Writing D&D Modules, Part One

In 1982 I moved from Knoxville to Evansville (Indiana) and somehow found myself in charge of running two conventions each year, one Science Fiction convention (Contact) and one gaming convention (which was initially unnamed and used to raise money to put on the Science Fiction convention six months later … I eventually named it Glathricon).

I had played in the AD&D open at GenCon and at similar events at GenCon East and other small local gaming conventions, and had become not impressed by how they were run.  Players in groups that were way too large (up to ten players) would go through a series of rounds where they played for less than four hours and had unspecified goals that resulted in points that eliminated some of the teams and let others move on to the next round.

After seeing how the Open ran, it became clear to me that the most efficient way to run it was to have one and only one player at the table talking to the GM while the rest of the party would make suggestions on what the party should do (thus eliminating the problems that could arise from splitting up the party or taking conflicting actions).  This might have made for efficient rounds, but was nothing like playing at home in your own campaign.

I reached my limit with the Open when an event asked players to travel through the desert to another town or Oasis.  Along the way there was a tent off to the side of the road, and following the second rule of dungeons (“Never lose sight of your objective”) a smart party would simply ignore it and keep going.  And they would get no points at all and be done in ten minutes because the entire first round was waiting inside that tent.

Fortunately another type of event started to show up at GenCon.  The Role Playing Gamers Association was formed in 1980, and I was an early member (number 223), but it initially didn’t do anything different with tournaments at conventions.  An early attempt at building up experience points for players was to give them points for playing, for not dying, for killing monsters, and possibly a zillion other things (I’ll have to pick through boxes of stuff to find the exact rules).  That was very complicated, there was no system for collecting and tracking data, and worst of all the system was based on playing in events like the AD&D Open.

Fortunately, a better idea came along.  So here are the early Bee Gees singing about an Idea in a 1968 video:

How Much Does No Cheese Cost?

This blog entry is now included as a part of Resisting the Challenges of the 21st Century

As a kid, I used to love grilled cheese sandwiches. Nowadays, people can argue endlessly about the poor health that results from frying gobs of cheese in white bread covered with blobs of butter, and perhaps it was the heaping helping of fat that made them so attractive. Somewhere in my teens, however, dairy became a problem: if I ate butter, my tummy would start to hurt. I can still eat cheese, but as often as not, I will gag and possibly even throw up. Mercifully, eating ice cream was not too bad, but I rapidly developed a taste for Slurpees instead (a Slurpee was the 7-Eleven equivalent of the Icees that were common in the rest of the country). It was not long before even whole milk was a problem. If I eat cold cereal now, I tend to use 1% milk on it to minimize the misery that is probably coming later, but I tend to eat oatmeal and Cream of Wheat instead.

So it probably isn’t a real surprise that I do not eat cheeseburgers. Or pizza. Or a lot of other foods most people consider to be staples of their diets. I even used to fight with my mother over getting toast that didn’t have butter on it since she insisted that not putting butter on one of the pieces of toast that got cooked in the oven was a lot of extra work. It turns out my mother was not the only one who sees leaving something out as a problem; all my life, I have fought with fast food places over how I wanted my burger prepared.

Burger King made a big deal out of competing with McDonald’s with the jingle, “Have it your way” since their burgers were put together on demand rather than being mass produced to be identical, but even that was a problem. Burger King used to pre-assemble their burgers by broiling the burger and putting it inside a bun with pickles and dropping that into a steaming heating bin. Since I was also not a big fan of pickles, I used to have to order a Whopper with lettuce and tomato ONLY that never had pickles on it, after which I had to watch the staff like a hawk make sure my meal get assembled properly.

I could stand a mild taste of pickles even though I did not like it, but my stomach did not want anything to do with cheese on a burger. Ordering a Big Mac with onions only and no cheese was not an easy task, and I had to all but climb over the counter sometimes to get it done right (but I did get very good at adding “and no cheese” to all my orders).

Two years ago, perhaps in an effort to boost income, Wendy’s restaurants in our area made a nasty change: a single automatically became a single with cheese. After successfully getting singles with no cheese a few times, I noticed something evil: since a single without cheese was no longer on the menu, I had to pay for cheese I was not getting, adding what was, to me, a significant expense to an already expensive burger. Complaints did not help: the staff could not (or would not) argue with the computer that ran their registers, so I simply stopped eating at Wendy’s (although I do get spicy chicken sandwiches from time to time when I have a coupon for buy one, get one free).

But then I had a far worse experience at Rally’s. On the way to work, I noticed big posters outside the restaurant that proclaimed Rally burgers with cheese were only a dollar. I parked the car, walked up to the order window, and ordered two Rally burgers with lettuce and tomato only and no cheese. I was all set to pay when the bored employee asked me for over three dollars. In confusion, I looked around and asked if they were still on sale. The woman at the window told me that only the burgers with cheese were on sale—a Rally burger without cheese was $1.49. She even refused to hit the cheeseburger button on the register and simply turn to tell the other employee who was making the burgers to leave off the cheese.

For a moment, I was ready to channel Jack Nicholson in Five Easy Pieces. In the film, he tried to order toast in a restaurant, and the waitress insisted that it was not on the menu, so he could not order toast. Eventually, he ordered a chicken salad sandwich on wheat toast. No butter, no lettuce, no mayo. Moreover, when the inflexible waitress started to walk away, Jack also told her to hold the chicken salad. Poof! Toast. It did not end well—you can watch the clip here.

I find it easy to believe that pieces and parts of that scene were based on multiple actual events. There was no table for me to clear, so I decided that I would leave before I got thrown out, and I probably won’t return to Rally’s in the near future. Taking them off my list of potential food sources is too bad because their store is located in the parking lot of the same strip center as our store. I really, really hate paying somebody for less work or fewer ingredients, so they now have one less potential customer.

Somehow, this poor level of customer service seems like a good place to bring in the Rolling Stones to bemoan the poor level of customer service we face almost daily.

Cutting the Cord, Part Two

Yesterday we cut the cord – sadly, it was a physical cut caused by a storm.  A large tree in our front yard got knocked over, taking out our street light, our mailbox, and the cable line that came to our house.  Can’t get out of our driveway, and no cable, no phone, no internet – it’s as primitive as can be.

Fortunately the tree missed the power lines, so we still had electricity and water, but not a lot of time for blogging.  Bevie and Keith did all the work, and here’s what the tree looked like after a long, long day:

Part three will be here tomorrow; in the meantime, we’re chopping wood, so here’s Monty Python to get us into the mood to turn that tree into firewood!

…Then Say Nothing At All

If you look at the covers of comic books of today, they are different from comics of the past in a lot of ways (higher prices, fewer pages of stories, more adult themes), but one thing stands out: the covers don’t have word balloons.  Evil villains aren’t calling out the heroes or threatening to rob the bank or blow up a building or rule the world, the pictures say it all.  Well, almost all since we still have story titles and maybe a mention of what multi-part crossover the comic is a part of, but almost no word balloons.

Glancing at the covers of the comics from the last month on our wall I could only spot one comic from Marvel or DC that had a word balloon on it, and that was an issue where a monster bellowed out, “You want some’a this, Santa?!” as he tried to squeeze the life out of Flash.

Comics release on Wednesdays each week, but good little comic stores that have been following the rules (and paying an extra $4 a week) get their comics on Tuesdays so they have time to sort and pull the comics (and it’s entirely possible that *ahem* some of us may also have the time to do some “research” into the weekly stories).  I separate the comics by title and put them into bags and boards (possibly after “researching” the titles that beg to be read) and I couldn’t help but notice that at least three DC titles, one DC variant cover, and one Marvel cover all had word balloons on them.

Huh?

Not counting urging us to buy bonds or support the war efforts, fewer than a half-dozen Batman comics had word balloons on the cover in the first 65 or so issues, after which somebody decided readers needed to have “talkies.”  I vividly remembered lots of word balloons in DC comics of the fifties and late sixties, but some quick browsing revealed that when Marvel started publishing superhero comics again in the early sixties they didn’t use word balloons very much, just like in the 1940s.  What was noticeable about the silver age Marvel comics of the middle sixties was how awesome they looked without a word balloon screaming, “If I don’t stop that monster, the entire lake will go dry!”  Fantastic Four comics from issue 21 to 98 and Spider-Man covers from 8 to 85 and X-Men covers from 1 to 64 had no word balloons at all.  Sure, there were lots of boxes screaming things like “Face Front, True Believers!” and “The Inhumans Are Coming To Dinner!” but as often as not there was just artwork telling us a story.

Sure, a few of the Flash comics in 1959 were balloon-less, but on the whole Batman and Superman and the JLA all had villains or sidekicks to talk to…and sometimes Batman and Flash spoke directly to the reader (don’t let anybody tell you Deadpool started that!)  Perhaps as a result of Marvel’s success, DC word balloons became scare in the middle sixties, but by the end of the decade there were word balloons everywhere again, and they ruled the roost for years.  And then…comics were wordless again.  The last time anybody had something to say on the cover of a Batman issue was #398, back in 1986.  Apparently companies had rediscovered the power of a well-drawn cover.

So are the few covers with word balloons this week a hint of things to come, an experiment to see if they help sales, or simply a coincidence?  Only time will tell.

From superheroes to a supergroup – here’s Asia drawing the same conclusion: