Great Khan Enthroned

Great Khan Enthroned

Monday, January 4, 2010

In the beginning...

I started playing D&D with the Holmes Basic set in the spring of 1980. I got that set after obsessing about the advertisement in "Boy's Life" for months. I saved my allowance and hunted for it, the hunting took longer than the saving. I don't remember now where I found it finally, but I suspect it was on one of my family's (roughly) monthly trips to Syracuse. D&D would explode onto the scene shortly and be quite commonly available, but hadn't quite yet.

I played with my dad when I started. I DMed, he played a Halfling Fighter named Mee the magnificent. I ran a corps of NPCs with names cribbed from across the spectrum of fantasy literature- Radigast the magic-user, Conan the thief and Lancelot the cleric come to mind immediately and somewhat perversely. I misinterpreted, misunderstood, extrapolated and house-ruled my way through DMing an entire campaign based on "B2:The Keep on the Borderlands" which had come with my boxed set. We had a good time, but it wasn't really my dad's cup of tea and he would only rarely play again over the next few years. Boot Hill, on the other hand, he played on and off until after I was out of high school as the leader of a notorious bandit gang that terrorized the south west and occasional lawman.

Next I found a couple of (slightly) older guys in my school that were into D&D. I befriended both and started playing with one, Chris, that lived about 5 miles from my house. He put together a group that played at each others houses. It lasted 2 sessions before collapsing and I never played with David, John or Pam again. Chris was a crazy compelling DM though and I played a few more times with him (and sometimes his younger brother Pat) before we stopped hanging out together. Chris had a difficult personality to deal with- over the years I would find this to be a disturbing trend in gamers.

As it happened the other older guy from school that DMed, Tim, moved much closer to me, about a mile from my house. I didn't know about this immediately because it happened during the summer, but shortly after school started I joined his campaign already in progress. Tim was the first really great DM I ever played with. Chris had been able to draw you into his setting, but it was always extremes with him- you died or you got super powerful. Tim managed to consistently provide interesting adventures, had "living" NPCs and something of an over all campaign arc. He did this sometimes 8 hours a day 7 days a week (in summers). Watching him taught me how to improvise a lot. Plan what you can, improvise the rest and be willing to steal ideas from any and all sources- not just genre.

He based his campaign in the town of Specularum in the Grand Duchy of Karameikos, but aside from the map (kind of) and some names, this was his baby. Specularum was a city of thieves and, oddly, dwarves. Strangely, it was a small town not unlike the one we lived in, only direcly on the water instead of being inland a bit. There was one tavern- Borg's. Borg was a fat old Dwarf and the local thieves guild met in his basement or across the street at Andemon's armory. Borg's also doubled as a brothel and he had rooms to rent. We lived here between adventures drinking and whoring to our teen-aged heart's content. We were friends with the Bartender Ramh. When Will quit playing D&D his cleric became the priest of the village church. There was a pirate queen that stayed here too named Angela, that my character- a mighty Northman Fighter named Mandark the Barbarian(after the release of UA and the Barbarian class renamed Mandark the Wild) eventually married and semi-retired with. We bought the old ship yard down the street from Borg's and ran that as a business.

Tim's campaign ran for years usually 2 or 3 times a week during the school year and nearly every day during the summer (except when he was at his dad's) for about 5 years until he graduated from high school and went in the army. He house-ruled a lot (did away entirely with experience points, you leveled when he felt you earned it), he had an odd fixation with thieves and dwarves (and dwarven thieves), he was stingy with loot (particularly permanent magic items); but it was the longest running campaign I ever played in and one of the most enjoyable. I am not alone in feeling that way either- several of us veterans (Myself, Lance and Paul) from that campaign have tried playing together after that over the years with greater and lesser degrees of success, but we all agree that it hasn't really been the same.

Concurrent with Tim's campaign I was still running a game every now and again, sometimes to give Tim a break and sometimes because he was gone (usually to his dad's which wasn't really far away- just too far to walk or ride a bike) or with my neighbor Scott when I had some extra time. Scott played a halfling thief named Thorik and managed to make it up to 8th or 9th level before dieing being resurrected and then ultimately retiring. He was replaced briefly by a half-elf fighter/magic-user by the name of Rosmore. Lance showed up semi-regularly with his Paladin Bordan from Tim's campaign, or tested out new characters to see how he liked them- mostly thieves and assassins. As we got older Tim DMed less and I picked up the slack.

But now I have to back track a little, back to Junior High where I met and gamed with an entirely different group of people. I was sent to a different school than my local friends at home- one district away to the south-east; which gave me a broader spectrum of gaming friends. I started a D&D club there (and was it's president for my 2 years there) and met one of my best gaming buddies of all time, Darryl. We never actually seemed to play much D&D in that club- in 2 years I only remember playing 3 times, but it's where us D&D nerds were at and I occasionally gamed a little with them at off times, before school started in the morning, at lunch, or very quietly in the library during study hall. Darryl and I collaborated on the design of my campaign world, The World of Garnia, that I have used ever since- he drew the maps I still use as a basis for the layout of the countries and he adopted one of the cultures as his own-the Magocracy of Frodia and their patron god Frodal. We have both run very different versions of the campaign world at different times and we have occasionally run it as a shared campaign. For nearly 30 years it has been a mutual love and a bone of contention, we bounce ideas off of each other and we butt heads over it. My vision is largely the official one, but he has had a huge amount of input.

I had to backtrack there because my campaign is the semi-official focus of my blog and this first post is mostly about my history with D&D and AD&D, the World of Garnia started and grew with my experiences there. I read the 1st edition DM's Guide like it was holy scripture. I read Dragon with an eye towards being a better DM and developing my world. An article in Dragon said to infuse your world with realism- so I did. Make your dungeons have reason and purpose- done. Eventually the world started having a real feel to it. Every now and again a campaign would sputter out and I'd reboot the campaign into the future 50, 100, 500 years or occasionally to some less developed part of the past. Player actions and plot arcs from previous campaigns become history and legend in the new. New editions of the game required rebooting for the most part- done. I have played D&D, AD&D, 3.x, HackMaster and GURPS (and play-tested a home-brewed RPG) in Garnia. The earliest reboot was to back-story the existence of many races (a great multi-planar war) and to give the Human race a cultural touch-stone (Gaelic, later retconned to include Gauls, Britons and Pagan Anglo-Saxons and, eventually many more groups of humans that simply live in areas outside of the main campaign play area).

My campaign world has maybe a dozen pages of written history. When I started it in earnest I wrote it like a clone of the Greyhawk gazetteer, it was my only model for world design. I had a brief write up of each major country and a lot of really crappy heraldry. I wrote a pantheon of dieties- since mostly dropped from the setting in favor of Celtic and Anglo-Saxon gods. Mostly.

Enough for one day, I can't seem to stay on topic and most people could probably care less about my nostalgic trip.