never forget your roots

While walking through Comicon three or four years ago, I stopped to look at one of those booths that's filled with a hundred different T-shirts.

Somewhere among the various superhero crests and clever nerd phrases and obscure sci-fi homages, I saw a fairly simple design: an Atari joystick, sitting atop the word ROOTS. I grinned and reached for it, and noticed that it was folded next to a similar design that replaced the Atari joystick with a classic NES controller.

"Of course," I thought to myself, as I felt like Old Man Wheaton, "for a lot of the damn kids today, the Atari 2600 is as relevant as black and white television or a transistor radio."

This thought triggered a trip in my mental Tardis to long afternoons spent playing Yar's Revenge and Megamania, and I ended up wandering away in a fog of nostalgia, forgetting to buy either of them.

A few months ago, I was preparing my dungeon delve for the Emerald City Comicon. Rather than pull something pre-made out of the Dungeon Delve book, I created something entirely new. Though I would eventually do the final revisions with Dungeon Tiles, It was the first time I'd designed and built an adventure since I was a teenager, so I started the way we did in the old days: I sat on the floor with some books, some dice (even though I didn't really need them), and used a pencil to build my dungeon on graph paper. 

While I sketched out the first few corridors, counting squares and carefully making my lines as straight as I could, my brain slipped into a stream of wibbly wobbly, timey wimey … stuff … and it used that memory from Comicon as a lens to look back through years and years of afternoons spent alone in the sanctuary of my bedroom, building and refining hundreds of dungeons with nothing more than some analog tools and my imagination. 

Earlier today, my friend Scott Twittered:

Nobody has created an online toolkit for drawing D&D maps? This is ridiculous. I'm using graph paper and pencils like a monk from the 1800s.


@pvponline Using graph paper and pencils to design dungeons isn't a bug, it's a feature.

I couldn't help smile to myself when I saw Scott's Twitter, because I knew that later today … well, in this case, a picture is worth 1000 words. Here's the idea I had so many months ago, turned into a T-shirt:


As I said I Twitter this morning, I'm especially proud of this one because it's relevant to my interests. If you like it as much as I do, you can get your own in basic, premium (which is a softer fabric, and a slimmer cut), and women's from Jinx.

91 thoughts on “never forget your roots”

  1. I think you just screamed past Frakes in the cool department. No disrespect to the Bearded one intended.
    I too spent long hours in summer Seclusion. I didn’t draw maps for D&D. In the spirit of Tolkien, I drew for the worlds I built in my head so that I could travel with pen and paper and record the adventures within the Realms. Somehow it seemed less hazzardous to be a bard than a theif, rogue or warrior but just as scary when orcs are near.

  2. Dude, no need to that. If you have the HHGTTG disks, look for a file on them that ends with a .z5 or .dat extention. You can then use Windows Frotz (for Windows), Zoom (for Mac) or Gargoyle (for Linux) to run the file. There are other interpreters available, but those are probably the most popular and full-featured.
    Infocom were really way ahead of their time. Instead of writing code for each microprocessor variant out there, they came up with the idea of using a virtual machine. All they had to do was create a VM runtime for each system, which could then interpret the same .z* file. No recoding/recompiling for every system, just like Java would do years later. The awesome upshot to this is that people can also write new interpreters for the z-code format for modern OSes–and other devices like smartphones!
    You can even use Inform to write your own games for the z-machine (as it’s called) or the Glulx VM, which is a newer extention. In fact, if your kid really likes the text adventure format, Inform is a great way to learn some programming concepts, and is really easy to use: Inform 7 (the newest version) uses a “natural language” syntax that’s easy and great for kids.
    If you can’t find (or read) your original disks to extract the z-code file, there are a *ahem* TORRENT of places on the internet where you can find, er, backup copies. Or, alternatively, let me know if you’re really having trouble and I can help you out. :)

  3. Hey Wil, I don’t know if this was your idea or Rojas’, but the little “2HB” on the pencil is an awesome detail. I don’t know why, exactly, but seeing that tiny graphite designation really hit me with a wave of nostalgia. I guess it really is the little things that matter.
    Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go find some graph paper.

  4. That is awesome. Though, when I first started playing, I didn’t have the luxury of graph paper. We used wide ruled loose leaf and we were grateful for it. /yorkshireman
    You can tell Mr. Kurtz, though, that there are, indeed software tools for drawing D&D maps. I use Campaign Cartographer these days. It’s an investment, and a bit clunky, but it gets the job done and with a little effort you can make some really beautiful maps.

  5. Wil, that is very awesome. After reading this, however, I was wondered if you have heard of this nifty game here:
    It is called “How to Host a Dungeon” and in it you grow a dungeon across ages of history, see it change and grow and populate it with monsters etc. until it reaches a ripe enough age to sick on adventuring parties. Anyway, that’s what your post reminded me of.

  6. It's been pointed out to me that the classic d4 had the numbers on the bottom, while this d4 has them on the top. I could make a convincing case that it was intentional, to tie the current way we play into our, uh, roots … but the truth is, I just missed it when we were developing the artwork.

  7. Oh, this just came from a friend of mine, via e-mail: "d4โ€™s have always come in both varieties. I have had both types since 1979. Now, with that said, Iโ€™m not sure if the Red Box d4 had it the other way, but the mumblings about that d4 being wrong is hooey IMO."
    So it looks like I *didn't* mess up, after all. Yay!

  8. I’ve been using both types. The “official” dice TSR sold had the numbers on the bottom (And even told you to read around the base for what you rolled) but Chessex printed them with the numbers on the points. So I guess it really doesn’t matter.

  9. I STILL hand-draw maps. Not a big fan of the Dungeon Tiles (Though I do use them from time to time) and I have a nice battlemat and fast drawing skills from spending years as a draftsman.
    Now, if you run for Paizo, you can get the flip mats and the mini-map cards, and you’ll be set for ~90% of the Pathfinder maps. And Staples draws 1″ square graph pads for around $20, so you can draw maps to your heart’s content.

  10. sweet!! “to tie the current way we play into our, uh, roots…” in my mind translates to sexuality in terms of what happened to us as children forming our roots, then creates the way we “play” as adults, and since sexuality is the main thing that controls our social identity…children are fU#k’d and will forever repeat the patterns of abuse unto themselves. “I just missed it when we were developing the Artwork” -true true this is the key, the only key to release people…is to put their pain into creating beautiful art! I work with inner city youth doing community drama and arts. Through creatng we spit it out of ourselves turn it into something good in the outside world, then we receive the love and appreciation we need from that art, and all is good as we learn to love ourselves again, in order to create the best life possible!
    See I don’t have a clue what your talking about when it comes to D 7D and such as, since interacting with people is more important than playing video games to me, so I can only interpret what you say in my focused language of Behaviour Psychology and adult sexual functioning regarding early childhood experiences.
    In your case Wil, You didn’t get enough love and attention as a child, so you were stuck in front of the video games most of the time. Being a star you were isolated from your peer groups as well. Luckily you had tons of annonamous love sent to you by your friends and fans, for you your artwork during that time!
    NOw you find yourself sitting in the house and playing video games while your wife goes to bed alone. You are living the same life that you did as a child and you are feeling old because of it. You are creating these art t shirts as a way of expressing the saddness of the past(disguised as nostalgia for the thing that kept you busy and gave you some sense of joy and accomplishment as a child.) You write books about yourself in the past because you are living in the past still, and you need recognition and closure, and you are still calling for a better life, which is in itself a great teaching example to others. Create a new life for yourself! I know if I was your wife, instead of going to bed and leaving you to play video games at night, I’d be taking you out to have some fun in a tent in the backyard, talk about real life universal potentiality for hours while laying on the ground looking up at the stars, maybe play a board or card game or two while havin an import beer. Then curl into bed after we watch the sunrise together and laugh about things that happened in our previous day. Don’t settle for anything but the best Wil! In all areas of your life!
    And dude! Like why are you not creating the software to create D&D maps with some tech buddies of yours? Is there not more money potential in that, is it not needed, come on, advance technology for your game! you can still draw your own, you are just gonna miss out on profiting from other people’s time/effort concerns while you give away the idea for someone else to profit. I think it Is time to put your numbers on the top instead of being bottomed out, for sure!
    Oh, and where is our radio free burrito?? It’s totally ok, if you tell us that you will make it whenever you feel like, so keep checking back. It’s not cool to announce that you will do something than not do it repeatedly. It makes your fans feel alienated, lied to, and bored so they stop caring. lol believe me, I am guilty of all that too. In telling you, I can see my own flaws, so you are not alone in your weaknesses. I am gonna try and do all the things I say, or not say anything at all :)
    Thanks for being Awesome Wil! Our examples can be great teachers to the world!

  11. I’m not sure if the crossover would have been too jarring, but it would have been REALLY funny to have had a caricature of LeVar Burton exploring the ROOTS tunnels.
    Ah yes, Megamania. Back in the 80s I often played that in the office after we had put the magazine to bed (I used to work on the UK edition of Electronics Today International). One day I got in the zone, and clocked the score up to 999,999, the point at which the game locked up due to a programming bug. Just to prove it wasn’t a fluke, I did it again a couple of weeks later, this time with a camera handy. Took a screen-shot, sent it off (and published it in ETI), received my “I’m a MegaManiac” sew-on emblem. Happy days.

  12. I’m sorry but it had to be done… I pity my players when I drop them in… especially as one of them reads your blog, I’m going to keep this cropped with fog of war until their done with it… (done with Masterplan and yes i own the tiles)

  13. There is no “2HB”, though. “HB” is the medium grading and something can’t be more medium than medium. There’s only H, 2H… and B, 2B and so forth.

  14. Yes, I have Zoom installed. Problem was that my HHGTTG disks were 5.25s, and that would be the one piece of retro equipment I don’t have for my big Mac. So, I’ve been *ahem* casting about for the back up copy. ๐Ÿ˜Ž
    Turns out that BBC4 has HHGTTG up and running from the 20th anniversary, with saving disabled apparently though.
    Flipping through these disks, I found a few other gems. I’m not sure I ever finished Witness. And Reflex deserved better than to be abandonware. I really have Parallels and various entirely legit copies of OS’s hanging around, so it may be entertaining to get these up and running again. But then I thought building a Hackintosh was entertaining, so I’m amused by this sort of thing.
    Am I remembering correctly that z-machine was alot like LISP? Now there’s a language I haven’t used in 20 years. That also might be fun to revisit. ๐Ÿ˜Ž

  15. It’s interesting you would say this is so old school to do because my brother, who has probably been playing D&D as long as you have, taught me to make maps that very same way. I have a stash of graph paper in my bookcase like you wouldn’t believe and to this day I still draw out my maps on them. Granted, I have upgraded to using a dry erase play board so I can actually represent that map. I will be buying this shirt for sure. Keep up the great, solid gold geek shirts sir!
    P.S. I have since removed all Acid Pit Traps from my maps in honor of “Al”.

  16. Awesome T-shirt design! There is no school like old school! And as for online old-school dungeon design? Check out these links:
    This one is in progress of being designed, and looks pretty sweet:
    Risus Monkey Random Dungeon Map Generator:
    Dyson’s Random Morph Map:
    donjon’s Random Dungeon Generator:
    Random Inn Generator:
    Wilderness Hexmap Generators:
    Happy gaming!

  17. I’m beginning to think that there is nothing that can’t be made better by a reference to Blink. Thank you.

  18. You know that bleary eyed old codger who sits in his chair, staring out into space, and then suddenly comes out with a bizarre non sequitur that doesn’t make any sense at all until you realize that he’s just replied to something you said six months ago? That would be me.
    My new old school:
    Thrilling Tales of the Downright Unusual
    My second non sequitur: I actually drew the maps for the first D&D module of all time. How weird is that?

  19. I’m no expert, but I think the z-machine uses an opcode-based assembly language inside the VM. I believe you may be thinking of Lists and Lists by Andrew Plotkin (who is awesome), a simplified LISP implementation written to run inside the z-machine. It’s a pretty nifty little trick. :)

  20. That’s disgustingly awesome ๐Ÿ˜€ I play D&D with my husband and several friends and we use all mapping forms, including good old fashioned pencil and graph paper. This design just appeals to the part of me that still loves real books, no matter how cool my Nook is…

  21. My husband owns that Roots t-shirt with the Atari controller, and got it from (aka Penny Arcade). It is tawesome.

  22. Didn’t TSR release a map making program in their CD-Rom release of the core rules?
    The problem with computer drawn maps (using Visio or Visio-like programs) is the inability to produce a maze of twisty passages, all alike. Computer applications just don’t do “twisty” very well.
    I’ve used Visio to create building maps for Call of Cthulhu, but for any dungeon or cave-like settings, nothing beats a hand drawn map.

  23. Just confirmed, in the Ad&D Core Rules 2.0 CD-ROM set (TSR, 1998), there is a map maker program.
    And it appears to have some intersting tools. Especially for a program that old.

Comments are closed.