Saturday, September 19, 2015

Long Shadows...

"At 10:00 a.m., on June 4th, you enter the ruins of Ørm Buk and make your way to what used to be the central courtyard.  Leaving one or two members of the party to guard the horses, you spread out systematically to search the ruins for the several hidden entrances to the dungeons below..."

So opens the first session of the Aalborg Expedition.  At the time in history of the campaign, Ørm Buk was in Denmark; today it's near the German town of Kiel.

The first session ran for 7-8 hours in October 1977 and involved 9 players running 28 different player characters and one hardy DM (Dungeon Master).  This is the form that I used to track those 28 characters:

What kind of game requires hand drawn maps and forms for keeping track of player character attributes?  A game which has its roots in the late 60's among people who did "wargaming".

This type of game involves large tables covered with sand (to recreate terrain) and lots of miniature figures (representing armies) on which historical battles were recreated.  What made this different from history was that probability was introduced so that the battles did not always end the same way.  Perhaps a calvary charge or a mortar barrage was more or less effective than is was in the original skirmish.

Coming out of this tradition was Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson who met each other at the 2nd GenCon (the Lake Geneva Wargames Convention) in 1969 and expressed a mutual interest in collaborating on game rules for wargames with fantasy elements.

In 1970, they form a small local wargaming club called the Lake Geneva Tactical Studies Association composed of Gary Gygax and a man named Don Kaye.  Because of his growing interest in the medieval period, Gygax formed the Castle & Crusade Society and they begin to play in an imaginary area called the Great Kingdom.  Gygax is publishing the C&CS newsletter, the Domesday Book.  Dave Arneson soons joins this group.

In 1971, Gygax and Jeff Perren publish Chainmail which provides rules for medieval miniature warfare that includes wizards, heroes, and mythological creatures like dragons, balrogs, and ents.  Dave Arneson uses Chainmail as the rules for a fantasy campaign in an area of the Great Kingdom called Blackmoor.

By 1973, Gygax and Arneson are collaborating on drafts of a set of rules they call Dungeons & Dragons.  Gygax and Kaye form a partnership called Tactical Studies Rules and are joined by Brian Blume in order to produce the game.

Dungeons & Dragons is first published in 1974 as box containing three booklets.  In less than a year, the initial run of 1000 games is sold out.

If you'd like more information about the complete time line of Dungeons & Dragons, I recommend this Wizards of the Coast webpage.  If you'd like to watch an intriguing video by Joe Peterson that delves into the very early days of the people who created Dungeons & Dragons, watch his YouTube video.

How does my history overlap with the early days of Dungeons & Dragons?

In the mid-70's I was a student at San Diego State University.  I don't remember which member of the group of friends from church, College Avenue Baptist Church, discovered the books, but there were soon several sets available to us.  [My books are from the third printing in April 1975.]

The original three books were Men & Magic, Monsters & Treasure, and The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures.

We immediately began rolling characters and coming up with our own adventures.  While I no longer can find the card for my very first character, Tomasthanes, a 16th level cleric, here's another cleric that I ran:

and a non-humanoid character:

Our group began layering on rules on top of the three books to "add realism".  I invested in the Arduin Grimoire series of books.  We were pulling new rules and tables from The Dragon magazine as well as from the Alarums and Excursions fanzine (1975).

This is an example of how we managed these additional rules.  Here's page 1 of our weather rules:

And page 2:

I purchased a Selectric typewriter to type all of these forms.  Little did I know that this would position me for a long career on the outskirts of documentation and technical writing (never actually getting to do this full time).

I even had a business card.

My wife designed the dragon on it.  Speaking of my wife, the late 70's added another story arc to my tale.  I was married in May 1978.  My wife came from a family that had a strong Christian predisposition again Dungeon & Dragons and, to be fair, I did a poor job of communicating to her why I, an evangelical Christian, enjoyed playing it.  While I don't know whether she would've played if I'd invited her, I don't think I even gave her an opportunity.  This was a source of disagreement between us for several decades.

By the early 80's, we had fancy forms to track NPCs (Non-Player Characters):

And our character sheets, rather than being on a single card, had evolved into this:

and this is the first page of three pages of character description.  Note that transition to a dot matrix printer (Epson MX-80) from the typewriter.

By this time, we'd come up with our own continent called Nygard in which to play :

We each staked out areas in the middle of the continent to develop for campaigns.  My area was called Kambria:

These maps were done by a fellow musicians/artist friend of mine named Thom Fuller.

He also did a "coat of arms" for the primary city of Kambria, Britholm:

At this point, a number of things were happening.  We were starting to think about transitioning to Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, most of us had graduated from San Diego State University, and while one of us headed to Scotland for graduate work, the rest of us wandered into post-college jobs.  It's like the coals of a fire being pulled out onto the hearth.  I watched our gaming group slowing fall apart.

While I always had a "Dungeons & Dragons" process running in the background as a daemon, very little happened.

There was a brief blip in 2000 when I put together the Original Dungeons & Dragons Consolidated Rules where I merged most (but not all) of the first 3 books into a single hyperlinked PDF document.  It is still available out there on the Internet somewhere.  This is a screen shot from the title of the document.  I apologize, in advance, for the choice of font and shadows.

In 2005, I located a DM (Dungeon Master) 15 miles south of where we lived who was running a D&D 3rd Edition campaign.  My son and I joined them for a bit.  We probably played 5 or 6 sessions with them until they wrapped up the campaign and went on hiatus.

In 2006, my wife and son collaborated on a custom dice bag for me.

Each designed one of the dragons using an indelible ink pen.  A treasure.  Oh, and like a bag of holding or the TARDIS, it's bigger on the inside than it is on the outside.

In 2010, we discovered a friend at church who was leading a campaign which was a mishmash of D&D 3E and 3.5 plus lots of house rules.  There was a heavy emphasis on shopping every time we came into a town.  My son, daughter, and I played with them for almost two years, then they moved to Oregon and those sessions ended.  These sessions were good if only for helping me better understand that different people have different expectations and those are okay.  If the expectation overlap is not enough or too dissonant, feel free to look for play elsewhere.

In neither 2005 or 2010 was I motivated by the DMs or the game to invest myself in reading through the core rule books for whichever version of D&D we were playing.

So what do I want to accomplish?  I'd like to

  • Learn the Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition (5E) rules
  • I'd like to participate in the D&D 5E community by playing the common campaigns and even some local events
  • I'd like to re-learn how to DM a game
Easy peasy.

What's next?  I'd like to start to examine the resources that Wizards of the Coast makes available to a person who wants to play D&D 5E in 2015.