A Trip to Dragon's Lair, a Local Gaming Store

Last week, my wife and I headed over to Omaha, Nebraska and went to what used to be a favorite store of mine called Dragon’s Lair. Now, back in the day this was a Gaming Store! The walls were covered in little miniature single packs, the shelves were lined with titles from all the different RPG lines, adult board games unique to specialty stores, new RPG books as well as Used RPG books as they’d always buy the books, regardless of condition. It was actually cool to buy a used module from them and look at the modifications done by the original owner. They sold hex paper, play mats, and all of the other supplies that Dungeon Masters used, as well as having fancy tables for players to come over and play battle games like Warhammer and such, or even just space so that people could sit down and play D&D if they wanted to. This was the place to go! The owner was a gamer, and he wasn’t the only show in town. If you look at old Dragon Magazines you can find a place advertised in Omaha called Star Realms, which was even larger! But Star Realms was miss-managed and collapsed, and Dragon’s Lair is still around.

On the side, they sold Comic books, but the emphasis was Table Top Role Playing Games. The owner was a gamer. Even as late as a few years ago he was personally running a 1st Edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons game. I don’t know if that campaign is still going on. Granted, he, as well as the rest of us, is much older than we used to be. Younger people are now working the counters, and the emphasis seems to be comic books, super heroes, and card games. Card games: I never understood them. The game of Magic the Gathering was popular back in the day, but I thought that it was stupid even then, and just a way for a company to make money from suckers. Imagine my shock and horror when the company that sold Magic the Gathering purchased Dungeons and Dragons! I still don’t get that hero clicks stuff, any game with some RARE thing which is only rare because a company decided that it would be, makes no sense to me, but people eat it up! I guess that I never was a collector, well, I never used to consider myself a collector, but it would appear that I am now.

A couple of years ago, the original Dragon’s Lair had burned down, so now they have moved and the store is actually much bigger! However I am dismayed at just how little they have. Comic books, card games, and large boxes of Warhammer crap that everybody knows isn’t worth the price of the plastic garbage in them. They still sell the modern war game materials, that I don’t play. They do have a selection of adult board games, but the bread and butter has always been the RPG materials. They have the two current leaders, 5e and Pathfinder, but the rest of the stuff has been consolidated into two display boxes that had formally been reserved for comic books, and the system is a mess. I went through that entire thing and found no AD&D material what so ever. NONE! Not even other system neutral material or anything remotely interesting to me.

Granted, they had two copies of Dungeon Crawl Classics available, as well as a full set of Castles & Crusades, but I don’t have the money, nor the player interest to get into a new system. We already made our investments into gaming years ago when we still had disposable income, but now I have to buy school clothes for two kids, work on projects around the house, and be a grown-up. I had a few bucks to spend and I was hoping to find something at the old gaming shop and I found nothing! Not even so much as a new set of dice that I liked.

What does this tell me? Well of course the online stores have taken a huge bite out of the book market. Why shop at a store when you can shop at home? Well, I don’t always like shopping at home. I’m paranoid when it comes to credit cards and know just how easy it is to become a victim of fraud, especially on the used book market. A brick and mortar store is very attractive to me.  It also tells me that both editions of AD&D are hot right now, and I am competing with locals to acquire materials. This isn’t collectable materials, this stuff isn’t rare. TSR saturated a market, and most of the books are still alive and well.

There is a RPG renaissance going on, but I’ll be honest; I’m not a part of it. I don’t play 2e because it is a thing right now, I play it because I bought into the system and simply never stopped. I didn’t get bored with it, when I did stop playing it was because life got too busy, it had nothing to do with the system. Once everyone got to a point where we had the time and energy to play again, we picked it right back up. But, I’ve gotten side-tracked.

Dragon’s Lair! There is still a lot of system neutral products that are being released. Where are they? It makes more sense to release stuff like that, what with every table playing a different system, there is a market for that. Back in the day Gygax would get so angry at 3rd party leeches that he’d yell at us all through Dragon Magazine. Some of these products were really shoddy and crummy, but some of these products were really really good too! Where are these things? They are still being made, but are they for sell at one of the midwests only gaming shop? NO! Instead of selling Gaming Products, Dragon’s Lair now sells COLLECTABLES. Over-priced garbage that serves no other purpose but to sale it, games that’s values are decidedly manufactured, overly polished products produced by insane people who expect the consumer to make up for their inability to stick to a realistic budget, old RIFTS books that have sat on that shelf since they came out back in the 80’s and you can’t pay people to take them they suck that bad.

When asked where all of the AD&D stuff is, the kid working the counter started getting scared. He led me over to the shelf where HASBRO was nice enough to print over produced reproductions of every book that users don’t need and at a price that is comparable to buying all of the original Core books plus some DM material and still have enough money for Cheetoes.

I represent a very large market of gamers, and there is nothing for me at Dragon’s Lair anymore. Nothing! Not an old module, not an extra copy of a book, not a little metal man that I can paint, not even so much as a scrap of hex paper, NOTHING! It was a wasted trip, and I had money burning in my pocket, but there was nothing! I would have even bought one of those funny little pencils with a fuzzy head! It was sad.  

Gameday: Gothic Earth 1

Our monthly game went well! I had a lot of reading to do, and we are building up for a module game which will be heavily modified. It is a really hard one to do, but after figuring out some details, I feel more confident that I can run it.

This game actually took longer than what I thought that it would. I wanted to advance the Weathermay story-line, re-introduce two major NPC's, and introduce two new PC's into the mix. We also had to at least get to the module setting, which is an Insane Asylum located in Germany.

On a technical level, the Weathermay House is odd. It is the focal point of the campaign, however the players rarely get to be there. The way I did originally drafted it was insane. We hadn't played D&D for the better part of 10 years, and I talked my wife and a buddy into it. We were rusty as hell, and I had absolutely nothing prepared outside of some ideas about a complex ghost story. I literally drew the house up as the players explored it, all while telling an old fashion murder mystery that didn't go as planned, as the murderer was exposed very quickly, and it turned into a game of cat and mouse as he ran through the houses secret passages, to make a long story short, I took the best notes that I could, as did the other players, and the next day; after the game was over, I sat down and put everything together in a way that structurally makes sense, and then, mapped the house, adding blank rooms to add stuff into later on.

In later adventures in the house, I moved stuff around further, adding things, taking away things and making simple notations on the map which, after a few years of sitting in a binder, are now mysteries to me. To complicate things further, I had mapped the property, and a hidden chamber below the house on a separate sheet of paper, which I apparently lost.

It is hard to keep notes, and the notes for this adventure seem to be scattered. My wife had a bunch in her PC folder, the bulk of it was on a hardrive that had crashed a couple of years back, so that stuff is gone, but that is okay. I had written a record of our adventures on this blog, but I kept many secrets to myself, which are lost as well.

I think that I got my map corrected now, but everytime the players find their way back in, things have changed subtly, which kind of works for the setting, and the theme of this season, being that our sanity and sense of self depends upon our belief in memory, and since memory truly isn't all that reliable, sanity itself is subjective and depends entirely on faith.

Anyhow, while in the house, the Si Fan made two assassination attempts. A few bottles of wine were poisoned, and a cursed magical item was delivered to them under the false pretense that it was from an ally.

I had planed on giving a clue that the wine was poisoned: The grounds keeper had stolen a bottle, he was caught drinking it by a PC, who actually ended up drinking with him. Now, if the wrong PC drank the poison, he or she would be dead, thankfully this character was the strongest one, and even though he failed his saving throw, was able to survive the full effect of the poison. It disabled him for the bulk of the adventure, greatly limiting what he could do, but it quickly exposed the attempt.

The other attempt is still active. The player's know what it is, but their characters don't. A mystical staff turns into a cobra at the command of it's true owner, Fu Manchu, and this led to a very fun scene.

A new character joined the game, and he is surrounded by mystery. He is a Doctor, who doesn't put much faith into the occult, but he is a wizard non-the-less, and he must keep this fact secret from everyone. Of course all of the players know what he is, but the characters don't, which makes it fun. So, my wife's character is sleeping in bed, when she feels a sting on her foot (she makes her saving throw), she throws back the sheets and a cobra spits in her face, blinding her and she screams, jumping out of bed into the corner, waking up everyone in the house, who all run to her room.

Now, seeing this character huddled in the corner, covering her eyes and screaming isn't all that unusual, but then the snake spits at them. The gunfighter, in a bad way a from drinking poison a few days earlier, attacks the snake with a Silver Headed Cane+1, and the Detective, still mentally trying to shake off the effects of an opium overdose is hitting it with an umbrella. The gunfighter hits it a couple of times, until it spits in his face, and also ends up blinding the detective, leaving the mage who suddenly says, screw it, and casts a cantrip which causes a pop that is just enough to dissipate the mystic cobra. This is the first spell that this mage has ever cast in his life, and he did it right in front of everybody, so he thought that he had some explaining to do. The player playing him thought that he had lost that aspect of the game already, and it was still just the first game, until he realized that everybody else was blinded, and the rest of the party saw nothing. He was the great hero who saved the party! And, he got away with it!

In our world, magic is a lot different from the core spells. While in Forgotten Realms, a wizard who casts Cantrip is an every day thing, in this world, a world without visual effects and complex rituals, what he did was a huge deal. He had probably tried to cast spells in some form for years, and maybe part of him thought that they worked? But there was no real proof either way, until just now. He roleplayed this, as well as the jubilation of  maintaining his characters secret to the hilt, and it was great!

We did a lot of roleplaying, probably too much. One of our players had to leave and go to work at ten, and it was my goal to have the game finished by then, we ended up having to continue playing without her, and another buddy really had to get going because his son was exhausted and wanted to go home. Thankfully he stayed with us until we finished the Weathermay House section of the game.

We also got a brand new player to our game, who had never played any role playing game before. We got his character ready, and I wanted him to watch the experienced players do their thing so he wasn't at the house, he would officially join the party once the players got on the ship which would take them to Germany. He is the mate of our player who had to leave at 10pm, and God bless him, he stayed with a bunch of strangers after she took off, and two of my players wanted him to play so they hung around and we just did the journey stage with just the three of them.

He got to do some role-playing, and after we got to the conclusion of our session I did a really quick combat with him just so that he could have a better chance of understanding what was going on when situations like this came up. My dice hate people. I had to switch dice else kill him with a stupid zombie. He ended up hanging around after everybody else went home until around 1am just to talk and have some more fun. It was a great night! Everyone had fun, I got everything done that I had set out to do, and can now focus on prepping the module section.

One of the most important things that I had to do was get weapons to the party, as I had taken away all that they had had. Van Helsing gave them a Silver Headed Cane+1, as well as a bag of antidotes that they can use if they know what they are doing. This stuff was free. If they gave good intel to their shacky allies/enemies, The Six-Fingered Hand (which they did), they got a weapon that I created called Pistol of Hiding which will escape detection if one is frisked and remains hidden unless it is drawn, as well as a belt that hides up to twenty bullets. They also got an iron shank, but they did miss an opportunity to acquire a silver straight razor, but, what are you going to do?

A History of Life in the Renaissance

A lot of people at least claim to play during the medieval time period; I’m not sure if that is either just a word that they use which has lost all meaning, or if they really do go all history with it. Me, personally, when I do play fantasy, I don’t play it during a medieval setting; instead, I typically shoot for the Renaissance. The reason is simple, even from the Renaissance, our minds and philosophies are very far removed from these ancestors or ours, and this only gets worse the more ages we go back. In all actuality, we have little in common with these people which we claim to be role-playing.  

The Renaissance is the time period where our modern philosophies began to take form; it wasn’t anything like us yet, but the seeds of decency were planted. It was during this time period that the West was ready to emulate the Roman culture; they had their basic needs met, and they were ready to begin work on a very hard to grasp concept for them, Civilization. Improving life, not just your life, but the life of others as well; and when one spends generations living fist to mouth, and spending all of their energies gathering resources for themselves, it is very difficult to shed what we modern westerners would call: Selfishness or Self Serving behavior.  Perhaps, in game terms, what this means to us is that, during the Renaissance, the Lawful Good alignment returned to humanity after an absence that had lasted since the fall of Rome. Up until the mid-Renaissance, in order to survive you had to be self-serving.

Let’s go back in time to France, besides Italy, the greatest achievements of the Renaissance age were found in this country, and they kept really good records. In order to understand our differences, we just have to look at how we treated children. In the Renaissance, life was hard. Society dictated that a man should have at least 10 children to survive him, but they had many many more, and most of these youngsters died very early in their lives. Today, the death of a child is impossible to get over, but back then, in farm journals of the period, it was just another notation in the books, and not a very important one either. More children died than lived, and even those that did survive didn’t live well.

If a woman died, her husband, though a devoted man to her, quickly got married again. Things got even worse if the husband died. When a woman was widowed, she too was expected to get remarried as soon as possible, but her children were not a part of the deal. If an infant was lucky, perhaps a widow’s sister would be kind enough to keep the child, but older children were completely abandoned and left to fend for themselves. They never saw their families again.  This was behavior dictated by society that only recently became unacceptable, so chances are, all of the players who refuse to write up a family background are actually playing closer to period than those who fuss over such things.  As far as what else we can take away from this, if people can do this kind of thing to their own blood, how do you think that they treat each other?

To be fair, a man of his time treated himself no better. It wasn’t uncommon to take a long journey on a drunken whim which serves no real point, and drag whoever happened to be there along with you. If you didn’t die on the road, you typically came back ruined and without friends, and for what? Well, a man of his time wouldn’t ask that question. Thinking of the consequences of his actions was not yet even a thing. Again, you live a fist to mouth existence, and you are genetically designed to fulfill immediate needs first, but now you have a little bit of free time to think. The Romans knew that free time was not productive, so they eliminated it, which wasn’t the case in France. People got bizarre ideas and they acted on them, and why not? The highwaymen who robbed and killed travelers stupid enough to follow the roads on their own typically made more money than any body else. Sure, if you got caught you were killed, but so what. The future was unthinkable to most men, thus it was ignored.

Lets get away from men, and let's look at other things in his world that are more real to us than how he saw the world around him. Cities! I’m sure that we all know what Waterdeep is! A bustling city full of people, adventure, and violence! Well, that is not what happened. There were no cities like that during the Renaissance, and they hadn't existed since the fall of Rome. Paris, the capital of France, what was it like? We have a much larger population today than back then. Most people chose to live in the country, and when they couldn’t, and they were forced to live in the city, they always brought the country with them.

There were no bustling crowds of people, though it was a place to gather to buy and sell at the market, but most of those people didn’t live in the city itself. Streets weren’t cobbled, they were muddy trenches that froze in the winter, and caused horrible clouds of dust in the summers. The few homes within the city all had gardens, and buildings, just like in the country, but on a smaller scale. I suppose that one could compare them to very small villages today. If one is going to live in the city, one needs to have a trade, and make a tidy living. Nothing extravagant; Instead of gold, or money, it was chickens, eggs, or dried whatever that you preferred to work for. As nice as gold is, one has never been able to eat it.

If we go look at a Lord’s chateau, one would think that this is where the good living is taking place, and it was! But, it wasn’t what you’d think. In fact, the nobles were forbidden to earn currency, they were expected to live off of that which was provided by the king, and this was not easy. Their homes were grand, and if you go to one today you will be impressed, but at the time things were very different. Today we live better than kings! In our homes we have cold and hot water on tap, we have a refrigerator to help us keep what we eat fresher longer. We can cook things on demand, but of all of these modern conveniences which we ignore every day, the men of the Renaissance had no central heating and cooling, specifically no heating. One can go see their massive fireplaces and marvel at their grander, but one is still standing in a modern temperature controlled environment. These places were cold! In the summer, they brought greenery inside to keep the stench down, but the hardest time was in the winter. Straw was brought in to cover the floors, imagine that for a moment. These lavish and beautiful chateau floors covered in straw. This helped keep the heat in. And one would assume that the lords and the servants avoided each other, but this is a Victorian idea, and one that never entered into the minds of our Renaissance ancestors. People didn’t have personal space back then. There were no comfort bubbles. People lived right on top of each other, and it wasn’t just people. The warmest room in any house has always been the kitchen, and that is where you found everybody. From the lady of the home, dressed in the most modern finery to the men who worked out in the fields all day covered in filth, they all crammed into the kitchen every chance they got. Imagine that you are a child, doing your studies, you’ve got everyone pressed together in the kitchen; dogs are running around fighting over scraps and looking for attention, not to mention the goats and the chickens which are kept indoors so nothing can take them. Your smaller siblings are running around, your infant sister is squalling for attention which she will not get. Your mother is dutifully and critically watching the maids who are trying to set the table, your father is there too yelling to be heard over all of the noise as a cook kicks a dog to get it to go back. How in the world did anybody get culture? This scene played itself out, not just in chateaus, but in homes all over Europe.  The quest to stay warm was one of necessity, and when it comes to this, the more the merrier!

Travel was dangerous, thieves killed and robbed everybody who they judged game. One wanted to travel with armed men, and lots of them. Everybody knew that they were out there. That was a given. If you did survive traveling the roads by day, one found themselves at a dark inn full of homeless, fellow travelers, and the undesirable all gathered around to repeat this ritual of finding warmth in company. These places were not nice, the highwaymen could be found here as well, in droves. If one was lucky enough to get a room, we again run into the common theme, beds were huge, but most inn beds fit four men, and they slept together without a second thought, this too kept you warm. Being alone in the Renaissance never happened, and the men and women who lived here didn’t want it to happen! One didn’t find much rest here either, once a room was full, a dresser was pushed in front of the door, one drew their sword and rested as best as they could until the sun came up and travel was once again possible.

Actually, speaking of the sun, man had not yet tamed the darkness, and darkness was a very terrifying thing. Darkness dictated our lives. We were slaves to it. People didn’t sleep all night, to sleep for 6-8 hours was unheard of! One had to get up periodically and check on their loved ones, look in on horses and other animals too large or too dirty to be kept indoors. They would venture out into the night to check on their neighbors. Many of these jaunts were fatal, it is easy to get lost in the pitch blackness. If something happens to your light source, you were typically doomed. People fell into rivers, twisted ankles and froze to death. Superstition dictated much of what was known, and when the body of your neighbor is found floating in the river, people had only their fear and superstition to explain this.

Now, what about the King? When one thinks about a king, one imagines a powerful man sitting on a throne and making decisions for people, but this wasn’t all that accurate. A king who stays in one place will soon be a king of nothing. In France, from the time of his coronation, to the time of his death the king is on the move. What about his court? Well, the court traveled with him. Visions of beautiful princesses and ladies of the court are fantasies, these women were just as hard as the men, they had to be. Even the Queen was on the road with her husband. In the morning, the servants would rush ahead to where the King would be spending the night, typically a Lord’s Chateau. The royal huntsmen would attempt to find red meat or fish, which were rare. The royal cook would take over the lords kitchen and begin preparing supper while the lords servants rushed around to make the house look presentable and make room for all of the king's horses and all of the king's men. This was the life of a noble! God forbid that a holiday was coming up, typically the King wanted to be in a specific place for religious observances, some were long enough to give himself and his men a break from the road so that he could actually spend a month in one place.

The King would look over the lords records, which had to be kept in order. He himself was forbidden to earn currency as well, with the exception of leveling taxes upon the people. Nobles and the King were expected to live on a budget, if one went over their budget, then tough! The only class which could earn currency was the middle class, namely merchants, soldiers, and tradesmen. This formed the basis of European economy for centuries. A knight who went looking for wealth was unable to keep it, as the wealth that he found belonged to the people. That is something to think about.

Not that we want to be trapped in history while playing our games, but it is something to consider. If well used, history can provide many fun ideas for us to try. It is a lot of fun researching this kind of stuff too.   

The Computer Age is not a victimless crime

I find Computers to be a blessing and a curse. While on one hand, they have made this hobby both open to new ideas, and have brought us all together for the first time, on the other, it brings me worry and frustration.

With all of this technology at my fingertips, I still find the most productive tool in my arsenal is still the notebook and pencil. I do use the web, in the past I'd have been stuck in places, and either have to invent things or head to the local library to do some research, which was a pain because I tend to do my best work late at night.

I am frustrated because I'm working within the confines of our own planet, telling stories which take place in 1890, which makes it easier to research, yet at the same time, it makes it harder as well. In fantasy settings, if I want to invent a town, then POOF! There it is! But this can't really be done in the Victorian setting. Unlike fantasy, Gothic earth is one of Science Fiction and the Science has to be, in a sense, plausible. It is very easy to destroy the players ability to suspend their disbelief. One one hand, during prep I can actually see these places where I am tinkering. While I don't have to be all that accurate, I like to keep things believable. I've never been to London, nor have my players, however we've read and we've spent lifetimes in London through fiction, or nerdist history books. I can translate Victorian London into AD&D terms so that everybody who has ever picked up a copy of Oliver Twist, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, or have read about Jack the Ripper can understand and relate to, and say, "This is London!" it has a different feel to it than Paris or Berlin. This is a hard game to prep because it is one of both History, stereotyping, literature, and lies. One would assume that there would be lots of resources available, but there really isn't. No RPG system related resources anyway. Okay, I'm whining.

I find the web to be a wonderful tool for research, but things that I had taken for granted in fantasy settings, are now rocks which serve no purpose but to stumble over, and one can't see them until they trip over one.

Maps! One should find it easier to work using Real world maps, but that isn't the case at all. It is one of those things that bugs me about the Educational System. Parents who have helped their children with homework know exactly what I am talking about, I am sure. Common core math makes no sense, they don't teach the kids how to write, and they don't teach geography. Well, they do, but it is computer based and I wonder if modern kids even know how to use a real map?

I'm frustrated because I need a little student Atlas, something that they used to sale all over the place, and dirt cheap, and is no longer readily available. I find lots of little sourcebooks which I had taken for granted, and are now a thing of the past. Once in a while one of my kids will ask me what  a word means, so I'll tell them to go look it up in the Dictionary, and I was shocked to know that my 5th Grader had no idea what a dictionary even was. I suppose that google is good enough while the web is available, but what about when it isn't?

Perhaps my skill set has just been replaced and I am resentful of it. A few years back the Missouri River flooded and it took out huge stretches of the Interstate. You would be shocked as to how many people had to pull over and ask for help, all because they didn't take a map with them. I didn't think that anybody was that foolish! When you drive cross country, you always take a map with you. These people were all relying on their phones to get them where they need to be, and in this case, the data on their phones was so inaccurate that it couldn't plot a new course. And do you think that any of these people bought a Road Atlas? They didn't, maybe because they had no idea how to actually use one.

For gaming, those online Distance Calculators aren't as handy for me to use as a physical map and ruler is. Yes, I can calculate the distance between two places, but it isn't all that handy. With a ruler, I can easily plot where the party will have to stop and rest, it is easy! A chore that normally takes seconds, now takes three times as long because I'm guessing. How is that better than a paper map with a scale on it?

I also find myself overthinking stuff. Movement rates that are uncharted territory from those in the AD&D handbooks. Is a  Victorian horse drawn carriage faster than one from the middle ages? You'd think so because it is constructed with materials which weigh less; so do I still cut the horses MR in half, or do I reduce it by a lesser number, and if so, by what? How does the speed of a steamer ship compare to a sailing ship? The train changes everything, even those old hulking steam engines could cross entire countries in hours. Figuring out a MR for them, factoring in stops and terrain is akin to creating your own MR system.  All of this before I can even begin to sit down and write actual content. Maybe I'm just over analyzing things, but it still bugs me.

Campaign Sourcebook and Catacomb Guide: Review

One of the greatest 2nd Edition books, and perhaps RPG books, to ever be released was Jennell Jaquays’ and William W. Conners’ book, “Campaign Sourcebook and Catacomb guide” which was published in March, 1990. It was the first of the Complete Books aimed at Dungeon Masters, and it covered a wide variety of topics that were taken for granted in the Core books, but I believe that what the finished product has become, is a system neutral guide for everyone who decides to host games. Yes, it is aimed at beginners who have no experience playing the role of Dungeon Master, but, for advanced users, it describes the basic building blocks needed for forming a successful group, and keeping it successful, as well as basic structures of creating original content. No matter what the current name or number that D&D happens to be calling itself, this information is still relevant.  Let’s dive right in, shall we.

Logistics of Play

While the core books give you lots of details in regards to the rules, they are assuming that you have played before, though, even if you have, you still may not understand that your role as the DM is that of being a master of ceremonies as well. This chapter is short, but complete. You hear all about player courtesy, but this is regarding what a DM owes to his players.  Just because you have a group of friends gathered doesn’t mean that the game is going to go well. This chapter forms the very basics of what comes later and spells it out. While only a couple of pages long, this chapter provides us with a successful formula prior to play.

Styles of Adventure Play

There is a lot said about Styles of play on the web, but in this chapter you’ll find a comprehensive list of them, problems that they may cause, and how to mix them to keep a game engaging for everyone.  Even if we are running a module, we still have to decide what elements of style would work best. This chapter also gives some major tips on how, and what, to prep and why we should do it. We don’t need to prep everything, but there are things that if we don’t prep, then we are in some serious trouble.

Pacing and Theatrics

Everybody knows that what separates a good DM from a bad one is that one can pace a game, and one can’t. While proper pacing still must be learned over time, this chapter offers very sound advice to achieve it quicker than using trial and error alone.  It also talks about setting a mood that is productive to the drama which you are trying to achieve. I don’t dress up, nor do I always talk in funny voices, but I do use Theatrics. Excitement isn’t something that just happens naturally, we have to make it happen.  How does one project the feelings which one wishes the players to feel? And people say that DMing isn’t art. Chances are, they really need to rethink their view.

Uses of Judgement

This is a popular theme, even today. I can’t tell you how many people run to Reddit to beg for help, when the answers are all right here in this chapter. Not only does it address making game calls, but it also has a secondary function, how to handle people and their odd quarks. Like DM’s, players have play styles too, and handling these different play styles, as well as personalities can be daunting. When two personalities clash, sometimes our first reaction is to kick them out of the group, but this isn’t always easy or necessary. It is the job of the DM to direct traffic and be the helmsmen of the narrative, that is sometimes ignored to a table’s demise.


Here is where the book changes personalities, and becomes a work horse for experienced users. We aren’t talking simply creating a series of gaming sessions strung together to form a complete story; we are talking about creating EVERYTHING! I don’t know how many DMs have tried doing this and end up just wasting their time because it doesn’t go anywhere; this introduction helps us form a world more successfully by suggesting tried and true methods of how to go about it in the most productive way possible.

Creating the World

Once a DM, and the players, decides to make the leap into the unknown, it helps to have specific questions answered right away, and this chapter helps us organize our thoughts into highly productive ways which can help make our ideas more successful. It isn’t bossy, it doesn’t say that this is how it is done, it just gives you suggestions on how to avoid traps and pitfalls that can be stumbled over along the way.

Maps and Map-making

What DM doesn’t love maps? It sounds so easy! But when it comes right down to it, it isn’t nearly as easy as it appears. There are also lots of different styles of maps that we use, it all depends upon our needs and why we have decided that we need it. This chapter gives us some tools to making productive maps, and some tricks and tips to guide us through the process.

Creating the Adventure

I have read several books on how to do this, but the simplest and most helpful way is in this chapter. This is a skill learned over time, creating our own content and telling our own stories. While this chapter won’t do the work for us; again, it helps us identify our players, and presents successful methods as well as pitfalls that have been learned over time so that hopefully, we can avoid them. It provides us with a formula, and there are formulas for a reason.

Making NPCs Live

Another topic that is still with us today, “How can I get my players to care about NPCs?”  While the DMG talked about this, and gave a few suggestions, this chapter expands upon it, and allows everybody, regardless of DM experience, to do this very important job more efficiently. I don’t know about you, but this is where I get most of my amusement from while DMing. Once you figure out this formula, it becomes natural and it continues to mature until you just do it better and better every time.

Dungeon Settings

One of Gygax’s complaints involved the total abandonment of the Dungeon setting. There is lots of material out there that helps us create overland adventures, and the Dungeon was neglected for a very long time. Experienced DMs know that over-world adventures and under-world adventures are totally different from one another. This chapter addresses the Dungeon after many years of neglect. Why do you need them? What do you put down there? While this chapter can get a bit too detailed, it does serve a purpose. This chapter represents a shift in design, because, at the time, there were not very many Dungeons in Dungeons & Dragons.

Dungeon Adventures

This is old-school stuff here, designing a successful campaign underground where the players may never actually leave? Maybe not, but it does give lots of ideas on things that can happen in a dungeon that won’t necessarily happen above. This chapter is far from perfect, but it does give a DM who has never thought about such things, a couple of ideas to work with.

Generic Dungeons
This is really just an appendix; they give a few examples of maps, and have keyed them with room descriptions. They are all forced perspective maps which are really out of date, and with good reason. Not only are they overly complex to make, they lack the basic details that we truly need to make our maps functional. I think that this was TSR trying to keep its maps special from the ones that you make yourself, but there really isn’t much of a need for that. I know that I have always preferred top down perspectives, and fancy maps are just that, fancy.

In the back of the book, there is also some symbols which they recommend using on maps, as well as a photocopy templet for drawing your own forced perspective maps . . . as if.


This review is much longer than I would normally dedicate to it; however the written content in this title is so good that it does demand such treatment. While much of the information within it can be found on this blog and others like it, it is nice to have all of the information stored in one centralized place.

One can say that AD&D didn’t actually come with an instruction manual, but, if it did, then it would be this book. While a few chapters are dated, the bulk of it is not. It accurately describes issues that we all experience from time to time, or describes methods to playing at more advanced levels then we currently are.

Now, much of the artwork in this book is notoriously hideous. But I don’t recommend buying it to look at the pictures, I recommend adding it to your reading list because of the content. It is preferred to have this book in physical form, because it is one that you won’t necessarily have at the table with you on game day, but it is one that we all should read and re-read from time to time. If you are working on a large project, it is nice to have with you for a few years until you find yourself doing it naturally, and you will! The rating for 1990 as well as for today is still the same: A+.


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A 2nd Edition AD&D holdout, I've played since 1993 and still love it!

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