The Coloring Album (I guess "coloring book" sounded too kiddy) contains more than well-rendered images to fill in. There's a prose story written by Gary Gygax, linking all the pictures together, and while it's not great literature by any stretch of the imagination, it does grant some insight into Gygax's vision of the AD&D game, circa 1979.
Some of the elements of the book that I found interesting:
- The party of adventurers that heads into "the ruined castle keep" is big. At least a dozen people, probably more like twenty, including a magic-user, a cleric, a ton of dwarves, and more than one halfling thief. This is way beyond even the hireling-heavy, exploration-based adventures I've played in my (very limited) "old school" D&D experience.
- The motivation for their sortie into the keep is greed, plain and simple. There is no mention of stopping an evil overlord, rescuing a princess, or anything noble like that. They're just looking to get real paid. (In the end, it turns out that they've been manipulated by a ki-rin into removing a big nasty from the world, but that's beside the point.)
- The adventurers get their asses kicked a lot. Before they even get to the dungeon, a couple of people get killed by a bulette, and that's just for starters. There's a lot of screaming and dying in this coloring book, and it seems like the poor dwarves - like Ergwhi, pictured above - get the worst of it. Gary might have never used miniatures, but he sure hated miniature people.
- The party runs away a lot, or uses spells and magic items to avoid combat entirely. In fact, they don't really win a single encounter, if by "win" you mean "kill all the bad guys and take their stuff."
- Practically everybody has an awesome beard and/or mustache, elves and halflings excluded. Also, halflings don't look like hobbits here - they're skinny little guys with pointy noses, pointy ears, and pointy shoes.
- A female ranger is apparently called a "rangeress".
Oddly enough, I think the Coloring Album might be the best encapsulation of an "old school" D&D adventure ever made. It certainly gives a more accurate glimpse of the game than any of TSR's novels ever did.