Saturday, December 31, 2022

My First Dungeon (January 1976)

I previously wrote this in a blog post here. I first started playing OD&D in September of 1975 and started refereeing not too long after that. 

The guy that introduced us to D&D never ran a dungeon, it was all city and wilderness, but after I had reffed for a little while I decided to do a dungeon. My prep for the game was selecting nine quotes.. When the game started they set out across a desert for two weeks until they came to an old set of ruins (yeah, I liked Ruins from the beginning) and eventually down into the dungeon below. Somewhere in a box I might still have that list of quotes. My first dungeon ran horizontally and after travelling for a ways through a rock walled cavern they came to a large oak door that looked very old and was covered with cobwebs. Beside it on the rock wall was the first quote carved into the wall. They got the door open and the adventure began. 

They eventually made it through each area, (some of which involved game weeks) and continued to the next door. I do not remember a ton about it without being able to look at the quotes, but I do remember that it was a very psychological adventure, one area being one where they had to figure out that they were being lulled to complacency from which they would never leave, one of them figured it out and then had to convince the rest of the group to continue which he almost failed to do. At the end of it they had obtained no treasure and fought no physical battles, but they talked about it all week and I got a lot of good feedback on the game.
Well I found the nine quotes and I thought that I would post them here for you.  I used each quote as the improv prompt and created each dungeon area and contents on the fly from each quote. 

It was a series of mental puzzles and we played two back to back 14 hours game sessions going through it. There were no deaths; however, they were within moments of TPK on three occasions during this game session, although they did not realize it until they were out of it, then they had a few moments of panic.

I looked up the quotes during December of 1975 during Christmas break and brought them back to college in Athens, Ohio and this was the first game I ran for the new year in January of 1976 and this was the first dungeon I tried. I did not follow the example in the rules at all, but when off on this entirely different tangent.

Each of the nine quotes was carved into rock, and they could have explored the areas in any order. When they finally came out above ground they were miles from the oasis and the ruins. I have used ruins from the very beginning. Also an oasis is something that has reoccurred in my games quite a bit, now that I think of it.

So what were the quotes that I used as a mental prompt to improv my first dungeon on the fly, well I found the sheet and here they are. I got 28 hours of gaming in two long hauls with 20 players that talked about it for weeks. There was no treasure and no combat. Yeah, they were on the verge of a TPK three times with no combat involved and as noted they did not realize they were in so much danger until they were out of it. Physical danger was a small part of the danger. These were each carved into the dungeon walls.

The Quotes:
1. What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared with what lies within us.

2. Those who have not often felt the joy of doing a kind act, have neglected much, and most of all themselves.

3. You may light another's candle at your own without loss.

4. It's not enough that we do our best, sometimes we have to do what's required.

5. The permanent temptation of life is to confuse dreams with reality. The permanent defeat of life comes when dreams are surrendered to reality.

6. Water becomes worthless when it stagnates. So do people.

7. If in the morning a *Gypsy you meet,
the rest of your day will be lucky and sweet,
but if a black-robed priest comes first,
your luck is gone expect the worst.

8. Let your red blood and my red blood,
run together in one stream,
let it drive a mill
and that mill should have three stones;
It's first stone should throw white pearls,
It's second stone should throw small change,
It's third stone should produce love.

9. The river is deep, the river is wide
Milk and honey on the other side.

Also, if I were ever to do this again, it would be completely different as the details are mostly lost to time. But twenty college kids between 18-20 and all of them steeped in a background of fairy tales, Greek, Roman and Norse myths and mythology along with English, Welsh, Scottish and Irish sources and fantasy literature, that group can never be duplicated again. 

*Disclaimer* in 1975-76 no one of college age in rural Ohio ever suspected that Gypsy was a slur, in fact I viewed it as a positive word and was very surprised in the last 5 years to find out that it is viewed as a slur, something I would never have guessed. Note especially that the quote uses meeting a Gypsy as a very good and positive thing. Even to this day when I read the word Gypsy, it has a positive connotation to me. It brings to mind for me a robust culture and community. I guess now the correct term is Romani. They have a rich tradition of music and dance and folklore. I have always viewed them as an admirable people. 

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