There used to be this idea that the people who played roleplaying games were stiff, humorless, super-serious types. The sort of person who was obsessed with rules, had difficulty telling the difference between fantasy and reality, and unable to take a joke.
That’s not true. The hobby has had humor in its DNA from the very beginning. The original Dungeons & Dragons sourcebooks were packed full of in-jokes, references and humorous illustrations. Gamer magazines like Dragon and The Space Gamer always made sure to set aside a few pages for cartoons and humor columns. Heck, every spring Dragon featured an “April Fool’s” supplement with every sort of silliness you could imagine. And sometimes they even published silly articles out of season.
Which is a long way of saying that if you were subscribing to Dragon in September 1988, you were in for a treat. The editors had decided to run a letters column featuring the utterly bizarre letters that usually got thrown right into the circular file.
And that first letter, well, it was a doozy.
Recently my AD&D® game character, Waldorf, a 358th-level magic-user, created the nuclear bomb. Due to this action, all of Greyhawk has been utterly obliterated, except for a 3×4 mile island with a castle called Castle Waldorf.
All creatures from the Monster Manuals were destroyed due to large amounts of nuclear fallout. All the deities work in a salt mine under Waldorf’s castle. I would greatly appreciate it if everyone would mail their character sheets to me so that I may tally up Waldorf’s experience. All of the game manuals and modules are now totally false and untrue. Any profit made from TSR’s merchandise from this day onward should be mailed to Waldorf’s castle (in gold pieces, of course).
Of course. However, you forgot to enclose a self-addressed stamped envelope. We regret that Waldorf must lose the experience points and gold for his victory.
It was hilarious.
And it probably requires a bit of explanation for you non-D&D players.
Waldorf here is the iconic example of a certain sort of D&D character. His power levels are insane – most characters never even make it to level 20, and even the gods themselves tend to top out at level 100 or so. Ironically, the sort of people who play these crazy over-the-top characters tend to be the most deadly serious of the lot, with no room for humor in their lives. All they want is more power and more awesomeness, and it just keeps accelerating to a point where their accomplishments move past “legendary” to “ludicrous.”
So to see one of these power gamers whose characters could destroy galaxies with a thought defeated by a picayune technicality in the magazine’s submission guidelines… well, it was hilarious.
The editors got a little rule-of-threes action in there by making Waldorf a running joke in their responses to the other letters.
My friends and I have been playing the AD&D game for over six years now. Our major characters have levels in the millions, maximum scores for almost every ability, and can obliterate five planes of the Abyss in a round. We have moved on to other games and have developed other major characters in those games. We have created creatures that are barely a challenge for our characters. After a while, role-playing got boring. I haven’t played for about two months. I would like to know how I can have fun with these high-level characters.
Perhaps you should meet Waldorf.
Stop making your game. I killed all the monsters.
All except Waldorf.
Anyway, that was just one page. The rest of the magazine was filled with the the important stuff: a system for creating realistic weather for your fantasy world, pseudo-historical information about how Medieval fairs and tournaments were structured, and how to carve up monsters for fun and profit.
And that was it, right?
Something about Waldorf struck a chord with Dragon’s audience, and letters about him started pouring in. So the editors figured that if something was funny the first time, it would be just as funny the second time. One year later, in September 1989, the magazine ran a letters column filled entirely with letters they had received about Waldorf.
The first one was easily the best.
Please tell Waldorf that I have successfully completed making my savings roll, and ask him how much damage I took from the atomic bomb.
It was perfect: a deadpan response to the situation as if it were just another part of the game. Short and sweet, only 134 characters long, like a carefully-crafted Tweet or a winning “Lyttle Lytton” entry. When I first read that, I laughed for minutes.
The other letters in that issue were maybe not as carefully crafted.
You see, there was a certain segment of the magazine’s audience who were upset that Waldorf was hogging all the spotlight. Not because he was silly and ridiculously over-the-top, but because their own characters were so much cooler and more powerful and could beat the snot out of that upstart loser.
My character, Fist Xavier Redlance, has become ultimately powerful… He owns three or four completely paid-for and fortified castles. He and his mount, a 14-HD cloud dragon (Phantom), could wipe out Tiamat in one round of combat, or obliterate five tarrasques or even Waldorf. He is a 60th-level knight/23rd-level bard/23rd-level druid/l4th-level illusionist… His two weapons are a mounted Dragonlance and a +6 two-handed holy avenger. He is also psionically imbued.
Tell Waldorf that not all of the planet was obliterated. Fist Xavier has two of his castles completely surrounded by granite (i.e, they’re three miles underground). The one thing he hasn’t done is design a device to clean up post-explosion radiation, but he is currently working on the problem. He can come out because his armor is resistant to just about any substance known to man (or Waldorf).
Recently, my AD&D® game character, Mirv the Outrageous (a 360th-level mage who had developed long-range space travel and left his home in the Forgotten Realms) discovered a small barren world. There were only a few inhabitants on it, on a 3 x 4-mile island with a castle. After infiltration, Mirv and his comrades discovered the castle’s name: Castle Waldorf. Beneath the castle, working in a salt mine, were the deities of the realm. What a horrible fate.
So Mirv and his friends returned to their ship and destroyed all of the remaining life on the island through the use of saturation bombing (phosphorus and antimagic bombs) and Mirv’s favorite spell, power word nuke, a tenth-level spell. They then returned to the island in radiation gear and liberated the poor gods who, due to their lives among the stars, were immune to radiation at ground zero. Unfortunately, the owner of the isle was standing directly at ground zero when Mirv’s spell hit. We truly mourn his loss.
I was a little disturbed when I read the letter about Waldorf in issue #137. Well, it just so happens that my 421st-level magic user, Alkeronus, was in outer space for the last year and just decided to come back to Greyhawk.
Alkeronus was, of course, ticked off, so he decided to destroy Waldorf and his castle. With his supreme power, Alkeronus made the sun go supernova, which completely disintegrated the planet. Waldorf is dead, and I expect the character to never be used again. Waldorf, you should have known better than to mess with Alkeronus’s alehouse!
We regret to inform Waldorf the magic-user that he is in eternal servitude to Shamogroth Darkmane, a 511th-level Krynn minotaur barbarian and his 89-person barbarian horde. Shamogroth was on his home plane avenging the destruction of his original barbarian tribe, so he was absent during the holocaust.
Unfortunately for Waldorf, Shamogroth returned to his home forest to see that it was devastated. Shamogroth then searched for the only safe place on Oerth to return from the Border Ethereal: Castle Waldorf. By now, Mr. Darkmane was very steamed (and a little hungry), so he and his group of barbarians (ranging in levels from 100 to 300) plundered the castle and destroyed it and all within, save Waldorf and the deities. Shamogroth released the gods, who promptly did away with Waldorf’s power by exposing him to a little Negative Material plane torture, then repopulated Greyhawk.
Shamogroth is now an epic hero and is watched over by the good and kind gods, and Waldorf is now chained to the bottom of the Valley of Eternal Pain, created by Shamogroth and his divine friends. Sorry, Waldorf.
…and there were about a dozen more who didn’t make the final cut.
To be fair, they weren’t all over-the-top weirdos. At least one was a low-level character with way too many magic items…
My 1st-level assassin from Waterdeep in the Forgotten Realms was teleported to the world of Greyhawk. He survived the dangers of radiation with his suit of +5 radiation-proof leather armor. He sought out Waldorf’s castle and made it into the throne room while wearing his cloak of elvenkind, then shot Waldorf with his blowgun and a needle of slaying cheaters doused with Type A cheapo poison he bought at the Waterdeep Assassins’ Guild. Waldorf dropped with one shot. My assassin then freed all the gods under the castle, and they have started to repair and rebuild the world of Greyhawk.
I think that for this deed all the people at TSR, Inc. need to send me a written thank you….I also think Waldorf should mail me his character sheet and list of possessions and magical items, so I can total the experience points for my new 14th-level Guildmaster Assassin.
…and at least one just wanted to remind Waldorf who was really the boss.
In response to this so-called wizard Waldorf’s recent letter, I will not send my character sheets to Mr. Waldorf, simply because I am the most powerful being in Greyhawk. Maybe you have heard of me: I call myself the Dungeon Master. And just let me say that I’ve been getting pretty annoyed with Waldorf lately, so watch it!
Okay, so was the second round of Waldorf content as funny as the first round? No. But it had some solid chuckles, and if the whole saga had ended there, it would have been fine. A cute little story for historians of the hobby.
But if we know anything, it’s that people just don’t know when enough is enough. So three months later, in December 1989, Dragon published this letter:
Upon hearing of Waldorf’s insubordination, I would like to show you a truly powerful character. His name is Thor, and he is a 6,253rd-level magic-user, a 25,001st level cleric, and a 3,000,000th-level fighter. Once he sneezed and destroyed the entire Forgotten Realms world, so think of what will happen when he wields his 80′-long sword +5,682. Waldorf’s enslaving of the gods was very unrealistic, since all the gods are servants of Thor, and furthermore…
Just to be clear, I’m not the one who cut off the letter there. The editors of Dragon had decided that this story had run its course and decided to cut things off before silliness turned into outright stupidity.
But you can’t keep a good meme down, as they soon found out. Two years later, in the September 1991 issue, they ran a new troubling development. Namely, that people had stopped killing Waldorf and started teaming up with him.
Recently, Parevé Dotrose (a 564th-level magic-user and 34th-level illusionist) teamed up with Megahnan Whitewolf (a 567th-level mage of high sorcery) to perform the greatest deed of 1991: the great resurrection of Waldorf, king of the nuke!
Parevé and Megahnan traveled to the Realms by way of spelljamming and sought out the cleric known as Darklight Moonbeam. They were escorted to Moonbeam’s temple by a fleet of toxic dragons and welcomed by Darklight himself. After a nice dinner, Darklight allowed them to gaze upon his most recent creation: a wand of Waldorf resurrection +36. Needless to say, the two mages were speechless.
Megahnan convinced Darklight to help in the plan to bring Waldorf back to the land of the living. So, Darklight gathered up his gear and his merry band of 100 kenders in order to depart on a great adventure.
After Darklight had used the wand (and the kender band had “found” all of the things there were to “find”), Waldorf was resurrected. But Waldorf had become a lich! The wand had malfunctioned and just happened to cast a spell that transformed the nuclear man into a mean and nasty undead.
Of course, Waldorf wanted revenge on his enemies, who had seemed to come out of the woodwork to kill him. Thus, Parevé, Megahnan, Hanibal the Minotaur (46th-level warrior), and Nicodemis (20th-level sage) wandered the multiverse, slaying the enemies of their lich leader.
The first to fall was “Fist” Xavier Redlance. Megahnan polymorphed Xavier’s pet cloud dragon (14 HD) into a salamander and swallowed him whole. Next, Megahnan broke Redlance’s holy avenger +6 with the ancient hammer of Kharas, then finished him off with a 46th-level bolt of plasma.
Next, Megahnan used his ring of Mirv finding to locate the human known as Mirv the Outrageous. Megahnan quickly coughed on Mirv’s band, infecting them with the horrid “burning fever” from the DRAGONLANCE saga, then turned to face Mr. Outrageous himself. Megahnan won the first attack and slew Mirv with one hit from his sword of infinite slaying.
Thirdly, Hanibal captured Shamogroth Darkmane while Parevé killed Darkmane’s band of 89 barbarians with his newest 42nd-level spell, spirit rolling pin. Darkmane fought Hanibal and killed Nicodemis (who was along for the fun) in the process. Hanibal became mad and ran Darkmane through with a footman’s dragonlance. Shamogroth died a coward, screaming for his mommy.
Lastly, Waldorf, Hanibal, and their new slave, Thor killed the hundreds of other characters who dared to try to challenge Waldorf in 1989. To top it all off, Waldorf and his new twin dragon steeds, Tiamat and Takhisis, fought a hard battle with the powerful being known only as “Dungeon Master.” Of course, Hanibal was there to help in the battle, so the DM died also.
So, now that Waldorf lives again, he will begin to control, mold, and shape the world of Greyhawk as he wishes.
At this point, it was clear that things had gone way too far and the joke had been driven into the ground so deep that even Waldorf’s fallout couldn’t touch it. So four months later, in the January 1992 issue of Dragon, one noble letter writer decided to put an end to the whole dang thing once and for all.
I have had it with Waldorf and the 100+ level campaign. I’m stuffing a hammership with nilbogs and ramming Waldorf’s castle. If I act fast, I can catch all of his demi-followers at the victory celebration. The nilbogs will convert all the damage they take into hit points and wipe out the survivors. The End (I hope!).
And amazingly, that was the end. Waldorf was put on the list of subjects that Dragon would no longer publish letters about, right next to banded mail and what would happen if you magically transformed someone into a worm, cut it in half, and then changed them back.
Waldorf was never heard from again.
Well, once more.
In 1998 the publishers of Dungeons & Dragons made an attempt to revive the moribund World of Greyhawk setting with a new sourcebook, The Adventure Begins. It was written by long-time Dragon editor Roger E. Moore, who couldn’t resist the chance to throw one more reference out there for the grognards.
This version of Waldorf is not a nigh-omniscient archmage who can bend the atom to his will. Instead, he’s a failed apprentice wizard who runs a tavern, known for regaling patrons with wild and unbelievable tales where he conquers the world only to be overthrown by space gods.
Ever diplomatic, Moore showed some grudging respect to his defeated enemy, noting that Waldorf “is a master storyteller for a failed wizard, and his grandiose but straightforward lies are the envy of all.”
Thanks to everyone who contributed their voice talents to this episode. In order of appearance, that’s: Dorothy White, Robert Sibole, David L. White, Rob Brunskill, A.J. Sutton, Kristen Harkness, Greg Armstrong, Tom Hand, Jim Munizza, and Eric Leslie. Thank you all. I don’t think I could have come up with that many voices on my own.
Preview of Series 7
Series 7 is shaping up to be a glorious hodgepodge that will take us from Hollywood, California to Soviet Russia, with all stops in-between. Just to tantalize you, here’s are some of the sources we consulted while doing our research:
- Baseball Eccentrics
- The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs
- The Encyclopedia of Occultism and Parapsychology
- Fads & Fallacies in the Name of Science
- Forty Days Without Food
- Harpo Speaks!
- Hartmann’s Who’s Who in Occult, Psychic, and Spiritual Realms
- Larousse Gastronomique
- The Pseudo-Science Wars
I’d list more, but they’d give away the episode topics and I’d rather you be surprised.
The Ancient and Esoteric Order of the Jackalope podcast will not April 7th as we previously reported — we’ll be back on April 12th with an episode we’re calling, “More Lovely and More Temperate.” Until then, remember: quiquid minime sciunt, optime scire.
- “Letters.” Dragon Magazine #137 (September 1988).
- “Letters.” Dragon Magazine #149 (September 1989).
- “Letters.” Dragon Magazine #152 (December 1989).
- “Letters.” Dragon Magazine #173 (September 1991).
- “Letters.” Dragon Magazine #177 (January 1992).
- Moore, Roger E. Greyhawk: The Adventure Begins. Seattle, WA: Wizards of the Coast, 1998.