Thursday, October 26, 2017

Now, there's a bad idea ... (a prelude, maybe)

It's been rough lately. Didn't not feel the urge to write, but who'd read with interest and then some? So I've been thinking, what could I write about. Well. I got that one idea I've been chewing on for way too long now. Might be that bridge is burned for reasons I might not want to touch right now. Thought I'll pitch it first, see what's what ...

Damn, I miss writing here :)

Let's play "find the fail"

All right, all right, I'll get to it. You might be aware of my everlasting love for HackMaster (4e, yo). If not, you know now. I frickin' love that game. Wrote a post about it, too. HackMaster 4e was the AD&D 3rd edition we never got (sort of) and it's how I started playing D&D somewhat serious. They had a shitload of interesting modules out there, 98% of them revisioned versions  of old classics. The campaign we had running back then was The Temple of Existential Evil. Yes, you read that right.

It'd been great fun and I always wondered how the original held up against the HackMaster variant. That's what I wanted to do, going at it chapter by chapter, comparing them, what was changed, what choices made, what's better (imo, of course). Nothing detailed, maybe, but going from the first survey I made, I'll bet you I'll find enough odd, stray observations to keep me entertained for a bit.

And there's just the thing. I started with the first chapter of the Existential variant and got stoked. Believe me, it's good shit. Naturally I wanted to know how chapter 1 of The Temple of Elemental Evil holds up. The cover was what stopped me in my tracks:

Please, find the fail, would you?
Might need to open it in a new window, too ... [source]
See the problem? Bless your heart if you don't. But most likely you'll see it right away. It's the authors of this beauty. Both implicated in acts of harassment. Not charged, mind you (as far as I know there are no criminal charges yet). One's just whispered about, even (a twitter guy saying a dead D&D celebrity was "problematic" that way for TSR back then). Anyway, it's enough to make this a hot topic. No side looks good in this latest flame war and I honestly don't want to share my opinion on this online (as I said in my previous post, I have no dog in this fight). Other than saying that it's all very sad, of course.

However, this is a perfect example why ...

The Temple of Elemental Evil is an undeniable cultural phenomenon. There's a part 2, a revision, a novel, a computer game and a board game. That's almost all media short of having a movie about the damn thing (or TV show? I'd see that, probably) and I might have forgotten some (is there a version for 4th edition? they definitely made ma NWN mod for it, right?). The amount of players having first hand experience with this module one way or another is mind boggling. My bet would be 6 figures, being in the millions would be very likely. Think about it! It got published in 1985, 32 years ago, it's "the grandfather of all dungeon crawls" and ranks high among the best D&D modules of all time. This got some mileage, for sure.

In short, it's legendary for several reasons and if you never care about the authors, their world views or their failings, you can still (and should!) enjoy this. Everyone else? Fuck if I know. But I know for sure, if I would judge everything based on its source, I'd be pretty depressed pretty fast. In a way, it's all flawed for some reason or another.

Here is the thing, though: every now and then an artist might produce something of value despite the short-comings of being human. There's beauty in that, I suppose. There's a lesson, too.

So, how about it?

I really enjoyed DMing this bad boy with HackMaster back then, I enjoyed the book (a bit short on the crawl part, though, if I remember correctly) and I definitely loved the computer game. Reading the original and comparing it with the HackMaster version ... yeah, I'd have fun doing that. But should I do it here on the blog? This begs another interesting question, doesn't it? A classic by itself, if you will: is art a thing in its own right or can it not exist without the author in mind?

I don't even think there is a right answer. Or an universal one, for that matter. It depends, as they say in law school. So I wonder, has it merit in this case? I like to think so, yes.

But what do you guys think? Is this piece of art tainted by the actions of those who made it?

As I said, this may be a bad idea.


  1. This is your party. Just set your expectations and guidelines for comments. I wonder why some people aren't allowed to clock out.

  2. I think you should do your comparison.
    I think you will enjoy doing it.
    And in a selfish way I know I will enjoy reading it :)

  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  4. IMHO, whether you always wanted to do a comparison or not, is not interesting. I wanted to run many different games I never ran, but instead run others because of very different reasons.
    The interesting question you might ask yourself is this, why you want do do it now.

    1. Alright, I'll bite, RdGkA. The simple answer is, it had been long coming and after the last hiatus of several weeks here on the blog I felt like kicking off something ambitious on the one hand but also something I can pull off. Those things don't come easy to me right now. Started a new job and it's taking its toll. The usual. Building up to something like this is just as much effort. Had the HackMaster variant lying around in sight for months now, teasing me ... and when I finally made the decision that I'd like to do that now (which I aimed to do since 2015!), well, then I saw that it's connected to the unfortunate events of last week. Which is what prompted the post above.

      Also: I find the experiment itself interesting (comparing the two, that is). Nobody I'm aware of has done something like this and the transition from AD&D 2e to HackMaster is also an unexamined treasure trove (because Kenzer did not change the rules as much as they just brought the whole AD&D 2e corpus together for the first time, a huge task). The Temple of Existential Evil is the module I know and I did read the book and played the computer game, so it had been the natural choice. The timing is somewhat unfortunate, though. Or might be. That's why I asked.

      Bonus round: when talking about the "old classics", there is a tendency in the current publishing scene to diminish their quality, sometimes just because they want to sell their own new stuff. Ad hominem arguments are the lowest form of argument in that regard (that is, saying something is bad because it had been made by a bad/weak/stupid/whathaveyou person). So, yeah, there is that.

  5. I for one think the exercise is interesting. And I also know you have been comparing 2nd and hackmaster products at lest in our conversations for several years now. Write what you have interest in.

    1. Thanks for the encouragement, Mark! I will :)


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