Anecdotes and Old Games

Man, You’ve Got to Play This Game!

In the summer of 1982, I was 13 years old. The year before, I had moved with my family to another town half a state away from my first best friend. A few months later, he moved away too, and the kids in his new neighborhood played D&D.

I went to visit him in June. I remember that I had just arrived when he held up a thin, pale blue book and said, “Man, you’ve got to play this game!”

You only ever have one first best friend. Mine introduced me to DUNGEONS & DRAGONS.

Holmes Basic or Bluebook D&D
“Bluebook” D&D.
The 1977 edition of Gygax and Arneson’s DUNGEONS & DRAGONS is also known as “Holmes Basic” after editor Dr. J. Eric Holmes.

Player Character Record Sheet Index Cards

Tabletop Playing BX D&D

 
Real estate is valuable at one’s place on the table. A solo player needs, within easy reach, maps, notebook, rulebook, setting guide, and adventure notes, in addition to dice and a place to set a drink. Small room remains for a character sheet, less for a whole party of them.

Years ago, I started with full-page character sheets but soon reduced to half size, before I realized the utility of the 3" × 5" card.

Thorsdottir BX Player Character Record Card Front Thorsdottir BX Player Character Record Card Back
B/X Player Character Record Card, Front and Back.

Compared to the official B/X accessory (reproduced B14),1 the index card lacks saving throw and “to hit” vs. AC tables, notes, character sketch, and player’s name.

The D&D Reference Tables (from Dungeon Module B2, “perforated for easy removal”) replace the save and “to hit” tables. I keep notes in the adventure log, player’s name is omitted for solo games, and my drawing skill does nothing to improve the record’s aspect.

The index card is adaptable to other early D&D editions. For Endys the Uncanny, created when graph paper was not available to me, I use a character card in a Holmes D&D Basic game. Images below show the card of Palantir, an OD&D character.

Palantir OD&D Player Character Record Card Front Palantir OD&D Player Character Record Card Back
OD&D Player Character Record Card, Front and Back.

The OD&D card includes space for the character’s class, “Elf Fighting Man,” rank, “Veteran,” and Fighting Capability, “HF/AF.” The reverse has room to note a Beneficiary, in this case, a nephew Fingolfain.

The field for damage can also be used to note the manner of the character’s passing. Palantir was killed by a ghoul in room 9 of some deep, dark place. Should Fingolfain seek the inheritance, he may find his uncle’s gnawed bones in an open tomb. We note, however, Palantir, in his short career, gained not a gold piece.

Palantir in Play Prior to His Demise in an OD&D Campaign
Palantir in Play Prior to His Demise in an OD&D Campaign.

Notes

1 These sheets for B/X were produced from 1980 through 1984.

Cover Player Character Record Sheets 1980 Cover AC 5 Player Character Record Sheets 1984
D&D Player Character Record Sheets.
Covers by Jim Roslof (TSR, 1980) and Clyde Caldwell (TSR, 1984).

OD&D’s “Recommended Equipment”

A 1st- to 9th-Level Campaign
The Outdoor Survival Map Amid Other Tools for a D&D Campaign.

Don’t Throw Out the Box the Map Board Came In

In this article, I don’t mean to say anyone is playing the game wrong. I mean to say that our OD&D games—or at least our esteem of the rules—might improve if we reconsider the ignored parts of Chainmail and Outdoor Survival.

A recent Grognardia article reminds me of a point I’d like to bring up. In “Retrospective: Outdoor Survival,” James Maliszewski gives adequate treatment to the 1972 simulation game, with due attention to designer Jim Dunnigan, mention of the included Wilderness Skills primer—which reminds James of The Boy Scout Handbook, and a brief summary of play and the five scenarios typical of a wilderness environment: Lost, Survival, Search, Rescue, and Pursue.

He doesn’t miss the map board, of course, and its suggested use in OD&D as the setting for impromptu adventures. James notes that Outdoor Survival is the second entry in Vol. I under the heading “Recommended Equipment.”

When playing OD&D, I think1 we don’t take the rulebook’s advice seriously enough. It’s true, “Recommended Equipment” is misleading. Considering the “Dungeons and Dragons” rules are first in the list, “Required Equipment” would be more accurate. We would hardly think of playing D&D without dice, to cite the list’s third entry.

Likely due to the cost of two more games in addition to the ten 1970s dollars we already spent on a box of three slim booklets—not to mention dice, we content ourselves to replace Chainmail with the Alternate Combat System and sometimes use Outdoor Survival’s map board as a wilderness setting.

In so doing, we neglect the other—admittedly cumbersome—combat rules, like move-and-countermove (Chainmail, 9), parry and number of attacks per round by weapon class (25-26), and I’ve talked enough about jousting.2 In fact, the Alternate Combat “System” replaces, with a d20, only Chainmail’s fistful of dice to determine hits.

Later D&D editions revisited Chainmail to restore some of the combat options. The Holmes edition’s oft-bemoaned implementations of parry and number of attacks per round (20-21) are examples, as is B/X’s oft-ignored combat sequence (B24). But OD&D combat, bereft of these options, becomes the stereotype “I miss, I hit… I miss again.”

We also explore the wilderness on a hex map, but without any dangers apart from monsters with lots of hit dice rolled on the Wilderness Wandering Monsters tables. For this reason, commenter Gus L., in response to James’s article, likens adventures in the OD&D wilderness to “a bus ride with fistfights.”

It doesn’t have to be that way. On the page before the wilderness monster table, Vol. III refers us to Outdoor Survival’s rules as well as its board to handle lost parties (17). Further, when a party becomes lost, food may well run short. In a desert, water is scarce. Maybe it makes for a less than heroic adventure, but rules to handle starvation, thirst, weather, and fatigue are found in Outdoor Survival. By breaking up the succession of fistfights, incorporation of those rules can turn the bus ride into a challenging journey accompanied by the threat of many-hit-dice monsters.

Grognardia doesn’t mention Outdoor Survival’s most interesting innovation for an early 1970s game. After we’ve learned the rules playing a Lost scenario and maybe a Search or a Rescue, lackluster as they may be, we must press on to Scenario 6.

Scenario 6: One of the most interesting aspects of OUTDOOR SURVIVAL is the opportunity it provides for devising your own scenarios. Once you have mastered the mechanics of play, many additional ideas, providing more testing of outdoor knowledge and skills, will come to you. Integrating these situations with the standard games will add pleasure and skill-sharpening to the playing.

—Jim Dunnigan, Outdoor Survival

There is a certain irony in that Scenario 6 appears under the heading “Optional Rules.” For best results, I recommend using “Dungeons and Dragons”—those slim booklets containing lists of spells and monsters—as additional equipment.


Notes

1 I use “I think” as a lazy and weak shield against attacks from those whose opinions differ. Excuses to my sophomore English composition teacher, who pointed out, “If you didn’t think it you wouldn’t write it, would you.”

2 Strategy on the Jousting Matrix


The Blackmoor Finger

“The basic campaign area… was originally drawn from some old Dutch maps.”

—Dave Arneson, First Fantasy Campaign, 11

Like many Blackmoor fans, I’ve often wondered about—and long sought—these “old Dutch maps.” It isn’t surprising that the naval wargamer would have on hand maps made by one of the great maritime powers of the Age of Sail. But would these Dutch maps depict the homeland or some distant discovery, like the Falklands or the Hudson Valley?1, 2

An Old Dutch Map

 

Yet, Blackmoor has in common with the Low Countries at least its soggy biome. In 2009, James Mishler of Adventures in Gaming took a 1520 map of Holland, flipped it over vertically, and rotated it 90 degrees to the left.3 He invites us to compare the results to the earliest then-known sketch map of Blackmoor, which is found in First Fantasy Campaign (12).

Mishler also notes that the image manipulation places any page footer text to the left of the map, that is, westward. Apocryphal or no, the legend goes that the Duchy of Ten, west of Lake Gloomy, is named after a “10” on the map. This, as Mishler postulates, might mean we should be looking for a map from a book that uses intaglio plates, the reverse side of which are blank.

Map of Holland - Flipped and Rotated Blackmoor Sketch - First Fantasy Campaign
Map of Holland, Flipped and Rotated, and Blackmoor Sketch, First Fantasy Campaign.
Frankly, I can make the Blackmoor sketch look like just about anywhere if I squint just right.

To wrap up a multi-part review of First Fantasy Campaign, Bat in the Attic Rob Conley searched out an old Dutch map to dress up as a fantasy realm. But, he writes, “I couldn't quite figure out which old Dutch map to use or how it looked anything like Blackmoor.” Finally, Conley used Mishler’s method to create the map for his Blackmarsh old-school setting supplement.4

Rob Conley’s Blackmarsh
Rob Conley’s Blackmarsh.

Not satisfied with the results obtained from the Mishler method, I continued the search for “old Dutch maps.” As often happens during these rabbit-hole explorations, I learned lots of things—one of many reasons D&D is a superior game.

Having heard the legend of the little Dutch boy who plugged with his thumb a leaking dike, most of us are aware that the Netherlands has been sinking into the North Sea for centuries. Since the middle ages, the inhabitants have drained lakes to reclaim land, and an extensive engineering project called the Zuiderzee Works, in the 20th century, damned the central bay and created a number of polders.5

The practical upshot of all this is that not all old Dutch maps look the same. As man struggles against nature, land creeps above the waterline then slips below, year by year, as though subjected to the crests and troughs of a long-period tide.

Since Mishler’s go at matching Blackmoor to Holland, an earlier Blackmoor map surfaced. Most online references point to an article on Secrets of Blackmoor, which shows a colored version of what it calls the “Original Blackmoor Map.” The map is accompanied by a one-page document describing a “medieval project.”6 The document’s first enumeration reads as follows:

“See the enclosed map which represents the area known as the Northern Marches which guard the frontier of the great Empire of Geneva from the ever present threats presented by those who lurk beyond the light of our great empire and its great king.”

Blackmoor Facts - Hoyt Blackmoor Map - Hoyt
Document and Map Concerning the Northern Marches, Courtesy William Hoyt.

Stamps (not shown above), presumably placed by Secrets of Blackmoor, on both document and map credit the source as Twin City gamer and Arneson contemporary William Hoyt. The document’s text concludes with the initials “D.A.”

OSR Grimoire compares this earlier map to Mishler’s 1520 Holland map without alteration.

Original Blackmoor Map Compared to a Holland Map
“Original Blackmoor Map” Compared to a Holland Map.

The U-shaped coastline matches up fairly well, the extreme west coast, though short, matches better, the Dutch location looks fearsome enough to accommodate the Egg of Coot, and a few Dutch roads share a similar angle as some Blackmoor waterways.

Still, though, I’m not convinced. The search continued until I saw the finger.

A salient feature of the earlier Blackmoor map, reproduced on the foldout map in First Fantasy Campaign, is a strip of land that extends from the Glendower peninsula, pointing northwest toward the Egg of Coot. I always thought Dave must be giving someone the finger—I don’t know who…

Map of the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands  Janssonius  1658
Map of the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands, Janssonius, 1658.

This 1658 Map of the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands7 (above) shows a similar land mass, perhaps a tidal flat (upper middle). Considering the fist behind, it is pointed the opposite direction. Applying the Mishler method, however, orients the finger to align with that of the earlier Blackmoor map. The fist becomes the Glendower peninsula.

Earlier Blackmoor Map Overlay on Janssonius 1658 Map
Earlier Blackmoor Map Overlay on Janssonius 1658 Map.

To align the finger just right, I rotated the Blackmoor map 10.29 degrees. I note also that, on importing the Blackmoor map, I didn’t have to change the scale. Coincidence, perhaps.

Earlier Blackmoor Map Transparent Overlay on Janssonius 1658 Map Cropped to Blackmoor Area
Earlier Blackmoor Map Transparent Overlay on Janssonius 1658 Map, Cropped to Blackmoor Area.

The finger of land aligns well, but nothing else matches. Maybe the Blackmoor map is an amalgam of different takes on the same or several maps.

I am yet far from convinced. But a coincidence of geography seems unlikely. Arneson may well have traced features on the reverse of a “Plate 10.” Future searches for “old Dutch maps” might keep an eye out for those showing the Blackmoor finger.


Notes

1 A thread on the OD&D Discussion forum bounces around the idea that Arneson may have been inspired by the Minnesota coast of Lake Superior.

2 Browse a few dozen old Dutch maps on Stanford’s Renaissance Exploration Map Collection.

3 Mishler’s article “Original Blackmoor Maps,” no longer available at the original address, is now found at Adventures in Gaming v2 as “[Throwback Someday Post] Original Blackmoor Maps.”

4 Blackmarsh: A Setting Supplement Compatible with the Delving Deeper Rules and All Editions Based on the Original 1974 Roleplaying Game, Robert Conley, 2011. Available in print or PDF on DriveThruRPG.

5 Polders: My untrained eye spots some of these areas of reclaimed land on a satellite image.

6 In response to a question in the comments to the Secrets of Blackmoor article, Griff Morgan writes that several pairs of the map and document exist.

7 Wikimedia Commons identifies Joannes Janssonius as the cartographer of the Map of the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands from the collection Belgii Foederati Nova Descriptio, Amsterdam, 1658.


Endys the Uncanny—Fortune & Glory

This week I joined Todd Nilson’s Holmes D&D campaign Fortune & Glory. It’s an evening game in the States, which makes for an early morning game in Europe. I think I’ve never before watched the sun come up over a character sheet.

Endys the Uncanny
Endys the Uncanny.
The ability scores are 3d6 in order. I rolled a 2, adjusted to 1, for hit points, but Todd gives maximum at 1st level. For the name, I used the “Holmesian Random Names” generator from Zenopus Archives’ Holmes Ref. I happen to have a figurine that looks quite like how I imagine the character: frail, long-faced, pale-complected, dark circles under the eyes, a habitual air of “Where am I and what’s going on…?”

In Fandor, Endys the Uncanny perused adventure notices on the tavern bulletin board. He thought to get himself hired on with an adventuring party for coin, but he heard the rate in the city was low. “A copper a day come what may” would not make his fortune.

Then he met Duncan, a dwarf, and Redwald, dressed in the accoutrements of a cleric. They sought to form a party. “How much do you pay?” asked Endys. “A full share of the treasure,” Redwald said.

Suppressing joy at such luck, Endys accepted. Duncan reached on tiptoes to yank a notice from the board. “Five hundred gold is a good price for a bandit’s head.” And off went the trio in search of fortune and glory.

No need to suppress joy at my luck, I am always happy to meet folks who love to play D&D as I do. I don’t know how long I’ll be able to keep up oh-dark-thirty once a week, but I’ll be there next time, no doubt. For at session’s end, Endys was sneaking up on a hideous creature he believes to be Hegresh, the bandit leader. “A deadly blow from behind” for glory!


Further Adventures with Kaytar

“There’s a chest in an alcove. It’s open, and it’s full of jewelry and gold and sparkling gems.”

“Kaytar draws his dagger and touches the chest with it.”

“The chest and the alcove disappear. Your dagger pokes into a brick wall.”

Following my first adventure, the neutral human fighter joined Kaytar in Garth’s dungeon. Garth, Jarrod, and I sat in folding chairs around the card table. Jarrod and I with our character sheets and pencils. Garth set the blue folder in front of him to hide the dungeon map. The denim bag spilled dice on his right.

We were walking down a narrow corridor, Kaytar at the front. I wasn’t sure what just happened, but when I got there, I saw the same chest in the alcove.

“I reach for a gem.”

“The chest disappears. There’s only a wall in front of you.”

Kaytar said, “It’s an illusion.”

“Maybe it’s an invisible wall,” I said. “We could only see through it for a minute. The treasure is there, we just have to tear down the wall.”

“No,” said Kaytar, “it’s a trick to take up time.” Rocks jostled for position in Jarrod’s mouth. “While we tear down the wall, monsters will come, and we won’t find the chest either.”

I really wanted to get that treasure. With the money, I could have bought a helmet and a warhorse and been a real knight. But Jarrod seemed sure of his assessment, so I let it go.

Illusory Chest or Invisible Wall
Illusory Chest or Invisible Wall?

Later, Kaytar lost his dagger when he opened a door on a ten-foot square room. In the room was a powerful magnet that attracted any metal, including weapons and any suit of armor a neutral human fighter might be wearing. Kaytar closed the door and warned me against opening it. I didn’t argue that time.

After that we avoided a thing Garth called a “sludge monster.” Although I didn’t understand quite what it was, Garth seemed to think the name was description enough.

Then we went into a room with an archway inside it. Jarrod’s eyes lit up when Garth described it: “The archway is standing by itself on top of a dais in the center of the chamber.”

I said, “What’s a day-ess?”

“It’s a raised platform,” said Garth. “Three steps go up on one side.”

“Kaytar goes up the steps.”

Taken by Jarrod’s excitement, I sat up in my chair. “Me too.”

Kaytar turned to look at me, his eyes blurry through Jarrod’s glasses. “Be careful,” he said. “We don’t know what it does. Don’t touch anything.”

I don’t remember much about what happened next. Kaytar examined the archway up and down. He might have read some magic writing carved into the keystone. I didn’t touch anything.

Next thing I knew Garth said: “There’s a bright flash of light, and you’re teleported to the lowest level of the dungeon.”

He thumbed through a few leaves in the blue folder. Withdrawing the bottom sheet, he said, “Let’s see what room you wind up in.”

Garth rolled a dice and looked at the dungeon map. “Man, you’re in a room with a black dragon.”

I imagined a dragon, black scales glistening, crouched under a low ceiling.

Garth, lips pursed, looked at Jarrod.

Jarrod blinked. “Kaytar wants to talk to it.”

“The dragon doesn’t speak common.” Garth closed the blue folder. “There’s no way you’re going to survive this encounter.”

In a game where you can do anything you want, there’s always something to do. And when there’s only one thing you can think of to do, you realize it’s something you have to do—even if the possibility of success is remote.

“I want to fight it.”

“You can’t win a fight with a dragon.”

“I don’t care. I want to fight it.”

“You can’t fight it,” he said, exasperated. “You’re trapped under the dragon’s foot!”

Forty years on I still wonder, if we had just taken the time to tear down the invisible wall, we could have got that chest full of treasure…


Never Say Die

polyhedron noun
: a solid formed by plane faces

Webster’s

According to Webster’s, the plural of polyhedron is polyhedrons or polyhedra. When made from high-impact material and their faces numbered or pipped, they’re called dice. The singular as well as the plural have variations. We may say, “one die, two dice;” “one dice, two dice;” or “one dice, two dices.”

We may say, “one die, two dice;” “one dice, two dice;” or “one dice, two dices.”

Many 20th-century wargames texts from British realms employ the singular dice. Though I began adventure gaming in 1980s America, where “die” was the norm, my early wargames career, which started in the 2010s, was informed by British wargamers Tony Bath and his friend and wargames opponent, Donald Featherstone, who was a prolific author of wargaming books.

Outdoor Survival (Avalon Hill, 1972) simulates the struggle to survive in a hostile wilderness. While he uses the singular die for rolling, designer Jim Dunnigan avoids the verb “to die” in reference to the endgame. There is no notion of character in the rules. In the final instruction of How to Play, when he must indicate the losing outcome for the player, Dunnigan prefers the construction “has not ‘survived.’”

In DONJON LANDS, we never say die. We say “dice” and “has not survived.”

Never Say Die

Dungeon Sense

Continued from “Lava Caves, Clacking Mandibles, and Red Glowing Glands,” the story of my first adventure begins in “Scroll of the Dead” in the category Anecdotes and Old Games.

It turned out that, whereas the torch cast light out to a 30-foot radius, the red glow of the fire beetle’s glands only went to ten feet. I wiped the goo from the sword and proceeded farther into the lava caves.

For a while I wandered down tunnels, turning this way and that at intersections. Garth pointed out that I had entered the cave headed north, which was the direction of the volcano. From that, I guessed I should go north at every opportunity.

That’s when I realized that this game was a lot like real life. I didn’t know all the rules that filled the pages of the pale blue book. But I knew that most of what I needed to know, I could learn from the real world. And that much of what I learned in the game, like striking flint on steel to make a spark, would apply to the real world as well.

Finally, I came into a large chamber.

“The air is warmer here,” said Garth. “There are a few large rocks in the chamber. Beyond one rock, you see an opening with an orange light from the chamber beyond.”

“I go toward the light.”

“As you pass a rock, an arrow whizzes by your ear.”

“I duck back behind the rock. Can I see where the arrow came from?”

“About forty feet away, a dark figure is silhouetted by the orange light, crouching on a rock. It’s a troll with a bow.”

“I take out my bow and I shoot it.”

I rolled the dice.

“With your bonus to missile fire, that’s a fourteen. You hit! Make a tick mark beside your arrows to keep track of how many you have left.”

I made the mark, while Garth rolled the dice. “Another arrow bounces off your shield.”

“Where does it land?”

“At your feet.”

“I pick up the arrow and fire it back,” I said, rolling the dice.

“You hit it again.”

While the troll and I exchanged volleys, Garth informed me that a troll is a vicious monster. “It regenerates hit points,” he said, “which means it can heal its wounds. To kill it for good, you have to chop it up and throw it in a fire.”

I retrieved another arrow from the floor and shot it back at the troll. Then I got hit.

“An arrow is stuck in the crook of your arm. Subtract three from your hit points.”

“I only have one left.” Now I understood why they were called hit points. “Can I still fire a bow?”

“Yeah, the description of damage is just for flair.”

I pulled the arrow out of my arm and sent it back at the troll. I wondered if the troll might be doing the same thing and it was the same arrow we shot back and forth.

Garth said, “You hit the troll in the chest. It drops its bow and runs away.” A wide grin spread across his face. “Man, I never heard of anybody picking up shot arrows before. You’ve got good dungeon sense.”

In the next chamber, I found the lava pit. It was a lake of bubbling magma. I read the Scroll of the Dead and threw it into the pit.

Garth said, “As the scroll bursts into flame, the magma stops bubbling. The town is safe, and you’re a hero.”

In the summer of 1982, I was 13 years old. That was my first D&D adventure, and I remember saying, “This is the game I’ve been waiting for all my life!”


Lava Caves, Clacking Mandibles, and Red Glowing Glands

The old man, sprawled across the table with a dagger in his back, grabbed my attention. I forgot all about the Scroll of the Dead and the town’s imminent destruction by volcanic eruption. I wanted to solve the mystery of the old man’s murder.

After Garth convinced me the adventure lay rather in the old man’s quest, I added “Scroll of the Dead” to the list of equipment I carried.

In shining armor, a pack on my back, bow strapped to it, lance and shield in hand, and sword at my side, I mounted the draft horse and rode into the hills below the smoking volcano. This neutral human fighter may have trailed behind the horse with a plow in his hands the day before, but today he was going on an adventure. He would save the town from destruction and win his fortune. Then he would buy a helmet and become a real knight.

“You come to the mouth of a cave…,” said Garth.

I dismounted, tied the reins to a shrub, and secured the lance on the saddle.

“What’s in the cave?” I said.

“It’s dark inside. You can’t see anything.”

I looked at the equipment list on my sheet. “I have torches. I take one out of my pack and look into the cave.”

“You have to light the torch first.”

“Do I have matches or something?”

“That’s what the tinder box is for. It has flint and a piece of steel you can strike together to make a spark.”

Now I was learning outdoor survival. Flint and steel seemed more promising than rubbing two sticks together, which Garth and I tried many times, to no effect, when we were kids.

I lit the torch and peered inside the cave.

“It’s a natural tunnel. It’s ten feet wide and goes north about twenty feet until it opens into another space, but you can’t see what’s there. What do you do?”

“I go in the tunnel.”

The tunnel opened into a small chamber. Garth explained that the caves were made by hot lava running through them. I didn’t understand how that worked, but the more important detail was that, in addition to the way I came in, there were two ways out.

“The tunnel to the east is quiet. Down the west tunnel, you can hear a clacking noise. Which way do you go?”

“I go toward the noise.”

“It might be a monster.”

“I draw my sword.”

Sword in one hand, torch and shield in the other, I crept down the tunnel. I have since learned that carrying a torch in the shield hand is a good way to set one’s face on fire. Garth didn’t seem to be concerned.

The clacking noise was made by the mandibles of a giant beetle.

“It has spots above its eyes that glow red like fire, and it runs toward you.” Garth made clacking noises with his tongue. “What do you do?”

“I use my sword to defend myself.”

“Roll a twenty-sided die to see if you hit it.”

“Which one is that?”

“That one.” Garth pointed at the rounded dice with the small triangles.

I held it between thumb and forefinger. It was light, as if it lacked consequence. I let it fall to my palm. It bounced around on smooth edges in my cupped hand.

“You want to roll high,” said Garth.

I put all my will into the dice and launched it like a marble across the notebook.

“Eleven.” I read the number off the top triangle.

“Not high enough,” said Garth. “You miss. Now it’s the monster’s turn.”

Garth picked up the dice. “It’s called a fire beetle. If it bites you it takes away some hit points.”

I understood that hit points were life points, so I was relieved when Garth announced I avoided the beetle’s bite.

“It’s your turn. You need a fifteen to hit it.”

I rolled. “Seventeen!”

Garth gave me another dice. “You do one to eight points of damage with your sword.”

I rolled the dice, and the beetle gushed goo from its abdomen and stopped clacking its mandibles. The spots above its eyes still glowed red.

“Why do the spots glow?”

“They’re glands. They glow for up to six days after the beetle is dead. You can cut them out and use them for light.”

“Cool. I want to do that.”

“You don’t need more light. You already have a torch.”

“Yeah, but it would be neat to carry a red glowing gland!”


The Scroll of the Dead

Continued from “A Neutral Human Fighter.”

“What’s a tavern?” I said.

“It’s like a bar in medieval times,” said Garth.

I only knew what a bar looked like from cowboy movies with Clint Eastwood and John Wayne. The image jarred with the knights and castles in my imagination.

“What am I doing there?”

“You’re looking for adventure. An old man comes through the door…”

I imagined saloon doors swinging back and forth and the hollow thud of boots on a wood-plank floor.

In a lurching gait, the old man approached the table where I sat. He warned me that the local volcano would soon erupt and the town would be destroyed. He pulled a scroll from his cloak.

“This is the Scroll of the Dead. To appease the gods, you must read it over the lava pit in the center of the volcano and throw it in.”

Then the old man fell forward across the table, a dagger in his back.


A Neutral Human Fighter

“Roll these dice six times.”

Garth pushed three Yahtzee dice across the blue notebook that lay flat between us. We were sitting on the floor in his room. He leaned against the bed.

Having watched Kaytar explore the dungeon and defeat the wizard, I was ready, by Garth’s decree, to play this new kind of game he called “medieval fantasy adventure role-playing.”

I sat cross-legged. I had a pencil and an old copy of Better Homes and Gardens, which supported a blank sheet of ruled paper.

“When can I roll that one?” I eyed the dice that looked like a ball it had so many sides. The color was light blue like a summer sky. Each side was a small triangle, just big enough to fit a number. The edges were worn and rounded.

“That’s for attacking monsters and making saves. We’ll get to that later. First, you have to make a character.”

I cupped the dice in two hands and dropped them on the notebook.

“Thirteen. Good,” he said. “Write down ‘strength’ with thirteen next to it. That means you’re pretty strong. You can be a fighter.”

“Can I cast magic spells like Kaytar?”

Garth pursed his thin lips into a flat pucker. He did that when he was doubtful about something. “Playing a magic-user is more complicated. It’s easier to start with a fighter.”

I rolled the dice five more times and recorded the numbers on the sheet next to “intelligence,” “wisdom,” “constitution,” “dexterity,” and “charisma.”

Garth explained what each score meant, adding, “Anything higher than ten is above average.”

Other than the strength and a dexterity score that gave the character a bonus to “missile fire,” my fighter was mediocre.

I rolled another dice for “hit points,” which, the way Garth explained them, were more like life points. Then Garth told me to roll the three dice again.

Reading the results, he said, “You have one-hundred fifty gold pieces.”

“What are gold pieces?”

“Pieces are coins. There are other kinds too, like copper, silver, and platinum. Platinum is the most valuable.”

This brought to mind a pirate’s chest buried in a dune. “So, is it a treasure?”

“Not really, it’s just money you have to start with. You use it to buy equipment to go down into the dungeon. That’s where you’ll find the real treasure.”

He gave me the pale blue book open to a page with lists of items and their costs. “You’ve got plenty to get everything you’ll need for the adventure.”

I scanned the lists and asked a bunch of questions, mostly of the sort “What’s that and what’s it for?”

I understood most of Garth’s answers, though my imagination ran a bit far with “morning star,” and I was flummoxed by the concept of a “pole arm.”

In addition to newfound knowledge in medieval weaponry, from the list I learned about some other terrifying monsters I might encounter and how to combat them. There was a mirror for use in fighting medusas, holy water to throw on undead—which weren’t living either, wolfsbane against not just werewolves but a whole family of were-creatures, garlic to repel a vampire, and stakes to drive through its heart.

I wanted to buy one each of those with my gold pieces, but Garth assured me I wouldn’t need them this time.

“What’s the difference between a ‘draft horse,’ a ‘light horse,’ and a ‘warhorse’?”

“You don’t need a horse. You’re going into a dungeon.” Garth pursed his lips again. “Look, all you need is armor, a missile weapon, and a melee weapon.”

“What’s a may-lay weapon?”

“It’s for hand-to-hand combat, like a sword.”

After more questions and not a little time, in which Garth’s impatience grew, I decided on plate mail armor and shield, which Garth said gave me a good “armor class,” a sword, bow and arrows, and rope, water skin, torches, tinder box, and a back pack to carry it all in.

I wrote these in a list on the sheet and subtracted the cost from one-fifty. With remaining funds, I added a lance to my armament.

“If I don’t get a helmet, I have enough money for a draft horse. I could be a knight on a horse with my lance.”

“A draft horse is for plowing fields and pulling carts.”

I could not be deterred. Garth relented. “Okay, spend your money on a horse, but you can’t take it into the dungeon—or a lance either!”

That settled, Garth explained a concept he called “alignment.” I understood there were good guys and bad guys, like when we used to play cops and robbers. I wanted to be a good guy, but Garth advised me to play a neutral character to start, and I didn’t argue.

“Okay,” Garth said, “you can think of a name later. You’re in a tavern…”

A Neutral Human Fighter
A Neutral Human Fighter.
Recreation of My First D&D Character.