Sunday, 11 September 2011

Rod of Seraillian

The second-hand racks at Waylands Forge were good to me again yesterday, this time with a copy of GM5 - Rod of Seraillian, the last of the semi-regular module-magazine hybrid published by Paul Cockburn and some other refugees of TSR Inc's massacre of TSR UK's Imagine magazine. And all for a mere £1 as well. Curiously I didn't have to flip through the racks for this - it leapt out at me from the other side of the shop - neither did I have to search for the two Prince of Shadows books from last week which were also serendipitously on top of the pile. They found me so to speak.

GM5 (February 1987) is a perfect-bound publication (think thin card cover with a right-angled, flat spine), the bulk of which is taken up by Carl Sargent's 38 page adventure Rod of Seraillan (yeah I know it says 40 pages on the cover...). Aside from that there's a few interesting articles/editorials.

The editorial apologises for this being the last issue, blaming TSR's cancelling of advertising as being the final straw, a tit-for-tat response to GMPubs questioning if the downsizing of TSR UK was suggesting it was being wound up. There seems to be a lot of politics going on here, what with the GMPubs thing being distributed by GW and Cockburn beavering away on WFRP.

Interesting news and opinions frozen in amber in late '86 - WFRP is vastly outselling AD&D in the UK, industry opinion is that Lorraine Williams has bought a white elephant in the form of TSR which has supposedly peaked and is losing shelf space in the US and there is a Celtic campaign background for AD&D written by TSR UK that will probably be butchered by TSR Inc. That would have been interesting to see - TSR UK's talent (basically the original WFRP crew) writing up Slaine The Barbarian for AD&D. It's a great shame that that is lost to posterity.

Also, Cockburn doesn't think that the much-needed 2nd edition of AD&D will ever see the light.

All of this should of course be read through the lens of coming from a organ only one part removed from GW Head Office and from a man whose magazine was terminated by TSR.

Reviews look at the AD&D Dungeoneers Survival Guide and Wilderness Survival Guide and the D&D Immortals set and the reviewer isn't impressed by any of them.

GMPubs served the role of being a sort of borderlands refugee camp for the famous Pelinore campaign which had started life in Imagine and was an attempt to produce a semi-official D&D setting tuned for UK tastes. I can't tell you very much about Pelinore as I never saw an issue of Imagine back in the day but I do know it was the house campaign of people like Paul Cockburn and Tom Kirby (yes that's the Tom Kirby, the one you can blame for the modern day Evil Empire - clearly he was a gamer once...). So the last Pelinore article turns up in here and is a brief thing about Sages and a couple of academic establishments wherein they may be found.

(Sages were essential parts of the PC party economic engine in D&D/AD&D, identifying unknown magical artifacts and acting as stop off points for DM's to dripfeed out rumours and legend about this evenings dungeon entertainment).

Of course, Brit Old Schoolers will be delighted to see that the 1980s British tradition of stupid punning NPC names was being used here - we have NPCs called Pana Seer, Gimble Gyrewabe, Methurtyd Vill and Gottun Himmel, the latter of whom presumably didn't make the cut for The Enemy Within.

(There's even more Brit Old School nostalgia in the included scenario which has plenty of good old references to something called "Page XX". Oh Page XX, how we miss you in this modern CTRL+F age...)

Finally, off to Rod herself, the Pelinore scenario for this issue.

Rod is 38 pages, it's Carl Sargent-authored and it's dual-statted both for AD&D with D&D (effectively Cyclopedia D&D but before that compilation volume was ever published). There's a plot about going to the dungeon to recover a holy artifact that's at risk but...

An ex-work colleague of mine once ranted long and hard about people who tell you about a film or book they've read, give a very rough outline of what it's about and then, with a glint in their eye exclaim "BUT THERE'S A TWIST!" therefore allowing anyone with a modicum of intelligence to immediately realise the twist ending whether they wanted to or not.

(Apposite to this - another ex-work colleague once recommended a new film called "Sixth Sense" to me, finishing up with the gushing praise that "and you never realise Bruce Willis is dead until the very end!". Suffice to say, I have never bothered to watch Sixth Sense. Although I gather that apparently Bruce Willis is actually dead throughout this film.)

And now I'm going to do precisely this.

There's a plot about going to the dungeon to recover a holy artifact that's at risk but...


Rod is a fairly high level beast, it's for 6-9 PCs of levels 6-8. Structurally it's just a five level dungeon with a high degree of Gygaxian naturalism. Sargent starts each level with a discussion of what the denizens of each level will do in response to discovering that there is a full-scale enemy incursion going on. This is neat and makes the dungeon other than a static place whereby evil clerics hide in their rooms until their doors are opened. So they should respond intelligently to what the PCs are doing elsewhere but...


Anyway, the climax of the adventure is a battle with a 155hp being from another plane. Assuming the PCs can sort out the holy artifact's at-risk status and tie up the loose ends, a great big Deus Ex Machina will turn up, thank them and then resurrect any of the casualties. I'm uncertain as to how I feel about this sort of thing - it just smacks of "but it was all a dream!" and if the scenario assumes that resurrection of this kind is necessary (and up to three dead PCs a day!) perhaps it's not that well designed. Maybe this was an accepted part of high-risk, deadly scenarios in the Pelinore campaigns of Cockburn, Kirby et al.

Not bad for a pound and BTW, the cover has precisely sod all to do with the contents. It's actually the cover for a Gor novel (hence the slavegirl who, Gor being Gor, probably chained herself up) called "The Gamesmaster".


  1. "Reviews look at the AD&D Dungeoneers Survival Guide and Wilderness Survival Guide and the D&D Immortals set and the reviewer isn't impressed by any of them."

    To be fair, if you're going to try and play AD&D with the rules in either of those you are going to get bogged down in pointless detail (though they're both good for providing ideas for special instances). And the Immortals set... well, that's barely comprehensible (if getting characters to what is, essentially, 72nd level is comprehensible to most people playing D&D in the first place).

    As for Tom Kirby - I was reading an article by Steven Baxter about writing Warhammer fiction, and I'm pretty sure he said that Kirby hated fantasy fiction. Now, I don't think that there's anyone with half a brain who doesn't think that a lot of the fantasy fiction market is crap - but someone that someone who hates the genre itself (when given the opportunity to publish new fantasy fiction, by Steven Baxter, Ian Watson, Kim Newman, etc., with editorial and world-building control, argues against it) comes to play fantasy role-playing games and make it his profession seems baffling.

  2. The cover is Ken Kelly's "Checkers". It was used on Players of Gor. Kelly did the covers for volumes 16 through 25 of the DAW pocketbooks. We can assume he hadn't read the book, as PoG is about the 'actor' kind of players, rather than the 'gamer' kind, and so the piece is also inappropriate there. Not an uncommon situation for covers of the period, I suppose.