Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Polyhedron: Issue #13

Issue #13 of Polyhedron (August 13) is dubbed a "special issue," because, in the words of its editor, Mary Kirchoff, more "strictly gaming aid articles." What that means is that, unlike previous issues, this one includes no RPGA ephemera, only articles for use with TSR's various roleplaying games. This is precisely what I'd hoped to see in the pages of Polyhedron when I first started to subscribe to it. Alas, the 'zine would return to its earlier form with issue #14, but I nevertheless enjoyed this one, singular though it was.

The letters page contains two letters of note. One asks about the possibility of a D&D movie, while the other questions why Deities & Demigods includes "fighting abilities and statistics" for the gods described therein. Here's the response regarding a D&D movie:

The story of the D&D movie Gary Gygax was supposedly working on during his time in Hollywood is the stuff of legend. I know very little about it myself, but Jon Peterson, has written a lengthy essay about its history and development that's well worth your time. 

The Deities & Demigods question is interesting, both for the answer (provided by DDG co-author James M. Ward) and for its asker, a name that might be recognizable to those familiar with the luminaries of the OSR:
And here is Ward's answer:

This is pretty much the same logic employed by Tim Kask in the foreword to Gods, Demigods & Heroes, the predecessor to the DDG. I'm not entirely sure what to make of it, except that it suggests TSR felt a need to police the boundaries of power within D&D. What an odd thing!

"Dispel Confusion" contains the usual assortment of questions about TSR's stable of roleplaying games. Of these, one stands out as worthy of being highlighted:
One can quibble about whether these are indeed "the two most important concepts in the D&D game," but I find it difficult to disagree that both of these concepts in the answer are indeed significant ones, particularly the second one. My ongoing House of Worms campaign – which will celebrate its ninth year of continuous play in March 2024 – is largely propelled by player choice and the consequences of those choices, for example.

Mary Kirchoff provides another installment of "Under Construction," this one being something of a follow-up to the one that appeared in issue #10. Like its predecessor, it's clever and flavorful – a good example of a dungeon "special." The issue also includes a "policy statement" from the publishing division of TSR, regarding Dragon and the newly-acquired Ares:
In short, TSR decided to focus Dragon solely on fantasy RPGs, shifting science fiction RPGs over to Ares. This was a huge disappointment to me at the time, because then, as now, I prefer SF to fantasy and I had no interest in subscribing to yet another gaming magazine. Ultimately, like everything else TSR did with the former SPI's properties, this move was ill-considered and failed. In time, Ares would cease to exist as a stand-alone magazine and sci-fi content would be re-incorporated into Dragon in the form of the Ares Section, which would become one of my favorite parts of the magazine.

Roger E. Moore's "Gods, Demigods, and DMs" is yet another look at the apparently vexed question of how to handle interactions between deities and powerful player characters. Moore's advice is generally very good, relying on both mythological tales, the AD&D rules, and common sense as guides. He quite reasonably believes that the gods should not be seen as "pushovers" even by the mightiest PCs and that the DM should pull out all the stops when roleplaying gods and demigods that their awesomeness is fully manifest. As I said, he provides lots of solid advice and examples, but I still have to wonder: were battles with the gods so commonplace that TSR needed to address it again and again?

"Spelling Bee" by James M. Ward looks at just two spells: continual light and its reverse, continual darkness, in order to show how versatile and useful they can be in play. I appreciate articles like this, because I've long felt that (A)D&D has too many spells, especially when one considers how many ways even a handful of spells can be used by a clever caster. Pointing out all the ways existing spells might be employed goes some way, I think, toward alleviating the need for further, ever more specific, spells – at least that's my feeling.

"The Hive Master" by Harold Johnson is an unusual four-page adventure for use with Gangbusters. I say "unusual," because, unlike all previous scenarios written for the game, this one doesn't deal with bootlegging or bank robbery but instead with efforts by a mad scientist – Professor Abe Malefica – to get his revenge on the world who mocked him by releasing a specially-bred type of harvester bee into the world. It's pulp nonsense of the highest order and I hated it at the time. Looking at it now, though, I have a better appreciation for what Johnson was doing, even if he refers to Malefica as an "entymologist." 

The issue includes a double-sided cardstock reference sheet of Dawn Patrol rules and tables. I still have mine inside my game box to this day. "Ecosystem," another by Ward, looks at the ramifications of the environment in Gamma World on adventure scenarios. "Go West, Young Gamer" by Steve Winter suggests the inclusion of four new ability scores to Boot HillCoordination, Observation, Stature, and Luck – as a way to further differentiate characters in the game. Given that BH is a very primitive game in terms of mechanics, this makes some sense. Does anyone know if these were these incorporated into the third edition of the game by chance?

"Raid on Theseus" by Doug Niles is a starship combat scenario for use with Knight Hawks. Kim Mohan's "Psionic Pspells" is a lengthy (four pages) article looking at "spells resembling psionic powers" from every possible angle. These spells are enumerated in Appendix C of the AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide, but Mohan is, for some reason, interested in explaining the logic behind each spell's inclusion in the list in order to better understand AD&D magic, psionics, and the interplay of the two. I cannot say I share his enthusiasm for the topic. "The Condor Assignment" by Allen Hammack is ostensibly a Top Secret article, but it's mostly a review of then-current espionage media, like the Bond novel, Icebreaker

Other than the obligatory RPGA catalog at the end, that's issue #13. Though no longer than its immediate predecessors, it certainly feels meatier to me, probably because of the lack of RPGA ephemera that didn't interest me at the time and interests me even less four decades later. This issue represents what I always wanted Polyhedron to be, but very rarely got – a pity.

Monday, December 4, 2023

"Played by friends, not strangers"

In light of several discussions over the last few weeks, especially the matter of evil characters, I thought this paragraph from an early review of Dungeons & Dragons (Campaign magazine issue 81 – September/October 1977) might be of interest.

While I take some issue with the idea that D&D (and RPGs more generally) can't be competitive – but that's probably a topic for a different time – I do very much agree with the idea that it's best played with friends rather than with strangers. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that most of the supposed "problems" some have found in this RPG or that one ultimately stem not from the games themselves but from the people with whom the critics have chosen to play. 

"Who your fellow players are may be crucial to the your satisfaction with the game." No truer words have ever been written about roleplaying games. 

A Fuzzy Fairyland

When I was re-reading In Search of the Unknown over the weekend in preparation for my earlier post today, I came across this passage, describing the Garden Room:

The floor is covered with a carpet of tufted molds that extends to all the walls and even onto parts of the ceiling, obscuring the rock surface. The molds appear in a rainbow assortment of colors, and they are mixed in their appearance, with splotches, clumps, swirls, and patches presenting a nightmarish combination of clashing colors. This is indeed a fuzzy fairyland of the most forbidding sort, although beautiful in its own mysterious way ...

A common characteristic of fans of old school gaming is their preference for concise, even spartan, prose in the descriptions of adventure locales. While I broadly share this preference – my feelings about lengthy, overwrought descriptions are well known – I nevertheless do think there ought to be room for evocative, inspiring writing in RPG scenarios. Consider Gary Gygax's description of Erelhei-Cinlu in Vault of the Drow (which is interesting, because it also makes use of the word "fairyland"), which I think is a good example of what I'm talking about.

Are there any passages from an RPG adventure that you find evocative and inspiring? 

Mystifying and Dangerous

As any regular reader of this blog already knows, the very first D&D module I ever owned was In Search of the Unknown. One of the consequences of this is that, for good and for ill, it very soon became my mental model for what a dungeon should be like. More specifically, module B1 instilled in me an early love of tricks, traps, and secrets as integral elements of a dungeon. Nearly every room is Quasqueton contains one of these elements, whether they take the form of a forest of weird fungi, a set of false stairs, or the famous room of pools

The most important thing for me, then and now, is that the dungeon includes lots of things for the characters – and their players – to fiddle with and puzzle over. That's one of the great appeals of dungeon delving: trying to figure it out. Of course, it helps immensely when figuring things out brings with it a tangible benefit, like treasure or knowledge. There needs to be some kind of incentive to making the extra effort, just as there needs to be some kind of risk to balance it.
Volume 3 of Original Dungeons & Dragons contains the earliest advice to the referee in designing a dungeon. One of the most memorable bits of that advice is the following:
The fear of "death", its risk each time, is one of the most stimulating parts of the game. It therefore behooves the campaign referee to include as many mystifying and dangerous areas as is consistent with a reasonable chance of survival (remembering that the monster population already threatens this survival).  
That comes very close to encapsulating the lessons I drew from reading In Search of the Unknown all those years ago. If you look at many of the earliest published dungeons, whether from TSR, Judges Guild, or appearing in the pages of Dragon and other RPG periodicals, you'll see they almost always include enigmas, puzzles, and traps of varying degrees of fiendishness. Indeed, I'd go so far as to suggest that these elements are integral to what a dungeon is.
Tom Moldvay's 1981 revision of the D&D Basic Set provides step-by-step instructions to the novice referee on how to create and stock a dungeon. If one follows those steps faithfully, approximately one-third of all dungeon rooms will contain either a trap or a "special," Moldvay's version of OD&D's "tricks." Specials aren't necessarily dangerous, but they're definitely odd and unusual. Moldvay gives several examples of specials, ranging from a "moaning room or corridor" to a "talking statue" to a "shifting block to close off corridor." 

I adore these kinds of dungeon elements. Anything that gets the players thinking about the dungeon, even simply as a play space, greatly appeals to my sensibilities. Old school D&D fans often say that the hobby was born in the megadungeon and, while there's much truth to that, I think it's just as true to say that the hobby was born in the challenge dungeon, which is to say, a space where the players matched wits against the referee in figuring out his puzzles and overcoming the trials he set before them. My appreciation for this style of play may explain why I've never hated The Tomb of Horrors as so many others have.
Over the years, I get the impression that tricks, traps, and secrets of this sort have become a lot less popular among players of Dungeons & Dragons, but perhaps that's mistaken. What I can say with some certainty is that, fairly early on in their existence, video games, especially since the advent of the personal computer, have taken up the idea of trials and secrets in a way that I find very reminiscent of early D&D challenge dungeons. That shouldn't come as a surprise, of course, since D&D's influence on the development of video games – and not just of the RPG genre – is immense. 

Still, I can't help but feel that dungeons are at their most fun for me when they include lots of riddle-spouting statues, giant chessboards, green devil faces, and deviously hidden secret rooms. A dungeon without such things will soon get boring and will never become a campaign tent pole of the sort that encourages return visits. I can't tell you how many hours I've poured into certain video games over the years trying to beat exceedingly difficult encounters or trying to locate some hidden chamber, often for very little in-game reward. There's no reason dungeons can't be like that, too.

Saturday, December 2, 2023

Philatelic News

Yesterday, several of you sent me a link to an announcement by the United States Postal Service that, in honor of the 50th anniversary of Dungeons & Dragons next year, ten new stamps featuring D&D artwork will be released. 

My apologies for the poor quality of the images, but I couldn't find any higher resolution versions online. 

While I'm glad to see that D&D is being honored in this fashion, I can't help but be a little disappointed that, with the exception of the stamp featuring Larry Elmore's iconic cover to the 1983 Basic Set, all of the illustrations featured are of very recent vintage. They're also, in my opinion, not even particularly interesting examples of contemporary D&D art. Granted, the odds that the game's current owners would deign to draw attention to the illustrations and illustrators of its formative years were slim, but, even so, these stamps are supposed to be celebrating a half-century of "the world's greatest role-playing game." Is it asking too much to see Tramp's PHB cover or maybe Erol Otus's cover to the 1981 Basic Set, too? 

Ah well.

Friday, December 1, 2023

"When I was a little boy ..."

The Limited Pop Cultural Footprint of D&D as a Game

In looking at the early history of Dungeons & Dragons, there's a lot of talk about its faddishness in the late '70s and early '80s. Certainly, news stories about the so-called "steam tunnels incident" of August 1979 catapulted D&D – and roleplaying more generally – to greater public consciousness in the English-speaking world (and perhaps beyond). My own introduction to the hobby was, in part, facilitated by the media hoopla surrounding the disappearance of James Dallas Egbert III. Likewise, I can attest to the fact that, throughout the first half of the 1980s, there were many, many articles written in newspapers and magazines about this "weird new game." I was always on the lookout for them, clipping out the most interesting ones and then transferring them to a big, black binder I acquired for just this purpose.

What's most interesting to me, in retrospect, is how limited the presence of Dungeons & Dragons was in the larger popular culture of the 1980s. Despite the widespread discussion of the game in mass media – including the infamous 1985 60 Minutes hit piece – and its very good sales for TSR, there were almost no pop cultural depictions of kids playing RPGs of any kind during my youth. The only one that comes immediately to mind is that scene during the 1982 Steven Spielberg movie, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. There's also the CBS TV movie adaptation of Mazes and Monsters from the same year, but that's far from the kind of thing I'm thinking of. Even the 1983–1985 Saturday morning Dungeons & Dragons cartoon – ironically also broadcast on CBS – doesn't depict any of the characters playing D&D.

Are there any others that I missed? There's the 1985 episode of the BBC Two series, Tucker's Luck, about which I posted earlier this year, I suppose, though I was completely unaware of its existence at the time. I wouldn't be surprised to discover that there are a few other examples of similar things here and there, but, if so, they're not likely to be high profile. Generally, when I think about pop cultural depictions of people playing D&D, they're of much more recent vintage – the mid-90s at the earliest. By this point, D&D and roleplaying games don't appear to have been quite as faddish as they had been a decade previously, if the coverage of the hobby in the news media is any indication.

Why would this be? I'm sure there are many factors involved. The most obvious one to me is that, it wasn't until the mid-1990s that people who grew up actually playing RPGs, were old enough to be in positions within movie and TV studios to depict their youthful hobby. During the fad period of the '80s, I'd wager that most of the people involved in making creative decisions had little awareness and even less understanding of roleplaying games and thus would have no interest in depicting them in the films and programs they were creating. As the first generation of roleplayers aged into adulthood, that started to change.

Of course, even then, the accuracy of these depictions remains spotty at best – and that's being kind. Roleplaying games are notoriously difficult to depict in ways that would be either intelligible or interesting to those unfamiliar with their intricacies. Consequently, we get muddled and misleading depictions of the hobby, often played for laughs, that do little to show off just what it's like to actually play these games. The ironic thing is that, as an entertainment and, dare I say, an art form, roleplaying games, especially Dungeons & Dragons, are among the most pop culturally influential of the last half-century. The video game industry, for example, owes an incalculable debt to RPGs, and it's far from the only cultural industry where RPGs have left their mark. That's why I consider it a shame that, even now, it remains rare to see the play of D&D, as a game, represented in popular culture in a way that properly conveys not just its content but also its enduring appeal.

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Polyhedron: Issue #12

Issue #12 of Polyhedron (June 1983) features a very striking cover by Larry Elmore that depicts a pegasus-riding warrior about to engage a red dragon in aerial combat. Like all of the newszine's recent covers, this one draws inspiration from the issue's installment of "Encounters" about which I'll write shortly. 

The issue proper kicks off with an editorial by Kim Eastland – now the publisher of Polyhedron – in which he discusses several matters. The first of these is that Polyhedron has joined TSR's publishing division. I've often called the 'zine "Dragon's little brother" in jest, but, starting with this issue, it's actually somewhat true. Consequently, Mary Kirchoff, who serves as editor, will see her attention divided between Polyhedron and other TSR periodicals. On the other hand, the look and layout of Polyhedron clearly benefitted from this arrangement.

Eastland also discusses the many and various meanings of "official" with regards to TSR and the RPGA. That he has to do this at all is painful reading in retrospect, particularly when it comes to the contortions relating to Gary Gygax's columns in Polyhedron and elsewhere. I'm not sure that the fans of any RPG company has ever been as obsessed with "officialdom" as those of TSR, but they clearly were. Sad to say, I was one of them. It's all so silly now, yet, at the time, it seemed oddly important to me and so many others.

The letters page contains one interesting letter and reply, concerning the omission of the Cthulhu and Melnibonean chapters of Deities & Demigods:
As with all such replies by TSR spokesmen, I'm sure there are additional complexities to be considered. Nonetheless, it's a fairly straightforward and plausible answer to a longstanding and much debated "mystery" of D&D history.

This issue sees the appearance of "Two Cents," a new column devoted to RPGA member opinions and suggestions. It's a fine idea for a column, though, if the first installment is any indication, few of the ideas on offer are all that remarkable. Gali Sanchez, a name I most strongly associate with Pacesetter Games, is the author of this issue's "Encounters," featuring Grifton Dunsaway, a human fighter, riding Orrex, a pegasus, as they do battle with Forszahn, a red dragon. Though evocative in concept, there's not much more to the encounter, which is too bad. I very much love the idea of aerial combats in D&D; I've just never seen them handled very well under the rules of the game.

There is a "Convention Update" on RPGA events about which there's little to say. "Dispel Confusion" is three pages in length this time, covering all of TSR's RPGs. The questions cover a wide range of topics, from the ridiculous to the sublime. My favorite question – or, more accurately, response – concerns the lethality of Gamma World, as answered by designer James M. Ward. 
GWQ: The GAMMA WORLD game system is so deadly, my players complain that their characters get killed off almost before they have rolled them up! What can I do to help them last long?

GWA: If your characters are constantly dying, they're probably not being very careful. The game was designed to test the intelligence and role-playing skill of everyone who tries their hand.

Ward does go on to offer some genuinely useful advice about how to moderate the game's deadliness for beginners, but I can't help but chuckle at his initial response.

"Basically Speaking" by Jon Pickens takes a look at mass combat in Dungeons & Dragons. It's a topic of long-term interest to me, but, unfortunately Pickens doesn't provide much in the way of concrete guidance on how to integrate large battles into D&D beyond "read some Tony Bath." Good advice, certainly; I guess I'd hoped for more. "Knight Hawks: A New Dimension" by Doug Niles is an overview of the Knight Hawks boxed starship rules set for Star Frontiers. It's mostly a bit of advertising dressed up as an article, alas. 

Part III of Frank Mentzer's "Mapping From Square One" continues its focus on how to describe dungeon rooms to players engaged in mapping. It's good stuff and I appreciate the effort Mentzer put into this, even as I realize that, by comparison, my own maps have always been rather straightforward. Mentzer, meanwhile, favors rooms like this:


Gary Gygax takes over "Notes For the Dungeon Master" this issue, with a very nice two-page discussion of how to create a campaign setting of one's own. Gygax introduces the "bullseye method" of using concentric circles of detail – lots toward the center and less with each "ring" around it, at least to start. Merle Rasmussen's "Roles" looks at the various kinds of agents possible in a Top Secret campaign – double agent, triple agent, mole, blunt instrument, etc. It's too short in length but offers some food for thought nonetheless. The same can't be said about Kim Eastland's continuation of his series on the RPGA tournament scoring system. Perhaps I am unduly harsh and this would have been of interest to RPGA members at the time. Now, it's tedious ephemera of the worst kind.

Leaving aside the RPGA catalog that takes up the final eight pages of the issue, that's it for issue #12. 

Monday, November 27, 2023

The Logos of TSR's Gamma World

Over the weekend, I was cleaning the bookshelf nearest to my computer desk and saw the boxed sets of the first and second editions of Gamma World sitting side by side. Visually, they couldn't be more different from one another. Here's the logo of the first edition:

I'm no expert on typography, so I can't tell which font is being used here. I can only say that, whatever it is, the font makes a certain point: Gamma World takes place in a "shattered" setting, one that has suffered some sort of catastrophe that has forever changed it. The logo also seems to imply a connection – thematically or otherwise – to its immediate predecessor RPG, Metamorphosis Alpha.

Notice that the word "Alpha" in the title uses the same (or a very similar) font to that fond in Gamma World's logo. 

By contrast, the second edition of Gamma World sports a very different logo:
I imagine that the new logo was, first and foremost, born out of a desire by TSR to distinguish the new edition from the old one, so that there could be no confusion between them. Likewise, the new logo has a more modern, even futuristic look to it, which makes sense, given that the game's setting is hundreds of years into our own future. I also can't help but wonder if the new logo was at least partly inspired by the logo used for the two modules and referee's screen released for first edition:
The similarities between the two logos are small, I'll admit, but they both evoke a similar futuristic vibe, in addition to demonstrating that TSR has more money to devote to graphic design than they did when the first edition was released. That said, I actually prefer the alternate 1e logo to the 2e one. Obviously, TSR didn't feel the same way, since they more or less re-used the latter for the game's third edition.
Mind you, Gamma World 3e re-used almost all of 2e's art assets, so who knows the logic of this decision? I believe I've read somewhere that 3e was produced during a time of financial uncertainty at TSR (1986), so every effort was made to economize on its production, hence the re-use of so much from the previous edition.

I did not own the game's fourth edition. To this day, I've still never done more than skim a copy of the book, which, as I understand it, had a very mixed reception at the time of its release (1992). The logo shares certain similarities with that of 2e/3e, with an additional whimsical flourish:
I like the ruined buildings visible inside the letters of the title, but I have mixed feelings about the mutant eye resting on the top, since I think it leans a bit into the "Gamma World is goofy" end of things that I've never liked. That said, I like it nonetheless.

In Defense of Evil Characters

Having last week come to the defense of the murderhobo, I thought I'd go one step further this week by doing something similar for outright evil characters. That's because, for as long as I've played Dungeons & Dragons, I've never considered the possibility of playing such characters illegitimate. None of the editions of the game I encountered in the first few years after I entered the hobby – in order: Holmes Basic, AD&D, or Moldvay Basic – forbids characters from being evil (though the matter is a little complicated in the latter case, since there is no explicitly "evil" alignment). Indeed, all three versions of the game are quite clear that a player character can be of any alignment, including evil ones. 

Likewise, Holmes states that at least one class – thieves – are "not truly good," while AD&D goes further, claiming that "most thieves tend toward evil." Assassins engage in an activity that Gary Gygax memorably described as "the antithesis of weal," hence their outright restriction to evil alignment. Monks have a very limited range of alignments, but Lawful Evil is among them. Bards are almost as restricted in their alignment options, yet they too can be evil. Only druids, paladins, and rangers are forbidden from being evil by the rules, suggesting that the possibility of a player choosing to play an evil cleric or fighter is in no way beyond the pale. 

Of course, it's one thing to see the possibility of evil characters as legitimate and another to see it as desirable. In the early days, I tended to transfer Moldvay's perspective about Chaotic characters to evil ones more broadly: they don't play well with others. For the most part, my friends shared this perspective. I cannot recall anyone of my neighborhood buddies wanting to play an evil character, let alone actually doing so. Like me, they'd come to D&D as relatively innocent boys who looked to the heroes of mythology and literature for inspiration in generating our earliest characters.  Few, if any, of these characters were evil either in thought or deed and our own characters reflected this.

However, as I mentioned in my post about murderhobos, a number of the protagonists of the pulp fantasy stories that served as the inspiration of Gary Gygax in his personal conception of the game were, at best, morally ambiguous and, in a few cases, evil by the standards of D&D's alignment system. That this is the case is made unmistakable in, for example, the write-up of Elric in Deities & Demigods, which judges him Chaotic Evil in alignment. One can certainly argue the fine details of that or similar judgments, but there's no denying that there's a strong tradition of pulp fantasy characters whose exploits include a lot of morally dubious actions.

Beyond that, one need only take a look at the play of the earliest Dungeons & Dragons campaigns. Blackmoor, the birthplace of D&D, featured at least one significant evil player character – Sir Fang, a fighter-turned-vampire whose depredations proved so frightful to the other characters in that campaign that the cleric class was created to stand against him. Meanwhile, one of the most successful characters in Gygax's Greyhawk campaign was Robilar, played by Rob Kuntz. Robilar was not unique in this regard. A quick look at The Rogues Gallery reveals a number of evil-aligned player characters among TSR's writers and designers. If you look at the pregenerated characters for use with modules like Expedition to the Barrier Peaks and Dwellers of the Forbidden City, you'll find several also have evil alignments.

The weight of all this evidence was still insufficient to turn me into a defender of evil characters, except in the narrowest sense. Yes, the rules allow for evil characters, but that didn't mean I had to like it. What ultimately changed my mind was when, many years after I first played D&D, I participated in several sessions that featured an evil character. He was a Neutral Evil psionicist/thief – this was in the days of 2e – and he made himself very useful to his companions by both his skills and his knowledge. I never completely trusted him, but there was no denying that he filled a niche in the party and that his presence helped us succeed when we might otherwise have not. It helped, too, that he was well roleplayed as a charming, if not at all trustworthy, rascal. 

Ultimately, that's what convinced me that an evil character could be fun: good roleplaying. Here was a completely disreputable character, a liar and a cheat, whose actions were always self-interested – but he was played so well and so enjoyably that I almost forgot he was evil. Eventually, the character had the opportunity to betray his comrades to his benefit and he took it. The betrayal left us in a bit of a bind and, while my character was certainly angry, I was not. The character acted as he ought to have, given his alignment. If anyone is to be blamed, it's the rest of us for taking on such a character, knowing as we did that he was evil. But, as I said, he was charming, so fun, that we let our guard down and paid the price for it.

That may seem an odd defense of evil characters. From my perspective, though, it's the strongest one I can offer: sometimes it's fun. Roleplaying games are a form of escapism, something I consider very important, especially nowadays. Having a creative outlet for our baser instincts is, in my opinion, just as vital as having one where we can behave heroically. Sometimes we want to be Galahad and sometimes we want to be Cugel the Clever. I don't see either one as inherently better than the other. While my preference remains for less morally compromised characters, I can easily see the fun in evil characters. Arguably, many of the characters in my House of Worms campaign would be considered evil in D&D terms, so it's not as if the playstyle is completely outside my taste. I've also long harbored a desire to a referee a D&D campaign in which all the characters are members of a Thieves' Guild. In such a campaign, I suspect the vast majority of the characters would be evil, or at least non-good.

I'd love to know of your experiences playing or playing with evil characters. Is it enjoyable? Is it something you'd recommend? What are the advantages and drawbacks of this kind of game? It's a topic that I think deserves greater examination.