A ranger, a thief, and a dwarf cautiously make their way down a stone corridor. The light of the torch carried by the thief flickers upon the walls, textured as if of hand-hewn clay.
"We must proceed with caution," whispers the dwarf, who is revealed to bear the very semblance of Jerry Rig! "The runes at the entrance were of ancient vintage..."
"Yes, I keep my bow at ready," affirms the ranger, Aecca Decca.
"Why can't I get this lighter to work?" queries the thief.
"El Humidor! You HAVE to stay in character!" chastises Jerry.
The setting changes to reveal the housemates arranged around the living room coffee table, acquired from the curb on garbage day. One leg, broken, is duct taped in place. Decca is cross-legged at one end, slouching, sheets of paper in front of him. Rig is upright on his knees, waving a pencil demonstratively at El Humidor, who sits on a stool opposite of Aecca, hands on his knees, elbows out, like a feudal daimyo. Across from Rig, El Humidor furiously clicks a lighter repeatedly.
Aecca, sighing, "just use a match, man..."
Humidor continues striking the lighter, brow furrowed in concentration.
"I swear, we've been making our way down this corridor the last 45 minutes!" complains Jerry, "its either 'hold on, I have to go the bathroom' or 'let me getta beer' or 'I have to go the store to get more smokes.' Can we JUST play??"
"A'yup! Got it!" puffs El Humidor victoriously, "Dungeon Master Mudman, you may continue!"
Mudman looks down behind his DM screen, "Okay, you're going down the corridor..."
"With caution!" Jerry reminds.
"Yes. With caution."
The band of three move down the corridor. They reach a fork, two paths before them. The dwarf attempts to read ancient runes carved in the stone. The ranger examines the dirt to see if anything has passed through here recently. The thief takes a big drag of his cigarette and looks for an ashtray.
Back in the living room, Mudman sighs, pinches the bridge of his nose, "For the last time, there are no cigarettes in ancient Nammud. You may smoke a pipe, but not cigarettes."
"Huh? Well, okay, I'll take my pipe tobacco and verily I shall swaddle it in parchment in the manner of a small cylinder and I shall FUCKING SMOKE IT, then!"
"Jesus, Humidor, take it easy," mutters Aecca.
"Yeah, let his thief smoke his giant rollie, Mudman, I don't care," concurs Rig.
The thief ashes his oversized hand-rolled tobacco-filled parchment cylinder on the ground and says he thinks the stolen treasure they'd been hired by the nearby town's Assassin's Guildmaster to retrieve is down the right-hand corridor. The dwarf shrugs and the ranger says "whatever" and cracks open a can of beer he has retrieved from his satchel.
"There are no beer cans in Nammud," Mudman tells Aecca.
"If Humidor the Thief here can smoke while dungeon crawling," Aecca counters, "then Aecca Decca, Ranger of the high plains of Saot Rettub," Decca gesticulating wildly, slowly rising to his feet, beer in hand, "can drink a beer from a, uh, a wooden mug with a, uh, a waxen sealed top, magically cooled and preserved with a, um, okay, a cold-air cantrip!"
Decca remains standing, beer held aloft like a grail. Rig and Humidor (ciggie dangling from lower lip) look at Mudman, awaiting the passing of judgment.
Mudman scratches his forehead. "Okay."
Aecca fist-pumps, proclaims a "yes" through a grin, drops back into his sitting position.
The ranger, bow in one hand, mug of magically-cooled beer in the other; the thief, lighting another one of his parchment-rolled pipe-tobacco cylinders; and the dwarf continue cautiously down the corridor on the right, which leads to a spiraling set of stairs. After descending 40-50 feet, the party enters masive hall carved from the living rock. A cyclopean throne sits at the opposite end of the hall, upon which rests the dusty bones of a giant forgotten king, his crown dusty on a bleached skull.
"There it is, the crown of Noisilloc, Ancient King of Ayancilot!" exclaims the Ranger, cracking another brewskie.
"Our quest is at an end!" concurs the thief, adding, "can you hand me those matches?"
The dwarf tosses some matches at the thief, "you need to slow down, man, you smoked 10 of those in the last 20 minutes."
"Whatever," Thief says, "hey, Ranger-danger, gimme a beer, there."
The party arrives at the throne. They pause as they make an awareness roll. The dwarf inspects carvings on the throne. The thief approaches the skeleton and eyeballs the crown,
the item they'd been hired to retrieve. The ranger steps back and sips his beer while keeping a lookout. The ranger makes another awareness roll, which he evidently fails as he doesn't notice anything.
The dwarf concludes the carvings are not majickal, just plain old runes. The thief doesn't think he sees any traps that will go off if he lifts the crown. The ranger makes yet another awareness roll, which, again, he apparently fails
"Another friggin' 2? What's wrong with these dice!?" shouts Aecca.
Suddenly, the ground quakes, and the very rock by the Ranger bursts open! A toothed maw, then an entire scaled head, and a long, sea-blue neck emerges. The Ranger fails his initiative roll.
"GOD. DAMN. IT," curses Aecca.
The blue dragon summarily snaps down and clamps its jaws around the ranger's midsection. It shakes him once to the left, once to the right, and then dive-burrows, Ranger still in mouth, back into the rock from whence it came.
"Blue dragon?" exclaims Aecca, "Blue dragon! AKA the lamest dragon? What's its breath attack? Smooth jazz?"
Mudman: "You should know."
Decca takes another hit off his beer, "What? Jazz?"
Mudman: "No. Electric."
Decca, now up and pacing: "Electronic music?"
Mudman: (sighs) "Electrical breath weapon. And it burrows."
Rig: "That's why it just grabbed your Ranger and disappeared down a hole in the ground."
Decca, kicking at an empty beer can, "A burrowing dragon!"
Rig: "I actually like blue dragons as a DM. Electrical breath weapon and burrowing ability. Also, because it lacks in intelligence and magical power as compared to others, it has pumped armor and strength. Adventurers always forget it can burrow (travel in ground almost as good as it can on ground or in the air) and when buffing for elemental protection, people only think of cold and fire and never electrical (or sonic for that matter)."
"I'm a fucking ranger" screams Aecca, "how do I, of all people, not notice a dragon BURRROWING UP BENEATH MY OWN TWO FEET!?"
"Three times, I recall," adds El Humidor. "In the parlance of Nammud, that would be 'thrice,' I believe, yes?"
Aecca Decca, icicles stabbing from his eyes at Humidor, in a low growl, "but I have a 17 awareness."
"Then you failed your initiative," continues Mudman.
"Seven. Teen," Aecca now staring blankly at the wall, sipping his beer.
"Jerry, what's your dwarf doing?" asks dungeon master Mudman.
"Charting the shortest route back the way we came."
"Humidor, your thief?"
"Snatched Noisilloc's crown, running as though there's the beer is free at the brewery."
"17. Three tries."
Mudman rolls a die behind his DM screen. Looks at his graph-paper map of the dungeon, "okay, make awareness rolls," the 2 surviving members do so, Mudman inspects results, "okay. The thief's probably 15 feet in front of the dwarf, and the 2 of you are almost all the way up that spiral staircase when you notice faint rumbling in the rock."
"Guess ranger-meat's not very filling, no?" says El Humidor, grinning impishly, looking at Aecca, taking a long, languishing drag of his cigarette, a slow exhale. The cloud of smoke, as if with a mind of its own, centers over the table, takes the shape of a dragon lounging on its back, picking its teeth with some longbow arrows.
"Fucker," murmurs Aecca.
"Aecca," says Rig, brows furrowed, "are you... crying?"
Aecca/Decca, staring absently at a corner, "no."
"Indeed, yes, you are," says Humidor.
"Me and my Ranger have been through a lot, ok!" snaps back Aecca. "I mean, I've leveled him up to 26 over, like, 9 sessions the past 7 or so months. He had a seventeen awareness! SEVENTEEN!" Sobs, continues, "he could put an arrow through a goblin's eye at 100 paces!"
"Jeez, Aecca," consoles Jerry Rig, "you wanna make an omelette you gotta break a few eggs, right? Party members die. It happens. We all knew the risks when we took the job."
"Yes. The risks. Think of the risks," El Humidor, nodding.
"Whatever!" retorts Decca, "that dragon swallowed me up and the first thing you guys did was grab the crown and run out of there!"
"I figured, at least the dragon's occupied," shrugs Jerry.
"Hey, and more of the bounty for me!" explains Humidor, then glimpses at Rig, "I mean, uh, US, more bounty for US!"
Decca looks at Rig and Humidor, who return his gaze, nonpulsed. Aecca turns to Mudman, the Dungeon Master, an look of last appeal on his face. Mudman stares expressionless, his face behind a mask of sweat-wet dirt, rolling a 20-sider betwixt his thumb and index finger.
"Sooo..." says Aecca Decca.
Mudman renders his judgment, "Humidor, Jerry, roll for initiative. You can see the exit of the dungeon ahead of you."
"Right, see you fuckers at the bar," Aecca stands abruptly, tosses his empty beer can on the floor, turns, and heads for the front door. Humidor and Rig toss their dice on the table.
"Until later this evening, my dear Aecca!" cries Humidor, "Eureka! A TWENTY!"
"A seventeen!" says Rig, "we might get out of this by speed of foot afterall!"
Aecca-Decca slams the door behind him.
"Okay," says Mudman, "the dragon bursts from the ground behind you, what are you doing?"
With fleeting feet, the thief, crown in hand, runs into daylight first, hanging a hard left. Behind him the dwarf chugs a furious pace, a roaring, trundling Blue Dragon right behind him, its teeth and jaws still stained with the Ranger's blood and guts. The thief practically slides into a crouch by a tree and tinkers with some rope and a wooden stake.
"Awesome, Humidor!" says Rig, "great idea setting a trap ahead of time! This dragon's not going to know what hit it!"
"Make a dex roll, to see how quickly you get it armed," commands Mudman.
"A 16," reports Humidor.
"Okay, just tell me when you want to arm the trap. Your discretion."
"I arm it instantly," Humidor orders, fishing another cigarette out of a crumpled softpack.
"Uh," says Rig.
"Roll for awareness, Rig," says Mudman.
"Shit. An eight," curses Rig, "El Humidor, why didn't you wait?"
The dwarf, dragon on his heels, runs through the entrance of the cavern. And trips over a well-camoflaged wire. As his face hits the dirt, his left foot is drawn up behind him, followed by the rest of his body, up into the air. The blue dragon storms out of the cave to find his prey dangling upside down in front of him from a high tree branch. Already a good 50 yards into the woods, the Thief faintly hears the dwarf cursing the thief's ancestors, the roar of the dragon, the cawing and fluttering of the woods' birds in response, then silence.
"El Humidor," says Rig, sullenly, "you fucking traitorous son of a bitch."
"The thief," intones El Humidor, lighting his cigarette, leaning back against the sofa, "looks out for the thief," takes a drag, "No one else. Yes?" Smirks. Exhales.
Words & drawings by D.D. Tinzeroes