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.

Rules

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.

Comments

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.

The Principality of Naerie Gazetteer 599 CY 1.2

Back in 2009, when the Living Greyhawk campaign had ended, I edited the final gazetteer for the Principality of Naerie, a sum total of all the stories we had told and the adventures we’d had, and the ways they had shaped the land and its people. It presented the Principality at the end of the campaign, with former player characters slipping into NPC roles and the results of our final scenarios inserted into the lore.

However, there were still a bunch of city gazetteers, mostly written by Sampo Haarlaa, which had only been published as module appendices, plus a bunch of stuff in the old Principality of Naerie Metagame Book, that was still cool but wasn’t really available and even when it was, it was spread here and there. I always had the idea that I should put them in and do one final release.

So here you go. Now complete with town gazetteers and oddball prestige class restrictions I am pretty sure were mostly rooted in the Triad’s perception that they were broken. Which they probably were.

D&D and Timelines

As a word of warning, this article is a work of highly pedantic nerdery to a degree that I feel such a warning necessary on a role-playing game blog. It is also of questionable use.

I have always been fascinated by the idea of the living campaign world, a place where things happen independent of the player characters, where history moves on even when there’s no party of adventurers to witness it. The 90s AD&D scene feeds right into this: Forgotten Realms, Dragonlance, Greyhawk, and all the other campaign settings occur in the same multiverse, connected by the Spelljammer and Planescape settings, and brought together in its own way by Ravenloft.

The potential of crossovers raises the inevitable question of timeline correspondence. Where do the timelines cross? The major settings were heavy with metaplot, none so much as Forgotten Realms, and to a certain mindset, it’s relevant to know what’s going on in Waterdeep when the party of kender steps through the portal.

One reason this is such an interesting thing to study is that as far as I can tell, the designers and developers at the time did not coordinate for this and what little data can be harvested from the gazillion sourcebooks of the AD&D era is often vague and contradictory. The work of assembling a coherent canon is an exercise in cherrypicking your sources. I, for instance, choose to ignore anything in Ravenloft that would contradict other stuff because the Demiplane of Dread plays fast and loose with time anyway. However, others have trod this ground before me, such as Paul Westermeyer, whose Spelljammer Timeline research I use as a base for my own study. There’s also a timeline converter app largely based on it, though I have one quibble with it. I’ll come back to that.

We can pretty reliably state that Dragonlance’s 358 Alt Cataclius corresponds to Forgotten Realms’ 1361 Dalereckoning through the Spelljammer novels Beyond the Moons and Into the VoidBeyond the Moons is mentioned to occur about five years after the War of the Lance, and Into the Void, according to Dragon #196 article “Novel Ideas”, is set in 1361 DR. The novels follow one another and are set within a relatively short span of time.

Greyhawk can be connected to that through the first Wizards Three article in Dragon #185, “Magic in the Evening”, which describes the meeting of Dalamar, Elminster and Mordenkainen in Ed Greenwood’s living room. It’s set right after the events of the Forgotten Realms novel The Parched Sea and before the Greyhawk adventure Vecna Lives, set in 1360 DR according to “Novel Ideas”, and Common Year 581 according to Adventure Begins, respectively.

As a side note, though there is no point of connection between the world of Warhammer and Forgotten Realms, I do seem to have notes from around 2002 about a character who crossed over from a D&D campaign I ran in Old World to another campaign that took place in the Forgotten Realms

There are also points of connection for Birthright, Dark Sun, and Planescape out there, but they’re less relevant because the metaplot is not nearly as strong in those. Same for Mystara, though the points of connection are tenuous. Eberron is floating free to my knowledge. I may someday trawl the material for that, but for the time being, it’s less interesting to me.

What is interesting to me is, of course, Golarion. Of course, as the setting of Pathfinder RPG, it’s not an official D&D setting. However, it shares an interpretation of the same cosmology and the points of connection exist and are clearer than those of many AD&D settings with one another.

This ties in with my quibble above. The converter application ties the timelines of Earth and Mystara with the note “This vague link is provided by the official TSR document “Chronomancy and the Multiverse,” which placed Diane de Moriamis’ home time in around the year 1600.” However, what the document actually says is “Averoigne could be part of a magical Europe around A.D. 1600 in HR4 A Mighty Fortress, and this wizardess could be met at various times through Earth’s history prior to her move to the world of Mystara.” That’s a lot of “could”, especially for a time traveller. We also could disregard it and take a closer look at how Greyhawk and Forgotten Realms tie together – in Ed Greenwood’s living room, clearly meant to be in the present day at the time of writing, 1992. I thus posit that the Earth equivalent year to 1361 DR is 1992 Current Era.

From here, it’s just a skip and a hop to Golarion. The Reign of Winter adventure path happens in the year 4713 AR, the year when Queen Elvanna should be stepping down from her throne in Irrisen. Its fifth adventure, Rasputin Must Die! takes place in Siberia, in 1918. This is explicitly reinforced in the foreword to the fifth adventure of Strange Aeons, What Grows Within, which was released to subscribers while I was writing this post, where James Jacobs states “After all, if you do the math that we’ve established, the implied year that Strange Aeons begins in (4716 AR) does in fact correspond to the year of 1921 here on Earth…” Therefore, Golarion’s 4713 AR = Earth’s 1918 CE = Dragonlance’s 286 AC = Forgotten Realms’ 1289 DR = Greyhawk’s CY 509.

This does set Golarion very far from the “current eras” of most of the other settings – a good sixty years before the War of the Lance kicks off, Drizzt Do’Urden isn’t going to be born for another decade, and Oerth is going through the era of relative peace just after Iuz the Evil has been imprisoned by Zagyg the Mad. Back in AD&D, they were all happening more or less at the same time.

Then, the current year in Forgotten Realms is sometime in the late 1400’s by now, the newest timeline for Dragonlance I have ends at 419 AC, and Greyhawk only goes up to CY 598, when the Living Greyhawk campaign ended. Oh well.

Meanwhile, I do see the rationale for making the corresponding point in Earth’s timeline in 1600. Early Modern Era is roughly the level of the most advanced technology in Forgotten Realms. However, the game also has a history of bringing characters from strange places to the then-modern Earth. In Dragon #100, we can find the adventure “The City Beyond the Gate”, which takes a party of adventurers from Oerth to London circa 1985 to hunt down the Mace of St. Cuthbert. The D&D adventure Immortal Storm is set in 1980’s New York City. The Wizards Three meet not in a medieval castle but a Canadian librarian’s living room. It’s the crossover where D&D meets urban fantasy, where the high-level adventurer gets to be a fish out of water in the face of firearms. It’s where things get weird. London in 1600 is just a smaller Waterdeep, but London in 1985 is unfathomable.

Also, you know what is in 1918? The first entry in the timeline for Masks of Nyarlathotep, that’s what.

masksrajattu

RPG Blog Carnival: Things to Love, Things to Hate – Giant Space Hamsters and Eclipse Phase

There’s a blog carnival going on at Nevermet Press, on the topic of things that we love and hate. They’ve even conveniently limited it to RPG products, which works well for me.

As long-time readers know, I’m very good at hating things, especially 4E. I decided that this time, I’d direct my considerable powers of derision towards something else, especially since nobody has sent me any new 4E books to detest. I hear they’ll be going for cheap soon, though.

But then, I’m not in this hobby because I hate everything in it. There are great things in it, beautiful things, things that I love and things that inspire me to create, and to rave about how awesome this thing here is. There are many books and product lines in the hobby that I absolutely adore. I’ve written on a number of them, but there’s a conspicuous omission in my oeuvre, especially considering the subheading of my blog.

Hamster, Giant Space

D&D’s been around for a long time, and been blessed with circumstances that have allowed prodigious amounts of content to be produced. When you have a corpus of over a thousand volumes, there’s room for some pretty weird stuff. A lot of this weird stuff accumulated into theSpelljammer setting, which essentially gives astrophysics the finger and goes with a grab-bag of the coolest misconceptions we’ve had of the makeup of the universe to take D&D to the stars.

(That’s probably the subject of a blog post all on its own – the astronomy of Spelljammer, much like the Cant of Planescape, isn’t just random stuff that they made up. They based it all on something. But I digress.)

Anyway, like all AD&D settings back then, Spelljammer received its own entries in the Monstrous Compendium series. It was still the early years after the release of Monstrous Compendium I, which was packed into a three-ring binder. The idea was that you could use the binder to put in all the other Monstrous Compendium entries and sort them alphabetically, for one, ginormous binder full of things to challenge your players. There are also some loose monster pages in boxed sets from this era. I really have no idea how it worked in practice – I came to the game just a few years too late for it and own only a few of loose-leaf Monstrous Compendiums. There were two of these collections for Spelljammer, both annoyingly titles Monstrous Compendium: Spelljammer Appendix. They’re MC7 and MC9 (MC8, in case you’re interested, is the Outer Planes Appendix).

The first one of these includes stats for one of my favourite creatures in all of D&D, the giant space hamster.

It’s pretty much what the name says, a really, really big hamster. Unlike your average D&D giant rodent, which is gonna be the size of a big dog at best (such as the dire rat), the giant space hamster isn’t called “giant” for nothing – the common breed grows to the size of a brown bear. Of course, they were originally bred by the tinker gnomes of the Dragonlance setting, and lemme tell ya, their biological creations work no better than their technological ones. I quote, from MC7 Monstrous Compendium Spelljammer Appendix, released by TSR in 1990:

Possibly the worst aspect of the giant space hamster (aside from its ludicrous existence) is that enchanted substances from numerous other sorts of nonhuman monsters can be introduced into its reproductive processes, producing unbelievable (except to a gnome) new sorts of giant space hamsters. Some gnomish communities deliberately breed unique subspecies in competition with other communities to produce the most interesting varieties. Usually, the results are more or less like the normal sort of giant space hamster, such as the wooly, mottled, ochre, Oriental, Occidental, chartreuse, spotted, not-quite-so-spotted, only-a-little-spotted, plaid, cave-dwelling, three-toed, lesser, greater, greater lesser, lesser greater, albino, and flightless giant space hamsters.

It makes no sense. It’s absurd humour, out of nowhere, and it’s hilarious. According to 30 Years of Adventure: A Celebration of Dungeons & Dragons, the coffee-table book WotC released in 2004, it originated when Jim Holloway was drawing spelljamming vessels, and came up with the gnomish sidewheeler, which has these huge paddlewheels on the sides. Jeff Grubb, noting that there’s nothing for them to churn in the void of space, declared loudly that they must be giant hamsterwheels. Roger E. Moore overheard this, and the rest is history.

MC7 supplies us with stats for other funky variations of the giant space hamster, such as the carnivorous flying giant space hamster (“a regrettable if understandable line of inquiry”), the two-headed lernaean bombardier giant space hamster, the fire-breathing phase doppleganger giant space hamster, the great horned giant space hamster, the abominable giant space hamster, tyrannohamsterus rex, and the fearsome giant space hamster of ill omen, also called Woolly Rupert.

The giant space hamster has since made appearances elsewhere, and most gamers of today will most likely remember it from the Baldur’s Gate games, where the berserker Minsc has a miniature giant space hamster called Boo as a pet. It was also recently updated to Pathfinder RPG in Frog God Games’ Tome of Horrors Complete, a work of such weight that while its contents will kill your character, the book itself can be very easily used to kill you.

To me, the giant space hamster is a reminder that there’s room for humour in everything. While I do take games very seriously indeed, it’s good to remember that nothing should be taken allthat seriously.

And now, for something to hate… hard one, especially if I lay off 4E. Let’s try something, though.

Eclipse Phase

There’s a surprise for you. Actually, I don’t hate Eclipse Phase. I kinda like it. Its setting is a beautiful distillation of all the greatest works of transhumanist science fiction. Its recommended reading page alone has yielded me countless of hours of enjoyment in the discovery of new authors. The art is magnificent, the PDF copies take advantage of the format in ways I’ve only seen Lamentations of the Flame Princess’s last two releases do, and the Creative Commons licence and innovative, courageous distribution model is make it a thing of the future in not just content but in fact. I want to love the game. I just can’t.

It’s the system. Though on the surface, the game appears slick, cool, and modern, under the hood it’s straight out the 1980’s. There are percentiles and endless tables and charts and they are making my eyes bleed. The character generation system has you allocating a hundred points in a hundred different places on a sheet that looks like it was vomited forth by Excel after a night of heavy drinking. It’s MERP all over again, the game I started with but could never learn. There are just too many fiddly bits and moving parts, and subsystems. The character generation looks especially daunting. They’ve put up a heroic effort to try and explain the system in the quickstart adventure Don’t Mind the WMD, but I just can’t bring myself to study the system with the dedication it would require.

So, that’s me and Eclipse Phase. I want to love it, but I can’t. Sorry, not much hate here. The last post took it all out of me, and it’ll take some time to build up the reservoir.

D&D 5E Announced

So, Wizards of the Coast has done the entirely expected and announced the fifth edition of Dungeons & Dragons, a mere three and a half years after the release of the fourth edition. (Okay, 5E isn’t what they’re calling it – not yet, at least – but until they give us a real name, we’re gonna do the logical thing and call it the edition that comes after the fourth.)

Okay, admittedly, I didn’t believe it was going to be 5E until I saw the announcement. I thought the “big announcement” would be bringing back PDFs or hype for Dungeons & Dragons: Book of Vile Darkness, or something. Turned out that instead, it was vindication.

Because, well, if there’s something we can get out of this, it’s that 4E wasn’t doing very well. It means there was something to those Icv2 reports that Pathfinder RPG was outselling it, after all. Basically, it means I was right or mostly right all along.

Also, the best quote that’s come out of this, thus far:

“4e is broken as a game and business and it needs to go away.” – Scott Rouse, former D&D Brand Manager

It’s not as harsh as it looks when you read it in context, but man, I just want to frame that and put it up on a wall.

But enough of that. There will be time enough for schadenfreude and gravedancing later.

We don’t really have much to go on at this point. What is known is summed up on EN World’s 5e news page. The most interesting and concrete things we have this close to the announcement are that they’ll be taking a page out of the market leader’s book and doing an open playtest, and the statement “The Forgotten Realms has a rich history and we will support all of it. It is for the gamers to decide which time they would enjoy playing in”, which has generally been interpreted to mean that they’ll do a timeline-independent Forgotten Realms. The new game is being designed, among others, by Monte Cook and Bruce Cordell, who aren’t known for half-assing things.

So, it looks like they’re not setting out to fail right out of the game this time around. Will it be enough? Time will tell. For my part, I’m willing to give the game a shot as a player. WotC still has a long way to go before I’ll actually buy anything from them. Besides, I already have Pathfinder RPG and some 200 different D20 books to fulfill all my crunchy D&D needs and Lamentations of the Flame Princess and the D&D Rules Cyclopedia for the old school.

Well, good luck to them. They’re going to need it.