Aug 4, 2019, 2:35:49 PM8/4/19
: This is the sixth of Jim Ward's series of articles here on EN World!
: Upcoming articles include SSI and AD&D Computer Games, and The Origin
: of Monty Haul! Please let us know in the comments about topics you'd
: like to hear, and don't forget to check out Jonathan Tweet's new
One of the great joys of working at TSR was being part of the group that
played in Gary Gygax's weekly game. Over the years we had been the test
subjects for many of the now classic Gygax adventures.
All of Gary's players had several characters. When Gary wanted to
playtest a lower level adventure module we were told to use our lower
level characters. Over the years those characters rose in levels as they
played through Gary's games. We all had our best characters, but they
were reserved for the higher level adventures.
Take TOMB OF HORRORS for example. We playtested that adventure with our
highest level characters. I can remember that Rob Kuntz took a band of
orcs into that adventure. The orcs didn't come out. When I was questing
there I used a flying carpet in the tunnels. In this way I managed to
avoid the deadly pits. Unfortunately, for me I also didn't find the
secret door in the pit and missed out on the best treasure. At least I
and my pals didn't die in that tomb. By the way, there are tons of
whiners who complain that the module is too difficult. I have to say if
a character is dumb enough to jump in the giant mouth of a demon image
on the wall, they get what they deserve.
Note from Morrus --
We had been using low-level characters to play out THE VAULT OF THE
DROW. Many of the battles barely had us survive and the adventure was
great fun to play. However, it was here that we discovered that all of
the great wondrous Drow armor, Drow swords, and Drow magic items went
bad when used in direct sunlight.
Let me briefly describe Gary's final home set up. All the gamers sat
around a long dinner table. We had very comfortable leather chairs. Gary
would sit at the head of the table. There were usually 5 to seven of us.
I tried hard to attend every week. I learned all about game design from
watching Gary work. He was a master at the twist in the story, at
foreshadowing a big event, and at generating characters that stuck in
your mind years later. I wanted to do all of that, and only time will
tell if I succeeded. Gary was an excellent host. We usually brought
something for everyone to snack on. I was a provider of large bags of
M&Ms. We would play for three or four hours. At the end of the evening
there was always a fun cliff hanger designed to bring us back the next
The week of this story we were using our low-level characters. I had a
half-elf thief/magic-user that I was very proud of. Ren 'o the Blade had
high stat scores. He had risen to 5/6 in experience levels. He had an
impressive magical dagger, a fully charged wand of fireballs and a
half-charged wand of paralyzing. Other players brought their dwarves and
humans. We were a solid group that had played together before. This time
was strange in that Gary insisted that a powerful NPC dwarf come along
on the adventure. He had never brought along an NPC before. We didn't
have a problem with that when we found out the dwarf had a large magic
carpet, a +3 shield, and a dwarven throwing hammer. We started into the
Drow area through part that we had cleared before.
We discovered a highly magical area with some type of dais. The Drow and
Drider guards were quickly dealt with. Gary described the portal in
wonderful detail. None of us were going to make any mistake in dealing
with this thing. We started testing it using the same tests that we used
for the demon mouth in TOMB OF HORRORS. We tied a rock to a rope and
threw it in the hole. We could easily pull the rope back. We stuck a
staff with a bit of raw meat on the end in the hole and again easily
pulled it back. A small cage with a living plant and a mouse went in and
came out healthy and fine. We had a wizard with a teleport spell. He
memorized our area and we tied a rope to his middle and he walked
through the portal. We easily pulled him back and he described a cool
metal chamber with a metal door in the distance. We were filled with
wonder and just had to check it out ourselves. Here is where we made the
We all jumped into the portal; came out on the other side; and began
Gary got up from his DM chair and asked me if I had my Metamorphosis
Alpha starship Warden material. I said I did and he urged me to go and
get it. I thought this was a strange request, but I went and got it.
When I came back Gary was sitting in my chair with a character sheet in
his hand. He told me to sit in his DM chair. I felt very uncomfortable
sitting in Gary's chair. For years that chair represented the all-
powerful DM. At first I was very unsure of DMing this group.
Gary explained to all of us that we had just been transported to the
starship Warden. The portal we went threw had winked out behind us
(bonehead moment for us). The group was now on the deadly Warden. My
beloved fantasy character Ren 'o the Blade was in deadly danger and I
was the one explaining the danger.
For many game weeks, the group explored the Warden. Gary and I talked
about the effects of magic and mutational powers. We decided magic did
full unsaved damage so my half-elf's fireball wand did 36 points of fire
damage. Conversely, mutant control attacks always worked on the fantasy
I was unhinged in the following weeks as I threw military robots, red
androids, and really nasty mutant plants at the group. Rolling to see
which character the Warden menaces attacked was unusually hard for me,
especially when they attacked my half-elf. More discussions occurred on
clerics getting their spells back. I selfishly wanted it so my character
could be healed of damage.
It is now 43 years later. That brave band of fantasy characters lives in
a forest on level seven of the Warden. I'm hoping Steve Chenault of
Troll Lords lets me write a stretch goal C&C adventure where they go to
save Ren the Prince of an Elvin Nation. Only time will tell, wish him
Watching Democrats come up with schemes to "catch Trump" is like
watching Wile E. Coyote trying to catch Road Runner.