Play It Again, Frodo

As someone who’s been playing Role-Playing Games for neigh on 40 years now, and with the recent upsurge in popularity due to Dungeons & Dragons v5, plus the fact that we Twitch Stream our weekly games and then post the videos onto YouTube, this article has always tickled me in just the right way, so I’m re-posting it (and others) from an old blog — enjoy!

But Only Because It’s True

Still confused about role-playing? Having trouble convincing your “serious” friends that you don’t dress up in a frock and wave around a foam-rubber sword? Dulux-Oz (your esteemed and humble Game Master, YouTuber, Twitch Streamer, Torturer Of Players, and all-around general nice guy, etc) shows how closely role-playing and literature are entwined…

My awesome assignment is to say a few words about the joys of role-playing. “Some burks out there,” mentioned our esteemed and not-so-humble Moderator, “think role-playing games are nothing but throwing hordes of complicated dice and sticking four-foot broadswords into innocent bystanders.”

“Aren’t they?” I asked. “Ouch”, I added. “Of course I’ll write about role-playing”, I concluded, laughing heartily at the way his four-foot broadsword wittily pricked me in the jugular.

We’ll pass over the regrettable fact that my most impassioned role-playing efforts are the (not yet perfected) sobriety simulations that I act out when the pubs close. Let’s approach the subject in a roundabout way:

Have you ever joined in audience shouts of “Behind you!” as a pantomime villain twirls his mustache behind the goodie’s maddeningly oblivious back? After reading a comic in which Superman diverts the orbit of the Earth, uproots mountain ranges and burst noisily through the light barrier, only to fall victim to dreaded kryptonite… have you sniffed, “I could do better than that”? Are you irritated when the heroine of a traditional thriller obeys the mysterious unsigned note saying ‘Meet me next to the bottomless well at midnight, don’t tell anyone where you’re going, and be sure to tie a 58-pound weight around your neck’?

The essence of role-playing is to scratch this particular itch by entering a ‘narrative’ and doing it your way (of course, the resulting fantasy, though fun, may not prove as artistically plotted as Tolkien’s). Here are some familiar scenarios as they might (and have been) perverted in role-players’ hands. Your Moderator, never responsible for his underlings’ excesses, considers himself especially irresponsible for these.

“Hellfire!” erupted Thomas Covenant, his raw, self-inflicted nostrils clenching in white hot, stoical anguish while his gaunt, compulsory visage knotted with fey misery. His lungs were clogged with ruin. A hot, gelid, fulvous tide of self-accusation dinned in his ears: leper outcast unclean… To release the analystic refulgence, the wild magic of the white gold ring he wore, could conceivably shatter the Arch of Time, utterly destroy the Land and put a premature, preterite end to the plot!

Yet what other way was there? The argute notion pierced his mind like a jerid. Only thus could the unambergrised malison of Lord Foul be aneled. Only thus. Hellfire and damnation!

At that point he was struck by a swift, sapid lucubration. “But I don’t believe in the Land,” he shrieked with a sudden caducity, lurching and reeling as though from an overdose of clinquant roborant. “So even if it’s utterly destroyed… what’s the odds? I’m a leper, I can do what I like.”

With an effort, he unclenched his teeth and took the aegis of his cynosure. On his hand, the white gold ring began to flare darkly… “Hang on a moment,” said Lord Foul nervously. “Perhaps we could negotiate on this?

“G’rot gazed up lovingly into the whirling, polychromatic eyes of his great bronze dragon. “You can do it, can’t you, Filth?” he said proudly.

“Do what, G’rot?” asked Vanilla suspiciously.

G’rot gulped a flagon of Benden wine before answering. “As we Dragonriders of Pern have discovered, our wonderful dragons are not only telepathic and able to fly instantly between from one place to another, they can also fly between times.”

Flattery… I love it, said Filth smugly.

“Tell me something I don’t know or I’ll scratch your eyes out,” snapped the lovely but peevish Vanilla.

G’rot sighed. “Well, you remember our song The Ballad of Moron, Dragonlady of Pern, in which the lovely but wilful Moron comes to a sticky end thanks to flying too much overtime. My idea’s this: why don’t I and Filth fly back in time to prevent this stupid tragedy by kidnapping Moron just before her last, fatal flight?”

“Take me with you, G’rot, or I’ll kick you right in your underdeveloped masculinity,” retorted lovely but bitchy Vanilla.

“All in good time,” said G’rot. “Ouch!”

“The only problem,” mused lovely but foul-tempered Vanilla, “is that if we do this to her great tragedy plot, Anne McCaffrey is going to be a bit upset…”

Fifty plate-armoured men confronted him at the door of the throne room, but Conan struck full upon them with as deafening crash of steel and spurting of blood. Swords leapt and flickered like flame. His blade tore through bodies as it might have torn through a doner kebah, ripping them open from spine to groin to broken breastbone to shattered shin. Then Conan was through, leaping over the steaming welter of blood and entrails that scant moments before has called itself The Picked Guard Of The Supreme Emperor. Only one torn and rent survivor howled like a dying wombat as he clawed at the crimson stump that had been his nose.

Then it was the Emperor’s turn. Cravenly, Ming the Merciless cowered back against his throne as Conan’s blade sang towards him. His foul sorceries and mirror-mazes were of no avail against the avenging Cimmerian!

“But why, why?” the Emperor wailed as the sabre sank to its hilt and far beyond in his vile, overfed belly.

“Dialectical analysis of historical change inevitably predicts the decay of lickspittle capitalist imperialism and its replacement by enlightened socialist collectives,” Conan grunted.

Despite the wonderful sunshine and their wonderful victory over the terrible White Witch, Edmund couldn’t help talking about some things he’d learned in Scripture class at his progressive school.

“It’s like this,” he said, thinking hard. “According to the consensus of modern theologians, God never actually shows up in person (except for movies like Dogma), because if you know God exists, then having faith without actual proof wouldn’t be much of a virtue any more. In other words, providential manifestations are actually detrimental to religious faith!”

“It’s very clever of you to remember all that,” said Lucy.

The great, golden Lion gave a worried growl. “I really hadn’t thought of that, child. I’ll have to check with Head Office about current policy…”

And Aslan slunk furtively out of Narnia.

His course of action was clear. It was simply a matter of split-second timing: ducking the poisoned arrows, leaping lithely between the rotating knives, dodging under the arching cataract of molten lava, fording the piranha-infested lake, sprinting through the blazing refinery, using guile to sidestep the crazed onslaught of the entire Sioux nation, taking advantage of available cover in the ground-level nuclear test zone, holding his breath for the final dash through the airless vacuum of space, and triumphantly seizing the prize before nonchalantly returning by the same route.

“On the other hand,” thought Indiana Jones, “I could always order my pizza home delivered.”

A surge of strange, eerie power thrilled up through Arthur’s arm as he laid hand on the sword’s mighty hilt. The words of Merlin boomed again in his mind: Whoso shall draw the sword from the stone shall be rightful King of all England…

He pulled — and smooth as butter, the sword slid from the deep cleft where enchantment had locked it for so long.

Arthur looked at the gleaming blade with awe. The prophecy was fulfilled at last. He cried aloud: “Kay! Kay! I did it! I’ve drawn Merlin’s sword from the stone! I’m the rightful King of England!”

“Another bloody sexist role-playing game,” muttered his sister Kay (a founding subscriber to Spare Rib — and that shows both my age and how long I’ve been role-playing for 😋 ). “You might at least have let me have first try — even if Merlin does insist on discriminating against queens.”

“I’ve just *wheeze* had an idea,” said Darth Vader in his hoarse whisper (he wished there was some way to get throat pastilles through the awesome helmet). “Rather then *wheeze* sending attack ships to follow those silly people along the trench in the Death Star’s surface, why don’t we *wheeze* move the Star away from them under its own power, and *wheeze* have a go at them with the planet-busting doomsday weapons?”

“No need,” murmured the Grand Moff Tarkin. “As soon as it became evident that the ‘weak spot’ in our defences had been spied out, I took the opportunity of ordering a slight modification to the Death Star’s sewage outlet trench. Observe.”

As the Mellennium Falcon shrieked towards its goal, a terrific barrage of laser fire crackling and exploding on every side despite the lack of sound in the vacuum of space… Han Solo screamed.

“In space, no one can hear you scream,” said Chewbacca reprovingly.

Ahead, blocking the narrow way entirely, was a vast brick wall carrying the airbrushed slogan BYE-BYE, SUCKERS.

With microseconds to go before oblivion, the entire crew shouted: “Luke! Use the Force!”

Dutifully, Luke Skywalker shut his eyes…

“On second thoughts,” said Gandalf, “these are matters higher and deeper and darker than Hobbits in their small Shire can know. Perilous though it may be, I must make a trial of it for at least a little time. Frodo, kindly lend me the Ring…”

They descended a thousand dank steps below the shuddering sub-cellar of the strange high house whose gambrel roof brooded over the oldest quarter of time-cursed Mordheim. The fitful light of the gibbous moon sent no rays into this fungus-ridden abyss, where blackened and disfigured stonework was tortured into eldritch, cyclopean geometrics, as though wrought by some race of nameless abominations that frothed in primal slime for unhallowed aeons before the birth of mankind.

“These stairs”, whispered Marcus Whately, “are of no human shape.”

“What do you see?” said his companion, holding the lantern high. The crumbled, blasphemous vault was heaped with evilly mouldering tomes, their mere covers a threat to sanity. An unnameable, charnel stench pervaded the nauseous air, seemingly a foul exhalation from some abominable lavatory of the Great Old Ones themselves.

Trembling, Whately stooped to peer at the awful texts. “By the Great Sigmar,” he croaked in a paralysed voice. “Here are copies of the sinister Liber Ivonis; the infamous Cultes des Ghoules of the Comte d’Erlette; von Junzt’s hellish Unaus-Sprechlichen Külten; and the Ludvig Prinn’s remaindered De Vermiis Mysteriis. The forbidden Pnakotic Manuscripts; the unreadable Book of Dzyan… and there, see! Bound in human skin, nothing less than the abhorred Necronomicon of the mad Arab Abdul Alhazred!”

There was a terror-laden pause before the eldritch reply smote upon Whately’s fear-crazed ears — “We’ve got all those: can you see a copy of the WordPress Users’ Agreement?”

“That’s not what I meant at all,” thundered the Moderator. “Role-playing games are serious!”

“Oh, are they?” said Oz… his last words.

This blog post is a blatant plagerisation of an article by Dave Langford that appeared in White Dwarf Magazine #79, July 1986, and it as been used without even considering asking for permission (but with lots and lots of thanks).

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