D&D/AD&D · GMing

David Cook made me this way

a1slavepitscoverAs a gamer that began playing during the hobby’s birth, I’ve had the opportunity to witness a massive shift in the way games are designed and played. In the early days of gaming, there was still a sense that we were essentially playing miniature-based scenarios, where backstory was only used in order to get the characters moving towards the next combat. Everyone knows the classic set-up: the characters are in an inn when they hear…

I don’t have a problem with that trope, but as a player, it wasn’t until 1980 that I first noticed a more engaging way to design adventures. I’m referring to TSR’s release of Slave Pits of the Undercity. On the surface, A1 was not much different than the published material that comes before it; in fact, it was originally designed to be used as a convention game with a backstory that was simple and matter-of-fact: slavers are taking people, go stop them! Yet, it was what David Cook did with that idea that gave me that “Aha!” moment.

He basically created a “mini-quest” for the players that could become a story in-and-of-itself. I’m sure it will sound silly to younger gamers who came to the hobby with an abundance of available resources, but in a real way we were still fighting blind in those days. Granted, there are plenty of old school, dungeon crawling elements throughout this series, but it was watching the way this adventure took shape, and the way it was designed to keep the players invested in battling for a heroic purpose that really made everything click.

I’ve literally been DMing ever since.

2 thoughts on “David Cook made me this way

  1. Very interesting. I’ve run that adventure myself, though it’s been years since then. I’m curious what elements “keep the players invested in battling for a heroic purpose” that are in the adventure. I’m not saying they’re not there (it’s been more than a decade since I’ve even read through the adventure, so I remember it only a general way) but I’m curious about specific elements and techniques, since I hope to steal, er, I mean, borrow them for my own games. 😉

  2. That’s a good question. At the time it originally came out, I had a handful of the late 1970’s modules which were, for the most part, set up with the premise of adventuring for adventure’s sake. This was the first module I bought where the characters had a purpose. In other words, I went from the early concept of “find this item” or “explore these ruins,” to “save these captives” and “overthrow the slave lords.”

    In addition, I liked the way David attempted to set up encounters in such a way that seemed intelligent. It wasn’t just a stray monster sitting in a room, it was a slaver, who needed to be defeated in order to get deeper into their lair!

    I can’t say this was the first module published with these additions, but it happened to be the first I wound up owning. If you read a lot of the adventures in Dungeon over the years, you can see the tendrils in a lot of what I first saw with David’s work; the idea that an adventure should be something of a story-driven epic rather than a mindless set of plungering raids on ruins.

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