The Very Best Of
Jennifer Diane Reitz's
TRUE GAMING STORIES
Fantasy Role Play Incidents
All Are Factual, Experienced By Myself
By Jennifer Diane Reitz
The One-In-A-Million Die Roll
The Coolest Player In The World
The Man Who Actually Won
The Saint Of Dice
Night Of The Living Characters
The Ass That Saved The Future
The One-In-A-Million Die Roll
In 1977, in Sequoia High School, in Redwood City California, I was 17, and running my very first little campus club. The "Dungeons And Dragons Society", as it was called, was in full swing, and D&D fever was at its peak for us.
Now we played in a little windowless extension room that at the time of this incident, has about 30 people in it, so it was very packed, very noisy, sweaty and rather warm. While there were many little games going on, there was one really big adventure taking place in the middle of the room, and one of the players was one of my one-day spouses, Stephen.
I was alternately sitting and standing, watching rather than participating in this game, and back then the games were rather imaginative. The game worlds that folks ran came in every variety, from high tech science fiction to the usual pseudo medieval stuff, even the odd western, modern day, or Jules Verne world. Very diverse. Better -or worse, depending- the worlds were all considered open to each other....so that characters shifted venues and universes from game to game...taking with them their spoils. Some DM's were very conservative, but others...well....handed out anything to anybody.
So, gamewise, we have a quasi-medieval world with a cast of heroes from fantasy, science fiction, and a modern day carwash, all questing after some great dohangus or another, and many of the characters are of diametrically opposing alignments. It was normal for our games to include Chaotic Evil Lichs munging about with rather disgruntled Paladins of Holiness in the same party, barely tolerating each other. We felt it added 'spice' to the proceedings.
Which was all well and good, until this one game I am speaking of, where one character had managed to bring in a suitcase nuke from modern-day Pakistan. Of course this was the Chaotic Neutral character in the bunch, and the player made all his choices with dice, rather than sense.
So, when the Magical Whangus was found, a fight naturally broke out concerning ownership, doubtless due to the encouragement of a Futuristic Evil Hobbit from our earth's future Moon or somesuch...and the Chaotic Neutral character decided that the best way to bring peace and resolve the battle was to press the shiny red button on the suitcase nuke. Ka-blooey.
Now, gamers, as you know, are ferociously attached to their characters, and nobody liked this turn of events, so everyone was scrambling to impossibly save their characters, somehow. All kinds of truly bizarre efforts were argued, ferociously, from saving rolls to calling on gods in the split second of vaporization to attempting to claim that their character would just wake up in a shower next game, like on Dallas. All were rejected, or failed their rolls, or were just shouted down...the DM was one of those sticklers...you know the kind...for 'realism'. Obviously everyone was dead, the end.
Now my Stephen had his favorite character of all, Elo Mazad Kreen, a mysterious High Wizardly type, and it was breaking his heart to just loose his persona that way, so I decided to get clever. Real clever. Fortunately, I study really obscure facts, as a hobby. I'm a nerd, what more do you need to know?
When the A-Bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, it 'blew up real good' as they say, and turned the pretty city into a very flat field of radioactive powder and rubble. Flat as a parking lot, flash prints of vaporized children in fallen stone walls and sidewalks, all gone, good night.
Except. Except for a handful of truly odd, truly mysterious things. A tree, perfectly untouched, not even warmed by the blast, stood alone. A handful of people who just happened to be in the perfect place at the perfect moment to stand up untouched. Most of a building, right at ground zero, still standing. Otherwise, flat and dead. Incredible, but very true.
That was my argument, and since it was historically accurate, it could not be refuted. Elo Mazad Kreen had a chance (Stephen, probably in shock, was the last to confront our fussy DM). I argued very passionately...and finally screamed my way into the DM's heart. He relented. A one-in-a-million-chance. Take it or leave it.
30 pairs of eyes locked on the scene. Only the sound of dice rolling, and 30 people breathing low, but fast. The excitement was palpable, it could be felt, like bubbles in the air.
Six 20-sided dice were selected. Back then they were numbered 1-10 in one color, and 1-10 in another color (actually 1-0...the 0 represented '10'), and to be used as a D20, you would have to call one of the colors 'high' or 'low' to read the die. But they also served perfectly as a superior D10, you could roll any number and just read the digits like the odometer of a car. Six dice, one for each '10s' column in a final number. To roll one in one million, Stephen (we always rolled out OWN dice openly, to avoid 'hidden dice' conflicts) would have to roll a zero on all six dice, in sequence....000000 One Million.
30 pairs of eyes watched and 30 gamers held their breath as Stephen began to roll the fourth sequential perfect '0'. no one dared exhale when he succeeded. It was as if the collective will of 30 people was wishing for only one thing in the whole world, that Stephen succeed. Stephen was rolling not just for himself, but for the collective pride of every slain character's player in that room....for every arbitrarily slain character in every game, everywhere. Even our fussy DM wanted Stephen to win, because that, THAT would be SOMETHING. Four natural zeroes. Incredible!
The next D20 was rolled, the tension escalated to an unbelievable level as Stephen -actually- rolled a zero! It was almost impossible to believe. But it was happening, in front of us all, one more die to go.
As Stephen lifted the sixth die, in a shaking hand, silently, I imagined that If a pin had dropped, the room would have literally exploded and destroyed the entire High School, the tension was so great. He rolled. It was a zero.
The room DID explode, not in violent force, but in deafening cheers. It was the most amazing die roll I have ever seen in my long life. I offer no explanations. It simply happened, and I am glad I got to be a part of it.
The Coolest Player In the World
In 1986, I was 26, and we were living in, of all places, Pocatello Idaho. Houses were cheap, and we had always wanted a house. This adventure did not last long...Pocatello is not a very liberal place, and one of my spouses is significantly less racially 'White' than the local community of Pocatello liked to permit -living- people to be.
However, even in this desert wasteland, lived a small number of outcasts, people who, like yours truly, did things like gaming, instead of Mormon-style Klan Rallies. One of these people, who played in my gaming sessions, was the out of state guest of one of my regulars...and the coolest player I have ever met.
The adventuring party they collectively rolled up was very average (I had learned to check what characters carried on them since High School), all first level starters (for fun, it's neat to run a bunch of low level characters and try to have cleverness make up for powers) had insanely decided to go raid a local dragon cave, high in the mountains of my game world. They crossed a river, by cutting trees and working with ropes and cleverly using the lot...and Mr. Cool, as I will call him, chose to "sit this one out".
The adventures ran across some dangerous and oversized attacking razorback boars, and fought for their very lives....Mr. Cool stayed on the other side of the rocks, and decided to "Just watch, for now".
The party faced a terrifying climb up sheer cliff walls, and used the pitons and climbing equipment in town to make the ascent. A rope and wood contrivance was cleverly fashioned to facilitate hauling treasure back from the dragon cave. Mr. Cool used the device to easily haul himself to the top, safely and in comfort. After it was all finished, of course.
As they approached the dragon caves, the players were mocking 'Mr. Cool' because so far he had earned zero experience, and had accomplished nothing at all. He was a waste of time, and though I kept trying to encourage the quiet player to actually participate, he just chose to "have a think on the rock outside the cave". Perhaps he was just unimaginative, or afraid of making a silly choice, or maybe he did not grasp what playing a Fantasy Role Play Game was all about? Myself, I felt sorry for him. He never did a thing but have his character just sit or watch.
The other players decided on a full stealth assault, once they saw that the dragon was asleep. The giant creature was snoring loudly (of course) and was very, very asleep according to the dice. It would take a bomb to wake it up. So the whole party, (except for Mr. Cool, of course, who decided his character was taking a nap under a nearby tree) got into position around the sleeping dragon. One would use a sword through one of it's eyes, and try to hit the brain for an instant kill. Another choose to go for the anus, looking to hit a major artery for major damage. Others choose holes in the dragons armor, one right over the heart, for a 'Lord Of The Rings' style instant kill. On signal, they all plunged, hacked, cut, stabbed, and pole-axed true.
Every last one of the poor buggers either missed their dexterity roll, or failed to hit anything of note, or fumbled. The screams of the doomed party rang through the caves, as every single character was ripped, shredded, or flamed into oblivion....except, of course, for Mr. Cool.
I asked Mr. Cool what he was going to do, as all of the other players, prepared to pack up their stuff and head home...obviously the game was over, and Mr. Cool would just head back to town like a lump. I would just give it to him, no need to play it out.
Mr. Cool decided to get up and walk straight into the main opening of the dragon's cave, the one with all of the charred armor smoking in front. He held in his hand only one object, the ONLY object he owned, the ONLY object his character had bought in town at the beginning of the game. The players all came back and sat down again.
At the beginning of the game, the other characters had bought armor and weapons and potions and thief kits and such for their new characters. Mr. Cool, being a smartass, wanted only one thing, and he would not play unless he could have it: a box of Oreo cookies. They had to be Oreos, and that was all he wanted. I decided, "Cool"...what the hell, maybe some inter-universal trader had visited some alternate earth and picked up a crate to sell in backward realms. Oreo's equipped, he sallied forth, and refused to share even one with any other character.
Into the Dragon cave, bold as you please, without a trace of fear, Mr. Cool strode. All the while he offered that he was staring directly into the dragon's eyes, with an expression that was not fierce, or frightened, tough or gentle. Simply bored. That was his expression..the expression of a bored man, doing a boring job. He was very particular about this.
He stood facing the dragon, which was still nibbling at the shreds of adventurer on it's mighty claws. The dragon looked at him. He looked at the dragon.
Mr. Cool requested that I roll to see what the reaction of the dragon would be to this. After wiping out a small army of fierce adventurers, an unarmed man in a crap robe, walks in looking bored, and faces the dragon down. Many suggestions were offered, from the dragon immediately incinerating him for insolence, to the dragon doubling over from laughter. I made an impromptu chart and let the player roll the reaction himself.
Confusion and fear. It was reasonable, no sane character would do such a pointless thing, so the only rational thing for the dragon to imagine was that Mr. Cool must be hiding something. Perhaps he was a great wizard that could fry dragons for lunch. Just how confused and afraid was the dragon? On a roll of a D12, with twelve being abject terror, I rolled a 12.
Mr. Cool took out an Oreo cookie. He held it for a moment, regarding it. Then he threw it at the dragon...or rather vaguely in the dragon's direction. He didn't care if it hit anything.
But he did care about how an abjectly terrified, sedentary, treasure-hoarding dragon on a high-cholesterol diet of adventurer, who had just recently over-exercised, would react.
The dice do not lie. Amidst all the possibilities we hastily cobbled together, the result, lowest in probability, was "Massive Fear-Induced Heart Failure".
After scooping up as much treasure as possible, and checking the dead dragon's genitalia (female), he went into the expected egg chamber, and after citing both Pern and agricultural science involving birds, he impressed a hatching dragon. The newly hatched dragon pup, which, now was convinced (and bonded for life) to the notion that "Mr. Cool's" character was its mommy, was more than happy to fly him, his vast haul of treasure, all of the experience for the adventure, and the remaining Oreo Cookies, back to whatever....place....he belonged in.
The Man Who Actually Won
Dungeons and Dragons is not a game anyone can ever 'win'. By it's nature, a Role Playing Game, is never-ending. Every game is a 'slice of life' within a given game universe...characters strive, fight, win the day, save the world, and sometimes die, too. But the players of the game cannot actually 'win', not like a game such as Monopoly, or Chess, Or Go...in those games, at the end, because there IS an end, somebody wins, and everybody else loses. There is no absolute goal in Dungeons and Dragons...even in your favorite character dies, or becomes a god, eventually they leave to play somewhere else...but the world you crafted, waits for a different set of players, another day.
Let me tell you about a High School friend of mine, in fact the very man who taught me how to play D&D...Michael Pearce, the only man in the world to actually WIN Dungeons and Dragons.
Michael is, and was, a remarkable intellect, both incredibly shrewd, and incredibly creative, and in a game of D&D, is astonishing, either as a player, or as a Dungeon Master. Surprises were the normal expectation, playing with Michael, so I was happy to have him a part of a game I was running one day in 1978.
Now I had just read the thoroughly brilliant Harlan Ellison book based on the award winning script for the unutterably terrible television series "The Starlost", and I was hopped up with excitement at the idea of miles long ark spaceships with multitudinous encapsulated biomes. "Silent Running" taken to the max, each biome ten miles in diameter, each unique, hooked up like grapes to the central stalk of a gargantuan star ship. Throw in rapid transport, a doomed course path that must be solved to save the ship, and the fun of having the characters not know they were on a starship inside a dome at first, and there was sure to be plenty of fun for everyone.
Of course, my favorite literature was science fiction, and the Golden Age was my favorite sub-genera, so I had included artifacts from dozens of favored stories in my game universe, from space pods ala 2001 to Heinlein's multidimensional 'Foldbox' from his wonderful novel 'Glory Road'.
I should make a note of how I create game universes. I do not just slap some prefab modules together and run a game. I sit down and literally design a universe...even if I am modelling something I have read by someone else. It is never enough for me to use something as it is, I have to make it mine. My game worlds are literal universes, all of them with unique touches to the physical laws, biology, customs, technology, peoples and every single aspect. I have books filled with universes of my own creation, and one book that just describes the system I have invented for cataloging alien physical laws! Simply put, I fancy myself a 'Creatrix'...not a god or goddess...gods are like social workers that administer universes...customers for universes...no, I mean the being that actually MAKES the universes themselves...the contractor that the gods call on. That's me. I try to be very professional in my calling.
So my starship ark was some 200 miles long, and I had mapped out every one of the fifty, unique, 10-mile-wide spheres that housed a biome, an artificial sky, animals, plants and the culture of one group of people. I had worked out the systems of the ship, and its course, and its correct course, how the semi-sapient computer tried to run things, even how the controls on the pods worked...I liked to challenge medieval characters to figure out spacecraft controls from trial and effort...I used to make props for my players, that sort of thing. All well and good.
The party of brave adventurers had discovered, and come to terms with their medieval village being inside a dome of metal, they had seen the stars outside the windows in the main part of the ship, they had used the direct brain-link educational machine to grasp what was needed to be done, they had sussed the location of the control room so as to save the ship, and at this crucial point, Michael got bored.
You don't want a bored Michael Pearce in your game. Stuff happens. Stuff you could not ever have hoped to prepare for, stuff that you have no rules for.
While everyone else had their characters race to the control room to steer the ship away from the giant red star it was inexorably being driven smack into by a programming fault, Mike's character was going the opposite direction, looking for the shuttle craft bay. The assumption was that he was going to have his character bail on everyone, and he was being mocked a bit for such lack of party spirit. What no one realized was the lack of concern he had for the whole adventure, or the true extent of his ambition.
Now Michael had made sure to take with him his favorite Foldbox, straight from Heinlein, the ultimate accessory to any adventurer. Let me briefly explain the Foldbox, for those unfamiliar with Heinlein.
A Foldbox looks like a cube, eight inches on a side, perhaps nicely decorated, perhaps plain, with a very elaborate knob to open it with. By twisting the knob, the box unfolds, like a flower opening, all the sides opening out from within. Open the lid, and stuff can be placed inside the expanded box, and with a twist of the knob, it closes up, and is utterly safe...nothing can destroy a Foldbox. But wait, there's more! The Foldbox is a hyperdimensional device. Twist the knob once, it unfolds, sure. Twist the same direction again, and the box unfolds yet again. And again. And again. And Again. As big as you want. You can store a caravan inside, easily. the entire furnishings for a house. The house itself. Then, just twist the knob the other way, and the box refolds itself, all the way back to a light, easy to carry, totally massless, eight inch cube. Better than any stupid 'bag of holding' that's for sure!
It was one of the very few things I had ever put in a game that I had not changed in any way. It was true to Heinlein, as best as I could make it. I love Heinlein. Why would I change such a cool device?
Mike was sealed in a space pod, the kind with manipulator arms, just outside the warp-capable shuttlecraft it was stored inside, and he was manipulating his Foldbox with the robot arms. Before him, out the pod window, was the entirety of the 200 mile long generation ship that was carrying the entire contents of a lost world, and which the other players had just incidentally saved from certain doom. As if Mike cared.
Michael used the Pod arm to continuously rotate the knob on the Foldbox. It kept unfolding and unfolding, as one would expect. When the Foldbox was 400 miles on a side, and was still doubling in size at a disturbing rate, I began to become worried. You see, as young as I was, I had not learned the absolutely vital lesson that ALL artifacts in a game must have defined limitations to their abilities. Heinlein did not need such limits for a story where only certain reasonable things would happen. But Dungeons and Dragons is a story that the players make up, and anything.....ANYTHING....can happen, unless limits are carefully, carefully set.
Now, the Foldbox, as stated before, was defined as being massless. Otherwise, it would be impossible to carry so much in it when it was refolded. So, Michael simply, effortlessly slid the massless, 4 light-year wide Foldbox around my entire 200 mile long generation ship, around the other players characters inside the ship, the star they had all nearly collided with, the entire planetary system that surrounded the star, the cloud of comets that surrounded the stellar system of the Red Giant, and a nearby companion star that Michael, for good measure, insisted I roll for because it was an astronomically sound idea.
Then, Michael's character, oblivious to the anger of the other characters in the game, rotated the knob on the Foldbox the other direction...for a goodly time....put his helmet back on, opened the pod, and retrieved his little Foldbox. Placing it in his satchel, he docked with the warp-capable shuttlecraft, and soared off into history.
I always play honorably, and fairly. It's important. I gave Michael my maps. I gave Michael my book. I gave Michael my artifact list, my list of NPC's, my diagrams and props, and entire game universe. The other players dutifully gave him their character sheets (except the wag that had run to the shuttle bay himself, stolen a shuttle, and went into warp before the box closed...swearing revenge), and since there was no more game to play, no more world, no more characters, everyone (except the guy fleeing in the shuttle) agreed that Michael had indeed ... Won.
My generation-starship game (The Man Who Actually Won) inspired the rest of my gaming group at Sequoia High School to run a number of science fiction based games, and for a while, that was all I knew. I had drifted into my own little circle, involved with science fiction (I had started a competing science fiction club and we were obsessing over this brand new 'Star Wars' thing that was coming out), so I was not doing as much D&D for a while as I had been.
One day, in 1979, one of the gaming regulars pulled me aside, and demanded that I do something about the monster I had unleashed. It was all my fault, and damnit, I had better correct the problem or there would be a lynching after school, with me as guest of honor!
The problem was Michael, and his little Foldbox.
Just after the original Foldbox incident, Mike had grilled me about how the damn artifact really worked, in every tiny detail. What would happen, for instance, if he lifted the lid on the contracted, 8 inch version of the box, and looked inside? What would he see? What would happen, say, if he had a handy pair of tweezers....
I relied on my knowledge of Golden Age science fiction to answer questions that Heinlein never covered. I decided that the closest thing to the Foldbox was Henry Kuttner's "Time Locker". Now "Time Locker" was a story that involved a safe, which had been painted inside with a hyperdimensional paint that not only opened a rift in time, but did so by distorting the basic dimensions of spacetime....which is pretty much why spacetime is called 'spacetime'. Looking into the dimensionally extended safe, one could see miniatures of the things placed into it, and one could reach into the distorted space to manipulate the things, for a time, anyway. After a few moments, any object placed into the safe would gradually become affected by the dimensional field, and begin to shrink and fall into the space inside the safe, which was larger on the inside, than on the outside.
I reasoned that something similar would happen with a Foldbox, if one pried open the lid, one would see all manner of objects, from houses to planets, swimming inside it, and that if one were to drop something in, or pull something out, it would take time for the object to itself fold, or unfold, hyperdimensionally. I figured Mike wanted to drop things in, or pull tools out, like using any 'bag of holding'. More convenient. Yeah, right. It was Michael.
When I ran the 'Judgement' game that supposedly would sort out whatever mess was going on, I found the entire space fleets of several entire science fiction universes arrayed in battle position, covering nearly half of the game cosmos. From giant dreadnoughts to tiny fighters, the whole of science fiction was all in league, all ready for a showdown.
Opposing this innumerable multi-universe armada was a single, by comparison, tiny ship. It was a perfect sphere, about 10 miles in diameter. It was constructed of neutronium composite metals, and was solidly packed with super-science machinery, under a shell miles thick. The only moving intrinsic part, as Michael carefully explained to me, was the robot pilot, which was a sapient electronic mind, roughly the size of a shoebox. The machine brain had little wheels, which permitted it to shuttle back and forth between two plugs, in a ten-foot long, 2 foot-high corridor. The corridor was itself located in the very center of the ship. For safety. The rear plug was for recharging the brain, as needed, and the forward plug was the direct interface to the whole of the neutronium starship.
Michael had apparently gone on a Foldbox orgy, scooping up any game he could get into, scooping entire galaxies, into his massless gift from Heinlein. Using the best super-science tools, he had briefly reached into the open, miniaturized Foldbox, and played cosmic tinker. He had smelted Jupiter-sized worlds down, made piles of entire metal-rich star systems, and netted all of the black holes he could collect. Some universes had been melted down whole, others simply picked apart for anything good. He made use of every bit of technology he could pluck with tweezers from countless worlds. He put stars on lathes and hammered laws of physics on hypercosmic anvils. All to construct his ultimate starship. Perfect, nothing to break, one moving part, armored in miles-thick neutronium it was utterly invincible, unique in the multiverse.
But he had not been content to merely be safe. The great sphere was covered in weapons...stellar core accelerators, ravening ray emitters that could release the power of an entire stored galaxy as a single brilliant beam, a rack of mechanized, bolted-on armatures that could rapidly discharge the contents of hundreds of thousands of Foldboxes in sequence, each Foldbox containing one or more black holes of various grades. Singularity machine guns, essentially. Every little idea anyone, including myself, had ever come up with for a game, was taken to any logical extreme that the rules permitted. The lack of defined limits and boundaries had come home. I was indeed to blame.
On one side of a ravaged universe was Michael's ultimate weapon, on the other, a billion, billion starships of every kind and form, all realizing just how helpless they were, before that one, horrific machine. Michael wanted total surrender. Every game and gamer must belong to him alone, and all D&D in our school from now on would be at his blessing only...and we all suspected that he was tired of the game, and would insist that it all stop. No more gaming. What a bastard!
The problem was, being the absolute nerdiest nerds in all of the Silicon Valley of that time, we all played honor-bound to follow the rules. He knew that. He was a nerd too, of the highest caliber.
The defending side called me to conference. This was unfair! I had just ignorantly given away the means of all our destruction to a madman! It just was not fair! There had to be compensation! Such a fuss, such a big deal...but then, it was high school, and everyone is insane at that age. So it mattered bigtime.
I agreed, but Michael objected. He offered that he had done everything according to our mutually agreed house rules, that nothing he had done was anything any other player could not have done, he just thought of it first. Therefore, too bad!
After much acrimony, on all sides, a compromise was reached. The Alliance Of Starships would get an appropriate weapon or tool to give them a fair chance, my pick, and in compensation for that, I would give Michael an equivalent weapon too. Since Mike's ultimate machine was already impervious and unbeatable, the defenders agreed that it would be no real difference in any event. I reached for my stack of special index cards, each of which had upon it an illustrated and fully described unique creation of mine. They were my best prizes. Unfortunately for everyone involved, I was a really sick puppy back then.
The defending Alliance got another science fiction homage, in this case, the tiny can of time-spray from Harry Harrison's infamous science fiction parody book "Star Smashers Of The Galaxy Rangers". The can could literally spray time, and its use was such that when activated, it would spray the half of the universe it was pointed at backwards in time to Event Zero....the total mass of that universe half being compressed, only to explode, creating the Big Bang itself. Handy for universes that have no official explanation of their 'Big Bang' yet. For those that have 'Big Bangs', anyway.
The card that Michael drew from my private deck was original. It was the product of a teenage imagination, and most of all, a teenage sense of humor.
The Acne 2000.
The Acne 2000 was a roughly football sized organic hyperdimensional weapon. The fleshy ovoid was kept inactive only by how it was housed....within a fish tank filled to the brim with a solution of Clearasil and other facial ointments. Covering the Acne 2000 were countless glowing, pulsing pimples of doom, and it floated in its tank like a pustule-covered oceanic mine.
Once lifted from the Clearasil solution, and exposed, the device was armed. Picking just one of the pulsing pimples detonated the weapon, with horrendous results. An infinite amount of flowing pus would immediately spew from the dimensional pore that would open up, after a brief hyper-acne reaction. The pus, spewing from an infinite hell of filth, would fill the entire universe end to end, chock-a-block with putrefaction, before the secondary reaction reached critical mass. The entire universe, welling under a neverending flow of schmutz, would itself swell in multiple dimensions, and burst, filling any other nearby universes, which themselves would drown and burst, and so on, ad-infinitum, until there was nothing extant anywhere, anywhen, in any game world, except white, gooey, smelly pimple sauce.
On one side, the neutronium ship, and standing on a magnatomic gangplank, suspended in a low-gee force bubble, stood not Michael's character, but supposedly Michael himself, in person, in the game. He held the fish closely, its deadly contends burbling inside.
On the other side a billion, billion starships, dreadnoughts, spacefaring dragons in pressure suits, spelljammer galleons manned by wizards, and mobile moons mounted with plasma cannons. The Alliance Of Starships, and leading them all, one lone player, standing suited in an open airlock, holding a small spray-can filled with Time itself.
Now, it was a Western, and this was high noon in space.
Michael lifted the Acne 2000 from its thick, slippery goo, and a lone spaceman lifted his can and aimed in the general direction of his enemy.
It all came down to a roll of initiative. The higher number would press, or squeeze, first.
It was agreed that the missing mass of the universe, if only half of it had gone back in time to create the Big Bang, must have come from somewhere else, somewhere with a lot of mass to spare. As Michael and his ship fell backwards in time, he frantically popped and squeezed and picked. Now you now what Event Zero was composed of.
The Saint Of Dice
I have played a lot of Dungeons and Dragons, and related, games in my life. Rolling dice are an intrinsic part of such games, because they allow unusual things to happen, unusual results that surprise and amaze. Dice also give people the illusion of control over Fate...dice are random, yet people often feel like they are able to 'control' the probabilities, in a kind of real magick, some unexplained ability. When highly improbable events with dice occur, it is easy to believe such nonsense. Or perhaps we humans can affect probability...I will let you be the judge, for yourself.
One time, during my days as a paid, professional DM, I had been running a free game for some people I was involved with at the time, and the brother of the person I was most involved with at the time came up to me and made a rather incredible statement.
His friend was visiting, had heard of what fame I had back in those days, and wanted to meet me...and by the way, this friend could ALWAYS roll within one number of any target on a 20 sided die. Without fail. On any die. Any time.
Sheah, my ass! Still, since the fellow was visiting, and since it really would not take any time to see for myself, and since he was a big fan of mine, I agreed to put up with whatever farce would be tossed to me.
The first five or six rolls, each on a different die from my personal collection were all perfect and exact. The value '20', time after time. Then I borrowed the dice collection of an observing friend, doubting my own dice, despite the fact that I had painted them myself (you had to in those days) and knew my own dice inside and out (I have an enormous collection of polyhedral dice). The next five or six rolled I called at random....just picking numbers out of the blue. Whether it was an 18, or a 3, or a 12, or 20 again....this young man always, and without fail, on any die I gave him, (so long as it was a twenty-sided die, he could not do it on any other die) he could roll within one number. When I called 18, as I remember, he rolled 17, for instance. He never missed, not even once, and I must have tested him several dozen times. I wanted more, but he was getting bored, besides, I had run out of fresh, new d20's to use. We used every d20 anyone had. I would not repeat using the same die, trying to see if somehow the dice were rigged.
He did not know how he did this trick. He just noticed, one day, that he could do it. He was not that amazed by it anymore. He had been doing it for several years. Adults could not care less, or refused to even bother to look. I was almost so skeptical myself, that I nearly shunned him as well. I am glad I did not, in retrospect.
To this day I have no explanation whatsoever for what I saw. I tested the lads claim as carefully as I could, given the situation, and there was no shortage of witnesses from every angle. He did not palm the die, or do anything odd....several times I asked him to simply hold out his hand, palm up, where I deposited a d20, and had him just roll the die off of his palm, without closing his fingers. Just let the die fall off and hit the table. It made no difference.
I have no idea what ever became of the boy, but I will always remember whatever it was that he could do.
A little side bit of human psychology can be seen here...the One-In-A-Million Die Roll above, that so impressed me was actually less incredible that what this lad could do. Statistically it is highly unlikely for my Stephen to roll six consecutive zeroes on 20 sided dice, but it is virtually impossible for that young man to have been able to roll any number of targets as he did. Yet, because of the strong emotions, and tremendous catharsis of Stephen's roll, I remember it as being the more impressive.
I offer that what we see as astonishing is as much a matter of our emotional excitement over it, as the thing itself.
Night Of The Living Characters
I had a great, imaginative group of players when I was in college, back at San Francisco State University in the early 80's. These players were among the best I ever played with, not only because they were fair and even-tempered, all around good sports, and very, very bright and clever, but especially because they were damn good role-players. They really got into their characters, and to an extent, during the course of play, almost became them. They had speech mannerisms, body language, even unique facial expressions which they performed while playing at the table. It was a supreme gaming experience, because they really put their hearts into the story, into the game, and most of all, into their characters. It was almost like dice-controlled improvisational theater!
Now one night was very special, almost magical. The dice were singing, the rolls were impressive, and our adventure was cosmic in scope. Indeed, being cosmic was the focus of this particular adventure, in that the plot had diverged from any expected storyline, as the player characters made use of some extremely high-tech and high-magical devices that they had come across to begin exploring beyond the boundaries of their game universe.
You see, when I ran my games, I operated from my own set of six hand-written and illustrated books which attempted to describe not just one universe, but all possible universes. I had fleshed out many universes of my own design, all with unique physics and laws, so that there would be the feeling of infinite adventure in my campaigns. These players had finally breached the limits of their world, and I was squirming in my seat with joy at the thought of all this prior work being used, of the wonder I imagined my players would feel as they found that, unlike other GM's, I was prepared to offer them...infinity! They could romp through any cosmos, and enjoy true adventuring freedom.
However, I was not prepared for what these especially clever players decided to do. They sought nothing less than Enlightenment.
After some adventuring and many exciting situations, the characters had become aware of who and what they actually were: characters, in a game, played by some college students on a backwater world in a mediocre universe. I thought this was interesting in itself, the idea of players now playing characters that understood they were characters being run by players in a game. Very cosmic stuff, and loaded with mystical import, and suchlike; but this was not enough. Oh no. Not for my players.
The characters decided they would use their newfound tools to travel the multiverse, not for treasure, not for glory, but instead, to meet their players. The players, deeply into role-playing their characters, wanted to travel to earth, to our cosmos, and meet the people who were playing them.
This was too challenging to pass up. The air was charged with emotion, and excitement was running very high. I always play my games fairly, and I could see no reason within the logic of my game system that this could not be allowed, so...
The party decided to steer their Mutiversal Mover to Earth.
The characters managed to make landing, not far from the college, from SFSU. They followed their newly developed, Enlightened senses through a strange, extremely low-magic world of stop signs, automobiles, and paved roads. They found the college at last, and then the dorms, where they sensed their players lived. They entered the lobby, getting stares from students. They managed to figure out how to work the elevator, and proceeded up to the top floor, and found themselves in a hallway. Following their mystic connections they made their way to the closed door of the communal kitchen, and waited outside.
My players were breathless. I was breathless. In the rapture of a well played, high-emotion role-playing session, we could all just feel those characters outside the door, waiting to dare to enter. The tension was unbearable. It felt utterly, eerily real, as though in some strange way we had broken some basic law of the nature of reality, and somehow, these fictions had actually been brought into existence, and we dared to imagine, to feel, to believe, just for a moment, that these games were really windows into other universes, that mysticism and magick were real, and that just outside the kitchen, a miracle was taking place!
In hushed tones, a player stated that his character would make a fist and lightly...
At that exact moment an insistant knocking -pounded- at the kitchen door.
As one, we all literally leapt up in our seats.
The poor student who entered had no idea of why there were seven people in the kitchen laughing hysterically while looking deathly frightened at the same time.
The Ass That Saved The Future
The best tabletop RPG sessions are not, I have found, usually filled with high powered characters. Above a certain level, chacters become godlike, and after that, well, things either become pointless, or silly. So in reality, becoming super powerful is death to an RPG character. Generally, you have to retire them
Which is why I so love low level characters, especially when they face serious danger and manage to overcome it. Using a Godly Slashing Blade of Slaughter (+25) is boooring....but using a can opener to save a world...now that is fantastic stuff there, the true stuff of legend.
Let me tell you how one of my worlds was saved...by a lowly, fat, bare tush.
As you know, I play my RPG universes for keeps...what the players do becomes a permanent change to my universes. And by universes, I do mean the plural, I have many. One, however, was my first fully worked out universe, and despite some serious immaturities in the design, well, I have a soft spot for it.
The Gorbald Universe is one of my signature pocket-class universes, with planets only 4000 miles in diameter, galaxies of only 100 stars, and only 42 galaxies in the entire universe. I had bothered to plot all the stars, planetary systems and so forth, and I had worked out a truly astonishing level of detail for it all spanning four filled blank books....I put so work into it.
One planet began it all, Pelenor, with its three moons, eight continents, and many islands, a pelagic planet of high magic and swords and sorcery...and a GART stop. Galactic Area Rapid Transport. A bus stop to the stars. It also had ruins with abandoned starships, the planet was once a base for an alien race long extinct. It was now of interest to the Ayar, a species of sapient avian hunters who are extremely keen on propriety...be there on time, follow the rituals, or we destroy your world and several others we saw on the way in.
Long story short, my players, several only 2nd level...such as the starship engineer from Pentolamerkan played by one of my spouses, Sandra, had ended up acting the role of official representitives for my favorite backwater planet, and they needed to sign a trade agreement for the world with the Ayar, and they needed to do this at a specific time, and at a specific place, and they also needed a really decent greeting gift, and even Goddess could not help if they mucked it up.
After many struggles they finally managed to get to a point where the goal was within sight, but one of my players, apparently as student of my famous DuBois Dubois, decided to double cross everyone. You see, there was a marvelous ancient starship filled with goodies that they had come across on the way to this meeting, and it had become their only means of transport, and it was worth a fortune, and ultimately, Cheron, a half-feline thief, decided that nobody would miss one little planet.
The rest of the party, down to one starship and nothing else, had voted to give the fancy starship to the Ayar, and take the 'bus' back to Pentolamerkan, after gathering the vast reward they would get from Lord Bertrand Arantaurus, the emperor of Pelenor at the time. The starship would be a superior gift to the Ayar, and would assure a bright future for everyone concerned...as well as the survival of my favorite world...with such a gift, even if everything else went wrong, the Ayar would surely forgive.
Cheron did not care about this...selling the ancient ship would set her up as queen of her own planet. She was neutral evil, and well, the rest of HER party had outlived their usefulness to her important goals.
So, she decided that to avoid any arguments, she would off them all and take the ship.
Everyone was trapped in the starboard airlock. Everyone except Cheron, of course, who was happily working the pressure controls from the comfort of a comfy chair in the control room. Don't bother to ask how this situation came about, suffice it to say that sometimes things like this happen, especially if one player has it in for everyone else and is clever.
So there they are, hours left to save the day, almost to the goal, and one player betrays the party and they are stuck in the rapidly depressurizing airlock of a beautiful ancient starship, and it is getting harder to breath. They have only a few, weak tools, including a universal screwdriver..useless on the doors by the way...and no way to get out. It is doom city. Bye by Pelenor, bye bye party, happy giggling half-cat thief on the speakers. Nasty.
Now in space adventures, one big issue is the conditions of space...which by and large generally means what exactly will vacuum do to a body, especially your body, in some...unfortunate circumstance. Let me tell you, as I told them.
Initial exposure to vacuum is not fatal. First the small capillaries burst, creating a bloody-looking but mostly harmless mess around the eyes, nose, ears and mouth. After about 30 seconds to a full minute, a person will become unconcious. During all of this time the flesh becomes very puffy and swollen, but that is about it. After about half an hour, long after death (the brain dies at about four minutes, the body follows soon after) the corpse will swell up like a balloon, but will not burst. Eventually the body loses gas over time, and you have a freeze-dried, vacuum preserved Taste-E-Corpse.
So, Vacuum does NOT make people explode, like you see in certain, rather poorly researched, sci-fi movies.
Which is all vital information, if you are slowly being killed inside the airlock of an ancient alien ship armed only with a screwdriver, and not, say, a Godly Slashing Blade of Slaughter (+25).
My Sandi's solution was ingenious.
She asked me all about the airlock, of course, as any good player would, and the thing that held her interest was ultimately the place the air was going...given enough time, her engineer character could figure a way to open the doors by getting at the wiring, but they clearly did not have that kind of time...they had minutes at best. Air was being sucked out, stop that, and they would have enough time.
The air was being evacuated into storage tanks deep within the ship through a large, grated tube that opened into the ceiling of the huge ancient airlock. The tube was about half a meter around, perhaps a bit less, so they could not crawl out that way. Nothing they had on them could possibly block an opening that large...they had removed the grating, of course, and shoved all their clothing up the tube, but the powerful compressors had simply sucked the clothing away.
Naked, dying clowly in the airlock, the party was a great source of amusment for the cattish Cheron, who was having a field day mocking them, watching them on a viewscreen. Time was almost up.
Sandra asked one of the other players, who had a tall, beefy warrior character, to lift her small but pudgy engineer up to the vent, bottom up. This surpized everyone, but the situation was desperate. He complied, and her engineer was placed ass first against the tube.
Naked, the engineer's rear end made a perfect, self-sealing cork and totally stopped the depressurization. In terrible pain, as the flesh of her ass distending in what became a total vacuum, the brave engineer barked instructions to the rest of the party as to how to use her tools to gain access to the wiring, and ultimately, to open the inner door.
The rest of the party ran to the control room, and after a brief gunbattle, Cheron surrendered on the promise she would not be killed. The airlock control was adjusted, and Sandi's engineer fell to the ground, quite alive, but resembling a baboon from the rear.
They made it to the meeting with the Ayar. The Ayar were beyond pleased with the ship, with the meeting, and with how gallantly a certain engineer managed to deal with them despite an obvious limp.
Pelenor was saved, Cheron was left to spend time in the prison system of Arantaurus, and everyone else went home on the GART star-bus a very wealthy and successful set of adventurers.
Of course, one of these adventurers, the true hero of the adventure, chose to stand up, holding the hand rail, the whole trip back.
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