In this episode of Dungeons & Dorkwads, our 7th level magic-user, Noble Smith, embarks on a perilous quest to the dungeons of his past. Yes, our brave hero ventures deep into the mines of his parents’ garage. And what treasures he finds! A priceless time capsule from the years 1979-1982, filled with his old D&D gear, circa The Third Age of Sauron (aka The Later Carter/Early Reagan Administrations). And more.
Noble: Hey man, are you ready to go on the Quest of the Shandar Wizards?
Ethan: I am a ready! Although I am afraid. And do not know the way. Oh wait, what are the Shandar Wizards?
Noble: Open up this brown vinyl binder, and you shall see.
Ethan: Whoa. Look at all this amazing stuff. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Close that cover! First — when was the last time you saw this? How exactly were you were reunited with this ancient and invaluable relic, or dare I say, gateway, to your youth?
Noble: It was in my parents’ garage. In a box. I had forgotten that it existed. So much great stuff was in there. All of my early writing efforts. And my very first D&D map, drawn when I was 11!
Ethan: I love how all this precious D&D stuff is hidden behind the covers of a brown vinyl, recycled three-ring binder from Conover Insurance Inc. And that label maker. That is a rare magical item.
Noble: Yes! Good old Conover insurance of Yakima, WA. My dad’s office and treasure-trove for a young writer/gamer in need of supplies including the DYMO Label Maker of Illumination. I labeled everything in my room with that sweet baby. “Comic Book Collection” and “Tolkien Bookshelf.” Even “Middle-earth Pipe Collection.” I just went label crazy.
Ethan: I had a label maker too, and used it to label my Neil Diamond, ELO and Wings albums. This must have been some viral geek obsession, labeling everything.
Noble: These treasures were very important to us. Maybe we thought they would disappear from the world if we didn’t keep them secret and keep them safe. And keep them labeled. We couldn’t predict the magic of eBay. Let’s look inside my binder with its “A D AND D’s” label.
Ethan: Yet, it appears to be guarded by more than just orcs. There’s a strange white disk on the cover, er, I mean gateway. A symbol or rune? It burns us! It binds us! What shall we do? Cast a fireball?
Noble: Speak “cantaloupe” and enter?
Ethan: OK, I say “Melon.” Then “Mello Yello” just to be safe. What happens?
Noble: Good enough! The doors swing open to reveal its many secrets. Look, there’s a title page done in calligraphy for my first fantasy novel “The Quest of the Shandar Wizards” and the first Star Wars Sunday comic, and my first dungeon map and . . . umm . . . Miss January, 1981. (My first crush.) There’s also things like the first Walkman manual! I would listen to Wings and ELO and rock out!
Ethan: Your binder reminds me of my oh so similar brown notebook decorated with DYMO labels. Noble (or perhaps I should say, ahem, Shandar the Chaotic), it’s weird how parallel our experiences were. In my various piles of D&D stuff, I also found similar treasures, such as my old Star Wars fan club newsletters (but no Playboy centerfolds). What’s with calling “AD&D” “A D AND D’s”?
Noble: Yeah, why the extra S on the end? I don’t know. Everybody in my town said it that way. Weird place.
Ethan: Well you were from Yakima.
Noble: Yes! But I grew up a few blocks away from Kyle MacLachlan, one of the icons of Geekdom: Paul Atreides, Agent Dale Cooper, and the Mayor of Portlandia.
Ethan: Wait, you knew Kyle MacLachlan? Did you grow up in Twin Peaks, Washington?
Noble: I used to stalk the poor man. The summer of 1984 I rode my bike up and down his street waiting for him to come back to his dad’s house after filming Dune. I sent him a fan letter. Here’s my first draft in which I spelled his name wrong!
Noble: Anyway, he rolled up one day in this brand new Jeep convertible with a friggin’ gold loop earring! Wow! I was blown away by his coolness. He showed me the book of stills from the movie and said solemnly, “See this actor who plays Gurney Halleck? He and I became the best of friends. He is going to be famous in America one day. Noble, remember his name.” And I did. Because he was talking about Patrick Effin’ Stewart. Here’s a photo of my autographed copy of Dune from Kyle. He told me to “Keep up the acting.” But I didn’t.
Ethan: Wow. Too bad that movie was so terribly wonderfully awful.
Noble: It was a spectacular failure. But hey! We got to see Sting in an armored/booby-trapped loincloth.
Noble: But not as amazing as Miss January, 1981. You know what’s so awesome about that Playboy Centerfold, Karen Elaine Price, tucked away in the back of my D & D’s binder? Look at the top of the page. It says “Playmate Data Sheet.” Just like a D&D character sheet! What do you think her Charisma was?
Ethan: 18. 19? 36-26-36? Ah…. the missing link between D&D and Playboy. Karen Elaine’s strength, wisdom, intelligence probably not so high.
Noble: Dude, you are so wrong. I looked her up on Google and it turns out she became a stuntwoman and did a bunch of movies. So her Dex was very high, at least.
Ethan: I had a character named Lord Elloron. Here’s his “Data Sheet”: “Turn ons”: gold, killing shit, feeling righteous. “Turn offs”: orcs, evil stuff, rolling 1s.
Noble: My wizard Shandar the Chaotic: “Turn ons”: disarray, maelstroms, havoc. “Turn offs”: homework, bullies, Hall and Oates.
Ethan: I also love the calligraphy work on your cover page to the Shandar Wizards story.
Noble: Thank you kindly! I was big into calligraphy nibs. If you’ve never done calligraphy, the nib is the tip of your pen, and I had many different nibs. Dear God, I was such a geek.
Ethan: And you used 3-hole punched lined paper. Blank paper did not exist in those days. All we had was 3-hole punched and lined paper, and graph paper, and the backs of purple mimeographed biology tests. Or in your case, religion tests. FYI, kids, calligraphy is a gateway drug to lead figurine painting. Your drawings are really good.
Noble: Thank you! I spent a lot of time with my drawings. And with Miss Karen Elaine Price. I think I was a budding Alan Lee, right? And that drawing of Shandar the Chaotic blasting spells was done on the back of a religion test (I went to Catholic school) about different kinds of sin and guilt. I got a “C” on that test. (But I did not feel guilty at all and just a wee bit sinful.) Here’s a drawing I did of a Rakshasa I called “Orencale.”
Ethan: You know Tolkien got his start for The Hobbit while doodling on the back of an exam. You bad-ass Catholic boys are all the same.
Noble: I loved the fact that the Rakshasa was “lawful evil.” I had no idea what that meant when I first saw it. But it sounded good. It sounded like that Rakshasa would have gotten an “F” on his religion class test. And then he would have smoked his pipe all the way to the principal’s office.
Ethan: Or, maybe lawful evil characters could have aced the test, but to be evil, they tanked on purpose. The chaotic ones, good and evil, they were the stoners peeling out of school in their muscle cars and wearing Ozzy, The Doors and Rush patches on their denim jackets. But Shandar the Chaotic, do not think you will escape without explaining that amazingly absurd photo of you doing your Sherlock Holmes impression. Your parents let you smoke when you were 14?
Noble: My parents were like, “Just so long as you don’t put pot in those things we’re OK with your little pipe collection.” Actually, I was so eccentric that I just amused the crap out of my parents. I was just a manifestation of their repressed eccentricities. I was thirteen in that picture. A very short goofball in a deerstalker hat. I bought that pipe with some of my Christmas money. I still have it. I smoked real tobacco. But the pipe smoke really hurt my tongue! So I would only do it every once in a while. I wasn’t a committed smoker. I would wear that deerstalker with a pipe between my teeth painting D&D figurines and listening to Rush.
Ethan: That is awesome. You were really getting into the role back then. Larper! And you listened to Rush?
Noble: Check this out. Last year I went to a Rush concert with my Tolkien buddies from childhood. My best friend Dan was one of them. I found a letter from him in my “A D AND D’s” binder where he uses “Geek” for the first time. Don’t you think it’s awesome that he had to tell me what a geek was? And explains it in a footnote! The letter is dated 1979. Dan is the one who gave me Miss January, God bless his generous heart. He warned me not to let my mom read the dirty stuff in his letter.
Ethan: What was the dirty stuff? Related to Miss January, 1981?
Noble: Dan was talking about his girlfriend. She played the flute in the school marching band! You know those band girls in their uniform’s and Sgt. Pepper hats. A geek’s fantasy. Need I say more?
Ethan: Me, I had a Stg Pepper’s +7 Heart of Loneliness. I didn’t kiss a girl till my senior year. True story! I got better.
Noble: By the way, I just think it’s so great that you have a girlfriend now. It gives hope to geeks everywhere.
Ethan: I spent a lot of time and money upping my Strength and Charisma, drinking from that cursed Vial of Stat Growth Hormone. Let’s hope she never find out.
More Dork-offs are coming soon. But if you can’t get enough of Ethan and Noble, check out their most recent Tolkien-themed articles on Boing Boing and The Huffington Post. Here’s Ethan’s review of The Desolation of Smaug, and Noble’s “Top Ten Things You May Not Know About Legolas.”