Hell, I’ve been running D&D since before it was published.  I’m not “old school,” I’m PRESCHOOL!


Yes, Virginia, there are really very substantial differences between Original Dungeons & Dragons (OD&D) and later editions.  There are also differences in the way I run D&D, no matter what the edition.

First – YOU MUST BE SELF MOTIVATING.  In October of 1972, Rob Kuntz introduced me to what would become OD&D by saying “Gary’s got this neat new game called Greyhawk.  You’re a bunch of guys exploring an old abandoned wizard’s castle full of monsters and treasure and stuff.”

That’s it.  No quests to rescue the princess, no magical doohickey to throw into the Zazu Pitts of Fordor, no mysterious strangers meeting you in an inn.  We were in a game to explore, and we did.  We explored a lot of the dungeon.  Then we wondered “What’s over on the other side of those hills,” and we started doing outdoor adventures.

Our characters were entirely self-directing.  Yours will need to be as well.

Second – YOU ARE A TEAM.  The game is not all about how wonderful your character is.  You are part of a team and fulfill your role in that team.  These roles, in this world and in these rules, are derived from the traditional composition of medieval armies; heavy troops hold the line, light troops flank, and missile troops fire from a safe vantage because if they get meleed they’re dead.  The magic users have heavy firepower and can easily dispose of a threat much faster than the fighters can; but if the fighters don’t protect the magic users, the magic users are going to be useless.  Similarly, the magic users represent too valuable a resource to allow to go to waste for the fighters.

It’s not all about you, singular; it’s about you, plural.

Third – GET YOUR SHIT TOGETHER!  This game is run in a very simulation-heavy way.  For instance, if the players get into an argument and start shouting, it means that the player characters are standing deep in some monster-filled dungeon screaming at the top of their lungs, drawing wandering monsters by the dozen.  Have a leader.  FOLLOW that leader.  If you’re the leader, LEAD.  Make decisions.  When the players discuss things, do so quietly in short, high content sentences.  The game is a game of exploration to find treasure; to explore, you have to MOVE.

We have only a few hours to play; make the most of it.

Fourth – COMBAT IS DANGEROUS.  You’ll have to fight, but like any army, make the conditions as favorable as you can.  If your attitude to combat is “We’re the player characters!  CHARGE!” you’d better bring plenty of paper, because you’ll be rolling up a lot of new characters.  In real life, flanking wins battles, it’s not just a “nice little sweetie.”  OD&D doesn’t have explicit flanking rules, so I made my own.  I’m not going to go into great detail, but I am going to say that, just like real life, flanking wins battles.  And flanking does not have to be the modern lame-ass “two figures opposite each other” bullshit.  If you hit an enemy in the flank, it’s flanked.  And hitting them in the back is far more powerful than flanking.

Of course, the same applies to you.  Do be careful, won’t you?

Likewise, close order is your friend.  Three humans fill up a ten foot corridor.  Fewer than that, and the monsters can get past you to the soft, chewy, unarmored magic users behind you.  Also, spears can strike from the second rank.  Isn’t that lovely?

Fifth – THIS IS MY WORLD.  I am the absolute unquestioned demiurge of this imaginary world.  It works exactly and precisely the way I say it does, and nobody else has any say in this at all.  This is important because my vision of my world forms the basis for all rulings I make.  And there will be far, far more rulings than rules in this game.  I can be reasoned with on the basis of logic, historical precedent, or common sense, but “appeal to the rules” will get you nowhere.

Sixth – DESCRIPTION, NOT DICE ROLLS.  You don’t roll “observation” to look around, you tell me what you’re doing and how.  This subject is covered very well in Matt Finch’s “Quick Primer for Old School Gaming.”  You should definitely read this, and you can find it for free at

Read it.  You’ll be glad you did.

Seventh — REACTION AND MORALE.  Not every creature you encounter is necessarily hostile, and not every fight has to be to the death.  Negotiation can be a lifesaver, and so can intimidation.  Back “in the day” most of us were Neutral and learned the alignment languages of Law and Chaos, just to maximize our chances of getting out of a tight squeeze with minimum bloodshed.  Remember, wandering monsters have no treasure and treasure is where the XP is, so don’t fight wandering monsters if you can possibly avoid it!

EIGHTH — WHO FIGHTS AND RUNS AWAY.  Don’t be afraid to withdraw from an unfavorable situation.  Spiking the door behind you can buy you the time you need to escape.  Also, don’t be afraid to say “We’re torn up, let’s go back to town to heal and come back.”

Review – “Dave Arneson’s True Genius” by Robert J. Kuntz

Rob Kuntz’ brief monograph, Dave Arneson’s True Genius, is:

  • The most important work written about what constitutes an RPG to date
  • Quite likely the most important work about what constitutes an RPG that will ever be written
  • Unlikely to be read by the people who need to read it the most

I first played the game that would become D&D in October of 1972 at Gary Gygax’s house in Lake Geneva. I wasn’t one of the original group of Greyhawk players who started in August of 1972, but I was part of the “second wave.”  I still remember going home after my first game that night.  My overwhelming emotion was “I’m not sure what kind of game we just played, but it’s the greatest game ever.”

Since then, many, many words have been written on “what is a role playing game,” and, frankly, most of them are utter bullshit.  Kuntz’ monograph, however, finally and accurately describes what made Dave’s “BLACKMOOR” game different from every game before it.  It earns this distinction by being the only description that accurately fits the observed data.  After reading this my greatest reaction was “Eureka!”  Finally, at last, somebody actually had figured it out, and stated it well.


I have known Rob Kuntz (RJK) since we met in 7th grade arithmetic class.  He is one of my oldest and dearest friends.  Dave Arneson’s True Genius (hereinafter DATG) contains elements that Rob and I have discussed here and there over the decades, and I found myself almost 100% in agreement with.  On the other hand, I also respect Rob, and our friendship, too much not to be honest.  Nobody, and nothing, is perfect.  I have two major criticisms of this work.

Firstly, I believe it contains too many references to his yet unpublished work.  If one is going to bring up a point, then one has the obligation to explain that point in the current work.  I feel this work would be stronger if self-contained, with a single reference to the upcoming works included in the preface.

Secondly, DATG is written in a very dense, academic style.  I have a fairly good vocabulary and quite solid reading comprehension; however, I had to read DATG carefully three times through to really understand it well.  I believe that a less formal style would be helpful in making his thesis clearer for most people. This is borne out in my opinion by reading the negative feedback on this work; overwhelmingly, the chief complaint I have seen is that the language is too difficult.  Furthermore, even those who claim to understand it and then give negative criticism show clearly in their criticism that they do not, in point of fact, understand the work.  (We may dismiss the fatuity of the reviewers who complain about the price vs. the page count, who resort to ad hominem challenging RJK’s “right to write about systems theory,” or the reviewer who ended his lengthy negative review by admitting he had not actually read the work.)

Speaking of writing about systems theory, I have also heard several times “Dave Arneson (DLA hereinafter) never used that kind of language.”  No one is claiming he did; that statement, while true, is utterly irrelevant.

Normally, I would not worry much about those people who are unable to understand this work; to quote C.S. Lewis, “people who can’t understand books written for grownups shouldn’t talk about them.”  But DATG is such an important, fundamental piece that it truly needs to be read and understood by everyone with any interest in RPGs.


To paraphrase Henry Higgins, “By George, I think he’s got it!”  The greatest achievement of DATG is as I have mentioned before; RJK nails, clearly and concisely, what made BLACKMOOR different from all other games before it.  Anyone who reads and understands this monograph will never look at RPGs in the same way again, whether as a referee or as a player.  This booklet changes everything.


The monograph consists of three sections.  The first is basically a historical overview; it describes the advent of Blackmoor, its introduction to the Lake Geneva gaming society, the LGTSA, the creation of TSR, and the initial success of Dungeons & Dragons.  RJK’s emphasis in this section is that D&D started as a wide-open, creative game where referees were encouraged, nay required, to make the game their own, and the products TSR sold – the original rules, supplements, “Monster and Treasure” assortments, “Geomorphs,” hex paper, and the like – were designed as aids to referee creativity and individuality; and within a few years, TSR moved to a “consumer oriented” model of offering ready-to-play modules and a circumscribed world view of “what the game is about.”

RJK has stated, repeatedly, that he thought D&D modules – prepackaged, “read and play”, ready to go – were the worst thing that ever happened to D&D.  Let me say right here and now that I agree with him on this point absolutely and completely.  I frankly don’t care how many modules sold; they turned the emphasis of the game from imagination to mechanics, and the referee from creator to text reader and rules parser.  Yes, the modules made TSR a ton of money, and God knows, I’d find a wad of cash that big hard to resist myself.  But money does not equal quality, and the game has become much the poorer for its commercialization.  TSR could, and very likely would, have become a “moderately successful game company” (rather than undergoing a bacterial growth/dieoff curve) by continuing to offer products to help referees create and imagine.

The second essay is the heart of DATG.  In this essay RJK analyzes what DLA did to create BLACKMOOR, and how it was new, different, and exciting.  I am not going to do violence to RJK’s thesis by attempting to condense it into an aphorism that fits on a bumper sticker; any such attempt would result in mere nonsense.  I will make the attempt of showing the merest tip of the iceberg, however, by saying that RJK describes DLA’s breakthrough in terms of separating the “mechanical” from the “conceptual” systems in RPGs, and that DLA’s innovations were in the conceptual realm.  (Notice again the “tip of the iceberg” description.)

This may seem like a scant description of something I’m claiming is so important.  But much like those critics who say War and Peace is “the greatest novel ever written,” at some point I can only answer the question “why” by saying, “Read it yourself and you’ll see!”

The third section is RJK’s analysis of how and why Blackmoor was more than just a variation of CHAINMAIL and/or Brauntstein games.  Though accurate, I found that once I really understood the thesis of Part 2, this section was self-evident; I have played both CHAINMAIL and Braunstein, and Blackmoor is obviously much, much more than a mere “variant” or “descendant.”  If you’re not familiar with CHAINMAIL or Braunstein, though, this is a very useful section for that reason.  For that matter, I’ve seen various “authorities” and “experts” try to derive Blackmoor from any number of sources, including “Diplomacy,” the “Strategos N” Napoleonic miniatures wargames rules, and Michael J. Korns’ WW2 game “Modern War in Miniature.”  My comment above about CHAINMAIL and Braunstein apply to these other games as well.  I have played them all… and a myriad of others, to boot… and it is once more self-evident that Blackmoor went far, far beyond any of them.


One of the drawbacks of growing older… besides physical diminishment, loss of sexual energy, greying hair, sore muscles and joints, flatulence, memory loss, death of friends and family, and lots of other things…

Ahem.  I’ll start over.

One of the drawbacks of growing older is that it is very, very difficult to describe the effect of paradigm shifts one has witnessed.  “Star Wars” exploded in 1977, in a way I can’t really describe.  Lord of the Rings was everywhere in the late 60s and early 70s in a way that was truly astonishing at the time.  The advent of the first Web browser in 1993 changed the world in a fundamental way.

Dungeons & Dragons, in its original appearance, changed the way people thought of and played games in much the same way.  And most importantly, people grasped on an instinctual level the supremacy of the conceptual parts of the game over the mechanical.  A few days after that first adventure in “Greyhawk,” I nabbed some graph paper from math class and drew up a dungeon level and started running it for  a couple of high school friends, using dice I swiped from a Yahtzee game and rules I made up as I went along.  Other kids at high school did the same thing.  I started running it at college in 1973, and within weeks most of my other players had “dungeons” of their own… ultimately, including Professor M.A.R. “Phil” Barker, who created Empire of the Petal Throne.

And it wasn’t restricted to existing gaming circles.  People would play a game or two and start running it on their own at home, or at science fiction conventions, or in college student unions, or in any venue where there was any interest in the fantastic.  In those first few years the game spread like wildfire; people would see it and couldn’t wait to start exploring their own conceptual realms of imagination.

The emphasis on an “official” game killed that.  Products were sold to be consumed, not used for building.  With the emphasis on the “assembly line” of the tried and true money making modules, exploration of conceptual space ended and the emphasis became on game mechanics.  When one of the writers at WoTC stated that the key to D&D 3rd Edition was “system mastery” of the rulebooks, this served as the epitaph of everything Dave Arneson invented.

Further, this emphasis on mechanical rules mastery has resulted in the referee turning from an imaginative creator into a “Final Encyclopedia” style holder of huge volumes of rules.  “I can’t be a Game Master, there are too many rules to remember” is a sentiment that fills face to face discussions, convention panels, and dozens of RPG online forums.  And who can blame them?  When the latest edition of Dungeons & Dragons consists of three volumes of hundreds of pages each, what sane person is going to look at that and say “It’s easy to run this game?”

The original D&D rules of 1973, published as three digest-sized booklets, would have fit in 58 pages full sized.  Total.  Including rules for aerial combat, naval combat, building a castle, and running your demesne.

The important thing was not what was written down on paper.  The important thing was what was in the imaginations of the players.

That has been thoroughly banished from RPGs.  Mechanics have won.


I find it very, very difficult to be optimistic about RPGs at this point.  The emphasis on mechanics has destroyed the very soul of the game; rules don’t just provide support for the imagination, they supplant it.  Things fall apart; the center cannot hold.  “Everything not permitted is forbidden.”  Rules, rules, and more rules are the order of the day.  It reminds me of the researches of Hell as described by C. S. Lewis’s devil, Screwtape: “more and more complicated theories, fuller and fuller collections of data, richer rewards for researchers who make progress, more and more terrible punishments for those who fail.”  The authors of D&D 3rd edition admitted that there are “traps,” choices in the rules that will penalize new players.  They have stated that rules have to “protect players from the arbitrary whims of the game master” instead of collaboration between game master and players to explore the imaginative realms.

Saying “D&D was better in 1974” is not, in point of fact, an opinion.  The game was freer, more open, more supportive of the imagination.  That has died.

If every D&D player read Dave Arneson’s True Genius, there might be a chance that conceptual ideas rather than mechanical ones might become paramount once again.  But, frankly, that’s not going to happen.  WoTC has a huge advertising budget, and Rob Kuntz has none.  Furthermore, the simple fact is that convenience sells.  McDonald’s isn’t the largest selling restaurant chain in the world because they’ve got the world’s best food; far from it.

So the world of Dave Arneson, where the game is about mutual exploration of the imagination, is going to continue to be the disregarded, discredited provenance of a few old men and women who will talk about “the good old days” and be roundly ignored.  Neophilia is not confined to gaming, by a long shot.  The admonition to “hold fast to that which is good” is as extinct as the dodo.  The best we can hope for, I fear, is that we old farts, we last survivors – we few, we happy few, we band of brothers – will pass on our love of wide open conceptual spaces to a few younger people so that Dave Arneson’s innovation – Dave Arneson’s True Genius – does not disappear completely.

That is my hope – but, honestly, not my expectation.  I expect laziness to win, and Dave Arneson’s true genius to be consigned to the dustbin of history, unknown but to the rare historically curious gamer.

Ozymandius am I, King of Kings.
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

Dave Arneson’s True Genius is available at


Here is the information for creating and equipping an OD&D character for this game.  All stats are rolled on 3d6, in the order shown on the sheet.  If you don’t already have a character from a previous year of playing in my game, create a first level character using the information below.  I trust everyone to be honest.








 GOLD (3D6 X 10)




L 1   HP=7

 L 2   HP=1D6 + 7

 L 3   HP=2 D6 + 7



L 1   HP=6                                1      1ST LEVEL SPELL

 L 2   HP=7                               2       1ST LEVEL SPELLS

 L 3   HP=1D6 + 7                    3      1ST LEVEL SPELLS    1      2ND LEVEL SPELL



L 1   HP=6

 L 2   HP=1D6 + 6                   1      1ST LEVEL SPELLS

L 3   HP=2D6 + 6                     2       1ST LEVEL SPELLS



L1     HP=6

 L 2   HP=7

 L 3   HP=1D6 + 7


1st Level
1. Detect Magic
2. Hold Portal
3. Read Magic
4. Read Languages
5. Protection/Evil
6. Light
7. Charm Person
8. Sleep

2nd Level
Detect Invisible
Phantasmal Forces
Locate Object
Wizard Lock
Detect Evil
Continual Light



1st Level
1. Cure Light Wounds
2. Purify Food & Water
3. Detect Magic
4. Detect Evil
5. Protection/Evil
6. Light

Item Cost
Dagger 3
Hand Axe 3
Mace 5
Sword 10
Battle Axe 7
Morning Star 6
Flail 8
Spear 1
Pole Arm 7
Halberd 7
Two-Handed Sword 15
Lance 4
Pike 5
Short Bow 25
Long Bow 40
Composite Bow 50
Light Crossbow 15
Heavy Crossbow 25
Quiver of 20 Arrows 10
Case with 30 Quarrels 10
20 Arrows/30 Quarrels 5
Silver Tipped Arrow 5 each
Mule 20
Draft Horse 30
Saddle  25
Saddle Bags 10
Leather Armor 15
Chain-type Mail 30
Plate Mail 50
Helmet 10
Shield 10
Barding (Horse Armor) 150
50′ of Rope 1
10′ Pole 1
12 Iron Spikes 1
Small Sack 1
Large Sack 2
Leather Back Pack 5
Water/Wine Skin 1
6 Torches 1
Lantern 10
Flask of Oil 2
3 Stakes & Mallet 3
Steel Mirror 5
Silver Mirror, Small 15
Wooden Cross 2
Silver Cross 25
Holy Water/Vial 25
Wolvesbane, bunch 10
Belladona, bunch 10
Garlic, bud 5
Wine, quart 1
Iron Rations (for dungeon
expeditions) 1 person/1 week 15
Standard Rations for 1 person, 1 week 5

Spears can be used one handed with shield, or when used two handed without shield, they may strike from the second rank.

All weapons do 1d6 damage with the following exceptions:

Polearms, halberds, morning stars, battle axes, and two handed swords are all two handed weapons and roll 2d6 on damage and keep the highest of the two.

A roll of natural 20 on an attack with any weapon does twice as many dice.


GARYCON 2019 – notes on CHAINMAIL


 Premeasurement is not permitted, either before movement or missile fire.

Troops are divided into units.  Units must be kept together.

Types of troops may not be combined in one unit.  EXCEPTION:  Missile troops may be interspersed with the front line of a unit of melee foot troops … for example, Heavy Foot…Archer… Heavy Foot… Archer.  In case of melee the archers may pull back from melee and not engage.

Before the battle begins, smaller units may be combined with others of the same kind, or large units may be separated.  Units may not be smaller than 5 figures.  Any combining or splitting of units must be given to the referee in writing before the battle begins.  Large units have stronger morale but are less maneuverable, smaller units are more maneuverable but easier to break.

Fatigue rules will not be used for Battle on the Ice.

Morale check to stand up to a cavalry charge will not be used.

If a commander (Prince Bishop Hermann, Alexander Nevsky, Andrey Nevsky) is with a unit that unit gets +1 to all die rolls (two dice adds +2).  Any unit within 12” of a commander gets +1 to all die or dice rolls.

In post melee morale, for two equal units in melee the result is virtually always “melee continues,” so post melee morale will only be calculated in case of a noticeable disparity in either troop types or numbers.

Morale checks due to excess casualties will be used.

Flanking, that is, hitting a unit in the front and flank at the same time with multiple units, wins battles.

Units attacking from the flank are at the next higher class, i.e., Heavy Foot equals Armored Foot and Heavy Horse equals +1 on each die.  Units which attack from the rear deliver casualties without receiving any in return. In addition, such troops receive the bonus stated above for Flank Attack.

If a unit retreats or routs into a friendly unit, both units are disordered and cannot move next turn.  If they are attacked by either melee or missile the turn after contact they may both keep retreating.  This is great when it happens to the other guy and sucks when it happens to you.

A unit that charges will continue moving as long as it keeps killing.  This means that charging horse can very likely blow away the nearest foot unit and keep right on going.  A hill prevents charging, either up or down.

Both the Germans and the Russians know that Teutonic Knights are Heavy Horse and Russian Knights are Medium Horse.  This is not the first time these groups have fought.

We have endeavored to make the figures as accurate as possible, but we’ve had to make do with what’s actually available.  Check your troop sheets for the actual descriptions and capabilities of your units.


  • All figures move 6” per turn. There is no bonus for charge move or road move.
  • The man to man combat tables will be used. We have endeavored to come as close as possible to the actual arms and weapons, but we had to use what we have.  Please take care to keep track of the armor and weapons your figures have on their tactical order sheets.
  • Knights take two hits before they are eliminated. After taking one hit a knight is -2 on all die rolls (-2 on two dice as well).  Squires are eliminated with one hit.
  • Fatigue rules will be used as follows (modifications to printed rules):Troops become fatigued at 5 fatigue points. Fatigued troops get a -1 on all die rolls, melee and morale, and all attackers at them get a +1 on their attack dice.

One turn of movement gives 1 fatigue point.
Charging gives 2 fatigue points.
One turn of melee gives 2 fatigue points.

One turn of complete rest, no movement, missile fire, or melee, removes all fatigue.

  • Since this is a “chivalrous” passage of arms, attacking from the rear is not allowed. Attacking from the flank is allowed, and gives the attacker a +1 on the dice.
  • Spears may attack from the second rank.
  • On the first round of melee, the longer weapon attacks first, including spears in the second rank. Second and subsequent rounds, the shorter weapon attacks first.  In case of equal weapon length, the winner of the “Move/Countermove” roll attacks first.


The weapon lengths, from shortest to longest, are:



Battle Axe

Morning Star



  • The To-Hit table is below:


Reinforced Mail    Plate Armor     Plate and Shield

Mace                                   8                      7                      8
Sword                                 9                      10                    11
Battle Axe                          7                      9                      10
Morning Star                      7                      8                      8
Spear                                   10                    11                    12

Gronan Reviews “Dungeon Chef”

(Gronan of Simmerya was my first ever D&D character in Gary Gygax’ “Greyhawk” game.  I use the name as my handle on several gaming forums.)

GRONAN REVIEWS:  Dungeon Chef by RPGPundit (Available as a PDF from DriveThruRPG, $2.99)
Fantasy RPG supplement, 14 pages.

SUMMARY:  Buy this, for Crom’s sake!

Ah, RPGPundit.  People have one of three reactions to that name; “love him,” “hate him,” or “who?”  But never mind that now.

Ever have one of your player characters say, “Gee, what happens if I chow down on this Neo-Otyugh pancreas?”  Well, me neither, but if any of them ever do, Dungeon Chef is just what you need.  Essentially, Dungeon Chef is all about what happens if PCs eat various monster bits; some effects are helpful, and some are harmful, and some are just strange.

BAD:  There isn’t a single reference in Dungeon Chef to Sigurd gaining the ability to understand birdsong after drinking Fafnir’s blood, or eating Fafnir’s heart to gain the gift of prophecy.  Considering this tale dates back to the 13th century, it’s kind of a blatant omission.

MEH:  I don’t really care for the style of the cover art, but that’s a matter of taste and isn’t important.

GOOD:  Pretty much the whole thing.

I have long found that it’s easier to grab an idea and develop it, change it, or run with it than to come up with good ideas from a tabula rasaDungeon Chef is a great resource for just that reason; even if you don’t 100% like or agree with everything, it’s a handy pile of ideas that you can run with.  “Be it through necessity, curiosity, or stupidity, PCs will put things in their mouths.”

One thing Pundit does NOT do is belabor the obvious.  For instance, eating a giant crab would be just like eating a crab, only more so.  Therefore, it’s not even mentioned in Dungeon Chef.  Ordinary animals, or giant versions of ordinary animals, are like eating ordinary animals.  I don’t think this needs to be spelled out.  (By the way, here’s a fun tip:  According to my brother, scorpion tastes like crab.  So, after you kill that giant scorpion, have your genie conjure up a big pot of boiling water and some melted butter.)  (Scorpions are sold for food by Thai street vendors, and perhaps others.)

Dungeon Chef starts with a brief discussion of alignment; essentially, if you’re Lawful Good, you may want to think carefully before eating a sentient creature.

Then there is a nice section on food poisoning and how it affects characters, including a very, VERY nice discussion of some actual herbal remedies.  The part about horehound will be useful for a lot more than just PCs who never learned not to put random crap in their mouths.

Finally there are several tables on effects of eating various critters.  The tables break down in a way I don’t quite understand; “Astral Creatures,” “Far-Realm Creatures,” “Outsiders/Chaos-Beings,” for instance.  Others are more straightforward; “Fungi,” “Slimes,” Trolls, etc.  I suspect that these labels might have something to do with 5th Edition D&D, because I know Pundit was in on that project, but I can’t swear to it.

In my opinion, the best part of the list of tables is the last one, labeled “WTF is this?”  So when your PCs slay your custom-designed Nameless Horror From Beyond Space And Time and, for some unfathomable reason decide to slice it open, grab some random green wobbly bit, roast it, and eat it, you have a handy table to consult.

But the truth is, that doesn’t really matter.  There are a bunch of tables with a bunch of effects, some good and some bad.  Take those tables and use them as is, or mix them up, or take the effects and rearrange them, or whatever.  As I said above, I see this as less of a definitive set of rules than as an inspiration.

My very favorite part of this whole product, though, is that the author has done a pretty damn good job of capturing the vibe of the early years of D&D.  The effects in this supplement range from the mundane to the dangerous to the downright bizarre; from “edible, no other effect” to “heal 1d6 points” to “save vs. poison or die” to “all the character’s teeth fall out.”  And it contains the “lady or the tiger” aspect as well; “eat this and either gain +1 to an attribute or -1 to an attribute.”  This is just the sort of wild and wooly vibe that the old games run by Arneson and Gygax themselves used to have, and that alone makes this supplement worthwhile.

The best way to use Dungeon Chef – at least in my opinion – is not to simply present it to the players as a set of rules, but to incorporate it into your world without telling them. So they attack a bugbear camp where they’re roasting a giant frog, and the bugbears go leaping away.  Or some friendly tribe promises to heal them, and feeds them a slab of something that they can’t identify, and it heals them.  Et cetera.  Just use the suggestions in Dungeon Chef and sprinkle them around here and there until your players start to get the idea “Hey, maybe eating random things is a good idea!”  At that point your work is done, and, as my friend Chirine Bakal says on TheRPGsite, “Hijinks ensue.”

In this day and age, the simple fact is that three bucks is pocket change.  I live in a small prairie town in South Dakota, and even here its $4 for a decent pint of beer.  For the number of ideas and amount of inspiration provided by Dungeon Chef, it’s one of the most cost-effective supplements you can buy.  No, it’s not an adventure module, but honestly, if you can’t take the ideas in this little booklet and run with them, it’s time to hang up your dice.


GaryCon VIII, March 2016 – Part 4

So.  Last day of GaryCon 2016.

I don’t do mornings, and I didn’t do this one.

In the afternoon I played “Cavaliers & Roundheads,” reffed by none other than Jeff Perren hisself. Even though those naughty Parlimentarians did grievous harm upon the forces of the true King, it was a lot of fun.  I can see why pike and shot era gaming is so popular with its fans.  Over on my flank, Nathan Lyke did a great fakeout maneuver with his Lobster cavalry that resulted in me getting my pikemen totally tangled up, and by the time I untangled them the opportunity to attack his flank was gone.  And then it was time for beer.  It was good tactics on his part (but of course I told him he was lucky, because what fun is gaming if you can’t give your friends a little crap.)  I really want to learn more about this era of warfare.

I had originally had nothing booked for Saturday night.  I bumped into Dave Wesley of Braunstein fame, and he said that he was short some players and could I help out.  Well, how could I resist that?  I got rid of my used beer and got some fresh beer and went to the game.  When I got there Dave was busy with one player and distracted.

Then I saw he’d left the name tags and markers unguarded.  He’s known me long enough that he should have known better.

I grabbed a marker and a badge, and as my friend David Thornley said, “I saw the wheels start to turn and I sat back to enjoy it.”  I made a badge that said “Village Idiot” and proceeded to wander around. I walked into several private conversations and was basically ignored.  So each time after a minute or two, I would go tell a bunch of other people what I’d heard.  For instance, I listened to the Chancellor of the university and the Chief of Police discuss what to do with the student rioters.  Then I went to the jail and told the students what they had said.  Et cetera.  Hey, anybody who discusses confidential matters in front of the Village Idiot gets what they deserve.

About this time Dave Wesley turned his attention to the rest of the game, and his reaction to my antics was to sit there holding his head.

Flawless victory.

So, then I start playing the part that Dave W. wanted me to; a Prussian colonel of engineers.  Well, have you ever seen the movie “Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines?”  I played my character like Colonel Manfred von Holstein.

Yes, complete with the little “Oompah Band” noises.  One of the other players asked “Do you have a band with you?”
“So… your character is walking around town making mouth noises?”

I also discovered that Terry Pratchett’s portrayal of Archchancellor Ridcully is right on; if you shout at people, you can get them to do what you want.  If you shout at people in a really bad German accent, it works even better.

Dave W. wasn’t quite sure what he’d unleashed when he asked me to play, but everybody had a good time. I hadn’t planned on playing Braunstein, but was really, really glad I did.

Sunday, a few of us got together with “Geekpreacher” Derek White, who is a Methodist minister, and we had a simple prayer and Eucharist which turned out to be a very powerful experience.  This year Derek is spearheading a more organized Agape Feast.

Several of the crew had to work Monday, so we grabbed a late breakfast with my brother Chip on the way out of town and headed home.

It was a great weekend, I had a LOT of fun.  But honestly, doing seven events in three days is too much.  Jim Ward suggested no more than one event a day, and sadly I think I have to follow his advice; I ain’t as young as I usedta was.

Besides, I was seriously deficient in socializing this year.

On to GaryCon 2017!

Beer, out.

Gary Con VIII, March 2016 – Part 3

Jeez, what a winter.  I better hurry this up to get done before GaryCon 2017!

So, Friday was a long, long day.  I agreed to run Legions of the Petal Throne, a miniatures fantasy wargame written by Dave Sutherland, as a memorial event for Dave.  That’s the only thing that could make me drag my sorry ass out of bed in time for an 8 AM event.

Never again.

The game went okay, but I’m not as familiar with Legions as I thought so we didn’t get as far along as I hoped to.  Everybody seemed to have fun, though, so I’m not going to worry.  An interesting piece of gaming history: When Dave wrote the game, he and Phil (M.A.R.) Barker (creator of Tekumel) decided that the game should be written with the assumption that buyers were NOT familiar with miniatures wargaming.  This was 1977, so for those of you who are interested in when the RPG hobby split off from wargaming, there’s a clue.

The noontime game was one of my perennial favorites, “Don’t give Up the Ship,” sailing ship action in the age of Napoleon.  This is always fun.  I was playing an English frigate captain again (I like small ships) and my friend Paul was commanding the French.  Briefly put, we got handed our asses in a bucket.  The French used the weather gage and their ships of the line cut the British line in two and defeated the fragmented forces in detail.  It was extremely well done.  I want to note that a good time was still had by all; you do NOT have to win to have fun in a wargame.  But that’s a rant for another day.

One amusing thing is that during the battle there was a French frigate downwind from me.  Her captain caught my eye and grinned.  I nodded back… “it’s on.”  I turned into a downwind run and hung every scrap of canvas I could find while the Frenchie tacked tight into the wind.

Well, in the turn we would have come into gun range, my erstwhile sparring partner inadvertently wrote “turn right” instead of “turn left,” with the effect that we split off from each other and shot past our intended engagement point, and we were both travelling so fast it took us the rest of the game to turn around.  Oopsie.

Meanwhile I had a small 24 gun sloop that was going head-on with a French sloop.  One turn we were about a foot apart and fired our bow chasers at each other… and the next we shot past each other again and fired our stern chasers.  And then came about each, and did the same thing again.  Much fun, but not very effective.  I do have to admit I’ve never jousted with sailing ships before.

Friday night was my OD&D game, “More Magic Users with Knives.”  Sadly, this was the second year in a row where I felt like I just didn’t run a very good game.  It had been a long day, and I was exhausted before the game even started.  Everybody seemed to have fun, but I just didn’t feel like I gave the players the experience they deserved.  This year my D&D game is Saturday evening, and I’m going to take steps to make sure I’m more rested.

Tune in soon for the saga of Saturday.

Beer, out.

GaryCon VIII – March 2016, Part 2

We slept in.  It was really, REALLY nice having a suite; we had two bedrooms, two baths, a kitchen, and a common area.  After waking we had oatmeal for breakfast, made coffee, and just hung out together.

Thursday at 2 PM was my first event, a TRACTICS battle.  Now, I LOVE LOVE LOVE World War 2 historical miniatures, so I was really looking forward to this.  Alas, the poor referee had had car trouble and arrived several hours later than planned.  This was a real shame, as the terrain setup he had for this Falaise Pocket game was absolutely outstanding!  But setup took a long time (hence his original plan to arrive early), and we only had time to play two turns before the time period ran out.

This was completely, utterly, totally not the referee’s fault.  Car trouble happens, and it sucks.

After the battle I went over to the OTHER side of the table and looked at the situation from the Tommies’ point of view.  One of the British players was none other than Mike Reese, the AUTHOR of Tractics (and retired U.S. Army tanker.)  Well, I had been feeling pretty chuffed about our setup – Panthers on the left, some Mark IVH in the center, and a platoon of Tiger I’s on the right.  The Panthers were scrumming with the enemy, and one of my Tigers had brewed up a couple of Shermans on the flank.

When I went over to Mike’s side of the table, though, I saw that he’d set up an entire platoon of Sherman Fireflies in a perfect enfilading position so that anything in the center or German right that came over the hillside was going to get shredded.  From a thousand yards away that British 17-pounder would punch through even a Tiger.  Had the game continued it would have gotten grim.

Nice to know that all that time and money that Uncle Sam spent training Mr. Reese paid off!

Right after the TRACTICS game I started getting ready for refereeing the CHAINMAIL historical battle, “Battle on the Ice.”  As I mentioned in the last installment, Paul Stormberg had set up the miniatures gaming room with spare tables so that we had a space to set up the armies BEFORE the game.

THANK YOU PAUL!  Thank you, thank you, thank you, and thank you!  For any would-be convention organizers out there, this is a valuable lesson!  For every 2 or, at most, 3 tables for miniatures games, have an empty table for utility purposes!  It really, really makes a huge difference, especially when, as here, the game tables are in almost constant use.

I have continued to tweak the forces for “Battle on the Ice,” and I think I finally have it just about right.  I provided a little one page handout so people who don’t know CHAINMAIL or medieval combat would have some idea how to proceed.  I left out one important thing, though – how a routing unit that routs into a friendly unit will disrupt that friendly unit.

Unfortunately for the Russians, this is just what happened.  They were moving their horse archers to the left for a flanking maneuver, but the Germans got a Russian foot unit to rout into the horse archers.  During the brouhaha as the Russians tried to sort themselves out, the Germans were able to press the attack resulting in both the footmen AND the horse archers routing away.

With the horse archers lost, the game turned into a slugging match between horse units.  Eventually the Germans’ heavier armor told, and once again the Germans won.

Besides clarifying the rules a bit more, another thing I’m going to do next year is pay attention to total army casualties.  In the introduction to CHAINMAIL, one suggested victory condition is when one army or the other is reduced to a certain percentage – for instance, the first army to lose 1/3 of its total troops, loses.  I’m going to adopt that, but at 50% due to the nature of the battle, so that the game doesn’t end like it did this time with tiny handfuls of figures still fighting on amidst heaps of the dead.  That just didn’t happen historically, at least not in this battle.

I don’t remember how late I stayed up Thursday night.  But Friday I had an 8 AM engagement (barf!) so I knew I needed to get some sleep.

More about that in our next installment.

Beer, out.

GaryCon VIII — March 2016

Well, once again I don’t write about GaryCon (late March) until Gary’s birthday in July.  Getting to be a habit…

The big news this year for GaryCon was the move to “Grand Geneva Resort & Spa” – the old Playboy Club, Lake Geneva’s most infamous attraction and home of GenCon 1977!  Well, quite honestly, the old venue, “The Lodge at Geneva Ridge,” could no longer hold GaryCon.  By last year it was so packed that tables were almost touching each other.

Briefly put… I thought the new venue was absolutely wonderful.  For starters, there was ENOUGH ROOM.  I never saw more than 3 events or so in the smaller rooms, and even in the larger rooms there was enough space between tables that you didn’t have to worry about being able to hear.  The miniatures gaming space was one of the best I’ve ever played in; bonus XP to Paul Stormberg for having tables not taken up by games, so that we referees could actually stage things in advance of our games!

Now, I have to admit there was one drawback.  The old venue was so small that if you wanted to find somebody, it took about 10 minutes to search the whole joint.  The Grand Geneva (GG from now on because I’m lazy) is enormous.  There are people I wanted to talk to whom I glimpsed only briefly and never saw again.  And there are enough bars and restaurants on premises that you can’t just “go to the bar to see who’s there.”

Yep.  Restaurants, bars, a Starbuck’s on premises.  This place is something.  Nice sized rooms, plenty of tables, ice water all over the place.  This is a very, very good convention venue.

Luke and crew continue to have volunteers supplying water and snacks for referees – a real lifesaver, let me tell you.  And once again, there was tableside food delivery available.  That’s a wonderful feature.  Plus, this year the crew simply had the resort include tax and tip in the menu cost of the items.  Yes, they were a bit pricey, but welcome to the land of running a convention.  Convention hotels make their money off the food and drink they sell, not the hotel rooms or even the hall rentals.  So buy the tableside food and quit complaining.

My only wish for the tableside service is some kind of salad, once again.  My 61 year old gut can’t always handle an entire weekend of greezy meat.

And if the servers could bring BEER to the gaming tables, that would be AWESOME!!!

This year there were four of us travelling together.  Once again my friend David came along, and this time we brought Paul.  The three of us have known each other for over thirty years.  We also brought Brian, who is much younger but came to GaryCon a couple of years back.  All in all, we were looking forward to a great weekend together.  We left Minneapolis on Wednesday afternoon and arrived about dinnertime.  We checked in and took the shuttle to the main lodge.  Oh, yeah… besides the main lodge, they have ANOTHER lodge/hotel about half a mile away, with free shuttle bus service!  (Tip your drivers, you bloody cheapskates!)  Not only was there a regular schedule, but we never had to wait more than a few minutes on the late night occasions when they had to call for a driver.  This shuttle service is excellent, and it means that staying in the overflow lodge is NOT a booby prize.

Anyway, upon arriving at the main lodge we wandered a bit and then went into one of the restaurants for the buffet dinner (“Hot puppies, GRUB!”).  We followed that up with some social time in one of the bars, and eventually headed back to our suite.

Well, talking about the venue pretty much filled this episode, but that’s okay.  Tune in again for the next part of this silly tale, in which many pointless and annoying deeds are done to trouble the councils of the Small and the Silly.

Beer, out.

GaryCon 2015: Part 3



Saturday morning at GaryCon, tiredness finally caught up to me and I slept almost until noon. Hey, I turned 60 just after the con, gimme a break. David and I had a late breakfast and went to the Con. We spent most of the afternoon just sort of noodling around. I bought some stuff in the Dealer’s Room including some stuff from Black Blade and some really awesome little mini-modules from Lloyd Metcalf. I don’t really NEED any more gaming stuff, ever; but the GaryCon dealer room reminds me of Gen Con back about 1977 or so… full of lots of individual people and small two or three person companies with loads of energy, creativity, and enthusiasm. So, yeah, I spent a few hard earned GP to support some friendly shopkeepers!

I didn’t get to see the entire Auction, so I don’t know how much “The Sandal” went for. For those who missed last year’s installment, “The Sandal” is one of a pair of sandals that Gary, back in his shoemaking days, made for my oldest brother Chip. Somehow this one sandal survived, and we put it in the Auction to help raise some money. In 2014 the person who won it gave it back, saying “Auction it off again next year.” Which, by the way, is awesome.

The reason I didn’t get to see the whole Auction is that my friend Chirine ran an Empire of the Petal Throne game Saturday evening, and had invited me specially to play. Well, how can I refuse something like that?
Rather than going through any sort of long, complicated character generation, he had simply provided an ample number of pregenerated characters. There was a wide variety and assortment, so anybody could pretty much play what they wanted. However, he had a special treat for me. Many, many years ago in Phil’s EPT game, I had briefly played a character named “Robert of Barthensville” – a 14th century Flemish knight who fell through a “Nexus Point” into Tekumel. Well, Chirine had prepared a character folder for that character for me, complete with coat of arms instead of Temple and Clan affiliation. My reaction was on the order of “You bastard!” – said affectionately, let me assure you! I had actually forgotten that character until reminded. But Chirine never forgets!

Chirine’s games always serve as a reminder that RPGs came out of miniatures wargaming – there is always visual spectacle to be had. And he also has the “wargamer’s ethos” that the situation is the situation; that is, if the Horrible Icky Awful is in Chamber 34 and the players do not go into Chamber 34, they will NOT encounter the Horrible Icky Awful someplace else. The scenario has its own reality, and the referee will not alter it.

On the other hand, if you blunder into an ambush, you blunder into an ambush, and will suffer the consequences.

I was the “native guide” to help players who had never played Tekumel before. Rather than an open ended scenario, though, we had a mission; the High Priestess of the Temple of Avanthe, the goddess of agriculture and fertility an’ stuff, had been kidnapped by a renegade faction of the Temple of Sarku, Lord of Death and the Undead. Our mission was to rescue her.
In the world of Tekumel, all the Temples are signatories to what is called the “Concordat,” essentially a non-aggression pact (the Empire finds religions civil wars cut down on tax revenues). As part of our mission, the Imperium – the “Petal Throne” in “Empire of the Petal Throne” – had given us an official writ stating that the Temple of Sarku had violated the Concordat and that we were authorized to use whatever means necessary to rescue the High Priestess.

The best analogy I can think of is the scene in Richard Lester’s “Four Musketeers” where Cardinal Richelieu gives le Comte de Rochefort a writ stating “By my order, and for the good of France, the bearer has done what has been done.”

Or maybe, “The use of excessive force in the apprehension of the Blues Brothers has been authorized.”

One of the tools placed at our disposal was the underworld that Phil had placed under his starting city, Jakalla. I had explored parts of this, but had never seen the entire map until now. Phil used a 17 x 22 sheet of TEN SQUARE TO THE INCH graph paper, with each square equaling ten feet (just like in original D&D). Think about it… that is enormous. Over a quarter mile on the short side, and nearly half a mile on the long side, and all of it full to the brim with interesting stuff and horrible doom. For instance, in the southwest sector is a maze. And when I say a maze, I mean a TRUE maze; one way in, one way out, false turnings, dead ends, the whole nine yards. It’s about 900 by 900 feet. That’s three football fields.

Studying the map before we got started, we noticed a large underground river. We were shown our entry point, and our target zone down in the Underworld where the High Priestess was being kept captive. It was about half the map away, on the other side of the river. There is only one bridge, and we strongly suspected it would be guarded. However, I noticed a small structure on the river near our target that we were told was a dock! Figuring that if there was one dock there might be more, we searched the opposite shore on the map, and sure enough, another dock. This looked like a good way to bypass a whole lot of nasties if we could get there.

Once the mission started, there of course remained the real question; how will a bunch of people who don’t know each other, thrown together into a situation, work as a team?

Now, besides Tekumel, Chirine and I have done a LOT of miniatures wargaming together, either reffing or playing both same side and opposing. One of the things he taught me long, long ago was the importance of OBJECTIVE. Always, always keep your objective in mind. I gave a little pep talk in character to the other PCs, trying to make the point that our objective was to find the High Priestess and get her out alive. Any of us getting out alive as well was a bonus. But we were there to find her, free her, and get her the heck out of there, period. The Underworld is a huge and dangerous place, and if we went traipsing off like a bunch of Yellow Labradors (“Squirrel!”) we were doomed.

So how did it go?

Well, first of all, Chirine had gotten a projector so he could project the map up on a screen. This INSTANTLY meant that every player saw where we were, where we were trying to go, and what the known obstacles were. One of the problems with a dungeon crawl style game at a convention is keeping everyone involved. This solved that problem wonderfully; there was no boredom, not a lot of cross chat, even though in the initial part I was the “caller” for the party. The difference, of course, is that everyone could see what was going on, and I made sure to point out the key hazards we were avoiding as we went, and WHY we wanted to avoid them.

Also, although this was a pickup group of strangers at a convention, they got the main point of the mission – “Get in, get it, get out. Get it? Got it. Good.” They all realized we were trying to move quickly and without fuss, and the longer we lingered, the faster our luck ran out. The Imperial writ might get us out of trouble with other humans, but there were lots of underworld dwellers that would simply eat us.
There is always a concern when you’re gaming at a con with a bunch of strangers… how are they going to play? Not to mention, the typical D&D adventure is “run into the dungeon, bash the critters, grab the loot, and scarper.” There is nothing at all wrong with this, by the way… I STILL loves me an old school D&D dungeon crawl. But in the setting of Tekumel, this is not always wise.

Our first test came when we encountered some dormitory space on the outskirts of the territory controlled by the Temple of Hry’y. We showed the Writ to the monks who shrugged and said “Have a nice trip.” One of the players, Player A, said something like “I wonder if these guys have any good stuff.” I said in character “We have no quarrel with the Temple of Hry’y, and if we start one, this Imperial Writ will not be worth the parchment it’s scribed on.” To their credit Player A took the point without argument.
The next chamber was a storeroom. Player A said “Is there anything here worth taking?” I was considering letting them loot the room. Then another player said “If we rescue the High Priestess the temple will give us all the gold we want.” Player A said “Yeah, this is chicken feed.”
Not only did Player A “get it” in terms of staying on mission, but the OTHER players were obviously in tune with it as well.
Other than that, honestly, there isn’t much to tell. We moved quickly through the area, ducked out of sight when a ceremonial procession of Hry’y’s worshippers went by (don’t bother them, they won’t bother us) and raced without further impediment to where the High Priestess was being held.

And here we see that the other players really were paying attention. We bashed open the door to the area where she was, and before I could say a thing the other players cut down the guards and posted themselves at the far entrance, the magic user with the “Eye of Frigid Breath” had zotzed the guard reinforcements, the temple magicians had dissolved the magical cage around the High Priestess, and I was left with nothing to do but watch back behind us for the next batch of guards (poor saps never saw what hit them.)
I said that the map was projected up on a screen. Obviously they made good use of it.

After that, it really was all over but the singing. We gathered Her Nibs up and hightailed it out of there, getting her up, out, and away in record time, and back to her Temple to the polite applause of the acolytes.

The whole game start to finish took 2 ½ hours out of a 4 hour block of time. Chirine said he’d never seen a group move through the Jakallan underworld so quickly and quietly.

From my point of view, two things were worth noting.

Firstly, the other players. You get plenty of horror stories about gaming, especially among people who don’t know each other. This group, though, was really focused on “getting Tekumel” as a different type of game setting, and after a quick shakedown they were also really focused on the MISSION. The first principle of warfare is OBJECTIVE. But it’s amazing how quickly that can be lost. This group did not lose focus, and major kudos to them for that. It’s too rare.

The other thing is the AMAZING difference made by projecting the map up on a screen. In a group larger than four or five players it’s too easy to lose track of what’s going on when the mapper is talking the referee, especially at a convention where you might not be able to see or hear. I don’t have a projector, but I may have to see if I can get one, or even an easel for the mapper to put large pieces of graph paper on. I don’t know quite how to implement it, but believe me, letting ALL the players see the map is worth the effort it takes.

Sunday, I had breakfast with my brother who lives nearby and we headed back to Minneapolis. All in all, GaryCon continues to be one of the high points of the year for me, really recapturing the feel of GenCon back around 1975 or 1976 when this was all new and shiny and exciting.

Beer, out.