Here’s how I remember it:
In January 2009 Tavis joined Eric’s on-going Moldvay Basic D&D campaign and rolled up a Cleric.
TAVIS: I think my character rejects the Church of the Builder and the Cult of the Trickster.
ERIC: Oh really? Perhaps he worships the God of Magic?
TAVIS: . . . No, he is convinced of his own incipient divinity, and has founded a cult in accordance with that belief.
OTHER PLAYERS: Neat! You know first-level Clerics can’t cast spells under these rules, right?
OTHER PLAYERS: So you’re a god who can’t work miracles and [peer at Tavis’s sheet] you have 8 Charisma.
TAVIS: I never said I was good at it.
And so the Boss descended to Earth and walked among mortal men!
Five minutes later, on the road to the dungeon, our party encountered an aristocrat and his retinue who were leaving the dungeon. We could infer from prior adventures that these were the rightful owners of the ruins we’d been merrily plundering, and I for one tried to keep my head down and avoid provoking them. (I was a first-level Magic-User with 3 Constitution and 1 hit-point, named Immortus.)
ERIC: James, your character Immortus keeps a wide distance from the approaching party, clearly not wanting to antagonize these people. A nursemaid traveling with the aristocrat’s group tries to silence a wailing infant wrapped in ornate blankets. What do the rest of you do?
OTHER PLAYERS: Block their path! Shake them down for money! Mock the size of his wand!
JAMES: [moves mini several squares further away when no one is looking]
The aristocrat-wizard waxed increasingly wroth. There was a shouting match between the aristocrat and our outspoken Dwarven companion Pog concerning the ownership of a certain magical sword.
ERIC: The aristocrat angrily demands the sword, a family heirloom.
POG’S PLAYER: Never! It is, um, my family heirloom too!
TAVIS: [playing the Boss] Where’s the nursemaid and the baby on the map?
ERIC: Here. . . . Pog, the aristocrat draws and points a wand at you.
TAVIS: The Boss rushes up, knocks the nursemaid to the ground, and seizes the baby! The Boss holds the child aloft with a threatening glare at the aristocrat!
ERIC: The aristocrat whirls around, and points his magic wand at the Boss.
JAMES: [from a prudent distance] Sleep, centered on the baby!
I put the baby, the nursemaid, and the Boss to sleep–but the aristocrat Magic-User was immune due to being high level. He picked up the baby with one hand, and with the other zapped the Boss with a wand of petrification.
ERIC: The aristocrat turns to face you, Immortus. “Are you the ally of this fool?”
JAMES: Um, he just sort of tagged along with us when we left town. We’ll be going now, it was nice meeting you. Immortus withdraws.
[In the chaos, everyone escapes–including, though I’m not sure how, Pog and the magic sword.]
The Boss survived our campaign for about 10 minutes of play time. His only deed was an insanely ill-advised act of sociopathy ending in a Save-or-Die effect. He was the perfect Dungeons & Dragons character.
Having just witnessed a koan in the form of D&D, we immediately understood that the Boss truly was divine, and erected a shrine to him on the spot. Propagating this cult has become the central storyline of Eric’s campaign, much to his occasional chagrin. I’m not sure what else he had planned, but that’s what we’re interested in. (Or were. I’ve missed a lot of sessions.)
We also created a new alignment system based on the Boss:
- Bossful – you take insane risks just to stir shit up
- Immortic – you plot and connive a way to accomplish your goals without any risk
- Neutral – you are an opportunistic schemer
(Most of our adventurers are Neutral, because as Hamish the Dim observed, “The Boss isn’t someone you can just imitate. You’ve got to work your way up to it.”)
The Legend of the Boss is exactly the kind of thing I was talking about earlier: there’s a richness of play that simply comes from being there. We talk about the Boss pretty much every session, and if you missed out on that, it’s like a bunch of guys swapping an in-joke you’ll never really appreciate. And it’s exactly these sorts of unexpected antics that make sandbox campaign play so richly rewarding.