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The First Rumor Tables, Part 2: Caverns of Thracia or Caverns of Quasqueton?

My last post (yesterday) stated that the earliest known "rumor table" in a role-playing game module was the one in Mike Carr's B1 In Search of the Unknown , which featured the dungeon known as The Caverns of Quasqueton. Read that other post first to understand this one. Paleologos left a comment there pointing out that Judges Guild 102 The Caverns of Thracia had a rumor table, too. I have read that module but I never knew it in the old days. So, I took a closer look. Now it gets interesting. We have a tiny mystery here, folks. The Caverns of Thracia was published in 1979 (not 1980 as the friendly commenter wrote). It was early enough in 1979 that a second printing was called for in the same year . But the weird thing is that the rumor table in Thracia is structured exactly like the one in B1. It explains, under the heading "The Taverns of Thracia" (ha ha), that you roll 1d4 and determine whether the player gets 1, 2, 3, or 0 rumors. Then you roll 1d20 per r
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The First Rumor Tables

Role-playing game modules that emulate a putative "old school" often include tables of rumors that the referee can give out to the players. Rumors are a fun way to convey setting information and hints that motivate players to explore and form goals. Where did the rumor table begin? It wasn't part of original D&D. It was never a part of the rules themselves. Rumor tables came with modules . The first modules are from 1975 ("The Temple of the Frog" in Arneson's Blackmoor supplement to OD&D) and 1976 ("The Palace of the Vampire Queen" by third party Wee Warriors; "The Tomb of F'Cherlak" by Jaquays in Dungeoneer magazine). Early tournament scenarios used at conventions were also one of the main bases for early modules. These earliest published dungeons didn't have rumor tables. The earliest example of a rumor table I can think of is from the module B1, "In Search of the Unknown," by Mike Carr. It was originally prod

Hexmaps and Random Encounters before D&D

Hex maps for boardgames apparently began with Agon , London 1842. Hexagonal chess was invented in Poland in 1936. The board wargame was invented in 1953, published in 1954 as Tactics by Avalon Hill. Now you did not need large numbers of figurines and terrain to simulate wars on your tabletop. You just had to buy a kit made of cardboard pieces, a complete game delivering a specific experience varying somewhat with replay. More affordable, quicker setup, fixed playtested rules, no need for a referee. The point of these games was to win against one or more opponents. The first hexmap board for a wargame was the second edition of Gettysburg , 1961. Its publisher, Avalon Hill, made many games with hexmap boards from then on. (The original Gettysburg game of 1958 had a square gridmap. In July 1, 1964, the Avalon Hill newsletter The General quipped in a headline that “Hex Version Was Hexed” and that they would renew the original.) An advantage of hex maps was that random movement o

A new look at the early history of "railroading" and non-anglophone RPG design

Two and a half years ago, when I was still getting reoriented to what was going on with table-top role-playing games, I wrote a post on the history of the concepts of "sandboxes" and "railroads" in RPGs. My conclusions were that (1) gamers have been talking about these ideas for a very long time, but (2) the specific term "sandbox," for a world open to player characters to explore without a predetermined end-point, was an import from video game design in the late '90s, and (3) the idea of "railroading" came from the Forge gaming forum of the early 2000s. What motivated me to look into this was that I could not think of any instance in which these terms had been used back when I used to play, up to the mid-'90s, but gamers had been discussing both of these with great intensity in more recent years. They had even become quite dogmatic about it (and they still are). That's the kind of thing that calls for historical checks. It turns out

Why D&D has Hit Points per Level for the Acquisition of Gold

The hard-working Hit Point remains one of those aspects of D&D that its players continually debate. It's not just what hit points represent. It's also how they increase per level. This post is about the latter factor. In D&D, the older a character is, and (in most cases) the more injured the character has been through trials, traps, and monster attacks, the more resistant to further attacks the character will become, because surviving bloody injuries implies success and, indirectly, leads to leveling up. That's how D&D has always worked: characters who have been beaten within an inch of death come back not with permanent injuries, but even harder to kill because they level up afterwards, which is normally what happens when you survive in D&D. (Yes, I know of many house rules that introduce permanent injuries, but hit points still go up per level.) It's as if serious injuries just make you healthier. Anybody who has spent time in a hospital knows other

Starting Equipment Packages in Older Games

When new D&D characters are created, you know how the players can be stuck for a long time shopping for starting gear. Yes, that is a drag, especially for new players who often have little idea what each new piece of equipment is for. What are iron spikes for? The delay to the beginning of play can be boring for players expecting to dive right into adventure. The Prismatic Wasteland blog has an interesting post about different methods for determining starting equipment expeditiously. P.W.'s post also gives a link to Necropraxis' post from ten years ago in which an excellent table is provided for determining starting equipment packages for OD&D characters. The higher you roll on 3D6, the better the package of gear, with one column per character class. Inspired by Prismatic Wasteland, this post is just an addendum about the rules lineage of "starting packages" of equipment. I have some notes about earlier RPG rules that addressed the problem of starting equ

The Commodification of Fantasy Adventure Games

Commodification Signifies Value My son recently introduced me to some card games that he learned from friends this summer. He taught me the rules orally on the spot, and then we played; he had learned the rules orally from friends; his friends who taught him had learned the rules orally. There was no game book to study, no examples of play to read. It was just rules transmitted as folklore and a deck of cards. We didn’t need to buy a rulebook to play. (He easily beat me every time.) Now imagine these two different attempts to recruit young players to fantasy role-playing games. In one attempt , you pass around colorful, glossy D&D books and tell them you are going to play Dungeons & Dragons , a game played by millions of players over the last fifty years. The new players see and appreciate the fantastic art on every page of the lavish hardback books. They see that you have invested at least a hundred dollars on these books. The art communicates genre expectations to the