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[Lets read] Dragon magazine - From the beginning

What can I say, I just like polls :)


  • Total voters
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Tom McCambley

Excellent.
Validated User
I'm excited. The first copy of the magazine I own is #24 so I can finally start reading along with the thread. :D
 

(un)reason

Making the Legend
Validated User
The Dragon Issue 24: April 1979

48 pages. Well, they didn't exactly solve the paper shortage, merely shift their supplies around a bit, and put them where they sold most. So long Little Wars, we barely knew thee. However, having got rid of the division between RPG'ing and wargaming again, they feel more free to address other forms of gaming as well, as we will see later. There are other changes in format as well. which I'll cover as we get to them. Plus, what would an april be without joke articles. Yeah, there's all the stuff you would expect, plus quite a bit that you wouldn't.

Anyway, in this issue:

Lost civilizations in Source of the nile: A big add-on to the game, increasing its pulpy feel, and carrying with it a whole new set of risks and rewards for the players. Seems pretty well done, although I can't be sure how well balanced it is with other challenges in the game. It certainly seems to support outcomes where everyone but the main explorer dies. (bah, they're only natives. :waves hand:)

Keeping the magic-user in his place: A whole bunch of suggested nerfs for those of you that are finding that magic-users dominate the game. Includes several ideas that would become much more frequent in later editions, such as concentration disruption, and reducing the general duration of spells. I have never been a fan of nerfing, so I shall merely sigh and move on.

Chinese Dragons: Its hard to get a build a consistent mythology of a place when the stories from it are inconsistent and contradictory. (real life, unlike fiction, is under no obligation to make sense) So here's another interpretation of chinese dragons for D&D. Another article that feels like filler material. Still at least we are seeing a bit more on the personality and ecology of monsters here.

Another look at lycanthropy: A more comprehensive article than the previous one, covering the full gamut of willing/unwilling/physical/mental changes found in literature. Which is even better than Ravenloft managed to do later. A well thought out article, that seems to be quite mechanically sound. I approve all around.

Roman military organisation in Classic Warfare: Gary talks about some minutinae of this topic for his old game. Like the stuff on polearms, you'll either love it or be baffled by it, and I'm afraid I fall into the latter camp.

Fineous fingers is still on vacation, the lazy bugger. Honestly, they're monthly strips. How hard is it to get a decent buffer up? Many comics of similar size manage daily or several times weekly schedules for years with no trouble. Ok, we have copypasta techniques now that they didn't then, but really, this isn't good enough. Still, its better than Wormy, who hasn't even made an excuse for his absence.

A viking campaign in the caspian sea: Now this is a fun war story. Vikings vs Arabs! What a culture clash. Based on real 10th century hisorical accounts, this shows that it wasn't just the european costal towns that got raped and pillaged. Includes Classic warfare stats for the scenario. A pretty good article.

The Melee in D&D: Gary defends the level of abstraction in the D&D combat system, that even though you may only be rolling to hit once per minute (ahh, AD&D, why, why why? BD&D got it closer to right with 10 second rounds, and yet you still stuck with it for 20 years in the face of many complaints.) this represents an entire exchange of lots of individual actions. (And yet you could still only move 40' in that time. )Plus, in a game with magic and dragons, what's realism anyway. And my system is still more realistic than any other out there at the moment, so ner. You can change it if you want, but keep in mind that then you won't be playing proper D&D, and anyway, you'll probably find its not as fun, because you've thrown off my carefully considered game balance. I don't think I need to comment any more on this one.

Jean Wells and Lawrence Shick join the TSR staff. Go them. Cue typical comment about needing to bring a female perspective to the magazine. :rolleyes:

Out on a limb returns after a lengthy absence, due to lack of decent letters. Demanding that letters be typewritten isn't helping this (ahh, once again, how times change.) We get one calling them out on Gary being allowed to make personal attacks, while anyone else writing in isn't. (which pleases me because it shows that there were people who felt that he was turning into a bit of a dick at the time as well. Becoming a star does horrible things to even the nicest of people.) A person complaining about the merger of dragon and LW, and two people complaining about their religion being satireised in a recent article (the Crs'Tchen) So despite the absence, it's pretty much business as usual here.

Lotsa house rules for Dungeon!

Armies of the Renaissance - the Swiss: This is pretty similar to the article a couple of issues back, only a little more general and condensed. Entirely fluff, and not hugely interesting.

Narcicistics: Ahh, joke monsters. We never tire of reading of thee. (and then never use you in our games either, I hope, as the stats do not work under the rules) This time, the popular crowd gets to be the butt of the joke.

Psionics revisited: A set of modifications for the psionics rules in EW. These make little sense to me, but I gather that those rules weren't the most well constructed anyway, so its all good/bad.

Disease: A set of random tables for determining the symptoms and lethality of a random disease. As is often the case for this period, the mechanical ramification of certain symptoms goes unexplained. Still, it is pretty amusing, and hardly useless.

Bergenhone '77: Modern war training. The american army gets its ass kicked at tank gun target practice by the canadians. We'll be ready for this years competition, and beat them into the ground. Now that's real life wargaming. :D

The return of Conan Maol: A little more distant history, here, as we get a story of another ancient irish hero to use as we see fit. Another so-so article.

The ramifications of alignment: Another attempt to make the moral/ethical conflict in D&D make a little more sense. This one works by separating out what the author considers the 6 main manifestations of each alignment (examples: seeker of knowledge or military discipline for law, the balance must be preserved or personal ambition over principles for neutrality, fertility or destruction of everything for Chaos, and allowing you to focus on one. Something like this would have made the irreconcilability of alignment debates caused by people being unable to agree on what actions actually are lawfull/chaotic/good/evil considerably less of a problem. A good article, (apart from the very bad deity names, which seem to have been spewed from a generic fantasy random syllable generator) and one I wish had been picked up and run with by the game.

Speaking of random syllable generators, we get one for naming things in tekumel.

The results of the second featured creature competition. It seems that there aren't that many decent artists among dragon's readership, as only the number 1 entry shows any real signs of professionalism. They do recognize that art is the area that they need to improve on the most, and We know they do improve on that front. But how soon? How much longer will scrappy black and white line art be a regular feature of the magazine?

Monty haul and the best of Freddie: More silliness, including what would later become serious artifacts the ring of Gax, and the Rod of 7 parts. These are the stories that would later be adapted into Greyhawks epic lejends ;) and characters. Kinda takes the aura of wonder away, doesn't it.

The Society for creative anachromism: Now here we see another great advantage of the remerging of the magazines. They cover topics that would previously have been unsuitable for either. Tabletop roleplaying, meet LARPing. (god, 4 years, and this is the first time they've mentioned it here.) I hope you'll be the best of friends, and not look down on each other and go around taking the piss. We're all just gamers, trying to have some fun. Futile hope? Oh well. Hopefully we'll see more on this topic before the magazine turns inward and becomes a D&D house organ again.

All in all, its a very full issue, the biggest change in format since the move from SR to dragon. They've definitely put a lot of effort into this one, and I'm pleased to see that they want to expand their scope. If they increase their standards and production values I can see how they can soon reach the golden years that so many people have spoken of nostalgically. The rollercoaster is definitely going up at the moment.
 

JollyRB

I'm not armed mister!
T
Fineous fingers is still on vacation, the lazy bugger. Honestly, they're monthly strips. How hard is it to get a decent buffer up? Many comics of similar size manage daily or several times weekly schedules for years with no trouble.


if I recall correctly J.D. Webster was a fighter pilot in the military at the time. I imagine he had a lot of scheduling conflicts. ;)

Although I could be wrong. He may entered the military a bit later than the date of this particular issue.
 

(un)reason

Making the Legend
Validated User
The Dragon Issue 25: May 1979

48 pages. A gamma world special (the first explicitly topic focussed issue since TD4), they continue their drive to improve and reorganise the magazine. Even the editor is not immune to having his friends and family feel that working in gaming is a bit childish. He wants to prove them wrong, and he wants to do it well, because its a fun job to do, instead of some boring office work. Ahh, stereotypes. You don't change much, do you. Just get applied to different groups as they rise and fade.

In this issue:

A part of gamma world revisited: jim ward revisits the section of north america he seeded with factions in a previous article, expanding on their histories, philosophies, bases, significant NPC's, etc etc. A fairly good article that helps give GW games direction and setting, instead of just being one gonzo encounter after another.

Judging and you!: Jim ward gives his philosophy on proper gamemastering. You've got to be able to improvise, don't be afraid to change things. Don't let characters know how to do things just because their players do. Don't kill characters without a chance, but don't save them if they rush in like idiots. It all seems pretty sensible, noncontroversial stuff, amazingly.

The Armada Disasters: This is something most of us (or at least the brits, cant say for the rest of the world) learnt in high school. The spanish got their asses kicked and then sunk, and as a result there are huge wodges of sunken treasure to be found. Or in other words, a stonking great real world adventure hook. Not a brilliant article, but it does the job.

The place of social class in D&D: Gary thumbs his nose at the concept of tables for social class and occupation, and the implicit generic medieval setting they contain. He then goes on to encourage you to create your own systems of government for the various places in your world, including ones that do not exist in the real world such as magocracies, and defining their class structures and relationships to one-another. Another strong article that shows that larger considerations of setting were really starting to become an issue for the TSR guys.

The writing of the DMG is now mostly done. So it'll still be quite a few months before we get to see it in the shops :p

Out on a limb. We get a whole page letter viciously slating the Bakshi version of LotR, which then ends with the editor agreeing and saying that if anything he'd have been even harsher. Man, they really dropped the ball on that one. A half page letter defending Alpha Omega from its review here. And another letter complaining extensively about how badly run a tournament was, which recieves a personal apology from gary, which is nice of him.

Comic: The westminster wargaming society, by Tom Wham. Aww. lookita keetom. They like to play with miniatures and dice too.

Armies of the renaissance part 3: Another too short and general article on real world military stuff.

Would the real orc please step forward: An article on the proliferation of goblinoids and their different appearances. We see the start of the goblin/hobgoblin vs orc/ogre partitioning that would become more pronounced as the years went on, along with some bits that weren't picked up, such as gnolls and trolls being related (well they do rhyme. Whatever happened to Thouls? They were cool.) and kobolds being part of the same family as orcs. Has a huge chunk of miniatures reviews as well, with strong opinions on which ones most suit the writers vision of orc. I like this article a lot, it manages to be both informative and amusingly opininated, adding quite a bit to D&D's implied setting.

The Traveler navy wants to join YOU!: More character path stuff for traveler. Pretty dry stuff. But people always want more options. I just hope the ones here aren't broken, as I can't tell.

Gamma world artifact use chart: More advice on future characters using modern devices, and how to handle it. Don't let them do things just because their players can, and vice versa. Includes some random failure fun for if they get overconfident.

Fiction: An alien in a strange land, by Jim Ward. We see one of the big backstory events of the gamma world setting through the eyes of its instigator, the lifeforce sucking mutant Blern. Doesn't really work, as it never really gives him a personality beyond the desire to kill and smash everything he comes across. (ahh, the 70's and 80's, when you could get away with characters who's only motivation is doing evil because they are evil. ) We are not impressed.

Fiction: An interview with an iron golem, by Michael McCrery: A follow-up to the one with the rust monster. And oh god, it the holy hand grenade of antioch. Yet again, the adventurers own idiocy is their undoing. Frankly, anyone acting that dumb deserves to die.

War of flowers: An article on the political and religious structure of the aztec city-states, and the way they waged war on one-another. Includes a complete little war game. A very high quality and entertaining article.

Fineous fingers finally finds his way back.

Varieties of Vampires: Ahh, the insanity of real world mythology. Still despite in many cases being incredibly stupid, your players will soon stop laughing once they face their special abilities. They want to suck your ....... eeech, lets not go there.

To select a mythos: More stuff on world design. All a bit dull and platitudinous really. My philosophy of world design is very much not rocked.

Arms and armor of the Conquistadores: More historical fluff for your wargames. Another article that fails to really distinguish itself.

Another fairly good issue, with several really good articles, some fun ones, and some dull ones, but no really bad ones. Once again, I'm feeling more than a little full up after reading this one. There's no way I'm going to remember everything reading at this rate. There's going to be enough stuff in the run that you could never really use it all, and that's really hitting me now. Still, the only way out is forward, so on with the adventure.
 

brianm

Registered User
Validated User
The Armada Disasters: This is something most of us (or at least the brits, cant say for the rest of the world) learnt in high school. The spanish got their asses kicked and then sunk, and as a result there are huge wodges of sunken treasure to be found. Or in other words, a stonking great real world adventure hook. Not a brilliant article, but it does the job.
Most of us Yanks know what we know about the Spanish Armada from watching Erol Flynn movies on Saturday afternoons. As those seem to be gone from network TV, I have no idea where the current generation of young Americans are going to learn about that sort of thing.

The place of social class in D&D: Gary thumbs his nose at the concept of tables for social class and occupation, and the implicit generic medieval setting they contain. He then goes on to encourage you to create your own systems of government for the various places in your world, including ones that do not exist in the real world such as magocracies, and defining their class structures and relationships to one-another. Another strong article that shows that larger considerations of setting were really starting to become an issue for the TSR guys.
A good chunk of this gets repeated in the DMG, and is one of my favorite sections. I usually give it a good skim when world-building.

(ahh, the 70's and 80's, when you could get away with characters who's only motivation is doing evil because they are evil. ) We are not impressed.
Expect that to return as a theme in literature in the near future. The pendulum, she swings...

Once again, I'm feeling more than a little full up after reading this one. There's no way I'm going to remember everything reading at this rate. There's going to be enough stuff in the run that you could never really use it all, and that's really hitting me now. Still, the only way out is forward, so on with the adventure.
Yeah, I didn't get into reading it regularly for another 40 or so issues, but I remember every issue seemed to be bursting with cool ideas or neat tidbits. It usually took me a week or so back in elementary school to really pick the bones clean of every issue. From my point of view, you're on the bleeding edge of the magazine's heyday.

- Brian
 

(un)reason

Making the Legend
Validated User
The Dragon Issue 26: June 1979

52 pages. Finally, the editor gets an assistant, the lovely Mr Jaquet, who's first name changes unpredictably from article to article. Now their staff is big enough to withstand one person getting knocked out temporarily, so we won't be losing months because of that. We also see a spate of new running articles start here. Mighty Magic Miscellany, Dastardly deeds and devious devices, Bazaar of the Bizarre. Ahh, alliteration, how you help make things memorable. What would we do deprived of opportunities to twist the lexicon of language in disturbing directions. They also say that this is your last chance as readers to save the letters page, as they still aren't getting regular letters, and they're tired of asking. You do know what a can of worms you're opening here, don't you?

In this issue:

Miniatures, meet boards: Tim Kask talks about his first experiences in wargaming, and recalls the problems with miniatures gaming in general. This then segues into talking about a new game, System 7, and how using cardboard chits makes things so much more accessable than shelling out for and painting hundreds of miniatures. He goes on to say he hopes it revolutionizes wargaming the way D&D did. But miniatures make up most of the companies profit. Yeah, so much for that idea.

Napoleonics no longer mean a second mortgage: A proper review of system 7, with a pretty good assessment of its strengths and weaknesses. This is pretty good, not just a promo for the game.

Necessity is the mother of invention: The designer of system 7 weighs in on the design process for the game, and the compromises they had to make in doing so. Another solid article that adds to this issue's big topic.

The designer responds to first volley: Lotsa players questions, and the corresponding clarifications and errata. Again, this is a solid article, and rounds out this issues main feature. After this, you'll have a pretty good idea if you want to buy System 7 or not.

Giants in the earth: Another article that is intended as a recurring one, this is where they stat out characters from various books for D&D. Of course, as D&D cannot properly emulate them, they have to break the rules that PC's are limited too to represent them. They are also disgustingly overstatted, with not a single attribute below 13. I just have to sigh at this.

And what of the skinnies? An add-on to the Starship troopers wargame, giving the humanoids a power boost so they can match up to the humans and bugs, instead of being stuck in the middle getting slaughtered. Not sure how well this holds up mechanically, but it seems a decent enough article. Hopefully it was of use to someone.

The placement of castles: A tactical guide for Lords and Wizards. More rules stuff that I can't really comment on, but seems decent enough.

35th aniversary of d-day remembered: Lest we forget. Of course back then, there were considerably more people who saw it in person still alive. A good reminder that behind the games, there were serious historical events, with people getting killed, and the same cannot be said for fantasy games. But lets not stay on a downer for too long, shall we.

The solitary berserker for william the conquerer - 1066: Another fun rules expansion. Play Harold Hardrada smashing his way through the english. Maybe you'll even win this time around. Another article that seems ok to me.

Chinese Undead: I think you know what to expect from this. Has a bit of crossover with the vampires around the world article from last issue, but not enough to be useless. And as ever real world mythology is easily as strange and considerably less optimised towards ass-kicking abilities than D&D monsters.

A load of general stuff for boot hill. This is stuff that'll mostly benefit players, at the cost of adding extra mechanical gewgaws to remember. All in all, this is pretty meh.

Another view on D&D alignments: This one doesn't really add much to the pot, merely being a list of what individuals of a particular alignment probably would or wouldn't do. Which is not the best way to go about it, as it lumps a bunch of unrelated traits together, and thus adds to the perspective of alignment as restriction, rather than monitoring device. Which is not the way to go about things, in my opinion. I do not approve.

Deck of fate: Tarot cards for D&D. Draw one of these, and stuff will happen, maybe good, maybe bad. Either way, it keeps things interesting, doesn't it. Not nearly as comprehensive or mechanically sound as the later bag of beans one, this is still an entertaining article, that I have no problem with.

D&D meets the electronic age: Using a computer with an amazing 4K of memory! ( Damn, A page or so of typing here eats up that much, they must have been far more efficient with it back then.) to assist in the mechanical side of running a game, building to hit matrixes, monster stats and dungeon layouts. Goes to show, computers were coming into the range of affordability to ordinary people, and you could already do quite a bit with them back then. But if they weren't, they wouldn't have developed as quickly as they have, as there wouldn't be the money to put into development. It's like evolution. Creationists ask what use half an eye is, but even a single photosensitive cell offers considerable advantages to an organism. And if something offers an advantage, it rapidly spreads and gets built on and refined.

Hirelings have feelings too: A little reminder that hirelings need paying, and will desert if treated badly. If your adventures are getting dull, a little NPC friction can liven them up.

Notes from a very successful D&D moderator: More gaming advice heavily slanted towards the adversarial mold. It encourages finding new inventive ways of countering the players stratagems, so they never get overconfident. Which isn't very nice behaviour, is it now. Still, lots of people had fun playing like that, so who's to say its bad.

D&D, AD&D and gaming: Gary talks about the origins of D&D, and then goes on to talk about the difference between D&D and AD&D. This is where the division between the freewheeling, make it up yourself D&D style, and the standardised, comprehensive, tournament oriented, you've got to play it by the rules in the book or you aren't doing it right AD&D style is spelled out in detail to everyone, and is quite representative of Gygax's opinion on why the games needed to be separated. His focus is also clearly going to be with AD&D from this point on, as that's the one he wants to promote as more important as a game. Which is very informative, if slightly amusing in hindsight. He also defends his rather venomous reviews of a few issues ago, essentially saying that they deserved it for being crap, and if they aren't told so, they'll never improve. And lots of good gaming material is what he wants. So that's ok then ;) :rolleyes:

Mugger! A somewhat humourous D&D mod, in which the players play muggers trying to rob as much stuff as possible while avoiding the arm of the law. Fun as a one-shot, and as it's encounters are by random table, it looks like it would work well as a solitaire game. Which is neat. Bring on the violence.

Birth and social status tables for tekumel: Random tables, random tables, la la la la. Don't we already have a set of these? Forgive me if I lose interest.

Blueprint for a lich: Another familiar idea gets its first expression. Becoming a lich takes quite a bit of work, and this article lays out the steps. It has a few bits that later versions would omit (maybe they'd developed more refined transformation rituals) but is still the basic form that would hold throughout 1st and 2nd edition, and be adapted to create dracoliches. Which is nice, I guess.

Putting together a party on the spur of the moment: Gary talks about generating parties quickly for con games. As you might expect, luck is involved quite heavily, which may result in you being twinked or screwed. Such is the fate of the unplanned game. Still, I'm sure that with gary as the GM, it'd still be fun.

Strength comparison table: Various monsters strength scores, using them as characters, strength without proper leverage. This article tries to do too much, and as a result, fails to do anything very well. Don't try and cram a load of scattershot ideas into a single article next time. Leave that to the professionals.

Reviews: Tribes of crane, Ice war, Mercenary, The Battle of monmouth, Grenadier figure packs, Battle sphere. All are solidly written, with mention of both merits and flaws to the works, with no raving fanboyism.

Dragons bestiary: Barghests! Another classic and rather dangerous monster appears in recognizable form. It grows in power as it eats people, then goes back to gehenna once fully grown. Has a rather sinister looking set of small print at the bottom, whereby all monsters published become the intellectual property of TSR. I guess they really are wising up when it comes to legal crap. Very interesting, for the changes in presenting style it represents with plenty of description and ecological stuff.

Fineous fingers continues.

The thief - A deadly annoyance: While thieves might be useful in dungeoneering, where they really shine is in the city. Another article that feels rather dated, as it actively encourages thief PC's to sneak off and take loot without telling other players, steal from their companions, and otherwise behave in a manner detrimental to party trust and unity. Ahh, competitive play, how we miss thee. I must run a game like this at some point.

Another busy issue full of interesting stuff, which offers many pointers as to the way the magazine and game would develop in the future. As they expand, they have to become increasingly professional. And as their readership expands, the base of competent people to hire and freelance from expands as well. They'll be changing some more in the near future, so don't think that they're content with this issue's innovations.
 

T. Foster

Retired User
The Dragon Issue 26: June 1979

Giants in the earth: Another article that is intended as a recurring one, this is where they stat out characters from various books for D&D. Of course, as D&D cannot properly emulate them, they have to break the rules that PC's are limited too to represent them. They are also disgustingly overstatted, with not a single attribute below 13. I just have to sigh at this.

Dragons bestiary: Barghests! Another classic and rather dangerous monster appears in recognizable form. It grows in power as it eats people, then goes back to gehenna once fully grown. Has a rather sinister looking set of small print at the bottom, whereby all monsters published become the intellectual property of TSR. I guess they really are wising up when it comes to legal crap. Very interesting, for the changes in presenting style it represents with plenty of description and ecological stuff.
IIRC these two articles marked the debut in The Dragon of Tom Moldvay, who would shortly thereafter (or perhaps already had) join the TSR staff and make a big impression via his edit/revision of the D&D Basic Set and several classic modules (Isle of Dread, Castle Amber, The Lost City, etc.).
 

g026r

I'm a boat
Validated User
IIRC these two articles marked the debut in The Dragon of Tom Moldvay, who would shortly thereafter (or perhaps already had) join the TSR staff and make a big impression via his edit/revision of the D&D Basic Set and several classic modules (Isle of Dread, Castle Amber, The Lost City, etc.).
It's quite likely. The articles are (for some reason) authorless in the RPG.net Index entry for this issue, but the next couple of issues in the Index have him listed as doing Giants in the Earth.
 

snafubar

That moment you realize you have to face the day.
RPGnet Member
Validated User
It's quite likely. The articles are (for some reason) authorless in the RPG.net Index entry for this issue, but the next couple of issues in the Index have him listed as doing Giants in the Earth.
I thought I screwed up the entry, but upon checking it seems that there was no author listed in either the article or the contents of that issue.
 
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