If you've been avidly following these blog entries, you will remember Bob the proto-geek (Tales from the Old School 2), the man who single-handedly made every GMing mistake known to mankind. But I'm not going to harp on about Bob's inability to run a logical, enjoyable game if the Gods of Gaming flew down in a glowing chariot pulled by Pastel Dragons and gave him a set of magical diamond dice. No, this story is about his inability to play a logical, enjoyable character. This story is about Phropet.
First off, we've seen Phropet once before, in the blog entry A Name is a Rose is a Hose is a Horse. He thought he was naming himself Prophet, reason unknown. \
As is the case with virtually every painful and amusing Bob story, this happened before my time, in the early days of what is now known as the Old School era of roleplaying. There weren't a lot of game systems to choose and borrow from like there are now, so instead GMs and players took the bare-bones DnD rules and fleshed them out with lots and lots of house rules. It was an exciting time, but like any wild and woolly situation, it was also dangerous and unpredictable. So here's how the Phropet became not only legendary as a failed character, but passed into history as a home-brewed character class....
It was a dark and stormy...actually, it was a dungeon, so it was just dark. After lots of fights and traps and peril, the party arrived at a magically-sealed gateway. In front of the barrier appeared a strange creature with the body of a bull and a wise-looking man's head, with great feathery wings on its back.
Okay. Time out to remind you that this was the Jurassic period of roleplaying, when only a select few had read the new Monster Manual and experienced the unique take that Gygax and company had on supernatural critters. Bob, of course, was one of the lucky minority. Let's watch:
Phropet, the magic-user (no wizards or sorcerors, remember) took a look at the "monster" and shouted, "Type IV demon! Everybody run! Run!!!"
Now, Bob didn't have a great grasp of...well, anything really, but the folks who were playing with him likely reasoned thus: he's the magic-user, which gives him a certain monster-identifying cachet. He's Bob, who up until now has been the only GM and has read all the books at least once, besides making that cool chart. And this had been a hell of an uphill fight getting here, so this must be the finale. I don't know, I wasn't there, but what the folks who were there did was follow his instructions and run for the exit.
Phropet reached into his robes and produced the mightiest weapon in any spellcaster's arsenal--a crystal ball. He rushed forward and flung it at the demon....
Here's where the house rules rear their ugly heads. I've searched and searched the Internet and every other source I have access to since hearing this story, but I've never found the rule that Bob quoted and that the GM apparently assented to, which was this: when a crystal ball is broken, it explodes and annihilates all matter within a 100-foot sphere. Yeah, I know. Lots of gypsy caravans blinking out of the universe, I guess. Anyway, back to the action.
The crystal nuke hit the rocky floor in front of the demon, which was standing in front of the glowing magical barrier. The ball exploded as intended, atomizing demon, barrier and Phropet. Bob was proud and happy to have sacrificed himself to save the world and his fellow PCs. There was much rejoicing....
The joy didn't last long, I'm afraid.
The first edition of the AD&D Monster Manual describes the Type IV demon (later called a nalfeshnee after the most powerful of its race) in this way:
"These Demons combine the worst features of an ape and a boar, and their small wings appear unable to bear their ponderous ten foot tall bodies."
No four-legged bull body, no wise-seeming human head, no large feathery wings....how odd. Let's look at the description of another entity from that tome:
This noble creature stands strong and tall with the body of a powerful bull and the head of a wise-looking human.
Oh hey, he must have just mixed up his numbers, what kind of demon is that?
It was a shedu. There's a sentence that sums up the shedu perfectly, in case you've never encountered one: "Tireless vehicles of good and kindness, shedus fight against outsiders who corrupt and threaten humanity."
So here's Bob, having sacrificed himself and who knows how much valuable magical detritus on this person, and destroyed the magical barrier which the shedu had created to hold back the otherworldly horrors on the other side of the portal. Oh, and there's one more punchline: it wasn't really a shedu, it was a recorded image that the shedu had left behind to warn visitors never to mess with the barrier.
It got ugly after that, but it did so without Phropet, who had been destroyed beyond hope of resurrection. So, happy ending.
The rest of the players later invented the Phropet character class, which wielded tactical crystal balls and had spells like "Polymorph shedu to demon" and so forth.
I don't really know if there's a moral or message to take from this story. There's no way anyone could have predicted that Bob would misidentify a monster and use the most powerful weapon in his inventory to attack it, before the wise and kind projection could deliver its warning. I guess the moral is buy the Dungeon Crawler, because no matter how useless or downright dangerous your fellow PCs are, at least you can generate lists of amusing death circumstances starring their characters and share them with the group.