Wednesday, 1 December 2010

2000AD's Dice Man 3

Back to the occasional series of RPG magazines what I had back in the day.

Dice Man was a short-lived gamebook magazine (just five bimonthly issues) from the 2000AD boys featuring comic strips in gamebook format revolving around 2000AD properties. I only ever owned this one from June/July 1986.

Mixing 2000AD comic characters and FF gamebooks might seem like a marriage made in heaven but sadly it doesn't really work that well. Partly this is because of the format of using comic book frames. The reader reads as normal from frame to frame (all of which are numbered) until a redirect or choice crops up. In FF terms this would be like being at paragraph 310 which has no redirect or choices so you go on to 311 and on to 312 and so on until 315 gives you an option or forces you elsewhere.

This means that games are not as long as their "section" count may imply (95, 97 and 103 in this issue) and end up feeling disjointed on a readthrough due to the lack of much bridging text to pick up the plot from several different input threads. Furthermore, the effects of deadlines, budgets or editorial space have some impact with two pages of brief textual descriptions suggesting that at some point during the project, somebody ran out of something. On the other hand, it does allow for the writers/artists to create visual puzzles and drop hints within the game - if you are familiar in Lone Wolf 2 - Fire on the Water, you might remember the Gary Chalk illustration whereby sharp eyes picked out which of your fellow travellers was the villain by a partially-concealed snake tattoo. That's very similar to some of the things in this issue.

Anyway, to the games themselves.

Killothon is a Rogue Trooper story in which the player plays Rogue, tasked with escorting the only child of clones to be born on Nu-Earth to safety. A typical "journey" format game with some interesting encounters in a post-apoc warzone jungle.

You can see the format used here, reading consecutive panels until told otherwise.

The other two are a bit more interesting. Second tale is Dark Powers featuring a character created especially for Dice Man called err... Dice Man. Well, Rick Fortune is his actual name, but Dice Man is the character's nickname.

Dark Powers is pretty much ahead of it's time. It's a full-on pulp adventure of the type that RPG'ers started to rediscover over the last decade. 1930s, Ahnenerbe, Indy-ripoff, Nazi Zombies, Mausers and Schmeissers, Blonde Aryan honeys in swastika armbands. The lot in other words and a good twenty years before the rest of the RPG world caught up.

Plot-wise the Nazi's have found the body of Odin/Wotan hanging above an entrance to hell at the Externsteine in the Teutoburger Wald. (This would presumably draw it's inspiration from Odin hanging himself from Yggdrasil in attempt to gain great inspiration and wisdom from self-mortification). The illustration of Wotan shrouded in a swastika flag is one of the most awesome/chilling/haunting things I've ever seen in a gamebook.

Rounding off the collection is The Garden of Alien Delights, a Torquemada story (he of villain status in the superlative Nemesis the Warlock) based entirely upon Bosch's The Garden of Earthly Delights. Co-credited as "An Original Idea By Hieronymous Bosch 1450-1516", Torquemada himself later rather cutely breaks the third wall by stating "What a load of Bosch!" when confronted with the famous pair of ears with blade from the right panel of the triptych. Philistine here has to admit that his initial introduction to the works of Bosch came through this comic book.

And it's a remarkable idea and visual work for a comic strip that deserves a wider audience.

Makes me wonder why nobody ever published a Garden of Earthly Delights D&D scenario. (Unless someone did of course and I'm merely unaware of it).

Mechanics-wise, the Rogue Trooper and Torquemada games share the same mechanics. A single stat is generated as 15+d6 and labelled according to flavour of the game - Rogue calls this COMBAT RATING, Torquemada PURITY RATING and other issues in which Slaine the Barbarian starred it's called WARP RATING. The hero and the the opponent roll 2d6 a piece with the hero adding +1 (Rogue because he's a Genetic Infantryman, Torquemada because he's a "such a bloodthirsty fanatic". The difference between the two scores is taken straight off the losers WHATEVER RATING. Once a enemy is defeated, his original WHATEVER RATING can be added to yours as a mix of healing and experience. Other bonuses and penalties to your WHATEVER RATING occur throughout the game.

Dice Man uses a finite resource system of Physical Strength and Mind Strength which simply get depleted (usually by d6 or 2d6) as Rick gets into scrapes. Running out of either is fatal.

So Dice Man was OK really, not great as a gamebook but letting the 2000AD writers and artists lose on the gamebook produced enough great ideas to excuse the slightly clunky and disjointed format. So why did we only see 5 issues?

It's obvious on a read through the problems inherent in the format. I can imagine, and the pages that "didn't get drawn" do point towards this that the magazine was extremely resource-intensive to produce and plan, probably a lot more so than filling the same number of pages with pre-plotted comic strips. Coupled with the slightly clunky format and the fact that some of these great ideas would get a wider audience in the pages of 2000AD proper and you can see why it didn't last forever or indeed anywhere near as long as PROTEUS. But a worthwhile experiment none the less and that Swastika-clad Wotan picture has haunted me ever since 1986.

Finally, by the miracle of the Portable Document Format (actually as somebody who worked on PDFs at a programmatical level for a few years - PDF is total dogshit once you look at the internals) I do have the other four issues and this is the last section of the first game in issue 1 written by Pat Mills and blatant pseudonym "T.B. Grover". Judge Dredd has just survived a haunted house that was harbouring Judges Death, Fear, Fire and Mortis and wants the place razed...

Nice one. :)


  1. Good mags, I bought the earlier ones for the Slaine stories. They were pretty good fun, nice artwork too.Ta for posting.

  2. Hmm, there's some potential here. I shall have to have a think about this. I'd never heard of this magazine -- and had never thought about a gamebook/comic hybrid -- before you posted this, so thanks!

  3. This issue was the only one I had, and like you, it was my first introduction to Hieronymus Bosch. I remember I had got it for the plane ride back home, but didn't have any dice, so I "winged" it. I do remember the Torquemada PURITY RATING (Filthy Aliens!), and playing that story with the dice later. I should take another look at it, as the "Sir Montague Haul" bit still appeals to my sensibilities...

    And the artwork.

    Thanks for the reminiscences!

  4. Just came across this blog recently. I thought (and still think) the Diceman gamebooks were a sensational idea, a great niche in the gamebook market. Anyway, my positives aside, all five mags are available free at the link below, as well as many other gamebooks that are out of print.

  5. Love the old 2000 AD stuff. I came across some of the imports of Rogue Trooper, with backup ABC Warriors stories, as a teenager 20 years ago. Still great stuff.

    Thanks for the link, uwarr!