four Fire Balls (Jim!)

January 30th, 2013 by paul
This entry is part 12 of 18 in the series New Schooler Reads OD&D

There's a startling passage in the Greyhawk supplement, under Meteor Swarm:

Meteor Swarm: A blast of four Fire Balls (Jim!). thrown in whatever pattern the caster desires, each of 10-60 points of damage--or eight Fire Balls (Jim!) of one-half normal diameter and 5-30 points damage may likewise be thrown. Range: 24" .

When I first read this, I found this mystifying. It's clearly an inside joke: I speculated that it might somehow be a Star Trek reference? When I googled it, I found this post on dragonsfoot by Jim Ward:

There is kind of an amusing story behind that. Yes it does refer to me. Back in the good old days when the AD&D game was being playtested I wasn't high enough level to actually have a Meteor Swarm but I could get them on scrolls. At the time I needed something more substantial than fire to do the job against my enemy. It wasn't clear what the spell did and I maintained (as long as it wasn't written down any where) that the spell generated a huge mass of flying rocks. Rob Kuntz as the referee disagreed with me, but had to give me my due because it wasn't written down yet. When those rules came out, suddenly my interpertation was 'legally' wrong, sigh and the once useful Meteor Swarm became less usefull. That's life in the rough and tumble world of AD&D and D&D. ;)

Jim Ward

That shows you what a mom'n'pop organization D&D was then. The TSR of five years later - or most OSR publishers today - wouldn't put in such an obviously exclusive in-joke into one of their books. It really does feel like, even by the time of the second D&D supplement, these guys were still making rulebooks for their own little gaming club. As someone who started D&D during the era of more impersonal rulebooks, details like this are both alienating and charming.

It must have been the same for lots of readers in 1976. When the Greyhawk supplement was published, this "Jim" line must have mystified lots of fans.

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2 Responses to “four Fire Balls (Jim!)”

  1. LS says:

    That’s gods-damned hilarious.

    Even as an armature I wouldn’t want to publish an inside joke like that, unless it was an inside joke I shared with my readership I suppose. But reading it here, I find it a little more charming than I do annoying.

    Still wouldn’t do it myself.

  2. Michael "Gronan" Mornard says:

    I remember that, and thought it was hilarious.

    I miss when gaming was a small world and games were created by “gamers who had a cool idea” not “professional game designers” whatever the hell THAT means.

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