Here is Chapter 9 from The Dungeon Master by William Dear, the story of Dear’s investigation in the disappearance of James Dallas Egbert III from Michigan State University in 1979.
Egbert was a player of D&D and Dear suspected that the disappearance may have been linked to the game. Rumors of live-action games in the steam tunnels under campus were running wild, and, in order to get an understanding of D&D, Dear picked up a copy. Later, he hired a couple of students to play a game with him. This chapter is Dear’s account of that session. It’s rather long, but I found it interesting when I first read it back in about 1986 and again today.
MY DUNGEON MASTER AND HIS FRIEND arrived promptly at 2 P.M., as agreed. I’d had only two hours’ sleep, but I’d manage to shower and shave and put on fresh clothes and I felt wide awake. For reasons I can’t explain, I tingled with anticipation and curiosity.
I didn’t know what to expect from my dungeon master. Would he show up in a Merlin costume, with a funny pointed cap and star: emblazoned all around? Would he be dressed as some authority figure, an all-knowing wizard or a god? I knew he would have complete control over the circumstances of the fantasy adventure on which was about to embark. I knew he would be absolutely fair, siding neither with me nor with the monsters I would face; he was an arbiter of the strictest impartiality, and his decisions were final. Would he com dressed in the robes of an eminent jurist?
He came dressed in sweater and jeans and scuffed tennis shoes. H might have been Jack Armstrong, so open, friendly, and Midwest- fresh did he seem. His friend, a good-looking Mexican-American sophomore who might have been an athlete, was named Louis. The three of us gravitated to the table and sat around it, and I explained again that I had never played Dungeons & Dragons.
“Have you read the Players Manual?” the dungeon master asked.
“Then let’s begin.”
He asked me a few personal questions, including what my favorite fantasy was, a subject I lied about. Then he asked me to roll dice of various shapes several times, wrote on a sheet of paper, and handed it to me when I was finished. It read:
Magic-User Third Level
Hit Points 6
Armor Class 7
Boots (low top)
Gold 39 pieces
Next came more questions. “How many days’ food do you want to carry?” the dungeon master asked.
“Do you want waterskin or wineskin?”
“Do you want any rope?”
“Would you like a torch or a lantern?”
“I’d like a lantern.”
“Do you want a bag or a sack to carry things?”
“What you’ve purchased has cost you twenty-eight of your thirty- nine gold pieces. Can you think of anything else you want?”
“Do I have a sword or a knife?”
“No. Because of your poor strength, you probably couldn’t wield a sword.”
“I’ll take a knife.”
“Which kind? A regular dagger, or a silver one? A silver one is good against werewolves, wererats, werebears, and so on. It costs thirty gold pieces. You don’t have that many. Do you want to trade back some of your other equipment?”
“How much is the regular dagger?”
“Three gold pieces.”
“I’ll take that one.”
“Roll this die,” the dungeon master said, handing me a many-sided blue cube. I rolled an 8. Next I rolled a 9. I was rolling to determine my magic-user’s spells. He could Detect Magic, Charm a Person, and Create Continual Light (a second-level spell; the others are simpler, first-level spells).
“This is your last chance to buy anything,” the dungeon master said. He seemed like a cold sort to me — not frigid, or very unfriendly, just uninvolved. I could expect no favors from him. But I was beginning to glimpse some of the attractions of this latest college craze. Just answering the questions, learning who I was to be, started to make me forget where I really was and what my true identity was. Subtly and unconsciously, I was becoming my character.
“I think I’ve bought enough,” I said. What did I know?
“What kind of race do you want to be? An elf? A hailing? A dwarf? A human?”
“A human.” This was going to be tough enough without becoming something else that I wasn’t.
“What name do you want?”
I thought it over for a moment. “Tor,” I said. Tor sounded like strength. I knew the magic-user had very little strength — Dallas had very little strength, but he had wanted it. Maybe the name Tor would help me acquire it.
Louis already had a character he had played before. I did not know his “character sheet,” though later I saw it:
Fighter/Thief— Second Level
Constitution 18- 1
Hit pts. 13
Armor Class 6
Leather armor With shield
Two-handed sword (+ 1 magical)
Long bow with 24 arrows
Food (14 days)
Boots (high top)
Cloak (many pockets)
Chance of Success:
Pick Pockets 35%
Open Locks 29%
Find/Remove Traps 25%
Move Silently 21%
Hide in Shadows 15%
Climb Walls 86%
Hear Noise 10%
Louis and I would go on the adventure together. I understood that he could be my valuable friend or might betray me in the most sinister fashion. I looked closely at him, trying to fathom his deepest motives. It was hopeless, of course. He was not the character he was playing whom he called Dan. In truth, he was a college kid who had made it clear that he was missing an “important” party to play this game. I could guess why the party was important, and told him he had to get his priorities straight. Sensibly, he didn’t listen. I think he knew I was just jealous. Anyway, he soon gave the game his full attention, and I suspected he was now into whatever character he was playing. I let myself sink deeper into the role of magic-user.
The dungeon master talked in a noncommittal monotone. “You two have just entered the town of Hann, which is on the northern edge of a body of water and is surrounded by rugged mountains. Northwest of the town, set in the mountains, is a tall, dark tower. You can smell the pungent odor of fish from the harbor. Dan fills Tor in on what is happening.”
“There’s a nice tavern in town,” said Dan/Louis. “It’s not far from here. I’m thirsty. How about going there with me?”
“I found a tunnel that leads from the tavern. We might want to explore it. But one important thing: don’t, under any circumstances, make fun of the people of Hann.”
“I’m sure there’s a reason for this.”
“As you head for the tavern,” the dungeon master said, “several beggars, noticing that you are well-dressed travelers, run toward you asking for money. What do you do?”
“How many beggars are there?” Tor/I asked.
“There’s a lot of confusion. You’d have a lot of trouble counting them all. They’re tugging at your clothes.”
“I pull a gold piece out of my pocket,” said Dan, “and throw it as far away as I can.”
“Some of the beggars run away and fight over the gold piece,” said the dungeon master. “The rest are still in your way. While this is happening, you hear a commotion coming from down the street. A man carrying a box is being chased by several guards. What do you do now?”
“We duck into the tavern,” said Dan.
“It’s several blocks away,” said the dungeon master.
“I’m interested in the box,” Tor/I said. “I’d like to take it.”
“You’re not a thief, are you?” asked Dan.
“I’m an adventurer. I want to know what’s in the box.”
“Fine. You stay here. I’m going to the tavern.”
“While you’re arguing,” the dungeon master said, “the man bursts through the crowd of beggars. If you want that box, now’s your chance.”
“I intend to take that chance.”
“Roll to see if you succeed,” said the dungeon master, handing me a die. I rolled an 18, the maximum being 20.
“You have the box,” said the dungeon master. “What do you do with it?” “I hide it under my cloak and walk away from the mob, toward the tavern.”
“One of the guards sees you,” said the dungeon master, “and orders you to stop.”
“I run toward the tavern. At least I know there’s a tunnel there.”
“You overtake Dan as you head for the tavern. Do you acknowledge his presence?”
“I tell him I’ve got the box.”
“I run with him,” said Dan, “and show him where to go.”
“You reach the tavern,” said the dungeon master. “But six guards are on your trail, just twenty feet behind. You make it inside, but it’s midafternoon and the place is nearly deserted.”
“I point to a curtain,” Dan said. “I throw a gold piece to the bar- tender and duck behind the curtain into a booth.”
“Are you following Dan?” the dungeon master asked me.
“Inside the booth a wooden table and two benches are set up next to a stone wall,” said the dungeon master. “There’s a candle on the table and two candles on the wall.”
“I push the table aside,” explained Dan, “and this reveals the en- trance to the tunnel. I motion Tor to go in. I intend to follow and close up the entrance after I’m in.”
“I’m going into the tunnel,” Tor said.
“While Tor is entering the tunnel, you hear the guards yelling at the bartender, demanding to know where you’ve gone. The bartender says he doesn’t know. Giving him the gold piece has bought his silence.” The dungeon master handed the ten-sided die to Dan to determine whether he could shut the entrance to the tunnel without being heard. He rolled a 7 the first time and a 3 the second time, giving him a total of 73.
“That’s not good enough,” said the dungeon master. “The guards have heard you.” The dungeon master rolled the die himself. He did not tell us what number came up. “You hear the curtain being pulled open, and one of the guards yells that no one is here. Another replies that the other booths need to be checked.”
“I urge Tor to crawl down the passageway,” said Dan.
“The tunnel,” agreed the dungeon master, “is just large enough to crawl through. After ten feet it opens into a room.”
“When I get into the room,” said Dan, “I try to light my lantern.”
“What do you do, Tor?” the dungeon master asked.
“I wait to see if Dan’s lantern lights.”
“The lantern lights,” said the dungeon master.
“Can I see Tor’s face clearly?” Dan asked.
The dungeon master nodded.
“I turn to Tor,” said Dan, “and ask him what the hell he’s doing, getting the guards on our trail. They cut the hands off thieves in this own. You’re a real jerk, Tor, and dangerous besides. We could have been killed by that showboat stunt of yours.”
“That’s the chance you take for teaming up with me,” Tor replied. ‘I’m a risk-taker.”
The dungeon master intervened. “While Dan is talking, you see several crates piled up in a corner of the room. You notice also that there’s a regular doorway, hewn out of rock, that leads out of the room. One of the crates is open and you can see it’s filled with straw.”
“When do we look at what I stole?” Tor asked.
“Nothing’s worth the trouble you put us through to get it,” grumbled Dan. “The box Tor stole,” said the dungeon master, “is the size of a cigar box and made of rosewood. It has a large silver lock built into it. Do you have a key?” he asked sarcastically. It was clear he knew that Tor had no such key.
“No key,” said Tor. “Let me see if I can jimmy that open,” offered Dan.
“Make a roll,” said the dungeon master.
Dan rolled a 27.
“It’s open,” said the dungeon master. “Inside you see a medallion resting on velvet lining. On the medallion’s face are three curved lines. Is either of you going to touch it?”
“I’ll pick it up by the chain,” said Tor. “I don’t want to touch the medallion itself.”
“Nothing happens,” replied the dungeon master.
“Isn’t that medallion pretty?” said Dan.
“I’ll take it off your hands f you don’t want it.”
“That’s okay with me,” Tor agreed. He realized that fine medallions ike this one were very rare, and might contain deadly poisons.
“I put the medallion on,” said Dan. “Does it make me invisible?”
‘‘No, said the dungeon master.
“Do I feel stronger?”
“Am I quicker on my feet?”
“Does the medallion do anything when I rub it?” Dan rubbed the medallion.
“A table appears, covered with food and wine.”
“I’m hungry,” Tor said. “I’m going to eat.”
“I don’t know.” Dan was nervous. “Last time I was here I got ambushed. I think we ought to keep moving along. Bring some win with us and let’s be on our way.”
“I’m going to enjoy my food,” said Tor. “I’ve only got a seven-day supply of food. I don’t know how long I’ll be in this god-awful place I’ll eat this food and conserve my own.”
“You’ll be the death of me yet,” complained Dan. But he sat down and nibbled tentatively, keeping his eye on that door.”
“Wind gushes through the door,” said the dungeon master, “blowing out all the light.”
“I draw my sword,” said Dan, “and back away from the table, up against the wail.”
“I stuff food into my pocket,” declared Tor. “I can tell that Dan is afraid of that cold air, but I’m not.”
“A blinding flash of light illuminates the room,” said the dungeon master. “For a moment neither of you can see. As your sight returns you hear the voice of an old man telling you to return what you’ve stolen or it won’t go well with you.”
“I was on my way to return it,” explained Dan. “Just stopped her for a bite to eat.”
“The voice informs you that it will overlook this transgression you will do something for it,” said the dungeon master.
“Who the hell are you?” Tor shouted at the voice. “You’re just goddamn voice to me.”
“The voice,” said the dungeon master, “as you can now tell, belongs to a gray-bearded old man. He says that no knave and lowly apprentice are going to defy him, the mighty Avatar of the Black Tower. The old man laughs at you. He says that if you bring him the Ring of Karn, he will spare your lives. He laughs once again and disappears and in his hands is the medallion.”
“I don’t know about Dan,” Tor said, “but I think we’d better look for that Ring of Karn.”
“You’ve gotten me into more trouble,” Dan whined.
“Me? You’re the one who rubbed that damn medallion.”
“I wonder why the wizard won’t go get the Ring of Karn himself.”
“You’ve got two ways you can go,” said the dungeon master. “You can crawl back the way you came, or you can go through that door.”
“I’m going through the door,” Tor said. “I’m curious about what we’ll find.”
“You go first,” urged Dan.
“You’ve got weapons,” Tor pointed out. “You go first.”
“I’m not going first,” said Dan. “You can use your magic.”
“Give me a few pieces of gold,” Tor said. “I get paid for taking chances.” Tor knew his money supply was low. This was a way to raise some badly needed cash.
“Aw, what the hell,” agreed Dan. “You’re too puny to fight. I don’t want to be stuck here alone. I’ll give you two pieces of gold.”
“Make it four.”
“Mark it off on your sheets,” the dungeon master said. “Keep careful track of how much money you have. Now…the tunnel you’re traveling through after you go past the door leads down, and you can see for a distance of twenty feet. The tunnel also twists as it wends downward, and in these spots you can only see for five feet. The air is getting staler the further you travel, and you can almost taste the odor of rotting trash. You hear rats rustling in the sewage. The passageway opens up into a large sewer that goes both to the right and to the left. Now, Dan, make a roll to see whether you’re moving silently.”
Dan rolled 34. Unbeknownst to me, Dan wasn’t concerned with walking silently; he wanted to pick my pocket. And he succeeded: he took his three gold pieces back, plus one other. If Dan had not made a lucky roll, the dungeon master would have told me of his thievery and I could have retaliated. As it was, I didn’t know I’d lost my money.
“In each direction,” said the dungeon master, “you can see piles of trash, and in periodic places lights are attached to the ceiling. You can occasionally glimpse movement in the piles of trash. They actually are in motion. One of the piles not only moves but has a squeaking noise emanating from it. What do you do?”
“I draw my sword,” said Dan. “I’ve had experience with how dangerous this place is.”
“What happened to you?” Tor asked.
“A black marketeer came at me with a torch and nearly killed me.”
“We’ve got to go right or left,” Tor said. “I vote for the right, the direction of the noise.” Tor figured that the squeaking noise was just rats.
“Let’s go,” agreed Dan. “Are my eyes adjusting?” he asked the dungeon master.
“Not if the lantern is kept on. Of course, if the lantern is put out, Tor can’t see. “The lantern’s staying on,” Tor declared.
“The passageway is wide and tall enough so you can walk side beside,” said the dungeon master. He rolled the die, telling neither Tor nor Dan the reason. Then Tor made a roll. It was a 6.
“Up ahead are five dog-sized rats,” explained the dungeon master “They are coming toward you, but you’ve seen them. They haven’t caught you by surprise.”
“I attack the rats with my sword,” said Dan. He rolled the twenty sided die and got a 12.
“You hit one,” said the dungeon master. “You needed to roll a least a ten. How much damage did you do?” Dan rolled a six-sided die.
“I did five points.”
“That rat’s dead,” said the dungeon master. “Dan is fighting two more rats. Tor, two others have attacked you.”
“I pull out my dagger,” declared Tor.
“While you’re pulling out your dagger,” said the dungeon master “both rats bite you.” He rolled the die twice, once for each rat. The total was five points. “How many hit points do you have left?”
“I started with six,” Tor answered, examining his sheet of paper “I have only one left.” Tor thought what an idiot he’d been not to use his magic.
“Dan,” said the dungeon master, “luckily, no rats have bitten you. Roll for initiative.” Dan rolled a 5, the dungeon master a 4. “You’ve won,” said the dungeon master. “The two of you get to attack first.’
“I hurl a magic missile,” said Tor.
“Roll how much damage you did,” said the dungeon master. Tor did four points of damage. “You killed one rat,” said the dungeon master, “and the other has backed away.”
Dan rolled the twenty-sided die. A 14. A hit. He rolled again to se how much damage he’d done: six points.
“You cleaved right through one of them,” said the dungeon master “The other rat turned and ran.”
“One rat left,” said Dan. “Do you want to kill him, Tor, or should I?”
“I yell at the rat,” replied Tor, “and move toward him menacingly while drawing my dagger all the way out.”
“The rat turns and runs,” said the dungeon maker.
Tor realized that he was in pretty bad shape. He had only one hit point left. Lose all your hit points and you’re dead. Kaput. Finito Poof. Out of the adventure. Tor was going to have to do more thinking and less doing. “Do you both continue?” the dungeon master asked.
“Yes,” Dan and Tor replied.
“You come upon a portcullis,” said the dungeon master. “The portcullis is old and rusty and some of the grating has been knocked out. You can probably step through it if you want.”
Tor and Dan agreed to go through.
The dungeon master continued. “On the other side the sewer goes to the left and continues forward. Two different ways. Which way do you go?”
“We’re not going back to the top,” Dan said. “Those guards will arrest us. Good going, Tor. What a loser you are. All you stole was hat medallion, and the Avatar has that. I honestly think I’d be better off without you.”
“Screw you,” Tor replied.
“I don’t think you see the big picture,” said Dan with a sneer. “Yours is the worm’s-eye view. You’re down to one hit point. You’re bleeding profusely. I think you want to make a deal.”
“What kind of deal?”
“What do you have to offer? You need protection. I’ll provide it, or a price.”
Tor could tell that Dan was a low type, but it was easy to see hat he did offer protection. “How many pieces of gold do you want?” Tor asked. Tor hated Dan, a greed machine if ever there was one.
“Five pieces,” said Dan.
“Get lost,” said Tor. “Take three or leave it.”
“No deal. I hope that rat comes back and eats you. What an epitaph: Here Lies Tor, Eaten by a Rat.”
“Well, at least I won’t have submitted to your blackmail.” Even Tor, who had hardly been playing a textbook game, could see flaws in his reasoning. He felt bad enough about the way things had been going, but the slimy Dan had to rub it in.
“You’re about the sorriest magic-user I’ve ever had the misfortune of running across. You have all this magic that you never use. You steal right under the noses of an entire battalion of guards. You stuff our face with food when your life is in danger. You fiddle with a dagger and get chewed up by rats. You’re five feet four, skinny as a rail, and you run around like King Kong.”
“Can I cast a spell?” Tor whispered to the dungeon master, so Dan couldn’t hear. “To charm him into protecting me simply because he rants to, not because he intends to rob me blind?”
“I’ll tell you if it works,” the dungeon master said in a low voice. Then, in a normal voice, “You two still haven’t decided what direction you’re going to go in. Tor, which way do you want to go?”
“Dan, is left all right with you?”
“Dan, as you turn the corner, make a roll.”
Dan did not realize that this roll was to determine whether Tor’s spell affected him. He rolled a 3. The dungeon master winked at Tor The spell had taken hold.
“Actually,” said Dan, “you’re re not a bad guy, Tor. You’re just a greenhorn. I need to develop the milk of human kindness. The more I think of it, the more I see what a really fine fellow you are.”
This was more like it, Tor thought. But Tor was feeling dizzy. H needed to sit down, rest, eat more of that food he’d taken from the table. The spell he’d cast, not to mention the beating he’d absorbed from those rats, had taken more out of him than he’d thought. “Let’s take a break and eat,” he suggested.
“Let’s go on a little farther, my friend,” Dan replied. My friend! This devious creep had previously had nothing but ridicule for Tor heaping insult upon insult, a constant rain of abuse that undoubtedly had been deserved. “We can find a safer place, my comrade,” h continued, “where you can relax and enjoy your repast.”
“All right,” the dungeon master said, “you’re heading down that sewer which led off to your left. Up ahead is a door on your left. Beyond the door, straight ahead, is a carrion crawler, a creature that feeds on the dead. The carrion crawler has many legs, like a centipede and is nine feet long. The beast is three feet high and has tentacles coming out of its face. It looks like it is feeding on an arm that is not quite human.”
“I put away my sword,” said Dan, “and pull out my bow and arrow I’m going to try to kill the carrion crawler.”
“Roll the die,” the dungeon master ordered.
Dan rolled a 9.
“You were so far off that the carrion crawler didn’t even notice,” the dungeon master said.
Dan rolled again. Another miss. But the carrion crawler had seen Tor and Dan and was charging toward them.
Again Dan rolled, and this time it was a hit. “You got him in a shoulder,” the dungeon master said, “but he’s still coming.”
Tor could see that carrion crawler coming. The creature was hideous; it seemed almost as large as a train as it rushed toward Dan and Tor.
“The carrion crawler is five feet away,” the dungeon master said. His voice was without inflection, without emotion. He didn’t care. That beast wasn’t charging at him.
“I drop my bow,” said Dan, “and draw my sword.” He rolled the die, swung, and missed.
“The carrion crawler swings a tentacle at Dan but misses,” the dungeon master explained. “You get a whiff of the creature. It’s nauseating, and you’re afraid you’ll gag. The stench is something straight out of the bowels of hell. Acidy, pungent with chemicals. The carrion crawler has been living in slime and putrid water. Now that the beast is almost on top of you, you can see the damage your arrow inflicted. Black pus oozes from the wound.”
“I swing at it again with my sword,” Dan said. “It’s a hit!”
“You chopped off several tentacles and buried your sword in its face,” said the dungeon master. “A tremble runs through the carrion crawler’s body. It emits a blood-curdling scream and strikes Dan with several of its tentacles. Dan, make a roll versus paralysis. You need to roll thirteen or higher.” A 13!
“You’re still with us, Dan,” the dungeon master said. “What are you doing, Tor?”
“I’m feeling weak,” Tor said.
“Very understandable, my buddy,” sympathized Dan, who would surely have bitten Tor’s head off if not for that blessed spell. “But maybe you should lend some assistance, my dear pal. In the meantime, I swing again at the carrion crawler.”
“A hit!” the dungeon master said. “The creature dies.”
“I wish you wouldn’t put me through such a dangerous experience,” Tor said. “You’re supposed to protect me.” Dan was exhausted. He had red marks on his arms where the tentacles had lashed him.
“Sorry I didn’t handle it better, my treasured friend.”
“Try to shape up, will you?”
“I’ll do my best, most glorious companion.”
The dungeon master leaned over and whispered in Tor’s ear. “That spell you cast won’t last forever,” he said. “Maybe you should ease up a bit. Dan will remember how you treated him. Watch out when Dan starts looking confused. It will mean he’s coming out of the spell.”
But by that time, Tor figured, he’d have his strength back. “I think we ought to examine that arm the carrion crawler was gnawing,” Tor said. “It may give us a clue as to what lies ahead.”
“It belongs to an orc,” Dan said, looking over the arm and then seeing the rest of the body lying up ahead in the sewer. “Orcs are the foulest of creatures. Ugly. Mean. Dirty. Smelly. Terrible tempers. A gorilla, without the social graces of a gorilla. Their language would make a tavern wench blush. They always put themselves at the service of cruel and evil leaders. Carrion crawlers seem like Cub Scouts com- pared to an orc.”
“Why don’t you lead the way?” Tor asked Dan. “I’ll be following behind.” Way behind, Tor thought.
“Whatever you say, old pal,” agreed Dan.
“You find a pouch at the side of the dead orc’s body,” said the dungeon master. “Inside are five copper pieces, two silver pieces, two rubies and a pearl, and a potion.”
“Is there a book next to the orc?” Dan asked.
“No,” said the dungeon master. “But you do see a pair of boots dangling from his belt that are too small for him to wear.”
“Can I wear them?”
“I put the pouch and its treasure into one of my pockets,” said Dan. “I put the boots in another pocket.”
“Wait a minute,” complained Tor. “We’re partners in this. Share and share alike.”
“We’ll split it when we find a place to rest,” Dan explained. “There’s not time for that now. These dead bodies will surely attract a lot of attention.”
This made sense to Tor.
“Do you want to go through the door or straight ahead?” the dungeon master asked. “The door is a foot or so off the sewer floor. Ii appears to be a normal wooden door.”
“Does the door open inward or outward?” Tor asked.
“Inward,” the dungeon master said, “from left to right.”
“I’ll stand at the right of the door,” Dan said. “Tor, you stand at the left. I’ll push the door open with my sword. You, staunch companion, shine that lantern you graciously took from me into the room.”
Tor wondered if the spell was beginning to wear off. That “graciously” business had a ring of sarcasm to it.
The dungeon master made a roll. “From what you can see, said, “the room is empty.”
“How big is the room?” Tor asked.
“Twenty feet by twenty feet.”
“I shine the lantern around the room,” Tor said.
“In the far right corner,” intoned the dungeon master, “you see an opening leading to the right. Against the far wall you discover a pile of clothing and spears that appear to be of orcish origin. What do you do?”
“Why don’t you check out those clothes and spears?” Tor asked.
‘‘Why don’t you?” Dan replied.
Damn! Tor thought. The spell is wearing off. “Well,” he said, “close the door behind you. I don’t want anything coming out of that sewer into this room.
“As you approach the door, you feel a hot gust of wind that blows the door shut and makes a loud noise,” the dungeon master said to Dan.
“I’m going to search for traps,” Dan declared.
“You search the room thoroughly,” said the dungeon master, “and find no traps.”
“We’ll split the spears between us,” Tor suggested. “I don’t think either of us wants the clothing. It’s flea-ridden and has a disgusting odor. I’ll wedge that door shut with one of the spears.”
“We both need rest,” Dan said. “Why not here?”
“The smell is terrible,” Tor complained.
“We may not find anything better.”
“That’s true enough.”
“You sleep first,” Dan said. “I’ll guard that opening in the far right corner. I’ll wake you in four hours.”
Tor wasn’t sure he could trust Dan, but what choice did he have? He was wounded from the skirmish with the rats, and exhausted. He decided that he would have to sleep first, but he demanded to stay right next to Dan. Tor wanted at least the possibility of being awakened if his fellow adventurer decided to pull something. This agreed upon, Tor went to sleep, and Dan, his sword drawn, guarded the room, and especially that opening in the far right corner.
“Two hours have passed,” the dungeon master stated. “Dan, make a roll.” He did so. “That’s not high enough,” the dungeon master said. “Dan, you fall asleep also. Hours go by, and you sleep soundly. But then you’re awakened by dark figures with rough, cruel hands. You’ve been surrounded by orcs. Do you struggle?”
“No,” said Tor. “I’ve regained a lot of strength, but I want to gain back a little more. I’ll make my move later.”
“How many orcs are there?” Dan asked.
“You can see four or five,” said the dungeon master, “but there are more in the shadows.” “I stand up,” said Tor, “holding the tip of my dagger against my thigh. I look into the eyes of the chief orc.”
“He grins, then comes straight at you with a rope drawn. He intends to tie you up.”
“I charge at him,” Dan said, “swinging my sword.”
Dan rolled the die.
“You knocked the chief orc aside,” the dungeon master said. “But Tor is bound and gagged and being carried out of the room. Dan, four or five orcs are circling around you, and there are others behind these.”
“Well, I’m angry,” said Dan belligerently. “These orcs are no good, and I’m going to fight them. They can’t do this to me. I charge them too.”
“Roll,” said the dungeon master, unimpressed by this macho outburst.
“A four,” groaned a suddenly subdued Dan.
“You’re clubbed on the head,” said the dungeon master, “and fade into unconsciousness.”
“I decide to continue to play the waiting game,” said Tor. “They’re using ropes to bind us. That means at least they don’t intend to kill us right away. Their purpose is to incapacitate.”
“The two of you are carried through that opening in the wall, around a corner, to a ladder that goes through a hole in the floor. You feel an updraft of steamy air coming through the hole. You are dropped through this hole to waiting hands and are carried out of that room into another. The temperature is getting higher, and your lungs taste sulfur and smoke. In this next room you see several orcs forging weapons in a furnace. You’re carried out of that room, past the working orcs, who don’t even take notice of you, and into a passageway that is dry and cool. You go a long distance in this passageway, the only diversion being listening to the orcs chatter. You are getting deeper and deeper into a maze of great complexity. Suddenly the chattering stops. A knife is put to Tor’s throat. It is clear that the orcs want Tor to be quiet. Dan is apparently still unconscious, so this precaution is unnecessary with him, but enough time has elapsed now to see if he has awakened.”
Dan rolled that strange-looking die. An 18. “Great to be back in the land of the living,” Dan said.
This is the land of the living? Tor thought. Bound up by characters who give new definition to the word ugly and whose intentions make those of the Nazis seem pure in comparison, and carried through a nightmarish maze with temperature extremes that first boiled, then froze — if this is the land of the living, how much worse can its opposite be?
“Up ahead,” said the dungeon master, you see a red glow that grows in size as you get nearer. The temperature rises with each step taken by your captors.”
“I pretend to be still knocked out,” said Dan. “I want the element of surprise on my side if the time comes.
The dungeon master continued. “You come to a portion of the wall where there is a crack just large enough to wedge through. The heat at this point is terrific. The orcs, on tiptoes, are as still as death.”
“Now!” shouted Dan. “Now is the time I make my move! The orcs clearly are distracted by whatever has plunged them into silence, and what passes for their minds can’t be concentrated on us with this heat bearing in on them. I start to struggle violently.”
“The orcs who are carrying you start to run. From behind the crack you hear a mighty rumble, like a hundred volcanoes erupting at once, and the very ground underneath you trembles, as if in the grip of a fearsome earthquake. A voice that beats like thunder roars forth awesomely: ‘You orcs have disturbed my sleep for the last time!’ ”
“A dragon!” moaned Dan.
“Now’s the time to make your move, huh?” said Tor. “With a dragon nearly on top of us!” Dragons are the most fearsome creatures of all. Monsters don’t come any tougher, meaner, or deadlier.
“You look behind you, toward the crack, as the orcs run,” the dungeon master calmly related, “and you see flames shooting toward you. The passageway is engulfed in wave after wave of fire, mowing down everything in its path. Several orcs go down, consumed by the holocaust. Dan, you are severely burned, left lying on the floor. Your leather armor has melted and is sticking to your body, but you’re alive, if you want to call it that. Tor, fortunately, because you weren’t struggling, you avoided being hurt. The orcs carrying you were able to speed just out of reach of the flames. The dragon figures he’s torched everyone, and ceases his attack. As the heat begins to subside, the cooling effect causes cracks to appear in the tunnel. You sense the start of a massive cave-in. Several orcs sneak back, pick up Dan, and as quickly and quietly as possible carry him to where Tor is being held.”
“Orcs are the most rotten of the rotten,” Dan said. “They don’t care about me. It must be that their asses will be grass if they don’t get us to wherever they’re supposed to go.
“So you’re still alive,” Tor said to Dan. “Are you going to try some thing else insane? Jesus, waking up a dragon!” This was really nasty. Dan was near death, and the best Tor could offer was abuse.
“Ohhhhhh,” replied Dan.
Wonderful, thought Tor. And I was counting on him for protection?
“You travel further,” said the dungeon master, “to a stairway that leads even deeper into the ground.”
“I hope you remember how to get out of here,” Dan said to Tor. “I’ve been knocked out, and now I’m too injured to pay attention.” He spoke these words one at a time, with the greatest difficulty.
“What good are you, anyway?” Tor asked.
“Ohhhhhh,” moaned Dan.
“At the bottom of the stairs you travel again through a maze of passageways and tunnels,” continued the dungeon master. “The orcs obviously know where they’re going. They make not the slightest hesitation at intersections. All of a sudden the passageway widens, and the floor is constructed of black marble. You see orc sentries in full regalia, standing at attention, as you pass by. In front of you are large black double doors made of oak, and they open silently as you approach.”
“Ohhhhhh,” Dan moaned again.
“Shut up,” whispered Tor fiercely.
“The orcs carry you into a magnificent throne room. Along the walls of this incredible treasure trove are statues depicting legendary orc heroes of the past, creatures of unsurpassed evil. The two of you are placed in front of the throne, which is raised above the floor. The ropes that bind you are removed, and you are forced to kneel.”
Dan’s conversation was beginning to grate on Tor.
“I know it hurts terribly,” said the dungeon master, who seemed not at all concerned by this fact. “Now, perched on the throne is the chief orc — more hideous than the others, if that is possible; arrogant: a creature that many times over has proved through vile deeds that he deserves his high station.”
“Do you still have that Detect Magic spell?” Dan whispered to Tor the words tortured and raspy, spoken with enormous difficulty.
“Yes,” Tor whispered back. “Armed and ready to go.”
“The chief orc leans over on his throne,” stated the dungeon master “and growls that he wants the medallion. This fellow is clearly noi someone to be trifled with. He has methods that would turn the Sphinx into a blabbermouth. As he leans back on his throne, you see a light bounce off a ring he is wearing.”
“The ring’s our one way of getting out,” Dan whispered with what seemed his last breath.
“I use my Detect Magic to determine whether the chief orc is wearing the Ring of Karn,” said Tor.
“Now that you’ve cast the spell,” said the dungeon master, you catch glimpses of the lives of the previous wearers of the Ring of Karn, for that indeed is what it is. For just a moment you have an inkling of the awesome power of the Ring.”
“I’ll make a deal with you,” Tor said to the chief orc. “My friend and I are simply profiteers, looking for adventure and treasure. The medallion is of no real value to us, but apparently it is to you. We’ll swap the medallion for our lives and safety, plus a trinket to make all this agony we’ve gone through seem worthwhile.”
“The orc wants to know why he shouldn’t just kill you and take the medallion,” said the dungeon master.
“I’ve hidden it,” Tor lied, “where no ore could find it.”
“Your audacity intrigues the orc, and he inquires what trinket you speak of.”
“I look around the room,” Tor said. “My eyes linger for many moments on numerous objects. I look at the chief orc and what he is wearing. Again my eyes sweep the room. Again they return to the chief orc. I seem undecided.”
“The chief orc grows impatient,” stated the dungeon master. “He wants an answer to his question.”
“I’ll take that ring on your finger,” Tor said to the orc.
“The orc, stupid as only orcs can be, is not aware of the great value of the Ring of Karn and removes the Ring and tosses it to you. As it flies through the air, surprise and pain appear on his hideous face. His powerful body withers before your eyes, disintegrates into a pile of ooze and bones and armor. You hear cries of alarm from behind. The undying one has died. The Ring of Karn bounces twice on the black marble floor, dribbles to a halt at your feet.”
“Pick it up,” Dan rasped.
“I have it!” Tor cried.
“The Ring is cold in your hand,” the dungeon master continued, “as the scene fades before your eyes. You feel a wisp of wind blowing right through your bodies, and suddenly both of you are atop the Black Tower. Right before you is the Avatar, and over this old man’s shoulder you can see in the far distance the winking lights of the town of Hann. The Avatar congratulates you on having acquired the Ring of Karn. Then he asks you to give it to him.”
“Hand it over,” Dan said, his voice barely audible through the pain. “You don’t argue with a wizard.”
“You mean I went through this hell for nothing?” said Tor.
“Give it to him, damn you!”
Tor was a magic-user, and the Ring of Karn was the most powerful magic he’d ever possessed. Tor was not going to hand over that Ring without at least first trying it on.
“I put on the Ring,” Tor said.
“The Avatar is unbelievably old,” explained the dungeon master. “Only by tremendous effort is he even able to stand. You can see the delicate outlines of bones pushing against his ancient skin. This Ring of Karn is very important to him, his last hope. Dejected, he turns to walk away.
“Hold on a minute, old man,” Tor said to the Avatar.
“The Avatar stops to listen,” said the dungeon master.
“Maybe we can make a trade,” said Tor. Despite the horrendous dangers Tor and Dan had gone through to satisfy the old man, the Avatar was basically a force for good, and Tor was willing to help him if there was something in it for Tor too. “I’ll give you the Ring of Karn,” he continued, “if I can become your apprentice. I want to learn all you know.”
“The Avatar agrees to your condition.”
“I take off the Ring and hand it to him.”
“The Avatar puts on the Ring and transforms into a sixteen-year old. He grins impishly and disappears, but both of you are returned to perfect health. Dan finds a very fine sword in his sheath. At Tor’s feet is a scroll containing a new and powerful spell. That’s it,” the dungeon master said. “I thank you, gentlemen, for a very interesting game.
“What do you mean, ‘that’s it’?” Tor said.
“Our asses are out in the middle of nowhere, and the game’s over?’
“Yes.” He started to gather up papers and leave.
“I can’t just be stranded,” Tor said.
“Well, maybe on another day you can try to find your way back.”
“He’s there with you, isn’t he?”
“Past those dragons and orcs and rats?”
That’s right, Tor thought. Why not?
Tor was going to say that he wanted someone more competent than Dan along with him the next time, someone who didn’t wake up sleeping dragons and steal gold pieces. God knows that getting back, to wherever “back” was, would probably be more hazardous than the journey they had already completed.
Tor looked up to complain about Dan, appeal to the dungeon master’s innate sense of fairness, but he found himself seated alone at a bare table. The motel room was empty, and darkness had fallen on East Lansing.
A lot of interesting things. The thing that always jumps out at me is Dan’s character’s ability scores. Four 18s. Though I don’t know what “18+1” and “18-1” mean.
My son notes that the cloak with “many pockets” is sort of cool and probably good item for a thief.
I guess it’s safe to say that stat inflation was already underway.
Reading this account is part of what pushed me to make an (aborted) attempt to “get back to basics” in 1987. That’s something I want to write about sometime. But not today.