Josephus had never before seen the First Town Church of My Deity so packed with attendees. Neither had he ever before seen their mood so black, nor their mourning so deep.
The crowd filled the little church 'til there wasn't a square foot of floor space left to stand in, and spilled out to fill the courtyard and the road and the whole neighborhood. Everyone was there to pay their last respects to the late ninth-level, by-the-book paladin. Everyone. Or near enough to everyone as to make no practical difference. The modest, lone bell of the church tolled for the first time in recent memory, and from far off in the central square the other church bell, the one Ringman had rung 28 years ago to rally Town against the zombie invasion, tolled in answer like a fading echo. Every pair of eyes in attendance turned to watch the pallbearers round the street corner and trudge toward the altar.
Unbelievable Sword, Ridiculous Sword, Gross Sword, and Disgusting Sword marched carrying the four corners of the adamantite platform atop which Ringman lay in state, dressed in the full plate armor +4 he'd been wearing when he'd fallen. His hands clutched about a short adamantite baton resting upright on his chest. The baton had had a continual light spell cast upon it and would shine for thousands of years — or until dispelled, whichever came first. In its sunlike glow, Ringman's face looked pallid and infinitely calm. Warhorse brought up the rear, his head bowed low as he trotted along behind, ceremonially clad in his full plate barding +3 and his two sets of magical horseshoes. Jimmy watched the solemn procession pass by. As did Danny. And Sheila and Izabella, brought in from Fordinchuarlikomfterrablaxxuuuuuchh'chh'chh-pt for this, the saddest day of their lives. Izabella threw herself against the platform as it passed and clutched at her late husband, wailing bitterly, inconsolable in her grief as the pallbearers continued on without her. Clerasil watched Ringman pass by, too, as did Wierd Dough, and Rango, and Middle Monk, and Melnic the Loud, and Koenieg, and Da Bad Dude, and Wild Max, and Dirk the Destructive. The only members of the old I.U.D.C. absent were Omnion, who was dead, and Peter Perfect, whom many in attendance merely wanted dead. Even Ludicrous Lance was among the onlookers, his artifact lances sheathed in respect for the fallen. As was Fantastic Falcion, and Vastly Hugely Mindbogglingly Powerful Pike-Awl, and Irresistible Battleaxe, and Horrendous Halberd, and Bletcherous Belaying Pin, and Indescribable Ice Pick, and countless others of the new crop of disgusting characters to whom Ringman had been but a name out of legend.
But the vast majority in attendance were not disgusting characters or denizens of Town, but centaurs. Most were former slaves of the centaur pits, who knew that without their paladin leader, the days of the centaur pits would soon return in all their misery. But a few came out of respect even from the distant valley in which Ringman had first learned the Centaur language and near which he had met his doom. Georgo and Lindo both stood among the four-legged throng. Even Eric, who had been Ringman's closest companion from among the freed centaurs, was alive again to see his friend and liberator's funeral.
Eric had merely been killed. He was easy to bring back from the dead. Any disgusting character who was even the slightest part cleric could cast raise dead on Eric without breaking a sweat.
No force in the multiverse could bring back the paladin he now mourned.
To-day, the road all runners come,
Shoulder-high we brought you home,
And set you at your threshold down,
Townsman of a stiller Town.
As many onlookers as could fit shoulder-to-shoulder crowded behind the pall as it passed. Before the hand-held hearse was halfway up the front walkway of the church, the crowd was packed too thick to move any further. Even if the pallbearers flew the coffin over the onlookers for these last few tens of yards, they would never be able to get past the throng clogging the double-wide church door. Josephus clambered over the sea of heads between the door and the coffin, as only a dwarf can clamber, determined to deliver his old friend's eulogy out in the open air. More people could hear it that way, anyway.
At length, when the platform carrying Ringman had been set down, the crowds finally fell back to a respectful distance and Josephus began:
"Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to pay our last respects to Ringman the paladin, who died defending the ideals he believed in."
A twinge of some feeling he couldn't quite identify flashed through Unbelievable Sword at these words.
The dwarven priest went on: "I remember Ringman when he was just a little tyke, so many decades ago. I told him about My Deity while I bounced him on my knee, and he told me how much he wanted to be a great hero when he grew up. He was born and raised in a world different from the one we now inhabit, before the term 'disgusting character' had even been coined, much less become ubiquitous as it is today. I watched him grow into a fine young man and then into a fine young paladin, and all the while I had the feeling that he was destined for greatness. He never compromised his sense of fair play, even when it meant that the enemies he was sworn to obstruct grew astronomically more powerful than himself. Twice directly, and twice indirectly, he saved this Town from ruin, making himself truly into the great hero he'd wanted to be from so young an age.
"He was also a family man and a loving husband, who tried to raise one family and suceeded in raising a second, both of whose members are with us now in this solemn hour. All the while, he carried the burden of juggling his duty to his families with his duty to his station in life, and in the end, it was his duty to the latter which finally exacted from him the ultimate price."
Josephus took a deep breath. "It is normally at this point in a eulogy where I console the friends and family of the departed by reminding them that although the deceased is no longer with us, he still smiles down on us from Heaven, and that those of us who loved him will see him again when they themselves pass on. Once in a great while, when I agree to perform a funeral for someone who was of a different alignment, I will have to change this part of the eulogy since his soul will have gone to a plane other than Heaven. It always makes it that much more poignant for me to know that neither I nor the mourners in my congregation will see him again when our lives end, but at least we have the reassurance that the departed soul still exists somewhere and that he may be smiling down upon us from Arcadia, or Elysium, or Nirvana, or whichever version of Heaven his alignment allows; and that, the power of his priesthood permitting, he may even be raised back to life or reincarnated in a new body someday."
The cleric's voice quavered. "But this time, I cannot say even this. For I know that Ringman's soul is not in Heaven where it rightfully belongs, nor in any other plane in the multiverse. He will never come back, he cannot see us, and none of us will ever see him again. This funeral is a true goodbye, which he will never hear."
At that, Izabella could no longer contain herself. The soft tears she had already been crying exploded into a ghastly wail. "Ringman!! WHY?!?!!" She choked and drew breath between sobs. "Why did you have to come back to this Deity-forsaken world?!? Couldn't you have let well enough alone just this once?!!" She ran to the platform and threw herself across her late husband, pounding on the corpse with angry fists for leaving her and then wrapping her arms around it as though clinging to Ringman for dear life.
"Mom! Mom!" Danny crossed to her and tore her loose. She turned and hugged him with the same fervor she'd been hugging Ringman's body, convulsing with sobs.
The dwarven cleric figured he'd better hold off on the rest of the ceremony for the time being.
"He wanted to follow you here," Izabella looked into her son's eyes. "He came here to look after you! And I was . . . I was the one who told him . . . who told him that . . . that it might be nice for you to see other places!! Oh, My Deity! If I'd never let you come to Central Earth, none of this would have happened! He'd still be alive!"
Danny shook his head. "I tried to protect him. I did everything I could, but it wasn't enough. I got that little Ludicrous Lance squirt off his back and everything!"
Unbelievable Sword's eyes bulged out when he heard this. "Wait a minute . . . you mean you actually held your own against Ludicrous Lance in combat? But how? I mean, you're only 3000th level, and he's —"
"Teeth of Dahlver-Nar rule," Danny shrugged, quickly indicating his artifact bracer as though it were obvious. "I had a few hundred million g.p. lying around, so I bought +1 to THAC0 and +2 to AC fifty thousand times each."
Unbelievable Sword conked himself on the head. "Why the Olympus didn't I think of that?!"
Danny returned his gaze to his mother, as his paladin-in-training sister jogged up to stand by their sides. "I wanted to be a disgusting character. I wanted it more than anything. I didn't want anybody to be able to boss me around any more. That's why I begged Unbelievable Sword to take me here. I didn't even want dad to tag along! Not at first, anyway." He almost chuckled. "You know, I never understood his whole stick-your-neck-out-for-justice attitude before."
Sheila raised her 17-charisma eyebrows.
"Then, this whole deal with the centaurs," Danny continued, not sure how to put his feelings into words. "I, well, I guess . . . I guess it just never occurred to me before, that standing up for 'justice' also means standing up for freedom and independence. I fought like mad all this time not to have anyone push me around, and dad was really sticking up for the same thing for these centaurs." He swallowed back the lump rising in his throat. "Damn. If I hadn't disintegrated that one centaur, I wouldn't've used up my artifact sword's once-a-week resurrection spell on her, and dad would still be alive!"
Sheila glanced at her brother's disgustingly powerful arsenal of magic items, and puzzled. "You didn't have anything that could cast a wish spell?"
"Sure I did," Danny replied, puzzled by her query. "My artifact bracer can cast wish once a month, each of my two artifact swords is part luck blade with five unused wishes, and I have ten of the throwaway garden-variety sword +1, luck blades with five wishes each. Why?"
"Well," his sister asked, "Couldn't you have wished dad back to life?"
"You can't —" he began, then his eyes grew wide with horror. "You mean, you can use a wish spell to bring someone back from the dead?!"
"Well, sure!" Sheila replied. "I mean, as long as their soul hasn't been annihilated. Wish can do just about anything. You wouldn't even need a corpse to cast it on. You didn't know? Heck, I'm not even a disgusting character, and I knew that!"
"You mean . . ." Danny's head reeled. "You mean all that time . . . all that time that I was chasing after Joe the cleric, and haggling with the shopkeeper, and trying to plane-travel to Heaven, and trying to head off Peter Perfect . . . all that time, all along, I could have saved dad by just saying 'I wish Ringman were alive'?!?!"
"Uh, yep," Sheila replied uneasily, "Pretty much."
Danny crumpled to his knees and clutched at his 150% invulnerable face with his Strength 25* hands while his head wrenched from side to side. "Holy . . . gods, no . . . holy cats . . . Dad! Why the Hell didn't . . . oh, geez, I could've . . . gods, no!!"
Unbelievable Sword felt the pain of his poor confused 3000th-level half-uncle's wailing, then lowered his eyes. If only he'd been allowed t—
Allowed . . .
The injustice of what had befallen his grandfather finally hit home inside Unbelievable Sword. He felt his jaw tighten and his fists clench almost of their own accord. He walked toward the platform that held Ringman's body with the slow, measured gait of a juggernaut.
"My grandfather is dead forever," the 97 000th level weapons master/97 010th level mage announced to everyone and to no one. "I'm the most powerful being in the multiverse . . . and I just let it happen. I watched everything through a mirror of mental prowess, and I did nothing. I watched Peter Perfect fly up to him on a dracolich, and I did nothing. I watched a holy avenger pierce his heart, and I did nothing. I watched that so-called paladin follow him to Heaven, knowing full well what he intended to do to Ringman's soul, and I did nothing. I watched an artifact axe bring his soul to its non-corporeal kness, and a hammer of thunderbolts annihilate him forever, and I . . . did . . . NOTHING! I was too afraid. I was cowering in yellow, stinking fear for what the Dungeon Master might do to me."
Just hearing him say the words "Dungeon Master" out loud caused an involuntary jolt of fear in half the listeners. Jimmy and Ridiculous Sword both gasped for fear of their son's life.
"The Dungeon Master wanted to maintain his own kind of 'order'," Unbelievable Sword pressed on, his face slowly contorting into a sneer. "And he enforced it with the same kind of cruel, savage barbarity as a slavemaster or an inquisitor."
"Son, don't!" Ridiculous Sword blurted out as Jimmy rushed to stand by her side for the first time in over a decade. "He'll —"
"That's why the D.M. forbade any of us to help Ringman!" the most disgusting disgusting character in the multiverse steamrollered on. "Leading the cetaurs away from the pits was nothing more than a slave revolt in the eyes of that multiverse-throttling despot." He pointed at his more-than-slain grandfather. "One wimpy ninth-level by-the-book paladin had the courage to stand up to him. He alone did what all the rest of us knew in our heart of hearts had to be done, but which we were all too afraid to do. And I, for one, am disgusted at what I let happen! I'm not going to let it happen any more!"
He turned the full fury of his rage-wracked face toward the heavens. "DUNGEON MASTER!! THIS ENDS NOW!!!"
With furious determination, he ripped out his amulet of the planes and set it defiantly upon his breast. He read a vision spell from a scroll, then cast commune, contact other plane, gate, and astral spell in that order.
Ridiculous Sword blinked. Those steps seemed awfully familiar to her.
Still with stone-faced (not to mention stoneskinned) determination, Unbelievable Sword rubbed himself down with oil of etherealness.
Ridiculous Sword shook her head, then turned to Disgusting Sword. "He wouldn't —"
Since he was stuck under the 2nd Edition Revised rules, in which artifacts had no side effect of limited omniscience, Unbelievable Sword instead cast "I wish I had limited omniscience, and that I was de-aged 5 years and didn't need 2d4 days of bed rest" six times.
Jimmy's face furrowed in confusion as Ridiculous Sword's eyes bugged out. "Oh, he is not going to —"
"BRIC-A-BRACKER!" Unbelievable Sword's words echoed through the streets.
In unison, Ridiculous Sword's, Disgusting Sword's, and Gross Sword's jaws all dropped to the floor, their eyes as wide as two Tenser's floating disc spells. Ridiculous Sword detected Jimmy's lack of understanding via her medallion of ESP with empathy, and quickly message-spelled to him, "Our son's demanding a direct audience with the Dungeon Master!"
"FIRECRACKER!" Unbelievable Sword continued to shout.
"Like you did?!" Jimmy asked her, incredulous.
"SIS!" Unbelievable Sword cried. "BOOM! BAH!"
Without warning, a sizzling blue bolt shot down from the heavens and blasted Unbelievable Sword to atoms. Unbelievable Sword reappeared unscathed a second or two later, having wished himself back to life (and de-aged by 5 years and not needing 2d4 days of bed rest), and he continued as though nothing had interrupted him:
A miles-wide mountain fell out of the sky at twice the speed of sound, its tip aimed straight for Unbelievable Sword. He caught it in one hand without looking and cast it aside so that it landed harmlessly outside of Town, as though he were swatting away an annoying gnat.
An ethereal mummy jumped out of the ground right behind Unbelievable Sword, flailing at him. He jabbed over his shoulder at the made-up creature with one of his Unbelievable Daggers, popping the apparition like a toy balloon.
Another blue damage bolt hurled out of the sky, but this time Unbelievable Sword knew what was coming and psionically teleported out of the way at the last instant.
The ground opened up beneath Unbelievable Sword's feet and sucked him downward into the bowels of Central Earth. He triggered his permanent potion of levitation, which allowed him to treat the walls of the suddenly-appearing chasm as though they were the floor, and ran back out at his normal outdoor movement rate of 5120 yards per second before the fissure closed.
And without any fuss at all, the most disgusting disgusting character in the Multiverse slipped quietly through a gap between the planes of existence.
Long ago, when he'd first been old enough to read his mother's thoughts — or at least, old enough to read her thoughts when she voluntarily relinquished her saving throws and mind blank spells — Unbelievable Sword had soaked up every detail of her encounter with the Dungeon Master. He had done so partly out of the idle curiosity that every child (even a disgusting child) experiences, but also to prepare himself in case he ever had to meet the D.M. himself. Now, as he floated through a prettily-decorated, astral-plane-looking, muzak-filled sort of pseudo-existence, he was about to do just that. The white-hot rage he'd felt just a moment before was already giving way to his own doubts. Perhaps the Dungeon Master was leaving him hanging in this psychedelic airless temperatureless void on purpose, so that by the time he did meet the D.M. face-to-face he would be either mellowed or nervous or afraid. It sounded just like something that manipulative self-centered cretin would do.
When Ridiculous Sword had met the D.M. 18 years ago, he'd looked and acted like a bratty 8-year-old boy. Unbelievable Sword could see his mother's memory of the D.M.'s visage in his mind clearly. He could see her memory of the voluminous bare room with the enormous door and light fixture, and the gigantic table and grid of 10-foot squares on which his mom had stood, frozen in place. He could even feel the contours of the lead statue into which her spirit had congealed. Despite the fact that the rules the Dungeon Master imposed on His creation changed from time to time, everybody knew — or at least, everybody believed — that the Dungeon Master Himself was eternal and unchanging. The more of the details from Ridiculous Sword's direct meeting with the D.M. that Unbelievable Sword could recall, the better prepared he would be to argue his case.
Finally, the colors dimmed into total darkness, and he felt the same dull "bump" at the very limit of his disgustingly-powerful senses that his mother had felt at the end of her ride 18 years before. And, as his mom had felt a year before he was even born, he too felt himself being crammed and frozen into a lead statue of himself.
Only . . . something didn't quite feel the same this time. The shape his essence was being asked to conform to didn't feel at all like the shape of his normal human body. It had a long tail, a protruding snout, and batlike wings. And a scaly hide. A really scaly hide. He engaged his permanent potion of clairvoyance at 150% effectiveness, and took a look at his new self from a vantage point a few feet away. No question about it; his statue-body was the spitting image of that picture of a red dragon that appeared in the pages of the First Edition Field Guide to Central Earth Wildlife.
It had a pretty sloppy paint job, too.
The grid of 10-foot-by-10-foot (or 10-yard-by-10 yard) squares he was standing on, though, was far more elaborately decorated than the plain blue-square grid his mother had found herself on. Scanning it in all directions with his robe of eyes, Unbelievable Sword saw pictures of dungeon floors on some squares, pictures of doors straddling other squares, pictures of stair cases on a few of the squares, and even pictures of trees and shrubs on some squares far off on one corner of the giant table they were situated on. The various types of squares were all jumbled together in a haphazard, almost random fashion, as though they were enormous floor tiles designed to be picked up and moved around at a giant's whim.
The surroundings of the cavernous room that the giant table was in were also different from what Ridiculous Sword had seen. Instead of plaster with wooden doors, these walls were made of concrete. A single giant sized window mounted high up on one wall looked out on what appeared to be a lawn of giant sized grass. This meant he was below ground level, in a basement. Off in one corner lay a giant sized bed that had seen better years, and on a giant pole stood a giant sized shaded lamp, under whose shade was concealed a giant glass bulb that glowed by some kind of mysterious power that hadn't been invented yet.
In the opposite corner of the room, on a giant sized table that looked as though a giant could simply fold up its legs, in front of a giant sized trash can and a giant sized chair which also looked like a giant could fold it up, lay the strangest collection of objects in the room. A vaguely cube-like box had a glowing glass screen on the front, showing an image of several rectangles containing wording too small to make out at this distance. In front of it was a keyboard made for giant hands that had four or five rows of keys, each one of which was labelled with a capital letter in some mysterious alphabet that also hadn't been invented yet. There were a few other knick-knacks on the table whose function completely eluded Unbelievable Sword, such as a thing about the size of a giant's palm with a giant cord sticking out of the back that looked as though it were designed to glide smoothly along the top of a giant pad. Below the table stood a rectangular box, the front of which showed off a few modest green lights, a couple of horizontal slots, and two words inside a hastily-drawn circle that were in that same strange not-yet-invented alphabet. Unbelievable Sword tried using his permanent comprehend languages spell to decipher the two words, but they only translated as the equally mysterious phrase "Intel Inside." Perhaps it was a warning about some strange native curse.
And, of course, there was also the Dungeon Master. He differed from Ridiculous Sword's memory the most of all.
Where his mother had seen an eight-year-old brat, Unbelievable Sword now saw an acne-ridden teen-age boy. Perhaps even an older teen-age boy of 16 years or more. Instead of the open hostility his mother had seen in the Dungeon Master's childish eyes, Unbelievable Sword now saw distant pain. Something was troubling the ruler of the multiverse — something that may have even happened very recently.
"Hello, Unbelievable Sword," the D.M. said with a calmness he never would have expected.
Unbelievable Sword couldn't let himself be fazed. This change in scenery was doubtlessly a trick to throw him off guard; and maybe the Dungeon Master was holding back on yelling at him just to lull him into a false sense of security. "Now see here, Dungeon Master!" the 17-year-old disgusting character transmitted via his helm of telepathy. "You know why I'm here."
The Dungeon Master barely seemed to acknowledge this challenge. "I . . . met a girl yesterday."
'So there are other inhabitants in the Dungeon Master's realm!' Unbelievable Sword thought. Ridiculous Sword had heard the D.M. talk to some disembodied voice named "mom" back when she'd visited the D.M., but this was different. The D.M. just admitted that there was at least one other inhabitant here, perhaps even someone on par with the D.M. Himself, and He had just met her less than 24 hours ago — assuming that a "day" in the D.M.'s realm was the same 24-hour period it was on every planet in the Multiverse and not, say, five hundred millennia or something.
"My buddies dragged me to this party at school. They said it would do me good to 'get out' more. Hah! What do they know?! This so-called 'party' didn't even have any gaming tables set up! So I'm just hanging back there, trying not to get in anybody's way and wondering when I can get back home to play Quake, when this cute chick walks right up to me and says hi. Damn, is she cute! She tells me she's Lisa, and she stays and talks with me and doesn't walk away, even though I'm shaking all over. So, naturally, eventually I ask her, 'Do you play AD&D?', and she says, 'What's AD&D?'" The D.M. became visibly agitated. "Can you believe it? Not only has she obviously never played the game in her life, she's never even heard about it before! What kind of a person doesn't play AD&D?!"
Unbelievable Sword puzzled. "What's AD&D?"
"You know," the D.M. gestured toward the map Unbelievable Sword was standing on. "You guys."
Unbelievable Sword was only vaguely aware of the D.M.'s next words: "So I say, 'You know, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons', and you know what she says? She says, 'You mean that geeky Dungeons and Dragons game where people dress up like wizards and stuff?' Jesus Christ! She not only thinks that AD&D is for geeks, and that there isn't any difference between D&D and AD&D, but she's also got them both totally confused with LARPing!"
"We're . . ." Unbelievable Sword tried to find the words, "We're . . . a game?"
"Sure," the D.M. said matter-of-factly, "The whole Multiverse is."
"So . . . me, and everybody I know, and everybody I've ever met or heard of . . . we're all just paper-and-pencil simulations conconted entirely in your own mind?"
"Well," the D.M. seemed almost contrite, "You weren't always. I used to play with other people. Sometimes I was the D.M., sometimes I was just one of the other players. I remember when my brother and I used to play our own characters in each others' campaigns. Damn, but he loved it when he got to kill off my characters. I had to have at least two or three 18s in each characters' abilities, and then beef each character up to 2nd level by running it through that Survival of the Fittest solo adventure game, before I would even think about running any one of them in my brother's dungeons. I hated the way he looked for any excuse to kill my characters at every turn, but I had to run them in somebody's dungeons. I mean, they needed the experience points."
The D.M. stared intently at the dragon-shaped lead figurine that held Unbelievable Sword's spirit. "Every member of the I.U.D.C., except for Omnion, was a character I had played in someone else's campaign at one point."
Unbelievable Sword would have raised his eyebrows had they not been frozen in place (and had 1st Edition red dragons actually had eyebrows).
"I remember the day Peter Perfect and Clerasil got their first inklings of becoming disgusting characters," the DM said with a nostalgic glint in his eye. "I was playing them in one of my brother's dungeons. We'd made it through a few corridors and defeated a few wimpy monsters, and then we came into this huge cavern just bulging at the seams with magic treasure. I just sat there and drooled for the better part of an hour while my brother rolled up one magic item after another on the random treasure tables. He re-rolled once or twice for reasons that he didn't mention, but I didn't care. Peter Perfect got a holy avenger, both of 'em got +5 suits of plate mail and +5 shields, there was at least one helm of brilliance and one girdle of giant strength and two or three artifacts, and the list just kept on going and going. This was back in the old days of 1st Edition, where you got a low x.p. reward for finding a magic item and a higher x.p. award equal to its sale value if you sold it. The low x.p. values from finding these treasures alone was enough to boost both Peter Perfect and Clerasil up to 9th level."
The DM scowled. "Then my brother said, 'Oh, look! There's no way out of this cavern. The door you came through sealed up behind you and you can't get it open again. You're trapped in here forever. Time to tear up your character sheets!' That little bastard! He didn't just kill my characters this time, he gave them hope and glory and then killed them, just to rub it in that much harder! That was why he'd re-rolled one or two pieces of random magic treasure; he'd probably rolled a helm of teleportation or something, and didn't want my characters to have anything that would let them get out of the room. I told him it wasn't fair, and kept on yelling at him, until finally he got mad and said, 'All right, roll percentage dice!', and when I rolled a 75, he said, 'Okay, there are 75 ogres in the room with you!' For a little while there, I was actually thinking about how Peter and Clerasil could defeat 75 ogres. We were both 9th level now, and back then we didn't use the clerical spell preparation rules, which meant that Clerasil could now cast a 9th level cleric's full day's supply of spells. But my brother stepped in and said, 'There's no way you can defeat that many ogres, you're dead!' I was about to give up, but then I remembered that he still had a couple of characters in a campaign I was running in module A1. So I . . . heh heh . . . reminded him of this little fact."
The DM chuckled. "You should have seen how fast he let Peter and Clerasil out of that dungeon. And the funniest thing about it was, my brother never went back and played in my module-A1 campaign again. He just lost interest."
Unbelievable Sword would have scratched his head in confusion if his leaden arms could move. He settled for letting his permanent unseen servant spell scratch his head for him. "Module A1?"
"Dungeon module A1," the DM explained, "Slave Pits of the Undercity, by David Cook. It was originally written as an AD&D tournament module. I don't know if it was set in the Greyhawk multiverse or not."
Unbelievable Sword gasped telepathically. 'There are other multiverses!' he thought.
"Anyway," the DM went on, "My brother and his buddy Darren were both playing their characters in module A1, and I was DMing. My brother named one of his characters Du-Du-Hu---h. That's how he spelled it, anyway; he always pronounced it 'Dut duh huh', sometimes with a little lilt in his voice. Whenever I asked him what character class this character was, he'd evasively respond, 'He's a 4th-level Dut duh huh!'. The picture on his character sheet had a beefy torso and legs, arms so thin he looked like he'd contracted polio, a huge swath of long curly hair on his head, and a facial expression that looked like he was saying 'Please don't hurt me!'. Oh, and the picture also looked like it was wearing adult diapers. I didn't get to see this character sheet until after he'd lost interest, though, so I didn't know until afterward that he was supposed to be a 4th level 'myrmidon.' I think Myrmidon was one of the character classes he picked up from that City State of the World Emperor supplement. One of Darren's characters had a character class from City State of the World Emperor, too; he was a 'Mycretian.' According to the rules, all Mycretians had the power to make anyone they meet into their friend 5 times out of 6. There was no saving throw and no magic resistance, nor was there anything in the City State rules that said this power only worked on other humanoids. Darren also misread the rules and told me that there was no limit to the number of times per day this power could be used, and it wasn't until several years later that I read the rules myself and found out that the Mycretian's friend gift is usable only a few times per day according to the character's level, just like clerical spells are. So, naturally, when I was DMing Darren and my brother in module A1, and Du-Du-Hu---h, Darren's Mycretian, and their two other characters (with psionics) entered a room full of giant ants, the two psionic characters each fired a psionic blast at the giant ants, Du-Du-Hu---h unleashed the power of the Magma Mace which he'd picked up in a campaign that Darren had previously run, and while all these deadly attacks were going on, Darren's Mycretian turned to the giant ants and said, 'Friend!' I had the last laugh, though — it turned out I had misread the map and was giving them the description of the room on the second dungeon level while they were still on the first dungeon level. The actual room they were in had no giant ants in it, or any other monsters, for that matter."
"But you know what?" the DM asked rhetorically. "As it turns out, I didn't need my brother, or anyone else, to DM for my characters. The first edition DMG had a random dungeon generator in the back."
"Uh," Unbelievable Sword tried and failed to digest all this new information, "DMG?"
"Dungeon Master's Guide. What you call the Book of Infinite Wisdom."
"So, wait . . ." Unbelievable Sword fumbled with the notion, "You discovered the random dungeon generator in the back of the Book of Infinite Wisdom? You mean, you didn't write the Book yourself?"
"Nah, of course not," the DM answered, "Gygax did. Or at least, he took credit for writing it. I hear Arneson had a heck of a lot to do with all three 1st Edition core rulebooks. Anyway, as I was saying, since the DMG had a random dungeon generator in the back, I could put all of my characters through adventures and accumulate all the gold pieces and experience points and magic items they ever needed, without anybody else having to be present. I could be both player and DM. I don't think I've ever bothered to play with another human being since then."
'So He's not only judge, jury, and executioner,' Unbelievable Sword thought, 'He's both prosecution and defendant at the same time, too. By the nine circles of Baator, that's pathetic. But I guess I can't be too hard on Him, since He has to play by somebody else's rules.' It was amazing to think that even the Dungeon Master Himself had to answer to a higher authority.
"Ringman was one of my characters back when I used to play with other people, too," the DM changed the subject. "But he was kind of a loser. Only 18/92 strength and no psionics. Peter Perfect had him beaten on all counts. And yet, just by sheer luck, Ringman found a sentient holy sword and Peter Perfect only got to find a plain old non-sentient holy sword in my brother's treasure room. That's why I arranged for Peter and Ringman to 'exchange' holy swords that day."
"And now, Ringman's dead," Unbelievable Sword interrupted, finally getting to the point.
"You're damn right he's dead," the DM retorted. "That son-of-a-bitch was ruining everything! Disgusting characters need great gobs of experience points if they're going to be disgusting, and the most efficient way to get those x.p.'s is to kill creatures that are carrying treasures on their persons that are worth enormous numbers of gold pieces. Centaurs are the only creatures in the published rules whose treasure type indicates that they can be carrying gems on their persons, and as of Second Edition, gems can be worth up to 100,000 g.p. each, meaning that they're still the most valuable treasure you can find. I can't just throw out the published rules! None of my disgusting characters would count if I did that! All the other D.M.'s would say that my disgusting characters had progressed in a manner impossible under the rules, and then they wouldn't allow my characters into their campaign!"
"You've played us disgusting characters in other D.M.'s campaigns?" Unbelievable Sword asked.
"Er . . . well . . . not as such," the D.M. stammered uncomfortably. "But I could, if I found anyone who would let me be a player in their campaign, I'm sure of it! Then I could kick all their butts! Nobody else has characters as powerful as mine! That'd show 'em! But —" he held up a threatening finger "— I'd never even have a chance to run my characters in their campaigns if I didn't make them by following the published rules. And the published rules clearly state that every gold piece worth of treasure you carry out of an adventure with you is worth one experience point."
Ah, there was the angle Unbelievable Sword had been looking for! "But, Dungeon Master," he pleaded, "Look on page 47 of the Book of Infinite Wisdom!"
The D.M. wrinkled his forehead, then pulled a well-worn tome off of his makeshift bookshelf titled "Dungeon Master's Guide" and flipped to Chapter 8: Experience.
Unbelievable Sword went on: "The little blue box in the lower right-hand corner of the page says, and I quote, 'As an option, the DM can award XP for the cash value of non-magical treasures. One XP can be given per gold piece, or equivalent, found.' As an option! Don't you see what that means? The one-x.p.-per-g.p. rule is an optional rule! You don't have to use it! You'd still be operating under the published rules if you abolished the one-x.p.-per-g.p. rule in your campaign."
"Oh, sure," the D.M. seemed to grow more cynical, "I could just wipe out the easiest way to make my characters more and more disgusting. Why the heck wouldn't I want to do that? You know, there are other little, ahem, 'optional rules' you guys have been getting away with using over the years. Like the weapons master character class, which doesn't appear in any of the printed rules. Or how I've been looking the other way every time one of your guys wears more than two magic rings at the same time."
Unbelievable Sword hung his head down like a kid who'd been caught with his hand in the cookie jar. (Or he would have, if he hadn't been a lead miniature.)
"Or the whole notion of 'Atlas Strength'," the D.M. went on, "Which turns out to be based entirely on a misinterpretation I had of the entry for Atlas that appeared in the first edition Deities and Demigods. It turns out there is no such thing as 25-star Strength. That whole idea about a special 'improved version' of 25 Strength that gives you an infinite carrying capacity wasn't even in the First Edition rules, let alone the Second Edition rules."
Unbelievable Sword's eyes would have bulged wide if he could have moved them. "But . . . but, Atlas Strength is the only thing holding up Central Earth! Atlas himself was killed 18 years ago, and it's only because disgusting characters have been taking turns holding up the planet since then that it doesn't fall off into the void and lose all its surface gravity. I mean, sure, us disgusting characters won't have any problem if Central Earth loses gravity and all of its air drifts off into space, but 85 percent of the population of Central Earth still isn't disgusting yet!"
The D.M. shrugged. "So? It'd be no skin off of my teeth. I could throw a sphere of annihilation the size of the whole ethereal plane at Central Earth, and wipe all you hosers out. What do I care how many of you die? Ringman's dead right now — I crumpled up his character sheet and threw it in the trash." He indicated the trash can sitting in front of the folding table. "You know, I haven't emptied that trash can since before I threw Sick Sword's character sheet in there."
"You . . . you told Ridiculous Sword that you burned Sick Sword's character sheet."
"I told her that," the D.M. shrugged.
So the D.M. was a liar as well as a genocidal deathmonger. Big surprise. And yet . . . amid the chaos of all he now found himself up against, a thought struck Unbelievable Sword. Ringman's and Sick Sword's character sheets had been crumpled up, but evidently not completely destroyed. Was it possible, he dared to wonder, To bring a character back, even from annihilation?
"And you know something?" the D.M. added, "Even if I did decide to lift that 'optional' one-x.p.-per-g.p. rule — which, as you know, was what made you into a disgusting character in the first place — even without that rule, all the disgusting characters on Central Earth would still end up taking gems from just as many centaurs as they always have!"
"Nonsense," Unbelievable Sword countered, "Without their underlying experience point benefit, gems are only useful as the gold pieces they're worth. And nobody needs to buy billions of gold pieces worth of . . ." he trailed off telepathically, then the voice of his thoughts resumed with greater anxiety: "Artifact powers."
"Precisely," the D.M. nodded smugly. "That half-relative of yours, Danny, came up with a way to make all those gold pieces you disgusting characters accumulate useful again. He bought +50 000 to his THAC0 at a cost of a quarter of a billion g.p.. How much could you buy with all the wealth you've acquired?" He glanced at Unbelievable Sword's character sheet. "Tsk tsk tsk, I see you haven't been keeping careful track of your bank balance since you assumed that having more than a few million gold pieces wasn't useful. But no matter; if we assume you have a little less than one g.p. for every x.p. you've acquired over the years — a reasonable assumption, considering how you earned them — you've probably got around 80 billion gold pieces worth of gems that you haven't already spent. If you put half of that, 40 billion g.p., into raising your THAC0 via artifact power 22:2, that would give you a THAC0 bonus of +8 000 000. More than enough to hit any other disgusting character on Central Earth," he leaned in closer, "Until they spent 20 billion gold pieces of their own on artifact power 33:1, thereby improving their Armor Class by the same 8 000 000."
The D.M. leaned back and paused for effect. "Your disgusting character arms race would be just as alive and well without treasure giving you experience points, and the centaurs would be just as much caught in the middle of it as they ever have been."
Unbelievable Sword did the telepathic equivalent of snapping his fingers with an idea. "No, they wouldn't! The only reason we needed the centaurs was to have something to kill so that those gems would be worth experience points. You saw how many gems were scattered all over the Centaur Pits after the centaurs left. If the centaurs could mine untold numbers of 100 000 g.p. gems out of the ground, so could the rest of us!"
"Um, 'fraid not," the D.M. replied with a wry smile. "According to the mining rules — Complete Dwarves' Handbook, chapter 8 — a miner can only find at most one gem per week whose uncut value is higher than 500 g.p.. The only way to acquire more than one 100 000 g.p. gem a week is to take them from someone who already has them."
'I always knew the rules glorified theft,' Unbelievable Sword thought, then asked, "But the centaurs — we saw them digging 100 000 gold piece gems out of the ground!"
"Dungeon dressing," the D.M. shrugged. "All centaurs have treasure type Q. I had to have some lame excuse for why centaurs bred in captivity would have gems."
"Okay, okay," Unbelievable Sword acquiesced, "We'd still need to exploit the centaurs. But at least we wouldn't have to kill them to get their gems! We'd only have to rob them!"
The Dungeon Master wrinkled his nose and sneered at the lead figurine before him. "Hmph. Okay, it's obvious you really really want this rule change. All right, tell you what. If you can survive my dungeon, I'll grant your request, and maybe a little more. If not?" He shrugged. "Eh. I was getting tired of Central Earth anyway. I never did like the whole notion of Atlas Strength."
Unbelievable Sword did the lead-figurine equivalent of swallowing hard. "Dungeon."
"I'm putting you in a pocket multiverse," the D.M. explained as he picked Unbelievable Sword up off the map he'd been standing on and carried him over to another. "Just you and the dungeon, and nothing else. No other planes of existence mucking things up."
And as the base of his leaden body touched the new sheet of grid-lined paper, his spirit fell away from the Dungeon Master's realm and congealed in a place like nothing the multiverse had ever seen.
The Intercontinental Proliferation of Disgusting Characters is continued in chapter 12.
Main Disgusting Characters Page | Roger M. Wilcox's Homepage