Every group of people develops their stories. Policemen share tales of what happened on their force. Medical professionals can tell stories of things that have happened in the operating room. Political people have political stories. And role-playing gamers… have the gazebo.
The gazebo has appeared as a monster in the popular Munchkin card game. It’s appeared in nearly every gaming comic strip. And the story even got a college radio version that made it to Youtube and has been seen almost 30,000 times.
When I first heard the story, back in 1988, I was told that it had happened at an early gaming convention. Where it happened, though, is really moot. The important thing is that it taught everyone the value of words in a game format that is entirely verbal.
To be accurate, I have to excerpt the full story. It comes from David Aronson, a RPG player from the time when the games were first being developed by Gary Gygax and his friends.
For those completely unfamiliar with the game system, a “plus-(number)” weapon meant that it was specially enchanted with a greater chance to strike its target and do damage.
Eric and the Gazebo
Copyright 1986 by Richard Aronson (Original Story)
Let us cast our minds back to the early days of fantasy role-playing… In the 1970’s, Ed Whitchurch ran “his game,” and one of the participants was Eric Sorenson, a veritable giant of a man. This story is essentially true: I knew both Ed and Eric, and neither denies it (although Eric, for reasons that will become apparent, never repeats it).
The gist of it is that Eric… well, you need a bit more about Eric.
Eric comes quite close to being a computer. When he games, he methodically considers each possibility before choosing his preferred option. If given time, he will invariably pick the optimum solution. It has been known to take weeks. He is otherwise in all respects a superior gamer, and I’ve spent many happy hours competing with and against him. *Even today, if any player in our group takes an unreasonably long time to decide what to do, he draws calls of “Hurry up, Eric.” So if you imagine pauses before any Eric response, with the word pause to indicate an unreasonably long pause, you’ll have the flow down pat.
Ed, on the other hand, is very quick witted, of the general school that if you do the wrong thing quickly it may work out better than the right thing slowly. His pauses were usually signs that players were asking something very important or unbelievably unimportant.
So… Eric was playing a neutral paladin (Why should only lawful good religions get to have holy warriors? was the rationale) in Ed’s game. He had a holy sword, which fought well and did all those things holy swords are supposed to do, including detect good or evil (by random die roll). He was exploring some lord’s lands when the following exchange occurr.
Ed: You see a well-groomed garden. In the middle, on a small hill, you see a gazebo.
Eric: A gazebo? What color is it?
Ed: (Pause) It’s white, Eric.
Eric: How far away is it?
Ed: About 50 yards.
Eric: How big is it?
Ed: (Pause) It’s about 30 feet across, 15 feet high, with a pointed top.
Eric: (rolls dice) I use my sword to detect whether it’s good.
Ed: It’s not good, Eric. It’s a gazebo!
Eric: (Unusually long pause, even for Eric) I call out to it.
Ed: It won’t answer. It’s a gazebo!
Eric: (Pause) I sheathe my sword and draw my bow and arrows. Does it respond in any way?
Ed: No, Eric. It’s a gazebo!
Eric: I shoot it with my bow (rolls to hit). What happened?
Ed: There is now a gazebo with an arrow sticking out of it.
Eric: (Pause) Wasn’t it wounded?
Ed: Of course not, Eric! It’s a gazebo!
Eric: (Whimper) But that was a plus-three arrow!
Ed: It’s a gazebo, Eric, a gazebo! If you really want to try to destroy it, you could try to chop it with an axe, I suppose, or you could try to burn it, but I don’t know why anybody would even try. It’s a @#%!$*& gazebo!
*(author’s note: Ed was in the army, and no, he did not say @#%!$*&. The letter count has not been changed for the linguistically curious. Clue: it was a gerund.)*
Eric: (Long pause – he has no axe or fire spells) I run away.
Ed: (Thoroughly frustrated) It’s too late. You’ve awakened the gazebo, and it catches you and eats you.
Eric: (Reaching for his dice) Maybe I’ll roll up a fire-using mage so I can avenge my paladin…
At this point, the increasingly amused fellow party members restored a modicum of order by explaining what a gazebo is. This is solely an afterthought, of course, but Eric is doubly lucky that the gazebo was not situated on a grassy knoll.
Question of the night: Have you ever found yourself mispronouncing a word or failing to understand its meaning while in a public setting?