Armagideon Time

A fringe benefit of Mike joining my role-playing group was that it gave me access to his huge library of AD&D books and other ancillary materials. Combined with the installation of a temperamental photocopier at the local public library, it allowed me to assemble a three-ring binder full of interesting material to fold into the game while getting by with only a handful of random rules supplements.

Logically, I should have spent the my time and pocket change copying essential passages and tables from the Player’s Handbook and Dungeon Master’s Guide, but fourteen year old Andrew had no patience for that nonsense. Why deal with that boring and tedious crap when the unhallowed majesty of the infamous “Anti-Paladin” NPC class could be had (in faded, streaked glory) for a handful of slim dimes?

This was the mid-Eighties after all, a violent and mean-spirited era which gave rise to a crop of violent and mean-spirited protagonists. These affected badasses populated a significant portion of the popcult-sphere that pandered to adolescent male crowd, from funnybooks to movies to lurid genre fiction novels. Fuck your feelings and hand me another rocket launcher and some instantly post-kill quote. God will sort them out.

As I’ve grown older and wiser (and more tired and jaded), my taste for such nihilist poster children has waned immensely. In 1986, however, I was an avid consumer of these two-fisted kidney punches aimed at the residual tatters of flower power pacifism. A malevolent counterpart to D&D’s paragon of virtue was too compelling a concept to pass up.

The rules for the class originally appeared in the July 1980 issue of Dragon, which Mike graciously allowed me to borrow and photocopy. Not having a copy of the rules for the standard-issue paladin meant much of the article was lost upon me, but it included enough tables and charts for me to pull off another of my hasty make-do jobs.

The end result of this was (the very creatively named) Baron von Blackguard, the nastiest low-down scoundrel in my vague and nonsensical fantasy world. I can remember the circumstances of his creation in perfect detail. He was rolled up in the storage room next to Kennedy Junior High School’s administrative offices.

I was sequestered there because I refused to take part in the three week wrestlefest that was part of the freshman phys ed curriculum. I hated gym class since my kindergarten days, but managed to soldier through the frequent episodes in physical humiliation. I was (and still am) frail, uncoordinated, and a bit sickly. That’s the hand I was dealt and one I’ve learned to find peace with.

Getting mocked for being unable to do a single chin-up or missing a basket from the foul line hurt, yet were generally manageable. Having to roll around on a mat with some dead-eyed hesher who’d threatened to kill me on a daily basis, however, was where I drew the line. I brought my concerns to my gym teacher, citing a generally ignored passage in the student handbook allowing students to opt out of full-contact activities.

He refused to allow my objection. He was not one of those stereotypical ogres of a middle school gym teacher which loom large and menacing in so many geekboy Bildungsromane. He was a fair and compassionate guy, committed to his calling and to the well-being of his students. Phys ed was the only language he spoke, though. For him, the only solution for dealing with an awkward scrawny kid was to throw him in the ring with a budding psychopath who’d spend the past seven years kicking the back of said scrawny kid’s chair while calling him a fag. From this crucible, I was to find my true purpose and go on to become a championship wrestler and subject of an ABC Afterschool Special.

Instead, I brought my concerns to the vice-principal, a Clark Kentish fellow who’d previously expressed a good deal of empathy for my pitiable condition. He offered me a deal. I wouldn’t raise a public stink about the matter and he would let me ride out the wrestling potion of the term in the administrative storage room as sort of a solo study hall arrangement. There, at a desk set up next to the mimeograph machine and crates of office supplies, I created Baron Von Blackguard and the adventure that serve as his debut.

(My gym teacher did not respond well to my going over his head. “I told you you didn’t have to participate if you didn’t want to,” he lied with the defensive bluster of a dude who got called out by his supervisor. He retaliated by dropping my previous “A- for effort” grade to a “B-” for the remainder of the school year.)

My regular pair of players did not participate in the Baron’s first and only outing. For some reason lost to time, I decided to run the adventure with some of the geekier kids from my old North Woburn gang. The session took place on December 31, 1986. It was during one of the warmer and snow-free holiday stretches the region had experienced, which was helpful because I had to bike two miles with an army knapsack full of gaming crap on my back to my buddy Scott’s house.

The adventure was a exercise in cliched absurdity in which I plunked down the Baron’s palatial estate on the middle of the D&D Blue Box’s Isle of Dread map. The players were tasked with rescuing a captive princess from the villain’s clutches, but spent most of the session getting lost and chased by dinosaurs en route to his castle of horrors. The only thing the Baron managed to accomplish was to invite battered adventurers to a formal banquet he was going to hold in their honor before murdering them. It was equal parts The Most Dangerous Game and Dracula.

In hindsight there was no reason why the Baron shouldn’t have been a vampire, apart from the fact that an “anti-paladin” was more novel, and thus “cooler” to my transgressive adolescent self.

Despite the cheesiness of it all, the players still had a good time and made plans to pick things up the following weekend. I spent the bike ride back home dodging drunk drivers and brainstorming ideas to incorporate into the next session.

When I got home, my little brother met me at the back door. “Andy! Guess what! Grammie is moving out and I’m getting her room! Ma and Dad are taking us to China Moon to celebrate!”

In 1980, my parents had taken in my father’s mother and my teenage aunt after my grandfather’s various financial scams collapse en masse and he fled to Florida. The lack of space and shake-up to our family dynamic had added to and aggravated my parents’ financial and mental health issues. (It should also be pointed out that other family members with better resources and spare bedrooms were happy to sit back and let us take the blow, not that I carry any deep-seated grudges or anything.) My aunt left the previous summer after marrying the guitarist of a local glam metal band. My grandmother’s departure meant that the nuclear family balance would finally be restored. The final day of 1986 was shaping up to be the best day of my fourteen years of life.

A few days later, the region was socked by a major snowstorm that made it bike travel to North Woburn impossible and put the second part of the adventure on permanent hiatus.

A few months later, my father’s eldest sister decided she couldn’t deal with my grandmother and had her sent to a home.

A few years later, after sliding further into insanity, my mother died from a fall down the attic stairs.

A few decades later, I told Maura we should have a small family get-together at China Moon should this as-yet-undisclosed thing we’re working on pans out. She said she drove past the venerable purveyors of pu-pu platters, ludicrously-named cocktails, and mid-century Polynesian-Sino ambiance recently and the place was shuttered up and fenced off.

Theatrical malfeasance doesn’t have a patch on the more banal variety of “shit happens.”

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  3. Role-Playing with the Changes: Peak experience

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