Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Weird Hallucinations in Friskies Adventureland

Hopefully I'm not departing too far from the weird art theme of this web log by pointing out Friskie's new "Adventureland" cat food commercial. This animated bit of feline phantasmagoria lies somewhere between a psilocybin hallucination and a weird fiction daydream. The lucky little cat in this spot must truly be Ultharian.

Check out the wicker fish ship, the floating windmill islands, the hermit crab port guardians, the goldfish in the lighthouse, and the weird chicken band surrounding the interdimensional portal leading to the moist cat food. Very nice!

Slate wrote up an interesting commentary on this commercial, trying to find out why in the world Purina would make such a thing. The most poignant excerpt:

"Feeding wet," as Schlueter calls it, can for some owners be a highly ritualized and intimate pet interaction. The pop of the can primes kitty for excitement. The scents that escape set feline nostrils aflutter. This is a time for cats and owners to bond over a heap of moist, processed meat. And, according to Schlueter, many owners like to imagine what their cats are feeling and thinking during these moments of culinary ecstasy. This trippy ad, which is for wet food, is meant to capture the altered consciousness of the cat—the sensually heightened bliss it derives from chewing on a pile of damp Friskies.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Away for a Time

I'm traveling for the next two weeks, so you probably won't see any new cyclopeatronic posts until early April. Cheers! Be Good Like You Should!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

D&D Mycology Handbook: Fungus Caverns I

Fungus caverns are a classic archetype of weird fiction, and have accordingly been incorporated into fantasy roleplaying environments since the birth of the hobby. Although many DMs treat fungus caverns simply as colorful backdrops for spelunking, it is not unknown for some players to want to take a closer look at the mycological wonders surrounding them. To better serve these supernaturalistic gameplay moments, I here begin a series of reports providing some rudimentary details on the ecology and diversity of common subterranean fungi in the world of Oranj.

Consider the mushroom… It is only the transitory fruiting body, the fleeting flesh flower if you will, of a more cryptic and expansive organism that resides in the soil. The main part of the organism is in fact the mycelium – a neural net of fibrous aspect that may extend for inches or miles. Some fungi of Oranj have mycelia that extend not only through the earth, but also across several obscure dimensions of space.

The defining feature of a fungus cavern is the nutrient source of the resident fungi. The fungi of the surface world typically live on decaying organic matter. A paucity of sunlight in subterranean regions translates into a lack of plant matter, which in turn means that there is very little decaying organic stuff to sustain forests of mundane fungi deep underground. The great fungi of the inner sphere instead rely on more unusual strategies for survival:

1. Mycocultural Tracts: Underground mushroom farms are actively maintained by fungus feeding lifeforms. To support this type of agriculture organic material is actively brought into the caverns and applied to the mushroom gardens. The constitutive fungi are usually benign, sometimes delicious. Mushroom farms are usually indicative of a local subterranean agricultural society.

2. Filth Springs of the Inner Sphere: On Oranj there are poorly understood underground reservoirs of organic filth that occasionally bubble through into caverns. These springs of filth often form ponds or lakes of thick oily sludge that can support large patches or even floating islands of fungus. Some of these fungus islands are quite large and ancient, manifesting as massive floating mushroom forests in the deepest caverns.

3. Calxomyces Galleries - Stone Eaters: Certain Oranjian fungi are capable of feeding upon rocks and minerals. Most common of these "stone eater" fungi are the carbonophilic calxomyces. The mycelia of these fungi spread through caverns, actively breaking rock in order to gain access to veins of coal or similar carbon-rich sediments. This bizarre feeding strategy has lead to the creation of vast cavern systems throughout the planet's crust. The multichromatic mycelia of calxomyces can completely cover the interiors of active feeding caverns, producing an otherwordly environment where sensitive travelers can telepathically sense the thoughts of the mycelia. Calxomyces fruiting bodies are large black and purple morel-like growths.

Flesh Eating Fungus Nests
Mycelial Brain Cysts
Interdimensional Sporulation Patches
Undead Fungus

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Videos: Dark Magic of Jewels and Gems

Here's a pair of videos sharing magical jewels as a theme
Learn your lessons, children!

Awesomely demonic 2005 short by Run Wrake.
Yes, I know it's a bit long (~8min), but you must watch it. ADDers stick out the first 80 seconds to get to the hardcore black magic.

Willow Don't Cry
2007 rap video by Dungeon Majesty about the movie Willow.
Kicks off with a magical gem-encrusted D&D adventure!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Fungus Caverns of Etidorhpa (Lloyd 1895)

It's probably safe to say that we all love the idea of subterranean caverns filled with strange oversized fungi. I certainly do. Because fungi survive by decomposing decaying organic matter, however, it actually makes very little biological sense for a deep cavern system to support forests of gigantic mushrooms, unless, of course, some ultramundane forces are at play. For me, this hint of magic actually makes the vision all the more appealing. Eventually, I hope to compose several substantial posts on the supernatural history of fungus caverns. For now though, I would like to point out an early and lesser known bit of fantastic fiction describing a fungus forest: Etidorhpa by John Uri Lloyd, published in 1895.

Lloyd was a pharmaceutical chemist who had never published fiction before the release of Etidorhpa (which is Aphrodite spelled backwards, by the way). This book is a weirdly charming yarn and an early landmark in the hollow earth genre. Lloyd was heavily involved in freemasonary, which is a prominent theme in the book. Etidorhpa has excited the sensibilities of some folks in much the same way that the Amazing Stories Shaver Mystery did 50 years later - both having lead especially sensitive readers to believe that some elements of mystical truth might underlie the fiction.

From a mycological perspective, the more entertaining parts of Etidorhpa are this illustration and text describing a great fungus cavern (yes, that is a nude hairless humanoid with no eyes):

"Along the chamber through which we now passed I saw by the mellow light great pillars, capped with umbrella-like covers, some of them reminding me of the common toadstool of upper Earth, on a magnificent scale. Instead, however, of the grey and somber shades to which I had been accustomed, these objects were of various hues and combined the brilliancy of the primary prismatic colors, with the purity of clean snow. Now they would stand solitary, like sentinels; again they would be arranged in rows, the alignment as true as if established by the hair of a transit, forming columnar avenues, and in other situations they were wedged together so as to produce masses, acres in extent, in which the stems became hexagonal by compression. The columnar stems, larger than my body, were often spiral; again they were marked by diamond-shaped figures, or other geometrical forms in relief, beautifully exact, drawn as by a master’s hand in rich and delicately blended colors, on pillars of pure alabaster. Not a few of the stems showed deep crimson, blue or green, together with other rich colors combined; over which, as delicate as the rarest of lace, would be thrown, in white, an enamel-like intricate tracery, far surpassing in beauty of execution the most exquisite needle-work I had ever seen. There could be no doubt I was in a forest of collossal fungi, the species of which are more numerous than those of upper earth, cryptomatic vegetation."

In the book it turns out that these titanic mushroom forests are a perfect food source for the humans who eventually forsake the surface of the earth to exult in a new immaculate existence in the inner sphere. If so inclined, you may read the full text of Etidorhpa here. Enjoy.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Jack Vance's Durdane: Illustrations by Paul Lehr

Here is a match made in cyclopeatronic heaven: Paul Lehr doing cover art for Jack Vance. In this case we have Lehr gracing the first print covers of the all three books of Vance's Durdane trilogy. The first book, The Anome, first saw the light of day as the very Dell paperback edition shown below. The next two books, The Brave Free Men (originally entitled The Roguskhoi) and The Asutra, were initially published as serials in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, but were quickly reprinted as the Dell paperbacks pictured.

In my highly biased opinion these books are a great read. The setting is classic Vancian "medieval sci-fi": a planet that has been inhabited by humans for thousands of years, but where the cultures have largely forgotten their earthly origins and have lost much of their capacity for technology. In the case of Durdane, there is a severe limitation on technology due to a lack of metal ore on the planet.

This series particularly appeals to me because there is a strong musical theme running throughout. The main protagonist is a stringed instrument player who enjoys a weird style of complex improvisational music that draws much of its aesthetic from early jazz and old-time string band music. Even the names of the wandering minstrel troupes of Durdane sound a lot like what you might find on 78rpm jug band records, but flavoured with the chromatic psychedelia of Vancian sci-fi. I collect and play 1920s string band music myself (here's a shameless plug for my band: Sausage Grinder), and, as I wrote about previously, Jack Vance is a fellow enthusiast of this now obscure music.

THE ANOME (1971) - First book edition: Dell 1973. The best book of the bunch, in my opinion. Amazing fiction! Look at the gorgeous cover art. That thing around the man's neck is a "torc". Upon reaching a certain age, everyone living on the continent of Shant receives one of these devices. If that person breaks any of the laws of their canton - POP - their head explodes. Who enforces this? THE FACELESS MAN of course. In this book we follow the exploits of a boy who runs away from home to join a string band, travels across Shant, and eventually seeks out The Faceless Man himself. Check out the nice glass city on the cover of the book - you can visit there yourself by reading The Anome.

THE BRAVE FREE MEN (1972) - First book edition: Dell 1973. Originally called The Roguskhoi and published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. The paperback has a classic Paul Lehr cover: saturated colors, rushing crowds of faceless people, and that Meltzoff-inspired spaceship just to the right of the roghuskoi's shoulder. This book is about the struggle against the roguskhoi - a mysterious race of naked male barbarian clones who enslave and impregnate the innocent women of Shant. Once impregnated by a roguskhoi, a women will give birth to more roguskhoi clones. A dangerous situation, yes.

THE ASUTRA (1973) - First book edition: Dell 1974. The weirdest book of the three. The protagonists explore distant and wild shores of Durdane and we also get a glimpse of another planet and learn about the bizarre parasitic aliens known as The Asutra... all awesome stuff that makes me drool. This book has amazingly great cover art of a strange landscape with star ships and a serious looking alien head. I could never imagine a book looking like this being published today.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Culinary Guide to Wizard Entrails

Many adventurous forays reach their climax with the death of an evil, unloved, or otherwise unappreciated wizard. Once said wizard transforms into a corpse, the wide-eyed murderers will quite invariably leap into the activity of looting the body and/or homeplace of the slain magician. Not so fast, adventurers! Don’t you realize that by ignoring that wizard gristle you are passing up on an opportunity for some extraordinarily good eats? Don’t be shy! Get it while it’s fresh!

 As wizards age and become more magically powerful, they also become more magically delicious. Prolonged exposure to magic results in internal, and sometimes external, changes in a wizard’s physiology. The five growths of greatest interest are:

Generic Torma Growth 
These growths are always found in the central lobes of old wizard brains. They are dense clusters of neurons used to memorize spells and forumlae - biologic flash drives, if you will. Inhaling a freshly extracted torma growth into one's sinus will increase Intelligence by 1d4 for 2d6 days.

Marple Gland
A gland that forms within the nape of the neck in wizards who have done a good deal of interdimensional travel. Consumption of a whole, dried Marple Gland will allow Astral Projection for 2d4 hours.

Nodes of Sincture
These resinous globules form inside the vitreous humours of the eyeballs of master wizzes. The swallower of one of these eye pearls will be able to Detect Magic for 1d4 days.

Glabba Sac
This black greasy sac may be found located near the liver of evil wizards. A small volume (never more than 1 milliliter) of glistening black oil may be extracted from the sac by disruption and pressing. The volume of oil extracted is dependent on the degree of heinousness of the wizard. A drop of this oil placed upon the tongue will act as a Protection From Good spell for 2d4 turns.

The Downy Pinkus
This growth manifests as a rod-like organ that floats freely in the abdominal cavities of wizards. A wizard’s Downy Pinkus grows one inch per level, so a seventh–level wizard will have a seven inch Downy Pinkus. The rubbery alabaster rod of the Downy Pinkus is covered with a smooth layer of cilia, which is where the name comes from. This organ serves as an ultraphysical antenna for transmitting magical energy. Cooking a Downy Pinkus will give it a texture much like a fuzz-covered sausage, although the organ has an odd metallic flavor. Consumption of a whole cooked Downy Pinkus will imbue the masticator with ESP abilities for a number of hours equal to organ’s length in inches.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

R. Hogg's Futuristic Wizard Worlds

Beasts by Ippy Patterson

Some beastly illustrations by Ippy Patterson. These were done for the 1999 book of poetry An Elizabethan Bestiary: Retold by Jeffrey Beam. Thanks to A Journey Round My Skull for finding these.






Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Horror in the Cloud Mines

PENELION - Session 12 - Labyrinth Lord

This is the first time I’ve taken a group of players through the cloud mines. It seems to have gone quite nicely, although some aspects of the adventure induced a bit of timidity in the group. The cloud mines are basically an upside-down floating labyrinth, the individual levels of which are separated by cables that can be transversed by enclosed cable cars. Each labyrinth level is an independent swaying, creaking, levitating enclosure that is attached to the ground hundreds of feet below by a cable. The cloud mines float in a thick opaque mist that induces fearsome hallucinations unless special precautions are taken. Several of the floating levels act as distilleries that extract magical fluids from the opaque vapours – hence, the cloud mining. These distillery levels have large complex glass machines with apparatuses extending deep into the vapour banks outside the enclosures.

PCs: Philina (level 2 cleric), Chipwich (level 2 thief), Syeth (level 2 MU), Alia (level 2 fighter)
NPCs: Merryn (level 2 cleric)

Return to Penelia: The party has now relocated to the small deep-forest hamlet of Penelia, home of the animist Penelion Sisterhood, to which Philina and Merryn belong. The sisters tend to a large ancient owl living in a Venusian-sized tree to the west of the hamlet. Unrest in the southern range of the forest led the matriarch of the Sisterhood to urge the party to investigate a haunted glen in the mountains foothills to the south. It has been observed that troupes of small blue-skinned eyeless humanoids have been traveling in and out of the glen in recent months. This glen was the site of a massacre eons ago, and those who enter the glen return insane or are lost forever.

The Glen of Opaque Vapours: The party finds the entrance to the glen and camps out nearby to keep watch through the night. Shortly after dusk a man runs out of the glen and Alia catches up with him on her horse. The man, Hyne, says he’s an explorer as well, and gives some background about what he knows is in the misty glen. For reasons that are mysterious, a floating cloud mine has been constructed in the vapours by a Cinnabar Witch. There are apparitions in the vapours that will drive you mad if you look at them. Hyne has built a pair of fine-slit blinder goggles that aid in traversing through the vapours. The party heads back to town for the night, and some role-playing with Hyne, the party, and the locals ensues. The next day the party agrees to return to the mines with Hyne, and they hire local craftsmen to make slit-goggles for the whole party.

Through the Vapours: The party returns to the glen. As they follow a footpath deeper into the mists, the vapours begin to take a scarlet hue. Rotten figures shamble about the group, threatening mystic fear. Philina uses her blessed bandana (magic item from several sessions previous) to resist the fear. The group finds a stone structure with a ladder leading to a platform. There is an enclosed wooden car on the platform attached to a cable leading directly up into the blood hued vapours.

Into the Cloud Mine: A crank moves the car hundreds of feet up the swaying cable until a thud halts the car’s movement. The party exits the car through a hatch in the ceiling and find themselves in a wooden room – they are in the entry chamber for the floating cloud mine. The group explores this level of the mine (I’m not providing too many details here…) and finds living quarters and mangled corpses of the eyeless blue men – mineworkers apparently. The group is attacked by, and barely defeats, a gaggle of horrific wild beasts – large chimpanzee-like creatures with transparent skin - that appear to have invaded the cloud mine. The group eventually finds some special glass goggles that prevent the hallucinations of the vapors. They also find a shrine to a Cinnabar Witch and a cable car leading to a distillery level of the mine. Two members of the group make a quick trip to the distillery level, take some vials of red sticky vapour distillate, which they conceal from Hyne, and return to the party on the first level. The group then leaves the cloud mine and heads back to Penelia.

(NOTE: I still owe players a recap of Sessions 4-11)

Monday, March 8, 2010

The Sands of Mars

Mars photos from NASA APOD.

You must ENLARGE these photos to maximize awesomeness.

Thawing sand dunes:

Barchan sand dunes blown by the wind take a liquid aspect:

Landslides of black sand create the impression of a surreal forest of ebony yucca trees:

This crater, the Echus Chasma, is hypothesized to have been one of the major water sources on Mars. These cliffs are ~4km high and were possibly carved out by running water. At one time this may have been the greatest waterfall in the solar system:

Martian landscape marked by mysterious streaks of black sand:

Strange white finger-like rock formations revealed at the bottom of an impact crater:


A weird 150m-wide pit in the side of a volcano. Infrared thermal signatures suggest this is a very deep hole leading to an underground cavern system. Several of these pits have been identified:

Friday, March 5, 2010

Recycling Human Heads Into Magical Items

A mind is truly a terrible thing to waste. In fact, many centuries ago it was common, even fashionable, for magicians to recycle unused or unneeded brains into handy little fellows known variously as “chi-chi friends”, “scholars’ helpers”, or “homunculons”. These homunculons, as we will call them here, typically consist of a human head with a few extra appendages or features added – fingers, eyes, ears, toes, etc. Players can gain a great deal of pleasure and utility from owning and caring for a homunculon. One of these little guys can truly be a magician’s best friend!

Care and feeding of homunculons is fairly simply. Because they can go into a hibernation-like torpor between moments of activity, they do not require much in the way of food or drink. After each use, just make sure your homunculon gets a bite or two of grub and a sip of something to wet its tongue. A dormant homunculon can sit for centuries between uses. Be sure to keep your homunculon clean! Because they lack gastrointestinal tracts, they tend to relieve themselves rather quickly after a meal. They have little buttocks at their napes, you see. Some homunculons may tend to have strong appetites, which can lead to a bit of a mess.
If a Dungeon Master wishes, she may randomly determine the nature of any homunculon her players may make acquaintance with:

Type of Homunculon (1d6):

1. Reminder – Once per day a Reminder can read and memorize a single magic user spell of level 1-3 and “remind”, or recharge, a magic user’s memory of that spell. This assumes the magic user has the ability and a memory slot available, either through having recently cast a spell or by not having previously filled the memory slot for that day.

2. Reciter – Can read, memorize, and verbally recite up to 50,000 words of normal text.

3. Reader
– Can read and verbally translate normal text. Knows 2d6 languages.

4. Transcriber – Usually in the form of a large hand / head fusion. Can read, memorize, and transcribe up to 50,000 words of normal text.

5. Translator – Can verbally translate up to 2d6 spoken languages.

6. Analyzer – Once per week an Analyzer can observe a spell being cast and has chance of learning the spell, which it can then transcribe into writing. Analyzers always have a hand and/or several fingers attached to aid in transcription. To learn a spell, the Analyzer must be able to clearly see and hear the spell being cast from no more than 15’ away. To determine if the attempted spell learning is successful you must roll the spell’s level or higher on a 1d4 (for example, for the homunculon to learn a 3rd level spell you must roll a 3 or 4 on a 1d4). Some rare and valuable Analyzers, fashioned from the brains of once-powerful magicians, can roll 1d6 or even 1d8 for this purpose
Roll for Two Extra Characteristics (1d6 twice):
  1. 1d8 extra fingers
  2. 1d4 extra eyes
  3. 1d4 extra ears
  4. 1d4 toes
  5. Head attached to a foot
  6. Head attached to a hand (required for Transcribers and Analyzers)
Size: 2d4 pounds
Intelligence Level (1d4):
  1. Animal
  2. Toddler
  3. Average
  4. Genius
Personality Trait (1d20):
  1. Giggly
  2. Surly
  3. Enthusiastically helpful
  4. Snobby
  5. Poetic
  6. Manic depressive
  7. Co-dependent
  8. Cowardly
  9. Pretentious
  10. Likes to sing
  11. Problem with hiccups, farting, or burping
  12. Overly hirsute
  13. A beautiful face
  14. Desires fine clothing
  15. Dope addict
  16. Amorous
  17. Loves fine wine
  18. Awesome moustache
  19. Charming personality
  20. Only a child

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Magical Meconium of a Godling - World Oranj Session 3

This ~4hr session was a nice mix of exploration, role-playing, and tactical adventure. Sadly, we also had our first PC death: Sproutface – the only lawful PC in the group. The party found a large treasure stash, including several MU scrolls. Interacting with Loomis, the spurned apprentice, and Little Chief, the captive goblin, brought more clues regarding the nature of Morton’s sidetracked project of reviving a dead godling. With this game we also began playtesting a new Beastmistress class, where advancement leads to gaining special animal-related abilities (inspired by the Gamma World mutation system).

Continuing PCs: Cookie (L1 F), Gorlark (L1 F), Franklin (L1 C), Sproutface (L1 C), Monolaba (L1 C), Scunibro (L1 MU)
NPCs: Mess (Farm Lad), Pipple (Farm Lad), Shiply (Poet)
Welcome New PCs:
Beana – Level 1 Beastmistress (playtesting new character class), has a large curly mop of hair that her pet bird Taka lives in.

– Level 1 MU, came to ask Morton for an apprenticeship, and rapidly ended up in a floating sphere of Vaseline.
Magical Meconium of a Godling: The party is two levels below ground in a large chamber dominated by a 50’ long stone tub holding a gigantic human head with a tiny limp body floating in oily brown bathwater that smells like meat. Large prisms and lamps, dark, on swinging arm apparatuses flank the tub. Monolaba dips his finger in the brown liquid and tastes it… ‘tase good! A weird high pitch telepathic voice asks Monolaba if he enjoyed the godling’s meconium. Franklin fails a save against spells and is charmed by the voice, who asks him to please feed the head using the crystal hand (see session 1). The brain in the giant head is messing with the group. Cookie restrains Franklin and pulls him into a southern chamber…
Stasis Gel Orbs: A small room with two floating gel orbs and a pool of water with a waterspout going into the ceiling. From each gel orb are rescued two more prisoners of Morton: Beana and Loomis. Much cool first-person role-playing ensued as Beana and Loomis explained how they were each captured by Morton, and what they know about the place.
Water and the Fungus Heifer: The party heads further south into a series of fungus caverns. They pick samples of various species of mushrooms – Purple Chanterelles, Lace Morels, Yellow Roaners, etc. Monolaba took a taste of a Purple Chanterelle and didn’t notice any immediate effects. Exploration and mapping brings some notable discoveries: large ancient statue of amoeboid creature, a small stream falling into a dark cavity, a large shy fungus beast with black ascomycetic eyes retiring in the back of a cavern.
Blood, Gore, Goblins, and Rats: A fairly complex series of encounters occurred where the players learned how to gain access, through a portcullis, to an eastern set of tunnels inhabited by hostile rock goblins. A series of gnarly back-and-forth tactical fights through the tunnels occurred. No characters died, but some were left unconscious or were seriously wounded. Scunibro’s sleep spell helped finish off a good portion of the goblins, and the party took one captive for questing. The little goblin said that the troupe was hired by Morton to help defend and maintain the caverns, and that there were many more goblins remaining. The party set up camp in an easily defendable room for the night. The party was interrupted once in the night by a pair of large rats who were quietly watching the party from the edge of the firelight. Beana spoke with the rats, who said that the goblins were mostly killed (in contrast to the captive’s story). The rats departed, and the party was able to get some rest.
Grod the Magical Goblin and the Deaths of Sproutface and Mess: The next day the party reentered the Goblin cave to try to finish off the creatures. While the party was distracted by a screaming goblin, Grod the Magical Goblin Chief snuck up from behind the party and cast a sleep spell, laying most of the group on the ground. Only a couple players, in a side tunnel, remained awake – they ran as quickly as they could to awaken their companions and attack the small group of goblins now ambushing the party from the other side of the cavern. Ultimately two party members had their throats slit and died: Sproutface (the only lawful PC) and Mess. The party killed off all the goblins except for one, whom they christened “Little Chief” because they promised to reward him the control of the newly emptied cavern in exchange for his assistance. The party looted the goblin’s supply room and Grod’s personal chamber, where they found some of Morton’s scrolls and fine valuables.
So back to town the party headed with the corpses and the treasures…

7 Weird Drawings by Penny Davenport

Some recent drawings by U.K. illustrator Penny Davenport. Truly delicious!

Gary Gygax’s Whitebox OD&D House Rules

At the beginning of our World Oranj Whitebox OD&D game I started picking through various common house rulings in order to put together my own initial set of house rules. My personal list is based on rules I use in Classic D&D games (currently, Labyrinth Lord) and also on rules I've read about but never tried (see the excellent house rule lists by Philotomy and Delta). During this exercise I paid special attention to Gary Gygax’s house rules, which I attempt to compile here. The topic of Gygax’s OD&D house rules pops up on a regular basis in game forums, and some of what I summarize here will be old hat to many readers. My goal was to sift through the chit-chat and identify some of the specific rulings originating from Gygax himself. An important caveat is that Gygax was constantly tinkering with his house rules, meaning that any reported house rules should not be considered the final word.

I found two main sets of Gygaxian house rules. The one that is most frequently discussed in game forums appears to originate from Robert Fisher, who compiled the list after questioning Gygax about a game run in 2005 (someone please correct me if this citation is inaccurate). The rules were:

    * Only use the three little books - none of the supplements.

    * Ability scores rolled as best 3 out of 4d6. Arrange scores to taste.

    * All PCs get 1d6 hp/level. HP rolls are rerolled on a 1.

    * Fighters get +1 HP/die. All PCs get +1 HP/die if Con > 14.

    * Fighters do +1 damage if Str > 14.

    * Dex doesn't affect AC. (It does affect missile attack "to hit" rolls.)

    * PCs start at 3rd level.

    * PCs are unconscious at 0 hp. They can go as low as level +1 before death. (e.g. a 4th level fighter can be brought as low as -5 hp and just be unconscious.) A healing potion or cure spell restores them immediately.

    * 1d6 for surprise. 1=1 round. 2=2 rounds. 3 or more=no surprise.

    * PCs must declare actions before initiative. Casters must declare the specific spell being cast.

    * 1d6 for initiative. A tie means simultaneous combat.

    * A casting caster who loses initiative will lose his spell if hit.

    * No training necessary to gain a level.

    * To acquire new spells casters must find scrolls, spellbooks, or a friendly higher-level caster.

    * Clerics don't need spellbooks. (The original books can be read to imply that they do.)

    * Gary IDs most magic items immediately (charging large sums of money when they return to town to rest & recuperate for this service). (This is because the players are anxious to get back into the dungeon & don't want to bother with in-town adventures.) Potions must still be tasted to ID, though. Unusual items require a trip to the striped mage.

The second set of rules comes from a forum posting that Gygax himself made in 2007:

    * STR > 14: +1 to hit and +1 to damage if a Fighter

    * INT > 14: +1 1st level m-u spell

    * WIS > 14: +1 1st level cleric spell

    * DEX > 14: +1 to AC, and +1 to move silently

    * CON > 14: +1 HP per HD (same as a Fighter class gets, +2 if a Fighter)

    * CHA > 14: +1 (positive) on reaction checks

    * HPs: Characters are only unconscious at 0 HPs. For each level a character may have a minus HP total equal to the level, so a 1st level PC is dead at -2, a 2nd level at -3, etc.

    * When taking damage allow -1 HP per character level (from a GenCon XL report posted by Gygax)

Another quote directly from Gygax (ENWorld, September 2006), shows that he maintained the 1st level cleric spell house rule:

"I run three-booklet OD&D now and again myself, adding some house rules to make 1st level PCs a bit more viable and allowing Clerics a spell at 1st level if their Wis is 15 or higher."

Gygax's house rules are interesting because most of them make characters stronger: the ability modifiers are all directly or indirectly positive, it’s harder to die, clerics don’t need books, magic items are instantly identified, no training to level-up, etc. One of the big advantages for players is the -1HP damage reduction per character level (!). Overall, Gygax seemed to be fairly liberal in giving out little bonuses to player characters.

These bonus-oriented house rules strongly imply that Gygax felt that by-the-book Level 1 characters in OD&D were too vulnerable. The main reason to implement most of Gygax's house rules would be to decrease mortality and make the characters slightly more powerful. A small number of gamers – almost exclusively experienced retro-role-playing enthusiasts - enjoy high-mortality low-level D&D play because of the special kind of challenge and excitement it offers. I like this kind of gaming myself. In my experience, however, most casual role-players are bummed out by seemingly random or premature character death. Gygax seemed to be interested in accommodating this latter group.

Gygax’s house rules are also interesting from a game evolution perspective. We can outline character strength in early D&D thusly:

    * Original OD&D: Low baseline, low positive modifiers.

    * Gygaxian OD&D: Low baseline, medium positive modifiers.

    * Classic D&D: Medium baseline, extreme negative and positive modifiers.

Having played Classic D&D since the early 80s, I now find myself increasingly preferring the Gygaxian OD&D model because it seems to be the most fun for my current players, and therefore for myself, the DM. It decreases low-level mortality to a manageable level where there's an exciting tension but players are not so cautious as to make the game tedious. It focuses on “+” modifiers, which are psychologically more fun for players (e.g. nobody likes having to take -1 or -2 to their to hit roll every single time). Also it's mechanically simpler and faster than Classic D&D because players don’t have to juggle multiple “-“ and “+” modifiers.

In general, I think it’s better to start with a lower baseline and add to it, as opposed to starting with a higher baseline and being forced to subtract. This goes for many things, including rules complexity itself. It’s just more fun that way…