Skip to main content

Blast From the Distant Past: Ready Ref Sheets

After quite some time of intending to but completely forgetting about it, I finally got over to DriveThruRPG to buy the PDF of Judges Guild's 1978 landmark work, Ready Ref Sheets. This work from the dawn of RPGs, a mere four years after the publication of the original D&D and two years after the white box I learned the game from, has been called the first GM aid. And it is, if not the first, then at least one of the earliest works aimed at GMs but wasn't an adventure or location description (those being heavily overlapping categories at the time). I remembered it fondly from years and years and years ago as a fascinating source of gaming-related riches. On the other hand, I haven't really looked at a D&D volume in the past decade, haven't played in two, and haven't played this particular archaic version since before leaving high school, and for my own gaming needs, there would seem to be very little going for it beyond nostalgia.

So how does it hold up?
Yeah, that's the table of contents

From one point of view, badly. Very badly. The PDF is taken from a scan of the original booklet. The physical book was somewhat worn, the original text was weirdly typeset, and the scan isn't the highest quality. In terms of appearance and formatting, I produce higher quality first drafts for my publisher just by using a template and a word processor.

Then there's the content. The organization...well, isn't. It meanders from one topic to another. And then you get to the actual words. It's clear when this was written and who wrote it. The first page of content contains a random encounter table divided into social circles. There are different columns for dealing with, for example, the nobility, merchants, the military, and so on. Each lists professions or positions: magistrate, apprentice, sergeant, etc. Fine so far. But one of the columns out of six has entries which are, literally, "woman."

This goes back a long way in gaming

There's a rather peculiar woman sub-table to roll on at that point (on a 6, you encounter a woman who may be any number of things ranging from barmaid to goddess; what?), and without going into further details, suffice it to say that a fuller treatment of "Women" (pp. 5-6) doesn't really improve matters.

What does hold up, though, is a feeling of hidden depths. The book consists almost entirely of tables and charts: poisons and their effects, reasons for someone to attack the PCs, building costs and times, long lists of monster stats. It's detail upon detail upon detail, but it's devoid of any context. I happen to find that irresistible. It is, in its own way, like an ancient encyclopedia. It's a huge, disorganized jumble of facts and ideas which you know derive from a much larger whole, but they're not being held together in any kind of organizational framework. All of these tables imply a vast universe, but don't damage the illusion by explaining it.

And that, ultimately, has become what I want out of my gaming world. The implication of detailed histories and complex relationship carries with it a charm not matched by clear exposition. It gives me a world where there's always something new. There's potentially a different adventure around every corner, with a never-ending abundance of wonders to unearth, gaps to fill, and novel experiences to have.

So would I use it in a game I used these days? Maybe. Significant parts of it are useless to me. I'd probably take the basic ideas and radically expand them. But even if it's not the book I'd use now, it's the grandparent of GURPS Dungeon Fantasy 8: Treasure Tables and parts of GURPS Dungeon Fantasy Treasures 1: Glittering Prizes, and in many ways it's still the book that made me the gamer I am today. 

Comments

Charles Saeger said…
It has one of the few tables for generating the physical environs of a lair. After all these years, I can't believe that we're still waiting on a sequel for these tables.

Popular posts from this blog

CW Listicle Notes

Turns out I've got rather a lot to say about a rather short piece. Specifically, the Car Wars vignette in Pyramid #89. It's all in general pursuit of world-building, but there's probably as much world-building going on in this one as all of my previous vignettes put together. Four out of the five locations make glancing reference to notable aspects of the world of the new Car Wars, so there are some significant bits of history and culture to tease out there. The fifth...well, that was mostly just me amusing myself.

There's also a certain amount of--pardon the expression--reality in there. In figuring out where to put the various arenas, I looked at a lot of maps, lists of roadside attractions, locations of current sports venues, and other such materials. Each place has a definite location in the real world, sometimes to the point of using existing buildings. Here's where everything came from:

Big Swede Arena: Parking garage at the Emeryville Ikea. We went there a fe…

The Occasional Dungeon: Overview

In order to get some more GURPS out there and play with some maps, I started toying with something. I've worked up a large map ("ground level" is below; I may need to poke around with image hosting to keep enough maps at the proper scales) of a dungeon complex. From time to time, I'll post magnified excerpts from the map with details in GURPS terms, with specific reference to Dungeon Fantasy (that is, mostly stocked with things from GURPS Dungeon Fantasy 8: Treasure Tables and the Dungeon Fantasy Monsters volumes, but occasional pointers elsewhere). They may prove useful to somebody somewhere under some odd set of circumstances.


This dungeon is set in a fairly steep, rocky hill. The natural caves underneath it have long been home to a variety of creatures, natural and otherwise, but pretty much all horrible. There's also a large natural cavern accessible through a very large opening at the top of the hill where the surface caved in. It has been home to a number …

Silk Road Miscellaneous Comments

GURPS Hot Spots: The Silk Road is, at long last, out, after languishing for some months behind the Dungeon Fantasy Roleplaying Game. There's a more substantial bit on this forthcoming, but I've got some other thoughts that didn't make it into that, so...


The Silk Road is something of a departure from previous Hot Spots volumes. Instead of a single city, it covers a large, more vaguely defined, and much more culturally diverse region. In the pitch I sent to SJ Games, I described it as being more like GURPS Conan than any of the previous Hot Spots. It's more about trends and areas than specific people and events. And I think that actually makes it a much better setting for setting adventures. It's more of a sandbox (indeed, the Taklamakan desert is one of the world's biggest sandboxes) where the GM is relieved of the weight of specific historical events. And the specific nature of this region and its time make it easy for anybody from that time (or, at least, any …