Reverb Gamers 2012, #21 & #22

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REVERB GAMERS 2012, #21: What’s the best bribe you’ve ever given (or received as) a GM? What did you get (give) for it? (Courtesy of Atlas Games. Visit them at

Considering I co-wrote a game where bribing the GM is a legitimate mechanic, you’d think I’d have a good story about this, but I can’t think of one. Most of the GM bribes I’ve gotten have been things like food or beer. The only thing I can thing of that wasn’t food or drink off the top of my head was a player who, knowing I was working on Roller Girls Vs., gave me one of those cup koozie things from her derby team. Of course, that was more of a gift than a bribe and don’t think her character benefited from it.

REVERB GAMERS 2012, #22: Describe the worst game you’ve ever played in. What made it so bad? Did your fellow players help, or make it worse?

For this question, I have an immediate answer. In fact, I’ve already written about it, so I dug into the original Death Cookie archives and will post both parts of the original 2-part story here. It’s not very well-written, but other than spelling and grammatical corrections I’m going to leave it in its original form. Just keep in mind that I wrote this in 1998 or 1999, and I’ve gotten a lot gooder at writing since then.

Morons of Fate, Part 1

Here’s the set-up for the worst “role-playing” experience of my life:

The Place: DragonCon ’95

The Game: Guardians of Fate AD&D Tournament

The Players: Leighton Connor–lover, poet, spy; Andy Davis–stalwart ally; Dale F. French–intrepid adventurer; Brian Huff–an artist and a gentleman; Steve Johnson–venerable ancient; for moral support, we also brought along Steve Carrico, Our Solemn Jewish Associate

The Adventure, Part 1

The dying king makes the PCs his heirs (because we’ve always been like children to him) to the kingdom. Then he tells us to find the oracle to reveal what happened to the Guardians of Fate, who vowed long ago to protect the kingdom. He sends us because we are the only people to have ever survived the Caves of Despair (more on this later). The king then dies.

There were so many senseless acts of stupidity involved with this little event that I don’t have enough space to go into detail about each one–so I’ll just try to give the highlights.

The first inklings that something was horribly wrong:

  • The characters names are THE PLAYERS’ NAMES. So we had Leighton the Monk, Andy the Cleric, Dale the Magic-User, Brian the Fighter, and Steve the Thief. We rationalized that this had some logistical purpose. In actuality, the people running the game just didn’t realize that characters should have a bit more depth than a Mario Brother.
  • Next, the rules. Before each round, you had to declare your action (note that rounds were used for everything, not just combat). After this, you had to follow through with that action, regardless of changes in the surroundings. This isn’t so bad. However, you had to declare an action to talk. Furthermore, if the person you were talking to did not declare “talk” as his action, he didn’t hear what you said. This might make some sense in a combat situation, but these walking condom advertisements took it much farther than that. In one round (during a non-combat situation), Dale declared that he would talk. Andy the Cleric stated that he would stand ready with his weapon. Dale began to say something to Andy, only to be interrupted. The GM told him that he could not talk to Andy, as Andy was doing something else. Huh? “Sorry, can’t listen to you, I’m too busy holding onto my mace!” Actually, Andy couldn’t have said that, as talking is an action in and of itself.

When the game started, we began asking the GM questions about these caves we were going to (as it was stated that we had been there before) and how we became so trusted by the king (since he had made us his heirs). We got no answers. However, the GM left out the important component of WHY we got no answers–it was later revealed that we all had amnesia. Apparently he thought that we couldn’t remember that we couldn’t remember anything. We assumed that we were going to be sidetracked or something so that the questions we were asking had no bearing on the plot. We were very wrong.

The Caves of Despair

  • After a few inane encounters, we made it to the caves. Our first encounter was with some ghosts, who aged and killed Sigfried, the captain of the guard who had traveled with us. While we assumed that this was for dramatic effect and to get rid of an NPC that was much more powerful than the characters, the adventure creator had a different plan. We were supposed to conclude that, since a ghost only ages characters of a certain level or lower, we must be higher level than 3rd (as recorded on the character sheets).
  • The dungeon was pretty typical–a few traps, some mundane monsters that had miraculously survived for years in the dungeon without ever leaving their pre-appointed rooms, etc. One of these monsters was a kobold (who Andy later named Zippy, The Atomic Kobold). It was standing in front of a door with its arms in an odd position, making weird noises. When it wouldn’t answer us (Dale the Magic-User was fluent in kobold) and wouldn’t move, we attacked. After doing around 30 points of damage to the thing and taking none (it didn’t have a weapon and just pawed at us), Dale threw it some food. It forgot that we were trying to kill it and starting eating, allowing us to slip by. We later found out that the kobold was actually a T-rex polymorphed into kobold form (as explained by its strange actions, apparently). Now this is by far the most excusable part of the adventure–since it had 100 hp, the kobold slowed down most groups (most folks just hacked it for an hour or so),which is a good method of setting back a party in a timed tournament. However, we had one little problem–WHO THE FUCK WOULD POLYMORPH A T-REX INTO A KOBOLD?  I’ll give a free copy of QAGS to anyone who can come up with a convincing answer for this (preferably in the form of an amusing story or module format).
  • Later, my character was killed by a trapper. We were supposed to recognize it as a trapper because there was a chest in the middle of the floor (the Monster Manual says that trappers shape their middles into a chest to lure victims in) and the floor in this room was a different color. Whatever.
  • There were a few more encounters. At the end, we discovered that the oracle was gone and discovered a journal that mentioned a King Puck. It also mentioned a “type 3 demon,” a “mirror of mental prowess,” and a “death spell.” Why? Because idiots love gamespeak. Right after this, time was called.

The rest of the story…
Okay, here’s what we were supposed to do:

  • Realize that because the ghosts couldn’t age us, we must be higher than 3rd level.
  • Hack through the dungeon and find the journal.
  • Realize that since we had lost our memories (which the GM failed to tell us), and since pixies use arrows that cause memory loss (as stated in the Glorious Monster Manual), pixies were involved.
  • Go find the pixies (ruled by King Puck (how original)) and get our memories back, revealing that we were the Guardians of the Fate. I’m not entirely sure if they even bothered to justify why the king didn’t just tell us that we were the Guardians of Fate. Seems like it would have saved a lot of trouble. Along the way we would have to fight groups of Hasted 5th level fighters with more magic items than most small baronies–we didn’t bother to ask who had cast permanent haste spells on an entire army (for you non-D&D geeks, haste & permanency both age the caster).

Can you say “GIGANTIC FUCKING LEAPS IN LOGIC”, boys and girls?

Final Results

I think one group made it out of the dungeon in the allotted time. They got first place with 500 and change points out of the possible 1300! (does this tell you anything about the nature of the adventure?) The closest runner up had 480 or so. Even without having memorized that holy tome, the Monster Manual, we scored 430 (i think), tying us for 5th place. Since the top 5 teams moved on to the finals, we had to wait around while they decided how to allow for 6 teams in the final round rather than five. Here’s some of the fun we had there:

  • We watched as the DMs gathered around the author/organizer as if he were some kind of Messiah (“and there’s Jesus himself, creator of this whole little world of shit.”)
  • We asked Bob, one of the GMs, why they used 1st edition rules. Bob said that it was because 2nd added too many unnecessary rules, like nonweapon proficiencies. His exact words (accompanied by a bizarre little dance) were: “Whoohoo! I can use herbs! Fear Me!” His basic meaning seemed to be that nonweapon proficiencies had nothing to do with combat and were therefore useless.
  • We were invited to attend the second night of their “Babes, Booze, & Bondage” party, but told in dejected tones that the night before there had been no babes, no bondage, and only bad booze. We declined.
  • Eventually it was decided that we would be able to play in the final round, so we went home and started deciding whether or not we could handle dealing with morons for another 5 hours. But that’s part 2 of the story….

Morons of Fate, Part 2

After quite a bit of discussion, we decided that we would indeed participate in the second part of the tournament. We further decided that we would leave role-playing behind for a pure wargame style of play, therefore giving us a good chance of winning. We woke up the next morning and rushed to the game, which was supposed to begin at 9 a.m. sharp (anyone who wasn’t there would not be allowed to play). At about 11, the last group showed up and the gurus of gaming began telling us the set-up and the new rule. (we never quite figured out WHY they waited for this last group for so long).

[Editor’s Note: I should probably point out here that we’d paid an entry fee to get into the tournament and that the winning team got something like $2000, which is why we returned for more punishment]

Adventure set up, part 2

There was this big dungeon with a room in the center with the magical (plot) device which would allow us to win the tournament. This was the carefully constructed, character-driven plot. There were six entrances to the dungeon (here they whined quite a bit about how they had stayed up late altering the dungeon to accomadate six groups–consultation with other groups later revealed that all six ways in were EXACTLY the same). Each group would play the high-level versions of their characters from the day before. Each character had a gem embedded in his neck. In order to activate the device which allowed the characters to win the tournament, five gems had to be inserted into it. A character had to be dead in order for his gem to be removed. The implication is that, since there are five players per group, and one had to insert the gems, we had to kill at least one member of another group. So it was basically DOOM using the AD&D rules.

The New Rule

Since it was necessary to make sure that no group got shafted because an encounter with another party took a long time to resolve, Dave Time was introduced. This was for whenever two groups met and fought (you were not allowed to talk to or otherwise interact with other groups–just fight them). Dave Time would allegedly account for any unfairness caused by combat between two groups. It would only be used when your group got into combat with another group.


The adventure was a bad dungeon crawl. Luckily, our 15th level monk war machine, Leighton, dealt with most monsters easily. The only room that gave us trouble was one that was full of Mimics. My character (the thief) took the lead to look for traps. He entered a room ahead of the rest of the party early on. The GM took me aside and said, “you’re horribly mangled by a monster.” No save. No roll. Nothing. I’m just dead. If I remember correctly, this happened shortly after I pointed out some stupidity on the GMs part. About this time, the group being DMed by the Messiah stomped out angrily (more on this later).

I left for a while and returned to find Dale sitting off to the side. I asked if his character had died. “No,” he replied, “I’m in Zeke Time.” This seemed odd, as he wasn’t fighting with another group. I asked for more details. He told me that he had turned himself invisible and went ahead of the group. He found the central room and was promptly put into Zeek time, preventing him from rejoining the group and leading them to the central room. Meanwhile, the rest of the group could do nothing but sit around and maybe cast a healing spell or two. Since there was nothing else to do, the GM started asking about how we like the tournament. Unfortunately, we told him the truth. I think this may have doomed us.

Also at about this time, when several of the guys involved in this shitpile were lingering around our table, Leighton made a startling revelation: “did you know my character’s a woman? And she’s bisexual!” After getting over the initial shock of someone potentially playing a character of the opposite sex with a personality (however vaguely defined), they began to snicker in Beavis & Butthead style (hehehe…he said ‘bisexual’). This led directly to the running bisexual gag in QAGS.

Eventually, Dale was let out of Zeke time. He had sketched out a map of how to get back, and quickly rejoined the party. They developed a plan: Dale would cast Invisibility on all of the party. They would then go to the central room, which contained several dinosaurs (we didn’t bother to ask how the HELL they got through the 10′ x 10′ dungeon passageways to this room). Since the dinosaurs hadn’t noticed the invisible Dale, we would be safe. When another party came in, we would wait until after they had fought the dinosaurs. Then we would attack them (if they were still alive), take their gems, and use the magical device which allowed us to win the tournament.

Dale started leading them back to the main room, according to his map. At some point, things went wrong and the party ended up in a mimic room, just like the one that had given us trouble earlier. Then another party entered and were put into Zeke time and forced to fight both the other party and the mimics. We cursed and shouted and told the DM that he was a fucking idiot. About halfway through the battle (which ultimately killed the entire party), the DM realized that he had read the map wrong, and we weren’t supposed to be there. Did he put us back in the central room in the shape we were in before and credit us our lost time? No. He said “sorry guys, I guess you lose.”

As we were leaving, Dale noticed the little yellow stripe in the upper corner of the 1st Ed. DMG. “Oh!” he said, :”This is the AD&D ADVENTURE Game! Not the AD&D ROLEPLAYING Game!” We left with much cursing, but luckily no bloodshed.

Epilogue 1

The next year, we went to a Lunch Money Demo (run by Gerald Corrick of Atlas Games–one of the nicest guys in the industry). There was a guy sitting across from us named Bob. For some reason, Leighton and I kept attacking him. (So much so that at one point Gerry quipped:  “When in doubt, Punch Bob!”) Eventually, everybody was beating the hell out of Bob. It was only after the demo, when Dale joined us and raised the question “didn’t Bob look familiar?” that we realized that he was Herbalist Bob from the bad tournament the previous year.

Epilogue 2

Some time later, I was at work at Greenfield Hobby. One of our customers came in and we started talking about Harlan Ellison. We discovered that we had both seen Ellison speak at DragonCon a few years earlier. Then I remembered a friend telling me how some guys he knew had played in the horrible tournament and walked out halfway through. I asked the customer if he had played in the “Guardians of Fate” AD&D tournament that year. He had. His group had walked out when the GM defied the laws of physics so that a monster’s spell would affect them, then told them that they could NOT cast THE EXACT SAME SPELL IN THE EXACT SAME CONDITIONS! Needless to say, we spent about an hour discussing the sheer badness of the game.

The Moral

Munchkins are everywhere. Kill them. Then play QAGS.

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