Rythlondar

The Smoldering Wizard blog turned me onto an old D&D sandbox campaign from the mid-70’s called Rythlondar.  It was first covered over at Risus Monkey back in 2011, but I’d missed that post (actually, there were a series of them).  And other blogs have commented on the campaign as well.

When the campaign started there were about a dozen players and two co-DM’s (Len Scensny and John VanDeGraaf), each running their own mega-dungeons.  At the campaign’s height there were 6 GM’s and about 50 players (including the GM’s).  A periodic fanzine covering the campaign was published every few months, detailing the adventurer’s exploits and foibles.

Play was organized around expeditions to one of the various dungeons in the world.  I assume that expeditions where completed in a single game session (from leaving town, travelling to the dungeon, exploring and returning to town) though the chronicles aren’t explicit in that regard.  A typical expedition comprised about a dozen players, though later in the campaign, as characters increased in power, smaller expeditions were mounted (so that the XP wasn’t spread around as much).

So, just some random thoughts and observations as I read through the 90+ pages of the Ryth Chronicles:

  • The initial dungeons seemed very, well, hodge-podge, with little attempt to create any kind of dungeon ecology or theme.  One room contained a couple of dragons, the next some hell-hounds and then maybe a couple of hill giants would come ambling down a corridor.  As the campaign progressed dungeon design evolved, with more of a specific theme or purpose, such as the garden-dungeon atop a magical beanstalk or the prison-tomb of a life-draining alien intelligence.
  • They really, really liked hydras.  And balrogs.
  • Magic items were relatively rare.  Most of the highest-level characters had around 6 to 8 items each, including potions and scrolls.
  • It seems the intelligent magic swords had specific names, which is a nice touch.
  • In contrast to magic treasure, gold and gems approached Monty Haul-ish proportions later on.  There was more than one expedition that brought home in excess of 100,000 GP of treasure; most netted many tens of thousands of GP in treasure.
  • And related to that, I’m not really sure what all that treasure was spent on.  PCs were required to pay a city tax based on a percentage of their accumulated XP, and there was some castle building later on (in part to escape the city tax).  But otherwise it appears there was no provision for buying magic items, not even consumable items like potions and scrolls.  I actually find this quite appealing and did something similar in the B/X game I ran last year.  Though you still need something to spend all that treasure on…otherwise, what’s the point?
  • Death was fairly common (as you would expect in old school D&D), as were curses, petrification, charm, polymorph and sometimes just being rubbed out of existence.  I suppose a good portion of early treasure was spent on resurrections.  But as party clerics gained the resurrection spell death became more of an inconvenience, with the primary concern being making sure at least one party member survived to either retrieve the bodies of the fallen, or bringing another cleric back to the dungeon to rez the dead.
  • The PCs had access to a surprising number of wishes, though oft times great risks were associated with their use (like being rubbed out of existence by mercurial faeries).  I suppose early on playing around with wishes was probably quite novel.  It just struck me as a bit unusual, as I cannot recall many wishes being employed in the campaigns I’ve played over the past 25-30 years.
  • Spells could be cast once per expedition, as opposed to once per day.  This may have helped to discourage the “15-minute adventuring day” phenomena as there would be no advantage to retiring from the dungeon as soon as the spellcaster shot their wad (so to speak).  Likewise, there appeared to be no camping inside of dungeons, nor camping outdoors near dungeons.  It may also be that such details were simply glossed over in the chronicles.
  • Miniatures were employed early on in the campaign to help clarify positioning and distance.  They used 1″ grids, with each grid representing 3 feet by 3 feet, rounded to the nearest 3′ (so a 7×7 grid represents a 20’x20′ room).  I find the early use of miniatures for detailed tactical gameplay interesting as I’d thought it was more a development of ‘new school’ play styles(i.e. 3E/4E/Pathfinder).

On sort of a side note, I wonder how they managed to attract 40+ players for an ongoing campaign?  Maybe everyone just wanted to try out the new hawtness back then?  Or maybe people just had more time on their hands (there being no Internet for pr0n or cute cat videos).  These days we have trouble getting six players to the table, much less a dozen or more.  Still, I think it would be interesting to try such an expedition based campaign and chronicle it using a dedicated blog, provided I could ever find enough players.

The Chronicles of Ryth provides a fascinating insight into how D&D was played in its infancy, outside of the Gygax/Arneson circles.  If you’re a fan of old-school play you should give them a read (it’ll probably take a few days, unless you’ve got a day to kill; yes, killing time on the Internet instead of playing D&D).

If you’re interested, here’s the first 9 issues, and the final 10th installment.  Enjoy.

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