A good friend of ours, Richard Aronson, wrote a little tale – based on a true gaming event – that turned into a monster. We think the “tale of the tale” is almost as interesting as the original story, so we’ve invited Richard to be our guest blogger this week.
I met Richard through Mensa in the late 70’s. We had both recently gotten into D&D, and I had started up a game for the Los Angeles Mensa group. Richard started his own campaign and introduced me to a couple of other groups. The Cal Tech players had developed their own D&D variant called “Warlock” with more detailed combat rules. And there was Ed Whitchurch, who ran a store called Le Maison du Guerre (that’s “The House of War” slightly misspelled). Ed ran a unique campaign that mixed fantasy gaming and tabletop wargaming, not to mention as odd an assortment of players as you’d find anywhere.
It was in Ed’s game that Richard picked up the story of “Eric and the Gazebo”. Richard added a few embellishments and wrote it up for a few newsletters. And then it spread. Lori and I were amazed to pick up “Knights of the Dinner Table™”, and find the characters retelling the story… without crediting the original source. Later, the characters in Nodwick had a gazebo adventure. And in the online RPG RuneScape, you can build a Gazebo. If you examine it, the game says, “Run away, it’s the Gazebo!”.
When we did a “humorous stories” panel at DunDraCon and asked how many in the audience had heard of Eric and the Gazebo, nearly everyone raised their hands. Just four hundred words, but they turned into a worldwide legend. Here’s Richard’s story of the building of the Gazebo.
The Tale of the Tale
by Richard Aronson
Back in 1985, I told Lee Gold and her RPG group a story. That story, of course, was “Eric and the Gazebo”. And Lee told me, “Now you have to write it up for ‘Alarums and Excursions.'” [A&E is the oldest and longest-running fantasy role-playing game publication, started in 1975. It recently published issued #400.] Since she had the power of life and death over my characters, I did so.
Then Corey and Lori Cole read it in A&E. They reminded me that I was supposedly contributing editor to “The Spell Book”, the magazine of Mensa’s RPG SIG, and they’d cut my salary by half if I didn’t write it up for my column. So I wrote it for them, with some minor tweaks.
From “The Spell Book” it was reprinted in Corpus Christi Texas’s newsletter (which I was told about when I received a copy of that issue) and then it was reprinted in a Mensa newsletter in North Carolina that never told me or asked my permission. And then “The Mensa Bulletin” sent me a letter; they’d read it in North Carolina and wanted to reprint it nationally. Oh, and if I could make it maybe 50-100 words longer, then it would completely fill a page.
“The Mensa Bulletin” ran it in 1989. And John Chu, a Mensan teaching at the University of Buffalo, asked me if he could reprint it on the Internet. In 1989, the Internet was not exactly public. It was used by academia and defense contractors. I was making a very nice living coding proprietary encrypted email for a Fortune 100 because there was no alternative. Ah, simple times. So I told John Chu, “Sure, as long as you spell my name correctly.”
Roughly five years later, I was a professional game designer working for The Sierra Network. I was on a humor panel at DunDraCon in San Ramon. I told “Eric and the Gazebo”. After the panel, an irate and less than fully hygienic (but scrawny and therefore not scary; I am many things but scrawny is not one of them) accused me in a loud voice of having stolen the story from his friend.
Plagiarism is a relatively minor concern to a professional programmer. It’s very serious for a professional game designer. So I had to start regaining control of my copyright. When I got back home, I did a Yahoo Search (I don’t think Google even existed yet) for “Eric and the Gazebo”. As I recall, there were over 3,000 hits. John Chu’s was there, and it attributed me properly. Most of them didn’t.
In order to protect my copyright, I had to contact these people and tell them to give me credit or remove my story. Most of them had no problems with giving me credit. A few asked for some proof of copyright. That cost me some stamps, unless they were willing to believe John Chu’s attribution as being the earliest version on the internet. A Google search today shows 13,000 hits for “Eric and the Dread Gazebo”. Included in the top 10 was an Australian web site which did not have attribution.
Okay, so my characters in Lee Gold’s game avoided some rotting diseases.
Some people got some laughs, and I’ve met some folks that were, for the most part, worth meeting. So I’d do it all over again. But next time I’m arming myself with a torch of gazebo slaying first. Plus FOUR.
The Original Story…
Here’s the version we printed in the Fall, 1987 issue (#13) of “The Spell Book”:
Richard Rambles On
by Richard Aronson
Humor is hard to define. Vocal humor is always easier than written humor, and acted plus vocal humor easier still. Think of how many movies/plays/TV shows you have laughed out loud at, then think of the surely smaller number of cartoons/comic books you have laughed at, and the yet smaller number of books (without pictures) you have laughed at. So I have been handed a tough assignment — make people laugh with only the printed page for my instrument.
Actually, if I could draw, I’m sure I’d be allowed to use a graphic device, and perhaps one will be inserted by ye Editors, but ever since they moved out of L.A. I’ve had much less input into the actual production values of The Spell Book, so I really cannot do more than suggest, whereas in times past I was able to say: Hey, look, right here should be a picture or an ink blob or something to liven up this otherwise drab piece you wro…. But I digress. While I can recount many tales that would (and have) make (made) people laugh out loud, I can think of only one that might, might mind you, work in this altogether restrictive setting: Eric and the Gazebo.
Let us cast our minds back to the early days of Fantasy Role Playing, back when ye Dread Gygax was loose upon the land. Funny how humor and horror can start out so alike. Let us go still earlier (yes, it is permitted to breathe sighs of relief) to the days before Gygax (and the courts) thought that he owned FRP. In the early seventies, 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 know both Ed and Eric, and neither denies it (although Eric, for reasons that will become apparent, never repeats it either). If my telling of it does not match the actual events precisely, it is because I’ve heard it many different ways depending on how much of what type of intoxicants Ed had taken recently.
The gist of it is that Eric, well, you need a bit more about Eric, or else I won’t fill quota. 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, as long as he is given enough time.
So, Eric was playing a Neutral Paladin (why should only Lawful Good religions get to have holy warriors was the thinking) in Ed’s game. He even had a holy sword, which fought well, and did all those things holy swords are supposed to do, including detect good (random die roll; it could have detected evil). He was on some lord’s lands when the following exchange occurred:
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 fifty yards.
ERIC: How big is it?
ED: (Pause) It’s about thirty feet across, fifteen feet high, with a pointed top.
ERIC: I use my sword to detect good on it.
ED: It’s not good, Eric. It’s a gazebo!
ERIC: (Pause) 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 (roll 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!
ERIC: (Long pause. He has no axe or fire spells.) I run away.
ED: (Thoroughly frustrated) It’s too late. You’ve woken up 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. It is solely an afterthought, of course, but Eric is doubly lucky that the gazebo was not situated on a grassy gnoll.
That is the story of Eric and the Gazebo. It’s funnier when I tell it in person. Isn’t it always, though. Be seeing you…