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[Lets read] Dragon magazine - From the beginning

What can I say, I just like polls :)


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(un)reason

Making the Legend
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The Dragon Issue 17: August 1978

40 pages. They maintain their increased size despite not being a special issue, which means they have lots of articles in this one. Despite this, they don't feel they are getting enough good ones, and exhort their readers to send more stuff in. After all, to expand, you need more material. The printing presses are a never sated monster. A feeling I'm starting to know all too well.

In this issue:

Vampires in the dungeon: Yeah, vampires have a whole range of cool powers. So play them smart. Make the characters suffer, hitting and running from cracks in the floor, constantly watched and harassed by vermin, never knowing if some of their number are charmed and will turn on the others at a crucial point, etc etc. Now isn't that much more fun than I roll to hit, roll for damage, he rolls for hit and damage, back and forth until someone dies. And if you kill them all, you can make them roll up new characters, and have them face their old ones, now among the ranks of the undead. Isn't that nice. ;)

Jousting in D&D: Another little independent subsystem based upon an attack and defense type matrix. Not too bad a one, and it helps in fighting without killing each other, which would otherwise be very likely in D&D.

Review: Dragonlord. A pretty favourable review of the wargame, with an extensive explanation of how to play it.

Faceless men & clockwork monsters: A an actual play of a D&D/metamorphosis alpha crossover run by Gary. Lengthy and quite gonzo, with a pretty happy ending, as the adventurers find their technological opponents have no defense against their magic, and wind up becoming heroes in short order.

A wizard with a difference: A set of variant specialist wizard types. Not particularly balanced, I'm afraid.

The AD&D players handbook! The second part of the trinity is now with us. Soon the new game will be complete.

Sights and sounds in D&D: More random tables, this time for adding visual flavour to your dungeons. Another sign that they're starting to pay more attention to the setting, even if it's expressed in a different way to modern games.

Another set of joke monsters: unkillable joke annoyance, the munchkin; plus scholars and crs'tchen. My eyes, oh how they are rolling.

The monk and bard in Dungeon!: An expansion for the boardgame. Does exactly what it says on the tin.

Tesseracts: Building hypercubic and other non-euclidian dungeons, making Escher proud, and mapmakers very confused, while maintaining internal consistency in your areas. Yeah, this is cool stuff, particularly to someone mathematically inclined like me. Its a fantasy game. Of course you should make the laws of physics suffer.

Another article full of tactical advice for OGRE: Detailed breakdowns of how to use each unit make this a pretty good one.

Boredom and the average D&D dungeon: Another sign of their growing attention to setting, they advise you to do things like themed dungeons full of monsters and items derived from particular cultures and creature types, to stop it from getting samey. Ok, so its hardly an "ecology of", but its definitely further advancement in that direction.

A short history of admanite (sic) Yes, its the even more uber than mithril metal, yet to be spelled the way it will in later years. Has a generic backstory of how it was discovered that you can drop into your game. Ahh, power creep, how easy it is to recognise thee in retrospect.

Angels in D&D: Bears little relation to what would become D&D's angel analogues, the devas, apart from having pretty much the spells you would expect from bibilical angels. Encourages you to treat them with the respect they deserve, not just as another monster. Not the most scintillating or original of articles. Still, good to see they're not avoiding christian themes outright. (I look forward to seeing the BADD controversy as reflected through the eyes of the magazine)

Natural armor for monsters in Monsters! Monsters! Another miscellaneous expansion that mostly adds extra power to the creatures involved. Ho hum.

Fineous fingers and Wormy continue their respective plots.

Review: Warp war. Another review that reads more like an advert. They really do need to get hold of some more analytical reviewers. This is definitely an area that needs improvement.

Another issue that among the dross, has quite a bit of really good stuff, and shows definite pointers for the direction that D&D would go in the future, and the setting/rules tropes that would come to define it. Overall, quite a good issue.
 

(un)reason

Making the Legend
Validated User
The Dragon Issue 18: September 1978

36 pages. Despite being smaller than the previous couple, this is a very full issue, with more articles than any previous issue. This fits in with the general feeling that the roleplaying industry is growing rapidly, with talk about the size of origins and the things that happened there.

In this issue:

Lots of talk about the Origins convention that year, including a list of the awards winners, apologising for the drunken mess the designers caused, and a rundown of the Avalon Hill vs SPI staff softball game. Lots of interesting historical detail here.

Traveller! The strategy of survival: Another classic game gets its first mention in Dragon. As many of you know, in classic traveler you could die in the process of character creation. This article gives you a good run through the generation of a lifepath for a sample character, to whet your appetite for the game. Yeah, this is another big step up for character depth. By making it integral to the chargen process, they make it easy to build characters with depth to their personalities and attachment to the setting around them, and encourage you to do the same with NPC's and the world around.

A review for traveller as well: Between the two, we get a good idea of what the game is like, how the rules work, and the kind of game you play with it. And for a brand new game like this, good publicity in its early months is important to its success.

More reviews: The emerald tablet, Imperium, Pelic Quest (our first computer game review, which I guess is appropriate to the issue.) , and Cosmic Encounter. More sci-fi stuff of various kinds, which are also pretty favourably received by the reviewer.

Insanity! Another weird save based off your ability scores rather than your class & level. As usual, this can be both a real nuisance to players, and an endless source of perverse fun. Unfortunately, the list of insanities isn't that big, and lacks both distinctive quirky insanities, and politically incorrect "insanities" that could make this a classic article. A wasted opportunity.

A load of new spells. Most of these are probably Sllllliiiiightly overpowered, and none of them made it into general use in future books. Most notable for the introduction of metamagic spells, which alter the parameters of other spells cast immediately after them. Not sure if future instances of metamagic draw from this or developed it independently, since they were worded quite differently. But I guess this is still a significant article, since it shows the beginning of people treating spells as combinable and customisable building blocks rather than just discrete effects, which would eventually result in spell construction systems like Mage, instead of endless spell lists.

Magic governed by laws of theory: Once again we see two related articles put next to each other. We see lots of real world magical principles such as sympathy & contagion, and the balance of the universe talked about. More thoughts on how to build an internally consistent world with reasons behind what happens on it working the way it does.

How to design a town in boot hill: More thoughts on building a logical setting for your game. Yep. I guess that world-building has well and truly arrived now, and its just a matter of refining the idea.

The chamber of the godgame: Ahh, the old impossible choice. Sacrifice one of the adventurers lives to solve the puzzle and escape. Maybe they won't really die. Maybe the right choice is find your way around the puzzle. Maybe its on the level, and you're screwed. Yeah, the PC's'll hate you if you use variants on this one repeatedly.

Notes on the design of Gamma world. Yet more thoughts on how to design a map and its inhabitants, as well as their relationships to one-another, resources, and so forth. Another so-so article, but it reinforces that this issue is very much about settings.

Birth tables for boot hill: See above, only for a different topic. Yet more random tables for determining background stuff like social class and job.

Crossover rules for transporting D&D characters to MA, and vice versa. We could have done with this last issue, along with the actual play. You'll still have to wing it quite a bit though, as there are now far too many fiddly bits in both games for a 1 page article to cover.

Monk weapons & monk vs monk combat: Yes, its another badly integrated subsystem.

Effective use of poison: We see the first use of alphabetical identification of poison types with various effects. Which of course is a lot more preferable than save or instant death. Another thing that would be expanded upon and go on to be a staple of 2nd ed AD&D.

Wormy and Fineous fingers continue. A little cartoon takes the piss out of the D&D level titles.

The childhood and youth of the grey mouser: Yet another significant article by a proper author, this gives a good idea of the not exactly kid-friendly childhood of lankhmars famous rogue.

Random tables for determining the ego and greed of NPC's in D&D, and the effect this has upon their cost and reliability. Another tool for the GM in a hurry.

The super snit revue: A load of entertaining looking new pieces for the snit games. Nice to see them continuing support for this, given its controversial reception.

After reading this issue, I feel a little overloaded. So many significant articles, overlapping and supporting one-another. I'll definitely be rereading this one. Catering to a wide set of games, while maintaining a consistent theme for the issue, this is what a good Dragon issue should be like.
 

(un)reason

Making the Legend
Validated User
The Dragon Issue 19: October 1978

36 pages. The price goes up to $2.00. Which is vaguely sucky, but thats economics for you. Convention season continues, with Gen Con. Gen con turned out to be less impressive than origins this year. Still, it also expanded quite a bit, and also had to face up to the logistical problems in feeding and accommodating that many people. I suppose that's another drawback of being an expanding hobby. It's interesting to note that the term "hack and slash gaming" hasn't been invented yet, with the editor using "hack and chop" instead. The stereotypes of gamer play might be pretty similar to modern day, but the vocabulary and in jokes to describe them still haven't built up properly yet.

In this issue:

The battle for Snurre's hall: Mentioned last issue, this is the actual play for the Origins tournament that would be developed into the GDQ adventures. As has been hinted, this relied heavily on tactical thinking for survival, as giants are rather powerful, while maintaining the kill everything ethos.

An advert for the previously mentioned Giant modules. Were these the first TSR module adventures ever? It's certainly an epic way to start off the concept, even if the individual modules are only 16 pages long. Oh well, like everything else good, there would be plenty of mediocre imitations to follow.

How many ettins is a fire giant worth: Yet another perspective on the epic module series, this time focussing on the scoring aspect of competitive tournament gaming. So much for there's no winners and losers as long as everyone has fun. We also see the beginning of the regulations to ensure consistent GM'ing in tournament play that would go on to stifle the RPGA in future years. Still, at this point, its obvious they are needed, as con games are quite a different experience to regular campaigns.

Player personalities: After that burst of new epic articles, we go back to the old trope of what kind of players have you got? Not a very good one, as it tries to distill everything down to 8 archtypes, without the nuance to make this model properly all-inclusive.

"Treasures" for gamma world: Another random roll table, largely comprised of modern stuff that would seem rare, valuable and strange in a postapocalyptic setting. A good reminder that a big chunk of modern electronic commodities such as CD's, mobile phones, laptops, etc hadn't been invented back then. Ahh, retro-futurism. How strange you can seem.

More of the history of gamma world, both in and out of game. Another article that does about what you'd expect.

The lowdown on wishes: You give PC's ultimate power, they will abuse it, or at least use it in a way that the GM considers detrimental to the overall fun of the game. So having put wishes into the game, people immediately set out to put limitations and risks on them. You really ought to think these things over before you put them in the game, so you don't have to nerf them later.

Planning creative treasurers: More common sense setting development, such as giving creatures treasures that they can actually use, and are appropriate to their nature. It seems elementary today, yet you'd be surprised how often this advice isn't used.

The mythos of Australia: Yet another expansion for G: DG&H. I suppose its one of those things that are easy to do, and is always in demand, so they'll keep making them until they run out of real world mythologies to cover. Since they haven't invented splatbooks yet, so they need something else to fill the pages.

Systematic Magic: A second attempt to divide spells up according to theme and effects. Not the same set that specialist wizards would later be divided into, although since it's working from first principles, there are some similarities, and they make the same mistake that 3.0 psionics would later, by assigning different prime requisites to different fields. Overall, this particular article is a failed experiment, since it was never taken up, and is notable largely as a curiosity of history and parallel evolution in the way that trilobites are.

The fastest guns that never lived part III: More TV gunslingers for boot hill. As with anything of this type, the law of diminishing returns sets in, and these guys are considerably less famous than the ones in the first article. Keep this up, and you'll be scraping the bottom of the barrel in no time.

A review of gamma world: Most notable for digressing into an extensive rant against the kind of people who think that magic and technology should remain separate in literature, citing Arthur C Clarke, and lots of other examples to show that the line between advanced technology and magic in books is a very tenuous one, particularly in terms of their position in the plot. He does like the game, by the way, and intends to incorporate its ideas extensively into other RPG's. An all the more entertaining review for its slightly unprofessional tone.

Spell determination for hostile magic-users: Spellcasters shouldn't just unleash their highest level damaging spells one after another in a fight. They ought to mix high and low level ones, and damaging and utility ones intelligently. After all, if they blow their wad straight away, they might be caught with their pants down in a later encounter that day. (its pleasing that the idea of the 15 minute workday then rest doesn't seem to have occurred to anyone yet) It makes things much more fun if each enemy uses different tactics. And if you have to resort to randomising this every once in a while, so be it.

Determining the location of treasure: Another random table for when you don't want another boring treasure chest in the middle of the room, and are out of ideas.

Fiction: Footsteps in the sky. A supernatural coming of age story in which everyone in the protagonists family has better special powers than him, and his attempts to prove himself regardless. You've probably read something like it before, and its pretty meh.

Fineous fingers and Wormy are both particularly climactic this issue.

A fairly good issue. Going to the recent conventions and getting a visceral sense of how the hobby is expanding, and how many fans they have seems to have infused the writing staff with a greater level of excitement than usual. This really carries through: despite a few duff articles, their confidence has once again increased, as they produce work that would be remembered well 30 years later. How long before that turns into arrogance and hubris, which is somewhat less likeable to read about? We shall have to see.
 
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brianm

Registered User
Validated User
The battle for Snurre's hall: Mentioned last issue, this is the actual play for the Origins tournament that would be developed into the GDQ adventures. As has been hinted, this relied heavily on tactical thinking for survival, as giants are rather powerful, while maintaining the kill everything ethos.
I'm glad I didn't read this when I was young and just getting into the hobby. A few decades later, it read as strange and bizarre to me, like something out of "Knights of the Dinner Table" with a clear, though friendly, antagonism between the players and DMs. If I'd become convinced that this was how the hobby was supposed to be played, I doubt I would have continued with it.

- Brian
 

eXyse

Registered User
Validated User
This is a totally awesome thread/idea, (un)reason. I'd tip you a geek gold for it but... entirely wrong site for that. [1]

This is particularly fascinating to me, because I was a 1 year old when Strategic Review 1 came out, making this thread a kind of side history to my life. (Take note, future biographers!)

By the way, the first issue I remember having is 62.

Rock on!

[1]If you have a BGG account, I'll gladly tip you a GG.
 
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(un)reason

Making the Legend
Validated User
The Dragon Issue 20: November 1978

36 pages. The aftermath of con season continues to cast a shadow over this issue, with talk of awards, corrections, and other stuff filling up the issue. They also apologize for having to raise prices again. Other than that, they have the usual selection of stuff on D&D and other games.

In this issue:

Imperium: A profile of the winning game of the strategists club outstanding game award by marc miller. Lots of cool stuff on his design process, including a few things that he would do differently in hindsight.

Errata for the last issue of dragon :D They had left out pieces of both the editorials, and as they were covering the same topic, people got confused. Nice to see them admitting to and fixing their errors quickly, unlike certain other companies.

A job advert, hiring a new editor to work for TSR. Seems amusingly appropriate given the preceding article. ;)

Another random table, reorganising the frequency of magical eyes and amulets in tekumel to a level more to the liking of this particular GM. Yawn.

Star trek miniatures! Another important IP makes its first expedition into the gaming world. Not exactly where no-one has gone before, but ..... Wait a minute, what exactly was the first licenced RPG of a previously famous property? (cthulhu doesn't count, as it was largely derived from open works anyway) Another question I'll hopefully be able to answer sometime soon.

Polynesian mythos stats for G:DG&H: Scrape out the barrel, Scrape out the barrel. We will not stop, until its cleaned of every single drop. And when its clean, we'll make our own to fill it up again. So endlessly we can pour and scrape the barrel once more. Not impressed? Yeah, same here.

Witches as PC's: Somewhat more acessable than the previous article on this subject, this new character class is admittedly slightly overpowered, but with its very high xp advancement probably isn't too broken. One of the first examples of the "give them something cool at every level" philosophy that only now is becoming the standard in class design, and so is prophetic in some small way.

Demonology made easy: The first mention in Dragon of Orcus, Asmodeus, demogorgon, jubilex, and lots of the other fiendish personalities that would be a staple of adventures throughout the rest of D&D's life. Lots of fun rules stuff that unfortunately, most players will never get to use. Because doing so is eeeeeevil, despite the fact that most adventurers are mass murderers for fun and profit anyway .:rolleyes:

A centerfold spread of photos from Gen con. No, not that sort you perv. Lots and lots of seventies hair on display. No, not chest hair. Honestly, can't I take you people anywhere?

A review (and rewrite) of Source of the Nile by Gary. Surprisingly I think that with these alterations the game would wind up less lethal than by the RAW. I suspect the way this game worked would be in inspiration to the way the Isle of Dread adventure worked later. Like the one of gamma world last issue, this is all the more entertaining for not technically being primarily a review, and is still pretty informative as it deconstructs the game.

The asimov cluster: Stats for the worlds in the Foundation series for Traveller. They admit that they had to make big chunks of this stuff up, because the books don't have enough detail. Pretty dry stuff, really.

A preview of the LotR animated film, along with lots of talk of the hassle they went through filming it, and the techniques they used. How well will it be recieved. I look forward to seeing how they react to it in an issue or two's time.

Death statistics: In 4 years of play, one particular gaming group has racked up a body count of over a thousand deaths (counting hirelings, of course). Thats something like an average of 5 deaths a week. (is this the most lethal campaign EVAR!) For the past 2-3 years, they have been compiling statistics of how, and they present them here. Unsurprisingly, other humans come in top, with more than 20% when all types of them are added up, with goblinoids coming in a distant second, and dragons third. Absolutely classic, and an excellent example of how you can take antagonistic GM'ing to the X-treme, and still have a long running and enjoyable campaign. Take note, all those of you who's games have fewer deaths in a year than these guys had in a week, and feel that even a slight risk of unexpected mortality spoils your fun.

A variant rule for War of the Ring, making the pieces truly hidden, battleship stylee. Not a bad idea, even if it does add some complexity.

Fineous fingers and wormy continue.

Demonic posession in the dungeon: A second demonic article in the same issue. this time slanted towards the GM making life a nightmare for the players. Ahh, the exorcist. You have much to answer for.

The space gamer: An advert for a sci-fi gaming magazine. I don't remember this one. Anyone have any info on it?

A less exceptional issue than the last couple. While they hint at upcoming changes, this issue is pretty much business as usual. Another step on down the road that leads to the present.
 

g026r

I'm a boat
Validated User
Star trek miniatures! Another important IP makes its first expedition into the gaming world. Not exactly where no-one has gone before, but ..... Wait a minute, what exactly was the first licenced RPG of a previously famous property?
It came up in a recent thread. The first licenced RPG would seem to either be Flash Gordon and the Warriors of Mongo -- but nobody seems to know if it was officially licenced or not -- or (wait for it...) Heritage's Star Trek: Adventure Gaming in the Final Frontier. Care to guess what year that one was released in? :)

The space gamer: An advert for a sci-fi gaming magazine. I don't remember this one. Anyone have any info on it?
It was one of Metagaming's magazines. (OK, actually their main magazine. Their only other one was a short-lived one in the early '80s.) Steve Jackson bought the rights to it when he left the company, after which is was published by SJG for a while. Anything else I can add would just be quoting the wiki article, so I'll link to it instead. :p
 

shirosan

I hate every ape I see
Validated User
I'm glad I didn't read this when I was young and just getting into the hobby. A few decades later, it read as strange and bizarre to me, like something out of "Knights of the Dinner Table" with a clear, though friendly, antagonism between the players and DMs. If I'd become convinced that this was how the hobby was supposed to be played, I doubt I would have continued with it.

- Brian
Totally agree. This quote is illustrative:

I had them for this round, and indeed, they missed a lot. However, clever questioning led to clues which compensated for the low kill ratio.
Heaven forbid you use clever tactics rather than slogging through knee-deep rivers of giant blood! :p

This got me thinking about why I've preferred RPing to monster bashing, even in D&D, and I think it might have something to do with the fact that my first "gaming" experience were those old game books like Lone Wolf, where most of the action was what would be called role-playing and the combats were there mostly to advance the plot rather than just provide random slaughter. Then, of course, by the time I got into AD&D, 2e had just come out, and the "official" focus was shifting towards RP anyway.

Loving this thread! :D

Oh, and my first issue was 138--the Halloween issue with the skeletons bursting through the door. Pretty much the only Easley painting I ever really dug, actually...
 

Wooly Rupert

Tyranohamstersaurus
antagonism between the players and DMs
Bull. Where does this terrible notion (which I never seem to encounter outside of RPG.Net) come from?

Maybe your friend's older brother was DMing once when you were in middle school and had your character sodomized to death by troll. Whatever. That has nothing to do with D&D/AD&D as it is (and was) intended to be played.

The DM is expected to provide the PCs with a touch but fair challenge and to adjucate their performance in an impartial manner. That is NOT antagonism. Period.
 
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