Hawk the Slayer: D&D Cheese

Hawk the Friggin’ Slayer.  Yes, I’m going there.  You bet your ass.

Cast your mind back (if you’re young enough) to the year of 1980.  There, gifted unto the world was the glorious cheese of Hawk the Slayer.  I first witnessed this wondrous spectacle on HBO (before there were more than one.)  This happened briefly after the insidious, Satan-worshipping evil of Dungeons and Dragons possessed me.  Other than the animated Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, D&D fandom had few cinematic representatives.

Then along comes a cheesefest filled to the brim with elves, dwarves, giants, magic swords and witches.  Oh sweet Demogorgon, yes!

What did I care that the majority of the special effects consisted of glowing superballs, smoke pots, shiny hula hoops and bad stop-motion arrows?  It mattered naught!  To battle!

I AM NOT OVERACTING!

Anyway, the plot is pretty simple.  Bad guy brother Voltan (played by the scenery-chewing Jack Palance) kills his father the king.  Good guy brother Hawk (played with wooden fortitude by John Terry) gets the gift of “The Mindsword” from dad and swears to avenge his death.  The power of The Mindsword (so far as I can determine) consists of reacting to the wielder’s mental commands and lighting the way through a haunted forest at one point.  Other powers are a bit murky–try again later.

Voltan sports a Darth Vader style helmet that helps conceal his burned features.  Burned, incidentally, by Hawk’s lady love right before Voltan kills her.  Yeah, Voltan’s a shitty brother.  You can kinda see why he’s never invited to family reunions.

Years later Voltan’s ravaging the countryside, like a good villain.  He kidnaps the Abbess of a convent and tries to ransom her back to the church.  Unsure which god the church

Still better than most of the D&D groups I’ve known.

worships.  Scientology?  Instead a crossbowman named Ranulf (W. Morgan Sheppard) wounded by Voltan seeks a group to help rescue the Abbess and defend the convent.  This is where we get a “Magnificent Seven” vibe as a group of misfits (Player Characters or Murder Hobos–you decide) is assembled by Ranulf and Hawk.  The group consists of: Gort the Giant (Bernard Bresslaw from Krull “fame”), Crow the Elf (Ray Charleson), Baldin the Dwarf (Peter O’Farrell) and The Sorceress (Patricia Quinn).

At least half of these folks are recruited by rescuing them from brigands.  Seriously, there are brigands all over the place.  Brigands stealing.  Brigands trying to burn witches.  Brigands cheating at archery contests.  It’s like a brigand convention.  I figure half of this world’s population is brigands.

Special Effects!

The lion’s share of the rest of the movie consists of the group playing cat and mouse with Voltan and killing a lot of his redshirts.  Lots.  How Voltan kept recruits with his attrition rate just tells you more about brigand overpopulation than the quality of his leadership.  Keep your brigands spayed and neutered.

There follows the inevitable confrontation between the brothers.  You can guess what happens.

This film was slapped together in six weeks for a mere six hundred thousand pounds in Buckinghamshire, England.  (This explains the preponderance of British actors in it.)  The

I’ve got this trick I do with a fish . . .

movie had a theatrical release in the UK, but the production company ITC went tits-up before it could be released in the United States.  Instead it became cable television fodder and a warm, cheesy memory to hordes of nerds everywhere.  Afterward, it became a cult movie classic to the point that a campaign happened to create a sequel called Hawk the Hunter.  Unfortunately, the Kickstarter campaign failed miserably.

Dig up a copy and enjoy.

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Quag Keep: The First D&D Novel

Lo, those many years ago (1981) when I read Andre Norton’s novel Quag Keep.  A copy presented itself in my Middle School library. A dragon appeared on the cover and fantasy had just fastened into my pubescent consciousness, leading to a reading.

Quag Keep is a queer duck of a novel.  Neither fish nor fowl, it slumbers in obscurity.  Set in the Greyhawk campaign world created by Gary Gygax, it is extremely referential to Dungeons & Dragons as a hobby, rather than game mechanics.  Literally.  Magic transforms a bunch of RPG nerds into their characters in Greyhawk via ‘cursed miniatures’.  No, really.

I know what you’re thinking.  This must be a stupid concept that breaks the fourth wall or just comes across as pretentious.  Surprisingly, it’s not.  Is it great?  No, but it’s not bad.  It moves quick, has enjoyable scenes and the characters (especially the main caracter, Milo Jagon) are interesting.  Moreover, because there is little to no attempt to shoehorn game mechanics, Andre manages to describe the world and situations without worrying about such trivia.  The game mechanics, ironically, are actually far less visible because they are literally part of the story.

Later books placed modern people into fantasy settings via games (such as the enjoyable Guardians of the Flame books) but this is the first.  Greyhawk wouldn’t be published for another two years.   This version of Greyhawk is misty and incomplete.  Andre takes that incompleteness and fills in the gaps with her own writing skills–not without success.  Unfazed by whether or not wizards are allowed to wear armor or wearboars cast spells, she does her level best to tell an interesting fantasy tale.  Quite honestly, I’d prefer the authors who presently crank out gaming novels to take a page from her playbook and do the same.

While researching this I noted that a sequel to Quag Keep, unimaginatively titled Return to Quag Keep, came out a couple of years after Andre Norton died.  I have zero desire to read this, since it smacks of pillaging a dead author’s stories for ideas.  I suspect Andre had little to nothing to do with this ‘sequel’.  I’ll pass.

If you like your gaming books bereft of gaming mechanics, would like to delve into the history of the hobby, or just read a fast, enjoyable fantasy romp, you could do far worse than Quag Keep.

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