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For A Few Polyhedrals More

January 26th, 2012 No comments

Over the past week, I’ve continued to work on my DIY role-playing game project, Perils & Polyhedrals. I proofread the manuscript a few more times and created several sample characters to get a sense of how the math held up as heroes progressed from Level 1 to 10. The latter prompted me to adjust downward both the suggested hit points and damage values for monsters.

But there was something even more important to me than ensuring that the good guys can withstand a handful of kobolds without suffering a Total Party Kill. And that, my friends, was the artwork!

I’d originally intended to drop in some public domain medieval art, but the stuff I found didn’t set the tone I wanted. And so it was that I set about creating my own illustrations.

It is fair to say that I am not much of an artist…

Case in point, this violet-skinned Drow. Who, in hindsight, I realized I’d inadvertently modeled on Pete White from The Venture Bros.

This fireball ain’t so hot either:

I did, however, begin to play with layers. And that paid off when decided to back up this zombie with some ghostly skulls:

But the most fun I had was in creating my own monsters. In my previous post, you can see my take on Dungeons and Dragons‘ iconic Beholder, the many-eared Listener. To that I’ve now added a variant on the Gelatinous Cube.

Sometimes a cube just won’t do to clean your oddly-shaped dungeon corridors. That’s when you turn to…the Gelatinous Tetrahedron!

The .pdf of the Perils & Polyhedrals rulebook is now completely updated and illustrated. (And, thanks to my wife Vicky’s mad Adobe skillz, it no longer has those extraneous blank pages!) Download it here, and let me know if you like it!

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Perils & Polyhedrals

January 18th, 2012 No comments

I was mildly perturbed last week when game publisher Wizards of the Coast confirmed a rumor that had been percolating in the role-playing community for some months: they are already working on a new edition of Dungeons & Dragons. (Yes, I know…the horror, the horror.)

While I’m not filled with nerd rage, it annoys me for several reasons, not the least of which is that I have really enjoyed playing 4th Edition. It was the first iteration of the game since the early days of the hobby–the late ’70s and early ’80s–that left me feeling confident enough to run my own campaign. (Two of them, in fact.)

Furthermore, I feel that it’s much too soon for a new edition. (See the link in the first paragraph above for a brief history of the game’s publishing history.) 4th Edition was issued less than four years ago, making it the shortest-lived version by far.

Whatever. I can deal with it. I understand the business reasons behind the decision. (Google “edition wars” if you want a taste of the internecine conflict between 4th Edition, 3rd Edition and even 0th Edition players.) And, with the announcement of open playtesting, it seems that Wizards is at least trying to respect the hobbyists and bring them all back together for a monster-slaying chorus of “Kumbaya.”

Entirely coincidentally, I’d been working on my own homebrew RPG project when the 5th Edition announcement hit. More about that in a few moments.

Over the last few years, a number of D&D-ish games have been published under something called the Open Game License. The OGL was an effort by Wizards of the Coast/Hasbro to bring the open-source concept to paper-and-pencil RPGs. Their notion was that in making the core rules of D&D free to everyone to use in their own compatible products, Wizards would become the unquestioned brand leader. It didn’t work out that way.

First, the hobby market was overrun with dump trucks’ worth of mediocre 3rd party supplements. Second–and most germane to this discussion–is that it allowed other companies to publish stand-alone D&D knockoffs. When Wizards dumped 3rd Edition in 2008, the community backlash was substantial enough that rival company Paizo issued an entire line of very successful D&D-except-in-name products called Pathfinder.

Others have used the OGL to reverse-engineer earlier editions of D&D. Games such as Labyrinth Lord and OSRIC are as-much-as-the-law-allows straight-up reprints of  the 1st Edition rules.

I looked at those latter games and thought, “If they can do that, what’s stopping me from creating the kind of D&D game that I would most want to play?”

And that’s why I haven’t been blogging recently.

I’m ready to present a first draft of the project that’s been taking up too much of my time these past few weeks, a rules-lite fantasy role-playing game I’m calling Perils & Polyhedrals. (“Polyhedrals” refers to the funky, many-sided dice widely used in the gaming hobby.)

It’s not all my own work. The beating heart of it is MicroLite 20, which boiled the rules of the s0-called Fantasy System Reference Document down to their bones. There’s even a dash of Pathfinder in there. That’s the beauty of the Open Game License; most of the rules published under it are themselves open to others to use and modify.

However, there’s a lot of me in there as well. Perils & Polyhedrals is my attempt to create a game that offers a basic structure for character creation and combat without a lot of rules to remember. It keeps the things that I like and jettisons much that I don’t.

It’s probably not ready for prime-time just yet. I haven’t playtested it at all. I think that the math should work; it’s at least consistent. Take a look, and let me know what you think!

31 Monstrous Failures #16: Black Pudding

October 16th, 2011 No comments

Once again, I’m fudging the premise of this year’s Halloween countdown. The monster known as the Black Pudding isn’t itself a failure. In its day (the mid ’70s), it was a formidable addition to Dungeons & Dragons‘ roster of roving oozes. It was immune to cold-based attacks, and lightning bolts split it into two or more independent creatures. The Black Pudding quickly dissolved adventurers’ hard-won loot and generally made for a bad day in the labyrinth.

Not being familiar with British foodstuffs, I was puzzled by the Black Pudding’s odd name. And it wasn’t until this month–during my just-concluded trip to the U.K.–that I was at last confronted by the reality of the…

Black Pudding!

Two of the three hotels at which I stayed included black pudding in their breakfast buffets. A combination of curiosity and a desire to sample the local cuisine led me to sample the hockey puck-shaped item. To be honest, it didn’t taste like much of anything. It was just a hard, in-no-way-pudding-like object that was inexplicably deemed edible.

It wasn’t until a few days later at a butcher’s stand that I thought to inquire about the composition of the black pudding. Turns out that it’s really a quasi-sausage primarily made of congealed pig’s blood. I don’t know if this was one of those”we use every part of the buffalo” notions, or if someone was sitting around one day thinking “what am I going to do with all of this pig’s blood?,” but that anyone ever believed that this was a thing that people should eat boggles me. And that they would still do so in the 21st Century? Really, blood pucks for breakfast are best left behind with leeching and the other shitty ideas of our stupid, stupid ancestors.

31 Monstrous Failures #8: Thought Eater

October 8th, 2011 No comments

The creators of Dungeons & Dragons soon ran out of “real” monsters like Chimeras and Manticores, and had to fill out the ranks with fiends from their own imaginations. Some were inspired, like the Beholder: a floating orb covered in magic-spewing eyestalks. But not all of them were as awesome as the Gelatinous Cube. Some were more like the…

Thought Eater!

From the original Monster Manual:

Thought eaters are dwellers in the ether. Their senses, however, extend into the physical plane, and any psionic or psionic-related energy use in either area will attract their attention (range of ability or magic equals attraction range). The thought eater appears to be something like a sickly gray, skeletal-bodied, enormous headed platypus to those who are able to observe it. Its webbed paws allow it to swim through the ether.

Somehow, I don’t see slayers of sickly, skeletal platypuses becoming heroes of legend.

Review: Gamma World (2010)

October 18th, 2010 No comments

Gamma World is one of the oldest paper-and-pencil role-playing games, first published in 1978 during the ascendancy of Dungeons & Dragons. Detailing a loony, post-apocalyptic future of mutant badgers and excessively dangerous weapons, Gamma World was the radioactive country cousin of D&D.

There have been half a dozen editions over the years, and now comes number seven: a slick boxed set marketed as D&D Gamma World and based on the current version of the Dungeons & Dragons rules set.

The old-school nuclear Armageddon has been replaced by a 21st Century disaster. In the new backstory, our world ends in 2012 when the Large Hadron Collider causes dozens of parallel universes to collapse in upon each other, creating a combined reality. But there are still mutant badgers.

What’s in the Box: A 160-page rulebook that covers character creation, combat, monsters, tips for game masters and a sample adventure. Two double-sided battle maps. Two sheets of character and creature tokens. Character sheets. A deck of 80 Alpha Mutation and Omega Tech cards, plus an 8-card booster pack.

First Impressions: At its core, this is a stripped-down version of 4th Edition D&D. That’s not a criticism, merely an observation. As a fan of 4E, I’m happy to see that–a few notable changes aside–I can pretty much jump in and play.

Character creation is intentionally quick. As heroes max out at 10th Level (as opposed to D&D‘s thirty levels), it’s clear that you’re not intended to enjoy a long, happy career. No magical healing + notoriously undependable future technology = rolling up a new mutant. Fortunately, the character sheet walks you right through the process.

There are no feats in the trim rules set, and skills have been reduced to a mere ten. (One of which is “Conspiracy.”) There are no action points or healing surges.

Races and classes are replaced by “origins”: everything from Android to Yeti. Each character gets two, randomly-determined origins. While some of the options seem very specific–Rat Swarm, for instance–the game encourages creativity in the way they combine. (One given example is a Seismic/Hawkoid re-skinned into a gargoyle.)

One controversial aspect of this edition of Gamma World is the introduction of collectible cards. In addition to the powers granted by their origins, characters draw from a deck of Alpha Mutation cards that represent temporary abilities. Similarly, loot comes in the form of Omega Tech cards that describe futuristic hardware. While the Mutations are replaced after each encounter, Tech cards can potentially carry over…assuming that they don’t break, run out of ammo or explode. Skillful characters can salvage broken Tech into permanent gear.

The components are excellent; there’s a lot of value in the box. The token sheets are made of heavy cardboard and punch out easily. I’m not a big fan of chits in tabletop role-playing games, but given the unlikelihood of Gamma World-specific miniatures being produced, it’s nice to see that every one of the 25 monsters detailed in the core rulebook is represented by multiple tokens.

The Final Word: I haven’t had a chance to play it yet, but this new version of Gamma World looks like a good time. The rules are loosey-goosey and the emphasis is on random wackiness. It should be a fun change of pace from your weekly dungeon crawl.

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In The Grim Darkness Of The Far Future, There Is Only Warhammer

May 7th, 2010 No comments

A few days after the fact, here are photos from the recent Warhammer 40,000 Weekend I held at Casa del Thiel. It was fun, as always, to see my good friends Donn and Tonya again. The bout of stomach flu was rather less fun.

As usual, my Sisters underachieved. Can anyone remind me why I chose one as my primary army one of the trickiest to play? Oh yeah, it was because I thought flying nuns were funny.

Happily, Donn and I had the chance to combine our Tyranid hordes and crush Tonya’s defending Space Marines. Snicker snack!

The Sisters deploy amid Donn's impressive scratch-built Mordheim ruins.

Tyranid warriors burst through the wall!

I knew I should've taken that left on Imperial Boulevard...

Little known fact: Space Marines love to circle dance.

My Canoness gave as good as she got versus the Hive Tyrant, but ultimately went down swinging.

Tyranids mass for battle.

Tonya's defenses were strong.

These scout snipers proved to be irritating. They also proved to be tasty! Yum!

Parking regulations are cruelly enforced.

Activity Fun: Spot the Space Marine!

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To Dungeons Deep And Caverns Old

April 24th, 2010 No comments

It should be a surprise to no one that I was one of the founding members of the Hobart High School Dungeons & Dragons Club*. Each Saturday morning, about twenty of us took over the basement of the Hobart Public Library for a half day of imaginary violence.

Here, courtesy the HHS yearbook, is the sole photo I have of me In flagrante dungeon…

Note that I was both wearing a Star Wars T-shirt and using an Empire Strikes Back school folder as a Dungeon Master’s screen. Yeah, I was stylin’.

What’s truly scary is that I’ve just realized that all these years later I can still immediately identify the D&D adventure being played by the two virgins in the background: the infamous “Queen of the Demonweb Pits.”

All this is my way of pointing out that I am indeed an old-schooler when it comes to dungeoneering. And now, nearly three decades later, I’m running a twice-monthly exercise in Old Tyme D&D I’m calling “The Tower of Mad Mungus.”

In my last update, I noted that some of the less likely members of the D&D bestiary were blamed on experimentation by a mad wizard. I decided that it was high time someone met him.

So it is that our party of adventurers have found themselves in the chambers far below Mungus’ tilted tower. Having defeated a fierce owlbear, they pressed on into a series of caverns.

Their first challenge was a cave overgrown with mushrooms. Large mushrooms. Mushrooms that smelled like warm, freshly-baked bread. When disturbed, they blasted a cloud of spores into the surrounding area. Unfortunately–or perhaps fortunately–the heroes never learned what effect those spores may have had, as they managed to safely bypass them**.

In a maze of twisty little passages, all alike, they found that certain sections of the floor glittered with bluish crystal. Those peering into this “mirror crystal” found that they could see portions of the tunnels otherwise out of sight…and that a monster was looking back at them! In a manner understood by no one including myself, the clawed insect/lizard was able to fire its poisoned spines at them from its lair elsewhere in the caves.

Hunting the sniper, they were beset by a bunch of young kruthiks and their pissed-off parents.

And now, a word from the Dungeon Master:

“Despite my stated intention to provide an old-school D&D experience, kruthiks are from a much later period in the game’s evolution. I included them for two reasons:

1) The game itself seems uncertain what they are. The 4th edition Monster Manual keeps referring to them as “reptilian,” even though they both look and behave much more like insects. They have a “hive lord,” for Pelor’s sake. So they seemed to fit the theme of creatures produced by madness.

2) I have an awful lot of kruthik miniatures.”

Having hacked their way through the skittering, spiky menace, the party next found themselves in a large grotto divided by an underground river and dotted with stalagmites and stalactites. Rob, my fellow old-schooler, heard the magic word “stalactites” and immediately began searching the ceiling for piercers.

“As I’ve previously noted, the piercer is one of the silliest 1st edition monsters. A mollusk which closely resembles a stalactite, the piercer lurks on cave ceilings, waiting to drop on its prey. If it misses, it has no recourse other than to crawl sloooooooowly away and try again…much, much later.

In other words, it’s a monster which is precisely as dangerous as a piece of loose stone.

When 3rd edition D&D came along, it was replaced by the darkmantle, a squiddy thing that flaps down from above and tries to wrap itself around its victim’s head.”

No piercers presented themselves, but sure enough a flock of darkmantles dropped down. Many heads were engulfed. Our intrepid wizard was forced to fire rays of frost at his own noggin in hope of knocking loose a tenacious, tentacled terror.

And that’s when the piercers began to fall.

The first one missed, but Rob’s warlord was speared right in the sternum and lay gasping at the brink of death. Oddly, I believe Rob was actually happy about being laid low by a piercer.

It was looking bad for a few moments, but the good guys eventually won the day. Then, something completely unexpected happened…

Another piercer plummeted to the floor. And excused itself.

The creature explained that it had once been a knight polymorphed into its current form by Mad Mungus himself. Sir Pearce† spent the next fifty years waiting in the cave for a party of dungeoneers that could help him to break this terrible curse.

Rob has kindly provided his iPad sketch of Sir Pearce.

And that’s where we left things. Five defiant adventurers and one stouthearted, conical mollusk against the forces of evil! To be continued…

*aka The Grand Order of High Schoolers Who Were in No Way Likely to Get Laid.

**Or did they?***

***Yes, they did.

I’m so sorry.

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Back To The Dungeon

April 12th, 2010 No comments

Yesterday we kickstarted my long-dormant Dungeons & Dragons campaign. I was shocked to learn that our last play session was more than a year ago. I knew it had been quite a long time, but that’s epic-level procrastination on my part.

We’d left our heroes in the middle of their trek to the tower of the wizard knows as Mad Mungus. Thought to have been long-abandoned, the crooked structure recently had shown signs of life. A hooded figure claiming to be the wizard’s servant showed up in the town of Boswin. Days later, a weird river beast rampaged down the docks. Some speculated that the mutated creature had swum downstream from Mungus’ old abode.

I picked up things with the party finally nearing the tower. In a forest clearing, the adventurers were attacked by stirges: bat/bird/mosquito things with a taste for the red, sticky stuff!

The flying suckers weren’t the true threat, though. That came in the form of the dreaded “land shark” which had been attracted from underground by the vibrations of the battle above. Better known as the bulette, this burrowing behemoth was once famously described as “the result of a mad wizard’s experimental cross breeding of a snapping turtle and armadillo with infusions of demons’ ichor.”

Slaying the predators, the group settled down for the night. Their sleep was interrupted by a host of unusually friendly bullywugs, who invited them to their village of Frogton. Rip Reeep, chief of Frogton, told them that their own community had been attacked by a creature much like the one that had been seen in Boswin.

Avoiding the front door of Mungus’ tower, the heroes instead looked for the underwater waste pipe from which the river freak had emerged. They emerged in a refuse room off a main hallway. The corridor was lined with a series of elaborate stone arches, one of which had apparently collapsed on the head of a previous dungeon diver. While wary of the apparently trapped hall, they greedily picked up the gold coins which had fallen from the dead fighter’s purse.

Unfortunately, one of the coins was attached to a wire! The section of corridor upon which the party stood abruptly slanted at a steep angle, while oil sprayed from a concealed spigot. One of them became a helpless victim of the slick chute, traveling several hundred feet underground in seconds. And below, a hungry owlbear* awaited.

Rather than see their wizard pecked to death, the others voluntarily slid down the chute. The battle was long, bloody and punctuated by angry hooting.

We left things there, with the party stranded deep below the tower. With no obvious way out, who knows what mysteries and horrors await?

Well, I do.

*The owlbear was originally said to have been “probably the result of genetic experimentation by some insane wizard**.”

**It’s just possible that there’s a theme at work.

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The Box Of Delights

February 2nd, 2010 No comments

The other, non-a cappella reason I was largely incommunicado these past couple of weeks was that I was prepping for Winter War, Champaign’s annual wargaming convention. Unlike many past years, when I only showed up long enough to participate in the auction, this time I signed up for three days of events.

I played:

  • Age of Conan (a Risk-like strategy game set in the world of Robert E. Howard’s barbarian hero)
  • Heroscape (a rules-light wargame set on a massive board with a mixture of snow, lava and swamp terrain, plus a big castle in the middle)
  • Doctor Who (which I thought would be the new role-playing game based on the TV show, but was actually a terrible, old Games Workshop boardgame I used to own before I happily got rid of it for its awfulness)
  • Battlestar Galactica (everyone’s favorite “who’s the secret Cylon?” boardgame, with the “Pegasus” expanded rules)
  • Warhammer 40,000 (a tournament event of the popular tabletop futuristic wargame)

Age of Conan was enjoyable, though I think I’d hesitate in adding it to my collection. I already have a bunch of games that involve pushing plastic soldiers around a map of the world/galaxy. Plus, it’s expensive ($80 SRP), and perhaps a bit too complicated for a night of casual gaming. My Aquilonian empire got off to a crummy start, unable to generate more than a couple of soldiers while the Turanians were out making diplomatic woo to all their neighbors, but by the end of the game we were knocking on the doors of Cimmeria itself and I managed to take second place.

My friend/co-worker Deane and his daughter were among the Cylon suspects who played Battlestar Galactica. For the uninitiated, BSG is a semi-cooperative game in which the players are characters from the TV show trying to survive frequent attacks by Cylon space fleets and sabotage by certain members of their own group who are secretly working for the other side. This was the first game of BSG I’ve played in which I was one of the Cylons…and it was also the first game in which the Cylons failed to stop the human fleet from reaching their destination.

As for the Warhammer tournament…well, I’m coming to that.

First there was the game auction. I love the auction. It is–no joke–one of my favorite things each year. This year I took a vorpal sword to my game collection and unloaded a storage bin full of stuff. And if that had been all that happened, it would have been enough.

But then there was the Box.

The Box was an oversized Sterilite container chock-full of plastic gaming miniatures. Mostly Dungeons & Dragons, but also Star Wars, Heroscape, Heroclix and Mage Knight. There were even a few lone stragglers from Creepy Freaks, Dreamblade and Horror Clix, not to mention a few zombies from the Zombies!!! boardgame, a Lego skeleton, a Darth Maul toy and, inexplicably, a dry erase marker.

And when I saw it, I said, “I will walk out of here with this box.”

The Box.

The Box.

I wound up paying a mere thirty bucks for it, which was a steal considering that I would’ve gone as high as sixty and still felt good about it. I also bought a big bag of Heroscape terrain pieces (presumably from the same person, as it was a similarly random assortment of stuff) for $15.

The Bag o' Heroscape.

The Bag.

That evening I pieced it out. There were 360 D&D figures, 88 Heroscape (without their army cards, but still) and 54 Star Wars. Lots of rare figures, too, including a Huge Red Dragon and a couple of Rampaging Wampas.

Contents of the Box.

Contents of the Box.

Contents of the Bag.

Contents of the Bag.

I sorted out what I considered to be the dross (including all of the Mage Knight minis) and sold it the next morning for ten bucks to a guy who just wanted some fantasy miniatures for his kids. Net cost: $35.

They say that money cannot buy happiness, but they did not bring home a metric fuckton of plastic fun.

Sunday morning brought the Warhammer 40,000 tournament. I hadn’t played 40K in a couple of years, and had never played with the current edition of the rules. I was kinda nervous about it, and spent a lot of time in the preceding two weeks relearning the rules and adding some fiddly bits to my Sisters of Battle army.

Turned out that I needn’t have worried, since I was one of only three people who signed up. That was okay, though, as I wasn’t really in it for the tournament anyway. I just wanted an excuse to blow the dust off my space nuns and get up to date on the new rules.

"To battle! In the name of the Emperor!"

"To battle! In the name of the Emperor!"

Good thing too, as I got slaughtered by the other players’ Space Marines. The only game I won was the the third one, and that was because my jetpack girls were able to “capture the flags” and get them back to my side of the board. Turns out that my army–which is based entirely around what I happen to have in my collection–isn’t really up to fighting a fully tricked-out Space Marine force. It was disheartening to see gal after gal fall under what seemed to be a never-ending stream of long-range fire. Still, it was okay, as I had no intention of actually winning.

The cave tunnels were especially frustrating for my jetpack troops.

The cave tunnels were especially frustrating for my jetpack troops.

However, I did win the “sportsmanship” award, which ought to be amusing to anyone who has gamed with me on a regular basis. Granted that I’m far from the poorest sport I’ve known, but I certainly shouldn’t be getting any awards for it.

The event organizer also graded our modelling and painting skills*, and that was when I dearly wanted to say something that would’ve cost me my sportsmanship recognition.

Look, I have no illusions that I’m any great shakes as a model-builder. When I was a kid, I made my dad build and paint all of my monster models.

But when I think about the state of my abilities when I bought my first set of space nuns to where I am today, I’m very proud of what I’ve managed to accomplish over the years. I’ve become much more confident and more likely to experiment with modifications and conversions.

*That’s actually pretty common for events based on Games Workshop games, as modelling is such a big part of the hobby.

So I was pretty annoyed when the organizer went down his painting checklist:

paintscore

First off, I really wasn’t bringing my army to show off my mad painting skills.

Plus, even though I realize that what I’m asking for here is an “Everyone Gets a Prize” prize, I feel as if I ought to at least get some credit for the progress I’ve made. And for bringing such an oddball army as Sisters of Battle when everyone else had boring, ol’ Space Marines.

And finally, while the winning army was more technically proficient, Marines–most of whom are encased in relatively featureless ovoid armor suits–are not nearly as tricky to paint as Sisters. Battle Sisters are 1) smaller, 2) insanely detailed and 3) less likely to cover their faces with helmets. (I hate painting faces!) I mean, really…figure skating and diving give points for degree of difficulty; why not wargame modelling?

So, even though I don’t regret participating in the tournament, I don’t see me ever doing it again.

In the end, I had a great weekend overall. For the first time in far too long, I felt energized and ready to take on the next week! (Maybe I’ll practice my painting.)

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31 Monsters #17: Tiamat

October 17th, 2009 No comments

In the early days of the Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game, there were two basic types of dragons. Good dragons had metallic scales: gold, silver, copper, brass and bronze*. Evil dragons had a color theme: red, blue, green, white and black.

Bahamut the Platinum Dragon led the metallic contingent, but his opposite number was even more fearsome: Tiamat the Chromatic Dragon. Whereas Bahamut had to make do with a single head, Tiamat was graced with five, one for each of her colorful kin.

Tiamat was one of the chief antagonists in the ’80s Saturday morning cartoon adaptation of the game. There she was the rival of the show’s archvillain, the demonic Venger. She made a significant appearance in my favorite episode, “The Dragon’s Graveyard.”

The series’ premise was that a sextet of modern-day kids were transported into a mystical realm and armed with magic weapons which transformed them into rough analogues of typical D&D character types. Venger wanted their weapons to beef up his own powers, and so spent much of the first two seasons plotting against the children. But in “The Dragon’s Graveyard” he took things too far and gravely injured their pet unicorn. (Don’t ask.)

The kids, having had it up to here with Venger, decided to finish the fight once and for all. But to do so, they needed the help of Tiamat. Fortunately, their magic items could open a portal to her home, the Dragon’s Graveyard.

They confronted Tiamat, only to discover that their weapons were substantially more powerful in the graveyard, not coincidentally the place from which they originated. While the Dragon Queen refused to do the chidren’s dirty work, she offered to teleport Venger to the Dragon’s Graveyard, where their enhanced abilities would win the day.

And sure enough, they kicked Venger’s deviled ass all over Dragontown, a scene I found very satisfying back in the day. Their leader Hank prepared to make the killing shot against their helpless opponent…then released him instead. The demon asked the Ranger why he didn’t finish him off, to which Hank replied, “If I did, we’d be no better than you are. We’ve beaten you, and you know it. Do you understand, Venger? I didn’t do it for you, I did it for us!” In hindsight, I suppose that “we’d be no better than the villain” thing wasn’t as much of a philosophical breakthrough as it seemed at the time, but just the same I thought it was a good message for the young audience.

Tiamat is still very much a major player in the Dungeons & Dragons pantheon, proving that five heads are better than two.

*The latest edition of the game replaced the two “alloy” dragons, brass and bronze, with iron and and the fictional metal adamantine. This was in part because it was felt that alloys didn’t fit the scheme, but mostly because gamers could never remember which were brass dragons and which were bronze.