Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Champion of Zed

The interview series keeps chugging along this summer and I am happy with its overall direction. I was proud to have hosted the recent exchange with Rob Kuntz--even with some of the axe-grinding conniption fits over in nooks like Knights-n-Knaves. The interview, at the least, got people discussing and debating, one of its primary aims.

But really friends, the series is also an extended excuse for me to have focused talks with people that interest me in our hobby.

I started noticing over the past year that I've really enjoyed reading or hearing from a small set of classical gamer folks I dub--for lack of a better pigeon hole--“the historians”. These are bloggers and others with some internet presence who really dig into a tight range of subjects from the early days of our hobby with a certain focused rigor. Folks like Allen Grohe/Grodog, Scottsz, Grendelwulf, Harami/Dave, and others who deliver things that I sometimes feel is lacking in the “editorializers” (of which I am probably one.)

Dan Boggs, aka D.H. Boggs, is a fella I think of being in that category. His Dragons at Dawn, an homage to Arneson's pre-D&D unpublished rules, and his upcoming Champions of Zed situate him in that “historian” orbit and I was glad to track him down a couple weeks ago for an interview.

Hill Cantons: How would you best identify yourself to readers?

Dan Bogg: I’ve dug up a fair few graves. Kids graves are the worst. I’ve pulled charred stones out of 4,000 year old hearths and read love poem scrawled on a cowrie shell discarded in the privy of a 19th century whore house. I’ve stared at a delicate thumbprint in a 1000 year old native American pottery and spent day after day walking through fields, and forest digging holes and looking for stuff.

Kinda puts life in perspective. I think about time and the big picture a lot. Things that enrich my life, gaming being one of them, matter much more to me than hype and sophomoric posturing buzzing about the world.

I grew up in the “Laurel Highlands” of SW Pennsylvania, basically like West Virginia light (yeah, country boy), but I’ve lived a in a lot of different places and various cities. My father was from the hills of east KY and my mother was from Pittsburgh, both from old families. Now, I got a house in a nice small town not too far from the Adirondacks and here my wife and I are raising two girls.

HC: You seem to take a lot of care in your gaming work to ground it in Dave Arneson's legacy. What got you down that road and why the care in trying to keep it as close to the original material as you do in Dragons at Dawn?

DB: Gravity, I suppose, and the preservationist instincts that comes of being an archaeologist. My first set of D&D rules was B/X and I glommed on to the AD&D stuff pretty much like everybody else, although I thought a lot of the rules were stupidly complex and mostly just used the good stuff. 

When 2E came out I bought the line that it fixed all the nonsense and I liked the greater emphasis on flexibility.

By the time 3e came out I was traveling around a lot, living in hotels and apartment working as an archaeologists so there wasn’t much time for gaming, let alone buying a whole new system. Anyway, I had long had an interest in knowing more about “the other guy”. 

Gygax was a very big presence in the game but all I knew of Arneson was the little I heard from Gygax’s comments in Dragon mag (this is all pre-internet, keep in mind). I specifically bought DA 2 Temple of the Frog when it came out to see what a module from “the other guy” was like.

Fast forward to about 2007, my new wife and I buy our first house. For the first time in my life I’m “settled” and I thought it a great time to get back into gaming. Long story short and for various reasons – one of them being an interest in understanding the original purpose of the ability scores – I started to find out more about this Arneson fellow and was fascinated by the history there and by both what a great guy he was and great ideas he had. My timing was terrible, as it turned out, for just as I was really getting into his gaming products, he passed away.

HC: Champions of Zed is taking a bit of a different tack, but still seeks to situate itself pretty close to the roots of the hobby. Can you tell us about that project and your goals there?

DB: Yeah, after writing Dragons at Dawn, the last thing I wanted to do was tackle another set of rules. It is soooooo time consuming, particularly when it is a research project involving lots of sources. But, in a sense, I felt like I didn’t have a choice.

I had the great fortune to be trusted with a copy of what turned out to be a draft of the D&D rules prepared by Arneson, and I’m fairly confident in my assessment of them being the “final” draft he mentioned in Different Worlds mag. I was sent the rules because the owner hoped I would be able to shed some light on them. Indeed I can!

But that story will have to wait till all parties concerned are agreeable to more being said. Having this draft in my hands though, and having had my head buried in the FFC and the rest of Arneson’s work and having a keen interest in OD&D in general, well I felt like I had to bring it all together, all these disparate threads. I wanted these rules first and foremost for myself, but I also knew that there would be lots of people who would find them as liberating and fun as me.

At the time I started writing CoZ, there was a real need being expressed on various forums for an OD&D “clone” that brought in its quirks and uniqueness–like the exploratory hex-crawl, and the options for different Chainmail style combat. The OD&D based “clones” or supplements for other games really just add some OD&D stylings to what is otherwise a B/X game.

My goal wasn’t to clone the 3LBBs or the obscure Arneson manuscript, but to use them both, along with a careful selection of Gygax/Arneson OD&D house rules and the FFC, to edit together the game that might have been had Gygax and Arneson brought in an editor to harmonize the material.

In some sense CoZ, may be the “truist” version of OD&D out there, in that it brings a balance between the OD&D of Gygax and Arneson that exists no where else.

HC: I know that you mentioned that the First Fantasy Campaign is one of your primary sources, one of my major inspiration points for Borderlands,in that project. How do you see that fitting in?

DB: I treat the FFC as an equal to the 3LBBs [OD&D books], Chainmail, and Arnesons OD&D draft. It’s not a comic bastard stepchild. Of course, I’m talking about the relevant, rules driven parts of the FFC that have analogs in the 3LBB’s, so, for example, The magic swords section, or the monster section are taken as seriously as a source as the same sections in the 3LBB’s – provided no weird contradictions arise.

Of course, the part of CoZ already published in Fight On is a blend of the wilderness and map rules found in the FFC and the rules and tables of 3LBBs, and that’s the way it should be – these things were literally made to work together, but piecing it together can be challenging. Not to worry, CoZ does that work for you.

There’s also value in the anecdotal information in the FFC. We’re told, for instance about two of the original characters being an orc and a balrog. While balrog may be a bit much, there’s no good reason orc shouldn’t be one of the standard PC races, so I give rules for that.

[In a recent email, Dan revealed that he went ahead and added the balrog player class. Que awesome, in the opinion, of this humble reporter.]


  1. I greedily snatched up a copy of D@D as soon as I heard of its release.

    Not to demean D.H. Boggs's work (I'm not, as it is groovy), but what started out as a comment turned into this:

  2. Great Interview! Also wanted to pop in to let you know that Borderlands got a mention in my article today about Domain gaming, looking forward to seeing it!

  3. Thanks Doc. An interesting post you have there, I would encourage others to check it out here:

  4. Good interview; and I also agree with TS's sentiments as expressed at her blog.

    As for the, "-even with some of the axe-grinding conniption fits over in nooks like Knights-n-Knaves"

    One can only hope... :


  5. Awesome interviews Chris - thanks for posting these. Why is it that D&D archaeology is so compelling? I ask rhetorically, as am beholden myself...