Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Quintessential Dungeon Master

Back in the days of yore, around the time when Iron Maiden’s “Flight of Icarus” video could be seen on daytime MTV, and the Baltimore Orioles were winning their last World Series, there was a young high-schooler affectionately called Chico.

Chico was a Dungeon Master. That means instead of doing homework or playing sports, he was busy making Dungeons and Dragons adventures for other people to participate in. Let the record show that Chico was rarely a PLAYER of D&D. He chiefly existed to be the Dungeon Master.

Now, dungeon masters come in all shapes and sizes. However, Chico was “special”. He was the Quintessential Dungeon Master.

Chico was probably around average height and build for a teenager, with perhaps a bit more girth than most, due to the fact that he never picked up a basketball or worked out in the gym.  He walked as one hunched forward, leaning out over his front feet. This was probably due to the heavy backpack he bore through the school halls, which undoubtedly housed all of the D&D reference books needed for the spontaneous Dungeon Master.

Watching Chico run was pure delight for the senses. Whereas most teenage boys look somewhat agile in their gait, Chico ran as though his leg muscles had severely atrophied, taking quick baby steps, looking as though he would topple onto his face at any moment.

Slovenly is how I would describe Chico’s appearance. His brown-grey hair was always semi-short, yet he was always brushing it away from his eyes. I believe it may have stuck to his forehead at times. Since Chico rarely showered, his dandruff was legendary. The numerous white flakes cascaded perpetually onto his heavy blue-grey coat, which he always wore. His fashion sense was the epitome of unkempt. He usually wore a plaid (or other striped design), button down shirt accompanied by too-short, strangely-colored pants, dirty white socks and grey Adidas knock-off sneakers.

Chico had one of the more remarkable faces that you would ever want to see. His eyes were dark and beady, reminding one of black pools of Abyss. He had an enormous overbite, his top teeth jutting far out over those beneath.  When Chico smiled at you, his eyes beaded up into little prunes. You always had the feeling that one of the demon princes (or Ygorl from the Fiend Folio) had taken up refuge inside his head, and that his huge mouth would open up and envelop you in an instant.

Chico’s intelligence was strictly limited to the world of D&D.  He was not an “A” student, perhaps not even a “B” student. He cared little for the academic demands of English, Math and Health classes, concentrating his mind solely on statistics such as the hit dice of a Skeleton Warrior or the experience points needed to advance a 15th level Thief. Chico’s unheralded genius lie in the realm of Chess Clubs, Scientific American and the Monster Manual, not SAT scores.

Chico’s role as Dungeon Master dictated a strong repelling of the opposite sex, well actually, any sex. Females in particular shunned the Master of Adventure, citing such phrases as “He seems really nice” or “Why doesn’t he ever wash his hair?” For Chico to talk to any woman would be rare in the extreme, and was usually accompanied by a redness of the cheeks, and looking down at his feet, muttering rather than speaking.

I only had occasion to visit Chico’s house a couple of times. His parents owned a nice house on a 2-acre lot, above average for the neighborhood. Despite this, his family’s abode smelled somewhere between a fart and an old shoe. You didn’t dare eat anything at Chico’s house, because you were never quite sure where the smell was coming from. However, this was Chico’s domain. This was where the adventures took place. And Chico was master.

As I mentioned before, Chico rarely played Dungeons and Dragons as a player character. He had no desire to be flung about at the whims of another dungeon master such as himself. No desire to be defeated, when he could be the defeater. And when it came to being the DM, Chico was as ruthless as they come.

For one adventure that Chico expertly whipped up in his head, I happened to create a 1st level character. When one starts out a campaign at 1st level, one expects the challenge and/or competition to be appropriate for that character’s abilities. However, that was never Chico’s way. He mostly dwelt in the realm of god-like persons: 28th level mages, arch-devils and ancient dragons. For Chico, anything below 10th level was just a momentary precursor to the real game.

Thus, my first level character and supporting party entered a typical low-level dungeon, and had some moderate success, escaping with our lives. When we exited the caverns, we discovered a road, which we followed to a nearby city.  What should come out of the city to greet us but an army of 3000 soldiers, led by a 19th-level mage casting Delayed Blast Fireballs. Needless to say, we were Delayed-Blast Incinerated.

Bored with the low-level shenanigans, Chico would insist on the players using a higher-level party, say 9th level. We would spend several hours carefully choosing our classes, equipping our characters with whatever magic items Chico would allow, and learning new spells for the upcoming adventure.

I remember the session began with my party outside three cave entrances, somewhat like the Tomb of Horrors (Chico’s favorite official D&D module). We chose one entrance, and crept carefully inside. However, no amount of care could stop Chico from dropping a heavy stone wall on my party, bringing the hit point total of my main character from 43 down to 4 within 30 seconds of entering the dungeon. Barely alive, we chose another entrance, and even more carefully navigated the hallway around the bend. As soon as the light from the outside was no longer visible, our torches went out, and we found ourselves in total blackness.

What happened next was Chico’s genius operating in its element. One of the party members, a fighter, “tripped” and lost all of his hit points and died. The culprit? Juiblex (whose name I always misspelled Jubilex), the Faceless Demon Lord of slimes and oozes, who was revealed when the lights came back on. 


For those who don’t know, Juiblex resides on the 222nd layer of the Abyss, can swallow foes whole, and spits out acidic secretions which can dissolve just about anything. He is basically a great pile of demonic ooze. What he was doing unguarded in a dark hallway on the Prime Material Plane is anybody’s guess. Chico!!

Those of us who remained ran down the hall, only to come into a wide, empty cavern.  The cavern was not empty for long, because Orcus, lord of the undead, soon came riding in atop a German Panzer tank. As if two demon lords were not enough to contend with, Asmodeus, the Overlord of the Nine Hells was next to enter. How they destroyed us is irrelevant. Of more importance is that the actual adventure proved to be much shorter than the anticipation of it.

When Chico DID play as a player-character, he used what may be the most blatant abuse of power in D&D history, the Anti-Paladin. A regular paladin was supposed to be a virtuous, lawful-good knight type who existed primarily to serve the common good. As such, he would gain special powers, such as self-healing, which were not available to the other classes. He also had higher-than-normal ability scores to compensate for the tend toward goodness. The Anti-Paladin had all of the powers of the good paladin, but in reverse. So, Chico’s character would be able to hurt, not heal. Also, his mount was a flame-spewing nightmare from the nether reaches. When Chico fought, he used a Dark Vorpal Blade +12. In other words, he rarely, if ever, missed anything that he swung at.  He took out a village of 400 orcs with his sword alone. I never saw Chico’s Anti-paladin at anything less than 40th level, and I doubt that it ever was.

That is all that I have to say about Chico, a high-minded, misunderstood master of his domain, who never quite fit in to the real world, but who always excelled in ruling others in the realm of Dungeons and Dragons.

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