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Saturday, 5 November 2011

Blood, fire and iron

Alan Craddock is nowadays probably best known for his amazing coloring work on the Doctor Who comic, but back in the dim and distant he was famous among fantasy gamers as one of White Dwarf's top cover artists. Buxom girls in mithril thongs grappled with sweaty demons, and adolescent lads reached into their pockets every month for - no, titter ye not; for 85p, I was going to say.

Alan was Oliver's and my first and only choice to paint the covers of the Dragon Warriors paperbacks. As our customers for that series spread a little younger than the WD readership, the art director probably requested fewer girls and more clothing. The only buttocks on show, in fact, belonged to a Trojan-style warrior fighting a centaur on the cover of book 6.

Here is Alan's first pencil rough of the painting for book 1. It's on tracing paper and I can pretty much guarantee it has never been published before as I only just came across it while turning out my attic. Or cleaning the Augean stables; one of the two. You can see the Thor-style helmet there which later evolved into full-blown Asgardian costume including the upswept shoulders of the cloak.

Jon Hodgson famously revisited this idealized view to show what the real adventurers of Legend look like - hard, gritty and pragmatic. They can be heroes, but in Legend honor has to be alloyed with politics and compromise. It's not all wingèd helms and divine rewards for honest dealing. If you release the Grey Host from their oath, for example, don't expect the story to bend around and pat you on the head - not in Legend. You might simply find you've thrown away a vital weapon. It's not a fairytale world of neat moral payoffs, you see - which is the reason I still prefer it as a role-playing setting, actually, because what are courage and honor worth if you expect them to come with a lollypop?


  1. Hi Dave,

    How come you can find most of the reprints of Dragon Warriors on Amazon except for book 1 ? Book 1 is only available in its 1985 edition

  2. Interesting to finally see the rough concept for the original Dragon Warriors cover.

    Thanks to Jon Hodgson we know that the knight met a distinctly sticky end - but what happened to the barbarian? And who exactly IS the deadly creature that they encountered?

  3. When I bought DW6, I actually wondered why the warrior on the cover had forgotten to put on his loincloth (maybe it's a technique to divert the attention of the centaur during the fight ? ;-))

  4. Ace. It's always interesting to see the evolution of an art concept. :)

    (ALAN C RooLs! :D )

  5. @cafaristeir: I grew up in the village of Cherhill on the A4 between Calne and Malborough. The village's claim to fame (apart from a White Horse folly, created not in prehistoric times but in 1780), was a group of highwaymen known as the Cherhill Gang. Their modus operandi was to operate in the buff, allegedly so that their victims would not remember their faces as their attention would be directed elsewhere...

  6. I was sure you made up that story about the Cherhill Gang, savagelegend, but there it is on Wiki. Blimey, I hope they didn't do any robberies in wintertime.

    Anon, the Magnum Opus/Serpent King DW books aren't reprints but fully revised rulebooks and new material. Btw check out the Serpent King Games website for the latest news of the forthcoming all-new DW Players' Book.

    Olivier, I always assumed Alan ran out of time and didn't have time to paint any trousers on the guy :-)

  7. Ah ah ! I didn't know that story ! (only Lady Godiva was famous to me).Maybe that those robbers had Scottish (Caledonian) ancestors who really fought totally naked, bearing only blue paintings on their skin (hence their name of "Picts" = "painted")

  8. Now, you're not telling me you believe Caesar's propaganda? I've been to Scotland, and there aren't many days in the year you'd care to run around naked there!

  9. I believe you for what pertains to the Scottish weather (and this can apply to Lorraine now...). But, to my knowledge, Caesar never reached Scotland. The tale of naked Celtic warriors seems to come from Polybius (here §28):*.html

  10. I don't think Caesar even got north of the Thames, in fact. But he did claim the Celts fought naked and that the women pitched into battle too - all presumably to foster an image of dangerous barbarians on the empire's fringes. The truth was the Celts probably weren't nearly as unsophisticated as all that, although they did lack Roman standards of sanitation, education, irrigation... As for the Picts, I fear that my image of them has been indelibly shaped by Robert E Howard's wilder yarns.

  11. Yes, in certain domains, the Celts were highly sophisticated, but the pity is that their civilsation favoured oral transmission of knowledge and wood, two things that leave no remnants (on the contrary to writings and stone). I am fond of books about Indo-European culture and language (I even wrote a short grammar) and comparisons between those older cultures and the few writings (ex: the Old Irish legends like the Tain Bo Cuailnge) allow to extrapolate about the Celts.
    By chance, I found today a French scientifical review with an article dedicated to Celtic warfare. According to the latest research, only elite warriors were totally naked (wearing only jewels) and put in the front of the army to impress the enemy. Their fierceness was supposed to protect them from everything, and this way, they showed they needed no armour, not even any clothes.
    Who knows ? Maybe that, as in DW, all Celtic warrior reaching Level 8 could get this special skill:
    When your character fights naked, his Protection Level reaches 10. Moreover, your enemy is so driven into distraction by the vision of your perfect body, that he loses 10 Attack.
    However, if this skill is used in Scotland, Erevorn or Thuland, your character loses 1 Stamina pro Round because of coldness...