Sunday, May 9, 2010

Secrets of Stonehell: Hall of the Elders

The second entry in an occasional series that reveals the design process, Easter eggs, and inside jokes that went into creating Stonehell Dungeon: Down Night-Haunted Halls.

There is a room on the third level of Stonehell Dungeon which seemingly contains nothing but a handful of marble busts set atop pedestals. Each bust depicts an older human male and is labeled with a name.

In true old school style, each of the five names is an anagram of the name of a real figure from the hobby’s history. Some of the anagrams are simple; others less so. The identities of all five figures are revealed here for the first time.

The first is easy enough: Yrag the Elder, who is of course Gary Gygax, a man who used “Yrag” himself. I included it in this room because I figured it to be the most blatant anagram example and hoped that it would encourage the players to try and decipher the rest of them.

The second bust is labeled “Evaders Noan,” which sounds like a pretty badass name for a D&D character. It also happens to be “Dave Arneson” rearranged. I used this name in a previous unfinished and unreleased dungeon, but liked it so much that I had to recycle it here. It is also my first “in game” tribute to Dave, appearing in my notes before he passed away and predating vaedium by several months.

Next in line is “Jeermilch So,” who is also the reason why I decided to reveal this secret of Stonehell now. “Jeermilch So” becomes “J Eric Holmes” when shuffled around. Like some of the gamers in my age bracket, I was introduced to the game by way of Holmes’ “blue book” when an older cousin convinced me to play around Christmas time in 1980. Unlike many gamers who also entered the hobby via Holmes, however, I never developed the personal fondness for that edition that they did, instead preferring the Moldvay Basic set which was released soon afterwards. Granted, I was eight-years old at the time, so the more introductory level writing of Moldvay’s edition was probably responsible. Despite this character flaw, I do have a great deal of respect for J. Eric Holmes’ efforts to promote the game and draw connections between the hobby of roleplaying and psychological development. I do feel a little ashamed for us as hobbyists who are trying to keep the old ways alive and honor those who blazed the trail. We dropped the ball on missing Holmes’ death by more than a month and we should all be a little red-faced about that.

The fourth bust is labeled “Yammod Volt” and, after the previous revelation, I suppose it comes as no shock to admit that that’s “Tom Moldvay” all jumbled up. Moldvay’s another designer who I find myself respecting more and more as I grow older. With Watchfires & Thrones leaning heavily on pulp sword & sorcery as inspiration, I suspect it’s only a matter of time before the Moldvay’s “pulp trilogy” of modules show up in the campaign world. I finished clearing out a space for The Lost City over the weekend and I have some fiendish plans for the other two if the PCs start heading down certain paths…

Lastly, there is the bust “Rolo Utes.” Old Rolo differs from the other four in two respects. First off, he’s not a writer but an artist, and secondly (and sadly for the others), he’s the only name who’s still living. “Rolo Utes” is none other than “Erol Otus.” If I have to explain his presence in Stonehell, you’ve obviously wander onto this blog by some very bizarre pathway. This is not the sole appearance of Erol Otus in my work either, although his other manifestation is somewhat blemished. Those of you who own a copy of The Dungeon Alphabet should turn to the “One Hundred Book Titles” chart on p. 8 and take a look at entry #98. There, due to a typographical error (one that will be fixed in the book’s second printing so you really should go preorder a corrected copy right now), “Rolo Utes” shows up as “Rolo Ites,” the man responsible for the book, The Master’s Art. And speaking of “One Hundred Book Titles,” there’s one chart that’s rife with anagrams and inside jokes. Perhaps I’ll do a post about those one day when the creative juices are running slow and I feel like pulling back the curtain on another work of mine.

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