HistoryFolks who've spent some time talking to me about RPGs (and probably folks who poke around the old blog here) probably have picked up that I'm something of an RPG history buff. I am, and it drives my wife crazy. She hates hearing about all the different versions of different rules and different editions and the differential history of how one game stopped being itself and started being something new. To me, that shit is fascinating. To her, she wishes I'd just shut up so we could get back to some DCC where she could just roll some dice, kill some monsters and die before the corruption steals her soul. But you, dear citizen of Kickassistan, I know you're different, you're like me, you love pouring over the minutiae of gaming history. Or, at least, I'll presume you are and you do, because that's what I want to talk about right now. This is my jam, man!
|Actually not my copy|
I'm unsure of what the fallout of the ATWM series was. Published by the Chaosium, I wonder if these volumes were the beginning of the rocky competition between the Chaosium and TSR that would lead to things like the removal of the Melnibonean and Cthulhu mythoi from Deities & Demigods. I can imagine that, as TSR became more of a for-profit business (the oft-lamented "T$R") and less of a cabal of game-loving hobbyists, TSR might have tried to make it very difficult for the Chaosium to publish more D&D material (you know, with threats of lawsuits and the like); at the same time, Chaosium might have just stopped supporting D&D in favor of its own RuneQuest. Since the Acaeum doesn't cover Chaosium products (despite the very early and, as far as I can tell, historic implications of ATWM) and I'm a very lazy historian, I may never know. Maybe it's in Playing At The World and maybe I'll get around to reading that book some day.
Bored yet? Let's talk jive turkey.
|Vance Dragons from White Dwarf #6|
|Exhibit 1: Awesome type|
Exhibit 2: Amazing line art
Exhibit 3: FUCKING AIR SQUID!
As far as design aesthetics go, though, this thing is kind of hit or miss. Some of the stats reflect poorly-considered power creep or were designed to act as foils for the overpowered victims of the Monty Haul-style gaming that seemed to be very widespread even back then. So, you'll end up with stuff that have far too many hit points, an impossibly low AC or some other combination of monster stats that make them less of a monster and more of a GOTCHA! My guess is that the groups that these monsters were designed for are the same groups who used Deities & Demigods as a monster book.
There are some design choices that I really enjoy, however. The first is a creative re-interpretation of the concept of Alignment perpetrated by folks like Dave Hargrave who decided that "Hungry" was a perfectly suitable Alignment. While I may not agree, I really dig the idea of providing extra brief descriptors to help guide a monster's behavior. Furthermore, the classification of monsters by type here is remarkably insightful not because it contains a preponderance of well-organized and finely-delineated monster categories, but because the ones that are given are particularly useful and you can easily see, for example, what the dungeon purpose behind Clean-Up Crew is. I do wish they'd classified the "gotcha" monsters as being one type, but them's the breaks.
FoliosityI've said it before and I'll say it again: Air Squid! But seriously, ATWM1 might not be a perfectly Folioic text, but it very much comes from the same tradition of "shit some dudes made up back in the 70s to make their D&D games more interesting back before anyone was telling anyone else how to make their game awesome" that drove White Dwarf's early days and the Fiend Factory column. ATWM1, though, is a little more on the gonzo side if you can believe that. I mean, Dave Hargrave, right? The core of Foliosity as I see it is a hyper-specific application of a monster to a particular environment or role, like the sussurus in the Lichway, that leaps off the page. What surprised me the most about ATWM1 is that while there are plenty of Folioic monsters in ATWM1, most of them seem to come from the source literature adaptations, which, when you think about it, makes an awful lot of sense out of my concept of Foliosity. In short, ATWM1 is less Folioic than I'd like it to be, but it provides an essential link in the chain that can help us figure out where the hell Foliosity came from in the first place.
What I'm StealingLittle of this, little of that. Actually, I'd love to run a "kitchen sink OD&D" hexcrawl game including everything and anything from Arduin, the ATWM series and really anything else that the players wanted thrown in. It just sounds like a fun idea. All of the monsters would need to be ATWM fiends (nope, I'd even avoid LBB monsters) of course. Then again a DCC sandbox that ends up equally weird might be even more fun, so maybe that with ATWM monsters. Maybe treasures via Empire of the Petal Throne. I figure that would smush it up enough to turn crazy into crazy awesome.
Final WordEven when I was a kid of fourteen, I had an idea of how cool the gems I had appropriated were. I remember looking through ATWM1 & 2 for monsters I could add to my Dark Sun campaign and finding a surprising amount of useful material. Today, the campaigns are different, but I have the exact reaction. Every time I open one of the ATWM volumes, I'm shocked by how useful each volume is, despite my predilection to hyper-specificity (or perhaps because of it). I see a monster like the behinder and just think it belongs. The gatherer above makes perfect sense to me. The fear stalker, a giant humanoid reptile with a plurality of eyes is smarter than men, so of course they are its favorite food. Why the fuck not?
In short ATWM1 is a collection of gonzo weirdness built only the way the oldest of schools could do it, back before Uncle Gary showed the world how it was "supposed" to be done and DMs stopped doing all the imagining for themselves. It's a product of the raw force of creativity that is the fertile mind of the DM right when those forces were being tapped for the first time. The ultimate hipster monster book, it was a monster book back before monster books were cool.