Art of the Genre: Dragon Mountain

Art of the Genre: Dragon Mountain

Is it me, or do you think this dragon might be cold?

Do any of you have a gaming shelf? How about a gaming wall? Or even in the case of our fearless leader John O’Neill a ‘Cave of Wonders’ filled with literally thousands of RPGs and games?

Well if you do, then you’ll fully understand the feeling you get when you look at those shelves and feel a mix of nostalgia for times lost, and regret for games never played. With all those books, from so many companies and editions of each title, I couldn’t help wonder at what I missed, especially after the news that WotC is now in production of a 5th Edition of D&D.

Still, I always want to give folks an update on some older material, in this case 2E, even if I’m three and a half editions behind the curve. Today’s topic, the 2E AD&D ‘monster’ that is the Dragon Mountain Boxed Set. This thing is huge, and from what I can see epic, but I’ve always found it so daunting that I’ve yet to actually play it. I think I’ve used pieces in other campaigns over the years, but never as a whole.

I have to wonder if anyone else out there ever had this issue, or ever played the full box. It seems like a pretty well thought out campaign, and I have to admit that the concept of a full 2E dungeon crawl where the main obstacle to the characters are Kobolds always kept me pleasantly intrigued.

In all I counted out 12 Kobold clans in the three volumes inside the box, and you almost need a road map to understand the relationships between them. There are also sixteen player handouts, eight of the old monstrous compendium sheets, 12 full color reference cards, a full set of counters for miniature play, and six, count them SIX full-color fold out maps!

I'm going to say Tony does his best Smaug here, and I love it when dragons kind of look like cats!

Seriously, this bad-boy isn’t just a stand-alone campaign, it’s a game in itself. It almost reminds me of a board game, you know like one of those $80 Fantasy Flight boxes people are so fond of these days with only more role-playing involved.

Because its so massive, there’s a certain sadness whenever I break this box out. Something inside me always feels less than complete because I never got to experience it full on. That is the burden of the DM I guess, the fact that if you buy something truly awesome, and often times expensive, the onus falls on you to run it.

To me, I always wanted to play this box, not DM it, and therefore it never came to pass. I think I foisted it on Mark [you know Mark, my go to DM for 30 years] once back in about 1995, but we ended up doing other things and it finally found its way back into my collection as dejected as ever.

Years later, probably 2003 I tried to run it myself, even cut out various player handouts done on incredible ‘aged’ and yellowed paper, but during a session at the campaigns beginning one of the players had a total meltdown and threw everyone out of the house. Seriously! After that, I retired Dragon Mountain for good, wondering if there was perhaps a curse on it after all.

Ok, so this is Lothar, but the half-elf mage behind him is Arcana if I remember right... yeah, I always liked her...

Artistically, I remember first seeing Dragon Mountain at a Diamond distributors convention in Atlanta in probably 1992 and was blown away by the cover. The artist formerly known as Paul Jaquays did the cover for this baby, and I think it is hands down his/her best work at TSR.

The interior work is also an intriguing addition to the D&D pantheon as well because its the very first bulk work artist Tony DiTerlizzi ever did for the company. This black and white art was a kind of precursor to his fantastic breakout performance on Planescape just a couple of years later.

DiTerlizzi isn’t as polished here as though he’s still seeking his true style, but there are flashes of pure talent that rise to the top. As I flipped through his treatment I can’t help but see a looming deadline in 95% of the work, but for the remaining 5% there is a solid frame that absolutely sings of what Tony would become in later years.

Curse or no, the story is sound, the plot worthy, and the art a great contribution to the pantheon of D&D lore. Oddly, I’d still love to give this baby another go, yes even if I have to run it! Well, perhaps in 2012… are there any Los Angeles players out there that promise not to throw me out of their house if I give it a shot?

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Oddcube

Hey Dragon Mountain! I’ve got that boxed set too! I never played it either, it was just too darn big. Mostly, I regret not playing more in Ravenloft. Ravenloft seemed like a good world for role-playing. Unfortunately, my gaming group at the time was far more interested in killing monsters than in rp-ing. Ah well. Still, tons of fun and good memories…

periklis

The same thing happened to me, with “Night Below: An Underdark Campaign”! The first DM who tried to run it gave up after a couple of sessions, and the second one was a bit “unstable” (they way you describe your friend’s meltdown) to run it beyond one(!) gaming session.
I also loved the detail, both in writing and design that accompanied these 2nd edition books. I tried reading a 4th edition DnD module the other day and felt like reading a statistics report.
In trying to keep things simple, they missed the immersive fact of having 12 Kobold clans for your players to interact with…

TW

In one my old campaigns we went through Night Below. Now we were using ICE’s Rolemaster system so a lot of stuff had to be converted over. But it was fun.

Cant remember if we completed it, since the DM melded it into several other modules, and included some self-designed stuff, as part of a huge complex. The campaign was basically us cleaning out a huge cavern complex under a mountain. It took a year and half or so of weekly game sessions. I do remember that we ended up collapsing several sections of caverns to seal off what was beyond.

BTW-On the topic of Kobolds…I curse Roger Moore for writing that damn article about making kobolds dangerous…

TW

Who says anyone got out of it? 😉

But seriously, I’d say we were mostly in the upper teens to low twenties.

I liked Rolemaster. Sure it was a bit crunchy, especially in fights. Even though fights could take a bit of time, the hit tables, and the critical tables, were to me very much an improvement over AD&D. I always liked the idea that a 1st level guy that got extremely lucky could still take down a high level guy. (and it happened a few times, see my comment about kobolds).

Plus our DM had created an excel spreadsheet that did the math for all the skills and all the similarities. It would even give a nice printout. (I probably still have my characters running around on a 3.5 floppy somewhere…)

John ONeill

Scott,

Well said! I have often wanted to play DRAGON MOUNTAIN, perhaps more than any other boxed set (excepting Menzoberranzan, maybe).

I think you’re dead right that it seemed almost like a complete board game, rather than a typical boxed campaign. Many of my friends spoke of it in those terms.

Mind you, I have every every boxed set TSR/WotC ever produced, and I’ve never played ANY of them – we always used home grown adventures. But Dragon Mountain is the one I’d love to try.

Oh, and what’s all that about Paul Jaquays? Far as I remember, he’s happily married with a bunch of kids. Are you sure you’re not thinking of Jeff Jones, who became transgendered in 1998?

John ONeill

Scott — if I were bragging, I’d admit I have two copies of most of ’em (one in the shrink, and one to pry open at look at all the goodies). 🙂

Thanks for the update on Paul. That news is not on her Wikipedia page, but I did find this at http://www.jaquays.com/paul/about.htm:

“JENNELL JAQUAYS: WHAT’S THE STORY?

Most of her peers and fans know Jennell Jaquays for the body of work she created using the name “Paul Jaquays” through-out the course of her career as an artist and game developer working on role play gaming and computer and video game development projects.”

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