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Category Archives: Das Schwarze Auge

[DSA] Session 4 – The Ancient Academy

So, another adventure with these intrepid adventurers in The Dark Eye. This time I was doing “The Ancient Academy” (as I hinted in the previous post). It went… ok, I guess.

I set it in the western region of Aventuria, the adventurers scouted for a job in the city of Havena and found an old book dealer who was willing to pay them money for an old book that might be in an old monastery in the mountains. The name “Testament of the Nameless” was a bit of a tipoff that the tome was not about bunnies and rainbows.

The characters took to that rather well (the offer of money helped as well), bought themselves a donkey and went off. After a short search for the whole thing they found the dungeon, went in, and… came out again.

It turned out they went in a circle, so after 4 rooms they were standing in the monastery again. They would repeat that another 3 times, getting increasingly frustrated about it. The design of the Ancient Academy is rather interesting, with certain logical units that fit together quite well. Unfortunately for my players that meant that their specific style of exploring always led them back to the first room. (“Again?!!”) And then, when it finally didn’t, they ended up going through all the storage rooms on the periphery, neatly getting around most fights. A lot of luck (?) on the wandering monster table also figured in there.

Still, they met a few creatures. And they killed them. If I noticed something during the game it was how merciless they were towards their enemies. Normally they are scared kittens, but yesterday they hunted down one of the goblins and killed him like a dog when he tried to get away.

At least in the end they got their objective by a bit of roleplaying: the cultists in the dungeon were the ones who had the book they were searching for, and they neatly convinced them to be other members of their cult, killed the high priest (who had turned into a ghoul) and got the book to Havena. Of course by that point everybody in the group already was a bit tired, and most of my players had to go to work the next morning, so I was eager to wrap up the adventure.

Notes on the adventure:

1. the characters dealt in forbidden lore and pretended to be members of a very forbidden cult. That might come bite them in the ass in a few adventures. Also they never got into a third of the dungeon. Sequel hooks!

2. Google image search is brillant. Everytime I had the feeling I needed some extra pictures to enhance the mood I could search it within seconds. That also was the good thing about having a notebook with my notes on it. Picture of rotten zombies? Check. Stag beetle? Check. Ruined monastery on a hill? Check.

3. Playing on Sunday night is bad, and I told myself not to do it anymore. Still, I wanted to play this week, and that was the only time when all of us had time. Still: it leads to all of us being tired and unresponsive. I wanted to play the cultists a bit more but I couldn’t. And I at least have the boon of having holidays for two weeks now. My players don’t. They had to go to work the next day.

4. I actually managed to get them onto the silver standard. The basic coinage they are dealing with now are silver talers (dollars…). That’s a bit better for my own sanity as the gold coins in the game are defined to be ridiculously valuable, and for some reason players seem to like to deal with the gold coins.

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Campaign Update

So far there were two more sessions for my Das Schwarze Auge campaign which I intended to write up for posterity but did not manage to. There was not really too much to tell in these cases anyway. The second session was kind of fraught with problems: there was a new player who never had played before and who did not really grok the concept of it all. And then she had to disappear midway through, which I integrated into the plot as her character suddenly had disappeared in the morning. Luckily this was also the time when I finally managed to find out what the plot of the session was (yes, two hours into the adventure…) so his disappearance caused even more befuddlement and paranoia than before. In the end the problem turned out to be a demonic stalker they had contracted while being in the mine in the first session. Which, after all, had been an ancient storage facility for demons. They also had gained a druidic fetish the session before which worked as a protection of the demonic presence that was following them. Every time they tried to apprehend the demon he was driven away, every time he tried to hurt them he could not come near. In the end he resorted to attacking random people and creatures along their way, with them growing ever more paranoid. Quite good for a solution that had been strung together way too late.

The third session went similar. I made use of Jeff Rient’s Carousing tables (because they are awesome) and half the evening was already filled by their results. The Scoundrel got into some really bad business and found herself charged with a mission by her god (Phex, the god of thieves’ of course), the Fighter lost all her money gambling, and the Mage got turned into a pig. When all that was done they managed to gain a new goal: getting to Thorwal city in the North for some reason. To get there they became guards on a riverboat going down the Big River (not much thought went into that name…) and got involved in what seems to be a murder plot (in other words: the classic module River of Doom. No, wait, that has to be said different: River. Of. DOOOOOOOMMM! Oh how I love these cheesy titles…)

[DSA] Executive Meddling: Mask of the Master

No, this is not a joke.

You know, there is one thing that always interested me in the history of roleplaying as a hobby in Germany, and that were the various stupidities produced by Schmidt Spiele against the best interest of their own products sales and believability. tragic as they might seem, they can be kind of amusing though. the picture in the top left here shows the most well known of these follies: Die Maske des Meisters (The Mask of the Master).

Schmidt Spiele, as you might remember, was the game company responsible for The Dark Eye in it’s early editions. And they were very successful with it. DSA sold like hotcakes.

The reason for that was simple: while having very basic rules and a rather naive background it was the only pen and paper RPG available in pretty much every city in Germany.  Schmidt Spiele had a wide range of games and an awesome market penetration. If I remember correctly most of the  games I owned back when I was a kid were produced by this company. Most German players started with this game, and many a gamer’s life never really moved far from it.

But with the territory of being the biggest on the market there also came the hubris, especially in the beginning, but occassionally also later. Schmidt Spiele executives were not really that sure about the game itself. they just couldn’t figure it out.

Roleplaying games were something new and unknown to them, and they seemed to be bothered by the lack of proper gaming materials. There were no markers, no gameboard, nothing they normally put into the boxes that had sold so well for decades. Even more: German roleplayers did not come from a wargaming background, wargames being pretty much unknown in the general gamer audience in Germany until the  mid-90s or so. There were no miniatures, and most German players see them as superflous for roleplaying.

This did not sit so well with them. They (the execs) needed to do something with the whole thing, they could not just let the authors of the game do willy-nilly (conveniently forgetting that the fans might be the ones which knew best who to sell this game to…). In the end they actually found something to ease their mind: As they completely underestimated the age of players (DSA mostly was marketed to children back then), and because they had a few thousand of them still lying around from a cancelled product, the first extension box for the game  “Die Werkzeuge des Meisters” (Tools of the Gamemaster) contained a child-sized, ridiculously cheap-looking mask the GM was supposed to wear when GMing. [see picture above, note the fine shine of cheap plastic and the awesome yet silly looking wings…].

As the mask was part of an earlier product and is sporting the dark eye symbol they used for the product line later,  it can be assumed this was a very sleek way of recycling some leftovers they had lying around. Most likely the name of the game was not only chosen because it sounded better, but also because they needed to get rid of these things. Most likely they already had paid the designer for the symbol, so why waste that money?

Whatever the product was that was cancelled, now the new and first roleplaying game they were publishing bore the name. But not only that: as they wanted it to appear as if the mask actually was, well, a useful part of the game, they claimed in the rulebooks cantained in the box that it was absolutely essential to the right gaming experience to always wear them.

So yes, this was an actual gaming aid they tried to foist onto people. There is an apocryphal story of someone writing in to complain that well, his group absolutely loved the game, but they always had to stop early because the mask was so tight it was giving him headaches.

The mask wasn’t a big success, to say the least.

Later editions of the box  replaced the mask with lots of paper standups and other trinkets and everybody was happy. Players because they got something they actually could use, and executives because they could put something into their product that was recognisable as gaming material. Cynics might say that was because they ran out of masks to put into the reprint runs, and they most likely would be right.

Today of course it’s fondly remembered as a sign of the cheesiness of early DSA. A recent reprinting of the old game rules actually contained a cardboard version of it for fun’s sake, and when they finally published the Güldenland-setting a few years back (I should get back to that at one point), the authors made it (tongue-in-cheek) an integral part of the setting itself: the mages/nobility of that particular setting had to wear a three eyed mask to not petrify anyone they look at with their third eye/not let just any random peasant know that they don’t have the third eye they claim as a sign for the right to rule over the Imperium. So, just like in real life: thety didn’t need it, but everybody was saying it was absolutely essential. Oh, I loved that bit.

[DSA] Executive Meddling: Das Schwarze Auge

Logo of the first edition

Image via Wikipedia

Das Schwarze Auge (The Dark Eye). and I mean the whole title of the game is one big case of executive meddling. A rather beneficial one at that. The problem came later when the publisher decided that it was so successful in this case, it would be successful in any other case as well. A bit like the way America continued to go into foreign countries as liberators just because the Germans were so damn glad to see them in ’45 (as the alternative were either keeping the Nazis or getting the Soviets it was kind of understandable). I guess we set the expectations a bit high there.

When Schmidt Spiele bought the game the author had named it Aventurien (from middle-high german: aventurie –  knightly adventure).

This did not strike the fancy of the executives. Because what the fuck did it even mean? So the Dark eyes were created, or maybe just picked out from the magic item section, and hapharzardly shoehorned in. It might actually be that they were created because of the item in the next entry of this series.

The probel remained: What the f uck DID this mean? But now it sounded mysterious and kewl. And it sold better than the old title would have ever sold.

But from the time I first opened a DSA product to the time when I roughly grasped what a dark eye actually was it took me about 3 years. They are that much of a fringe object in the gameworld.

What they are? Oh, some sort of immobile palantir copy. The most interesting part about the always was that they were made off meteoric metal that had to be crafted into a dark eye at the place it fell. It could actually not be moved afterwards: A wonderful setup for strange temples and magic towers in the middle of frigging nowhere. Because not moved meant not moved. It was supposed to be absolutely static.

[DSA] Mapping Aventuria

A character for every game is hosting the RPG Blog carnival for April. And the topic is Cartography. Which fits well because I had wanted to take a short look on the maps for The Dark Eye anyway. They were one of these things that drew a lot of people into the game, so much even that at one point the producers just started selling them in separate map packs, so people could put them together and create a giant map of the continent Aventuria. The only problem THEN was, where to put a 3 meter high, wonderfully detailed map of a fantasy continent. One way you might find here.

The whole things started a bit smaller though: the first map of the continent was standard hex map business, a smallish map with completely ridiculous measurements that have stayed with the game for the last 25 years.

Technically Aventuria is only 3000 miles long, and one mile is supposed to be 1 kilometre. Which makes the continent… very, very small… And grates on the suspension of disbelief many people have about it. How can a viking style culture keep being in a tech level from the early middle ages when at the same time, 300 km away a Italian/French-inspired culture is slowly moving into the Renaissance.

No, it does not make that much sense. It doesn’t have to either, it is a fantasy world after all, but sometimes the official canon just seems a bit odd. On the other hand the one time when both aforementioned cultures clashed the Viking culture got their asses handed. In the beginning I guess nobody expected this game to last for so damn long with such popularity. The first few modules created for the game were standard fantasy stuff with their plot taking place in a sorta medieval land without too many geographic references. The Black Boar had exactly four: the cities of Havena where the heroes came from, the city of Angbar where they travelled to, Gratenfels where they were, and an aside about the neighbouring barony of Wengenholm. All of these names were reasonable names for places, but there was no map for them. Then the extension set came out, bringing new monsters and traps, and for the first time a short description of the setting.

The easy way around the settings weird proportions is of course to just assume that 1 mile on the map indeed means a mile, which one might define as anything from 1 to 2 km in length, but some people don’t like that solution either as it conflicts with other parts of the world, namely the time armies in the setting are supposed to have marched to reach their destination.

Uhm, did I mention this game is a German game? I guess the obsession about minor details becomes a bit more understandable if you keep this in mind.

Interestingly enough the hexmap never was that popular with German players. For some reason they always preferred real maps instead of something hexed. I don’t think I ever even saw a piece of hexpaper anywhere in Germany, besides in Battletech supplements that is.

The part where cartography really becomes interesting are the maps that were drawn by Ina Kramer for the whole continent, those look a. awesome and b. professional and c. insanely detailed. At least c. is not really true as they are still giving a lot of space in between that just has been left off the map, nevertheless they do create the illusion of Aventurien as a real place.

And of course these maps are completely outgame, because no person in Aventuria could have a map as detailed as this. The continent is described largely unexplored, even in the newest supplements. (The joke of course is that thanks to thousands of avid players by now some parts of the setting have been described down to single milestones on the road. I mentioned the obsesession with detail?).

And yes, that map above shows the area Realms of Arkania II – Star Trail was set in, it was originally a DSA computer game.

Ah, by the way, for further exploration of the continent Aventuria Google Maps might be a good starting point. Yes, it works like Google Maps, just with a fantasy continent.

[DSA] Session I: Black Boar Inn

So, we played. And it worked rather well, I guess. We had one completely green player (my girlfriend) and two which had more experience with Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. Just as DSA is THE standard for roleplaying in Germany, so is WFRP in Poland, to the extent that some people will claim that D&D is not a roleplaying game because it’s not WFRP. But both of them did  well even with this oh so unfamiliar game. That it was even more basic than OD&D might have helped a bit with that.

And we had fun. The party consisted of a Valkyrie from the north (a Thorwalian), a rather antisocial mage with a fetish for petrifying people, and a small-time crook with aspirations to become a full-blown scoundrel. They all met in a wayside inn just a few miles from the town of Gratenfels, and quickly got imprisoned and sentenced to death for  espionage and backtalking with evil intent, by the paranoid madman running the Duchy.

This actually was the worst part of my performance: the adventure module has an awful case of railroading in this point, which is especially grating as my players actually could have found much more interesting ways of freeing themselves from that situation. I tried to avoid most of it, but in any case the characters need to be railroaded  because there is no other way to get to the dungeon. In hindsight I think I should have had them start in the inn’s cellar, waiting for execution, and discover the secret exit to the duke’s secret silver mine by chance alone.

The rest went a lot better: we skipped the part where the characters had to find their way through the darkness and find the torches by feel and touch alone (which technically is an awesome part of this adventure), as we had a mage in the group and he knew a light spell.

Problem-solving was done accroding to the plan in the module though, but I soon came across another problem: the players all in all did not really like the idea of dungeons in itself. Which might not be such a bad thing in a larger campaign, but the adventure was supposed to be mostly about finding your way through a secret silver mine and discovering all the weird stuff in it.

To make things short: they found the way outside and left much earlier than I would have anticipated, not even touching the more juicy parts of the conterfeit operation, but getting the basic gist of the other plot point: the Duke is mad (hard not to notice that) and he’s not heeding the warnings of his dwarven slaves to not actually dig here, because there are warning signs plastered all over the place. Instead he believes the dwarves want to weasel out of digging here because there might be a dwarven treasure down there somewhere (dwarven runes = lots of treasure, obviously). Which he needs because he built city walls so fucking huge that he won’t be able to pay off the debt in a hundred years.

We managed to all in all get into one single fight: Two orc guards were surprised gambling and quickly slaughtered (as quickly as you can with the DSA-combat system, in other words: both orcs and adventurers hit a lot of air). Of course only afterwards they thought about maybe questioning one of them so he could lead them out of there. Which they did when they found the next one, who was easily convinced by them that they were the Duke’s inspectors. He also lead them to the dwarves. they tried to instigate a rebellion under the dwarves, but 1. most of them were completely broken after months of hard labour, and 2. even if they weren’t the could not leave because there was something lurking in the walls, and they had to stall the discovery of whatever it was, because, well, if the highest authorities of the dwarves and the humans leave warning signs all over the place and nobody wants to remember what this place actually IS, it might be pretty bad (spoiler: yes, it is).

In between they managed to talk their way out of a bad situation with some bugbears (or Höhlenschrate, as they are called in the system) and managed to get a hint for a shortcut out of the system. This one they actually found, bypassing most of the later dungeon and some of the more nasty monsters. The way they found was rather inventive but ended in the Thorwalian warrior getting bitten by angry bats and then bumbling down a rocky hillside. All in all she got the most damage in the adventure and she wasn’t even fighting that much.

So the characters now have a hook for the next session: get a message from the imprisoned dwarves to the mountainking and tell her what is happening in that mine (yes, her, I’m going for the untranslatable-term-in-dwarvish here). Now I will have to think about where to take the story after they get to the dwarven king.

Things I need to remember if I ever play this module again:

Don’t railroad the beginning that much. The hamminess of the Duke and the roleplay with the people in the inn might be nice, but there is no way that a group of young hotshots will just let themselves be thrown into the cellar. This actually was solved in the module itself, the problem was that the “solution” was three pages of text to be read to the players, with no actual playing allowed in between.

All in all: not too bad as a dungeon adventure, once one gets past the introduction, with a bit of logic even the different inhabitants of the dungeon can provide some nice interactions and memorable moments.

[DSA] Black Boar Inn

I have to admit I was wrong. I thought Elfenblut was the reason why there were Neanderthalers in DSA, but that turned out to be false.

Only after I got my hands on module B1: Das Wirtshaus Zum Schwarzen Keiler (Inn of the Black Boar), the very first regular adventure published for The Dark Eye (if one does not count the strange Silvana’s Rettung (The Rescue of Silvana) from the basic game) I realized that: hey, there are Neanderthalers in there.

And even though this blog lately is getting a lot of prehistorical content I have to admit: I don’t have a clue what they are doing there and they make no sense at all; and that in a module that is not really an epitome of inherent logic in any case.

This of course only comes up  because I plan to run this module  this evening, otherwise I would have read over it and maybe not even noticed that much. Contrary to what this blog might show you I am not really so fond of cavemen. But when faced with the tast of preparing the module for a game I  noticed it and it annoyed me. The module is comparatively good actually, contrary to what other people might say.

The biggest problem it has is of course the strong influence D&D modules of that time, and by Kiesow’s artistic aspirations. Which means loads of monsters of different kinds in the dungeon and silver-plated railroad tracks to get there. The adventure did not really age well, but for the time it was published I can’t say it was really bad. People were still learning how to GM and how to play. Nobody had a clue how this stuff worked, so having nice long introduction texts  might have helped. Only today they seem a bit jarring.

For the first few pages the players get told who they are, where they come from, where they go, what they do in the inn, and what they experience. And then the Duke comes in, and they get sentenced to be executed for some flimsy reasons they can’t even defend themselves against.

On the other hand: it is a pretty good beginning for beginners, it gives the setting and the antagonist in easy steps. It needs to be played out with all the hamminess of bad B-movie villains though. And afterwards there needs to be a reason why they should just leave the Duke alone isntead of ending his rule of terror (or what seems to be rule of terror).

In between we get treated with a decent single-level  dungeon that gets even better with the retcons of later years. Maybe I’ll get into that after the game. The only thing that bothers me from the position of a modern Aventuria is the bizarre variety of races in this dungeon. Orks and Goblins, okay, maybe even the Troll… but the lizardmen already strain my belief.  Of course back then nobody knew anyhting about the surrounding world, not even the authors. All that came later, and all that might have invalidated what came before, but hindsight always is 20/20.

But then we meet the neanderthals. They don’t fir in there. Not from the perspective of the mid 80s, and not from any other. It makes no sense why they are there, why they are watching over a Tatzelwurm, and how exactly they actually got the name Neanderthal in a setting without a river Neander.

Years later this actually got an explanation in the supplement for the far north, and as usual for DSA it was a bad, old joke (which makes it oddly charming though): When the first explorer met the apemen she asked where they lived, and the apemen answered with a vague description of a valley. So she described all the valleys in the are she knew, but the apemen always said “Ne, ander tal.” (Naw, udder glen) until the explorer gave up and just called them after what they had repeated to her dozens of times before.

But lets get back to the Inn, so what exactly does a dungeon do right under an Inn? There are a few explanations to that. One is the one from the module: it’s slave labour camp and counterfeit operation instigated by the Duke. The orcs and goblins have been hired so nobody who matters can talk about it, and the place has been chosen because there seems to be silver in the walls.

Another explanation came a bit later in a short story: The  Duke went absolutely bonkers by a miracle of the god of law and the sun and decided to build walls and fortifications that could fend off the evil that would come  from the east. Of course he was completely mad, as was apparent to anyone who talked to him more than two minutes. He also was completely right, but who could have known that?

And the third one came later, in a return-t-the-roots module a few years later: the Duke had the dwarves dig there because there were dwarven runes in some of the cave chambers that he thought might lead him to a treasure if he just had them dig long enough. And while there certainly was something hidden under there it only was found out later what: It was a containment facility created by the legendary white mage Rohal, containing a number of powerful and very, very dangerous demons.

I guess I can make something out of this story, if my players let me. The normal ending of the adventure is rather abrupt: the heroes fight their way out of the dungeon either by the entry of the Duke’s guards or they find a natural exit. End.

Not very exciting, is it? What about the fact that they were injustly imprisoned? The duke might have the power to do that, but no bad blood because of this at all? What about the dwarves that just decide to stay there and toil away until they die? Slavework is canonically forbidden in that part of “modern” Aventuria. And with a bit more canon: what about the fact that an outspoken adherent of the god of law decides to make counterfeit money, declare random travellers traitors and string them up just because they don’t know the proper code? And what about the fact that the heroes disappeared from the inn’s cellar, just after the waitress brought them their last supper? What will happen to the innkeeper and his family?

Let’s see.

Roleplaying in Germany: Das Schwarze Auge

Back in the early days of the hobby (the early 80s) there were not that many RPGs around in Germany. There had been a rather unsuccessful try to translate Tunnels and Trolls (Schwerter und Dämonen) that had sold badly, and before that there had been tries to create a German roleplaying game called Midgard (or rather Empires of Magira… it’s complicated), inspired by different games that had slowly seeped over the pond.

But at one point around 1983 people started to notice this trend coming over from US and UK. Even more: Executives in different big game companies started to notice that money could be made. And of course they tried to have it the easy way and get the license for Dungeons & Dragons as the first and most prolific RPG.

A young art teacher and roleplaying/fantasy affeccionado called Ulrich Kiesow translated the game, after already having done so with Tunnnels and Trolls, for Schmidt Spiele, back then one of the biggest game companies in Germany. Basically he was the biggest roleplaying nerd in Germany at this point, at one point I found an article about the state of fantasy in Germany in the Jahrbuch der Fantasy und Science Fiction 1983 (Science Fiction and Fantasy Annual 1983) in which he bemoaned that there STILL was no German version of D&D available. That article must have been written in 1981/2, before they even published Midgard in a halfway professional form.

Accounts differ to what exactly happened with the deal, but it seems like TSR was a bit too greedy/demanding and the executives of Schmidt Spiele a bit too cautious about this whole new game thingy, with no board and game pieces. So a competitor snatched away the license and went on to publish Kiesow’s translation, and, incidentally, bankrupt itself with it…

Schmidt Spiele, seeing the Spiel (the biggest European toy and game fair) coming up, had nothing. So they asked Kiesow for an alternative, and he sold them one: the house system that he had cobbled together for his own gaming group. A system he called “Aventurien”, after the place where it was set.

Schmidt Spiele took it, changed the name to something marketable (and economic, but I’ll explain that in another post), got together with a publishing house (Droemer-Knaur) and put it into most toy- and department stores of Germany. And it sold. Pretty decently even.

Something they never got rid of though was their bad feeling about selling a product that basically consisted of books with a few dice and no tangible elements at all. But I guess I’ll do that in another post.

There will be gaming

This weekend hopefully, if nothing comes between, I will finally have a game up and running. My players will be only Poles, hopefully with enough knowledge of English. As so often at least one of the players remains an unknown to me, it’s the brother of one of my colleagues.

The system I will be using is Das Schwarze Auge 1.5, or something like that. I noticed a few weeks ago that some good soul had taken it onto himself to update the basic version of Das Schwarze Auge from 1984 with some decent and logical revisions. I don’t actually approve of all of them, but most are good additions to the rather basic (and cheesy) system from 1984.

Another wonderful person (James Hutchings) made a retro-clone of the system available in English, so this will be the reference for any player knowing no German at all (most of my Polish friends do though).

Das Schwarze Auge recently got a translation into English. Of course it was lacking most of the background material and adventures that make the whole system so interesting for German players, so it just came over as a clone of D&D and GURPS. But the edition that was translated was the 4th (or even 4.1th), and that particular edition is pretty much the epitome of simulationist setting-specific gaming. It’s still successful in Germany of course, because nearly every player there brushed it at least briefly, and because it IS really well supported. One might not find supplements in any toystore anymore, but at least in any comic book shop.

The system is, and I will admit that even if it means I am not a proper German roleplaying blogger, a pretty good system, if a bit rules-heavy. And I actually like it.

There, I said it.

It’s a bit like admitting to masturbate I guess. Everybody does it, and everybody likes it, but for most people it just feels wrong saying it out loud.

It’s not an easy system though (DSA, not masturbation), and not one that I would want to play with beginners. (Masturbation on the other hand… ah no, that joke is getting old)

I toyed around with the idea of a Labyrinth Lord game lately, but when I found the revision I mentioned before, and then got into some of the roleplaying stuff I brought from Germany, I got this fixed idea into my head to go and try playing 1st edition again.

I did this before, you know. When my gaming group wanted to meet but had a few guests over that could not be done away with I pulled out my old basic rules and a few Dokumente der Stärke (Documents of Power), had everyone roll up new characters, and then go hunting orcs. Details are kind of hazy here (a few beers and pizzas were involved), but it was a roaring success, and I got another few new people infected with the virus RPG.

The first edition of DSA was basic in pretty many ways. More basic than pretty much all the games published in anglophone countries at this time. Those had already gone professional after all. Also the rules were clearly influenced by Dungeons & Dragons and Tunnels & Trolls (yes, seriously), but it was a clearly different approach than D&D. It was, after all, the private house system of it’s creator and it contained such things as parry-rolls, damage-reductive armour, and a spellpoint system for magic.

I will have to present this nostalgic feeling a bit better when actually playing, the original game had spells that rhymed (seems to have been inspired from T&T), which of course cannot be translated as easy as “Knock”. The translator of the English version just renamed these spells with animal themes, but I don’t think I would like that. The translators of the Dutch and French versions actually found new rhymes. I want the cheesiness of the original because that was a big part of what always drew me there, just before we decided we now were to mature to rhyme spells. Or have to remember the spells by rhyme.

Or do the gestures. Oh yes, it had gestures you had to do as well.

Good times.

Yüce and why I started roleplaying

Posting about Elfenblut and it’s cover art got me thinking about why I actually started with roleplaying games in the first place. I can’t really claim there was much deep thought to be found behind it: I just always loved the covers of the boxes and modules for Das Schwarze Auge (The Dark Eye) when I saw them in the toystores. And yes, even in the 90s it was still sold in German toystores pretty much everywhere.

I don’t mean the covers the line features now,  those can be good sometimes, but even the they lack that certain something. Mostly I mean those of artist Ugurcan Yüce, a perennial favorite for the fans of DSA (mostly because he was the one who did most covers from the 80s to the 90s). His heroes most often are the epitome of true heroes with a distinctive germanic bent : barechested, wearing winged helmets and sporting awesome mustaches, or clad in chainmail and other armor barely hiding wonderfully female physique the protagonists of his cover art are just being so damn alive.

After seeing the picture on front and buying and then reading whatever it was that was written in the module, I often felt cheated out of a wonderful adventure. He sometimes took some creative license with the actual contents of the stuff he was illustrating there, but his illustrations so often were more interesting that anything the authors of the module came up with inside the book.Not all of them were masterpieces after all.
And yes, basically the only reason why I looked at those strange things in the store were those wonderful covers. When I actually was able to look into these books and see what they were about I was mystified: mostly text, a few illustrations of characters, plans of buildings. That was odd. At one point I had gotten to know Hero Quest because someone told me it was somehow similar, but it still was way too different from the boardgame. I guess the only reason why I desperately wanted to have the starter box for DSA was to see what the whole fuzz was about.

This particular cover  comes from a  classic of the line: Ein Stab aus Ulmeholz (A staff of elm wood), for many players that played mages THE first adventure. So many indeed that in later editions some references were dropped about that particular wood somewhere in the Middle Realm, where half the young wizards of the continent got their staffs and then slept with the lady in the nearby castle. Even the female ones. DSA was always rather open about sex and homosexuality. The story was rather simple: the player is a young mage who has to get his first staff. There is a forest somewhere where the elms produce perfect wood for staffs. And so he goes there to get some. (pun intended)

Soloadventures were of course choose-your-own-adventure books, set in the world of DSA and played with the rules of the game. For some reason the producers of the line managed to keep the format alive long after most books of that sort disappeared of the shelves everywhere else. Even nowadays the occasional Solo gets published and bought. For players it was a good way of giving the character some background story. Even if all the mages in the group had the same