Tuesday, February 4, 2014

"Heroes of the Lance", 1989.

I know, I kind of went overboard with my Pool of Radiance post. To make up for it, I don't have all that much to say about this ad, scan also borrowed from World 1-1 at Extralives.

The AD&D computer action-adventures were found to be basically unplayable, so surely no one has that much to say about the games. Here goes: Is there a stupider portmanteau to be found in fantasy literature than "Dragonlance"? Let me just get this straight: you're on a dragon, and you want to joust. With a lance. Frankly Joust with ostriches makes about as much sense and is cooler on account of its bold Jeff Minter-calibre absurdity. You're not going to be able to fight a dragon with your lance better than your dragon is going to be able to fight another dragon with its dragonly resources: a dragon is not just a horse with wings. AD&D, how is it that terminally unhip Anne McCaffery is lapping you on this crucial dragonriding issue? Will you use your lance to unseat another rider on another dragon? No. That would be wasting the time of all dragons involved. Basically, situating an ancient and powerful beast such as a dragon as subservient beneath a human rider is a humiliating sham. Get these humans out of the picture altogether and let the dragons really open up.

On the plus side, points to the whimsical artist for portraying what happens when a dragon suffers a neck wound while firing off its breath weapon. But then negative points for the hyper-muscular presentation of the foreground dragon like a tough plucked chicken with an uncomfortably phallic neck. And those wings aren't propelling anything upward nor were they ever. Three dragons portrayed, and the one suffering "I refuse to suspend my disbelief that such a creature could fly" syndrome is put front and centre. They are falling. Perhaps they are in fact traveling backwards (though the rider's ridiculous cape suggests otherwise), propelled by the fire breath like a Saturn rocket booster, in which case the punctured-neck dragon should be twirling like a pinwheel firework on the 4th of July.

Dungeons & Dragons



The legendary DRAGONLANCE game world
comes alive in this exciting action game!

OK, but do I have anything to say about the ad? Well, I only have one sentence to work with, and the only destination it's leading me towards is smack-talking the Dragonlance campaign setting. The best you can say is that it provided an elegant set-up for a finely-crafted soap opera. Reading the Dragonlance books, I could never shake the feeling that the authors were just getting their jollies reporting the brilliant (just ask them!) role-playing going on down at their weekly sessions. What happens next? Well, the players do some genius improvisation. The campaign world feels like a Potemkin vlilage erected just on either side of wherever The Author's Party decided to go next. The setting should have some potential, but it occupies a dangerous place in both having new and questionable ideas atop stale genre cliches, not new enough to be refreshing, nor conservative enough to be comfortably familiar. It's the uncanny valley of fantasy settings.

Do I have any positive memories of my time spent in the Dragonlance ghettos? At the time I seemed to be enjoying myself, but perhaps I was just too ignorant to know any better. I have a memory of my father taking an unusual interest in my reading material and vetoing a Dragonlance book whose back blurb recounted a tortured dream of Raistlin Majere. "But Dad," I protested, "the whole point is that the character is messed up." He's a tragic hero, right? I should thank my father retroactively for doing the right thing -- quashing this nonsense -- albeit for the wrong reason. (He was also deeply disturbed by the instructions in Fighting Fantasy gamebooks -- specifically number 9, Caverns of the Snow Witch -- stressing how YOU are the HERO, encouraging players to personally identify as the characters. He was working through a psychology degree at the time and I guess felt he ought to put it to use at least once.)

In conclusion, I apparently really don't like Dragonlance or anything associated with it. This is not to say that I love the Forgotten Realms or Greyhawk (I will explicitly confess to fondness for Spelljammer, Darksun and Planescape, and liking the idea of Ravenloft) ... I suppose they just exert less of a drag factor on eg. games that happen to be set therein. It doesn't help, again, that nearly (?) all of the Dragonlance games are a waste of good floppies. I will have to revisit this turf again for subsequent DL games, and I have no idea what I will say about them, having totally vented my spleen here. Hopefully their ads give me a bit more to work with. This game was made by an outside developer, U.S. Gold, and then just published by SSI (soo.... you want to make an AD&D game? You can make any kind of game you want, as long as you agree to publish it through us, exclusive holders of the license.) That fragile compartmentalization allows me to trash this game without challenging my glowing mental picture of SSI.