Some months ago I wrote about Advanced Dungeons & Dragons: Cloudy Mountain, the 1982 video game by Mattel for the Intellivision home gaming console, so it only seemed right I also come up with an article about the followup game, 1983’s Advanced Dungeons & Dragons: Treasure of Tarmin.
Right off the bat, Treasure of Tarminis graphically a massively different game than Cloudy Mountain. For one thing, most of the action is in a three-dimensional, first-person view of the various mazes the player’s character must traverse; while this wasn’t the first video game to offer first-person action (that game would be 1972’s Maze War), this viewpoint was rare at the time for video games and, looking back, seems almost an impossibility for the limits of a home console during that era. So, visually, Treasure of Tarmin offered something not quite unique but almost so to the kids sitting at home tapping away on their Intellivision controllers.
More than just graphics, however, Treasure of Tarmin offered a depth and complexity of gameplay that was not common at the time, and again was something not generally thought of as possible for a home console of that period.
To those of us old enough to remember, there is little doubt the king of home video game consoles in the early 1980s was the Atari 2600. However, Atari had stiff competition from Mattel Electronics in the form of the Intellivision. First released to the public in 1979, the Intellivison console was perhaps ahead of its time. The Intellivision didn’t even have a proper joystick, something almost unheard of at the time, but came with controllers that used a directional pad and a numeral keyboard. Also, the Intellivision had far superior graphics to any other consoles available when it first hit stores, and it was the first home system to utilize a 16-bit processor.
More importantly, however, was the fact the Intellivision had some darn good games. One of those games was titled Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. Mattel had received a license to make AD&D video games from TSR Inc., then the owners of all things D&D, and Mattel wasted little time in bringing such games to the public. The first console game, of course, was titled Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, which would be renamed a year later to Advanced Dungeons & Dragons: Cloudy Mountain when a sequel game was released.
Throughout the 1970s and very early 1980s, Simulations Publications, Inc. (SPI) was a company known for its board war games. Then in 1980 it took a stab at the growing popularity of Dungeons & Dragons and other popular tabletop role-playing games. SPI came up with a different style of fantasy RPG known as DragonQuest(DQ), published in a boxed set with multiple books.
Eventually there would be three versions of DQ. SPI published a second edition in 1982 in a single book, but soon after the company was purchased by TSR, the developers of D&D. Eventually in 1989 TSR would produce the final, third edition of DQ, this one also in a single book, but since then they have done next to nothing with the property though they did release a few gaming modules for the system. Fortunately a few other companies also released DQ-related material and to this day there is a somewhat active DQcommunity online. As for the three versions of the game, they are pretty much compatible with few differences between them, especially between the second and third editions.
Created by Eric Goldberg, later known for his role in the publication of the tabletop RPG Paranoiaand numerous other games both at the table and online, DragonQuest separated itself from D&D and its imitators by not focusing so much upon a class system for character creation and advancement. Instead, characters in DQ were mostly based upon growth in skill rankings.
When I began playing Dungeons & Dragons as a teen in the early 1990’s, my initial few games were played in homebrew worlds of the Dungeonmaster’s creation. And, while this has always been a popular part of Dungeons & Dragons, it wasn’t long until I became enamored with the established worlds that were officially sanctioned and supported by setting materials, nor was I the only one. These worlds have been the setting of countless adventures throughout the decades.
For me, the first D&D world I fell in love with was Krynn, the world that is the basis of the Dragonlance storyline. The first trilogy of novels that introduce the world, Chronicles, is a solid adventure, but I could at times almost feel the dice rolling in the background of the combat encounters. The follow-up trilogy, Legends, has a completely different feel, with a much deeper and personal storyline, time travel, complex morality, and an overall that I was surprised to find in novels that were in a tie-in series. I’ve since read some great tie-in literature (see, for example, my reviews of the Pathfinder Tales novels by James L. Sutter, Death’s Heretic and The Redemption Engine), but Legends continues to stand out. And, in terms of adventure, the unusual Dark Sun setting made for some of the most memorable adventures of my teenage years.
These settings were released in AD&D 2nd Edition in the form of setting boxes, with adventures and rulebooks that gave the specific information needed to design characters and campaigns. The current edition of Dungeons & Dragons hasn’t begun releasing similar setting boxes, but they have released supplements spanning a variety of gaming worlds … though not spanning all of their traditional worlds (yet!).
The newest supplement for Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition, Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes (Amazon), continues to provide the high quality of content we’ve come to expect from this series, focusing on quality and story depth over serious escalation of power.
Tome of Foes expands on setting and background information for the main setting, with the bulk of the book being the 137-page Bestiary chapter, containing monsters from across the dimensions, including a variety of duergars and drow templates to a host of Demon Lords and Archdevils. And that’s all just in the D section of the Bestiary, not even account for the constructs, elder elementals, and ample quantities of undead!
While the monsters are great to have, the first half of the book has a lot to offer for the Dungeon Master in terms of depth, as well.
The first chapter gives a wealth of detail on the eternal Blood War between the armies of demons and devils for who gets claim on being more evil. It’s easy to treat demons and devils as villains just there to be killed, but after reading this chapter, you’ll be more inclined to treat them as unique creatures, with their own goals and motivations. I’m looking forward to using this information to build a storyline where my players are stuck between the goals of demonic cults and devil cults, who hate each other nearly as much as they hate the party of adventurers.
Subsequent chapters provide details on the cultures of elves, dwarves, halflings, and gnomes. Information on the Feywild and the Underdark is also provided where appropriate, for those who want to incorporate them more into their campaigns. In addition, a chapter focuses on the endless war between the two gith races, the githyanki and githzerai, who escaped their enslavement from the mind flayers (who are themselves not covered in detail Tome of Foes, but are well covered in the previous Volo’s Guide to Monsters) only to find themselves in a brutal clash against each other.
Around the end of 1981, brothers Kevin and Brian Blume wrested control of TSR away from founder Gary Gygax. The company would change dramatically under their leadership, until Gygax returned from his west coast exile in 1984 and (briefly) reclaimed his company. One ‘Blume Incident’ from 1982 is a pretty good example of the way they did things.
In 1958, Avalon Hill was formed, creating the modern wargaming industry, out of which role playing games grew. In 1969, James Dunnigan created Simulations Publications, Inc. — to be known as SPI — with Redmond Simenson as co-founder. He started the company to save an existing wargaming fanzine, Chris Wagner’s Strategy & Tactics, which was in a precarious financial state. Simenson was the graphic designer for the magazine and a huge part of its success. For the princely sum of $1 (yes, you read that right), SPI took on Strategy and Tactics and made it the industry’s leading newsletter, starting with the September, 1969 issue.
Strategy & Tactics would include a new wargame in every single issue from then through the current one, which is remarkable. With the popularity of the magazine, SPI also became Avalon Hill’s major competitor in the wargaming market and enjoyed great success in the seventies. Things were good. Then, as for JFK, came Dallas. Okay, not quite.
Dunnigan’s Dallas: The Television Roleplaying Game, was a licensed product, intended to cash in on the massively successful show. My first thought is to wonder how many Dallas fans wanted to play an RPG — apparently not many. It was a disaster. Simonsen commented that they produced “80,000 copies and that was 79,999 too many.”
Bill Amend’s Fox Trot is a comic strip that ran daily from 1988 into 2006, then switched to a Sunday-only format. Still around today, it tells the story of the Fox family. Dad Roger is a loveable goober who wishes he was better at golf and chess. Mom Andy is the common sense core of the family unit. Sixteen year old Peter is a wannabe athlete, with fourteen year old Paige a typical teenage girl. And ten year old Jason lives to torment Paige and is a school geek. He’s got a pet iguana named Quincy who acts like, well, an iguana, but can really be the center of a strip.
The dynamics and shifting alliances of the three kids are instantly relatable to anyone who grew up with at least one sibling. as Calvin and Hobbes’ creator Bill Watterson wrote in the introduction to the first collection:
Fox Trot particularly captures the Machiavellian nature of adolescents. The balance of power between Peter, 16, Page, 14 and Jason 10, is a constantly bartered commodity, and alliances are fragile and short-lived. No collusion will survive an opportunity to get a sibling in trouble, and hesitant parents are goaded with the cry of, ‘Punish him! Punish him! Ground him! Ground him!’
Meanwhile, the challenges of parenting and marriage are amply represented by Roger and Andy. It’s one of my all-time favorite strips and with my nine year old son going through all my collections, I’m enjoying the Fox family all over again.
Jason is a Black Gate kid. His interests are all over pop culture: Star Wars, Star Trek, Lord of the Rings, horror (he loves Halloween, to his family’s pain), Christmas lists, Indiana Jones (even Young Indiana Jones) and cultural tropes such as westerns and Sherlock Holmes. Naturally, being a brainy geek, he’s into Dungeons and Dragons, usually playing with his best friend, Marcus. One rainy spring break, Paige found herself lured into playing D&D with Jason.
Back in 3rd EditionD&D, there were five supplements that fell under the ‘Environmental Series’ category (I’d argue it should only be the first three, but I don’t make that decision):
Sandstorm: Mastering the Perils of Fire & Sand (Bruce R. Cordell)
Frostburn: Mastering the Perils of Ice & Snow (Wolfgang Baur)
Stormwrack: Mastering the Perils of Wind and Wave (Richard Baker)
Dungeonscape: An Essential Guide to Dungeon Adventuring (Jason Buhlman)
Cityscape: A Guidebook to Urban Planning (Ari Marmell & C.A. Suleiman)
It’s not uncommon to hear one of those books cited as a favorite by players from that era. They gave Dungeon Masters lots of material to incorporate into their adventures. Necromancer Games (who you read about here, right?) added to the concept with Glades of Death (a wilderness book) and Dead Man’s Chest (sea adventuring).
The concept has been continued by Frog God Games (surely you read this post about them!) for Pathfinder, Swords & Wizardry and 5th Edition D&D under the moniker, Perilous Vistas. Along with an updated Dead Man’s Chest, there have been four releases so far, all written by Tom Knauss:
Dunes of Desolation (Deserts) Fields of Blood (Plains) Marshes of Malice (Wetlands) Mountains of Madness (Mountains)
The fifth installment, Icebound (Frozen Wastes), is in the works!
The general idea is that if the Dungeon Master wants to infuse some atmosphere and environment into the adventure, these supplements provide a myriad of options. Sure, they can just have the party get to the abandoned fort in the desert, or have them uneventfully move through the mountains to the deserted abbey or the monster-infested dwarven hall. Some folks like to just get to the dungeon crawl and start hacking away. That’s fine.
I have previously discussed the great horror-themed supplements that Paizo is putting out for the Pathfinder RPG, but they aren’t alone in this. With the advent of digital publishing and crowdfunding sources like Kickstarter, there’s an array of new, independent publishers who are finding under-served niches in the gaming industry and creating projects to serve them.
One of these current Kickstarters, The Dread House by Hammerdog Games, is currently fully funded and building toward its initial stretch goals. It has some really unique features:
A 128-page hardcover (or digital) adventure/setting book of a haunted house, containing adventures for the Dungeons & Dragons (5e), Pathfinder, and Call of Cthulhu roleplaying games, including multiple possible time periods within these games.
Rules for powerful new creatures, including the Dread Ghost.
Optional Fear, Sanity, and Soul Point rules.
Fictional “ghost stories” written by Kevin Andrew Murphy and Richard Lee Byers.
A set of haunted house tiles, matching the maps within the adventure book.
Sets of room decoration miniatures, including furniture pieces such as beds, bookcases, bathtubs, and, yes, even a couple of privies!
Additions of more adventures, miniatures, and tiles as stretch goals are reached.
Art is a HUGE part of Dungeons and Dragons (D&D). In fact, you can’t separate the amazing illustrations, (from black and white sketches to glorious color panoramas) from the actual playing of D&D. Of course, this applies to other role playing games. Wayne Reynolds’ illustrations were a big draw for me in trying Pathfinder. But there’s a reason I mentioned D&D.
Eye of the Beholder: The Art of Dungeons & Dragons, a documentary by X-Ray Films and Cavegirl Productions, is due out next year. And what a BRILLIANT idea! In addition to featuring artists and their work, it will also include interviews with game designers, authors, insiders and fans.
If this preview doesn’t grab you, I’m not sure you’re a D&D fan. If you read Part One of my history of Necromancer and Frog God Games (you did, didn’t you?), you saw those awesome Necromancer covers. I’ve loved D&D art since I started playing and I even had a puzzle with Larry Elmore’s drawing from the cover of the Red Box.
There’s a very short article about it in Format Magazine that has a bunch of wonderful D&D art from several of the greats. Makes me think of those great Dragon Magazine covers.
You can read Bob Byrne’s ‘The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes’ column here at Black Gate every Monday morning.
He founded www.SolarPons.com, the only website dedicated to the ‘Sherlock Holmes of Praed Street’ and blogs about Holmes and other mystery matters at Almost Holmes.
He is an ongoing contributor to The MX Book of New Sherlock Stories series of anthologies, with stories in Volumes III, IV and the upcoming V.