For the last few days, I've been waxing nostalgic. (What's it to ya? If women can wax their bikini lines, I can wax nostalgic. That "equality" shit is a two-way street. So there!) For me, doing so invariably entails mentally revisiting the countless hours I squandered spent playing AD&D.
For various reasons -- most of them subjective, and just as many owing to my advanced age -- I still consider First Ed. AD&D to be the best RPG ever devised. My affection for the game notwithstanding, I've always had -- and still have -- a few pointed if not envenomed criticisms to level at the game.
Chiefest among them at the moment: What the fuck was up with including an aquatic version of damn-near-everything?
Aquatic elves, I could tolerate. Granted, the D&D version was kinda “Andersonish,” but there were well-established precedents in both mythology and fantasy literature. I can say nearly the same of aquatic trolls: the malefactor in “The Three Billy Goats Gruff” didn’t exactly hang his hat in Death Valley.
At some point, though, Gary and Co. apparently began passing a Ziploc bag and a tube of Testors around the ol’ kitchen table.
Hmm. On second thought, make that a Ziploc bag, a tube of Testors, and a bowlful of Sugar Cubes of Phantasmagoria.
(No, you won’t find that one in the DM’s Guide – although you may very well find it under your kid brother’s mattress.)
Before I continue, I’d like to make it abundantly clear that I wasn’t entirely “Terra-centric.”
(Do I get a Brownie Badge from the “Marine-American community” in recognition of my political correctness, by the way? What? No? Well fuck you, then. I’ve never seen Duck Dynasty before (I figured it was a cartoon; a Disney-type soap opera – you know: Donald in the John Forsythe role, Daisy playing Linda Evans’ character, and so forth…), but now I’m gonna watch it, just for spite.
And I mean that. (The part about not being “Terra-centric,” that is. If the Rainbow crowd wants to go to war with the extras from Deliverance over a non-issue, what do I care? I’ll stand on the sidelines and sell weapons to all unattractive comers; and good riddance to both sides. OK, class: take out your First Edition DMGs and look up the term “Chaotic Neutral.” Good. Now you know what it actually means.)
Now where was I?
Underwater adventures figure prominently in Norse and Celtic mythology, fantasy literature, Star-Kist Commercials, and Sponge Bob Whatzisface – you know; the kind of toy poor kids used to play with because their old man spent all his money on booze, but now it’s a cartoon that grosses – sorry. I keep getting carried away. But you get the point, I trust.
AD&D was a fantasy game. As such, it partook of myth, mystery, imagination, the willing suspension of disbelief, the irrational, and all sorts of other Freudian, Jungian, and Nietzchean shit. This having been the case, I loathed attempts to “scientifize” it, e.g. (and an egregious e.g., at that): “The Ecology of _____”, which began contaminating the pages of The Dragon in the early ‘80s.
“Dude, listen to this: “The ecology of the flumph.” (Sorry. It was the most useless, pointless monster I could think of.)
“Man, those chili-dogs were rough! I think I gotta take me a ‘flumph.’”
“Fine. How ‘bout ‘The Ecology of the Efreeti?’”
“How ‘bout you shut up before I put on my Boots of Stompin’ Mudholes an’ Walkin’ them Suckers Dry?” (There’s quite a bit to be said for playing AD&D in the Southern US. That, however, is for another post.)
Having said all that, I must now reverse myself, and attack the illogic of the AD&D underwater menagerie. As if the surface world wasn’t bad enough, fer feck’s sake! Six character races from which to choose, plus all the humanoid critters in the Monster Manual. Toss in a few more with each successive bestiary, and you have something like 10∞ intelligent species competing for Lebensraum. (Cool term, huh? I learned it playing Panzer Leader in the high school Wargame Club…) Yeah, yeah – I know. Dray Prescott. Kregen. All that that shit, right?
Fantasy is one thing -- delusional psychosis is quite another.
Think Belfast. Beirut. Sarajevo. Bedford-Stuyvesant. The West Bank. South-Central LA.
All rolled into one. No one would have time for exploring dungeons – they’d be too busy protecting their turf. You’d have unicorn-mounted Elf-maids pulling “ride-bys” in Dwarf Town. You’d have Xvarts clinking potion bottles together and howling “Koooo-bolds! Come out to plaaaay!” You’d have Harfoots posting signs reading: “Tallfellows Need Not Apply”; and you’d have Stouts bitching about their persona non grata status at the local Country Club.
And now we’re turning the ocean floor into a screening of No Way Out, as well?
It’s a madhouse! A MAAAAADhouse!
This, of course, is only the beginning of our excursion into bedlam. If we can have aquatic elves; why not aquatic dwarves, gnomes, and halflings? If we can have aquatic trolls; why not aquatic ogres? If we can have aquatic hobgoblins; why not aquatic goblins, hobgoblins, kobolds, xvarts, bugbears, norkers, etc.?
And what about aquatic humans like Aquaman, that guy Patrick Duffy once played, and so on?
Arguably, tritons and mermen kinda sorta qualify as aquatic humans – if you’re willing to concede “human” status to a legless creature with no external genitalia. Note: I’d imagine this keeps the more bigoted gamers happy, insofar as it precludes certain forms of submarine miscegenation.
Player: Now I’m gonna slip the mermaid a philtre of love.
DM: Uh, before you do, It’s only fair to warn you – uh, c’mere a sec, willya?
Player: Dude, what?
DM: Trust me. Just c’mere.
Player: A what? What’s a cloaca? No way!
Fairly oozing noblesse oblige, the DM leads the incredulous adventurer over to the aquarium tank…
Hell, why not underwater lycanthropes, too? Remember that idiotic sea lion and the equally idiotic sea wolf? Why shouldn’t they have were-counterparts? And if we concede the feasibility of underwater lycanthropes, why not expand the list of aquatic undead? Lacedons have to eat something, right? So if a lacedon kills a merman or a triton, the victim eventually becomes – a legless ghoul with a cloaca?
GHAWD! It’s too much! It’s tearing me apart!
This being so, I won’t even venture to consider the possibility of terrestrial sahuagin and locathah. Turnabout is fair play, right? Or aquatic pegasi: hippocampi with the wings of flying fish. Or what about marine gryphons: the body of one of those dorky sea lions, and the head and flippers of a penguin?
Enough about this for one evening -- my non-gamer wife is beginning to look concerned.
The bottom line: When next your party discovers a Ring of Water-Breathing, a Helm of Underwater Action or what-have-you; save yourself a shitload of mental anguish. Just give ‘em to whomever happens to be playing a barbarian, and let him rack up the EXP for destroying them.