Thursday, 23 October 2014

The Dungeoneers

Marc Gascoigne and Pete Tamlyn's Dungeoneer, the first Advanced Fighting Fantasy manual, came out in November 1989. I can still remember the day I went into my local bookshop, one school lunchtime, and spotted this huge big FF book with a blue spine on the shelf - I spent as long as I could reading it in the shop, and I think I had to wait until the next week's pocket money was supplied until I could buy a copy (for £3.99, which seemed like a lot in those days!).

As one of the few fans of FF in my area, and with the few of us who did exist living quite a few miles apart, roleplaying wasn't something I ever really got into, and it was the huge amount of Fighting Fantasy lore that I was most impressed by in Dungeoneer. That and the superb illustrations by John Sibbick, whose work had previously appeared on the covers of Masks of Mayhem and Midnight Rogue, and in the interiors of Crypt of the Sorcerer and Midnight Rogue. He's always been one of my favourite FF illustrators, with the people and creatures in his pictures having a kind of life about them that's quite unique. In fact, some of the pictures in Dungeoneer are among my favourite in the whole of Fighting Fantasy - especially the attacking Ghouls on p. 154, Nicodemus on p. 270, the female warrior being attacked by Tentacles on p. 318, and the skeletal Tyrannosaurus on p. 342.

Another interesting feature of Dungeoneer was that it came with a set of pre-determined characters for you to play, each of which was accompanied by an illustration by John Sibbick, giving us a good idea of what they look like. These characters are:

  • Aspen Darkfire, a female elf adventurer
  • Jerek Stormgard, a male human mercenary
  • Gordo Brondwyn, a male human thief
  • Grimbold Tornhelm, a male dwarf warrior
  • Axel Wolfric, a male human barbarian warrior
  • Baradas Rangor, a male human wizard

The adventurers are referred to by name in the two scenarios in the book, but curiously a different set of adventurers (though with some similarities to the pre-defined characters) is illustrated repeatedly in the pictures in those scenarios and in the rest of the book. These characters appear in all sorts of adventurous situations, from battles with chaotic hordes to quieter moments examining ancient hieroglyphs. In the rest of this post I examine who these adventurers are, and what they are doing in the illustrations in Dungeoneer. I think they really add an extra dimension to the book, as you trace their struggles and successes through the illustrations. I call them the 'Dungeoneers'.

The Dwarf
Given his short stature and strong build, the Dwarf is perhaps the most distinctive of the Dungeoneers. Unlike Grimbold Tornhelm, who is a young Dwarf with a black beard, the Dungeoneer Dwarf appears to be older male, with grey or white hair and beard. Like Grimbold, he is a warrior, and he also wears a horned helmet (though of a different design). He wears spiked armour on his shoulders, and wields a short, broad, doubled-bladed axe.

The Dungeoneer Dwarf is pictured on the following pages:
  • p. 10, standing holding a torch at the top of the well, which some of his fellow Dungeoneers are climbing out of.
  • p. 28, standing by the spike-pit trap, watching helplessly as one of his companions, the Amazon, falls into it.
  • p. 38, riding a short pony towards Xortan Throg's Tower with the retinue from Chalice.
  • p. 48, entering the tunnel in the crag beneath Xortan Throg's Tower.
  • p. 63, apparently falling backwards as the portcullis in the tunnels under Xortan Throg's Tower is triggered.
  • p. 146, battling the hordes of Chaos on the narrow bridge (extreme left of picture) with his Dungeoneer companions.
  • p. 234, bringing up the rear of the party of adventurers as they approach the throne of King Salamon the 57th.
  • p. 353, looking backwards down the tunnel of a dungeon at one of his companions, the Explorer, whilst some of the others try to figure out where to go next.
  • p. 392, grinning with pleasure as he opens a chest of riches with one of his Dungeoneer companions, the Knight.
  • possibly on p.162, as a shadow on the wall (mostly of his axe) as his Dungeoneer companion, the Elf, holds a knife to the throat of an Orc.

The Elf
Unlike Aspen Darkfire, the Dungeoneer Elf is a male warrior and archer. His main weapon is a long bow, but he also wields a sword or knife as the situation requires, and he wears metal shoulder armour. From the pictures of him in Dungeoneer, he certainly doesn't come across as a gentle, peace-loving creature of the woods. Quite the opposite in fact!

The Dungeoneer Elf is pictured on the following pages:
  • p. 20, watching on as his companions tend to the wounded members of their group.
  • p. 63, jumping in surprise as the portcullis trap is sprung beneath Xortan Throg's Tower.
  • p. 104, firing arrows into the fray as his companions battle a group of Lizardmen.
  • p. 146, firing an arrow into the battle between his companions and the hordes of Chaos on the narrow bridge.
  • p. 162, clamping his hand over an Orc's mouth and holding a knife to its throat.
  • p. 170, hacking with a sword at the tentacled horror which is assailing him and his companions (one of the tentacles has wrapped itself around his left arm).
  • p. 234, approaching the throne of King Salamon the 57th with his fellow adventurers.
  • p. 282, realising that a young thief has stolen his purse in a market.
  • p. 358, riding a horse in front of the slain beast (front rider, about to pass through the city gate).

The Wizard
The pre-defined Wizard character in Dungeoneer is the dweebish, clean-faced young Baradas Rangor. The human Wizard who features as one of the Dungeoneers throughout the book is a more mature, grizzled character, a hook-nosed man of middle years with grey bushy eyebrows, moustache and chin-beard. He dresses in a spiked cap and a billowing robe, tied at the waist, and sometimes wears a pair of pince-nez glasses to read. Carrying a spiked staff, his favourite spell appears to be a blistering blast of white fire, which issues from the tip of his index finger.

The Dungeoneer Wizard is pictured on the following pages:
  • The front cover, discharging his spell at the knightmarish beast from the Pit.
  • p. 20, tending his wounded companion, the Explorer.
  • p. 38, in the retinue from Chalice approaching Throg's Tower (just about discernible, his spiked staff most obvious, above the Dwarf, bottom right).
  • p. 104, in the midst of battle with his companions against the Lizardmen.
  • p. 127, using excessive force (in the form of twin fire bolts) to deal with a couple of unfortunate Goblins.
  • p. 146, lighting up the battle on the narrow bridge with another blast of spell fire.
  • p. 194, studying ancient hieroglyphics with his companions, wearing his pince-nez glasses to see them better.
  • p. 353, examining a parchment or map with the Warrior as his party of adventurers try to work out where to go in a dungeon.

The Knight
A rather more clean-cut looking armoured human warrior than the pre-defined Jerek Stromgard, who I dub 'the Knight', appears in the illustrations throughout Dungeoneer. This Knight, who has a neat, dark moustache, dresses in a metal helmet and camail, in a mail hauberk, and a leather or cloth coat and gloves. He wields a two-handed sword.

The Dungeoneer Knight is pictured on the following pages:
  • p. 10, holding the rope at the top of the well his companions are climbing out of.
  • p. 28, standing helpless as his companion, the Amazon, falls into a spike-pit trap.
  • p. 170, with a two-handed sword, slicing a limb off the tentacled horror which is assailing the group of Dungeoneers.
  • p. 353, looking back down the dungeon tunnel as his companions try to figure out the way forward.
  • p. 392, with the Dwarf, basking in the glow of gold coming from an opened treasure chest.

The Explorer
The young thief, Gordo Brondwyn, in the list of pre-defined characters is probably the nearest equivalent to the next of the Dungeoneers, who I've called 'the Explorer'. Looking like a cross between Indiana Jones and Lee Van Cleef, this human is a middle-aged man with a bushy moustache, dressed in a fur jerkin with a broad leather strap diagonally across it, trousers and a brimmed hat. He carries a rope over his shoulder and fights with a long, slender, curved sword.

The Dungeoneer Explorer is pictured on the following pages:
  • p. 10, climbing up the well with his companions.
  • p. 20, lying injured with an arrow in his back, being tended by his companions after a fight (at least I hope he's only injured and this isn't some kind of out of sequence Pulp Fiction style Vince-on-the-toilet moment).
  • p. 48, approaching the tunnel into the crag under Xortan Throg's Tower (third in line).
  • p. 63, surprised by the portcullis trap in the tunnels under Throg's Tower.
  • p. 104, probably the Explorer using a long, thin, curved sword to fight off a Lizardman who is wielding a whip (the character's head is obscured in the picture).
  • p. 127, standing behind the Wizard as he discharges his spell at the Goblins, with his back to us.
  • p. 146, fighting the hordes of Chaos, half way across the narrow bridge.
  • p. 170, attempting to pull one of his companions, the Adventurer, from the clutches of the tentacled horror which is assailing the group.
  • p. 194, looking on as the Wizard studies the hieroglyphs (just above the Wizard's cap in the illustration).
  • p. 234, probably the Explorer kneeling before King Salamon the 57th (on the left near the front).
  • p. 350, having a near-death experience, as he brandishes the Crystal of Power in an attempt to destroy Xortan Throg just as he casts a Death Spell.
  • p. 353, checking an alternative passage as his companions try to figure out the best way forward in a dungeon.
  • p. 358, riding one of the horses which is pulling the slain beast, waving his hat in the air in celebration.

The Adventurer
The list of pre-defined characters in Dungeoneer includes the Barbarian human, Axel Wolfric. He doesn't appear in the illustrations throughout the book, but another character, who could just about be interpreted as a Barbarian does. This man, who I've named 'the Adventurer' because of his leather armour, has longish hair, a band across his brow, and a leather vest held in place by broad leather straps across his shoulders, over a tunic which streches down almost to his bare knees. He wields a long sword.

The Dungeoneer Adventurer is pictured on the following pages:
  • The front cover, wielding a sword as the creature from the Pit emerges.
  • p. 10, climbing out of the well.
  • p. 20, helping the Wizard to tend the injured Explorer.
  • p. 38, the first horse rider in the retinue approaching Throg's Tower.
  • p. 48, the second Dungeoneer approaching the tunnel into the crags under Throg's Tower, behind the Dwarf.
  • p. 104, fighting a Lizardman in the foreground of the picture.
  • p. 170, caught by the tentacled horror and being pulled by it in one direction and by the other adventurers in the other.
  • p. 234, kneeling before King Salamon the 57th, at the front of the group of adventurers.
  • p. 318, approaching the Warrior to help her escape the tentacled beast which has trapped her.
  • p. 358, walking behind the slain beast.
  • p. 373, holding a sword surrounded by traders.

The Warrior
The Dungeoneer party has two women among its number, neither of whom has an equivalent in the pre-defined characters at the end of the book. The first of these I have named 'the Warrior'. She has a distinct ponytail (as well as smaller braids of hair), wears a thigh-length, armour-studded leather tunic with a strong leather cross-belt, and fights with a sword (and sometimes with a dagger or pole-arm). She carries a small shield, often on her back.

The Dungeoneer Warrior is pictured on the following pages:
  • p. 10, climbing up the well with her companions, her ponytail swinging behind her.
  • p. 146, fighting the hordes of Chaos on the narrow bridge (the figure nearest the Elf).
  • p. 154, getting ready to fight a pair of sword-swinging Ghouls.
  • p. 162, her shadow visible on the wall behind the Orc's head.
  • p. 234, possibly the Warrior in front of the Elf, approaching the throne of King Salamon the 57th (this character appears to have a ponytail).
  • p. 318, fighting to escape from the tentacles of some amphibious beast.
  • p. 353, examining a map or parchment with the Wizard, as the Dungeoneers try to work out the best way forward in a dungeon.
  • p. 358, one of the horse-riders (with a spear in her hand) dragging the slain beast.

The Amazon
The last of our Dungeoneers is the other woman in the group, who I've named 'the Amazon', given her shock of wild hair and the fact she fights with a spear (she also carries a sword). She wears a short-sleeved tunic over trousers, and has a wild, half-long head of hair that she holds back with a hairband.

The Dungeoneer Amazon is pictured on the following pages:
  • The front cover, wielding a spear.
  • p. 20, standing guard in the background while her companions attend their wounded.
  • p. 28, falling into a spiked pit-trap (though she appears to be bracing herself with a hand and a foot).
  • p. 104, fighting the Lizardmen (top right).
  • p. 170, guarding her companions from behind as they fight to free the Adventurer from the grip of a tentacled horror.
  • p. 353, at the front of the group of adventurers as they try to work out the best way forward in a dungeon.
  • p. 358, riding a horse in front of the slain beast (just left of the Explorer).

So there we have it, quite an adventuring crew! As I said, I really think they add an extra dimension to Dungeoneer (and to Allansia), and it's fun to imagine how they got into the situations pictured and how they got out of them (if indeed they did). It's worth pointing out that these Dungeoneers don't appear to have survived into the other Advanced Fighting Fantasy books, although characters very like the Knight and the Dwarf do turn up in a couple of illustrations in Blacksand!. Let me know if you have any further ideas or comments about the Dungeoneers, or have spotted anything I've missed. I may return to them from a rather different angle soon, so look out for that.


  1. a great write-up on a great book - more please, perhaps of the later books in the ff series such as deathmoor

    1. Thanks again! I'd like to tackle Deathmoor at some point, as it's a book I don't know as well as I should. We'll see where the mood takes me...

  2. I GMed alot of dungeoneer as a 13 year old in 89/90. It certainly waqs the illustartions that made the game the other two books are equally well illustrated.

    1. I did a wee bit at Uni, but I've never been massively into roleplaying. And I love Russ Nicholson's art too.

  3. On page 54 it almost looks like the dwarf holding the goblins at bay with an uncharacteristic sword, but he has a scabbard in other pictures. Then again he doesn't have foot long spiked shoulder armor.
    Page 99 has 2 characters looking at the floating specral head. The character on the right appears to be the Amazon, her headband and sash are there I think...
    no idea who the character on the left could be but it might be the adventurer

    Geze I had forgotten that dang picture with the spiders on page 16!

    I'd like to think these characters had an awesome adventure, but judging by the pic on page 380 someone may not have gotten out of it alive.

    1. Thanks for those observations!

      I couldn't work out who the individual on page 54 might be, so I left him out of the analysis - he's also on p. 38 (bottom left), along with the Dwarf, so he's clearly a different individual. I thought he might be Morval, but the book tells us he didn't accompany the Dungeoneers into the tunnel.

      On p. 99, I interpreted the woman on the right as Princess Sarissa, given the rather more ornate look of her clothing, but I could be wrong. I didn't think there was enough to go on with the character on the left, but the Adventurer seems most likely.

      I also couldn't work out of the two hiding individuals on p. 210 might be Dungeoneers (the righthand one has a moustache a bit like the Explorer).

      The Spiders on p. 16 are cool (in fact, I had been wracking my brains trying to remember which book that picture was in, and when I started this post I discovered it again).

      And the characters are in some pretty nasty scrapes! p. 20 looks pretty serious for the Explorer, and there's someone they're not even bothering to attend at the back of the scene, though it might be an enemy of course. Their chances of surviving p. 380 is something of an unknown - let's hope they are powered up before they get this far!

    2. Unless he's another in the Dungeoneer party who didn't survive past the Goblins?! Maybe we could call him 'the Mercenary' or 'the Veteran' (given his age)?

  4. A possible story (Ok, I'm guessing a lot but this did kinda flow in my head)
    The mercenary/veteran is part of the group when they journey to the tower and enter the cave (38)

    He's the first one in line and is completely surprised by the goblins (54)

    He perishes in the fight and is left for dead by the rest of the group (20)

    He is brought back as an undead (380)
    Since this part of the book is about adventure hooks that can be built on previous events, this seems a good bet.

    The adventuring group recruits a new person, possibly a thief/rogue who wears a hood.
    Maybe even Gordo from the back of the book...
    The book mentions recruiting new heroes in the bar on page 267.

    This new character might be behind the elf on page 282

    The thief leads the explorer sneaking past a Death knight, who is in fact the undead mercenary - page 210

    Incidentally, the bar on page 264 is a really cool picture, but oddly none of our heroes are in it. I originally thought the main character might be the explorer, but it just seems that Halim Thrumbar and the explorer share a taste in hats.
    Then again, who is Halim standing on in that picture?

    One final point and then I'll stop. How many people do you count approaching the throne on page 234? I can go as high as 9 which leaves room for a few other guys in this group.

    1. I like it! A pretty advanced state of decomosition for the Mercenary though...

      Good idea on the hooded character, though of course there's not a lot to go on.

      And in the audience with Salamon 57th, there are indeed 9 people. Let's see, from back to front: Dwarf, Elf, Warrior, unknown with their right arm raised, Explorer, unknown in front of first unknown (Wizard?), unknown in middle, unknown on right at front (but note the shoulder spike), Adventurer front left. So we've not accounted for the Amazon or the Knight, who presumably are two of the unidentifieds. Who's the other one (assuming we go for the Wizard for the one in the robe)? The Mercenary, alive after all?

  5. On page 358 to the right of the elf I think that's the wizard riding another horse.

    I wonder if John Sibbick drew these characters intending that they would all have character sheets to give the players more options, and then someone decided to limit the players to 6 on page 21; so a different group of 6 characters were drawn up.

    I think you're right on the placement of the group on page 234. I'd call the unknown with their arm raised the Knight, as it looks like they are carrying a helmet under their other arm.

    The character you identified as the Warrior is more interesting to me. We don't see many shields at all on our heroes. On the cover the Adventurer has a shield but we never see him with one in the adventure. On page 20 there is a broken shield but it's not the one we see elsewhere.
    The shield that the mercenary/veteran is holding on page 38 does appear to be the same shield the Warrior has on page 234.
    If the mercenary is still alive, perhaps the Warrior broke her shield back on page 20 and the mercenary let her keep his as a replacement.
    If he's not alive... well no use letting a perfectly good shield go to waste.

    The Adventurer's sword is also of interest. In some pictures it's a simple sword (48, 373) while in other pictures it's got several extra short blades coming from the guard. (Cover, 318, and 104 where the extra blades are helping against the lizardman)

    The reason I bring this up is that the dwarf's axe, this oddly bladed sword, and perhaps the tip of the wizard's spiked staff can be seen in the hilariously outnumbered encounter on page 338.

    If we start looking for weapon shapes the odd blade of the sword appears in shadow on page 162 again, also next to what looks like another sword and a spear. (The Amazon's spear?)

    There is the tip of a blade next to the mercenary/veteran's torch on page 54.

    Which brings me again to the mercenary/veteran as you called him. His sword on page 54 is very unique, having a guard that comes to two points back at the blade's owner (why?) and a hook notch in the blade a few inches past the guard. There's nothing else like it in any other picture.

    Extra: Did you realize that the Adventurer, the Wizard, and the Amazon are on the cover of Blacksand!
    The Adventurer, the Dwarf, the Wizard, and an Elf with a spear are on the cover of Allansia?

    1. p. 358, top right looks like the Knight to me (you can see the chainmail on his helmet). Should have spotted that one!

      p. 234 - could be the Knight, but it looks a bit feminine and is lacking the moustache and stubble we'd expect on the Knight.

      p. 338 - well spotted!

      p. 162 - yes, that's the sword all right, not so sure about the others, but could be.

      Covers of Balcksand! and Allansia: Hold the phone! I should have checked those. I'm sure I've seen that before, but had forgotten they were there. So thanks for reminding me!

      And I think the disconnect between the pre-defined characters and the characters in the pictures has a whiff of Fighting Fantasy 'design by committee', as you suggest and as I've talked about before (

  6. I thought I was done, but John Sibbick responded to my email about the Dungeoneers!

    "I remember painting the F/F covers very well…
    I remember having a conversation about the Dungeoneer characters and liked the idea of showing them in different scenarios and situations…They wanted two female warriors ,an elf archer ,barbarian, dwarf nutter, adventurer, soldier [with helmet]' and wise magician type…I did no preparatory sketches for any of these or interior drawings …I just had a long list of scenarios suggested and got on with it.The Characters evolved as it went.
    Surprisingly I think I got through it with minimal alterations!.

    Working on the interiors was a pretty intense was like designing a series of film scenes, trying out different viewpoints and lighting. After that I seem to remember I was asked to make portraits of a similar 6 characters- [see attached] I think Russ Nicholson worked on those characters…..for Blacksand! I think.

    I'm sure the 6 characters [that] came after the dungeoneer interiors and were specified as:

    Dwarf warrior, Elfin archer[ female],Burglar thief, Barbarian psycho,
    Brainy twit ,and soldier\ mercenary.


    He said it was ok to repost this so here it is. What do you think?

    1. That's brilliant! Really nice to get an insight into the thoughts and process behind it. So we should probably rename 'the Knight' as 'the Soldier', 'the Adventurer' as 'the Barbarian' (I had thought he might be one originally), and 'the Explorer' as 'the Adventurer' (which is what I'd called him originally too).

  7. I made sure to thank John for the response. I asked if his list of scenarios had survived all this time but he said "I probably had a list at the time-an incomplete one when I started…new suggestions were added as i went along .
    I don't think I worked in the actual published sequence-I liked to have a change-moody atmosphere ,then human figures…
    then creatures…etc.- I liked to hop around the subjects
    The repeat text-filler drawings were the only ones sketched out before hand."

    From what John says it sounds like he had first-hand experience with the 'design by committee' aspect of FF even while drawing the pictures.

    1. Thanks for this! It's wonderful to have an insight into the process like this.

  8. I'm sorry, but I couldn't resist asking John about "The Mercenary" (or veteran) as you dubbed him.

    "...the shoulder spikes…..I don't remember specifically, but it could have been a detail that came from the editor
    -it was an early drawing and it could have been a deleted character.
    In the scene on page 38, the dwarf is in bottom right corner-
    the other heroes can be seen amongst the horseman and road.

    On page 54 the same [deleted] hero is in the foreground.-maybe too similar to the dwarf hero.

    Slight changes were requested, but the timescale for these illustrations was pretty relentless averaging- 2 images every 3 days . [6-day week]
    If you had a complex image to work out..the next one had to be be simpler [ie a figure on a minimal background ] to keep up with the deadlines."

    So what do you think? It certainly explains why the character is only in the beginning of the book if he was deleted later on!

    1. Thanks for the information! I don't suppose you'd tell us more about all this - through what channels did you contact John Sibbick, do you know him in any way, and who are you (at least a username we might be familiar with through FF circles)? ;)