Friday, March 31, 2017

[D&D] Melf and Zagyg's Spear

Melf of the Green Arrow, aka Prince Brightflame, was a character in Gary Gygax's novel Artifact of Evil, but he was also the primary player character of Gary's son Luke after his previous character, Otis the Ranger (of Temple of Elemental Evil fame) perished within the Tomb of Horrors - a fate I'm sure many a D&D fan can well relate to!

Luke-as-Melf was Gary's primary in-house playtester in the 80s and played through what ultimately became The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth, Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun, Dungeonland, The Land Beyond the Magic Mirror, and reportedly at least some of the dungeons depicted in Gary's novels. The adventures of Melf have always been a point of interest for me, both because those are adventures I know and also have played (unlike the earlier Greyhawk Castle stuff that has never been published and probably never will be) and because Luke's not that much older than me (about 4-5 years) and was pretty much a kid when he was playing through these adventures, just like I was. I can relate to Luke and Melf's adventures within the fully-formed AD&D paradigm more than I can to the stories from the formative years of the early 70s when they were still experimenting and trying to figure out what exactly it was they had come up with.

Luke is still around, he's the main man behind Gary Con, and a few years ago he also stopped by my friend ScottyG's forum and shared some info about Melf and his adventures.

Most intriguing to me from those posts was the info he provided about the powerful magical artifact that was in Melf's possession for a time - Zagyg's Spear (aka Zagyg's Needle). This item was apparently discovered in a haystack in the dungeons beneath Castle Greyhawk, which Melf burned down rather than searching through. It had a large number of powerful magic abilities: it could change shape from as small as a needle to as large as a pike, was a magic weapon with a bonus from +1 to +8 (presumably determined randomly per use), allowed flight at will, invisibility at will, and even planar travel at will. However, it also brought the user to the personal attention of the mad demigod Zagyg, who demanded worship and also passed judgment - and ultimately took the item back from Melf when he was found to be insufficiently chaotic (read: when Gary decided the item was too powerful).

I love stories like this. They help humanize and personalize the sometimes-distant tone of the published books. You get a picture of what Gary's games with Luke were like, and how cool it must have been as an 10 or 11 year old kid to have a D&D character with a bad-ass magic item like that! That's the kind of stuff I love in this game, what keeps me coming back to it and dreaming about it even after all these years - a kid having awesome adventures and bonding with his dad.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

[D&D] My AD&D Canon

A huge volume of material has been published for D&D over the decades, but there's only a small subset of that stuff that I actually have any interest in or bother paying any attention to - pretty much only 1st edition AD&D stuff written by or under the direction of Gary Gygax. If it's not on this list, even if it's by an author or was published by a company that is on the list, then I'm really not interested in talking or hearing about it.

Rule Books:
Dungeons & Dragons (by Gary Gygax & Dave Arneson, TSR, 1974)
Greyhawk (by Gary Gygax & Rob Kuntz, TSR, 1975)
Monster Manual (by Gary Gygax, TSR, 1977)
Players Handbook (by Gary Gygax, TSR, 1978)
Dungeon Masters Guide (by Gary Gygax, TSR, 1979)
Fiend Folio (by various, ed. Don Turnbull, TSR, 1981)
Monster Manual II (by Gary Gygax, TSR, 1983)
Legends & Lore (by Jim Ward & Rob Kuntz, TSR 1984 - revision of Deities & Demigods (TSR, 1980))
Unearthed Arcana (by Gary Gygax, TSR, 1985)
AD&D Companion (collected and edited by me; unpublished)

Supplements and Play-Aids:
The Rogues Gallery (by Brian Blume, David Cook, & Jean Wells, TSR, 1980)
Outdoor Geomorphs Set 1: Walled City (by Gary Gygax, TSR, 1977)
Cities (by Steven Abrams & Jon Everson, Midkemia Press, 1979)
CDD4: Encounter Reference (by Scot Hoover,, 2008)

World of Greyhawk resources:
The World of Greyhawk (by Gary Gygax, TSR, 1983)
Saga of Old City (by Gary Gygax, TSR, 1985)
Artifact of Evil (by Gary Gygax, TSR, 1986)
Night Arrant (by Gary Gygax, New Infinities, 1987)
El Raja Key Archive (by Robert J. Kuntz, TLB Games, 2016)
[assorted Greyhawk-related content published in Dragon magazine during Gary Gygax's tenure at TSR that wasn't included in the boxed set, including the "Greyhawk's World" series by Gary Gygax & Rob Kuntz, the "Suel Pantheon" series by Lenard Lakofka, the story "At Moonset Blackcat Comes" by Gary Gygax, and a few other miscellaneous bits and pieces - I've got printouts of all these things compiled into a couple of folders]

Campaign Adventures (my favorites):
D1-2: Descent into the Depths of the Earth (by Gary Gygax, TSR, 1981 - collects D1: Descent Into the Depths of the Earth (TSR, 1978) and D2: Shrine of the Kuo-Toa (TSR, 1978))
D3: Vault of the Drow (by Gary Gygax, TSR, 1978)
EX1: Dungeonland (by Gary Gygax, TSR, 1983)
EX2: The Land Beyond the Magic Mirror (by Gary Gygax, TSR, 1983)
G1-2-3: Against the Giants (by Gary Gygax, TSR, 1981 - collects G1: Steading of the Hill Giant Chief (TSR, 1978), G2: Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl (TSR, 1978), and G3: Hall of the Fire Giant King (TSR, 1978))
S1: Tomb of Horrors (by Gary Gygax, TSR, 1978)
S4: The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth (by Gary Gygax, TSR, 1982 - revision of The Lost Caverns of Tsojconth (Metro Detroit Gamers, 1977))
T1-4: Temple of Elemental Evil (by Gary Gygax & Frank Mentzer, TSR, 1985 - includes T1: The Village of Hommlet (TSR, 1979))
WG4: Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun (by Gary Gygax, TSR, 1982)
WG5: Mordenkainen's Fantastic Adventure (by Robert J. Kuntz & Gary Gygax, TSR, 1984)
WG6: Isle of the Ape (by Gary Gygax, TSR, 1985)
Garden of the Plantmaster (by Robert J. Kuntz, Creations Unlimited, 1987)

Other Adventures (ones I don't like quite as well, or that don't quite fit the campaign, or that I think work best for "one off" play):
A1: Slave Pits of the Undercity (by David Cook, TSR, 1980)
A2: Secret of the Slavers Stockade (by Tom Moldvay & Harold Johnson, TSR, 1981)
A3: Assault on the Aerie of the Slave Lords (by Allen Hammack, TSR, 1981)
A4: In the Dungeons of the Slave Lords (by Lawrence Schick, TSR , 1981)
C1: Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan (by Harold Johnson & Jeff Leason, TSR, 1980)
C2: Ghost Tower of Inverness (by Allen Hammack, TSR, 1980)
I1: Dwellers in the Forbidden City (by David Cook, TSR, 1981)
I9: Day of Al'Akbar (by Allen Hammack, TSR, 1986)
L1: The Secret of Bone Hill (by Lenard Lakofka, TSR, 1981)
L2: The Assassin's Knot (by Lenard Lakofka, TSR, 1983)
L3: Deep Dwarven Delve (by Lenard Lakofka, TSR 1999)
S2: White Plume Mountain (by Lawrence Schick, TSR, 1979)
S3: Expedition to the Barrier Peaks (by Gary Gygax, TSR, 1980)
Dark Tower (by Jennell Jaquays, Judges Guild, 1979)
The Abduction of Good King Despot (by Will & Schar Niebling & Russ Stambaugh, New Infinities, 1987)
Necropolis (by Gary Gygax, GDW, 1992)

I was a kid in the 80s...

...and it was a really great time for kid pop-culture, especially stuff with a fantasy & sf slant: Steven Spielberg and John Hughes and Jim Henson, Atari and Commodore 64, He-Man and the Transformers, Robotech and Voltron, on and on and on. Pretty much all the stuff that gets name-dropped in Ready Player One. And, of course, D&D, which was everywhere in those days - on TV, in toy stores, in the news, on the New York Times bestseller lists, influencing movies like Conan the Destroyer and Labyrinth. I remember all that stuff, and loved it, and occasionally want to talk about it because it had such a large influence in making me the person I am today.

For starters, I'll be talking mostly about D&D stuff (specifically the flavor of D&D stuff that I like - the early 80s, Gary Gygax version) because that's what is currently holding most of my interest, but over time it's likely that will drift and I'll end up talking about other stuff too. Like how 1982 was one of the best years ever for movies, especially genre ones. Seriously, in that single year we got E.T. The Extra Terrestrial and Blade Runner and Conan the Barbarian and Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Scarface and First Blood and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and The Thing and Poltergeist and TRON and The Last Unicorn and The Dark Crystal and The Secret of NIMH and Creepshow and so many others! I know I'm biased by nostalgia, but that's still pretty amazing for a single year.