I’ve been in an old school mood lately. Probably it has something to do with reading Jon Peterson’s Playing at the World: A History of Simulating Wars, People and Fantastic Adventures from Chess to Role-Playing Games. All those stories of Blackmoor, Braunsteins, and the original Gen Cons put me in a roots-of-our-hobby sort of mood. Things were a bit more random in those days, a bit more fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants, and (from the sound of it) all kinds of gonzo fun. Sometimes I worry that I’ve lost that sensibility.

To illustrate the point, let me tell you about the roots of my hobby. The very first session I ever ran was drawn on butcher paper in sharpie. I had a d20, an imagination, and a couple of dorm room buddies on a boring Friday night. My game system was, “Roll the die. Rolling high is good. Rolling low is bad. You can be anything you want.” I believe the party consisted of a wizard and a hedgehog knight riding a chicken. The final battle was against zombie Chuck Norris.

I remember very little else about that session, but what I do recall is the sense of goofy fun. We didn’t worry about coherent plots or carefully constructed story worlds. We only cared about what ridiculous trap lay beyond the next door; what bizarre randomly-summoned monster the wizard would come up with next (“Come on tyrannosaur! I’m sick of these dancing poodles!”) We laughed long and loud, and it was on that night that I fell in love with RPGs.

Freshman year is a long way in the rear-view now, and I doubt I’d enjoy that kind of session quite so much today. Certainly I won’t be adding any further Chuck Norrises (Norrisen?) to my campaigns. I still remember the wild hilarity and exuberance though, with made-up-on-the-spot rooms spread out on the common room floor. Maybe it’s just my nostalgia acting up, but I’ve got to wonder if those sorts of hijinks are still viable for more seasoned gamers.

Of course, this all has a lot to do with the idea of The Dungeon as a Mythic Underworld (see page 22). When I’ve labored long and hard over a sane and orderly storyline, going back to a funhouse environment with nonsensical inhabitants sounds like a welcome relief. I mean, obviously dragons can’t fit in the broom closet. That would never make it into a publish product! But sometimes I think it might be fun if—just this once—they actually did, popping out at the players like snakes from a can of peanuts. I’m pretty sure freshman year Colin would have found it hilarious.

What do you guys think? Do you need backstories and explanations, or are you OK with “a wizard did it?” Do you like dungeons that “make sense,” or are you alright with the occasional bout of silliness? Can both styles exist comfortably within the same campaign? Let’s hear it in the comments!