Greetings, citizens! As I mentioned last week, this whole month is dedicated to looking at things that have been important to me as a person. So, let’s get this thing started.
In 1999, I was watching one of my favorite episodes of Dexter’s Lab, “Monsters and Mazes.” I remarked to my mom that I would love it if such a game existed, at which point she told me about Dungeons and Dragons. A few months later, one of my cousins (who was a tabletop gamer) gifted me with the 3rd edition Player’s Handbook. I fell in love with the game immediately, even though I didn’t quite understand how to play. The ideas and the artwork had me enthralled, and I spent many a night staying up past my bedtime reading through the book by flashlight. It took another two years for me to actually find a group to play with, but after a few small hitches, I was having a blast with the game. I’ve been playing ever since, keeping up with the changing face and rules of the game. It introduced me to tabletop gaming, has earned me many friends, and has given me a wonderfully creative outlet unlike anything else.
Like many other properties, D&D has even had licensed comics created about it. The most recent installment launched in October of last year, to coincide with the launch of D&D 5th edition. I had the privilege of meeting the writer, Jim Zub, at Gen Con last year and also received a sneak peek of the comic. The 4 pages or so were enough to entice me into buying the first issue, and I’ve stuck with it. Though for some reason, my comic shop can’t add it to my pull list…
The story is set within the city of Baldur’s Gate, in the world of Faerûn. Faerûn is one of D&D’s oldest and most iconic campaign settings, but it’s not my favorite. It’s sort of the archetypical high fantasy world that was conceived of as the place where any sort of fantasy adventure could happen. I like the idea behind it, but at the same time, it means that the place doesn’t have it’s own unique flavor like Eberron or Dark Sun do. However, there’s lots of rich history and entertaining characters that occupy the world, including such notable names as Wulfgar, Drizzt Do'Urden, and Elminster.
The story begins with a “young” woman being chased down a narrow street by a pair of gargoyles. I say “young” because the woman is an elf (specifically a moon elf) and elves have a tendency to live for hundreds of years. So, she could easily be somewhere between seventy and one-hundred and fifty for all we know, but that’s still young by her people’s standards. The woman, Delina, tries fighting the gargoyles, but their challenge rating is too high, so all she can manage to do is run like hell. She encounters a pair of guards from the city watch, but because this is a narrative as opposed to a video game, the guards are killed really damn quickly. Delina runs to the market square of the city where she finds a statue dedicated to the “beloved ranger” and is cornered. She finally decides to threaten the gargoyles with the power of her wild magic, but they are unimpressed. Wild magic, for those unfamiliar with the term, is a kind of magic that the user doesn’t have full control over. Sometimes the lack of control just causes a spell to end up weaker or stronger than was intended, but other times it can cause some truly bizarre things to happen. This is one of those times.
I have no idea what Delina was trying to do with her spell, but her intentions are kind of moot. The spell creates a neat little display and turns around, striking the statue and bringing it to life. The newly alive statue offers the gargoyles an ultimatum; either surrender, or;
Yes, the statue was of none other than Minsc and his trusty miniature-giant space hamster, Boo! Boo fails to intimidate the gargoyles though, and it falls to Minsc to kick some ass. The gargoyles get an upper-hand pretty quickly, but Minsc turns it around and smashes them. He also seems to have Delina confused with an old friend of his, because he keeps calling her Neera. Anyway, members of the town guard arrive and, not knowing what in the Nine Hells of Baator is going on, demand Minsc and Delina surrender. Delina doesn’t want to do so… for some reason. I mean, it’s not like they’re being accused of anything, the guards just want to figure out what’s going on and how a couple of their comrades died. It seems like it’d be a simple enough matter to clear up. Eh, maybe she’s chaotically aligned. Anyway, she uses a minor spell (which doesn’t go wild) to distract them while her and Minsc run the hell away.
After a brief amount of running, Delina explains to Minsc where he is, and that she needs his help in finding her brother, and he of course agrees to help (still under the impression that she’s his friend Neera). However, the guards catch up with the duo, and while Minsc is happy to oblige the guards with a fight, Delina is less keen. However, the guards are swiftly taken care of by a pair of thieves and that’s how the issue ends.
Issue two opens on a flashback to Delina and her brother, Deniak, as children. At first it seems like they’re playing but eventually her brother pins her and is kind of acting like a dick to her, at which point he gets zapped by lightning. This is done to demonstrate that Delina is a sorceress, someone who has a natural affinity for magic, and her brother is in training to be a wizard.
Back in the present, we see that the thieves are not in fact trying to cause trouble for Delina and Minsc, but are trying to help them get away from the watch. The thieves, Krydle and Shandie, lead them back to their hideout, and Delina goes into more detail about the predicament she’s in. She and her brother share a mystical bond (as siblings in fantasy settings are wont to do), and a week ago she felt a great disturbance in the For- I mean, a darkness wash over her brother. She believes he’s in danger and is trying to find him. Krydle and Shandie confer for a moment and agree to help. Step one is going to be getting the two out of the Upper City and into the Lower City where they will have an easier time evading the watch and have a better chance of finding out what they need to.
We cut away to the Watch Citadel, where we see Duke Ravensguard getting briefed on the murder of the watchmen, and the disappearance of the statue. He agrees to give the watch the aid of the Flaming Fist Company in their manhunt, and we also learn about dragon attacks that are going on in the surrounding region.
Back with our heroes, who are meeting with a man named Osgur, attempting to work out a deal to get out of the Upper City undetected. Osgur agrees to help them in exchange for Krydle delivering a message to someone. After our heroes leave, a group of people in really snazzy masks emerge from the shadows and say some ominous things about how they’re also looking for Deniak. After they’re out on the street, our heroes get jumped by a group of men wearing very similar masks. The fight is brief, but well done, and our heroes escape mostly unharmed and head back to Krydle and Shandie’s hideout. Not long after getting there though, Krydle goes off to deliver the message, and it’s here we learn that Krydle is not only a half-elf, but that his father is a noble and an old friend of Minsc’s. The issue ends with Minsc going off after Krydle to go and see his old friend.
Issue three begins with Minsc arriving at the party, much to the doorman’s befuddlement. One of the party-goers decides that the strange man dressed as the beloved ranger is hilarious, and tells the doorman that he’ll vouch for Minsc. Delina and Shandie arrive right behind Minsc and claim that they’re all a group of troubadors. Krydle, meanwhile, has found his father, Coran, and delivers the message. Coran tries talking with Krydle, but Krydle is obstinate about not wanting to be here any longer than he absolutely has to. While the two of them are having a touching father/son moment, the others are bumbling around the party. Delina bumps into a guy, and the unthinkable happens; somebody in a comic is recognized without their mask on!
Inconceivable! It turns out that several of the masked guys who attacked our heroes earlier are at the party. Anyway, a fight breaks out and the masked guys manage to capture Delina. Minsc and the others meanwhile manage to capture one of the masked guys. While the masked guys make their escape, they are ambushed by a spellcaster wearing the same kind of mask as them, as well as a couple of hobgoblins. The masked spellcaster reveals himself to be none other than Deniak, ending the issue on a dramatic reveal!
Issue four begins with another flashback to Delina and Deniak’s childhood. We see them with what looks like their father as Delina shows off her magic. Their father says that he’ll begin looking for a tutor for her, but Deniak objects. He’s jealous that magic is coming so naturally to her when he’s had to study and put in effort to achieve the same effects. Deniak’s anger transfers to Delina however and triggers a wild magic surge. Back in the present, Deniak tells Delina that he plans on using her in a ritual.
Minsc and the others, meanwhile, have interrogated their masked friend and have returned to Osgur. They share what they’ve learned; Deniak was a member of the Dragon Cult (the masked guys) but he decided to create his own splinter group. Of course, you can’t just start a cult with nothing, so he stole some of the cult’s ritual supplies on the way out. Naturally, they’re pissed and want their mystical gewgaws back. Osgur fortunately knows of Deniak’s whereabouts, and sends our heroes off to take care of him.
Back with Deniak, he begins the ritual. A mere moment later though, Minsc busts in followed by Krydle and Shandie. The three fight with Deniak’s hobgoblin goons, who manage to keep the heroes off of Deniak long enough to complete the ritual. Unfortunately, as evil rituals are wont to do, something has gone wrong.
We cut away back to Coran. He’s gone to see Duke Ravensguard about the message that Krydle delivered. It seems that Osgur is trying to blackmail Coran, who is trying to get some help from the duke. The duke agrees to help. But just as he does so a large explosion can be seen from the tower, and the issue ends with the revelation that Deniak has transformed into a dragon.
So, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty. Jim Zub’s writing is pretty good. The overall story so far is kinda basic, but it’s got a nice, authentic sort of D&D feel to it. The best part of the writing though is the dialogue. Everything comes out naturally, nothing feels like it’s expository, and everyone’s got their own unique way of talking. Minsc has all the best lines, and I can see why he’s such a beloved character. The artwork is also solid. Max Dunbar’s style is cartoony, but based heavily in realism. The character models are all nice and unique, and there’s a nice amount of detail in the clothing, faces and setting without it feeling too busy. My only complaint is that there are more panels lacking a background than I’d like to see, especially since I like looking at the artwork. Overall, the issues are a fun start to the series, and really capture the spirit and tone of D&D. If you’ve never played D&D before, I cannot recommend enough that you give it a shot. The new edition is very beginner friendly, and a lot of local game stores should be running events.
Next week, we continue to look at things that are important to me, with some a bit older. Something from a long time ago...