Tag Archives: Dungeons and Dragons

Demons and Devils

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Playing Dungeons and Dragons in Texas during the ’80’s and ’90’s was basically a subversive act.  The reason?  Fundamentalist Christians actively stepped in and persecuted you for it.  It was their sincere belief that a thing that had demons, devils, and dragons in it had to be from Satan.  Satan, they reasoned, used a game like that to poison the imaginations of innocent children and turn them to the Dark Side of the Force.  Or, rather, the Devil’s side of religion.  They were terrified of subtle corruption of the mind, believing that certain patterns of words and ideas could turn goodness into evil.  In other words, their religion advocated living in a bubble of non-association with certain words and ideas in order to superstitiously inoculate themselves against badness.  They were, of course, not entirely wrong.

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Kids playing the game will often develop the desire to play the Dark Side, to be an evil character, to commit evil acts and murder without the hindrance of conscience.  That is the reason I wouldn’t let my own kids even consider playing Grand Theft Auto or similar murder, rape, and pillage sort of video games.   It is, in fact, possible to desensitize yourself to violence and immoral behavior, and I have serious philosophical doubts whenever anyone tries to tell me that that can be a good thing.  My Dungeons and Dragons games always contained a rarely spoken understanding that if you chose to play an evil character you were going to lose everything, because any adventure is solved and overcome by combating evil and siding with the forces of goodness.  Paladins with their magical swords of ultimate sugary goodness are always stronger than evil wizards with their wimpy bat familiars and potions in the end.

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But leaving out demons and devils was never truly an option. If you never face decisions between good and evil during playtime, what hope do you have of avoiding a life-altering mistake later in life when faced with evil for real.  If you are going to make an evil choice, say for instance, committing an act of murder, isn’t it better to learn the consequences of such an act when the murder was killing an imaginary rival wizard for a magic staff you coveted than if you committed that murder in a fit of passion in real life?  The fact that the rival wizard’s spirit takes up residence in the staff and finds a way to punish you every time you use it for the remainder of your adventuring life in the game may teach you something you can use when faced with the opportunity to steal for profit and get away with it to make a better decision about what to do.

In the Tomb of Death adventure that the three demons illustrated in this post came from, the only solution was to find the weakness in the demon team.  Estellia had been ill treated by the other two and deeply resented it.  She resented it enough to tell the adventurers’ thief about the brass demon bottle that could be used to magically imprison the demons and then force them to do the bottle owner’s bidding.  Viscarus had been using it to control the other two, so only his soul truly needed to be captured.  The demon-hearts of the other two were already inside.  That story taught several lessons.  Manipulative evil can bite you in the neck even if you are the one wielding it.  (If only Trump and his cronies had learned that about their own brass demon bottle.)

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Evil people don’t see themselves as evil.  Often they only see themselves as victims.  And it is true in real life that there is goodness in even the most heartlessly evil people.  You can find it, appeal to it, and possibly even reach the goodness in their hearts necessary to change them for the better.

I truly believe that those kids who over the years played my story-telling games were better, stronger, and more inherently good because they played my games and learned my lessons.  I believe it is true even though there may have occasionally been demons and devils in the stories.  And if I believe it strongly enough, it must be true.  Isn’t that how faith is supposed to work?

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Filed under Dungeons and Dragons, heroes, humor, Paffooney, strange and wonderful ideas about life, villains

Life By a Roll of the Dice

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These are Warhammer 40,000 Harlequin Warriors I painted myself.

Over the years I have played many role-playing games.  Virtually always I have done so as the game master, the dungeon master, the story-teller behind the action.  Players decide what to do about the story problems I represent to them.  They have characters that have painstakingly advanced in skills and levels of skills to use for the problem-solving the plot centers around.  But ultimately, when they take action, the outcomes are decided by a roll of the dice.

Life is like that.  You labor hard to control what happens next in your life.  But random chance intervenes.  If you are the Harlequin Space Elf known as Smiley Creaturefeature (the masked elf in the green robe on the front row, far left in the picture above) and your band of high level Harlequin War Dancers have come to Checkertown City Square hunting for your hated enemy, Bone-sucker the Space Orc, it is entirely possible when you use your scanner operator skills to find him, you could roll a “1” on the twenty-sided dice.  This would mean failure.  Not merely failure, but failure on a spectacular level.  The scanner would explode, killing your entire squad, yourself included.  And all those weeks of building the character up to level 17 in order to defeat Bone-sucker and his mutant minions, would be lost and become all-for-nothing in the disappointment department.

Of course, a benevolent game master would alter the outcome in some way to keep the story going.  Perhaps the exploding scanner, instead of killing everyone, created a mini worm hole in the fabric of space-time and transported them to a parallel dimension where Bone-sucker is actually the chaotic good hero of Checkertown, and you must now work out an alliance with him to fight his enemies, the other-dimensional versions of you that are actual Evil Smiley Creaturefeature and his band of Evil Harlequin Space Elves.  You must then defeat your evil selves carrying out the evil plot that the game master had originally designed for the villain Bone-sucker to employ before returning to your own original dimension.

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Real life does not work that way.  It works more like you see above.  The lovely, metal-bikini-clad female barbarian of swimming pool repair is faced with the attack of the giant rats of city pool inspection, necessary electrical repair, and limited finances.  You can see, if you look incredibly carefully at the purple twenty-sided dice, that her defensive attack roll is a “2” for catastrophic failure.  Her sword cuts off her own leg and causes personal bankruptcy.  The giant rats roll a lucky “13” on the black twenty-sided dice for successful tooth and claw attacks.  They then go on to eat her and force the pool to be removed from the property, using up all the money the player (who is me, by the way) has left.

No game master steps in to create a more reasonable outcome.  The worst possible outcome is what happens.  That is how real life works.  Roll the dice, and lose your swimming pool.

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The Sorcerer’s Tower

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In the mysterious continent of Xendrick, the adventuring party came across a very old abandoned tower.  The only way into the tower was a long sloping tunnel that turned out to be trapped and filled with a deadly poison and the numerous corpses of the previous adventuring parties.  Of course, if you are a D & D adventurer, such a tunnel is not going to scare you off.  It is going to irresistibly pull you in.

After nearly dying on three different attempts to get through the tunnel, Gandy Rumspot, the halfling rogue and thief, realized that it was a poison gas in the tunnel.  So he sent Big Cogwheel, the warforged artificial man who didn’t need to actually breathe air, to use his natural immunity to poison to go down and open the tricky invisible door and gain access to the tower.

Voila!  On to further tricks and traps.  At one point, exploding skeleton warriors animated by necromantic trap spells nearly killed Cog the warforged (by rolling a twenty on an attack roll) and required a miraculous magical repair by Gandy to save him.  That left the big metal man with a permanent irrational fear of skeletons.

Along the way, they encountered and had to overcome a bound female demon who had been imprisoned in the tower to keep watch over the property.  She was the slave of the Wizard Crane, builder of the tower long ago, who had then gone abroad and died in his semi-noble quest to slay a devil.  She told the adventurers a great deal about her former master and her imprisonment, monologuing  as villains will before killing and eating the adventurers.  She overdid it, though, accidentally revealing the presence in the room of the devil jar that enslaved her, and even more stupidly, revealing how to activate the jar to physically seal her inside like a genii in a lamp.

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Finally, they found the teleport room in the top of the tower which zapped them to the dungeon under the earth where Crane’s ultimate treasure was kept.  It turned out to be a crystal ball which contained all the knowledge, memories, and experiences of Crane himself.  In fact, Crane’s entire life up to the point where he left on his fatal adventure took the form of Crane’s imprisoned self, longing to have someone to talk to again after hundreds of years of loneliness.  This proved to be a great boon to the magic users in the party, especially the half-elven wizardess Drualia.  So that adventure left the adventuring team with more than a mere heap of experience points.  It also gained them a crystal ball with an imprisoned sorcerer in it to talk too much and complain too much and teach them exotic and dangerous magic spells.

Like any three-session D & D adventure, this one was probably a lot more entertaining to play than it was to retell, but there it is, complete with the secrets that kept my players thinking about them for more than three weeks.

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D&D the Robert E. Howard Way

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The idea for this post is to illustrate with covers from my own collection of books and comics.

Robert E. Howard, for those of you who like the stories but never look for the name of the author, is the young Texan who created Conan the Barbarian.  I say “young” because, although he was born in 1906, he died in 1936 at the age of 30.  And this young man created not only the iconic hero of the epic sword and sorcery genre of fiction, but basically founded the genre itself.  He definitely laid down the basics of it as a pattern for all others to follow.  Including the players of the sword and sorcery Dungeons and Dragons game.

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For D & D players the primary influence of all this is the Conan method of problem-solving.  “If you are confronted with a complex problem, a life and death problem, whack it with a sword until the problem is solved.”  This is the source of fascination for players with the fighter character; the warrior, the paladin, the knight, or the barbarian.  Superior physical prowess gives the individual control over so much more than he or she could ever be in control of in real life.  (And stop making that face while reading this.  Girls do play Dungeons and Dragons too.  I’ve seen it happen in school and with my own daughter.)

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And for the story-teller, also known as the game master or dungeon master, this can be a very good thing.  The sense of power  extremely high strength and endurance scores provide get the character strongly addicted to the hack and slash style of play, allowing you to teach all kinds of timely morals to the story about the need to use your brain and your creativity once in a while as well.

Conan was a brute and a slayer.  But he is perceived as a good guy because he was also capable of standing up for the little guy, righting wrongs and protecting others from powerful evils.  Conan had empathy, if not love, for others, and exhibited truly magnificent levels of the power to sacrifice self for the good of others and the general well-being of the weak.   As game master, all you need to do is add a vulnerable character to the party that needs some protecting in the fantasy game world.  It helps if that character has a good sense of humor, useful knowledge to offer, or cuteness to offer in return for the protection.  But even that is not required.  D & D players learn to wield power in ways that benefit others.  The Spiderman thing, you know; “With great power comes great responsibility.”  It is a lesson about life that many non-D & D players also really need to learn in their youth.

The Robert E. Howard way does not always work out so well for wizards.  Conan hated magic and wizards.  He whacked wizards even harder than he did other bad guys.  But that is generally assumed to apply to evil wizards.  Conan sometimes appreciated having a wizard on his side.

But the basic conclusion is this; there is a brutal, barbarian way to handle problems in real life as well as in Dungeons and Dragons life.  And it would be much better for everyone if people learned the right way and the wrong way to use it in the game world before the choice has to be made in the real world.

 

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Filed under artists I admire, artwork, characters, Dungeons and Dragons, empathy, heroes, humor, strange and wonderful ideas about life

Playing with Metal Miniatures

My family Dungeons and Dragons game has always been enhanced by my vast collection of miniature figures that I have collected and even painted over the course of almost forty years.  But I am always ready to collect more.  I even still have a large number of unpainted minis to finish.  But Walmart recently started selling collectible metal minis in box sets for $5 apiece.   So, that has brought Harry Potter to the Cardboard Castle.

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Here you see Dumbledore leading Harry, Hermoine, and Ron to the front castle gate.

These metal miniatures are a little larger than the usual scale, so Ron doesn’t quite fit through the tower door on his right.  And I don’t have character game statistics on these particular wizards, but that won’t take me long.

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Dumbledore meets a swordgirl I painted over a quarter of a century ago.

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Harry and friends meet a couple of happy wererats that arrived at the castle before them.

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The gang gets to check out some of the unique scenery and meet some of the resident monsters.

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Big Jumbo the elephant has volunteered to guard the castle gate if everyone goes inside for a big feast.

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Ditty and the Gladiator kill a dragon to make dragon burgers for the feast.

So this week’s D & D post is about metal miniatures.  It shows you how bad this old man has gotten when it comes to playing with his toys.

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Evil Wizards

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Evil Voldemort has now appeared atop the highest tower of Cardboard Castle.  Please ignore the snake who appears to be doing something really creepy and x-rated.

In the Dungeons and Dragons game, just like in good fantasy fiction, it is the villain of the episode who makes or breaks the story.  Good villains in D & D often means an evil wizard.  After all, what would the Harry Potter saga be without Voldemort… (sorry, I mean “He who must not be named.”

Like H.W.M.N.B.N., a good villain must have a truly evil goal in mind, something for the heroes to thwart or fail to thwart until the world is on the edge of ultimate doom.  Brother Garrow, the shape-changer masquerading as a vampire cleric of the Blood of Vol religion, wanted to find an ancient mechanical evil in an earth-rending robot, and bring it back to life.  He was fully thwarted and died a horrible death, but the robot would later be given life and unleashed anyway.  Malekith the Pyromancer wanted to subvert the entire college of magic at Cymril University and set them on a path to a new age of necromancers and undead evil.  Unfortunately, the heroes got side-tracked with looting the Peppermint Wizard’s Candy Store and Alchemy Shop, so he is still out there subverting successfully.

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Morgoth the Mad and the High Lama of Krakatos

Some wizards, like Morgoth the Mad are based on published game characters, and some are entirely my own creation like the High Lama.  Both of these wizards are not only lead figurines that I painted myself, but they both lend an oxymoronic meaning to the idea of “Good Villains”.  Morgoth was certainly evil when he tried to sack the city of Gansdorf.  But his son, Kath, was adopted by the heroes and raised to be a hero himself (though one that bore endless suspicion because who ever heard of a hero with bat wings?)  The High Lama did only evil magic spells, but he also raised an orphanage full of adolescent were-rats.  Any mentor and teacher, no matter how evil, cannot be all bad in my book.

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Lucan Stellos was not actually a wizard himself.  He was an agent of the Kingdom of Breland who should’ve been a great hero, but got turned into a vampire by the evil vampire queen of Sharn.

His sister, Grilsha Stellos, however, was a level 6 sorceress who used her magic to help her brother carry out the will of his evil mistress.  She loved her brother and fought for him courageously, but in the end she fell in combat with the player characters.  It was her death that shook Lucan free of the power of his mistress, and so he let himself be captured, expecting to be destroyed.

Instead, the heroes set him on a path to redemption as a good vampire, killing other vampires in the name of a forgiving god and vengeance for his lost sister.

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And let me end this silly list of evil wizards with the Lizard Wizard.  Old Lizzie is dragon-born, half man, half dragon.  And he uses his evil dragon magic to loot and plunder for the pleasure of himself and his lizard-man minions like Kato who follows him here. In the picture, you can see old Eli Tragedy trying to drive the Lizard Wizard out of the Cardboard Castle with his magic wand of really painful cold sores.

And that is not the end of my list of evil wizards.  They are immensely fun to play with, so naturally I have a lot more.  But I will not inflict them upon you here and now. Too much evil in one essay is never a good idea.

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Filed under Dungeons and Dragons, heroes, humor, making cardboard castles, monsters, photo paffoonies, villains

D & D Action Pictures

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I finished my fantasy battle scene started over a week ago.  In many ways it was just like a D & D battle fought on the table top with miniatures, a battlefield grid, and dice.  It had to happen in steps.

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Remember this step?  The pen and ink step?  That isn’t even the first step.  But pencil drawings don’t photograph and reproduce as well as pen and ink.

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And then the colored pencil work had to proceed a section at a time.

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I basically went character by character, starting with the good guys.

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And that is the same way the combat occurs.  Shandra the Unicorn Maiden rolled an 18 for initiative on the twenty-sided dice.  So she attacked first.  She only got a 15 on the attack roll, however, so her wand of silver-fire only did five points of damage, depriving the kobold of one claw arm.  The shadow archer (not pictured because he was invisible at the time) had a 16 on initiative and an 18 on attack, so he wounded Sammy the Satyr with a two-point damage from his crossbow bolt to Sammy’s left arm, preventing the young satyr from attacking during the round.  Turkoman the Wizard was next, using his wand of fire-bolts to attack the skeleton-ghost, igniting its death shroud and making it drop its magic +2 long sword.  You can see both Greebo the Half-orc and the evil beast-thing have not yet taken their turns in the combat.  Seriously, a three-round combat seems to take forever in the D & D game.

So. there you have it.  My Dungeons and Dragons post for this week is simply an excuse to show off the newest silly drawing I did, brag a little bit, and play silly word-games even more.  I hope I didn’t stretch your patience to the breaking point yet again.

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