Celebrity Game Table
The Tegel Campaign
By Philip Athans

10/13 All About Me
10/13 The Old School
10/16 Dice, Fate, and Happenstance
10/18 The House Rules
10/20 Accessories Make the Game
10/23 To 3 or Not to 3
10/25 The Player (Character)s

The Old School

So here I was confronted with a group of intelligent, creative, educated, and enthusiastic people. Then the Career Day tour moved past and I was stuck with the Book Publishing team.

Our biggest limiting factor was time. We had exactly one hour, once a week, which is basically no time at all when you’re talking about roleplaying games, but there was really no way around that. I thought about various options to try to make the best use of that limited time. Because almost everyone in the group hadn’t played D&D at all before, I was worried that if we tried to go the whole nine yards, we’d end up getting stuck in rule problems and lose some valuable time. After much scratching of head and gnashing of teeth I went to our department library and fished out a dusty old copy of what we like to call "The Red Box."

The Red Box is the Dungeons & Dragons Fantasy Role-playing Game Set 1: Basic Rules. In practice, this is the 1983 version of the game I first played in 1978. Very light on rules, this set -- and I mean very light. Just the thing, I figured, for new players who want to get as much hacking and slashing as possible into an hour without spending time on character generation, non-weapon proficiency checks, and so on.

Our library also contained a bunch of helpful accessory products, including the DM screen pictured below. You know, you have to have a DM screen. Especially when you’re playing with a bunch of damn cheaters.

You know what’s cool about this screen? CHARTS! Do not get me started about THAC0. . . .

So, there we were, rules-wise already way back in the Old School. This was going to be fun, I thought, like when we were in high school.

Well, I was in high school a pretty long time ago, and back then there was only really a slow trickle of "real" D&D products coming out of Lake Geneva, so we were all pretty starved for game product. The good people at Judges Guild rushed to the rescue.

I won’t get into a whole Judges Guild rant here, but I will say this: Most of the enthusiasm I had for D&D back in those early, formative years, was thanks to Judges Guild products. I loved them then, and I love them now. And it’s a gushy, smoochy, unabashedly fannish geek love.

One Judges Guild product in particular had always captured my imagination: Tegel Manor*. Tegel Manor is the archetype of the Old School dungeon. Basically it was a tiny orange booklet with tons of nearly microscopic type, and a huge 17" x 22" map sheet with a giant haunted house on one side and a really neat little bit of real estate including Tegel Manor, Tegel Village, an evil temple, a monster-haunted marsh, and a rocky coastline on the other. Here’s a picture of James Jacobs and I trying to make heads or tails of it:

James agreed to be the party mapper. He won’t make that mistake again, I’m sure.

Tegel Manor is just one enormous dungeon, with monsters sprinkled in totally at random, and tricks and traps to delight the most sadistic DM. I’ve owned Tegel Manor for 20 years, but never actually managed to run it. It’s a tough one to drop into an existing campaign. It’s also so dang big it’s kind of a campaign-stopper. It would take so long to finish, it would overwhelm any ongoing game.

So, what, I thought, if exploring Tegel Manor was the campaign?

Oh, okay. Now you’re talkin’.

So that was it. We spent only a few minutes working up the characters you’ll read all about below, and off they went into the haunted vastness of Tegel Manor. In no time they were encountering monsters that looked like this:

. . . and more traps, tricks, puzzles, and weirdness than you can shake a ten foot pole at.

The Tegel Manor Campaign, like the module that forms its foundation, is all about fun. Kick in the door, kill the monster, steal its stuff. We’re having a ball.

What’s actually most fun for me is watching this great group of otherwise perfectly normal people ever so slowly turning into gamers. They’re getting nice and geeky about it, as we’ll discuss in the next section.

About the Author

Phil Athans is a senior editor in Book Publishing at Wizards and the author of the successful novelization Baldur’s Gate. For more about Phil, read his author biography.

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