Tuesday, August 30, 2011

I Hit It With My Axe - Part IV - "Can I Hit It With This HAMMER Instead?"

All Hail, Hardy Adventurers!

To aid you in your quest, the previous entries in this series can be found right here:

Part I               Part II                Part III

Well, after my buddy Glen was introduced to the intense and danger-fraught world of Dungeons & Dragons (subsequently achieving a certain modicum of in-game success) he told me about another dude who wanted to get in on all the dice rolling, loot-plundering, troll-slaying action.  I already knew this guy to recognize him but I hadn't talked to him very much, but my reasoning was that any friend of Glen's was a potential friend of mine.

And so I was introduced to my buddy Greg, kicking off a friendship that's been sustained for almost thirty years.  It's yet another incredible blessing afforded to me by this supposedly antisocial and "weird" game.

I was going to say that Greg came from a religious background but it could be argued that every kid growing up in rural Newfoundland in the 80's came from a religious background.  After all, we'd all attended Catholic school, but to Greg, it was pretty important at the time.  As such, the character class of cleric, or holy man, really appealed to him.  This choice also dove-tailed nicely with Glen's existing adventuring party since they hadn't added a cleric to the ranks yet.

Clerics typically have their divine spells granted by some higher power.  Unlike the destructive capabilities of wizard's arcane abilities, cleric spells are typically what World of Warcraft has since regrettably labeled "buffs": I.E. they provide healing, protection and attack bonuses.

Back in the heady days of D&D's first edition, the game designers didn't bother to provide their own original deities in the core rules.  Instead, as the all-powerful Dungeon Master, you were either expected to create your own gods from scratch or just link your cleric to some pre-existing mythological pantheon.  Being a lazy and shiftless bastard, I opted for the latter, using this classic tome as a guide:

As Greg thumbed though the Legends & Lore manual, the historic mythology that seemed to appeal to him the most was the Greek pantheon, with Zeus being a notable standout.  He created a character with the appropriately classic handle of Amon and then equipped the poor, squishy bastard to the best of his limited fundage.

Whereas magic-users are forced to wear little or no armor to counter-balance the raw damage and destruction of their arcane spells, clerical magics aren't nearly as powerful.  As such, clerics are allowed to wear any kind of armor.  Also, back then, clerics were further balanced by their weapon limitations.  Since they theoretically abhorred excessive bloodletting, priests couldn't use slashing weapons like swords or piercing weapons like arrows.

So Greg got his poor, frail, scared little avatar all decked out in chainmail, holy symbols, hammers, slings...the whole works.  And let me tell ya, folks, Greg's introduction to the game certainly wasn't slow pitch.  In fact, his first outing ended up being the most challenging adventure I'd tabled thus far.  It involved the re-appearace of a legendary creature called the Tarrasque, pictured here: (with people standing around shitting blood for scale)

So basically, the last time this Gojira-like beastie appeared in my campaign world, he'd trampled Osaka...er, the village of Nesselheim into matchsticks and then fought the Duke's armies to a standstill.  I then circulated a rumor that a gnomish illusionist/wizard named Celator had devised some sort of control rod that repelled the creature and sent it back into hibernation.  Because the artifact was presumably too big to just stick in someone's kitchen drawer, it ended up in the equivalent of a bank vault.  A bank vault rife with deadly traps, loathsome monsters and the constant threat of certain doom, of course. 

In order to retrieve the wand, the group had to venture into an incredibly hazardous dungeon and brave terrible dangers.  The great thing about D&D is that a noob's genuine ignorance of the game's mechanics translates nicely to their character.  Since Greg went into this greener than Kermit the Frog's taint, he usually fell back on following orders from Glen.

Despite the palpable inner-party friction already building, the group managed to find the all-important control wand...with a twist.  Its power had waned considerably in the intervening years and one of the unlucky adventurers had to hit the Tarrasque with it three times before it had the desired effect.

In a completely unrelated piece of trivia, Greg's character got his arm bitten off during the resulting fight.  

Nevertheless, the group prevailed and Amon had his arm regenerated by the senior priests as a reward.  Now consisting of Glen's fighter Valain, Greg's cleric Amon and a small stable of supporting players to fill out the roster (including wizard Aleara, cut-purse Demetrius and professional scrapper Gailen), this ersatz  fellowship went on to achieve tremendous sucess.

Next up, the group began to hear whispers that the evil Baron "Black Eagle" Von Hendricks was searching frantically for the Talisman, an all-powerful sentient statuette once worshiped as a god.  With legend promising that "an army in possession of the Talisman will never see defeat", the team sought to secure this apocalyptic artifact in order to keep it out of the Baron's power-hungry mitts.

After doing some detective work, the group discovered several possible hiding places for the Talisman:
  • In the dungeons below the Keep of Galatine, who was once the head priest of the Talisman-worshiping cult.  After Galatine met a mysteriously violent end, the Talisman vanished, and the castle fell to ruins.  It then became overrun with vile monsters 
  • In a clearing in Darkwood Forest.  
  • In the lair of the stone giant Konom.
  • At the summit of the once-lavalicious mountain Volcan Peak.
The group instantly struck off the third avenue since they'd already befriended Konom and were convinced that he didn't have it.  They also took a quick dart out to Darkwood Forest but found nothing there but a pack of slavering werewolves.  So, it was decided to explore the crypts below Castle Galatine.
This underground maze proved to be the deadliest thing they'd encountered thus far.  It also inadvertently resulted in a situation that still dredges up bitterness to this day.  Glen was still bossing Greg around like Jennifer Lopez and at one point he volun-told the neophyte cleric to investigate the following room alone:

"The floor of this chamber is covered with what looks like mucous and multicolored molds.  There are pieces of half-dissolved leather, cloth and metal scattered about and a corroded sword lies twisted in the upper left corner of the room.  There is a stale, wet smell in the air.  Blobs of a thick, viscous green goo drips from the ceiling."

Now, I ask you, Kind Reader...does that sound inviting to you? 

Indeed, the ceiling was completely labored with a nasty, corrosive gelatin blob of green snot called, appropriately enough, a Green Slime.  Here's a mug shot for this charming little feller:

So, naturally, just as soon as Greg's character ventured across the threshold he instantly looked like Katy Perry at the Kids Choice Awards.  And the real bitch of it: fire is pretty much the only way you can kill a green slime.  Soooo, being totally bereft of torches at the time (the group had been relying on magical light sources), Glen pondered his options for about two milliseconds and then ordered Aleara, the group's resident spell-slinger, to blast Amon square in the mush with a full-bore fireball.

Yes, it killed the slime but it also left our intrepid cleric bereft of eyebrows.           

Yeah, Greg didn't forget that little encounter anytime soon.  On the up side, Aleara did become more attracted to Amon after this.  I guess smoking someone in the lips with a close-range fireball is kinda like the medieval fantasy equivalent of thinking that the cute red-haired girl in your Grade Three homeroom class likes you because she stuck gum in your hair.

As if all the inner-party drama wasn't tense enough, they found what appeared to be the Talisman in the maze but then realized that it was just a decoy.  In the off-chance that it might prove useful somehow, they lugged it along as they hauled ass to the only other place it could be by process of elimination.  Unfortunately a veritable army of the Baron's guards were there to greet them at Volcan Peak.  They fought their way through the gauntlet and finally located the Talisman.  Unfortunately, it was being presided over by a team of the Baron's senior wizards and toughest fighters.

After the group witnessed the Talisman brutally murder one of the Baron's men who'd dared to lay hands on it, a wild scrum broke out in which our heroes proved triumphant.  Finally they were able to gaze upon the true face of their reward: a four foot high, gold shimmering statuette with the unique appearance of whomever was gazing upon it!

Just before they could snatch it, the Talisman came to life again.  It began glowing and then blasted through the floor below with a potent gout of fire-lightning.  Before disappearing into its newly created tunnel the Talisman spoke to the adventures in a powerful psychic message:

"You May Yet Prove Worthy".

Unwilling to let their quarry escape, our intrepid heroes plunged three-hundred feet down into the bowels of the earth, ending up in a hellish environment filled with fire, brimstone and broiling heat.  At the bottom of the freshly-made chasm the Talisman had left a clue as to the group's next test:


The group slogged through endless challenges: swinging blades, flame hydras, crushing blocks of hardened lava rock, siren-like flame maidens, hell hounds and nefarious riddles.  Eventually they located Surtis, the Keeper of the Flame, a massive Fire Giant who eventually divulged the location of the Thermistone.  Turns out it was in the possession of an evil tribe of humanoid Flame Salamanders:  

Seems that they'd pilfered the stone from the peaceful Azer, a race of flame-fetish dwarf-like creatures:

The party managed to liberate the stone and return it to it's rightful owners and the Talisman appeared once again to congratulate our valiant heroes.  But not two seconds later, the fickle deity vanished again after inviting the fellowship to follow it south on one last quest to prove their "worthiness".  The group had little time to react since the Talisman had abandoned them in the collapsing lava chamber, a fix they only barely managed to escape from.

Spurned on by the promise of a god's good favor (and outing themselves as suckers for punishment), the group ventured south, finding tell-tale signs of the Talisman's path.  Amidst a group of slaughtered gnolls, they found a lock box containing a map of the south seas.  Later the group discovered that an island marked as "Malistan" on the recovered map was listed as "Wakanda" on every other chart.  Hmmmmmm....      

At a skeezy bar the adventurers hired a tramp ship (ironically called the Paragon) captained by an upstanding gent named Slayde.  Next morning, just paces away from the boat, they group is spotted and then  pursued by an entire platoon of the evil Baron's troops.  The heroes barely managed to get onboard and cut the mooring lines, all the while withstanding a withering hail of enemy crossbow fire.

During the voyage the crew was forced to contend with several threats including a nasty gale, a sea hydra and a spectral ghost ship.  Just as they neared the mysterious island, two of the Baron's war galleys appeared from out of nowhere.  The Paragon was boarded and it was revealed that Slayde had been working for Von Hendricks all along.

However, when the deal began to sour for the pirate, Slayde pulled a "Lando", freed the captured adventurers and smuggled them back on-board the Paragon.  The battered vessel was no match for the Baron's warships, however, and soon it was reduced to a flaming derelict listing dead in the water.  The adventurers stole away in a life boat during the confusion as the pirate ship slipped below the waves.

Finally on the island the adventurers were forced to deal with an endless parade of exotic threats: giant crabs, ant swarms, carnivorous apes, and this little menace...the axe beak:

Other prehistoric adversaries also presented themselves, such as the nasty ceratosaurus:

 And the terrifying T-Rex:

When the local natives witnessed the bravery of the adventurers in battle against this last threat, they rushed in to help.  When the threat was finally overcome, the locals lead our heroes to their village which seem cloaked in an aura of trepidation and fear.  The reason for this soon became apparent as the Talisman suddenly materialized and killed the village elder as he tried to tell the group to flee.

"He was not amongst the worthy," the all-powerful artifact explained to the adventurers.  "Unlike you, my champions, he did not believe and he did not obey.  You have defeated my tests and proved yourselves worthy to be counted amongst the numbers in my new world.  This untouched paradise is not yet perfect: it lacks life, life worthy enough to warrant my company.  You, your elite predecessors and those still to follow will populate and perfect this new world.  With worthy life will come my sustenance."  

Well, before Glen and Greg could insist on a mandatory Q&A, the Baron's men stormed in.  The Talisman, confident that the "Black Eagle's" forces might have the right stuff after all, proposed a contest of champions between the forces of good and evil.  Our heroes triumphed and were promptly horrified when the Talisman dispatched their wounded rivals with abject cruelty.

It's then that the adventures realize, all too late, that the Talisman may be possessed of god-like powers, but it's also as crazy as a shit-house rat.  Its plan to abduct the group from their world only to transplant them into a new realm to act as devoted, obedient worshipers, is revealed.  Clearly "worthy" is a matter of perspective.

Needless to say, this proposal resulted in a bit of kickback and by kickback, I mean combat.  During the battle, the Talisman fought halfheartedly, obviously confused by the group's less-then-ecstatic reaction.  In the resulting dust up, the "decoy" Talisman was produced and the all-powerful entity suddenly showed fear for the very first time!

Turns out the other gods conspired to create this statuette as a weapon against their batshit insane rival.  When the decoy came in contact with the real Talisman, its surface shattered in a blast of radiant light and the group was nearly killed in the corona of explosive energy that followed.  After digging themselves out of the debris, the group was exhilarated by their narrow victory.  Needless to say, our intrepid champions stuck around the island to rest, recover and soak up as much adoration from the native population as they possibly could.              

Many more adventures would follow.  The party would tangle with such diverse foes as Valain's asshole dad Daltallen, the suave, aristocratic (and blood-sustained) Baron Latos, their old buddy Saren and the necromantic sorcerer Noctornis (Ten points to anyone out there who recognizes that name).

The fellowship also traveled to increasingly dangerous and exotic places.  They ventured into the swampy expanse of the Deadlands on a quest to recover "The Treasure of Darmin" and in "Draconia!" they sailed to Latismere Island to liberate the local population enslaved by the fierce Draconians and their dragon-goddess Tiamat.

And then, just as things seemed to be clicking along perfectly, Glen dropped a bombshell: his family was leaving Stephenville and moving away to St. John's.  Twelve f#@$%^& hours away.  I was crushed. 

But there was nothing we could do about it.  We did one final adventure which saw Valain leave the group on a solo odyssey to find and confront his nogoodnik father and transition command of the group to Amon.

Admittedly Greg's character had grown and matured in the time since he'd started playing but could he rise to the unique challenges that leadership would demand?

Indeed he would.  Unbeknownst to me, Greg had been carrying on his very own clandestine and torrid D&D love affair on the side.  In fact, he'd already started to Dungeon Master his own campaign for a circle of friends I barely knew.

In time Amon would lead his fellow adventures into brave new worlds and deal with horrors unlike anything that had come before.

But that is a tale for another time...               

EPIC PHOTO  Portrait of the Dungeon Master as a Young Man.  Here I am, hard at work, perhaps on this very same adventure.  Check out the state-of-the-art Commodore 64 computer and bass-ass Ozzy poster in the background...

EPIC SESSION Your reaction to the following vid (whether it be giddy thrills or total boredom) is like a litmus test of cool to me...    

FAIL  I swear parents wouldn't be so quick to do this if they knew what kind of psychological impact it has on their kids:




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