Reflections on Gary Gygax and Dangerous Journeys

   

This is the might-have-been cover for Gary Gygax’s game, from an advertisement in White Wolf, before the name was changed because TSR claimed that Dangerous Dimensions was too close to Dungeons & Dragons.  Next to it is the cover of the book that I picked up as a 12-year-old kid, when it was hot of the presses in 1992.

Unfortunately, day 4 of Con on the Cob ended with my wife rolling her ankle in the parking lot, so the fun ended on Day 3.  No question, though, Con on the Cob is a lot of fun, and I want to make it a regular part of however many autumns I spend in this area.

I had the change to have an interesting conversation with a woman who was at the convention, running one of those traveling stands with rpg books in crates, jewelry, odds and ends, old board games, that kind of thing.  They’re the Hell on Wheels Traveling Hobby Shop, and they’re at something like 40+ conventions a year.

I picked up a copy of Epic of Aerth, the last book I was looking for from Gary Gygax’s Dangerous Journeys game.  It is the setting book for Dangerous Journeys, kind of a re-imagined alternate history, where not only magic but also magical locations, like the hollow earth and Lemuria and Atlantis, are real.  Like most of the things he wrote, Epic of Aerth represents a huge amount of research

In talking to the woman who sold me the book, I learned that Hell on Wheels came across a number of signed copies of old Dangerous Journeys books.  When Gary Gygax died, so her story went, his widow asked that the old books that didn’t sell that year be destroyed.  At Gen Con, Hell on Wheels decided to buy all of the remaining books and re-sell them.  Apparently, I just missed getting a signed copy.

As I’ve mentioned before, Dangerous Journeys was the first rpg I ever picked up and played.  I found it wandering the Fantasy and Sci-Fi section of the local bookstore.  After Gary Gygax was no longer working with TSR on D&D, Dangerous Journeys is the game he wrote.  It never seems to have caught on, though.  Most people I talk to have never heard of it, and I almost never see it mentioned, even in the gaming blogosphere, which is often obsessed with obscure games.  Of course, it makes sense that not a lot of copies of the game are out there, since TSR sued Gygax as soon as Dangerous Journeys was published, won rights to the game, and then permanently shelved it.

Dick move.

I’ve always thought it was interesting that, left to his own devices, not collaborating with anyone, Dangerous Journeys is what he came up with.  It is unlike most of his modules – very down-to-earth, in a sense, with far more consideration for real-world history and societies than ever existed in any edition of Dungeons and Dragons.  Frankly, in a lot of ways, Dangerous Journeys is a better game than D&D, and if it was in its 4th edition, I bet it would still be a hell of a game.

I got to run Dangerous Journeys once, at Gamescape North in San Rafael, for a game night held there.  It took a tremendously long time to create the characters for the scenario, but the game, it still plays just fine.

2 thoughts on “Reflections on Gary Gygax and Dangerous Journeys

  1. That's the beauty of rpgs. They don't break. They don't have compatibility issues with new operating systems. They don't get strictly “surpassed” by the next generation of games. They retain their essential fun core for decades. Awesome.

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  2. It's a great game for people who want a lot of detail that's also pretty reasonable, contrasted to D&D, which is very detailed, but based on the concept of absorbing arrows to the face all day.

    I've found one book at Hell on Wheels while attending Con on the Cob, gotten one from Ebay, and one from Amazon.com.

    The minimum to run the game, without a lot of detail on magic or supernatural creatures, is the basic Mythus: Dangerous Journeys book. Mythus Magick expands spellcasting a great deal, and has more information on supernatural creatures and monsters. (Like old-school D&D, if you play a Dwarf, your profession is “Dwarf”). But when I ran it, I just used M:DJ.

    You don't really need Epic of Aerth – I think a lot of setting is implied in the basic book, and I think it would be fun to flesh out the setting just using historical information, which was clearly Gygax's inspiration in creating Aerth.

    I didn't mention that the first couple dozen pages of DJ is Mythus Prime, a simplified version of the full game, which is another awesome idea. I recommend starting with Mythus Prime because DJ is a cool game, but it'll take a while to learn it.

    Here's DJ on Amazon:

    http://www.amazon.com/Mythus-Dangerous-Journeys-Gary-Gygax/dp/1558781315/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1289084920&sr=8-2

    Looks like you might be eight bucks away 🙂

    If you do end up getting/reading/playing it, let me know what you think!

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