I believe that TSR, after the fail of Dragonstrike was no really willing to come back in comic industry for good.
But in 1996, to promote the sales of its AD&D and affiliated products, TSR was offering a free comic for any 15$ or more purchase.
Believing the ad, 5 comics were meant to be distributed as limited edition :
Forgotten Realms : The Grand Tour
Birthright : The Serpent's Eye
Advanced Dungeons & Dragons : Labyrinth of Madness
Dragonlance : The Fifth Age
Planescape : The Unity of Rings
In the end, only 4 will be released. The Unity of Rings, which was entirely done, will never be published but WOTC will decide to put it freely online in 2003 on their website.
Understanding the advert, the first one released is The Grand Tour
If the graphics are not really great (even mediocre on some pages...) the story is pretty funny and quirky as main characters are Elminster, the most famous mage of the Realms and....... Presto(n) from the D&D cartoon (well years after the cartoon's story tho :P)
It s a nice original and nostalgic way of getting the reader involved in the story using a character he surely saw on TV years ago.
Plot is very simple : Preston is getting his chance to become Elminster's apprentice and this last one decides to take the guy to a tour of the Realms.
Tour during which they ll meet legendary figures of the Forgotten Realms as Marco Volo, Qilué Veladron (who s telling about Drizzt and Lirel...), or even Alias and Dragonbait in famous place as Cormyr, Skullport (hidden city under Waterdeep), or Shadowdale.
Each meeting being an excuse to have a nice synopsis of some aspect of the Realms, its people and history.
Also, special wink from Jeff Grubb to authors Ed Greenwood and Julia Martin.
(Who wrote some of the F.R. novels together)
|Ed (Greenwood), Marco Volo & Julia (Martin)|
Strange thing is that Khelben Blackstaff, high magus and one of the known lords of Waterdeep (left guy on the cover) is not appearing in the story...
...as well as the cover style differ totally from the comic...
All that in order to puzzle the reader imo... no one would expect to see the guys from D&DC here, heh.
Second Limited Edition issue seems to be The Serpent's Eye. I base this thinking on the shape of the "logo" in the upper left corner, which is (but the character) similar to The Grand Tour one.
Story by Ed Stark and art by Dave Gross. Both are average imo.
We re put into some mini-quest involving Jahan, emir of Khourane, his uncle Khalil El-Faran and Marlae baroness of Roesone trying to retrieve the Serpent's eye (A powerful artifact belonging to the mentionned Serpent, an awnsheghlien, monstrous semi-deity)
Birthright is a rpg-system based on the principle of divine bloodline.
Long ago, on the planet Aebrynis, more especially on the Cerilia continent, a war occured between elves and humans. During the battle on Mount Deismaar, the gods themselves took part of the melee and a bunch of good gods sacrified themselves in order to kick the bad bad god Azrai's ass. This ended in a cataclysmic fight in which all the gods (good and evil) were destroyed.
But the divine core having not been totally wiped out, it infiltrated the blood of the present fighters, the nearest and strongest of them receiving more power.
The most powerful of them became almost gods themselves and developped special divine attributes, making them natural leaders.
Some of them turned aberrations, like the Serpent or the Spider.
I never had the chance to play Birthright and the few I learnt about this world was what I read in novels. (5 of them have been translated into french years ago)
This comic story is in the line of the novels, not very funny, not very interesting, with not very charismatic characters... we re far from the richness of worlds as Forgotten Realms or Dragonlance.
Now, I am sure it s a perfect game system to build some über toon... or for those who like the system of bloodline... but well we cut the head of our aristocracy 2 centuries ago here... froggy talking :P
Anyway, the job has been done with this comic.
You want a glimpse of B.R. ? Read it.
In comparaison, Labyrinth of Madness is a really nice issue that fits more in the tone of these Limited Editions.
Writer : Mike Barron Penciller : Arnie Swekel
The story, based on an adventure module originally written by Monte Cook, is about adventurers on a quest to rescue their buddy, captive in some hellish trapped dungeon.
|The adventure module|
It s somehow very alike the first cartoon ads story. Typical D&D party in some dungeon crawl on which you add a serious amount of comedy.
As characters, we have the captive one... Sorril the Paladin trapped in the deepest level of the labyrinth by the very evil Aerthun, a titan who s some mix between a giant and a cobra...
...and the rescue team composed of its leader and wizard Kirtig, Shardeus a female paladin, the 2 dwarves brothers : Dharveth the fighter and Dwelhach the Cleric and the indispensable and so murphy-ish Jedin, the halfling rogue.
All the elements of a playable adventure are here... the random encounters, the puzzles, the temptating pathes full of traps, the treasures and the mega-boss at the end. Plus, the story is livened up with a very plesant style of drawing that matches the tone of the narrative.
|Labyrinth of Madness - Double page|
In the end it s a really nice way to get an overview of what you can expect on a night spent D&D gaming around a table with your weirdo friends. (you ll never play RPG with only "normal guys"... that can t be :P)
Take adventures, fights againts incredible monsters, achievements (unbelievable fails too heh)... and some ladles of fun and humour with a grain of salt. Put all that together, add the unlimited possibilities of your imagination and that s it.
You get what AD&D was intended to be imo.
The fourth and last one ever released is Fifth Age.
Writers : Tom & Mary Bierbaum Penciller : Arnie Swekel
Inspired by the novel Dragons of a Summer Flame by Margaret Weis & Tracy Hickman, the story depicts the moment when Palin, son of Caramon and Tika Majere discovers the "new magic" while elves of Qualinesti are under the domination of Beryllinthranox, the great green dragon.
After the War of the Lance followed by the Chaos War, ancient gods are gone as well as the three moons. There is no more magic of good, neutral and evil. The reign of great wirms has come and the people of Krynn are in desperate needs of power to fight them.
Palin, sorcerer apprentice and nephew of the legendary doomed Archmage Raistlin Majere, was told by ancient god of good, Paladine, that he was the one who will find the new source of magic.
The story is pretty serious in comparaison of other limited edition issues. I do believe Dragonlance is more a world of legends than one of adventures. The War of the Lance is somehow very similar to Tolkien's Lord of the Ring. If the 2 stories have different plots, their tones is pretty serious in the end.
That explains, imo, that this limited issue was not written to be lighthearted.
It is a nice introduction to the new campaign setting of Dragonlance.
The quality of the graphics as well as the narration are pretty correct. (even if find that Beryl's design is a bit childish, reminding me of the 1982 animated movie "The Flight of Dragons"...ok, I admit I am maybe going too far here... :P)
It also seems that artist Arnie Swekel has some speciality in the use of double page spreads... requiring the reader to turn the comic to continue his reading...
|Fifth Age - Double page|
If I ve read the Dragonlance Chronicles novels with delight years ago, I am not an expert concerning the Fifth Age. So I can t say if this little story and the novels are well matched or not and at which degree of accuracy. But at first sight, it seems pretty correct to me.
As well as all the other limited editions issues, besides the story itself, the comic is full of chosen ads about Dragonlance materials as upcoming novels or modules. Which is pretty coherent considering they were AD&D's campaign settings dedicated promotional goodies... (QED... or not XD)
This Limited Edition line is a must-to-have for any D&D comics collector in the meaning it gives, in only 4 issues (5 if you count the lost planescape comic...), a very large panel of what was AD&D in late 90's.