Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Retrospective: Dwarven Glory

I wrote about the early game company Wee Warriors once before, in a retrospective about their first publication, Palace of the Vampire Queen. One assumes that Palace was sufficiently well received to justify the publication of a second. Entitled Dwarven Glory, its initial release was in 1977 and, like its predecessors, Pete and Judy Kerestan are listed as its authors. 

Also like its predecessor, Dwarven Glory calls itself a "dungeon kit." As you will see, this is an apt description. The product consists of eight hex map sections, each of which can be connected to the others in a variety of different ways (more than sixty, according to the text). This allows the referee to configure the dungeon according to his own wishes (or re-use it). Thus, Dwarven Glory is as much a set of geomorphic maps as it is an "adventure module," as the term is generally understood. 

These maps detail a semi-abandoned dwarven community that is now overrun by the Ten Orc Tribes. Their keys are comparatively brief, but not minimalist. Here's a typical example:

This room contains 4 locked cabinets (each with 6 bottles of Dwarven Ripple Wine), 18 empty bottles (on the floor), and a long table with 8 plain cups (in the corner).

Many entries contain even less detail. However, a few are more elaborate, containing not only specific information but the germs of side adventures.

The door is trapped with a bank of crossbows set to fire 5 hexes across towards Room #4. A Minotaur (HP 21; AC 6) carries a +2 hand axe and 4,000 SP. The room contains a roasting rack with several Human skeletons and 2 bedding areas. There are 4 gems: one is worth 1,000 GP, one is broken with no value, one is a Gem of Giant Strength, and one is a Gem of Sexual Change. The Minotaur puts the party under a geas to find and return his son unharmed. Failure to perform this task invokes a curse upon the party members (loss of 1 intelligence pt per day, unless the geas is resumed; the effects are not reversible). If the geas is fulfilled, the Minotaur will obtain Gauntlets of Ogre Power for each party member.

Judged by the standards of later times, Dwarven Glory seems quite primitive, being little more than a collection of simple maps and sparse keys. That's undeniably true but it's also reductive. To explain what I mean, allow me a lengthy digression.

By the time I had entered the hobby in earnest, in early 1980, Wee Warriors was no longer producing support materials for Dungeons & Dragons. I had never even heard of the company or its products, let alone seen them. That changed one summer – I wish I could nail it down to a specific date, but it was certainly before 1984 – when I attended a "games day" at a local library. 

These were regular events where the library opened up its meeting rooms for six or eight hours to players of RPGs. Referees would claim a table and set up, while players milled about, inquiring as to what games the referees were planning to run. Once enough players joined a table, the referee would begin. 

One of the great things about these events was that they introduced me to games I otherwise wouldn't have known about or had the opportunity to play. This is where I became better acquainted with RuneQuest and The Morrow Project, for example, and it was also where I first set eyes on Dwarven Glory. A referee had set up in the boardroom, a room adjoining the main play area, in which there was a long table and lots of chairs. Somewhere between ten and fifteen players grabbed chairs on the assumption that, given the magnificence of the venue, the adventure scenario would must be just as grand. We weren't mistaken.

Even after four decades, I remember the scenario quite vividly. We had a lot of fun and Dwarven Glory most certainly played a large part in that – not the only part, of course, since, like so many good times I've had while roleplaying, the fun was the result of the inexplicable alchemy of referee, players, source material, and randomness. Nevertheless, the experience left me with fond memories of the little yellow booklet the referee kept hidden behind his screen. I assumed that it had to be one heck of an adventure, because we all enjoyed ourselves so much, which is just about the highest praise I can offer an RPG product of any kind.

Over the years, I would occasionally try to find a copy of Dwarven Glory, but to no avail. Like Metamorphosis Alpha, this booklet became a white whale for me, albeit a minor one. Indeed, I'd pretty much forgotten about until very recently, when I discovered that Precis Intermedia had acquired the rights to the entire Wee Warriors catalog, including Dwarven Glory. Having now had the chance to read the dungeon kit for myself, I was transported back to my youth, remembering weird little details from it, like the underground tavern run by a half-orc and the dwarven police station (yes, really!). I cannot claim that Dwarven Glory is, in itself, a forgotten classic, but it's both an important artifact of the early days of our hobby and a source of personal satisfaction. That's reason enough to celebrate it.

No comments:

Post a Comment