24 September, 2010

He's Modulating! Help Him!!

The other day I mentioned my interest in exploring some of the classic old-school modules for D&D. When I first started playing, or DM'ing rather, we dove right into B2, Keep on the Borderlands. Between a myriad of activities, roleplaying and adventures at the Keep itself, plus our explorations of the Caves of Chaos, it took us a really long time to exhaust B2's possibilities. In fact, if I remember right, the group never did actually finish exploring the cave complex, instead heading off to explore other things in the world.

After we had been playing for a while, there was definitely a desire from other players to have a chance at being the DM. One of my friends picked up a copy of Palace of the Silver Princess, so our little group headed off across the map to where that was. We didn't even consider rolling up all new characters for his game, since we had characters for the game. He had asked me some advice so that he could tie back into something that had happened in the Keep, so we talked over a little connecting thread. Unfortunately, I had forgotten about it, and combined with his ingenious way of introducing it, I totally didn't see it coming. The result? I blurted out the answer as soon as I 'figured it out,' only to realise I'd just given away everything he'd asked me to keep quiet. Smooth.

When I got back into rpg's near the end of the 80s, the group I started playing with was of the decided opinion that although modules might have their place, a real DM wrote his own material. I and others ran several separate groups, all populated by the same pool of friends. For one of my groups, I pulled out my old copy of B2 again, but entirely re-designed it. Kobold tunnels criss-crossed and went up and down in levels. High tunnels ran into low tunnels, with Indy-style mining bridges spanning the gaps. Populations of monsters skyrocketed. The gradual dell now towered canyon walls over the party's heads. And, of course, they got through even less of it than my old group.

Thus, my experience with modules was severely limited. No Slavelords were brought to justice. No giant chiefs were steaded. No green demon heads were fed with hapless henchmen. And we actually felt good about it too. Pssh! Modules.. bah! Those were for DM's who couldn't come up with adventures on their own! The only thing was.. I was curious.

Sure, it had started with included modules. That couldn't be helped.. they came as part of a package. But then I started buying a few.. not many, just a couple. I just wanted to read them. Just for a few ideas, that was all. Once I started though, I couldn't get enough. Soon, I had to have them all! With no internet, it was no easy task to figure out a complete list of every TSR module, let alone 3rd party adventures. But I had to read them, from cover to cover, fondly imagining running the adventure and all the twists and turns it might take, but never daring to actually present them to my group in play. They could never understand!

-> This is the interesting part <-

So what was it about modules that held such a fascination for me? I didn't realise until years later that reading a set of rules laid out by someone doesn't give nearly the view into their imagination that playing one of their adventures does. Whether its Gygax, Moldvay, or anyone else, the rules they've written can start to show you a bit about how they think, how they organise, but only by playing the modules they've done can you really meet the writer.

In trying to get back to the old ways, this is why playing the classic modules is even more important than which set of rules one uses. It's more than just taking a further step into nostalgia (I see nothing wrong with nostalgia, by the way,) it's getting into the true essence of these writers' imaginations. The stage and the theatre can be a wonderful place, but it's the script and the performance that really make the most difference.

Now when I think about what I really want to do in my game, one of the biggest things is to experience all the old classic modules. Not only did I miss the chance to play them until now, depriving my own sense of curiosity and completeness, but I also believe that an experience with the OSR isn't really complete without them. In much the same way, I know that to really enjoy Jim Raggi or any of the other designers of the current era, I can't just use their rules system. I really need to play their adventures.
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