Have a question about something fantasy-related? Ask the Oracle! (Be sure to include your first name and the city, state, and/or country you’re writing from.)
Q: Does a Deck of Many Things always include the same set of things? — Mark, Key West, FL
A: A Deck of Many Things is, of course, a powerful magic item from Dungeon & Dragons — possibly a source of great benefit, but also great tragedy. For example, one card grants you a wish, and another gives you a castle. But another card causes an emnity between you and a powerful being, and still another takes your soul. You must declare in advance how many cards you’re going to draw, and then you must draw that number of cards (unless you draw the jester, in which case you can draw two more cards). If you do not, the cards will draw themselves.
In short, the Deck of Many Things is the ultimate game of Russian roulette! Better still, it requires as an intriguing prop: an actual deck of tarot or playing cards, with each face card corresponding to a card in the “deck”.
Needless to say, the Deck of Many Things has long been one of the most sought-after magic items (and one of the Oracle’s favorites!).
The Oracle can reveal that a Deck of Many Things generally has 22 cards and yes, they are usually the same cards — although there have been versions with fewer cards (a 13-card deck appeared in Greyhawk, D & D’s first game suppliment, in 1975), and more cards (a 78-card deck appeared in an issue of Dragon Magazine, September 1983 #73).
But things never stay the same in D&D. Wizards of the Coast is, even now, adding cards to these mysterious decks. They even have a web feature where you can design your deck so that it applies specifically to your class.
Q: Last week, you rated dragons, saying that Dragonslayer’s “Vermithrax Pejorative” was the greatest movie dragon of all time. You also said they did it all before CGI. But how? How did they make it look so good? — Tom, Palm Springs, CA
In addition to the models, live-action puppets were used in some of the scenes; there were 15 different models and puppets in all.
And the piece de resistance was a full-sized, 40-foot hydraulically-powered dragon, with a movable, 10-foot high latex face.
But it wasn’t just the effects themselves that were so impressive. Much attention was paid to the way the dragon was designed. The creature was 40 feet long, but unlike many movie dragons, some thought was given as to how such a creature could actually fly. The wings were appropriately large — it had a wingspan of 90 feet — and the body was appropriately stream-lined, with semi-proper weight-distribution.
Plus, the thing just looked so damn cool — exactly like a real dragon should.
Q: What exactly is oobleck? — Molly, London, UK
A: In Dr. Seuss’ 1949 children’s book Bartholomew and the Oobleck (a sequel of sorts to The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins), the king grows bored with sun, rain, snow, and fog and asks his court wizards to conjure up something else. But in a classic case of not being careful what you wish for, that “something” turns out to be gobs of green sticky goo that fall from the sky, gumming up the kingdom — and blocking off the magicians’ caves, making reversal impossible.
Since oobleck is fictional, even the Oracle can’t say exactly what it is. But there are those who say it can be created with a mixure of water and cornstarch (in a ratio of between 2:1 and 3:2) and green food coloring. The result is a vicious, sticky goop that is neither liquid nor solid. It can be molded and will hold a shape – but only for a very short time.
Q: The Sci Fi Channel’s Legend of Earthsea. Worst. Fantasy. Adaptation. Ever? — Michael, Seattle, WA
A: The Oracle says, Oh, God yes! The less said about the disasterous 2004 adaptation of Ursula le Guin’s wonderful series of Earthsea novels, the better.
But interestingly, there was another adaptation two years later, Tales From Earthsea, an animated one from Japan’s Studio Ghibli (the same studio that produced Spirited Away). About the first adaptation, Le Guin was initially silent, but when the producers seemed to imply that she approved of their TV version, she wrote on her website, “I can only admire Mr [Executive Producer Robert] Halmi’s imagination, but I wish he’d left mine alone.” In articles for Slate and Locus, she wrote that she was particularly upset with their turning her dark-skinned characters white.
About the latter Japanese film, she said, “It is not my book. It is your movie. It is a good movie.”
Trailer for Gedo Senki (or Tales From Earthsea)