Tuesday, August 12, 2014

#2 First RPG Gamemastered - Beyond the Secret of the Lizard King's Sinister Crystal Tomb #RPGaDAY

My 1982 era elementary school role-playing group played the Moldvay Basic/Expert D&D rules augmented with the AD&D Monster Manual and any other items we could get our hands on. A typical adventure would be to slaughter everyone in the Keep on the Borderlands or hunt dinosaurs on the Isle of Dread with our plate-armored fighter/magic-users brandishing magic shields and +5 two-handed swords. We were typical munchkins of the day.

I vaguely recall creating adventures in that time. One probably from 1983 was influenced by the arcade game hit Dragon's Lair as the dungeon was populated with Giddy Goons instead of orcs and goblins. I'm sure that other adventures stole from The Dark Crystal, The Neverending Story and The Black Cauldron. I was not influenced by The Dungeonmaster.*

Soon enough, I left the "childish" basic rules behind for Advanced D&D (I was entering junior high school, it was time to man up!). By late 1984, I had my own PHB, MM and DMG. I was already an avid reader before Gygax's purple prose cast its lurid dweomer on me, transfixing my orbs to these weighty, bloated tomes.

The dice and tomb that distracted me from Chuck E. Cheese's arcade games

It is around this time that I started game mastering in earnest. My first AD&D module was a gift from a friend at my Chuck E. Cheese's birthday party: I2 Tomb of the Lizard King (the gift included my first d8 and d12 - good friend). I've run that module many times over the last 30+ years and it is still one of my favorites. I still remember adding an Obliviax from my Monster Cards as an extra challenge early in the adventure. Like it needed more of a challenge! In 1991, one group finally managed to kill the "end boss," but that was after losing three members of the party:
Tol Skullsplitter, Silvarius and Overkill were all victims of the Tomb

Another of my first game mastered modules was developed by TSR's UK office: U1 The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh.  It is a classic adventure and a great twist on the haunted house cliche that made Dungeon magazine's 2004 list of the 30 Greatest D&D Adventures of All Time. UK1 Beyond the Crystal Cave was another British module in my earliest collection but I never got to run it. I left it at a friend's house during a big sleepover where we all played rounds of the James Bond 007 RPG, the Star Trek III Starship Combat Game and other games (I asked him to give it back repeatedly but he refused - bad friend).

In my earliest DM sessions, it was hard to get a large group together. I usually played with a single player with one character. However, these adventures were all designed for parties of at least four adventurers. Sometimes I'd run an NPC companion to lend the player a hand, such as with Saltmarsh. In the case of Lizard King, I remember solving the problem by letting my stepbrother use my high-powered munchkin character: Goldleaf (Ugh... I must've been naming my characters after paint colors).

* The Dungeonmaster (a.k.a. Ragewar) is a schlocky, low-budget movie with no connection to D&D. In fact, newspaper ads for the film read, "This film is not endorsed by, or associated with T.S.R. Inc., publishers of the Advanced Dungeon and Dragons game." I rented this oddity on VHS around 1988. Bull from Night Court plays an evil wizard. The LA metal band W.A.S.P. performs. The computer geek star was the boy lost in a pool in the final episode of The Twilight Zone. The film's goofiness deserves its own blog post and many have already written about it.
With Stone Golem
Without Stone Golem

I leave you with one piece of trivia: The hero must battle a stop-motion-animated living statue in some fantasy landscape. Now, I recognize that landscape as Stoney Point Park in Los Angeles, a popular site for rock climbers that I used to live down the street from. Fortunately, they cleared out the stone golems and churlish dwarfs before I moved there.


  1. That was a fun read,sounds like you were a great DM sorry you could've find more players. I watched Dungeon Master recently and found it hilarious. It would go well with Lou Ferigno's Hercules.

    1. Fortunately, I did play with larger, regular gaming groups a few years later in high school. We weren't very independently mobile as kids in grade school and junior high because, as you know, you have to drive to get anywhere in LA!