Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Retrospective: Grimtooth's Traps

Trap-filled dungeons are an iconic element of Dungeons & Dragons (and, to a lesser extent, many other fantasy roleplaying games). Of course, filling a dungeon with traps requires, well, traps and even the most imaginative referee is likely to run out of ideas for them after a while. That's doubly true for referees like me, who've never been good at coming up with interesting and satisfying traps. 

That's why I find it surprising how few books of traps have been published over the years, at least when compared to books of monsters, magic items, or spells. Flying Buffalo's Grimtooth's Traps series, the first volume of which appeared in 1981, is one of the few books of traps I've ever read. Much Citybook (also produced by Flying Buffalo), Grimtooth's Traps is an anthology of traps written by a number of different authors (including Steve Crompton, Liz Danforth, Rick Loomis, Michael Stackpole, and Ken St. Andre, among many more). 

The book is presented as if the titular Grimtooth, a black-eyed troll, had collected all these traps "from the four corners of the earth" and passed them on to Paul Ryan O'Connor, who then typed them up for publication. Grimtooth himself provides sardonic commentary on many of the entries, cackling gleefully at the thought of how much mayhem a trap will wreak upon adventurers. Exactly how annoying one finds Grimtooth is a matter of taste. I know people who find his snarkiness genuinely amusing, while I don't find he adds much value the trap write-ups. In fact, I find Grimtooth actively detracts from my ability to take the entries seriously – which is a shame, because many of them are truly imaginative. 

The first volume is divided into four chapters, each one dedicated to a different type of trap. Chapter one presents room traps, chapter two presents corridor traps, chapter three presents door traps, and chapter four presents trapped items and artifacts. Each trap is described free of game mechanics, leaving it to each referee to decide best to integrate it into his preferred game system. These descriptions vary in length, from only a couple of short paragraphs to close to a full page. Since many of the traps are complex, or at least difficult to understand through words alone, they're accompanied illustrations or diagrams of their workings. These diagrams are probably the best part of Grimtooth's Traps; they do a very good job of clarifying how a trap works, as well as helping a referee decide how to use it in his dungeons. Finally, each trap gets a lethality rating, represented by skulls in the margin near their descriptions.

The quality and nature of the traps described in Grimtooth's Traps are quite variable. While comparatively few of them could be described as realistic, many are at least plausible, in that their mechanisms make sense. That's vitally important to a good trap in my opinion. Traps whose functioning is impenetrable aren't much fun, unless one is a killer referee who enjoys inflicting unavoidable pain on player characters. Unfortunately, there are more than a few traps of this sort in the book, such as, for example, a statue made of pure sodium that, when carried through a waterfall explodes, killing the carrier, or a spyglass that shoots a dagger into the eye of anyone who looks inside it. On the one hand, one can almost admire the fiendish cleverness of traps like these. On the other, though, they come across as cruel and spiteful rather. I have a hard time imagining any player whose character is subjected to these feeling as if he'd been fairly bested by the referee. More likely, he'll be ticked off and not without justification in my opinion.

All that said, I retain a fondness for Grimtooth's Traps. As someone who has trouble coming up with interesting traps, I appreciate the work that went into creating these entries, even the vicious ones. The latter are reminders of an older, more adversarial form of play that has largely fallen out of fashion nowadays but was once quite widespread (or at least not uncommon). Consequently, the book remains valuable as a historical document, if nothing else, though I continue to hope that I might one day make use of some of its fairer, more interesting traps.

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

GenCon IX Report

Take a look at this. It's an article from the San Francisco Examiner, dated September 5, 1976, describing the events of GenCon IX. How's that for a byline? 'Twas an age of giants.

Alignment in EPT

Empire of the Petal Throne occupies an unusual place in the history of roleplaying games. Published a year and a half after the release of OD&D, EPT is at once thoroughly indebted to and dependent upon its predecessor and a huge leap forward in terms of design and presentation. Consequently, the rules of EPT are a glorious mess, equal parts OD&D atavisms, half-baked evolutions therefrom, and genuinely original ideas. You can see this uneasy tension in place like Section 310, which discusses alignment.

Before diving in, remember that Volume 1 of OD&D has little to say about alignment, framing alignment as a kind of allegiance

Before the game begins it is not only necessary to select a role, but it is also necessary to determine what stance the character will take – Law, Netrality [sic], or Chaos.

Beneath it is the following chart, which divides intelligent beings in "teams," according to their alignment.

Not much else is said about alignment in OD&D, except that clerics of 7th level and greater must aligned with either Law or Chaos and that changing one's alignment has (unexplained) dire consequences. By contrast, the aforementioned Section 310 of Empire of the Petal Throne is comparatively long (five paragraphs) and spells out many more details of what alignment is and how it works. M.A.R. Barker begins the section with this remarkable section:

For convenience's sake (and not to reflect reality necessarily), all characters are divided into two basic types: those serving the Good Gods and their Cohorts, and those serving their Evil counterparts. There are no "neutrals" on Tékumel, although it is possible to achieve a limited neutral status as one of the nonhuman races which traditionally remain aloof from human affairs.

"For convenience's sake" is an interesting turn of phrase, especially when coupled with "not to reflect reality," since it seems that Barker viewed alignment largely as a construct of EPT's game rules. Equally interesting, to my mind, is that he immediately connects alignment to serving the gods. He elaborates on this in the second paragraph of Section 310, saying "Each player names his or her God, Goddess, or Cohort at the beginning of the game." 

Despite the constructed nature of alignment in EPT, it nevertheless has social consequences. "A good character," Barker explains, "does not consort with an evil one, although it is not required to attack him if there is an encounter." Naturally, evil characters are not bound by these same restrictions, though, oddly, it's suggested that even evil characters will not attack members of their own party while "sharing an adventure together." This reinforces the idea that alignment on EPT' is foundational to the presentation of Tékumel's society rather than having anything to do with personality or morality. (It's worth noting that later presentations of Tékumel develop this further, replacing Good and Evil with Stability and Change and fleshing out a moral system based around "nobility.")

As noted above, nonhumans don't have alignment as humans do. Rather, their alignment is based on their "general attitudes toward mankind," as this chart demonstrates:

This chart recalls the one from OD&D and supports the notion of alignment as being, first and foremost, the marker of one's "team." This is in keeping with OD&D's conception of alignment, though Barker teases out some of its assumptions and consequences a bit more in Empire of the Petal Throne. This is, I believe, where EPT shines, since Barker offered a model of how one might apply the rules of OD&D to a specific world in order to create an immersive, believable place. This is something Dungeons & Dragons has never really done, which no doubt contributes to the dislike of alignment by many of its players.

Stackpole on DragonQuest

 In Issue #11 of Different Worlds, there's a lengthy review of SPI's fantasy roleplaying game, DragonQuest by game designer Michael Stackpole. Overall, the review is negative, though Stackpole concedes that the game was "designed with good intentions"  and contains "several good and innovative ideas … obscured by the clumsy methods used in implementing them." He concludes his review with the following:


Different Worlds: Issue #11

Issue #11 of Different Worlds (February/March 1981) is an interesting issue to me, because its content continues to differentiate the magazine from its contemporaries, like Dragon or White Dwarf. For whatever reason, Different Worlds published a significant number of "theoretical" articles about roleplaying, which is to say, articles about roleplaying rather than simply articles providing additions and options to existing games. If I had to guess, I imagine this reflects the local culture out of which Chaosium and, by extension, Different Worlds, grew. I've noted on a couple of occasions that California, like the Midwest and the East Coast, was distinctive in its approach to RPGs, so I suppose it shouldn't be surprising to see this distinction reflected in its periodicals. 

The issue begins with "Running Low Level Dungeons" by Robert Plamondon, which offers some advice to referees on the necessity of taking beginner dungeons seriously, as a means of "hooking" people into the hobby. Plamondon's concerns are twofold. First, he feels strongly that even low-level dungeons should be every bit as interesting as high-level one. Second, he feels equally strongly that low-level dungeons should be accommodating to the inexperience of new players and thus not "killer" in their approach. Mind you, Plamondon seems generally opposed to dungeons designed to kill characters, seeing this as somehow antithetical to the purpose of RPGs. 

"A Change of Hobbit" by Ronald Mark Pehr is an odd piece. It's a critique of D&D's portrayal of hobbits (halflings) on the basis that it differs from they way Tolkien portrayed them in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Beyond that, Pehr's main complaint is that D&D pigeon holes halflings as thieves and doesn't acknowledge their skills as warriors. These are fair points, if being true to Tolkien, is one's goal, but I'm not sure that was ever the point of including halflings in the game. (I resolve the matter by dispensing with halflings entirely.) Part two of "Gems & Magic" by Steve Marsh and Margaret R. Gemignani is also here, completing what began last issue. I'm a big fan of "natural" magic items like this, so the article was most welcome to me.

"A New Computer System for Traveller" by Martin Connell is an attempt – in 1981, I remind you – to offer new rules for computers to make it "truly representative of the far future." More amusingly, Connell notes that his rules are based on his experiences with an "IBM 360, and IBM 3033, a PRIME, and several hobby computers." He also consulted with "several friends who are computer science majors." I don't mean to mock Connell, whose larger point about how outdated Traveller's computer rules have always been is sound, but only to point out that, when it comes to technology, predicting the future is not always easy. Personally, I've generally found Traveller's somewhat retro approach to computers less problematic than trying to import the moving target of "realistic" far future computer rules into the game.

"The Fourfold Way of FRP" by Jeffrey A. Johnson is a follow-up of sorts to the articles by Glen Blacow and Lewis Pulsipher in issue #10. It's another stab at trying to describe types of gamers and approaches to roleplaying. Johnson offers a diagram consisting of two axes, one relating to personal goals (power gaming vs storytelling) and realism (pure fantasy vs simulation). Honestly, this isn't a bad approach, though, as with most such articles, I marvel at gamers' desire to try and codify everything into neat categories (I am as guilty of this as anyone).

There is a huge collection of lengthy reviews in this issue, starting with a positive one for Azhanti High Lightning. Also covered are Tunnels & Trolls (also positively) and DragonQuest and several smaller adventure publications of which I've (mostly) never heard. What stands out about these reviews is how lengthy they are, something I appreciated, since, if nothing else, they afforded the reviewer to explain his own perspective in detail. This is particularly useful in the case of case of the T&T review (by Ken Rolston) and the DQ review (by Michael Stackpole), since there are multiple points where their own opinions differed with my own. Even more interesting is that the review of DragonQuest was followed by a rebuttal of sorts by the designer, Eric Goldberg. Good stuff!

John T. Sapienza reviews Beasts of Antares and several other novels in the saga of Dray Prescot. Sapienza also provides D&D game statistics for some of the magical items and monsters that appear in the series. "The Cult of Kali" is a "gateway" cult for RuneQuest by Greg Costikyan. Meanwhile, "The Sword of Hollywood" by Larry DiTillio is a new column about fantasy and science fiction movies, this time focusing rumors of the D&D movie, a new Star Trek TV series, and pre-production of the third Star Wars movie, Revenge of the Jedi. 

Lewis Pulsipher's "Personalities of Role-Playing Gamers" presents fifteen types of roleplayers, ranging from "The Barbarian," who always plays fighters and likes combat, to "The Puppet," who does what other people tell him to do, and "The Entrepreneur," who's always looking for ways to make money in an adventure. It's a fine, if limited list, but, much like Johnson's article earlier in this issue, I'm not quite sure the point of all these attempts at codifying the hobby and its players. Ending the issue is another column by Gigi D'Arn, which sadly doesn't contain any remarkable bits of gossip worth mentioning here. Oh, well.

Monday, April 19, 2021

First Encounter

Speaking as someone who has struggled to produce a fanzine on a regular basis, I have nothing but respect and admiration for those who attempted to do so in the days before computers and the Internet made it a far more complex and onerous proposition. Take, for example, First Encounter, a Canadian fanzine whose eight issues were published between June 1982 and August 1983. Of particular note is that the 'zines feature the artwork of Eric Hotz, best known for his iconic work on Hârn. I love seeing "before they were famous" work of this sort. It's a useful reminder of the remarkable talents that our hobby has fostered over the decades.

The High Priest of the Fantasy Movement

Over the past few days, I've been deluged with early newspaper references to roleplaying games, specifically Dungeons & Dragons and, believe it or not, Empire of the Petal Throne (the majority of them sent to me by Thaddeus Moore, one of the creators of the Wizard Funk fanzine). 

An August 31, 1975 article, entitled "From Hussars to Hippogriffs" about GenCon VIII, which appeared in the pages of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch is the first one I'd like to talk about. The article's coverage of GenCon and the wider wargaming hobby is itself quite fascinating and probably worthy of its own post. Naturally, it's the discussion of the still comparatively new D&D that is probably of most interest to readers of this blog. Take note of this paragraph, which introduces Gary Gygax.

As you can see, the article calls D&D "a free-form, do-it-yourself game" consisting of "three books of rules that are really guidelines for putting together your own game." That's a remarkably astute description of OD&D, I'd say. In another paragraph, the relationship between D&D and Tolkien – or at least Gygax's personal take on it – is briefly touched upon.
I appreciate quotes like this, because I think they lend support to my long-held contention that Gygax was not simply trying to downplay the influence of Tolkien on Dungeons & Dragons for legal reasons but because he himself was genuinely not that keen on Middle-earth. 

Equally interesting to me is that the article makes mention of Empire of the Petal Throne, which had only just been released by TSR. Gamers often forget how early EPT was published and how significant its release was at the time. 
Perhaps not the most accurate description of Tékumel I've ever read, but it's also far from the worst!

Pulp Fantasy Library: Beyond the Singing Flame

Clark Ashton Smith's 1931 story, "The City of the Singing Flame", was, much to his surprise, one of his most popular stories — so popular that CAS decided to write a sequel to it. However, it was not an easy task for him, since so much of the power of the original story comes from he called, in a letter to David Lasser, its "suggestive vagueness." Consequently, Smith struggled a bit with the right approach to a sequel and the end result, I think, evinces some of the difficulties with which he wrestled. The resulting story, "Beyond the Singing Flame," which first appeared in the November 1931 issue of Wonder Stories, is thus not quite as remarkable as its predecessor, though it still has much to recommend it.

Like "The City of the Singing Flame," this tale is told from the perspective of its narrator, Philip Hastane, who admits that he "was still doubtful as to whether the incidents related [in the journal of Giles Angarth] … were fiction or verity." His doubts were driven by the fact that the journal's entries were "very much the sort of thing that Angarth might have imagined in one of the fantastic novels for which he had become so justly famous." Ultimately, though, he comes to accept that Angarth's journal describes real events, since the disappearance of Angarth and his friend Ebbonly made no sense otherwise.
Both were well-known, the one as a writer, the other as an artist; both were in flourishing circumstances, with no serious cares or troubles; and their vanishment, all things considered, was difficult to explain on the ground of any motive less unusual or extraordinary than the one assigned in the journal. 

At first, as I have hinted in my foreword to the published diary, I thought that the whole affair might well have been devised as a somewhat elaborate practical joke; but this theory became less and less tenable as weeks and months went by and linked themselves slowly into a year, without the reappearance of the presumptive jokers. 

Hastane soon found himself pondering the mystery "perpetually, and more and more … was possessed by an overwhelming wonder, and a sense of something which no mere fiction-weaver would have been likely to invent through the unassisted workings of his own fantasy." He then sets his affairs in order and travels to Angarth's abandoned cabin south of Crater Ridge, which he visits briefly before trying to retrace his friend's path. After three days of attempts, he succeeds in finding the "open, circular, rock-surrounded space" Angarth had described in his journal as the gateway between worlds.

Hastane hesitates in entering the circular space, simultaneously fearful that Angarth's tale was true and that it was a mere fiction. After spending a night in the cabin, his "brain excited by formless, glowing premonitions, by intimations of half-conceived perils and splendors and vastnesses," he sets off again toward the circle with weapons and supplies. Hastane steps into the circle and finds himself transported, just as Angarth had described. The other world, too, was just as Angarth had described, including "the city with its crowding tiers of battlements and its multitude of overlooming spires" that drew him toward it with "invisible threads of secret attraction." 

Yet, all was not well.

I saw in the far distance the shining towers of what seemed to be another city – a city of which Angarth had not written. The towers rose in serried lines, reaching for many miles in a curious arc-like formation, and were sharply defined against a blackish mass of clouds that had reared behind them and was spreading out on a luminous amber sky in sullen webs and sinister, crawling filaments.

Subtle disquietude and repulsion seemed to emanate from the far-off, glittering spires, even as attraction emanated from those of the nearer city. I saw them quiver and pulse with an evil light, like living and moving things, through what I assumed to be some refractive trick of the atmosphere. Then, for an instant, the black cloud behind them glowed with dull, angry crimson throughout its whole mass, and even its questing webs and tendrils were turned into lurid threads of fire.

Seeing this, Hastane briefly considers leaving this world and returning to California the way he came. He puts aside his fears and instead makes his way down the immense road Angarth had described in his journal, so that he might make his way to the nearer city. As he did so, he became aware of the fact that he was alone. No other beings, such as those Angarth encountered, could be seen. Hastane began to wonder, "Was the city forsaken by its people …? Was it no longer open to the pilgrims who came from outlying lands …?" 

Hastane has little time to ponder these thoughts before he is picked up by "two flying creatures, whom [he] can compare only to gigantic moths," who carry him to the nearer city. As he descended toward the city, carried by the alien lepidoptera, he

knew that war was being made with unearthly weapons and engineries, by inimical powers that I could not imagine, for a purpose beyond my conception; but to me, it all had the elemental confusion and vague, impersonal horror of some cosmic catastrophe.

 It's then that the author comes to realize that fear and revulsion he felt upon seeing the far-off city is an omen of its warlike intentions. War is being made upon the city Angarth called the City of the Singing Flame and its inhabitants are utterly weaponless and without any means of defending themselves against such aggression. Is this why Angarth and Ebbonly had not returned? Was there nothing that could be done?

Though clearly a lesser work than "The City of the Singing Flame," I nevertheless have to give credit to Smith for not merely repeating himself. "Beyond the Singing Flame" develops the world beyond the gateway, expanding on its nature and inhabitants, as well as altering the status quo through the advent of war. At the same time, it's precisely these things that, to my mind anyway, marks this as an inferior story. Though the prose is as luxurious as ever, its rhythms are more mundane and less hypnotic, due, no doubt, to the necessities of exposition. Where "The City of the Singing Flame" is a finely woven tapestry of thoughts, feelings, and impressions, its sequel is a much more conventional pulp fantasy story of extra-dimensional travel. It's a very well made example of the genre and full of inspirational ideas, but it lacks something I can't quite put my finger on, which is why I like it less than its predecessor.

Friday, April 16, 2021

House of Worms, Session 221

The provincial capital of Mihimór was unimpressive to the idea of the Tsolyáni, being only slightly larger than Linyaró, which was widely recognized as a backwater. Mihimór was walled and possessed two gates and a waterfront. One of the gates allowed access to a Sákbe road that snaked southward along the coast. Most of the buildings, which seemed to be made of baked mud bricks, were squat and broad, with few rising above a couple of stories. Two structures towered above the others, visible even from the waterfront. Znayáshu theorized that they must be a government building and the temple of Jráka of which Vrummíshsha had spoken. He suggested they make their way in their direction once they had disembarked from their boats.

A customs officer waved them into a dock and inquired about their origins and purpose in Mihimór. Keléno, as one of only two characters who spoke Bednallján Salarvyáni, spoke on behalf of the party. He explained that they had come from up the coast, from a fishing village called Bakátlan. The official was skeptical, saying that their accents suggested they were foreigners. Keléno then admitted that, yes, they called the city of Sokátis home, located far to the west. The official had never heard of Sokátis but seemed satisfied with the explanation. He then asked about their purpose in the capital. In reply, Keléno said that they were coming to visit the temple and had business there. 

The customs officer seemed satisfied, though he explained, "I thought you might be deserters fleeing the Red King's armies." Naturally, this piqued the interest of Kirktá, who asked Keléno to find out more about this Red King. The official shrugged, adding that "He's just another fanatic – a prophet of Vaomáhl – dissatisfied with King Tarishánde's religious policies, or so I hear. Don't worry: the battles are far from here. You'll be safe in Mihimór." Znayáshu expressed some concern upon hearing this, since their ultimate goal was to travel westward toward the royal fortress of Evú Nithóru. For the moment, though, they had more immediate concerns and so he put aside any thoughts of the Red King.

The group advanced toward the two large buildings they'd seen earlier, along the way taking in the sights. It was quite clear that Mihimór was a minor, unimportant city. The soldiers here looked ill-disciplined and poorly equipped, unlikely to have ever seen combat. The inhabitants mostly ignored them, going about their business, though a few eyed them suspiciously. They came first to the building Znayáshu had correctly guessed was an administrative structure but chose to ignore it in favor of the other, which they hoped would be the temple of Jráka. When they did reach it, though found it was, like all the buildings here, broad and squat, with several spires attached to it. The place was surrounded by a low wall and two soldiers stood at its entrance.

Keléno approached one and explained that he and his companions had traveled far to speak with the high priest. The soldier sized up the group and said, "Most of you don't look like priests. What need to you have to enter the temple?" Keléno told him that they had "items of value" that they wished to trade to the high priest and pointed to a bag filled with his possessions. The soldier then acquiesced and led Keléno, Znayáshu, Nebússa, and Srüna inside. Once there, they were introduced to a scowling, middle-aged man identified as Kirída Giraggánu. Keléno engaged in brief pleasantries before telling the priest that he wanted some ancient devices identified – for surely priests of Jráka could perform such a feat – and some scrolls of dispel magic. 

Kirída immediately asked about payment. Znayáshu suggested giving him as much coin as they could muster, but it soon became clear the priest was not interested in such trivialities. He said that he would take one of the three ancient devices in exchange for the temple's services – one of his choosing. Znayáshu did not like this deal but was willing to accede to it at first. Once Keléno added that he would also require scrolls, Kirída said that, in such a case, he would ask for two of the devices in payment. This was too much for Znayáshu, who told Keléno to end the negotiations. They would find someone else who could help them. The characters then left the temple, with Kirída telling them that he would be here if they changed their minds.

Attempting to find alternatives met with failure. Interviewing locals made it very clear that the priests of Jráka were the most educated and magically potent individuals in the city. Znayáshu hit upon the idea of looking for the temple of the local equivalent of Sárku – Qúrgha – in the hopes that their priests might be less obstreperous. Unfortunately, the closest temple to Qúrgha was in the city of Khavárish, days away by Sákbe road. Since the characters had little interest in traveling so great a distance, they took inventory of their possessions to see if perhaps they had something else that might interest Kirída and that he might take as payment without claiming any of the ancient devices they possessed. Znayáshu remembered that he had a text known as the Du'ón Duqála Tóruuna, "The Scroll of Bringing Forth the Unnnamed," written in the ancient tongue of the priests of Ksárul. He suggested that perhaps the priest of Jráka would find that to his liking.

Returning to the temple, Keléno offered the scroll in exchange for identifying the devices and scrolls of dispel magic. Kirída tried to hide his obvious pleasure at the offer, but he "reluctantly" agreed. He summoned a junior priest to identify the three devices, which turned out to be an eye of non-seeing, an eye of retarding destiny, and an eye of madness. Kirída said the temple could offer five scrolls to them, which Keléno accepted before Znayáshu could press him to get a better deal. The characters then left the temple and headed back toward the waterfront, with the intention of returning to Bakatlán. Ultimately, their goal was the ruins inhabited by the Ssú, whom they wished to face again, now better armed against the battle to come. 

Random Roll: DMG, p. 59

The ability of several demihuman races to see in the dark is firmly established in Dungeons & Dragons. My first encounter with the game was through the Holmes-edited Basic Set and its rulebook calls this ability "infravision" without any explanation. The AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide, though, goes to some length explaining the nature of infravision.

As explained in PLAYERS HANDBOOK, infravision is the ability to see light waves in the infrared spectrum.

To say that I have disliked this definition for decades is an understatement. While I am on record as not being opposed in principle to the mixing of science fiction and fantasy, Gygax's explanation of infravision leans a little too heavily, in my opinion, on real world science, with infelicitous consequences, as we shall see.

Gygax elaborates with the following:

Characters and various creatures with infravisual capability out to 60' (standard) are basically picking up radiation from their surroundings. Therefore, they note differences in thermal radiation, hot or cold. They do not "see" things which are the same temperature as their surroundings. Thus, a room in a dungeon might look completely blank, as walls, floor, ceiling, and possibly even some wooden furniture are all of the same temperature. Openings in the walls should show up rather plainly, as space anywhere else will, and if you are generous, you can allow different substances to radiate differently even if at the same temperature, i.e. the wood in the example above would be discernible if care was used in scanning the room infravisually.

Leaving aside the not insignificant matter of what this does to the "magic" of D&D, the conception of infravision Gygax advances here seems intended to limit its utility. If an elf's ability to see in the dark is akin to 1970s era IR goggles, it's a rather narrow ability, almost to the point of uselessness. I imagine that's the point, though. He continues:

Except where very warm or very cold objects are concerned, vision of this sort is roughly equivalent to human norm on a dark or cloudy night at best. Note also that monsters of a very cold or very warm sort (such as a human) can be tracked infravisually by their footprints. Such tracking must occur within two rounds of their passing, or the temperature difference where they had trodden will dissipate. 

The ability to track via infravision is certainly handy, though, as one might expect, Gygax places limitations on it, which given his explanation of how the ability works, is not unrealistic. Of course, what he gives with one hand, he takes with the other.

Light sources which give off heat also absolutely prevent infravision from functioning within their sphere of illumination. (Explain this as the effect of trying to see into the dark when the observer is in a brightly lot area.) It requires not less than two segments to accustom the eyes to infravision after use of normal vision. 

Again, this makes sense, given his conception of infravision, but it's a potentially serious drawback when one notes that it takes two segments to shift between normal and infravision. A lot can happen during those 12 seconds of temporary blindness.

The section ends by noting that creatures with infravision with a range of 90' or more – the sort possessed by "most monsters inhabiting underground areas" – see much more clearly than those with standard infravision. 

Such creatures can easily distinguish floor, ceiling, wall, and other areas, as well as furnishings within the area.

Talk about stacking the deck in the monsters favor!

This whole section makes me unhappy, or at least disappointed. I much prefer granting certain creatures, like dwarves, elves, and many monsters, the magical ability to see in the dark without restriction. This is more or less what's implied in OD&D and the way I've always handled infravision (a term I now reject, owing to the scientific associations Gygax foists on it here). Chainmail, I believe, grants magic-users the power to see in the dark too and it's something I've long considered giving player characters of that class as a basic ability. 

My point, ultimately, is that I think this whole section reeks of an attempt by Gygax to rein in an ability he thought too useful. Since I neither share his likely concern nor like his reframing of infravision as thermal vision, there's not much here I would use.