Monday, August 16, 2010

The Magician's Ring

Note: The following originally appeared in the June 1975 issue of Wargamer's Digest, and is Copyright (c) 1975 McCoy Publishing Enterprises, Inc. It is presented here without permission of the copyright holder, in the interest of preserving a piece of the early history of Dungeons & Dragons. I have tried to transcribe the original as closely as possible, including misspellings and incorrect punctuation. Lessnard is, of course, the character of Michael Mornard, one of the players in Gary Gygax's original Greyhawk campaign. -Joseph Bloch, your humble scribe.

Dungeons & Dragons - The Magician's Ring

by Gary Gygax

Since doing the account of "The Giant's Bag" which was published in the Great Plains Game Players Newsletter, I have had a number of requests for similar articles from readers who found a small amount of humor in the tale. Here then is another brief story of the wonderful adventures had by the brave and fearless types who inhabit the realm of DUNGEONS & DRAGONS.

Those who have explored the countyside between the bustling city of Greyhawk and the castle ruins of the same name which lie on the hill not a league to the east of the city will testify to the fact that there are a number of strange tunnels and wells about. Wise folks avoid them, for the know that these are but entrances to the fiendish maze of dungeons, pits, labyrinths, crypts, catacombs, and caverns which honeycomb the hill and the rock far beneath it. There are those, however, who eagerly seek these ways, for it is likewise well-known that incalculable treasure also rests within these twisting mazes. Dauntless adventurers sally through these entrances to a hideous underworld, determined to gain great fortunes or die. It is of such an adventurer that this take is built around-- a rare tale indeed.

Lessnard the Magician was displeased with his acquisition of wizardly skills -- or rather his lack of the same -- so he decided that he must immediately seek a remedy to this dearth. A carefully planned expedition to a not too-deep level of Greyhawk Dungeons was in order, for there he could gain the priceless magic items and magical experience necessary to become more skilled at his calling. Besides, he had recently hired a veteran fighter, a clerical acolyte, and a magical medium, and these retainers would greatly benefit from such experience (providing they survived, and under such leadership as his, how could they fail simple survival?!). So properly accoutered, the four set forth one chilly dawn to wrest some of the choice loot from the dungeons.

Lessnard chose one of the outside entrances to the lower levels of the dungeons, knowing it would save both time and the risk of unwished for encounters with wandering monsters. In a trice the party was wandering about in a maze of passages and rooms, bt it was soon discovered that this particular section had been oft visited, for doors hung akimbo, only monsters' bones littered the most secluded lairs, and treasure was nil. Not despairing, the Magician led still further into the labyrinth, and eventually a set of out-of-the-way stairs was discovered. Despite the fact that these led to a higher level, the Magician felt it wise to ascend, for surely such unfrequented stairs would bring his party to a similarly neglected section of an upper level. It was just so! Not long thereafter Lessnard forced open a door and confronted a trio of skeletal wights, loathsome undead creatures which would -- if allowed -- paralyze both him and his retainers and turn thenm all into like creatures. But that was not to be, for he quickly acted! With a hastily muttered incantation Lessnard hurled a glowing ball at the wights, a sphere which grew brighter and expanded as it sped from his fingers, to burst in a blaze and turn the undead things to mere ashes. When all cooled down, and the stench and smoke dissipated a bit, the Magician led his party into the place and it took only a bit of careful searching to find a dozen pieces of funerial jewelry which had been reposing with the now-destroyed creatures.

Instead of retracing their steps, the group trudged northwards from a four-way intersection near the former lair of the wights, and in less than a hundred paces they came upon a large chamber. Their cautious approach allowed them to completely take by surprise a giant scorpion who dwelled therein. "Good grief!" shrieked the retainers. "Crum and St. Cuthbert! At him!" ordered Lessnard. Although not expecting anything so terrible as this huge arachnid in the upper dungeons, the Magician was nonetheless determined to carry through an immediate attack. An arrow flew into the monster as the magic-user cast a spell to slow its movements. Thereafter ensued a fierce battle. The Magician leaped upon the scorpion and struck repeatedly at it with his poinard. His faithful retainers rained blows at the monster. The tail of the beast arched, and the hapless cleric was transfixed. With a groan he expired on the spot. But this was the last attack for the giant scorpion, and it too was done for by a flurry of blows. Although its pincers had dealt a few wounds to the brave Magician, he was exultant, for surely this was a glorious victory! Had the monster guarded anything? At first nothing could be found, but Lessnard turned just i time to see that his Medium apprentice had fumbled a ring from the tail of the scorpion, taking the item from the creature's sting, and slipping it onto his pinkie. He vanished before Lessnard's gaze!

"Floppspel!" he cried, "reappear again this moment, and hand over that ring which is the rightful property of your master!" No response. Fortunately there was but one exit from the place, and Lessnard was closest to the passage. He flailed the air like an overfed turkey buzzard attempting to take flight, and one of his thrashing arms contacted the Medium's crouched form, knocking the latter sprawling. "I've got him!" Lessnard shouted, and the fighter rushed to help. Strange indeed to see two grown men seemingly wrestling with empty air, but then the object of the struggle appeared, for the Magician had managed to wrest the ring from his finger causing Floppspel to immediately become visible. "Dolt!" said Lessnard, soundly trouncing the captive apprentice. "I was only trying it out," whined Floppspel. Cautioning the Medium never to try such a stupid trick again, Lessnard now led the two on the homeward journey, with the fighter bearing the body of the slain cleric.

Alas! the way out was not as simple as the Magician had thought, for despite being able to retrace his way to the steps by which they had entered the level, it was impossible to utilize them, for the passage was unbroken by any portal. They had passed through a one-way door without noticing, and now he must find another means of egress. An hour of wandering brought them back to a spot near where they had fought the wights and scorpion, and in one corridor Lessnard recognized a familiar place. Yes, he had been here once before. A narrow crack in the wall gave into a hexagonal chamber, but Lessnard shuddered at the thought, for it was a dangerous way to pass.

A deep circular well nearly filled the room, and only a narrow and slippery ledge curled around its lip. The well was filled with dark water, and the dark water was filled with hungry crocodiles! On the far side of the chamber was a door which led to the passage out, but the only way to gain it was to risk passage along the ledge. Bravely Lessnard ordered the party forward. "Fortunately for you," he explained to his two surviving retainers, "I have these Boots of Levitation, and with them I can hover nearby and guide your steps so as to avoid a plunge into certain death." The two listeners looked less than convinced, but they set forth anyway, having small choice. But a few steps and the Veteran cried out as his foot slipped from the ledge; the corpse of the cleric tumbled from his shoulders into the hungry jaws below. Another step and the hapless fellow followed the body. "Halt," commanded the Magician to the only survivor, Floppspel the Medium. "Loose that coil of rope from your waist and toss me an end. Tie the other securely about yourself, and then if you slip I shall be able to save you from the fate of that stupid fighter." Floppspel complied with alacrity, but as he watched his mater fastening the cord about his middle a sudden thought struck the Medium.

"Master," said the apprentice tugging at the rope -- rather like a small child does with a helium balloon on the end of a strong. "May I have that wondrous Ring of Invisibility when we gain the pure air of the world above?"

"Don't be a churl!" snarled Lessnard. "Such treasures are not for the likes of mere Mediums. I'll keep it for myself!"

"Please, master, please!" Floppspel continued to beg, all the while yanking upon the rope in eagerness, and causing his master to bounce about as if he were actually the already alluded to balloon.

"Curse you!" shouted the enraged Magician, "I said no! Now stop that ad proceed along the ledge." The Medium ignored the command and continued to tug and plead. Now, thought Lessnard, I'll teach that stupid fellow a lesson in obedience. I'll suspend him over the pit and threaten to dip his posterior therein for a snack for the scaley denizens of the well unless he jumps at my merest suggestion henceforward. As Floppspel began to repeat his abjurations, Lessnard struck! With a violent jerk he pulled the surprised fellow from the ledge so that he hung suspended above the middle of the horrid pool. But, sad to relate, all was not as quite as Lessnard had expected. The weight of the Medium was causing him to sink slowly towards the hungry crocodiles. "Note this lesson," quoth Lessnard. "See how I could feed you to yon beasts would I will!" The terrified Medium began to clamber up the rope as he slowly sunk closer to the snapping jaws of the crocs', not overly impressed with his master's wrath, but well impressed with what lay below. "Stop! I shall not do it," the Magician assured the climber, for they were sinking yet nearer the surface of the water. "Now quickly, you knave, swing over to the ledge, and you'll be safe."

"Yunnngh, uff!" replied Floppspel, going upwards as fast as his shaking hands would pull him. "No! NO!" shouted Lessnard, but the apprentice was like a drowning man, intent only upon climbing atop the straw of imagined safety. "I'll cut the rope," threatened Lessnard as they sunk still lower. Floppspel hauled himself to a position where he could grasp his master's ankles, and once he had a handhold he shinnied up the Magician in a trice. "Yorph, bluchh!" cried Lessnard as the fellow's foot wedged firmly into his mouth. Floppspel stood triumphantly upon his master's crown; then, and with a frantic leap managed to regain the safety of the ledge as his former haven was descended below its level. Freed of the oppressive weight of the Medium, Lessnard's magical footwear once again asserted their influence -- just in time to save him from the ravening maws but a scant span below. Upwards he bounded like a startled grouse. But while the latter controls its flight, the Magician was too surprised to rule his levitational device, and his head smote the ceiling of the chamber resoundingly.

There remains but little more to tell. Upon reaching the surface the Magician drove his erstwhile apprentice from him with kicks, threats, and curses. The fellow has never been seen again, but the whole adventure still haunts his former master. Is it his imagination? or do his friend's warm waves of greeting somewhat resemble the motion of an arm tugging on a rope...


The shenanigans of Floppspel were, of course, nothing more than what the game referee decided would take place. They were, however, based on several definite factors. the apprentice was a new hireling, and as such his loyalty was uncertain (as indicated by a dice roll). His master furthermore did not offer him any substantial portion of treasure gained, so he was quite naturally looking out for himself. The battles with the wights and the giant scorpion lowered Floppspel's morale, first because he was not immediately promised a portion of the jewelry, second due to the death of the Acolyte cleric, and third because he took a great fancy to the ring of invisibility (a score of 12 with two six-sided dice) and saw no chance to gain the desired object. It was not unnatural that he attempt to gain the latter when an opportunity arose.

It is the duty of a referee to make any situation like that described as difficult as possible for the participants. Beside adding a few light moments afterwards it encourages careful consideration of any action contemplated and clear instructions regarding all actions taken during an adventure. this improves the play of the game on the participants' part and makes it far easier for the referee


grodog said...

An excellent piece, full of Castle Greyhawkness.

Lessnard is Mike Mornard's PC, btw :D


Grendelwulf said...

It brings a tear to me eye
Thanks, Joe!


Joseph said...

I believe I mentioned that in the intro, Allan...

Lord Bodacious said...

It's always amazes how truly "Vancey" some of these sessions feel. Thanks for posting this - a real treat.

grodog said...

I believe I mentioned that in the intro, Allan...

Doh, not sure how I missed that....


KenHR said...

Thanks for sharing this. Not only an enjoyable session report, but a great tidbit of wisdom and advice at the end.