Stretch goal cleared! Plus - We Did The Mash
A good day for adventure designers! We have cleared our next stretch goal. Both How to Write Adventure Modules That Don't Suck and The Adventurers Almanac will be printed with a sewn-in satin ribbon bookmark. Cool. The combination of hardcover binding plus the bookmark will definitely look good on a bookshelf.
In yesterday's post regarding add-on items, we made a typo on the retail price of Dungeon Alphabet. It should be $20. All other add-on items are as listed. Definitely consider adding something on so we can clear these remaining stretch goals!
Now, continuing our essays on the topic of "favorite adventure," here is Jim Wampler with some thoughts on mutants.
We Did the Mash
By Jim Wampler
As the author of Mutant Crawl Classics RPG, it will likely surprise no one that the single most formative D&D adventure of my youth was Gary Gygax’s S3: Expedition to the Barrier Peaks, first published in 1980. I’d been playing D&D for a year or more in 1980, but I had not fully grasped the potent advantages of an occasional genre mash before playing this adventure.
This, even though my younger brother had already introduced a D-Hopper drawn from Robert Asprin’s “Another Fine Myth” into his fantasy universe, and despite me running a full-blown Gamma World campaign of my own, and even with the methods for mixing D&D with Gamma World and Boot Hill explicitly outlined in pages 112-114 of the Dungeon Masters Guide. I apparently needed a no-holds-barred genre mash experience to turn on the fusion-powered light bulb.
When my brother ran us through S3, it was a revelation. By then, our party of characters ranged from 9th-to-12th levels, and we were feeling pretty froggy about our general competency levels and ability to steamroll over any opponents. By then, we’d slain dragons and demons alike, been to a few planes, and were starting to have an influence on the politics of the continent. We thought that we were ready for anything, most especially an off-the-shelf adventure from TSR. What we weren’t ready for was the Grand Duke of Geoff sending us into a death-trap metal cave full of vegepygmies and robots.
Our fighters thought that they would make short work of the walking celery sticks, but 75 of them spilling out into a hallway at once was nearly overwhelming. My magic-user had all the wrong spells memorized (a Polymorph Other to turn a fellow party member into a rust monster would’ve sure been a handy way to circumvent those endless access card doors). And having never had any reason in the past to try and talk to iron golems, it occurred to exactly no one to try and talk the karate robot into fighting the wrestling robot. Instead, we just got our asses kicked by both of them.
You had to be there. In fact, largely because of Expedition to the Barrier Peak’s persistent influence throughout the ensuing decades, it’s nigh impossible today to fully explain just how caught off guard we were by that adventure. From our 1980 vantage point, it was as though we had travelled back in time a couple of years and were playing D&D for the first time again. We didn’t know what to expect down on the next level of that place, and S3 never failed to deliver. Oh look — it’s a cute little horned bunny just sitting on that tree stump minding its own business — OH MY GODS, RUN AWAY!
I get it now, though. Now I’m hip to the beats that Gary Gygax was laying down. For starters, Gary was, as we all know, well-steeped in the fantasy and science fiction literature of the past — particularly the seminal authors of the 1920s and 1930s pulp magazines, whose works were being republishing in paperback form in the 50s and 60s. Those highly-regarded stories and novels were mostly written in a time when there was little distinction between the fantasy and science-fiction genres, and in fact, even the term “science-fiction” had not come into regular use.
So in those stories there was underlying super science at the heart of some of Lovecraft’s eldritch horrors. Barsoom seemed to be nearly as much a swords & sorcery setting as science-fiction one. Conan met and fought an alien. Jack Vance’s The Dying Earth series equated magic and advanced technology as one subject, merely seen from differing perspectives. Even Tolkien’s Middle Earth, if read carefully, contains black powder and machinery.
So while the bibliophile Gary Gygax knew all of this from his readings, the game designer Gary Gygax knew something else — that the job of a good game master was to continually sift through his literary reservoir for ever-new ways to surprise and challenge players with the novel experience and the unexpected twist.
And nothing will surprise a wizard faster than the sudden production of a firearm. That very idea was key to the climax of Ralph Bakshi’s animated movie, Wizards (1977). One of the best running gags in J.D. Webster’s Finieous Fingers comic in early Dragon magazines was the mage Bored Flak reaching into his backpack for a magic item that turned out to be a bazooka (I mean “wand of fireballs”). Ash’s “This is my boomstick” speech in Sam Raimi’s Army of Darkness (1993) is the stuff of horror cinema legend.
And I can assure you, during a session of Expedition to the Barrier Peaks run at our local game store just a couple of years ago, there were no two happier players than myself and a good friend, as his elf stomped through the levels wearing power armor it took him 45 minutes of dice rolls (and several Heal spells) to master, and my magic-user brandishing a blaster rifle he wasn’t quite sure how to fire yet. Even if we did almost TPK twice.
So when asked what was my most influential D&D adventure, I can resolutely state that it was S3: Expedition to the Barrier Peaks. It’s the reason I have always liked a little SF peanut butter in my fantasy chocolate, and it was a prime motivator for me to take on the challenge of making Mutant Crawl Classics RPG fully compatible with DCC RPG. It’s all about the novel experience!
Jim Wampler is currently a writer, editor, and occasional art director and layout monkey for Goodman Games. In addition to the forthcoming Mutant Crawl Classics RPG, Jim has written several Metamorphosis Alpha adventures and two sequel adventures for the DCC RPG Purple Planet series for Goodman Games. As overlord of the Dungeon Crawl Cabal, Jim has also overseen a secret cabal of talented writers and artists who have created three DCC RPG tournament funnels for use by the Goodman Games Road Crew.