Sunday, December 1, 2019

Craig VanGrasstek Reminisces

Craig VanGrasstek, the author of "Rules to the Game of Dungeon" (1974) has graciously allowed me to republish some of his recent posting over at The Ruins of Murkhill forum.

Craig writes as he joins a thread that was speculating about things in regard to a blog post by Jon Peterson at Playing At the World: Rules to the Game of Dungeon (1974):
To the speculation here that I was a college kid at the time I wrote up my D&D variant in 1974, that was still some years away. I was 14 years old and had been playing the game for several months (maybe as long as a year). It first made its way to Minneapolis by way of a science fiction fan/gamester who went by the name of Blue Petal (since deceased), who came to one of our regular Saturday meetings of the Minnesota Science Fiction Society with news of a game he had played in Wisconsin. He made and ran the first dungeon, based on his somewhat incomplete recollection of the rules, but several of us took over from there and made the game our obsession. Being somewhat precociously devoted to orderliness, I took it on myself to write up the rules in a formal way. It would be a few more years before I even heard of D&D, which I played a few times with Michael Mornard and others when I was still not yet a college kid (but had at least become a kid who hung around college). 
In those days of fanzines and nightlong gaming it never would have occurred to me that I might sell the game. It was just an adolescent lark. It has now been more than 40 years since I last played Dungeon, but I still make simulations a major part of my work. I teach professionals to be negotiators and litigators in the field of trade policy, and often do so through elaborate games. That has meant trading in dice for Excel, and dragons for tariffs, but I no longer hesitate to ask that I be paid for my work.
I don't recall if I still have the original rules, but do remember that a few years ago I dug out some materials for Jon Peterson. I did two quite amateurish Dungeon-themed covers for Minneapa aound 1974 or 1975, and also wrote up a detailed account of a game; I scanned and sent them to Jon.
It would be an exaggeration to say that gaming led to my career. A more correct summary would be that after I spent a few decades working in this field of trade and began teaching others I drew upon what I remembered about game design from my youth. This has led to games that variously teach the foundations of comparative advantage, or how to negotiate a tariff agreement, or litigate a trade dispute, or negotiate a ministerial declaration, etc. But now I have been at it for close to twenty years, which is about ten times longer than I ever spent at Dungeon.
Recently he was "writing up a quite elaborate role-playing game" as a training tool for a client and:
Which reminded me of my correspondence with Jon Peterson a few years ago. Which inspired me to do some googling. And I was rather surprised to see all the places where Jon's account of my rules got referenced, including at least one stating that someone recently tried playing a game with them. That's about as close to a time machine as I think I'll ever get. But when I saw someone speculating that I must have been "some college kid" when I wrote the rules I thought that as a bona fide historian I had to correct the record.
I had promised some recollections of how I came to write my rules. Here you go.
Back in 2014, when I ran across a mention of my old “Rules to the Game of Dungeon” on Jon Peterson’s blog, I wrote him a note providing my recollections of how I came to write them. I have used that 2014 text as the basis for my note below, but have reorganized it and added a fair amount of additional details.
Let me start by explaining how at that time there were several overlapping circles of people who had distinct but related interests, all of which had some association with this game. The one with which I then had the longest association — about two years as of 1974 — was the Minnesota Science Fiction Association (MNStF). That group still exists (see, although I have not had any contact with its members since about 1977. Another was the Minnesota chapter ( of the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA), in whose founding I was a marginal participant around 1975 or 1976. Yet another group was the war-gamers who then hung out at a shop called the Little Tin Soldier (Little Tin Soldier) but was previously (and confusingly) called La Belle Alliance. Nearly everyone I knew in those days (outside of school) was a member of at least one of those groups, and many were in two of them. I don’t remember anyone else being in all three, but that might just be poor memory on my part.
The first and indirect exposure I had to D&D, even though I did not then hear the name, came at a MNStF meeting that (according to Jon Peterson’s research) would have been in February, 1974. For some odd reason I quite precisely recall that this meeting was (as was often the case then) held at the Minneapolis home of Denny Lien. A MNStF regular named Louis Fallert, but known to us as Blue Petal, told a few of us about this great game he had played elsewhere (I was vague on where and when), and we began to play a version of it based on his recollection of the rules. He called it Dungeon.
I don’t remember anything about that first game, but was quickly hooked and soon began playing — and then dungeon-mastering — our own versions of it. 
In addition to Blue Petal and Dick Tatge, other frequent players in those early games included Martin Schafer, Larry Brommer, and Al Kuhfeld (who later became Ellen Kuhfeld, but that's another story altogether). These games quickly became a regular feature of MNStF meetings. Those were only every other Saturday, however, and some of us felt the need for a weekly game. Martin, Larry and I often got together to play marathon sessions, usually at Larry’s place in Saint Paul. I remember that it was not unusual for us to start sometime mid-evening and to go on until sunrise or beyond.
Those early games were all graph-paper-pencil-and-dice affairs, and had a fair amount of improvisation to them. Something about that last point offended the more orderly parts of my 14 year old mind, so I thought that the game would benefit from a more regular set of rules. I also had some interest then in art and layout, and remember spending more time working on the illustrations for the rulebook than I did on the rules themselves. (I am now unsure whether I should be more appalled by the amateurishness of that art or the many errors in spelling and grammar that then committed.) I vaguely recall that the approach of the 32nd World Science Fiction Convention, which was to be held August 29-September 2, 1974, in Washington, D.C., was a big motivator for me. I wanted to get the rules done in time to distribute them there, having no idea that I would move to this city seven years later and would live there ever since. I don’t specifically recall how I actually distributed them at that convention, how many copies I had printed, etc.
Let me also stress that it would never occur to me in those days to sell those rules. I just wanted to spread the game around, and get a little recognition in the process. I still had no idea that D&D existed, nor that it would gain any commercial presence. I should also stress that I don’t really know to what extent people other than me and my immediate circle actually used those rules after I wrote them. I suspect that we may have been the only ones to use them, and even then my friends would use their own variations when it was their turn to be dungeon-master.
I probably played my last game of Dungeon sometime in 1975, as that was the year that I discovered that spending time with young women carries much greater charms than rolling dice with other guys. To the extent that I continued to play games, they were more often the table-top war-games at the Little Tin Soldier. I was also very interested in painting the figurines we used in those games, both of the realistic and the fantasy variety. That was the only context in which I ever knew M.A.R. Barker, as he paid me once to paint a bunch of Norman foot soldiers for him. I was vaguely aware of the games that he invented and played, but never got involved in those.
As time passed I came in contact with people who did play D&D. Chief among them was Michael Mornard, whom I initially came to know through the local SCA chapter (for which I think he was the main founder), in war-gaming at the Little Tin Soldier, and in our shared interest in painting figurines. Michael lived in a group home with the aforementioned Al Kuhfeld (among others), and while Al knew our version of Dungeon the games that they played in this home were straight D&D. For a couple of years (c.1975-1977) this place was virtually my weekend home, as they often gave me the use of their guest room. Most of the people who played D&D at this home were also members of SCA. I think I played it with them fewer than half a dozen times; by then I had really lost interest in this sort of game.
Michael was from Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, and I did travel there one time to participate in an annual war-gaming convention. This was most likely 1976 (I had just gotten my learner's permit), and it was the only time I met Gary Gygax and others in that group. It made little impression on me, as I recall being more interested in Michael’s little sister than in his old friends (you may note a pattern here). I also remember devoting more attention to a game based on the Battle of Brandywine than on any of the fantasy games.
I drifted away from all of these pastimes during my years at the University of Minnesota (1977-1981), and especially after I moved to Washington, D.C. for graduate school in 1981. When Jon unearthed and posted my old Dungeon rules in 2014 it was the first time I had seen them in close to 40 years. I must have kept a few copies for a while, but don’t think I have any in my old files. Games were not an important part of my life in the 1980s and 1990s, but when I started to teach at Harvard in 2000 I began to devise games as a means of teaching the principles and practicalities of my field (trade policy). I now make role-playing games a fairly important part of the classes in which I teach professionals, and they carry at least an echo of my 1970s pastime. 
When asked about the various games going on he said:
I really do not remember. I think I acted as DM in the great majority of the Dungeon games in which I was involved; I have no specific recollection of anyone else's game. 
I do know that the feel and the culture of our games was vastly different from what D&D players did. Their games seemed grimly serious to me by comparison, and way too focused on a kind of ersatz careerism for their characters. We treated our games mostly like exercises in theater of the absurd or as set-ups for punchlines, or as riddles. We were, in short, more interested in a good joke than in replicating anything that remotely resembled any sort of real or imagined world. The few specific episodes that I can recall now strike me as sophomoric (at best), but at the time it felt like we were edgy, clever, and hip. I know that from the D&D players' perspective what we did seemed contemptibly trivial and irreverent; Michael has said as much recently. Given the choice, I prefer to have memories of having been laughably silly than having been even more laughably self-important.

The only woman I can recall playing any of these games was Michael Mornard's first wife, Deborah, but that was straight D&D and hence she was as grim as the rest of them. There were plenty of women in SCA and MNStF, but not among the gamers.
I don't think I would change anything if I were doing it in that time and place, as it all made sense then and there, but most of the references would be lost today. Unless of course you know about Herbie Popnecker and Vikings who sing about spam, which were well-known tropes to my friends in those days. 
What I use today from those times is make sure that I slip little jokes into the educational games that I design. Not everyone gets it, especially when they don't expect there to be anything but a lesson or a challenge, but those who know me long enough learn to look for the hidden meaning. If they do get it, I can share a laugh with them; if they don't, I quietly have a laugh at them. I do the same thing with my writing, with every book I have written since 1985 having Easter eggs in them. I am especially fond of writing footnotes that seem serious but are instead elaborate jokes.
You can download a copy of the Rules of the Game of Dungeon (1974) here

Friday, November 29, 2019

Blackmoor-Castle-Convention-Handout-1984-Incredibly-Rare (Recent eBay Auction)

This was in a recent Paul Stormberg eBay auction.

Now for the funny part:

This is too much! A blog post by Chirine ba Kal titled  Blackmoor Castle Map - I Hope You'll Pardon My Amusement..

But there is a really interesting bit down in paragraph four about the stairways on the map. I highly recommend the blog:

chirine's workbench

Secrets of Blackmoor - The Bonus DVD Sources - Ross Maker (a sample from the Bonus DVD)

Secrets of Blackmoor@Blackmoor_Film shared a sample from the Bonus DVD for the Secrets of Blackmoor.
How about a sample from the Bonus DVD?
A little video to watch on this day of Thanksgiving. 
Ross Maker talks about the early days: 
Thanks everyone for Following us. We can't do it without you. 
A short excerpt from the 2 hour Bonus DVD for KickStarter supporters of Secrets of Blackmoor. 
Ross Maker was the first person to play a Dwarf Character in an RPG. He played that same character for roughly 40 years. 
As part of the Blackmoor Bunch, Ross witnessed the invention and evolution of Arneson's fantasy campaign 
In his real life career he has been a game designer and computer programmer. As a founder of the 4D Interactive team he helped port many games produced by Coleco such as Zaxxon. 
This is raw footage without color or sound enhancement. 
Ross appears in the completed documentary which can be seen here: 
The Bonus DVD Sources - Ross Maker

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Craig VanGrasstek - "Rules to the Game of Dungeon" (1974)

Craig VanGrasstek responded to a post on The Ruins of Murkhill™ Forum regarding his 'Rules to the Game of Dungeon' which he wrote down in 1974 when he was 14 years old. If you are interested you can check out the thread here Rules to the Game of Dungeon (1974) and he comes in starting with this post Craig VanGrasstek.

The thread has links to Jon Peterson's Blog "Playing at the World" where he talks about this game.

Update: a direct link to some newly posted recollections by Craig VanGrasstek.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

An Open Letter To Cecilia D'Anastasio by Chirine ba Kal

An Open Letter to Cecilia D'Anastasio by Chirine ba Kal over at chirine's workbench.

I think most of us will understand his viewpoint on several of her recent articles. I am in agreement with him, although having not been there and having not known any of the people directly, I am better able to ignore and filter out the dross. With all the people who were there back in the day it is much more personal and it detracts from their talking about gaming. There has been a lot published about peoples warts that to me are just TMI.

I fixed the link!

'System Mastery' vs. 'World Settings' from chirine's workbench

'System Mastery' vs. 'World Settings' 
This is from back in July at  chirine's workbench Jeff Berry's Blog.

Early last year, an experienced D&D 5e gamer told me I should get out of the campaign that I'd been playing for a while, as I was "holding the party back because I didn't have system mastery on the 5e rules". So, since I agreed with him, I handed my player-character sheets back to the very patient GM, and left the campaign. (And the table, and the game store, but that's a different story.)

It got me thinking. ...
Interesting perspective, one with which I agree. Like Mr. Berry, I also played the same way bitd. It is to my mind more fun when the players are playing in a world and not knowing/reading/studying the rule set, but focused on the world itself. I love having people in my games who have never played before and have no preconceived expectations from "ruleset" knowledge. IMO it is more fun for the player and for the ref.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Robert J Kuntz 3rd Column Post at EN World

Here is a link to Gary’s Immersion in Castle El Raja Key: The Four-Way Footsteps wherein he discusses what he (Rob) and Gary learned about immersion from Dave Arneson and then gives an example of how you do it.
(Very early 1973, 1st level of my Castle El Raja Key) -- In November of 1972 four stalwarts of the LGTSA (Lake Geneva Tactical Studies Association; of which I was then its current president)--namely Gary Gygax, myself, Ernie Gygax and my brother Terry Kuntz--experienced our first, and also comprehensive, RPG adventure via Dave Arneson’s Blackmoor setting. During it we also experienced the various levels of DM interactive strategies that Arneson could and did wield.
Rob mentions Alfred Hitchcock:
Both Gary and I were big Alfred Hitchcock fans and Hitchcock was the master of suspense and, due to that, of anxiety.
I watched a ton of Hitchcock movies growing up and they have always influenced how I ran my games from day one. I also am a big Edgar Allan Poe fan. I discovered Poe about 5th grade and a few of my favorites are:

The Cask of Amontillado
A Descent Into The Maelstrom
The Fall of the House of Usher
The Gold Bug
The Masque of the Red Death
The Murders in the Rue Morgue
The Pit and the Pendulum
The Premature Burial
The Tell-Tale Heart

You can read these and more at

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Additional Information Relevant to the Public Notice Filed by Robert J Kuntz of Three Line Studio

I had forgotten about this informative blog post from earlier this year.

Over at From Kuroth's Quill - grodog's AD&D blog back on January 9th, 2019 this was posted:

Paul Stormberg reddit "Ask Me Anything" (AMA) on Gygax Manuscripts Archive

Quoting for context:
This afternoon today, Paul Stormberg of The Collector's Trove held a Q&A session over on reddit about the contents of Gary Gygax's unpublished manuscripts:
This is an AMA, wherein I allow adventurers to ask me anything about the trove of treasures left behind by Gary Gygax, co-creator of Dungeons & Dragons, and what traps and guardians await them. 
Gail Gygax's agent, Gina Ramirez, also participated in the AMA, covering questions around licensing as well as future publishing plans for computer games, RPGs, etc.
Adventurers wanted for hazardous journey, small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful, honor and recognition in case of success!
grodog provide a lengthy summary of the contents of the reddit thread. Good reading, excellent resource and pertinent to the Public Notice  Filed by Robert J Kuntz of Three Line Studio.

My first two posts on the subject:

Public Notice Filed by Robert J Kuntz of Three Line Studio

RE: Public Notice Filed by Robert J Kuntz of Three Line Studio UPDATE

Monday, November 4, 2019

What's an unpopular D&D / RPG opinion that you hold and won't concede?

Over on Twitter the OneCritWonder@OneCritWonder asked "What's an unpopular D&D / RPG opinion that you hold and won't concede?".

I thought it was and is a great topic. I replied as follows:

The original way to play was a game of exploration and combat was to be avoided when possible. Murderhobo's should be treated to the angry villager rule. Especially those who specialize in killing innocents.
Enough with the cannot handle more than 3-5 players. With OD&D you can run 12-15 players and on occasion even more, this is no sweat with experienced adult players. I have run 15 players where at least 7 of them were 10-12 years old.
Massive amounts of preparation are not necessary or IMO desirable. At any moment of the day you could tap me on the shoulder and I could sit down and run an 8 hour game with no prep. That is one of the beauties of a homebrew OD&D campaign that you have fully created.
There is no off the map, there are no worries about the players breaking your world and no NPC is untouchable. If the players want to topple a kingdom, go for it. There is no pre-written railroaded script of a story IMC. Story is what is told after the game play has occurred.

RE: Public Notice Filed by Robert J Kuntz of Three Line Studio UPDATE

There has already been a development directly related to it. Transformers Producer Drops Lawsuit Against Gary Gygax's Widow Gail Some very interesting things in this article. Especially in light of Rob's post.

See first post on this blog at Public Notice Filed by Robert J Kuntz of Three Line Studio.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Friday, November 1, 2019

Planet Eris Gazetteer

El Borak the Admin posted this over on the forum.
Planet Eris Gazetteer

64-page booklet now available on &
A5 Booklet from
Digest Size Booklet from
Planet Eris World Map

Large, 24 x 36 inch glossy poster map on 100 weight poster paper now available from The Scribes of Sparn.
Poster Print (available only for shipping in the U.S.A.):
Instructions for downloading the electronic map, a 150 dpi JPEG file, are provided in the print and PDF versions of the Planet Eris Gazetteer booklet.
1 hex = 15 miles.
I have permission to post this mini-review of the above:
Thaddeus Moore
I just picked up The Planet Eris Gazzeteer by Jim Johnson this morning. It is a 64 page campaign setting for OD&D but the material essentially system agnostic. Eris is a planet which absorbed successive waves of involuntary human and alien migration (forced to flee dying planets). An unknown span of time has passed, presumably tens of thousands of years later, the humans have become the dominate civilizations on the planet. The once space faring cultures have reverted to medieval technology levels as have the alien races which are essentially proxies for demihumans. Humans, as we are want to do have adopted old names and old gods. The setting has an ancient feeling with a deep history. 
A 24”x 36” world poster map on glossy paper can be purchase separately for $9 here:
Update: Poster Print now available for shipping worldwide.
Large, 24 x 36 inch glossy poster map on 100 weight poster paper now available from The Scribes of Sparn.
Poster Print (now available for shipping worldwide)

Instructions for downloading the electronic map, a 150 dpi JPEG file, are provided in the print and PDF versions of the Planet Eris Gazetteer booklet.
Oh and BTW here is a link to Jim Johnson's house rules. 

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Public Domain Books

If you like to read old books, here is a website for you, it has links to old books that you may enjoy reading. I post some samples below. 

Caveat: You should check to see if this is public domain in the country in which you reside before downloading and reading.

These books I link to below are ones that I have dead tree copies of and have read many times. Great resource here and I have only begun to explore it. They have free downloads and they also have ebooks for sale too! Prices see pretty fair to me.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

METHUSELAH: Class-based System for using Chainmail with OD&D

This was in my email this morning. I do not know who sends me these things, but someone apparently likes me. This looks pretty cool to me.

derv wrote:

For a flawless transition within your current campaign I offer you METHUSELAH- a class-based combat system for using Chainmail with OD&D
Allow effortless flow of play from the dungeon to the fields of battle. From the first steps of a low level character to the high level rule of empires, METHUSELAH has you covered.
This Broken Spoke Production includes:
METHUSELAH Complete- no art
METHUSELAH Bestiary reference sheets
The Combat Tables (included in Complete)
A Micro-crawl "Sir Silvermane's Quest" (So you and your group can give it a spin)
Get METHUSELAH while supplies last!

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Robert J Kuntz essay: "Advent of the Elder Ones: Mythos vs. Man in the Lake Geneva Original Campaign, 1973-1976" (Originally appeared in AFS #2)

Robert J Kuntz has posted an essay at Facebook that originally appeared in AFS#2 which I would guess most are like me and have never seen it before. Enjoy!

"Advent of the Elder Ones: Mythos vs. Man in the Lake Geneva Original Campaign, 1973-1976" (Originally appeared in AFS #2) By Robert J. Kuntz ©2012, Robert J. Kuntz. All Rights Reserved. All trademarks and copyrights are property of their respective owners and are used for historical purposes only and as provided for by the Fair Use copyright clause.
In early 1973 I created the beginnings of an ever-expanding story arc involving the advent of the Elder Ones in the known planes of existence. That beginning grew to span most of my published career, has informed play from that point forward in its most granular aspects, and has been responsible as a launching point for so many projects, both published and unpublished that I now need a list to track the interrelatedness of it all. I have appended that list (with short descriptions) hereafter and will explore a selection from this in the main article (*asterisk notes the selections covered).

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Update for Night Shift: Veterans of the Supernatural Wars RPG

The Night Shift: Veterans of the Supernatural Wars RPG Kickstarter now has a 26 page The Quick Start rules and adventure for Night Shift pdf available for download. Just follow the link to download and take a look!

A New Facebook Posted Essay & A New Column at EN World by Robert J Kuntz

Over on Facebook Robert J Kuntz at Three Line Studio account published an excerpt from his grouped essays. Go to From Blackmoor to D&D (Extracted from my grouped essays).

In addition, he also writes (in part) on his blog:(New EN World Column: #1)
I am now an author for EN World with a monthly column.  Six lead columns have been submitted to EN World with the first being published several days ago:
In an earlier Facebook post he writes that:

All six of my lead column installments plus their 19 illustrations/images were sent to Morrus minutes ago. In total they exceeded 7,000 words. I await his response as to when the first of six monthlies will be posted.--RJK

Friday, October 4, 2019

Night Shift: Veterans of the Supernatural Wars RPG Kickstarter is Live!!

Night Shift: Veterans of the Supernatural Wars RPG

Elf Lair Games presents a horror/urban fantasy RPG by two industry veterans, debuting a new system derived from old-school mechanics.

Night Shift: Veterans of the Supernatural Wars

Debuting the new Elf Lair Games house system, O.G.R.E.S., Night Shift is an urban fantasy, horror, and dark modern supernatural game that uses old-school mechanics derived from the original, basic, expert, and advanced versions of the World's Most Famous Role Playing Game. It allows you to mimic all the tropes of just about any film, TV series, or novels you like.
All of the following are possible with Night Shift:
  • Cheerleaders that are chosen to slay vampires, granted with extranormal powers to accomplish their destiny;
  • Sisters imbued with the power of chosen witches;
  • Worlds where Fae of all manner battle in the politics of light and dark;
  • The great-grandniece of a famous gunslinger inherits the legacy of the demon hunter;
  • A world where two brothers armed with knowledge and weapons hunt the supernatural in their father's name;
  • And more!
Night Shift is built to handle just about any sort of urban fantasy you can dream up, using the tropes of classic horror-based television, motion pictures, comics, and novels.
 Designed by industry veterans Jason Vey and Timothy Brannan, whose names have appeared in such products as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Ghosts of Albion, Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space, C.J. Carella's WitchCraft, All Flesh Must be Eaten!, Nightbane, Amazing Adventures, Castles & Crusades and more, this game brings together two noted designers with decades of combined experience. 
Within its pages, you'll find:
  • Complete character generation using familiar stats
  • Major character archetypes, including the Survivor ("I've seen something weird"), Veteran ("I hunt something weird"), Chosen One ("I am the weird thing that other weird things fear"), Theosophist ("I see weird dead things"), Psychic ("I sense and control something weird"), Sage ("I study weird things"), and Witch/Warlock ("I am something weird")
  • Complete rules for magic, psychic powers, and necromancy/spirit channeling
  • Customizable supernatural character race--play a werewolf, vampire, succubus, or fae
  • An optional skills system to expand what your character can do
  • A simple rules system comprised of three basic mechanics, designed for fast and intuitive play
  • Variant styles and levels of play that modify the system to represent gritty, realistic, and cinematic styles
  • A GM section with tips and tricks on creating a series, seasons, and more, as well as guildelines for building custom character classes
  • A full bestiary with all of the classic monsters like werewolves, vampires, demons, devils, zombies, mummies, and a few new surprises
  • Several complete mini-settings you can use to get up and running right away
  • Conversion rules to use the game with Original and B/X, and O.R.C.S (Elf Lair's Spellcraft & Swordplay) systems
  • A complete alternate combat system, which hearkens back to the very earliest days of the hobby, before the publication of the first version of the World's Most Famous RPG.