Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Retrospective: To the Aid of Falx

Though I participated in not a single RPGA-sponsored tournament, I was nevertheless a member of the Role Playing Game Association from 1982 to 1986. I initially joined in the hope that I would one day participate in such tournaments, which fascinated me, but I stayed because I enjoyed reading Polyhedron. I was equally fascinated by the exclusive items that the RPGA sold to its members, like the three AD&D adventure modules written by Frank Mentzer.

The first of the modules, To the Aid of Falx, was published in 1982 and is written for characters of levels 5–9. Its premise is that the characters have been "selected from many applicants" to assist the silver dragon, Falx Templamut, and "grandson of old Bahamut himself." Falx is concerned by the recent theft of five potions of silver dragon control from a merchant caravan, fearing they'll be used against him. He asks the characters to enter the lair of the thieves, one of whom is a vampire, since, being a dragon, he is too large to enter. 

Given this set-up, it should come as little surprise that To the Aid of Falx is a contrived, forgettable adventure, filled with traps and monsters (like 32 wererats and 8 wights) intended to "challenge" the characters rather than make sense within the context of the adventure. Normally, I wouldn't have written about a scenario like this, but it include an interesting preface by Frank Mentzer. Pay particular attention to the second paragraph.
Mentzer's comment about "dungeons that could exist as given a for length of game time" is broadly in line with Gygaxian naturalism and, I think, generally laudable. There's nothing inherently wrong with funhouse dungeons, but my personal preference is generally for dungeons that make sense. Based on what he says in the preface, Mentzer feels similarly, though I'm not sure that To the Aid of Falx fits the bill.

Even more intriguing is Mentzer's comment that he is "much opposed to non-standard AD&D games." He elaborates on what he means by this is noting that his own campaign, which apparently began in 1976, contains only two new monsters and no new character classes, spells, or "procedures," by which I assume he means rules procedures. He even offers an aside in which he denigrates the introduction of such new material as "so-called 'improvements.'" 

I'm not quite sure what to make of these statements. On the one hand, I fully understand the desire to play a RPG without any variant materials. On the other hand, nearly every AD&D module ever published, starting with Gygax's own G and D-series adventures, has included new monsters. What then was Mentzer's point in voicing this opinion in To the Aid of Falx? My guess is that it was part of the movement, starting in the early 1980s, to promote the standardization of AD&D first through the RPGA and then through Gygax's columns in the pages of Dragon. 

To the Aid of Falx is not the worst module I've ever read, but it's far from a good one. Compared even to other re-purposed tournament modules, like Slave Pits of the Undercity, it's an uninspired effort. Its main appeal to me is its amusing artwork by the late, great James Holloway, such as the cover image depicted above. If it's at all representative of the kind of scenarios used by the RPGA, I can't say I missed out on much by never participating in their tournemants.


  1. The older I get, the more I really dislike AD&D's drastic effect on Gary's mindset & TSR in general. The early hardcover books are a wonderful read filled with great art and the early modules are true classics, but the business model designed into and built up around it was increasingly asinine.

  2. I'd agree it's a bit of a mess to play and as a fun house dungeon, ranks way below the others mentioned. It is however worth hanging on to for it's rarity and resale value.

  3. When I read that, what comes through loudest to me is a new-ish employee climbing the ladder in his company through flattery of/ego appeal to the person who can help him most.

    I think our tendency to look at everything and take it at face value, not considering the very human elements of those writing it, attributes motivation(s) to other elements we can identify when they may not be related to any great degree.

  4. Frank is very active on FB. You could simply ask him.