Early Inspiration: Sleeping Dragon by Joel Rosenberg

This post is the first in my Early Inspirational Reading series. I’ll be rereading and discussing some older fantasy novels and discussing how they inspired me in my adventure design and role-playing.

The Sleeping Dragon Cover

The Sleeping Dragon (Guardians of the Flame) by Joel Rosenberg

By the time I read Joel Rosenberg’s The Sleeping Dragon, and the rest of his Guardians of the Flame series, I’d already been playing Dungeons and Dragons for several years.  Though many stories before, and since used the premise, this book is the first I recall reading that dealt with people shifting from the real world into a fantasy setting. In this case, it was even more interesting because the characters were actually gamers transported into the world they believed to be a fictional place created for them by their game master.

Upon arriving in the game world, the players quickly realize they have the bodies, and physical attributes of their characters. Moving quietly comes naturally to their rogue. Their fighter is now taller, broader, and stronger.  One player whose real world body is confined to a wheelchair finds himself in the strong healthy body of a dwarven warrior.  They wield their weapons and casting their spells as though they’d always done it.

While these things come easily, their knowledge of this new world seems to be more limited. For reasons unknown they have been deposited in a region that their characters had not explored in their gaming sessions. As they learn a bit more about the region, one of them shares a vague memory about the area based on a different character. Though they eventually manage to bring the memory forward and share his knowledge of the area with the rest of the group.

Though the few mentions of rules make it obvious they aren’t playing by any version of the Dungeons and Dragons rules, players of any game can experience the problem of character knowledge versus player knowledge. Unlike in this setting where the knowledge is needed, and important to help the group move forward in their quest, frequently in a game player knowledge of a non-player character, or a location, or especially a monster can get them through an encounter with far less effort than the game master intended.

It is nearly impossible to keep players from reading and learning from gaming products, forums, or just conversations with other gamers. Some of them certainly will recall some fact at an inopportune moment. As a dungeon master, I learned it was better not to simply say “No” to the players, so instead I would allow a dice roll to decide whether the character actually shared the knowledge the player possessed. I felt it represented the chance that the character might have picked up the knowledge somehow. In reality, all of us pick up a lot of miscellaneous bits of information through experience, reading, conversations with friends, and other source, so it seemed appropriate to allow players a chance to have learned some things not directly related to any class, skill or profession their character might have.

While I never made any sort of hard fast rules about how difficult the rolls would be, I did try to gauge how common the knowledge might be. For example, knowing a weakness of a rare creature would be fairly difficult roll, probably with no more than a 15% chance of success, while recognizing a mid-level dignitary from a nearby town might have a 40-60% chance of succeeding.

As the series went on there didn’t seem to be as much focus on the issue of what things they knew or remembered. Their time spent in the game world led them to know it quite well, while they apparently adapted to accessing the game knowledge learned before moving to the game world, or perhaps simply knew enough about the world that they didn’t need the old knowledge any longer. In your home campaign this can happen over time with knowledge about local knowledge and traditions, making more of it available without even making a roll.

If you’re looking for a read, this is one I would definitely recommend. Though I must warn you that there are scenes of rape in the novels, and I recognize that it is problematic for many, and something I had managed to forget in the years since my original reading of the book. In addition to exploring a bit of player versus character knowledge, the books set out an interesting setting, and shows how some people with modern knowledge try to use that in a setting that has not enjoyed the benefits of modern technology.

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