Thursday, June 30, 2022

Full Circle

Yesterday, Maceo (another elvish assassin) was able to rejoin our campaign for a four-hour session (one more backpack to fill with loot!)...surprisingly, we were able to get him to join rather plausibly by simply having him follow the trail of bodies and destruction through the castle (we said his character had slept till noon and hadn't got up to the place till 2) all the way to the belfry/treasure chamber. Even more surprisingly, they decided to continue their explorations, eventually defeating three harpies (elvish blood), a flock of blood hawks, a nest of 37ish giant rats, a 5th level illusionist (color spray!), and a mother-f'ing banshee. The clock has just struck 5pm, there is four hours of daylight left, and the party keeps trudging up to tower roofs in their search for the Countess, figuring a vampire must be sleeping upside down somewhere like a giant bat.

*sigh* This is what comes from children not being allowed to watch vampire movies anymore. At least both Mace and Diego leveled up (4th and 5th respectively). Everyone is still alive, but the ranger was driven hopelessly insane following his perusal of a libram of ineffable evil. So it goes.

A couple folks (most recently Stacktrace) have brought up the the subject of my transition from being one of the "leading proponents" of the B/X system of D&D to now being chest-deep in AD&D. Since I've got a couple-four hours to spare, I figured I'd take the time to chronicle my personal history (as best I can) for readers interested in "the Evolution of JB." Not sure that's really enough time, but here goes:

Circa 1981 (age 8, 2nd grade): while at a Fred Meyer store, I see the Dungeon! board game on display and plead with my mother to buy it, citing the fact that it says its for children of 8+ years and I am old enough. Surprisingly, she does so (a fact that surprises me to this day: my mother was never one to cave to a begging/pleading child back in the day). I am somewhat disappointed by what I find inside...I had intended to purchase Dungeons & Dragons having already learned of this game from the playground at my school (and being, by this time, familiar with the terms "class," "fighter," "magic-user," "assassin," "magic missile," "Demogorgon," and "Blackrazor"). Still, the game provides an education into the very rudiments of D&D concepts (dungeons, monsters, treasure, secret doors, expendable spells, green slime, etc.). It contains a pair of green, plastic D6s with numbers etched on them (instead of dots)...the first I've ever seen. I still own this game children have played it extensively.

Circa 1982 (age 8 or 9, 3rd grade): I discover the Moldvay edited Basic D&D box set at J.C. Penny in the toy section, and (again) talk my mother into acquiring it, perhaps explaining that this was the game I originally sought out. Again (surprisingly) this works, though this may have been in November and the idea was that this would be a birthday present for Yours Truly. I have detailed my delight and discovery of the wonders of this set in other blog posts. I read it cover-to-cover, struggle with the module, and instead create my own "dungeon" (a castle map, no doubt based on B2's Keep, that players must besiege).

Shortly Thereafter: my parents host a caucus at our house for local Democrats. I am upstairs in my room running my adventure for my younger brother. One Dem has brought her daughter, Jocelyn (a year older than myself) to the caucus, and my mother asks if she can join our game. I give her a halfling to play. When it is time for her to finally leave, my brother has been killed two or three times, and Jocelyn has infiltrated the castle, avoided all guards and is making for the castle treasury/armory. This is my introduction to a girl who will become my best friend, later co-DM.

3rd grade: I play D&D mainly with my brother and my best friend, Jason. Jason runs a thief named Sneakshadow. Jason is good friends with Scott (they both have single they share time with each other). Jason's mom is our soccer coach.

Summer of 1983: I meet Matt during the summer during Little League baseball.

1983 (4th Grade): Matt has joined our school; we become friends. Circa November, I receive the Cook/Marsh Expert set, probably as a birthday gift. At a sleepover at Matt's house (I can pinpoint this to December, as I remember watching the Eurythmics video "Here Comes the Rain Again" on MTV), we make him a high level cleric to try the Expert set rules (giving him fanatic followers and sending him into the desert on a quest to find a blue dragon). Matt owns the Dark Tower board game, which I play long into the night after everyone else has gone to sleep. He also has a vinyl album with Conan the Barbarian stories. In later years, we will dive deep into his older brother's stack of Heavy Metal magazines and share a love of Thieves World books.

December 1983: Jocelyn gets me the AD&D Monster Manual as a Christmas gift. It is incorporated into our games, though a lot of it is difficult to parse as we are still using B/X as our rule base.

1984: We play D&D. Sometime in this year, Jocelyn discovers a copy of the DMG at the bottom of chest of old stuff belonging to her youngest brother Lacey (11 years her senior). I am allowed to borrow it on occasion...much of it is difficult to parse or completely alien. However, we begin to use the combat matrices (which seem to line up with the MM) and incorporate the expansive magic item list, especially the artifacts and relics. Some of the effects are waaay over my head (satyriasis? nymphomania?) but sex-change magic is always good for a laugh when your players include both boys and girls. Jocelyn's character, Bladehawk, has become the premier fighter of the campaign and is legendary for escaping death traps. At Jocelyn's home I run a game for four(?) players including my brother, Jocelyn, Jason (I think) and Jocelyn's friend Brian Hackett. Brian has a high level cleric with the blade barrier spell (also a hammer of thunderbolts) which, because we cannot find it in my rulebooks, I disallow. Years later, I will encounter Brian in high school (he was a junior when I was a freshman) and he will remember me respectfully as "The Dungeon Master."

Fall of 1984 (age 10, 5th grade): at soccer practice, Matt brings me a copy of N1: Against the Cult of the Reptile God, asking if I can run it for our group. While at first I am put off by the low-level of the adventure (our B/X characters have reached lofty heights), I begin to notice various strains of weirdness in the adventure: single class elves, "longswords," "ring mail," etc. Reading the cover ("for ADVANCED D&D game") and seeing the level range (1st to 3rd) it finally dawns on me that "Advanced" does not equate to "Expert" and that the MM and DMG must be for this other, mystery game. The key turns in the lock, the veil falls from our eyes, and all is revealed.

The start of 
my AD&D career.
November 1984 (age 11, 5th grade):
I receive a copy of the AD&D Players Handbook for my birthday, the only thing I wanted. Now, with my copy of the MM and Jocelyn's copy of the DMG, we can begin playing proper AD&D. I make a high level magic-user character for my (now) friend Scott, both to make use of the new rules (intelligence factor! new spells!) and to put him on par with other long-running PCs Bladehawk, Sneakshadow, and Sunstarr (Matt's cleric). His wizard is named Lucky Drake after a character in a Choose Your Own Adventure book. This will be the core of our group for the next several years.

December 1984/Winter 1985: my aunt's boyfriend, a DragonQuest player, gifts me with my very own AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide. No longer forced to borrow Jocelyn's (as she doesn't attend the same school as the rest of us, I don't see her often enough), I can delve the thing and really learn the rules.

Winter 1985: Matt picks up a copy of AD&D Deities & Demigods (cleric guy, remember?) and we immediately incorporate it into our game. Sneakshadow fights Thor and kills him.

Spring of 1985: I discover the appendices in the back of the PHB after trying to figure out references to the psionics and bards in the DMG combat tables (previously I hadn't finished reading my PHB as I assumed it was just "all spells" after the mid-point). I immediately make my own character: a half-elf bard with psionics named Landon Weiguard. I show him to Jocelyn. Jocelyn expresses interest in doing some DMing.

Circa Fall of 1985 (age 11, 6th grade): Jason leaves our school. In addition, his family become Born Again Christians and his mother no longer allows him to play D&D. I see him only a handful of times after this. Jocelyn and I decide to blow up our original campaign and re-start the whole thing (all 1st level characters!) as strictly AD&D. She and I alternate as Dungeon Masters. 

November 1985 (age 12): my brother gives me the Unearthed Arcana for my 12th birthday. Jocelyn already has her copy (and incorporated comeliness and all the rest into our new campaign). I believe I receive my copy of Legends & Lore in December, perhaps as a Christmas gift. This will be the bulk of our "canon" going forward, only occasionally adding bits here-and-there from Dragon magazine or the Mentzer Companion set (which Jocelyn owned). 

1985 to 1988: we play AD&D. DMing duty is split between Jocelyn and myself. When I run, I tend to run AD&D adventure modules, rather than original material. Jocelyn runs a couple pre-packaged adventures including (Ravenloft...though I wasn't present for that) and Castle Greyhawk. At some point we re-boot the campaign a second time (we now distinguish "eras" of play by campaign: the Original Campaign, the First (AD&D) Campaign, and the New Campaign), again beginning characters at 1st level. When we do this, we use the World of Greyhawk map, but add our own material (factions, politics, etc.). We have some DragonLance modules (we are fans of the novels) but only use them for the maps, judging the adventures themselves to be "terrible." As time goes on, Jocelyn does more of the heavy lifting of campaign management...I am (mostly) content to just play. We also venture into other RPGs: we play Marvel extensively, BattleTech, some Star Frontiers. We dabble in James Bond and Twilight 2000; get our first taste of Warhammer 40,000 (the book...none of us acquire minis). AD&D remains our main game, however.

Spring/Summer 1988 (age 14): Jocelyn and I have a falling out. Kids fall out with each other: that's a part of life. Often times, over the years, Jason or Scott or Matt would be "on the outs" with the group, but we would always (eventually, somehow) bring 'em back into the fold. As we were transitioning to high school (the boys...Jocelyn at 15 and already in high school) I was the one that got kicked...and the group never recovered. We all ended up at different high schools, going separate ways.

1988-1991 (high school): I make new friends, some of whom play AD&D. I do not play AD&D with them...instead I play Palladium games (Heroes Unlimited, TMNT, Rifts), Stormbringer, or (later) Vampire the Masquerade. I still collect old AD&D modules when I find them, including White Plume Mountain and Against the Giants. For about a year, I run my brother and his best friend Brandon in an AD&D campaign, up till about level 12. I do this mostly to try modules I've never previously run (including the Desert of Desolation series I3, I4, and I5) and to try re-capturing the magic of my earlier campaigns. It doesn't work and I quit playing AD&D.

1991-1995 (university): I do some gaming, mostly White Wolf stuff (Vampire, Werewolf, Mage, Ars Magica 3E). Towards the end of university, one of my buddies (Joel) suggests we start up an AD&D campaign; I agree only on the condition that it is 1st edition, none of this crap 2E stuff. While he consents, nothing ever comes of the conversation (no chargen, nothing).

1996 (after graduation): while living with a non-gamer girlfriend, I get heavy into WH40K. Fact is, our relationship was heading south (it would be very up-and-down for another year, up through 10/1997) and getting into some kind of gaming felt necessary for my sanity. A game shop close to our apartment ran 40K tournaments. We would break up (and I moved out) before she moved to New Mexico for grad school.

1997-1999: no real gaming, though I meet some guys (Kris, James, Alex) who played D&D in their youth. In 1998 I will run an aborted session or two, and play in James's (single session) attempt to start a 2E game. All of these ended in disaster. The weed probably didn't help.

March 1998: I meet my wife. Having grown up in Mexico, she has never heard of D&D before meeting me.

2000-2002: 3E is released. I acquire copies and run some games, mainly for my friend Kris and a couple randoms whose names escape me. By 2002, I am done. I am still collecting BECMI edition D&D (the Mentzer sets, the Mystara Gazetteers, the Rules Cyclopedia, Wrath of the Immortals) feeling it is the most "complete" version of D&D. I do a lot of solo stuff with it. In 2007 some stuff I wrote about the Greek Gods will get uploaded to Vault of Pandius. Mostly, I end up finding the BECMI edition to be (both) too staid and too childish for my tastes.

2003-2007: sometime in this period, I make the acquaintance of The Forge and indie gaming and start studying game design. I get the idea to write the Great American Indie RPG (trademark pending!). This is all crap, but it starts me down the road of taking RPGs (and my love of them) more seriously. I do not play D&D during this period, though I collect and read a LOT of other RPGs. As far as I can recall, I didn't play any RPGs at this time (some light indie stuff...Capes, InSpectres...with my nephews perhaps). Sometime towards the end of this period, a person posts an Actual Play report on The Forge about how they tried playing an old game of Basic D&D "by the book" and it was actually fun.

Circa 2008: While reading an interview with indie-game designer Kenneth Hite, I am made aware of James Maliszewski's Grognardia and fall down the rabbit hole of Old School D&D blogs. This leads me to a number of sites, the most influential of which is Pat Armstrong's Ode to Black Dougal. Having the fires of nostalgia stoked by memories of my first RPG, I decide to go "back to the beginning," where my love for the hobby first started.

June 2009: I write down a quick list of 100 possible blog posts (to make sure I can generate content) and start the B/X Blackrazor blog. 

2009-2011: I play B/X D&D regularly, mostly off-line (face-to-face), sometimes running up to nine or ten players at my local bar. This three year period more-or-less matches the time I spent playing B/X at the beginning of my gaming career (1983-1985). I write (B/X) books during this time that are still selling today.

January 19th, 2011: my son Diego is born.

2012: I start developing other games: Cry Dark Future (2012), Five Ancient Kingdoms (2013), various indie type games and other genre games using the B/X Chassis. At the time, if I'd been asked, I probably would have said I was showing the versatility of the game (or writing my own fantasy heartbreaker with regard to 5AK). However, I now believe I was beginning to run up against the limitations of the B/X system...I was growing bored. And I was becoming tired of writing my own "support" for the system.

2013-2016: I am in Paraguay until August 2016. During this time, I do not play D&D.  I reflect on it, read about it, blog about it, work on a couple different "new" heartbreakers. There was a lot going on for me (mentally, emotionally) and my gaming thoughts were pretty random. A lot of good reading on the subject of D&D care of Alexis's books...but I had difficulty grokking some of the concepts he was trying to communicate.

April 21st, 2014: my daughter Sofia is born.

2016-2018: no gaming. Back from Paraguay but too busy with new children in a new school and transitioning to that "stay-at-home-American-dad-thing." Blog posts from this time are depressing...reading through a couple makes me think of a dude who is in need of help but doesn't know how to cry for help because he is unaware of how helpless he is. The blog was treading water just to assuage the ego with "relevance." Ugh. 

August 2019 (age 45): I hit rock bottom while attending a Dragonflight Convention; a convention at which I had the opportunity to play four Basic (three B/X!) game sessions with four different DMs. I was done with B/X as my "go-to-game-of-choice." It is still...and always will be...a fine teaching tool for learning the basics of Dungeons & Dragons.

Circa August 2019: I discover Anthony Huso's blog.

Circa 2019-2020: I discover (and start tuning into) the rather amusing GrogTalk podcast. Because they moderate their language, I sometimes listen to the podcast with my son (especially when it's just the two of us on long soccer drives). 

October 2019: I decide that the only way I will ever be satisfied with D&D again is to commit myself wholeheartedly to running a campaign, rather than one-off sessions. Just like I hadn't done since the age of 17.

February 2020 (age 46): I run my children through their first B/X adventure.

March 2020: the COVID 19 pandemic hits in full force. Schools (and most everything else) close down.

April 2020: I decide to go back to the LBBs and play OD&D with my kids, feeling I can simply add to the game (from supplements, house rules, etc.) whatever is needed for the campaign. At this point, I still feel "tinkering with rules" is the thing that will get me to the game I wanted. Ridiculous. This lasted a month or so before I shut it down. I play no D&D for the next six months.

November 2020 (age 47): I begin running AD&D for my children, teaching them the Advanced game.

February 2021: Taking advantage of a Total Party Kill, I start the AD&D campaign over from scratch using Washington State (and the Pac Northwest generally) as my campaign setting. My world has been in existence for 17 months now...longer than ANY "B/X campaign" I ran back in my Baranof days. 

June 30, 2022 (today, age 48): I've now been running AD&D exclusively for nearly two years; we've only barely begun to scratch the surface of play. The system is so robust...and so deep...that I don't anticipate exhausting its possibilities any time soon. Fact is, unless I get sick of my world (which is hard to see happening, considering its "mine" and I can remake any particle of it, any time I choose), I don't see how the game would ever end. It can only grow larger and more developed with time.

Currently, the AD&D books are available both digitally an in Print-on-Demand form from DriveThruRPG. I recommend every D&D player who doesn't already own a set acquire copies of the PHB, DMG, MM, and Fiend Folio. The MM2, DDG, and UA have useful elements, but are not strictly necessary for play. 

All right, that's all for today. 


  1. Wow! What a rollercoaster! You seem happy and enthused now, and that's good.

    1. Indeed. It's hard not to be enthused when you have players clamoring to play every day and the only thing that prevents me from running is my other "life priorities" (i.e. as opposed to ennui).
      ; )

  2. You seem to have a much more detailed memory of your childhood years than me! Lol

    The first campaign I dmed was probably my longest single running with the same group of players. I guess that lasted most of high school and maybe a ayear or so after graduation. Of course there's other games and campaigns, but they were more running a campaign world sort of thing and not running a sustained group as they advance

    1. Hmm. This is a very abbreviated list of memories, and I'm aided by publication dates that are readily available from on-line sources, or that are actually written in my books (my Unearthed Arcana has "Happy 12th Birthday!" written inside the front cover by my then-10 year old brother), or from my prior blog posts (for recent events).

      But I've left out a lot of things that are less pertinent and more murky in the dating. My Boy Scout troop, for example, had many older boys who were veteran D&D players; one of them explained to me what a "cavalier" was even before the advent of the UA (my friends and I had heard the term in the D&D cartoon). But I couldn't tell you when that was, only that it was at a Winter Jamboree on Crystal Mountain...I think. There was snow on the ground outside.

      But...well, these are the highlights. Minus the more sordid details I could add from (most of) the various decades of my gaming hobby. As Kelvin remarked: it's been a rollercoaster. But, then, such is life, right?

  3. A great post, and it is one that enjoyed very much. I'm intrigued on how you managed to get so many people to play in your local pub. How did you get such a large group together?

    1. It grew organically by word-of-mouth and (somewhat) by word-of-blog. The bar...the diviest of Seattle dives...had a restaurant that closed up at night, but as a known "regular" I was able to talk them into letting me use one of the tables in the dining area. Probably because I was bringing in a lot of extra "business" on Thursday nights. First there just my brother and I, then my buddy Steve, then a guy named Luke, then a bunch of Luke's co-workers, etc.

      I was not much for turning folks away...and there seemed to be plenty of people who wanted to play. Not only "old-timers" but people who had never played before but had wanted to try. One girl dragged her boyfriend to the game who knew me through my brother. One lady was brought in for the first time with boyfriend who had read about me on some blog or other. I didn't make a secret of where and when I was people would just drop by.

      And some people just wandered in to drink and asked if they could join. One lady and fella came in...both a bit older than myself...but turned up their noses when they saw I wasn't playing AD&D. Asked if I'd continue switching over to the real game (which I politely declined). However, they hadn't been coming for the game; they were there for the cheapest, stiffest drinks south of 105th (and "the longest happy hour in Seattle"). It was fine...I found nine-ish was about the maximum reasonable limit. And even that was tough to manage when there was karaoke blasting from the bar next door.
      ; )

    2. Thanks for that reply. I can't imagine having the courage to start something the same in a Glasgow pub. :D

    3. Perhaps I would not have, either. Truly, it was initially my brother's idea:

      The first night, we had gone to a gaming "meet-up" at the coffee shop across the street from the bar, but got there too late...all the tables were occupied and engaged in various indie games and I had wanted to run B/X. Disappointed, my brother suggested we hit the bar for a drink. While sitting at a table, he suggested I just run the game for him, which I did...and (perhaps because of the beer/cocktails) we had fun and didn't feel quite so self-conscious, deciding to make it a regular thing.

      The word-of-mouth growth began AFTER that.

  4. My 'watershed' was about 1980 for B/X and 1E. Birthday being in September I saw an ad for Basic in Asimov Magazine. Asked for it as a B-day present and, surprisingly got it! A friend got Expert and much fun ensued. Later that year I encountered an upper-classman with an AD&D MM. I remember int he winter of '85 - 86 trudging down a busy and snowy highway to a tiny toy store to get my first copy of the PH for AD&D. A good couple of miles yet a most worthy quest! History from there.

  5. It was a soothing experience, to read this post. I'm 28 now, living in Brazil, playing and running RPG games since I was 10, and I'm starting to fear my gaming days have passed, swallowed by other responsabilities. But reading this made me realize I can spend years without playing and come back when the time is right. I hope one day I'll too have children urging for me to run one more session for them.

    I started with 2e, and transitioned to 3e, 4e and 5e, but I'm getting tired of all these changes and leaning towards using 1e as my "go to" edition. The more I learn about the ruleset, the more I see it as a monolith edition, that was there and will always be there to be used to conjure fantastic worlds, and every other edition is either primitive or derivative (even if some of them, like BX and OD&D are really nice games). I may change my mind in a decade or two, who knows...

    1. I've changed my mind, multiple times, over the years about what D&D and/or the (role-playing) hobby is. We are ALL constantly growing/developing, changed by our experiences.

      But, yeah...the game can last you your entire life, if you so choose. Can't really say that about much else.
      ; )