A Mouth’s Uses: Loomings

Fifteen years past my first assuming the mantle DUNGEON MASTER, demanding perfect silence from a sideboard of boys who would be about pretzels, sacrosanct with every die roll and proficiency check, implacably studied (“A basilisk’s gaze can petrify through to the Ethereal, Frank—save or become that strange thing, Ethereal Stone”), I still won’t campaign past AD&D’s Second Edition. What’s past Ravenloft? The fictive world, it seems, has done little in the intervening years but aspire to its purlieus, its several incarnations of Strahd Von Zarovich and Harkon Lukas. I’ve perused the equivalent of the current fourth or fifth “editions” of D&D—found there tables of traits to build a character, when once she was dreamt. “That’s it, that’s it, I’ve made my gnome fighter: Morose; World-Bearing; Arachnophobic; Spritely; Moustache.”


Those of us with a whit of imagination leave that role-playing style to the J. Francophiles and the editors at W. W. Norton.


Few things are more fun about the Second Edition than the array of stand-alone book ephemera, “Rules Supplements.” These include guides on planar travel, a volume of magic called Unearthed Arcana, and about a dozen 150-page handbooks discussing each character class in careful detail. Of the latter handbooks, I am most well-acquainted with those on the psionicist, druid, and ranger classes; a recent re-reading on the chapter “Ranger Kits,” or specialized rangers, occasions this essay.


In AD&D terms, a ranger is a specialized fighter, a woodsman and a tracker:


He boasts the courage and strength of a warrior and the stealth and self-reliance of a thief. He combines the druid’s affinity for the outdoors with the devotion and magical aptitude of a priest. By temperament or by choice, he’s a loner, often preferring the company of animals to people. Without question, he’s one with nature, sworn to protect the inhabitants of the wilderness and preserve the integrity of the land.


Most “kits” in the various handbooks extrapolate essential character traits in a given direction. The Stalker Ranger, for example, has heightened thief-like abilities, and tends towards covert operations; the Feralan is unusually tuned to the wild, resulting in a reaction bonus with normal animals, penalties should she encounter members of high society.


The Complete Ranger’s Handbook calls one kit, the Greenwood Ranger, “the rarest and certainly the most unusual ranger.” It continues: “The Greenwood Ranger begins life as a normal human, but through resolute appeals to the gods, he gradually acquires plant-like qualities that enhance his relationship with the vegetable kingdom and endow him with remarkable powers.” I conceived of but one Greenwood Ranger in my player days (perhaps you can figure the sort of tax the fifteen-year-old me put on other DMs, both doctrinaire and quick to leap at what I thought “imaginative insufficiency”), and he never rose from the glorious ceremony that transmutes a “latent Greenwood Ranger” (a ranger with intent-towards-plant, but who has not achieved the fourth level) to Greenwood Ranger. The Complete Ranger’s Handbook describes this ceremony as, first, the completion of a task in service of the Plant; then “locating an isolated area of forest or jungle, lying on the ground, and covering himself with leaves and branches.” I insisted my DM produce a worthy narrative of the next 24 hours of “deep coma,” and when he refused, I retired the character.


Methinks Forsyth Sell’Zenda is sleeping still.


You wonder what this has to do with mouths, perhaps.


Among the benefits of the Greenwood Ranger is his ability to photosynthesize nutrients; she has no need to drink or eat. “So long as he is exposed to sunlight at least an hour per day, he stays healthy,” says the Handbook. Thus thinking of Forsyth makes me ponder into what spaces epicurean voiding might catapult the mouth.


Joseph Spece.