Sunday, March 6, 2011

From the "I am an Idiot" Files

I was reading the AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide this evening and I suddenly noticed something I hadn't before or, rather, something finally clicked in my head and I find it hard to believe it took so long for it to do so. In the miscellaneous magic section, you'll find the following:
Cubic Gate: Another small cubic device, this item is fashioned from carnelian. The 6 sides of the cube are each keyed to a plane, 1 of which will always be the Prime Material, of course. The other 5 can be chosen by any means desired. If the side of the cubic gate is pressed but once, it opens a nexus to the appropriate plane, and there is a 10% chance per turn that something will come through it looking for food, fun, and/or trouble. If the side is pressed twice, the creature so doing, along with all creatures in a 5' radius will be drawn through the nexus to the other plane. It is impossible to open more than 1 nexial point at once.
How is it that I only just realized that this is a direct borrowing from De Camp and Pratt's The Carnelian Cube? It's not like Gygax was even hiding the fact, since he outright states the material from which it's made in the very first sentence of the item's description! Shows how closely I must have read that description in years gone by.

(It's worth noting, by the way, that both D&D III and Pathfinder have retained the De Camp/Pratt connection in their descriptions of this item. Does anyone know if the latest incarnation of D&D does the same?)


  1. "was reading the AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide this evening and I suddenly noticed something I hadn't before" = every time I look at the AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide... which is one of my favourite things about it. :)

  2. I agree with Stuart. The book is a masterpiece, and I never tire of opening it and finding something "new," even though I've owned the thing for around 30 years now, and have read it cover to cover many times in my youth.

  3. It's amazing how often I read stories like this about the DMG and then I go and open it up and have a similar experience! It seems like there's always more to discover, something I haven't seen in many works, in and out of RPGs, and not even in HIS other material.

  4. I think the preceding are good observations.

  5. I can't even find the darn thing in my 4th Edition books. I checked the Player's Handbook which includes every kind of magic item/treasure that's not an artifact, and then I checked the DMG which includes a measly selection of artifacts. It's not in either book.

    A quick Google search also didn't help much. So, it's either in one of the other 8,243 4th Edition supplemental hardbacks, or else they haven't written it up yet in 4th Edition stats.

  6. I haven't seen it written up in 4th Edition. Many magic items are really nerfed in 4th edition from their incarnations in pervious editions, sadly.

  7. I must be selectively blind, I don't remember that Misc Magic item at all!

  8. I remember that, though not the material description. It was one of the miscellanous magic items which would just generate problems for the characters, like Amulet of the Planes and Deck of Many Things.

    I vaguely remember handing this out to some level 6-8 characters and them getting into trouble in the outer planes. The unknown planes the sides were linked to were great.

  9. Used a variant of the cube to transport a whole Blitzkrieg style army through enemy territory. Didn't notice the DeCamp connection either, tho :-)

    @Stuart: Yeah, agree! I still wonder how Gygax did that. He really knew his fantasy, I guess.

  10. does it really need a conversion to be plonked into a 4e campaign?

  11. It's in the 4E manual of the plane as the Cubic Portal. Description:
    "This fist-sized cube is cut from solid carnelian, and each face contains a stylized glyph that corresponds to a specific planar location."
    It's a level 30 item so pretty potent and rare. It doesn't have the chance for nasties to come through, it opens a gate to the location tied to that side that the PC's can pass through.

    I would bet money that the authors of the current version (and maybe 3E as well) had no idea of its origin - they most likely included it because it was in the previous version.

  12. I'm probably in the tiny minority of D&D players that actually read The Carnelian Cube before I ever played a game of D&D. Excellent story - de Camp and Pratt were quite the team.

    I was just wondering the other day in fact as to whether or not de Camp coined the term Prime Plane. Anyone know the origin of that widely used D&D term?

  13. In 2009, Erik Mona wrote a post ( discussing "The Carnelian Cube" that I think illuminates a couple of things.

    1) That prior to 2009, even Erik Mona may have not known of the connection -- something that surprised me.
    2) That one of the reasons many may not be making the connection is a lack of familiarity with the deCamp/Pratt canon. This seems to be an aftereffect of the anti-deCampian sentiments in of the Howardians -- deserved in the Howardian sense, but not in the larger sense.

    I think that too many people are becoming unfamiliar with the deCamp/Pratt fiction, which is a true shame. Not only can one see the influences they had on D&D when one reads the Enchanter series, but they are quite entertaining.

  14. I thought this book was "only OK," as you might glean from my Paperback Flash review from a year and a half ago. To address Christian Lindke's observations about that post:

    1) I was aware of the connection between this book at the cubic gate, but I only recently read the story. I expected the baseline to be heroic fantasy, but none of the realities accessed through the cube in the book really fit that description, which is probably why I found the whole thing a bit unsettling (beyond its innate disjointedness, anyway).

    2) I'm definitely biased against de Camp's work based on his Lovecraft biography (which I thought flawed even as a junior highschooler) and his lifeless Conan pastiche. I've subsequently read one more de Camp book: The Queen of Zamba, the first of his "Planet Krishna" stories, which was much more true to form (or is it "formula"?). Anyway, I liked it better than The Carnelian Cube. I own most of de Camp's fantasy output, and look forward to reading it over the years.