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[Lets read] Dragon magazine - From the beginning

What can I say, I just like polls :)


  • Total voters
    411

Tom McCambley

Excellent.
Validated User
WWII minis game centered around tanks. IIRC, you'll see a bit more of it later when they do a D&D/Tractics crossover game report.
Oh cool is that the article with the subtitle "How much damage will a panzerfaust do to a troll Heinz?"

I LOVE that report.
 

yunkor

Retired User
I started around the 70s. Can you believe when I away at college my mother threw them all out? She said "I didn't think you played that kid's game anymore" !! :)

I think my favorite articles were "Good isn't stupid", "the Tesseract" (I forgot the exact name), "The Making of a Milieu", all the "ecology of" articles before the FR set came out and the articles just felt more mysterious, like there was a living world in the background of all of them, and there was one article about having kobolds run around in small 4' high tunnels to keep magic-users from dropping fireballs everywhere.
 

Tom McCambley

Excellent.
Validated User
I started around the 70s. Can you believe when I away at college my mother threw them all out? She said "I didn't think you played that kid's game anymore" !! :)

I think my favorite articles were "Good isn't stupid", "the Tesseract" (I forgot the exact name), "The Making of a Milieu", all the "ecology of" articles before the FR set came out and the articles just felt more mysterious, like there was a living world in the background of all of them, and there was one article about having kobolds run around in small 4' high tunnels to keep magic-users from dropping fireballs everywhere.
Oh yes does this bring back memories...back in 74 (the issue not the year) Ed got an article published on seven magic swords. The detail in that article amazed me, and when the first Realms teaser map was produced as a Dragon freebie before the grey box was released I pored over each and every Greenwood article looking at the places named in the articles and just imagining.

Great times!
 

brianm

Registered User
Validated User
... and there was one article about having kobolds run around in small 4' high tunnels to keep magic-users from dropping fireballs everywhere.
Tucker's Kobolds, from issue #127.

Tom McCambley said:
...back in 74 (the issue not the year) Ed got an article published on seven magic swords. The detail in that article amazed me, and when the first Realms teaser map was produced as a Dragon freebie before the grey box was released I pored over each and every Greenwood article looking at the places named in the articles and just imagining.
That article completely changed the way I play the game. It was in the first issue of Dragon I ever read, and was perhaps the most influential in terms of how I approached D&D.

- Brian
 

(un)reason

Making the Legend
Validated User
The Strategic Review 6: February 1976

In contrast to the previous issue, this issue remains almost the same in format, but the matters within feel more significant somehow. Its the first issue that feels like business as usual, in a way. The organisational hassles of previous issues have become more manageable, which means they can actually get more stuff done.

Contained within:

Alignment starts its change from the single law/chaos (with law strongly associcated with good and chaos with evil) axis, to the nuanced field of morals and ethics that we know and love (or in many cases hate ;) ) There's still some serious kinks in it. There's only 5 proper alignments, with true neutrality presented as rare, and primarily only inhabited by druids, animals, and other amoral creatures. Meanwhile, the other alignments get a more complex grading that never caught on, with 16 different ratings of good/evil and 22 of law/chaos that all have proper nouns rather than numbers, and allow you to move up and down gradually. Elysium is the plane of ultimate chaotic good, while Humanity in Gygax's mind is a largely lawful race, not the unaligned occupiers of every alignment equally or mostly neutral with a significant minority of other alignments (depending on who you listen to) they would later be presented as. As someone who takes great interest in questions of both game and real world ethical constructs, this is very interesting stuff indeed, worthy of a thread in itself.

A review of fanzines. We get a shout-out to Games Workshop, still distributing RPG's themselves at this point, and another annoying rating system using titles rather than numbers, yet is still effectively a numerical rating system.

Our first piece of actual fiction. The quest for the vermillion volume by Rob Kuntz. We get a case of wizard that is aware of modern day earth pop culture via their plane scrying/hopping antics (something I seem to remember Ed Greenwood becoming very fond of in his Eliminster tales later on. ) In less than 2 pages it manages to be a fairly entertaining little story, in which an elf is very much not a mysterious uberbeing but instead gets outclassed and humiliated at every turn.

A piece pimping Fight in the skies, another wargame.

A list of DMs, to help people find a game. The kind of thing that would be handled by the internet now much faster and more conveniently. Makes me vaguely curious how many of these people are still alive, at the same address, and gaming. Not that I'm gonna get on a plane and try and find out, as that would just be creepy.

Bards! Oh yes, We're cooking with class bloat now. While they don't have the weird prerequisites to get into the class that they will in 1st ed AD&D, and the ability score requirements are less stringent and absolute, they are otherwise pretty similar in most respects, with about half strength thieving and magic-user (not druid, for some reason) abilities, decent fighting skills, plus their own lore and charm abilities, and the odd college system where they get a new title every 3 levels. Unlike the classes introduced in previous issues, they go all the way to 25th level, and get extensive detail on their followers. Like rangers, they probably are a bit overpowered, especially as they lack the strong behavioural restrictions rangers have to put up with. The various magical instruments that correspond with the colleges get introduced here as well, which is convenient.

Optional nerves rule for boot hill. Seems like another case of extra modifiers that would add realism at the expense of fun and speed of play.

Sage Advice gets its name, and becomes a formal column. Only small so far, and not in the answers to letters format that would become more familiar, but still fulfilling the same basic function.

Another familiar refrain, that that modern games are too big and complex for the casual gamer, and that their new game (Ancient conquest) cuts through all that and combines simplicity with emergent complexity. To which I am torn between smirking and sighing, knowing how much D&D will bloat over coming decades.

This is a lot more interesting than the last issue, and presents a lot of stuff that would have controversial repercussions in the future.
 

UglyJimStudly

Unforgiven
Validated User
A piece pimping Fight in the skies, another wargame.
And a pretty cool one, for WWI aerial combat. One interesting thing about it is they had a short set of rules for tracking the career of an individual pilot, same sort of idea as the Chainmail rules that spawned D&D. AFAIK no RPG of WWI aces descended from FITS.

A list of DMs, to help people find a game. The kind of thing that would be handled by the internet now much faster and more conveniently. Makes me vaguely curious how many of these people are still alive, at the same address, and gaming. Not that I'm gonna get on a plane and try and find out, as that would just be creepy.
They've got this new thing called "mail" now, like email but using a hardcopy in some kind of container. If anybody did want to take on that project, that'd probably be the way to go. I remember they occasionally had contact lists when I was reading Dragon, I always read them looking for another Oakville, Ontario gamer to add to our group - no such luck.
 

T. Foster

Retired User
Issue 6 is where The Strategic Review first began to feel more like a magazine than a glorified newsletter (with issues 1-4 firmly in newsletter territory and issue 5 an odd transition) and also, due to the addition of the 2-axis alignment chart and bard class (+ the additions from Supplement III: Eldritch Wizardry, which came out about the same time as this issue -- the druid class, psionics, demons, artifacts & relics), where OD&D began to feel a whole lot like what would eventually become AD&D.

It's also noteworthy (and surely not coincidental) that issue #6 was the first issue edited by Tim Kask (TSR's first outside hire and full-time employee, who went on the be the founding editor of The Dragon); previous issues had been assembled/edited by Gary Gygax in his spare moments between design work and running the company.
 
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(un)reason

Making the Legend
Validated User
The strategic review 7: April 1976

The last issue. We get our first taste of colour on the cover, and the size and price increases again, to 24 pages and $1. A 4fold increase in only a year. I find it amusing that if you put all 7 strategic review issues together, they are still smaller than a single issue of dragon at its heyday (for those of you who are wondering, the largest issue ever is 132 pages long. Which one it is, I shan't reveal yet though.)
They start off by announcing the demise of TSR ( ;) ) and its successors, Dragon, and Little Wars (whatever happened to that? Oh well, I guess I'll probably find out in a while) to be published on alternating months, and their new staff. (Dave Sutherland, oh yes, we're talking iconic here) This is exciting stuff, and I have to wonder how people reacted at the time. Hopefully the letters page will be appearing soon so I can find out. Anyone who was there at the time, I want to hear your comments as well.

This issue also contains.

Gary explaining the vancian magic system, why he designed it that way, and taking potshots at powergamers and people who don't use the rules as written. He admits that despite attempts to balance them, magic users are probably still the most powerful class in the game, especially once they get magic items. I get the impression I'm going to be seeing a lot more of this. Oh well, I knew what I was getting myself into.

Snark between the various companies at gencon and origins. Ahh, dirty laundry, how we love to see thee aired.

A full page advert. Supplement III eldritch wizardry coming soon, featuring druds, (ha ha, they misspelled the advert) psionics, new monsters and lots of other stuff. Doing this is really giving me a picture of the order the D&D classes appeared.

Stats for lots of TV gunslingers for boot hill. Another thing that would be harder to get away with today, thanks to copyright shit.

A comic, Dirt. Simple little 3 panneler. Meh.

Wouldya like to take a survey. There's a $1 store credit slip in it for you. Things weren't that cheap even then so you'd have to spend more money to take advantage of it. Nice work if you can get it.

Gencon 1976, special guest Fritz Lieber. Not surprising, since they're making a game of his books. Still, 2 full page ads in quick succession, they're really upping the commercial content.

Fiction: What price gold and glory, by Jim Hayes. An unremarkable little encounter tale featuring a werebear and a pixie as the protagonists.

GM advice on town building. This is system free, and the kind of stuff that is still relevant today.

Magical items: The cup and talisman of akbar (no al yet, curiously) staff of the priest kings and the brazen bottle. All familiar to me, and are the sort that seriously change the power dynamics in the game. Give to your players with caution.

Centerfold spread of the Dungeon game store. There really ought to be a way to format pdf's as two page spreads, as it makes things like this a hassle to view properly.

More on the conflict between origins and gen con, and about attempts from the established wargaming crowd to marginalize the new pen & paper gaming style. Another case of the more things change, the more they stay the same. And once again there's the air of you can't stop the new ideas. We know we've got something good and are going to spawn lots of imitators oh baby :D

Finally, a monster I don't recognize. The denebian slime devil. I can see why this one never caught on, as it's basically an unkillable comic relief annoyance monster. The catoblepas, I do recognize however, with its weird combination of weak neck and instakill gaze. Goes to show what players and GM's prefer. DEATH BEFORE HUMILIATION!!!

A third page full of adverts.

A boring essay on the use of missile weapons in historical warfare.

Optional rules giving thieves 18% dexterity scores(a la fighters exceptional strength) which give them bonuses to their thieving skills. Another one I've never seen before and obviously didn't catch on. Frankly 18% strength was arbitrary and dumb enough. We don't need it applied to other abilities as well.

Lots of tekumel stuff. Interesting that easily the best setting stuff in the early days is coming from here. Whatever happened to M.A.R Barker?

An essay by Gygax on what constitutes successful gamemastering. As expected it is quite oriented towards competitive play, chastising GM's who let their players advance level too quickly, and encouraging strict enforcement of timekeeping rules. We also get our first estimation of proper advancement time. According to Gary, it should take about a year of weekly gaming to get to name level, and then characters should gain around 2-3 levels a year after that, so overall, getting to 20th level should take around 4-5 years. So yeah, things have definitely got a lot more slanted in the players favour since then. I suppose since they make up more than 80% of the group at any one time, social pressure would make it happen sooner or later.

With the rapid expansion, there's finally room for things to slip between the cracks, and me to see stuff I haven't before. As a result, this issue definitely feels less consequential, despite (or perhaps because) its the last one. But It's a good deal less dull than issue 5, and as the intermediate between formats, it feels significant historically.
 
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Tom McCambley

Excellent.
Validated User
The strategic review 7: April 1976

Finally, a monster I don't recognize. The denebian slime devil. I can see why this one never caught on, as it's basically an unkillable comic relief annoyance monster. The catoblepas, I do recognize however, with its weird combination of weak neck and instakill gaze. Goes to show what players and GM's prefer. DEATH BEFORE HUMILIATION!!!
That would be because they ripped it off of classic Star Trek...
 
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t@nya

Asgardian rainbow dragon
RPGnet Member
Validated User
That would be because they ripped it off of classic Star Trek...
I knew I recognised the name! It was one of the insults that a klingon directed at Kirk in the Trouble with Tribbles.

I imagine that copyright issues are the real reason the monster was dropped.
 
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