#RPGaDAY 5: Most Old School RPG Owned

#RPGaDAY prompts.

The #RPGaDAY prompt was concocted by Dave Chapman of Autocratik. Grab the list and join in!

Before we go any further, I need you to brace yourself. We’ve already covered that the first role-playing game I ever played was third edition Dungeons & Dragons. That’s a simple defect, though, one that could be rectified by any right-thinking GM with their copy of the red box handy, right? Maybe someday, sure, but not yet. I’ve never played or owned an edition of Dungeons & Dragons prior to third. The vast majority of games I own date from the 1990s or later. I’m a true third wave player. That said, I do own a couple games that come from the old school, or at least grew up listening to stories from the good old days.

Ghostbusters RPG box cover.It should not surprise anyone that I treasure the original Ghostbusters box set from West End Games. I found it for a steal on eBay, misfiled in the art supplies category, or somewhere weird like that. Still in the original shrinkwrap, with pristine manuals inside, the equipment cards unpunched and, the most treasured of treasures, the ghost die — scroll down a bit to see Dungeon Mistress showing her die off. It’s old school in that it sprang forth in the heady days when anything seemed possible, and nothing had been done before, and it’s the prototype system that went on to power countless Star Wars campaigns.

I’ve never actually used it, mind, because I’ve always gone with GURPS and, more recently, Cinematic Unisystem for my Ghostbusters convention games, but I love going to the plot seeds section for ideas and characters to adapt to my needs.

Playing Labyrinth Lord with Lasoleg the Elf, Gringo the Halfling, Bob the Cleric and Pope the Dwarf. Fittingly, Dingus the Thief cannot be seen.

Left to right: Lasoleg the Elf, Gringo the Halfling, Bob the Cleric and Pope the Dwarf. Fittingly, Dingus the Thief cannot be seen.

The other old school title in my library is Labyrinth Lord. It’s a retroclone, rather than a vintage, but I maintain its heart is in the right place. I once ran a game of Labyrinth Lord, far longer ago than I realized until I dug up that post. It was . . . fine. Crunchier and fiddlier than I would want to deal with in a game system, but fine. And I say that recalling how Neil, the unpictured Dingus in the picture, remarked that style of rule set was really too simple for strategically interesting decisions. Neil is a 3.x/Pathfinder guru who published his own rules supplement, so you can make your own call on that.

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Happy Birthday, Held Action!

Today marks the one year anniversary of Held Action‘s first publication, from the day I made my post of introduction and reported on local Free RPG Day activities. Those posts actually date from the brief period of time when I blogged on Dreamwidth. A couple weeks later, I got tired of the limitations of the cloned LiveJournal interface and crossed over to WordPress. That also pushed me to think of a name for the blog, and it wasn’t until I had thought of something I liked better than “Tyler’s Game Blog” that I bought the domain and set up this blog on WordPress.com.

What a year it’s been. First I chose a schedule to keep myself to, then I had an enormous spike in things I wanted to say, then I fell back into the more comfortable schedule I’d originally chosen. I’ve run through most of the material I wrote in other times and contexts, so now it’s all fresh, usually sparked by something I’ve read or heard elsewhere. And that’s what I wanted in a gaming blog: a place to publish the thoughts and ideas I had that I didn’t feel like putting in someone else’s discussion forum, but still wanted to make public.

According to WordPress.com, here are the top ten most popular posts of the last year, least to most. It’s amazing what the viral bump can do to hit counts, isn’t it?

  1. National Library Week 2010 Drumming up enthusiasm for an endeavor that inspired Saturday gaming at the local library.
  2. The Art of Board Game Storage When I get a game room of my own, I’ll use this technique.
  3. Game Master Mistakes: Not Really Listening I know enough to fess up when I make mistakes.
  4. A Screen for Every Game Promoting my favorite GM screen, the customizable sort.
  5. Physical Evidence Extolling my enjoyment of Propnomicon‘s Lovecraft-inspired creations.
  6. Labyrinth Lord: Downward to Adventure! My actual play report for International Traditional Gaming Week.
  7. The Lurker at the Threshold Expands Arkham Horror One of my inconsistent moments of pseudo-journalism.
  8. Scouting and Dungeons & Dragons Most mind-boggling is this one posted last week and it’s already number three in terms of hits.
  9. The Arkham Horror Expansion Guide One of those wonderful moments of blogging came when I saw someone else recommending this post on Boardgamegeek.com. Ah, gratification.
  10. How to Make a Pamphlet Prop I really do intend to get back to making that Ghostbusters proper suitable for download. Honest.

Labyrinth Lord: Downward to Adventure!

Left to right: Lasoleg the Elf, Gringo the Halfling, Bob the Cleric and Pope the Dwarf. Fittingly, Dingus the Thief cannot be seen.

For International Traditional Gaming Week, I rounded up some players to delve into Castle of the Mad Archmage using the Labyrinth Lord rules. For most of the people at the table, it was their first time with an old school ruleset, including myself. On their way to explore Castle Greyhawk for fame and fortune, Lasoleg the elf, Gringo the halfling, Bob the cleric, Dingus the thief and Pope the dwarf found themselves abruptly tumbling down into unexplored depths when a hidden quicksand pit deposited them on the outskirts of a sprawling underground complex.

When the idea to run this first popped into my head, I had no idea what to expect. I came to role-playing late enough that third edition Dungeons & Dragons was the de facto standard. My only real exposure to the older versions came from the adaptation used by the Baldur’s Gate computer games — fine games in their own right, but they don’t really give you the flavor of consulting a THAC0 table or figuring how many more experience points the elf earned for the ochre jelly.

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20 Signs of Secret Doors

Looking at the maps for Castle of the Mad Archmage and the descriptions got me thinking not only about the information the text conveys, but what it doesn’t. There are secret doors all over the place, sure, but that’s all the information you get. Everything else is up to the GM, which is as it should, but even GMs need help now and again.

So, because I was inspired to devise it for my own use, I now share with you this list of signs of secret doors, conveniently numbered if you might wish to select one using some kind of mechanism for generating an integer from 1 to 20 at random.

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A Cartograph of Adventure

Aside from that summer I spent in college working in the map room of the University of Vermont’s library, sorting aerial photographs, I don’t know if I’ve spent as much time poring over maps as I did last night since when I was ten years old and seriously hooked on L. Frank Baum and C. S. Lewis‘ chronicles of fantastic lands: the Land of Oz and Narnia, respectively. What map was I so studiously examining? The first two levels of the Castle of the Mad Archmage, of course.

And I’m glad I did, because not only did I find a few things I’m glad I know about in advance, just not to be caught surprised by them the first time I read a room’s description, but it sparked a few ideas of my own, meant to make the dungeon more “fun.” One of the most famous McGuffins in cinematic history now resides in the Archmage’s cellars — no, I won’t tell which — and I now have a short list of elements to shift around just in case the excitement slows down too much.

I have no ideas how far the players will get in this thing, if they’ll steamroll over everything and or yelping back to town three rooms in. I’ve found what I think is the most interesting entrance to the top level of the dungeon, in terms of what’s nearby. We’ll see if they feel similarly.

International Traditional Gaming Week Is Go

This game is definitely going forward. I’ve got four players — one so eager he showed up at the host’s house last night, rather than this coming Friday — a module in mind, Greyhawk Grognard‘s Castle of the Mad Archmage mega-dungeon; and a freshly printed copy of the Labyrinth Lord rules — so freshly printed, in fact, that the printer still hums and the musk of toner hangs heavy in the air as I write.

The players are making fourth level characters. I need to get the Labyrinth Lord rules c0il-bound for easy review and reference, familiarize myself with the maps, get those printed along the way and figure out if the group needs to skip a level or two to feel challenged.

Anyone else in the Burlington area interested in playing should leave a comment here to get in touch.

Adventuring Adventurers of Adventure

I didn’t think this GURPS Cabal adventure would capture my imagination like it did. I got in two and a half good hours of writing last night at Muddy Waters, scribbling down initial thoughts and setting details. That flip through the book last week not only refreshed my memory, but somehow got my brain willing to play with the Cabal setting in a way it didn’t want to back in the summer of . . . 2006?

Conversely, I’m having a harder time thinking about the Ghostbusters adventure. I thought I had a solid premise that tied in nicely with this year’s theme at Carnage, but either I’m not feeling it, or my brain’s just more interested in Cabal at the moment. And I can’t fault it; doing something substantive with Cabal has been a goal since I swiped a character or two for Mage: The Suppressed Transmission. I think I need to take a similar dive into the source material for Ghostbusters. Not the movie; I’ve got that memorized. I’m talking about the original box set from West End Games. They got something very, very right with that game and its presentation. Always go back to the source when you need rejuvenation.

Speaking of going back to the source, I pulled the chocks out from my notion of running an old school dungeon crawl for International Traditional Gaming Week. I have four interested players, a system by the name of Labyrinth Lord and the castle of a certain mad archmage. This should be good.

Reading Labyrinth Lord is weird, though. I came to role-playing games post-third edition of Dungeons & Dragons. The differences between that version of the game and the one Labyrinth Lord emulates are staggering. Ten minute turns when poking around the dungeon? Random encounters being built in to the GM’s plans? And the old chestnut of races as classes? What madness is this?