Dungeoneer’s Diary #1 – Puns, Groaners and Eye Rolls (aka my RPG Characters)

Posted: August 22, 2017 in Uncategorized

© 2017 G.N. Jacobs

I suppose one of many reasons the Dungeoneer’s Diary has remained so dormant this long has been the lack of recent source material, aka finding a game can be a bit tricky. Actually, I suppose I should say finding a geographically accessible game on a night not taken up with another activity intended to feed my other obsession with writing can be tricky. Deep down my other reason for leaving a blog devoted to tabletop RPGs and associated geekdom this thunderously silent was an underlying love/hate with players bragging up past characters and their glories. Yes, the subject of this post (on a go with it and it will over soon basis). 

Going back to the early days of the D&D Basic Set gifted to me by a cousin, we have many in my rogues gallery…that I feel absolutely no shame or scruples inflicting on you now. Enjoy!

Alpo: Practically my first character from the Basic Set. A fighter as I recall, but considering the interesting set of occurrences that led to him being named after a popular dog food, the canned kind you hope wasn’t packed on a secondary line at the canned chili factory, his PC class was absolutely irrelevant.

You see, I took the rules about rolling exactly three dice per statistic a little too seriously. Alpo resulted in a Three, a Five and a Six in attributes that most people think are vital: Strength, Constitution and Dexterity. And the other three stats didn’t peek above Ten, a veritable victim in waiting…I played him once. But, I did learn a few things.

First off, perhaps the universe is listening…intently. I had already put Alpo down on the lined sheet ripped from a school notebook. I had intended to go for Apollo, named after the Greek god of light and the Richard Hatch character from 1.0 Battlestar Galactica. So my brain-freeze getting the name wrong could, in the mind of a nine-year-old, cause a descent into Strange-O Land where a crap name begets crap statistics. Yes, give it a few years and nine-year-olds grow up to, at least intuitively, understand the difference between random and evenly distributed; random allows for long stretches of coin tosses coming up Tails.

Alpo, my Victim in Chief barely fit to be processed into a can of his namesake, also taught me some basics about practical tabletop RPG gameplay. Namely more often than not, the Dungeon Master doesn’t care to look over your shoulder while you’re building your cool character. So keep rolling dice until you get something that might survive the first session.

It was likely the memory of Alpo that caused me to wholeheartedly embrace certain optional rules from 1st Edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. You know, the ones that let you roll four dice per statistic or 24 in total with an intent to bump the curve by dropping the six least favorable dice. Rules that have survived all the way into 5th Edition. I roll 24, drop out six and then proceed onto the concept phase of character creation.

Valuable lessons taught by Puny Meek Alpo. But, when you consider that tabletop RPGs serve to help us vicariously channel our inner Roman spectators at the Games, chess players at Hogwarts or Republican senators perhaps I should’ve played him a few more sessions? Just to see how far the blood splash flies before landing on the wall. Certainly, the lethal character generation rules in Traveller would’ve culled this poor fellow, but I digress.

My teen years mostly become a blur as too many of the characters I played were mentally erased simply by virtue of other more fascinating characters playing next to me. This tended to cross gaming systems of which I may have played most of them by the time I graduated high school. I don’t usually mind being overshadowed.

I can’t even remember the names of the Navigators and Helmsmen I played in FASA’s old Star Trek system. Invariably, I shared a beam down with Dr. Beau Smith, a homicidal doctor that almost never set phasers to stun, and Baba O’Reilly, the Caitian (a six-foot sentient cat) security officer famous for carrying a Louisville Slugger. Besides, I crashed the boat once…nuff said!

This period of games among my circle of friends lasting between one and three sessions due to the intrusiveness of homework, school and life did give me plenty of ideas for my current career as a Four-Genre Writer…in some cases if I want to egregiously steal from my friends. We played a session of Ancient Greek D&D where the highborn fighter takes a trip of personal diplomacy to other city states, exactly patterned after Telemachus leaving Ithaca to search for word of Odysseus and make friends with luminaries like Menelaus. Adventure awaits.

I brought a wizard named Balthazar. Another friend brought a loud-mouthed priest of Apollo. But, the star of the show was Telodios Son of Odios – “I am Telodios, son of Odios” – “I knew your father well, what has become of him?” – “Great Lord, he has paid the Boatman, these past five years.” – “Odios has died! ‘Tis odious!” So when this friend hears I’ve looted Telodios for a series that emulates Fritz Leiber’s work Fahfrd & Grey Mouser, I might have some tap dancing to do.

Brendon Dole: Or should I say Prisoner 9711? When you make six-foot-tall assassins for the 1.0 Top Secret system that split the difference between James Bond and your own look (assuming rigid adherence to the workout plan for assassins and high school football players), you’re really not expecting at least three separate occurrences of – “freeze asshole!” – followed by putting up his hands.

Of course, the nameless spy agency he worked for wasn’t going to roll over and use influence they don’t officially have for an assassin that keeps getting caught. Mister Dole became our local joke much like the sillier representations of the Joker who needs to bust out from Arkham Asylum before doing his villainy upon Gotham. To think that I wrote rhyming poetry about this guy for Middle School English…fictional cyanide pills anyone?

And so that covers the highlights of the roleplaying game sessions undertaken between first unpacking D&D and the end of high school. Yes, there were a few other really memorable games, but I was either the Gamemaster or an important non-player character. Oh wait, that’s actually a good story…

Vassili Ivanovich Petrov: I may have actually gotten the name wrong, because memory occasionally gets tricky after a decade. But, here’s the setup, a buddy wants to play Top Secret with four other guys. However, he wants to run a double-blind game where the KGB villain is acting independently of the true NPCs in the game.

Because I’m the smarty pants kid that already read lots of spy novels that backhandedly teach the book version of espionage tradecraft (trust me I’m not hanging my ass out in Baghdad or Prague IRL without going to spy school), I get the call. My parameters: a guy who’s Level Four in Everything (Assassin, Investigator and Confiscator). He has a base and twenty-five to fifty minions in Hong Kong. I’m going to run agents and junior officers through normal espionage (dead drops and brush passes mostly). The other players brought variations of the highly educated American intelligence officer trying to thwart the Commie Menace.

Okay, here’s the brag. The game starts off simple, an asset from Silicon Valley or something has been sent by his San Francisco based handler to drop off microfilm into my care. Obedient servants of the Workers’ Paradise don’t question orders from Moscow Central. They just set up the brush pass.

So what do I do? The American scientist gets off the plane at an airport and hails a cab. I wear enough latex to pass as a Hong Kong cabbie (I was specifically described as coming from the not-so-white parts of Russia) able to fade into the crowd. We make the pass when he pays the fare…simple tradecraft that defies observation.

What happened next was mostly not fully reported to me because my GM friend wanted to highlight the Fog of War. There was a gunfight (bad tradecraft, but an expectation of spy fiction). I lost some guys and requested more cannon fodder from Moscow Central. One of those dudes shows up with bruises on his face.

Bruise-face passed the language check contest between my native Russian and his probably highly competent school Russian. But, getting into the swing of paranoia expected from people who actually read spy novels, I’m not buying this guy at all.

I send word back to Center for a double check. I tell my other guys to keep Bruise-face isolated while we activate our plan to set up in another warehouse. Meanwhile, my other minions have latched onto the other three Americanskis and followed them back to their base of operations, an office building. I use a laser mic that reads vibrations off glass to find the specific office; pretty much I tell my guys on the laser to look for rooms with the hum of a white noise generator because game recognizes game.

Assuming I haven’t put you to sleep with bragging up my RPG prowess (you can stop laughing now), you might be asking what happened next? I don’t actually know, like so many games and campaigns before and since this awesomely brilliant usage of double-blind play went blooey after this exact point in the narrative. I wasn’t going to kill anyone that I knew. Espionage Fiction and some fact asserts a gentleman’s agreement where direct employees of the other government are protected. I want to believe that I would’ve sleep gassed Bruise-face and left him in a trunk near his office with my Mama’s recipe for borscht. We’ll never know.

So as I come to the end, I’ll have to split this into two posts to cover my college characters, the long layoff and my recent dipped toes with some bad pun characters. Until next time…

  1. kurt says:

    good stuff Greg.

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