Thursday, September 10, 2020

This Old Dragon: Retrospective, The Wizards Three

Getting back into the "This Old Dragon" frame of mind. I thought I might try something new here and instead of looking at one issue, I would look at one feature across many issues. A few easily come to mind but I want to start with the one that gave me the idea in the first place. The feature in question is "The Wizards Three."

The concept is a bit silly. The great sage and mage Elminster has guests over to his place for dinner and light chat. The guests are typically other wizards. Most often Mordenkainen of Oerth (World of Greyhawk) and Dalamar of Krynn (Dragonlance). Later Dalamar was replaced by Mordenkainen's, young apprentice Rautheene. Hiding in a suit of armor and trying to remember it wall was out helpless scribe Ed Greenwood.

Like so many, Dragon was my first introduction to the Realms and to Elminster. Throughout my AD&D 1 and 2 years, I was focused largely on Greyhawk and then Ravenloft. I didn't even pay much attention to the Realms at all until later in the 3.x days and it was not even an option I took seriously until 4e.


Even so, I always enjoyed this series because I love the idea of the multiverse and that travel between the world can sometimes be done. Sometimes it is easy, as this series shows, and sometimes impossible; as this series also shows.

So without further ado. Let's grab a drinking jack, see if we can squeeze into Ed's old armor and spend a nice evening, or a dozen, with some old friends.

"The Game Wizards" by Jeff Grubb, Dragon #153
This one is not really part of the series, but it fits the mold well enough to be a proto-version of the tale. In this case, Elminster has come to our world and is imparting wisdom on Jeff Grubb.

"Magic In the Evening", Dragon #185 (56), September 1992
This is the first piece of the series before it was the Wizards Three. Here Elminster and Mordenkainen meet on Earth (with Ed hiding away). A lot of the conceits of the series are established here. Elminster with his typically archaic speaking. Mordenkainen always feeling like he is about an hour or two away from some cosmic victory or equally cosmic defeat. Some good-natured fun poked at each character, plenty, but never enough to make them actual caricatures. I did sometimes wonder how Gary, who had been long gone from TSR at this time, felt about Ed's portrayal of Mordenkainen.
I did enjoy how the characters did seem rather fond of each other. Maybe not friends exactly, but certainly more than co-professionals.
Also, the rules of their meetings are established. So this is the first meeting of this sort between the master mages.
One thing I get now, that I didn't then, was how Realms and Oerth lore was weaved into the conversations. Nice little treat that must have been for people reading all the novels at the time. The spells that were later presented we also worked into the discussions.

In the game mechanics bit at the end Ed let's know what discussions were connected with which novels and which adventures. I usually more up on the adventures than the novels.

This episode included the spells "Curse of the Grinning Skull", "Thundaerl's Universal Taster", "Lesser Spelldream", "Greater Spelldream", and "Moonweb". Anytime I could get more spells the better. I figure these spells have been out for a bit so no need to detail them all here.

This one also included Samader's Ring and the Alhoon creature, or the Illithid Lich.

"The Wizards Three", Dragon #188 (26), December 1992
This one is a proper Wizards Three since it now includes Dalamar the Dark. The Master of the Black Robes Tower of High Sorcery in Krynn. Elminster's power was unknown to me, and Mordenkainen was always a guess I safely put them both in the "above level 20" area. I knew Dalamar was below level 20 thanks to the hardcover Dragonlance book.


Moving on to the tale, tragedy has struck Mordenkainen, of which I had been vaguely aware of thanks to the Greyhawk books that had been coming out in the end of 1st ed and the start of 2nd ed. Most of the Circle of Eight had fallen to the hand of Vecna leaving only Mordenkainen himself. I know it was a tale, with characters that were not real, but I was always happy with the exchange between Elminster and Mordenkainen here. It seemed, well, heartfelt. This is contrasted well with the near come to magical blows that Dalamar gets into with the other mages when he is introduced. If Elminster and Mordenkainen are beginning to act like something akin to friends, the Dalamar has a long way to go before even trust is part of the relationship. But at least he agrees to stay for dinner.

The inclusion of Dalamar changes the tenor of the meetings and the nature of some of the spells.

Our spells include "Blastbones", "Double Spell", "Whip of Pain", and "Manshoon’s Xorn Talons."
Magic items include a "Ring of ESP", "Cloak of Healing", and a "Fleeting Fail." And some undead monsters.

"3 Wizards Too Many", Dragon #196 (82), August 1993
Dalamar relaxes enough to have some fun with Mordenkainen and he gives as good as he gets now. It is easy to forget that on Krynn, Dalamar is the big badass evil mage. I just never read him as really being evil I guess. Not in the Dragonlance stories and not here either. Selfish, sure, but not really evil. I am sure I just missed some of his darker exploits.

The spells include "Bloodglass", "Fistandantilus's Firequench", "Thultaun's Thrust", "Barrier Reaver" and "Dragon Breath". Magic items include "Helping Hands" and "Spell Mirror".

"The Wizards Three", Dragon #200 (20), December 1993
I recall this one quite well. The Dragon magazine had the then way cool hologram cover, and this Wizards Three features the Simbul. This entire exchange with the Three Wizards and A Witch Lady was reproduced in the Forgotten Realms book "Pages from the Mages". I liked this one, even if Dalamar did go back to acting like a petulant child. But I can overlook all that. This was not the first time I had ever heard of The Simbul, but it was the first time I had read about the character and really grew to like her. Here are the three greatest mages of three worlds and they all pay deference to HER.


I mean look. Mordenkainen is bowing to her. That's impressive.

This one has the most spells, which includes "Shadow Bolt", "Slowspell", "Acid Bolt", "Mordenkainen's Involuntary Wizardry", "Bonebind", "Bloodstars", "Lightning Storm", "Alamanther's Return", and "Tempestcone".

I didn't spend a lot of pixels on it, but this might be my favorite of the lot.

"The Wizards Three", Dragon #211 (82), November 1994
Now we are getting into ones a little less familiar to me. Some I read when they came out, but only briefly, others I did not encounter at all until I bought the Dragon Magazine CD-ROM Archive.

This installment finds Elminster with a burning tongue from chili and a Mordenkainen in a jovial mood. So much so he even pranks Dalamar. See I find this totally in-character for Mordenkainen, knowing what I know of Gary. Though I don't pretend to be an expert on either Mordenkainen or Gary. The three share reminiscences of "Nights of Shadows" past, or essentially Halloween. The text seems to suggest that Dalamar is a Drow, but he isn't, he is a "Dark elf" which is something very different on Krynn.
Their spell trades have moved now into subtle contests of who can impress the others more. It seems less about power and more about the story behind the spell; a bit I really liked. Who cares how powerful a spell is, how interesting is it? Though there is less sharing of the stories behind each spell.
This is the shortest one to date, but it has a lot of spells.
For those interested, Elminster contributed "Falling Wall", "Jonstal's Double Wizardry", and "Jonstal's Improved Double Wizardry"; Mordenkainen presented "Argaster's Cloak of Shadows", "Belsham's Mace", and "Othnal's Spectral Dagger"; and Dalamar set forth "Battlecurse", "Sphere of Eyes", and "Valiancy".

"The Wizards Three", Dragon #219 (90), July 1995
The subtitle of this one is "Warmer than Expected" which is appropriate. In July 1995 I got married and came home to the largest (and deadliest) heat wave Chicago had seen in decades (though we would surpass it many times later) and our AC was dead.
There is more "plot" in this story with the introduction of Shaan the Serpent-Queen. This whole set-up to trap the Serpent-Queen.
In the end we are introduced, sort of, to Mordenkainen's thee new young apprentices.
Spells featured here were "Handfangs" (turns your hand into a venomous viper), "Farscry", "Dauntra's Cloak", "Translocation Shift", "Temporal Freedom", and "Brainblaze".

"The Return of the Wizards Three", Dragon #238 (42), August 1997
The biggest gap of time between installments so far just occurred. Elminster even comments about the last installment noting reading about it on "the Net". Something about "gamers with dirty minds." I checked a little on the Usenet group rec.games.frp.dnd and there does seem to be some complaining. Was this the reason? Most likely it had more to do with the fact that this was a very dark time at TSR and Wizards of the Coast had either bought them at this time or was close. I just checked, this was one of the first Dragons to be published by the newly acquired TSR.
This installment tries to walk back some of the implied ribaldries of the last episode. We get nearly a page and a half of this before any other wizard shows up.
In something of a manifestation of this, we are introduced to Rautheene, one of the new apprentices of Mordenkainen. She was introduced to keep the number at three. Dalamar will not be joining the group this night, nor any other night, nor any other night for the next 10 years. I have to admit I was always curious about why exactly Dalamar was excluded. I know it had something to do with the relationship WotC now had with the Dragonlance properties. But for me, this was the big issue that overshadowed whether or not Mord and Elm went frolicking with young apprentices.
The addition of Rautheene also adds something akin to a Doctor Who companion; a younger, less learned character whose job is to ask "What is that Doctor?" or in Rautheene's case "What is that Lord?"
The spells shared were, "Spell Echo", "Scourage of Stars", "Firedart", "Turnblade", "Backshift" and the evocatively named "Mystra's Unraveling".

"Jest the Wizards Three", Dragon #242 (48), December 1997
This one comes a mere four months after the last. I know I said that I didn't care about the implied ribaldry between the old mages and young apprentices, but now I can't read about Elminster and Rautheene as nothing but really creepy flirting. Ah well. Thought maybe because of this Rautheene is also becoming a more developed character, though she is still something of a walking stereotype at the moment. But she is getting there.
The mages trade spells and strange flavor combinations (smoked salmon and ice-cream, which is something I think my youngest son has also done).
The spells include "Coinsharp", "False Ioun Stone", "Hither", "Wizard Gong", "Echo", "Fingerblade", "Nextremity", "Sortil's Aqueous Transfer", and "Spy".

"The Wizards Three", Dragon #246 (86), April 1998
This installment has the first full-color interior art. The artist, David Day has been with us since the start.



More discussion on how they can't reach Krynn. This installment is also fairly short, but there are some interesting spells. "Beneath the Surface" (looks beneath the surface of something), "Blade of Memory", "Brester's Beam of Light", "Onsible's Key", "Runefinger" (allows the mage to draw in mid-air), "Smahing Stike", "Standfast", "Tanatha's Melt", and "Tentacled Visage".

"The Wizards Three", Dragon #344 (56), June 2006
Previously we got three installments in eight months. Then eight years till this one! What changes happened to our trio of wizards? For me I went from being married and living in my brand new home to being married, having two kids, living in my second home, and having published a few of my own RPG materials. Soon I'll pick up the tattered remains of my old website and recreate it as this blog. This was also the time I had a subscription to Dragon.
Ed is still the author, but we get a new illustrator in Tom Fowler. Dragon is now published by Paizo, the system is now 3.0 D&D and TSR is almost 10 years gone.
Some other changes. Mordenkainen is now in his new "Anton Le Vey" look (ok that is not really a fair comparison, but he is bald with a goatee). Rautheene no longer seems to be his apprentice (though she is still called such), but a full mage in her own right, and she is sporting some new tattoos. Seems she was a college student in the 90s! Again, more lip service given to looking for Dalamar, this time it is Rautheene doing the looking. It occurs to me that an epic quest to find a completely lost world might be fun.
Interesting change in tone here. I attribute it to all the novels Ed had written since, but Rautheene is less the "giggling coed" and now more capable young mage. She is aware of the power difference between her and the two older mages, more so than Dalamar was, but for her, it is less "I am not as good as them" and more "that's going to be me if I learn from these two." I'd like to see if there is more about her out there.
The spells are now in 3e format, so they are for wizards and sorcerers. They include "Battle Tentacles", "Mailed Might", and "Wymcone". I would have liked some more discussion on the arrival of Sorcerers to these two worlds, but that has been discussed elsewhere.

"The Wizards Three", Dragon #359 (78), September 2007
This is the end of our journey. This is the last published, print copy of Dragon Magazine. I have not checked to see if any were published in the 4e online Dragon or Dragon+ for 5e. So let's see what this rather special installment has for us.
Dalamar has returned for this final meeting which I admit is a really nice surprise for the other wizards and myself. Rautheene now holds her own against Elminster.
This time Ed is outed, in a manner of speaking, as to why he hosts this gathering of wizards and the Wizards Four decide to let him live if he continues to show off their brilliance. Dinner is shared, but no spells this time.



The Wizards Three was a sometimes delightful, sometimes amusing little romp of the important worlds of classic D&D; Toril, Oerth, and Krynn and not to mention Earth.



I will admit I was disappointed in the end that Mystara was never represented, especially since the feature would share issues with such Mystara-centric features as "Voyages of the Princess Ark" and even an article about Mystara's wizards from Bruce Heard himself.

The spells were always welcome and I could never get enough new spells to be honest.

The series is also one of the few that is covered in both the Greyhawk online wiki and the Forgotten Realms one. The closest thing the online Dragonlance wiki has is an Ed Greenwood category.

Through these outside sources and from the articles I gathered that The Year of the Turret, 1360 DR marked the first meeting between Elminster and Mordenkainen on Earth (1992). On Oerth, this was shortly before the year 581 CY. I am unsure of what the date would have been on Krynn.

I am curious to know what the fans of the various worlds think of this series. Did it do your favorite mage justice? What else would you have liked to have seen? Who else? Ringlerun? Kelek?

I also wonder if this was re-done today what other wizards and worlds would be included. Would Dark Sun? Birthright? Eberron?

Edited to Add: Ed has weighed in on this!



6 comments:

Dick McGee said...

FWIW, a good dig around the internet suggests that there were no more of these past issue #359 back in 2007. Rautheene's last appearance seems to have been there as well, unfortunately. A shame, really. Nice bit of nostalgia to see these brought up again.

Ruprecht said...

I like the issue by issue format.

Mike Bridges said...

I loved this post. A nice nostalgic trip through the issues. I remember always reading these articles to the first while skipping much of the rest of the magazine.

Dick: The fact Rautheene never saw print beyond Ed's articles was difficult for me to accept too. She was a good character concept no matter what. So in an attempt to fit her into the Greyhawk scene in a fitting way, I created this power group of female wizards: http://greyhawkery.blogspot.com/2016/06/greyhawk-wizards-pentad.html

Timothy S. Brannan said...

Mike, thanks so much!

Your Wizards Pentad is a great post and it was one of the first things to come up when I was researching Rautheene. I recommend that everyone should check it out.

Paul W said...

I loved and hated this column series. I loved the multiverse concept, I loved the major "archmages" discussing things. But I agree, Mystara should have been included, Prince Haldemar would have been an excellent choice.*

Like with much of Ed's writings, the dirty old man aspect was overly creepy and not at all funny or enjoyable. It illustrated how simply adding female characters doesn't make a given bit of literature feminist. Not that Gygax himself was at all even handed in his handling of gender (any females NOT femme fatales or damsels in distress in Gygax novels or adventures?).

All in all, it was a lost opportunity. It might have been better if it was a team writing effort, with authors from each of the major settings. In execution, all of the mages basically ended up acting like slightly different versions of Elminster.

Nonetheless, this was a good write up on the column and an enjoyable read. I like this take on your "This Old Dragon" series, and I wouldn't mind seeing more of these - may I suggest "Giants in the Earth" as a possible subject?



*or perhaps not. Likely because it was originally a D&D, not AD&D setting, Mystara doesn't seem to have had much in the way of planar adventures, and even powerful mages like Haldemar do not seem to have done much planar travel. That was true of Dragonlance as well, however, so he would have fit in as well as Dalamar did...

Cyric said...

Thanks for this retrospective. I'll still miss printed dragon and this series was one of my favorites. I have all issues from #68 on in my basement and this text of yours brings me to the point where I typically start to reread them all again up to the final issue. For the ... 5th or 6th time since the print run ended.
Thanks again!

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