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:

. . . . .


  1. I'm sensing some ... hostility, Christopher. Hmm.

    --Willingham Rawks.

  2. Dear Christopher,

    What an enjoyable series of reviews this! Thanks for this trip down memory lane, much more enjoyable with your critique of the story than it would have been otherwise.

    Yours truly,

  3. Oh yeah, Valerius is totally showing off for Saren there.

    It's interesting how Indel's appearance changes subtly over the course of this series.

  4. @Timeshadows: Not really - I just hate to see a good treasure hoard go un-looted!

  5. @Rick Marshall: Thanks! Glad you're enjoying the series. :D

  6. @Jayson: Yeah, makes me wonder if it's Valerius showing of for Saren, or Valerius' player showing off for Saren's player. ;D

    As for Indel's changing appearance, perhaps it's a rare side effect of gaining XP. Heh

  7. I remember this series, albeit vaguely, from the early 1980s. I loved them! I remember being confused as to why Indel never cast any spells, if he was indeed a Basic D&D 'Elf' (as opposed to, say, an AD&D Elven thief).

    Thanks for posting them, and for the great commentary! :)

    Oh yeah, I agree with Timeshadows that Willingham is great.

  8. Valerius is obviously being played by the 11-year-old younger brother of the 14-year-old player of Grimslade.

    The DM is Grimslade's player's best bud from junior high band camp, and the 2 have been playing D&D for the past 2 years.

    Saren being played by the cute flute player they talked into joining their little gaming group. Grimslade's player invited her over but didn't tell the DM, so she arrived about an hour late to the game. She will eventually be dating one of them. And she'll end up being the best player among them.

    Indel's player? Well, he's obviously the DM and Grimslade's player's other best bud who bought some bad dice at the hobby shop last week. Time to get that crayon out, dude! Start weighting those dice!

    Awesome fun! Thanks for the analysis!

  9. Can't help but add my two cents one last time:

    - Saren's "sensing of evil" - again, I'd suggest this is just DM fiat here (the 2nd level cleric already used her one 1st level cure spell to heal Indel), the DM is simply throwing Saren a bone (no pun intended!).

    - I would guess NONE of the PCs have EVER played the game before (this accounts for Valerius's overly cautious action in the early encounter and his preoccupation with the sword). The player with Valerius is feeling like a badass for his successful "break door" roll and is ready to do the "hero" thing. The player doesn't realize the character is about to be char-broiled, and the DM fudges the encounter when he realizes his error in setting such a dangerous encounter.

    - I think it's pretty obvious that Grimslade is 3rd level and has shot his wad with sleep, charm (person!), and fireball (another DM screw-up...he thought fireball was a 2nd level spell). THAT's why he's turned cheerleader for the other party members.

    - If ANYONE is the "kid brother" of the group it has to be Indel. In our old games, it was always the youngest player (my little brother usually) that got saddled with the lame-ass utility PC (secret door finder or slanting slope detector). HE was also the one routinely picked on (trap doors, green slime) to introduce dramatic tension to the group. Other players might quit if you routinely crapped on 'em...the younger sibling had no choice but to eat it if he wanted to play with the big kids.

    : )

  10. OH...and the rookie DM may well have forgotten to create a treasure horde for the dragon...OR he rolled "monster, no treasure" on the Basic set random dungeon stocking table!

    ; )

  11. Excellent posts ! :D

    You can find all the D&D cartoon ads scans in my blog :


    It exists 14 different pages. (took me some to get them all :P)

    feel free to use my scans if you want to continue the frame by frame analysis on following ads. :)

    I can even rescan them in high-res if needed... ok ok, am bit pushy now... but well, I d really love reading more !



  12. @Kuronons: Thanks for the link to your blog. I've only previously seen a couple of those non-Marvel ads.

    I have the remaining four scans of ads from the Marvel comics already waiting in the wings - I just haven't had the time and the inclination to deconstruct them together at the same time. Maybe one of these days. :P

  13. Ha ha. Enjoyable "analysis" again, as well as comments that made me laugh. Again, this is me writing and Bill drawing (and lettering). I actually have NO memory of how the colors were done on these. It's possible that Bill did the color guides.

    Here we can start to see the ad strictures in full swing. We'd set up the story for a Big Dragon Conflict, only to be told when we got there that "They can't fight. Nobody can get hurt." Or the Angry Mommies from Heck won't buy the game. Thus, our heroes show up, pull a sword, and the dragon backs right-the-F down!

    And, because we couldn't show our heroes actually collecting loot from foes -- Angry Mommies from Heck might think that was STEALING -- our group just smiles happy that they've escaped with their lives and returns to the tavern.

    I note, also, that Bill spelled out the word AND in Dungeons & Dragons, here -- a trademark No-No that nearly got me fired when I did it writing the back cover copy for the Moldvay/Cook Basic & Expert sets. Good times! :D


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