Tuesday, July 24, 2012

ISM: Inspirational Source Material

That's the title of page B62 of the Moldvay Basic Rulebook. For me, it became almost a way of life. The moment I turned to that page in the book, I began checking titles off and committing the rest to memory for my frequent book store trips. B. Dalton and Crown Books got a lot of my business during the 80's. Today, that page looks like this:

In many ways, those were my sources of ISM during those early years of my campaign setting creation. Though I've talked before about where I may or may not get my ideas, I can certainly cite some specific bits and pieces that affected me more profoundly than others.

If you don't recognize that dungeon cross-section from the same Moldvay Basic book - you really should. This was possibly my first visual introduction to what a dungeon could be. The ruined castle on the surface was a classic trope - but, for what might be the first time, I actually considered the possibility of two (or more) main entrances to the dungeon complex below. Not only that, but the idea of being able to skip levels in favor of a deeper delve also began to intrude upon my consciousness. Finally, it hit me that dungeon levels could offer a variety of environments beyond just worked passages and chambers - go deep enough and you could find yourself in the natural caverns and tunnels of the underworld. Was this fine Erol Otus graphic a contributing factor to my design of Whitefalcon Castle a few years later? Probably. There were a lot of influences bombarding me from all sides during this period of my development.

Note: I will resist an outpouring of praise for the wondrous Erol Otus at this time.
Further Note: Whitefalcon? Yes - Whitefalcon. A rip-off of Greyhawk? History fails to comment.

White Plume Mountain is one of the first AD&D modules I can recall with any clarity, after D1-2 and A1. Remember, I never really ran modules since creating my own campaign setting and adventures from the moment I absorbed the Basic Rules. S2 held a special place in my heart largely due to this map. Dragotha the undead dragon? Thingizzard and her potions? Her? Who or what was a Thingizzard? The cursed ruins of Castle Mukos? Who knows what lies within? Not me, that's for damn sure! You see...none of these encounter areas were detailed in the module! AAAARRRRRGGGGGHHHH!!!

Was I the only one more deeply captivated by the dangers shown at the edge of the map than by the volcano itself? Apparently not, judging by the home-brewed adventures and official products released much later. D&D scholars might wish to point out the Return to White Plume Mountain sequel for TSR's 25th anniversary. Don't. That was 20 years later. Though, I still don't recall seeing a full treatment of Castle Mukos. A ruin set atop a meenlock warren? Talk about anticlimactic. I wanted to know what was going on in those remote and mysterious corners of the map - and I still do. So much that I once went completely against my lifelong tendencies and outlined a full campaign setting that employed little more than classic adventure modules linked by an involved and tangible plot. For a while, I honestly thought I was the only person in the world that wanted to put Lost Tamoachan on the Isle of Dread. Then came the Savage Tide adventure path and drowned my hopes of creative immortality - at least in part.

Shall I note that the map is another Erol Otus masterpiece? No - I shan't. Moving on...

Speaking (or not-speaking) of beloved early D&D artists, I don't think anyone disagrees on the value of the contributions made by the Tramp.

If there was a single image that affected the way I thought about fantasy world-building, it was this final frame from Dave Trampier's comic strip, Wormy, from Dragon Magazine #96. I began collecting Dragon Magazine with issue #69 and I actually own issue #96 to this day. I could cite many images and articles that influenced me as a designer and DM, but this single image encompasses most of the points I would be trying to make. I am nothing if not efficient. Actually, I am far from efficient...call me lazy instead.

Toadtown. A town set in a dungeon. A place where individuals of all races and persuasions can live and do business. Where you could enjoy a snail burger with a friend for just 65 cents each. Was Toadtown the inspiration for my own rather (locally) famous town of Toad Crossing, where toads of varying sizes are bred and sold?

Probably. But, as with most other concepts of mine, it was far from the only one. There was never just one. Drat! Now I have this sudden urge to design a Wormy-based campaign setting. Must've failed my save vs. Nostalgia. Again.


  1. Some time ago, and ongoing brain excursions continue, I have tried to map out Tramp's world of Wormy...someday I will get close to my interpretation of it and the characters.

  2. hmmm....incorporate the basic holmes/moldvay rules maps idea I showed ya? lol don't think ill ever finish.