Dungeons & Dragons has provided a fantastic gaming experience for many people, for many years, which we hope to better celebrate in this column. D&D has certainly come a long way since its first three booklets published in 1974; in 2004, the game celebrated its 30th anniversary, having evolved from the 1st edition core rulebooks in 1977-79, to the 2nd edition in 1989, to today’s version 3.5.
For those of you who’ve played (or have been curious about) the game’s earlier editions, we hope this column helps spark a fond look back at the charms, as well as the quirks—and there were plenty of both—of D&D throughout the years. If you haven’t yet played the current edition, we also hope to introduce what Dungeons & Dragons is today as it relates to its storied past.
This time we take a look back at one of the game's oddly iconic villains. Not Vecna, not Artemis Entreri... but the lone warrior in a demon-winged mask.
Hulking, strangely armored on one half of his body, garbed in a fiendish, red-eyed helm… just who is this human fighter known as Warduke?
Before appearing in the D&D Minis War Drums expansion, Warduke debuted as a 1980’s D&D action figure complete with signature glowing-eyed helm, sword, and skull-embossed shield.
Around the same time, Warduke—as well as many of the other D&D action figures—appeared in 1984’s XL-1: Quest for the Heartstone adventure module. In this inception, Warduke was listed as an 8th level human fighter with the modest stats of AC: 2, HP: 59, S 16, I 9, W 11, D 11, Cn 14, Ch 11. Hardly the powerhouse he would later become.
The adventure’s namesake heartstone was described as well:
“A heart of stone, beyond the mist you’ll find,” Loftos said softly. “The heartstone will tell you who should be your king.”
“But where is this stone? How will I find it?” the queen asked.
“The stone was stolen over 50 years ago by Dahnakriss the Master Thief. He Who Watches originally gave the tiny, heartshaped stone to Qasmar, who was the King of Ghyr during the Prism Wars. During these wars, Qasmar used the stone to see into the hearts of men, and was so able to choose his friends and allies. Soon after the war, the magical stone vanished from Castle Ghyr’s supposedly thief-proof vaults. Until now, no one knew what had become of the heartstone. According to He Who Watches, it lies north, in the great Mountains of Ice.
“We must convince a party of adventurers to retrieve the stone and bring it back to us. But we must be very careful. No one must know of the stone’s power, especially not those who would aspire to the throne. Even those we hire to find the stone should not know of its strength!”
1983’s AC 1: The Shady Dragon Inn pregenerated character accessory offered nearly identical stats (with the odd exception of Warduke’s Constitution dropping from 14 to 8), plus a stab at his backstory referencing Quest for the Heartstone:
Warduke wears a suit of half-chain and a black, winged helmet. His shield bears the sign of a demon’s head. He was an old friend of Strongheart’s (good paladin), but now the two are enemies. Both were exposed to the Heartstone, and Warduke’s cruel nature was brought out while Strongheart’s just nature became stronger….
[He] especially hates Strongheart, who he feels wastes his time protecting the weak and helpless. “A true fighter,” Warduke feels, “makes himself rich and powerful by the strength of his sword arm. He takes what he can—if you would keep your possessions, kill those who seek to take them.” He calls his sword “Nightwind.”
As an added piece of trivia, The Shady Dragon Inn identified Strongheart’s sword +2 as Purlblade, “given to him by some dwarves he helped.”
There are few powers greater than nostalgia; kids who once played with their D&D action figures grew into adults with the power to resurrect these childhood icons. For proof, just take a look at Erik Mona’s letter starting off Dungeon Magazine 105 (December 2003): “Warduke, with his beady red eyes, his nasty blue helmet, and his skull-faced shield, quickly rose to all-star status in my playtime adventures.”
In the same issue, Warduke made his triumphant return, now an 18th level human fighter complete with far greater stats: AC: 34, HP: 318, S 32, I 13, W 15, D 16, Cn 28, Ch 20. His original sword +1 (flames on command) became a +3 anarchic flaming burst human bane bastard sword, and his other possessions were statted out as a dagger of venom, +3 moderate fortification adamantine ceremonial spiked half-plate, +5 bashing heavy steel shield, Warduke’s helm, amulet of health +6, gauntlets of giant strength +6, boots of speed, ring of protection +3, and a fearsome eye fiendish graft (from Fiend Folio, pg. 210).
That issue’s Critical Threats column went on to explain Warduke's somewhat illogical half-suit of armor, as “ceremonial armor… typical worn not for combat but for show, or to intimate or impress.” It also supplied Warduke with an improved backstory:
The Unnameable Hierarch managed to rebuild his organization so quickly in large part due to the influence of a ruthless fighter named Warduke, a mysterious and relentless killer who emerged from nowhere after the Greyhawk Wars to spread terror and uncertainty among mercenaries, soldiers, and fighting societies from the Barrier Peaks to the Solnor Ocean.
Finally, we have the D&D Minis War Drums version. Warduke has come full-circle, back to physical reality once more, and with artwork and stats virtually matching those of Dungeon Magazine (with the exception of an AC drop from 34 to 32). According to Matthew Sernett, Warduke’s depiction in Dungeon drove his inclusion as a D&D mini; and while there are no plans for such characters as, say, Venger or Uni from the D&D cartoon, that doesn’t exclude the possibility of Strongheart appearing in some future set.
And there you have it, a brief history of this long fan-favorite villain. Of course, just as many questions are raised as answered. What were his exploits before the Greyhawk Wars? What does his face look like beneath the mask? And… can Warduke’s friendship with Strongheart ever be mended?