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!
. . . . .


  1. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    OLD SCHOOL DISORDER: The Socratic Method As Applied to Neo-Retro Positivism and Its Effects Upon the Substrate of Gaming Analysis

    Eisenberg 2009, Whatley & Strumpf

    Is it genuine naiveté, or only feigned for the sake of your dialectic?

    Clearly Indel is an NPC used by the cunning DM to lure the party into more dangerous and deadlier situations.

    I can only assume that your mock surprise at this analysis will be overturned upon your readers in a single mighty bolt from the blue of clear reasoning and instructive mastery. To grind home the perils of ill-equipped understanding of the esoterica of Early-/Mid-era Deeandeeisms upon novice gamers making their forays into the symbolic interpretations of Mankind's ignorance. For what is the dungeon but a metaphor for a human's gross and weighty insensibility in this perilous and godless universe of random chance and impermanent lucid thought?

    Sir, I salute you and your cunning methods!
    Hee-hee! :D

  2. Hah, good call, Timeshadows, although more cleverly dressed than what I was going to say, which is...

    I believe Indel to be a serious threat to the party.

    ...because he's an NPC.

    Though not there explicity to 'lure the party into more dangerous and deadlier situations', but rather to be Chandler's 'man coming through the door with a gun in his hand' whenever the action is flagging.

    [thought balloon] When are these guys going to finish divvying up the loot, already. No, there's nothing 'suspicious' about the coins! No, the chest doesn't have a false bottom! No, the sword doesn't 'mentally respond to your commands'! ...[/thought balloon]

    GM: Okay, suddenly Indel falls through a previously undiscovered trap door. What do you do?

  3. The Aaaagh/It's eating my sword! exchange is priceless and something I have seen from players over the years.

    Your panel commentary is also superb. Thank you for posting these.

  4. Poor Indel. Dude can't catch a break. I like how the pit trap didn't necessarily mean instant death, but was instead a reason to delve deeper.


  5. @rainswept: Your blog is "full of win". Alas, I fail my resistance roll and was compelled to Subscribe.

    Ooh, ooh, when is the next instalment?
    --I'm waiting for the Bill Willingham issues.

  6. I've never before bothered to look at these comics with a critical eye...I have to say your analysis is right on, as well as very funny. I'm only sorry there aren't more of these comics.

  7. I laughed out loud at some of this analysis, which is good, as I wrote this comic. It was drawn and lettered by Jeff Dee, and I believe inked by Bill Willingham -- though Bill may not remember that. We were trying to portray what the game was like, though even this early in the series, the "ad rules" of what we could do, show, or even say were getting pretty strict.

    I introduced Saren because we needed a woman character as well as a cleric. And I think we decided early on that we hated Indel (one of the 3 from the ad agency), and so we tried to make most/all of the bad stuff happen to him. :D


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