by Mark Finn
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Chapter Five: Rutlege's Story

Okay, this happened back in the early eighties, probably eighty-one or eighty-two. I was working in the art department, doing illustrations for LegendMasters. At the time, Gamesmen, Limited, was producing a bunch of other role-playing games, but LegendMasters was ruling the roost. Anyway.

Here's how the job worked: whoever finished an assignment would turn it into the art director's desk, and grab the next thing to do in the hopper. Sometimes, it was a circled description from a module, but if you were lucky, you'd get a cover illo to draw, or sometimes, a full module to go through. Ken Pfefferly was the art director at the time, and he was pretty hands off. He'd let you go through a manuscript and mark the passages that would make a good illustration, and so on. It was a cool thing to do, and one of the more cherry duties of the bullpen. That's how I got my hands on "The Phalanx of Ebon Keep."

The module was written by the friend of the then-current wife of Rory Gardner. You remember Gardner; he was pretty closely associated with LegendMasters at the time. He was one of the primary game designers before Gamesmen, Ltd. went all commercial and slick, which meant back then that they weren't printing on newsprint anymore. By the time I was working there, he had de-evolved into this money-grubbing, corporate-minded, drug-abusing asshole. Hey, don't look at me like that, I knew the man. Put away your fanboy notions that the company was one big happy family, because it wasn't.

Like I said, the module I was reading was called "The Phalanx of Ebon Keep", and it was written by Mary something or other, who was this big (as in, in the ass and hips) fan of medieval recreation groups, Star Trek, you name it. She even wrote fan fiction. Well, she was friends with Gardner's wife, and she kept bugging Gardner to let her write a module, please let me write a module, just one module, etc. Until finally, he said, "Okay, go write me a goddamn fucking module," more to get her off his back than anything else.

Well, as soon as she turned it in, she and Gardner's wife started in with, "when's it going to be published, when will it come out?" like parrots. This didn't help Gardner at all; he thought he could just bury the manuscript in the system and she would forget about it. Not so. If he ever wanted a moment's peace, he was going to have to publish the damn thing. So, he brought her manuscript down to production, marked it ready to go, and dropped it into the art department's lap. Now, it was in my hands.

So, I read it.

I put it down, picked it up, and read it again. Then I walked it up to Ken's desk, and said, "Pfeff, we can't do this module."

He said, "What's wrong with it?"

I said, "You need to read it."

He said, "Why?"

I said, "Just trust me. You need to read it."

So, he called me a name and snatched the manuscript from me, and he read it. Then he looked up at me and said, "Rob, we can't do this module."

"I know!" I said. "That's what I've been trying to tell you!"

What Mary had done was load the adventure up with tons of sado-masochistic imagery, erotic descriptions of things -- she'd turned the game into a porno adventure, is what she'd done. In order to keep the forces of darkness down, she decided, one of the characters would have to have sex with the lich that was controlling the undead army. There were statues and tapestries that depicted people having sex with animals, oh, and get this: the character who hired the group, a princess, is coincidentally named after her historical recreation persona. Anyway, when the player characters complete their mission, she would become so grateful that she would consent to have sex with the entire party. All of this in a module that high school kids would be playing across the country.

It was unusable. I mean, it was funny, because we all knew Mary was this big hanger-on, with delusions of becoming a fantasy author, so we passed the thing around the studio a few times and got a big hoot out of it. But eventually Ken grabbed it from us and called Gardner (who usually worked out of his house, thank you very much. Why come down to the office when you can embezzle from the company from the comforts of your own home?), and he said to Gardner, "Rory, we can't do this thing that Mary wrote."

Gardner said, "I'm not interested in your editorial opinion of the thing. I'm the creative director, and I'm telling you to shut up and illustrate the goddamn thing."

"But Rory," Ken said, "you don't understand. We really can't publish this. There's some really questionable stuff in here."

"No, Pfefferly, you don't understand. My wife and her fat cow of a friend won't shut the hell up about it, and I can't get a moment's rest in my own home, and it's gotten so bad, that I'm almost ready to come to the office to get away from it. So, yes, we are going to publish this, questionable stuff and all, because those two bitches are driving me crazy."

Ken tried one more time. "Rory, listen, if we publish this, we're going to be in big trouble. Read it for yourself if you don't believe me."

Gardner said, "Look, Ken, if you don't want to do the job, I'll fire you and hire one of those flunkies in the art department, and maybe they'll want to do the job. Now illustrate the fucking module!" And he hung up.

We had all been listening, of course. So, Pfeff hung up, and said, "Okay, flunkies, he wants to do this module, let's do this module."

Even then, we kind of chickened out. I mean, if we had drawn some of the stuff she had described in the module...well, it would have been a nightmare. So, we took some shortcuts and some cheats. For example, we would draw the erotic tapestry, but put a character in front so you couldn't see the action. One of the scenes involved an illusionary torture chamber (as in, guys in leather diapers and whips, the whole nine yards), and so we drew that scene after the illusion had been dispelled. That kind of thing. We laid the whole thing out, typeset it, and sent it off to the production manger.

Gamesmen, Ltd. printed their standard run, which was 50,000 copies, boxed in bundles of fifty or so, and they sent them back to our warehouse to be shipped out all over the country. As was the custom, we got a box from the warehouse, and everyone in production got a copy of "The Phallus of Ebon Keep," as we had come to call it.

We sat there, leafing through the module, and just waited for the phone call from Gardner. We knew it was coming. Pfeff just sat there and stared at the phone. When the phone actually rang, we all got quiet so we could hear the conversation. Pfeff picked up the phone and as he was bringing it to his ear, we could hear Gardner screaming, "I oughtta fire every goddamn fucking last one of you!"

Gardner fired us all and hired us all back. Pfeff got fired twice, and hired back twice. Eventually, someone was let go for real, but I think it was in accounting or something. That was our official warning not to do anything like that again, as if the module was our idea or something. We all thought it was funny, because the person who should have gotten fired was the one doing all of the firing. The whole company was pissed, especially the bean counters.

See, they were stuck with 50,000 copies of a module that they couldn't sell. There was nothing to do; we had to create a new module. We took what artwork we could use, and everyone in the art department rewrote the module, round-robin, in, like, three days. It was absolutely terrible, because we weren't even paying attention to the story. We just had to remove all of the naughty content. So, we finished the damn thing and sent it off to be printed.

Meanwhile, there's 50,000 modules in the warehouse that had to go away. For some reason, and I don't remember how or why, they couldn't recycle the paper. Burning was out of the question. Remember, this is the early eighties, when role-playing games were evil and vile, and if it got out to the press that the number one RPG manufacturer was burning its own books, it would kill the company. So, the powers-that-be decided the easiest thing was to bury the modules. Literally.

They rented a backhoe, and we all watched as the guy drove out behind the warehouse to this vacant lot, dug this enormous pit, and the warehouse guys drove their forklifts out and filled the pit with these shrink-wrapped pallets of modules. Then the backhoe guy covered everything up.

The new, expurgated Phalanx of Ebon Keep showed up, and it was sent out, and like everything we did back then, it sold like hotcakes. And that was pretty much the end of that.

Except that, the last GenCon I attended, about ten years ago, Ken Pfefferly was there, and we were chatting about the good old days. He told me to come to the charity auction, because he had a surprise for me.

Turns out, he'd donated his original copy of the Phallus of Ebon Keep to the auction, and he got up and briefly explained the significance of the module before the bidding. That damn thing went for over a hundred and fifty dollars. I was shocked.

As soon as I got home, I went through my stuff, looking for it, but as it turns out, I had thrown all of my Gamesmen, Ltd. stuff away years ago. Just my dumb luck, I guess.

And that's my story.

Next Chapter

Chapter One: The Navel Adventures of Larry Croft
Chapter Two: 1123 Miles to Tempe
Chapter Three: Enter the String
Chapter Four: The Waiting is the Hardest Part
Chapter Five: Rutlege's Story
Chapter Six: The Plot Thickens
Chapter Seven: The Fifth Man is Revealed
Chapter Eight: It's a DRY Heat
Chapter Nine: Preparing to Lam
Chapter Ten: The Mislaid Plans of Mouse and Man
Chapter Eleven: The Danger of Talking to God
Chapter Twelve: Anchors Aweigh, Let's Go Men
Chapter Thirteen: The End is Near
Chapter Fourteen: Roll to Hit
Chapter Fifteen: Six Feet of Beef Stick for the Soul
Chapter Sixteen: Hello, My Name is Indio, California
Chapter Seventeen: Threadgill Takes Charge
Chapter Eighteen: The Players on the Other Side
Chapter Nineteen: On the Road to Perdition
Chapter Twenty: Welcome to Tempe
Chapter Twenty-One: The Game is Afoot
Chapter Twenty-Two: Should Have Known Better
Chapter Twenty-Three: Test-Run at the Waffle House
Chapter Twenty-Four: The Supply Run
Chapter Twenty-Five: The Backhoe
Chapter Twenty-Six: A Frank Discussion
Chapter Twenty-Seven: A Brief History of Larry's Van
Chapter Twenty-Eight: Go Speed Racer, Go
Chapter Twenty-Nine: The Owner of the Thumbscrews
Chapter Thirty: Brain Teasers
Chapter Thirty-One: Frick and Frack Check In
Chapter Thirty-Two: Scouting
Chapter Thirty-Three: The Stakeout
Chapter Thirty-Four: The Food Fight
Chapter Thirty-Five: Time to Dig
Chapter Thirty-Six: Deep in the Night
Chapter Thirty-Seven: Paydirt
Chapter Thirty-Eight: The Phallus of Ebon Keep
Chapter Thirty-Nine: Otto and Stacy Make Good
Chapter Forty: Thieves in the Night
Chapter Forty-One: Critical Failure
Chapter Forty-Two: Downtown
Chapter Forty-Three: The Hoosegow
Chapter Forty-Four: An Emergency Breakfast
Chapter Forty-Five: Two Early Phone Calls
Chapter Forty-Six: Threadgill Meets the Gang
Chapter Forty-Seven: Back to the Van
Chapter Forty-Eight: Five Days Later
Table of Contents

About the Author

Mark Finn is the author of Blood & Thunder: the Life and Art of Robert E. Howard, which was nominated for a World Fantasy Award. He also writes excellent short stories, essays, articles, and reviews. In addition to his regular gig at the Vernon Plaza Theater, he can be found intermittently on The Clockwork Storybook blog and RevolutionSF, holding court or damning with faint praise.