Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Aleena the Cleric

A few months ago (wow, has it really been that long?!) I made a comment about how a miniature I was painting reminded me of a certain NPC cleric of my past.  I thought the mini seen below was based upon Aleena the cleric from the Metzer red box edition of Dungeons and Dragons.  Well, it turns out my memory of the 80s when I was a D&D fanatic is not as I thought it to be.  I was clearly wrong with my assumption.  But in discovering my error, I took a fascinating journey of reminiscence and discovery into the past.  Please allow me to share.

The WIP of the miniature in question

My first introduction to D&D was through a strange mixture of the Moldvay Basic set and AD&D.  As clueless preteens we gleefully mixed the two systems into a loose ruleset that guided our adventures into strange lands.  While I have very fond memories of that first set it was actually the Metzer version of the basic set that I spent the most time playing back in those days.  Ahh, the memories.  How can one forget the awesome and terrifying red dragon painted by Larry Elmore gracing the cover of the fiery red box or the beautiful cleric that befriended a lonsome adventurer in the introductory adventure?  That of course is where Aleena comes in.

For those of you who may have forgotten, we meet the blonde-haired cleric shortly after wounding a goblin in a cave.  As we cautiously pursue the fleeing goblin, we come upon her silently meditating in a corner of a cavern chamber.  She is drawn to our high charisma and invites us to join her for a rest.  After instructing us on several aspects of an adventurer's life, the cleric not only joins our expedition but kindly offers to heal us as well (that 16 charisma really pays off).  Aleena becomes a mentor of sorts as we explore the remainder of the caves together but she can do more than just offer instruction.  She exhibits her skill and power as she uses her clerical abilities once again, this time turning the undead ghouls that block our route.  We are beginning to fall in love with this woman!

But our love affair is not meant to be.  Bargle, the roguish magic-user that has been terrorizing the countryside around Threshold slays the beautiful young cleric with a deadly spell.  She falls in battle and no matter what we do, we cannot alter that fate.  We either kill the evil Bargle after making our saving throw or unwittingly aid him while under a charm spell.  Either way, Aleena the cleric is no more.

With either outcome, we do manage to recover Aleena's body and return her to the local church.  Hearts are broken, both in the game and in real life over the death of the cleric.  No matter how many times we play the scenario or what we do, we cannot save her.  The cleric's fate is preordained.  It is with great remorse for her loss that we begin our adventuring careers in the world of D&D.  But with her loss comes wisdom and the understanding that death is real in the game and the hero does not always win.  We are shown just how dangerous the adventuring life can be.  This would have been a profound lesson to those new to the game and perhaps this is why the Metzer boxed set remains so ingrained in the collective memory of D&D players worldwide.

I was reminded of her sad story as I went back to my worn red box to research what Aleena looked like and it brought back so many pleasant memories.  I wondered if others thought the same. I turned to the internet for answers.  What I found there was surprising.  The memory of her death was a topic much discussed. I discovered that many others felt the same way I did about the poor cleric and that the solo introductory adventure and her death remained with many players for years.

But I also discovered that her death was not in vain.  Aleena's fall galvanized the will of the countryside and thousands upon thousands of players rose up in anger to find and vanquish the evil wizard.  Who knows how many adventuring careers were launched by the memory of her fair face and kind demeanor? 

The anger directed toward Bargle was both in game and in the real world.  I found that many who played that introductory solo adventure retained a hatred of Bargle well after the Metzer red box became a collector's item.  For example, as a nod to the intense dislike that players held for the magic-user, Paizo included an adventure entitled Kill Bargle in the very last print issue of Dungeon Magazine (#150).

Some expressed this 'anger' in a more artistic manner as evidenced by the poster and t-shirt seen below.  Gamers from across the world were united in the memory of Aleena and a desire for vengeance.

Visit here for a short video about the "Kill Bargle" t-shirt.

One of the creators of the shirt

In my research I also found out that Aleena may not have perished after all.  I stopped playing D&D in 1987 when girls and cars became more important than dice and character sheets so I missed the future developments.  Apparently Aleena was sighted again after my departure in several TSR supplements.  In 1987 she was given a description and stats in GAZ1 The Grand Duchy of Karameikos as a 12th level cleric along with a note stating that if it were extablished that she had died in the solo adventure from the Basic set to change her name to Anielle.  In 1994 she was again found in Karameikos: Kingdom of Adventure with basically the same descritpion but with no mention of a possible earlier death.  Though she may have existed for future players, her death and our failure to save her still sits heavily with those who played the adventure before additional supplement releases.

Is this Elmore's new revised Aleena?

Which brings me full circle with this post.  It was the thought of Aleena the cleric that came to mind when I started painting the miniature.  But my memory of her failed me utterly.  My miniature is the wrong class, has the wrong weapon, the wrong garb, and even the wrong hair color.  Hell, the only thing remotely similar is the helmet.  Maybe that was the memory trigger.  Though the miniature does not resemble Aleena as described by Metzer and illustrated by Elmore, the trip down memory lane was definitely worth the mistake on my part.  And really, as in most things in life, it's the journey that counts...not the final destination.

What memories do you have of Aleena and Bargle and do you have a miniature that aligns more closely with her description? 

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Happy Birthday D&D!

Happy 40th Anniversary D&D!  Though the date varies depending on who is asked, I see that today seems to have been chosen as the official day to celebrate.  I did not start playing in 1974 (I was only three years old) but it wouldn't be long before I was introduced to the game that would define much of my childhood.

My original Moldvay Basic Set

I was 11 years old in that magical summer of 1982...the year my life changed.  I had recently moved to the other side of town and was the proverbial new kid when Chris Chew invited me to a birthday party camp-out in his back yard.  After the normal stuff that kids do, and when the parents had all gone to bed, Chris and his friends pulled out numerous books, boxes, miniatures, strangely shaped dice, and sheets of paper and told me we were about to embark on a grand adventure.  That night will forever remain as one of the most memorable of my life.

From that night forward, I was hooked on Dungeons and Dragons.  I played every possible moment and collected as much material and books as I could get my hands on.  For about the next six or seven years my life revolved around the fantasy world.  I made great friends and went on wonderful adventures, and even learned a few things that could be applied both to school and life in general.  Those were the best of days.

Eventually my obsession began to wane and by the time I left for college, D&D had become much less important than girls, and cars, and girls, and beer, and girls.  I sold off most of my vast collection for beer and date money (a huge mistake that I still regret to this day) but I did hold on to a few pieces that held the most memories.  (My original Moldvay Basic Set is my most prized and beloved gaming possession).  I sometimes thought about D&D but I never returned to the game.  It was Peter Jackson and the LotR movies that rekindled my love for fantasy and gaming in general.  After a nearly 15 year break, I began to drift back to the game I so loved. 

So happy birthday D&D and thanks for the memories!