We’re writing The Ludus for players and game-masters of tabletop fantasy role-playing games, with particular emphasis on those playing the 5th edition of Dungeons & Dragons.The three of us have been around–all of us–since the first edition of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. Yes, we’re getting on in our elf-years. Thank you for noticing.
Our primary focus is on content for game-masters: guides for world-design, adventure-building, and challenge resolution. Ideas about NPCs, magic items, and adventures. And more. And, although we’re emphasizing 5th edition (because that’s what most people who find us are playing), much of what we write applies to any edition — and even to rival systems.
Origins of The Ludus
All kingdoms are built on the ruins of older empires. For interested readers, we have chronicled our ancient history and the origins of this site below.
Two of the three founders of this site–Wallace and Graham–developed their own fantasy role-playing game in the early-to-mid nineties. Why? The duo wanted to play a game that better fit their style of play: historically aware, more urban, more humanity-centered, more rooted in dark or subtle fantasy than high fantasy, with combat mechanics that at least felt more like a fight, without losing the tempo of games with simple rules.
|“Historically aware”?? you ask. What do you mean by that?Well, there’s a world of difference between the scientific illiteracy of Michael Bay’s Armageddon and the historical inaccuracies of, say, A Knight’s Tale — or Monty Python’s The Quest for the Holy Grail. It’s okay to be wrong, to be historically inaccurate or scientifically silly, but you and the audience should both be in on it.Literate folks don’t get too pedantic just because some popcorn fare got its science or history wrong. No, the informed start to grumble when the films don’t seem to know or care how inaccurate they are, pretend to be accurate, and assume the audience is too uninformed to know the difference.So we didn’t aim for historical accuracy. That’s a fool’s errand. Even if you’re immortals from the highlands of Scotland (as we are), your memory just isn’t that bloody good. But we aimed for a sense that we knew our history pretty well and that, when we didn’t follow it, we knew it, but were going with the Rule of Cool.|
The third member of this group (hi Andy!) was a player in our many playtests of that system, and developed a reputation for what would later be known as Char-Op–character optimization. If there was a way to exploit our rules to kill everything in sight, Andy was going to find it.
In part our enthusiasm was fueled by the product itself, called Crossroads at the time, which we remain quite happy with even though we never published it. Several of the mechanics we developed have since appeared in other games published by people more on the ball than we were, and we now alternate between kicking ourselves for not publishing them first and patting ourselves on the back for having anticipated some of the trends to come. Admittedly, we took too long with development. A plausible excuse can be made for that, though: In the print era, without any feasible way yet to build an online audience (Eternal September was still a recent event!), we were trying to get everything perfect before we spent too much on print runs.
Yet what ultimately killed that enterprise–perhaps months from publication–was the announcement of the 3rd edition of Dungeons & Dragons.
Unless you were in our position, trying to create a company, it might not be clear how much of a competition killer that new release was. Certainly there had been some audience dissatisfaction with second edition’s accumulating, tagged-on, optional rules, and certainly we were hoping at the time to steal some of D&D’s base, though we never expected our audience would be huge.
But even a new edition, by itself, wouldn’t have killed our project. What killed it was the open gaming license. We realized over a rather troubling conversation that the people behind D&D’s open gaming license were being very, very clever. The open-gaming license was a brilliant anti-competition move: By opening their product up for parasitic development by third-party publishers, they limited the viability of rival systems. If suddenly most of the folks who wanted to make games were making stuff to support 3rd-edition, then that’s what everyone would likely be playing, and a new game system, with new mechanics, would be fighting against the tide. Every third-party developer would now be supporting the King of the Mountain instead of building their own hills.
So we switched gears for a little bit, trying our hand briefly at writing D&D material. One of our founders even published in Dungeon. (Hi Graham!)
But then we mostly fell to playing the new edition of D&D, which frankly kicked ass. On the surface the same game it always had been, the 3rd edition of D&D somehow knew itself better than the previous edition had–it knew how to make the D&D-i-ness of everything cool, its own animal, so that it was much easier to forgive D&D’s odd quirks. (The hit-point mechanic, beloved and embraced in every edition, still seems weird, but what-the-heck.) So we set aside our old game, and even our old world (which we still adore–more on that later) as we tried to figure out which D&D worlds we might want to write for. At first, we went with the crowd and gamed in the Forgotten Realms. (Graham’s Dungeon adventure is set in Athkatla.) But soon thereafter, we switched to Greyhawk, which in terms of style, atmosphere, and feel was much closer to our tastes.
Then 4th edition happened, people got married, Graham went to graduate school, kids were born. Andy and Wallace discovered World of Warcraft, a habit Graham never quite got into. (I don’t have a problem with World of Warcraft. Some of my best friends play the game! — Graham). Our group did try 4th edition a couple of times, but lost enthusiasm for gaming for a while as life happened. Part of this break likely would have happened anyway, but we think part of our detour may have been rooted in 4th Edition’s “New Coke” struggles. Oh, and Graham moved from California to Texas. (See how much of this is Graham’s fault?)
We all kept a hand in, in our own ways. When Graham would feel like wasting time, he’d mess around with the old Crossroads mechanics, refining them under a new name: Shroud. (Full disclosure: He’s still working on Shroud, mostly as a hobby.) Wallace started up a gaming group for fellow faculty members who really felt the need to beat up imaginary things with imaginary weapons. And Wallace, always a world-builder at heart, kept playing with our old maps and world designs for a realm he took to calling the Vault.
When 5th edition was announced, we all started talking again.
Initially, all of the conversations were casual and one-on-one.
- Andy talked to Graham and they mused about whether it would be easier these days to build an audience and a product now that games could be published in PDF or to Web sites. (Answer: Not necessarily.)
- Graham talked to Wallace and they mused about how so many of the settings, characters, ideas, and flavor from our earlier era still seemed worth pursuing. Also, the two developers had spent a lot of the nineties talking game-design philosophy and gaming principles. We thought those ideas could inform the generation of new content that would be pretty compelling.
- Andy talked to Wallace, and they found themselves having similar conversations.
- All three thought there was potential in the campaign setting of the Vault–the world Wallace had adapted from our old Crossroads days.
Eventually, Andy called up the other two and said, “Okay, let’s just freaking do this.” Well, he doesn’t really say freaking. But you get the idea.
So we did.
What does Ludus Ludorum mean?
It’s a Latin phrase. Its simplest translation that’s relevant to our activities on this Web site is School of Games.
Still, the term has more nuance than that simple translation can capture, and those subtleties are relevant to our project, too.
Ludus is a particularly interesting Latin term that can mean
The educational reference could likewise also have multiple valences. It could refer to the basic grammar school that children attended up to about age 11, for instance. A better-known meaning describes a school where gladiators trained for combat. (Viewers of Starz’s series Spartacus may recall the term being used frequently. The House of Batiatus is a ludus.)
At Ludus Ludorum we embrace all of these connotations, for our virtual “school” of gaming is designed both to provide some helpful content for burgeoning Dungeon Masters and flourishing players, and to engage in thought provoking discussions on the essence of role playing games for those who have spent decades fighting the good fight both behind and before the screen.
Ludorum is the plural genitive form of the nominative singular ludus and can thus most easily be translated as of games–or of schools if you prefer. (Yes, clever reader: You could just as easily call us game of schools, but that doesn’t sound as cool and it problematically evokes a certain favorite fantasy series. We would love to have a podium made of swords, though.)
The two terms, ludus and ludorum, have been used together in literature upon occasion, generally translated as game of games to indicate a particularly significant sporting event or a game with huge stakes. Those ambiguities and multiple connotations we also embrace as we believe that role playing games can be effective educational vehicles and are also the pinnacle of creative play. ♜