The Early Years
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I started playing Dungeons and Dragons back in the summer of 1978 (After having been introduced to the concept in late 1977 by my friends Greg and David.) after getting the garishly illustrated Basic Set (The “Dragon Box“) for my birthday. In 1978 Advanced Dungeons and Dragons had just been released and TSR slowly began to clamp down on intellectual property rights and orthodoxy. It was just before the start of my sophmore year in high school. Devo had just appeared on Saturday Night Live. This is to give you historical context.
The first character built in my campaign was made by my stepbrother, an elf wizard and warrior named named Ring Poco. Very soon afterwards he was joined by my other stepbrother and kids I had recruited from around the neighborhood and school. Initial characters were (Not a complete list):
- Theramir: My stepbrother renamed Ring Poco after a few months of play. He liked this name better.
- Limetor aka Clark Kent: A powerful human wizard and part-time orc outlaw. It’s a long and embarrassing story.
- Dr. Sin aka Kwai Ch’ang Kane: The Grand Master of the Flowers and brewer of Siron Vodka
- Xerox Xorex: Initially Dr. Sin’s ranger henchman. Later went on to be star in his own adventures.
- Brutus McBurn: A Fire Giant. Later a land holding baron of Ring Lake.
- Mean Jo Green: A Hill Giant. Hung around constantly with Brutus.
- Plaask the Phraint: Phraints were Dave Hargrave’s intelligent insects from the Arduin series.
- Nyak th’ Gnoll: This gnoll was very into the punk and the new wave. Lots of leather, piercing and studs.
- Urk the Berserk Jerk: An Arduin haggorym. Hung round with Miles and Slick.
- Miles Copperthwaite: Yeah, the name is from that SNL sketch with Michael Palin.
- Slick of the Wall Breakers: This was a halfling thief. Hung around with Miles and Urk.
- Urga the Storm Giant: Built by my other stepbrother. Urga committed a crime so heinous he was exiled for it.
- Uh of the Broken Door: A troll with a fetish for pull toys and smashing doors.
- Gleek the Kobold: A kobold thief. Frequently stole powerful magic from other players.
- Moose the Braindead: A superhumanly strong but superhumanly stupid dwarf.
- Ziff Rag ‘n Retch: I was stupid enough to let a player roll-up a gold dragon as a character. Sigh. I was foolish once.
- Ports Forby: An Arduinian star powered mage. I used to call this character “TV Head” just to tick his player off.
- Fzzbotorop Andropov: A brownie wizard. Do we notice a theme here? I let a lot players run exotic creatures.
- Gorm Nykrom: A pixie wizard. This character was named after a lab partner when I was a physics major.
- Gurn Blanston: Yes, the name is from Steve Martin’s sketch. An ogre of little importance who hung around with Nyak.
- Cookie Jarvis: A human wizard with a pseudodragon familiar.
- Poco Woodenshield: A dwarf cursed with hideous mutations. Later lost through a rift in spacetime.
- Boogernose: After a while, with some players, the names went downhill and took on more grotesque colonic, sexual and scatological themes. I’ll spare you.
This unwashed and somewhat slightly dazed lot were the first to populate my campaign during it’s first heyday from 1978 to 1984. Not one of them was ever a cleric. Not one. Why, I don’t know.
1978 to 1984: Udra Takes Shape
At the start, my players were just doing dungeon crawls. I hadn’t yet detailed the land, villages and cities outside the crypts and ruins they were looting. I had to think of a name for this fictitious country. First I tried “Yanda” but after trying it out for a few sessions it began to sound stupid to me. Later I tried “Udra” and liked it. I can’t remember where I got it from.
I also had to think about the shape of Udra. At first I tired to set in on a coastline in front of huge mountain range. Behind this I put a radioactive wasteland which I had planned to put some mysterious dead tech in.
In those early days I mixed a lot of elements of traditional fantasy and science fiction. This was mostly because I hadn’t really read any of the major works of fantasy except Le Guin’s Earthsea Trilogy. I had read a lot of science fiction though and, like many, I grew up on Star Trek and Dr. Who syndication. Because of this I tended to mix fantasy and science fiction quite a bit in those early days.
Later on I began to dislike having an unknown and poorly detailed continent attached to my coastline and decided instead, around 1981, to place my campaign on an island roughly the size of France:
By this point I had already named my major cities and many of my larger villages:
- Lanth: This was to be the largest city (This was something I would later change.) and home to a mysterious ruler whom no one had ever seen for decades.
- Waylon: This was to be the next largest city. Later I would promote it to be the largest.
- Arren and Paren: were to be the next largest and I decided they’d be connected somehow. Perhaps founded by the same people or something.
- Ott would my deeply corrupt city filled with all manner of thuggish crime bosses.
- Vos Obyorn would be the smallest city and something of a economic appendage for Lanth.
- Later Theramir and Limetor would become rich and powerful enough to found and rule their own city, Nah.
- Later still Brutus McBurn and Dr. Sin would become powerful enough to found and rule a large town called, Siron.
The mountain range I saved, shrinking it down a bit, and named “The Critic’s Teeth.” Other notable geographic features include: Ring Lake, formed by a meteor impact thousands of years ago and Mount Rauw, a huge yet strangely isolated mountain near Waylon.
Major events who’s exact chronology I can’t remember.
- Urga’s exile for mass murder and rapine.
- The Wall Breakers begin a massive campaign to destroy public works and city walls. Later they are exiled for this.
- The mysterious founding of Nah and it’s sudden unexplained burgeoning.
- The clearing of Tegel Manor (Yes, that Tegel Manor!)
- The clearing of the Dark Tower (Yeah, that Dark Tower.)
- Dr. Sin founds what would eventually become the Udran School of Savate. He also begins to plant many potato fields with the goal of distilling vodka.
- Dr. Sin fights many masters in his martial arts school.
- The discovery and endless sharing of the Diskos. (Yes, that Diskos from The Night Land.)
- Theramir makes many forays into the infernal realms to defeat all manner of fiendish creatures.
- Many hints dropped about a nemesis for the more powerful characters. Nothing comes of it.
- Endless, repetitive hack and slash play.
The point is most of the players were interested in hack. This sapped my interest in trying to develop campaign background when all they wanted was something to kill and burn.