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

Writing GURPS Adventures

Someone over on the forum asked for advice on writing adventures for GURPS. Or more specifically, in context, writing GURPS adventures with an eye towards publication by SJ Games, which is a very different animal. Whatever method and structure you have for writing up adventures for your own use is, of course, the best and you should use it for your own purposes. But we're talking about commerce here, not just art, so this should be thought of as advice on how to do business with a particular publisher, not generally useful advice on how to write adventures.

I need to start by defining a term. SJ Games means something specific by "adventure." As the wish list uses the word, an adventure has a plot, or at least something plot-like in it. It presents a specific problem to solve through a progression of encounters. They are not sandboxes. Sandbox-style adventures, with their multiplicity of possible PC objectives, are, in the terminology of the wish list, locations. There ar…

Dungeon Fantasy RPG PDFs to Backers!

It is, at long last, out! Sort of! PDFs of the Dungeon Fantasy Roleplaying Game have been released to Kickstarter backers. I don't think it'll be generally available until next month, but since it's in the wild in at least a limited way, I feel I can talk about this a bit more like a customer than someone involved in the project.

The Dungeon Fantasy RPG is a complete fantasy tabletop roleplaying game. It's based on GURPS 4th edition rules, but it's a stand-alone game, requiring no other books, or even prior knowledge of GURPS. I've already made some general comments elsewhere (I got an advanced peek for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that I was called on to write some follow-up material coming out later). I'll expand on that here.

For those unfamiliar with GURPS, it's a point-buy system rather than randomly rolled, class-and-level, or life path, and pretty much everything in play boils down to "try to roll a target number or less o…

Doctor GURPS Author, Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The WYSIWYG Template

Something I see over at the forum from time to time is people saying that they're interested in writing for Pyramid or GURPS but are instantly driven off by the size and complexity of the style guide and the WYSIWYG template. And they can be intimidating documents. They're long and there are some really specific guidelines for certain kinds of material.

And that's necessary. Despite working almost entirely in the realm of the imagination, Steve Jackson Games is a technical publisher. They need to organize information in regular, predictable formats. It's like Safety Data Sheets, just of their own design.

But the thing I've noticed in several years of writing GURPS material is that you won't need most of it.

So if you want to write an article for Pyramid, here's what you do: Once you've gotten a thumb-up from Steven on your proposal, get the template, create a new document based on it (Don't use Microsoft Word? Me neither. I use LibreOffice. The temp…