Saturday, April 25, 2020

The Strategic Review #6

"The Strategic Review" served as "the newsletter of Tactical Studies Rules" and covered topics in military miniatures, games, and swords & sorcery.  Vol 2, No 1 (February, 1976) was released in January, 1976 (16 pages).

The editor is listed as Timothy J. Kask, the AFV editor as Mike Reese, the contributing EPT editor as M.A.R. Barker, and the contributing S&S editor as Steve Marsh.

In The Cauldron:

Three announcements in Tim Kask's column caught my interest, starting with "Classic Warfare" (my son was signed up to play a game, "Fury of the Celts", run by Kevin Maurice, at Gary Con this year, before it got canceled):
CLASSIC WARFARE is now a reality. It has been a project of Gary’s for over seven years, and the finished product shows it.  It is by far the most playable set of rules covering the period available.  It should hold a great deal of interest to those who are not into ancient miniatures, but do have an interest in ancient military history.  The second half of the book “Historical Characteristics” is chock-full of fascinating data and minutiae that is in itself enough to get you bitten by the ancients bug...
There is also an oblique reference to the development of the "Swords & Spells" supplement:
We are pleased to announce that we have reached agreement with MINI-FIGS, LTD., on a brand new line of D&D figures.  The line is being designed by both MINI-FIG and TSR, so finally you will have access to castings that look like the monsters we describe.  In conjunction with that, we are also working on a set of D&D tabletop rules for figures.  They will enable you to do on table top outdoor adventures, as well as army battles, and plan campaigns accordingly.
Finally, there are announcements regarding Dave Arneson and Mike Carr:
TSR continues to expand. Dave Arneson has joined us in Lake Geneva, full time, and has assumed the mantle of Research Director.  Mike Carr, of FIGHT IN THE SKIES fame, will be joining us not long from now.  He will become our controller, and hopefully help us get our act together better.  We are looking forward to the addition of both these talented people to our "family", and it augurs very well, for you, our supporters... 

The Meaning of Law and Chaos in Dungeons and Dragons and Their Relationships to Good and Evil:

A seminal article by Gary Gygax, splintering the three-alignment system of original D&D into five alignments, while simultaneously establishing the framework for the nine-alignment system of AD&D, still a couple years away.

Alignment chart from The Strategic Review #6.

Gygax states "had I the opportunity to do D&D over I would have made the whole business very much clearer by differentiating the four categories, and many chaotic creatures would be good, while many lawful creatures would be evil."

In fact, the AD&D Monster Manual (1977) enabled him to do this.  Creatures were assigned one of the five different alignments from this article, in keeping with the rules presented in the Holmes Basic Rulebook (1977) published earlier that year.

The Lawful/Chaotic axis was originally modeled after Poul Anderson's "Three Hearts and Three Lions" (1961) in which Neutrals were "unaligned" (the model used in Chainmail).  Michael Moorcock's idea of Neutrality as seeking balance represents a slight but important nuance.

The Good/Evil axis was apparently suggested to Gygax by Steve Marsh,* according to this article.  This better captured the spirit of heroic fantasy, as represented by J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings", and is fittingly perpendicular to Moorcock's cosmology.

*update (May 17, 2020): an excerpt from Marsh's correspondence with Gygax:
Having finished the Hawkmoon/Corum/Erikose/Elric cycle in the old editions, I'm considering reading the new ones (especially the new Elric stories).  A quote from the last of the last books:
... It has sometimes worked for good."

"Chaos is not wholly evil, surely?" said the child. "And neither is Law wholly good. They are primitive divisions, at best - they represent only temperamental differences in individual men and women. There are other elements..."

... "All are primitive," said the child.
And thus we have the last, definitive word on alignments from Michael Moorcock who is responsible for the original set up (tho' not what TSR did with it).  I thought you might like the quote.
Steve Marsh, 1975/76

I find it interesting that "The player-character who continually follows any alignment (save neutrality) to the absolute letter of its definition must eventually move off the chart (Illustration I) and into another plane of existence as indicated."  A paladin could ascend to heaven, in this manner!

The Quest for the Vermillion Volume:

Short fiction in a humorous vein, by Rob Kuntz.  Significant in that it makes references to D&D game mechanics.  I suspect, as with other pieces of short fiction, that its characters and events may have been based on an actual game session.

I found this cartoon interesting, for possibly representing the earliest known depiction of a DM's screen.  A similar cartoon appears in The Strategic Review #7.

War of Wizards:

An update by John W. Berry, with refinements to M.A.R. Barker's "War of Wizards" game, "an extract from...a much longer and more complete compilation of play aids, interpretations, changes and additions to War of Wizards, produced as a result of lengthy conference with Prof. Barker".

There is another article, "War of Wizards Solitaire" by Richard L. Mataka, which provides a system for playing solo games.


The original bard class, by Doug Schwegman, was a combination of the Norse "skald", the Celtic "bard", and the Southern European "minstrel".  A fighter with thief skills (level/2), the ability to cast magic-user spells (level/2), and hit dice, attacks, and saving throws as per clerics.

Special abilities include charm with a chance of mesmerizing any creature that can hear his song (including undead, at a penalty of 10% per hit dice!), and lore (reflecting knowledge of legends, magic, etc.) useful for identifying the properties of magic items and intelligent swords.

Interestingly, Schwegman states "Bards and Druids are closely connected and since they both belong to the same sect each must aid the other if they are in need."

Mighty Magic Miscellany:

A description of barding harps, by Doug Schwegman.  These are named after the various bardic colleges, and include the Fochlucan Harp, Mac-Fuirmidh Harp, Doss Lyre, Canaith Lyre, and Cli Mandolin.

New Game, New Strategy:

Ancient Conquest, Excalibre Games, 1975

A description of the "Ancient Conquest" board game, set from 1500 B.C. to the fall of Assyrian power in 612 B.C., involving the Hittites, Assyrians, Egyptians, and Babylonians, among others.  An in-depth review is posted, here.

Sage Advice:

Theronius (Terry Kuntz) provides corrections for the Greyhawk Supplement, with entries for the Homunculus, Golems (Flesh Golem), Rod of Resurrection, Gem of Seeing, and Gauntlets of Dexterity.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

The City of the Gods

Dave Arneson's Blackmoor campaign was notable for its science fiction elements, as in The Temple of the Frog.  These were further influenced by John Snider's space exploration campaign, as explained by Greg Svenson in a post on The Comeback Inn:
Historically, by 1973 there was a concurrent Star Empires campaign, run by John Snider, going with an RPG element which we naturally combined with the Blackmoor campaign, making Blackmoor's world part of a star system in the Star Empires campaign (which was almost immediately quarantined due to the loss of several scout ships from two empires, one human and one avian)...
 Greg Svenson, 2010

Star Probe (1975)

Snider would go on to develop the "Star Probe" (1975) and "Star Empires" (1977) games with TSR.  A Star Empires RPG was never published, although may have influenced the "Star Frontiers" RPG (1982) edited by Steve Winter.
John Snider is a resident of the Twin Cities and a member of a large and active group of wargamers there.  This group, the Midwest Military Simulation Association, did much in the testing and refinement of the author's work.  As of this writing they are still engaged in a campaign, currently in a stage of imperial expansion, with one lost vessel from an avian race having had the misfortune of somehow arriving at the world of "Blackmoor" (and promptly losing all to an angry wizard whom they foolishly disturbed)!
Gary Gygax, from the Forward to "Star Probe" (Sept 1, 1974)

In Judges Guild's "First Fantasy Campaign" (1977), Arneson mentions an ill-fated expedition to "the City of the Gods", in a desert on the Outdoor Survival map, during which several characters were lost (see Into the Great Outdoors).

Possible location for the City of the Gods on the Outdoor Survival map "in the Desert south of Monson's old place".

The City of the Gods was apparently inspired by models of the Space Needle, constructed for the Seattle World's Fair, according to Arneson in a thread from the OD&D Discussion forums, here.  Arneson possibly used these to construct a futuristic city on his gaming table.

Vintage 1960's Seattle World's Fair "Space Needle" Plastic Toy Model Tower.  Image from WorthPoint website.

When Arneson moved to Lake Geneva in early 1976, joining TSR as Research Director, he ran a game for Gary Gygax and Robert Kuntz at the Dungeon Hobby Shop, in which their famous characters Mordenkinen and Robilar explored the City of the Gods.

The details of this expedition are recounted in Oerth Journal #6 (Nov 1997), along with comments by Arneson, and an afterword by Kuntz.  A copy is downloadable at the Oerth Journal home page, here.  The tower that Robilar explored may have been the Space Needle.

Arneson's session was notable in that it represented a shared continuity between the first three D&D campaigns: Arneson's Blackmoor, Gygax's Greyhawk (in which Robilar had adventured), and Kuntz's El Raja Key (in which Mordenkinen had adventured).

The Judges Guild's "First Fantasy Campaign" Map (1977) in relation to the DA3 "City of the Gods" map (1987).  Note the similarity between the southern border of the Judges Guild's map and the northern border of the Valley of the Ancients from the DA3 map.

The area known as the Valley of the Ancients first appeared in relation to Blackmoor along the southern border of the First Fantasy Campaign map, in reference to area 1.3 from Judges Guild's Wilderlands of High Fantasy campaign setting.

The BECMI version of this adventure, credited to Arneson and David Ritchie, was published in 1987.  Arneson stated that the module was mostly written by Ritchie, here.  It may have been Ritchie's idea to turn the City of the Gods into a crashed space ship.

The d20 version, written by Harley Stroh, was published by Zeitgeist Games in 2008, representing the most recent version of Arneson's original city.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

The Strategic Review #5

"The Strategic Review" served as "the newsletter of Tactical Studies Rules" and covered topics in military miniatures, games, and swords & sorcery.  Vol. 1, No. 5 (December, 1975) was released in November, 1975 (16 pages).

The editor is listed as Timothy J. Kask, the AFV editor as Mike Reese, and the contributing S&S editor as Steve Marsh.

The Strategic Review #5 (December, 1975).  Cover illustration by Greg Bell.

In The Cauldron:

A column by Tim Kask, formerly "TSR News".  Among the various updates:
Also a little in the future is an EPT-based game on the order of DUNGEON!.  However, the similarity is merely superficial.  It is a really promising game in its own right, played on a beautiful board.
This board game, named "Quest!", was developed, but never published.  I got a chance to play it at Gary Con XI in 2019.  The session was hosted by the game's designer, Bill Hoyt.

Quest!  The Underworld of Tekumel, at Gary Con XI in Lake Geneva, March 2019.  Photograph from the Legends of Wargaming Facebook page. 

I found the game really enjoyable, in the spirit of David Megarry's "Dungeon!", but with creatures from the underworld of Tekumel.

Cover art for the Quest board game, courtesy of Paul Stormberg, with thanks to Bill Hoyt.

Also included in this issue were short biographies of E. Gary Gygax, Brian J. Blume, Robert J. Kuntz, Theron O. Kuntz, and Timothy J. Kask.

Sturmgeshutz and Sorcery:

The orders of battle, situation analysis, and objectives for a confrontation between a German SS Patrol and The Servants of The Gatherer, along with a detailed summary and game analysis, from a mixed Tractics/D&D session, originally mentioned in The Strategic Review #3.

Sturmgeshutz and Sorcery, from The Strategic Review #5.  Illustration by Greg Bell.

The Gatherer, an Evil High Priest (12th level, with +2 armor & shield, snake staff), could easily be repurposed to serve as an OD&D castle wilderness encounter.  His lieutenants are Grustiven the Warlock (8th level magic-user) and the Lama Goocz (7th level cleric).

The Servants of The Gatherer include:
1 Hero (4th level, with +1 armor & shield, +3 sword)
1 Hero (4th level, with +1 armor & shield, +1 spear)
1 Magician (6th level magic-user)
2 mummies
3 ogres
3 ghouls
4 trolls
19 orcs:
4 with axes
6 with swords
6 with spears
3 with bows (51 normal arrows & 9 magic arrows)
1 insectoid pet (equal to Giant Scorpion)
The EHP also commands a force of 200 orcs, led by his "strongest fighters", who are elsewhere at the time of this encounter, warring against a Neutral Lord who insulted him.

Mapping the Dungeons:

More information about a proposed fan-based supplement, originally mentioned in The Strategic Review #4:
We have been kicking around the idea of a readers/players supplement, composed of material submitted to us.  We get stacks of stuff every week from players, and a good deal of it is quite good.  Well, it is impossible to print every bit of it in SR.  We just don't have the space.  And we certainly don't want to discourage future submissions.  So we thought we would select the best material received and print it along with the items printed in SR in a supplement.  Everyone that has a piece printed will have it credited to them, and receive two copies of the supplement as payment.  (The reason for including stuff from SR is that it wouldn't be fair to the already printed authors, because their stuff is definitely good material, and no one gets paid anything more than an extra copy for items used in SR, excepting the pride of seeing their name in print.)  How about a supplement of nothing but magic?  (Spells-only, or items only, or somewhere between?)  Or how about a book of Artifacts and Relics?
Supplement III: Eldritch Wizardry, included a new character class (the druid) contributed by Dennis Sustare, but no material previously appearing in The Strategic Review.  There was, however, a section on Artifacts and Relics.
Another idea in the pot is geomorphic dungeon maps.  Let us know what you think of these, and feel free to make additional suggestions.  We want to publish what you want most.
Dungeon Geomorphs Set One: Basic Dungeons, designed by Gary Gygax, was released the following year.  It was followed by Set Two: Caves & Caverns, and Set Three: Lower Dungeons, both published in 1977.  All were in the style of his maps for Greyhawk Castle.

Mighty Magic Miscellany:

Robe of Scintillating Color:
I looked then and saw that his robes, which had seemed white, were not so, but were woven of all colours, and if he moved they shimmered and changed hue so that the eye was bewildered.
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

This magic item, with its ability to bedazzle and hypnotize, was presumably inspired by the robes of Saruman of Many Colours.

Prayer Beads:

Several types are described, including Beads of Atonement, Beads of Response, Beads of Damnation, Beads of Karma, Beads of Succor, and Beads of Hindrance.

Wargaming World:
We've heard about a D&D Con on the West coast, but we're a little upset at the advertising he sponsors used.  They claimed that Fritz Leiber was going to be there with "his" dungeon, but when we asked him, he said it was untrue.  Hope none of our loyal D&D fans are duped, so verify before you go, and spare yourself some disappointment.
A brief history of DunDraCon* by Steven Perrin, sets the story straight, here.

*DunDraCon I (Mar, 1976) is where the Bay Area "Perrin Conventions" were introduced.

Creature Features:


Based on the rakshasa of Hindu mythology.  Gygax was inspired to create statistics for this creature after watching Horror in the Heights, an episode of "Kolchak: The Night Stalker" (1974-75), according to this En World Thread in July, 2005.

The Slithering Tracker:

Slithering tracker.  Illustration by Bill Willingham.

A nasty creature, able to kill adventurers in their sleep, unless a save vs. paralysis is made.  With only a 5% chance of spotting its transparent body, this can even happen with somebody on watch.  The illustration above was originally posted on Zenopus Archives in March, 2012

The Trapper:

Gygax confirmed that both the Trapper and the Lurker Above were inspired by the Ngóro (“the Whelk”) and the Biridlú (“the Mantle”) respectively, creatures from M.A.R. Barker's "Empire of the Petal Throne", in this En World Thread in October, 2007.

Saturday, April 4, 2020

The Strategic Review #4

"The Strategic Review" served as "the newsletter of Tactical Studies Rules" and covered topics in military miniatures, games, and swords & sorcery.  Vol. 1, No. 4 (Winter, 1975) was released in October, 1975 (12 pages).

The editor is listed as E. Gary Gygax, the associate editor as Brian Blume, and the AFV editor as Mike Reese.

TSR News:

Mention is made of new TSR staff members Tim Kask (joining as periodicals editor, starting with the next issue of The Strategic Review), Terry Kuntz (joining as service manager, at work on a "Robin Hood" game, and responsible for rules queries), and Dave Arneson.

Mapping the Dungeons:

The Hyborian Age equivalents of the MiniFigs "Swords & Sorcery" range are listed ("Nordscand" = Vanaheim, Asgard, Hyperborea; "Southland Grasslands Kingdom" = Shem (and possibly Koth); "Bleaklands" = Cimmeria; etc.)

Regarding D&D fan material:
We are also seriously considering the production of a D&D supplement authored by "DUNGEONS & DRAGONS ENTHUSIASTS EVERYWHERE", edited by Gygax, Arneson, and possible Kuntz also, for that will be a big job.  Each contribution would be credited to the appropriate author, and contributors would receive several free copies of the booklet.
It's interesting to speculate what such a supplement might have contained.  New character classes (such as the ranger, the illusionist, and the bard) were originally contributed by fans.  Future material would appear as "D&D variants" in The Dragon.

Finally, there is an announcement regarding DunDraCon I (Feb 27-29, 1976) and a listing of several D&D oriented fanzines, including Alarums & Excursions and Great Plains Game Players Newsletter, as well as a Dungeonmaster Listing with early notable game designers.

Castle & Crusade:

A brief article by Gygax, titled "A few more words on medieval pole arms" is included, adding to the previous article on pole arms, published in The Strategic Review #2.  Examples of military forks and holy water sprinklers are given.

*see also "The Nomenclature of Pole Arms" by Gygax in The Dragon #22 (Feb, 1979).

There is also a brief section on Chainmail Weapons Additions, based on material submitted by Steve Marsh concerning Japanese Jo sticks and Bo sticks.  Gygax provides Chainmail statistics for these in comparison to the quarterstaff.


The illusionist was introduced as a character class in SR#4, in an article contributed by Peter Aronson.  For a fascinating look at the evolution of this sub-class, see "The Complete OD&D Illusionist" on Jon Peterson's blog "Playing at the World" in March, 2019.

Tsolyani Names Without Tears:

Empire of the Petal Throne debuted at Gen Con VIII, in August, 1975.  Professor M.A.R. Barker's article in SR#4 examining names in the Tsolyani language reflects the incredible depth of Barker's imaginative world of Tekumel.

Creature Feature: Clay Golem

Clay Golem, from the AD&D 1e Monster Manual (1977).  Illustration by David Sutherland.

Whereas golems (flesh, stone, iron) in the Greyhawk supplement are created by ultra-powerful (or ultra-knowledgeable) magic-users, clay golems are instead created by lawful clerics (15th level or above), and possess the abilities of a 12 HD earth elemental.

Kask discussed the horror film "It!" (1967) as the source of inspiration for the clay golem, in a post on Dragonsfoot in May, 2010.  The creature in the movie was revealed to be the legendary Golem of Prague, from Jewish folklore.

A similar creature named The Golem, which drew supernatural power from the earth, was published by Marvel Comics, in "The Golem: The Thing That Walks Like a Man", a story arc starting in Strange Tales #174 (June, 1974).

Mighty Magic Miscellany: IOUN Stones

Based on the enigmatic, swirling IOUN stones from the short story "Morreion" by Jack Vance, published in Flashing Swords #1 (Dell, 1973).  Permission was granted by Vance to include the stones as magic items in the D&D game.