Left to right: Forge Out of Chaos RPG, Referee Screen, The Vemora (Scenario), Tales Dead Men Tell (Scenario), The World of Juravia (Sourcebook); click images for reviews
Why Do This?
Back in the '70s I was introduced to Dungeons & Dragons through Eric Holmes' celebrated Basic D&D AKA 'the Blue Book'. A lot followed on from this, not least Advanced Dungeons & Dragons and, my dearest Christmas present in 1979, its long-awaited Dungeon Master's Guide, followed by modules like The Steading of the Hill Giant Chief and Slave Pits of the Undercity and the notorious Tomb of Horrors. Naturally, I DMed a protracted campaign set in Gary Gygax's World of Greyhawk and lovingly mapped out the Barony of Ratik. I went off to university with a taste for epic storytelling. The years rolled by and my stories grew more sophisticated, but the foundation of it all, the DNA of my hobby, is and was The Dungeon.
The thing is, as RPGs grew more sophisticated, The Dungeon seems to have become marginalised. Along came the dynastic sweep of Pendragon and the angst-ridden brooding of Vampire: the Masquerade, the high politics of Ars Magica and the epic landscapes and keen characterisation of The One Ring ... but where are the dungeons in all of this?
Dungeons & Dragons 5ed reminded me about this ancient fascination - but though it stimulated the itch it didn't scratch it. D&D5e is now a RPG like many others, with rounded and heroic characters at the outset who have interesting backgrounds. You don't roll them up to see them die. They're not the anonymous dungeon-fodder I crave. I'm a seasoned DM with 1ed and Basic and I often adapt these to weird new settings. But by themselves, they're too basic, too prosaic: combat is tedious, magic is stale, clumsy character classes and levels, no skills, few tactical choices. I don't want to create a new storytelling world with a skeletal rules engine in the background: I want to explore the primal RPG experience of dungeon-crawling, but with a system that does it justice but doesn't overwhelm. I suppose I should invest in AD&D2ed or 3.5 but I cannot face the investment.
This is where Forge Out of Chaos comes to my rescue. I received this game as a review copy back in 1998. I remember interviewing one of the Kibbe brothers over the Internet. I used the game as an introductory RPG system in the school club I ran at Aylestone School in Hereford. The kids easily grasped its simple combat rules and responded well to the discipline it imposed through tracking armour points and spell points and leveling up skills. Then I moved on, RPGs took a back seat for a few years and when they returned it was in the form of high concept historical dramas, Star Wars, Tolkien and the World of Darkness. But I've still got Forge Out Of Chaos and remember it fondly.
I was reminded of it when I came across the excellent blog on 'Fantasy Heartbreakers' by Ron Edwards, which includes a sympathetic coverage of Forge. I thought to myself, 'That's how to scratch my Old School Dungeon Itch!'
And that's what this blog is about. It's partly a commemoration of a flawed but imaginative RPG gem, now long gone from the shelves but still available on eBay, Amazon and DriveThru. It's partly a salute to the Kibbe Brothers who brought their game to the world and delivered a run of supporting products before economic reality crashed in. It's partly a celebration of Old School Dungeoncrawling and the classic adventures of my youth.
This is my plan. I'm going to run an episodic campaign using Forge Out Of Chaos as the rules engine and adapt classic D&D adventures to it, starting with some of the peerless 'mini-modules' that graced the pages of White Dwarf magazine back in the '70s and early '80s. Along the way I'd like to add to the fragmentary World of Juravia that the Kibbes created, tweak and further houserule their RPG, chronicle my players' exploits and reflect on the nature of GMing and playing in the traditional dungeon format - and review those excellent adventures and reflect a bit on dungeon architecture, theme and design.
Who's with me?