How to beat Gary Gygax

This post will likely be the first of a few post-mortem reflections on T1: The Village of Hommlet, as my local gaming group just completed our tenth and final session in this classic Gygax module.

As this is my first AD&D adventure, I’m struck by a number of things:

  1. I love AD&D.  Yes, it’s clunky fairly often.  Yes, we have to flip through the books to find rules fairly consistently.  And, yes, more modern systems tend to make a little more sense.  But you simply can’t say that AD&D is not fun, challenging, and exciting.
  2. AD&D really is advanced.  For less seasoned gamers, who had not already played RPGs, I could see this game being the death knell for their roleplaying.  There’s a bit of a learning curve here.
  3. The nostalgia is real.  You really do get a taste of a different era and a different kind of gaming when you go back and play AD&D.But my fourth observation is where I’d like to dwell in this post:
  4. To overcome this module, you really have to beat Gary Gygax.  You’re not simply solving a puzzle or overcoming a challenge.  You have to figure out Gygax’s gameplan, metagame a bit, and beat him!
y5x6lh6jjeg6j65vgngqlcgkgne

The Gamers 2: Dorkness Rising

And to think, I would’ve known this already if I’d thought back to that modern classic gaming film, The Gamers 2: Dorkness RisingHaven’t seen it?  Read on…

Continue reading

Breathe life into that boring dungeon crawl!

They call it a dungeon grind. 

Not a dungeon frolic, a dungeon jaunt, or even a dungeon struggle.

It’s a grind.  It’s a slog.  An encounter-by-encounter, gear-grinding endeavor that makes even the most experienced player and GM tremble.

megageomorhdungeon

My second session of D&D as a GM was a dungeon freaking grind.  Why?  Well, I had a really big playmat, lots of new miniatures, and I wanted to use it all!  But I learned very quickly that fight after fight after trap after fight can not only kill character, but also bore players.  Is it possible to have a complex dungeon without boring the spit out of our players?  I think you can.  And I’m learning how to do it from Gary Gygax himself:

Continue reading

Should player character death be a possibility?

Many of you have been writing and tweeting, asking how the Chasing the Dragon project is going.  Well, we’re five sessions into The Village of Hommlet and we’ve got two player character deaths on the books.  In fact, here’s a picture from our last session:

img_20161028_230751802

You can see poor Elder Cunningham (our cleric) lying slain amidst his foes.  You can also see the pain on Patrick’s face (Elder’s player) on the top left, as he grieves his character’s untimely demise.

As a GM, I really feel bad when PCs die.  I want players to have a good time…and having your character ignominiously slain with one attack (RIP Elder Cunningham) just doesn’t seem like much fun.  So it leaves me with a question: should PC death be a real potentiality?  Or should GMs avoid it at as much as they can?

Continue reading

The DMs Guide to Session Planning

DMs, do your players always take the path of most resistance?  Or are they content to sit in the local tavern for four solid hours, roleplaying and digging up so much information that you never could have prepared for it?  Or maybe they simply murder hobo through every NPC you carefully crafted.  Here’s my point:

Campaigns never go according to plan, if you plan.

As DMs who are trying to juggle family, jobs, other responsibilities, and gaming, it can get frustrating.  I mean, is there any point in planning at all?

I believe there is a point to planning within limits.  And it all starts with having the right attitude.  You need to make a plan in order to break it.  You heard me right.  Plan with the expectation and intention of breaking that plan.

The path your campaign takes will never be straightforward and simple.  It will be twisted and complicated with lots of course correction.  So here’s how you can plan for that  without losing your sanity:

Continue reading

AD&D: Embrace the Imbalance

AD&D is imbalanced.  There, I said it.  The classes are imbalanced.  The races are imbalanced.  Many of the monsters feel imbalanced.  Everything about the game reeks of imbalance.

But is imbalance necessarily a bad thing?  I don’t think so.

Picture by Kevin Thai

My players are just learning the basic combat rules.  We’re only 2 full sessions in, due to crazy schedules, so we’re still working it out.  I’m still working it out.  So as we engaged our first serious combat opportunity, I thought, let’s keep the guard rails on:

4 PCs (a fighter, an assassin, an illusionist-thief, and a cleric)
1 allied PC (Elmo, if you’re familiar with The Village of Hommlet)
3 opposing NPCs (2 bandits and one fenced-in wild horse)

Everything about the encounter reeks of caution:

  • One less NPC than the PCs
  • The wild horse was fenced-in, just in case the 2 bandits were too much

But there was more than meets the eye:

  • The Monster Manual recommends bandits be in group of…wait for it…20-200!
  • Wild horses appear in packs of 5-30

So, yeah, I was pulling my punches.  But why?  I wanted to allow the players to learn the system without their characters getting slaughtered.  Is that so bad to do?  The game feels so imbalanced–weighted against low-level PCs–I don’t want them to get frustrated with the system.  In the end, this is the question I found myself facing:

Can I trust the numbers in the books—or do I need to flub them?

Well, I learned from the experience big-time.  Here’s how:

Continue reading

Budget-Friendly Nostalgia: Miniatures

This is the third post in a series on responsible and affordable AD&D shopping.

It was one of the scenes with the greatest foreshadowing in “Stranger Things”: when Mike slammed down the terrifying miniature of a demogorgon smack-dab in the middle of the adventuring party.  They were playing AD&D.  And things just got real.

This thing's no joke: 200 hp straight up (MM, 16).

Demogorgon’s no joke: 200 hp straight up.  3 attacks per round, incl. psionics.  Just run. (MM, 16)   

But a few grognards out there may have taken exception at this point.  “Miniatures!” they might exclaim “We didn’t use no filthy miniatures in AD&D!  It’s was theater of the mind!”  So I’ve heard some say.  But as one who has not only recently read the rulebooks in toto, but has also been recently playing AD&D 1e with miniatures, I think it’s the best way to play the game.  And, for that matter, it’s not going to break the bank either.

But let’s start at the beginning: should AD&D even be played with miniatures?  Is it really going to enhance my gaming experience?

Continue reading

Satanic Panic

The topic has come up in almost every Chasing the Dragon podcast we’ve had: Satanic panic.  That period in the eighties when good, virtuous mothers and churchgoers were warned against the dangers of Dungeons & Dragons.  And the edition that brought on these accusations most powerfully was the exact edition that I’ve been reading, re-reading, playing, and podcasting about: First Edition AD&D.

Some of you may not know this about me, but I am a Protestant pastor in the Southern United States.  I’ve been accused of being too conservative…and also accused of being too liberal, which is probably a good place to be.  But as a Protestant pastor in a denomination that uses the word “evangelical” to describe itself, rest assured I lean right compared to a more liberal, mainstream Protestantism.

Why does that matter?  Well, it seems that if anybody would be sympathetic to the Satanic panic of the ’80s, it would be this guy:

Yep, there he is. That evil gamer type again.

Yep, there he is. That evil gamer type again.

Continue reading