A blog about games, gamers, and various and sundry geek culture-related ephemera and paraphernalia.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Seventies Flashback Saturday

I heard a radio interview with one of the members of Blue Oyster Cult yesterday (I guess they're doing a show nearby today) and it left me with a fever, the only cure for which is: more cowbell!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

A Comic Ad Is Worth 1,000 Words (or Thereabouts) - Part 4

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:

. . . . .

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

A Comic Ad Is Worth 1,000 Words (or Thereabouts) - Part 3

Please excuse the dearth of posts of late. As I mentioned last week, several personal issues arose that kept me from my intentions to continue taking a deeper look at TSR's Dungeons & Dragons mini-adventure ad campaign (as seen in comic books in the early 80's). I'm back, at least for now - it may be a while before I'm able to resume my daily posting schedule, however.

Picking up where we left off, here's the blow-by-blow, gamer's-eye view of the third D&D ad ("Ad 3") circa February, 1982:

Ad 3, Frame 1
Following the second unfortunate event to befall Indel, the party's elf (at the end of the last ish), we find Grimslade, Valerius, and Saren scouring the dungeon for their lost comrade. Well, at least Grimslade and Saren are. Valerius is not calling out for the missing elf, presumably because he's a neutral (if not chaotic) character - as such, he has little desire to risk his own life for the troublesome Indel. (He may even already be formulating his own solution to the Indel Threat* - I know he would be if I were playing the fighter.)

*I view Indel as a threat not just to himself, but to the entire party. There was some discussion in the comments here regarding Indel being an NPC, a tool used by the DM to lure the party into dangerous situations and/or force them to expend resources. I don't personally subscribe to this theory, for reasons I'll discuss below.

Ad 3, Frame 2
Once again, the party is jumped by a wandering monster - or monsters, in this case - as a group of goblins descend upon them, bent on stealing their loot. Although, I'd honestly expect the "Take their treasure!" line to be coming from Valerius' mouth. Apparently nobody's informed the goblins that their sole purpose for existing is to be slain and have their bodies looted by adventurers.

Ad 3, Frame 3
And once again, Grimslade takes charge of the situation. We've been seeing the character's bossiness grow since the first panel of Ad 2. Prior to that, he seemed to need a bit of direction. Either Grimslade's player has a lack of faith in the combat abilities of his comrades, he's got control issues, or he's one of those players (we all know at least one) who needs to hog the spotlight. Whatever the reason, if I were playing one of the other characters - especially Valerius, who has so far been ordered about and left out of combat - I'd being getting a little tired of that commanding old bast- er, coot.

This behavior seemed to start after Grimslade's hair fell out and his beard went white. What happened to him? Is the player just being pissy because the DM made him roll on a critical spell failure chart that caused the PC to age unnaturally? Was the character picked up by another player? Was he perhaps possessed? Hmmm...

If anyone in the party's an NPC, I'm leaning toward it being Grimslade. I'm thinking Grimslade's original player bailed on the game group, and the PC was taken over by the DM. He's already shown that he knows the 5th-level spell hold monster, which makes him - at the minimum - 9th level. What's he doing hanging around with these other mooks? They don't seem well-equipped or confident enough to be anywhere near that level. Grimslade smacks of an NPC, the type a bad DM uses to railroad the players, or to make himself look cool. (I've played with several DM's who liked to insert NPC's into the party for just this reason - the players were just along for the ride. The games usually went the way these mini-adventures have gone thus far.)

Ad 3, Frame 4
And here's the aftermath of the encounter with the goblins. Grimslade used a "simple" sleep spell to handle them, but before they can be sent to their makers, Valerius pulls him away - which I find simply bizarre. (I'm sure we've all played enough to know that a crew like this - despite protests from Saren - isn't going to leave a bunch of sleeping goblins alive and un-looted.) Obviously, Valerius is up to something. Or maybe he is chaotic, after all, and has some motive for sparing the monsters. Or maybe he's just trying to impress the cleric, whose - um, "endowments" seem to have increased since the last ad. (Is she smuggling a pair of crystal balls in her tunic?)

Ad 3, Frames 5 through 7
Cut to Indel, as he tumbles from whatever chute or spell the pit trap in the previous ad dumped him into. From the looks of it, the fall wasn't too far:

"Oh, my head!" is - of course - role-playing shorthand for:

"I only took 4 points of damage from the fall? That's nothing!"

The DM's obviously playing with him. I can just see the devious look of glee on the cruel DM's face as he makes Indel's player feel even better by leading him to believe that the elf may have found an exit...

...only to turn the corner to come face-to-face with a dragon! Not just any dragon, either - it's a red dragon, one of the nastiest of nasties in B/X D&D. And it's not even sleeping...

It's this little scene that leads me to believe that Indel is, indeed, a PC. This looks to me like a sadistic DM getting his kicks by torturing a player character. I could, of course, be wrong. But, being a bit of a sadistic DM myself, this seems like something I might pull. /wink

This brings us to another cliffhanger, and - once again - Indel's in a very bad way. (Given the choice of being dissolved by green slime or roasted by a red dragon, I'm not sure which I'd choose.)

Next time, we'll take a good, hard look (no, that's not a sly reference to frame 2!) at "Ad 4":

. . . . .

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Seventies Flashback Saturday

Hopefully, normal posting will resume Monday. In the meantime:

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

It's Deja Vu All Over Again

[Continuing with the "flashback episodes," here's another bit of nostalgia from the scanning project, originally posted in January.]

Here's a bit of (personal) history...

I discovered this scan while poking through some old files: an illustration by my friend Terry (sorry, I guess that's "Theron" now) of our PC's and an NPC from a solo Moldvay/Cook B/X mini-campaign we played about 15 years ago.

The guy on the left is Terry's (sorry, I guess that's "Theron" now) PC, Subotai. The hairy hulk in the middle is an NPC, Olaf the Smith. (I don't recall Olaf being so hirsute...) And the guy on the right is my elf, Talisul.

I wish I was half this talented at figure drawing... /sigh
. . . . .

Monday, August 10, 2009

Oh, Look: A Flashback Episode!

Due to a confluence of events (my fiancee losing someone very dear to her, myself being ill, and my good friend, Terry, and his wife - whom I've not seen in four years - visiting for a week) my intended posting schedule for this week has had a serious dent put in it.

So, I'm going to take a cue from 70's and 80's sitcoms: I'm going to do a "flashback episode." Well, at least the blog equivalent. I'm going to repost one of my older posts from the archives that newer visitors to A Rust Monster... may have missed.

I apologize for the interruption in normal posting, and hope I'll be able to resume it come next Monday.

Here's the first of this week's flashbacks - my personal take on the player's and DM's map for TSR's Keep on the Borderlands:

This isn't part of our current Module B2: The Keep on the Borderlands campaign, but I thought I'd share it anyway.

A couple of years ago, I had every intention of running this module for my fiancee and my boys. I never got around to it (Whoa! There's a big suprise!) but I made this map as a player handout. I wanted something that was a little more vague and full of character, and a little less late-1970's-production-quality than the maps in the module. This is what I came up with.

So, for your gaming pleasure, here's my B2: Keep on the Borderlands players' map:

I also created a DM's version of the map, complete with encounter areas and a hex grid. You can download it here, if you like.

. . . . .

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Friday, August 7, 2009

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

When I undertook the task of examining each frame of TSR's 1980's-era comic ads, I originally intended to only do so with the pair I posted this past Monday. As I published the second dissected-ad post, it occurred to me that I might need to consider performing the same post-mortem procedure on the remaining ads.

Well, judging from the interest those posts generated, it looks like my posting schedule for next week has been decided: I'll be taking a look at the remaining ads.

I stole a little time yesterday to flip through my collection of 80's comics looking for all of the ads, just to make sure I have a complete set. As a result, I came up with eight mini-adventure ads, running from August, 1981, through September, 1982. I'm fairly certain that's the extent of TSR's mini-adventure ad campaign, since the next D&D ad I found after that was a boring, product-based ad, and no other mini-adventure ads appeared in any of my comics past that date.

I've covered the first two of these ads already, so starting Monday I'll take my scalpel to the "Ad 3":

. . . . .

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

A Comic Ad Is Worth 1,000 Words (or Thereabouts) - Part 2

[When I put up Monday's post featuring a pair of TSR's Dungeons & Dragons comic ads from the early 1980's it was merely as a means to share a little nostalgia from a personal perspective.

However, when I was writing the post, I started to notice details in the ads that made me think about how the ads exemplified certain aspects of the game. After reading some of the comments the post generated, I got to thinking that it might be amusing to dissect the ads frame by frame from a D&D player's point of view.

My last post looked at
"Ad 1," circa August, 1981. Up next, "Ad 2," circa November, 1981.]

Ad 2, Frame 1
A single-frame recap of the previous adventure's cliffhanger (and our introduction to one of my "Mount Rushmore" D&D monsters, green slime), there's not much to say about this frame. Although we've obviously witnessed a change of artist. Oh, and I especially like how the synopsis text is placed within the dripping green slime. Brilliant!

Ad 2, Frame 2
Here we get to witness Indel's first meeting with an unlucky event - in this case, having a Carrie moment with a bucket-full of green slime. We also are shown Valerius' alignment - although I think we could have guessed it by the end of the last ad: neutral. Although it could be argued that he's chaotic, I don't think he's exhibited any truly chaotic behavior. On the other hand, he has exhibited a strong concern for his own well-being. Case in point: poor Indel's being dissolved by slime, and Valerius' primary concern is his 10gp sword.

Ad 2, Frame 3
Grimslade is obviously the take-charge member of the group, exhibited here by his yellow-emphasized orders to Valerius. I can almost hear the fighter's deadpan delivery of: "I'll drag him from the room!" I'm sure it's delivered in the same tone my teenage sons use when they say, "I'll go clean up my room!" after being ordered to do so. In fact, Valerius is probably as concerned about Indel's fate versus that of his sword as my boys are over the cleanliness of their rooms versus their video games.

Ad 2, Frame 4
Oh, yeah - Grimslade is a badass! Here we see our second spell - presumably burning hands, since fire ball would likely roast them all at this range. Of course, that means that the DM is using not only the AD&D Monster Manual (see last post) but also the Player's Handbook, since burning hands doesn't exist in B/X. Obviously, Grimslade's a little tired of Valerius' tone, as we see that he barely gives the fighter time to get clear of the spell's area of effect before firing it off. (It never hurts to occasionally remind the meat-shields who's boss, either.)

Ad 2, Frame 5
And now we meet the fourth member of the party: Saren, the cleric. Maybe I've been rolling polyhedral dice far too long, but I can just see the back story here:

The adventure did not begin at the entrance to the dungeon, as I had earlier surmised. Instead, it began elsewhere - probably in a tavern or the like, or possibly at the entrance to "the ruins of Zenopus Castle" itself - and during subsequent adventuring, Saren's player's previous character met his/her ultimate fate. Of course, not being one to make the other players wait, the DM ruled that the remaining three players could continue the adventure while Saren's player rolled up a replacement character. Two encounters later (sounds about the right amount of play time to roll up a B/X cleric), Saren steps out of the shadows, spouting the hand-wavey "No questions now" line. How do the other characters know her? "You met her in the keep before heading out for Zenopus Castle," was probably the DM's equally hand-wavey answer. Yep, I bet that's just the way it went down...

Ad 2, Frame 6
This frame doesn't have a lot going on, aside from typically rigid player speech - oh, and our introduction to the powers of the cleric. Given the representation of Saren's powers versus that of Grimslade's powers, is it any wonder nobody ever wanted to play the party cleric back in the day? I don't know if the problem is a game problem that is perfectly rendered in this frame, or if it's a perception problem that was only exacerbated by it. Whatever the case, this frame pretty much says all you need to know about early D&D clerics. (Fortunately, Saren comes off as a somewhat-enigmatic, kinda-cool character, so it's not a total loss.)

Ad 2, Frame 7
Fast forward a few turns, and Indel's back up - and being ordered about by the increasingly commanding Grimslade. (Valerius' dwelling on the sword issue - which we see continuing here as the fighter lays claim to the magic sword - is probably grating on his nerves.) Of course, the real purpose of this frame is to introduce us to the post-encounter ritual of collecting cool loot and searching for secret doors...

Ad 2, Frame 8
...and discovering untriggered traps. This frame introduces us to the pit trap, but it also gives us the chance to see yet another unfortunate event befall the elf. Now, I don't know about you, but I'm starting to wonder what's up with that character. Is he really that lacking in perceptive talent? Is his player a lousy die roller? Did his player piss off the DM? Whatever the reason for his misfortune, as I mentioned in comments elsewhere on this blog, I believe Indel to be a serious threat to the party. His continued need of being rescued means the party must endanger themselves and use valuable resources to do so. Were I playing Valerius, it'd be a safe bet that Indel would suffer from a fatal "accident" before too much longer.

Ad 2, Frame 9
And we conclude this ad with another cliffhanger, this one also involving - or perhaps caused by - Indel the unlucky elf. The DM's used the elf to lure the players into sending their characters ever deeper into his deathtrap - er, dungeon. Probably to a deeper level, where they will likely face challenges far beyond their abilities, and where - if they don't keep their wits focused to a razor-sharp edge - they will certainly perish.

Sounds like my kind of Dungeon Master!
. . . . .

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

A Comic Ad Is Worth 1,000 Words (or Thereabouts) - Part 1

When I put up yesterday's post featuring a pair of TSR's Dungeons & Dragons comic ads from the early 1980's it was merely as a means to share a little nostalgia from a personal perspective.

However, when I was writing the post, I started to notice details in the ads that made me think about how the ads exemplified certain aspects of the game. After reading some of the comments the post generated, I got to thinking that it might be amusing to dissect the ads frame by frame from a D&D player's point of view.

Up first, "Ad 1," circa August, 1981.

Ad 1, Frame 1
This ad is presumably the first of the series - I certainly have not found any that appear to belong to an earlier point in the story arc they represent. Working from this assumption, here we see a classic D&D conceit: the adventure beginning with the player characters standing at the entrance to the dungeon. Of course, one could make a valid argument that we're simply entering the story in media res - fair enough, and possibly supported by evidence we'll examine while discussing the next ad.

In this case, the dungeon is to be found behind "a secret door in the ruins of Zenopus Castle." This frame also introduces us to a core conceit of the game: the adventuring party. This one consists of three player characters: a fighter, an elf, and a magic-user. (Note that Indel is just an "elf" - albeit a particularly short one. Obviously, this isn't a game of Advanced D&D.) The party even appears to have a defined marching order, with the fighter dutifully fulfilling his role as a meat-shield.

Ad 1, Frame 2
Not much to see here, but we are introduced to the concept of infravision. I like the use of subtle visual and textual cues to imply that torches don't shed a heck of a lot of light, as well as the dungeon appearing damp. (Anybody who's looked at a few of my scanned maps will likely have noticed that water features prominently in most of them. Of course, a few puddles are far from "prominent," but hey - any dungeon that has water in it is okay in my book.)

Ad 1, Frame 3
Indel may have a knack for getting into tight spots (as we'll see later), but he's apparently not lacking in chutzpah - he actually volunteers to take point. He must be truly brave and confident in his perceptive abilities. Or maybe he's just a greedy little bugger who wants first dibs on whatever valuable treasure lies ahead. (Given the apparent lack of said perceptive abilities we'll see later, I'd probably guess it's the latter.)

Ad 1, Frame 4
The party switchs up the marching order. In my experience, this would usually happen so that the party can better take advantage of the elf's infravision. Unfortunately, the ad's creators blow any chance of this ad being used to teach new players how to properly explore a dungeon by having Indel bear the torch. So much for the party relying on the elf's infravision to preserve the element of surprise...

Ad 1, Frames 5 & 6
The party obviously only sees the approaching monster as a threatening shadow (and sound) despite the torch being held by the foremost party member. My guess would be that we're witnessing an encounter with a wandering monster, and the DM has rolled that the encounter distance is beyond the torch's 30-foot range. And since Indel can't use his infravision, Grimslade's query is moot. And I don't quite know what Valerius hopes to achieve with a (another?) torch. Then again, he's a fighter, and that often means low INT and WIS...

Finally, the approaching monster is revealed - as a shambling mound. Um... are those even to be found in B/X D&D? I don't think so. Obviously, the DM's doing something many of us regularly did back in the day: combining elements from AD&D into his B/X game. (After all, as far as we were concerned, these were not different games.)

Ad 1, Frame 7
As the shadow of the shambling mound falls over the party, we see that Valerius is a bit of a weeny, as fighters go. Heck, he practically begs Grimslade to cast a "charm" to "save" the party (even resorting to raising his voice). We also see that Indel isn't as brave as he earlier led us to believe, as he cowers behind Grimslade's robes. (I'm leaning more and more toward him being a greedy little you-know-what. I bet his player wanted to play a thief, but didn't get good enough ability score rolls.) Of course, in Valerius' and Indel's defense, that is a very threatening shadow.

I find it interesting that the term Valerius uses here is "charm" instead of "spell." I'd have to give kudos to Valerius' player for not defaulting to player knowledge of the game term in this situation.

Ad 2, Frame 8
Oooohhooohh - our first spell! This frame really caught my attention when I put up yesterday's post.

First, the words Grimslade cites are clearly not something we can understand. Furthermore, they're in a hex-shaped balloon. Is the artist conveying to us visually that D&D's "Vancian" magic is something we cannot comprehend - and somehow mathematical in nature? Hmmmm....

Second, when the spell fires off, not only does it possess an audible element ("Zap!") but it also gives off light. (We know that the light is not merely there to serve as an artistic emphasis because it's this light that reveals the green slime on the walls.) I had never considered that hold monster might appear this way when cast. It really reinforces something I've come to understand: that the spell effects found in the book are not the spell appearances. I know for certain that I, personally, have been allowing spell casting to be handled in far too mundane a manner in my games. I plan to use spell appearances to enhance the sense of wonder in future games, and this frame will serve as a good reminder to that end.

Ad 2, Frame 9
At last, we're introduced to one of my all-time favorite D&D monsters: green slime! Oh, how I love inflicting this stuff on my players. (Ask my fiancee if she remembers her elf trying to crawl under the portcullis trap - only to find out about the patch of green slime lurking in the shadows over the doorway. Muhahahahahaha) I'm pretty sure my love for the stuff was inspired by the next ad - and probably subconsciously fueled by my love for 50's sci-fi movies and my enduring affection for another childhood toy and 70's icon.

In terms of the story, there's not much to see here, as this is the ad's cliffhanger moment.

Next time we'll tackle the second ad - and the appearance of a fourth party member. Stay tuned!
. . . . .

Monday, August 3, 2009

Look Out! It's Dripping!

For some reason, I have a strange affection for green slime* - one that has been with me for as long as I've been playing Dungeons & Dragons. I'm fairly certain that these are to blame:

*It's a monster - not a hazard!
. . . . .

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Saturday, August 1, 2009