So here I was, staring at a web page about a kickstarter for a module being designed by the son of the one and only Gary Gygax. Not only that, but there was history attached. Of young Ernie solo manning the counter of the Hobby Shop Dungeon, enticing folks to try out his own creation. Luring TSR workers from the Hotel Clair above him to abandon their warm cubicles for the dank, dark depths of the unknown. Not only that, but from what I have been able to piece together, like a lot of us, he carried bits of pieces of this dungeon around with him for decades. Now that...THAT, I could get behind and understand. I fully knew the love that can come from building upon something through years and years of play. How sentimental and like a child that project can be.
Folks, I then began to cry. Yup, totally not gonna lie, have little to no care how nerdy it makes me, 10:45 at night, my eyes a little bleary from all the reading I had just done, I felt tears well up. I finally understood. It was like a light from heaven shined down with Gary's voice above saying the words "There ya go finally, it took you long enough" I was not crying because of some pent up emotional issue, I was crying because I too had created something that I drug around in 14 Binders and various folders and 17 rolled up poster sized graph pages filled with maps inside an old surveyor's map case. I had drug it from Indiana, to my barracks to my first apartment to another set of barracks and another apartment after that. I had ran people from age 9 till I was 27 years old through my world. There had been deaths, births, marriages, political infighting, an Empire formed, an Empire destroyed, treasures found and evil smited. In my memory as the DM, these events were almost like real. Not only could I remember the characters but I could remember the players that had ran them.
Sadly all that was lost to a tornado in 2002 along with most of my 1st edition and 2nd edition materials. Scattered to the four winds.At the time, I was working at a gas station in Swansea, Illinois, not far from my apartment, and had just left the Air Force while I pondered my next step. I saw the roof of my apartment, or at least part of it fly over me as I was pulling a branch off of a ladies car so she could get inside to relative safety from the storm. I remember idly thinking, man I feel sorry for those people. Well, turns out those people, were me. But this story is not about that journey so I digress. It is safe to say, after getting off work and coming home to a pile of rubble, I was sure I would never see Aenarion again. As I sat staring at the kickstarter page, emotion just welled up inside me. I was sad all over again at my own loss, but I was also overwhelmed with a desire to not let that be the end of the story.
You see, as I learned more about Ernie Gygax, and Robert Kuntz and others tied to the original incarnation of AD&D, I saw a lot of myself in them. I saw that 13 year old kid in the basement of the Brown County Public Library, thumbing through the monster manual looking for a creature to terrorize my group. I smelled the moldy basement, saw the flickering light that was always threatening to go out but never did, heard the clatter of the dice on the old wooden table. Remembered misty dungeon entrances, dripping with slime and ichor, and most of all remembered the endless hours of laughing (that should have probably been spent doing homework) and general mirth that ensued with every session. Ya sure, we were not the jocks of Brown County High School. The cheerleaders would not even give us a passing glance, and most people were loath to admit how much they did actually like Star Wars (something that still annoys me is seeing folks love on Star Wars now that brutally taunted my cousin and I for wearing Star Wars T-Shirts etc back then. You know who you are and you don't deserve to wield your plastic colored stick sir!)
I sensed all of that in Ernie's project. He was going to bring his past back to the forefront and not only that, he was going to share it with the world. But he was not going to share it in the spoon fed mode, he was going to give us enticing backstory, to spur the mind, relevant background information on the setting but still loose enough it could easily fit into any campaign regardless of the system etc. Genius, I thought, he is doing it just like Gary wanted. He is providing the bones and muscle but like his dad he is leaving it to us to flesh it out. Then it dawned on me, as Benoist kindly answered one of my questions on the facebook page for the Marmorial Tomb project. I was still asking the kind of questions that all those other folks back in 1979 and even 2006 had been asking Gary. Why can't elves be druids my son wants to know? Benoist referenced where Gary got his inspiration from, a little author named Poul Anderson, as a place to find answers.
I promptly found a copy of The Broken Sword and Three Hearts and Three Lions by Poul Anderson. I also picked up Jack Vance as well, though for whatever reason it was not my cup of tea, I stuck with it long enough to see where Gygax drew his magic system inspiration from. From Anderson I understood why he chose to portray Elves the way he did. They were not Tolkiens haunting beauties that were more Haughty human with pointed ears then fey. These elves were alien in every sense of the word. Their motivations were that of someone who lives forever and to which every pleasure was soon boring and trite. They did things not out of direct malice but out of indifference. Humans are short lived beasts to them, a play toy to amuse them briefly in the long stretch of endless millennia of tedium. I then began to think how I portrayed my elves, and realized I too had been influenced by an author, Gav Thorpe, who portrayed his elves as something in between Anderson and Tolkiens view.
So right away I began thinking about how I would implement this new epiphany into my game...and then I stopped myself. Here I was conforming, using someone else's idea of how to do things without standing up for my own way of running them for decades. You see the spoon fed nature I had been bred into was once again working on me. I was going to change what I was doing just to be like other DM's and conform to a standard that honestly did not need to be conformed to. After all, Aenarion was MY world, with MY elves and MY story. How I chose to perceive elves or dwarves or magic was entirely up to my whims in my world. That is the true gift Gary gave us, was the TOOLS to bring these worlds to life, not to try to be just like greyhawk, or just like forgotten realms, but to make our own story and our own legacy. He never intended for us to try to run a game exactly how he and Rob use to run Castle Greyhawk. For one thing, like most DM's from the sound of things Castle Greyhawk was a hot mess of papers and doodles and stats and maps, that changed based on the drive of the story and whom was running it at the time.
I went outside a little later that night and sucked in the cold mountain air of Colorado. I pondered long and hard (till I couldn't feel my tootsies anymore) on what I wanted to do. First off Empire of Imagination and spurred me to do one thing. I was going to run my children through my own Gygaxian inspired adventure. I had studied up on past player comments from some of his convention days as well as players who plaued sessions with Frank Mentzer as well. I had always loved The Temple of Elemental Evil and The Village of Hommlet. BUT, this time I was going to keep a constant journal, and as any opportunity came around for a plot hook I would throw it down. Soon by the month of December I had named every villager between Hommlet and Nulb, went back and given motivations to a lot of them, and began running my kids and friends through Hommlet. Not only was it different this time, but it was back to feeling like those days down in the basement of the Library. Everyone showed up to the game with an air of excitement. They might die!!! They might find treasure!!! It took one or two encounters before all at the table soon were white knuckling dice rolls and lamenting the loss of a favorite henchmen to a Giant toad.
It is not that 1st Edition plays any better or worse then any other game out there. But what is important to note, is that it was the first. People argue that one style of RPG is vastly superior to another. I disagree completely. I think one GM or DM is better then another. I think groups of players may be better or worse then others. I think the game is a tool and nothing more. The experience is made by us. I literally cannot wait till the HSD is in my hands. Not because I am incapable of writing my own stuff, but because this is a project of love that is written from a place I understand. Someone else who sat at his dad's table and friends tables and thought grander dreams into existence then some folks ever have. Ernie never gave up, and frankly with folks like Benoist to help him hoist the flag high, I hope he never will. I know that is what I have learned more then anything. NEVER GIVE UP.
Since Benoist did a video addressing his reason for joining the HSD Project I have also been inspired. I have began to write my own RPG for the first time...well ever. My son wanted to work with me and so we bought web space, we registered our domain, and my wife begins working on the website for Rolling Bones Games. Our first project is something called Precipice and I am trying to create my own science fiction game that gives the freedoms of Traveller but with an original back story straight out of our imaginations rather then tied to any one piece of literature or inspiration. It has been hard work but its flowing out of my brain a lot faster then it ever has. Forty Seven pages in thus far and no end in sight. Even if it never gets finished, it gives me time with my son and my cousin and a few other friends whom want to help with it. That is the other lesson that Empire of Imagination taught me. Gary made a few choice mistakes with his family life, I am not perfect either by any stretch, but I think I will take one positive from his life. I intend to have my family with me for the whole ride.
So in summary, thanks to everyone who has documented their journey with the HSD Project. It has serveed as inspiration to myself and I am sure many others. Thank you to Ernie for leading me on a unintentional journey of self re-discovery, and most importantly thanks to every fan out there whom rolls the bones whenever able. Our hobby is one unrestricted by technology changes, bandwidth limits and gas prices. A few pencils, some dice and paper, a smatter of books and a light source and we are golden! Oh ya, Imagination required but not included! Also, Aenarion has slowly been getting resurrected. I may not have my original information intact, but I have contact with several of the 50ish or so different players to run through it over the years and most of the time with little bits of input whole details come back to me. I made a mock map up for now, and slowly began from the northwest corner to rewrite the story of the lands incorporating past adventures into the official history. My own personal Hobby Shop Dungeon I guess!
Keep your chin up!