Wednesday, April 29, 2009

What Color is your Orc?

Who would have thought the humble orc would have gone through so many changes since first used in D&D?

Created by Tolkien for his Middle Earth cannon fodder, their use in Dungeons and Dragons made them a household name. First mentioned in the “White Box,” they were described as savage tribal creatures that live in caves or villages.

In pre-AD&D days, my orcs pretty much looked like the figures I found. Those early figs, Ral Partha I think, pretty much were the pig-faced orcs as depicted in Hildebrandt Bros. LOTR calendars, where more often than not they also seemed to wear roman centurion armor. Tolkien did not describe them as pigs, but having mentioned broad noses may have lead to the pig thing. I never really liked the pig look. James at Grognardia seems to have gone “full hog” with this “orc as pig” philosophy, making the orcs in his Dwimmermount campaign actually be boars given humanoid form. Hmm. That’s all good, but for some reason to me it seems less orc, and more like something from the old 80’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon. When I picture a “boar man” it’s hard not to see it in a badly animated cartoon image in my mind. Not to say James is wrong , but that image is my least favorite as far as “What color is your orc.” Never mind that people are going to start confusing orcs with wereboars during the full moon.

Some pretty shitty orc miniatures came out in conjunction with the Ralph Bakshi animated LOTR 70’s film. In that movie the orcs were just dudes with fake tusks and caveman fur singlets, made to look pitch black and poorly rotoscoped. Bakshi even just shaded old footage of Zulu warriors from old movies for some of the orc scenes. There was some creep factor to that look, but it really made for some craptacular miniatures based on the film.

During the 80’s, orc figures evolved into a more ape-like look, and by around 1990 Warhammer 40000 continued with the green caveman meets ape look. Orcs now were becoming more thuggish than pure snarling evil as Tolkien portrayed them.

In the last several years, we have seen two newly portrayed types of orcs. There are the Peter Jackson movie orcs, which I really like. In the film, they come in all kinds, which is how Tolkien described them. Although I have not seen orc miniatures based on those films (I was semi-retired from gaming for most of the new millennium), I’m sure the look would/did translate well to miniature form. Especially those badass Uruk Hai.

Now, with the World of Warcraft generation, orcs have become something much more than the original basic primitive savage good and evil concepts. Later editions of D&D let you play pure orcs as characters, and WOW followed suite, even going so far as to make them cunning, brave, muscular heroic warriors. Wow indeed.

So my preference is for the snarling, hateful orcs of Tolkien. Orc women and children? Characters will never delve deep enough to find them. They will only continue to contend with gangs and troops of the foul beasts in caverns and dungeons of the sub-surface world. And they will continue to put them to sword and axe with a clear conscience. In my game world, orcs were born to die. And I guess in my world, they look like whatever figures I happen to have on hand (including my one remaining “pig-face” orc from the old days).

Friday, April 24, 2009

D&D live action movie gets greenlight

Fake. Yeah, I know, lame. If we did get one at this point, it would be a Roger Cormen-esque budget straight to video mess. Or worse, some monstrosity directed by that Uwe Boll guy who makes all the crappy video game movies.

As you can see in the Cosplay photo, the Dungeons and Dragons cartoon from the 80’s has a small cult following. With the 80’s still being mined for it’s richness of pathos and irony and middle-aged nostalgia chumps like me looking to recapture our youth, just doing a live-action adaptation of the cartoon would please us game geeks. Try to do a new story, and you’ll end up with a Wayans brother as a thief, and Beholders so weak that they have been reduced to minor guardian creatures.

Even the annoying child Barbarian and his whining unicorn could not ruin it if it was done right. To keep the kids at the proper age, you get a bunch of mostly unknowns for them, and then just get a big star for Dungeon Master and Venger. My vote for Venger is Willem Dafoe. Scrunch Gary Oldman up with the miracle of movie Hobbitization, shave the top of this head, and you gots yourself the DM right there.

We can dare to dream. If they can make it any better than the D&D movie from the 90’s, then you’ll get my ass in a seat at the local movie house. I’ll probably stash a few Fat Tire Ales in my backpack though, just in case I need to dull the pain.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

What’s your alignment, baby?

Like most young D&D geeks back in the day, me and my buddies often used D&D terminology in our regular lives as kids. Obviously, if you fell off your bike or skateboard and got bashed up a bit, you’d say “I think I lost about 5 hit points there” (in reality, being zero level, we probably only had about 3 or 4 hit points max). I remember as a teen surfing with another gamer, and he asked me how many wandering aquatic monsters did we risk randomly encountering. We saw sharks and jelly fish all the time, so those topped our list. Also in there was killer whales, “kooks” and killer bacteria (this was Santa Monica Bay, after all).

But my favorite “D&Dism” was a pick-up line that I actually used and ultimately got lucky with in my early 20’s.

In our teens, I had joked about how in the far flung future world of my gameworld, people used “what’s your alignment” instead of “what’s your sign” (the big real world pick-up line of the late 70’s, early 80’s).

At a party years later, I was enjoying the kegs and open bar, when a pretty blond girl asked me to pour a beer for her. Happy to oblige and a little toasted, I hit her with it “so…I’m a cool and easy chaotic good. What’s your sign, baby?”

Not even thinking it would work, she was fascinated and wanted to know what the hell I was talking about. At that point in life I never talked about gaming around non-gamers. I was totally in the closet. But for some reason I decided to tell this girl what alignment meant, and about the game it came from. She was sort of a bimbo and didn’t like sci fi or fantasy (not even Star Wars), but the opening I got with my gibbering D&D nonsense got me into her life and dating her for around three months. If I recall, it ended because we had nothing in common but being pretty. And I was broke around that time too. That does not go with “high maintenance” L.A. chicks.

You don’t really hear that “what’s your sign” line outside of Burning Man these days, but I still think knowing somebody’s alignment is a whole lot more informative about them than what month they were born in.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Yo, Dog - it's da Urban Druid

OK, that's for a modern game, but the urban druid could fit well into all sorts of genres. But for now I'm thinking fantasy.

I love the idea of an Urban Druid. I really only GM games, but if I still played in them this would be my next character. Though created for later editions of D&D than I use, It would be only a small deal to adapt it.

Although I only discovered it online recently, it first appeared in Dragon Magazine # 317 in 2004. There is also an Urban Ranger apparently, and I will for sure look into that later.

The urban druid lives in or near major settlements, and draws it’s power from the people, the animals, and the buildings of the town or city. The buildings are the urban druid’s trees, the alleyways it’s “nature trails,” and the streets it’s rivers and streams.

Rats, dogs, cats, scorpions, spiders, ravens, and the almighty cockroach are the urban druids friends and range of familiars.

One of the coolest powers of the urban druid is Crowdwalk. With this ability, the druid can move through crowded city streets as if they are an empty field. You can imagine looking down at the teeming city streets, and the urban druid passing in a straight line through the crowd without brushing up against anyone.

The urban druid can also take on not just the animal shapes of the city, but the city itself. At mid-levels it can become wagons or doors, and later houses or even streets. I’m already thinking of a high level urban druid NPC for my major city, who likes to take the form of a mystical looking house (think Doctor Strange’s Greenwich Village pad) at the end of a street in the poor part of town. When he is on the move in humanoid form somewhere, locals go “wasn’t there an old run down house down there this morning?”

The article is reprinted at the Eberron site if you haven't seen it. Hella cool.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Behold, the mighty Kobold!

These kobold guys sure get around. They have had various incarnations in D&D, none of them very much like their legendary “real world” counterparts.

I have not used a kobold (and who could use just one?) in my games for at least 15 years. There came a point in my long-running game world, maybe in the early 90’s, where I just thought there were too many non-human “goblinoids” running around in tunnels and ruins of my lands. Orcs, goblins, hobgoblins, gnolls, bugbears, kobolds, and others. And of course, if I had used every variation of these creatures that appeared in The Dragon, White Dwarf, or The Dungeoneer, It would be a goddamn overpopulated circus world down there!

I mostly stuck with orcs and goblins throughout the 90’s for my underground grunt troops. Bugbears were pretty much Uruk Hai orcs, except for the brief period I had as a kid. In those very early days I portrayed them like they appeared in a crude original D&D book – a big hairy body with a pumpkin for a head. I still used gnolls very occasionally in the 90’s (with a tendency to inhabit above ground ruined cities), and still thought of them as being in remote parts of my world. But my thinking was that kobolds just don’t exist anymore, at least where players might go in their travels.

But in trying to come up with a quick mini-adventure with a bit of combat for next week, kobolds came to mind. I have a party of mid-level characters in my current campaign, and I am adding a couple of new players into the mix. Hmm, what to throw at the party where 1st level dudes can fight next to the bigger guns. I know…a troop of kobolds! Little goblinoids with 3 hit points each! Everybody kills one when they hit! Nice!

But how to portray them at this point? In the old days, they were pretty much little dog-headed goblins. Before AD&D, the “white box” described them simply as small goblins (as if goblins weren’t small enough). At some point in later D&D evolution, they became non-goblin and somewhat reptilian, their dog heads replaced by lizard heads. I think I read somewhere in the nineties that they were now related to dragons! Wow, I remember that art in the DM’s guide (I think in there) with a bunch of kobolds attacking a dragon. Now they are related to them? Jeez. Third Edition described several kinds of kobold, including aquatic, desert, jungle, etc etc etc.

Who knows what the hell they are in 4th ed?

Although I just need them to be weaker goblins for my encounter (I want to describe all these little pricks running around the village making off with wine barrels and livestock), I sort of want to make them more like the legends as well. In myth, they did actually come in a variety of types. Some helped around the home (in one description I read they sound a lot like house elves from Harry Potter), some lived in troops underground and worked mines just like their D&D counterparts. Folklorists have proposed that the mine kobold derives from the beliefs of the ancient Norse or German tribes. It is suggested that the Proto-Norse based the kobolds on the short-statured Finns, Lapps, and Latvians who fled their invasions and sought shelter in northern European caves and mountains. There they put their skills at smithing to work and, in the beliefs of the proto-Norse, came to be seen as supernatural beings.

Some even snuck aboard sailing vessels to help sailors. That is very unique in legend – not many mystical creatures were helpful towards sailors. The seas were all about the terror.

Although I like the idea of expanding the kobold beyond the barking reptile dogmen of D&D past, I really already have pixies, fairies and boggarts to play these parts. Because I have Scottish parents I have heard a lot about Brownie legends, and use them for needed purposed in games at appropriate times. They can do everything from help an old man repair a shop full of shoes, to making a farmers milk go bad.

But at least I have rediscovered the humble D&D version of thekobold, and will use some in my game next week. I just wish I had about 50 miniatures of kobolds to use. That would spice-up the ol’ greasemat.

Thursday, April 16, 2009


Comedy Central’s new show Krod Mandoon and the Flaming Sword of Fire (ha ha), while obviously based much on Conan movies and other fantasy fare, does indeed seem to have some D&D inspiration. The flaming sword of the title (that so far seems to have a bit of a mind of its own, a very classic Dungeons and Dragons trope) seems to hint at this, as does the skill - varied party of adventures that make up Krod’s gang.

OK, OK, D&D probably only enters into it a bit, and this show seems to be taking a shot at being more like a cross between the wildly popular Xena: Warrior Princess show from the 90’s, and the Robin Hood parody series When Things Were Rotten from the 80’s. Maybe a bit of Shrek in their as well. The main difference here is that while Xena had wild action sequences and was actually funny a lot of the time, and had a fairly big budget, Krod doesn’t really have either quality in decent amounts.

Show creator Peter Knight sites Monty Python and the Holy Grail (a movie he claims to have seen more than any other – and it’s possible we have that in common), but I see none of that classic comedy going on here so far.

Some of the humor seems to come from the Get Smart school (characters who are skilled yet seem to fuck up all the time). But whereas I laugh my ass off watching Get Smart, I was only mildly amused a couple of times during the hour-long pilot: once when Krod’s pig-faced henchman accidentally pins Krods hand to the back of a bad guy with a crossbow bolt (this happened in the first few minutes of the show, and gave me great hope), and then in the evil villains castle. The bad guy likes to ride around his castle corridors on a full-size horse, while his advisors walk alongside it scrunched up against the walls. I liked that.

Game fanboys are likely to appreciate the female of the group. She is a lovely, exotic type who would rather seduce enemies than fight them. Portrayed by India De Beaufort, gang bang humor abounds around here. She is this shows “Kelly Bundy.” Krod wants her to be his girlfriend, while everyone else snickers about her whorish passions.

OK, “big laughs.” But where is my D&D TV, dammit? Why not? How about a show similar to Firefly, but with a group of disparate adventurers in a fantasy world (Baldur’s Gate!). Start them at a tavern, and have the first episode be about a dungeon delve. Thow in the tropes: ten foot poles, gelatinous cubes, corridors with strange sounds and colorful magic gases, goblinoids in large numbers camped out in a cavern, carrion crawlers, etc etc etc.

And I don’t mean make it funny. Make it a big grim and gritty. Let humor come from pathos and irony, like they do in old school games that took things fairly seriously. Get the characters fleshed-out in city scenes in between dungeons. Have the larger “Underdark” be the whispered about realm that the party will eventually go to (shit, do the entire Against the Giants/Vaults of the Drow storyline). Man, that would be cool.

Then I woke up in a cold sweat, and realized that only American Idol and Flavor of Love was on. Sigh.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

My Two Pence on Dave

Even though I have been a gamer for around three decades, I do not consider myself any kind of expert in the history of RPG’s (one of the reasons I decided to take a more low-brow approach in my blogs). I was mostly about the gaming, not the “Behind the Music” stuff. But I am old school, and I did love Blackmoor like I did so many books and supplements of my youth. But 99% of what I know about the man behind Blackmoor, I learned in the last few months.

I am indeed a child of the white box, and I owned the Blackmoor supplement in Jr. High. I didn’t know a ton about the dude that put it together, I just knew I loved what was inside it, including that Temple of the Frog. I probably used that setting a half dozen times when I needed a quick adventure. I probably only used “The Lichway” from White Dwarf magazine more for first level games.

Most of my friends had gotten into the game a couple years after I discovered it, and by then were picking up the newer, larger box Dungeons and Dragons books, so Blackmoor was my little secret. It had already been around for quite a while by the time I got my own group together. Before that, it was all about reading those original booklets, and day dreaming of the adventures to come (I also played in solo games “run” by the dickwad who got me into the game, but he didn’t own any books. He just had dice and made it up as he went along (You can read about this in my first post at my secret blog

So outside of that, I didn’t know much about Dave. What little I did beyond the Blackmoor book I probably overheard at Aero Hobbies in Santa Monica when I hung out there. Let’s face it, Gygax was the man. To me and my friends, he was the God of D&D. I didn’t know that Gygax was the “money man” who handled the biz, and also that Gary wasn’t all that fond of what made Dave’s games great (I imagine, anyway) – Gary was a rules guy, and Dave was the role-play guy.

Now I have to say, I just gamed over the decades and didn’t put much effort into learning the behind the scenes antics. But as an adult I love that stuff, and so in the last year or so have learned so much about Gary and Dave, and others who made the hobby what it is. My minor heroes included Dave Hargrave and Paul Jaques, but Gygax and Arneson got the boat sailing.

It seems that Gary was more into the mechanics of things: encounter charts, stats, lists, various minutiae. But Dave was the true role-player with the unique voicing of NPC’s and getting deeper into characterization. The role-play aspects are what I love the most; the power of bringing a personality to life. So really, I guess in that respect Dave H. is my father of role-playing. That he was a true wargamer, but softened up to include personality and warmth into his gaming style, says a lot for the guy. A certain openness that I think was in my genes as well as a DM. Gary G. was into a lot of the details that I chose to leave a lot out of my game. What Dave was into was a lot of what I loved and chose to build on. I could not get enough character growth in my game.

Even so, Dave came up with a couple of my favorite mechanics – those of hit points and AC. He was a wargamer at the core, and these details came from a civil war wargame he had worked on. These were the concepts we used the most outside of games. Got hurt in the football game and was bleeding from the lip. “Shit, I think I’m down 3 hit points.” Or somebody throws something at you and you dodge it easily “You can’t hit my AC dude!” The only things we came close to using so much in real live was saving throws (“I got a cold, failed my save”), and alignment (instead of asking a chick her sign, we’d say “Hey baby, what’s your alignment?”).

So both these guys came together like chocolate and peanut butter to make a game that has taken up a lot of my life. I love them both. I just wish Dave had appeared in that Futurama episode right next to Gary, rolling a D20 to see if it’s “a pleasure to meet you!”

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Joke Games/Joke Characters

I guess this is another concept I have a love/hate relationship in my gaming history. Mostly hate.

James M. over at Grognardia posted the other day regarding an old TSR module called Castle Greyhawk. Having little to do with Sir Gary’s original Greyhawk setting, it turns out (I had never read it) to be a “lighthearted send-up” of Hollywood – great, just what I wanted in a D&D setting.

OK, so Gygax was not exactly “Mr. Serious” when it came to his gaming. Despite being inspired by a lot of good, serious fiction, GG put a certain amount of goofiness into some of this stuff. Making a level out of Alice in Wonderland was just one example of his silly nature when it came to games. But for the most part, his stuff seemed timid compared to some of the jokey Judges Guild products (a lot of which I loved).

But for me in my adult life, the laughter in a game tended to come mostly from the pathos and irony that often pans out during gameplay, and players witty and intelligent verbiage that gets the whole group belting out guffaws. Like last year when I had a new player use my generous stat rolling rules (best 3 of 4 dice, move them around, switch a couple of points, etc.), and he still had shit rolls. Had him try another set, still shitty, Let him move some stats around, still shitty. By the time he said that this was the norm for him when rolling up a PC, the other players and I were ready to pass out from laughing. And not at him - his attitude was so great about being a stat sad sack. Now that’s humor, without injecting Star Trek and cartoon monsters into the mix.

But my serious nature about my fantasy was not always so! Like most people who start D&D as a kid, the characters and games were almost instantly stupid. I mean, what would you expect from 14 year olds? But when I got up in my teens a bit, and had a fantasy world that was starting to grow and flesh out, I wanted my games to be more like the stories I loved – high adventure, romance, and grim determination.

But up until my 20’s there was still a bit of jokey jack joke joke stuff in my games, and I thought I might brainstorm on some examples from the past:

*Something that really stands out is the point around 1982 when a couple friends and I made up the Three Stooges as our characters (I got to run Moe!). We included various attacks, like the “two-finger eye poke” and the “block two-finger eye poke.” Hmmm…forbears of Feats and talents?

*A friend and I ran the kitchen of his father’s pub in Santa Monica. There was a crotchety old guy that hung out there, and a flaming young gay dude, “Gay Bob” we called him, The old guy would get so mad at Bob, and chase him out onto Main Street. Yeah, me and my buddy made up characters for that, except that the crotchety old guy was made into the pseudo dragon familiar of wizard Gay Bob. And Yeah, I painted wizard Bob with flowers on his robes. Sigh. At least they didn’t last more than a game or two.

*A buddy had a character in my game called “Cadille,” a huge black eunuch (get it? Cadillac?). He sounded like a cross between a 70’s pimp and Uncle Remus. Needless to say, not very sensitive. Around this time we seemed to be in competition to come up with the most lame jokey PC’s and NPC’s.

Characters were one thing, but I rarely made entire game sessions a joke (not on purpose, anyway). Not for D&D. “Funhouse Dungeons” sounded interesting too me, but never ran one, and never played in one. I did have a short Champions campaign that I had set in a funny animal world, but even that had real world physics (as opposed to “Toon Heroes” or whatever).

I guess one exception was the first Tegal Manor setting I ran, in which I remember having placed Radium rifle-packing Green Martians from John Carter in the main ballroom for some reason (I think I had some great old figures for them, so I must have wanted to use them). I made up for that by running some great, mostly serious games in the manor years later.

I think the place I had the hardest time keeping things serious was City State of the Invincible Overlord. I ran it apart from my regular D&D world, and had characters start out at high level. I ran it as-is, winging it on anything that was not in the little book that came with the maps. It almost always devolved into the characters causing some major shit (somebody even killed the dolphin that appeared in the bath house) because they were high level and didn’t give a fuck, and running like hell from the city when the real badasses showed up to deal with them.

I remember a memorable Monsters! Monsters! Game I ran. Originally a Tunnels and Trolls game, I used the concepts for D&D. The characters were a hill giant, an intelligent gorilla, ogres, and such. Attacking a small town was big fun. Great images of the giant reaching into 2nd floor bedrooms of sleeping people to squash them, and the gorilla raping women in the barn. Sheesh. It all ended with the monsters attacking a walled city in the second game. Being only 2nd level, the young monster gang were quickly finished off by guardsmen arrows. T&T was sort of made to be a joke game, but that MM based game was just nuts.

By the late 80’s, I kept things fairly serious as far as characters and situations. I could come up with a pun like the next guy, but I’m not wired to find that super-entertaining. How about just having an adventure where the laughs come naturally, from gameplay involving smart and fun people? It never really works to force humor in real life, so why attempt it in a game, where most players enjoy a fairly serious adventure and prefer the humor to be natural – even if they are running a bit of a jokey character (many people don’t realize they are doing so!).

Almost always the “humor” probably sounded better on paper than it did in action.

So how about you? Especially as a youngster, did you indulge in a lot of the jokey stuff? Tell me about the embarrassing character ideas you and your friends came up with, or your experiences with some “Looney Manor” style dungeon. Do you still encounter a lot of this (if you go to lots of conventions, my guess is you will say “YES!”). Do you like it, even prefer it? What factors made a joke game fun for you?

Thursday, April 2, 2009

No Grognard I?

My last most active gaming period was in the late 90’s. Though I was online then, I didn’t really look too deeply at the gaming community on the internet. Actually, I never spent a whole time in the gaming community period, even though I had game groups on and off for decades. I was so out of the loop around 1998 that I didn’t know what edition D&D was on, or what the D20 system was, or any of that shit. When I went into a store in the late 90’s all I bought was figures and paints (and there’s another out-of-the-looper – I never referred to them as “miniatures” until recently). As far as games and books, all I saw was GURPS and Vampire stuff all over the place. I was always very fortunate to be in my own little gaming world, with player who were pretty much willing to play whatever I ran.

As a kid I hung out for a few years at a local hobby shop in Santa Monica. But as I got into my older teens, I just started thinking in terms of life being too short to be around the generally negative (at least for younger people) vibe at Aero Hobbies. Most of the guys who hung out in that moldy dump were between 5-50 years older than the teenage dudes, and most of them were pretty much self-righteous pricks who should not have been spending a lot of time around kids.

So in high school my gaming life outside that shop really took off. I found that I could generally put together a group made out of friends and friends of friends. And because of my negative experiences at that game shop as a kid, and because conventions seem to ramp up the geek factor a thousand fold, I never went to many cons or game day events. I just wanted to GM for people I knew and liked – and I didn’t tend to like about half the people I met in the gaming community. I was into long campaigns and deep character development with people I was comfy with and was willing to have in my life for years at a stretch.

When 2nd edition AD&D came out, I was not impressed. Having skills and such didn’t really phase me – in my games we had always assumed skills and proficiencies for characters. But the very vibe seemed different. It just felt like a different game. When one of my players, Terry, decided she wanted to do some DMing, I was supportive. But when she whipped out the 2nd edition, I was outraged. What the hell?

But the fact is: I was changing. Terry’s 2nd edition games were one of the only experiences I had as a non-DM player in D&D as an adult. But still, my games were moving away a bit from the cheese, and dungeons for dungeons sake. As role-play and characterization became more important in my games, a certain realism was setting in. Sure, I still liked to whip out wacky Judges Guild adventure settings, or use Arduin’s wild tables for this and that, but for the most part, my scenarios more and more were involving more mature adventure in the open air. Dealings with powerful NPC’s in the cities, travel to foreign lands – the longer my game world was in existence, the more our sessions were about the characters lives and friends outside the labyrinth, I loved to have a magical underground garden pop up now and again (the Garden of Merlin from the Dungeoneer is a much-used fave), or send the PC’s on a long adventure in the Underworld, but the classic cheese of trapped corridors filled with slime and magical statues, and hex clearing in the forest to build a keep, was in steep decline in my world. It just sort of happened.

Little did I realize that AD&D in general had made many of the same moves I had. Howling wildernesses with dungeons and other areas that made little sense were no longer held in high regard. Focus on character and high adventure seemed to be more the norm. D&D had grown up too.

When I started reading blogs about gaming late last year, I was surprised to see this big debate over “old and new” gaming. There will always be debates, but I was tickled pink to see guys like James M. at Grognardia championing the old tropes I once loved: Cubes of jelly floating around corridors like some kind of fantasy Zamboni, rust monsters, piercers, hirelings, ten-foot poles, etc. etc. etc.

I love these old tropes and in thinking about them they give me a minor thrill in only the way as an adult seeing a vintage porn you loved as a teenager could give you. Just like the porn, the old D&D cheese is fun to revisit briefly, but really just not as good as you remember it being.

James at Grognardia, sort of a self-appointed museum curator of old D&D cheesy goodness, is describing his currently ongoing campaign Dwimmermount in his blog. James practices what he preaches – his setting is fairly light on the “outside the dungeon” stuff, but satisfyingly heavy on the cliches: traps, tricks, tribes of violent humanoids crammed into caves, hirelings (something I never really liked in D&D – to me they were just Star Trek “red shirts” and I always thought a good DM could run a survivable game without them), and the proverbial ten-foot poles that you need, because one of the other tropes in the dungeons are likely to take a hand off you (think of it as using a trope against a trope – we are beyond the cheesy looking glass here, people…). James is so into his clich├ęs, that great role-playing opportunities are missed that I would snatch up – like one of the hirelings going back to town to get married.

Shit, if you are going to go to the trouble to flesh out the “red shirt” enough so that you know he’s getting married, how about a quick encounter at the wedding, with bandits or something attacking the proceedings. *Boing* your lands outside the dungeon have sprung to life! I have thought “outside the dungeon” for so long, I immediately grab onto something like that. But that is not Grognard thinking I guess. James not wanting to do something like that, taking the PC’s out of the dungeon for something that could be character developing, is TRUE Grognard.

For the last few months that I have been back into gaming, and blogging a bit about it, I have thought of the newer, 4th edition crowd as being the aggressors in the old/new debate. But in the last few weeks I have seen some old school folk get pretty upset over nothing. Look, old is good, new is good – as long as people are willing to sit down and pretend with books and dice, then shit, we are all in this together. I don’t think the new guys are right in poo-pooing old school thought; nor do I think the old school is right in thinking that because a lot of old tropes have been abandoned the game is no longer D&D. A rose is a rose by any other name. Sure, it isn’t my D&D. Mine exists in all these old copies of the DM guide, PH, and UE I still own. I ain’t buying new ones, goddamn it. I’m Scottish, so I’m a cheapo ( That explains a lot of shit in my life, not just to my hanging on to 1st ed. for dear life).

So what about Me? I have been at it on and off for about 30 years, but I guess I am not really Grognard. Truth be told, my games these days probably unfold like most2nd, 3rd, and 4th edition games do. James’ sort of unfold the way mine did when I was 15. I wonder; if James had a D&D world that he created as a kid and still used, with decades and decades of character continuity, would he still be holding on to all the old tropes? Might his game play have evolved? I know he still might prefer those old OD&D pamphlets, but after a hundred dungeons and a thousand gelatinous cubes, would it still be the same? I think a lot of the guys who prefer to play pure old school have just had giant gaps in their gaming pastimes, probably decades. If you haven’t watched football in 25 years, you would be surprised at how much the game has changed – and you would probably prefer the old, smash-mouth gameplay. I suspect this is true with James and others outlook on D&D, although I am just assuming in James M.’s case and would love to know more of his gaming history.

A weird ass dungeon that makes little sense (Gygax naturlism or not) still sounds cool, but in game terms I would rather not play in it. Look, I still mostly use my old 1st edition books for two reasons: one, I own at least two of each book. And secondly, my players never really cared. If my players in 1992 had said “Look, either we play the new edition or we don’t play” then hell, I’d be a second edition guy. I would buy the 4th ed. Stuff if I had too – but man, for me it would be like going in reverse evolutionarily speaking. I mean, I would probably start with high adventure, and in several years have players back in senseless dungeons trying to figure out the right spell to kill an Ochre Jelly.

So Grognard I? I guess not. At least not at a Grognardia level.