Saturday 26 February 2022

A Complete Timeline of Early D&D Scenarios V: 1978 July-Dec

In this (attempt at a) Complete Timeline of early D&D scenarios, we have now reached the second half of 1978, and with the continued explosion of popularity we have 30 entries for this later half of the year alone.

We've seen how the style has gradually developed over these few years, with Judges Guild, The Dungeoneer, and then British Fanzines taking it in turns to increase the sophistication and push up the standard - but there is about to be a major seismic shift in adventure design with the publication of a series of six modules by a company making a rather late entry into the competition.

If you've been following this series, you might be interested to know I've updated the earlier entries to include a few more scenarios I've uncovered so if you look back through the pictures you might spot one or two new and interesting items, in particular several Minneapolis entries in 1971-1975.

Name: Steading of the Hill Giant Chief
Date: 1978.7
Author: Gary Gygax
Publisher: TSR (G1)
Type:  Tournament (Origins IV)
Notes on Date: See tournament date link earlier. These are reviewed in WD #9, and advertised The Dragon #19 - EDIT but are "new" in JGJ S July '78 so it does look like these were available at Origins and they are the tourney modules to be available at the TSR booth advertised in The Dragon #14 & #15.
Notes: It is difficult to overstate how much G1 and its five brethren changed D&D. Up until this point there was an expectation of a megadungeon central to every campaign - published adventures were usually either a small stand-alone add-on (often a tomb), for a tournament (generally linear, also often a tomb), or an alternative dungeon of several levels. Although G1 was written for a tournament, it is not linear, and the main influence from it being a tournament is that Gygax has written up the rooms in a careful detailed fashion so that all DMs can offer the same experience. In a similar fashion to previous tournament dungeons each round is linked to the last, but in this case across two tournaments Gygax creates six linked modules, with a connected plot (however slight). A lot of scenarios at this time had humorous elements, which clearly irked Gygax (see below for his views on The Cliffs of Mentadorra 1978.8) and these modules all strongly eschew that frivolous/gonzo aspect - in G1 instead you'll find a dangerous Temple to a dark God hidden behind a rockfall. The whole place is described with details that encourage interesting play "Under the furs on the bed is a sleeping giantess who will awaken on a 1 in 4 if a loud noise occurs in the room", "There is no treasure, but by wearing the young giants garb, with suitable padding, the party could pass as the youngsters if not seen closer than 20'". The underground level has an ongoing standoff between the escaped orc slaves and the bugbears - how many parties did like my players and set them fighting each other?
From another angle, the production values of G1 far outstrip any standalone adventure that's gone before. Ironically the iconic blue maps were much criticised in reviews of the time for being unreadable, but it's not just nostalgia for those detachable cardboard covers - when you saw it in the store and knew there would be a map just on the other made them mysterious and enticing.

Saturday 19 February 2022

All The Adventures?

This is a good point in the Complete Timeline to take a sideways look at what lies beyond one of the boundaries of my search.

At the time D&D was first published, mostly due to trouble finding local players to game with, Play-By-Mail (PBM) was very popular in the wargame community. This was particularly true with Diplomacy, which was popular as PBM long before D&D and remained so for a long time afterwards. It isn't surprising therefore that PBM for D&D was suggested almost as soon as it was published, and you can see play by mail campaigns being played/advertised in fanzines and magazines. Whereas Diplomacy is suited to PBM with hardly any adaptation required - you simply do one turn per month - for D&D a dungeon crawl where every decision was by mail would take an extraordinarily long time.

As revealed at PlayingAtTheWorld, in Midgard Sword & Shield (1974.10) there was a report of a suggestion of Gary Gygax as to how to run D&D dungeon-crawls postally:

Saturday 12 February 2022

A Complete Timeline of Early D&D Scenarios IV: 1978 Jan-June

As we enter 1978 the number of scenarios has increased to the point where I'm having to split the year into two posts. Over half the entries are now Fanzines - and as you'll see the quality of some of these is fantastic.

There have been some highlights leading up to 1979, but for the large parts the scenarios have not been very sophisticated. Sometimes it's the simplistic monster + treasure, sometimes the random death, sometimes the silly monsters, sometimes the adversarial "gaming" aspect of it - but you always know that you're reading an early scenario - you could not mistake it for something later.

Then starting in January 1978, the style changes dramatically in the UK...

Name: Museum of Mole Bulantir
Date: 1978.1
Author: Phil Alexander
Publisher: Underworld Oracle #4
Notes on date: From the cover
Notes: Up until now every issue of Underworld Oracle included a scenario - but in #4 in addition to another installment of The Halls of Testing (see 1977.9) this issue included a second scenario, by one of the two co-editors, Phil Alexander. It is designed to be an "add-on" to one of your own dungeons, so still an assumption being made that every DM has their own megadungeon. But the style of description is now very different - Phil has worked out how a dungeon should be written. "A domed hall of black marble with a small silver bell hanging from the centre of the roof with cord attached. Failure to ring before entering the North passage will activate an unusual insect plague curse..."
This dungeon is accompanied by a play-test write-up which is longer than the adventure! Underworld Oracle was so popular its issues were reprinted - they appear at first glance to be identical - but it has been retyped, meaning that in the second edition "Passages and rooms are all 2 ft high except where noted".

Saturday 5 February 2022

A Complete Timeline of Early D&D Scenarios III: 1977

We have reached 1977 and the explosion in publications continues - there are more entries for this year alone than we have had so far in total for the first six years! I've had a great time researching this - I've only ever DM'ed a few of them and there are many I've never read in depth, and several are new to me - so I'm going to have to read through many of these fully and I definately plan to DM several. A big thanks to Andy Ravenscroft who's helped me out with early UK fanzines - he contributed to several early fanzines and in some places below I've given his thoughts from a perspective of someone who was reading fanzines in the last 70s.

    A short request for help. I appear to have omitted some items from Alarums & Excursions. It's
    tricky as the contents are often just the names of the sub-zines. The ones I've spotted are:
    #3 (1975.8) "including a map of Richard Tatgel's maze"
    #7 (1976.1) "a 'random-dungeon program'  described, with simple outputs"
    #14 (1976.8) there's a scan of a page at RPGGeek which shows a map
   I've sent off to Lee Gold to purchase the pdfs of these issues - if you know any other issues of
   interest (up to and including #59) please let me know.

 Tower of Ulission
Date: 1977.1 (1979.12)
Author: Dave Emigh
Judges Guild (JG119)
Type: Tournament (Winter War IV)
Notes on date: See Judges Guild Journal 18 to see it was Winter War. I cannot find corroborating evidence that it was #4. This was Instalment 18, which means Dec 1979 (despite the 1980 copyright notice)
Notes: This was the first part of the tournament, Sword of Hope the second. It's a very unusual presentation where for each room there is a handout for the players describing the room and with a map - then there's a second description for the DM with details.