Friday, August 26, 2016

Commentary On The Nineteen Eighty Four D&D & Comicbook Sweet Spot

For me Nineteen Eighty Four was a seminal year in many ways especially table top gaming because it was one which marked a turning point in many ways. There were two flavors of Dungeons & Dragons to choose from Advanced Dungeons & Dragons & Dungeons & Dragons Set 1: Basic Rules or Mentzer Basic as its known. Here are the facts according to Wiki;"In 1983, the Basic Set was revised again, this time by Frank Mentzer, and redubbed Dungeons & Dragons Set 1: Basic Rules. The set included a sixty-four page Players Manual,[12] a forty-eight page Dungeon Masters Rulebook,[12] six dice,[2] and in sets in which the dice were not painted, a crayon.[6] The 1983 revision was packaged in a distinctive red box, and featured cover art by Larry Elmore.[2] Between 1983 and 1985, the system was revised and expanded by Mentzer as a series of five boxed sets, including the Basic Rules (red cover), Expert Rules (blue),[13] Companion Rules (teal, supporting levels fifteen through twenty-five),[14] Master Rules (black, supporting levels twenty-six through thirty-six),[15] and Immortal Rules (gold, supporting Immortals, characters who had transcended levels).[16] Instead of an adventure module, the Basic Set rulebooks included a solo adventure and an introductory scenario to be run by the Dungeon Master"  Essentially there were two flavors of Dungeons and Dragons Advanced & Basic which for our groups, war gaming clubs, etc. meant there was one.

In the movie theaters there was hit after hit with Ghostbusters, Gremlins, Indiana Jones & The Temple of Doom, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Star Trek The Search For Spock, Conan, The Last Star Fighter, Repoman, Buckaroo Banzai, Dune, Streets of Fire, Dreamscape, etc. It was a heady time in a lot of ways especially the black & white comic book boom at the time. The original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were created in Dover New Hampshire and I was drooling over a brand new comic book series Warlock five from Aircel comics. At the time I was working in a little hole in the wall underground mail order comic book shop in Torrington getting paid under the table after school. My buddies Steve & Peter also hung out there with me, it was a glorious time. We used to get paid in AD&D & D&D material especially old issues of Dragon and the occasional box set but we got into some of the more off beat titles like Game Lords,Ltd Thieves Guild or the occasional Arduin or Dragon Tree books. There was much more to this year but let's concentrate on Warlock Five for a moment. Warlock five was a title where you had five powerful mystical guardians who were linked and guarded a multidimensional gate. All of the while the guardians are trying to off each other in alliances and betrayals. The Off The Beaten Panel Blog has a really good breakdown of the series and their summery is spot on;"The Warlock 5 are a diverse and interesting group. There's a medieval knight called Doomidor, Argon the Terminator, Tanith the Sorceress, a Mystic dragon that takes human form called Savashtar, and Zania, a punk rocker Witch straight out of Mad Max. Together they get along like an episode of Survivor, taking alliances and strategizing together to manipulate the outcome for the ultimate control of the Grid."

The artwork of Canadian artist Denis Beauvais (who did a number of Dragon magazine covers) & writer Gordon Derry was like setting fire to our young brains. We drew from this series and it was a glorious train wreck of a campaign because we combined it with Lords of Creation which was another rpg out at the time and it worked gloriously.

This was also the same year that produced the wonderful tenth anniversary box set for basic D&D and I actually had the chance to buy one from my boss at the time Carl. "The 10th Anniversary Dungeons & Dragons Collector's Set boxed set, published by TSR in 1984, included the rulebooks from the Basic, Expert, and Companion sets; modules AC2, AC3, B1, B2, and M1 Blizzard Pass; Player Character Record Sheets; and dice. This set was limited to a thousand copies, and was sold by mail and at GenCon 17."

So what happened to Aircel comics? Why isn't it now a household name? Well Aircel was a victim of the B/W implosion of
"Aircel Comics evolved from Aircel Insulation, when the government pulled its contract with the company. Blair, an Aircel employee, convinced the owner to shift the company's focus from insulation to comic book publishing.[1] Aircel's initial talent line-up included Blair, Cooper, Patrick McEown, and Guang Yap.
Releasing their first books in 1985, Samurai, Dragonring, and Elflord, all of which featured line-art manga-styled illustrations, were the first Aircel publications to receive international attention. (Manga was still new to the North American market at the time.)[1] In 1986, illustrator Denis Beauvais collaborated with Blair (as writer) to create Warlock 5, highly regarded among international comic collectors at the time, featuring high-realism mixed-media and airbrushing techniques as a unique trademark style. The Maelstrom series was released shortly thereafter. Aircel's future, like the strong Canadian arts and music industry of the 1980s, was very promising.
By 1988, however, the independent comics bubble burst,[1] affecting Aircel's niche market. Financial problems caused founder Blair to strike a deal with Scott Mitchell Rosenberg (associated with the American publisher Malibu Comics), whereby Malibu would be "lent" Aircel to publish a number of titles, in return for a financial assist. This resulted in Aircel's de facto merger with the Malibu imprint Eternity Comics.[2] Staff changes at Aircel left their acclaimed original series in uncertainty. New illustrators assumed responsibility for continuing some of the existing series (e.g. Elford vol. 2, Warlock vol. 2). This in turn led to copyright disputes over some of Aircel's titles.[3] Ultimately, Aircel terminated most of its previous titles and pursued sex-themed comics in a partnership with Malibu."
Many of the elements of the B/W comic implosion reminded me of the D20 collapse. So is there an OSR implosion in our future? Perhaps its already underway. So what happened to Carl & the underground mail order comic book & rpg business? Well Carl was busted for heroin & the business folded. We didn't know anything about the drugs but all of us got questioned by the cops. Needless to say that our parents were not happy. As for the The 10th Anniversary Dungeons & Dragons Collector's Set  I did eventually get one but then it turned to ash in an apartment fire back in the 90's. With that being said I've still got a soft spot for the gonzo D&D meta gaming aspect and it remains my sweet spot for D&D.

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