Today we're casting a veteran gamer's eye on the fourth of TSR's mini-adventure comic book ads from the early 1980's. This particular ad marks the end of the party's exploration of the dungeon of Zenopus Castle. As we'll see when we examine the ad following this one, this is also the last of the dungeon crawl-themed ads.
So, join us as we take our 21st-century sensibilties on a stroll down memory lane once more, this time with "Ad 4," circa March, 1982:
Ad 4, Frame 1
Not much to look at here, as it's just a one-frame recap of the cliffhanger from the last issue, wherein the crafty, sadistic DM dropped danger-prone Indel straight into the lair of a red dragon. Indel's fellow party members - Grimslade, Valerius, and Saren - have been searching for the elf since he discovered a pit trap (the hard way) two issues ago. Honestly, though, I think they'd be much better off if the dragon made a snack of the troublesome elf, given how the party's forever pulling his fat from the fire.
Ad 4, Frame 2
Well, here it is: the frame all the neck-bearded basement dwellers out there have been waiting for. In search of their lost albatros- er, friend, the party stops while Saren examines a door - and Grimslade and Valerius stop to examine Saren's, um, "assets."
I wonder what "power" Saren, Cleric of St. Mixalot, is using to determine Indel's location. Is she using locate object to detect something familiar in the elf's possession? Not likely, since that spell only indicates direction, not proximity. Did she cast commune? That would mean she's at least 7th level. (Is the whole party 7th to 9th level? If so, what's with the green slime and goblins? And where are the magic items a party of that level should be loaded with? Methinks the DM is also stingy bugger.)
Then again, maybe she's just using her nose. After all, I'm sure Indel was not immune to the pants-soiling surprise of coming toe-to-toe with a red dragon - and elf urine must have a decidely distinctive aroma...
Ad 4, Frame 3
For the first time since entering Zenopus Castle, we see neutral-possibly-chaotic Valerius, the party's whining wallflower, spring into action. Having witnessed his utter disregard for the well-being of the missing elf on previous occasions, I find it difficult to believe that the fighter has suddenly developed an urgent sense of concern for his pointy-eared comrade. The more likely cause for his heroic action in this frame is that he got all hot and bothered slobbering over Saren's posterior, and his hormones got the better of him.
Whatever the reason for the fighter's action, the door is obviously stuck or locked (as the B/X rules tell us most dungeon doors are). Since the party is lacking a thief, their only recourse is to force the door. (Although I find it hard to believe Grimslade doesn't have knock in his spell inventory. Of course, if he is an NPC, maybe the DM's just being a dick.) So the fighter makes the roll to force the door...
Ad 4, Frame 4
...and the entire party - now reunited - is in danger of becoming PC flambé.
Oddly enough, Grimslade actually compliments Valerius in this frame. Obviously, one of two things has happened:
First, the DM is so happy that he has finally gotten the party where he wants them that he slips up and has his cranky old NPC utter a nicety to the fighter.
Second, the group had an "intervention" with the DM, and warned him about his overbearing, show-stealing magic-user. This is the option I'm leaning toward, simply because of what happens in the next two frames:
Ad 4, Frame 5
Again, Valerius shows an uncharacteristic level of heroism. "Now it's your turn, dragon!" What's with this? The dude busts down a door, and suddenly he thinks he's buff enough to take on a dragon? A red dragon no less?
Not likely. Not with the streak of self-absorption Valerius has exhibited prior to this encounter. No, I think the DM is giving the PC's an out. Notice how Valerius' magic sword's suddenly begun to glow? Obviously, the player-DM intervention worked, and Valerius' sword, previously a crappy sword +1, is now an intelligent sword with the special purpose of "Slay Dragon," and Valerius bombed the control check. (Probably due to eaither a DM fudge, or Valerius' abysmal Wisdom score.)
Ad 4, Frame 6
Yet more fodder for the player-DM intervention theory: At the mere sight of "the great sword Naril" the dragon backs down and lets the PC's walk. That crafty bastard of a DM goes through all that trouble to get the PC's in the area of effect of his red dragon's breath weapon - and then lets them go without a fight? Yeah, right. It looks to me like the players "broke" their unruly DM.
[Side note: I think this is the first time in these ads that we see an artist's name: Willingham. As in Bill Willingham, whose magnificent work graced many a D&D product in the early 80's.]
Ad 4, Frame 7
What the frak is this?! The party's just going to stroll back to the inn? What about the dragon's treasure hoard? Are they so happy to have survived the red dragon encounter that they just waltz away, leaving what is likely a massive pile of treasure without so much as a fight?
Now I think I owe the DM an apology. I think I see why the PC's are travelling light on magic items...
Be sure not to miss the next in this series of posts, wherein we'll look at Ad 5:
RIP Stephen Lee Lortz 1949-2017
2 hours ago