Friday, 19 June 2020

A Wizard Master on Elm Street

In one scene in the 1986 instalment of the Nightmare on Elm Street series #3: The Dream Warriors, we see 3 teens on a psychiatric ward playing a fictional Role-Playing Game called Wizard Master. The game features a large hex-based map and a neat triptych arch Wizard Masters screen that was undoubtedly made for the movie, as it directly portrays the 'dream-persona' of the Will Stanton character.

While the game props are props, however, several other pieces of set dressing are clearly identifiable as items of real world gaming and pop-culture detritus:

Nightmare on Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriros
The large colour poster on the wall of our RPG playing psychiatric ward inmate Will Stanton is unmistakably the work of comic-book fantasy maestro Richard Corben:

Richard Corben | Den 2

A closer inspection of the images Will has on his pin-board reveals some slightly less obvious, more blurry but specific fantasy gaming references...

D&D Pinboard on Elm Street
That's right, the left hand image is clearly this classic advertisement and mini Second Edition Warhammer supplement for Citadel Miniatures from October, 1986!

Citadel Feudals! White Dwarf #82
I do have to wonder why my brain almost instantly recognised this, perhaps some arcane magics, or just, I don't know, being a complete and utter nerd.

The image on the top-right of the pin-board appears to be from the same issue of White Dwarf...

Tony Ackland illustration for The Light Fantastic| White Dwarf #82

Strangely, Freddy's animated skeleton comes to life to kill people towards the end of the movie, but I think we'd be giving the film-makers a little too much credit if this is an attempt at subtly foreshadowing the event.

And in the middle is an advert for The Warlord Games Shop in Southend, England. One might wonder why a kid in an American lunatic asylum for sleep-deprived insane youths, being given dangerous experimental psychoactive drugs would pin an advert for a games shop in the UK to his moodboard of doom, but perhaps that conundrum answers itself.

Warlord Games Shop Advert | White Dwarf #82
Interestingly, none of White Dwarf 82s Warhammer Fantasy Role-Play preview art or images are used at all. And while the set dressers were focused on wizard orientated imagery, in order to reinforce Wills dream-persona as the Wizard Master,  they also didn't use Josh Kirby's excellent cover for Terry Pratchetts The Light Fantastic which features in the magazine.

Unfortunately, other than the obvious Spike from Gremlins merchandise, I don't recognise any of the other bits of fantasy art or references,  although there are a couple of large (dragon?) miniatures on his bedside table , and something that looks like it has the distinctive Dungeons & Dragons logo - which the multi-talented and eagle-eyed Kelvin Green swiftly identified as The Art of Dungeons & Dragons Fantasy Game from 1985.

Harry Potter, the Wizard Master
The movie very much plays on the teen-suicide mass hysteria of the 80s, the heroine cutting her wrists in the bathroom with a razorblade, and two of her fellow inmates apparently committing suicide, one by jumping off a roof, and the other improbably plunging her head into a wall mounted cathode ray tube - both victims of Freddy Kruegers nightmare induced somnambulism.

Under those circumstances, fantasy gaming making an appearance isn't really a surprise, during what has become known as the 'satanic panic', Dungeons & Dragons, alongside heavy metal music and horror movies were held up by the american religious right as corrupting influences that drove teenagers to witchcraft, suicide and violence.

Dungeons & Dragons | Witchcraft Suicide Violence
Bothered About Scapegoating

The movie however, presents gaming as little more than a harmless pastime, which fuels the imagination but is ultimately benign and impotent in the face of either real supernatural evil or severe sleep deprivation fuelled mental illness and mass hallucination. In the dream-world Matt becomes the Wizard Master, shooting lightning bolts from his fingers but it doesn't help him defeat Kreuger - in fact the only thing that does is the 'real magic' of Christian ritual paraphernalia - holy water and prayer, although these are wielded by a faithless Level 7 psychiatrist whose been struck off, rather than an ordained priest.

On any level of analysis, Nightmare on Elm Street 3 puts teenagers mental health and supernatural perturbances down to bad parenting, be it adults just not listening to childrens fears or concerns, to general neglect - Nancy's mothers alcoholism and fathers absenteeism, or Kirsten's wantonly neglectful mother. Krueger himself is seeking revenge for being burned alive by the kids parents and being denied the salvation offered by a christian burial - he becomes the embodiment of the Elm Street parents lack of responsibility - simply burying their misdeeds and allowing their guilt to fester and manifest in their childrens subconscious as inter-generational trauma. A lesson, perhaps, more for the Patricia Pullings of this world.


  1. Something worrying about your ability to spot that. I'm impressed but scared.

    1. Is spotting the Corben art and then going bladerunner on it, any defense? Probably not!

  2. Ha! Tremendous spottery!

    (By the way, I thought this strand of extreme gaming trivia might be up your street:

    1. Cheers JC! That is a great series of posts on how early Citadel ranges were formed by D&D. There's a good thread on the Oldhammer Forum that ties up the Fiend Factory range and other bits to the original art.

  3. The book on the table is The Art of the Dungeons and Dragons Fantasy Game, which had at least two editions. One used the cover of The Temple of Elemental Evil as its cover, and this one I would guess is newer as the design is more "modern".

    1. Ah, no, looking into it further I see that the ToEE cover was for The Art of the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Fantasy Game. Of course TSR separated its art books by product line. Of course.

    2. That's a great spot Kelvin! I know quite a lot of the interior of the book from random scans on the internet - lots of Tim Trumans designs for the LJN D&D toy range in there - but I've never noticed the cover before.

  4. There are some more shots of the Wizard Master WM screen here: