Monday, March 19, 2012

Fenris Among the Barbarians

I just signed up to support Steve Long’s MYTHIC HERO on Kickstarter. It’s like Deities & Demigods for the HERO System. Or maybe it would be more accurate to say it’s like Gods, Demi-gods and Heroes for HERO. Pantheon on pantheon clobbering time! We could kill Foxbat as Finnish gods! Hurraavaa

HERO is one of the systems I think with a hell of a lot more than I ever played it. In practice I nearly always end up running simpler games. But HERO made a deep impression on me when it first came out and I still find it easy to think using its terms.

HERO is a system that can handle fights between gods without undue distortion to its usual play dynamics. I don’t feel like and dissecting the various ways that d20 games have handled fights with gods. Maybe someday when I’m feeling analytical. But today I just wanna tell the story that popped into my head as I signed on for MYTHIC HERO. This is a D&D story from junior high, the downbeat tale of my first battle against a god.

In the late 70’s, before AD&D came out, I went to the Eugene Public Library most Saturday afternoons for public gaming . The day I’m thinking of brought a surprise: a friendly guy I’m not sure I’d known before volunteered to run a D&D game for everyone who wanted to play. This wasn’t just special, this was High Holy Day Special. Most of us library gamers wanted to play D&D but there wasn’t anyone willing to run a regular game. We usually ended up playing board games or war games or miniatures games or talking about roleplaying instead of playing.

I think the DM’s name was Danny. He was jolly and friendly and he wanted everyone to join in to try something he couldn’t do with his regular gaming group: an all-out battle against Fenris Wolf!

I had to have that repeated to me a couple times because it blew my mind. I had thumbed the pages of Gods, Demi-gods, and Heroes but I didn’t own it. I was pretty sure that fighting Fenris Wolf was impossible, but Danny saw the game as a big interesting hilarious experiment and just wanted everyone to pile in and see what happened.

I’m pretty sure Danny also wanted to have fun running the game. So things weren’t going to turn out well for him. At the start of the game I was one of the problems. I’d run less-and-more accurate versions of D&D for friends and I’d played in a couple other people’s games but I couldn’t wrap my head around the idea that I was just supposed to take one of my characters that was from another game/world/table and play it here. I didn’t even have those characters with me because I obviously wasn’t going to play those games at the library.

I eventually made the leap of imagination between worlds and attempted to recreate one of my characters. I have no idea which one. I think I knew it didn’t matter, My highest level character, third or maybe fourth, was not going to do much against Fenris except end up as a tooth stain.

At which point Danny gave another lesson in DMing that could have gone well if he hadn’t been trapped among barbarians. He told people who had low level characters that we should all take a magic item or two to give us a fighting chance. Maybe that’s not exactly how it got played, maybe he got browbeaten into it, I don’t know. But I remember confusion and frenzy as truffles were dropped in front of swine. I think the high level characters got into the truffles also.

There were side fights between gamers telling each other that the items they were getting were or were not usable in their regular home campaign. About this point I made some type of adolescent sensitivity roll and realized that Danny was just trying to be nice and run a game for a whole bunch of people and that he had twelve or thirteen players being whiny and terrible and annoying to him. We were like brain-damaged baby birds. Finally, a Dungeon Master! We will tear him open and suck his marrow!

By the time we started actual play I think Danny was depressed.. The table, oblivious, whined about many sudden-and-inevitable deaths before a variety of Monty Haul characters started carving Fenris up. There was some broken magic item combo attached to a flying invisible halfling who ended up sitting on Fenris’ head and stabbing away at no personal risk.

Subcontracting Ragnarok out to the bastard stepchildren of Finieous Fingers turned out to be a depressing one-shot. I died early and drifted away from the painful table. In later months I thanked Danny for the game and fumbled attempts to say how cool I thought it was that he had tried it. It took years for me to realize how many game-opening lessons had played out in that session. 


  1. Great story.

    Once again, I am mystified as to how we did not play in a HERO game at Reed. We had some classic moments in those games.

    Yeah everyone, go and support Steven's Mythic Hero project. It's going to be awesome.

  2. I'm not quite as mystified. I still wrote for A&E a bit while at Reed, and I stayed in touch with Glorantha, and I talked games and played a tiny bit with Ron and Stephen and even commented on various games like Lee Gold's Land of Adventure. But gaming was a place I liked to dive deep and there's no way I could have handled both a comfortably deep dive into gaming and Reed coursework.