The Most Mystifying Game of All – AD&D Trivia

Sometimes, works of art get forgotten after their own time. They may be rediscovered decades, even centuries later, to face re-evaluation by critics and perhaps be inducted into the canon of classics.

Of course, sometimes the re-evaluation concludes that it’s a dud and deservedly forgotten.

So, which one is the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Trivia Game?

Released in 1991, two years after the release of AD&D’s second edition, it’s what it says on the tin. It comes with 600 question cards organized into five levels (100 per level except 200 for third). First-level questions are usually multiple-choice and easy (one might say “trivial”), while fifth-level questions are often long descriptions of a game situation that then asks the specifics of the rule being applied in the situation. Because the questions are about game rules. They’re specifically drawn from the Player’s Handbook, Dungeon Master Guide, Monstrous Compendium Volume 1 and Monstrous Compendium Volume 2. That was before the 2E hardcover Monstrous Manual, when they were still doing the ring binder experiment with the monster collections.

I do not remember why I own this game. I believe I may have picked it up for a nominal sum at Ropecon some year in the early 2000’s. I had never played this until this past month when I was browsing BoardGameGeek, which unbeknownst to me was bugging (or I looked carelessly) and it showed zero logged plays for this undoubted, unsung masterpiece. I posted about this on Facebook and somewhat surprisingly was met with enough enthusiasm that I scheduled two sessions of the game on Discord.


This is not a board game, strictly speaking, as there is no game board. Every player gets a character – Fighter, Priest, Rogue, Wizard, or Monster. These are only identifiers and have no class abilities. There are two character cards and sets of tokens per class, making this a ten-player game if one can scrounge up sufficient AD&D nerds for such madness. The cards are beautiful. While the art assets are recycled, TSR’s character image bank is a really good place to recycle from. There’s all the big hits, like Larry Elmore, Clyde Caldwell, and Jeff Easley, plus the then-new hotness of Brom, and a rogue from the underrated Robin Wood, who sadly passed earlier this year.

Every character has six tokens. Their tokens are put into a cup – or an Italian bersaglieri fez in our case – and you pick one token blind. That’s the first player, after which the round moves clockwise. The player whose turn it is picks a question level, and the player to their left – their Question Master – draws a question card and reads it. If the player’s answer is wrong, their turn ends and it’s the next player’s turn. If they’re right, it gets interesting. They take the question level’s worth of tokens from the cup. If they’re the other players’ tokens, they take that much damage and the tokens are put on their sheets. The player’s own tokens heal damage. Once all six of a player’s tokens are on their sheet, they’re dead. There is thus an indirect PvP element – you can’t choose who you attack, but attacking is baked into the procedure of play.

The last character alive is the winner. Simple.

Of course, since we were playing via a Discord video call and I had all the question cards, we had to modify the procedure slightly. I asked all the questions and took care of the tokens.


It’s a weird game. The mechanics of it work, and made for nice 30-minute session with three players. It was easy to explain and fast to learn, but there was also a thematic connection with the question levels. I do not feel the player-versus-player element is quite as thematically strong, as to me AD&D is a game of cooperation, but I do get that it’s traditional for there to be one winner. The token system also brings in some interesting complexity and reduces the probability of someone getting eliminated right out the gate. Since damage tokens are removed from the cup, you’re less likely to draw all six of someone’s tokens immediately. The more you have players, the more the probabilities will even out – and all of this just happens and you don’t have to know or think about it. That’s solid design, there.

And then there’s the question cards. 600 cards of game rules. It boggles my mind that anyone thought this was the way to make a trivia game. Here, let me give some examples, one from each level.

What is a hireling?
a. A type of pole weapon
b. A small, scaly creature found in caves
c. An NPC who can be employed by a player character
d. A tool used to scale walls

The bardiche, ranseur, and spetum are all examples of what?
a. Foul creatures from the Outer Planes
b. Polearms
c. Orc spittle
d. Druid spell components

Gragmore the Warrior is attacking an opponent in a barroom brawl. He punches the drunk with his hand, which is equipped with a metal gauntlet. How much damage can Gragmore inflict (not including a Strength bonus)?

Of all the giant-kin, which one has innate magical abilities?

Underwater settings can offer unique opportunities for adventure (ever had a carp nibble your toes)? On the other hand, underwater adventures can pose problems. How far can characters see while exploring a murky lake, 50 feet below the surface?

The first is too easy, really. The second is a bit more difficult but still trivial, especially as one of the options is a clear joke answer. Three I could’ve guessed, four I would’ve guessed wrong, and five I could not even begin to answer. Three, by the way, is an example of how many of the question cards tell a little story to set the stage for the question. I like the idea.

My problem with this is that rules questions age fast and they’re kinda boring. If you do not play this particular edition of the game, you have little to no chance. I played AD&D for years, but that was over 20 years ago. While obviously all trivia games age to some degree – our family copy of an early 1980’s Trivial Pursuit Genus Edition is notorious for the Sports & Leisure category being all but impossible today – I feel this one became obsolete far faster than if it had been, say, Forgotten Realms trivia.

Really, what this feels like is a joke on ruleslawyers that’s gone too far: it’s nothing but rules knowledge without the distraction of story or role-playing.

Answers: 1. c, 2. b, 3. 1d3, 4. firbolg, 5. 10 feet.

Sign of Life

It’s been quiet here, and I apologize. It’s been because my BA thesis dragged me under and for nearly a month I’ve been buried under an avalanche of critical texts about Robert E. Howard and Solomon Kane stories, and the last week was spent pretty much entirely between my four stone walls and working. I finally got a first draft tortured out of my keyboard and mailed off last night, and I now have a couple of days of breathing room before I get told how much it sucks and what I must do to fix it. It ought to be worth it, though. The most popular topic in the pro seminar group seems to be black feminism with a smattering of queer theory, and I just subjected them to roughly 4,500 words on Robert E. Howard, lavishly sprinkled with big quotation blocks from the stories. Aaanyway, this isn’t my LiveJournal. (Also, I would hasten to add that I have nothing against black feminism or queer theory – or blacks, women or homosexuals for that matter – but what we have here is a rather stark contrast.)

The one day within the last week that was not spent working on my thesis was spent proofreading a collection of Danish RPG scenarios that’s coming out soon from the Society for Nordic Roleplaying. I translated an introductory essay for them, from English to Finnish. I do not consider myself at liberty to disclose any details before the Society has done their own announcements, but it will be a big, fat bastard of a book, and contains things weird and beautiful and horrifying.

Interesting things are afoot. The second issue of the International Journal of Role-Playing came out last week. It’s available as a free PDF and contains peer-reviewed, academic papers about RPGs. Really interesting stuff. If you’re into reading academic papers, that is. If not, might be a bit dry.

For the less academically inclined… Fantasy Flight Games has announced a fourth Warhammer 40,000 roleplaying game, Black Crusade. If you thought your Dark Heresy party was a bunch of Nazis and your Rogue Trader crew embodied the worst excesses of British colonialism, here are the real bad guys of the setting. Oh, yes, we will get to play the cultists of Chaos, the disciples of the dark gods! I read Dan Abnett’s Ravenor Trilogy last year and thought the villains were far more interesting than the protagonists of the piece, and will definitely be picking this one up.

Incidentally, for the board game geeks out there, they also announced a second expansion set for Twilight ImperiumShards of the Throne. For those of you not in the know, TI is the king of board games, a galaxy-spanning game of conquest and intrigue. It’s awesome, and tends to take all day. Especially with full eight players.

Another nifty new upcoming thing is the Grindhouse Edition of the Lamentations of the Flame Princess RPG. Though the content is mostly the same as in the box he released and promptly sold out last year, the art is going to be amazing and there will be all kinds of little tweaks. I’ll have to score myself a copy of this, too. He’s also releasing Zak S’s (of the Playing D&D with Porn Stars fame) Vornheim: The Complete City Kit. And a load of other stuff. The man owns my wallet.

No gaming of my own for a while, unfortunately. Both me and the another member of the group have been wrestling with our BA theses. He’s doing his thesis on Iain M. Banks’ The State of the Art and Look to Windward, by the way. I’ve been reading Banks like crazy so I wouldn’t get spoiled. Also, William Gibson for a presentation I have next week for my Anglo-American Science Fiction course. Ah, the sacrifices we must make in the name of education.

Also, Wizards of the Coast released the coolest thing they’ve done in years, the Polearm Quiz. 18/22, and that ain’t luck.

Ropecon is also in the works, and I have something of spectacular awesomeness to announce in a couple of days. Watch this space. Or don’t. If it in any way concerns you, I will make damn sure you know about it.

Gorgeous Blogger

Also, I got tagged with this Gorgeous Blogger thing by Never Play Poker with the GM. It’s a challenge to answer a few questions about my blogging and then tag others. Well, I’m game.

1. When did you start your blog?

As you can see on the right, the archives start in March 2008. The first post to Worlds in a Handful of Dice was on March 24th, which means we just turned three two weeks ago. For some other stats, this is the 151st post on the blog, and I’ve had 74,830 page views.

2. What do you write about in your blog?

Roleplaying games, duh. Mostly I seem to discuss Paizo Publishing and Pathfinder RPG. I also used to take shots at Wizards of the Coast every now and then, but it got old and they haven’t done anything warranting my attention lately. Nowadays I also seem to discuss Nordic larps and RPGs despite not larping. Also, Ropecon and gaming conventions in general. This is probably the only RPG blog on the internet whose chief topics are D&D and art larp. I’ll write about anything RPG-related if it sparks my interest, though.

3. What makes your blog special compared to others?

Momma said I’m special. Well, probably that D&D and art larp thing. Also, this is my blog.

4. What made you start blogging?

I figured my RPG-related posts were starting to bore the nongamers on my LiveJournal, and felt that WordPress would be a better platform for this type of stuff anyway. Of course, there’s also the drive to write that I think afflicts most bloggers, along with a certain exhibitionist tendency and a desire to show off, and a blog serves admirably.

5. What would you like to change in your blog?

The update rate. I haven’t been paying nearly as much attention to this blog as my readers deserve, of late. Also, I was thinking of changing the header image at some point.

Also, I’d like to tag mxyzplk of Geek Related, with whom I notice I agree about pretty much everything except the Solomon Kane film and who’s a fine writer and James Edward Raggi IV of Lamentations of the Flame Princess, with whom I agree even about the Solomon Kane film (though we may differ on Sucker Punch) and who’s a damn fine game designer.

Board Games of Terror

I was supposed to advertise the beginning of the ENnies voting today, but looks like EN World is down (except for the chat room, #enworld on and the ENnies voting is postponed because of technical difficulties. Those seem to be in vogue, with the Gleemax also on the fritz., at least, works fine, if occasionally sluggish.

So, instead, I’ll talk about board games.

I had a board game night with some friends on Sunday. Well, board game day – we started at 13:00 and ended some ten hours later. We have these about one a month, when we gather at a friend’s place, everyone brings games and then we play. Ticket to Ride: Europe is a big favourite, as are the classics like The Settlers of Catan, Samurai, and Puerto Rico (Prime breeding ground for politically incorrect jokes. “Colonists”, indeed…). Then there are longer games that can take most of the day to finish, like Talisman, Arkham Horror, Robo Rally and a personal favourite, Junta, a game that encourages backstabbing, plotting and generally being a bastard. I wouldn’t say that I excel, but I do enjoy. SquareMans has an interesting post on Junta that I think outlines what makes it so awesome.

Then there’s Twilight Imperium, but we don’t play that on board game days. We play that in Twilight Imperium days, because it takes that long. An awesome game, though. My style is too timid to succeed with most races in TI3, but I still love it, because even when playing a losing game, I can still do something. It really takes concentrated effort to completely play someone out of it.

Yesterday, though, I only participated in two games. One of these was a game of Arkham Horror that lasted six hours and ended unresolved because everyone had work in the morning, mostly because we ended up with Hastur, the James May of the Great Old Ones, as our adversary. He’s not dangerous as such, but he immensely slows down the game with the requirement of eight Clue tokens to shut the gates. It didn’t help much that the game box was a brand new one and the cards weren’t shuffled properly.

The main event, however, was before that, in another brand new game box: Terror Bull Games’ War on Terror.

War on Terror is a political satire in the form of a strategy game, ribbing on Dubya’s ill-conceived oil grab and assault on civil liberties. Unlike many other satire and parody games (Star Wreck, Violence), however, War on Terror also works as a game. The mechanics are a pretty decent reflection of how things work (or don’t work) on a macro level. Every player starts as an Empire and the game begins with a big grab for strategic territory and oil.

Every territory on the world map laid out to a stereotypically American view of the world (while I do acknowledge that most Americans I know have a rather better picture of the globe, I in turn expect them to acknowledge that a not insignificant number of their countrymen does not) has an oil counter on it, and oil revenues are distributed according to a system lifted directly from The Settlers of Catan. This is the main way of acquiring money.

The thing about terrorists in the game is that they’re cheap as hell and more effective than real warfare. Pretty much the only way that an Empire player can win is if all the Empire players band together to eradicate terrorism and declare World Peace. If they can’t unite and there’s a terrorist player on board (which there inevitably is when one of the Empires loses all their land), the terrorist will win. (The way Empires win is by collecting “Liberation Points”, awarded for conquering a continent and building cities.)

We very nearly won by World Peace, with me eradicating the single terrorist player by a Terrorist Buyoff card financed with my huge Asian oil reserves. However, Henri, with his inimitable style and base instinct to sow chaos, refused World Peace, sowed the map with terrorist cells, invaded Saudi Arabia, and then turned Terrorist.

Then I nuked Brazil, and things went south from there. The game was finally ended unresolved. During it, we’d nuked China, Brazil, Iran, the US Midwest and Eastern Europe (twice). It’s an interesting thing about South America and Africa in the game – due to how the map is set up, it’s possible to destroy everything on the continent with a single Nuke card (Extreme Liberation!!!). Geographic inequality in action, baby.

Also, the game comes with an Evil Balaclava (a ski mask, not to be confused with baklava, which is a dessert). It’s supposed to be worn by the rogue nation player, determined occasionally by spinning the Axis of Evil wheel.

The gameplay is rather loose and could probably do with a bit of tightening up for it to be better as an actual game. However, the satirical elements and the degree to which the gameplay elements and rules support the flavour and tone of the game are superb.

An excellent game, if one has the sense of humour for it.