cage A’s multi-million dollar deals.

Batman Begins Review

I gave it an A-. It is the third best Batman movie yet, behind Mask of the Phantasm and Tim Burton’s first Batman film.

I saw the movie as having two flaws. One, the character’s origin deviates so strongly from Batman’s that it could be an all new vigilante character instead (it’s even closer to being a remake of the last Shadow movie than it is to being about Batman). Two, the movie isn’t much fun. It’s intense, it’s exciting, but when something fun or funny happens (and this is what Michael Caine mainly brings to the movie), it seems incongruous. Oh, now it’s okay to laugh?

The movie is right that Bruce Wayne needed a substitute father figure to help him find direction after the death of his parents. Alfred — who never worked for Bruce’s parents and didn’t meet Bruce until he was grown up — is often retconned into that role. For Superland, I used the Shadow for that role, giving Bruce a benevolent, albeit hard-edged mentor.

Hooray that Rah’s al-Ghul had the stupid Lazurus Pit written out of his character! The movie got it right, taking the sci fi element out of that character and presenting him as just a man. An evil man who managed to fool Bruce way too long (I guess he wasn’t the world’s greatest detective yet, or maybe Bruce had seen him in Star Wars I and thought he was one of the good guys!).

Christian Bale is good, though clearly not the best Batman we’ve ever had (I would rank Kevin Conroy, Adam West, and Michael Keaton all higher). Katie Holmes is passable (I kept cracking jokes about her trying to convert Bruce to scientology). The Scarecrow looks like a refugee from a tv teen-hunk show, but the character makes sense and under-emphasizing his supervillain-ness keeps the movie from feeling overwhelmed by two main villains. Gary Oldman is terrific. I could have watched a whole movie about young Commissioner Gordon!

The Invasion of Arun'Kid

Naturally, I can't include the text of the module I wrote here (belonging to Kenzer & Co.), but I have instead decided to collect links to sites related to my module.


Preview available at

Website of the artist (you used to be able to see the art from the module on this site along with personal comments from the author, like how he would have loved having a treehouse like the bandits have, as a kid)

Website of the publisher

Arun'Kid in Living Kalamar
Aldriv's_Revenge.pdf (yes, the Aldriv and Arun'Kid documents, at least as of today, are swapped)

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

[Longer] Annotated List of Top 20 TSR AD&D Modules

[8/29/2018: I've come back to this earlier post of mine and decided to expand my initially short notes on each module. ]

1. A3 Assault on the Aerie of the Slave Lords (1981)
Tops in my book because it's a city adventure in a dungeon sandwich!

The Slavers modules follow a pattern from A1 to A3 of escalating hit dice -- with orcs being the main enemies in A1, hobgoblins in A2, and gnolls in A3. A1 and A2 do a better job at presenting an ecology for their monsters. You don't get a good sense for how the gnolls live in A3, but you do get a sense that they are just slaves guarding the salt mine, easily fooled into thinking they are working for their own demon-god. I had originally thought the dungeon was just okay, but I ran the module again recently and the dungeon encounters stay really interesting and challenging throughout.

Suderham is tons of fun -- I love running the city section because it's so nasty and awful and that means it's full of more fun things to do than most city adventures have. You can do it the "right" way and follow the clues for an adventure in intrigue, or you can do it my wife's way and lay siege to the Slave Lords' citadel directly! It's a challenging, but winnable fight to get into the sewers without needing to solve how to get there.

And that final battle -- so epic! I've never seen the Slave Lords actually win it, but it's come close. This is, for me, the perfect combination of tournament-style dungeon crawl and campaign-level intrigue -- with beautiful Jeff Dee artwork!

2. S4 Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth (1982)
For a long time, I considered this the top module, as it seemed like the perfect blend of home base, wilderness adventure, and dungeon, with even a whiff of political background and a firm grounding in the World of Greyhawk campaign setting. However...

A few years back I ran this and was disappointed that it had not aged better. The home base seemed "exotic" then, but it's hard to imagine a gnome warren being very exciting today.

Some of the wilderness encounters are fun, and I had fun developing stories for how all those war bands were hunting for each other and why, but there is an awful big chance of getting lost for too long in the wilderness and really throwing off the momentum of the adventure.

The dungeon reads really well, with an "exotic" Arabian theme, planar gates, and a host of new monsters. But it's also super random; this is Old School tournament module style where each room typically has one monster in it waiting to be killed, with no ability or desire to team up with its neighbors. Of course, you could do this yourself, like how I made up backstories for the war bands, but I made the mistake of running the dungeon as-is and the game suffered for it. And that final should be so cool, but it always disappointed and wound up being anti-climactic.

But, on the other hand, you also got a big, fat preview of the Monster Manual II that came with this module, with even better art than the MMII came with (this was back in the days before TSR had to reuse all their old artwork to pinch pennies). So this module still ranks very high because of its groundbreaking combination of wilderness and dungeon, groundbreaking packaging (including its own "monsters & treasure supplement"), and gorgeous artwork of consistent quality from Jim Holloway, Erol Otus, Jeff Easley, and Stephen D. Sullivan.

3. T1 Village of Hommlet (1979)
One of my friends once, perhaps jokingly, called this "the module where you're supposed to kill and loot from farmers."  And while you could play it that way (and, in fact, the module is almost written as if daring you to do so), this module was groundbreaking as presenting the first realistic mini-campaign setting for D&D. Lots of adventures have you saving the day; these farmers are the people you're saving the day for.

As set-up, you're supposed to arrive in Hommlet dirt poor and badly in need of supplies. If you run it that way, you have a perfect excuse for the characters to spend time interacting with the locals, maybe run some quests for them or otherwise work for them to save up for better equipment. It's also assumed that you're playing with a small party that needs to hire henchmen, because the village is full of potential ones, all with their own agendas.

And on top of that, the obligatory dungeon near the village is pretty good too. The moathouse is iconic for a lot of things, including its layout, some of the more distinctive encounters (like the ogre with his fleshed out prisoners) and its very dangerous end boss battle (better level up before facing Lareth!).

Perhaps most importantly, module T1 infamously teased a sequel module that we had to wait six years for back in the day. Hommlet and its moathouse not only tied into the Temple of Elemental Evil but, by extension, tied very deeply into the World of Greyhawk campaign setting.

4. EX1 Dungeonland (1983)
Now, I have never run Dungeonland in a campaign (I very seldom run high level campaigns), but as a one-shot adventure Dungeonland can hardly be beat. The opportunities for hilarious role-playing are almost endless. I have run Dungeonland many times in the past and we always had a great time with it. That many of the encounters are equally solvable by both role-playing and combat shows great flexibility rarely seen in modules this early.

Not only a fun adventure, but one of the first that had a plot that included scenes and not just encounter areas. The plot is no stranger, of course, to anyone who's read Alice in Wonderland, so it's not too big a spoiler to say that following the knave is important and ending the module requires some tweaking if the players don't.

Module S4 had a final boss battle, but this is the first module with a final boss battle (and well before these would become common video game staples) that is truly on a grand scale and really challenging.

5. I6 Ravenloft (1983)
Gygax’s flavor text had brought mood to the setting before, but never in the way that Ravenloft just dripped with Gothic flavor. Tracy and Laura Hickman's masterpiece really changed the game on how modules would look and feel from this moment onward. The 3-D map is a real treasure, and created sea change in dungeon mapping to isometric maps.

While other modules had plots going on behind the scenes, or before the characters arrive, Ravenloft has a plot that unfolds during game play, and can be different every time the module is run. Like EX1, Ravenloft has set scenes that are meant to take place (like first encountering Strahd at his organ), but none of them are forced and the game can continue if the players miss them.

Although filled with gothic horror cliches, the characters in Ravenloft come alive in the hands of even a moderately good DM. Strahd von Zarovich was a character who felt so real, I assumed back then that he was a character from literature (and was him for Halloween one year!).

Ravenloft was the first module that read better than it played, and the problem with that is that PCs of up to 7th level have access to way too much destructive magic that can destroy that beautiful castle. Indeed, a sorcerer with a wand of fire could torch the whole castle in a few turns and send the vampires scurrying for cover. And yet, if your characters are too much lower in level, they can't stand up to the vampires at all. It's a delicate balance, making sure your players' characters are just right for this adventure.

The Ravenloft boxed set would try to fix this years later by making the really good spells "evil" and corrupt you.

But you're probably better off running this as a one-off scenario anyway -- who wants their campaign characters facing the risk of that much energy draining?

6. B5 Horror on the Hill (1983)
A great combination of wilderness and dungeon. The hill itself has such a variety of encounters on it that it is practically a complete adventure without ever reaching the monastery. It's the monastery and its dungeon levels that really make this module, though. Each dungeon level has a unique identity. I've run this module many times in the past and it always went well. If the module had not glossed over a "home base" -- Guido's Fort is just a name and we know it's nearby, but know nothing else about it -- this module could have scored even higher for me.

7. G2 Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl (1978)
The first dungeon that really used the environment itself against the PCs. Never mind the frost giants -- just watch out for the icy ledges! From waves of frost giants to falling ice to just plain falling damage, this is a really dangerous scenario, with a such variety of challenges, but just plays really well and is fun to play too.

8. B4 The Lost City (1982)
The first indoor sandbox campaign? Lost City’s strengths are its size and its competing factions. Played as-is, by B/X rules, it is insanely dangerous, particularly if you don't have strong support from one of the factions helping the PCs by giving them safe places to rest and food to eat. It is a wonderfully imagined setting, using the step pyramid to illustrate the concept of each level of the dungeon being bigger (both physically, but also in terms of risks and rewards) than the ones above it. Its weakness is its implausible ecology (of course, most dungeons didn't make sense back then), but it remains fun to play.

9. T2-4 Temple of Elemental Evil (1985)
The first “super”-module. The Temple was just amazingly big! There are opportunities for role-playing, interacting with competing factions, and even planar exploration -- but these factors are clearly subordinate to hack n' slash as written.

ToEE has some very Old School qualities to it that don't always hold up well. There is a lot of empty space in the dungeon, as most Old School dungeons had, but the empty space is all top-loaded. You can have an entire first session of going through nothing but empty rooms (this happened to me once), and then every session after that is packed with encounters. Like B4, there is no thought given to how all these people live together in these confined spaces. None of these problems aren't fixable, of course. You can add more encounter areas on your own, or move them around to spread them out. You can add a labor force that goes down into the temple and feeds the occupants. For elevating the scope of what a module can contain, ToEE just had to stay high on this list.

10. B3 Palace of the Silver Princess (1981)
The fact that the dungeon doesn’t seem to fit inside a palace only adds to the weirdness that pervades this module. Combine the Moldvay rewrite with the original Wells version and you get a remarkably weird adventure -- with an interesting setting outside, and a very dangerous indoor palace that has been twisted and distorted by evil magic. It is one of the earliest plot-heavy modules, with a very specific goal, but never fails to entertain. 

11. X4 Master of the Desert Nomads (1983)
A great, story-driven wilderness adventure. In fact, I consider it the wilderness adventure, with an army all around that is too powerful to directly confront, so the party has to navigate around it ...kind of like they were navigating a dungeon. The actual dungeon at the end is practically an afterthought.

12. B2 Keep on the Borderlands (1981)
Ninety percent of the dungeon is generic as can be, but this is still the quintessential mix of village, wilderness, and dungeon served as a self-contained universe for a mini-campaign.

13. A2 Secret of the Slavers Stockade (1981)
One of the earliest dungeons that made sense, the Stockade is an early masterpiece of dungeon ecology. At the same time, fighting hobgoblins over and over did get old after awhile.

14. EX2 Land Beyond the Magic Mirror (1983)
Not as much fun as its predecessor, but the second “Dungeonland” module was still a treat and for much the same reasons. Not just a scenario, but a mini-campaign setting, if your characters wish to stick around...

15. G1 Steading of the Hill Giant Chief (1978)
One of the first early dungeons to imply that monsters were not static, but ate, slept, etc. Though a cake-walk for the party levels recommended, it is a good adventure for mid-level characters.

16. DL1 Dragons of Despair (1984)
An epic first try, with mixed results, at trying to cram a huge campaign setting into one module. The maps are neat, the dungeon has its moments, and draconians are, well, cool.

17. “Baba Yaga’s Dancing Hut” (Dragon, 1983)
Roger Moore's answer to every player who wrote Dragon magazine demanding tougher dungeons. This menagerie of every tough monster there was in the rule books circa 1983 was designed as a meatgrinder for hack n' slash characters. I always wanted to use it.

18. UK6 All That Glitters… (1984)
A treasure map, a plot that tied the dungeon settings together, and exotic locales across the World of Greyhawk (though altered in names). This was dungeon crawling meets pulp adventure.

19. “The Twofold Talisman: Part 1″ (Dragon, 1983)
A fun, funny little gem from Dragon magazine that I had a great time with back then.

20. “Citadel by the Sea” (Dragon, 1982)
Good dungeon design (possibly the first where it mattered how pure the dungeon air was) and an interesting plot has brought me back to this adventure time and time again, but this is a scenario that needs a "home base" for characters and, curiously, at no time that I've run it has any group ever finished it.

Maure Castle "Chambers of Antiquities AD&D Retroconversion

Back in 2005, I “retroconverted” (my own term) Rob Kuntz’s second “Maure Castle” installment in Dungeon magazine, “Chambers of Antiquities.” After that, there was some talk of this file being hosted here or there, but nothing ever came of it. So here it is:

Chambers of Antiquities
by Robert J. Kuntz, 2005
Retroconversion by Scott Casper, 2005

For 4-8 characters of levels 9-13

Iron Door: -1 to open doors checks
Baton Door: -1 to open locked door checks
Magically Treated Reinforced Masonry Wall: 36 defensive points

1. Southern Entrance
Torches have continual light cast on them.

3. Guardian of Antiquity
1 seven-headed hydra stone golem: AC 5; MV 6″; HD 14; hp 63 (9 per head); #At 7; Dmg 3-18 (x7); SA breath weapons — 3″ fire cone (14d6 dmg), 4″ cold line (14d6 dmg), 2″ poison cone (save at -2 or die), 20′ cube slow gas (as per spell) wall of force (60′ cube, but otherwise as per spell), and 3″ cone dispel magic (otherwise as per spell) each 1/day; SD +2 or better weapon to hit, immune to all spells except for rock to mud, mud to rock, and stone to flesh; INT Non; Align N; Sz L (10′ long); XP 9,200.

4. Bookstacks
Bookcase Lids: -10% to bend bars/lift gates

5. Pool of Afterthoughts
Leaving the pool after one hour requires a save vs. spells, with a -1 penalty for each additional hour.

6. Warning Pillars
The door is wizard locked.

7. Room of Randomness
Brittleness: -6 penalty to all non-mental saving throws

9. Robe Storage
The ruby robe of spellwarding grants a +4 bonus on all saves, acts as a ring of spell turning, and as a ring of spell storing (only one spell, but of any level). 8,000 xp; 40,000 gp.

10. Shoe Storage
The shoes of farstriding grant +1″ to movement rate, +2 to CON, and -20% to anyone trying to overbear the wearer. 2,000 xp; 10,000 gp.

12. Study
The bullseye lantern has continual light cast inside it.

13. Brightly Lit Room
The chandelier has three continual light spells cast on it, and the whole effect of the room requires a save vs. rods/staves/wands to avoid being blinded for one round. There are two hellcats (47, 40 hp) bound to this room.

14. Library
The candles have continual light cast on them.

15. Spell Chiselling Chamber
The change of successfully chiseling a spell into an object with the spell chisel is 50% minus 5% per spell level of the spell being chiseled. The gp value of the chisel is 16,000. The price of a diamond bit is 4,000 gp, an adamantine bit is 6,000 gp, a shadow bit is 8,000 gp, and a magic energy bit is 13,500 gp.

16. Furniture Room
6 spittlemaw hordlings: AC 3; MV 6″; HD 6+3; hp 40, 38, 36, 34, 32, 30; #At 3; Dmg 1-6/1-6/1-8; SA gaze (save vs. petrification or stunned for 1 rd.), spit acid glob (1″, 3d6 dmg, every 1-4 rds., save for none); SD +1 or better weapon to hit, immune to mind-affecting spells, resistance to lightning, 75% hide in shadows, water breathing; INT Semi; Align NE; Sz S (4′); XP 845, 829, 813, 797, 781, 765.

18. Tapestry Room
There is a base 1 in 8 chance of finding this secret door.

19. Elluvia’s Secret Study
This room has the following guardians:
2 stone jellies (in statue form; 20, 18 hp),
4 mimics (7 HD, 43, 39, 35, 31 hp),
6 wraiths (32, 30, 28, 26, 24, 21 hp), and
6 rakshasas (43, 41, 39, 37, 35, 31 hp).
There is a base 1 in 8 chance of finding the secret panel.
The robe of transmutation boosts alteration spells cast by the wearer (-1 to save against), and allows the wearer to cast polymorph self, polymorph other, and shape change once per day (with a limit on shape change of only one form). 14,000 xp; 70,000 gp.

20. Preparation Room
The cuirasses provide a +5 bonus to all saving throws vs. alteration magic in room 21 alone.

21. Room of Changes
Each round, living creatures in this room must make a saving throw vs. petrification/polymorph.
01-25: Physical: Either -2 to STR, DEX, and CON or +2 to STR, DEX, and CON (within racial minimums/maximums)
26-50: Mental: Either -2 to INT , WIS , and CHA or +2 to INT , WIS , and CHA (within racial minimums/maximums)
76-100: Spiritual: Roll from the NPC traits tables on pages 100-101 of the Dungeon Masters Guide.

24. Clothing Storage
The small chest must be searched for as if a secret door.

25. Alchemical Laboratory
1 skullreaver hordling: AC 0; MV 15″; HD 9; hp 56; #At 4; Dmg 1-8/1-8/1-8/1-8; SA gaze (save vs. petrification or stunned for 1 rd.), breathe ray of fire (2″, 4d6 dmg, every 1-4 rds., save for half); SD +1 or better weapon to hit, immune to mind-affecting spells, resistance to fire, 75% hide in shadows, regenerate 1 hp/turn, 30% magic resistance; INT Very; Align NE; Sz L (8′); XP 2,072.

27. Guardians of the Ring
5 dragonmasters of Lynn: AC -2; MV 12″; F 12; hp 96, 91, 86, 81, 76; #At 2; Dmg 1-8+5; SA speak with reptiles; INT Very; Align CN; Sz M; XP 2,836, 2,756, 2,676, 2,596, 2,526. Bastard sword +2, dragon slayer; platemail +2, shield +2. Each suit of armor is worth 20,500 gp.
The dragon eye ring bestows on its wearer detect invisibility for 2 hours/day, +3 in 6 bonus to searching for concealed and secret doors, +50% to find traps (or 25% find traps to non-thieves), +50% to listen, and all allies within 3″ radius receive +2″ movement bonus if flying. 5,500 xp. 55,000 gp.

28. Unlocking Mechanism
Granite Door: -2 to open locked door checks

29. Arodnap’s Crypt
There is a chance equal to finding concealed doors of realizing the sarcophagus is made to open from within (or a dwarf’s ability to detect stonework). A listen check at a -5% penalty hears scratching from inside. The boulder atop the sarcophagus has 72 defensive points or takes 10 people with 18 STR to move (or two people with giant strength).
4 dread gnasher hordlings: AC 2; MV 9″; HD 7+2; hp 46, 42, 38, 34; #At 3; Dmg 1-6/1-6/2-12; SA rend for 1-6 dmg if both claws hit, shocking grasp (1-8+7 dmg every 1-4 rds.); SD +1 or better weapon to hit, immune to mind-affecting spells, 75% hide in shadows, regenerate 1 hp/turn, 5% magic resistance; INT Low; Align NE; Sz M; XP 1,285, 1,245, 1,205, 1,165.
Arodnap, vampire lama: AC -3 (ring of protection +2, amulet of displacement); MV 12″/18″; HD 8+3; hp 54; #At 2; Dmg 2-8+4/5-10; SA touch energy drains 1 level, but hair attack drains 1 level and requires a save vs. paralyzation at -1 to avoid being paralyzed for 1 hour, can substitute energy drain for reduce (as if cast at 10th level), cannot charm but can swallow whole anyone reduced (victim is in temporal stasis until consumed in 24 hours), cleric spells; SD +1 or better weapon to hit, regenerate 3 hp/rd., can assume gaseous form at will and does so automatically at 0 hp, immune to mind-affecting spells, poison, paralysis, half-damage from cold and electricity, summon 10-100 rats or bats in 3-12 rds., turned as special, control undead, cleric spells; INT Genius; Align (L)N; Sz M; XP 5,148. Broadsword +1.
Spells: 1st level - curse, command, detect evil, detect magic, cause fear; 2nd level - augury, hold person, resist fire, silence 15′ radius, spiritual hammer; 3rd level - cause blindness, dispel magic, glyph of warding, bestow curse; 4th level - poison, protection from evil 10′ radius, tongues.

30. Arodnap’s Box
Treat the winds in this room as a gust of wind spell.
Any Lawful cleric of 2nd level or higher recognizes the omen.
Anyone looking at the prismatic sphere must make a save vs. spells at -1 or be compelled to touch it.
As soon as the beast appears, the wind force requires man-sized beings to make a save vs. paralyzation each round to avoid being knocked down, while smaller than man-sized beings are automatically blown about the room.
It takes a bend bars/lift gates roll to close the box once opened.
“Pandemonium Beast” (double-sized gibbering mouther): AC -1; MV 6″/12″; HD 8+6; hp 56; #At 12; Dmg 1-2 (x12); SA blinding spit (save vs. petrification or blinded for 1-2 rds.; may spit 1-3 times in addition to melee attacks), overbear (if 3 or more mouths hit one target, target must save vs. paralyzation at -2 or be knocked down, DEX modifiers apply, and automatically bitten by 12 mouths), continuing damage (mouths hold fast until dead), continual confusion (as per spell, in 6″ radius, save each rd.), transmute rock to mud at will; SD +1 or better weapon to hit, resist fire (as per the spell), immune to mind-affecting spells, 5% magic resistance; INT Low; Align CN; Sz L; XP 3,272.

31. Ruined Exit
The hole in the ceiling can be spotted as if a concealed door.

32. Bookcases
There is a base 1 in 8 chance of finding the clue (treat as secret door).

33. Pentagram
The residue in the pentagram can be noticed as if searching for concealed doors.
Anyone with a combined STR and DEX of 30 can make the jump across the pentagram.
The globes act as a true seeing spell.
The red motes have a movement rate of 30″ and hit their targets as if attacking with 16 HD.
2 vulturewretch hordlings: AC 1; MV 12″/18″; HD 8+1; hp 51, 37; #At 3; Dmg 1-8/1-8/1-8; SA stinking cloud breath weapon (15′ cone, save vs. poison at -1 or affected as if by spell for 1-6 rds.); SD +1 or better weapon to hit, immune to mind-affecting spells, resist fire (as per spell), 75% hide in shadows, 15% magic resistance; INT Average; Sz M; XP 1,912, 1,744.
Thieves should be allowed to deactivate the endless chute as if removing a non-magical trap, but at a -35% penalty.
The magical treasure floating in the shaft should be a footman’s pick +2, a potion of hill giant strength, oil of sharpness +1, scalemail +1, studded leather +1, two-handed sword +1, battleaxe +2, ring of jumping, and a periapt of health.

35. Zomph’s Menagerie
Those who come within 5′ of the acid lake’s surface must make a save vs. poison or lose 1 pt. of CON for 1-6 hours.
If any creature touches the cube, it and all creatures within a 10′ radius must make a save vs. spells at -1 (or -4 for the one touching it). The time limit is the same as a maze spell, but instead of being released at the end of that time, the PC finds himself in one of the four central chambers.
01-25: 5 displacer beasts (37, 35, 33, 31, 28 hp)
26-50: 3 death slaadi (106, 90, 75 hp)
51-75: 3 umber hulks (58, 51, 44 hp)
76-100: 2 adult blue dragons (60 hp each)
Once a room’s guardians are slain, all PCs in the room must save vs. spells at -1 to be transported back out of the maze.

36. Bookcases
The bookmark can be found as if a secret door.

37. Water Door
1 water elemental-door: AC 2; MV 0″; HD 16; hp 128; #At 1; Dmg (5-30)-5; SD +2 or better weapon to hit; INT Ave; Align N; Sz M; XP 4,770.

38. Watery Columns
1) Any potion made with water from this column has a 50% increase in duration.
2) save vs. spells for half damage. Using this water while creating ice-based magic items reduces gp cost by 25%.
3) save vs. spells for half damage. Using this water while creating fire-based magic items reduces gp cost by 25%.
4) save vs. spells for half damage. Using this water while creating acid-based magic items reduces gp cost by 25%.

40. Stone Slab Room
3 type IV demons (69, 60, 50 hp).
The demons have improved invisibility cast on them.
The arrows are arrows of elemental slaying.
The gold dragon statuette lets its wielder cast prayer 1/day.
The black dragon statuette lets its wielder cast protection from acid (as per protection from lightning, but for acid).
The curse of the naga statuette can be avoided with a save vs. spells.

41. Study Area
Any magic-user whose combined level and INT are 20 or higher knows the theories are bunk.

42. Dragon Heads
The three dragon heads begin as neutral on the NPC encounter reaction table. Each round, anyone conversing with a dragon head must roll their CHA or less on 1d20 to raise its reaction one rank (i.e., from neutral to positive, positive to friendly). A failed check drops every dragon head one rank (i.e., from neutral to negative, negative to hostile). At violently hostile, the dragon-heads attack. At enthusiastically friendly, the dragon-heads tell the PCs how to enter the vault.
3 mad blue dragon heads: AC 2; MV /24″; HD 8; hp 40 each; #At 1; Dmg 3-24; SA lightning breath weapon (10″x1/2″); SD saves as 10 HD, -1 to hit and dmg from water or lightning, +1 to hit and dmg from fire, detect invisibility 5″ rd.; INT Very; Align LE; Sz S; XP 1,325 each.

43. Treasure Room
The spell is a permanent illusion.
The Codex of Dead Names contains the following spells: dismissal, dolor; monster summoning IV; banishment, cacodaemon, torment; binding; astral spell, and gate. Any magic-user can study and learn to cast one of these spells at a time as a spell-like ability, provided the magic-user is high enough in level to cast the spell and has an INT equal to 9+ the spell level or higher.

Comments: Once again I’ve finished reading a Kuntz adventure and wishing he’d write something in the level range of my campaign! For what is essentially a warehouse, there is a lot of story built into this dungeon level. One story element I don’t understand is why Arodnap would ever have tried opening a portal to Pandemonium in the first place. Did she really think Wee Jas was going to be pleased? Another problem - in 1st ed. AD&D, hordlings came from Hades, not Pandemonium. I tried to convert this scenario and make as few changes to it as possible, so I ignored this detail. If I was actually running it, I would probably switch the outer plane again to the Nine You-Knows. Arodnap mistakenly believed her goddess was there (at least a more logical place to find her than Pandemonium!) and wound up releasing devils. I would substitute horned devils for spittlemaw hordlings, erinyes for dread gnasher hordlings, barbed devils for vulturewretch hordlings, and bone devils for skullreaver hordlings.

Arodnap posed another minor problem because I could think of no precedent in 1st ed. for mummies with class levels — but there was ample precedent for classed vampires.

The problem I had with the “pandemonium beast” has already been documented on Greytalk [the mailing list]. Someone else voiced one of the alternatives I had already considered of making it a super-gibbering mouther.

I don’t care for the placeholder name of Lynn from the Dragon Annual map turning up here. I kept it, but would personally consider Lynn to be a county in West Girion (if Minaria is western Oerik).

I dropped the levels for the PCs because a) 1st ed. AD&D assumes larger party sizes, and b) except for a few encounters that are still exceptionally tough, most monsters have been seriously toned down just by converting their statistics. I did not otherwise lower the challenge level of the monsters, but I did sometimes boost them, usually by adding one or two to the number of monsters to make the hit dice more of a match.

Lastly, there are two encounters here that I feel would be too deadly as-is. Six rakshasas should be a serious challenge for high-level PCs even without the “animated” furniture. I’d cut the rakshasas down to three and keep the furniture, or ditch the furniture. Also, three death slaadi in the maze could be sudden death for the PCs — especially if less than the entire party was sucked into the maze. I would limit that encounter to one or two; or better yet, three grey slaadi instead.

Top 62 TSR D&D Adventures

1. A3 Assault on the Aerie of the Slave Lords (1981)
2. S4 Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth (1982)
3. T1 Village of Hommlet (1979)
4. EX1 Dungeonland (1983)
5. I6 Ravenloft (1983)
6. B5 Horror on the Hill (1983)
7. G2 Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl (1978)
8. T2-4 Temple of Elemental Evil (1985)
9. B4 The Lost City (1982)
10. X4 Master of the Desert Nomads (1983)
11. B3 Palace of the Silver Princess (1981)
12. B2 Keep on the Borderlands (1981)
13. A2 Secret of the Slavers Stockade (1981)
14. EX2 Land Beyond the Magic Mirror (1983)
15. G1 Steading of the Hill Giant Chief (1978)
16. DL1 Dragons of Despair (1984)
17. “Baba Yaga’s Dancing Hut” (Dragon, 1983)
18. UK6 All That Glitters… (1984)
19. “The Twofold Talisman: Part 1″ (Dragon, 1983)
20. “Citadel by the Sea” (Dragon, 1982)
21. X2 Castle Amber (1981)
22. I3 Pharoah (1982)
23. B1 In Search of the Unknown (1979)
24. A4 In the Dungeons of the Slave Lords (1981)
25. WG7 Castle Greyhawk (1988)
26. UK1 Beyond theCrystal Cave (1983)
27. WGR1 Greyhawk Ruins (1990)
28. G3 Hall of the Fire Giant King (1979)
29. L2 The Assassin’s Knot (1983)
30. I1 Dwellers of the Forbidden City (1981)
31. U1 Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh (1981)
32. X1 Isle of Dread (1980)
33. N1 Against the Cult of the Reptile God (1982)
34. SJA1 Wildspace (1990)
35. A1 Slave Pits of the Undercity (1980)
36. WG8 Fate of Istus (1989)
37. C1 The Hidden Shrine of Tomoachan (1980)
38. I4 Oasis of the White Palm (1982)
39. “Mud Sorceror’s Tomb” (Dungeon, 1992)
40. S1 Tomb of Horrors (1978)
41. “At the Spottle Parlor” (Dungeon, 1988)
42. UK5 Eye of the Serpent (1984)
43. D2 Shrine of the Kuo-Toa (1979)
44. “The Twofold Talisman: Part 2″ (Dragon, 1983)
45.  "The Lady of the Mists" (Dungeon, 1993)
46. "Challenge of Champions" (Dungeon, 1996)
46.  "Them Apples" (Dungeon, 1994)
47. X5 Temple of Death (1983)
48. L1 The Secret of Bone Hill (1980)
49. S2 White Plume Mountain (1979)
50. "The Assassin Within" (Dungeon, 1994)
51. “The Wooden Mouse” (Dungeon, 1988)
52.  "Clarshh's Sepulchre" (Dungeon, 1995)
53. WG11 Puppets (1989)
54. “Into the Forgotten Realms” (Dragon, 1985)
55. “Isle of the Abbey” (Dungeon, 1992)
56.  "My Lady's Mirror" (Dungeon, 1995)
57. “Ex Libris” (Dungeon, 1991)
58.  "Dovedale" (Dungeon, 1994)
59. “Huddle Farm” (Dungeon, 1988)
60. "Legacy of the Liosalfar" (Dungeon, 1993) 
61. WG Mordenkainen’s Fantastic Adventure (1983)
62.  "Fraggart's Contraption" (Dungeon, 1994)

Running a D&D Campaign in 1974

This is the second in a much-delayed series of short articles [the 1st was published in OD&Dities fanzine] examining the history of D&D by constructing a fictional campaign setting that (hypothetically) started in 1974, and tracing its progress through the years. The simulation of such a campaign will, hopefully, illuminate the development of D&D, as well as introduce a new campaign setting developed “from the ground up.”

The year 1974 is most significant to gaming for the publication of the Dungeons & Dragons game, sold in the form of 1,000 cardboard boxes holding three small booklets in each. The fact that this first print run sold out within the year means that the number of people exposed to D&D went up from perhaps dozens to well over a thousand within the span of 1974. (1) Until this point, D&D was available to select groups of wargamers and their friends and families (Blackmoor apparently had six wargamers at its first roleplaying session, (2) while Greyhawk started more slowly with Gary Gygax DMing for his two children(3)) and even for years afterwards, D&D would draw a substantial amount of its players from the hobby of wargaming. From now on, D&D would begin to attract players from outside wargaming until it became a hobby of its own.

Almost as significant as the publication of D&D would be the availability of polyhedral dice. Until D&D, dice in shapes other than cubes were rare – indeed, TSR had to order their sets from a school supply company in California, and went straight to that company’s supplier in Asia when the middleman could not provide enough. (4) Under Chainmail rules, one only needed six-sided dice to play. Even the D&D rules of 1974 did not have uses for every die in the set – the d4, d8, d10, and d12 were aids for the DM, but virtually useless for the players until variable weapon damage was introduced the following year. Still, the presence of polyhedral dice on the gaming table went along way towards establishing the decorum of the standard D&D campaign – and sure beat playing with chits.

The original D&D rulebooks were crude and sparse. (5) There were references to castle dungeons, but no details other than what monsters, traps, and treasure one was likely to find there. There were suggestions for what monsters to encounter in the wilderness depending on the climate or terrain. More importantly, there were no published modules in 1974. The prototype of this concept wouldn’t see print until the following year (“Temple of the Frog” in the Blackmoor supplement) and the “ready to play” concept of modules would not appear until 1978. So what would those early campaign scenarios be like?

The major campaigns being played in 1974 – Dave Arneson’s Blackmoor, Gary Gygax’s Greyhawk, and Rob Kuntz’s Kalibruhn – all revolved around dungeon crawls, lengthy subterranean expeditions into impossibly deep dungeons beneath castles (though there were clearly scenarios that deviated from this pattern as well). Details about these campaigns could have been learned by word of mouth at GenCon XII, Lake Geneva’s 1974 wargaming convention, which most if not all of the major figures in the development of early D&D attended. (6) If this was the case, our hypothetical campaign could have been greatly influenced by the standard bearers for all early D&D campaigns.

With this benefit, our 1974 gamers would no doubt look to fantasy fiction literature for inspiration. The previous article supposed that the “Shadoworld” campaign invented by these hypothetical 1973 gamers would use Roger Zelazney’s then-recent Jack of Shadows novel as their main inspiration. This year saw the publication of several collections by classic fantasy authors, including early masters of the weird Lord Dunsany, H.P. Lovecraft, and Clark Ashton Smith. These authors could have influenced Shadoworld to have strange, alien gods instead of the human-like deities of most Earth pantheons. Magic might itself be alien in origin, such as it appears to be in Lieber’s Lankhmar novels. They can borrow cosmologically from Zelazney again, from the Amber novels, the notions of tiered planes of reality and some being more real than others. From Robert E. Howard’s Conan stories could come the notion of civilized and primitive cultures living side-by-side, and from Jack Vance’s Dying World could come the notion that the more civilized cultures consist mainly of powerful, decadent, and bored wizards. Maybe there would even be some of the wicked excesses of John Norman’s Gor novels — which would no doubt be more forgivable in a game then-marketed exclusively to a male audience.(7)

There were some literary inspiration already shoehorned into the original D&D rules. Most notably, all the major races from Tolkein’s Middle Earth novels were present in D&D, but the wandering encounter tables for deserts also made specific reference to Edgar Rice Burrough’s John Carter of Mars series. Any D&D group in any year has to make the decision of either accepting all material presented officially in the rules or picking and choosing which elements they desire to use. Here, our hypothetical group might decide that elf and dwarf PCs would be okay, but discard hobbits (specifically referred to as hobbits in 1974 and not changed to halflings until later). They could also decide that a Barsoom-like environment does exist in their world’s deserts, but that it is not anywhere near the locale of the campaign setting so far.

Into only the second year of the campaign, it is unlikely that much of the campaign setting would have been fleshed out beyond the area explored by the PCs. With an emphasis on dungeon delving, the campaign might have never left the county (or similar geopolitical boundaries) of its origin. The PCs would be local heroes, so politics outside the local arena would be of little relevance yet. Many clues have already been given as to what sources of inspiration the DM could have used for scenarios. It is also possible to estimate the levels of the campaigns PCs after their first year. Gygax wrote that “it is reasonable to calculate that if a fair player takes part in 50 to 75 games … he should acquire sufficient experience points to make him about 9th to 11th level.”( A little math reveals that reaching the median xp requirement for 9th level — 180,000 – in 50 games would come to an average of 3,600 xp per game. Assuming weekly sessions, the PCs would earn enough to be well into 4th level (if a magic-user) or even 5th level (if a cleric or fighter) after a year’s time.

So, by the end of 1974, our players had just a taste of what the Shadoworld campaign, and D&D itself, had to offer. Those early game sessions of helping the local count pursue the King of Elfland’s Daughter (one of the aforementioned tiers of reality) and helping the House of Usher deal with its undead relations soon led to the more formulaic and “expected” scenarios of sacking a rogue knight’s castle and looting the dungeon of a lost, crazed wizard. After each successful adventure, they would head to the nearest town and learn more about how the sorcerors in power there used political power and hired muscle to keep themselves safe during the day when their spells did not work, or of the alien beings that visited the heads of the local church, or hear tales from fighters of distant lands who had fought far larger and more powerful monsters than any they had seen so far. And all this would keep them intrigued and excited enough to keep playing …in 1975.

3 Confirmed via email with Gary Gygax in 2001.
5 For a better overview, see and
6 See the chronology of tournaments at
7 To see what other fantasy fiction was published circa 1974, search by year.
8 Gygax, Gary. The Strategic Review. Vol. 2, No. 2 (April 1976), p. 23.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Starting a D&D Campaign - in 1973

[Originally published in OD&Dities, no. 8 (Sept. 2002).]

This is the first in what will hopefully be a series of short articles examining the history of D&D by constructing a fictional campaign setting that (hypothetically) started in 1973, and tracing its progress through the years. The simulation of such a campaign will, hopefully, illuminate the development of D&D, as well as
introduce a new campaign setting developed "from the ground up."

Starting a D&D campaign in 1973 certainly wouldn't be easy, since no books with the name Dungeons & Dragons had been published yet at that time. But it wouldn't be impossible. There were several resources a potential DM of the time could have used. The most obvious resource would be the original Chainmail
rules, which had been available since 1969.

Using the fantasy supplement in Chainmail, one could have created wargaming scenarios somewhat close to what D&D would become. Dave Arneson had been running his Blackmoor campaign since 1971, and the rules he was using were closer to what D&D became than Chainmail. By 1973, there were multiple Blackmoor campaigns being run in Minnesota. (1) A copy of Arneson's home rules could have been obtained from any one of them.

Lastly, the Dungeons & Dragons rules WERE being used in 1973, "beta-tested" in Gary Gygax's Greyhawk campaign. The basics rules of D&D – level advancement, the original three character classes (cleric, fighter, magic-user), and the Jack Vance-swiped spell system – had existed since 1972. (2) The D&D rules were being play-tested elsewhere too, for Gygax had mailed out about 75 copies of the rules to other gamers he knew, and many photocopied manuscripts were soon in circulation. (3)

Any one of those copies could have fallen into our hypothetical DM's hands. Many players came and went in Gygax's campaign, including such recognizable figures in the industry as Len Lakofka and James Ward. It is certainly conceivable that one could have wormed their way into an invitation to Gygax's game table long enough to get a good look at the D&D rules from the source itself!

What would a 1973 campaign have been like? Let's assume that, like Arneson and Gygax, our fictional DM would base his campaign on recent fantasy literature. There was little precedent outside of literature, after all, to model a fantasy/medieval campaign on at that time. Lin Carter was still reaming out swords & sorcery anthologies at that time. Watership Down was still a huge hit. (4) Robert Zelazny had just produced Jack of Shadows in 1971 – a book that later made it onto the AD&D inspirational reading list. (5)

Jack of Shadow's world – on which magic works on one hemisphere and technology works on the other – is tempting, and has even been adapted into D&D-compatible scenarios before. (6) The world's cosmology has certain complications for level-based campaigning, however, in that low-level PCs are unlikely to have the resources or abilities to travel between hemispheres easily. Besides, the campaign would seem more original if changes were made to Zelazny's premise. Thus, our DM changes the details so that technology works on the whole world during the day, and magic works at night. Here now is an unusual setting where warfare is fought with gunpowder by day, while magic spells are used by spies and saboteurs at night.

Little alteration would need to be made to the D&D rules (one could argue that magic-users would need strengthening to offset their limited spell-casting time, but that is a subject for another day). The Chainmail rules could easily be incorporated to cover the use of gunpowder weapons by day. Little world detail needed to be worked out before play began – like Blackmoor and Greyhawk, we will assume the Shadoworld campaign started out with the exploration of a dungeon. The campaign would gradually spread out from there, of course, but that is the subject of future speculation...

1. As mentioned by Dave Arneson in The First Fantasy Campaign supplement, published by Judges Guild, c.1980.
2. Confirmed via email with Gary Gygax in 2001.
3. From Gary Gygax's opening article in The Story of TSR, c. 1999.
4. Leading to the publication of the game Bunnies & Burrows in 1976.
5. Found at the back of the Dungeon Masters Guide, c. 1979.
6. Mayfair Games' Wizards supplement, c 1983.

D&D Campaign/Module Early Development Timeline, 1971-1979

[5/17/2018 update: I decided to go back to this old post and flesh it out a little better.]

The purpose of this post is to share what I know about the development of the material from the early days of Dungeons & Dragons, up through the 1970s, to when they were eventually published adventure modules, and to build a timetable out of it. At one point, this included material that was never published, but that I knew about circa 2007. I know about a lot more know, but can refer readers to better sources for that, like the timeline on the Rob Kuntz Archive DVD.


1. Castle Blackmoor. Dave Arneson’s home campaign centers around Castle Blackmoor and later is released in the Judges Guild accessory The First Fantasy Campaign. The castle had 12 levels of dungeons. A town called Blackmoor, located outside the castle, provided support for the adventurers between expeditions, and also itself served as a backdrop for adventures (such as repelling invaders).


2. Castle Greyhawk. Inspired by Castle Blackmoor, Gary Gygax creates his own home campaign centered around a fantasy castle. The original Castle Greyhawk material has never been published, though details of it crept into the 1990 TSR module Greyhawk Ruins. The castle dungeons grew over time from 10 levels to a sprawling complex with an uncountable number of sub-levels, and even a slide that takes you all the way to the other side of the planet. Though unpublished, many details of the castle have been shared over the years and Allan Grohe has compiled them on his remarkable website.

3. El Raja Key. Rob Kuntz’s campaign, inspired by Castle Greyhawk, and would soon become sort of merged with Castle Greyhawk after the two become co-DMs. Parts of El Raja Key have been released over the years, most famously in the 1984 TSR module Mordenkainen's Fantastic Adventure. Many levels of El Raja Key are included, with original maps and keys, on the Rob Kuntz Archive DVD, though it appears to me that instead of the original keys these reflect a restocking of the dungeon that must have happened circa 1981.

4. City Greyhawk. The first full-sized fantasy city developed for a RPG (Blackmoor only had a town by it). TSR put out an amazing City of Greyhawk boxed set in 1989, but scant details of it bear any similarity to the original co-designed by Gygax and Kuntz. The original version of the city has never seen print, though more details of it can be gleaned from Gygax's Gord the Rogue novels.

5. Lost City of the Elders.  From Rob Kuntz's home campaign. Part of the Lost City is known as the Garden of the Plant Master. Garden of the Plant Master was first published by Creations Unlimited in 1987, then by Kenzer & Company in 2003. The last known time Lost City was publicly run at GaryCon in 2012 and it then had sections allegedly challenging enough for 14th level characters.

6. Castle Glendower? This date is speculation. Glendower was another town in the Blackmoor campaign, this one with a four-level dungeon beneath it. Like Castle Greyhawk, the notes for it were published in The First Fantasy Campaign.


7. Loch Glomen/Lake Gloomey? Again, speculation. Lake Gloomey was a monster-infested area reachable from Blackmoor. Instead of underground dungeon, Glomen had areas above ground, like a mansion, that needed to be cleared out of monsters. Like Blackmoor and Glendower, the notes for Loch Glomen were published in The First Fantasy Campaign.


8. Temple of the Frog.  The scenario was played first in the Blackmoor home campaign, but then was written up (and more than just in note form like the FFC material) and published in the 1975 TSR Supplement, Blackmoor. TSR published a revised and expanded version in 1986, and then was published again by Zeitgeist Games in 2007.

9. Tomb of Horrors. It is unclear if this was written first for Origins I in 1975 as one of the first D&D tournaments, or if it was played in the Greyhawk home campaign first -- but definitely one happened first and then the other. TSR published The Tomb of Horrors first in 1978 and it has been reprinted often since then.

10. The Stalk. An outdoor scenario from Kuntz's home campaign (Kalibruhn, where El Raja Key could be found) for characters of up to 12th level. Kuntz self-published it (as Pied Piper Publishing) in 2007.


11. Escape from Astigar’s Lair (MichiCon V tournament/JG module)
12. Expedition to the Barrier Peaks (Origins II tournament/TSR module)
13. GENCON IX Dungeons (tournaments/JG module)
14. Lost Caverns of Tsojconth (WinterCon V tournament/Metro Detroit Games module/TSR module)
15. Palace of the Vampire Queen (Wee Warriors module)
16. Demonworld (R.K. campaign)
17. Dark Druids (R.K. campaign/Necromancer Games module)
18. Lair of the Pit Fiend (R.K. campaign)


19. Dwarven Glory (WW module)
20. City State of the Invincible Overlord (JG accessory)
21. Tegel Manor (JG module)
22. Modron (JG module)
23. Of Skulls and Scrapfaggot Green (GenCon X tournament/JG module)
24.  Sample dungeon from Holmes ed. D&D Basic Rules


25. Steading of the Hill Giant Chief (TSR module)
26. Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl (TSR module)
27. Hall of the Fire Giant King (TSR module)
28. Descent Into the Depths of the Earth (TSR module)
29. Shrine of the Kuo-Toa (TSR module)
30. Vault of the Drow (TSR module)
31. Tomb of Horrors (TSR module)
32. The Thieves of Fortress Badabaskor (JG module)
33. Citadel of Fire (JG module)
34. Frontier Forts of Kelnore (JG module)
35. The Dragon Crown (JG module)
36. Quest for the Fazzlewood (WinterCon VII tournament/Metro Detroit Games module/TSR module)


37. The Village of Hommlet (TSR module)
38. White Plume Mountain (TSR module)
39. Pharoah (Day Star Media module/TSR module)
40. Rahasia (DSM module/TSR module)
41. Fortress Ellendar (Fantasy Productions module)
42. Lost Tomoachan: The Hidden Shrine of Lubaatum (Origins V tournament/TSR module)
43. The Ghost Tower of Inverness (WinterCon VIII tournament/TSR module)
44.  Sample dungeon from AD&D Dungeon Master's Guide

The Best Role-Playing Games, Year-by-Year

This is some material I’d been working on for titangaming’s column before…you know [The site crashed and disappeared]. Culled from my work on grading my gaming collection, I’ll be talking about the best gaming products I own from each year since the hobby began.

In the beginning, it was all about Dungeons & Dragons. Chainmail, Dungeons & Dragons (specifically, the Men & Magic booklet, the crunchiest of the three), and the Greyhawk Supplement won for consecutive years, not because they’re perfect, but because there was no competition from 1973 through 1975. Each winner was TSR’s major release for that year and, by no coincidence, had all been written or co-written by Gary Gygax. Things went a little differently in 1976. D&D Supplements by different authors were pretty lame and the best product from ‘76 was, surprisingly, Strategic Review #7. This was a particularly solid issue of Dragon Magazine’s predecessor, anticipating the strong showing of another magazine in the years to come.

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons began in 1977 with the Monster Manual and top marks for the following year went to the Players Handbook. To this point, game mechanics ruled. With 1979, however, Module T1, The Village of Hommlet, proved to be better than the Dungeon Masters Guide, companion volume to the two earlier AD&D rulebooks. With the rules for D&D/AD&D well-established, TSR wisely turned its gaze to publishing adventure modules, and it was modules that they did best for the next four years — B2, The Keep on the Borderlands; A3, Assault on the Aerie of the Slave Lords; S4, Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth; and I6, Ravenloft just kept getting better one after another. With only two exceptions, Gary Gygax was the principle author of each book.

By 1984, Gary Gygax was too busy with office politics to write the next best thing. TSR was slowly going into decline, but was still able to produce a winner with the Marvel Super Heroes game. The game was the brainchild of a newcomer named Jeff Grubb. The rules, particularly the Battle Book, were elegantly simple. Each module and accessory that came out for it was at least good if not great. The following year, the MSH supplement New York, New York took top prize. It was written by Jeff Grubb, as had about half the support material for the campaign. Like early D&D and AD&D, it showed how important unity of vision was.

Not until 1986 did an AD&D module take the spot back, this time the innovative N4, Treasure Hunt. The year after that was a throwback to D&D’s glory days, as The Principalites of Glantri gazeteer for D&D’s Mystara campaign setting was the best-made product that year. This would prove the first time that a campaign setting sourcebook took first place. It reflected yet another shift for the industry. Long-term players now had plenty of rules and stand-alone adventures. Now the companies were providing new worlds to play in.

Dungeon Magazine debuted in 1986. Its selection of engaging/easily portable mini-adventures made it a strong contender, but by 1988 it outdid all competition for the first time (#12 being the best so far). The next year went to the Marvel Super Heroes game again, with the Deluxe City Campaign Set. The honors in 1990 went to a module again, Wildspace (far better than any other Spelljammer products). The last two winners were both the work of freelance author, Allen Varney. The best of TSR’s new blood at the time, this rising star rapidly diminished, his talents wasted on lame projects. For the most part, TSR was being flushed down the tubes by its new owner, Lorraine Williams, but Dungeon Magazine was still flourishing as if there was nothing wrong in the rest of the company. For the next three years, Dungeon blew away the competition (#31, 37, and 42 respectively).

For almost two decades, TSR had dominated the gaming market, not just in terms of sales but in terms of quality. Then, in 1994, R. Talsorian Games came out with Castle Falkenstein. No role-playing game had ever been so eloquent, so novel-like, but it never sold like it deserved. For the next two years, product support for Castle Falkenstein failed to live up to the high standards of the main sourcebook. Dungeon Magazine was again the best material on the market (#52, 57). Then, in ‘97, Castle Falkenstein bounced back on top thanks to Jeff Grubb and his Memoirs of Auberon of Faerie, showing how classy a “monster manual” can be.In 1998, a handful of TSR employees and volunteers from an energetic Internet fandom pushed to bring back Greyhawk as a campaign setting. “Team Greyhawk” produced a host of new products, best among them being The Crypt of Lyzandred the Mad. By the next year, TSR’s marketing division had messed up the revival by failing to categorize some Greyhawk modules as Greyhawk, while incorrectly placing other modules under the Greyhawk banner. True to form, Dungeon Magazine shone brightest (#72) when the rest of the company looked bad.

In 2000, the RPGA took over the World of Greyhawk and produced that year’s best product — The Living Greyhawk Gazeteer. The RPGA had placed Greyhawk in the hands of the best and the brightest of its own fandom, for a time creating a second Greyhawk Renaissance. But the mediocrity of the RPGA soon whittled down the enthusiasm of the best and the brightest. Dungeon Magazine, too, was looking tired and worn out, but it still managed to produce some gems, such as #92 in 2001.

Wizards of the Coast had bought D&D from a now-bankrupt TSR back in 2000. WotC produced a mediocre new version of D&D, invested heavily in hype, and somehow took the gaming world by storm. For the next few years many companies rode WotC’s coattails, but none did so as ably as Kenzer & Co. They had been making a strong showing quality-wise since 1994, but their Kingdoms of Kalamar campaign setting just wasn’t catching on. Kalamar harkened back to a simpler Greyhawk. Their module, Deathright, was nearly the best module of 2001. The Invasion of Arun’Kid became the best module of 2002.

So what does the future hold for gaming? 2003’s best game was Testament: Roleplaying in the Biblical Era from Green Ronin Publishing. This emphasizes the move, begun by Kenzer and R. Talsorian, of the best-quality games coming from smaller companies. For the foreseeable future, though, D&D is going to still attract the creme of the game designers.


The best gaming products of 2004 and 2005 were both Dungeon magazines — #105 and #124 respectively. This continues the trend observed earlier about small companies, since Dungeon is published by Paizo instead of Wizards now.

The role-playing industry is either in decline or I need to start buying different things. The best thing I own from 2006 is Dungeon magazine #139, and I only give this issue a B. Again, this is mainly for the latest, inventive entry in Kuntz’s excellent “Maure Castle” series. I was not impressed from skimming the “Savage Tide” installment and think Ron [my future DM] has a lot to overcome there when he runs it. There is also a Forgotten Realms adventure that is utterly forgettable between them.

1973 - Chainmail
1974 - D&D: Men & Magic (booklet 1)
1975 - D&D: Greyhawk supplement
1976 - Strategic Review #7
1977 - AD&D: Monster Manual
1978 - AD&D: Players Handbook
1979 - T1 The Village of Hommlet
1980 - B2 The Keep on the Borderlands
1981 - A3 Assault on the Aerie of the Slave Lords
1982 - S4 Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth
1983 - I6 Ravenloft
1984 - Marvel Super Heroes boxed set
1985 - MSH: New York, New York (maybe tied with T1-4 Temple of Elemental Evil)
1986 - N4 Treasure Hunt
1987 - Principalities of Glantri gazetteer
1988 - Dungeon #12
1989 - MSH: Deluxe City Campaign Set
1990 - AD&D: Wildspace (Spelljammer)
1991 - Dungeon #31
1992 - Dungeon #37
1993 - Dungeon #42
1994 - Castle Falkenstein
1995 - Dungeon #52
1996 - Dungeon #57
1997 - CF: Memoirs of Auberon of Faerie
1998 - AD&D: Crypt of Lyzandred the Mad
1999 - Dungeon #72
2000 - Living Greyhawk Gazetteer
2001 - Dungeon #92
2002 - D&D: The Invasion of Arun'Kid
2003 - Testament: Roleplaying in the Biblical Era
2004 - Dungeon #105
2005 - Dungeon #124
2006 - Dungeon #139

Addendum:  I haven't bought many new games since making my own, and leaving H&H off the list entirely leaves me with --

2007 - Knights of the Dinner Table Magazine #134
2008 - Knights of the Dinner Table Magazine #146
2009 - Hackmaster Basic
2010 - Stars without Number
2012 - Swords &Wizardry: Complete Rulebook
2014 - Delving Deeper: Reference Rules Compendium

Level Up Your Inn! Introducing Graduated Flavor Text

Just like any genre with a 25+ year history, the adventure module genre has its own set of clichés. Many of them — the wizard in his lonely tower and the helpless maiden in the villain’s lair — were inherited from the swords & sorcery genre that spawned D&D in the first place. One much-worn convention of this genre is the inn. In many a campaign, there is always a handy inn nearby with enough private rooms available for the PCs, a roast already cooking for them, and the best wine the PCs can afford — despite the fact that the inn is a remote building in the middle of nowhere.

The stereotypical inn is so common because is provides important elements of the adventure scenario — a place to meet plot hook NPCs, a safe base of operations, and a place to spend hard-earned treasure. While none of these translate into any game mechanic, they are still rewards as much as any Experience Point or Gold Piece. Yes, it is possible to begin an adventure without a plot hook, or run one with no safe base for the PCs to fall back, but both are advantageous in that they just make the adventure easier to play. There are many benefits, comforts, and perks the PCs may enjoy in role-playing that add no bonuses to their skill rolls, attack rolls, or saving throws.

Variation, in D&D, often takes the form of graduated improvement. The level system affects hit points, skill points, number of feats, number of spells, and more. It is equally possible to apply levels to role-playing rewards. It is not necessary that these levels should progress at any fixed rate, and “backsliding” every now and then can be enjoyable. Class- and race-based permutations to these tables are even possible. For instance, a religion could require its clergy to enjoy “20th-level feasts” (as per the What’s to Eat? table) at 1st-level, but expects them, by 20th-level, to have honed their desires down to their most basic needs (”1st-level dining”). Similarly, an elf tribe might only drink wine, and so have to skip every non-wine entry on the What’s to Drink? table.

The level advancement tables below are to be used as guidelines to facilitate change. Really, the most important goal here is to remind the DM that, as the PCs grow in power and prestige, they shouldn’t always be satisfied with the same services and rewards they were accustomed to as novice adventurers. This keeps the game from falling into a rut of the same old role-playing rewards, and — if not remove the clichés of the genre — at least keep them varied and interesting.

Table I: Services at the Inn Table
Level Description
1 Common room
2 Drinks
3 Food
4 Games
5 Shared rooms
6 Women of ill repute
7 Stabling
8 Palisade
9 Security
10 Storage
11 Private rooms
12 Performers
13 In-house brewery
14 Messengers
15 Curtain wall
16 Water supply
17 Private suites
18 Personal attendants
19 Vault
20 Demi-plane

In most instances, the levels for inns described here are cumulative. Thus, an inn with private rooms also has a common room. Exceptions to the rule are always possible.

1. Common Room. The simplest inns are wooden enclosures with straw-lined floors where travelers can stop and sleep. Nicer inns will have tables, benches, and one or more fireplaces in the common room, but it is still primarily a place for sleeping.

2. Drinks. Inns with the fewest amenities are simply taverns. The alehouse is so common an inn that every village is likely to have one or more. Better inns will have wine (though in some climates grapes grow better than barley, and so wine is the more common potable) or even stronger liquors. Juices, like cider, may be sold, but the rarest beverage of all should be clean drinking water.

3. Food. The inn has a kitchen staff that can prepare food brought by the guests. Better inns might have an angler, hunter, or poacher on retainer to regularly supply foodstuffs. Alternatively, near an urban market, the inn may send staff to buy food daily.

4. Games. The tavern has game boards for checkers, nine men’s morris, or the like. Fancier inns might offer chess, backgammon, or even dragon chess.

5. Shared rooms. In addition to the common room, these inns have smaller rooms, minimally furnished, that can house four and be secured from the inside.

6. Women of ill repute. An optional addition, but some inns will either have such ladies on staff or simply allow them on the premises.

7. Stabling. The inn has a secure, manned stable. Larger inns may trade or sell fresh horses for the traveler in a hurry with a tired steed.

8. Palisade. In a rural area, the inn has a wooden palisade built around it for the defense of its guests. In a safe urban area, the inn may simply have a fence.

9. Security. The inn employs personnel to ensure the safety of its guests. The security force is likely to consist of no more than a few low-level fighters, though larger inns may employ wizards for magical defense.

10. Storage. Inns of this size may house small caravans, and will provide secure warehouse space for their goods overnight.

11. Private rooms. The inn provides nicer rooms wherein one or two guests could stay in comfort. The rooms have their own fireplaces and the doors have locks. There are furnishings like a wardrobe and chest of drawers.

12. Performers. The inn could have a bard on retainer, poets who recite during a meal, or even an animal trainer to stage bear fights during a feast.

13. In-house brewery. The inn has a reputation for its own brand of beer, ale, or another potable. Optionally, the inn could have incorporated a different business to serve its customers, such as a tailor on the premises, or a blacksmith in the stables.

14. Messengers. The inn employs runners, or perhaps even horsemen, who will travel 30+ miles to make deliveries for the customers.

15. Curtain wall. While the previous inns might have had a fence or short wall, these inns have high curtain walls — complete with battlements and arrow slits — as defensible as a small keep.

16. Water supply. The inn has a well, spring, or other source of clean water on the premises. The inn could endure a short siege with this water and a stock of provisions. A large enough inn might use this water supply for a functional moat, or decorative pools and fountains.

17. Private suites. These inns cater to the rich elite when they’re away from home. Each guest has at least one room, and possibly as many as 30 — each more extravagantly furnished than the one before. The best suites could have walls covered in ornamental gemstones. with tiger skin rugs heaped on the floor.

18. Personal attendants. Each guest has from 1-36 attendants waiting on them hand and foot — bathing, grooming, and feeding, as well as anything else the guest demands.

19. Vault. While the inn’s guests enjoy going for walks past hanging gardens on copper nugget-lined paths strewn with rose petals, or lounging by a pool where they can swim with mermaids, they can rest assured that their valuables are protected by the best traps and guardians — both magical and mundane — that money can buy.

20. Demi-plane. The inn is safe from any threat on the Prime Material Plane, because it resides safely in its own demi-plane. Guests can enjoy complete peace and privacy in this miniature version of paradise.

Table II: What’s to Drink? Table
Level Description
1 Mead
2 Weak black beer
3 Fruit juice
4 White beer
5 Red beer
6 Honeyed ale
7 Clean drinking water
8 Spiced ale
9 Light-bodied red wine
10 Light-bodied white wine
11 Stout black ale
12 Brandy
13 Medium-bodied red wine
14 Medium-bodied white wine
15 Golden ale
16 Whiskey
17 Full-bodied red wine
18 Full-bodied white wine
19 Sparkling wine
20 Aqua vitae

This progression of potables was determined with the historical context of these beverages in mind — both their chronological appearance and their importance in the medieval mindset.

1. Mead. A primitive drink of honey, water, herbs, and spices.

2. Weak black beer. Weak beers are heavily watered down. Alternatively, it could be a primitive brew made from half-baked loaves of barley bread.

3. Fruit juice. Any unfermented, pulped fruit, preferably in season.

4. White beer. This light-bodied beer has a hint of butter and a vanilla aftertaste.

5. Red beer. Strong, dry, and tart — with a coppery head.

6 Honeyed ale. Optionally seasoned with cedar, nutmeg, or lavender.

7. Clean drinking water. A rare treat, requiring a tavern to have its own well or spring.

8. Spiced ale. Strong, with a hint of anise and an herbal nose. Slippery and lively.

9. Light-bodied red wine. Herbal, ripe nose. Strong raspberry and strawberry flavor. Acidy aftertaste.

10. Light-bodied white wine. Floral, smoky, and tangy nose. Crisp, yet earthy character with a hint of peach. Long, acidy aftertaste.

11. Stout black ale. This ale has a thick brown head and a fruity hop nose. Black malt, roasted barley, and hops have been combined into a dense, yet mellow, brew. Optionally, replace this with absinthe — a very strong, acidy liquor flavored with anise seed and wormwood (a hallucinogen).

12. Brandy. Smooth, heady-scented. Grape, apple, or cherry-flavored.

13. Medium-bodied red wine. Aroma of blackberries. Rich-flavored.

14. Medium-bodied white wine. Light, spritzy nose. Crisp, sweet, juicy taste. Strong pear flavor.

15. Golden ale. This golden-colored ale has a creamy head, big body, a rich mouth feel, and a sweet, cherry-like aftertaste. It is lightly hopped, but triple fermented using two different yeasts.

16. Whisky. Smoky-flavored, made from fermented barley. Strong.

17. Full-bodied red wine. Spicy, anise/minty nose and intense black cherry flavor.

18. Full-bodied white wine. Rich, oaky nose. Earthy, spicy character. Long finish.

19. Sparkling wine (champagne). A medium-bodied wine. Light-golden color, toasty nose, and a ripe, fruity character.

20. Aqua vitae (vodka). Literally called “the water of life,” this colorless, odorless, tasteless liquor is STRONG. Made from fermented rye.

Table III: What’s for Dinner? Table
Level Description
1 Gruel
2 Blood pudding
3 Bean meal mash
4 Pigeon pie
5 Rabbit
6 Salted fish
7 Partridge
8 Quail
9 Roast pork
10 Ox tripe
11 Sliced pork & goose
12 Braised chicken
13 Duck casserole
14 Fried crane
15 Beefsteaks & chicken liver
16 Lobster & giant fire beetles
17 Giant crayfish
18 Pike liver & pheasant brains
19 Spiced sow udders & rooster combs
20 Fried dragon eggs & lamb

The goal of this table is to present, not only increasingly elaborate dishes, but also to stress what was considered “good eating” by earlier human standards as opposed to those of the average gamer today. Some consideration was also given to historical chronology, so that (for example) foods caught by hunter/gatherers tend to come sooner on the list than domesticated animals.

1. Gruel. A simple bread porridge served in a trencher (a bowl made of wheat bread). Optionally seasoned with acorns or butter.

2. Blood pudding. Or haggis. Either way, a boiled sheep’s stomach with onion and other stuff (probably other sheep organs) in it. In wet regions, fish liver is substituted.

3. Bean meal mash. A porridge-like legume soup. Served with artichoke.

4. Pigeon pie. Or a stew. Best not to ask which parts of the pigeon are in it. In a coastal region, substitute fish heads, like from cod or flounder. Served with cabbage and goat cheese.

5. Rabbit. A roasted quarter-rabbit, served with barley bread, and afterwards a desert of unleavened bread cakes dipped in honey. In a coastal region, substitute eel, perhaps served with olives.

6. Salted fish. A small, whole fish like a trout or carp, or many tiny fish like anchovies, served on a bed of rice. In a clime where rice doesn’t grow, the fish will be served plain, or perhaps with a mustard and dill sauce. May be accompanied by a side dish of asparagus and cucumbers.

7. Partridge. Or grouse, either small game bird served whole and roasted. Served with broccoli or turnips, cereals, and a porridge of bread crumbs, onions, and chickpeas fried and seasoned.

8. Quail. Or duck. Served with a mushroom soup, mild cheese, pears or other fresh fruit, and frumenty (wheat mixed with broth, milk, and eggs) with honey on top for desert. In wet regions, a freshwater fish like red snapper might be eaten instead.

9. Roast pork with apple slices. Or roast kid (goat). Served after sliced chicken and mushroom soup and a salad of eggs, olives, carrots and radishes. Clams and mussels are served on the side, followed by a bowl of fresh blackberries and a dessert of candied sweetmeats.

10. Veal. Sliced veal served in a black bean sauce, with pickled vegetables, onions, and walnuts. Comes after a meatball and vegetable soup and a salad of cabbage, olives, and celery. A loaf of rye bread is sat at the table next to a plate of broiled halibut. Fried honey cakes are served for desert. Ox tripe might optionally be replaced with beef ribs or ox tripe (innards).

11. Sliced pork & goose. The goose is cooked in brandy, and possibly the pig as well. Served after vegetable soup. Sausage, mushrooms, and figs are mixed in one bowl, beside stewed pears and blueberries in another. Fruit jellies and cheese bread is served for dessert. In wet regions, smoked salmon may be substituted for the entrees.

12. Braised chicken. The chicken is braised in honey. It is served after mutton and vegetable stew. Crayfish or shrimp is served as a side dish. Rabbit roe in yogurt is served before a sesame cake dessert. Lamb chops may be substituted for the chicken.

13. Duck casserole. Served with dice loaves (bread made with anise, cheese, and oil), minced beef soup, fresh seasonal vegetables, strong cheese, eel roe, and roasted chestnuts for dessert.

14. Fried crane. The crane is stuffed with wafer bread (made with wine, milk, and pepper). It is served after a bean curd soup and a salad of lettuce and dates in oils. Whole broiled mackerel and a meat organ pie (perhaps steak and kidney pie) are side dishes. Dessert consists of custard-filled pastries and assorted cherry fruit tarts.

15. Beefsteaks & chicken liver. Crabmeat and bean curd soup comes before a platter of mixed seasonal vegetables in oil and a stack of freshly-baked sweetrolls. Beefsteaks marinated in whiskey before grilling are served with a basil garnish, along with chicken liver on wafer bread. Smoked herrings and crab legs rest on a side platter. Raspberries, strawberries, and hazelnuts topping little cakes make dessert.

16. Lobster & beetles. After a diced seafood and mushroom soup comes a bowl of walnuts and hazelnuts in honey. Freshly-steamed lobster drenched in butter and garlic is set out before a giant fire beetle soaked in brandy and set aflame! Then a roast boar is wheeled out, but the boar has been hollowed and stuffed with sausages. Following that is a dish of camel brains in a sour sauce, with poppy-seeded bread to sop it up. Lastly, a dessert of cherry-flavored shaved ice in little silver bowls.

17. Giant crayfish. An appetizer of fish eggs proceeds a diced seafood and spinach soup. A salad of rose petals and lotus blossoms is brought out. Boiled, half-hatched pheasant and quail eggs are produced. A giant crayfish is boiled, stuffed with garlic and other herbs, cut into manageable portions, and served in lemon sauce.

18. Pike liver & pheasant brains. A shredded duck and mushroom soup and an appetizer of salted snails precede steaming plates of pike liver, pheasant brains, peacock brains, flamingo tongues, and lamprey roe. A dead crocodile is wheeled out — one cut open and filled with fish cutlets. Honey-dipped dormice are served for dessert.

19. Spiced sow udder & rooster combs. The appetizers include spiced sow udder, rooster combs, rabbit legs, flamingo tongues, ostrich brains, large snails in sweet and sour sauce, and the testicles of various animals. This is followed by dormice dipped in both honey and poppy seeds. Then live fish are brought to the table and killed with scalding hot sauce. Tiny fig-pecker birds covered in raw yolk and pepper come next. Statuettes carved entirely from pork are brought to the table. Then comes a cow stuffed with lamb stuffed with pig stuffed with rooster stuffed with chicken stuffed with thrush. Dessert is cakes and pickled rabbit roe.

20. Fried dragon eggs & lamb. The meal starts with a shark fin and crabmeat soup. Then fried dragon eggs are served in a sauce of saffron and sesame. Lamb covered in poppy seeds comes next, and then smoked salmon stuffed with walnuts, baked cod in a sweet and sour raisin sauce, chicken served with dried pears and peaches, and then tiny birds drowned in a potion of healing. Sherbet and plum jelly make up dessert. All dishes were blessed by a cleric before eating.


Allen, Stewart Lee. In the Devil’s Garden: Sinful History of Forbidden Food. New York: Balantine Books, 2002.

Andrews, Tamra. Nectar and Ambrosia: An Encyclopedia of Food in World Mythology. Santa Barbara, CA.: ABC-CLIO, 2000.

“A Brief History of the Old English Inn.” Ed. by The Old English Inn Society. Available on The National Pub & Brewery History Website, at

Johnnes, Daniel with Michael Stephenson. Daniel Johnnes’s Top 200 Wines: An Expert’s Guide to Maximum Enjoyment for Your Dollar. New York: Penguin Books, 1996.

Kallen, Stuart A. The 50 Greatest Beers in the World: An Expert’s Ranking of the Very Best. Secaucus, NJ: Citadel Press, 1997.