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[Lets read] Dragon magazine - From the beginning

What can I say, I just like polls :)

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Making the Legend
Validated User
Dragon Issue 80: December 1983

part 4/4

Coming soon: Ooooh. Another format change that moves things closer to the magazine that I remember. What better way to encourage strong sales than to always let people know what's coming out in the next month or two. Smart move. We don't want to just pop down to the shops, see what's in at random. Who knows how much we'd miss that way. Anyway, lets see what they've got to offer.
For gamma world, we have The cleansing war of Garik Blackhand. Gee, racial supremacists in a world full of mutants. Whoda thought it.
For star frontiers, Sundown at starmist, and Dramune run. Two more adventures to challenge your players with. (and I know nothing about beyond the teasers here. )
For AD&D, World of greyhawk, the new version of Gary's classic campaign setting.
For D&D, B5: Horror on the hill. Oooh, horror. Boogie boogie boogie.(Aiiee, the dread chant of Kool and the gang! Flee ;) ) And we just had Ravenloft as well. People will keep trying to do horror in D&D, despite it not being particularly suited to it. But then, they don't have the competition in that area yet. And it helps fill in Mystara as well.

Off the shelf: The anubis gates by Tim Powers is a time travel story. Historical and fantastical details are mixed with considerable skill, and the whole thing has a pretty epic plot.
The house of the wolf by Basil Copper also takes a bunch of common tropes, but combines them in an interesting way. Is there really a werewolf out there? Who is it, what exactly can it do, and how do we stop it? You won't be sure till the final credits roll.
The right stuff by Tom Wolfe is a history of the space program, and the elements that go into making up a true hero. How do you get to be the kind of person who can pursue an epic dream and pull it off. An excellent question. We still have quite a few frontiers to penetrate as a species, and it's a shame that our exploration of the universe seems to have stalled since then. And as modern culture shows, if you don't have people doing genuinely amazing things, then people will idolize any old crap that's remotely interesting. But I digress.
Where the evil dwells by Clifford D Simak is a story set in an alternate universe roman empire. A group of heroes venture out into the monster infested wilderness for their own various reasons. The quest turns out to not be so simple and they have to examine themselves and grow personally throughout the adventure. You know the drill by now.
The zen gun by Barrington J Bayley gets plenty of praise from both the reviewer, and Michael Moorcock, of all people. A thought-provoking slice of sci-fi, it does the usual trick of mixing drama with social commentary, including a thoroughly hatable villain. Can get a bit meta, but that's not neccecarily a bad thing.
Bug jack Barron by Norman Spinrad is an amusingly relevant tale of a gadfly tv presenter a la Mark Thomas or Michael Moore. People phone in, he does his best to fix things. But has he taken on a target too big for him to handle this time? Media and politics are uneasy bedfellows, and can often be turned against one-another. This makes for excellent stories.
Lest darkness fall by L Sprague de Camp is another alternate rome story. This time, a guy from the modern world gets transported back in time, and the innovations he introduces end up saving the empire. History is completely changed, but hey, at least he gets a happy ending instead of dying unlamented in squalor in a distant era.
The sea of the ravens by Harold Lamb takes Sir Hugh and Durandal out to the middle east, where he joins forces with Ghengis Khan. I assume it's more tastefully done than that synopsis indicates, because the historical realism gets praised. Along with the rich descriptions, there are some equally lavish illustrations, particularly in the deluxe edition.

Palladium still haven't fixed the spelling mistake in their advert. Tch tch.

What's new covers shopping for monsters. Wormy has monsters getting drunk. The size differential once again raises it's ugly head. Snarfquest is just embarassing. The anachronisms are painful, and going to be integral.

Another mixed bag of good, bad and mediocre stuff. Just like real christmas presents, there's a few things here that you'll wind up using again and again, and a load of stuff you'll play with for a few minutes before forgetting about it and wind up just sticking in the attic to moulder. Overall, a fairly average issue, not too good, not too bad, not too short, not too long. Just a reliable average issue. They seem to be chugging along smoothly again after the lows of last year and the highs of this year. So lets see which way 1984 will take them.


Making the Legend
Validated User
Dragon Issue 81: January 1984

part 1/4

100 pages. Your module design sucks. You always go over the limit, even the good entries. We're sick of the colossal editing and rewriting jobs needed to squeeze them into our self-imposed 16 page limit. So we're not going to publish any more of your amateur attempts. Sorry about that. Now try and avoid splurging over next time. I know it's hard, but you gotta stick closer to the format. Or go to judges guild. Oh, wait. :devil: Anyway, happy new year. Hope you enjoy the mid 80's as much or more than you did the early part. Lets get cracking.

In this issue:

Out on a limb: A letter complaining at them for putting the Wacko world module off-centre, and with adverts in it. They apologize and say they hope they won't have to do it again. Commercial considerations, last minute changes, excuses excuses.
Two more letters asking for out of stock or unreleased stuff. As ever, they have to politely turn them down, for the sake of their own sanities.
A correction to the psionic stuff in issue 78, that on further examination, is wrong in itself. (as far as we can tell, given how badly written the original psionics rules were. ) Sorry reader, you're the one in error this time.
A letter snarking in a rather pretentious manner at those people niggling about realism, quoting Moorcock extensively. Frankly, you're making yourself look dumb, Mr Douglas. Even if we choose not to make our games realistic, it's important to know how they deviate from reality. Awareness is the first step to being able to manipulate things in an informed and predictable way.
A letter complaining about the crappy new paper the last few issues were printed on, as well as the general downslide in quality. Kim gets fairly heated in his rebuttal to this. He certainly doesn't think the magazine is poor quality, or bad value for money. But then, he would say that, even if he didn't really feel it.
A letter asking why most of the articles are for AD&D rather than basic D&D. They reply that OD&D is out of print, so of course they aren't publishing stuff for that, and the new basic sets are being ignored because they want to keep that game simple and not rigidly defined. They may seem like the same game, but they aren't, and we don't reccomend you mix them.
Some rules questions for king of the tabletop.
A letter on psionics, xanth, and more reprint stuff. This gets a very lengthy and considered reply, in which the company line is trotted out again for another lap round the block.
A (possibly joke ) letter from a DM who refuses to let his players read the magazine. They give him a reproving reply, saying any DM who nicks all their ideas from the magazine and modules without any adaption doesn't deserve to be called such. So stop cutting into our profits, dagnammit.

Taking the sting out of poison: Another nerfing article? Noooooo! Oh, I speak too soon. This is actually an attempt to de-nerf things after the last one on this topic went way too far that direction, in the opinion of the writer. A high detail article from someone who has obviously read all the previous articles on the subject, and then did quite a lot of thinking about how to fix the issue. Costs, onset times, social issues, harvesting from monsters, antidotes, all get looked at. If you're running a high crunch game, this looks like a pretty solid expansion to keep poisons useful, but not overpowered, and if you want to run a poison-centric game (Playing a group of adventurer who make harvesting poisons from monsters and selling them one of their primary goals would be an interesting game. ) should be pretty helpful. The level of dryness keeps this from being a classic article, but It's still a solid above average, and if I get the chance I intend to apply the lessons learned here.

Lord Mhoram

Registered User
Validated User
A correction to the psionic stuff in issue 78, that on further examination, is wrong in itself. (as far as we can tell, given how badly written the original psionics rules were. ) Sorry reader, you're the one in error this time.
This letter was buy the guy who did the crappy psionics article in the psionics issue (as opposed to Aurthur Collins who did the good ones).

I love reading old lettercols like that - it's just like Messageboards, and Usenet before it - flamewars, nitpick details arguments and such. Just spread out over a longer period of time. :)


Making the Legend
Validated User
Dragon Issue 81: January 1984

part 2/4

Fiction: In the cleft of queens by Esther M Lieper. A quite distinctively written little tale of outwitting a dragon. Sometimes, the tongues is indeed mightier than the sword. But remember, they've been around longer than you, and they're possibly smarter than you as well. That does not mean losing is inevitable. You've just gotta have style. As they say in Nobilis. The smart man and the strong man may never match up to the god, but the passionate man may impress them. Same principle here.

Eh oop. Looks like the flow of letters has reached a point where they feel the need to split them up. So they're introducing the forum, where the longer debates can take place without direct editorial interference while the straight questioning letters stay at the front. Once again the magazine takes a step towards the format I remember. So lets see what the first batch of comments and complaints are.
Mike Mrozek disapproves of Lew's level of gaming paranoia in issue 79. Ahhh, the military wargamer vs people who prefer freewheeling dramatic fun argument. Already in force as new people stream into the hobby.
David Hutton talks about the horrors of characters who take a single level in fighter, and then dual-class to another one straight away. Er, did you not read the sage advices which made it abundantly clear that you suffer the restrictions of both classes and lose the benefits of exceptional Str and Con if you change classes. Silly person. While the rules are breakable, this isn't one of those cases. And you'd need to be using one of the twinky ability generation methods to do that reliably, anyway. You can easily restrict that.
William L Collins, Ed Zmitravich, Rodney L Barnes, Joseph Wilkinson and Andrew Briggs have pontification about the psionics system, and how to fix it to be more balanced and sensible. These are not all in agreement, of course.
David Carl Argall talks about the beholder ecology, picking holes in their presented hunting strategy and how it interacts with their powers. Remember, beholders are deadly, but slow. Open air environments where their enemies can keep their distance and wear them down are a bad idea. You wanna use disintegrate and telekinesis to build yourself a good dungeon to trap your prey in. Stupid mating habits are a little more excusable, because we know how many dumb and impractical things humans will do in pursuit of sex despite supposedly being intelligent creatures. But we can play around with those as well in our own games.
And finally, Elizabeth Parry weighs in on the sexism found in the magazine. The automatic assumption of masculinity in some articles galls rather to her. Unless there is good reason, the articles should be written from an unbiased perspective.
So there we have it. In a few months, they'll start to get letters diliberately aimed at getting in the forum, and then it'll start building it's own conventions. What debates will we see in future years. Who will become a regular in these pages. How long before the internet makes this feature redundant. Keep tuning in to find out.

The ecology of the basilisk: Ed Greenwood ploughs onward through the monster manual. Nictating membranes. Such a wonderful phrase. Nictating membranes. Aint no passing craze. It means no eye grit, for the rest of your days. Anyway. Let's not filk that again, no matter how easy it is. Before you know it, we'll have vagina dentata, and then we really won't be able to talk about this stuff in front of the kids.
So, Basilisks. Thankfully, like hedgehogs, their exceedingly effective natural defenses mean they have no need for intelligence, and are rather stupid and sluggish as a result. We get plenty of detail on their mating and social habits (like the catoblepas, they need to be rather careful around each other if they don't want to die accidentally. ) personality traits, and of course, how much you can get for selling one. So plenty of stuff that's exploitable in actual play, as well as fluffy stuff. Also notable it the first mention of baldurs gate that I've spotted. We'll be seeing a lot more of that in the future. Overall, another strong article from the master of worldbuilding.

The british are coming! Games workshop starts a big push to make an impact on the international market. Buy their stuff, blah blah blah.
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I'm a boat
Validated User
Thankfully, like hedgehogs, their exceedingly effective natural defenses mean they have no need for intelligence, and are rather stupid and sluggish as a result.
Spoken like somebody who's never had to chase after an escaped hedgehog. :p


Making the Legend
Validated User
Dragon Issue 81: January 1984

part 3/4

Figure feature: Castle creations give us a Mercenaries, spies and private eyes line of figures. A whole bunch of contemporary models for your action based modern situations
Grenadier models offer us a 13 piece set of elf models. Archers, wizards, scouts, and a unicorn rider. You could make a whole army outta that.
RAFM gives us the reptiliad line. Lizard men and their equally reptilian mounts. They get a whole load of fluff too, but you can easily cut that away.
Dark horse designs gives us some more elves, this time concentrating on the wilder side of them, with scanty clothing, mohawks and really big ears. That's an interesting culture clash.
Tag industries gives us a fighter/mage, and a suitably towering messenger of the gods. Scale, you can play with it.

Chariots for characters: Another fun little bit of ancient technology that would be eminently suitable to the D&D game, but gets surprisingly little use in games I've seen, gets the spotlight put on it. So we get costs, rules for using them in combat (which they are rather good for) and historical bumpf. A quite simple but effective article that gives us more cool options to play with for both PC's and monsters.

Cu Chulainn: Giants in the earth may be gone, but it's spirit lives on, in yet another super powerful NPC statblock. You know the drill. A quick regurgitation of the myths involving the character, plus some roleplaying advice. Seen it all before, will probably see it again, still not very keen on the format. Nuff said.

The ruins of Andril: They billed this as an adventure for high level characters. 8-11 still counts as high level for you people? No ambition. I guess once teleporting and resurrection come in, site based adventures don't work very well. Lets give it a shot anyway. Another 16 pager, this is the kind of tournament adventure that does not play fair, and is filled with clever ways to screw the players over and keep their powers from working as expected. It also has an amusing anachronism, plenty of evidence of previous failed adventurers, a time limit, and a nasty sting in the tail just when you think it's over. Contrary to my initial skepticism, I find myself rather liking this, as it's a good example of no mercy old skool design, without being a no hints deathtrap like the tomb of horrors or doomkeep. I could see myself having a lot of fun with this one. Two thumbs up.

Living in a material world: More stuff on equipment. Just because material components have a price doesn't mean they should be easily available. Some of that's rather weird stuff, and you'll have to go hunting for it yourself. (note that this is an important part of keeping spellcasters from overpowering other characters. Even if you don't make them play out all their shopping, deducting costs appropriately to the spells cast will help keep them from blowing powerful spells on every encounter and hogging all the limelight) Like the poison article earlier, this is very useful if you want to play a high detail game where proper resource management is critical.

Off the shelf: Master of the five magics by Lyndon Hardy is a personal favorite of mine, with it's high concept examination of the metaphysics of magic and swift paced clever plotting being a definite influence on my own worldbuilding style. The reviewer is a little less enthusiastic, pointing out that the characters aren't the most deeply developed, and the naming conventions suck. (also flaws I can see in my own work, amusingly enough. ) I can see why someone less scientifically minded wouldn't enjoy it as much as I did.
Soul-singer of Tyrnos by Ardath Mayhar gets almost as scathing a review as her previous books. (see issues 64 and 76) Depth, character development, plot, predictability. This book is weighed, and found very much wanting. One wonders why the reviewer keeps on reading her stuff if he hated the previous ones so much. One to skip without regrets.
The swordswoman by Jessica Amanda Salmonson, on the other hand, does get a quite positive review. While it does feature the same basic plot as her previous novels, as a female warrior is drawn into a fantasy world with very strong japanese tendencies, their characters are still easily as different as say, Conan and Kull. The main point of criticism is the cover, which seems to have been commissioned by people in marketing who haven't read the book. We do not need gratuitous cheesecake.


Making the Legend
Validated User
Dragon Issue 81: January 1984

part 4/4

The role of books: Lew gives us some more good sources for our worldbuilding. This time, he wants to encourage us to stop using medieval stuff so much, and opens our eyes to the possibilities of Greek, Roman and Egyptian based cultures. There were lots of things that they did which differed massively from modern day life, including some which fall under the truth is stranger than fiction umbrella. While of course I cannot recommend wholesale stealing, picking and matching cultural elements will allow you to create a near infinite number of interesting nations to populate your world with. Don't get stuck in a rut.

Reviews: Shadows of yog-sothoth is the classic Call of Cthulhu adventure where you have to try and save the world from the big C himself. Comprised of seven interlinked scenarios, it should provide for months of adventuring. It gets plenty of praise, but is noted as taking quite a bit of effort to run, due to the open-endedness of some sections.
Ravenloft is of course another soon to be classic, that would go on to become the biggest selling standalone module ever, and spawn an entire campaign world around it. The conflict between D&D rules and tropes and those of the horror genre are immediately obvious, and the reviewer judges it as a failure as a horror adventure, especially in contrast to the previous CoC adventure. (he also thinks that gargoyles and golems are not suitable monsters for a horror game, which is a bit dumb. Statues and everyday objects coming to life unexpectedly is a classic horror trope.) However, taken as a challenging D&D adventure with horror trappings, it succeeds just fine, with a strong sense of atmosphere and good visual layout, and an easy to play setup which allows for multiple reruns which still surprise the players, due to the clever fortune reading mechanic. It's certainly a step up from most D&D adventures of this era.
Brotherhood of the bolt is a system free adventure. It has a slight horror slant, but is mostly your standard adventure fare of infiltration tomb-robbing, intrigue, and suchlike. As it is system free, it gets to put a lot of effort into creating good maps, descriptions and characterizations instead. Despite being obviously an amateur production, it does a lot of things that still don't appear in most adventures today, such as timelines and relationship details. Still, competing against two classic products, it struggles to stand out from the crowd.

Dragonmirth is particularly sadistic this month. What's new sees dixie going undercover in draconic society. Wormy is still wanted for wargaming. Snarfquest involves two dramas colliding.

Isengard module for MERP now available. Sounds interesting.

Seems like this issue has a relatively small number of extra long articles. This is not a bad thing, as it means they get to tackle their respective topics in more depth than usual, which is always a problem in episodic periodicals. It's articles also have an unusually high quantity of stuff directly applicable to actual play, in the form of rules expansions and setting building advice. This is definitely a good thing, as they do so without neglecting the fluff, unlike so many 3rd and 4th ed articles of this type. Add in the start of the forum, and reviews of quite a few classic products as well, and you have one of their strongest issues ever. Looks like they've got this year off to a strong start. Lets hope they keep it up.


Soul sucking Lawyer
Validated User
This is definitely a good thing, as they do so without neglecting the fluff, unlike so many 3rd and 4th ed articles of this type.
Your review might make for better reading without the addition of random swipes against games you dont like.

The fact that they are also inaccurate swipes isnt helping either.


Making the Legend
Validated User
Your review might make for better reading without the addition of random swipes against games you dont like.

The fact that they are also inaccurate swipes isnt helping either.
I'm afraid I'm going to have to politely disagree with you there. Snark is fun. I find it fun to produce, and fun to read. And quite a lot of other prople find it so as well. Large quantities of modern media revolve around this fact, and considerable money is made off it. Nor do I dislike 3rd edition. (I'm still ambivilant on 4th, and will reserve judgement until I get a chance to actually play it) If you can't tell the difference between teasing and genuine dislike, I can't fix that.
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