Ahh, Summertime. That time of the year when the midday air turns to the consistency of peanut butter due to the oppressive humidity, and going outside around sundown means frantically performing the Rite of Citronella to keep the insect world at bay. You actually look forward to it raining all day. Can this actually be my favorite time of year when I was a kid? Have I truly become the old man in the shorts and black socks pronouncing dread tidings for any who get on my lawn? Nah — I ain’t that bad, yet. Besides, I’m so allergic to most of the stuff growing in my yard this time of year I stick to the sidewalks and driveway, and make haste.
Needless to say, I have become an inside dog over the years, luxuriating in the air conditioning, and making a beeline to the inside of a waiting car for more of it if an excursion is demanded of me. And with a week free of scheduled work-days coming up, I plan on even avoiding that situation, if possible. With my sister and her two teenage boys being free the same week, my mind is drawn to the inevitable Family Game Time, those occasions highly similar to what the late, great Frank Zappa referred to as “enforced recreation”.
Not that I dislike the tabletop sessions in our massive kitchen; in fact I tend to look forward to them. The two boys, both of them now teen-aged, and for the most part enmeshed in their own prevalent social lives, are a joy to sit in on, their gleeful debasing of each other always making for solid entertainment. And their mother’s potential for competition in any venue is unparalleled, regardless of how much she tries to play it down.
You name it, we’ve played it. Clue, Monopoly, Sorry, Risk, Trivial Pursuit (even the Harry Potter version, which the boys creamed the old folks on), and card games like Phase 10 and Munchkin (both perennial favorites, especially Munchkin, which we’d stock with several differing packs and play up to level 50, doubling the value of monsters after level 25), even some basic D&D with the boys (I have yet to get my sister in on an adventure, hope to soon with the sandbox stuff I’ve been working on), when they could hack and slash orcs and hobgoblins to their heart’s content. I even worked up a homemade version of the old Dungeon! board game that we played relentlessly one year. In fact, it was its success that had me wondering if I could craft some other similar game that could satisfy all of our gaming needs.
I remembered having the old TSR minigame Vampyre back in the day, probably found at the local five-and-dime place, which often carried an odd assortment of D&D products and related works (I vividly remember getting the old pasteboard “wooden” box with the original little books inside — I believe I’ve already mentioned this, and how I’d give my eye-teeth for it now). Vampyre was a quick little game based on Bram Stoker’s Dracula, with dice, paper markers and a dual sided map (one a hex map of “Transylvania”, the other of the Count’s residence). The players must hunt the mountainous countryside to destroy Dracula’s coffins (and avoid becoming vampiric or werewolf servants to the Prince of Darkness), then pursue the fiend himself to his lair. Unfortunately, I no longer own the game (or can find little to no semblance of its rules online), so it was pretty much sorted to the Mebbe Laters Dept. for the time being.
But soon another old memory pervaded the swirling, lattice-worked mist that is my consciousness. I remembered this marvel from way back in 1981:
My stepsister got the game that year for Christmas, and we played it voraciously throughout the holiday (and just about any time I could convince her to bring it over), thrilling to mini-campaigns of swords and sorcery. To be honest, I have yet to ask her if she still has it; if she does we’ll have to save that too for another blog. But what I did find online were the rules for the game, most of which I had forgotten over the thirty-five-some-odd years since I had played it. But for now, it didn’t matter. I had enough to work with to fashion my own Dark Tower scenario, using dice rolls to simulate the actions of the original game’s “electronic computer”.
After slapping together some dice table approximates around the bare bones of the original rules (which I supplanted with a good bit of dressing from my sandbox world), it was time for a playtest.
After four sessions of the game, many of the rules were tweaked (tables were adapted to make the magic keys more available, and getting lost and plagued less so), but all in all it was a massive hit. The best part was watching the lead players sweating bullets attempting the “Riddle of the Keys” to enter the tower (by rolling a 1-3 three successive times with a six-sided die) while the stragglers slowly caught up with them — it always made for a thrilling climax.
If you would like to try out the game for yourself, you can download this copy of the rules (in Microsoft .wps format), which includes the map piece I duplicated for the playtest sessions, here. Please feel free to change in any way you see fit — I would really be interested in your comments if you do.