Some unexpected violence and conflict broke out at the Toronto D20 Conference between stalwart adventurers and a dungeon master (DM) whose actions have been described by attendees as “power-mad” and “utterly unrealistic”.
The D20 Conference is an annual event held between the world’s highest-leveled Dungeons & Dragons characters, and a magnet of media interest in the often-clandestine world of fantasy power playing. The characters and their roleplayers convene in an agreed-upon location that must be properly supplied by the host. Ringolos, Orange Crush and progressive rock (or, alternately, fantasy film soundtracks complete with incidental cues) must be provided, and the venue must be secured from possible intrusions such as doting mothers and sunlight. However, problems with the Toronto venue plagued this years conference to the point of calamity.
The leadup to the Toronto D20 Conference was full of bad portents. Host and dungeon master (DM) Stephen Harper’s older brother Blake was hosting a beer pong tournament in the garage on the same weekend, forcing the D20 to be held in the dining room where, according to inside sources, the illusion of fantasy was shattered by occasional family meals and repeated humpings by the family dog Terry.
“We complained to Stephen, but he didn’t listen,” said Barry “Elrendel” Moresly, representative of the Sword Coast. “He refused to break character even when the pizza guy got there. If we had a problem, he’d just say something like ‘in what manner of devilrous tongue speakest thou?’. You can’t quest with a guy like that, and you darn sure don’t want him DMing.”
The problems didn’t stop at the setting. DM Harper’s totalitarian tactics and self-centredness created rifts between the D20 organizer and those who adventured therein. One of the first roadbumps would become emblematic of DMing and hosting problems throughout the conference: the artificial lake fiasco, or Aquagate.
“I’d walked into a tavern and ordered a steak,” recounted Dmitri “Thal-Ghash” Brisov. “Thal-Gash is a half-orc, but he’s got the appetite of a troll, obviously. So I order a giant steak, and Steve must’ve misheard, because he rolls a die and says ‘very well – you are now at the bottom of a lake.’ I say I ordered a steak, not a lake, but he doesn’t care.”
The uproar was immediate. Barry, in particular, was livid. “How, by the Four Winds, could the lake have gotten there? The tavern was on a hill, Thal-Ghash isn’t a spell caster, and if the tavern wench could cast spells like that, why in Thoth’s name would she be working in a tavern on the farthest edges of Halruaa?”
Complaints to the DM were met with silence, denials, and in-game reprisals. Recounts Dmitri, “I complained about my order – in character, to the wench, mind you – and Stephen friggin’ drops a bunch of giant squids in the water for no reason! They ate up Thal-Ghash! I had to get Twiglam to cast a Recall spell on my paladin, but he’s only level 8. I mean, it’s a world-class dungeon I’ve got to crawl!”
Complaints of the artificial, illusion-shattering effect of the lake’s creation would dog Harper for the next two days. Adventurers argued that the time expended on describing the lake would have been better spent describing the environment of the underground passage they were supposed to explore, as previous D20s had seen their respective DMs fail to mention the dangerous thickness of their dungeons’ cobwebs in time for the adventurers to avoid them.
DM Harper, perhaps flustered by repressed embarrassment, and irritated at all the complaints (however valid), steamrolled over these and other protests at his lack of dungeon mastery. A list, compiled by disgruntled conference critics, details his failings in full, and includes such cardinal D&D sins as die rolls falling off tables, treasure troves being paltry for the effort required to unlock them, making dungeon layouts spell “Stephen Rules” from above, and refusing to play any album other than King Crimson’s Lark’s Tongue in Aspic for the duration of the conference. “It’s a decent album, even without Greg Lake,” commented Theodore “High Shaman Triffletrop” Smith, “but it’s just really grating – even during the first listen-through.”
As the game progressed, adventurers who protested these ridiculous conditions grew increasingly frustrated with DM Harper’s inability to adequately address their complaints. The descent into the underground passage grew slower and slower, dogged by more and more problems and irritations, until finally Harper arbitrarily transported all the most visible complainers to small cages in the Netherrealms. Inventory-less, cramped, unable to rest, and denied access to even Light Cure Wounds tonics, these prisoners were informed that they were to be held without use of spells until the DM decided to release them.
Adventurers thus subjected eventually rebelled, denying the DM’s authority and magically magically transporting themselves out of these cages, despite the vexed insistence of DM Harper that they could not do that. While many of the attendees simply left the conference after being freed from detention, some mutineers then further flouted roleplaying conventions and teleported their characters into a place they described as “the DM’s mom’s vagina,” laying waste to its elegantly described environs.
A furious DM Harper unleashed an impossibly large horde of orcs in response. The adventurers laughed at the DM spawning orcs in “his mom’s vagina”, but their laughter ended when he declared that the orcs had killed all their hard-leveled characters. “The keen-eared and Listening Elrendel should have heard them a mile off, had they existed before stupid Stephen just made them up ’cause he’s a crybaby,” reported Barry.
The conference then devolved into shouting and namecalling, until Stephen’s brother Blake and his hockey buddies happened upon it and mocked it until it was abruptly brought to a formal close by a teary-eyed and thoroughly humiliated DM.
“The thing was, beforehand, Stephen was bragging about how much he’d spent on the whole thing,” recounts Yoshi “Yoshi” Takamoto, Stygian representative. “He was saying he’d gotten the chairs reupholstered, he’d gotten name brand snack mix, Stewart’s fizzy pop, and all this stuff. If you believed him, he must’ve spent ten times what Joey spent last time. But I didn’t see any of it there. The way he’d been carrying on, you’d think it should’ve been the best D20 ever. I think he just wanted to host for hosting’s sake.”
DM Harper could not be reached for comment, as he was grounded for throwing the remote at the TV in the aftermath of the conference.