The Awesome Silliness of Fantasy RPGs
Originally posted on Sidekickcast.com
If you’re a fan of role-playing games, you probably got introduced to the game through a little thing called Dungeons & Dragons. It may have come by a different name back then, such as Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, but the general gist remains the same. In my unscientific study, about 99% of gamers were found to have come into the hobby via some iteration of D&D.
I’ve hopped around a lot in the RPG hobby, and while I got off the D&D train, my current game of choice, Pathfinder, is an extremely close cousin of the world’s first role-playing game. While there are a lot of reasons I tend to stick close to the D&D tradition, one of the major ones is the oddball humor that the game’s history is steeped in.
I like a good beer and pretzels game, where the play is fairly casual and the jokes are frequent. And when it comes to D&D-style fantasy, the jokes have been baked into the game for decades now.
For example: the 1st edition Dungeon Master’s Guide, which people even today hold up as being sources of inspiration and ideas in an RPG. You know what 99% of people who have read this book remember? The wandering harlot table, of course.
What exactly is the different between a saucy tart and a wanton wench? What makes a wealthy procuress different from an expensive doxy? I doubt even Gary Gygax knew.
A few years later, we get the Fiend Folio, which introduced us to the infamous flumph:
Quoting from the text, “The flumph ‘flies’ by sucking air into its mouth and expelling it through its underside.” Also, “the flumph repels an attack with a squirt of foul-smelling liquid.” Yeah, it’s basically a flying diarrhea monster.
But that’s a silly thing from the 70s that was quickly forgotten, right? Nope. The creators of 5th edition D&D determined they were so iconic to the game that they made their way into the updated Monster Manual.
You could dismiss this stuff as the early growing pains of the hobby, but it’s lingered well into the modern day. For instance, from 3rd edition D&D’s Book of Vile Darkness, we have this magical nipple clamp.
Personally, my favorite bit of D&D craziness comes from the Book of Wondrous Inventions, which gave us a magical cola machine.
Put in two silver pieces, get a refreshing beverage. But there’s a dark side to it, too. See, this was an intelligent magical item – with a chaotic evil alignment.
That’s right. As of 1987, Dungeons & Dragons, the first role-playing game, has stats for an evil vending machine that tries to kill you with its soda cans. It’s quite honestly the most wonderful thing I’ve seen in a role-playing game because it’s totally true – vending machines are totally evil, and you know they’d try to kill us all if somebody gave them a way to do so.
With all this evidence, role-playing games could be seen as a collection of dumb jokes, but it’s worth noting that those dumb jokes turn into great things once in a while. Take modrons, for example. They’re basically a bunch of things that were created when somebody scattered some polyhedral dice on the table and said, “The monster looks like a walking d20.” But give it some love and you come up with an adventure called The Great Modron March, which saw player characters jump through different dimensions as they tried to figure out why these things were en masse walking through the planes of existence like a stampede of giant polygonal cattle.
The villain behind The Great Modron March was a dead demon lord named Orcus, who had clawed his way out of the realm of death and eventually faced off against the heroes in an adventure called Dead Gods, which, if the name isn’t a giveaway, involves an adventure to stop the dead god from returning to his former strength and destroying most of existence. It’s the type of epic fantasy people cram into book stores and movie theatres to experience, and it all comes from a bunch of walking polygons.
As another example, look at the aforementioned flumph. The Pathfinder version of those creatures “come from distant stars to protect unprepared worlds from cosmic horrors.” That’s right – they’re basically the Silver Surfer, come to warn your planet about the dangers of Cthulhu.
The entire RPG hobby evolved from a group of people drinking beer, eating pretzels, and telling dumb jokes while they played games of pretend. Those origins are very dear to me, because not only are they responsible for the creation of a great hobby, but a little thought put into why some of these things might exist often turns it into something pretty awesome.
Want some more awesome fantasy-ness in a non-RPG format? Check out my upcoming novel Conquest of Greystone Valley, which is now available for pre-order!