Bizarro Back Issues: The Quest To Cure A Noble Paladin Of Tiny Hands Disease (1988)
I don’t know about you, but when I play Dungeons & Dragons, I’m looking for a very specific kind of quest. Storytelling and character development are nice, but really, at the end of the day, I want an epic that’s full of magic swords, dragons, and a threat so huge that it puts an entire kingdom — maybe even an entire world — in the kind of dire peril that can only be thwarted by stout-hearted heroes who aren’t above lying about their dice rolls when they need to. In other words, I need something that’s a little more intense than helping some dude recover from being cursed with tiny little baby hands.
But apparently, that is exactly what the gaming community wanted back in 1988, when Advanced Dungeons & Dragons devoted the entirety of its opening arc to one character’s harrowing recovery from having his hands shrunk, a tragedy that drove him to drink, caused him to lose faith in his gods, and gave us lots of truly hilarious panels where he holds normal-sized objects that suddenly look huge.
The Quest for Normal-Sized Hands mostly plays out in AD&D #2, co-plotted by writer Michael Fleisher and Jan Duursema, originally published by DC and currently available — should you require more stories about shrunken appendages — from IDW. But before we get into the actual adventure, we need to talk about our party.
So here’s who we have on our heroic quest:
- Vajra Valmeyjar, a fighter who escaped from her life as a gladiator in search of a higher calling, assuming that stabbing creatures with a Monster Manual listing of “usually evil” counts as a higher calling.
- Timoth Eyesbright, a noble warrior who wields a double-bladed sword. Would probably be the breakout star of the book if he was not a) a centaur and b) in the running for Worst Name In The History Of Comics.
- Onyx the Invincible, who is basically our team’s Wolverine, by virtue of being very short and pretty much obsessed with knives and darts. Refers to Vajra by shouting, “Blast you, sword-wench!” within twenty seconds of meeting her, meaning that he’s definitely being played by That Guy Who Was In Your First D&D Campaign. We all had one.
- Cybriana, a mage and living plot device with the unfortunate tendency to turn to crystal every time she casts a spell. Right now, it’s only her right hand that has become a crystal, but every time she so much as fires a Magic Missile off to attack the darkness, it’s getting worse.
- Agrivar, who, to borrow a phrase from Benito Cereno and Kyle Starks, just sucks real bad.
See, the major villain of the series is an interdimensional baddie called Imgig Zu, who kicks off the series by zapping Agrivar with a Staff of Withering, leaving him with a pair of useless, trumpish hands, and then killing his father for good measure. Since then, Agrivar’s been wandering around for six years, wearing the same clothes (gross) and using his li’l hands mostly for drinking. When Cybriana shows up as a living McGuffin to get the team together to go fight Imgig, he reluctantly signs on.
The first order of business is to get those hands fixed, so to that end, they set off across the desert to go find a blacksmith named Jogaoh so that he can magic something up that’ll get Agrivar back into sword-swinging condition.
To its credit, this is a comic that does not take long to get to the action, and within a few pages of the second issue, the team is fighting a giant tentacle monster called a Dustdigger, in a scene that almost has to be an homage to the Justice League of America’s fight with Starro in their first appearance from Brave and the Bold #28:
I’ll admit that I might be reading too much into it and that there are only so many ways that a team of five people can fight a tentacle monster, but still, I think the imagery is a little too similar to dismiss — and that the DC Universe would definitely be a whole lot different if we’d replaced Hal Jordan with a dwarf with a battleaxe back in the ’60s.
Anyway, it turns out that the Dustdigger is Jogaoh’s watchdog. Once it’s called off, the characters convince him to help, and he tells them that he will. There is, in fact, a very easy way to get everything fixed. They just have to go to the mysterious giant spire of rock conveniently located a day’s ride away from Jogaoh’s place and then carry him to the top.
But there are, of course, complications.
After a roll on the random encounter table provokes a fight with a level-appropriate number of zombies — complete with Agrivar tearfully soliloquizing about how his arms are too weak to lift his sword — the gang finally climbs up to the top of the mountain. Once they’re up there, Jogaoh reveals that he’s not actually a dwarf; he is, in fact, a fire elemental who was trapped in physical form by Imgig Zu and then whacked with the Staff of Withering, meaning that his own hands are also super tiny. It’s an epidemic of minihands!
He’s been getting by with a pair of gauntlets that augment his strength, but now that they’re up here, he won’t be needing them any longer. Thus, we finally have the solution to having super-tiny baby hands:
Just cover them up. Cover your tiny-handed shame, Agrivar.
Of course, there’s another, more permanent way to fix Agrivar’s li’l hands: A talisman that can counteract curses and restore anyone to their true form. Unfortunately, our party doesn’t know about that, and Jogaoh does, so while Agrivar is distracted by admiring his new gauntlets, Jogaoh grabs the talisman, turns back into a fire elemental, and then peaces out to another plane. It seems that the talisman can only be used “once an eon,” and when you have a quest to get going on, you can’t really wait around.
But either way, I think we all learned a valuable lesson about persevering through setbacks, and learning to use your tiny hands to make a difference in society. And by that, I mean that we learned it. Agrivar, on the other hand, still sucks real, real bad.