Old School D&D: Grampa’s Gettin’ His Geek On

Once again, I find myself thinking about old school Dungeons & Dragons (mostly because Facebook threw a Blackmoor movie page up as a sponsored post).

I have some inchoate thoughts, and since I am trying to turn this blog into something a real writer might call a “daybook,” I thought I would share them with you.  You’re welcome.  Whether you like it or not.

I don’t think I’m actually qualified to talk about “old school,” because apparently the “Golden Age of D&D” actually occurred when I was around 2 years old.  I’ve been told I was a precocious child, but even as a toddler, I don’t think I was thinking too much about THAC0; I was probably more concerned with giving up the bottle.  (Still having trouble with that one, but now it’s alcohol.  Hell, I was 2.  Maybe it was alcohol back then.  That would … explain a lot, actually.)

Ain’t that always how Golden Ages work?  You should have seen it when … there’s a poem there somewhere, and hopefully after wrapping this up, I can go write it.  But I don’t wanna get too sidetracked … D&D.

For me, there are a series of images or impressions that come to mind, but I can’t put my finger on what, exactly, those images are or represent.  Computers are definitely a part of it; while I might have missed gaming’s Golden Age, growing up in Silicon Valley in the 70’s, I was definitely at the epicenter of the personal computer revolution.

That’s one angle of it: the unformed nature of both gaming and computers.  There were no boxed sets (or at least, us neophytes hadn’t heard of them) or Internet.  Copyright protection for games usually consisted of a book or pamphlet with commands you had to type, or answers to puzzles; they called them “feelies.”  It was a strange, primitive form of multimedia, and it was confusing as hell.

No, awesome, I meant to say awesome.  OK, it was both of those things.  It seems like the 70’s were full of little pamphlets – Watchtower magazines, feelies, copies of album lyrics, D&D modules … there was so much more paper, back then.

As you can tell from how disjointed this is, I’m still not zeroing in on what I want.  Paper … no hyperlinks.  No depth.  No, at the touch of a button, having access to more information than you can possibly process.  Because paper cost money, details were limited; there was always some unanswered question.  Maybe that’s the “unformed” aspect of it.  Like Zelazny’s worlds, they’re only painted in enough detail to leave you wanting more.

But more than that: they hadn’t been codified.  There was no particular reason, back then, that gaming defaulted to the vaguely Northern European feudal landscape that it did.  If anything, the primary images are Middle Eastern: Dunsany and the Arabian Nights, Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser in some fantastic desert in a magical analog of Afghanistan.

That’s all a piece of it.  There is also a powerful sense of the “dungeon,” not the least of which is because when you’re 10, giant worldscaping political adventures aren’t as gripping as kicking down the temple door, killing everyone, and taking their stuff.  What I imagine, what I always keep coming back to, is a room underground – and most powerfully, the lack of windows.  Maybe because I worked 911 so long, that “boxy” aspect has a powerful resonance for me.

The museum I worked for had the same quality: rooms with rooms, a nested box from which there was no escape.  Here’s a picture:



that doesn’t really show anything.  Kinda creepy, though, isn’t it?  You don’t know what’s there, but whatever it is, it won’t have a stat block, or a name, or a definable power.  It will be the embodiment of the unknown, and that is the frightening and appealing part about it, the mythic power that gets lost when you have to translate “medium sized humanoid” to a STR modifier.  Here’s another one:


From the heart of the temple … museum, sorry.  I meant to say museum.

The question is, for me: what started this fascination with buried rooms?  I can’t actually recall being on any dungeon crawls.  Maybe the old Compuserve fantasy MUDs, the ones that were so primitive the graphics were printed in ASCII characters?  Perhaps.  I know I read about enough dungeon crawls; back then, I spent many more hours reading the old school D&D picks than I did actually playing.

Ugh.  This is rambling on and on.  It’s 10 on a Friday night, and since I have no actual life to speak off, I should probably crawl into bed and finish watching that documentary about chickens.

I plan on coming back to this, though, because it’s going to drive me crazy if I can’t eventually connect these images, and then hopefully get a poem out of it.

And if you’ve played, tell me in the comments when you started, and what your first impressions were.

In the meantime, here’s some more old school art for your viewing pleasure:



Call of Cthulhu: The Noodle Dream

In case the inauguration wasn’t enough to cause permanent SAN loss, the good folks over at Cyanide Studios have released another trailer for Call of Cthulhu:


which delves into the terrible nightmare world of … the visual arts?

What is it with horror and painters?  Just last autumn, jonesing for a horror video game to get into the proper Halloween mood, I picked up Layers of Fear during one of Steams “F Your Budget” sales, and it looks like CoC and LoF both went shopping at the same trope store.  You’ve got

Insane painters.  I guess it’s a stressful art.  Makes no sense to me.  Back in school, the kids who could draw were always super popular, while us poet types were forced to hang around with the shady, disreputable band kids.  Insane poets, now; that I could understand.  Insane mathematicians?  Hell, it’s practically a job requirement.  But insane drawer-ers?  Nope.

Creepy paintings.  Obviously.  What other kind would insane artists paint?


CoC 1 paint.PNG

Actually, I think an insane artist should paint only happy pastels, maybe with bunnies and flowers.  That would be awesome.  And by awesome, I mean “pants wetting terrifying.”

Fire.  Because you’ve got to do something with all the creepy paintings would couldn’t offload on eBay.  Also because what would be the fun in wandering around a perfectly structurally sound house with running  water and working electricity?

Skewed visual perspective.  We should have seen this one coming, but we couldn’t because the angles were wrong.  Ha ha!  Narf!  But seriously, while it makes sense for Call of Cthulhu, I’m not sure why a schizophrenic painter would acid wash his eyesight.  I mean, I have anxiety disorder, and my most hellish nights are usually when I see things for what they really are.  But I guess a two hour video game that consisted of staring at a barren room while you tried to calm your breathing would be bordering on postmodernism.  So F that.

The doll is really just an added bonus.

But the part that really got me was the line about “dozens of dead whales.  With … lacerations.”  If nothing else, the smell is going to be abominable.

Also, we get this guy:


who … okay, who’s with me?  This guy needs to be in the next Star Wars movie.

We still don’t know much about the plot, although I’m willing to guess it doesn’t end well for the hero.  You play Private Detective Edward Pierce, who is hired to unravel the mysterious doings on a small New England island (I assume it’s New England; it is HPL) only to find, as with all good horror, that he has become trapped within the story.  And worse, that this may have been his fate all along.  Toward the end of the trailer, a mysterious voice describes dreams of a “lightless city,” and then asks Pierce:

“Have you had those dreams as well?”

“Is that the one with all the noodles?  Wait – you mean you had the Noodle Dream too?!?

“Those aren’t noodles, Mr. Pierce.  They’re tentacles.”


Notes on the Robot Apocalypse: Part I

Because when the machines finally decide to kill all humans, these guys won’t be on our side …

It’s gonna be like a Terminator-Planet of the Apes crossover, and I for one think it will be freakin’ awesome, assuming I am not busy fending off vicious human-terminating attacks by my various household appliances, because of course once we’ve driven all of nature into the arms of the Robot Army, the next wisest step is to create an Internet of Things so that the only safe places left once the Robocalypse comes will be the Ngorongoro Crater in Africa, and then only until the drone swarms come for us.

So yeah, we’re pretty much screwed.

Well, you guys are screwed.  I, for one, welcome our new RoboMonkey Overlords.