Friday, March 4, 2016

March Forth - How Gary Gygax influenced Felltower

March 4th - aka March Forth - is GM's Day. It's the 8th anniversary of the death of Gary Gygax.

I thought I would reflect on some specific ways Gary Gygax has influenced my current GURPS Dungeon Fantasy game.

Besides the really obvious one, of course, in that I got my start with D&D and Dungeon Fantasy cheerfully romps through the tropes and cliches of the genre spawned by that game.

There are very specific homages in my game. Here are a few:

A megadungeon right outside a growing city? Obvious source. Here is a little background written by Gary.

Pickup game with a rotating cast of PCs? Right out of the original approach I'd heard Gary Gygax used.

Black Jans the wizard pulls from many sources, including my own previous games (Zavian, Jans Yama, and a few others - my players will know). But putting him in a tower in my city? That's partly from the idea of the Wizard in the Tower from Greyhawk. Scroll down to "Getting Even Puts the Other Guy Ahead" in the link.

Orcs taking tolls from the PCs in return for safe passage? The PCs actually initiated this (Session 35), but it's something I had in mind to use based on the elves in The Black Reservoir. That story is written in Gygax's signature fantasy prose.

A dark, water-filled level (first plummeted into during Session 19) also partly inspired by The Black Reservoir. There is yet another inspiration from that story in my game as well.

The gem in the statue trap (Session 40) is partly from Traps & Treachery but also partly from "Lesson #6: Dungeon Hospitality - Falling for the Obvious."

Prisoners you can rescue? That's a Gygax feature I copied out of B2 The Keep on the Borderlands but also from G1-3 Against the Giants. Several of the guys in my campaign were just fleshing out Gary's NPCs from the original sources.

There are more, of course. But those are some the players have interacted with and might recognize. I deliberately drew on Gary Gygax's material to help populate my dungeon so I could pass on the enjoyment to my players. It's one thing to pass the stories on - another to turn them into my own bits and pieces and then make them into new experiences.

Stories like The Magician's Ring and The Giant's Bag are very cool, but didn't get any direct homages.


  1. Thanks for this post, Peter - I'm glad to see someone else in the GURPS Blogosphere celebrating March Forth!

    I'd never read that "Expedition into the Black Reservoir" piece before. While reading it, I couldn't help but assess it as a "session report", using the standards everyone was discussing (at your instigation, if I recall correctly) a month or so ago. It was a fun read - but (to be unfair to Gygax at the most inappropriate time!)I think if it were written today, one would want to say that there's too much pseudo-fiction and not enough meta-reporting. :) This is paritucclarrly galling, since I *long* to hear more of Gygax actually reporting in more details about how things worked at the table, at a practical level.

    Anyway, enough rambling. I do enough of that on my blog. Thanks, and happy GMs day!

    1. I was thinking about the same exact thing - I wanted more of those meta-details. Less "spoke in strange tongues and their flesh knitted together" and more asides like the one in The Magician's Ring about the dice saying the thieving retainer was undecided about his loyalty.

      I get the reason - you read that, and think, wow, what a cool story, and I can actually have these acted out in a game with my friends. But looking back from 2016, you think, please tell me how it played. One adventurer didn't want to go deeper? Was that a player? An NPC failing a reaction roll? What was the deal with that?

      So I feel the same way . . . I just want to know more meta details about the whole thing.

  2. The dungeon is a living thing...feeding on the fears of the villagers...and twisting and distorting those fears until your brain has a meltdown.

    1. I thinks it's more like the dungeon is a meta thing, feeding on the fears of the players and the nostalgia and humor of the GM, twisting and distorting them together until we have a TPK.

      We're more beer and pretzels than anything more serious.

  3. The dungeon is a living thing...feeding on the fears of the villagers...and twisting and distorting those fears until your brain has a meltdown.


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