Thursday, 12 January 2017

Sorcery & Serpents

Spider-friends - roll for initiative!

Episode 11 of Spiderman and his Amazing Friends,  Knights & Demons features Spider-man, Firestar and Ice Man an cross-dimensional adventure featuring the Black Knight, the Evil Wizard Mordred, demons, Stonehenge, a magical talisman, a dimensional sword and a castle built on a volcano.

That would be more than enough to blog about, but right at the end, after the BBEG is defeated, Peter, Angelica and Bobby take a break from super heroics and sit down for what looks like an RPG session.

Cut to Aunt Mays house, New York:
Angelica: You'll never defeat my mighty Dragon! 
Aunt May enters. 
Angelica: Oh Hi Aunt May. We were just playing this new game Sorcery & Serpents. It's as close as we ever want to get to the real thing. 
Aunt May: The real thing? Oh my dears, you know all of that is just a... what did you call it Bobby? Phoney baloney. 
Booby: Er.. did I say that? I guess I did!

Sorcery & Serpents - with it's alliterative initials is undoubtedly a reference to TSRs Dungeons & Dragons, but what kind of game is it they are actually playing?

Angelica, Bobby and Peter play Sorcery & Serpents

There is a large battle-mat that has a tower and a castle. It's kind of similar to a DFC Fantasy Playset . Angelica does something that looks like rolling dice, and has a Dragon, whilst Bobby appears to have a Pegasus figure. 

Whether Peter Parker is actually playing the game is a question for debate. Peter might be looking up a rule in one of the 4 books (yes, a multi-book game, sure sign of 80's RPGs) required to play the game, or he could just be studying. Peter studies a lot, in one episode he's even seen studying in an amusement arcade.  Seeing that the year of broadcast is 1981 and Angelica describes it as a 'new' game, the whole set-up may be a reference to Moldvay which was published at the time. Alternatively the brown covers and digest size of the books that Peter is reading suggests they may well be the little brown books of OD&D and a supplement. Maybe Greyhawk. Either way, if we take it he's got the rulebooks, and not swotting, he's DMing.

The other main features correspond with some kind of fantasy toy soldiers skirmish miniatures game, or D&D played in that style, rather than a few funny dice and some pencils and paper style. A Dragon and the Pegasus-knight aren't low-level creatures, so we can suppose they've jumped straight in to munchkin powergaming, or a mythic-level swords and sorcery campaign, bypassing the whole getting killed in a dungeon by a pit-trap because you ran out of torches and forgot a 10ft pole kind of thing. Superheroes eh?

Angelica holds aloft her mighty Dragon
Angelicas wingless 'dragon' figure is similar to the character Darkon a gargoyle-dragon-demon that appears in the cartoon, but without wings. I don't recognise the creature as a D&D reference, so perhaps it's just a generic dragon monster thing. None of the creatures or character designs in the episode appear to be particularly borrowed from D&D, but hardly a million miles away either, so lets have a look, and see if we can get some ideas for what a Sorcery & Serpents campaign might look like!

Darkon, a blue-fire breathing dragon, really just a standard Dragon monster. Cool horns.

Two Headed Snake
An uncanny bright red, two headed snake. Well it can't be Sorcery & Serpents without any serpents can it?  The evil magician Mordred then casts "Snakes into Chains" on it, and captures the Black Knight.  Giant Snake - Constrictor. 

Just observe the atmospheric dungeon architecture there - actually all the backgrounds are really classic old-school fantasy dungeon stuff. The green stone castle predating He-Mans Castle Greyskull by a couple of years, coincidentally or not, the writer on this episode of Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends, Donald F. Glut, is acknowledged as being the originator of the original Masters of the Universe background. I don't ascribe too much significance, as a writer for hire Donald Glut contributed to a heck of a lot.

The demons who plague the nether dimension where the Evil Wizard Mordred is kept, short, gangly creatures vaguely reminiscent of goblins or kobolds or one of the many lesser demonic imp types from the Fiend Folio.  They do behave as a horde creatures, and don't really do anything. So stat as Kobolds, lots of them.

The classic Evil Wizard Mordred, captures the Ebon Blade, capable of ripping the fabrik of the dimensions. Fortunately Mordred casts few spells during the adventure, so we have the beginnings of a Magic section for Serpents & Sorcery.
  • Reverse Elemental Power - Firestars powers turn to ice in one dungeon room. 
  • Snake Charm - the two-headed snake comes at his beckoning)
  • Snakes to Chains (mentioned above)
  • Teleport - lightening strikes and teleports enemies away
  • erm, that's it.
His main weakness is a talisman that banishes him to the nether dimension and keeps him trapped there.

 The Nymphs appear as beautiful floating maidens in vaguely Arabian costume, but...

Nymphs true forms
... it's a trap! The Nymphs true forms are revolting ape-like creatures, reminiscent of the Cryonax from the Fiend Folio, although not as powerful. They seem attracted to Iceman, which is appropriate as the Cryonix likes the cold, so perhaps these are the tricksy young female of the species. They don't seem particularly strong or bright, but are able to cast Charm person, and Shape-change.

Pegasus. It's a flying horse.

Skeleton Warriors riding Lizards
And last but not least, we have Skeleton Warriors riding Giant Lizards. Yeah! How cool is that? We're in real gonzo funhouse dungeon territory. Probably best to just stat these as Skeleton Warriors, mounted on Giant Lizards and work out the how and whys of the Necrosaur™ alliance later.  They are armed with ice lances, flaming projectiles and axes. It is almost straight off  the Judges Guild Nightmare Maze of Jigrésh module for The Empire of the Petal Throne, which I've never read, but often admired the cover of.

On a historical note, that Marvel Productions, who made Spiderman and his Amazing Friends would go on to make the Dungeons and Dragons cartoon in '83 - does make me wonder of Gary Gygax may have been persuaded in some way by the oblique reference and support for his game to go with Marvel. 


  1. Great post! I don't remember this episode.

    1. Neither did I! I'm currently on my 3rd watch-through of Spider-man and his Amazing Friends. I'd blame the kids, but who would believe me? Anyway, must have missed it on first broadcast and second watch through, as I didn't remember it at all. Weird.

      Thanks for dropping by!

  2. Replies
    1. I agree!!! There should be more of this kind of thing.

  3. And there I was thinking it would be all about the Seven serpents from the Sorcery series by Steve Jackson...

    1. Still haven't put enough effort into sourcing Nepalese beer to accompany a determined replay of the Sorcery! series.

  4. The board game that the Amazing Friends are playing looks to me like "Dungeon!", which was first published by TSR in 1975 (and was a staple of my childhood). It wouldn't quite account for the castle or the many rule books.

    Either that or they are navigating the unbeatable dragon through a large diagram of a digestive track. Perhaps the dragon is looking for Lemmiwinks.

    1. Maybe "Wilderness!".

      Incidentally I like the way the green on the map coordinates with Angelicas jacket and the brown of Bobbies shoes with the books.

  5. I was wondering if the "enchanted ebony blade" was a Stormbringer reference.

    1. Hello Stormbringer! I did start to delve into the comic-book sources that Donald F. Glut was drawing on for this episode - The Black Knight is a long-standing Marvel character, but not one I am familiar with. Apparently Stan Lee's Marvel Comics Black Blade predates Moorcocks chaos weapon by about 6 years.

    2. Interesting! I just looked on the Wikipedia article about the Ebony Blade and I notice it was carved from a meteor, which hearkens back to that epic discussion about powerful objects falling from the heavens you entertained here few months back. I see another Oldhammer scenario coming to mind...

      I've not read anything of Moorcock's so I cannot possibly comment on whether or not there may be a traceable chain of influence between Marvel's Ebony Blade and Stormbringer. But if anyone could find one, it would be you.