Archive for the ‘ Humor ’ Category

The sad, silly saga of FATAL, Part One

FATAL -- the game of leather jockstraps and little blue guys.

FATAL — the game of leather jockstraps and little blue guys.

One day — hell, it must have been ten years ago or more — I was surfing the Intrawebs and came across a game review on rpg.net. It was for a game called “F.A.T.A.L.” and it went on for pages and pages. Fascinated, I sat down to read the review, and as I made my way through it I found myself thinking, “This has to be a joke. It must be a fake review for a fake game, intended to amuse and possibly gross out the game-review reading community.” After all, it was written by Darren MacLennan and Jason Sartin, two well-known and well-respected reviewers for rpg.net, and they were well known for using humor in their many articles.

Alas, further investigation revealed that the game described in the review was all too real, and today, the game whose acronymous name stood for “Fantasy Adventures to Adult Lechery” remains a legend, still discussed, criticized and insulted from one corner of the gaming Internet to the other. And as I started this particular feature a few months ago with an exhaustive review of the classic Arduin trilogy, how can I resist including at least a cursory mention of Byron Hall’s repellent life’s work? (Actually, given how much horror the game contains, I could resist it pretty easily, but hell — I’m a Pryor and Pryors NEVER take the “easy” alternative, no matter how much sense it makes…)

As the game has been exhaustively reviewed and painfully dissected elsewhere (and I am really, really reluctant to dive into the mechanics of a game that has a “Urinating” skill and rules for determining penile dimensions), I’m not going to do a real in-depth analysis of the system, but focus instead on a general overview, along with the tale of F.A.T.A.L.’s conception, development and savage reception, followed as it was by its esteemed author’s complete disappearance from the gaming community (hopefully because he was sucked into one of the lower pits of hell). Also, the very notion of actually delving into the needlessly complex, microscopically detailed and unbelievably trivial character generation system (proudly described by its designer as “the most difficult, detailed, realistic and historically/mythically accurate role-playing game available.”) fills me with cold dread and horrified apprehension. And we’re off to the races…

I don’t know of any other rpg which uses its relative difficulty as a selling point. Were I to read this without knowing anything else about the game, I seriously doubt that my first reaction would be “The most difficult role-playing game available? Holy shit! Sign me up!” And hell, I was involved in the creation of Metascape, a long-forgotten vanity project that was once reviewed as “not for the mathematically-challenged.” So with that in mind, shall we go for a dip in the cesspit? Welcome to the world of FATAL, where the dice never lie. And if you have a weak constitution, I strongly suggest you stop reading now.

From Another Time, Another Land

Behold... The only way Byron Hall can score...

Behold… The only way Byron Hall can score…

This discussion (I hesitate to call it a review) of FATAL is based upon the most recent “edition” available — a PDF that is archived in several places around the ‘net. An earlier edition included offensive (not to mention outright stupid) elements such as armors of Nigrous Nincompoopery, Jewy Jewbacca and Gookems, which transform their wearers into the listed racial stereotype. (For the record, though Hall attempted to expunge the sins of previous incarnations by deleting the more egregiously racist items, the descriptions remain in the original review… Here is an example, entirely unedited. Guess which magic item it refers to — Whosoever dons this armor experiences a loss of 1d100 points from each sub-ability of Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma. The ass of the wearer will grow by 50% and be abnormally high. If the wearer is male, then those around him are 80% likely to believe that his manhood has increased, though it has not. The skin of the wearer becomes cursed and dark as night… The eyes of the wearer are visible 3 miles away at night. The wearer will have a body odor for 1d10 feet. On the bright side, the Physical Fitness of the wearer increases by 10%.  Har-dee-fuckin’-har, Byron. You truly bring the gift of laughter to the unenlightened… The only thing missing is something about how the wearer’s teeth glow in the dark when he smiles. More on the racism and Hall’s defense of it later.)

Yes, apparently Bryon actually paid real, professional artists to illustrate this thing. I hope they made him pay through the nose.

Yes, apparently Bryon actually paid real, professional artists to illustrate this thing. I hope they made him pay through the nose.

Very little else from the original version is missing, however, save the most obvious change of all. Though FATAL was originally an acronym for the charming title Fantasy Adventures to Adult Lechery, Byron apparently realized that this was possibly not the best name for his game and changed it to the less offensive, but equally ungrammatical From Another Time, Another Land. Along with the removal of the racist material, that represents the only real change in the book between revisions. FATAL’s other endearing elements — rape, gore, violence, sexism and a near-sociopathic attitude toward women remain, as swollen and grotesque as the day Byron Hall committed them to paper.

Hall also paid for some very professional and, in places, quite effective black and white illustrations. Though there is little or no portrayal of the rapiness that FATAL is infamous for (thank goodness), the pictures stray into the creepy and disturbing, usually in the areas of anthropohagy and violence. Nonetheless, both the illustrations and typography of FATAL range from acceptable to very good, belying the horrific nature of the game they support. FATAL weighs in at a bloated 977 pages. It is, we are told, “The largest game-book ever printed” which is actually somewhat disingenuous, as FATAL was fated never to be physically “printed” anywhere, and the back cover assures us that it is “a role-playing game like no other.” In that, Byron Hall is being entirely accurate, and given that there never has been a game like FATAL, either before or after, we can all be grateful for it.

The cover portrays a male Anakim in a leather jockstrap bashing in the heads of a bunch of blue-skinned kobolds who are busy trying to drag a long-haired, big-breasted naked woman away by means of leash and collar. Knowing what lies inside FATAL’s richly-colored covers I’m sure we’re all aware exactly what the kobolds intend to do with their busty captive. Then again, once the Anakim kills them all with his big fucking hammer, he’s probably going to do the same thing to her, so I guess it’s six of one, half-dozen of the other. FATAL’s title page is enough to warm the heart of an old typographer like me. The book, Byron breathlessly informs us, is set in Garamond and Tiepolo Book fonts. Garamond, he says, “was selected as the main font due to its historical accuracy. Claude Garamond (1480-1561) was the first independent typefounder and first used his typeface in 1530.”

Get ready — Byron’s clarion declaration of “historical accuracy” is repeated many times and used as an excuse (along with “for humorous effect”) to explain away FATAL’s more excessive aspects. Further, though Garamond is indeed a very old font, its use in the 16th century really doesn’t make it appropriate for use in this game, especially under the dubious “historical accuracy” umbrella. Times-style fonts have existed since the Roman era, and a font that came into widespread use in 1530 is well past the supposed historical period that FATAL covers.

An Introduction to Idiocy

I'm not saying the pictures are bad. In fact I kind of like this one, though I'm not sure what the dwarf is supposed to be up to.

I’m not saying the pictures are bad. In fact I kind of like this one, though I’m not sure what the dwarf is supposed to be up to.

Anyway, enough with the nit-picking. The hilarity and horror are about to begin. We start off with Byron’s introduction, and the standard “What is Role-Playing” boilerplate, but from the start he gives it his own personal spin and makes the entire endeavor seem somehow dirty. He starts off with his favorite subject — how historically accurate his game is. FATAL, he says, is intended to reflect a Europe of about 1335 AD, isolated from the rest of the world. There is no contact with Africa, Asia or the Middle-East, monsters such as zombies are excluded, and PCs are (much to Byron’s relief I’m sure) exclusively Caucasian. “The application of historical accuracy to the fantasy of this game,” Byron proclaims, “is a neverending goal. Scholarly sources are preferred above all others. For consideration, please suggest references to fatalgames@excite.com.” (Of course if you want to send any suggestions, the email will probably bounce, as Fatal Games is currently as dead as disco. You’re welcome to try, however. I’m sure Byron will appreciate your efforts.)

Now we get to the meat and throbbing gristle of the game — Byron Hall’s view on what role-playing is. It is, he says, “a game in which the players make decisions as though they were a certain character. The decisions a player may make are diverse compared to other games. Table-top role-playing games allow more decisions to a player than any other type of game.” So far, so good. He seems to have a pretty decent grasp of the basic tenets, and as far as he goes, is pretty accurate. Just you wait.

Now, having given us a relatively sane and sensible definition of role-playing, Byron lurches right off the rails into sheer batshit insanity. “For instance,” he continues, “assume you are an adventuring knight who just fought his way to the top of a dark tower where you find a comely young maiden chained to the wall. What would you do? Some players may choose to simply free the maiden out of respect for humanity. Others may free her while hoping to win her heart. Instead of seeking affection, some may talk to her to see if they can collect a reward for her safe return. Then again, others may be more interested in negotiating freedom for fellatio. Some may think she has no room to bargain and take their fleshly pleasures by force. Others would rather kill her, dismember her young cadaver, and feast on her warm innards… No other game allows so much individual choice, and consequently, so much fun.”

Okay, I admit that I just had to go wash my hands after typing this (and will probably do so several times before I’m done), and I did selectively edit a few words out for dramatic effect. But the fact remains that Byron uses “feast on her warm innards” and “so much fun” in practically the same breath. And this is only page one, folks.

Fatal Games Considers [insert topic here] to Be a Serious Issue

The next page or two discusses terminology and pronouns (as avoiding gender bias is one of Byron Hall’s most important goals in creating this game, he chooses to use “they” in place of “he” and “she”, thus irrefutably proving his total rejection of sexism and the objectification of women), math (“Players will not need math that is more complicated than basic algebra, and even that is relatively rare”, or so he claims), character creation and roles. In this last section Byron does away with namby-pamby terms like “game master”, telling us that instead FATAL games will be administered by an Aedile (“a Roman official in charge of the games”). Once more, FATAL literally reeks of historical accuracy.

The Introduction continues with a brief paragraph about Hall’s proud creation — the Mean System, i.e. “the set of mechanics behind F.A.T.A.L. — the gaming engine, if you will.” While it’s based on math and statistics, you really don’t have to understand math at all to play. The Mean system, he tells us “is realistic, but also simple to use.” Of course, behind every simple system is a genius game designer, who is not only a talented musician but also irresistible to women. “The most common aspects of the Mean System are the normal curve, mean, and standard deviation, though parabolic curve-fitting and trigonometric functions have been incorporated as well.” Whoa! I’m starting to feel out of my league as a game designer here.

According to the bio at the back of the book, Byron Hall "adores gaming and writing," "has been a role-playing gamer since 1980,,, taught at Northern Illinois University where he earned his MA in Quantitative Research Methods and did pre-doctoral work with Structural Equation Modeling... enjoys dissonant shred guitar, ancient and medieval literature and history, neuroscience, philosophy, research and statistics." He is also a member of Seal Team Six, helped rescue POWs left behind after the Vietnam War, killed Osama bin Laden, is married to a gorgeous supermodel, traveled back in time to kill Adolph Hitler and invented ketchup.

According to the bio at the back of the book, Byron Hall “adores gaming and writing… has been a role-playing gamer since 1980… taught at Northern Illinois University where he earned his MA in Quantitative Research Methods and did pre-doctoral work with Structural Equation Modeling… enjoys dissonant shred guitar, ancient and medieval literature and history, neuroscience, philosophy, research and statistics.” This bio neglects to mention that Byron Hall was also a member of Seal Team Six, killed Osama bin Laden, is a millionaire rock-star brain surgeon, is married to a gorgeous supermodel, traveled back in time to kill Adolph Hitler and invented ketchup. It also doesn’t mention his hairstyle, but the less said about that the better.

“A mean game needs a mean system,” he continues. “Enjoy the most simple and sophisticated mechanics in the industry. Enjoy F.A.T.A.L.” And with that not-at-all-egotistical-or-slightly-demented introduction we conclude with the Intro’s centerpiece, the bizarre and slightly disturbing “Warning.” “F.A.TA.L. is for adults only. This roleplaying game is not intended for children due to content that is obscene, lecherous, and violent.”

With that understatement of understatements, Byron launches into a slightly desperate defense of his indefensible game. “Fatal Games considers obscenity to be a sensitive issue, and only includes it because of its prominence in the past as a significant part of human history. Most of the rules of the game avoid obscenity. For example, it is possible to determine a character’s manhood, not cock, or vaginal depth, not cunt depth. However, the greatest concentration of obscenity is in Appendix 3: Random Magical Effects, and is intended for humorous effect.”

Well that certainly reassures me. Us? Obscene? No way! We don’t babble on about “cock length” or “cunt depth”! We use normal, sophisticated terms such as “manhood” and “vagina.” Not obscene at all. No sirree. Our rules for determining the length and girth of a man’s penis and a character’s ability to perform anal sex are utterly proper and necessary due to our emphasis on historical accuracy! And if we do happen to offend you a wee bit, well it was all in a good cause since our real goal was to make you laugh, and who could possibly fault us for that?

“This game includes sex and sexual situations,” Byron continues, digging himself in even deeper. “Fatal Games considers sex to be a sensitive issue, and only includes it because of its prominence in the past as a significant part of human history.” Observant readers will note that this paragraph is almost identical to the previous one. Almost as if he’d just cut-and-pasted it… Hmmm… Next we’re told that the game’s level of violence is pretty graphic, but hey — “Killing is a core element of most role-playing games” so that makes it okay. “Fatal Games,” Byron continues, “considers the act of killing to be a sensitive issue, and only includes it because of its prominence in the past as a significant part of…” Okay, wait a damn minute. Is the whole book going to be like this? I guess I’ll skip this paragraph since it’s identical to the previous two and get to the discussion of Byron Hall’s favoritest subject.

A rather odd photoshopped picture from the FATAL PDF. This is either the real-life Beavis and Butthead or it's Byron Hall (right) and his faithful champion Burnout (left).

A rather odd photoshopped picture from the FATAL PDF. This is either the real-life Beavis and Butthead or it’s Byron Hall (right) and his faithful champion Burnout (left).

“Rape is not intended to be a core element of F.A.T.A.L. as killing is a core element of most role-playing games. Fatal Games considers rape to be a sensitive issue, and only includes it because of its prominence in the past.” Yeah, yeah. I get it. No one can accuse Byron Hall of not being sensitive to such matters. After all, he’s repeated it word-for-word four times now. Of all the copied-and-pasted warnings in this section, the defense of rape is easily the longest and wordiest. Methinks that the game-designer wannabe protests too much. To wit: “For example, Europe was named after Europa, who was raped by Zeus… Jacques Rossiaud’s Medieval Prostitution [I'm sure that Byron wore the fucking covers off of that particular volume while researching FATAL]… estimates that half the male youth participate in at least one gang rape, and that sexual violence is an everyday dimension of community life.”

Hot damn! Rape and sexual violence happened all the time in medieval Europe? Holy shit — then we can include all the rape we want and justify it as being historically accurate! My hat’s off to you, Jacques Rossiaud, and your book which is the only source that we cite before coming to our highly dubious conclusions! Likewise, Byron now tells us, brothels were very common in medieval and ancient Europe, and so must be included in his game, simply for the sake of (wait for it) historical accuracy! To do otherwise would be dishonest, and do a serious disservice to the roleplaying community, who have for years been clamoring for a game that accurately depicts rape, anal sex and prostitution.

And here's a picture of Fatal Games' playtest group, getting ready for a  Saturday evening of roleplaying gang rape.

And here’s a picture of Fatal Games’ playtest group, getting ready for a Saturday evening of roleplaying gang rape.

Hell, he tells us, you don’t even have to include sex in your game at all! And besides, kids shouldn’t be playing FATAL in the first place. “The information in this game does not represent the world-views of Fatal Games, nor is extreme violence or extreme sex condoned by Fatal games. Instead, the information is included for comprehensiveness. F.A.T.A.L. (From Another Time, Another Land [Not, repeat NOT, "Fantasy Adventures to Adult Lechery", an inaccurate title which suggests that the whole game might actually be about sex, rape and perversity, things which Fatal Games most assuredly DOES NOT ADVOCATE!] may be adapted to any gaming group.” And with that convenient warning effectively disclaiming his own game, Byron Hall closes his introduction and we move on into the travesty that is FATAL (From Another Time, Another Land. NOT Fantasy Adventures to Adult Lechery).

Off to the Races

Like all great rpgs, FATAL kicks off with character generation. The player’s (and I’m surprised that Byron didn’t come up with a special Latin word that meant gamer to go along with Aedile) first choice is race, and we’re now treated to a long list of the races available in the game. For the most part there’s nothing especially noteworthy here, save for the occasional grammatical howler (Anakim, we are told may “worship any religion” by which I’m sure Byron meant “practice any religion” or “worship any god” but who am I to judge?) and delightful facts about the various races such as the fact that bugbears usually rape human women before devouring their children and that “50% of human women who are ravished by a bugbear die due to a ripped uteral lining.”

Most of FATAL’s races are bog-standard fantasy tropes — dwarves, elves, bugbears, kobolds, various varieties of ogres (including kinder-fressers, who enjoy devouring “prepubescent, virginal” human children, a feature which should normally make for a shitty PC-race, but of course this is FATAL, so bring on the child murder!) and trolls. Most of the racial descriptions skimp on cultural details but treat the way that these races kill others with loving care — hill trolls, for example, love to eat brains and “savor the taste of the limbic system, most specifically the amygdala, basal ganglia, and hippocampus. Oddly, they always reject the thalamus, but devour the hypothalamus. While tasting the limbic system, hill trolls will become erect or wet with sexual excitement as well.”

A fairly decent illustration of the various dwarven races. Pity this art wasn't produced to support an actual roleplaying game...

A fairly decent illustration of the various dwarven races. Pity this art wasn’t produced to support an actual roleplaying game…

That’s our Byron… Always keeping it classy. The most interesting — if that’s the right word for it — race are the winged half-demons called Anakim. When generating an Anakim, the player must roll on a table (the first of many, many, many such tables) to generate a random feature. These range from rather normal effects such as the reduction or increase of various statistics, to the pointless (“The anakim has 2 horns, 1d8 inches in length, protruding from their head. Any headgear worn by the anakim must be custom-made to fit the horns” or “the anakim is able to cry at will, with tears”) to, of course the graphically violent, scatalogical and repellently sexual. “The anakim is addicted to vaginal or penile carrion. Once per week the anakim has the urge to kill the first member of the opposite sex in sight and feed on the previously stated remains.” “The anakim has blood for sexual fluid… If male, the anakim ejaculates blood. If female, then blood is the lubricating vaginal fluid all month long.” “The anakim is accompanied by the odor of sex, which extends 1d6 feet.” And so on. I’ll give Byron credit here — he certainly has the ability to fill up a random table with the most random shit imaginable. More on that later.

The Racial Hatred table follows. Not “racial attitudes” mind you — Racial Hatred. Each race is cross-indexed with all the others, with a rating of 1 (prefers the race) to 5 (utter and absolute hate). Of all the ratings on the table, almost all of them are “5″ — there are some “4′s”, a handful of “3′s” and almost no “2′s”. “1′s” are reserved for one’s own race. The world of FATAL is full to the brim with hate, kind of like the way most gamers feel about Byron Hall.

Next comes gender, and along with it some more delectable tastes of Byron’s attitude toward women. We are told that “According to a prominent philosopher, males tend to be more spirited, savage, simple and less cunning. Females… tend to be more compassionate… more easily moved to tears, at the same time are more jealous, more querulous, and are more apt to scold and to strike… more prone to despondency and less hopeful… more void of shame and self-respect, more false of speech… more deceptive… also more wakeful, shrinking, and difficult to rouse to action… males are more courageous, sympathetic, and stand by to help… Even in the case of mollusks, when the cuttle-fish is struck with a trident, the male stands by to help the female; but when the male is struck, the female runs away.”

Well, I’m glad we got that particular issue straightened out, aren’t you? Byron’s “prominent philsopher” is Aristotle, and Byron justifies this particular load of horse-shit by saying “His comments are deemed relevant to the setting of F.A.T.A.L. due to the prevalence of his opinion throughtout the Middle Ages.” Yes, Byron’s heroic dedication to historical accuracy above all other things has struck again.

After all of Byron's sexist crap I thought we could close with a picture of a real woman.

After all of Byron’s sexist crap I thought we could close with a picture of a real woman.

Now we get a quick history lesson. “Most cultures are patriarchal and the prevalent belief regarding gender is that females are inferior to males physically, intellectually, morally, and emotionally… [women] are deemed better suited to stay at home, cook, clean, and care for their husband and children. Prior to marriage, maidens are expected to be chaste, though few fulfill this expectation.”

You tell ‘em, Bro! They’re all just a bunch of sluts and whores, anyway… Why even waste our time letting anyone play female characters. I mean, any guy who would actually want to play a chick is probably a fag anyway…

Oops, sorry. I was channeling Byron for a second. It’s okay, I’m better now, but I think it’s probably time to wrap this up before something terrible happens. We’ll delve deeper into the slime next installment, kids. In the meantime, stay cool and do not ever, ever play FATAL.

Wizards_titleSo far, the ol’ Pit of Swords and Sorcery has focused on a wealth of material drawn from the gilded 1980s, but now I’m casting my memories back a few years, toward the days of Star Wars and Close Encounters, and the days when Jaws set the standard for summer blockbusters — to wit, the mid-1970s when I was writhing in the throes of adolescence, playing my first games of white box Dungeons and Dragons and reconciling myself to the notion that I would die a sad and pathetic virgin. In fact, I don’t think I actually started playing D&D until after I saw this flick, so believe me we are really talking about the dark ages here.

wizards_poster_01Into this depressing period in my life came a film that marked several milestones for me — my first viewing of a Star Wars trailer, my first experience with what might be called “adult” animation, and most importantly, my first case of lust for a cartoon character. So join us in the Pit of Swords and Sorcery for one of the more unusual entries — Ralph Bakshi’s cockeyed reflection on war, peace and jiggly boobs, as well as his homage to the great underground artist Vaughn BodéWizards.

Now I’ve been kind of hard on poor Ralph B on this blog. Not that it matters — my disdain for and amusement at Bakshi’s disastrous animated version of The Lord of the Rings isn’t really even a blip on the radar of popular culture. As the creator of numerous animated classics and a true innovator, Bakshi can easily shrug off the slings and arrows thrown his way by a minor-league rpg-writer like me, especially since in making fun of his movie I’ve derived enormous pleasure and enjoyment. So in a way, I guess Bakshi’s LotR was a smashing success, what?

Well, no. It’s still kind of a travesty, but back in 1977 when I went to see Wizards at a small theater in Portland I was sufficiently impressed that I looked forward to Bakshi’s take on Tolkien, and had high hopes for the future. Though my hopes were later to be brutally crushed, that day was a pretty good one.

Vaughn Bode’s Cheech Wizard — a short magician who likes to hang out with busty hippy chicks while wearing a big hat that hides his face. Sound familiar?

I went to movies by myself in those days. I didn’t have a girlfriend… Hell, I barely knew how to talk to women let alone ask them out on dates. My first attempt to do so took place when I was a freshman in high school, and consisted of my looking the girl up in the phone book and calling everyone with her surname until I got the right one, then nervously asking her if she’d like to go out with me. Unfortunately, she happened to be at her house with her football-player boyfriend, a couple of girlfriends, and their football-player boyfriends, and the sting of that humiliation still burns to this day. I will probably carry it to my grave.

My parents and I had somewhat similar tastes, but Wizards really wasn’t their cup of tea. Later that spring I’d take them to see Star Wars at the Westgate Theater in Beaverton, where it ran continuously for the next two years or so. A few years ago my friends and I went to the last show at the Westgate, Kung Fu Hustle, watching with lingering nostalgia before the whole place was torn down.

An interesting alternative poster for Wizards. Sheesh... She looks NOTHING like Elinore...

An interesting alternative poster for Wizards. Sheesh… She looks NOTHING like Elinore…

Anyway, enough rambling down memory lane — back to Wizards, which I saw all by my own little 16-year-old self several months before Star Wars. As noted, the trailers included a preview for George Lucas’ future classic, which didn’t suggest what a huge deal it would someday become, and after the trailers came a cartoon. Yes, this was in the days when they still ran cartoons before movies — this was an odd animation called Twins about two brothers who were totally different in temperament, ended up having various adventures, then were finally reunited (and as such was actually obliquely related to the main feature). I haven’t been able to find any reference to the cartoon anywhere, but I haven’t looked terribly hard. If anyone finds it, let me know — I wouldn’t mind reliving the experience, as it was actually pretty funny.

Before I throw myself into the cinematic acid trip that is Wizards, I’ll refresh our collective memories about Ralph Bakshi. He was (and still is) a premiere American animator, though he’s had mixed success over the years. Some of his best work was on TV, including a pretty cool animated series called The Mighty Heroes, which I watched as a kid in California, and of course the now-infamous Spiderman animated series, source of amusing gifs and memes to all and sundry.

WizBookBakshi broke a few taboos when he directed an animated version of R. Crumb’s Fritz the Cata production fraught with legal difficulties. To this day there’s controversy over whether Bakshi really had Crumb’s permission to make the movie, with all parties having their own version of the story (personally I believe Bakshi, but that’s just my opinion). Fritz went down in history as the first X-rated cartoon, though today it’s relatively mild and Bakshi himself says that there’s more explicit material in an episode of The Simpsons than there was in this movie.

So when Bakshi obtained the rights to produce an animated version of The Lord of the Ringsalarm bells started ringing and people began grabbing their pitchforks and torches. My memory is a little sketchy from this period — God knows, I wish it was because of all the drugs and booze that I consumed during my wild teenaged years, but it’s actually just because I’m getting fucking old — but I seem to recall reading that Wizards was seen as a sort of “warm-up” to LotR, to test out animation techniques and reassure people that Bakshi wasn’t going to make Fritz the Hobbit. That Wizards turned out to be vastly superior to Bakshi’s LotR is one of those great ironies of film history. And not Alanis Morisette irony either. This is real irony.

The credits for Wizard are in that kind of odd computer-style lettering that was popular in the 60s and 70s for when you wanted to look cool and futuristic in movies like The Andromeda Strain. Using the style at the beginning of a fantasy movie gives us a clue that what we’re about to see is basically what would happen if J.R.R. Tolkien and Samuel R. Delaney had a misbegotten love child.

Our narrator... Rowrrr...

Our narrator… Rowrrr…

Our opening shot is live action, with the camera panning up to an open book with the words (once more in pseudo-computer font): An illuminating history bearing on the everlasting struggle for world supremacy fought between the powers of Technology and Magic. There’s a voiceover for those of us who have forgotten how to read, but it’s uttered by the husky and haunting voice of cult movie and TV actress Susan Tyrrell, so it ain’t all bad.

With Hawkwind-style prog-rock synth music moaning softly in the background, she goes on to tell the future history of Earth, and what a nasty future it is.

The world blew up in a thousand atomic fireballs. The first blast was set off by five terrorists. It took two million years for some of the radioactive clouds to allow some sun in. By then only a handful of humans survived. The rest of humanity had changed into hideous mutants. These mutant species floundered in the bad areas — radioactive lands that never allowed them to become human again, and made each birth a new disaster.

Queen Delia suddenly realizes that she's pregnant. Now how the hell did THAT happen I wonder?

Queen Delia suddenly realizes that she’s pregnant. Now how the hell did THAT happen I wonder?

Basically she’s telling us that the radioactive lands ended up resembling New Jersey. The tale is accompanied by still illustrations showing us what a nightmare things were for the benighted mutants. It’s effective, giving the sense of an ancient tale being told, and I think Bakshi’s Lord of the Rings would have benefited from this technique instead of showing live actors in silhouette, but I guess that’s all water under the bridge now.

Fortunately all was not lost for future earth: Then in the good lands there came back — arising from their long sleep — faeries, elves, dwarves — the true ancestors of man. They lived happily in the good areas.

So there you have it — 2,000,000 years of future history all rolled up into one nice neat minute or so of narration. Now, with more sepia-toned still images, we get to the actual meat of the story, with the tale of how Delia, queen of the faeries mysteriously gave birth to twin wizards on a stormy day a few millennia ago.

So Delia had these two kids — one was good and nice and sweet and cool and did kind things, and his name was (wait for it…) Avatar (normally a name reserved for kids born on hippy communes or conceived at Burning Man). The other was nasty, brutish, smelly, ugly, ill-tempered, repulsive, evil, wicked, mean, nasty and generally uncouth. She named him Blackwolf.

Even in the far future, tragic crack babies were still being born.

Try naming a kid “Blackwolf” some time and you see how well he turns out.

On my reviewing of the movie I sense a certain level of elitism bordering on racism, folks. First we’re told that the world is divided between the untermensch – the ugly mutants in their run-down radioactive wastelands, and the master race — the elves and faeries who live in sunshine and peace and niceness. Then we learn that wizards are born either good or evil, and can’t change their destiny or nature — one is evil and one is good and never the twain shall meet.

For a movie that later on portrays the bad guys using Nazi ideology and racism, Wizards has an odd sense of morality. Consider this — if certain individuals and races are born inferior and/or evil, then isn’t it a good idea to suppress or exterminate the “bad” ones? As with its philosophy of “Magic good/technology bad” (which we’ll explore in detail later) Wizards presents a slightly schizophrenic and contradictory worldview. And given Bakshi’s stated motivations for writing the film (see below), the whole situation seems even crazier.

Avatar in his younger days. Jesus Christ, what the hell HAPPENED to the poor guy anyway?

Avatar in his younger days. Jesus Christ, what the hell HAPPENED to the poor guy anyway?

So as he grew up, Avatar spent most of his time conjuring bunnies for his mom and bringing her flowers and nice greeting cards on Mother’s Day. Blackwolf on the other hand was a mutant and therefore naturally evil, and never visited Delia, choosing instead to torture small animals (no, really… that very line is in the movie), listen to Scandinavian death-metal and hang out with the cast of Duck Dynasty.

Finally, Delia snuffs it. Avatar tries to save her, but fails, grief-stricken. Where others see tragedy Blackwolf sees opportunity however, and he steps forward to take over as leader. Unsurprisingly, Avatar has a few things to say about all of this, and the two begin a ferocious battle, still in static images, but with a 60s rock-concert lightshow running in the background.

Of course Avatar kicks his brother’s ass and banishes him to the land of Scortch to hang out with all the other genetically-inferior mutants. Being the good villain that he is, Blackwolf doesn’t take his defeat lightly. “The day will come, my brother,” he declares, striding off into the shadow, “when I will return and make this a planet where mutants rule!”

Mom always liked YOU best, you jerk!

Mom always liked YOU best, you jerk!

Okay, I won’t belabor the point, but come on! Apparently a planet where mutants rule is bad and a planet where elves and faeries rule, keeping the mutants penned up in the fantasy equivalent of the Warsaw Ghetto is good. Just because the elves are better looking than the mutants is no reason for them to lord it over everyone else… Unless of course you ask an elf in which case he’ll just silently stare down his long, aquiline nose at you, slathering you in disdain, knowing that in a half century or so you’ll be getting the senior discount at Denny’s and he’ll be barely out of adolescence.

Now, to the present, in the land of Scortch 3,000 years later. A lot of the backgrounds in Scortch were produced by fantasy artist Ian Miller, who illustrated (among other things) Michael Creighton’s Eaters of the Dead, and a whole mess of Warhammer novels and game books from Games Workshop. Wizards represents some of Miller’s early work, and these backgrounds are pretty kickass. Personally, I found that they clashed a bit with Ralph Bakshi’s more cartoony, Bodé-inspired images, but damn… They do give this flick a nice look.

Okay, I admit that you guys are three of the goofiest looking guys in all of Scortch, but hell... You're all I've got.

Okay, I admit that you guys are three of the goofiest looking guys in all of Scortch, but hell… You’re all I’ve got.

In the palace of  Scortch One, Blackwolf now sits on his throne, imperiously instructing his minions in a scene that kind of reminds me of Darth Vader talking to the bounty hunters in Empire, released a few years later.

Blackwolf’s not a bad-looking villain, though his animated incarnation is somewhat simplified compared to the painstakingly-drawn pictures from the prologue. He’s tall and emaciated, with grey skin, a long white beard and a hollow, red-eyed face. He’s gone pretty thoroughly bald, but hell what do you expect from a guy after 3,000 years? And oh, yeah — his arms are all bone, with no flesh on them. It’s an odd look, and one wonders how he actually moves his arms at all, unless he really does have muscles and tendons but, similarly to Venture Brothers’ Phantom Limb character, they’re simply invisible.

“The time has come,” he rasps. “Kill!”

Bode's Cobalt 60. Look familiar?

Bode’s Cobalt 60. Look familiar?

Damn, but Blackwolf’s got some pretty decent minions, since that’s all the instruction they need. There are three assassins and two of them — a clumsy-looking frog-guy and a horned devil wearing what appears to be a German pickelhaube, are expendable mooks. It’s assassin number three, the red android called Necron 99, who merits further attention.

Clearly, Necron’s design was inspired by Bodé’s character Cobalt 60, and when I was younger I was somewhat pissed off at Bakshi for appropriating the look in such a blatant fashion. Since then of course I’ve learned that Bodé and Bakshi were buds and much of Wizards’ look and feel is simply an homage by Bakshi to his friend. That said, check it out — it’s like Necron and Cobalt were separated at birth, man. What the hell?

(A side note here — during my research for this piece I discovered that we really dodged a bullet regarding Cobalt 60. A few years ago, hack director Zack Snider who brought us the atrocious but funny 300, the acceptable cinematic version of Watchmen and the crime against humanity and good taste that was Sucker Punch, was in negotiations to film a live-action version of Cobalt 60. Apparently the deal fell through, as I haven’t heard anything about it lately, so I hope we can count ourselves lucky that Snyder didn’t rape another batch of audiences with his subtle-as-a-brick-to-the-face style of filmmaking.)

…Annnd here’s Necron 99. Separated at birth, perhaps?

The three assassins ride out through more Ian Miller backgrounds, past what looks like the unseelie court’s red-light district where disturbing faerie hookers solicit squat goblin-looking things, but draw back in fear as Necron slowly rides past. Necron proceeds out of Scortch, through battlefields and past Blackwolf’s gathering armies, finally entering the good lands where the elves and faeries have no idea what’s about to happen.

In a lovely sylvan grove, an old faerie wise man reads to his people from an ancient book: My children, the only true technology is nature. All other forms of man-made technology are perversions. The ancient dictators used technology to enslave the masses…

Okay, here comes my other rant about Wizards. All through the movie we hear about how horrific and “perverse” man-made technology is, and how nature and peace and love are the only things we need. Yet over and over again we see the “good” faeries using the very “man-made” technology that they supposedly abhor. The village elder himself is reading from a book, which is manufactured from paper, leather, twine and other “man-made” substances. Later on we see the faeries defending themselves with “man-made” weapons and armor, and at the very end of the movie…

Well, never mind. We’ll save that one for later. For now I’m just struck at how irritated, over three decades later, I am at the movie’s lack of internal consistency. Of course, it’s still a cool movie, but hell it can be frustrating.

...And so little elves, heed my wisdom. Shun technology. Avoid modern medicine, farming techniques, plumbing and electricity. THEN see how long you can hold out against the mutant barbarians.

…And so little elves, heed my wisdom. Shun technology. Avoid modern medicine, farming techniques, plumbing and electricity. THEN see how long you can hold out against the mutant barbarians.

So before the elder can give us more faerie propaganda about how evil “techology” is, Necron shows up and blows him and his followers to kingdom come. Mind you, I found his speech a bit annoying, but I think that blasting him with an automatic weapon was a bit harsh. I might have just walked out, or at least told the elder to shut up and stop reading from a goddamned book if he finds technology so fucking evil…

Never mind. Back to the movie. Necron and the assassins’ campaign of terror continues, snuffing out more elf and faerie leaders, preparing the way for Blackwolf’s forces while in the background a kind of merry jazz ensemble plays.

Necron enters a moonlit forest, seeking out more victims. In the forest are two elf scouts, Weekhawk and his friend whom everyone else knows as Deadmeat. Now to the untrained eye, it might seem that both Weehawk and Deadmeat look exactly the same, as if they’re both drawn from an identical character model (or perhaps all of Weehawk’s clan are clones? The possibility is never explored). However, if you know what to look for, it’s easy to tell them apart, as Deadmeat has an earring in his left ear, and Weehawk has an earring in his right ear. Simple, huh?

They're elven warriors/Identical elven warriors/and you'll find/ They laugh alike, they walk alike/ At times they even talk alike.../ You can lose your mind/When elven warriors.../are two of a kind!

They’re elven warriors
Identical elven warriors
And you’ll find
They laugh alike, they walk alike
At times they even talk alike…
You can lose your mind
When elven warriors…
Are two of a kind!

Given the criticism some leveled at Bakshi for making his movie look too much like Vaughn Bodé’s art, I think it’s only fair to point out the design of his elves. These are definitely not in the Tolkien mold. They’re short, dark and kind of tough-looking and a few years later the comic series Elfquest was sometimes taken to task for copping the look and feel of Bakshi’s elves. Of course, like the criticisms of Bakshi, such suggestions are a little off the mark. While there’s a superficial resemblance between the Pinis’ elves and those of Wizards, they also differ in a lot of areas, and if Marv and Wendy Pini used this movie for inspiration, so what? They took their creation in a different direction and made it theirs, regardless of its origins. In all fairness, the same can be said for Bakshi’s use of Bodé’s designs.

As they bounce through the forest on their weird two-legged mutant horses, Necron opens up, shooting Deadmeat out of the saddle and pursuing Weehawk. Our hero is no slouch. He manages to elude Necron, then draws an arrow and nails the assassin’s mount right in the eye. And yes, bow and arrow are both pieces of man-made technology, aren’t they? I guess if he really believed all that bullshit that the dead elder was spouting he’d have just thrown a rock.

Necron and his mount tumble into a ravine, but Necron is only wounded. He sneaks back and starts tracking Weehawk, finding him in a clearing where he’s set up a ring of torches and is praying over his mount Westwind, who has apparently dropped dead of exhaustion.

Damn. Those elves really love their hideous two-legged camel-horse things, don't they?

Damn. Those elves really love their hideous two-legged camel-horse things, don’t they?

Now I understand sentimentality as much as anyone, but if you’re being chased by a ruthless, relentless cyborg assassin, shouldn’t you wait before having an elaborate funeral for your loyal mutant horse? Well, who can understand elvish culture anyway?

(And actually it isn’t really a funeral anyway, since Weehawk’s mount Westwind comes back, sound as a new dollar, a few scenes later. Go figure.)

Necron muffs the deal though, stepping on a twig and triggering a ferocious attack by Weehawk, who throws himself at the assassin, sword whirling (sword? You mean a sword that was made by a blacksmith who used TECHNOLOGY??? Sorry…). Necron and the enraged Weehawk tumble over a cliff and into a river. Is it the end for Weekhawk? I think not.

The wizard Avatar's tower. Remind you of anything?

The wizard Avatar’s tower. Remind you of anything?

So now we’re in the kingdom of Montagar, at the disturbingly phallic tower of the now-ancient good wizard Avatar, where he lives in slobby splendor with his apprentice and the object of my adolescent lust, Lady Elinore.

While the years haven’t been kind to Blackwolf, they’ve been absolutely brutal to his brother. Avatar is now a short, paunchy dwarfish creature in a green smock and a floppy wizard’s hat pulled down over his eyes and held up only by his gross, oversized ears. His nose is swollen and red, his feet are gigantic (and prehensile, as he often holds his cigar with them), his hands clumsy meathooks, and he has taken up smoking.

In fact, Avatar has gone so far to seed that he looks a lot like Vaughn Bodé’s other signature character, Cheech Wizard. Another homage, I guess, but hell — couldn’t Bakshi have picked another Bodé character to copy? Cheech Wizard is kind of creepy.

Avatar’s voice is provided by veteran voice actor Bob Holt, who performed in more Saturday morning cartoons than I can count, and according to imdb based Avatar’s voice on Peter Falk’s Columbo.

(Now unfortunately I can’t get that last fact out of my head… I keep waiting for Avatar to start to leave a room, then turn around at the last second and say something like “Just one more thing… I got this nutty notion… Maybe you killed the professor, then framed Mrs. Johnson! Nah, it’s too far-fetched…”)

Lady Elinore, in a typical pose. Okay, okay... She's a total bimbo, but hey, I like her, okay?

Lady Elinore, in a typical pose. Okay, okay… She’s a total bimbo, but hey, I like her, okay?

Lady Elinore on the other hand… Woof, woof, woof! While she’s not based on any specific Bodé character, she’s a Bodé babe through and through, though I think one of her distant ancestors may also have been Betty Boop. She has purple faerie wings, thick black hair, big blue eyes, full red lips and the most alluringly buxom figure imaginable — melon-sized breasts straining against her flimsy white faerie-stripper-lingerie garment, softly flared hips, a shapely ass and pale, sculpted thighs…

Excuse me. I’ll be in my bunk.

No, never mind. Sorry, the teenaged me was in the driver’s seat for a moment there.

Elinore’s voice is provided by actress Jesse Wells, who had a decent run of TV roles back in the 70s and 80s but currently has no imdb entry, so I’m not entirely sure what she’s been up to since then. She gives the sexy elf babe a sultry but giggly voice which appealed to me at 16, but I now find a little annoying. Then again, I wouldn’t mind what she sounded like if she was saying something like “Hey, big fella… Wanna show a faerie princess a good time?”

Avatar and the president of Montagar, just clownin' around...

Avatar and the president of Montagar, just clownin’ around…

So Avatar is scanning the distance with a telescope, then shares his concerns with Elinore’s father the president of Montagar — a guy in a top hat wearing a clown mask (no political commentary here… no sirree Bob) — worried that his scouts haven’t yet returned from their mission.

“They’re really late now, aren’t they old wizard?” giggles Elinore. “Bad magic, isn’t it? And if they don’t show, you’ll know-no-more-than-you-did-be-fore [yes, that's exactly how she says it]. Tee-hee-hee.”

Or maybe, just maybe they’re effing dead and Blackwolf’s assassins are on their way. Have you thought of that Miss Faeries-don’t-wear-bras? Hm?

Okay, so Elinore’s a hottie, but that doesn’t mean that she’s necessarily portrayed as smart, which also kind of bugs me, as if a woman can be pretty or intelligent, but not both. Sigh. I have to keep reminding myself that this thing was made in 1976…

Avatar the wizard, ladies and gentlemen... the epitome of wisdom, knowledge and sophistication. And he smokes cigars with his feet.

Avatar the wizard, ladies and gentlemen… the epitome of wisdom, knowledge and sophistication. And he smokes cigars with his feet.

The president’s pretty concerned about all this, as frankly what sensible head of state wouldn’t be? He wonders — justifiably I think — whether Montagar should start arming up.

Avatar thinks this is just a waste of time. They’ll never be able to convince the people of the danger, and besides, he says, science and technology were outlawed “millions of years ago, and we must admit it’s been a peaceful world since then.”

Outlawed, huh? What’s that thing you were just looking through on your balcony, Avatar? The product of peace and love and magic? Hell, no. It was a fucking telescope.

Unaccountably the president then has a fit, demanding to know more lest he banish Avatar. Clearly Elinore has daddy wrapped around her shapely little finger, for she talks him down, explaining that Avatar’s teaching her all kinds of magic ‘n’ stuff, and can make her a “full-fledged faerie, and as you can see I’m only half-way there.”

Okay, I’m just going to leave that line alone. Some of my best friends are faeries.

Avatar starts explaining his past while below, the fearsome Necron 99 is clambering up the side of his tower.

Okay, at least Blackwolf’s minions LOOK cool. Of course they couldn’t fight off a troop of girl scouts armed with cookies, but at least they LOOK cool…

Now we’re back to still images and our sultry-voice narrator. Blackwolf lurked in Scortch for 5,000 years (wait, I though the title card said 3,000 years… Oh hell, I give up trying to keep track of what happened when), gathering an army and attempting to fulfill his promise to conquer the good guys and put the mutants in charge. Summoning demons from hell for generals, he unleashed his armies. Unfortunately, despite their demonic leadership, Blackwolf’s troops were pretty pathetic, getting bored or distracted before retreating in disorder, and the elves and faeries didn’t even have to use harsh language to drive them back.

Now we cut to one of the funnier pieces in the movie, a scene with a gas-mask clad mutant named Max mourning over his slain companion, Fritz (apparently a reference to Bakshi’s involvement in the Fritz the Cat movie).

“They killed Fritz!” he screams. “Those lousy, stinking yellow faeries! Those horrible atrocity-filled vermin! Those despicable animal warmongers! They killed Fritz!”

Max and Fritz might have been an awesome comedy team if only Fritz had actually lived.

Max then opens upon the enemy with his pistol, screaming for vengeance, only to have Fritz stand up, tap him on the shoulder and explain that he’s fine (his voice is by our distinguished director, Ralph Bakshi, by the way).

Max doesn’t like this. “Damn. There you go again, stepping on my lines, raining on my parade, costing me medals! Damn!”

Of course in his frustration, Max then accidentally shoots Fritz dead.

“They killed Fritz!” he screams. “Those lousy, stinking yellow faeries! Those horrible atrocity-filled vermin! They killed Fritz!”

And so on. Yeah, it’s still funny even after all these years.

Blackwolf is unhappy with his army’s performance, and I certainly know how he feels (I played Wizard Kings this past weekend, and both Dale and Victor took me to the cleaners, slaughtering my elvish armies to the last unit, then dividing the world up between them. Those horrible atrocity-filled vermin…). He sends his legions out to scavenge for lost technology, eventually locating all sorts of cool tanks, bombers, missiles, guns, grenades and artillery. Everything’s in surprisingly good condition even after 10 million years, but no matter.

Blackwolf the Wizard frowns on your shenanigans.

Blackwolf the Wizard frowns on your shenanigans.

Unfortunately, even the best lost military tech means jack if you’ve got uninspired mooks to carry it, so Blackwolf keeps searching for something to motivate his legions and give them the edge they need to overwhelm a huge kingdom full of unarmed, inexperienced farmers and half-naked faerie babes.

Avatar believes that Blackwolf has solved his problem and now has what he needs to inspire his mutant forces, which is why he sent out Weehawk and Deadmeat. The clown-faced prez thinks this is a load of hooey, but before he can start ranting again, Necron 99 clambers over the balcony and shoots him full of holes.

Avatar responds quickly — not quickly enough to save the president, but quickly — zapping Necron with magic and knocking him out. Having just seen her father mercilessly shot down before her wide, expressive blue eyes, Elinore freaks out, throwing herself on Necron and tearing at his clothes.

Elinore shows her mean side.

Elinore shows her mean side.

(Now wouldn’t mind having Elinore throw herself on me and tear at my clothes, but I really don’t think I want to murder her father to get it.)

Weehawk now shows up a bit late to the game, rushing into the room and falling on his knees telling Avatar he’s failed both him and the president. Fade out on the scene of tragedy and fade back in on Scortch One, where Blackwolf’s minon, a lizard-man named Larry sees Necron’s little red light go out, then runs to go tell his master.

Blackwolf’s sitting on his throne in the middle of a huge swastika (a swastika! Aha! I think I know where this is going now!) playing with a couple of skulls. Larry tells him that Necron’s history. Blackwolf is delighted — that means that all of the free world’s leaders have been assassinated and his plan can begin in earnest.

“The remaining countries are now ruled by second-rate incompetents,” he says, “so confused that even now they blame the killings on those within their own ranks!”

These backgrounds kick so much ass...

These backgrounds kick so much ass…

Okay, enough about the current state of the Republican party. On to Blackwolf’s master stroke.

He strides through his fortress, past giant dynamos, swooping bombers, rows of armored vehicles and marching legions and lizard-guys throwing up Nazi salutes.

“It’s time to strike,” Blackwolf hisses as sirens blare ans summon his forces. “Sieg heil!”

And just in case Bakshi’s symbolism isn’t hammered home quite well enough, we cut back to Larry who’s wolfing down raw meat from a hanging side of beef, and when he scampers off we see that there’s a star of David branded on its side.

Okay, okay — we getit. We get it!

Blackwolf the Wizard grows weary of your tedious company.

Blackwolf the Wizard grows weary of your tedious company.

Two more of the gasmask mutants then discuss their mutual feelings. The fat one (it’s always the fat one, isn’t it?) says he doesn’t want to fight anymore, and has decided he loves birds and butterflies and flowers. His companion tells him not to worry, that Blackwolf has a secret weapon that makes them invincible, and then the fat gasmask mutant dutifully shoulders arms and happily marches off to Blackwolf’s Nuremburg Rally.

Blackwolf strides into his projection room where a couple of pixies are chained to a hand-cranked generator.

“It will never work!” declares the female. “People don’t want war. It destroyed this planet, it’s people and all records of past civilizations!”

“Heh-heh-heh-heh-heh,” chuckles Blackwolf, uncovering what appears to be a 16mm movie projector. “Not all records, as you’ll soon find out!”

What follows is something of an acid trip. Blackwolf throws open the curtains of his projection booth (emblazoned with a giant swastika, naturally) and addresses the troops.

“Attention, members of tomorrow’s master race!”

And with that we get the first of many pieces of stock footage, repurposed to the world of Wizards. The first is a recolored segment from Sergei Eisenstein’s Alexander Nevsky, that originally showed an evil Teutonic musician pounding away on a big pipe organ (no, really, it did… Go see the movie… It’s a long story).

In the name of Aleksander Nevsky... Wait... I mean BLACKWOLF THE WIZARD!

In the name of Aleksander Nevsky… Wait… I mean BLACKWOLF THE WIZARD!

The music gets everyone’s attention and Blackwolf’s legions stop shooting craps and picking up whores to listen. More processed footage from Nevsky follows (siege engines and knights with wings, devil horns and red eyes added, for example), as well as more repurposed sequences from (I kid you not) Zulu. While it’s all pretty trippy it is also far more convincing than the legions of rotoscoped guys in gorilla masks that passed for orcs in The Lord of the Rings.

Once the stock footage army has assembled, Blackwolf continues. “The time has come as I promised! The time when I reveal to you, my loyal followers, the ancient secret of war. The key to creating hysteria. Fear. GODDDDDSSSSSS!”

Yeah, that’s how he delivers it. Blackwolf’s voice, by the way, is from Steve Gravers, who passed away only a year or so after Wizards was released. Another veteran TV actor, Gravers was active in dozens of shows from the 1950s onward. Wizards was not his last role — he was active up until the very end, acting on Charlie’s Angels and a horrible possessed-auto movie called The Car before heading for the big retired actor’s home in the sky.

Having fired up his troops, Blackwolf then zaps the pixies, forcing them to crank the generator, powering the projector and providing his drooling legions with what they’ve been missing all these years — Nazi propaganda.

Always remember... The army that SLAYS together STAYS together.

Always remember… The army that SLAYS together STAYS together.

And so it is that, watching footage from Nazi newsreels and The Triumph of the Will, while listening to the Horst Wessel Song, Blackwolf’s troops are driven into a National Socialistic frenzy and thus driven to vent their righteous rage upon the elves and faeries who stand in the way of mutant lebensraum.

Yeah, we get it all. As pictures of Hitler, Junkers 88s, Panzer IVs and Focke-Wulf fighters scroll past them, the mutants throw their arms around each other, start foaming at the mouth, jumping up and down and praising Blackwolf, their beloved Fuhrer to the skies. Now I feel sorry for the elves and faeries.

Next we see an animated map of Blackwolf’s attack on East Elfland. It’s actually a pretty cool map, and it only appears on screen for a second or two. Fortunately, through the magic of modern DVD technology (there’s that word again, dammit), we can freeze-frame and learn more about the world.

For all you wargamers out there...

For all you wargamers out there…

East Elfland is the first victim. In the peaceful, tranquil forest, untouched by the evils of nasty technology and genetically-inferior mutants, a faerie leader gives a speech to her people.

“Blackmark’s armies come again!” she cries (and she does say “Blackmark” so it might be a misread or another word for Scortch… I like the latter myself). “Our cousin elves are already in the trenches. It’s our loved land too. For elfin and faerie-land united we fly!”

I believe that this was the slogan of Trans-Dimensional Airlines back in the 70s, wasn’t it? At least until 9/11, after which it became “Shut up and be grateful we’re even letting you on board.”

And so off fly the faeries in a rush of pixie dust. Now we dissolve to the trenches where grim but extremely short elves in armor attempt to peek over the edge.

Don't you worry, kid. Blackwolf's murderous demons won't even consider someone named "Peewhittle" dangerous.

Don’t you worry, kid. Blackwolf’s murderous demons won’t even consider someone named “Peewhittle” dangerous.

In one trench, a grizzled veteran named Alfie sucks on his pipe and reassures his greenhorn trenchmate Peewhittle (no, really… The damned elf’s name is Peewhittle. Jesus, if I was stuck with a name like that I’d want to die in battle too) that the enemy is a big pushover.

“Blackwolf must have lost one million men here the last time he tried to invade! And if Blackwolf’s stupid enough to try it again he’ll lose twice more! Them goblins and demons just look mean, but they’re yella! They got no cause to fight. They always give up and run with our arrows chasin’ ‘em all the way home! Hee-hee-hee! It’s always been that way and it’ll always be the same. In’t that the truth, boys?”

While I think that referring to Blackwolf’s troops as “men” is a little misleading, it’s obvious that Alfie’s confidence is misplaced, for a few moments later the fired-up neo-Fascists storm the trenches using classic Blitzkrieg tactics while wah-wah guitars play in the background.  World War II stock footage (with horns stuck on the German helmets) now runs, interspersed with images of Blackwolf’s demon cavalry and flying serpents.

The technology-hating elves now don their helmets (technology), strap on their breastplates (technology), string their bows (technology) and draw their swords (technology) and prepare to meet the assault.

I think I saw this guy at a Laser Floyd show back in '81.

I think I saw this guy at a Laser Floyd show back in ’81.

Things go okay for them until Blackwolf turns on the magic movie projector, sending images of Third Reich mayhem directly over the battlefield, terrifying the poor wittle elfs and scaring them so much they throw down their weapons and run away like a bunch of pussies. The demons and mutants slaughter everyone but Peewhittle, who is left shivering in the trenches amid the slain bodies of his fellow elves.

Back in Avatar’s palace of phallitude, the good wizard is busy inspecting Necron 99 and denying Elinore’s pleas to torture information out of him. When Avatar tells her that torture is immoral and against the Geneva convention, Eliniore replies that all she wants to do is waterboard him, and that, as we all know, isn’t really torture.

No, Avatar says, he’s managed to extract sufficient information from Necron’s brain. Blackwolf has a magic dream machine that inspires his armies, and it must be destroyed. Elinore and Weehawk are both raring to go, but Avatar just climbs into bed saying he’s too old for this kind of shit and to wake him up when the world goes kablooey.

Avatar doesn’t take much convincing to change his mind, and immediately they start planning their next move. As Elinore crouches alluringly above him, Avatar asks her to sit there for a few hours while he figures it out.

Elinore poses alluringly. She’s sure gotten over the death of her father quickly, hasn’t she?

And of course, rather than punching him and calling him a sexist old man, Elinore complies, posing like a centerfold. Sheesh. There’s a part of me that’s kind of sorry that I notice this kind of sexist shit more easily these days, but for the most part I’m glad I’m a little more discriminating than I was at 16.

Avatar plans to reprogram Necron 99 and rename him Peace, “in the hopes that he will bring it” and use him to guide our three heroes to the machine’s hiding place.

More narration now. Weehawk spends a night saying goodbye to his tribe, while Elinore assures the other winged ones that she will return as Queen of Montagar (so men are presidents and women are queens? It’s an odd system they have in Montagar) and a full-fledged faerie.

Avatar leads the bound Necron… No, sorry, “Peace”… down the stairs, telling him to behave himself, lest he face painful consequences. “I got stuff that’ll take 20 years to kill you,” he says, “and you’ll be screaming for mercy in the first five seconds.”

Jesus. This is the wizard of peace and love and flowers and rainbows? I’m starting to sympathize more and more with Blackwolf and the mutants.

Peace doesn’t want this, though, and agrees to cooperate. “Peace,” he says, “wants love. Wants free. Will help.”

Avatar was forced to tie up Peace the robot after he threatened to leave if Elinore started singing.

Avatar was forced to tie up Peace the robot after he threatened to leave if Elinore started singing.

Avatar brings Peace to his old mount — the one that took an arrow through the eye — clearly resurrected through Avatar’s dark necromantic arts and relatively whole save some stitches and an eyepatch. Weehawk doesn’t trust Peace, but Avatar assures him that his powers are mighty while levitating himself into his horse-thing’s saddle but landing backwards.

Elinore, being the fluff-brained bimbo that she is, giggles and says (once more in an exaggerated girly voice), “He’s gettin’ older but not much bolder! Tee-hee-hee.”

Okay, I wouldn’t throw her out of bed for eating crackers, but Elinore does have her annoying aspects. Damn you, age and maturity…

And so our slightly shorthanded Fellowship departs (reduced from nine to four due to the same budget restrictions that reduced the mutant mounts legs from four to two).

“Sing us a song, Elinore,” Avatar asks the suddenly-sulky faerie. (At this point during my original viewing back in ’77 I distinctly remember a woman in the audience loudly exclaiming, “Oh, brother!”)

“I don’t want to,” she pouts, apparently realizing that she hasn’t packed any hair care products.

Elinore's all pouty. Then again, wouldn't you be pouty if you had to put up with this guy all the time?

Elinore’s all pouty. Then again, wouldn’t you be pouty if you had to put up with this guy all the time?

“But that’s why we brought you,” Avatar says, busily digging himself in even deeper. “Come on!”

Oh, Jesus… This somewhat appalling bit of sexism goes unnoticed (most of the amazon-types I’ve known over the years would jam a foot or two of steel through my ear if I had the temerity to say something that patronizing, but I guess that Avatar and I move in different circles), and Elinore obliges, singing the following haunting tune (sung by Baywatch’s Susan Anton) over a brief montage of the devastation that the war has wrought:

Time renews tomorrow, 
When we’ve used today. 
It will find the sorrow 
And wash it all away. 

Love can play a new tune 
On this carousel. 
It may be tomorrow, 
But only time will tell. 

No one has the answer 
To give away or sell. 
Tomorrow holds the secret, 
But only time will tell.

Sorry, kid. No school today -- Blackwolf had your teacher flayed alive for teaching evolution.

Sorry, kid. No school today — Blackwolf had your teacher flayed alive for teaching evolution.

As we pan past a long line of elvish prisoners in the middle of a bombed out city, we see a family of faeries seeking shelter in a tree. The faeries’ child asks where daddy is and mommy tells him that he’s out guarding their home since their side has lost the war. When the kid asks why they lost mom tells him, “Because they have weapons and technology. We just have love.”

Oh, bloody hell… I’m going to resist the urge to start ranting again, but this whole sappy, saccharine scene with its sappy, saccharine music puts me in mind of a line from comedian Jack Handey, who said: “I can picture in my mind a world without war, a world without hate. And I can picture us attacking that world because they’d never expect it.”

Anyway, back to the comic relief. Hundreds of elves are standing in line, guarded by Blackwolf’s troops and tanks. Several of the gasmask-wearing mooks are trying to figure out what to do with all the prisoners, and want to ask the local priests how to proceed.

Sacreligious? Us? NEVER!

Sacreligious? Us? NEVER!

A couple of mooks kick down the doors of the temple, which is stuffed with “holy objects that they’ve saved for millions of years.” Yup, you guessed it — the “holy objects” include a Coca-Cola sign, a baseball glove, an Oscar (TM) statuette, jukebox, TV, old fashioned telephone, etc.

The two mooks eventually find the priests, two dwarvish-types in robes and bowlers who are snoozing in the back of the temple on an old tapestry bearing a CBS-TV logo.

“My sons, you say you are the victors, but there is only one victor” intones the first priest, pointing up, “and that’s Him.”

The mooks insist on an answer, but the priests tell them that they must first observe sundown and pray. And pray they do, howling and babbling, whacking each other with sticks, doing the old soft-shoe, wheeling each other back and forth on improvised crucifixes, dousing each other with water, bowing, bobbing, jumping, etc. Eventually, after five hours the mooks lose patience and just shoot all the prisoners and blow up the temple, which is what we pretty much expected from the beginning.

Back to Scortch One, where Blackwolf is talking to a hot dark-elven woman who lounges unhappily on a couch.

When you think about it, Blackwolf is kind of Scortch's equivalent of Hugh Hefner -- a wizened shriveled semi-human mummy who still gets all the hot babes because he's so rich and leads an army of killer mutants.

When you think about it, Blackwolf is kind of Scortch’s equivalent of Hugh Hefner — a wizened shriveled semi-human mummy who still gets all the hot babes because he’s rich and leads an army of killer mutants.

“Will the birth be soon?” he asks.

“Very soon, my lord,” says the not-pregnant-at-all-looking elf.

“You are young to be queen,” Blackwolf replies, “but deliver me a son and you shall help me rule this planet.”

“I don’t want to rule this planet, lord,” she says. “Just our kingdom is enough.”

“Enough?” Blackwolf demands. “Enough for mutants to stay in their place, huh? Laden with radiation so our bodies crawl with hell? We will live in the good lands. My son will grow where there isn’t death in the very waters we drink and the air we breathe.”

Now consider this exchange  – what’s Blackwolf asking for, really? A safe, clean place to raise his children in, free of death and disease. The Nazi allegory starts to break down here — a people’s desire to live in health and happiness is a long way from racist fascist lebensraum. But more on that later.

Blackwolf approaches his wise men, a trio of greenish mutants who make Python’s Spanish Inquisition look competent. He asks them whether his son will be human or mutant. They assure him that it will be a mutant, and Blackwolf displays his horrific lack of good judgment skills by believing them.

There’s at least two things wrong with calling these guys “wise men.”

“The next one won’t be!” he snarls, stalking off. His future queen rushes after him, crying out not to have her son killed.

“It is not his fault!” she sobs.

Whoa, my head is now spinning. We’ve been spending most of the flick talking about how inherently evil and inferior mutants are, and now we’re trying to create sympathy for them as victims of Blackwolf’s eugenics. The fact that he’ll kill his son if he’s a mutant is contradictory, but that doesn’t really bug me, since villains of this type are usually hypocrites, and Blackwolf’s worse than most.

Meanwhile, our heroes are now riding perilously close to the domain of the mountain faeries, which neither Peace nor Weehawk think is a good idea.

“Faerie bad. Not good. Go around,” Peace says, summing up my feelings very precisely.

Awwww... Isn't dey jus' da cutest wittle things? And don't you just want to set them on fire or something?

Awwww… Isn’t dey jus’ da cutest wittle things? And don’t you just want to set them on fire or something?

Avatar vetoes the suggestion and into the faerie domains they go. Weehawk notes that elves and faeries are bad blood cousins, which kind of contradicts the solidarity they’ve been showing all through the movie, but no matter.

A bunch of faeries now starts to follow the companions. These are somewhat different from the ones we’ve seen up to this point — they’re a bit more like Victorian flower faeries, and consequently even more irritating. Needless to say, Elinore thinks they’re cute but Weehawk sensibly tries to gut one with his sword, with little success.

The faeries get even more aggressive. One transforms into a giant pink rat and menaces Weehawk, while the others levitate Avatar and Elinore’s mounts into a tree. As they do, a rifle falls from Avatar’s pack, and Peace discreetly picks it up. Uh-oh? Is he contemplating mischief, or even worse… shenanigans?

So THAT'S what Mark Hamill looked like before the car accident...

So THAT’S what Mark Hamill looked like before the car accident…

By now Avatar’s had enough. He orders the faeries to stop saying, “Even in the houses of elves I’ve seen more sophisticated magic!”

Weehawk lets this slight slide by, but the faeries continue with their antics. Eventually Avatar calls up the powers of magic and nature to sweep the faeries away. In the confusion, Peace slips away and nearby meets up with his two fellow assassins.

Avatar continues whipping up a storm, knocking faeries left and right until at last one of the more sensible faeries whips out a magic wand and casts a counterspell, stopping Avatar’s magic cold. The faerie then smiles adorably (or at least he thinks he’s adorable. I just want to squash him with a flyswatter).

The sky clears and Avatar, Weehawk and Elinore find themselves in the middle of a faerie feast.

“Please forgive us for the behavior of some of our more care-free brothers,” says the faerie who thinks he’s so fucking cute. “I’m Sean, leader of the Knights of Stardust, protectors of Dolan, king of the mountain faeries.”

Actually, after dealing with Sean I’d have considered shooting him, too.

Sean’s voice probably sounds familiar, because it was provided by a young actor by the name of Mark Hamill, who would one day go on to fame in movies like Corvette Summer, The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia and The Star Wars Holiday Special.

Eventually Avatar stops being annoyed, and discusses their mission with Sean while Weehawk walks away in disgust to go talk to the horses.

“We’ll eat alone, lest we sit with fools,” he says. Yeah, I knew I liked Weehawk, despite his dumb name.

Weehawk realizes that Peace has gone missing and raises the alarm, but it’s too late. From the forest automatic weapons fire cuts down Sean and next thing we know Elinore is magically imprisoned with her arms sunk in two blocks of stone, leaving Avatar and Weehawk to chase after her, knowing that Peace has turned on them. Or so they think, anyway.

Avatar and Weehawk race into the mountain faeries’ caves, but Weehawk falls into a pit, leaving Avatar to go on alone.

Evidently the mountain faeries take their bondage sessions VERY seriously.

Evidently the mountain faeries take their bondage sessions VERY seriously.

“You must save Elinore,” Weehawk’s voice echoes up from below. “Hurry, old fool!”

Avatar inches past the pit, muttering the mystic spell “Morrow-Krenkel-Frazetta” (a joke I even got when I was only 16).

While Avatar rushes off to save our zaftig heroine, Weehawk blunders around in the darkness, eventually facing a gigantic multi-legged insect-demon thing, but just as it’s about to finish him off, a volley of gunfire erupts from the darkness, killing the beast.

Badly wounded, Peace staggers forward mumbling, “Faerie bad. Not good.” He almost falls into the abyss, but Weekhawk pulls him back and they lie together, exhausted.

Now on to the faerie bondage scene, with the captive Elinore still trapped and surrounded by a crowd of faeries calling for her blood. The king, surrounded by his bodyguard of hot barbarian faeries, calls for calm.

Okay, the king's kind of a loser, but his bodyguards are dead butch. Especially that one on the right...

Okay, the king’s kind of a loser, but his bodyguards are dead butch. Especially that one on the right…

“Will it be brother against brother here, too?” he demands. “Only humans kill their own kind!”

(Let me take a moment to stew at this species-ist, ignorant remark… Okay, back to the movie.)

“She allowed technology and death into the golden circle!” shouts a rather haggish female faerie. “She is a traitor!”

Elinore takes umbrage at this, giggling (and Bakshi himself must have really enjoyed what giggling does to Elinore’s breasts) and telling the faeries that she doesn’t take this kind of shit from anyone, no matter how badass their king is.

Furious, Elinore blasts some of the angry faeries with magic, eliciting even more calls for her blood.

By now Elinore’s on a roll, realizing that she now has “full faerie power” and animating one of the statues on the column imprisoning her. The statue goes berserk, beating on faeries and threatening to provoke a massive riot.

I know this looks bad for Elinore, but believe me it's NOTHING compared to what female cosplayers have to put up with at Comicon.

I know this looks bad for Elinore, but believe me it’s NOTHING compared to what female cosplayers have to put up with at Comicon.

Avatar arrives just in time to throw himself on the faeries’ mercy while the animated statue starts humping Elinore’s leg. He didn’t kill Shawn, but is on a mission to save the world and if the king would be so kind as to let him and Elinore go, well, so that they can at least try to defeat Blackwolf, even though clearly the mission is doomed…

While he talks, the statue-thing starts clambering all over Elinore and she does her best to avoid it, without success.

“I have always been very good,” she says, kicking at it, “and can be even better sometimes…”

In the middle of Avatar’s speech, the image of Blackwolf appears, shouting, “My brother lies!” and a faerie arrow strikes Avatar in the arm. He takes it like a man, which impresses the king, who notes that he has kept his word not to use violence, and so can leave along with Elinore.

Hey, Avatar! This gives me an idea for my next poledance routine at the Crazy Horse!

With that Avatar and Elinore are transported into the frozen wastelands, where Elinore discovers that her somewhat abbreviated garments are inadequate to northern weather. Avatar conjures her a poncho, giving her the first decent clothing she’s managed for the entire movie. Note however, that he doesn’t bother to conjure actual shoes for either one of them, which strikes me as a bit of an inconvenience in a frozen wilderness.

The next day Avatar and Elinore dig themselves out of a snowbank and keep slogging on in the general direction of Scortch. When they’re confronted by riders, they prepare for a last stand, Elinore drawing her sword and Avatar preparing his magic (which I hope works better than it did on the faeries).

The riders are revealed to be Weehawk and Peace, who have been searching all this time, and finally get our happy couple off the glacier.

Hey, the mutants' wives are pretty cute, except for the fangs. And some of us are into that.

Hey, the mutants’ wives are pretty cute, except for the fangs. And some of us are into that.

More narration now, with an 80s montage of the rest of the journey. Traveling through the mutant lands, our heroes discover that the mutants are all gone. Well not all gone…

“All they left were their wives,” we are told, “hurling insults and rocks as the party passed through.”

Hey, don’t mutant wives get to fight, too? Well, I guess if the heroes are sexist, then the villains will be as well…

As they pass through the desert, Avatar and his companions are captured by a bunch of Arabic/Asian freedom fighters, led by a very loud viking-dwarf named Apu (no, really), who grabs Avatar and swings him around like a flag, bellowing, “AVATAR! FATHER! MOTHER! PEACE! LOVE! GRANOLA! HIPPIES! WEED! BURNING MAN!”

Surprise brohug!

Well, not quite that bad, but close. It seems that the companions have stumbled upon the last surviving elves, who have taken weapons from Blackwolf’s forces and are massing for a final assault on Scortch One.

Avatar doesn’t think much of this. He smacks Apu out of frustration with his suicidal plan, but the general takes it well, telling his followers not to hurt Avatar, and telling them that in the old days Avatar traveled the land, curing sickness and helping the bereaved. Why he never helped the mutants isn’t really explained, but I guess no one’s perfect, huh?

“And now,” Apu continues, “we have our messiah back again! He’s going to destroy his brother for us. With what? A woman-child, one elf, and a moron robot.”

Hey, you have to admit it’s a pretty accurate description. Disgusted, Apu stalks into his tent, leaving Avatar to walk sadly into the night, feeling totally pwned.

It seems that the elves have finally realized that to defeat cool-looking enemies you have to look cooler than they do.

Later that evening as Elinore and Peace look out to sea they’re attacked by one of Blackwolf’s spells, a massive red-eyed cloud that tries to seize Elinore. Avatar drives it off and then becomes Mister Buzz-kill, telling Elinore that it’s all her fault — her kind words took Peace’s mind off his internal battle with Blackwolf, allowing the wizard to attack.

We don’t have much respite after that, as one of Blackwolf’s tanks attacks. Peace tries to defend Avatar but — Surprise! Surprise! — Elinore draws her sword, kills Peace, and jumps into the tank, riding away with the gasmask mooks and leaving poor Avatar to wonder what the hell went wrong.

Shattered by Elinore’s betrayal, Avatar accompanies the rebel army on their awesome Ian Miller-designed ships as they sail to attack Scortch, but wanders around mumbling to himself, in full Heroic BSOD mode. When Weehawk tells him that they have to swim to Scortch to complete their mission, he pretty much goes along with all the enthusiasm of a damp dishrag.

Screw you losers... I'm heading off for a hot three-way with Blackwolf and that dark elf babe. (And by the way... EWWWW!)

Screw you losers… I’m heading off for a hot three-way with Blackwolf and that dark elf babe. (And by the way… EWWWW!)

Fortunately we aren’t subjected to the sight of Avatar swimming in that ridiculous outfit of his — we cut to the action after he and Weehawk have made it to Scortch and are both completely dry. Of course Avatar is still vapor-locked, mumbling nonsensically and generally carrying on like Mitt Romney after election night.  As they approach Scortch One, Avatar decides to brighten the place up a little by conjuring some nice flowers, an approach which Weehawk finds slightly objectionable.

They sneak through the lower city past the by-now expected images of Nazi-esque atrocities and nasty mutants wearing swastika armbands, and so on. Eventually Avatar completely breaks down and strides out, doing tricks for a mutant feldmarschall and his creepy looking doxy. Larry the lizard-man (remember him?) tries to warn the guy, but being a dumb Nazi mutant he ignores the danger until Weehawk shows up, gutting him with a sword and going all Wuxia action hero on the mutants who try to pile on and even going so far as to kick a fuckin’ mutant’s head off. Holy shit — Weehawk continues to blaze a trail of badassery all the way from Montagar to Scortch.

Weehawk shows what a badass motherfucker he really is. Provide your own Wuxia sound effects.

Weehawk shows what a badass motherfucker he really is. Provide your own Wuxia sound effects.

Larry the Lizard jumps Weehawk and slices his arm. Once more the mutants prove themselves to be pretty dumb, as Larry now thinks he’s killed Weehawk and rushes into the castle, muttering “Master! The enemy is dead! Master loves Larry! Master feed Larry!” Say what you will about Larry the Lizard, you have to agree that he is at least extremely goal-oriented.

Avatar is standing next to the fallen fieldmarshal, and looks distraught, but he allows Weehawk to lead him as they follow Larry into the heart of Blackhawk’s fortress.

Meanwhile on the beaches it’s D-Day as elvish resistance forces storm ashore. There’s a brief shot once more adapted from the movie Zulu in which a couple of Blackwolf’s scouts (Zulu warriors with horns painted on — what kind of message is that sending?) spot the enemy before all hell breaks loose. The elves have pretty much given up their crappy WWI tactics and now advance, fully armed and armored in Conan the Barbarian style, against Blackwolf’s tanks and artillery. Yeah, the elves may be doomed, but they’ve finally learned how to dress themselves stylishly.

Okay, assholes... No more "Peace-lovin', flower-power, tech-hatin' elf" crap. Come 'n' get some!

Okay, assholes… No more “Peace-lovin’, flower-power, tech-hatin’ elf” crap. Come ‘n’ get some!

More footage from El Cid, Alexander Nevsky and Zulu follows, interspersed with shots of Blackwolf’s mutants as the bad guys moves to engage our now totally-badass mofo elf army.

The rotoscoped enemy army from three other movies finally attacks and the elves give a fine accounting of themselves, standing firm and sending the enemy reeling back, chopping down demons, mutants and gasmask mooks and fighting to the last. And just when it seems that they might win the day…

Three guesses, folks.

Death to the British imperialists who have invaded our homeland! Oops... I mean death to the elves and faeries! Blackwolf Rules!

Death to the British imperialists who have invaded our homeland! Oops… I mean death to the elves and faeries! Blackwolf Rules!

Yes, Blackwolf turns on the magic movie projector and the rotoscoped stock footage from El Cid and Zulu is replaced by rotoscoped stock footage from Patton, Kelly’s Heroes and WWII newsreels. Stunned by the terrifying images and blown apart by superior weaponry, the elves are slaughtered and Blackwolf’s armies advance in triumph.

Keep in mind that, despite the extensive use of stock footage and other varied cost-cutting measures, the battle scenes in Wizards are far more effective than those in Bakshi’s Lord of the Rings, released just a few years later. I admit that the images from other movies are a little jarring (especially if, like me, you’re a big fan of the movies that were used for the footage), but the battle scene is still action-packed and quite comprehensible, as opposed to the cinematic trainwreck in the later film.

This is what happens when you try to open a Wal-Mart in an elvish neighborhood, so be warned.

This is what happens when you try to open a Wal-Mart in an elvish neighborhood, so be warned.

Blackwolf himself doesn’t seem to be terribly happy with all this, and just watches grimly as Avatar and Weehawk creep up on him. Weehawk’s pretty much given up on the mission by now, telling Avatar that he can’t fight Blackwolf — he’s just too strong. Avatar agrees, but hell, it’s in the script… He has to face his brother down in single combat. Luke Skywalker wasn’t due to face Darth Vader for a few years yet, so someone has to act as an example after all.

Avatar urges Weehawk to find the projector and destroy it, and tell Elinore that “Avatar will die with her tonight. Even if we win.”

And so with that jolly thought swimming through his age- and drug-addled brain, Avatar stands up, whistles and shouts, “Hi!” to his brother.

And so it begins…

“You have aged, old fool,” Blackwolf says. “The world is mine!”

And just as he’s about to snarl, “Shall we dance?” we cut back to Weehawk as he scurries through more Ian Miller backgrounds, eventually spotting Elinore crouching, weeping in a cell. He leaps down on her, shouting, “Slut!”

Weehawk's kind of channeling his inner Simpson when he slaps Elinore, wouldn't you agree?

Weehawk’s kind of channeling his inner Simpson when he slaps Elinore, wouldn’t you agree?

Okay, okay… I really don’t think “slut” is the best thing to call her right now… Bitch maybe (though it’s kind of rude). Traitress definitely. But not “slut.” I mean, what the hell’s wrong with being a slut? Some of my best friends are sluts. And faeries. And some are slutty faeries.

Just as Weehawk’s about to gut poor Elinore like a trout, Blackwolf’s queen (remember her?) shows up, cradling her infant son in her arms (he’s swaddled so we don’t see what kind of mutant he is… it probably turns out that he’s one of the gasmask mooks, which means that Blackwolf’s queen might strayed from the path slightly).

“Stop, elf!” she cries. “Blood on blood! Fathers and sons dying! Brothers and lovers spilling false hate and rivers of life flowing away! Fool elf! Think your sword is always quick? But what else? Think!”

My god. Something tells me she’s been rehearsing that speech for weeks.

All is forgiven. Fortunately Elinore didn't tell Weehawk that she's also been torturing elf prisoners and watching Fox News ever since she got to the fortress.

All is forgiven. Fortunately Elinore didn’t tell Weehawk that she’s also been torturing elf prisoners and watching Fox News ever since she got to the fortress.

Weehawk hesitates at this, as who wouldn’t, giving Elinore a chance to explain. Blackwolf was able to control her mind and forced her to kill Peace, and she was unable to prevent it.

Aw, come on… You knew that all along, didn’t you?

And so Blackwolf’s unnamed queen and son flee the fortress, and out of the movie. Unfortunately we don’t see them again, though they certainly look like interesting characters to follow.

(And if I were writing this as a Wulf story or something, you can bet your bottom dollar I’d have written a scene in which the queen comforts Elinore in ways that only a woman can… But then again, I make no bones about my various perversities…)

Meanwhile, Blackwolf is still busy monologuing.

“The trouble with you, my brother, is that you’ve always been too good.”

(Now isn’t that just the quintessential “evil brother” line of dialog? It deserves some kind of award, I think.)

Avatar takes this in stride. “That may be,” he says, “but I still think I look more like ma than you do.”

And so it begins... The two rival wizards face each other at last, presaging a magic duel that will shatter the very foundations of reality. Or not.

And so it begins… The two rival wizards face each other at last, presaging a magic duel that will shatter the very foundations of reality. Or not.

Blackwolf isn’t amused, and is still in villain speech mode.

“There is no need for me to destroy you,” he continues. “Surrender. Surrender your world.”

Yeah, like the elves would go along. They’ve already decided that Avatar’s kind of a dork and are busy outside fighting to the death.

Avatar replies with a slow clap. “You always did need an audience, you sap. Let me tell ya. I ain’t practiced much magic for a long time. I wanna show you a trick mother showed me when you weren’t around, to use on special occasions like this.” He rolls up his sleeves. “Oh, yeah. One more thing. I’m glad you changed your last name, you son of a bitch.”

And with that, Avatar, wizard of peace, lover of nature, hater of technology, defender of magic and foe of destructive engines and machines, draws a Pistole Parabellum 1908 Luger and blows a couple of nine millimeter holes in his brother’s chest.

Fortunately for civilization, Avatar had maintained his NRA membership for the last 5,000 years.

Fortunately for civilization, Avatar had maintained his NRA membership for the last 5,000 years.

(And what’s that about his last name? Hell, they have last names? And if they do, what the hell are they?)

Yes, after our near-feverish anticipation of a massive wizard’s duel, Avatar goes all Indiana Jones on Blackwolf and pops a cap in his wizened old ass. Blackwolf doesn’t even get a death speech before he falls and — predictably — his massive villain-fortress begins to crumble.

Avatar ditches the luger and gets ready to die, but Weehawk shows up just in time to tell him the truth, that Elinore’s not a traitor, and together the trio escape just as the magic movie projector blows up, taking Scortch One along with it.

“It is done!” Weehawk yells, providing some of the most unnecessary plot exposition in cinema history. “It is done! The world is free!

You shot me. You motherfucker! I can't believe you actually SHOT me! God damn it! You fucking asshole! You SHOT me!

You shot me. You motherfucker! I can’t believe you actually SHOT me! God damn it! You fucking asshole! You SHOT me!

And now with one last narrative interlude, we’re told that the shadow creatures faded away or crawled back to hell, and the mutants fled or were mercilessly cut down by the vengeful, genetically-pure elves. While there was some rejoicing, we’re told, most simply wanted to return home. Hitler, the narratrix says, once more pounding home the message with an oversized plot hammer, was dead again!

They could live once more in peace in the land they loved so much! God-given. Amen.

And, might I add, free of the threat of genetically-inferior mutants to mess up their perfect world since, after all, only the beautiful and the pure should be allowed to live in health and safety. The rest of us get to scrape out our existences in the living hell of Scortch.

Amen.

In the epilog, back in the green and lush good lands, Weehawk captures Larry the Lizard, but Avatar tells him to just set him free. Larry goes bounding happily off into the forest, where he is probably shot a week later by the elvish purity squad.

Elinore informs Weehawk that she and Avatar are going off on their own now, to form their own kingdom. Weehawk’s the new king of Montagar, and he can just ignore the dictates of those stupid presidents and “elected” legislators.

Weehawk skillfully hides his disdain for Larry the Lizard.

Weehawk skillfully hides his disdain for Larry the Lizard.

Weehawk thinks this sounds ridiculous and just the tiniest bit creepy. “You and Avatar married, my queen?”

Avatar doesn’t think that marrying a hot busty brunette who’s young enough to be his great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great (etc.) granddaughter is at all strange. He has at least 1,000 years or so left, and he intends to fill them with the fleshy delights of Elinore’s voluptuous body.

Well, he doesn’t say that exactly but I know just what he’s thinking. At least it’s what I’d be thinking in his place.

Weehawk just shrugs and rides off to go be king, leaving Avatar and Elinore to contemplate the complexities of their future life together.

“Come on,” Avatar says, “let’s make it.”

Weehawk reacts with bemused horror as he imagines Avatar and Elinore's wedding night.

Weehawk reacts with bemused horror as he imagines Avatar and Elinore’s wedding night.

Elinore giggles (of course) and says, “Avatar, you’re getting older and much bolder.”

“C’mon!” Avatar replies. “I mean let’s make it out of here!”

“Suuuure you did,” Elinore says, and we cut to credits and an encore of her elf song from the beginning of the movie sung by that Baywatch actress.

Wizards is an odd movie, and I found the whole thing downright schizophrenic on many levels. Above all else, it’s both a good movie and a bad movie at the same time. Good for its images, animation, voice acting and overall mood, but bad due to the ham-handedness of its story and its contradictory messages.

One more final shot of Elinore being Elinore.

One more final shot of Elinore being Elinore.

And it’s the messages that bug me more today than they did in 1977.

Let’s see. We establish a world where there are some races born good (elves and faeries) and some that are born evil (mutants). There are two wizards who represent the same good and evil, and came into the world that way. Good will always be good and evil always evil with no hope for redemption.

So the good, pretty people get to live in the nice lands, where there’s sunshine and green grass and forests and flowers. The ugly people get to live in the blasted, radioactive wasteland, and if they try to leave and live in a better place, they are mercilessly slaughtered.

Then the evil wizard takes over the bad guys’ land and indoctrinates them with Nazi ideologies that claim just what the movie’s story espoused — that some races are genetically superior to others and that they must exterminate the “inferior” races to gain enough room to live and prosper.

It seems to me that the good, kind elves were the ones practicing Nazi eugenics, isolating mutants and forcing them to live in apartheid-style homelands from which they could never leave. Yet it’s the “evil” mutants who adopt the Nazi’s ideologies and the “good” elves who kill them for trying to find better lives.

There’s a lot of cool material about Wizards on the net (for example, it was originally called War Wizards, but Bakshi changed the name at George Lucas’ request in deference to the upcoming Star Wars). Bakshi himself says that Wizards was partially intended as an allegory of the founding of the state of Israel, which gives that whole “God-given” line at the end a somewhat unhappy political twist.

Apparently someone (http://fooray.deviantart.com/ to be precise) has done some kind of Elinore/Zaphod Beebelbrox crossover. I don't even want to know...

Apparently someone (http://fooray.deviantart.com/ to be precise) has done some kind of Elinore/Zaphod Beebelbrox crossover. I don’t even want to know…

I won’t get into the details of the mid-east situation because it’s complex and controversial, but I will at least say that all sides have their own point of view, and valid and rational arguments can be made for everyone. Reducing the mind-numbingly labyrinthine Arab-Israeli conflict to a story as simple-mindedly black and white as Wizards seems to do the entire situation an injustice. And if Bakshi is portraying the Israelis as peaceful elves and faeries who shun violence and weapons, and the Arabs as murderous mutants who embrace Nazi ideology, I really have to take exception.

And that’s all the dancing in that particular minefield I intend to do today, ladies and gents.

I won’t get too mad about the whole “technology vs. magic” dichotomy, but it’s a very flimsy device. As noted, the elves do use technology, and they use it quite extensively. Had Avatar said that “technological weapons were banned thousands of years ago,” I might not be quite so upset, but the story didn’t make any subtle distinctions. “They have weapons and technology, and all we have is love.” Riiiiight…

Yes, Cosplay Deviants has an Elinore page. Can you expect anything less from them?

Yes, Cosplay Deviants has an Elinore page. Can you expect anything less from them?

And so it is that, at the end, all the love and magic in the world is helpless against technology. The elves on the beaches were on the verge of annihilation before Avatar blasted Blackwolf with his Luger (which he probably lifted from the dead mutant fieldmarshal, though we didn’t actually see him do it). It’s something of a turnaround and a contradiction, but it could have been a very interesting story element, that in order to defeat your enemy you have to take up his own weapons, even though you hate yourself for doing it. However, that kind of subtlety wasn’t adequately explored.

In the years since its release, Wizards has remained a solid cult favorite, even as the far more ambitious Lord of the Rings has been either forgotten or (as in our case) laughed into obscurity. Its psychedelic imagery and magic vs. technology plot still appeal to younger audiences, while its sexy heroine and Bakshi’s homage to his friend Vaughn Bodé attract comic book and anime fans. Elinore herself remains popular with fan artists and (as you can see) cosplayers.

Why is Avatar smiling? I'll give you three guesses.

Why is Avatar smiling? I’ll give you three guesses.

In 1992, Whit Publications even came out with a Wizards rpg, and produced several supplements (for Montagar, Scortch and other locations), but today the game got at best mixed reviews and is hard to find today — I myself have yet to score a copy, and I like to think I’ve got a nice collection of obscure rpgs. I’d be interested to see it, if only to learn some of the details of the world that the writers developed.

More recently, in 2004 there was talk of a Wizards graphic novel, with chapters produced by various famous underground artists, then in 2008 Ralph Bakshi himself started discussing a cinematic sequel to the original. Though neither project seems to have borne fruit, rumors of Wizards 2 continue to circulate, and despite my now-mixed feelings about the original, I’d probably be first in line when it finally sees the light of day.

So like most things that I loved in my youth, my fondness for Wizards has been tempered somewhat by the experience and cynicism of old age. Though a few rough patches show, the movie still appeals to me, so strong was its influence over my teenaged years.

And Elinore. I mean, come on people. Elinore. Rowwf!

And again we’ve reached the end of another installment — too soon for some, too late for others. Stay tuned — I hope to review some bizarre rpgs soon and look forward to looking at the two competing versions of Conan the Barbarian very soon. Peace out, homies.


Sword and Sorcery Rating:

3Swords3 Broadswords

Though it has many of the tropes and expresses them well — blood, violence, swordplay, wizardry and voluptuous women (though there isn’t much beefcake on display… sorry, ladies) – Wizards hews more closely to the Tolkien model than that of Robert E. Howard, so I’m limiting it to three swords. On the other hand, what’s there pretty much satisfies this reviewer’s craving for sword and sorcery mayhem.

Comedy Rating:

2Swords

2 Broadswords

While not intended as a comedy, Wizards is fairly light-hearted and has some very good comic moments, especially the gasmask mook scenes such as “They killed Fritz!” and the scene with the two wacky dwarf priests. Overall however, the movie’s pretty grim and serious but isn’t bad enough to merit unintentional comedy.

Violence Rating:

3Swords

3 Broadswords

Wizards, for all its discussion of peace and love and non-violence, is actually pretty much soaked in blood. I mean hell — six billion people die in the first minute or two. Then there’s war, mayhem, assassination, sword fights, kung fu, stabbings, shootings, immolations, mass murder… Hell, Weehawk fuckin’ kicks a guy’s head off! Yeah, this gets three swords.

Titillation Rating:

2Swords2 Broadswords

Though in places Wizards is pretty sexy, it’s mostly in terms of window dressing. Elinore is one sexy faerie, and until Jessica Rabbit came on the scene, was the hands-down winner of my personal “What cartoon character would you most like to have sex with” competition. Most of the other women such as Blackwolf’s queen and the faerie king’s bodyguard, are also gorgeous and Bodé-esque, but as I noted, there aren’t that many sexy and underclad guys (I really have to be equitable here) and despite all the cute female flesh, there’s no sex at all. Still, kudos to Bakshi for introducing me to Lady Elinore in all her fleshy glory, so an extra half sword for that.

Awesomeness Rating:

3Swords3 Broadswords

Despite my more nuanced view of the movie as I get older and less interesting, Wizards still has that certain something, and remains pretty engaging. Perhaps the pieces fit together roughly and the message is contradictory, but Wizards continues to be greater than the sum of its parts. Bakshi accomplished something with Wizards that he failed to do with The Lord of the Rings, and the world is a better place for it.

RunesCoverHola, amigos… I know it’s been a long time since I rapped at ya, but to tell the truth I’ve had a couple of real, live paying gigs, for Pulp Empire and Paradigm Studios — more on those bad boys when they finally appear.

If I recall, when we last spoke I was promising (nay, threatening) to give a review of the third triumphal volume of the Arduin Grimoire, the aptly-named Runes of Doom. This one continues the venerable Mister Hargrave’s random and slightly mad collection of gaming supplements that were most definitely not intended for use with Dungeons and Dragons, but were a separate, independent roleplaying game in their own right.

As before, the art of Runes of Doom (what little there is of it) is of top-drawer quality, fine pen-and-ink illustrations by Greg Espinoza, with a couple of smaller pieces by future legend Erol Otus. The cover is particularly vivid, portryaing as it does a couple of appropriately-clad Arduin adventurers (and by “appropriately clad” I mean that the guy is in skin-tight, form-fitting mail, showing off his bulging biceps and gnarly back muscles, while the blond female is in some kind of string bikini), battling a gigantic, tentacled vagina dentata while a wizard’s tower broods on the heights aboves, and over it all shines what I’m sure is a grim, blood-red moon. You really couldn’t find a picture that screams “THIS IS ARDUIN!” if you tried.

The Black Wind, another of Hargrave's gruesome creations.

The Black Wind, another of Hargrave’s gruesome creations.

The interior contains the familiar word-processor text, somewhat better laid out and edited than the original volume, and as usual it is organized in a chaotic and haphazard manner that I’m certain made sense to Dave Hargrave.

Another keen set of tables opens the volume, titled Individualization of New Player Characters, aka random character backgrounds – the beginning of a tradition that continues to this day in such publications as the Pathfinder Ultimate Campaign supplement. As in previous cases, the Arduin version of the system is random, rolled on a series of tables, and can yield some kind of odd results. A new character’s economic class is rolled first, cross-indexed with his/her race. An elf who rolls a 66 on the table, for example, yields a result of “commoner,” while an Amazon who rolls a 91 is considered a “craftsman” (craftswoman?), and so on.

The tables reflect an interesting slant on socio-economic classism in Arduin, for as the elves were defeated and driven from Arduin millennia ago, they remain lower class, with only a 20 percent chance of being anything better than a “freeholder” — poor land-owners. Generously, elves can indeed be part of the royal family, but for the most part they’re dirt-digging peasants, as are the dwarves and hobbits. For some reason, grubby creatures like goblins, kobolds, half-orcs and even ogres have a better chance of being born outside of poverty than the poor, fallen elves.

A techno and some sort of demon prepare for a cozy chat.

A techno and some sort of demon prepare for a cozy chat.

A table that grants starting wealth follows, cross-indexed with relative economic status — poor, average, well-to-do and wealthy, but unfortunately there is no way given to determine this, i.e. whether the PC in question is a wealthy freeholder or a poor member of the nobility — indeed, it is possible for a freeholder to start with more wealth than a royal, depending upon how impoverished his circumstances are. We end up with a table that determines starting equipment, this time based on class rather than relative wealth, making the process once more somewhat inconsistent.

Character aging follows, and boy does Arduin penalize you for aging. See if you can follow this: “For each 10% of maximum life span left a character has after he reaches his majority… that character will loose (sic) 1 point off of his/her strength, dexterity, agility and constitution… no character may loose (sic) more than half his/her points through natural aging.

Let’s see… Humans (according to volume I) reach age of majority at 17 and have an average lifespan of 80 years. Assuming a human with an average Constitution of 12, he’s going to be down to an 8 Con by the time he’s 50. Had he started with a nice, above-average Strength of 16, by the time he reaches the half-century mark he’ll be at an average of 12. While the rules give a break to fighters and other physical types (they drop one for every 15 years instead of 10), this radical degradation of basic attributes seems to be a little bit much to me.

Another very useful section follows, with a series of tables that DMs can use to determine events in NPCs’ lives, families and kingdoms. They’re worded pretty generally, and are as with most things Arduin, guidelines. A kingdom roll of 60 on the Political Alignment Chart suggests that the NPC is offered a higher standing politically, with a 25% chance of advancement. Exactly what “advancement” means is up to the DM, but it is useful for pointing campaigns in the right direction, and there’s no reason why the tables can’t be used for regular PCs to provide interesting diversions in downtime between adventures. Other results include being robbed, falling ill, a tragedy happening to a family member, financial loss, etc.

It has been suggested that when I include cheesecake pictures I am unfairly favoring those of cute females. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you Exhibit A. And yes, he'd fit right into an Arduin campaign.

It has been suggested that when I include cheesecake pictures I am unfairly favoring those of cute females. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you Exhibit A. And yes, he’d fit right into an Arduin campaign.

Of course, there are a couple of amusing elements to the tables. On the Random Event (good) table, we get wonderful events such as “Girl of same type falls madly in love with” and “fall madly in love with different type female.” Given this, it seems that Arduinians are all either heterosexual males or lesbians, given that there is no option for “boy of same type” falling madly for the PC.

More Arduin character classes follow, all going up (as usual) to 100th level. I haven’t dinked around with them too much but if they ended up being like the other classes — intriguing concepts with overly generalized details that are left up to the DM to adjudicate, I wouldn’t be a bit surprised. Here we have Arduin equivalents of the Alchemist, the Assassin, the Druid and the “Forrester” (sic) or “Woodlands Ranger,” as well as what Hargrave calls the “True Paladin.”

The Alchemist is as expected frustratingly vague, with only a list of level names and the following note under “Special Acquired Abilities”: “These are open to each individual Dungeon Master’s adjuication(sic). They cover smoke-bombs, low; medium and high glues; stink bombs; medical poultices; water purification; poison manufacturing and antidotes; flash powder; gun powder; nausea gas; tear gas; poison gas; various physical attribute boosters; food preservatives; slippery liquids; chemical welding agents; pyro-technics; thermite; fire retardants (for clothes etc.); various aromatic oils; pastes; powders; and assorted chemicals and devices… They acquire experience by selling their goods (1 point per 10 g.s. in value) and for using their devices (as in combat) and acquiring alchemical artifacts.”

Now this is an aspect of Arduin that really chaps my hide — Hargrave presents us with a new character class, then basically tells us that, as DMS, we have to do all the hard work in determining what abilities the Alchemist gains. No rules, no playtesting, no suggestions or guidelines… Hell, no suggestions about how much XP they get for “using their devices.” Again, this is a great example of the maddeningly vague yet brilliant nature of the series.

The True Paladin is something of a hoot, since it’s prefaced with another of Hargrave’s sly digs at traditional D&D: “In the past, paladins as a class have always seemed to be nothing more than fighting Clerics. This is because their true nature as Warriors with a near-mystical religious fervor has never been properly delt (sic) with.” Needless to say Hargrave seeks to remedy the woeful inadequacy of traditional paladins by making them a little bit more like religious fanatics than holy warriors. While there’s nothing wrong with this, it’s another example of why people don’t like paladins much — he strongly suggests that they be played as uptight preacher-types with corncobs jammed up their collective asses, constantly trying to convert everyone and treating people unlike them with undisguised contempt, making them into medieval equivalents of the Tea Party.

The class section wraps up with the Sage, a character class no one I know has ever wanted to play, and is followed by guidelines for playing Saurig, Deodanths and Phraints as PCs. Suggestions for “improving” clerical healing and resurrection rules follow, then a very interesting (but to my experience horribly impractical) new hit point system.

Kill kittens! AIEEEEE! NOOOO!

Kill kittens! AIEEEEE! NOOOO!

Hargrave suggests essentially front-loading hit points, granting a more-or-less fixed number based upon class and constitution that increases very slowly if at all. This means that in terms of damage capacity, all characters of  a given class are more or less created equal, and that they differ only in fighting ability.

In response to what he rightly expects to be a flood of complaints, Hargrave says “A few of the players (most notably those of the ‘Monty Hall’ variety with 150th level paladins that carry laster (sic) swords (after 2 weeks of play!) (sic) and have +100 armor have screamed that: ‘my high level characters will all die! They’ll go from 500 hit points to 55! Your system stinks!’ Well, you can’t please everyone, nor do I try to do so any longer [Dave H is actually starting to sound kind of like Gygax here, frankly]. The new hit point system makes physiological as well as intellecutal (sic) sense, but above all it plays so very, very well (and the overall game is much better because of it).

“People now have a chance to run a character or characters on any expedition they choose without regard to difference in levels of experience. They can have their 1st level warrior stand shoulder to should (sic) with a 10th level lord and hold the gate together! Just as in real life young and inexperienced warriors accompanied older, more experienced fighters. They fought and died together.”

I’ll interrupt Mister Hargrave’s screed to note that he’s quite right in his assertions. Having just attended my first SCA event in years, and renewing acquaintances with some folks that I haven’t seen in forever, I was reminded of just exactly how exciting it was for me — a 20-something noob in clanky mismatched armor, standing on a bridge and bearing the Baronial banner of An Tir while fighting alongside the celebrated and still-legendary Duke Steingrim Stellari as the hordes of the Kingdom of the West tried to force their way past us.

While it was easily one of the most awesomely metal moments in my life, even if it was just play-acting, the experience was nonetheless enlightening. While the Duke was a few years my senior and definitely in better overall shape, in terms of pure physical prowess I think we both had roughly the same number of “hit points”, or body mass. However, I got hit more often than he did (no, check that… I got hit WAY more often than he did), so I was knocked out of the fight more easily — while we won the battle, I nevertheless fell heroically, the banner wrapped around my body to deny it to the enemy.

So on that level, Hargrave’s system — which essentially amounts to averaging out a class’ potential hit points then throwing in a few extra — makes abundant sense, and if D&D had been built around such a system it probably would have worked pretty well. However, that assumes that hit points are merely a measure of the ability to take physical damage, when in reality they are more like an abstract combination of physicality, fighting skill and defenses that can be worn down over rounds of combat.

I thought this system sounded awesome, so I tried it out, then after a few sessions quickly abandoned it. Low level characters became so difficult to kill that I largely stopped using low-hp monsters against them, or resorted to unleashing hordes of gobbos and kobolds, creating a huge bookkeeping headache. Conversely, the higher level characters became much easier to kill, meaning that I had to cut down on the use of more powerful monsters, lest I eventually murder everyone. I finally decided that the threat of quick and easy death at lower levels was an integral part of the system and the way I wanted to play, as was a sense of relative invincibility at higher levels.

This really shows the law of unintended consequences and puts some backbone in Gygax’s arguments about game balance. While I certainly have frowned upon the late Mister G’s editorials and his sour, combative and cranky attitude, he did indeed have a point that changes to a game system need to be carefully weighed and their consequences considered. Far from playing “so very, very well” the new HP system kind of wrecked my game and I changed it back to normal before it could inflict any further (pardon the pun) damage.

More fun and rule tweaks follow, along with a marvelous chart of energy weapons such as hand lasers, blaster rifles and the like — notable in that they all do fixed amounts of damage, rather than ranges, and have some interesting features such as reflecting off highly-polished surfaces such as shiny armor.

Conan the Barbarian has problems with a big spider. I wonder who's going to win.

Conan the Barbarian has problems with a big spider. I wonder who’s going to win.

The next several sections are all pretty familiar by now. First comes a list of New “Magikal” Items, including one of my favorites, the Amulet of the Amazon Mother, which resembles “a silver phallus and scrotum impaled by an arrow (golden) on a golden chain” that increases Amazons’ fighting abilities, especially against males (big shock there). Along with the Staff of Stupidness and the Ruby of Runaway Regeneration (causes severed body parts to regenerate randomly, such as a lost leg regrowing as a kobold’s head), it’s yet another treasure trove of items from the mundane to the seriously wacky.

Mage and clerical spells follow, and I’m going to blip over them since I think I’ve already given you a taste of Hargrave’s over-the-top magic. Next we get still more new monsters with names like Blastarr (didn’t he have his own Saturday-morning cartoon show back in the 80s?), Doom Watcher, Rainbow Dragon, Freeze Bees and Sky Scorpions. My favorite from this volume is the monster known only as “X” — a glowing green brain with tentacles that feeds on mental energies, has a permanent antimagic shell and can’t be hit with missiles. Ugh.

Elementals and demons follow, and Hargrave has lost none of his imagination here. Acid fiends are huge blue blobs of acidic protoplasm that enjoy rolling over helpless foes, digesting them as they go. Hell cats are “large felines apparently made of shadows with eyes of green balls of fire and claws of red crackling flame (and teeth of silver moon beams).” Electric blue storm demons have wings made of lightning (and I think formed some of inspiration for the creatures of the same name in my Wulf series). Swamp demons are pulpy, warty beasts that sound kind of like the monsters from “Attack of the the Eye Creatures.”

Our tour of the monster wing ends with a gloriously random collection of “Greater (Name) Demons” presented in non-alphabetical order, probably as Hargrave thought them up. Here we can learn about the demoness Apharoe: “7′ tall, beautiful (‘all men’ have a 50% chance of falling immediately in love!) Buxom, tall woman. Women are usually (50%) jealous and hate her… she can split (sic) fire and move like elves… She has been known to seduce men then literally ‘drink’ their souls while kissing them…” (one wonders about Dave Hargrave’s experiences with women, given creatures like Apharoe… Stay tuned for even more disturbing signs of misogyny).

Hargrave also includes Arioch, which some of you might remember from Michael Moorcock’s awesome Eternal Champion series. I do not, however, remember Mr. Moorcock describing Arioch as “18′ tall, black furred like an otter humanoid with one huge eye like a many facedted ruby (shines with an inner light). He has two thumbs and 4 fingers and retractable talons. His arch enemy is the demi god ‘NODENS’” and thus we include a shout-out to the works of H.P. Lovecraft in addition to everything else.

And because I'm running out of images, here's a female Skyrim cosplayer. Yes, I know... I'll put another half-naked guy into the next entry. Promise.

And because I’m running out of images, here’s a female Skyrim cosplayer. Yes, I know… I’ll put another half-naked guy into the next entry. Promise.

The other demons are equally colorful, but I have a soft spot for Vorcas — “Shiny, wet-looking, smooth black skin, sea green eyes (3 — pupilless) with webbed, 8 taloned feet/clawed hands and 3 shark-like fins vertically down its back. It has a shark-like head with bright red inside mouth and green teeth (like emerald) and red slash gills (4 per side) on his neck. He has a long 12′ whip-like sting ray tail (red sting). 18′ tall.”

Whew! This makes the one- and two-sentence descriptions that we get in the Pathfinder Bestiary sound downright nonexistent. And I’m not even going to get into the effing 4E Monster Manuals which don’t even bother to give a text description of the creatures. While I’m not entirely sure what difference the number and hue of Vorcas’ gill slits makes in game terms, but it certainly speaks well for Hargrave’s sense of detail.

More wonderful fluff follows — a list of the noble families of Arduin (in case your legacy roll says you belong to one), and several pages listing the most-wanted brigands and highwaymen of the Arduin cycle.

Okay, we’ve pretty much reached the end of our journey through the Arduin world, but there are a couple of gems left to unearth. The brigands list provides a list of great campaign ideas and NPCs, but as with everything else in Arduin, it is not without its dark (and in this case, quite disturbing) side.

Again, the brigands are listed in totally random order, organized neither by name, level, class or anything else as far as I can tell. They all sound like pretty colorful characters — Morgen Ravenswing is “an illusionist of some repute (16th level) [the adjacent column says he's 18th level, but no matter]. He dresses in black, has silver hair, violet eyes. Very somber. Carrys (sic) a “magikal” heat weapon.”

Half-orc corsair Bragga Sea-Devil is “Ugly, yellow-eyed with prominent gold-capped fangs. Carrys (sic) (and uses) cutlasses in either hand (both magik). About 5’8″ tall.” Amazon Wildra Wolfsister has 24 in her band, is 6’3″ tall with “single waist-length braid (red hair, green eyes). Rides a huge warg (8+1 HD), stark naked and uses a magic composite bow, broadsword, shield and spear.” Auri Wirinnaen, a female half-elf “rides a flying carpet, uses a magik composite bow and rapier and wears magik yellow scale mail. Also known to be an insatiable lover. 5’7″, night black hair, smokey grey eyes, extremely beautiful!”

I don’t want to make Hargrave out to be too terribly sexist here, as several men are described as handsome, and women as “not beautiful,” but there still seems to be a slight undercurrent here that he can’t quite hide. All of the bandits, as I said, are very interesting individuals and we’re given enough details to be able to play them quite well, but unfortunately the whole process grinds to a halt when we reach that paragon of evil, psychotic femininity, Shardra the Castrator.

For those not familiar with this individual, Shardra is an Amazon, with an all-female band numbering 21. She’s 26 years old (how did she get so fucked up in such a short time, one wonders?), she’s 7th level and unsurprisingly Chaotic Evil. Here’s how Hargrave describes her: “She castrates (and eats it!) all men and rapes all women. 6’6″ tall, very beautiful, buxom. Green eeys, red hair. Wears no armor but has criss-cross harness of tanned male skin. Giant strength? magick 2-handed axe.”

The incomparable, and really, really creepy Shardra the Casterator. Ewwww.

The incomparable, and really, really creepy Shardra the Casterator. Ewwww.

Okay, that’s it. After that description I’ve kind of had enough of the Arduin Grimoire, as it has now strayed firmly into F.A.T.A.L. land. I don’t really care that Shardra is a thoroughly blackhearted villainess without a decent bone in her body, I really don’t think much of including murder, rape and cannibalism in a single NPC. I’ve speculated about Hargrave’s feelings toward women — Shardra doesn’t really condemn him, but it doesn’t make it easier to defend the sexism in the rest of the trilogy.

Back in the day, when we were all around 17, my friend and I were quite appalled by Shardra. My friend (who was 17, remember) wondered how a woman can even rape another women, to which another friend (who unlike us actually had a girlfriend, and consequently liked to play the jaded, decadent man of the world) replied, “Have you ever heard of a strap-on dildo?” I draw the curtain of charity over the remainder of that particular scene, but rest assured it didn’t get any better.

We wrap up the final Arduin volume with more color — a list of “under city” denizens (presumably famous criminals), none of whom are as vividly described as the previous bandits, nor as disturbing as Shardra the Castrator; wild tribes of Arduin; notable NPCs and a list of famous dungeons and other places where treasure/death is particularly plentiful. The most interesting of these charts is the “real world equivalents” of various Arduin nationalities — the Blue Barbarians are more or less equivalent to the Franks, the Sakas are like Parthians, the Eaters of Men like insane neanderthals and so on.

The final page of the trilogy’s last volume is a pretty mundane encounter chart, and the inside back cover contains Hargrave’s farewell from the land of Arduin.  “These three volumes,” he claims, “are in themselves a complete and playable game system.”

Excuse me for a moment while I catch my breath. I could have sworn he said that Arduin was a complete and playable game system. I must have hallucinated it or something.

On with the farewell. “The dreams and hopes of my life are poured into these pages, as well as the lifeblood of my soul. The trilogy represents, for me MY MOUNTAIN, my insurmountable goal. Well I have climbed my mountain and have seen the joyous vistas of new lands ahead!”

Normally I would accuse such prose of being hyperbole of the most extreme kind, but in reviewing his work, I feel that I’ve come to know Dave Hargrave, and I genuinely believe that he meant every single maudlin syllable. He goes on to tell us that he’s sold the Arduin license (“to a true friend”) and that he’ll be moving on to the life of a game designer. Watch for his first new game in March of 1979, he tells us, and until then, bon chance!

David A. Hargrave -- RIP

David A. Hargrave — RIP

Regrettably, it seems that Hargrave didn’t author any more games, but did return to produce more material for Arduin in the subsequent six volumes that would be published in the coming years. He also wrote some material for Call of Cthulhu and the fatally-flawed and never-complete SF RPG, Star Rovers (I owned a copy and frankly found it unplayable). Plagued by health issues that he linked to his service in Vietnam, David Hargrave permanently returned to Arduin in 1988, a young 42 years of age, leaving a legacy that many, many of us who gamed in the 1980s and beyond still remember.

I keep my copies of Arduin in a special place and hope that I’ll always have them — crude layout, typos, chaotic organization and all. I still sometimes turn to Hargrave’s insane random tables when I want to know what a character looks like (and if I generate a woman who is 42-20-36, I generally reroll until I get something more reasonable), or if I need a quick and colorful evil NPC (though Shardra the Castrator remains permanently exiled from my campaigns). Had Dave Hargrave not been cursed with poor health, he might be with us still, cranking out D20 and OGL material in his hoary sixties.