Thursday, October 21, 2010


I finished the essay-introduction for The Machine Level on 10 October.  Here it is with some inset images.  The latter images, excepting perhaps for Andy Taylor's fine image, above, will not be included in the printed version. Some of the text as used for this web introduction will be omitted from the final printed version as well.

Special Note! Kyrinn Eis (aka TIMESHADOWS) and I are also sculpting a fantasy-sf adventure which I am quite excited about as it includes a very unique creation of mine called the Whools and incorporates her intense and imaginative writing in a shared plot we devised.  Not sure as yet who we might publish that one through when finished.  But for now, the MACHINE LEVEL!

Prelude:  In Dragon Magazine #17 James Ward penned an article entitled, "BOREDOM AND THE AVERAGE D&D DUNGEON."  Here is the reverse-highlighted extract wherein he reveals some details on the Machine Level:

Also note that James, a regular player in our campaign then, makes a sidelong reference to my large level he'd adventured on, "Horsing Around," otherwise known as the "Greek Mythos Level."

That gives some historical grounding for the level from published matter.  What follows is the full, first draft introduction...

The Machine Level – A Glimpse at the Machinations of Fantastic Fiction in the Original Campaign

©2010.  Robert J. Kuntz.  All Rights Reserved.

A long time before Expedition to the Barrier Peaks was published, EGG and myself had been experimenting with machinery and science fiction in the Original Campaign.  Our aim was to always befuddle our ever-wary players and to keep the sharp edge of suspense and expectancy rising within the story. Both of us deemed suspense to be a high mark in adventure storytelling; and it is no wonder, looking back, that both of us appreciated the films of Alfred Hitchcock that we were to watch together quite often whenever they were televised. 

The Master of Suspense, Alfred Hitchcock.

On top of that, EGG and I were both naturally creative individuals whom as co-DMs sought out expansion (and expression) of concepts and ideas as these gathered to us.  These ideas were often spawned during game play, by reading a book the night before an adventure, through scouring our ever-growing notes and sometimes were derived from voiced, but errant, surmises on the players’ parts, such as … “I bet it’s a…”  …or … “It seems like a watcha-ma-jigger” or, more emphatically, “It’s a (fill in the blank for a monster or situation)!”

It was all fantasy to us and so there were no holds or stops put on the range or type of experimentation used in furthering our stories. To our glee this measure was satisfactory for our gamers. They had not only grown to expect anything from us, they indeed looked forward to change.  I sometimes suspect that they knew that we were going to do what we wanted to as DMs anyway and upon that realization also knew that it meant we were having as much fun as they were.  And believe me, OUR players wanted us to have fun, for a grouchy DM was in no way wanted sitting across from them at the gaming table!

So before EGG was about sending his son’s PC to Mars, I had been creating for Castle El Raja Key a level with machinery.  But it was to be no ordinary level, as it was to soon host EGG’s PCs.  His “grouping” of PCs (described in various works related to the World of Greyhawk) were started in my Castle El Raja Key and only by creative transition through the melding of parts ERK and parts WoG did they then root themselves in the latter setting. I soon started co-DMing in the original Greyhawk home campaign; and this became a catalyst, by great urgings from EGG, for moving many of ERK’s original levels into EGG’s and my own 2nd Castle Greyhawk.  The Machine Level (also known as EAST 8 in our original campaign terminology) is one such level from ERK that made the transition soon after being adventured upon by EGG and crew.  Such luminaries as James Ward’s PC, Bombadil, were to later venture into its precincts.

What is (and was) to be expected within this level?  Pure and simple:  mayhem.  It was designed to continue challenging EGG’s voracious play, so therein is the real clue to its design intent.  It was not meant to challenge other players, though it finally did so by its later inclusion in Castle Greyhawk.

But, “Why machines,” you ask?  Gary and I would have simply answered back then,  “Why not?”  This was a time when the literature we read was a mix of many subjects and genres:  fantasy, horror, noir fiction, history, military history, science and science fiction.  Therein lies a clue to the richness of our adventures, a richness which I often feel is now partly lost to succeeding generations of DMs and gamers.  And that is:  A story is a story, no matter how you wrench the mechanic to make it fit into a game.  Gary and I were well read storytellers.  Our players were well read gamers.  Storytelling and story “acceptance” was a natural state between its then participant groups.

Even though our genre inclusive game experience was soon to be fragmented into several RPG types—with medieval fantasy claiming sole rights in the original version of the game--this initial segmentation was a weighed choice made for D&D’s immediate commercial introduction only.  We had previously felt that the game had more range and infinitely more possibilities than what the lone S&S element produced.  

While perusing the DMG’s sections for including different genres within the expanding game, one does not feel that these are hurried attachments of after-matter by EGG. To the contrary, EGG’s up front insistence of Barsoom’s relevance in his original foreword had already paved the way for Hiero’s Journey in Appendix N.  This “addenda” was in fact the natural outgrowth of both our realized views as experienced through play, 1972 onward. While EGG honored Jack Vance with his Dirdir level, I did the same for C. A. Smith & Lovecraft with my Lost City of the Elders (which more recent convention-players have experienced and where mutated creatures and hovering metal devices were seen and fled from).

After D&D’s release, Gary and I continued to experiment with SF and other genres, but this time by way of both play and through publication: We were to co-create Expedition to the Barrier Peaks; we encouraged the creation of Metamorphosis Alpha and adventured upon the Starship Warden; there could soon be found my mysterious and wily visitor from the stars known as Cosmodius that Ward’s Bombadil contested with for his vast knowledge of technology; select items of a SF nature were placed at key locations in both our castles; and there would be some inclusions of M.A.R. Barker’s Tekumel “magic” and creatures in the Bottle City level and upon the outdoor. I created many SF-variant creatures and sluiced them into our city, one by the name of “modern man.”

Extracted Cosmodius page from the RJK Collection.

Further, horror would often closely meld with SF and S&S elements to promote a cosmic terror by way of alien locales, their technologies and an ancient, arcane magic, all of which was realized through play in secreted settings (ala A. Merritt, C. A. Smith or Lovecraft). One such place was Fomalhaut, yet another large adventure I designed to keep the adventurers quite curious of their newfound surroundings just prior to terrifying them. As you can note, EGG and I were very diligent in keeping our adventures, and the adventurers, fresh.

These were not meaningless contrivances by us; and neither of us lacked the creative verve for producing solely mundane or earthly elements or situations.  We knew the players would not only be intrigued through such imaginative story matter, but they would be wondrous about where it derived from.  Through these relations we were promoting story by introducing several elements that good storytellers use:  intrigue and suspense.

Because of our openness to elements that could be easily fitted into any storyline Gary and I never lacked for stimulating or compelling story matter. We were both willing and able to include whatever it took to keep the story interesting for the players.  And that’s the real answer to the question, “Why machines?” Just as important, and from a design view, this kept us constantly fresh as DMs, as we were always alert to the possibilities of creative inclusion of any type of material, however varied in content.

So.  Now is the time to strap on your gear as EGG did back in 1973! And forget your prayers.  For upon this level there reside no gods of flesh…

Rob Kuntz
10 October 2010


Anonymous said...

Thank you for the preview & the mind's eye view into its inspiration. It is just what I needed this morning. :)

Can't wait to see what you & Timeshadow are up to as well.


Unknown said...

Thanks for sharing this! I've been thinking a lot about mixing genres in D&D lately and have always made intrigue and suspense central to my games.

Looking forward to hearing more about the new project.

Rob Kuntz said...

@GW: You in particular are very welcome, Grendlewulf. I hope that the smiles help with the nurses. ;)

Great stuff on the way--every encounter is unique. I'm at 3,500 words typed and clipping along. :)


Rob Kuntz said...

@Stuart--Thanks for the great compliments! :) Hey, this is a Sandbox, RPG. The greatest Sandbox was our campaign and EGG and I were the biggest kids in it. Everyone should remember that we started in a 6' x 10' sand table in EGG's basement. :)

The greatest thing about story-crafting and RPG as a great part of that is the ranges exposed. We certainly had lots of range in the day and ithat's still present now for those who wish to expand horizons. Like they say, if you stay too near the shore, you never set sail on the ocean. :)


The Iron Goat said...

I really love seeing the sparse, original manuscripts from the early days. As a kid, I always felt like we were "doing it wrong" for just winging it most of the time. Nice to know we were in great company!

Ragnorakk said...

Really looking forward to this! And a lovely forward sir!

Rob Kuntz said...

@Iron Goat: Righto. Winging it is where it's at in the trenches of imaginative play and storytelling... Anyone can read a script or recite a line, few can actually create them. :)

Rob Kuntz said...

@Ragnorakk: Thanks! :) It reads more like a preface or foreword, doesn't it? Your description heightens the sensitivity to the matter. Thanks again. :)

Druvas said...

Very much looking forward to this. Any chance we'll see this before or at Garycon3?


Rob Kuntz said...

Hi Charley! Happy you're excited about it. So is Black Blade. I am not sure of their publishing time for this once it is in hand, that's their call, not mine. I believe I saw somewhere, possibly at K&K Alehouse, that Allan was shooting for releasing it before or at Garycon3 (see you there, btw, and there's a strong chance I'll be DMiing Machine Level instead of Castle El Raja Key for at least one session while there).


Druvas said...

Very cool. I think you are making a great decision to release some of the levels of the Lake Geneva Campaign. It's the stuff of gaming history that so many people have been salivating over for decades! I will do my utmost to get in on a game at your table in March!

Unknown said...

I am a big fan of mixing technological devices into D&D. I know some people don't like it, but if it was good enough for the founders of the game, it is sure as hell good enough for me. I like strange and bizarre setting that can challenge the perceptions of the players and test their skills at survival. One of the things (I think) that has been lost is playing your character well as compared to depending on dice rolls to see if you succeed at something. You survive and get rewards for playing well not rolling dice well. Anyone can do the latter, but not everyone can do the former. I expect the players to be smart. the dumb need to apply.