Who Invented the Dracolich?

   This is a true story. It happened to my brother and I, back in 1986. For almost twenty years, though, I thought nobody else had experienced that thing besides us. It seems pretty obvious now: I was dead wrong. It happened to LOTS of people.

   It was the middle of the winter and I returned home from the gaming store with the brand new Warhammer Fantasy Role-Play core book. I was fifteen, and my brother was eleven – but I already ran home games of AD&D for him whenever I wasn’t at one of my friends’ for some bigger game. Thus, my brother was already familiar with most of the monsters from Monster Manual and Fiend Folio. He sat down with me as I started browsing through the Warhammer book. We were both very excited with that wonderful new concept of “careers”, but after maybe 45 minutes or an hour, we skipped to the monsters section – because we loved monsters. And that is when it happened. Flipping the pages of that monsters section, we got to page 249.

   My brother’s breath caught, and he said, “THAT’S a lich in this game!!??

   I too was gobsmacked. It blew my fifteen-year-old mind. A huge undead bird-lich? Wow, man! Holy crap!

   Turns out, it was all a case of bad editing. Look carefully at those two pages: on the left-hand side you have Undead, Carrion, and Ghoul; on the right-hand side you have Liches (plural), and then the picture for a Carrion (a large undead bird). That picture should have been put on the facing page, next to the Carrion text, and the Ghoul and Liches texts should have been on the right-hand page, without pics.

   But our minds were already blown – it was too late.

   Even though that image clearly depicts a Carrion...

   “Physique: Carrion are skeletal flying beasts, mostly birdlike but with membranous wings and tails, reminiscent of bats or pterodactyls. They stand about 7 feet high, with a wingspan of 15-20 feet.

   Warhammer Fantasy Role-Play (first edition) hit the shelves in January of 1986. Ed Greenwood’s article in Dragon magazine #110 – the very first occurrence of a “dracolich” – was published in June of ’86. Five months later. That’s fact.

   The rest is not fact, but speculation. Still, it stands to reason that MANY players had the exact same reaction as my brother (i.e. “THAT’S a lich in this game!!??”). Word got around, and soon the idea of a “dragon-lich” had a life of its own. Greenwood decided to write it down; if he hadn’t, somebody else would have.

   So the dracolich was a happy accident. Its unintentional creator was the Games Workshop editor who worked on that book in 1985. Paul Cockburn: that is the name printed in Warhammer Fantasy Role-Play’s credits under “editing”.

   Mister Cockburn, we salute you!


Forest Romp

   Welcome to the rundown of my First Edition AD&D game #6. If you’d like to read about previous sessions, check out the “Dungeon Do-Over” post from three months ago.

   The PCs are now real local celebs.

 • They found a fresh, unexplored dungeon, and didn’t grab anything from it.
 • They found an ancient relic of Boccob, and one of Joramy.
 • They won the Dwarven King’s Dungeon Lottery.
 • They brought back a 3-ton silver menhir for the King.

   Villagers are beginning to sing songs about these guys – thus, when a nefarious Orc shaman kidnaps three newborn Human babies in the night, who you gonna call?

   The ranger easily picks up the shaman’s trail. Cleric says, “First 72 hours are key!” Anachronistic, but funny. Those babies have been taken 24 hours ago. So the party promptly follows the kidnapper’s footprints through the woods. After a few hours of tracking they reach a dangerous part of the forest. There are three particularly evil landmarks in that zone: 1) the indestructible wooden tower of an extinct witch coven; 2) a reoccurring rift leading to the first Plane of (possibly) the Nine Hells; 3) an ancient fertility sanctuary of the Ogre goddess Beqweth, Vaprak’s wife.

   Three very evil spots, close to one another – what an ideal place to hang around if you happen to be an Orc shaman!

   First magic-user sends his familiar (a crow) flying towards the old Witch Tower. All he can see are two grizzly bears chained underneath the tower. But as the crow flies closer to that warped wooden structure... an Orc archer hidden inside kills it with an arrow! Ouch. Poor magic-user loses 8 HP. Meanwhile, the second magic-user had sent his familiar (an owl) towards the Ogre sanctuary. He saw a lone gargantuan snake sleeping on top of a huge mossy tumulus, with some shattered phallic monument nearby, but no Orcs.

   The PCs head for the Witch Tower; there’s at least one Orc over there, right?

“And there’s smoke pouring out of the damned thing!”

   Perrier drinking ranger and his E-cigarette provided excellent special FX for the Witch Tower. The ectoplasmic goo covering the building from top to bottom was already scary enough – but if you add drifting wisps of smoke, well...................

   Thief and ranger approached from the west while the cleric, Dwarf, and magic-users came in on the northern side. Those bears were quickly released, and surged forward to get the PCs. From the tower’s balcony, not one but three Orc archers began firing arrows at the Dwarf and cleric. Thief sneaked up to the base of the tower and climbed. Ranger carried on for three rounds firing six arrows at the Orc archers. Orc number one died and fell out. Magic-users blasted one attacking bear with four magic missiles. Dwarf hurled a couple throwing axes. Cleric cast his spiritual hammer.

   By the time the thief had climbed all the way up to the balcony, Orc archer number two was dying and collapsed over the wooden railing, pierced with arrows. The thief boldly stormed the tower all by himself and engaged that remaining Orc in melee – short sword against short sword +2.

   Dwarf and cleric tried to steer the two bears to either side of a dead tree, hoping for the chain to get stuck, but it didn’t work. Ranger and Dwarf had to resort to animal cruelty and finish both bears in a bloody manner. Then the MARG people showed up unannounced – the Medieval Animal Rights Group. I’m kidding.

   One of the babies was retrieved in a makeshift crib inside the tower, under a powerful sleep spell. One down, two to go!

   By that time in the game, one missing player had showed up, so I added the bard to the party – he was following but had gotten lost for a few hours, as Hobbits are wont to do.

   Nightfall found the PCs trudging through dense forest with no clear trails, and the ranger kept seeing traces of various beasts and monsters: bugbears, wolves, panthers, goblins, and even a giant of some sort... We had about ninety minutes of gaming left on the clock, so I decided to skip the random encounters. The cleric carried the sleeping child, and the party arrived at that second location (the Ogre fertility sanctuary) a short time before midnight. Only source of light was a declining campfire in the center of the clearing. The ranger (an Elf) could make out the gargantuan snake on top of the tumulus, as well as two giant snakes lurking in thickets at the edge of the glade. After choosing one of those giant snakes, the PCs made their way towards it.

   First round saw a staggering 39 points of damage dealt to that giant snake; it quickly retreated towards the tumulus, and the other reptiles started to slither in the party’s direction. Except for the thief who wandered off again, all PCs stayed entrenched in that thicket, and were soon assaulted by the 154 HP gargantuan snake, and two 45 HP giant snakes (including the one that had already suffered 39 damage). The wooden door of the tumulus opened and an additional giant snake came out to join in the fight.

The mighty Battle of the Thicket.

   Four or five rounds later the Ogre priestess herself awoke and shambled out of the sacred tumulus clutching her meat cleaver. She cast a spell on the thief and he missed his Save, thus being transformed into a giant ant.

   Antoine, who plays one of the magic-users, grabbed my camera and began taking pictures of the Ogress from inside the tumulus. This proved difficult because of the close proximity and the flash. He had to snap ten or eleven pics, but finally got one right. I think it looks awesome.

“Who dares disturb my sleep?”

   With all the snakes dead except for the biggest one who was being relentlessly clobbered by the Dwarf, the cleric decided it was safe enough to lay down the sleeping baby near that campfire, and he then marched towards the priestess who attempted to polymorph him too, but failed. Priest against priestess – that is one holy clash we all wished for, didn’t we?

   Boccob “the Uncaring” prevailed over Beqweth “the Mother of Ogres”. THE DAMN PATRIARCHY WINS AGAIN...

   Another sleeping baby lay inside the tumulus, along with some treasure: three potions, one phylactery, one ring, one cloak, a pair of bracers, and a very intelligent Dagger of Petrification +3 with an ego as big as a two-handed claymore’s.

   One baby still unaccounted for; but we were already running late and so we called it a night. Decent result: 66⅓% of all missing babies duly rescued. But I only plopped 10 monster miniatures on that table... out of 24 available!

Forest Grump

   We now get to the last part of this post, where I can analyze the game and highlight what went wrong.

   The props are kinda stealing the show now. Players want to head straight to “the best props”. That is no good. So, what’s the answer? Tone it down on the terrain / scenery side of things, and maybe paint more minis instead?

   Also, waaay too much talking. Guys, we can get together once a month if we want and talk about TV shows and movies and politics and stuff – but we only play D&D twice a year. Less talk, more play.

   Third problem: tactics. The guys are too good, that’s all. I really need to break up that tight cluster of PCs by any means necessary. I need to scatter the party and sprinkle small monsters all over the place, make a mess, make things dynamic and unpredictable again. Things are too static right now, because players are excellent strategists. Warcraft and Call of Duty and Halo and Splinter Cell transformed players into masters of efficiency, and that in itself should be a good thing – but it seems to defeat the whole purpose of miniatures and scenery. Why the sprawling terrain if the party keeps moving in a tight knot with the spellcasters huddled in the center and always zeroing in on one monster at a time? Why the trees and rocks and tumuli if no one ever hides under a tree or seeks cover behind a rock or enters the tumulus? Hours of model-making work for zip.

   Elaborate terrain is inherited from the kriegsspiels of the ’60s – wargames, historical reenactments – when things were guaranteed to get messy and trees / rocks / hills were very important. For a group of seven characters, it’s not as relevant. You could run entire scenes with graph paper. The solid clump of characters edges to the left: giant snake #2 is now in range for the magic missiles and spiritual hammer: fire away! Delivering 39 points of damage on a 45 HP giant snake in the first round – just with missiles! The amount of damage dealt by a party of level 4 characters is crazy. I need to give them multiple targets and throw a lot at them all at once if I hope to generate at least a little mayhem; it probably won’t break up that solid clump of miniatures but at the very least it’ll have them surrounded and they’ll have no other choice but to split their damage on several foes. Still pretty static, but it’s a start.

   In my opinion, big minis are a waste of money. Two otyughs cost me $42 with shipping, and only dealt 23 points of damage between the two of them, with no typhus. Air elemental cost $18 and dealt 14 points of damage over four rounds, before being annihilated by seven PCs surrounding it and easily generating 90 damage. That’s $18 for 14 points: more than a buck per point of damage. Expensive, and not a sound investment.

   No more big miniatures then – unless they’re backed by lots of smaller minions. That is the trick: don’t let a party of seven concentrate their attacks on just one monster. Get in their faces. Create urgency. Press them hard. Overwhelm their “defensive huddling”. Split the nucleus, in other words. Make things dynamic again. Use a lot of small miniatures. Use monsters that can appear out of thin air, like invisible stalkers. Use monsters that can drop from the ceiling, emerge through the floor, pass through walls, or blink.

   For my next game, that’s the first challenge. Dynamic. Move player miniatures around on the map. Shake that tree.

   The second challenge is to deal more damage. I realized that none of the PCs in my game ever dropped below 5 Hit Points in the last two sessions. One magic-user dropped to zero when his familiar was shot and killed by an Orc, but that’s the only exception – and I feel like it doesn’t really count. Nobody else was ever out of commission, not even the engineer NPC in game #5. Last time I had a player character dropped to zero HP was exactly one year ago in a big fight against 4 Drows and a Handmaiden of Lolth. Two games were played since – one 9-hour session and one 5-hour session – and not a single knockout. Fourteen hours of play. Man. The guys are tactical. This is not Splinter Cell though, it’s goddamned First Edition AD&D – madness and chaos are supposed to be part of the deal.

   Those challenges stand.

   My next game will not be static. It’ll have forced flow and movement. And mark my words: PCs will drop to zero HP or lower. This, I swear before the Gods of Gaming. It may sound harsh to some players’ ears, but of course I’m not saying this in an aggressive manner. It’s just – I’m starting to feel inadequate. Two entire adventures without anyone dropping to zero? Really?

   The guys don’t see each other often and of course they wanna talk. I prepare too much stuff. That is my fault. For this particular forest adventure I had 3 main combat scenes with spectacular terrain, 1 secondary scene with bugbears and their feral panthers, and 1 mobile / random encounter (the Orc shaman and his apprentices). We tackled 2 main combat scenes, period – and I had to cut the second one short because it was past 19:00 and two players had already left. Basically we played that big scene at the beginning of an action movie, and then went directly to the climax. Nothing in between. Just talk talk talk.

   I need to take that into account and prepare less stuff. Of course the guys are going to talk: that’s only natural, and I don’t want to ban chatting around the table like some Soup Nazi. So I’m going to prepare 2 main scenes and that’s it; there will be ample time to chat before we play the first scene, and in between those two scenes, and at the very end, with the awarding of XP. There’s hardly ever any time left to do that.

   I’m actually quite optimistic. Can’t wait to start working on game #7 which is scheduled for Halloween. Now I know what’s wrong – and I’ll be able to fix it!


Star Trek is... illogical?

   I remember watching that new Star Trek movie on TV, about a year ago. The 2009 J.J. Abrams film. I certainly wasn’t sold on the next ones. Here’s why.

   First off, there is the matter of the “red matter”. That is not a WMD, it’s a WWD – a Weapon of World Destruction. Scratch that. It’s a WSSD – a Weapon of Solar System Destruction! It’s insane! Beats the Death Star. Beats Galactus. Beats everything I ever saw or read in SF/F – except maybe for the awakening of Azathoth and the Great Old Ones, with the stars being “right” and all. But really, that “red matter” is CRAZY. If such a weapon existed, it would require an intergalactic Imperium’s Security Council just to safeguard it and prevent it from falling into the wrong hands. And you would never – ever – put it aboard one tiny shuttlecraft named Jellyfish with a lone aging Vulcan ambassador in it. ARE YOU MAD? Such a superpowerful weaponized substance should be escorted by an entire armada of Battlestars and heavy warships! This is ridiculous. It’s like putting the entirety of Earth’s nuclear warheads on a damn yacht with Madeleine Albright at the tiller, and send that craft somewhere on the high seas without further monitoring!

   How come the Federation didn’t notice the disappearance of the most dreadful weapon in the galaxy? Twenty-five years later that rift in space ought to be the most heavily guarded point in the Alpha and Beta Quadrants. One huge space station plus a hundred major warships patrolling AT ALL TIMES.

   This scenario by Orci & Kurtzman makes no sense at all.

   And then there is the thing with those twenty-five years. Seriously, a ship full of Romulan convicts waited patiently in a remote corner of space for twenty-five years without being noticed, without ever interacting with the rest of the universe, without any mutiny, and without the crew going nuts and killing each other? Not one of these convicts ever said, “Fuck you, Nero! I’ll go to Romulus, and have sex with all the Romulan bitches I can find for the next twenty-five years – and then if Romulus is annihilated in 2387, so be it. But I’m not gonna wither away aboard this damn ugly depressing mining ship. Not for twenty-five years, no way!”

   And where did they get their food and water during all those years? From a replicator, all of it? For a quarter of a century? Really?

   This tremendously long wait is predicated upon ONE single assumption: Nero somewhat knows that Spock’s shuttle carries the all-powerful red matter, and he knows that the shuttle is being sucked into the very same time-rift – but time-rifts are unpredictable anomalies, and if Spock’s shuttle is sucked into the rift eighteen minutes after the Narada, on the other end of the rift (in the past) those eighteen minutes could very well become twenty-five years! Nero knows that. He’s not only a convict and a miner – he’s also an expert on time-rifts somehow...

   So, after the first six months of stealthily waiting, a few Romulans said, “Well, forget it, boss – that shuttle’s not coming! Can’t you see? It has probably escaped the rift’s gravitational pull or something... Let’s move on!”

   But Nero quelled this rebellion and said, “We’ll wait a little longer. Like, twenty more years or so.”

   It’s a farce. A joke. It is NOT AT ALL believable.

   J.J. Abrams has terrible timeline problems, and always tries to blur this blatant flaw by adding “magic” and some “parallel reality”, like we had in Lost and in Fringe.

   Hardcore Trekkies scrambled to fix that huge incoherence by claiming that the entire crew of the Narada was jailed on Rura Penthe during those twenty-five years; but that’s weak, honestly. Doesn’t solve anything, come to think of it. Reeks of desperation.

   So pardon me if I didn’t see the second Star Trek with Cumberbatch, and probably won’t see this new one either. I know Abrams will make a good movie at some point in the future. Let’s lay low and wait for a while – like, twenty-five more years.


Thank You, Evil

   Politically Correct role-playing games? Wait. Let’s talk about this for a bit...

   When I was a teen, it was still possible to pee into colossal flower beds beautifully spelling out the name of your home town, without ending up on YouTube less than half an hour later, and it was possible to play an evil priest of Arioch in Stormbringer, sacrificing innocent human farmers and infants to your villainous god, without being issued an arrest warrant or slammed into the loony bin. Just take a look at these 1988 Iron Maiden lyrics––

I am He – the Bornless One
The Fallen Angel watching you
Babylon, the Scarlet Whore
I’ll infiltrate your gratitude
Don’t you dare to save your son
Kill him now and save the young ones
Be the mother of a birth strangled babe
Be the devil’s own – Lucifer’s my name!

   Those were the days, right? We had to endure through the Satanic Panic of the eighties, but teenagers today are going through something else entirely – something that didn’t get a catchy name yet – let’s call it a “Political Correctness Steamroller”.

   I don’t know, but maybe I actually liked society better before it became just one big worldwide social data farm...

    No Thank You, Evil is cool and rather cute while the kids are 7 or 8, but I don’t think these kids will be allowed to play Stormbringer nine years from now, or listen to Iron Maiden for that matter. I’m not even sure RPGNow would carry Stormbringer today. Even Of Mice and Men: the Role-Playing Game wouldn’t make the cut, because, you know, Lennie kills a woman. Les Misérables: the Role-Playing Game would be banned too, because 11-year-old Gavroche is shot dead at the end. Child soldiers? Child murder? We couldn’t stand for that, no sir. Go sell this crap elsewhere.

   Sooner or later, in games and in fiction, we won’t be able to “kill” anything but generic, nonhuman robots and zombies. No living thing – and especially not animals. An excellent novel about thirteenth-century German and French crusaders hunting and killing lions in the Holy Land won’t stand a chance of getting published. It’s frightening, in a way.

   But the “No Evil” trend actually started back in 1989 when AD&D 2E removed all demons, devils, assassins, and psionics. Psionics are evil, apparently. Charles Xavier is an evil mastermind of the mind.

   Nowadays, if one freethinker parent chooses to let his teenage kid play an evil priest of Arioch, that kid will obviously brag about it to his friends, word will get around, the other kids’ parents will soon learn about it, disapprove, and put this matter up on Facebook. Half a million parents will then righteously “like” that denunciation.

   Is Gen X doomed because it used to play evil characters and love Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden? Absolutely not. It is doomed because a bunch of frat boys in New York and Hong Kong fucked up the economy on a global scale. There is that worldwide social data farm, and then there is also the world-encompassing financial sandbox.

   Evil didn’t do that. “Good boys” did.


Dungeon Do-Over

   Regular readers of this blog know about the First Edition AD&D campaign I’ve been running for almost two years now. We have 2 game sessions a year – it’s not much – and we’ve just played Game #5 on May 21. Huge success.

   This time around the guys returned to the dungeon they’d explored exactly one year ago (that’s four months, in the game world). They wanted to retrieve the big silver menhir they’d seen before. This 3-ton block of pure alchemical silver is worth somewhere between 120,000 and 150,000 g.p. but the players absolutely need a Dwarven engineer and some equipment in order to dislodge and carry that thing: tree trunks, logs, chains, pulleys and levers. This Dwarf is the NPC I created to help them along. PCs tackle the dungeon denizens, and the engineer will take care of that menhir.

   For once, they knew exactly where the first teleport would take them – they’ve been in that room before, fighting goblins and a trapper. Four months later, monsters have been replaced / replenished... and the DM also put in much more work.

Notice the giant scorpion INSIDE the pit...

That gnoll had a wood palisade providing 80% cover.

   Since the party knows this dungeon and has two accurate maps for it, there was quite a lot of movement / routing around / backtracking. The mind flayer was home (it is his dungeon, after all), and he had 14 “dominated” human mercenaries with him, plus a gnoll captain, many kobolds, an air elemental, and a grell. The players didn’t want to fight this daunting assortment head-on, and so they used the dungeon layout to their best advantage: we saw meleeing in corridors, staircases, and smaller chambers, as shown in these pictures.

Kobolds tried to “smoke them out”.

Air elemental? Toughest monster of the game lasted only 5 rounds!

The mighty Battle of the Corridor.

   I’m glad I could make use of my two favorite full page AD&D pictures: the kobolds (Monster Manual), and the awesome grell (Fiend Folio).

    This image is all the more fitting because one of my players, a magic-user, cast his newly acquired web spell on the kobolds – just like in the pic!

   The grell image is also rather fitting since it was the ranger who got himself all tangled up in the creature’s paralyzing tentacles – and that sword-wielding dude in the picture kinda looks like a ranger in splint or scale mail...

Thieves love to do stuff all by themselves...

   After many hours of play and numerous skirmishes, the final clash happened with the mind flayer and his dreaded pet grell, but I really dropped the ball on this one. A penultimate corridor engagement had occurred without the spellcasters using up any of their spells, because they said they needed that “heavy artillery” to kill the mind flayer stone dead in three rounds flat. They kept repeating that over and over again – and the effect on me was similar to a hypnotic pattern I suppose, because when Dr. Flayer showed his ugly mug, I totally forgot about his 90% magic resistance. All the players (not just those two magic-users) were definitely pumped and ready to unleash a spell storm. I focused on the mind blasts – but it wasn’t enough. Sorry, illithid friends. I guess two pints of 6% beer isn’t a good idea towards the end of a 9-hour session...

   My stinking cloud marker is a piece of dyed cotton coil, and my new web marker is a 4″ × 4″ piece of gauze. Of course the guys cast one on top of the other, and it looked like a glazed pistachio donut or something. Then they lit that web on fire and promptly blasted six magic missiles into the nauseating mess...

   Cleric used 2 out of 4 Beads of Karma to keep his spiritual hammer going for much longer than it should have. Each hit scored maximum damage, because the spell had been prepared using the Incense of Meditation found a year ago in the mind flayer’s own stash – isn’t that ironic!

   They deserve that silver menhir; they did everything right. I’m the one who botched the final scene. All six players were eager and exhilarated – so, let’s call this a “good” boss fight, despite my mistake. Better that than an unenthusiastic clash with a fearsome and fully magic resistant mind flayer... Deadly boss fights will come soon enough, don’t worry. I’m gonna have to bust out the beholder or red dragon within a year or so. This party kicks ass.

   For those readers mostly interested in the actual “game session” recaps, here’s the complete list again. Not click-on, though. Jot it down + look through the archives for those posts.

   Game #1   2014: July 28
   Game #2   2014: December 11
   Game #3   2015: June 10
   Game #4   2015: September 13



Mean & Silly RPGs

   This is serious business. Goofiness has been systematically expunged from role-playing games. No more little comic strips like the ones we had in the ’78 Players Handbook. No more preposterous adventures like White Plume Mountain or the 1988 Castle Greyhawk. No more ludicrous monsters or magical items. But the very first dragon was named Gertie – let’s not forget that. And the first Orc King was named Funk III. Dragons nowadays are called Murozond or Shimmergloom, and Orc Kings are called Krôthzmûsht-Vgorth or something. It has to be manly. It has to be badass. Just look at the elaborate artwork – Half-orc “smashers” and Elven “wardancers” and Space Marines with unwavering resting bitch faces. God forbid we’d ever pass for anything less than real men.

    I’ve never even held a 5E Dungeons & Dragons product in my hands, but lots of folks talked to me about it, and one thing I still remember is this. Someone told me that for any first-level character, a single skeleton or a single kobold means Instant Death. Well, it’s one of two things: either that guy told me a big fat lie, or 5E is really terrible, because kobolds and skeletons are expected to be weak. They’ve been puny since ’77 and before. They are “timeless classic” weak monsters. You start messing with that for the sake of expunging every last ounce of silliness from the game, and lo and behold – you’ve ruined that game.

   That is one of the reasons why I stick to 1E. It’s not like Windows XP: you don’t have to switch, you’re always gonna be able to play; and me, I do not want a different game, I want to keep enjoying the game I fell in love with thirty-three years ago. Adkison, Tweet, Heinsoo and Perkins all offered a different D&D, and why wouldn’t they? TSR evolved from a miniature wargaming company while Wizards of the Coast evolved from a collectible card game company: it cannot be the same approach or philosophy. It just can’t.

   Silliness now is a flaw – unless you have the confidence or star power to sustain it unflinchingly. Leeroy Jenkins is silly, sure, but Ben Schulz have nothing to worry about: he is now a star of the online gaming world. But if your friend Bruno’s PC suddenly becomes “silly-ed”, he’s gonna be mortified. Silly is no good. Epic / ruthless is the way to go. Don’t ask me. That’s not at all how it was in the beginning.

Silly Beholder / Badass Unfuckwithable Beholder

   In this blog right here, THE most popular post is a 100% silly little thing called “Behold!”, written a year and a half ago. I still don’t understand why so many people linked to it – but it is proof, right? Proof that there is a demand for RPG silliness.

   Real men aren’t good game designers / scriptwriters / DMs. They shouldn’t decide which class or race is cool, and which one isn’t. Insecurity is a slow and pervading disease eating at almost everything: politics, religion, entertainment. For now, though, let’s concentrate on pen and paper RPGs.

   The phenomenon really started to manifest itself around the time Warhammer Fantasy Role-Play first came out. Keep the Dwarves, minimize the Elves, almost exclude the Hobbits. Dwarves are cool – they kick ass, grow huge beards, dig tunnels and wield hammers: they’re men – well, technically not, but you see my point.

   Elves are refined, educated and artsy. It verges on silliness. Let’s give them one big forest on the western edge of the Empire, and forget about them. Gnomes and Hobbits are even sillier. I’m not sure there were Gnomes in Warhammer. And here’s how Hobbits were depicted:

    A picture is worth a thousand words! Look at those ridiculous bulging eyes: is he sucking on some dildo? Raise your hand if you’d like to play that little fella. Huh, I don’t see a single hand? What gives?

   In one of the very first issues of White Dwarf, a guy named Roger Musson wrote a complaint: he didn’t like the magazine’s little cartoon strips. “Childish rubbish is the prerogative of The Dragon,” he said.

   “Silly-phobia” later spilled to AD&D. I remember this quite well. By 1987 one of my friends (and a DM himself) had already given each class a color code. Red meant you did NOT want to play this class in a group of 17-year-old guys with long hair and Iron Maiden T-shirts. As I recall, paladins, bards, and illusionists each had a code red slapped on them. Code yellow was for clerics, monks, and maybe druids – I don’t remember clearly. These were classes that could be cool, but you really had to design your character carefully and / or choose your god among the “awesome” gods. Code green was for fighters, rangers, magic-users, thieves and assassins; you just couldn’t go wrong with these. I was in my fourth year of playing a redhead ranger named Dälvik, so I was in the safe zone when my friend first came up with these color codes. He didn’t use the word “silly”, though. But that’s exactly what it was – a Silly Index for AD&D classes.

   Paladins are lawful good; they have to be gentle and devoted and respectful: they can’t burn villages to the ground or steal a wounded NPC’s +3 broadsword... Bards are just guys with flutes or lyres... And illusionists are boring magic-users without fireballs or magic missiles. It figures.

   Castle Greyhawk’s only real flaw was to come out maybe five or six years too late. Fighting Colonel Sanders in ’88 isn’t much more hurtful than fighting the Cheshire Cat in ’83 or encountering the Greyhawk Construction Company in ’79 or a druid armed with a phaser in ’72. In the early eighties, that adventure would have been “normal”. In the late eighties, whimsical already had a bit of a bad rep.

   By 1991 the French published Bloodlust, which was very nice, but the strain of silly-phobia took a turn for the worse. Elves were now extinct for not reproducing fast enough, and the few remaining half-breeds worked as high-end prostitutes. For a bunch of 21-year-old metalheads, what a laugh!

   By the time White Wolf started releasing game products, the “goth” craze was already going strong. Goths like things serious. You would be hard-pressed to find one silly clan in Vampire: The Masquerade or a silly tribe in Werewolf: The Apocalypse. It’s all brawn and flair and all-around greatness: Gangrel, Fianna, Brujah, Black Furies, Nosferatu, Red Talons, Malkavian...

   In 2006 Wizards of the Coast introduced a new killer race: the Dragonborn. Who would even want to pass this up and play a Gnome illusionist, right? But I did play a Hobbit pedlar in Warhammer, back in ’96, and I used to munch on dry sausage all the time – like that little fella in the picture. I was a bit older, by then. Somebody had to do it, I think. You can’t let insecure game designers bully their readers like that, under no circumstances.

   Now that I am done blogging for the day, I’m gonna log into World of Warcraft; Killstroy Blackdoom, karl of Gothsküll, my level 94 barbarian, awaits.


What Lovecraft Really Meant

   Plato had a theory. To help our understanding of it, he invented a Cave. We soon dismissed that Cave, but understood the theory itself.

   Lovecraft also had a theory. To help us understand, he created a Mythos. We loved that Mythos, but somewhat failed to understand the core message.

   Plato’s point was this: what is discernible with our five senses may not be the whole truth. If someone was to be chained in a cave since early childhood, and only ever saw shadows on a rock cliff, he / she would be unable of even imagining the world outside the Cave – the world that actually makes those shadows. So, now, how do we know this isn’t the case for us too, in this world?

   Lovecraft’s message was this:

   “The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.

   Howard Phillips Lovecraft’s first and foremost intention was not to craft an elaborate horror mythos, but simply to tell a cautionary tale about science. Science is very useful, yes; it saves lives and provides us with clean drinking water, comfortable shelter, and the like. But at one point, science is gonna fail us. Lovecraft was absolutely spot-on about that. The higher “up” we go towards the extremely vast (e.g. Dark Matter), science fails us. The further “down” we go towards the extremely small (e.g. Higgs boson), science fails us. And yet maybe Higgs boson and Dark Matter are one and the same...

   Yep – now that would certainly be the Elder Gods’ cruelest joke.