Interview with a Dungeon Master

Who is Timothy Connolly?

I am strength, intelligence, wisdom, dexterity, constitution, and charisma.

Tell me about your Multiverse website?

TSR Games launched the website in March.  Our mantra is “Analog gaming in a digital world.”  As we continue to grow, visitors will continue to see a wider-and-wider variety of content.  With so much crossover appeal in the world today, there’s a lot of ground to cover; board games, indie comics, culture, film, gear, music, television, and more.

Go ahead and have a look.  I’ll wait…

Cool, right!?

What is it about AD&D that got you to play and keeps you playing?

In 1978, my next door neighbors had three boys.  They were 1e AD&D enthusiasts.  The youngest of the three brothers, Robert, was a classmate of mine.  Not knowing anything about the tabletop rpg hobby at the time, these three brothers (Robert, Chris, and Paul,) welcomed me into their tribe.  I was intrigued.  I was fascinated.  Before long, I was ensnared in the hobby’s tractor beam.  

I began to read Dragon magazine.  In 1981, I tried my hand at being a DM for the first time, and I’ve been behind a DM screen ever since.  Bard Games and Iron Crown Enterprises were publishing gaming supplements in the 1980s too, and we used quite a bit of that in our sessions; always with 1e AD&D as the core.  That classic edition of the hobby has gone on to become a powerful thread in the tapestry of my lifetime.  It’s a tangible link to a time of innocence and youth.  It’s a bellwether.  It’s a touchstone.  It’s a creative outlet like no other, with collaborative cartography, coloring, drawing, improvisation, painting minifigs [miniature figurines], reading, worldbuilding, and writing.

Here I am now, nearly forty years later, and my ongoing exploration of 1e AD&D is far from complete.  Flying the flags of the first edition just comes so naturally to me.  Another thing that still keeps me playing it today is the caliber of our players.  Hats off to all who have trekked from NJ, NYC, and PA to enjoy a place at our tables on Long Island (especially Tom McTague, who’s been enjoying/exploring the 1e AD&D hobby with me since 1981.)  It’s fun being a dinosaur.

What’s it like being the resident DM at an RPG store, and what’s the store like?

It’s an honor, really, and I have so much respect for the hobby shop (Legendary Realms, in Plainview NY.)    It’s an awe-inspiring dream-come-true for me, and I’m super-grateful to be part of what goes on there.  Open-table roleplaying in a FLGS is something everyone should try.  Hobbyists of all ages flock to our shop, and the camaraderie is special.

We’ve been told that our approach to 1e AD&D is very close to EGG’s vision for the hobby too, and that’s been somewhat of a fancy feather in our cap.  Noobs and looky-loos join in on the fun with us, too, sometimes.  Some stay.  Some go.  It’s ever-changing.  

This hobby shop is just the right size with a friendly staff, a clean restroom, plenty of parking, plenty of seating, and there’s private rooms in the back (for even more tabletop gaming action.)  Visitors can order food delivery from the many nearby eateries and/or enjoy available refreshments/snacks at our front counter.

3D terrain is manufactured here at the hobby shop, and there’s a new Kickstarter happening now for the Ice Caverns.  Perfect timing too, what with Long Island weather already taking a turn for the colder.  
My favorite thing about the Legendary Realms hobby shop though?  The room in which our 1e AD&D sessions happen is affectionately known as the Gary Gygax Suite.  

What’s your DM style like?

Fluid.  Not rigid.  Rulings.  Not rules.  Roleplay.  Not “roll” play.  “Hack-and-slash” doesn’t happen here.  Neither does “Monty Haul.”  For us, it’s a lot like improv theater, with me as both the stage director and the audience.  Sound machines behind the DM screen provide the cheers, jeers, laughs, crickets, colorful language, cartoon noises, and more.

Games-within-games are my DM style too.  Appendix F of the 1970 DMG inspired me greatly.  I’ll sometimes award bonus XP to players if they attempt called-shots during combat situations, or if they’re the first player to redeem an achievement card.  EGG’s slot machines actually exist in our sandbox.  There’s even a fictitious tabletop rpg in our sandbox (known as Swords & Fjords.)  It’s the new hobby craze that’s sweeping the sandbox, available exclusively at Gelnett’s Hobby Shop in Silverleaf, with more and more NPCs playing it every day (including both the good King Asiago and the Chancellor Pecorino.)  

We assign a different Caller each session, and a different Mapper too, determined by high roll on a d20.  The Caller gets the Dragonstone.  The Mapper gets the carnivorous snail shell.

Social media helps a lot.  I’ve had the good fortune to connect with so many kindred spirits on the interwebz, from so many countries.  

Our players and I had some fun on Soundcloud this summer, and you can enjoy listening to actual-play soundclips here:

Sometimes, our sessions are also Double XP Day, Double Damage Day, and Double Dice Day.

For even more of a taste of my DM style, you can visit our Benchleydale and Beyond facebook page:

Do you prefer sandbox or dungeoncrawl… and why?

Both have merit, but my choice is sandbox.  Ours contains more than a hundred modules and places of interest, from the 1970s and 1980s (mostly TSR and Judges Guild,) lovingly planted into an action-packed 1963 square miles of terrain.  There are waterways, and the obligatory terra firma.  There’s a glacier, active volcanoes, a sweltering hot jungle, arid wastelands, fertile savannah grasslands (a la equatorial Africa,) caverns, canyons, forests, mountains, valleys, lakes, grottos, cliffs, crags, swamps, castles, dungeons, dragons, arenas, megadungeons, you name it.  Our world of Örth has it all.  There’s even an amateur wrestling federation in our sandbox, known as the BAR (Benchleydale Amateur Rasslin’) and Chet Manly is the reigning champion.  Knowing all that, which would YOU choose?  Sandbox or dungeoncrawl?  For me, it’s an easy choice to make.

What’s your pre-campaign and pre-session preparation like?

Get a good night’s sleep the night before.  Rise early on the day of.  Hydration.  Qigong.  Meditation.  Nutrition.  Read the module again.  Know enough about what’s happening in the adventure, to be able to propel the story forward whenever necessary, while still allowing the players to do much of the heavy lifting.

A favorite part of the preparation process is writing the DM opening monologues.  Here’s one from October 6th:  

A long time ago, in a sandbox far, far away... 

Maure Castle was an ancient seat of power in these lands. People came from all across the Eastern Waterways to pay tribute to their King and Queen, whom they loved very much.

The King, Bronlingennen Maure, was a fair-haired leader of men, broad-shouldered and proud. Bronlingennen was a true cavalry-master, undefeated in all battles fought. It was he who kept the people safe from all threats, both known and unknown. Were it not for his beheading of the Zilipzagog bugbear chieftain, Bronlingennen’s entire kingdom would have been burned to a cinder, with every last man, woman, and child roasted on a spit!

Instead, it was the bugbears who were driven out from these lands, each with a mark of shame branded onto their backsides!

Ahh good old King Bronlingennen Maure. Bards still sing his praises today, nearly three hundred plus seven hundred years later.

And what of his wife, Queen Courtney Vokunnen? Very little is known of her now. What is known, is that she was half-elven, beautiful as a summertime sunset, with eyes of deep amber. 

A life-size statue was carved of Queen Courtney, by a sculptor of no small reknown (Jibbit of Longbridge,) and later imbued with her essence by Vassilorgus, a sorceror hermit, (using a lock of her auburn hair, and the Forbidden Tome of Borzzogg.) Vassilorgus the sorceror hermit was conducting dark experiments with golems at the time, and he would attempt to turn this life-size stone statue of Queen Courtney into a stone golem, under his control, for purposes known only to Vassilorgus (sorceror hermit.)

Some time later, and being no stranger to dabblings in the dark arts, it was Vassilorgus the sorceror hermit who summoned forth a demon from the Abyss; a demon most foul, named Kerzit. 

Kerzit saw the Queen Courtney statue, and was made to watch as Vassilorgus the sorceror hermit performed the horrible rituals which would elevate the Queen Courtney statue to true golemhood. 

Afterwards, Kerzit wept. Kerzit had not seen such beauty before. The graceful stride. The high cheekbones. The faraway eyes. The [dare-I-say] perfect shoulder-length hair.

Kerzit vowed to find the real Queen Courtney and enslave her forevermore.

* * *

As much as this is a tale of sculptors, sorceror hermits, and ancient monarchies, this is also a tale of THESE brave adventurers, who each find themselves beneath what remains of Maure Castle above. Some have come for gold. Some have come for glory. Some have come to satisfy King Asiago, by reporting back to their liege directly, with news pertaining to the results of their findings. Some have come for other reasons entirely; reasons known only to them, and them alone.
It was the brave Dekkion, and his mutant ability of feather-fall, who was the first of their number to perish at the hands of a bloodthirsty ten-foot-tall iron golem, here in the vaulted chamber.

Other statues here have laid down their weapons. The weapons were recovered by Cloyer Bulse the Magsman, and Bear the dwarf’s clever bear named Spott. What powers could these weapons have? This sword? This dagger? What does it all mean!?

Tony Baloney, orc-hunter and sausage-maker, made his way into the grandstands, attempted to hawk gunchowder sausage links to the crowd, and blew a dragon whistle...

Wait... what? Whoever heard of anyone blowing a dragon whistle whilst being nearly 400 feet beneath the surface ruins of Maure Castle?
If you were stranded on a desert island (with other castaways,) where there was actually quite a lot of tabletop gaming going on, but you only had 7 RPG-related books with you, which ones would you choose?

1) EGG’s 1979 DMG
2) EGG’S 1978 PHB
3) EGG’s 1977 MM

Do you have a favorite random table?

Page 124 of the 1979 DMG contains the random table for the Artifacts & Relics.
01 Axe of the Dwarvish Lords
02 Baba Yaga’s Hut
03-04 Codex of the Infinite Planes
05-20 Crown of Might
21 Crystal of the Ebon Flame
22 Cup and Talisman of AI’Akbar
23-24 Eye of Vecna
25 Hand of Vecna
26 Heward’s Mystical Organ
27 Horn of Change
28 -29 Invulnerable Coat of Arnd
30-31 Iron Flask of Tuerny the Merciless
32 Jacinth of Inestimable Beauty
33 Johydee’s Mask
34-35 Kuroth’s Quill
36-37 Mace of Cuthbert
38 Machine of Lum the Mad
39-40 Mighty Servant of Leuk-o
41 -47 Orb of the Dragonkind
48-63 Orb of Might
64 Queen Ehlissa’s Marvelous Nightingale
65-66 Recorder of Ye’Cind
67-68 Ring of Gaxx
69-74 Rod of Seven Parts
75-91 Sceptre of Might
92 Sword of Kas
93-98 Teeth of Dahlver-Nor
99 Throne of the Gods
00 Wand of Orcus

Much of my early fascination with the hobby stemmed from this particular random table.  This is the epicenter.

What’s a good subject for a random table that you’ve never seen before?

I love a fun random table.  Your random tables are great fun.  I’d love to see a d10 random table, for determining which color dice to use for a saving throw.  This could be especially helpful for those players with large dice collections, containing dice of every imaginable hue.  And, who knows?  This sort of random table might even save the life of a PC someday.  Such a random table could look like this:

1 Red
2 Orange
3 Yellow
4 Green
5 Blue
6 Indigo
7 Violet
8 White
9 Black
10 Other

How often do you get to play?

Tabletop time is precious time.  1st and 3rd Sunday afternoons are for the classic GDQ1-7 campaign (PCs are beginning the G3 module now.)  That’s traditional high fantasy, very dark, and very dangerous, for levels 8 and above.  1st and 3rd Thursday evenings are currently for the classic WG5 module.  That’s for adventuring of a lighthearted, whimsical, zany, gonzo nature, levels 4 and above.  It’s become our more popular of the two campaigns, by far. Go figure! For years, it was the opposite, with GDQ1-7 being the hotter table to be at.  

As the DM for these sessions, I do not have a PC of my own, and yet I still get to roleplay a plethora of delightful NPCs, including the White Mamba, Cragen’s Bastard, Goose Bronze, Fonkin Hoddypeak, the Chugginator, Gone Henley, General Jorj Joshington, Knifey (celebrity knife-thrower,) and too many more to list here.

What’s the coolest or strangest experience that one of your characters has had during a game?
Smax Rockatansky snuffed Jon Eethaboye.  It happened near the fishmonger along the wharf in Urseid town.  Smax did it with a thrown javelin to the dome.  Natural 20.  Smax ain’t sweatin’ no fools.  

Bacara Mal’doran beheaded Thuba Vokuunen near Fortress Badabaskor.  

Beek Gwenders (of Croodle,) leaped into the iconic green devil mouth (in Acererak’s Tomb.)  

Falx Templamut (silver dragon,) destroyed the unopenable doors beneath Maure Castle, but at what cost?  

Fumf the degenerate wizard became fish food in a nasty piranha-filled pool of water.  

Zigby the dwarf got petrified by Mondusa, the rastagorgon, black snakes and all.  

Gorgonzola the owl tore Ron Rayne to shreds, and Clint Beastwood disposed of the body, by tossing it into nearby bushes, exclaiming “Keep hidin’ out, ya coward!”. 

Batsnake the Whipper once killed two alligators at the same time, with his bare hands!

Do you think the RPG hobby/industry is growing, standing still, or shrinking?

It’s growing.  I see it all the time.  Places like the Legendary Realms hobby shop (in Plainview NY) really help a lot.  Gaming cons help a lot, too, and I see more of them popping up all the time.  The bubble isn’t likely to burst anytime soon.  Anything to help rescue folks from their phones for a while, or their laptops, their tablets, their televisions, video games, et cetera, is actually a pretty good idea, if you think about it.

It was only just forty years ago, when D&D started to catch on like wildfire.  The hobby sure has come a long way since then, with a long way to go still.  We see it in the better quality and variety of minifigs, and the same goes for dice.  We see it with Long Island’s own Legendary Realms, and their Ice Caverns 3D terrain.  We see it with GP Adventures, and what they’re doing to bring us the Hobby Shop Dungeon.  We see it with Black Blade Publishing, and their extraordinary selection of adventure modules.  We see it with Maximum Mayhem Dungeons, and their thought-provoking adventure modules.  And that’s just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

What’s your favorite part of old-school D&D?

Awesome question!  Being a cultured hobbyist who enjoys all aspects of the old-school, this is a tough one though.  Choosing just one favorite part of old-school D&D is subject to change on a weekly basis.  This week, though?  Priming and painting minifigs.  Got a whole bunch of those sweet Tony DiTerlizzi pieces from Dark Sword Miniatures.  Operation Primer is all-systems go!  It’s both a hobby and a game here; a hobby first, and a game second.


Interview conducted by Venger Satanis


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