Welcome to the Flaming Faggot

Callovia is called "the boundless empire" yet you have managed to find its northern border - a notorious roadhouse deep within the Madrasan Marches on the edge of the wilds of Llanvirnesse. The sign above the door reads "Flaming Faggot," which would suggest a cozy, homey inn with fresh biscuits served at teatime if not for the severed troll heads mounted on pikes at the gate.

As you cross the threshold the raucous din quiets momentarily as all eyes dart to the door and calloused hands drop instinctively to well-worn sword hilts. The threat, instantly assessed, is dismissed and roadhouse patrons go about their business hardly missing a beat.

Grim, hard-eyed men huddle around tables in close conversation thick with conspiracy; caravan guards gamble away their earnings; Caemric rangers sit close to the fireplace cooking the damp of the Black Annis from their clothes as they warm their innards with Red Dragon Ale; minstrels play and buxom wenches dance for the pleasure of men who pay them little attention - until they need a companion to warm their bed.

As you approach the bar, a huge, bald barman with a greatsword slung across his back slides a mug of freshly-pulled ale towards you, its frothy head dripping over the rim.

"Pull up a seat, lad," he says, "and let me tell you a tale of high adventure."

Saturday, May 8, 2010

In Memorium: Dr. J. Eric Holmes

I was saddened to learn today, from this post on Grognardia that Dr. J. Eric Holmes passed away in March.  As most D&D enthusiasts know, he was the author of the original Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set.  This set, published in 1977, was based on the original D&D rules, but organized and clarified to better introduce new players to the hobby.  The basic rulebook was a springboard, taking characters up to 3rd level after which it was assumed that players would adopt either the Dungeons & Dragons rules or the new Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Game.
 As for many, this version of the Basic Set was my introduction, in 1980, to a hobby I've enjoyed ever since.  Included with the rulebook was a set of card-board chit numbers that could be punched out and put in a cup to use as a random-number generator for those of us who lacked those strange, yet fascinating, polyhedral dice, and the adventure module B2: Keep on the Borderlands.

Prior to buying this set my previous gaming experience consisted of various Parker Brother boardgames, such as Monopoly.  Needless to say D&D represented a serious departure from the sort of game I was used to playing, and I must confess that I had a hard time figuring out how to play it.  Unlike those who are introduced to the hobby by friends or siblings, all I had was my Holmes edition rulebook full of limitless possibilities.  I gathered a group of friends, equally ignorant, but interested in giving D&D a try and I ran them through Keep on the Borderlands.  It was a disaster.  I had no idea what I was doing and botched everything up badly.

Some of the people in that original session never played again but most, much to my complete astonishment, were bitten by the bug and eager to play again despite my abysmal performance as Dungeon Master.  The guys that stuck around formed the core group of friends that I played with, pretty much every weekend and almost daily on holidays all through high school; one of them I still play with whenever I get the chance.  Although we quickly moved on to AD&D, the Basic Set still has a fond place in my heart and seeing the magic-user and fighter confronting a red dragon sitting atop his treasure horde evokes happy memories of the many hours I spent flipping through that rulebook dreaming of adventures to come.

It's been rough, these last few years, as we have lost many of the pioneers of our hobby: Gary Gygax, Dave Arneson, Robert Bledsaw of Judges Guild, and now Eric Holmes.  These were guys that made my adolescence a very special time and I'm very sad that they are gone.

I'm incredibly gratified, though, that there is a small cadre of enthusiasts who, like the survivors of my first game, were bitten by the bug and now form the core of the Old School Renaissance, keeping alive the spirit of the game as it was taught to us by those who have now passed.  Hopefully some of us will pass our passion and style of play on to the next generation, and preserve the efforts and teaching of the pioneers of role playing from being relegated to the scrap-heap of history in an age when gaming is more about corporate branding than imagination and free-form play.

Game on!

3 comments:

A Paladin In Citadel said...

That box cover was a doorway into a fantastic realm where we lived the stories of fantasy and adventure, rather than simply reading about them.

The masters will be missed.

bliss_infinte said...

Great post. Holmes was my gateway into fantasy role-playing games (which I had no idea what that was). We struggled with trying to figure out how to play this 'new game'. Many years of fun and I still return to that book as it is my core book of the game we all love.

Sean Robson said...

This box cover is one of my favourite pieces of D&D art. It's full of dramatic tension and it cuts straight to the heart of the game - kill the monster and steal its treasure!