How does one recreate the look of a self-made adventure module over thirty years old?
With great difficulty, it turns out.
Over three and a half decades ago, Laura and I were just recently married and newly introduced to Dungeons & Dragons. Our enthusiasm overflowed into creativity. We wanted something more oriented toward story that were provided by the contemporary adventure modules of the time. The result were what we called ‘Nightventures’; cottage-industry adventures whose texts were typed out on my father’s borrowed IBM Selectric type writer (hand justified), laid out by hand using cut strips of text glued to page forms with Rubber Cement and artwork fitted in drawn either by my own hand or a high-school student we hired at the time. The texts were copied at a local Genealogical Center where we also had the covers printed in black ink on ‘Leatherette’ color stock. The entire stack of papers and covers were then brought back to our basement apartment, where Laura and I collated all the papers and covers by hand into individual books, hand stapled on our card table and bound by a strip of book tape down the back. The final step in the process involved taking the books to a local grocery store and having each one wrapped in plastic in, of all placed, the meat department.
There were three adventures originally planned. ‘Rahasia’ was the first, designed by the two of us and written by Laura. The second was ‘Pharaoh’. Both of these eventually were purchased by TSR, Inc. and produced as commercial adventures. I was offered a job as a game designer at TSR based largely on these original works. I began work there before the third module was completed — and the partially completed design lay dormant for another thirty years. ‘Eye of the Dragon’, in which some of the shades of ‘Dragonlance’-to-come could be seen, would remain unfinished.
Recently the opportunity presented itself to pick up that original module and finish it at last. I picked up the original materials and have been endeavoring not only to complete the adventure started so long ago … but to do so with a look and feel that is consistent with the original work.
Search for the Font of my Youth…
As I began reproducing the look of the original works for ‘Eye of the Dragon’, the simplest item suddenly became the most difficult; how to reproduce in a computer font the look of a 1970’s-era IBM Selectric Typewriter? One might think it as simple as doing a quick search on the internet for ‘Selectric font’, installing it and then just doing the layout from there. However, the IBM system utilized a changeable ‘ball’ typing head (originally from the 1960s) which allowed the user the change the type by replacing the head. Therefore, there were a number of different fonts available. My recollection is that we had two different type font balls that came with my father’s old typewriter and that we used both of them in producing the modules. So my first task was an extensive search of fonts online trying to match the look that had been so simple in 1977.
Then there were the graphic elements. Some of the ‘type’ used in the layout was provided by ‘rub on’ lettering (popular at the time). This was also used for the borders on the layout. Some of the lettering was even hand-drawn by me. The originals proved unacceptable for today’s layouts and so I have to recreate these in Adobe Illustrator using a trace over imported copies of the original modules.
Drawing on the Past
Finally, came the problem of the maps. The original maps were drawn by hand using a ‘graphic pen’ which was usually used at the time for drafting schematics. The maps were not completed before the adventure was abandoned; all that I had were the original hand drawn pencil maps on graph paper from which to work. I has originally planned to reproduce the maps using Pro Fantasy’s excellent software, which I use for my map making on all my projects today. However, I soon discovered that the maps looks TOO good; they simply didn’t have the ‘drafting’ feel of the originals. I discovered after a day of experimentation that I could reproduce the original map feel using Adobe Illustrator and drafting the maps by hand in this fashion.
We are producing something of a work of retro-art here in ‘Eye of the Dragon’. We’ll keep you updated on its progress over the next few weeks.