Thursday, June 25, 2009

Forty Whacks With An Axe

It would be fairly easy for me to fill pages and pages of this blog with posts about Frank Frazetta’s Death Dealer character and axes in general…but then I should’ve called this the Lizzie Borden blog or some such. Maybe next week’s “theme” will be “Axe Week;” ‘course folks might mistake my blog for a History Channel ad….

Sorry for the tangents; perhaps I can relate all this to the topic at hand (i.e. RPGs).

James R. Silk (no idea if this is a pen name or not) penned a series of novels based on the Death Dealer character, first created by Frazetta in 1973 (the year I was born…hmmm…). Although Frazetta has created six Death Dealer paintings, I am only aware of four novels by Mr. Silk (each is based on one of the six paintings). I’ve read three of the books even though I’m not a great fan of Silk’s writing (he has an extreme tendency to over-using the simile and metaphor as tools of prose…it gets annoying). They are S&S Nouveau, 3rd generation Swords and Sorcery pastiche. Which is not terrible (hey, I bought the books!), just not terribly original.

What is original is Frazetta’s primal character. Called Gath of Baal in these novels, the “prisoner of the horned helmet” is an Ice Age barbarian of the forest, who gets his head stuck in an unholy artifact (said helmet) and is transformed into the embodiment of the god of Death. He gets a lot of titles (the Dark One, the Forest Lord, the Death Dealer, etc.) and he kills a lot of people (mainly with an axe) when his soul is not being saved by his fair lady (Ahh…how cute). The character is very different from the recent comic book series (which needs a post of its own), as the Death Dealer is a possessed mortal, rather than an animated corpse.

I’ve modeled stats for ol’ Gath in D20 in the past (that was fun), and even tried to craft his horned helmet under the BECMI artifact rules (a bit frustrating). I may or may not post these sometime in the future. However, the FIRST time I used the Death Dealer as D&D inspiration was the first and only time I played 2nd Edition AD&D.

This would have been around 1997…just before I met my wife but probably 7 or 8 years after my last high school D&D game. My co-worker, James, offered to run a game for me, I lassoed a couple other buddies, and we ran in his (I think) Forgotten Realms pocket campaign.

My then-roommate, Mike, played his usual (I found out later) ranger-archer character, “Keldern.” Kris ran his standard Thief (are they called “rogues” in AD&D2? I don’t remember); I belief he was named “Zandramas” but Zand may have been a later, different thief. I was thinking of playing a fighter (since AD&D2 bards suck), but it was strongly suggested that I play some sort of clerical-type. So I came up with my own version of the Death Dealer.

"Baalzac" (I believe that was his name, because we later referred to him as “Ball Sack”) was ostensibly a “cleric,” but a peculiar type of cleric. As I explained to my fellow players, Baalzac was a priest of the mad God of Carnage in War, Tarjan (yes, stole the “mad god” from Bard’s Tale). Tarjan’s priests were required to fight in combat with the god’s chosen weapon (three guesses, folks) and was granted higher hit dice and fighting ability than a normal cleric. However, as a trade-off to this, Tarjan granted no spells, nor did his priests have the ability to “turn undead.”

In other words: a fighter. But Baalzac specifically referred to himself as a cleric/priest, and had both code and doctrine that he was required to uphold. James was nice enough to let me run with this idea. "Keldern" did not appreciate the joke.

I was also fairly insistent that I wanted a “magic horned helmet.” I’m not sure what exactly I was thinking at the time (both Kris and I had decided to get a serious “buzz on” before sitting down to the table), and I’m sure James didn’t either (he was a military history buff, nor a Frazetta fan), but he gave me a "+2 helmet” that acted pretty much like a ring of protection…that is, it contributed +2 to my character’s AC and provided no other bonuses. God bless him, it was perfect.

The adventure was pretty random…go somewhere, do something, all that is forgotten now…but my character was a hoot to play. The highlight was definitely an encounter with an NPC noble-fighter and his retinue, during which “Ball Sack” took offense to the snubbing of his deity by the lord's high priest. I got to make a big speech and challenged the priest to a holmgang, “acting as proxies for our deities.” Of course, in a straight up melee my “cleric” slaughtered the high priest and Tarjan was “vindicated” as the mightier demigod.

Talk about an anti-paladin

As a one-off game, AD&D2 wasn’t bad…of course, there are more rules than what are really needed for a one-off game (the “kits” James made us choose seemed fairly redundant). But as a “get-drunk-and-f-around-game” it was fun. “Keldern” the ranger was a total wanker, though. Really wish I’d had a chance to introduce him to the business end of my hatchet….
: )

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