live by the Boss, die by the Boss

Two parables from one tragic session on New Year’s Eve:

Parable One

My character, Arnold Littleworth, (a/k/a Zolobachai of the Nine Visions) shows up just in time!  There’s a $25,000 jewel on the other side of this magically locked door.  Holy cow, that’s a fortune if we can get to it!  Arnold casts a spell!  Hurray, the door is no longer magically sealed . . . which means the highly pressurized poison gas on the other side of the door began to seep through, and Arnold impertinently invited himself to the Great Party in the Sky.  (His enemies Lord Kragen and Stronghoen the Beastlord, both of whom more-or-less died at Arnold’s hand, at last have their revenge.)

Moral: successful Dungeons & Dragons play is all about situational awareness.  If you know there’s poison gas on the other side of a door, don’t open the door, stupid!  I got greedy.

Parable Two

Arnold’s adventuring companion was Maldoor Twice-Shy, a brilliant, prudent, meticulous and painstaking magician.  (Together we are Oscar and Felix.)   Maldoor was too smart to inhale the poison gas that killed Arnold.  He eventually escaped with the jewel – but was beset by thieves upon leaving the dungeon.  He killed several of them, but the last thief drank a potion of polymorph to transform into a Purple Worm, and swallowed Maldoor whole – digesting him completely and irrecoverably two hours later.

Moral:  there’s a limit to how much you can think things through.  OD&D is insane and whimsical and you can’t ever be fully prepared.

And Thus

These two parables are in conflict.  I should have anticipated an obvious danger.  But how the hell do you prepare for a thief turning you into the excrement of a gargantuan hell-worm?  (Well: here’s one way; unfortunately Arnold died before he could cast it.)  There’s not many worse ways to die than to get halfway home with an immense jewel, only to end up as worm “castings” before you can cash in.

In life Arnold adhered to the Cult of the Boss.  A “bossful” character understands that caution has its place, for in the eyes of Fate we are all but 1 HD n00b’s.  Yet if life is short, then glory is eternal.  A bizarrely unfortunate death is far more entertaining than cautious, cowering survival.  I am, frankly, a little envious of Maldoor’s death: Arnold’s demise was run-of-the-mill bad luck, but Maldoor got royally fucked.

10 Responses to “live by the Boss, die by the Boss”

  1. 1 maldoor
    January 3, 2011 at 1:38 pm

    I would say another lesson of Maldoor’s death is the recurring D&D theme that your magic-user should never do anything front line. Maldoor went in pursuit of a fleeing magician without his companions Lotur (who was beating up a sloth) and John Fighter (who was healing himself). I rationalize it was a calculated risk: Maldoor was mostly out of spells, but had a wand of paralyzation and figured it would prevail. Sadly, the opponent mage made a save and retaliated with a lightning bolt.

    The discipline required to level a magic-user is to never put yourself in danger in the routine way that a fighting-man is expected to: unfortunately that removes the character from many of exciting situations in the game. So you take a risk here or there (especially in pursuit of someone who tried to steal your treasure!).

    One interesting outcome: we have learned much about the behavior of the polymorph spell in this era of creation. Should we have a magic-user who can cast it, they can, for instance, transform into a nigh-undetectable flea, head to the lair of an opponent, cast fireball, and then leave. The same flea will hit for 1d6, but will have the physical characteristics of a flea: virtually impossible to hit. It will not, on the other hand, be able to exercise the special itchy bite attack of a flea. Worth some thought the next time we have to plan a major heist on someone like Vorlak the Librarian.

  2. January 3, 2011 at 11:42 pm

    Yeah, I agree with you. The trouble is that unstinting discipline isn’t really much of an escapist fantasy. “In my spare time I like to imagine myself as someone even MORE repressed and inhibited than I am in my daily life…”

  3. 3 maldoor
    January 4, 2011 at 1:19 pm

    I like to think that magic-users should avoid combat and other front-line situations (going first, opening doors, trying potions, etc.) but make up for it by doing other crazy stuff. Like summoning elementals, engaging in conversation or negotiations that revolve around bluffs. Or what you did with Arnold, who regularly pretended to be a much more powerful magician like Zolobachai or the 9th Menegril. That way you have a much larger chance of going up big when you go…

  4. 4 Scott LeMien
    January 4, 2011 at 4:29 pm

    I had a question about this which I posted here:

  5. January 4, 2011 at 4:42 pm

    Why are there two of Charlatan?

  6. 6 Charlatan
    January 4, 2011 at 4:56 pm

    1. This is a question asked of charlatans since the dawn of time
    2. I suspect this is an artifact of his being mistakenly assigned to two roles on the blog.

  7. January 4, 2011 at 5:00 pm

    Hmm. So since you refer to “him” would that mean you’re the charlatan of Charlatan?

  8. January 4, 2011 at 7:44 pm

    Scott: As I’m posting there, “Whether or not carousing is a haven from lethality has been a subject of some debate. It’s true that, like TSoY, it’s there to handle more individual relationship-based character development; however its pedigree is older than D&D, and Arneson’s First Fantasy Campaign looks like he used it both to give PCs personality (my guy likes fine wine), enrich barony-level wargaming (this season I will skimp on the armed forces but gain XP by buying a lot of wine), and create adventure hooks (the caravan bringing my wine was hijacked by orcs).” I do agree that a mini-game in which you get to develop your character is somewhat at odds with a main-game in which you get to have your character die horribly, but I think this is a productive tension; we like to have games produce unexpected events that are fun to tell stories about, and the death of Arnold and Maldoor is a notably dramatic outcome that I wouldn’t have made happen if it were just up to me ’cause I loved those guys.

    Charlatan: I tried to fix this to no avail. I’ll try again…

  9. 9 Charlatan
    January 4, 2011 at 7:54 pm

    On the topic at hand: I think the way nycrb approaches carousing also grows out of the mechanics of the sandbox. It’s not only a way to generate hooks, but also a way of incorporating the unplotted events of play into a story. A game may not have a strongly plotted prospective direction, but the continuity of PC’s creates a descriptive vacuum that carousing fills nicely. This aspect of carousing increases investment, making death more horrible (in fact, making the prospect quite frightening) and the game thusly more interesting.

  10. 10 maldoor
    January 5, 2011 at 1:27 pm

    Charlatan – all of them – are spot on here. To re-state: the sandbox is the framework of a world that needs to be described as it is explored. Not just the physical map, but the culture, inhabitants, and house-rules particular to this game which are exposed in play. Carousing allows for that description, and in a way that allows some collaboration between players, DM, and the dice.

    Also when we usually play once a month it allows us to play a bit even when not at the table.

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Past Adventures of the Mule

January 2011

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