Guest Writer: Kevin Birge
In The Shadow of the Dragon
His smile was so corpulent I felt like I was gaining weight just looking at it.
Mike. What kind of name for a thief is that? Softfoot, maybe. Or Blackknife. No sir. Mike it was, and this thief had been so successful that he had amassed riches beyond the dreams of avarice whilst he was still young. Time and gluttony had done the rest. Still, the Planes of Imagination can be dangerous places and he had both the reputation and the inventory to help me fulfill my quest: two pair of Boots of Elvenkind and a Helm of Telepathy.
Oh, I could read the PDF I’d been sent for review. But that would be taking the easy way out. White Dwarf as a periodical existed in the shadow of The Dragon, so that’s where I intended to read my review copy. And that meant a stealth raid on the lair of Invictus, son of Tiamat. And that also meant I needed a guide capable of getting me there with the utmost stealth and skill.
And about the boots, I was not aware that they came in such vastly differing styles. Mike’s pair were a pair of black cowboy boots with very elaborate embroidery work. The pair he handed me were covered with rhinestones, sported cat-like eyes that seemed alive, and had eight inch platform heels.
“Boots of Elvenkind,” I said. “These are made for stealth.”
Mike nodded, and I put them on.
Mike slipped on the helmet, a delicate piece of work that barely covered his skull. The fat roll peeking out from the back of his neck over the top of his black satin shirt forced me to stifle a laugh. Who was I to laugh? I stood over seven feet tall in those ridiculous boots. Silent? Yes, even on gravel, but loud to the eyes.
The road to the lair of Invictus is long, and the way in is perilous. Suffice it to say that we braved the Forest of the Goat Mother, found the village of Silence where the dead rise to harry the living if the slightest sound is made, and evaded the horrific and giant gray ooze that dwells in the moat ringing the tumbled ruins of Castle Rodemus.
Down into the depths below we went, and into caverns both ancient and unknown until we won through to a secret back entrance to the lair of Invictus, the oldest and mightiest dragon that slumbers in the depths of the world.
We should be OK, said Mike. (Telepathically, I might remind you Dear Reader. No fools we.) Invictus has slumbered the last five thousand years.
OK, I said. Just don’t get tempted to try and take anything. A dragon knows down to least pence in the mountain of treasure what he has, even in his sleep. He’ll know and wake up hungry and mean if the size of his hoard is reduced when we leave.
Fortunately, he kept the paper collectibles in a side room well away from the hoard proper. We could still smell the sulphuric, reptilian dragon stench and hear the deep bellows-like breathing but I found the distance some comfort. And so I began going through his collection.
Woodgrain Box. Mint. Complete mint run of Strategic Review.
I gnashed my teeth in pain and envy when I observed he had two unopened copies of Empire of the Petal Throne.
A binder with the lost maps and keys for Castle Greyhawk. (So THAT’S where it went!)
And at last, the White Dwarf collection. I was tasked with number seven.
And thus, I sat down to read. And about the contents of that most august and pleasant periodical…
White Dwarf number 7, dated June/July 1978.
Gorgeous cover. Bare chested female warrior riding a lizard beast of some sort, very much in the vein of Heavy Metal magazine or Bakshi’s Wizards. This is enough enticement for me. Let’s look inside.
Well, the first few pages are given over to ads for British vendors of games. These interest me in the same way that ads in old comic books interest me. There are some interesting entries. A shop called “Dungeons and Starships” offered a book called “All the World’s Monsters.”
I want a copy.
Moving on to the actual content, we have an article on “Feudal Economics in Chivalry and Sorcery.” Yes, it’s very dry reading. Ed Simbalist was not fooling around when he wrote anything. C&S was feudal Europe with fantasy trappings added, heavy on the historical research and grounded in realism. This article assumes ownership of the game, and the material would have logically been edited into further revisions of that system. If you were one of that games fans, this article alone was worth the price of admission.
Next up, the Fiend Factory.
Yes, that’s right. The infamous spawning ground for the legendary Fiend Folio. Charming stuff. The monster names all have their names hand illustrated in different lettering styles. I sort of wish this had carried over to the FF proper. The stat blocks are different. Clearly OD&D in origin, but what is meant by the “Monstermark” stat? The Volt has a Monstermark of 57.5 (level IV in twelve levels.) I have zero idea what that means.
Some of these are familiar from the Fiend Folio, and some were not chosen. A complete Folio with every creature published by White Dwarf would be an interesting piece that we’ll likely never see.
Letters. And one of them is from E. Gary Gygax! He is very keen in pointing out that realism is not the point of D&D. On this, Gary and I always agreed.
Next we have an article on carrying capacity. Ugh. I never liked tracking such things. If I think a character is being absurd, I’ll narrate the problems in game. See also the Gygaxian statement above regarding realism.
And then something called the “Asbury System” for converting experience points for non-magicla treasure. Again, ugh. I never liked dealing with that issue, either. There are other, better ways of dealing with this that have been developed since. These articles are much like old black and white photographs of failed flying machines. Interesting, but you’ll never get me onboard one.
Molten Magic. Ah, with pictures. Lead miniatures. Those were indeed golden days, when men were men and men didn’t let the kids eat their expensive and irreplaceable figures. Texican Space Rangers. That idea is pure lunacy. I want an army of them. Can’t have em’, though! (Glancing up, I see that Invictus has such an army, professionally painted, and displayed with scenery including a three foot high rocket ship.)
After this, The Open Box.
Huzzah! Game reviews! A subject very dear to me.
The Warlord Game? Robert Williams games? Hard cardboard maps and one thousand counters? Meant to be a roleplaying strategy boardgame. This would have been a sound concept to explore at the time. Never heard of it, never saw a copy. I’d buy one if I found it.
Thieves of Fortress Badabaskor. Judge’s Guild, and a classic that is still being reprinted today. White Dwarf recommended getting it before your players do. And so do I.
Bifrost Volume One. According to the review, volumes two and three were meant to follow later. I wonder if they did. This review does sound like these are yet another example of fantasy rules that came and went. Nothing here sounds groundbreaking or different. I wouldn’t have bought these rules back then, and probably would not now.
Lords and Wizards, from Fantasy Games Unlimited. A D&D inspired board game which did not survive the test of time.
The Sorceror’s Cave. White Dwarf was not too excited about it. Ever heard of this one? I haven’t.
Cosmic Encounter, from Eon Products. This game did stand the test of time and is considered one of the classics of the genre today. White Dwarf loved it. I love it. Everyone that ever played it loves it.
Kalgar by David Lloyd. A one page comic strip, and very ably done in a sort of Hal Foster style. I wonder how long this ran and if it got collected. This has a totally different feel than the classic Dragon strips like Wormy and What’s New. Very serious, and with excellent art.
I’m beginning to see why that rotten dragon collects these things.
Lair of the Demon Queen, by Don Turnbull, and described as being a section of the Greenlands Dungeon. Yes, the dungeon was the main focus of the campaign in those days and they were large. They were also lethal. This sub-level is no exception, and is quite interesting since it has its own version of the Banshee. This means that the Monster Manual was not yet available when this issue of White Dwarf was published.
Thoughts on the Proliferation of Magic Items in D&D by E. Gary Gygax. Here’s the highlight of the issue! And why wouldn’t it be? I am notoriously tight-fisted with magic items in my campaigns, and I have the creator of the game to back me up. If I were a dragon, I’d be Smug.
And that brings us to the classifieds and the back cover…and do you know what I don’t see?
Any AD&D product. This magazine marks the twilight of the Original Game. Basic (Holmes basic, for sure) is for sale. Every DM has a different way of doing business. So do different countries. Britain has her own flavor of the game, and we can see it in these pages.
I am carefully sliding the magazine back into the bag and board when the titanic voice speaks. How does that monster manage to sneak up behind us? He’s at least a hundred yards long. He’s like a Godzilla villain, for crying out loud.
“You ruined it. Not only did you put a one millimeter non-color breaking crease in the cover when you read it, you got human stink all over it.”
Mike doesn’t turn around. He is turning green, and vanishing rapidly as he clutches an amulet around his neck. I failed to note it, as he was hiding it very well with his double chin and chest hair.
And as the dragon sucks in the air around me with enough force to pull me toward his maw, I begin the jump away from this particular Plane of Imagination.
The flame of Invictus is hot enough to vaporize a man, but by the time he releases it I am already long gone.