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Sunday, January 3, 2016


This is a review of the fifth volume in the Gygaxian Fantasy Worlds series, the INSIDIAE by Dan Cross, published in 2004. Ostensibly written as a companion to the D20 and the Lejendary Adventure games, this book is abstract enough, to be useful with any RPG system.

I am huge fan of the How To writing for DMs. I am still in awe of the Part - 8, the Dungeon Master's Information on pages B51-B52 of the TSA D&D Moldway Basic rulebook. This was my first D&D set and I still have the dog eared beloved copy of it, I keep on re-reading even though I am running an AD&D 1st Edition (greatly modified) campaign, and have the full complement of the AD&D books.

Nothing beats Moldway's writing on designing a dungeon adventure for its scope and conciseness. There is also Gary Gygax's great Dungeon Master's Guide, 1st Edition, and its Appendix A, Random Dungeon Generation, and its other Appendixes, B through P, covering Random Wilderness Terrain, Random Monster Encounters, Random Generation of the Creatures From the Lower Planes (aka Demons and Devils), Alphabetical Monster Listing, Traps, Tricks, Dungeon Dressing (sights, sounds, and smells), Herbs, Spices, and Medicinal Vegetables (Medieval Herbalism); Conjured Animals, Summoned Monsters, Inspirational Reading List (The famous Appendix N), Encumberance of Standard Items, and Creating the Party on the Spur of the Moment. This large section, consisting of DMG pp 169-240 was largely removed from all subsequent editions of the Dungeon Master's Guide. Also removed and redacted was the Gygax's section on treasure and the Artifacts and Relics, later published as a separate volume in AD&D 2nd Edition.

Together, this material provided a unique setting for Gygax's AD&D, removing Gygax's descriptive tables from DMG made it an abstract and generic fantasy setting, perhaps more compatible with other commercially produced campaign settings. This makes Gary Gygax's DMG a unique voluje, when compared with the subsequent redacted editions,

Having said that, Gygax's writing on asventure and setting design expands on greatly, but does not add to Molway's Awesome writing on the subject. I am always on the lookout on design writing for the Dungeon Master, and as I am currently in the process of setting the Midlands fantasy world in motion for the second season of my campaign, I have started reading this material once again. The first book I looked at is the aforementioned Insidiae volume.

I was not inclined to like this book. It did not start out with any kind of preamble or introduction, but with a random events table and self-evidernt descriptions of the entries on the table. I did not like the core process of this book, which has the stated purpose of generating settings and adventures. It doesn't give much in the way of theory or analysis, but throws a bunch of tables at you, and then devises a system to govern the rolling on these tables.

INSIDIAE is broken into five sections, or "Books", which follow its design process. Book ONE is the Milleu Events - You can assume that the setting for your game is peaceful and stable OR you can roll up randomly to see, what conflict the area had in the past, what is tearing it up in the present and what conflict will be burning in yor area in the future. The events are broken down into Social Class based Civil Strife, Wars, Natural Disaster, Social Upheavals, and Cosmic Cataclysms.

Book TWO deals with Story-Roles of the principle NPC's in you adventure or campaign. This is very much D&D Second Edition thing - The Key NPC'a can either be Friends, Enemies, Competitors, Obstacles, Non-Involved, Patrons, or Wild Cards.

Book THREE deals with the random in-depth NPC generation, with specific tables for D20 and LA games, as well as general tables for Gials and Motivations, including the descriptions of genral NPC types, such as Gypsies, Heretics, Minions, Lunatics, etc, which provide an added descriptive value for the NPC.

Book FOUR is the Plot, this is where the actual text starts and the author does most of his actual writing. INSIDIAE is the application of Literature to D&D Game design. First, Cross describes the differences between writing fiction and writing an RPG game adventure. The key argument is that literary writing mainly concerns the internal motivation and the protagonist's stream of consciousness and must includes set-backs and inevitable defeat, whereas we do not go into any of this when writing an game adventure. This is true, and Cross writes from a tragedian's perspective, and the advice not to get inside the protagonist's head also holds true for those, seeking to avoid writing melodrama and sentimentality. By the same token, who is to say that good DM should not get into the heads of the major NPC's in the game?

The central idea of this chapter is that DM writes the background material, which becomes a story after players interact with it and move on forward in the adventure. Dan Cross calls is "Story-Latent". He tags the DM's content with it, that can lead to further adventuring. He then proceeds to outline the types of Encounters and their function in the adventrure, with their place along the classic plot line (rising action, culmination, falling ection, etc). The typology is a bit simple - Encounters are Combat, Problem Solving, and Role Playing. I can think of a lot more encounter types than those three, and Role Playing can be present in any encounter with NPC's. Story Functions are too, a bit simple - There are Story Hooks that get you into adventure, Obstacles that frustrate the players, and Prospects or Opportunities for treasure and in-game growth of the player characters. The writing on Plot elements is a bit confusing, but useful. Dan Cross completes the Book FOUR with the tangent of explaining how to interpret Gary Gygax's abstract linear combat system of HP and Damage and Death. It's not a bad idea, I just don't use it, having come up with something better. Basically, Cross's (and Gary's) concept is that Hit Points represent players' Vitality, but also the ability to minimize the combat damage, psychological resilience, etc, so, in the beginning, while HP are high, the damage is scratches and the chardater is dodging the blows, as the HP decrease and the character becomes more fatigued, demage becomes more serious.

Book FIVE Brings it all together to create a playable adventure. First, you create the random conflicts for your setting, then you select the theme for the adventure, then you choose the milestones in your adventure or campaign, then you pick story goals (missions) for your players to accomplish, then you create locations and map them. At the end of the chapter cross goes on the second tangent, saying that the Dungeon Map need not be literal, but a flowchart for a node based adventure - i.e. each "room" can be an area for adventruers to visit in pursuit of their goals - i.e. a Queen's Palace, a Dungeon, a Pilgrimage, or a Mysterious Island. He then concludes the table for the random generation of location, where the adventure encounters can take place.

INSIDIAE concludes with a series of Appendices. Appendix A shows a random adventure creation and gives 48 randomly generated adventures. For some reason Appendix B lists the Courts of Law and typical penalties for common offenses. Appendix C lists Gygax's monetary system for use in medieval fantasy RPG's and Appendix D consists of 7 pages worth of tables for the random human NPC appearance generation, which has tables to describe everything - from the type of the beard to the shape of the buttocks. The book finishes with an Appendix E, the Sample adventure.

The two things that I didn't like about the books were the lack of actual writing on how to actually come up with the story and characters based on your setting. There was too little text between all of the random generators and the description of the results. What writing there was, tended to be brief, dense and abstract, and I had to think about it for a while before it made sense to me. INSIDIAE feels like an unpolished and unfinished draft. The adventures generated and written as examples for this book feel like AD&D Second Edition writing. Not necessaritly a bad thing, but like most adventrure-writing material made for AD&D 2nd Edition, it is based on theater, stage, and video game design. That is why NPC's are the primary focus for the Adventure design. What I didn't like about the process was that You start with the random turmoils that affect your setting, then you roll up some major NPC's, figure out their role in the adventure, and only then, flesh them out in game terms and pick a story hook and conflicts that would match them.

Like Gygax's DMG, this book expands and details some of the adventure outline of the Moldway's Red Book Part EIGHT. It also builds on the Timeline device that Gygax introduced in his Oriental Adventure volume to breathe life into your setting. The main difference is tha Gygax OA dealt with Events, while the Millieu Events listed in the INSIDIAE are actually social and political PROCESSES, which means that you can do more with them in terms of your settting development.

I will conclude this review by applying the material from INSIDIAE to my Midlands Campaign.


Leonsford is a Barony immediately East of the Blacklands Barony, the adventuring base for my players. The lead NPC is a fencing instructor, a Krait knight errand, whom the players follow. He wins a land grant far to the East to establish a fencing school and teach the men at arms, including the ones from Leonsford to better prepare them for the common enemy.


The Barony is more conservative, having maintained closer ties with the cultural Leonian roots of the Baron of Leonsford.

From a Player Character's Backstory:

Baron of Leon had a younger wife who begot him the youngest son. This wife had an affair with the tattoed and mighty Twilight Warrior behind the Baron's back. The Baron found out, captured his wife and his men at arms accidentally killed the Warrior while trying to take him alive, as ordered. The man, who accidentally killed him, was flogged and punished for the entire day. The Baron had his unfaithful wife burned at the stake as a witch.

The older sibs from the previous wife did not like the youngest child. The Baron sent him North to Leonia for religious education innthe company of two Leonian Priests. The child thought that the two taciturn priests all dressed in black were going to kill with daggers while riding through the woods in their carriage, escaoe from their grasp and ran off into the woods, eventually becoming a Thief.


I did not like the idea of merely rolling for the past, the present, and the future. In fortune telling there is a Spread called The Gypsy Cross: In the center is the Querent, or the person, whose fortune is being told. The card behind him is The Past, card covering him is The Present, and card in front is The Future, pretty much like the Book ONE of INSIDIAE. But in the Gypsy Cross, we also have the Card Above, The Hanging Over the Head, and card below, the Underfoot. Overhead represents the issue that is getting the better of the person, while the Underoot is the issue that the person has dealt with successfully. I rolled the Millieu Evets for the Leonia's Gypsy Cross:

Here is what I discovered:

In the past, there was a struggle for power between the Midlander Nobles of Kraitland origin against the Midland Nobility of Leonian descent. With the help of the Leonian Mother Church, the Kraitlanders were accused of witchcraft and were defeated. Having established strong religious and cultural ties to Leonia, the Barons of Leonsford have subjugated the frontier culture of Midlands and its tolerance of spellcasters and innovation. This puts the Barons of Leonsford at odds with their neighbors. The Baron of Leonsford allows the Leonian settlers traveling South to settle illegally in the safer Leonsford and has invited the Leonian clergy, including the Leonian Inquisition and some Paladins to establish a base in Leonsford to defend the Barony. Event though repressive, the Barony of Leonsford is military inefficient, and has plans to serve as a basis for a future Leonian Crusade, but the friction with the neighbors makes it unclear, if the Crusade will be against the Twilight dariness emanating from the Demon Coast or against their Midlander neighbors. Unless something is done, in the not so near future this place will be overrun with the darkness of the Demon Coast.

Hmmmm... not bad at all. Now, why did the Baron of Blacklands sent our dear fencing instructor on the edge of THIS??????

The second thing I wanted to try, were the INSIDIAE'S NPC description tables. As far as the Midlands Canon is concerned, there are three NPC's that are apparent so far from my setting: The Baron of Leonsford, his Bishop, the leader of the Leonsford Cathedral, and a female Halfling Thief. The roles of the first two are obvious based on their positions. The Halfling's role is open to interpretation and development.

What I Know About Halfling So Far:

She is a suspect in one of the adventure hooks that the players may end up following. Some of the most promising and prominent scions of the Blacklands Aristocracy are missing and feared dead. The tensions are high. Grey and his students will be called upon to find them and rescue them, as necessary.

The Missing Children fancied themselves adventurers, rightly or wrongly. What really happened is that they have found previously undiscovered unlooted dungeon, secretly went there on an expedition, and came to some grief.

A certain Thief, turned out to be an evil Halfling Fence, and a local guild leader, toold them about the lootable location, in the are that was off limits to the Missing Children. Player will have to conduct an investigation, that may or may not uncover the Halfling Fence and her role in the Missing Childrens Expedition.

All I know so far is that she is a dark-haired female Halfling, who seems younger than her years, who gained the trust of the female Missing Children, who introduced her into their circle.

In his DMG, Gary Gygax dedicated three pages to randomly generating the NPC's personality on pages 100-103. I will flesh out our Halflng Suspect first using the Gygax DMG, then the Appendix D of the INSIDIAE, then using my Homegrown, which uses playing cards.

Here it goes:

I used percentile dice and Gygax's Extraordinary Book of Names (Gygax Fantasy Worlds vol. 4) to name my NPC's from Leonsford:

Conte Rinaldo Di Leonsford, the BARON.
Ildebrando Tipaldi, the BISHOP,

and... ta-daaa!!!!

Drogserlice the Clubfooted, the Halfling Thief, also known affectionately, as Droggy !!!

I conceived of her as a Halfling Madam, but Insidiae suggested that she is a Gypsy fortune teller, part of a close knit family of Halfling Gypsies, who plies her trade from a fortune teller's wagon, living on the outskirts of Leonsford among the Outlawed. Droggy wants to be rich and is studying Illusionist magic. Her two passions in life. Having grown up in Leonsford, she got into Leonian culture and dresses like a Renaissance merchant princess, who is coldly indifferent and intellectual towards others, thinking herself above them.

Randomly Generated Adventure Hook featuring Droggy and the Players:

Her role regarding he playerd will be that of an Ally. Right now she is insignificant and beyond notice by the powers of Leonford, but all this will change, if she ever comes to the attention of the Good Baron of Leonsford and his Priests, and come to teir notice she will. It will be a horror-themed adventure. Droggy will come in possession of a powerful magical item, which in her ignorance she will break and almost destroy, whoch will bring her to the attention of the powerful higher echelon demon coast minions, who will seek the stolen magical artefact and will want to exact revenge on Droggy. Her plight will bring Droggy to the attention of the Wizards Guild, the Baron, and the Leonian Inquisition. If the players will help Droggy escape her predicament with her life, players will earn Droggy's eternal genuine gratitude and true friendship.

Droggy's description using the Appendix D of the Insidiae:

Droggy is a very large, heavy set, slab-like, freckled, albino (red eyes), bobbed hairdo, very hairy, Gap toothed, unblinking eyes, Silver teeth, Vulpine stare, Large Eyes, Large Ears, Large Heavy hands, Hard Palms, Fat Hips.

Is this a Halfling girl or a Big Foot? This thing will never gain the trust of a unch of prissy young girls, and Droggy is too low level a character to disguise herself by magic, or be transformed by it.

Gary Gygax DMG Droggy Description: Chaotic Neutral, Youthful, Clean, Very Stable, Loquacious, Extraverted, Blustering, Sensitive, Active Intellect, Soft Hearted, Avaricious, Liar, Brave, Energetic, Thrifty, Secretly Depraved, Witchcraft, 48" Tall for a Halfling, 65 lbs, 50 years old (Halfling Years).

I am not sure what her depravity will be. It might be from the Twilight or her Witchcraft, or it might be psychosexual, I will have to think about it.

My Homegrown. Her cards were 5 Spades, 3 Spades, K Spades, Joker/Joker/10 Spades, 2 Diamonds.

She is a thinker, free from emotional issues who seeks solitude, and lusts after power, a criminal, a very dark rogue, likely manipulative psychopathy. Very strong Lawful Evil, in the sense of a supremely selfish diabolical manipulator. She studies Illusionism to primarily disguise her wealth and to make her escape routes.

There you have it.

I give it


not for the content or applicability, which is better than I thought, but for the poor quality of writing. Very dense prose, which could have been expanded. Poorly worded typology and an artificially formal structure for the story hooks, etc.


  1. 2nd Edition story heavy style had to go with me, it was killing the game, and I do kind of blame that aspect of it on why folks jumped to 3e. As a writing tool, it does sound kind of interesting.

    As far as a reference book, how does this thing compare? Does it have an functional index? Is the font easy to read? Is it bound well? Does it sit flat on the table?

  2. Oh, it sits flat on the table! The quality of this series is on par with the old AD&D books, except for glossier covers. No index. Print is small, but legible. Illustrations are black and white, apparently from the public domain.

    I would not spend the $30.00 for it. $5 or $10 at a garage sale, I would pick it up.

    This is Gygax trying to make his Lejendary Adventure game similar to AD&D Second Edition.

    Now that you mentioned it, Insidiae fits is really well with the AD&D Second Edition adventure design supplements and with its orientation towards story roles and linear adventure design style.