Reviews

Handmade Leather Dice Bag

A friend asked me for my mailing address. He wanted to send me something. Strange how we don’t generally have folks’ mailing addresses anymore.

Trans-Atlantic shipping can take a while these days, and, wonder as I might, I couldn’t think of what he might be sending. So I waited. My patience was rewarded by this small marvel.

Handmade Leather Dice Bag  Sunnyland Gifts
Handmade Leather Dice Bag, Sunnyland Gifts
Shown here with sets of five, six, and seven dice, which fit inside with room to spare. Fifty dice fill the bag to about two-thirds capacity.

It’s so beautiful I had to ask where he got it. Turns out, his daughter Lela makes them—by hand!

The leather is goatskin. The toggles and laces are cowhide. The polyester thread is braided and beeswaxed. Lela uses the saddle stitch method: a pair of needles weave a locking stitch that resists unraveling. No logos, stamps, or decoration, the style is simple and elegant.

Inside Seams  Saddle-Stitched by Hand
Inside Seams, Saddle-Stitched by Hand

The toggles were a little stiff on the laces, so they didn’t slide easily. I took the bag to the guy at my local shoe-repair shop—mostly to show it off. In addition to resoling my sandals, Stephanos can do anything with leather. I thought maybe there would be some drop of oil that would loosen the toggles. What do I know. Stephanos said I just had to work it a little. A couple minutes pulling the toggles back and forth on the laces did the trick.

This is most beautiful dice bag I ever had. I love it!

I realize this article reads like an advertisement. Other than the above mentioned social connection, I am in no way affiliated with L & M Productions or Sunnyland Gifts. I do LOVE this dice bag!


Help Defeat Real-Life Demons, Game Therapy UK

Are you a military veteran? Are you also a Game Master? Would you like to run role-playing games as a therapeutic tool for fellow veterans suffering from psychological trauma?

Game Therapy UK is starting a pilot project you might find interesting. It’s a volunteer project. They are to offer several training modules, from basic through advanced, including mentorship.

From their website:

Game Therapy UK is an exciting new charity providing innovative, evidence-based therapeutic games (“Dungeons and Dragons Therapy”) to groups across the UK, including people experiencing homelessness, people in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction and military veterans exposed to psychological trauma/PTSD.

Military veterans of any country are eligible to participate, whether it’s to run games or to play.

For more information, visit Game Therapy UK and sign up for their newsletter.

Defeat demons with D&D!


A DM’s Use for Solo Play

YouTuber Daniel Norton of Bandit’s Keep talks in his latest episode about how Dungeon Masters can use solo play to improve their games.

In his affable style, Daniel covers several topics that apply to any D&D edition and probably to most other role-playing games. I haven’t much to add to what Daniel says so well. I can only tease you with Daniel’s list of ways a DM might use solo play.

  • Play test adventures
  • Create adventure hooks
  • Plat test encounters
  • Map and stock a dungeon
  • Create interesting NPCs
  • Learn game mechanics
  • Rehearse published adventures
  • Build your world

The most ambitious projects on DONJON LANDS are solo endeavors. Not all use D&D, but they are all for one D&D campaign or another.

  • Wyrm Dawn uses How to Host a Dungeon to create a history for Wyrmwyrd, a B/X D&D campaign.
  • The Battle of Throrgardr is a 12th-level B/X scenario, which decides a pivotal moment in Wyrmwyrd’s history.
  • The Valormr Campaign uses rules for strategic-level wargames to play out events in a war that revealed major details about the history, including the origin and use of the Wyrmwyrd.
  • The latest project is Dreaming Amon-Gorloth, a Holmes campaign, in which I’m stocking a large dungeon as I explore it with an adventuring party.

I find solo play especially useful for large projects, because I can set my own pace and play the particular game that fits the purpose. While Valormr, for example, could have taken years with a group or even just one other player, I wrote the rules, prepared the scenario, and played it in a summer. Not to mention the prospects of finding another player as interested as I am in such a wargames campaign.

To close the video, Daniel invites us to let him know if we would like to hear more from him about solo play. Of course we would.

Please visit the video “Playing Solo D&D can make you a better Dungeon Master” (7:48) on YouTube to leave a message for Daniel in the comment section, and see his other YouTube channel Bandit’s Keep Actual Play for more old-schoolery.


The True Impact of D&D

I am a long-time professor of D&D’s influence on contemporary culture. The thesis, familiar to many of us, begins with the concepts of hit points and experience levels, borrowed from D&D and incorporated into the earliest video games. Where it ends is expressed in eloquent fashion by Jon Peterson at the close of Game Wizards.

Back in 1980, a reporter who asked if D&D was only a passing fad learned that “Gygax and Blume think not. D&D, they say, will last fifty years or more.” As unlikely as it was in the 1970s that this esoteric offshoot of the wargaming hobby might become a pop-culture phenomenon, it is just as unlikely that in 2021 the game would be more popular than ever. As a new generation grows up playing the game, it may be that the true impact of Dungeons & Dragons has yet to be felt.

Jon Peterson’s Triptych
Jon Peterson’s Triptych of D&D History:
Playing at the World: A History of Simulating Wars, People and Fantastic Adventures, from Chess to Role-Playing Games, San Diego: Unreason, 2012 [currently out of print]; The Elusive Shift: How Role-Playing Games Forged Their Identity, Cambridge: MIT, 2020; and Game Wizards: The Epic Battle for Dungeons & Dragons, Cambridge: MIT, 2021.

Peterson’s work is thorough, well-researched, and written from the historian’s objective perspective in a clear, concise style. Jon Peterson carries the lantern by which we explore the labyrinth of D&D’s obscure past, from its creation throughout its continuing evolution.

Find Jon Peterson’s books and read more about D&D history on his blog at playingattheworld.blogspot.com.


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 Thing About a Dyson Logos Dungeon Map

Watching one of Dyson Logos’s time-lapse videos is mesmerizing. Finger tips squeeze close to nib. Black ink trails as the pen glides along straight lines, jerks through hatch marks. Parallel lines become a long corridor, a protruding rectangle a door frame. Rubble strews across the floor.

Then the hatching. Short, quick strokes: one, two, three—one, two, three… That’s when we know: this guy’s wired different.

There’s a thing about a Dyson Logos dungeon map. By the hatching we recognize the style, because we’ve been admiring his work for more than a decade. But it ain’t the hatching.

The thing is the design.

To make the point, I chose a Dyson Logos map without hatching. Tunnels of the Shrouded Emperor is an example rare and fine.

Tunnels of the Shrouded Emperor
Tunnels of the Shrouded Emperor, Map by Dyson Logos.

The tripartite doorways either side of the entry hall, middle north, a blind stairway landing just south of it, rounded triangular daises in an octagonal room, a balcony overlooking half a chamber, stairs to the side, the generous use of dungeon furnishings—these catch the eye and draw us in.

But there’s more. Charting an imagined course through the dungeon, we follow branches, turn around at dead ends, weave one way or another along parallel routes, until we progress, via a wide thoroughfare, into the southern caverns.

This long trench reminds of a dry watercourse, perhaps a former Darkling tributary, which leads us to the dungeon’s end, where we find only stones and dry bones and lurking creatures. For we’ve missed the diamond-shaped central chambers where its priests work to repair “The Shrouded Emperor.”

That’s the thing about a Dyson Logos dungeon map.


Dyson Logos has been creating hand-drawn maps for fantasy role-playing games since 2009. You can support the creator on Patreon.


Pits and Pendulums and Other Means to Retire an Adventurer: OED Traps Digest

Searching for traps? Find them in the OED Traps Digest from OED Games.

After using it in his games for eight years, Dan “Delta” Collins of Delta’s D&D Hotspot and Wandering DMs finally, in this Hotspot post, opened the cover on the pit where he cached this six-page booklet chock-full of traps.

Search for Traps at OED Games

One Table, Myriad Dooms

On the first page, Dan explains in one paragraph how to generate a trap for your dungeon stocking needs. He tells you how often a trap is present, your chance to find it, and failing that, your chance to trigger it.

If you’re old school, you might consult the Monster Determination and Level of Monster Matrix from OD&D’s Underworld and Wilderness Adventures to determine the trap’s level. I adore the “Lost Matrix,”1 and I’m excited to have another reason to use it. On the matrix, you might find a 3rd-level trap anywhere from dungeon level one through five.

Let’s take pit traps, for example. On upper levels, you got your standard covered-pit traps for neophyte adventurers. For more experienced delvers, you got pits with spikes, pits with monsters, locking pits, and pits that crush you in your plate mail like a tin can.

The rest of the digest-sized page is a single table of d12 traps for each level, one through six. That’s 72 traps at the end of a dice roll.

Table entries are brief and descriptive. Dan suggests the text may be copied straight into your digital dungeon room notes.

Five Pages of Descriptions

Dan doesn’t leave you gazing at the approaching edge of the swinging pendulum. In remaining pages, he describes each trap, divided by type. There are eight types, including crushing, confining, and magic/energy traps, plus my favorite pit traps. Some have variations, like a poison’s strength or a missile’s accuracy. Each description provides how much damage, what save if any applies, and how to escape the trap should you survive its immediate effects.

Furthering our pit-trap example: At the deepest levels, you might find, if you’re lucky, a covered pit. Lifting the cover, you see spikes poking up from the bottom. The points are covered in poison. When you don’t find the cover, you fall through it, it locks, and the pit floods. Don’t worry. Dan tells you how to get out of it. Spoiler: It’s a job for friends topside. They should have an axe. Hold your breath while they work.

The OED Traps Digest is a free download for the Original Edition Delta fantasy rules system. Go to OED Games and search for Traps.

Working Traps on Wandering DMs, Sunday

For a live trap-stocking demonstration from the author of the OED Traps Digest, catch up with the Wandering DMs on YouTube today at 1 p.m. Eastern US. In “Dungeon Design Dash 2,” Dan and fellow DM Paul Siegel continue their work from a previous episode. Earlier, they stocked monsters and treasures in a one-page dungeon. They intend to finish this week with puzzles, tricks, and traps.

Don’t forget your ten-foot pole. I’ll bring the axe.


Notes

1 I call it the “Lost Matrix,” because, after an abbreviated appearance in the Holmes Bluebook and a more extensive rendition in the 1979 AD&D Dungeon Master’s Guide, it isn’t reproduced in later editions—the beginning of the end of the old school, so saith the grognard.


Setting Up a Wargames Campaign

I came only recently to Tony Bath. I’d heard vague stories about a game in the misty past set in Conan’s world. Details were murky and scarce. It wasn’t clear if it was D&D or something else, and I couldn’t sort out how the game related to the archetypal barbarian.

In early 2011, while browsing the Hill Cantons, I discovered a four-part series about Bath’s Hyboria wargames campaign (December 2010). Author Chris Kutalik had got hold of a copy of Setting Up a Wargames Campaign by the legendary English wargamer. Kutalik doesn’t so much review the book as proselytize. That day I became an acolyte.

Today, we take for granted the campaign. For modern role-playing gamers, a single adventure is called a “one-shot,” and while the form has its merits, it lacks the scope, continuity, and satisfaction a campaign provides.

The Society of Ancients

Tony Bath founded the Society of Ancients and its journal Slingshot in 1965. Now in its 56th year, the society continues to thrive. It has an active members-only online forum, hosts an annual Battle Day, and still produces Slingshot bi-monthly in full color.

So it was, too, with wargamers in the 1960s. Pushing lead figures across a tabletop gets stale after a number of unrelated battles. The context, coming from historical accounts, is inflexible. The setup and tactics, again historical, are sometimes limited. Battles often ended in a slug-fest, there being no reason a general might conserve troops for the morrow.

Veering from the strictly historical wargame, campaigners step back from the table and consider the larger theater of operations. On large-scale maps showing rivers instead of streams, mountains instead of hilltops, countries instead of towns, opposing generals exercise strategy instead of tactics. They march armies, represented by pins, across the map, each general in secret from the other, until forces meet.

In the ensuing battle, the context, setup, and tactics are all determined by the preceding events and the terrain upon which the two forces find each other. Troops must be used effectively or be withdrawn to fight another day. This is the stuff of the campaign.

In Bath’s Hyboria, King Arthur and his knights waged war on Conan’s Cimmerian hordes.

In those years, Tony Bath devised the quintessential wargames campaign. But he went further, for he set the campaign in a fictitious world. He lifted the map from the end papers of a Robert Howard novel. He cribbed also the setting’s name, and so Hyboria came again to life in the second half of the twentieth century. Bath borrowed real-world cultures, both ancient and medieval, to populate the continent with peoples, whence armies were drawn.

In Bath’s Hyboria, King Arthur and his knights waged war on Conan’s Cimmerian hordes. Carthaginians struggled against Viking raiders. Picts crossed swords with Persians. Aquilonians, allied with Argives and Nemedians, laid siege to a Turanian town occupied by Hyrkanians.

Tony Bath’s Ancient Wargaming including Setting Up a Wargames Campaign

That was only the beginning. Bath describes the process and much more in amicable prose. Setting Up a Wargames Campaign was published in 1973 by Wargames Research Group. It had a second edition (1977) and a revised third edition in 1986. Copies now circulate on various reseller sites for not extraordinary prices. At the time, though, I couldn’t find any such copy.

Instead, I found a reproduction. As part of his History of Wargaming Project, John Curry, with the Society of Ancients, published Tony Bath’s Ancient Wargaming (2009, 2011), which is a reprint collection of three previously published books:

  • Peltast and Pila Ancient Wargaming Rules (Tabletop Warfare, 1976)
  • Setting Up a Wargames Campaign (WRG, 1973)
  • The Legend of Hyboria (Society of Ancients, 2005)

In setting up the Valormr Campaign, I’m using Wargames Campaign’s first three chapters, in which Bath describes the basics:

  • How to Set Up Your Campaign
  • Map Movement
  • Contacts, Battles and After Effects

I’m sure to make use of later chapters in subsequent campaigns. Furthermore, the ancient wargame rules Peltast and Pila will serve in campaigns taking place earlier in the DONJON LANDS time line.