Sunday, December 2, 2018

[D&D] Three new cleric spells

Three new spells available exclusively to clerical devotees of the campaign's "god of wine" or other equivalent figure (Aegir, Dionysus, Inari, Ninkasi, Olidammara, Osiris, Siduri, St.Brigid, etc.):

Transmute Water to Wine (Alteration) Reversible

Level: 1                     Components: V, S, M
Range: 1”                   Casting Time: 1 round
Duration: Permanent Saving Throw: None
Area of Effect: 1 gallon/level

Explanation/Description: Use of this spell will transmute the appropriate quantity of water into a like amount of high quality, and highly intoxicating, wine (or other alcoholic drink - beer, mead, sake, spirits, etc. - depending upon the circumstances and particular flavor of the campaign). If the cleric so chooses, and specifies at the time of casting, the water can be transformed into any particular type or variety of wine or alcoholic drink. Water which was polluted, contaminated, or otherwise non-potable will also be purified (as per the 1st level cleric spell purify food & drink) by the transformative process of this spell.  The material component for this spell is a single drop of wine (or beer, spirit, etc.). The reversed form of this spell, transmute wine to water will transform the specified amount of wine (or other alcoholic drink) into ordinary, and completely non-intoxicating, water.

Create Wine (Alteration)

Level: 2                     Components: V, S
Range: 1”                   Casting Time: 1 round
Duration: Permanent Saving Throw: None
Area of Effect: 1 gallon/level

Explanation/Description: Except as noted above, this spell is effectively identical to the 1st level cleric spell create water. The wine created is of exceptional quality and highly intoxicating. If the cleric so chooses at the time of casting, he or she may specify any particular type or variety of wine (or other alcoholic drink - beer, mead, sake, spirits, etc.) to be created.

Remove Intoxication (Alteration) Reversible

Level: 3                      Components: V, S
Range: Touch              Casting Time: 5 segments
Duration: Permanent Saving Throw: Special
Area of Effect: Creature touched

Explanation/Description: Use of this spell instantly removes any and all effects of intoxication caused by alcohol, narcotics, or other similar substances, from the recipient. The reversed form of this spell, intoxicate, requires a “to hit” roll against an unwilling recipient, who is also allowed a saving throw. On a successful save the recipient is considered moderately intoxicated (with all effects as described on DMG pp. 82-83), and on a failed save is considered greatly intoxicated (ibid). Recovery time from this state is as indicated in the DMG (i.e. 2-4 hours for moderate intoxication, 4-6 hours for great intoxication) - barring use of another remove intoxication spell, of course.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

[D&D] [Review] Art & Arcana first impressions

I received my copy of the Dungeons & Dragons Art & Arcana Deluxe Set in the mail yesterday, and while I've only had a few brief minutes to peruse it so far, my first impression is very positive - that this is a substantial and very interesting book that does everything the previous D&D art books (from 1986, 1989, and 2004) did not. While the focus is on the "visual history" of the game, they've taken a much more expansive view of that concept than the previous books, including not only art from the rulebooks and modules, but also extensive discussion and examples of things like logos, trade dress, maps, advertisements, etc.

The book is arranged in chronological order, from the earliest days of Chainmail and the Castle & Crusade Society up through the latest D&D 5th Edition releases, but there are sidebars interspersed throughout - on topics like the evolution of mapping and how different characters and monsters have been depicted throughout the years - that keep the "early edition" content that I'm interested in present throughout pretty much the entire book. I haven't actually read any of the text (aside from some photo captions) yet, but from flipping through the book there is a ton of stuff of historical and nostalgic interest, not just reproductions of art (cover and interior) and old ads and pictures of oddball 80s-era licensed products, but really cool unpublished tidbits as well. Some of this is stuff that people who follow historically-oriented D&D blogs (like Playing at the World) and ebay auctions (like those from  The Collector's Trove) will already have seen - like Gary Gygax's original "Great Kingdom" map that eventually became The World of Greyhawk, and pre-publication versions of some of the famous TSR cover art, but there's also stuff that is new (or at least new to me), such as Gary's hand-drawn maps of the village of Hommlet and the upper works of the Temple of Elemental Evil from his 1976 home campaign, that are intriguingly different from what was later published by TSR (Hommlet is the same but smaller - the "main street" around the Inn of the Welcome Wench is exactly the same, but many of the outlying buildings - the church, the jeweler, the brewer, and the tower - aren't present; while the Temple upper-works are almost completely different). The book is over 400 pages long, and I've only looked through a small portion of it (I confess I got so distracted by studying the TOEE maps that I didn't really look much further after that) so there may well be more surprises of that nature that I haven't spotted yet.

It's worth mentioning that (again, in contrast to the earlier D&D art books) this book is very solidly and well-produced. It is heavy. The paper is thick and glossy and all of the reproductions are very clear - many of them looking better than their original appearances. This feels like something you'd get in a museum store, and justifies its high pricetag.

An even higher price (which, of course, I paid) gets you the "deluxe edition" which includes not only the book with a special matte cover, but comes in a box (with the same cover art) that also includes a pouch of extra swag - loose prints of various key pieces of D&D art through the ages (text-free versions of the cover art of the AD&D Players Handbook and Fiend Folio, Dave Trampier's glorious art from the original AD&D Dungeon Master Screen, and various pieces of later-edition art) that are theoretically suitable for framing, though the larger ones are folded and have visible creases, and most intriguingly a reproduction of the original 1975 tournament version of Gary Gygax's Tomb of Horrors. This is a typescript of a dozen or so pages, a hand-drawn map, and 20 or so illustrations, just like the 1978 module version (but the art is by Tracy Lesch rather than Trampier and Sutherland, so it's of considerably lower quality). The map and at least most of the encounters appear to be the same (though even in a very brief skim-through I spotted at least one or two differences). The summer of 1975 is very early in D&D's history, long before TSR became a professionalized operation, but it's interesting how much of what later became the standard for TSR's modules is already fully formed here - the only real difference between this version and the 1978 version is the production values of the art and map and the typesetting of the text.

And, as a bonus to the bonus, and even more intriguing, the TOH booklet also includes a reproduction of a short dungeon (5 hand-written pages and one map covering 14 rooms) that D&D fan Alan Lucien sent to Gary and that inspired him to create the Tomb of Horrors - the "Tomb of Ra-Hotep." As the name suggests, and which has gone curiously un-commented-on that I've seen in a brief scan of other previews and reviews of this book (and the introduction within the book itself) is that Lucien's dungeon seems to have been a very close and direct inspiration not just for the TOH, but for Gary's later expansion of the same concept as Necropolis: The Tomb of Rahotep. Not only is the villain's name the same, but so is the map and many of the traps and encounters! Lucien was acknowledged with (presumably non-royalty-bearing) "special thanks" in the 1978 TOH module for inspiring its design, which is probably appropriate, since although the idea was similar the specifics are not really. But he curiously was not given any such thanks or credit for Necropolis, even though roughly half of that adventure's tomb section is directly lifted from his dungeon.

The deluxe version costs a lot more than the book version. I don't know that the TOH reproduction, even with the bonus Ra-Hotep content, justifies the price difference, but I'm still glad to have it.

Is this product (either version) worth buying? That really depends on where your primary interest in D&D lies (and, of course, how much disposable income you have). There's little if anything in this book that you will ever use directly in a game - its value is strictly historical and nostalgic and meta. If you're interested in the history and development of D&D you also probably already know most of what's in here and have seen most of the art and maps and ads and ephemera before (and maybe even own most or all of the products). This isn't a utilitarian product by any means - it's a toy, a luxury, a way to feel like you're still connected to the D&D culture even if you haven't purchased a D&D game-book in a quarter-century or more. And, on those terms, it's a winner. It's a very attractive, very well-produced set that will look nice on your coffee table, that you'll have fun perusing, and that might even make some of your non-gaming friends and family more interested in giving this thing a try than they would be from a dry (and, potentially musty) set of vintage rulebooks.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Community-spirit bloggy quizzy thing

Saw this quiz for "OSR" (i.e. old-school rpg) bloggers making its way around the 'net. Figured I might as well participate:

1. One article or blog entry that exemplifies the best of the Old School Renaissance for me:
The Other Moathouse

2. My favorite piece of OSR wisdom/advice/snark:
Mornard's Three Laws of RPG Rules

3. Best OSR module/supplement:
Classic Dungeon Designer's Netbook #4: Old-School Encounters Reference

4. My favorite house rule (by someone else):
Jeff Rients' table for what happens to PCs who don't make it out of the dungeon before the end of the session

5. How I found out about the OSR:
We were talking on the forums at sometime c. 2003ish about how it seemed like there was increasing interest in older approaches to D&D exemplified by stuff like Necromancer Games "3E rules, 1E feel" slogan and Hackmaster and the Dungeon Crawl Classics modules aping old TSR trade dress and Troll Lord Games' plans to create an OGL 1E-like system that Gary Gygax could use as the basis for his "Castle Zagyg" reskinning of the original Greyhawk Castle Dungeons, and so on, and someone said "it's almost like there's an Old-School Renaissance on the horizon" and the phrase struck a chord and we started using it after that, as a joke at first but a few years later people (mostly "come-lately" types like James Maliszewski) started using it more seriously.

6. My favorite OSR online resource/toy:
Dungeon Robber

7. Best place to talk to other OSR gamers:
Around a table, playing a game

8. Other places I might be found hanging out talking games:
DragonsfootDoomsday Message Boards, the 1e AD&D Round Table group on Facebook

9. My awesome, pithy OSR take nobody appreciates enough:
That D&D is better and more fun when you include the material Gary Gygax added to AD&D in the early 80s that was originally published in Dragon magazine and later collected in the Monster Manual II, Unearthed Arcana, and the World of Greyhawk boxed set, and when you continue to expand beyond it in the same aesthetic spirit. You can still have fun with D&D without needing to (a) remain permanently frozen in amber in 1979, (b) embrace all the lazy and tonally-dissonant garbage TSR and Wizards of the Coast churned out after 1985, or (c) reimagine D&D into something so "gonzo" that it's no longer recognizable to what we fell in love with as kids.

10. My favorite non-OSR RPG:
King Arthur Pendragon, by Greg Stafford (R.I.P.)

11. Why I like OSR stuff:
Because, before the OSR, D&D (versions 3.5 & 4.0) had gotten to be almost totally about math and bean-counting and "character builds" and had lost sight of the freewheeling spirit of actual play, and the OSR reminded folks (including/especially younger folks who missed the "old-school" era the first time around) that it wasn't always and didn't need to be that way.

12. Two other cool OSR things you should know about that I haven’t named yet:
i) Midkemia Press is selling (and in some cases even giving away) their old books in pdf format. Their book Cities is still one of the best, most useful rpg products ever published IMO.

ii) You can purchase legal Print-On-Demand hardcopies of a lot of the 1st Edition AD&D rulebooks and modules (and pdfs of most of the rest) at RPGNow. Tip to the wise: don't bother with anything published after 1985 ;)

13. If I could read but one other RPG blog but my own it would be:
Mortal Worm - Just Keep On Rollin' with Gene Weigel

14. A game thing I made that I like quite a lot is:
AD&D Companion (my "fan-fic" compilation of uncollected AD&D material by Gary Gygax combined with my own house rules and additions that try to maintain the same spirit and show that old-school-style AD&D can still be a vital, growing thing)

15. I'm currently running/playing:
Nothin.' But I've got a growing hankering to run another game someday, if I can find the time and energy. We'll see...

16. I don't care whether you use ascending or descending AC because:
The rules don't matter. They never mattered. If you think they matter, you've missed the point.

17. The OSRest picture I could post on short notice:

Thursday, September 27, 2018

[D&D] Assorted Monsters and Treasures

Back in the 70s, before D&D became Advanced, TSR hadn't caught on to the idea of pre-written adventure modules yet. Instead, they released several "toolbox" accessories - a few sets of "geomorphic" maps (little map-sections that could be combined in a large variety of ways) for both dungeons and towns, and three sets of pre-rolled monsters and treasures, covering dungeon levels 1-9. The former are interesting in their own right, both because the style of the maps shows an earlier conception of dungeons as intricate maze-like spaces that had already fallen out of fashion before the turn of the next decade, and because each of the sets included a few colorful sample encounters that seemed to provide a taste of what play was like in Greyhawk Castle. Maybe someday I'll talk more about those here (even though they fall outside of my primary focus on 80s-era D&D), but for the time being I'm focused on the latter product - the three Monster and Treasure Assortments released by TSR in 1977 (sets 1-2) and 78 (set 3), right on the cusp between Original and Advanced D&D.

To be honest, there's really not much to these products. Each of them was a set of 8 cardstock sheets, three-hole punched, unbound, that included 100 pre-rolled monster encounters and 100 pre-rolled treasures for each of three dungeon levels (set one had levels 1-3, set two levels 4-6, and set three levels 7-9). There's a bit of historical curiosity because they (the first two sets, anyway)  were released before the AD&D Monster Manual so they give full stats for various animal types that were mentioned but not detailed in the original rules, some of which are different than the AD&D versions, and also because they include a bunch of creatures that were probably mysterious to the audience at the time - not only monsters from the various D&D supplements, but also various creatures that appeared in The Strategic Review (TSR's house-organ newsletter that later evolved into Dragon magazine) and even the super-limited distribution Lost Caverns of Tsojconth tournament dungeon written by Gary Gygax but published by the Metro Detroit Gamers.

However, they're fun to me, like all of the Original D&D stuff - the geomorphic sets, the early magazines, and third party products from the likes of Wee Warriors and Judges Guild - because they're a glimpse into an era that had already long since disappeared by the time I started playing D&D in 1984. This was the era of the "funhouse dungeon" where randomness was not just accepted but expected, and the game seems to have been treated much close to something like a traditional wargame than what it eventually became, with more of a focus on worldbuilding and storytelling and things that tried to make sense. These products offer some of the few published glimpses we get (outside of the rulebooks themselves) of the era when D&D was just about the referee (the term "dungeon master" hadn't been coined yet) drawing a map of a maze, filling it with monsters, traps, and treasures, and a group of adventurers going in to explore it and get rich or die trying. It didn't matter how the monsters got there or why they didn't eat each other or where the treasure came from, it was all just accepted as the premise of the game. And in that context, lists of 100 random monsters and 100 random treasures make sense. Combined with the geomorphic maps, it's almost everything you need (the individual referee had only to supply his or her own tricks and traps).

So I've always kind of liked looking over ands studying these things, and trying to figure out how they were made and if there are any interesting hidden patterns, any lessons that other DMs could learn about what TSR c. 1977 saw as being appropriate challenge-levels and treasure rewards for characters of various levels (remembering that in the early conception of the game dungeon level was supposed to be equivalent to character level - so 4th level characters were balanced against the challenges and rewards on dungeon level 4, and so on).

Gary Gygax's son Ernie says that he rolled up everything in these products from tables as an after-school project, which is believable - the results certainly seem random - but also intriguing (at least to me) because they're definitely not the product of any published tables. A dozen or so years back I did an exhaustive listing of all the monsters for all nine levels, noting on which levels and in what quantities by level each of them appeared. The results seem fairly close to what you'd see from the Random Encounter Tables in the back of the AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide (though not exactly, since those tables include "new" monsters introduced in the AD&D Monster Manual that weren't present here) which makes it likely that Gary had given his son an early draft version of those tables to work from. The most interesting takeaway is how the number of monsters of each type changes depending on which level they're encountered on - a single "overpowered" monster may appear on one level, a small group (say 1-4 or 1-6) on a lower level, and a large group (say 2-20) on a much lower level. Even deep in the dungeon monsters like orcs and giant rats still show up on the lists, but in groups of 5-50 or 6-60. All of that data is preserved at the Knights and Knaves Alehouse message-board if anyone's interested in taking a look.

At the time I never got around to doing a similar analysis of the treasures lists, which is what brings me here now. One thing that's immediately clear is that the lists are not based on the guidelines for random treasure hoards in D&D Volume III. In searching to see if I could find anything else they might have been drawn from, I came across the Solo Dungeon Adventuring rules published in issue #1 of The Strategic Review (and later reprinted as Appendix A of the AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide). The way that table produced treasures of a single type (i.e. one type of coins, or gems, or jewels, or a magic item, but not mixed together) and the proportions between them - the low value coins the most common, higher value stuff less common - looked similar. And, lo and behold, at least for the first three levels when I tallied up and compared them the results were really similar (not exact, but that's because Ernie was presumably actually rolling the dice each time rather than just using the statistical values). So this was almost certainly the table Ernie used. However, on the later levels some anomalies appeared - magic items became way more common than the table would allow (3%), and mixed hoards of coins start appearing on the lower levels. Plus, while that table gives a fixed number of coins per level - 1000 CP or SP, 750 EP, etc. - these tables showed more variation (but, notably, only within the last thousand - i.e. instead of 4,000 SP on dungeon level 4, you see anywhere from 3,100-4,200). These latter values may have just been chosen to provide an illusion of variety, but since they generally seem to align to dice-ranges, I suspect they may also have been rolled.

So, taking all of that together, I've reverse engineered what seems to be a fairly close recreation of the tables that were used to generate these treasure lists. There are some anomalies on the lists - some that appear to have been the result of transcription errors (5,200 where it should probably be 2,500, etc.) others that may have just been inserted arbitrarily (perhaps as some kind of obscure inside joke reference?). But 90% or more of the results fall within these ranges. Whether viewed as nothing more than an historical semi-curiosity, or used as a tool by DMs who want to generate random treasures of their own in line with what TSR c. 1977 felt were "best practices," here it is:

Step One - Magic:

5% chance per level the treasure is a magic item, up to a maximum 25% at levels 5 and higher.

Step Two - Non-magic treasures type:

If the roll in step one does not indicate the treasures is a magic item, roll d% on the following table to determine treasure type:

01-25 Copper Pieces (Combined Hoard on levels 6 and higher)
26-50 Silver Pieces
51-65 Electrum Pieces
66-80 Gold Pieces
81-90 Platinum Pieces
91-96 Gems
97-00 Jewelry

Step Three - Treasure quantity:

Level One
Copper - 1d12x100
Silver - 1d12x100
Electrum - 3d6x50
Gold - 1d10x50
Platinum - 2d6x10
Gems - 1d4
Jewelry - 1
Magic - 1

Level Two
Copper - 1d24x100 (i.e. 1d12+"control die" for +0 or +12)
Silver - 1d24x100
Electrum - 300 + 3d6x50
Gold - 200 + 1d10x50
Platinum - 1d6x50
Gems - 2d4
Jewelry - 1d3
Magic - 1

Level Three
Copper - 2,000 + 1d12x100
Silver - 2,000 + 1d12x100
Electrum - 500 + 3d6x50
Gold - 500 + 1d8x50
Platinum - 200 + 1d4x50
Gems - 3d4
Jewelry - 1d3
Magic - 1 (25% of potions are two potions of same type)

Level Four
Copper - 3,000 + 1d12x100
Silver - 3,000 + 1d12x100
Electrum - 1,000 + 3d6x50
Gold - 500 + 1d6x100
Platinum - 200 + 1d6x50
Gems - 4d4
Jewelry - 1d4
Magic - 1d2*

Level Five
Copper - 5,000 + 1d12x100
Silver - 5,000 + 1d12x100
Electrum - 2,000 + 1d6x100
Gold - 1,000 + 1d6x100
Platinum - 300 + 1d4x50
Gems - 5d4
Jewelry - 1d6
Magic - 1d2*

Level Six
Copper - 6,000 + 1d12x100
Silver - 6,000 + 1d12x100
Electrum - 3,000 + 1d6x100
Gold - 1,500 + 1d6x100
Platinum - 350 + 1d4x50
Gems - 6d4
Jewelry - 1d6
Magic - 1d3*
Combined Hoard - Copper and Silver

Level Seven
Copper - 7,000 + 1d10x100
Silver - 6,000 + 1d10x100
Electrum - 4,000 + 1d8x100
Gold - 2,000 + 1d6x100
Platinum - 400 + 1d4x50
Gems - 7d4
Jewelry - 1d8
Magic - 1d4*
Combined Hoard - Copper, Silver, and Electrum

Level Eight
Copper - 8,000 + 1d10x100
Silver - 7,000 + 1d10x100
Electrum - 5,000 + 1d12x100
Gold - 3,000 + 1d8x100
Platinum - 500 + 1d4x50
Gems - 8d4
Jewelry - 1d8
Magic - 1d4 (50% of potions are two potions of same type)
Combined Hoard - Copper, Silver, Electrum, and Gold

Level Nine
Copper - 9,000 + 1d10x100
Silver - 8,000 + 1d10x100
Electrum - 6,000 + 1d10x100
Gold - 4,000 + 1d8x100
Platinum - 600 + 1d4x50
Gems - 9d4
Jewelry - 1d10
Magic - 1d6*
Combined Hoard - All coin types

*If a treasure includes two potions, 50% likely the second potion is of the same type as the first; if three or more potions are included, the third and subsequent are rolled normally for type

Monday, August 20, 2018

Jim Henson: Genius

Yesterday my wife and I finally made it to the Jim Henson exhibition that has been running all summer at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles and will be closing in two weeks. It's got puppets, drawings, models, and videos from across his entire career, from the 50s to his untimely death in 1990. It was a great experience, drawing a huge multi-generational crowd where the parents were just as excited and emotional as their kids. I couldn't resist getting a photo with the oracular pile of offal that gives this blog its name (even though it was just a huge photo, not the actual puppet), as can be seen in the new cover photo. 

What really struck me seeing all of Henson's life work collected before me is how key a role he played in my childhood - from Sesame Street as a very small child to the Muppet Show (and movies, especially the first one), Fraggle Rock, and The Dark Crystal, he was a constant presence for the first decade of my life. By the time Labyrinth came out (in 1986) I disdained it as kid-stuff but I came to appreciate it later, as an adult (in no small part as I discovered that girls around my age with nerdy proclivities all adore it - I don't think I ever dated a girl who wouldn't include it on her list of all-time favorite movies). Thinking about it now and looking back, I see how much of an influence his sensibility had on me - his imagination and proclivity towards the surreal and fantastic, his irreverent sense of humor, his lack of condescension or cynicism, his work-ethic and meticulous sense of craft and artistry, and his DIY free spirit. This was a guy who loved TV and puppetry, and had a boundless imagination and hippie idealism, and spent his entire life working to bring those strands together and create something that hadn't been seen before but has become so ubiquitously and indispensably ingrained in our culture in the decades since that we now take it completely for granted - of course there will always be weird wise-cracking felt puppets of impossible creatures who straddle the line between entertainment for children and for adults.

There's no historical survey or detailed analysis here because Jim Henson isn't somebody I've studied in any sort of consciously comprehensive manner - I haven't read books about him and don't know that much about his life or his puppetry techniques or any of that stuff. I just know him through his work, and even that I know mostly on a sort of pre-conscious emotional level, remembered from the mists of my early childhood. But it has a strong pull on me, a deep inner resonance, that experiencing the exhibit yesterday really brought home to me. Encountering those felt puppets of Kermit and Grover and Beaker and the Fraggles and the gelflings and skeksis, I understood and realized how much of a presence and influence Jim Henson and his creations were for me, even without me ever consciously being aware of it, and that feels like a profound discovery - a key to a new, unexplored room of my inner self.

All of which is to say that if you were a kid in the 70s or 80s, and will be in Los Angeles during the next couple weeks (or this exhibition travels near to where you live), I really recommend going to see it, but prepare yourself to be overwhelmed by a wave of nostalgia and emotion.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Gygax Day

Today would have been Gary Gygax's 80th birthday. That has led some folks to unofficially declare today "Gygax Day." In honor of that, and inspired by a recent post I saw on the Dragonsfoot forum musing about what people saw as the defining characteristics of AD&D, I got to thinking about what makes an adventure feel to me like it's "in the spirit of Gary Gygax" and came up with this little list. It's not exhaustive and neither is it exclusive - not everything Gary wrote has all of these elements, and many of them are also present in material written by others, but taken in combination, the more of these elements are present in an adventure, the more quintessentially "Gygaxian" it feels to me:

  • The adventure doesn't exist in a self-contained vacuum, but is connected to a larger milieu. Opposed factions and organizations are important, both on the largest cosmic scale (the alignments are not just personality descriptors but cosmic "teams" - the gods (and demons and devils) are not abstract but real and actively, directly concerned in the affairs of mortals) but also on the more mundane scale via guilds (including those of thieves and assassins) and other organizations (the intertwined brotherhood of druids, rangers, and bards, knightly and monastic orders, etc.). The actions of the player characters need to consider and interact with all of these larger-scale factors, and will be influenced by them both positively (pledging loyalty and service in exchange for aid and support) and negatively (making long-term, recurring enemies). 
  • The overall situation of the world is, effectively, a loose strategic stalemate but the forces of cosmic evil have a small but growing advantage and if everything continues on its current trajectory will eventually win and the mortal world will be destroyed. Thus the actions of the player characters are consequential - they are the ones who are tasked with ultimately turning that tide and making a difference, and no one else (no organization of non-player characters) is going to do it in their place. Tied in to this is the fact that as-written the adventures are always hard for the PCs. In terms of pure statistical analysis they are doomed and can't rely on the dice alone to see them through to success, so it becomes incumbent upon the players to do clever things and figure out ways to change the situation in order to overcome or circumvent the inexorable math. This is the key to "good play" in Gary's conception of the game - not just making the right moves, but figuring out new moves. 
  • The characters (at least the significant ones) are cosmopolitan and sophisticated in their attitudes - not only are they comfortable among mixed races and cultures, they're also assumed to have at least some knowledge of how magic works and the nature of the multiverse. Travel to other worlds and planes is commonplace, and so is at least broad familiarity with modern-day earth (including references to "anachronistic" earth culture). The world is in "medieval drag" as far as technology and style of dress, but most attitudes (including patterns of speech) are much closer to contemporary society than to the actual historical medieval period.
  • The adventure locations themselves exist in a "de facto" state that is not limited strictly to the context of the scenario in which it is presented. While most of Gary's adventures (especially those that were run as tournaments at conventions) start with a defined "mission" explaining why the player characters have come to this particular place and what they're trying to accomplish there, the description of the location itself doesn't depend on that and could be used in a totally different context, encountered by a group on a different mission or even no mission at all - it could be stumbled upon completely at random. This makes the adventures less linear and limited, more expandable, more rational (because the contents of the locations generally make sense within their context and don't exist solely for the purpose of being "an encounter" for a group of PCs), and imparts a sense of belonging as parts of a greater whole - these aren't just challenges being placed in front of the players but are "real" locations that exist within the fantasy world and would exist whether or not the players visited them.
I could go on and on, but I think the above is a pretty good encapsulation of what I have in mind when I think of "Gygaxian spirit," apart from the obvious surface-level details (his detailed descriptions of locations and treasures, his particular Thesaurus-driven vocabulary, his focus on present-tense action rather than irrelevant history and backstory, etc.).

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

[D&D] Flanaess Cuisine

Gary Gygax loved to talk about food and drink. As anyone who participated in the online Q&A sessions with him at places like ENWorld and Dragonsfoot can attest, he would frequently veer off on tangents about those topics, which were clearly more interesting to him than the sorts of D&D rules minutia that the fans wanted to discuss. Therefore, its no surprise that he tended to include detailed descriptions of such matters in both the D&D gamebooks and his later novels - most famously in the description of the Inn of the Welcome Wench in The Village of Hommlet and in chapter 14 of his novel Saga of Old City, in which he devotes several pages to an exacting course-by-course itemization of every item shared by Gord and Gellor at the Horn and Haunch tavern in the city of Stoink. However, those are far from the only mentions of food and drink - Gene Weigel uncovered dozens more, large and small. There are so many references to food and drink in Gary's Greyhawk works that it's possible by combining them all to get a pretty detailed picture of what he imagined the typical diet of that imaginary world's inhabitants to be.

One thing that stands out immediately is that it is strictly medieval, with all "New World" foods such as potatoes, corn, tomatoes, pumpkins, chocolate, vanilla, and tobacco conspicuous by their total absence (at least in all of the references I checked). This is a bit surprising, both because Gary generally wasn't hung up on "anachronism" (and in his later years advocated moving the default technological base of D&D forward to approx. 1650 for everything except gunpowder) and furthermore because he posited a class of cosmopolitan inter-planar travelers with knowledge of other worlds, including modern-day earth, and surely could have brought back such items (similarly to how Gord purchases several bottles of 1947 Chateau Margaux Margaux from a wine merchant in Weird Way), but the consistent absence of such items can only have been deliberate. With that in mind, and aided by several Google searches, I've filled in a few blank spots in the culinary landscape based on typical European medieval cuisine.

Does any of this matter or make a difference when playing D&D? Not really - as long as you know that a "merchant's meal" costs 1 s.p. and a week's supply of rations costs 3 g.p. for "standard" or 5 g.p. for "iron" per the Players Handbook it probably doesn't affect the game to know what exactly they consist of. And yet, added detail can also make the game more immersive, and help the players to picture the imaginary world. Going into exhaustive detail on every meal the characters consume is undoubtedly overkill, and yet the bill of fare at the Inn of the Welcome Wench with its list of exotic wines and brandies is still fondly remembered almost 40 years later as the kind of detail and flavor that made Gary Gygax's version of D&D so evocative.

Breakfast: bread (loaves, rolls, muffins), gruel/porridge (semolina, groat clusters), oat cakes, herbs, berries (whortleberries ("European blueberries"), lingonberries, blackberries, black currants), jellies, honey, cream & butter; herbal tea* or small beer (There's no mention of bacon, eggs, breakfast sausages, or ham - presumably in the Flanaess such hearty breakfast fare is consumed solely by hard-laboring farmers and not by city-dwellers or travelers)

Poor fare: gruel, soups, stews ("slumgullion"), hard black bread; small beer or sour wine

Dinner/supper - common inn and tavern fare: loaves of bread, puddings, soups, stews (ragout), steak and kidney pies (hot at dinner, cold at supper), smoked meat and fish, roasted meat (pork, mutton), roasted fowl (capon), sausages, fresh fruit and nuts**, boiled eggs, cheeses, butter, honey; beer (small beer, ale, stout, milk stout), herbal tea, honey mead, wine, mulled wine

Dinner/supper - rich or elaborate fare: fresh fish (poached salmon, stuffed trout), exotic seafood (smoked eel, boiled crayfish in drawn butter, crayfish soup), roasted venison, roasted or stuffed fowl (squab, pheasant, goose), fresh greens and vegetables (mushrooms and truffles, radishes, pickles, scallions, salads), spices (pepper, saffron, ginger), rare and imported cheeses***, butter and cream, fresh fruits and berries, tarts (berry, nut, mincemeat), iced cakes; rare and imported wines and brandies****, whiskey

Travelers' fare (i.e. "standard rations"): hard sausages, dried fruit, dried fish, wheat loaves, cheese, pickled vegetables and eggs (iron rations = jerky, hard tack, hard cheese, dried nuts)

Regional variances: In Gary's works the menus are mostly the same whether the meals are being served in Stoink, Urnst, Hommlet, Veluna, or Greyhawk City. Some of that is presumably due to the characters typically dining in inns and taverns, which are likely to be more similar to each other than if they were dining in local homes (noble or peasant). Also, those locations are all centrally located along the tributaries of the Nyr Dyv, and had Gary gone into more detail on the cuisine of far-flung locales we might have seen more variety. To step outside of this "canonical" baseline, the notion of Cultural Approximations in Greyhawk suggests some fairly obvious regional specialties - waffles from the Duchy of Urnst, raclette from Perrenland, breaded veal cutlets from Veluna, haggis from Geoff and Sterich, etc.

*Tea is mildly anachronistic in comparison to the other mentioned foods (since it wasn't commonly introduced to Europe until the 17th century) but nevertheless Gary mentions it frequently, and even includes a couple of dedicated tea-houses. Characters consume a variety of different herbal teas including alder-root tea, bark tea, blackberry tea, lingonberry tea, and an unspecified "smokey-flavored tea," but never common black or green tea

**based on the list of common trees in the World of Greyhawk Guide pp. 6-7: apple, apricot, cherry, chestnut, fig, galda (Oerth-native), grapefruit, kara (Oerth-native), lemon, lime, mulberry, olive, orange, peach, pear, pine, plum, usk (Oerth-native), walnut, yarpick (Oerth-native)

***Gary describes and named several such cheeses, including smoked Okelard cheese (presumably equivalent to gouda), Kettite goat cheese, Perrenlander cheese (equivalent to Swiss), Wickler from the Yeomanry (a blue cheese), and Djekul - a creamy, smelly cheese from the land of Fruztii (presumably equivalent to something like Pont l'Eveque). Surely there are many more such cheeses in the Flanaess, making this a ripe (ha!) area for further individual development

****A wide variety of wines are named and described, giving us a pretty solid sense of the wine economy of the Flanaess. The Rhennee typically drink a harsh red wine but favor fine wine from Caporna (wherever that may be [EDIT: a town in County Urnst, on the Artonsamay River]). Likewise, the Paynim tribes drink pungent date wine, but value the wine of the Chepnoi people of the Sulhaut mountains. A strange, mildly addictive black wine comes from the Pomarj, but production of it has declined since that land was conquered by humanoids. The major wine-producing areas are Urnst (white wine and special aged brandy) and Keoland (golden wine, amber wine (served chilled), and brandy). Furyondy and Veluna produce comparatively fewer wines, but theirs are among the most celebrated - Furyondian dry white and emerald pale, and Velunan fireamber. However, the rarest and most celebrated wines of the Flanaess are produced by elves - Sunndish elves produce lilac wine, the elves of Celene a ruby wine, emerald wine (served chilled), and nectawine (made from moonberries harvested only when both moons are blue), while the elves of Ulek produce both a heady, sparkling violet wine and their unique "elixir" liqueur. Even the drow produce wine - a black wine with an earthy smell and taste like nothing else that is so strong that consuming a single gill (4 oz.) will make a human tipsy.