D&D General Warduke. An attempt to provide an historical look at the character in print.

Hi all,

I am a history student at University, and I am practising my writing, so I decided to give my research skills a test and did a practice paper on Warduke.

I hope you enjoy it.

Cheers
Damien

Warduke, an attempt to provide a historical look at the character in print.

Created in the early 80s for Dungeons and Dragons, Warduke has become one of the game's many iconic villains who has regained popularity in recent years. Starting as an action figure, he jumped onto the page to become a pregenerated character in The Shady Dragon Inn and Quest for the Heartstone, both published by TSR. Although Warduke has slowly crept back into the public eye, his background remains a mystery. Warduke has gained notoriety as a mercenary and assassin, moving from one conflict to another, answering only to the highest bidder. How did this character become so well known and loved by fans remain so elusive? Unlike, Elminster and Drizzt Do'Urden, Warduke has stayed on the periphery of Dungeons and Dragons lore, showing up for a little while before heading back into obscurity. Starting his adventuring career in the early 80s, Warduke did not appear in further publications until Erik Mona resurrected him in 2003 for Dungeon Magazine #105. In 2021, Warduke is set to return in The Wild beyond the Witchlight, a 5th edition adventure for Dungeons and Dragons. Warduke has stood the test of time and looks to make a significant contribution to the game once again.

Dungeons and Dragons gained popularity in the early 1980s, spawning a cartoon titled Dungeons and Dragons, while inspiring LJN Toys, an American toy manufacturing company, to make Advanced Dungeons and Dragons toys in 1983 under license from TSR. Included in this line-up was Warduke, standing at 4.5 inches; Warduke became instantly recognisable due to his blue-winged helmet. Dark red eyes peering from within the helm created a demonic presence and instant curiosity, as the original packing indicated Warduke was an evil character. Along with Warduke, two other notable characters would also make their appearance, Strongheart and Kelek. These characters would also appear in the Dungeons and Dragon cartoon, which was airing simultaneously. Warduke appeared in the fifth episode of the cartoon entitled 'In Search of the Dungeon Master'; Warduke captured Dungeon Master and attempted to sell him to Venger for a high price. Unfortunately, his bid to sell Dungeon Master did not go as planned, as the show's heroes were able to overcome Warduke and rescue Dungeon Master. With the success of the toy line and their appearances on the show, Strongheart and Warduke would be reissued the following year under the Battle-Matic series with the addition of two mounts, Destrier for Strongheart and Nightmare for Warduke. The Advanced Dungeons and Dragons toy line was known for its high quality and became highly sought after in the collector's market.

Unlike other cartoons and toy lines in the 1980s, the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons toy line did not synergise with the cartoon. Instead, they both worked to promote the two different versions of the Dungeons and Dragons game available at the time. Warduke and his companions would play out their rivalry in the toy line, while the TTRPG would explore their origins on the page. Though Warduke would first appear officially in The Shady Dragon Inn, a game accessory for Basic D&D, Warduke's iconic helm is seen on the cover of The Dragon magazine #17 (1978). The front cover features a fighter wearing the recognisable winged helm with the face in shadow and glowing red eyes; although not confirmed, this may be the original inspiration for the action figure produced in 1983. The Shady Dragon Inn had a small paragraph dedicated to Warduke as it was a product focused on an assortment of pregenerated characters. In this paragraph, we learn of the rivalry between Strongheart and Warduke, instigated by the item known as the Heartstone. This would later be expanded on in the Quest of the Heartstone adventure published in 1984. It also states that Warduke's horse is a Nightmare horse, also known as a demon or hell horse; the 1st edition Monster Manual describes them as 'gaunt and skeletal with a huge head, glowing red eyes, flaming orange nostrils, and hooves which burn like embers.' Though Warduke's steed's name is not in the book, the LJN toyline referred to the horse as Nightmare. Another notable feature of this product is it lists Warduke's sword as a +1 broadsword that flames on command, referred to as Nightwind in the text; this sword and Warduke himself would evolve over the years to become a far more menacing presence in the future.

Warduke would make an appearance in Quest for the Heartstone the following year in 1984. The adventure, designed for BECMI, centres around the Heartstone first hinted about in The Shady Dragon Inn. It comprises multiple environments, namely swamps, marches, mountain caves, and the classic dungeon crawl, which had become the hallmark of adventures produced in the 1980s. The premise of the story revolves around the death of King Ganto. His widow, Queen Leahra, needs to choose a new king and seeks counsel from Loftos, the High Patriarch of the Kingdom of Ghyr. He reveals to her the nature of the Heartstone, which had been stolen years early by a Master Thief known as Dahnakriss. The Heartstone reveals the true nature of a person and enhances those inner qualities. The idea is that Queen Leahra would be able to choose a new husband and king, knowing that the person would not be playing politics and looking to take control of the throne. The nature of the Heartstone and the morally questionable use on an unsuspecting person doesn't become the adventure's focus. When they encounter it later in the adventure, its effects on the party will put the players in a questionable position and could make or break the adventure and the campaign's longevity.

Within the pages of the adventure, the artwork showcases the friendship of Strongheart and Warduke. On the front cover, it's possible to see the two companions working together to slay a 'huge reptile' erupting from a frozen pool. Then again, on page 2, the art depicts both of them sitting at the same table discussing the upcoming adventure with Loftos. When the information in this adventure is coupled with the original description in The Shady Dragon Inn, the friendship between the two characters is somewhat apparent. However, it should be noted, Warduke is labelled as an evil fighter both in the toyline and adventures. Strongheart and Warduke were able to work together on some level without interparty conflict. The point of interest in the adventure is the Chamber of the Heartstone. It is there where the party comes under the effects of the gem. Upon entering the chamber and having a brief encounter with Dahnakriss, the Heartstone creates copies of all the adventurers with a twist. If the player had a good alignment, they would have to face against their evil version and vice versa. This series of events is possibly the turning point for Warduke's career, as he would have had to battle his evil twin. Since Warduke is a mercenary and assassin in later publications, it is quite possible his evil twin won the battle and assumed his identity. The switching of alignments during a campaign may cause lasting harm to the party, as the adventure states that any alignment changes should be kept hidden. Alignments can gauge how a character plays, but forcing a situation that may cause characters to switch alignments may cause party conflicts later down the path.

After this adventure, Warduke would take a step back. Appearing only in third party merchandise like stickers and colouring books, Warduke wouldn't see his return to official publication until 2003, when Erik Mona made him a centrepiece of one of their Critical Threats articles in Dungeon Magazine #105. In this reiteration, Warduke is placed into the Greyhawk Campaign setting with a brief history of his involvement in the Greyhawk Wars and becoming a member of the Horned Society. His stats were also increased and buffed from their BECMI edition iterations, creating an 18th level fighter with a Challenge Rating of 20. Erik Mona was indicating that Warduke was not your typical threat and treated with extreme caution. His reputation in the Greyhawk Wars caused him to be the boogeyman who spread terror from the Barrier Peaks to the Solnor Ocean. The article describes Warduke as having a raspy, otherworldly voice before the battle -- a possible reference to the original adventure and the creation of the supernatural twins which the players would have had to stand and fight. In Warduke's list of equipment, Warduke's Helm is described as being presented to him by the Unnamable Hierarch and leader of the Horned Society. Whether this is a retcon or not is hard to confirm, as Warduke appears in The Realms and Mystara, the possible home location for the Kingdom of Ghyr. The helm itself was given a significant stat increase: as originally only listed as a helm, it is now at the major artifact subtype with a list of magical abilities to enhance its demonic elements. His sword, though not named, still has some of its original flavours, now becoming a +3 bane vs humans anarchic flaming burst bastard sword. The Development section of the article hints that Warduke is used as a counter to powerful player characters who portray the mightier-than-thou attitude and believe they can handle anything. Warduke would later appear as a miniature in the D&D Miniatures line, included with the release of the War Drums set in 2006. Warduke is listed as a rare figure and #60 in that line. His appearance matches art done by Wayne Reynolds in Dungeon Magazine #105.

Although the popularity of Warduke has risen and fallen over the years, his iconic stature has never faltered. Fondly remembered by those who played Dungeons and Dragons in the 80s, Warduke is about to make a splash again in the gaming community as he and some of the other characters from the toy line make their long-overdue return in The Wild beyond the Witchlight, an adventure to be released in September 2021. This release will also coincide with the release of the Funko Pop figure, which has Warduke dressed in his original 80s costume and accompanied with a special D20 die. Throughout the new edition of Dungeons and Dragons, Wizards of the Coast have continually been drawing on the franchise's history to bring back adventures and characters to introduce them to a new generation of gamers. It could be that Warduke's time has come, as he sets to stand toe-toe with other highly regarded heroes and villains; hopefully, he will stay on stage for a long time to come.
 
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Rabulias

the Incomparably Shrewd and Clever
see his return to official publication until 2003, when Erik Mona made him a centrepiece of one of their Critical Hits articles in Dungeon Magazine #105.
Minor Nitpick: The article series was called Critical Threats.
His stats were also increased and buffed from their 1st edition iterations, creating an 18th level fighter with a Challenge Rating of +2.
A typo here? Warduke's CR in the article is 20.

Warduke also appeared in the War Drums D&D Miniatures set, as both a standard card and an Epic card, with RPG stats based on the Critical Threats article.
 


Minor Nitpick: The article series was called Critical Threats.

A typo here? Warduke's CR in the article is 20.

Warduke also appeared in the War Drums D&D Miniatures set, as both a standard card and an Epic card, with RPG stats based on the Critical Threats article.
Thank you, Rabulias.

I changed the Critical Hits to Critical Threats.

Yes, +2 was a typo, not sure what happened there.

I was going to mention the War Drums set. I decided to keep it to publication history, but I'll keep that in mind for future write-ups.

Thank you for your comments.
 



Also, the cartoon wasn’t based off of B/X, but AD&D. Specifically classes like ranger, barbarian, acrobat, and cavalier (coinciding with the same time period Unearthed arcana came out)
Thank you for the comment.

Exploring the history of D&D has been fascinating, so I appreciate the clarification. I'll edit the original post.
 
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Azzy

ᚳᚣᚾᛖᚹᚢᛚᚠ
Warduke would make an appearance in Quest for the Heartstone the following year in 1984. The adventure, designed for the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons system for levels 5 thru 10.
Actually, it was designed for the BECMI iteration of the D&D game.

His stats were also increased and buffed from their 1st edition iterations,
BECMI edition.

Cool article, though.
 

Actually, it was designed for the BECMI iteration of the D&D game.


BECMI edition.

Cool article, though.
Thanks, Azzy.

I appreciate the feedback, this is the same process as a peer-reviewed document, and it takes a couple of drafts to work out the errors. The errors have crept in because I've interpreted things based on my experience with the game.

The history of D&D is fascinating, and looking at its evolution over the years is intriguing. I'll try to be more thorough in my next history article.
 

I have the Warduke (and Elkhorn) toys from when I was a kid. My first D&D game we were playing and the DM had us choose between a few characters from the Shady Dragon Inn, and the Conan Unchained. I didn't even know Warduke was in there so I chose Elkhorn. It was a LOT of fun and needless to say I've been hooked on D&D ever since. I always wanted to play as Warduke but never got the chance again.
 

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