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[Lets read] Dragon magazine - From the beginning

What can I say, I just like polls :)


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Sirharrok

Registered User
Validated User
Dragon Issue 63: July 1982

Particularly interesting is how much less simulationistic computer games have become, despite being able to model reality more accurately.
(thinks back to the computer games of 1982 or so)

In my personal opinion, it's more that the market for computer games has broadened out vastly since 1982.

In the early 1980s, the group of people who played games on home computers were a tiny minority, linked together by magazines that accepted readers' games and published the BASIC code, line by line. (for the record, it was incredibly tedious typing it in and the results were always disappointing, even when you eliminated the 300 'SYNTAX ERROR IN LINE ### RESULTS').

Games were typically written by one person (in their mum's basement) and distributed as cassettes in ziploc bags with a cardboard insert.

The computer gaming community and the wargaming/roleplaying community were basically the same thing, at least in my experience.

Fast forwarding now to 2008: vast numbers of people are playing games, but in many cases it's the new golf. They don't care about conflict simulation; it's all about the graphics and explosions.

But the 'simulationist' games are still around and produced in greater numbers and at a higher level of quality than ever before. They're just a small proportion of much larger industry.

Cheers
Sir Harrok
 

Bleach

Retired User
I never thought of it at the time, but the troupe-style organization from Ars Magica would certainly fit in an old school game. Very different sensibilities, but the same basic structure. All the PCs play wizards and deathmasters and clerics and druids and illusionists and, well, spellcasters. The grogs (fighters, paladins, and such) are effectively a pool of henchmen that the group plays and rotates out as they (inevitably) get slaughtered. Each commands a handful of men at arms that do all the things cannon fodder do. The PCs might have a professional (if distant) sense of responsibility for their pawns, or they might maneuver them with all the callousness of a Grand Master utilizing a chess piece. The skilled types, whether trap-detectors (thieves), or just all those miscellaneous hirelings in the DMG, are hired as needed or kept on retainer (the potential for a siege engineer or sapper and crew in a dungeon is almost limitless). Troupes aren't that far from the D&D default.
You know what's really funny?

This _IS_ how Gygax et al played in their own home group. If you ever get a chance, take a look at enworld where Gygax talked about his own home games.

EVERYONE played spellcasters and the henchmen were the fighters and thieves.
 

(un)reason

Making the Legend
Validated User
Dragon Issue 64: August 1982

part 1/4

87 pages

In this issue:

Dragon rumbles: We get some clarification on the situation between SPI and TSR. TSR loaned them lots of money, with their copyrights as collateral. When SPI collapsed, that means that TSR got the properties, but not the liabilities. That's their justification for screwing over the subscribers anyway. Sneaky. So what are they going to do with them? Try and make some money! Look forward to new games and magazines soon.

Out on a limb: An article expressing displeasure at gary's introduction of traveling spellbooks, saying they make playing magic-users too easy. Hmm. With those prices? Okay then.
A letter complaining about all the optional rules in the magazine going out of print, and asking them to release revised editions compiling the relevant stuff from the magazine.
Another letter of generalized (and quite fulsome) praise.
A letter complaining about the bad advice some Sage Advices give us. Your rules lawyers suck. I could do better.

From the sorceror's scroll: Once again, Gary decides not to use a prexisting article, but make his own Official AD&Dtm Expansion. This time, it's weapons that he's turning his eyes too. From aklys to whip, we have 17 new weapons, including two new polearms (oh yes, it's been a long time.) Even he doesn't seem that enthralled with this topic. He'd much rather be designing new twinked out classes and spells. Is it any wonder fighters ended up so underpowered.

Featured creatures continues to fill out the I can't believe it's not Angelic Heirarchy, with Planetars and Solars (I see what you did there.) Once again, their entire description is a rather excessive laundry list of powers that would be virtually impossible to keep track of and apply to maximum tactical effect in actual play. While I might not agree with the extent which 4th ed trimmed back creature's noncombat powers, after being reminded of these pains in the ass, I have better appreciation of why they made that decision. Once again we can see how many of the flaws in the game's design can be traced right back to the top.

Greyhawk's World: A third article from Gary straight away. He elaborates on the gods of the humanoids, and introduces a new one, Raxivort, the god of the Xvarts. Yet more setting building. Nice to see the various races getting their own gods and spellcasting abilities.
 

(un)reason

Making the Legend
Validated User
Dragon Issue 64: August 1982

part 2/4

Giants in the earth: This month's characters are Taith Lee's Myal Lemyal, John Henry the railroad legend, and Finn MacCumhal. Rather an odd grab-bag, really. I suppose they publish what they're given.

Sage advice: What are the odds if multiple characters try and open a door together (figure it out yourself, based on size of the door, number of handholds, etc. We can't be arsed to even give you guidelines.)
What are the odds for non-thieves to climb walls. (zero. We like our classes rigid in old skool land. )
Does a multiclassed character have to abide by both sets of weapon and armour restrictions? (if they want to use the powers of a class, they need to be abiding by its restrictions at the time.)
Do all the required attributes of a class count as principal attributes for multiclassed characters. (not quite)
If a follower gets higher level than the master, do they continue to serve (probably not, unless you pay them very well. Watch out for them trying to kill you and take your stuff.)
What level do paladins and rangers cast spells at (they cast at 1st level when they first get spells, then gain 1 caster level per level after that)
Do rangers, paladins, bards, or druids get bonus spells for high ability scores (Only druids)
How do racial limits apply to multi-classed characters (divide XP equally between classes. The limits don't change. But even after you've reached max level in a class, it still eats up half your xp, slowing down your advancement in other classes. Because we have to gimp multi-class characters somehow.)
What happens if your ability scores are too low to qualify for any class (roll a new set. Only the cruelest GM would force you to play a character with multiple 3's)

The assassins guild: Ahh, the joy of D&D organizations. Simultaneously monolithic and untouchable, and yet unable to clear a simple 1st level dungeon. This sets out the rules any successful assassins guild needs to follow in a place with ordinary law enforcement. There are a few D&D'isms, such as assassins and thieves guilds always being separate, and never the twain shall exchange skills, and freelancers being caught easily and stamped down hard. But the rest of the rules make sense, basically boiling down to don't shit where you eat. It certainly doesn't have the cleverness of the ankh morporkian guild system. A pretty middle of the road article overall. (great, now I have an image of assassins listening to Boston while on a stakeout)

The assassins run: Following on, we have an assassin based adventure. And Ed Greenwood immediately breaks one of the rules from the previous section, making the thieves and assassins guild in the forgotten realms completely integrated, and giving us a load of realmsian backstory about the lords of waterdeep forcing their thieves guild out, and the survivors plotting revenge. Not that it really matters to the module, as you can insert it pretty much anywhere there's a group that likes to test it's members fitness in a sadistic fashion. You probably won't die doing this, but you may well lose and get seriously humiliated if you aren't ready for anything. Still, if you can't take the training, you've got no chance out there in real dungeons where they're actually trying to kill you. So if you're planning to run your team through an old skool killer dungeon, put them through this as an in game warm up to get them in properly paranoid mood. They'll thank you for it afterwards.
 

(un)reason

Making the Legend
Validated User
Dragon Issue 64: August 1982

part 3/4

Planet Busters: Yay! Another Tom Wham game! This is more complex than his previous games, with a large number of different pieces allowing for lots of different strategies, particularly if you play the advanced version. It almost seems like a precursor to CCG's, as it has plenty of room for expansion. Not sure if I like this one or not. I guess I'd have to play it to find out.

Robots for Traveller: I think you can guess what this one does. As they did in gamma world, they eschew random generation for a point based creature building system. And building one that can match up to a human PC in terms of versatility and power would be exceedingly expensive. Still, there are worse ways to spend your money. And having a robot sidekick or character can be amusing, and do things a human can't. Obviously I can't tell if this is broken, but it seems fairly well thought out.

Fiction: The next-to-last mistake by Paul McHugh. A rather meta story of drama at a fantasy LARP, with archery, chess, romance, moral lessons, and twists, oh my. Reminds me quite a bit of the arabian nights style of storytelling, although without the excesses of story nesting that style can fall into. Another strong bit of fiction that fully justifies it's place here, even without any actual supernatural elements. Two thumbs up. Please don't shoot an arrow through them, even if you can.

Why gamers get together: A bit of a misnamed article, as it's more about the benefits conventions bring to individual gamers. By getting to talk too and play with people from other places, you pick up new tricks, find out about new products, and learn how to work the rules better. Another article that strongly reminds me how much harder it was to disseminate ideas between groups before the internet. Before, if it wasn't on TV, it'd take years to get around, now, ideas can be sent across the world by ordinary people.

Championship Sumo wrestling: Another sports game from Brian Blume. Hmm. This doesn't even pretend to be roleplaying or wargaming related like Ringside. It's just an excuse to get a cool little design he made published, regardless of it's appropriateness to the magazine's theme as a whole. I am somewhat dubious as to how much he gets it. Still, at only a page long, it doesn't matter that much. It's his financial choices we really need to worry about.

The dragon's augury: OGRE gets a new edition, expanding the game to cover a greater range of scenarios, some not even using the eponymous ubertank. Production values have been increased, optional rules from magazine articles have been compiled, and the rules have in general been tightened up. Probably worth making the upgrade, in other words.
Worlds of Wonder takes the BRP system, and applies it to three different settings, a fantasy past, superheros in the present, and future one. Essentially, its both a semi-generic toolbox, and a bunch of example settings with their own genre rules added in to use or raid for parts. While there are some minor design errors, this is a laudable effort, as it shows that the company has realized one size does not fit all games, and you can adapt your rules to better simulate a genre, rather than sticking to an imitation of real life. Game design has come quite a way since the start of the decade.
 

(un)reason

Making the Legend
Validated User
Dragon Issue 64: August 1982

part 4/4

Off the shelf: The dying earth by Jack Vance is a reprint. As it started one of his ongoing series, it's good to have it available again.
The goblin reservation by Clifford D Simak is also a reprint.
Honeymoon in hell by Frederic Brown is a collection of his short stories from the 40's and 50's. Full of puns and other fun, it's a good bit of light reading from a more wholesome age. ( ;) )
The complete robot by Isaac Asimov is a large collection of his short stories on that theme, building a consistent universe, and going to a good length to shape people's perception of robots. Obviously a classic.
Blade Runner by Philip K Dick (not it's original title, but there's a film out, doncha know, so we'll put that in big letters and only put Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep as a little subtitle underneath) is of course a classic. The reviewer once again recommends it heartily.
Outward bound by Juanita Coulson is part two of another series. Sci-fi with a strong element of human drama, it is big without being slow or dull.
Castaways in time by Robert Adams is not part of the horseclans series, instead focussing on a group of modern people swept back to an alternate history england. Much less comedy ensues than you might think.
Warlocks gift by Aradath Mayhar gets a rather negative review, as it contains a mary-sue protagonist, and lots of pointless distractions.
Elephant song by Barry B Longyear follows the story of a troupe of circus performers stranded on a uninhabited planet, and learning to survive. A depressing prospect, entertainers with no-one to entertain. But therein lies the drama.

What's new gives us it's own take on women in gaming. But still no sex. Indeed, much of the strip is involved in preventing it. Wormy continues, with drama meeting comedy, and drama winning for a change.

Ooohh. I.C.E proudly presents the arrival of Middle Earth Roleplaying next month on the back cover. This is a big deal. One of the primary inspirations for the hobby enters that hobby. They must have high hopes for its sales potential, as they're already planning an extensive line of supplements. I guess if any licence could make a profit from RPG's, It'd be this one. I wonder if we'll be seeing articles for the game in the magazine?

Another issue I'm a bit dubious about. With the increase in both advertising and stuff from in-house writers, they are definitely becoming more blatantly commercially driven. Their coverage of games by other companies has dropped dramatically, and it doesn't look like that trend'll be reversing any time soon. If I were a young reader at that point I'd be considering sending them a letter saying pandering only to your core audience is not the way to expand your fanbase. Don't say the halcyon days where the magazine was a centreground for the entire hobby are already over.
 

(un)reason

Making the Legend
Validated User
Dragon Issue 65: September 1982

Part 1/4

86 pages. It's convention season again. Which means off they trot to meet up with the growing legions of fans. What stories will they have to tell this year? What backstage shenanigans will take place. Things are already getting interesting in that respect. We have some stuff on that, and it looks like there's more to come. Plus another full helping of crunch, reviews and games. The D&D train chugs onwards.

In this issue:

Out on a limb: A letter defending Ed's firearms article, pointing out that the weapons in it are still far less damaging and reliable than spells, so the game is hardy broken by their inclusion.
A letter pointing out a bunch of errors in the jester class. It was a joke. Do you really expect perfect mechanical rigour?
A letter expressing confusion at the D&D is satanic crowd. This gets a long-winded reply from kim. You don't have to explain it to us. We're on your side.
A letter talking about the troubles they had with using the umbra as a monster, and the logical problems shadow-fighting presents.
A letter saying ecological stuff, particularly dietary information, should be mandatory for monster descriptions.

Dragon rumbles is written by Gary this issue. It is a fairly lengthy piece about the competition between Gen con and Origins. So you're now the head of by far the most successful company in your field, to the point where other companies are simultaneously sniping at you and imitating you. Just because you've been overtaken that's no reason to pull out and only go to other conventions. That's not a way to produce a unified hobby, or to make money from the conventions. PS. Boycott them if you agree with me ;) So it's another classic Gary editorial full of hyperbole and hypocrisy. What would we do without them? :D

Blastoff!: TSR's got a new game out, Star frontiers. Which means it's promotion time. This is their attempt to do for space opera sci-fi what the basic D&D set did for fantasy gaming, making a more accessable and less gonzo game than their previous two attempts. Which means it's doomed to failure, as this smacks of a game developed around marketing decisions, rather than love. I could be wrong. It could enjoy years of decent sales and play. But Gamma world and Metamorphosis Alpha certainly seem to be remembered more often these days. That's what happens when you forget to put the fundamental weirdness as the foundation for the gloss. You can't make a pearl without grit, after all.

From the sorceror's scroll: Gary turns his eye towards new classes. He has quite a number planned for inclusion in future issues, some which made it (cavalier, thief-acrobat) some which didn't. (savant, mountebank) He also reveals what's at the top of the druid heirachy. (The grand druid, the only 15th level druid in the entire world, with huge personal powers, plus 12 special followers, who's job it is to look after the balance of nature over the entire planet. Now there's a job that would get in the way of regular adventuring. Still, it's not as if you'd be short of things to do in that situation.) He also gives barbarians a new special power so they have a fighting chance against magical creatures, encourages giving your characters proper personalities, and gives Frank Mentzer a promotion. Plus more bitching about the competition. So, he's still got lots of big plans. But how long before he finishes them, flitting between so many projects at once? This is why creative types need a firm editorial hand and deadlines.
 
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