dungeons and dowels

This entry is part 1 of 18 in the series New Schooler Reads OD&D

I guess Gary Gygax must have had a bunch of spare dowels in his house, because there are some great dowel-based rules in the Chainmail booklet.

The first rule is for determining the efficacy of cannon fire.

The length of a firing dowel will correspond to the maximum range of the cannon which it represents. Each is colored alternately white and black to represent the flight and bounces of a cannon ball. BEFORE PLACING THE DOWEL THE PLAYER FIRING MUST STATE WHETHER HE IS FIRING SHORT (white) OR LONG (black) AT THE TARGET. All figures that are touched by the named color on the dowell are eliminated.

This is a beautiful, elegant rule. I love the way it simulates the random bouncing of high- and low-ranged cannonballs, both on the same dowel, each using the other’s negative space. It’s like the yin and yang of shooting pretend people.

I Photoshopped this dowel image based on the measurements in the book for a cannon with a range of 36″.

Dowel Rule 2 is in the Fantasy Supplement:

If any number of figures are airborne at one time, it becomes difficult to maintain a side record of their height and course. It is recommended that a number of 36″ dowels be set firmly into 2″ x 4″ bases, and flying figures be secured at the proper height in the dowel by use of a rubber band.

Recording flying creatures’ positions is a bit of a problem in D&D. We’ve used stacks of dice, notes on scraps of paper, and, most frequently, ignoring positioning altogether. I’m not going to rush out and buy dowels, but I recognize that perhaps I SHOULD.

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4 Responses to “dungeons and dowels”

  1. Mike Monaco says:

    Dowels have long been part of the wargamer’s tool-chest, as measuring sticks. I have often wondered if they took the idea from those painted dowels you see in photos of artifacts dug up by archaeologists.

    Not sure I’d want to rubber band a dragon or demon figure mini to a 3′ dowel though!

    Then again he was mostly using plastic dinosaurs and whatnot for monsters back then!

  2. Mike Monaco says:

    I think I first found about them when I got into the wargame DBA


    I’ve also seen commercial produced sticks made of metal, etc.

    I think a cool flyer base would be a small radio antenna with a base secured to the top… I will need to check out some yard sales or thrift shops this summer.

  3. Michael (Gronan) Mornard says:

    Ah, yes, the cannon dowels. And don’t forget the “deviation dowel,” reflecting that your shot can wander left or right.

    As for the flying dowel — representing flying units has been a plague on wargaming since the early days. Many games simply use a written record (like Fight in the Skies). I’ve seen space games with spaceships mounted on 3-axis gimbals on clothespins sliding up and down a dowel. I’ve seen a WW2 aircraft game where the dowel was mounted to a triangular base with a steerable wheel and a tiller, and you had to navigate the damn base around.

    In over 40 years of wargaming, I have yet to encounter any sort of really good way of depicting aerial positioning.

  4. Hi,

    Apologies for the off-topic comment, but I couldn’t find a contact email for you.

    A while ago I put out an ebook of my writing, called ‘The New Death and others’. It’s mostly short stories, with some obvious gamer-interest material. For example I have a story inspired by OD&D elves, as well as poems which retell Robert E Howard’s King Kull story ‘The Mirrors of Tuzun Thune’ and HP Lovecraft’s ‘Under the Pyramids’.

    I was wondering if you’d be interested in doing a review on your blog (either a normal book review, or a review of its suitability as gaming inspiration).

    If so, please let me know your email, and what file format is easiest for you, and I’ll send you a free copy. You can email me (news@apolitical.info) or reply to this thread.

    You can download a sample from Smashwords:


    I’ll also link to your review from my blog.


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