Playtesting A Legend
We have published a lot of essays about "favorite adventures." So far, the designers of How to Write Adventure Modules That Don't Suck have contributed their thoughts on all of these adventures:
- The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth
- Secret of the Slavers Stockade
- Castle Amber
- Desert of Desolation
- Against the Giants
- The sample dungeon in the back of the DMG
- Expedition to the Barrier Peaks
- The Caverns of Thracia
- The first campaign
- An unknown solitaire adventure
Today we present you with a new addition to this list. A very special addition. The topic of this Kickstarter is how to write great adventure modules - the ones that become legends. Well, here is James M. Ward to discuss his time playtesting some of those legends!
Playtesting A Legend
By James M. Ward
I was extremely lucky in 1974 to meet Gary Gygax when he was just creating the many adventures that were to become D&D and AD&D legends. I had the fun of play testing the Tomb of Horrors, Vault of the Drow, Land Beyond the Mirror, Against the Giants, and on and on and on.
My very first memory of playing D&D was going over to Gary’s house on a Saturday afternoon. I met his wonderful family and was introduced to his beautiful young wife Mary. I think Ernie, his oldest son, was in 7th grade then and while I was a college graduate, Ernie and I soon became fast friends as I greatly respected his skill at D&D and still do today.
Brian Blume helped me roll up a character. The numbers indicated I should be a magic user as I had a high intelligence and dexterity. I equipped myself with a quarter staff and some throwing daggers and a few other backpack items. My choice was between a sleep spell and a light spell, and I picked a light spell.
I was hooked in the first five minutes of the adventure and it became a lifelong activity that has served me well 43 years later. So in my first game I watched Don mapping our way down into Greyhawk dungeon. I was told we would be exploring a new section of the dungeons. It was okay with me. I had my mouth open the whole time and I couldn’t believe the fun I was having. We came to what I was told were three unusual portals. Up until now Gary had done what he always did as the Dungeon Master. He spun the story so I could feel the walls, sights, and smells of the dungeon. My imagination was equal to the task of what we were doing. I felt the heat of our torches and the smell of blood on our weapons from a fight with a giant boar.
Suddenly, as we walked through one of the portals, poof, we were on an island. Eventually one of those portals led to Jack Vance’s Dirdir fields, one led to a land beyond the mirror, and the one we took led to an enchanted land. As Gary spun the tale, we could smell the sea salt in the air. We walked through a jungle filled with dinosaurs. The way Gary detailed the adventure, there was no suspension of disbelief. It was easy to imagine we were there. The group checked and we could go back through the portal any time we wanted to get back into Greyhawk Dungeon. None of us wanted to leave the island just yet.
It was the middle of the night. We could have made camp and waited for the dawn, but all of us were too excited to do that. There was a full moon and we thought we had plenty of light. As we moved through the jungle we could hear the roar of some colossal creature in the distance. The fighter types drew their battle axes and two handed war swords. I was told some of those weapons were magical. Surely, those types of weapons could easily defeat any creature we would meet. Our cleric cast a bless spell on all of us and we shared a potion that allowed us to see better in the dark.
We ended up running from something that could have been a T-Rex. One of my first lessons was that we shouldn’t fight everything we encountered. Fighting was only when we would gain something from the battle. Fighting a creature was stupid and dangerous if the battle could be avoided. It was a lesson I took with me on every adventure from then on. We didn’t stick around to see what the creature was. The creature stopped chasing us when we came to the edge of a village of huts. In the gloom Gary described a large grass hut with an open window. I looked inside, but it was dark. So, I figured what the heck. I cast my light spell and it woke up ten unusually large natives. They came boiling out of their hut and chased us. They were clearly ready to use their spears.
There was no coddling here. There was no pampering of my character because I was new. Spears where tossed at our group and I was pinned to the ground. I had four hit points and the spear in my back did six hit points of damage. The rest of the group ran into the jungle. My time was done and my first adventure was over.
Eventually Ernie had to use the last wish on a wish ring of his to bring us all back alive and well in the city of Greyhawk. On my next adventure I had the fun of exploring Greyhawk City and meeting the wizard in the Black Tower.
My first adventure ever had been a partial play test of Kong Island which was to become Isle of the Ape.
Imagine my joy as I played every Saturday over at Gary’s. I made many more silly mistakes. I ended up saving the group with my own ring of wishes over the years. I remember that first game like it was yesterday.
Soon Gary Con is happening. I just finished designing my own Metamorphosis Alpha version of the Tomb of Horrors. My Doom of the Warden will hopefully impress people in years to come. I look forward to seeing the faces of players as they hear my description of the doomed starship and its quest to return on course.
James M. Ward on James M. Ward: I had the distinct pleasure of learning how to play D&D on Gary Gygax’s side porch in 1974. Gary must have seen some spark in me because he allowed me to try my hand at writing Metamorphosis Alpha, the first science fiction role-playing game. I went from writing MA to writing Gamma World, the first apocalypse role-playing game. Over the last forty years or so I’ve written many RPG things with my latest being the 77 Lost WorldsRPG campaign setting. Goodman Games has been kind enough to revive the MA intellectual property and now there are lots of MA adventures and accessories to enjoy; and I thank them for that.
James M. Ward's Ultimate Apocalyptic Planet Kickstarter
As long as we're on the subject of James M. Ward, we wanted to give you an opportunity to pledge for his latest Kickstarter. If you're a fan of old-school games, you probably know Mr. Ward is the creator of the first science fiction RPG, Metamorphosis Alpha, and the first post-apocalyptic RPG, Gamma World. James M. Ward and Stephen A. Lee have created a unique science fiction role playing game, The Lost 77 Worlds RPG. They're running a Kickstarter now for The Blasted Earth - check it out!