Monday, June 13, 2016

BASIC DUNGEONS & DRAGONS - SKULL MOUNTAIN - Part I

Barking Alien friend, and frequent commenter Miguel de Rojas made mention on my last Campaigns I Have Known post that he loves this series. I'm serious! It's a quote. You can look it up.

I have to thank Miguel as that seriously made my day, and it also helped me to decide what this next entry would cover. I knew I wanted to shake things up, and go with something Medieval Fantasy related (What?! Adam has a Medieval Fantasy campaign he remembers fondly? Yes. They're rare, but they happen.), but I wasn't sure which to talk about.

Then it struck me - I owe you all something special. Something that really celebrates this series.

Welcome to the Summer of 1978, and my very first campaign of anything. Basic (Holmes version) Dungeons & Dragons was the name, and having no clue what I was doing was the game.

Now, this may require a little set up. I recommend reading this, this, and really this.

Where were we? Oh yes, 1978 - Summer Camp.

My friend David Pollack brings over the Basic D&D box set. I have to assume it was the Holmes version, the same one I started with the year before, but I recall there being something different about it. Perhaps one of the D&D aficionados who reads this can shed some light on the subject.

Because I was the only one who seemed to have prior experience playing D&D, I was voted GM by default. It was Dave's suggestion, but everyone seemed happy with the arrangement so it stuck. Besides, once I tasted life on the other side of table, there was no going back. Well, not literally, but I was rarely happy as a player back then. Gamemastering was my jam and remains so to this day.

My very first campaign is, honestly, a very strange memory for me. I actually recall it pretty clearly. I forget the characters' names of course (a common issue for me), but I remember who they were, the players, the stories. I don't remember later games nearly as well.

I guess it's true what they say. You never forget your first time.


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Campaigns I Have Known
Proudly Presents...

BASIC DUNGEONS & DRAGONS
 - SKULL MOUNTAIN

Part I



Picture yourself a lower-middle class 9 year old boy living in Brooklyn, NY.

Not hard right? Ahem.

Well, If you would, imagine for a moment that you don't have access to the internet. It hasn't been invented yet as far as you know. No smartphones, no laptops, or desktops.

You're not yet very familiar with Anime, or Manga. Video games consist of the Atari 2600. It will be months before Space Invaders hits the arcades in North America.

Numerous popular TV shows, and cartoons are airing, some making their debuts in 1978. None of them are Medieval Fantasy related. Battlestar Galactica, Project U.F.O., Mork and Mindy, even Yogi's Space Race - all Science Fiction themed.

As far a movies go, a lot of great films were released that year. Many of them came out that Summer, but a lot more came out between October, and December. Among them Superman, Midnight Express, Dawn of the Dead, Grease, Animal House, and Watership Down. Ralph Bakshi's animated Lord of the Rings film would come out in November. As I'm starting my campaign in June, that's 6 months away. .

This is what the world was like for me at the time I came up with this campaign. Barely any clue of what Fantasy was, and less of an idea of what makes something 'Medieval'. I'd seen some old Errol Flynn films, a few cartoons with Knights, and Dragons (notably Bugs Bunny), but overall I had to wing it in regard to what life was like in the default milieu of 1978 D&D.

But wait...I have some Oz books, The Sword in The Stone movie, and...I can do this.


***


Title: [BASIC] DUNGEONS & DRAGONS - SKULL MOUNTAIN




'Skull Mountain'
Illustration by Tom Wham
From the Holmes Edition of
Basic Dungeons & Dragons



System: Basic Dungeons & Dragons, Holmes version (1977), TSR.

Circa: Summer 1978. Between June, and August. There were approximately 30-32 sessions, each lasting 4-6 hours. Three, or four of the sessions were run on weekend days, and those were about 8 hours long.

Player Base: There were five players, all male, between the ages of 8-11. We started with three players, lost one during a short break, then two new guys joined. Our missing member returned for a few sessions toward the end of the campaign. (See more in the synopsis).

Characters:

As this campaign took place over 38 years ago I am unable to remember the characters names. I know this has been a thing with me in these older campaign descriptions. I'm sorry about that, really I am. My memory is surprisingly sharp in other areas. Promise.

An additional note: Back in those days characters didn't have elaborate backstories - heck, they rarely and barely had simple backstories - but as our campaigns progressed we added little character bits, and background notes that enabled us to know something about our heroes beyond their class, level, and stats.

I think this write up will show how early on in the hobby my friends and I did things a little differently.


Human Fighter (played by David P.)

Initially serving as the party's de facto leader, David's Fighter was definitely in the vein of a Knight. He was strong, smart, and agile (Not your typical bruiser). He was an honorable fellow with a noble bearing. His personal code of ethics meant he would protect, or rescue his allies as a top priority.

His primary weapon was a sword, and he usually carried a shield as well. His armor was chainmail, and he wore a helmet.

He learn very little of his origins, except that he is from 'beyond the sea'. He was a warrior, but hated war having seen 'too much bloodshed in the name of gold'.

His signature magical items* (discovered one by one throughout the campaign) were a Sword, a Shield, and a suit of Platemail. Each one was +1 to hit, damage, or armor class as appropriate, but gained an additional +1 when used in unison. That means if one person has all three items, he/she has a +3 Sword, a +3 Shield, and a +3 suit of Armor.



Human Cleric (play by Matthew)

Matthew played our Cleric, an old friend of David's Fighter who worshipped never defined 'Spirits'. Matt's Cleric was very much what you'd expect from a classic Cleric - Wise, honest, faithful, and full of hope.

The Cleric's main weapon was a Mace, but honestly he rarely used it unless he had no other option. Matt used his character very much in a defensive, and support role, though we certainly didn't know those terms at the time. The Cleric was grab in chainmail as well.

We learn even less about the Cleric than we do about the Fighter. There are interesting references to the Spirits that give him his powers however. He mentioned things like The Spirit of The Sea, The Spirit of The Wind, The Sun Spirit, The Spirit of Night, etc. We know that he came from the same homeland as David's Fighter.

Matthew's Cleric had a signature magic item* in the form of an amulet. This mystic necklace, known as The Amulet of Lost Souls (I think), gave the Cleric the power to see ghosts, speak with the dead, and perform other strange feats.


Elf (played by Aaron)

Oh Basic D&D, with your non-Humans as classes. Man, how I've missed...no, actually. Always thought that was terribly silly.

While most of you are probably quite familiar with 'Race as Class', for those who aren't, the Elf, Dwarf, and Halflings of Basic D&D were designed as Classes. An Elf was essentially a Fighter/Magic User, a Dwarf was a Fighter, and a Halfling was a Thief. You couldn't play a Dwarf who was by profession a Cleric for example, or an Elf who was by profession a Thief. Elves were Elves, Dwarves were Dwarves, and that was that.

Aaron's Elf was someone Matt's Cleric, and David's Fighter had met only recently prior to the events that began the campaign. He had met the two old friends while traveling with them on a ship heading for The Mainland**.

We learned as we went that there were few Elves left in the world. Most of the Elf's people had 'faded away' over time (we were never clear what that meant, but Elves were supposedly very rarely seen in the world). Elves who didn't want to fade needed to travel to a hidden forest on The Mainland, and speak with a Fae Guardian of some kind. Aaron's character was on his way there.

His main weapon was a Bow, and Arrow, but he also carried a short sword. His armor was leather if I remember correctly.

The Elf's signature magic item* was an Elven Gauntlet/Glove that only an Elf could wield (for most other races it did nothing special, but if a goblin touched it that would receive burning damage). The Gauntlet could touch something, and then bestow that quality on something else for one round. As an archer, he mostly used it to touch things, then touch an arrow as he notched it.

Touch a burning torch, bestow fire on an arrow. Touch running water, bestow an arrow with the ability to put out a small fire. Touch the Cleric's Amulet, bestow an arrow with the ability to cause 'physical damage' to a Ghost, or evil Spirit.


Human Fighter (played by Jeff W.)

About half way through the campaign, the make up of our group changed. Aaron wanted to do more 'camp' related activities, and hang out with some of his older friends following...well...that would be telling (see the Synopsis). It was cool, and we let him know we would always save him a seat at our table.

Two new players joined up - Jeff and Josh Wolf - the Wolf Brothers (as we called them). The Wolf Brothers had been away for the first month of camp, but ended up signing on for August. I didn't know them well at first, but the older brother, Jeff, was a friend of a friend. The two of them had been playing for about a year already (same as me).

Jeff was tough to game with at first. I think he resented that a lot of people thought that I was a really good GM when I was two years younger than he was. Also, he had a better handle on the rule mechanics then I did, and it came up from time to time. He wasn't a rules lawyer per se, but he was a fellow to whom the rules mattered.

I eventually won him over with, well, a really good game I guess.

Jeff's Fighter was very different from Dave's in personality, and style. He was tougher, stronger, and more physical in general. He was more headstrong, less disciplined, and more barbarian than knight, thought not stupid, or completely brutish.

I don't know, or remember enough Fantasy literature to make good comparisons, but if Dave's fighter was Galahad, Jeff's was Fafhrd. A better comparison for me might be Captain America and Wolverine, complete with Wolverine's more layered, and nuanced modern depictions.

Like Aaron's Elf, Jeff's Fighter has a bit of a history, and a goal which he shared with his brother (the players decided their characters were also brothers). They had been on adventures when they received word that there may be war between their nation and a neighboring one. They were returning home, headed for The Mainland** to join their father (a noble, chief, or important warrior of some kind) and defend their country if need be.

Jeff's Fighter wielded axes, often carrying a large one in one hand, and a smaller throwing axe in the other. He wore chainmail, but we always imaged it piece-meal, with animal hides and such over it.

He gains his signature magic item a bit late in the game. It was a two handed battle axe called, 'Sunder' that on a natural '20' would cleave whatever it struck in half, with any loose bits flying off in all directions. This included things an axe can't normally cut through, such as a stone wall, or a much larger than Human sized creature.


Human Wizard (played by Josh)

Jeff's brother Josh played Jeff's character's brother, which was great as it made it very easy to introduce them into the already existing campaign.

A fun character, the Wizard was nervous, apprehensive, and pretty much the exact opposite of the brash warrior Jeff portrayed. Fearing that his older brother would show him up, the Wizard put on an air of being wiser, and more powerful than he really was.

He mainly carried a staff, and a dagger, with the staff being his primary weapon. As with all classic D&D Wizards, he wore no armor.

Josh's Wizard found his signature magic item* in his second session. It was wand that could gather magic from around him, and release it as a blast of magical energy, or he could add the power he absorbed to one of his spells. So, if an enemy wizard cast a Magic Missile at him (which normally hits automatically) and he had his wand out, he would make a sort of generic saving throw to see if he could catch the magic. It he made it, the Magic Missile would turn into swirling colored light around the tip of the wand. The Wizard could then blast it back at the enemy or cast a Magic Missile of his own, using a memorized spell, but causing double damage (since he now has the power of the first missile).

I think he called it 'The Returner's Wand' or 'Wand of the Returner' or something.


Synopsis: Never having run a campaign before, I started with the idea that I needed a good reason for the party to be together, and to go on an adventure. A purpose to it all.

I saw the illustration of 'Stone Mountain' in the Basic D&D book, and I was suddenly inspired. The entire concept for the campaign rushed like a raging river into my head.

The PCs begin waking up on the beach of a fog enshrouded island. The ship they were traveling on, headed for The Mainland** was dashed upon the rocks. They remembered a storm. There were no other survivors beyond the three initial PCs - Dave's Fighter, Matt's Cleric, and Aaron's Elf.

Past the short beach was a sad, desiccated looking forest, and after that a huge mountain. The mountain took up the entire center of the small island. At the top of the mountain was a skull shaped formation. The PCs immediately dubbed it Skull Mountain.

At first they tried to figure out their next course of action - Try to build a boat, and leave? There was another storm brewing in the distance. Explore the island and see if there were any caves to make camp in? Perhaps. A signal fire would be useless in the rain, and wind. Then there was the mountain.

They reasoned that the skull on top was likely man-made, and might be an ancient temple, or carving into the mountain. It could double as shelter if the former. They decided to check it out. At some point, they saw the flickering light of torches in the eyes of the skull, and later the mouth. It was some kind of edifice! Perfect! They made haste for the skull.

What followed was a series of classic dungeon delves, with me planning what was on each level of the dungeon in the most general sense, and then ad libbing the encounters. The overall idea I had was that the skull was actually the remains of a long dead giant. Other creatures had taken up residence in the mountain, the open areas of which were once either the giant's home, or his innards.

Finally, the PCs discovered that the giant had climbed to the top of his home, on top of the mountain's peak, to avoid a flood. The water never went down. He got stuck up there, and eventually died.

"Why didn't the giant just swim away, or try to?" asked the Fighter.
"Could he not build a boat?" asked the Elf.
"This was his home," said the Cleric. "No one wants to give up their home."

The Fighter didn't believe this. This was a giant. He would save himself if he thought he would die, home, or no home. Then he thought, and thought, and finally realized. "If you are a giant, you bury treasure in your home. He couldn't leave his treasure. There is some great wealth, or a magic secret hidden somewhere down beneath this place. Since we can't leave either, let's try to find it."

The others agreed.

Each level down was stranger, and stranger, and when they reach the sixth level, they realized there was another way in. A pit high above could send you plummeting from the top of the mountain to the sixth level straight away.

As the Elf climbed up the pit to see if there was more to it, or if it could be useful in anywhere, a foul creature came up from the seventh level, the 'bottom' as far as they knew, and attacked the Fighter, and Cleric.

It was an epic battle, and the Elf made his way back down to join them. In the end, the mighty beast was slain, but the Elf lay dead as well. *Sob*

Aaron was mad, but only for a bit. He handled it well. He went out a hero, and the others promised to bury him, and bring his gauntlet to the Fae Guardian of the Forest on The Mainland** if they ever got off the island. Aaron decided to take a break from the campaign for a bit, but he returned for a few sessions towards the end, playing an NPC I created. More about that below.

Eventually the adventurers returned to their newly made camp site, which was at the base of the mountain. They buried their friend, swore vengeance against Skull Mountain, and planned to go to the bottom level as soon as they were rested. Unfortunately, another storm rolled it, and battered them with wind, and rain.

They awoke the next morning to the sound of a distance crash! Another ship, much smaller then the one they had arrived on, had run aground on a beach slightly North of the one they awoke on weeks {or was it month?) before. The new boat was much less damaged, and might even be repairable! It deposited two survivors, and a handful of dead crewmembers onto the island.


To Be Continued...

(I can't believe I thought I could write up my first campaign in one post. Ha!)

AD
Barking Alien











4 comments:

  1. Summer 1978... I wasn't on this Earth yet and you were already creating and playing in new worlds...

    Maybe it is just nostalgia, but when I think about some of my early games I get the same impression than reading about your first campaign: they seem very fresh in their simplicity, and true games of imagination. I'll be awaiting part 2!!

    Oh, and I'm truly glad you feel like that about my humble appreciations :)

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    1. Yeah, there is a sort of pure pleasure in the simple, relatively straight forward nature of the older games, and campaigns. Our imaginations soared with limitless potential when we were trying to make them do that.

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  2. Yay! I love this series!

    As for the whole race as class thing for elves, dwarves, and halflings, I kind of dig it. I wouldn't play it that way all of the time but it does have a certain feel to it that in a campaign where those races were rare, it could be cool.

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    1. Woot! Another thumbs up for Campaigns I Have Known! Thanks Monkapotomus :)

      Oddly, although I really don't like the concept, I can kind of see what you mean here. Hmmm. Gives me some ideas regarding an old project of mine.

      Thanks for this.

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