Friday, 13 April 2012

Balthus Dire's Lovely Curtains

Balthus Dire, head honcho of the Citadel of Chaos is fatally allergic to sunlight and the player can off him, Cushing-on-Lee style, by simply opening his curtains. This is because the fatally-allergic-to-sunlight Balthus Dire has large windows in his lair and has decided that just leaving the curtains drawn is an adequate defense. He is therefore just one unfortunate "curtain rail falls off wall" or "clumsy domestic decides to Windowlene the panes" incident from a toasty death.

What Dire could do would be to have the windows in the Citadel bricked up (except for the one the player can fall out of) and probably save a gold piece or two on the property tax due on the Citadel.

Likewise similar things crop up in a couple of magazine gamebooks I've printed out and played recently.

Kruglach (of PROTEUS 6 - The Fortress of Kruglach) can only be defeated by a spell comprised of three hairs from a Werewolves tail, two teeth from a Cyclops, something called The Sorcerers Eye, a Pegasus feather and a Unicorn horn. Obligingly, Kruglach keeps all these things in his tiny fortress, and it is a tiny fortress because TFoK is only a 200 paragraph adventure. Oh, and the beast that Kruglach presumably hand-picked to the final beastie before his lair? Yeah, Cyclops. With a good mouth of teeth.

In The Floating City (WARLOCK 8), evil Sorcerer Angekok is especially prone to a magical spear which he obligingly leaves propped up outside the very hut in which he is to be found, although curiously (and somewhat nonsensically) the player can only take the spear if he has already lost his sword - the spear just "knows" if you have another weapon and gets jealous or something. Why does Angekok not get the saw out and do something about this ludicrous weak spot in his defenses?

Can we justify this nonsense for the purpose of D&D scenario construction?

Yes we can. All three examples above are clearly to create a structure for a gamebook with replay value.

But we can justify it in-universe so to speak. Here's the deal.

You, Evil Sorcerer or Warlord or Chaotic Hierophant or similar, do a deal with various extra-dimensional demonic entities. Depending upon their demonic strength and power they can grant you various boons, such as being immune to normal weapons, immortality or ascent to Lichedom but keeping your boyish good looks into the bargain.

But there's a catch. No demon wants to create an immortal rival who may challenge him in the future. So there has to a Kryptonite to your Sun-given superpowers. Each deal with the devil has to come with it's deliberate, in-built weakness. Them's the rules.

So you get immortality and the ability to laugh in the face of the weak efforts of the PCs to do you in by swinging pieces of sharp metal or their pathetic attempts at magic. But if they turn up with the requisite arrow dipped in black henna, fletched with the tail-feathers of The Albino Phoenix of Squart while sporting the protective Tau-cross tattoos on their foreheads then you are just one arrow scratch from melting into a small puddle on the floor and causing a Turn to 400 moment.

This is the deal, the bargain you accept. There is the fatal weakness and this is made clear to you when you sign the paperwork. Presumably then you would ensure that your personal Evil Guy headquarters are devoid of black henna, arrows, The Albino Phoenix of Squart and tattoo parlours.

But the deal doesn't allow for that. Not only do you have the Kryptonite weakness you have to keep that selfsame Kryptonite within your Evil Fortress at all times. Should Balthus Dire get the glaziers in to sort out the windows or Kruglach have his pet Cyclops' teeth pulled then they have broken their pact with the demonic powers that put them there in the first place and none of them want the consequences of that happening.


  1. Great post and a nice way of rationalising why powerful sorcerers have their one weakness in their fortress.

    This also applies to Zagor who has a magical gem that can kill him kept in his fortress. However, he has taken some measures and inserted that gen into an iron cyclops that you have to kill first. In some cases it may be a case of keeping your weaknesses close so you can keep an eye on them (no pun intended) however, in the case when your weakness is the part of a creature, there's no real point unless you start capturing ALL of those creatures to keep in your lair.

  2. In crime movies the psychiatric profiler is always saying things like, "he wants us to catch him, that's why he's leaving us these clues". Or whatever, I'm not a scriptwriter. In a fantasy world, perhaps the evil arch-wizard fills the same role as a mundane serial killer, but the voices in his head are real?

  3. Celtic geis as pact for power. Nice one.

    you have to keep that selfsame Kryponite within your Evil Fortress at all times.

    Makes sense in a way. I want the one object I *know* can kill me safe and secure. Where better than my own heavily guarded, trap-filled wine cellar/corpse larder/swag vault?

    (And cue: "Agh! Curse this genre blindness!")

  4. Makes sense in a way. I want the one object I *know* can kill me safe and secure. Where better than my own heavily guarded, trap-filled wine cellar/corpse larder/swag vault?

    Exactly what I was going to say. If you know what the One Thing™ that can halt your rise to power is, then would you prefer it out there in the world where anyone can find it, or close by where you can keep an eye on it?

    One other solution is to make the One Thing™ seem outlandish and bizarre, so that the villain might not believe that such a thing exists, let alone that it can kill him. A walking forest and a motherless man did Macbeth -- hot potato, orchestra stalls, Puck will make amends -- in, after all.

    1. Also, "Balthus Dire's Lovely Curtains" is a great name for a band, probably some sort of highbrow guitars-and-mini-orchestra outfit from 1998 or thereabouts.