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As this week's release of John Rogers and Andrea DeVitos's excellent Dungeons & Dragons #2 proves, D&D and comic books go together like... well, like escapist fantasies set in worlds with super-powerful characters that are built on tenuous, ever-changing rules. And like comics, the D&D rules invite all sorts of questions to figure out just how the hell they're supposed to work.
For over thirty years, that was the domain of Dragon Magazine and their "Sage Advice" column, where players could write in with problems to get semi-official answers. Unfortunately for fans of esoteric, incredibly specific knowledge everywhere, the column is no more (having since been replaced by, you know, the Internet), but my pal Mike Sterling recently sent me a link to a searchable archive of 680 "Sage Advice" questions and answers culled from over a hundred issues of Dragon.
Most of them are simple rules questions and people trying to figure out what exactly the difference is between the glaive, guisarme, guisarme-glaive and guisarme-volge (answer: not much), but there are some truly amazing glimpses of nerd minds at work in there. And luckily for you, you don't have to spend the hours going through all of them, because I've found the best and dropped them onto some snazzy parchment for your reading pleasure! So strap on your elven chain, make your save vs. rules lawyering, and enjoy The 11 Strangest D&D Questions Ever Asked!
#1. Ranged Bad Touch:
“Q. When an offensive spell’s range is “touch,” does the touch have to be with a hand?
I'll cop to editing these questions a little, mostly cutting out extraneous information on obscure 2nd Edition D&D loopholes that we're all better off not reading about, but here it was more of an aesthetic choice, as the blunt answer carries an emphasis plain text just doesn't get across.
There is, I grant you, an extremely slim possibility that the guy who wrote this article was asking to see if he could cast a spell with his foot if he didn't have his hands free, but come on. I've played D&D for years, and I've been in enough groups that I can tell you beyond a shadow of a doubt that the dude who wrote this question can't get through a session without talking about his "polearm." Seriously, the happiest day of this guy's life was finding out that a Breastplate helps your Armor Class and does not require you to wear any sort of pants.
#2. Bows Don't Kill People, Archers Do:
“Q. In Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, how much damage to bows do?
A. None. Bows do not do damage, arrows do.”
I'm honestly not sure if this one is a product of the D&D player's signature love of minutiae and specificity or just the printed version of rolling your eyes when you're asked something that's right there in the book.
To be fair, though, the Sage actually does provide the rules for how much damage you'll do if you actually beat someone over the head with a longbow, thus ensuring that longbow-beatings would rise dramatically just after this issue was published.
#3. Imaginary Racism:
“Q. May elves and half-orcs be raised from the dead?
A. No, they cannot. They do not have souls.”
It's been observed before that D&D is often a game where a bunch of people invade underground settlements and cold start massacring creatures and taking their gold because they have green skin and fangs, but this?
No souls? Seriously, who wrote that part of the Monster Manual, David Duke? And don't even ask if they can get married under Greyhawk law.
#4. +2 Miter of Binding Edicts:
“Q. How can I spice up my D&D game? My players, as well as myself, are tired of going on dungeon and outdoor adventures.
A. Well, you can ask your players what they would like to do. They probably have all kinds of ideas. In my campaign I had a similar problem, and now one of my players is trying to become Pope.”
This one cracks me up for a number of reasons, not the least of which being that asking how to "spice up" one's D&D game makes it sound a lot like a marriage that's gone into a rut:
But beyond that -- and the obvious hilarity of "well, now that I've slayed Ashardalon the Red Dragon, I guess it's back to the Vatican" -- there's the core problem itself. Far be it from me to tell you how to have fun, but if you're tired of dungeon adventures, perhaps Dungeons and Dragons is not the game for you. Just a thought.
#5. The Sanctity of Same-Alignment Marriage:
“Q. My male paladin wants to marry a chaotic-evil lady magic-user. Is this okay?
A. This question is actually very complex. To answer it fully, we would have to define marriage itself.”
While getting the phrase "chaotic evil lady magic-user" was a bonus I was prepared for, I honestly wasn't expecting the rest of this one:
If only all the politicians worrying about defining marriage knew that the answer was in the pages of Dragon Magazine. As for me, well, call me old fashioned, but when it comes to cross-alignment marriage to villanous sorceresses, I'm a fundamentalist. It was Adam and Eve, not Adam and Evil-Lyn.
#6. Guinivere Is Officially Off the Market:
“Q. Can my Paladin get married, and if so, can he have children?
A. Well, most believe that Paladins practice celibacy. I firmly uphold this belief and will not allow my Paladin, Guinivere, to marry. Even if they don’t marry, I am quite sure Paladins are capable of having children.”
Is it just me, or does the Sage seem a shade too protective of his character here? Maybe it's just the phrasing and the use of the word "allow," but I can't help but read it as "as long as you exist in my campaign world young lady, you'll obey my rules on dating!"
Also, the fact that the second half of the answer is assuring players that despite his commitment to Lawful Goodness, your paladin's plumbing still works. Good to know.
#7. The (Elven) Kids Are All Right:
“Q. Why are elven thieves always children?
A. Anyone who has a relatively recent edition of the Dungeon Master’s Guide will probably think this question doesn’t make sense.”
As it turns out, the question refers to a misprint in the "starting age" tables (misprints in tables being a menace that killed more adventurers than all the dragons in the game combined), but I like to imagine it's actually a question about these young Elves today with their saggy chainmail and their low-rider war ponies. And that hippity hop lute music! Thieves, the lot of 'em!
#8. Legolas, You Are NOT The Father: This is quite possibly my favorite question in the entire collection, and while I tried not to put too many of the long answers in, this one's got too many gems to pass up:
“Q. I have a female character who has gotten herself pregnant. How should I handle this?
A. I don’t really want to answer this question now, but since your letter is not the only one presenting me with this problem, I will say this much. Stop fighting, practicing magic and doing other things that cause stress. The chances of losing the child are great and you don’t need to add more to it. During this time period, medicine was still progressing and it still wasn’t too great. Female characters who find themselves with child soon find themselves retired. It’s not fair, but that is life.”
First off, writing into a magazine about D&D to ask how you should handle an unplanned pregnancy is basically the greatest thing anyone has ever done with their life. Second, the fact that actual advice is given. Third, that the Sage offers up his thoughts on medicine from "this time period," as though historical accuracy didn't go completely out the window once the wizards showed up and started casting Magic Missile at Gelatinous Cubes.
Finally, the phrase "it is not fair, but that is life." Well, no. It's actually not life. It's a game. Specifically, it's a game where you specifically are constantly bringing up the phrase "game balance" to explain why a magic hat can't turn a dwarf into a ninja, so I'd say the concept of "fairness" should probably not be dismissed so readily.
#9. I Would Suggest Barry White:
“Q. One of my players wants to have a baby; what should I do?
A. Your question had me momentarily confused. If one of your players wanted to have a baby, you, the Dungeon Master, should be the last person she should talk to.”
Man, I don't know how the Sage runs his campaigns, but in my game, I'm the first person you should talk to. Ladies.
#10. Crom, I Have No Tongue For Quiche:
“Q. Do real barbarians eat quiche?
A. Real barbarians would hack and slay anyone who offered them quiche to eat, and would then stomp the quiche until it was totally flat. Barbarians are like that.”
Quiche gets a bad rap, but as my pal (and rival comics blogger) Dave Campbell once pointed out, quiche is SCRAMBLED EGG PIE, often served with bacon and wine. That's the most barbarian-friendly food there is, with the exception of raw dinosaur tenderized by your own fists. And that's real.
#11. LASERS: I joke around a lot, but really, this question, sent in regards to the infamous Expedition to the Barrier Peaks adventure, is what it all comes down to:
“Q. Would a shield spell stop a laser shot?
A. No; the shield would have no effect.”
That is a serious question about whether a magic spell could stop a laser gun. Someone, somewhere, was having an argument about this, and Dragon provided a forum where they could appeal to a higher authority and find a definitive answer.
And that is amazing.
there was a similar problem when I briefly wrote for a professional wrestling magazine
The guy answering the questions seems to have a lot of issues.
The archive of questions that article links to looks like it's full of more good stuff:
"In our town of Terre Haute, there is an eighthlevel paladin that has a favorite saying, “Repent or Die.” On one occasion he pulled back the arm of a captured orc, placed a Ring of regeneration on his finger and then ripped his face off. When the orc’s face healed, he would do it again. He says he has a valid right to do this, because torture was very much a part of the inquisition and he is saving the orc’s soul. This raises two questions. First, is the paladin still a paladin and if not, is he changed forever?"
We can mock D&D players, but that is a much more complex dilemma than any I've faced in real life.
Did he not read the answer to question 3?
(Or is that half-orcs only? Does he have half a soul? What's the other half anyway. Wish we had our own dungeon master to answer this.)
I just googled that.. the reply and comments thread turns into a monolithically disturbing to and fro over whether it's alright to torture black people (sort of)
My reaction to the comments in that article must be confined to "whoa".
so all fun has been sucked out of the game before you begin?
i'm actually playing D&D this very second. unfortunately it's a uh, ONLINE one, but we're doing it through IRC. i'm a lawful good paladin called Parrap Rappa, and my deity is Phoenix Wright. i'm not kidding.
Judge not, lest ye be held in contempt of this court.
send him my best
but it really really has.
"Barbarians are like that"