Crossword for Geeks

   Geeks of level 10 and up will own this crossword, and maybe won’t even have to seek out Google’s help. Geeks of a lesser level will (probably) need Google. Non-geeks don’t stand a chance – maybe even with Google! Enjoy.

1)   Chief of Security aboard Deep Space Nine. | The last Duke of Köln.
3)   King Arthur’s foster-brother, and his Seneschal. | First name of Captain Future (his real name).
5)   This Great Old One reigns over his Formless Spawns.
6)   Director of 1990’s Misery.
7)   Sure enough, Will Robinson was tired of hearing this word.
8)   The true name of Mr. Wednesday, in American Gods.
9)   In the books of Anne Rice, this spirit spawned all the vampires in the world.
10) Author of Dracula.
12) Arch-enemy of G-Force. | In the TV series Fringe, only member of the team to hail from the other world.

1)   In the Hyborian world of Conan, a realm located south of Ophir and north of Shem. | Evil realm of the Flanaess.
3)   This member of the Watchmen killed the Comedian.
4)   Sumerian god of rain and the sky.
5)   French comic book hero, Son of the Dark Age (or Son of the Fierce Age). | Renegade Ethical in the Riverworld series.
6)   The names of the Kings of Númenor always began with those two letters.
7)   This troll fought against Beowulf.
8)   Nightmarish killer haunting Elm Street.
9)   Yui’s little sister in the manga K-ON!
10) Tower at the center of Isengard. | Land of the Halflings in the Old World.
12) Luke’s family name in the first draft of Star Wars: A New Hope.

   Let’s wait a while before posting the answers, and give some level 5 geeks a fighting chance…


Universe Building in MMII

   Monster Manual II was my least favourite AD&D book, and I’m going to tell you why. But first, let me say this: I read it all over again on May 8-9, from cover to cover, and I noticed things that the teenage me didn’t see at all. Monster Manual II could very well have been given a different title, like Monster Manual of the Planes. This volume is a bold attempt at “Universe Building”. Gygax endeavoured to tie up many loose ends in his AD&D multiverse, and paint a clearer picture of the Nine Hells, Gehenna, Tarterus, Nirvana, and a few other planes.

   When I was fifteen, one of my regular players contemplated DMing his first game, so he went and bought himself his own Dungeon Masters Guide. Having saved some more scratch he wanted to go and get monster manuals, and I remember telling him this word for word: “You still have access to my copies of Tsojcanth and Barrier Peaks so you don’t need Monster Manual II.” Passive aggressive, indeed; I guess I was a grognard already in ’85 and despised anything published after ’82 – hilarious! But there’s truth in there, isn’t it? MMII was nothing more than the S3 and S4 monsters bundled up alongside loads of crap like the Cat Lord, modrons, more useless dinosaurs, and almost 30 pages of lists and indexes. I myself rarely used this book and stuck to Monster Manual I and Fiend Folio and the S4 booklet.

   But let’s get back to that Monster Manual of the Planes. Amidst all of those para-elementals, quasi-elementals, grue elementals, time elementals, magmen, and azers, some planes still come out on top. Gehenna and Nirvana are the big winners here, with Hell a close third. All three receive lots of coverage and development both political and sociological. Getting to know the natives of more Outer Planes is very nice. Some of these planes are still unpopulated as of yet; people die and end up there, sure enough, but nobody is born there, like the modrons are born in Nirvana or the slaadi in Limbo. We kinda know Olympus because of Greek mythology, and we have a pretty good idea of Gladsheim because of Norse mythology. But what’s really going on in those Happy Hunting Grounds?

   Universe Building is a gigantic undertaking, it goes without saying.

   Gehenna is a slope. Pandemonium is a tube. I too took lots of acid in the late eighties, and I saw my fair share of slopes and tubes also.

   Slope or no slope, there are still thirteen habitable layers between Gehenna and Tarterus, and just two worthy rulers to fight over them. Anthraxus and Hades have lots of room to maneuver, if they ever decide to go at it.

   Even the Abyss doesn’t seem crowded at all: Demogorgon and Orcus both rule several layers. With 666 of ‘em and only two dozen major demons, there’s vacancy somewhere, without a doubt.

   But the Nine Hells are another story entirely: fifteen major gods or arch-devils crammed into just nine layers. These are the nine arch-devils plus the gods Set (Egypt), Druaga (Babylon), Hecate (Greece), Inanna (Sumer), Gruumsh (Orcs), and Maglubiyet (Goblins). In theory, each of these badasses command 60% of one layer. It’s packed all right, that’s for sure: Hell is literally hell – duh –, but it is hell figuratively also.

   Real estate ought to be a bitch. Imagine Hutijin putting his palace up for sale, and all the other dukes of Hell and Inquisitors and Provosts trying to outsmart each other and buy the place...

   Monster Manual II also introduces the “consorts”, the girlfriends of these squabbling arch-devils. Believe it or not, Asmodeus and Baalzebul are sharing a woman! I hope this Bensozia is twelve feet tall, but she certainly is one lucky she-devil, and I suppose she’s still trying to have a threesome – alas, Asmodeus is afraid to see Baalzebul’s junk.

   Mephistopheles is with the classy Baalphegor. Moloch is with Lilith. Geryon is with Cozbi. Belial is with the gorgeous Naome. Dispater is with Lilis. Mammon is with sweet Glasya, daughter of Asmodeus (and Bensozia?) – or maybe not the daughter of Asmodeus at all – but how a fatso like Mammon scores a beaut such as Glasya is beyond me.

   But what really broke my heart is this: Tiamat alone is without a consort! What the hell, Gary! She’s got the worst layer – the first layer, where all the damn interlopers and astral squatters come, and where most of the stench kows graze and poop, and she has to rule that dump without getting laid? Jeez, man, can’t you throw the lady a bone?

   And you, Bahamut – yes, you! Come on, big doofus! You’re single too, aren’t you? Tiamat is evil, and you’re good, but who cares? The two of you could be great friends with benefits – just don’t talk politics when you get together...


   What sort of adventures or quests happen in Nirvana? What secret dungeons or plots can there be? If you sneeze somewhere, Primus knows it instantly... If you’re lucky enough to locate even one monster hidden in a very remote hole far away in a sector of Nirvana governed by the laziest octon, as soon as it (the monster) awakens, Primus will know about it and send in an elite unit of pentadrones.

   Three Indian deities also live in Nirvana: Varuna, Yama, and Rudra. They probably make fun of the monodrones in secret – but still, if they fart, Primus knows it...

   The Chinese god Shang-Ti is head of the Celestial Bureaucracy; Nirvana is a perfect home for him, too.

   But Horus, son of Osiris? What’s he doing over there?


   The oinodaemon rules all of the Middle Lower Planes – so Tarterus, Hades, and Gehenna? Do Hades himself bow to Anthraxus the Decayed? And what about the shator nobility of Tarterus, are they plotting with this Bubonis guy to overthrow Anthraxus? I can picture a sick campaign there, easy!

Last Words on Universe Building

   This is a short dialogue between Gary Gygax and Jeff Grubb. The exchange could have happened when Monster Manual II was almost finished and ready to go to print:

   Jeff Grubb: “What’s next? Time Plane?”
   Gary Gygax: “No way! After Nirvana, I’m drained. The Time Plane will be one vague paragraph and that’s it. I’ll mention that there are some ‘royal’ time elementals and also ‘other creatures’... Fuck me, why didn’t I stick to just Greyhawk?”


Logical Illogical

   When I first started AD&D, all players went back and forth between Dungeon Masters, depending on what adventure was available, but keeping the same character. Now, this whole situation is reversed – and when you come to think about it, it’s a difference almost as significant as last century’s migration from theater to the big screen.

   In those pre-1985 role-playing games, the individual PC was the hero – and the world just “happened” all around him or her. In post-1985 games with their crazy deluge of supplements and clanbooks and whatnot, the world is the hero – and the PCs just “happen” in it.

   When the world becomes the hero, things have to get logical. You cannot put fifty crashed spacecrafts on one medieval fantasy continent, unless it’s Medieval Nevada or something.

   In those early days, this is the average conversation players used to have when they first met:

   “Hello, I’m David, and this is my friend JS.”
   “Hi. You guys joining in for this one?”
   “Yes. We’re both level 9. JS is a magic-user. I have a ranger, with blaster rifle.”
   “Barrier Peaks?”
   “Loved it.”
   “Us too. Just finished it last week.”
   “And before?”
   “Defeated Drelnza.”
   “Us too!”
   “What about The Village of Hommlet?”
   “Not yet.”
   “I recommend it. Lots of fun. But your characters may be overqualified now...”

   There was no logic at all in there. How many adventuring groups entered that crashed spacecraft anyway – and every artefact is always lying around? And Drelnza got killed how many times exactly?

   This is how role-playing games started out. It’s almost like a boardgame: everything is reshuffled right into the box, ready for the next group of players. Me and my friends explore the Village of Hommlet. Another group of players explore the Village of Hommlet, uncovering the same pernicious secrets. Then two guys from my group meet with three guys from the second group, and together they tackle some other adventure. But who went to that damned village first? There’s no need (and no point) in settling that.

   But then, something happened.

   Role-playing games became logical.

   A rather large proportion of Dungeon Masters got infected with a nasty streak of WBV, the “World Builder Virus”. We’ve all forgotten what it was like and how it used to work in the very beginning.

   Don’t get me wrong: World Building is cool, and I did my fair share of it, trust me, but I think in some cases it’s unnecessary. In fact, I really do believe it depends on how long your game sessions actually are, and how often you play. Here’s my personal little chart for that purpose.

Game Sessions of less than 3 hours
Game Sessions of 3 to 6 hours
Game Sessions of more than 6 hours
1-3 Games / Year
No World Building
No World Building
4-6 Games / Year
World Building OK
7 + Games / Year
World Building OK
World Building OK

   Nowadays, there are two ways a game session can begin.

   TYPE 1 START: “You guys found a forgotten cave with a big bronze door at the bottom of it. What do you do?”

   TYPE 2 START: “You guys can’t return to Stiflebury as planned because of Goblin troops on the border with the Duchy of Brulhg – there’s a war brewing, even if you haven’t played into that arc yet (but you heard the rumours). Today, instead of returning directly to your mage contact in Stiflebury to finally complete the ritual and save Vince’s wise old master from his curse, you’ll have to detour through Qerryn Forest, and risk a new encounter with Constable Phemk, whom you insulted last time around (or maybe the King’s other Constable is patrolling Qerryn Forest with his men these days, because you know the King has two Constables, and Phemk’s wife is about to give birth. So, what do you do?”

   Logical worlds are for players who can play often, and for long game sessions. Illogical is for casual, occasional play. Ashardalon and Drizzt are quick, efficient, and they cut to the chase: we’ve come full circle now, we’re almost back to Castle Greyhawk – the original megadungeon.

   The Flanaess was an awesome place, and the very first “world setting” many of us ever played into, but that big illogical-to-logical switch I talk about wasn’t yet complete nor absolute, and weird stuff happened. For example, I remember this crazed three-day weekend at a friend’s house, during which we played Dwellers of the Forbidden City and then White Plume Mountain. Now, in retrospect, I look at the distances and think “Wait – what?”

   My ranger didn’t own a horse, and neither did those other PCs... so, did we actually walk from Hepmonaland all the way to the Rift Canyon and cross the Tilva Strait and the Vast Swamp – more than twenty-five hundred miles?

   What about those DMs who became world builders in their twenties when they had lots of free time, but now they reach forty and don’t have as much time – and neither do their players? What then? Is it possible to downgrade the whole thing, to scale down a huge world carefully crafted over ten or fifteen years or more?

   One of my friends is a fantastic world builder. The complexity of his world is almost impossible to fathom: he created his own personal computer database and has twelve fat 6-inch folders full of printout charts and maps and NPCs and backgrounds developed since ’95. He even integrated all of his Photoshop maps into one enormous thing, kinda like Google Earth: you can see his entire fantasy continent and then zoom in to a small kingdom, and to a city, and even to some main streets... He’d probably tell me to go fuck myself. “You want me to take my life’s work and downgrade it? Take a magnificent three-hour movie and turn it into an MTV clip?”

   On the other hand, we only play twice a year. We used to play much more often, but it gets harder and harder to find a convenient time slot – so we only play twice a year and the sessions only last about five hours. On my little chart, that’s labeled No World Building.

   I offered five of my friends to try out Ashardalon, but there was really no enthusiasm at all on their part. “We are used to drinking a unique bold eighty-year-old scotch – and now Dave wants us to switch to a six pack of wine cooler?” Yes, I understand what they mean by that; but then again, we only get a taste of that eighty-year-old scotch twice a year! We could be chugging those California Coolers once a month! And why can’t we have both, by the way?

   I wonder if there’s ever gonna be a clear solution to that dilemma; and I’m quite certain we are not the only ones facing it. The hobby we love has officially become too complex for our own good and busy schedules.