Curious Evolution, Dungeons & Dragons

The Curious Evolution of Morgan Ironwolf

Morgan Ironwolf first appeared as line in the 1980 Dungeon Masters Adventure Log as seen below:

Character Log example from Dungeon Master’s Log

Here Morgan Ironwolf appears, alongside other player characters, as an example for the Dungeon Master in how to accurately record an adventure using the log system that TSR was attempting to get Dungeon Masters to adopt. Yet for our purposes we can discern some key information about who this character is, and what we should expect of them going forward.

Morgan is an eighth level human fighter of Chaotic Good alignment with a magical Ring of Warmth, a +1 Shield, and a +2 Spear. She also appears to have gained a point of Constitution from a magical chair. As an eighth level character she was the highest level character in the party.

This information about the character tells us that we’re dealing with an unusual fighter and with a player of some skill. They’ve chosen to forgo the more typical magical sword (of which the party has four) and instead go with the greater reach provided by the spear. This tends to indicate a character who is more comfortable on the second row behind the better armored fighter, Fred 9802, and ranger, Black Dougal. It also indicates that the character is played more cautiously as they survived the encounter with the Fire Giant that killed Black Dougal and the battle with the Black Dragon that killed Sister Rebecca.

The following year, 1981, we would be given a second look at Morgan Ironwolf, when Tom Moldvay edited the updated Basic Rulebook. Here we’re presented with a version of the character at the beginning of her career. For a fighter her core ability scores are solid, though unremarkable, while her ancillary scores are below average. This tells us that while she is strong, healthy, and nimble she is also remarkably dim witted when it comes to book learning and on the lower end of average when it comes to dealing with life. With an 8 charisma it is also probable that she doesn’t do that well with others – quite possibly by rubbing them the wrong way[1].

Morgan Ironwolf Character Sheet from Moldvay Basic

This version of the character is designed to work with the Basic rules and their simplified alignment system so we no longer have a “Chaotic Good” character but instead have a “Lawful” one. This change is one we need to look at a bit deeper to understand how significant a change this potentially was for the character.

In the AD&D DMG Chaotic Good was defined as:

. . . To the chaotic good individual, freedom and independence are as important to life and happiness. The ethos views this freedom as the only means by which each creature can achieve true satisfaction and happiness.[2] Law, order, social forms, and anything else which tends to restrict or abridge individual freedom is wrong, and each individual is capable of achieving self-realization and prosperity through himself, herself, or itself . . .”

Gygax, 23

This means that if we’re playing a Chaotic Good character that they will be looking to live their lives as free as possible; often butting up against any law, organization, or cultural norms that would constrict their freedom. They’re essentially the mythological pioneers going West to search for freedom to be themselves.

When we contrast this with the Basic Game’s “Lawful” we find that there is a huge shift in how the character is to be played:

. . . Law (or Lawful) is the belief that everything should follow an order, and that obeying rules is the natural way of life. Lawful creatures will try to tell the truth, obey laws, and care about all living things. Lawful characters always try to keep their promises. They will try to obey laws as long as such laws are fair and just . . . If a choice must be made between the benefit of a group or an individual, a Lawful character will usually choose the group. Sometimes individual freedoms must be given up for the good fo the group. Lawful characters and monsters often act in predictable ways. Lawful behavior is usually the same as behavior that could be called ‘good’ . . .”

Moldvay, B11

These two alignments are diametrically opposed to each other. Where “Chaotic Good” prized personal freedom, Basic’s “Lawful” is one step away from a benevolent fascist who chooses the greater good over the individual. It is practically impossible to imagine converting over the “Chaotic Good” Morgan Ironwolf into “Lawful” Morgan Ironwolf; which may be why the next time she appears her alignment has changed to “Neutral.”

On page B28 we’re provided with the following scene after a fight with some Hobgoblins:

from Moldvay Basic, pg B28

Here we see Morgan Ironwolf acting more in line with the “Chaotic Good” alignment she had in AD&D. She doesn’t want to allow these hobgoblin captives, who might kill her from being left behind to slit her throat when she isn’t looking; and it is only by the interference of Sister Rebecca that she doesn’t kill them.

Being “Neutral” in Moldvay Basic is significantly closer to being “Chaotic Good” in AD&D. As Basic states:

. . . Neutrality (or Neutral) is the belief that the world is a balance between Law and Chaos. It is important that neither side get too much power and upset this balance. The individual is important, but so is the group; the two sides must work together . . . A Neutral character is most interested in personal survival. Such characters believe in their own wits and abilities rather than luck. They tend to return the treatment they receive from others. Neutral characters will join a party if they think it is in their own best interest, but will not be overly helpful unless there is some sort of profit in it. Neutral behavior may be considered ‘good’ or ‘evil’ (or neither!), depending on the situation . . .”

Moldvay, B11

This alignment is much more in line with the “Chaotic Good” Morgan Ironwolf that survived the Fire Giant and Black Dragon that took her friends lives. Just as the Neutral character would, she survived.

Morgan Ironwolf by Jeff Dee from Moldvay Basic, pg B20

We have no official portrait of Morgan Ironwolf, though the above illustration is often assigned to her.[3] The equipment is right for the basic character sheet, but would not work with the original version.

For the next 25 years Morgan Ironwolf would largely remain forgotten – until her name appeared in DRAGON MAGAZINE 346, in the spring of 2006. The article, The Ecology of the Adventurer, was clearly not meant to be looked at as a serious thing, nor is the character write up of Morgan. Here she has an 18 in every ability score. She has multi-classed into 10 different classes, casts spells, has impossible magical items, and her favorite enemy is the kobold. She is the quintessential “Mary Sue.” [4]

Morgan Ironwolf from DRAGON 342, pg 62

What is fascinating, though, is that the illustration that accompanied the character is often taken for male even though no gender is listed.[5] This has prompted a wide ranging debate among those who are familiar with the character as to why the gender changed.

I think that a lot of that debate comes back to what you expect with gender norms. For some, they expect that a female character is going to have their distinguishing feminine aspects highlighted. Her bosom, hips, and hair all have to be clearly feminine.

That’s simply not reality.

Women can, and do, dress however they want; and in the case of Morgan Ironwolf it makes far more sense that she would dress in outfits that protected her rather than accentuated her. The Jeff Dee illustration, while iconic, hearkens back to a time when women were often illustrated in chain-mail bikinis and shown to be damsels in distress no matter how powerful their abilities were. The Morgan that appears in the DRAGON article could not wear the same outfit. That character is too powerful, too aggressive, to be a damsel in distress. The illustration is truer to the original version of the character that we were first presented with in 1980 than the Basic version ever did.


[1] In the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Master’s Guide Gary Gygax wrote, “. . . Many persons have the sad misconception that charisma is merely physical attractiveness. This error is obvious to any person who considers the subject with perceptiveness. Charisma is a combination of physical appearance, persuasiveness, and personal magnetism. True charisma becomes evident when one considers such historic examples of Julius Caesar, Napoleon Bonoparte, and Adolf Hitler. Obviously, these individuals did not have an 18 score on physical beauty, so it is quite possible to assume that scores over 18 are possible, for any one of the named historical personalities would have had a higher charisma score there can be no question that these individuals were 18’s – if they would have had great attractiveness as well as commanding personal magnetism and superb persuasiveness.”

[2] As sometimes happens when reading Gygax this sentence can be a bit difficult to understand. Perhaps a better way to word this sentence would be, “The spirit of this view is that freedom is the only means by which a creature can achieve true satisfaction and happiness in their lives.”

[3] While it is not expressly mentioned that this illustration is of Morgan Ironwolf the text directly above it certainly leads the reader to draw that conclusion. As a result the image has widely been connected with the character.

[4] A “Mary Sue” is a term used to derisively describe a fictional character, usually female, who is so powerful, socially perfect, and flawless that they’re largely boring. Often it is also seen as an idealized version of the creator.

[5] According to D&D Lore Morgan’s gender switch may be the result of using a disguise self spell, or she was cursed with the girdle of masculinity/femininity, or it is simply two different characters.

Works Cited

Gygax, Gary. Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Special Reference Work Dungeon Masters Guide. USA, TSR Inc. 1979. pg. 15, 23

Moldvay, Tom. Dungeons & Dragons Fantasy Adventure Game Basic Rulebook. USA, TSR Inc., 1981. pgs. B8, B11, B14, B20, and B28.

Moseley, Tony. “The Ecology of the Adventurer.” DRAGON MAGAZINE, April 2006. pgs. 62

TSR Hobbies, Inc. Advanced D&D Fantasy Adventure Game Dungeon Masters Adventure Log. TSR, 1980.

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Let’s Talk about Al’Akbar of the World of Greyhawk: A deep dive into the rarely encountered demi-god Al’Akbar and how they have changed since first appearing in 1976.

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