Sunday, October 22, 2006

Jeff salutes: Paul Montgomery Crabaugh

You may not have heard the name Paul Montgomery Crabaugh before. As far as I know he was never credited as author or designer for any books. Instead, he was the author of several excellent articles that appeared in 80's era gaming magazines, particularly Dragon and Different Worlds. My first encounter with his work was the little gem "Random Monsters", a nifty set of dice charts designed for creating new OD&D cThis pic from Paizo must be a later reprint.  My copy is $3.00 on the cover and lacks a barcode.ritters. "Random Monsters" originally appeared in Dragon #10 (same issues as Jon Pickens's fabulous article "Orgies, Inc."), but I originally read the piece in the Best of The Dragon compilation.

Incidentally, Best of The Dragon was one of the first supplements I ever owned and the free-wheeling spirit of many of those articles from the early days probably had a deep impact on my approach to the hobby. Paizo still has some copies for sale. They want 15 bucks though, so eBay might actually be cheaper.

From '84 or so to the release of 2nd edition AD&D in 1989 my original game group played a crapload of Basic/Expert D&D. One of the Dragon articles we got the most mileage out of was Crabaugh's "Customized Classes" from Dragon #109, May 1986. "Customized Classes" was the first build-your-own class system I had ever seen. Using this system we built a couple dozen classes for our local campaigns. My favorite was our version of the Barbarian, which dispensed with all the extra cruft found in the Unearthed Arcana version. Our barbarian was a souped-up fighter who rolled around in leather armor. Dave Dalley's fabulously memorable Axe Hobbit-hater was run under those rules. If I recall correctly Axe was one of the few PCs I've ever seen to survive expeditions to both the Caves of Chaos and the Isle of Dread. And he always attacked halflings on site, Grodd bless him.

This cover is gorgeous.  That spaceship is a little overt though.I didn't really recognize Crabaugh as a particular name in the hobby until I got deep into Traveller and started looking for old articles for the game. Issue 51 of Dragon featured seven articles on Traveller, four of which were written by Mr. Crabaugh. They were all short, punchy pieces that got the job done without messing around. "In Defense of Traveller Computers", for example, does a great job in just two pages. Every single one of Crabaugh's articles from that issue could still be of use to a Classic Traveller referee.

Crabaugh also did excellent work in Different Worlds #15, with his 2-page article "More Citizens: Six New Classes For Traveller". The Cavalry, Artillery, and Technician careers demonstrate clearly that Crabaugh wrote from a particular point of view. Each career fills a mechanical need that would only be clear to someone deeply emmeshed in actual Traveller play. You can dice up Cav and Art soldiers and Technicians using well-known career paths from Mercenary and Citizens of the Imperium. But it's not easy. It takes a lot of die-rolling with few useable results. As he puts it in the article "you can spend all day generating a few Mercenary characters and never see a decent artillerist".

Mr. Crabaugh also won my heart with the Civilian career. Finally, a lifepath for the average joe in the 3rd Imperium! I love playing regular guys in extraordinary circumstances, but until I got my hand on Different Worlds #15 I had to settle for the Bureaucrat and the Other career. The other two careers he presents, the Engineer and the Reporter, also have their uses.

As I look over the Crabaugh pieces in my gaming collection several commonalities come to light. All his articles are short. Two pages is about typical. You can tell in every one of them that they are written by a practical gamer for use by a practical gamer. Nothing high-falutin' or artsy-fartsy about this guy's work. This is why I like Crabaugh: he has something useful to say, he says it, and then he shuts up.

"Customized Classes" from '86 is the latest piece I have from Paul Crabaugh. After that he falls off my radar. Googling has failed to turn up any new work of his. And if he has an online presence he must operate strictly under a pseudonym. I hope he's still out there somewhere, still gaming. But wherever he might be, Paul Montgomery Crabaugh, I salute you.

Yikes!This cute little illo appeared at the end of Crabaugh's "Random Monsters". I really feel for the guy in the front of the party.


  1. Anonymous3:21 AM

    "Customized Classes" has stolen more hours of my life away than I dare ever admit. Some of them recently (not long ago, I dusted it off to toy with some custom classes for using OD&D for a Certain Fantasy World O' Mine ...)

    I'm ashamed to admit I never took any notice of the designer's name, and I'm grateful for your post on him. But I can at least pay him the sincerest gamer-compliment I have at my disposal: Buddy, I GAMED with it and then gamed with it some more, and I haven't stopped yet.

    Something I've been pondering a lot lately is a Blue Room piece on my favorite old Dragon articles, and this makes me ponder it even harder.

  2. Well, I guess I'm digging up my "Best of Dragon #1" and taking it to work, now. Monsters await!

  3. Anonymous4:59 PM

    S. John hits the nail on the head. The best gaming material makes you want to run out and game.

    As for Crabaugh's style, there's something funny about paying people per word. They tend to B-L-O-A-T their writing.

    Gimme 2 pages of useful material over 20 useful pages I have to uncover in a 128 page book any day of the week.

    - Mearls

  4. Anonymous5:55 PM

    That Best of the Dragon cover, and the image really bring me back.

    Wow, blast from the past.

    LeveL: 1
    Intelligence: Semi-intelligent
    Alignment: Chaos
    Type: Mammal
    Speed: 9
    AC: 7
    HD: 4
    Special Characteristics: Hostile to magic users, Web
    Damage Done: 1-3 (Dagger)
    Size: M

    Description: The thaumagrudge is a bizarre beast -- tripdedal, posessing of two sinewy tentacles atop its white-furred torso, its origin is unclear but most likely magical. It attacks magic-users on sight, wielding an oddly-curved dagger, seeking to kill. Upon a successful hit, the thaumagrudge may immediately wrap its tentacles around its target, which is then treated as if under the effects of a Web spell. It is theorized that thaumagrudges are decadently-mutated former magic-users themselves; this may explain their violent malice towards wizards.

  6. Awesome beastie! Perfect name.

  7. Anonymous7:31 PM

    I'm waiting for the next big gaming magazine. I'd love to see something without affiliation to any particular system or publishing house.

    Oh, and Classic Traveller rocks the llama's ass. I have books 0 - 8 in that bound volume from Far Future.

  8. Anonymous3:21 PM

    Paul passed away in August of 1985. He was one of my housemates in Santa Monica after we all graduated from UCLA in the late 70s. His writing style was breezy and easy to read, and he had a sharp wit. He had one unpublished novel, "The Autostart World", and had written a script for Battlestar Galactica (the original series) that he eagerly tried to sell.

    Paul was a good friend, and I miss him a lot. Thanks so much for remembering him!

    -- Dave Opstad

  9. Hey Opstad, if you read this drop me a line. My folks would love to hear from you.

    -Tom Crabaugh (Paul's brother)
    tcrabaug -at-

  10. I take my hat off to you Mr. Crabaugh. Add another name to the list of people who spent a lot of enjoyable hours with the custom classes article.

    I MUST find myself a copy of that issue. Thanks Jeff for answering the "but, which issue was it?!" question.