Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Morgan Ironwolf: Old School Iconic

This set is still wicked awesome.Using the word "iconic" to describe the exemplar characters for D&D is a new phenomenon. I hadn't heard term until 3E, with its more brand-savvy approach. But D&D had signature characters right from the very start, they just weren't branded as heavily as nowadays with their own novels and what all. The '81 Basic D&D Set that I started with had its own share of named characters, but head and shoulders above the rest stood Morgan Ironwolf.

Morgan appears in the text three times over the course of the 64 page rulebook, more than any other character. We first encounter her on page B13, where she is the character generation example. I absolutely love how the first 13 steps of chargen outline the creation of a classic butt-kicking high Strength/Dex/Con, low Int/Wis/Cha fighter. And only in the last step do we get this:
14. This player is female and decides that her character will also be female. Inspired by the name of Morgan le Fay from Arthurian legends, the player decides that the name of Morgan Ironwolf would be a good name for a fighter.
That's gender equality, Dungeons & Dragons style. It should be noted that this version of D&D lacks the penalties on female Strength that Gygax would be so rightly lambasted for in AD&D. Incidentally, I can't help but wonder if Morgan's last name was inspired by the Howard Chaykin character of the same name, who appeared in DC's Weird Worlds in the early 70s. Whatever the origin of the name, Morgan Ironwolf remains one of the coolest PC monikers in the history of the hobby.

On the page following the chargen example we get a complete character sheet filled out for Ms. Ironwolf. Click the teeny one below to see it in all it's glory.

As kids we produced our first 'official' charsheets by taking whiteout to this page and photocopying it.  No blank version was included in the Basic Rulebook.
Then on page 20 we're treated to this very excellent Jeff Dee illo of Our Heroine.

Obviously orc-infested catacombs get very cold.
Okay, there's really nothing that proves that this picture is meant to be Morgan Ironwolf. The equipment she carries matches the chargen information and as kids that was all we needed to make the connection. As a grown man it strikes me as sexist to assume that the one female warrior illo simply has to be the only female fighter in the text, as if there couldn't be two female fighters in the world. But as a kid I was just looking for ways of making sense of the totality of the rulebook. As a result, that pic will always be Morgan Ironwolf to me. I have no doubt that Dragonsfoot is chock full of people my age who came to the same conclusion.

Morgan appears two more times in the text. On B28 the sample combat features her and her friends Silverleaf (an elf, of course), Fredrik (a dwarf), and the cleric Sister Rebecca. Morgan makes a good accounting of herself, killing one hobgoblin with an arrow shot and another with swordplay. She's wounded in the battle and wants to kill some hobgobbo prisoners, but Sister Rebecca threatens to get stingy with the cure light wounds should the the wretches be harmed. Those Lawful clerics can be a real pain in the ass sometimes.

The general example of play also features Morgan Ironwolf and the same cast as previous, joined for a while by Black Dougal the thief. I say 'a while' because he blows finding a poison needle trap and dies during the example of play. It has nothing to do with Morgan Ironwolf, but I absolutely adore this exchange:
DM: Black Dougal gasps 'Poison!' and falls to the floor. He looks dead.
Fredrik: I'm grabbing his pack to carry treasure in.
Damn, that is cold. The dwarf doesn't even confirm the dude is dead before he starts vulturing his stuff.

In the example of play the standout thing about Morgan is that her player (who we know is female) is the caller. No one I know has had a formal party caller in 20 years, but back in the day it was the most important player position. Much player-to-DM communication was filtered through the caller, who was tasked with speaking for the party as a whole. In my experience the caller was the de facto leader of the party.

So that's Morgan Ironwolf in a nutshell. As far as I know she's never appeared again in a game product. If you know otherwise, please clue me in.


  1. Memories. I love the nipple on the picture. TSR always pushed the envelope with the art just a bit in the early days huh?

    My favorite character pic was from the red book. It was the female Cleric with the mace and the Mongol style fur cap. Remember her?

  2. Ah, yes Morgan Ironwolf, she of the form-fitting chainmail with the nice gams. She seems to be the one thing that everyone remembers from that edition of Basic.

    Evil DM...that would be Aleena, killed by the mage Bargle, yes?

  3. KEN - That's not Aleela. Aleena was the blonde. The DM is talking about the lass who illustrated the Cleric class. Both were, of course, cute on wheels, but I dig the cleric chick more because black hair = teh sexay.

    Oh, yeah. Star Wars had Platt O'Keefe after a while, and she's pretty hawt too.

  4. Anonymous9:51 PM

    I just got a copy of the Moldvay Basic book in the mail today and greatly enjoyed reading the adventures of Morgan and Company. One thing that you failed to mention though Jeff....

    Something happened to Morgan.

    Something horrible perhaps.

    Something that would cause her to undergo an alignment change.

    Because you see- when she was created in the PC creation example she was Lawful, but when she had the confrontation with the Cleric about killing the prisoners she was Neutral. So something had to happen inbetween. It makes you wonder....

    P.S. The only thing that would have made that example better is if Morgan went ahead and killed the prisoners after the cleric healed her.

  5. EvilDM, was the cleric an Elmore illo? I seem to remember from somewhere that her name was Clarion.

  6. Anonymous1:06 AM

    "lacks the penalties on female strength...blah blah blah politically correct bullshit"

    It's no a penalty, it's a maximum. Female character have exactly the same chance of being 16, 17, 18 Str as male, unlike in the real world.

    Female fighters can exceed normal male characters, however not quite as much as a male fighter can. Get over it.

    What to complain about dwarves being portrayed as shorter than humans too?

  7. Thanks for taking the time to call bullshit on an 18 month old post, anonymous wussboy.

  8. Great post (BTW: sometimes we get here late, that's what's great about blogs).

  9. Anonymous11:24 PM

    Pardon the threadnomancy, but I noticed Morgan is listed as Tom Moldvay's sample character in the AD&D Dungeon Master's Adventure Log supplement (circa 1980). Evidently, by the time she reaches 8th level she picks up a +2 spear and switches to plate mail.

  10. Anonymous7:07 PM

    So glad to find more about that character !
    They didn't put that drawing in the French translation of the same edition… how mean of them…

    Just to bitch a little ( but that's just me ) although it is featured later in the manual, the bit with Dougal's death through the agency of poison happens before the fight with the hobgoblins.

    Also, they both are part of the exploration of dreaded Rodemus castle, crammed full with wererats, their goblinoid muscle and a few undead as well. The Rodemus Castle being the dungeon-creation example ( the death of Doigal happens after the characters went through the detailed example.
    Since the plot is the cahracters are looking for some of their relatives kidnapped by the wererats, we can add this to Morgan Ironwolf's background…