I suddenly came to think of my first character in a role-playing game. His name was Gildor, he was an elf and a “fighter” — I suppose he must have been a soldier actually — and he came to a sad end. I knew him only briefly.
From age twelve to twenty-five I was an avid role-player. Indeed, the person I was then would be really sad to learn that I quit playing eventually. But he would take heart somewhat if he knew that I have lately become a board-game geek instead.
It was about the time I turned twelve, in the spring of 1984, that my buddy Ragnar turned me on to the Swedish version of Runequest, Drakar och Demoner (“Dragons and Demons”). We had played standard board games together for some time. For that first game of DoD, it was only him and me — and Gildor. Ragnar (who would, a decade later, found Algonet, one of Sweden’s first public Internet service providers), was the game master.
On his travels, of which I know nothing before that moment, Gildor visited a village tavern one evening. There he was — and I wince as I type this — approached by a man with a parchment map who was looking for someone to undertake a quest. The villagers were having trouble with evil cultists whose temple compound was located nearby. People had disappeared, no demands for ransom had been made, and the feeling was that the cult might be behind it all. Apparently there was nothing similar to a police force or a militia in this world. Instead the villagers turned to the first armed person to enter their local boozer and offered him a reward if he would investigate the cult compound.
Gildor jumped at the opportunity. The very next day he used the map to find his way to the cult compound, a few hours’ walk from the village. The place was neither fenced nor walled in, and Gildor wasn’t shy: he simply walked in among the buildings in broad daylight and was immediately attacked by two heavily armed (evil) knights templar.
Here Gildor did something unexpected. Instead of running away or shooting at the knights with his bow or drawing his sword, he chanted the words of a magic healing charm — backwards. This piece of black magic caused wounds instead of healing them. And fending off both of the knights’ blows with his shield (which is not actually permitted by the combat rules, but me and Ragnar didn’t know that), he actually managed to kill both of his adversaries. Yes, they fought to the death, did not call for help, did not flee. And nobody apparently heard the commotion.
After catching his breath, casting the healing spell on himself and stealing the purses off of the dead knights, Gildor left the bodies in the compound’s main yard and quested on — straight into the main temple hall. Here he defended himself successfully against land jellyfish, gas-filled floating horrors with long burning tendrils. Then he found a staircase leading down into the temple’s torch-lit basement. Unconcerned about the risk that cultists might wait for him on the ground floor when he got back, Gildor descended into the underworld.
The temple’s basement was largely empty. I don’t quite remember what Gildor did there, except that he saw a non-hostile ghost and removed a pile of rubble in a collapsed stretch of corridor. Yes, he put down his weapons and spent an hour or two clearing rubble with his bare hands in the evil temple’s basement. Nobody disturbed him. On the other side the passage continued into a warren of caverns inhabited by goblins. Apparently the cultists and the goblins had happily shared the area, with no sign of conflict or even contact between the two groups.
Torch in hand, Gildor sneaked into the goblin caves. Don’t ask me why. And the goblins fought him: they were all sitting armed and ready, and many died from Gildor’s backwards healing charm, whose attendant magic gestures he could apparently perform despite holding a torch in one hand and parrying many scimitar blows with a large shield held in the other. But not one goblin fled to alert the ones in the next room, not one made any noise that carried into the tunnels.
Come this far, Ragnar asked me, “How many psychic power points have you got left, anyway?”. I had no idea. I had forgotten all about the cost of magic spells. And my game master hadn’t thought of informing me that Gildor was becoming so… very… tired. In just a few hours, the elf had probably cast about three times as many healing spells (backwards and forwards) as he should have been able to without taking to his bed for a week.
So, in that dark underground goblin warren, surrounded by the bodies of his foes, victorious Gildor dropped his torch… Then his shield… And collapsed, dead, his brain thoroughly fried by magical power expenditure.