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[Lets read] Dragon magazine - From the beginning

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Blizzardborn

Hiding in a snowdrift
Validated User
Mostly it was a way of poking fun at a hobby that took itself far too seriously at times. This was before the games started embracing a wide variety of tastes, themes and genres.

Some of the Apr01 material is funny. Much is meh.
 

(un)reason

Making the Legend
Validated User
Dragon Issue 48

part 3/4

The druid and the DM: Back to the serious stuff. This discusses the various abilities of druids, and how they can be applied. It also trys to dispel misconceptions. Druids are not all misanthropes, in fact, with their high charisma and powers useful to everyday life they can be quite politically powerful. And there are plenty of molds and oozes and other creatures in dungeons that stop them from being useless down there. It also includes some optional rules and abilities, that amazingly enough, spice things up without making the class more overpowered. Which makes it a pretty good article, overall.

The druid and the dungeon: More druid stuff, this concentrates on how to optimize them for dungeoneering. Make sure you pack plenty of mistletoe, and pick up some hirelings and befriended animals, because you'll need all the help you can get. Work as part of a well oiled team that can cover your weaknesses, and you should be fine, after all, you have a decent weapon selection, attack rolls and hit points, plus quite a few spells that are still applicable down there. You're hardly a sitting duck. (unless you choose to shapechange into one) And they haven't even realized how effective a swiss army knife shapechanging is, even when you don't have feats, and therefore have to stick strictly to mundane animals. Useless in dungeons, I think not.

Up on a soapbox: Two rants under this ageis this issue.
When choosing a DM, be choosy considers the problem of finding a fun game to play in. How do you spot a good GM before you start playing, and so avoid wasting time with a crap or creepy group. This article gives you lots of good hints that are still relevant today, and can also be pretty easily turned round for when a GM is assessing prospective players. Not even vague wishy washy ones either, but some tight quantifiable guidelines. So I like it quite a lot, and have added it to my list of thing I intend to use next time it comes up.
What is gaming's role in life continues the morality in fantasy debate. And is dull. After the cool of the last one, this is rather a letdown. I shall say no more.

Minarian Legends: The Mercenary ships of minaria. Pirates, privateers, and navies, plus the obligatory named character in charge of them, the Bilge Rat. Good guy, bad guy, not really either guy? You ought to know the formula of these entries by now.

The floating island mission: This month's module is a second Top Secret one. Can you thwart the evil plans of the mysterious Dr Yes? You'd better be considerably above starting ability to do so. (see, vagueness like this this is why D&D is so much more friendly for casual GM's. The level system makes it easy to create pregenerated adventures for characters of different power levels, with an easy gauge. Which means you can continue to use modules beyond the starting level) The underwater fun continues, as you'll have to do some diving to infiltrate the island. And then you get to face Bruce Nee, Chuck Morris, and "Sweetbeam" Leotard, the good doctors amusingly named henchmen. And I think that's enough spoilers for now. A pretty decent adventure overall.

Carrying a heavy load? Mules. The benefits and drawbacks to bringing an extra loadbearer such as this into the dungeon with you. Encumbrance is a bitch, and there's always something extra you wish you'd brought. But the more you have, the more it costs, the more you're slowed down, and the more you have to lose if things go wrong. Really, It'd be better to get yourself a bag of holding as soon as possible. Then you can laugh and stroll past all the low level adventurers struggling with their mules. Also introduces Black Bart to us, who I vaguely remember, so I think we'll see him again in the future.
 

Skiorht

Despair Shouter
Validated User
The druid and the dungeon: More druid stuff, this concentrates on how to optimize them for dungeoneering. Make sure you pack plenty of mistletoe, and pick up some hirelings and befriended animals, because you'll need all the help you can get. Work as part of a well oiled team that can cover your weaknesses, and you should be fine, after all, you have a decent weapon selection, attack rolls and hit points, plus quite a few spells that are still applicable down there. You're hardly a sitting duck. (unless you choose to shapechange into one) And they haven't even realized how effective a swiss army knife shapechanging is, even when you don't have feats, and therefore have to stick strictly to mundane animals. Useless in dungeons, I think not.
IIRC, the article was reprinted in a Best of Dragon anthology. It certainly showcased some of the powers of the class, to the extent that the most dedicated powergamer in our group never played anything else, if he could get the stats. The experience table for druids was horribly broken, and their spell selection was in fact better than cleric's, since the best spells were spread over several levels. The tricks you could play with animal companions and shapechange were the icing on the cake. I'd say the druid was the most powerful of the original AD&D core classes.
 

(un)reason

Making the Legend
Validated User
The experience table for druids was horribly broken, and their spell selection was in fact better than cleric's,
Yeah, the druid xp table was wierd. Realy low requirements at low-mid levels, and then it went mental once you got to the point where there were only a limited number of characters of each level, before reseting once they became hierophants, and after that you needed 500,000 xp per level, way more than any other class. Who designed that?

And did anyone actually use the whole challenge system in actual play? It might be a cool idea, but it does not seem like the kind of thing that would work well from a gamist point of view. It would be so annoying to get up to 13th or 14th level, and then be challenged by an NPC and lose those levels again, as well as being rather awkward in a party situation.
 

Skiorht

Despair Shouter
Validated User
Yeah, the druid xp table was wierd. Realy low requirements at low-mid levels, and then it went mental once you got to the point where there were only a limited number of characters of each level, before reseting once they became hierophants, and after that you needed 500,000 xp per level, way more than any other class. Who designed that?
The problem was compounded by the fact that the cheap druid levels coincided almost perfectly with the sweet spot of 1st ed. AD&D. The game started to break down once PCs passed name level, so most campaigns I was playing in or observed were put to pasture at the point the druid started getting a bit awkward to play.

And did anyone actually use the whole challenge system in actual play? It might be a cool idea, but it does not seem like the kind of thing that would work well from a gamist point of view. It would be so annoying to get up to 13th or 14th level, and then be challenged by an NPC and lose those levels again, as well as being rather awkward in a party situation.
I used it at start, and we had a fun campaign where the PC druid massacred most of his extended family, as they were the leaders of the druid hierarchy of the campaign area. Later it seemed too much of a chore.
 

(un)reason

Making the Legend
Validated User
Dragon Issue 48

part 4/4

Giants in the earth: This month's statistical impossibilities by the D&D rules as written are Ursula le guins Sparrowhawk, and Andrew Offut's Tiana Highrider.

Sage advice: Can A dual classed character switch back and advance in a previous class if they have high enough stats? (no)
Can clerics and paladins heal themselves (yes)
Do spellcasters get XP for casting spells. (only if they actually accomplish something with that casting)
Can a neutral good bard backstab (if it's in a good cause, just like any thief.)
Does power word kill destroy the bodies of the creatures it kills? (Entirely up to you. But yeah, it does kill in a way that prevents ressurection. Ahahahahaha)
Can magic resistance negate magic weapon's plusses? (no)

Instant adventures: Random plothooks, random plothooks. We can always do with more random plothooks. Spin the wheel, roll the dice, and lets see what fate'll throw at the players tonight.

Leomund's tiny hut: Once again, Len pushes at redesigning the system, this time looking at balance in encounter design and treasure awards. Which again turns into 7 pages of complicated math that have some good ideas that would be refined and used again in later editions, but are currently way too clunky. I really ought to give him more credit for doing this stuff, so the rest of us don't have too anymore.

Figuratively speaking reviews 21 mini's in 2 pages, which means there isn't much detail on each one. Once again, the picture shading is too bad for me to make my own judgments. Which is a shame.

GenCon South: A review of the con's new franchise. (with gencon east to follow in july) Not as big as the main one, this still had a quite extensive and exciting tournament schedule, headed up by the Champions of DM's, Frank Mentzer, and administered by the TRS-80 computer program they've been talking about in recent issues. Seems pretty positive, and they intend to do it again next year. Soon there'll be gencon's everywhere.

New orders for Russian Campaign: The wargame gets the Historically Accurate treatment in this article, with the author claiming the revised figures he's giving are the real ones from the official documents. Maybe, but will this make the game more fun to play, or unbalance it further in favour of the RL winners? I couldn't say, having never seen the game. As ever, clarification on matters like this would be welcomed.

Adding airpower options: More Russian Campaign stuff, this optional rule increases the randomness of the amount of airpower each side has. Again, I can't comment on if that would improve the game or not.

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Reviews: Asteroid is a quick game of saving the earth from an approaching, well, you know. (I don't wanna close my eyes, I don't wanna fall asleep) Individual games may be short, but the amount of customisability in both character and adversary design should keep replays interesting for a while.
Titan is a fantasy wargame, that may be cheaply produced, but contains a sophistication in rules design that is better than many games produced on a far bigger budget.
Space fighters is a game of star warsesque dogfights, albeit with the serial numbers filed off. Like the film, the games action style is strongly reminicent of WWII dogfight games. It also seems to please the reviewer. Frankly, I would prefer my reviews more critical. It's more fun to read, and gives me more to comment on.

Pinsom, wormy, jasmine and fineous are all here. Quite the turnout. I guess they needed all the artists for the crossover issue.

Who's bright idea was it to put the ad on the back page upside down? They've been doing that quite frequently, but I never got round to mentioning it. Were they that way on the original mags, or is this scanning wierdness?

The upward slope in overall quality continues again. Kim's stronger hand on the editing process seems to be resulting in a better overall quality of articles. How long is it before he takes over again?
 

Thranguy

Retired User
The upside-down ads were for 'Martian Miniatures', and the schtick was that Martian writing is upside-down. Didn't last all that long, as I recall.
 

(un)reason

Making the Legend
Validated User
Dragon Issue 49: May 1981

part 1/4

96 pages. Speak of the devil. (I wasn't looking ahead when I wrote last issue's postscript, honest) This issue is the one where Gary steps down as publisher of the magazine. Jake Jaquet moves up to fill his place, while Kim Mohan becomes editor in chief. Which mean's Gary's taking his hands off the reins of the company and going off to LA to negotiate with ghastly executives, and the D&D cartoon will be along soon, if my memory serves me correctly. Oh god. I look forward to seeing how that's treated in the magazine. (particularly in light of the roasting they gave bakshi's LotR) :eek: Should be amusing.

In this issue:

Dragon Rumbles: Oohh. Looks like their circulation is now exceeding 150,000. Quite a growth from their humble beginnings. But they still aren't immune to delays. Nor are they ignoring the competition. It's a big responsibility, running a magazine of this size. Lets hope Kim and co are up to it.

Out on a limb: A letter with some quite substantial (and quite well substantiated) complaints directed at Len Lakofa's Archer article from issue 45. They counter with the same old canard, that it's all optional, D&D is not realistic, and D&D halflings are not LotR hobbits. Doesn't come off very well this time Kim.
A letter from someone writing a book on miniatures painting, asking for ideas and opinions to help him develop it further. I wonder if anything'll come of this.
A letter praising the magazine's recent increases in quality, and also in accesability to newcomers. The hobby needs new blood to expand, which means it needs to be easy for new people to pick up gaming. Which means keeping the number of articles using impenetrable gamespeak and discussing tedious rules minutinae down.
A letter complaining at the size of many recent articles, wondering why they don't break them up into smaller parts over several issues. They'd get more complaints if they did it that way, trust me. Plus lots of other commentary.
A letter praising them for publishing top secret modules, and asking people to send in more articles for it, as he likes the game, and knows it's quite popular in his area. As they've said before, they can't publish what they don't get.

In the interest of fairness: An article about arbitrary and bad GM decisions in tournament play, and how more needs to be done to prevent it. Cue lots of stuff about establishing standards, and objective scoring systems for acts that are easily adjudicated, as well as establishing what behaviour should lead to instant disqualification and ejection from the tournament. Not that even the strictest rules'll prevent a bad GM from making it a crap experience. But you've gotta be seen to be doing something. Once again, the serious problems with the tournament playstyle are thrown into sharp relief, as the comprises needed to make it work strike directly at the unique strengths of tabletop roleplaying as an entertainment form, openended storytelling and story creation where everyone wins as long as they have fun. This sucks.

The slave pits revisited: More thoughts on the A series, and tournament modules in general. The author reccomends that in future years they design the modules for smaller groups of players, as that reduces the difficulties in social dynamics, allowing groups of people who already know each other to join as a team and avoid the odds that your team will have some random asshat put in it who ruins things for everyone else. It then goes into a load of mathematics and logicistical discussion, proving that this would work better than the current system. Which is also tedious.

It isn't that easy: Frank Mentzer rebutts the previous article. Training up DM's to the standard needed to apply all your would be rules is not an easy task. Plus, it's hard to predict how many you'll need, particularly with the speed the hobby is expanding at. If you want to help with this, apply to become a GM at the next con you go too. We can always use the help. Ahh, reality, always getting in the way of our best laid plans.

God, that's a lot of cons coming up this year. BIgger and more frequent, the upswing in their popularity continues. Competitions, seminars, tournaments, famous people talking, exclusive stuff, they've got it all.
 

(un)reason

Making the Legend
Validated User
Dragon Issue 49: May 1981

part 2/4

The samurai: Yes folks, its a second attempt at this class, (honestly. Three witch classes, two alchemist and samurai ones. Can't people come up with something more original) This bears little relation to the OA samurai, being an unarmoured fighter as comfortable with unarmed fighting as with katana, and getting stealth, supernatural illusion powers and psionic ability. Like druids, they have an overarching organization with a limited number of top level characters, so you'll need to fight your former master to get there. Really, they're more monk/ninja variants than fighter ones. But if you can get over that naming disconnect, in terms of rules they are fairly solid, and not too overpowered. (at least, compared to cavaliers, rangers, druids, and the other upper tier classes; they'll still make fighters look like the one trick ponies they are) I wouldn't say no to a player using them if I was running an old skool game.

The rasmussen files: Lots of nasty little new rules this month, mostly revolving around gun fire and its unfortunate concequences. One of those ones that includes lots of random tables to determine just what unpleasant side effects result from your hit location. Which isn't very cinematic, but can be amusingly gruesome, as rolemaster afficionados know. Still, 'tis the kind of thing I would rather not incorporate into my games.

Getting a world into shape: Now this is a fun one. Karl Horak talks about choosing a shape for your world as a whole, be it spherical like earth, an endless flat map, or some kind of more interesting shape, (such as any of the polyhedrons that we use for dice ;) ) and then goes into detail on how to create maps that accommodate these odd geometries. Includes a neat little cut-out that can be used to make your world. Cool stuff. And yet all the canon D&D worlds apart from Ravenloft fell into the bog-standard spherical planet model (although Mystara had it's hollow interior, which added a neat spin to things) What happened? :shakes head: Bloody design by committee. We want weirdness. We want weirdness.

Giants in the Earth: This month's characters without a single below average stat between them are Poul Anderson's Holger Carlsen (now there's a character you'd think could be converted to D&D without any rules breaking, but no. :sighs heavily: ) and Hugi, and T.J. Morgan's Ellide.

Historical names make for better games: Glenn Rahman takes time out from his Divine Right writings to offer a big load of historical names from various cultures, to aid you in naming your characters. Just pick an appropriate culture and roll d20, if you're short of ideas. Much mehness.

Monster Mixing: Adapting D&D monsters to chivalry & sorcery. 23 classic monsters get conversion, including the full range of idiosyncratic fungi, slimes and oozes that were popular back then. Plus two new monsters, the mind thorns, and lemex, get stats for both systems. Pretty decent, as it also goes into some interesting discussion on fitting the monsters together into an ecology, including food chains (umber hulks like to eat ankhegs) Once again we see how other systems were ahead of D&D in quite a few ways. But it'll catch up with a vengance eventually, with the ecology of articles. Come on, any issue now.

This month, instead of a module, we have an extensive interview of painter Tim Hildebrandt. With lots of color photos and pics of him and his his creations. Which makes a nice change. Having produced illustrations for both lord of the rings and star wars, he's in a pretty enviable position. Still, he had to pay his dues with 16 hour a day work stints for readers digest, and other crappy jobs. And no matter how big you get, you still have to deal with executive meddling and media stupidity. Another good example of just how hard being a professional artist is, and how mad you'd have to be to do it if you didn't enjoy it. And these are the lucky ones. A bit depressing, isn't it.
 

Sleeper

Red-eyed dust bunny
Validated User
Getting a world into shape: Now this is a fun one. Karl Horak talks about choosing a shape for your world as a whole, be it spherical like earth, an endless flat map, or some kind of more interesting shape, (such as any of the polyhedrons that we use for dice ;) ) and then goes into detail on how to create maps that accommodate these odd geometries. Includes a neat little cut-out that can be used to make your world. Cool stuff. And yet all the canon D&D worlds apart from Ravenloft fell into the bog-standard spherical planet model (although Mystara had it's hollow interior, which added a neat spin to things) What happened? :shakes head: Bloody design by committee. We want weirdness. We want weirdness.
Now, that's the kind of article I like. I'm always a little disappointed at how mundane most fantasy settings are. I don't want a rigorously realistic planet; I'll dig out GURPS Space if that's the goal. I want perpetual storms tied to the bloodline of the country's ruler, lands of eternal darkness populated by naked albino wolves and mobile slimes, frost giants riding glaciers as the spearhead of a great invasion into the warmer climes, steps in the middle of nowhere that reach the abandoned palaces on the moon, great whirlpools between an island sea and the outer ocean that suck hapless ships into sunless sargassos where scavengers and cannibals hold sway, cities built on vast floating terraces over a torn and volcanic land, entire mountains carved into the likenesses of giants and dragons, forests of mile-high trees inhabited by a panoply of cultures that never set foot on the ground, and other truly wondrous elements.

Thanks for keeping up, by the way. That's a lot of work. Issue 48 is the earliest issue I own (though it wasn't the first issue).
 
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