I’ve come to the realization that I’ve been limiting myself too much with regards to this blog. When I started Intelligence Check, I had in mind that it would be dedicated solely to Pathfinder. This was supposed to serve as a tight focus that would serve to keep me on target with regards to what I wrote about. Everything that wasn’t Pathfinder was off the table for this space.
In hindsight, this was an easy promise to make to myself, since back in early 2010 I was still very enthusiastic about Pathfinder, and couldn’t imagine a time when I wouldn’t be so. Alas, such a time eventually came to pass, and that’s a large part of the reason that my posting here has waned over the last several months. (The other reason is that I feel I need to post large, involved articles, which is a habit I have less energy for these days.)
So I’ve decided to relax my own rule regarding posting content. This doesn’t mean I’ll suddenly start talking about anime or video games, though – I’m not completely dismantling this blog’s theme. Instead, I’m going to open it up to more generalized tabletop RPG topics. So if I feel like talking about D&D or BESM or some other game, you can expect to see that here.
Having said that, I’m going to exercise this new-found freedom to post on a particularly niche subject: TSR’s old DragonStrike game.
DragonStrike was, as Wikipedia calls it, an “adventure board game” that was pretty clearly meant to be a gateway to Dungeons & Dragons. It came with large boards that were maps, some pre-made character sheets, dice, a very large number of plastic miniatures, and a 30 minute “hyper reality” video.
The video was the game’s big hook, as it showed a fantasy adventure using a mixture of live-action actors and computer graphics that were fairly cutting-edge for the early 90’s, but now look hysterically bad. Intercut with these were shots of a Dungeon Master (or, as he called himself, the “Dragon Master”) talking with some faceless players, all of them playing the characters we see in the adventure.
The game was fairly low-impact (I suspect that even back in then, few people were very impressed with it), but it did get a bit more support from TSR than a lot of people knew at the time…the people who cared, I mean.
For instance, there were four DragonStrike short novels released, one about each of the adventurers. There were also two DragonStrike Endless Quest novels (which were Choose Your Own Adventure novels, but they couldn’t use that name), and a single-issue comic book adaptation of the video. There was even a two-page expansion for the game in issue #196 of Dragon magazine, consisting of a map and an alternative adventure outline.
Even more arcane was the knowledge that a sequel game, called WildSpace, came very close to being released. WildSpace introduced Spelljammer concepts into DragonStrike, using the same cast of characters and presumably the same game rules. The game was going to have several support products as well; there were some four novels written, and of course another terrible video was produced. There were even rumors they were trying to make that video into a TV series. Man were we lucky that deal fell through.
As it was, all of WildSpace was canceled just before being released, save for a single Endless Quest novel, which somehow made it out the door just in time.
This is all an interesting bit of TSR history, of course, but beyond the Spelljammer connection – which is iffy, since the cosmology is different (having no crystal spheres or spelljamming helms, for instance, and having the Phlogiston be a magical wind that the space-faring ships can sail via) – it has no real connection to the classic D&D multiverse.
Or does it? Would you be surprised to learn that there’s evidence to suggest that the game world in which DragonStrike is set is actually the Forgotten Realms?
The Realms Connection
The first point of evidence here is that the WildSpace Endless Quest novel, cosmological problems aside, is set on the Rock of Bral, which is the default “hub” point for PCs in Spelljammer. While the Spelljammer products never give the Rock a definitive location, the Forgotten Realms product Faiths & Avatars (in the entry for Tyr) places it within the Tears of Selune, the asteroids that follow Toril’s moon around.
Now, there’s a strong argument to be made that this isn’t actually the case, and that that entry is more likely mistakenly identifying a similar asteroid-city, but it’s still noteworthy. It’s also not the primary point of evidence.
More central to our case is a certain D&D trading cards. D&D trading cards were produced in 1991-1993, with a new set coming out each year. Made for AD&D Second Edition, each card featured a character, monster, or item, with a picture on the front and a description on the back. It’s notable that some characters that received stats nowhere else got them here (such as Teldin Moore, the main character of the six-part Spelljammer series of novels).
One of the characters from the 1991 set (card #411) is King Halvor II – a character with the same name as the king in the DragonStrike video. Labeled as being in the Forgotten Realms, the card denotes that he’s a 15th-level warrior (that is, a fighter), is Lawful Good, and is described as follows:
Halvor is king of a large country. He has great plans to control all the lands between the sea to the west and the sea to the east. He believes the gods favor him in this goal.
Now, obviously this 1991 card came out before the 1993 release of DragonStrike, and this might be a coincidence. After all, the two characters are clearly nothing alike. Even the picture that’s used on the card is very different from how the bumbling king in the video looks. But there’s still another card to play…
That card is from Spellfire. I’ve talked about this game before, but as a quick overview, Spellfire was a CCG based on Dungeons & Dragons. It was TSR’s answer to Magic: the Gathering, but ultimately failed to dethrone it. However, it did produce some interesting materials, not the least of which was card number 64 from the First Edition set…King Halvor II.
The card uses the same artwork as the 1991 trading card, listing King Halvor II as being a level 5 hero card, with the Forgotten Realms logo, but no other special powers or abilities. By itself that tells us nothing new, but for the Spellfire Reference Guide Vol. 1. This guidebook for the first several sets of cards reviews each of them in terms of how best to use them, or not use them, in the game. But for some cards, it also has a few sentences discussing the subject of the card in further detail. King Halvor II is one of the cards that receives this treatment, saying the following:
This king is best known as the bumbling ruler in the DRAGON STRIKE videotape adventure. What is not so well known is that the bumbler is actually an imposter. The real king Halvor II, shown here, was a noble and good king of fiery temper. He carried a magical sword of unknown powers. His current whereabouts are unknown.
That seems to settle it, as that description explicitly connects the character on the card with the one in the video, which along with this card’s world logo (and that of the character with the same picture on the earlier trading card) clearly denote his origin as being in the Realms.
(As a note, the bit about the magical sword is slightly odd. The trading card says that it’s a longsword +4 defender, and in the Fourth Edition of Spellfire, the card is revised to have a +5 flaming sword which can’t be removed from him. Maybe people simply didn’t know what the original sword did? After all, the defender power isn’t flashy like a flaming sword would be.)
Now, it’s likely that this entry (written in 1995) was written to patch up the discrepancy, but I think that’s a great way of reconciling these sorts of errors; turning what’s otherwise a puzzling contradiction into an opportunity for intrigue in your game. What happened to the real king? Who is that imposter really? Who else is in on the plot? An enterprising GM could have a lot of fun with these questions.
These sorts of connections – small cross-references that are easy to miss, but fascinating when noticed – are part of what I’ve always loved about the wider setting of D&D, and why I was sad to see it go away come Third Edition. Still, what’s already out there can’t be taken away, and I plan on writing about more of these in the future. Stay tuned for more D&D – and Pathfinder! – goodness.