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[Lets read] Dragon magazine - From the beginning

What can I say, I just like polls :)


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g026r

I'm a boat
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Ah, the time-honored tradition of damning through faint praise. I remembered seeing these in stores, thinking that they were pointless and way too expensive, and wanting one anyway. :D
And now they're a collectors' item and still way too expensive. ;)
 

(un)reason

Making the Legend
Validated User
Dragon Issue 83: March 1984

part 1/4

84 pages. Looks like 1984 is going to be a busy year full of changes. Having swallowed Little Wars, a long time ago, they're now eating up ARES magazine. Their attempt to relaunch SPI products must have bombed pretty badly for it to have died this quickly. This means they intend to increase their page count by at least 16 pages per issue, and fill that with more sci-fi stuff. Having seen how wargaming faded away after 1982 or so, I wonder how long this little incorporation'll last before being digested and forgotten about. Oh well, at least it means there'll be a reliable amount of non D&D stuff for me to read for the next year or two, even if it is being ghettoised. It's hardly a terrible development.

In this issue:

Out on a limb is rather short this issue: We have yet more psionics nitpicking from Robert M Schroek. Damn those unclear rules!
Lance J Purple (! :eek: Oh, long johnson, oh rodimus prime. Whyeyeyeyeyey?) asks for reprints. This time, they grant mercy, albeit of an expensive kind. Call Penny Petticord (Where do these people get their names from? I blame the parents. Do they not realize the consequences of what they are doing.) and she'll photocopy articles from out of print issues and send them to you. Well, it's certainly progress. I suppose that is to be lauded.
And finally, we get some questions about the 100 hour marathon D&D session, the procedures for the guinness records, and who to contact if you want to try and beat it. Toilet breaks are permitted, thankfully.

The forum is similarly undersize. Must not be a very debatable time: Scott D Hoffrage picks apart David Hutton's belief that dual classed fighter 1/whatevers are overpowered carefully and mercilessly. You've got tons of annoying restrictions to apply. Of course the character will seem overpowered if you forget them.
John Lester Jr nitpicks about the nature of contact poison. Ho hum.

The many facets of gems: Hmm. Starting off our features this month is a 10 page article about various types of gemstone. One of those things, like herbalism, ecology or fantasy languages, that's fascinating if you're into it, and interminably tedious if you're not. And on this particular subject, I'm afraid I must confess I fall into the not camp. Not to disparage the quality, or game-usefulness for those of you who want to challenge your PC's by setting them specific requirements for building their magical items. Or the rather good bibliography which shows that the author must have put a lot of work into this. But frankly, putting it as the leading article? If I were editor, there is no way that would have happened. Oh well, can't please all the people all of the time.
 

Sleeper

Red-eyed dust bunny
Validated User
Out on a limb is rather short this issue: We have yet more psionics nitpicking from Robert M Schroek.
Wow, just realized something. He's the author of GURP IST, the fairly well regarded super hero setting book (which was built upon the rather poorly regarded rules of the original GURPS Supers).

The many facets of gems: Hmm. Starting off our features this month is a 10 page article about various types of gemstone. One of those things, like herbalism, ecology or fantasy languages, that's fascinating if you're into it, and interminably tedious if you're not. And on this particular subject, I'm afraid I must confess I fall into the not camp. Not to disparage the quality, or game-usefulness for those of you who want to challenge your PC's by setting them specific requirements for building their magical items. Or the rather good bibliography which shows that the author must have put a lot of work into this. But frankly, putting it as the leading article? If I were editor, there is no way that would have happened. Oh well, can't please all the people all of the time.
The best single thing about this article was all the illustrations. I know I had the hardest time trying to figure out what all those obscure gems actually looked like, based soley on the descriptions in the DMG.

Edit: Plus, well, that wasn't the real main article of the issue. There's a certain cannibal witch coming up....

Pat
 
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(un)reason

Making the Legend
Validated User
Dragon Issue 83: March 1984

part 2/4

The ecology of the stirge: Ed contributes another ecology this month. Once again, he's stolen liberally from the biology of real life creatures, (love the bee reference in particular) and then remixed the details to make the stirge actually seem pretty plausible as a creature that could really exist, even without the aid of a mad wizard/genetic engineer to create it. He provides his usual selection of fascinating footnotes, and we have an increasing amount of game information which can be used to make encounters with the little bastards even more annoying. Which is definitely another positive development, as it encourages you to reuse the article, instead of just enjoying the fiction once, and then forgetting about it. See the benefits of actively thinking about what you've done and how to improve upon it. I very much approve, and hope our other contributors take note.

Palladium prints praise from various magazines (and kevin's mom :D ) in it's latest advert, The arms of nargash tor. Also, we have naked faeries. That'll boost sales a bit more. He sure does know how to hustle. And lets face it, that's as important (if not more so, annoyingly) to a company as actually producing decent product.

Fiction: the test of the twins by Margaret Weis. Looks like another member of the gang is here now. Welcome to the very beginning of the Dragonlance saga. Say hello to Raistlin and Caramon, and see the dramatic tension that holds them together, and will ultimately drive them apart. All together now! All you need is AAAaaangst! (do do dodo do) ;) Once again we see the beginning of a new style of D&D adventures, with a greater emphasis on drama, personalities and epic overarching struggles that define the fate of worlds and universes. Sure, it'll generate it's own crimes against common sense and literature soon enough, but for now, it's a breath of fresh air contasted against D&D's current flavour of swords and sorcery which alternates between didactic simulationism and gonzo crossovers. Lets enjoy it while we can, before the kender show up and ruin everything.

The dancing hut: Baba Yaga! Talking of gonzo crossovers! Now this is a classic module. Breaking the usual 16 page limit, and featuring contributions from lots of TSR regulars, this is one of the most impressive, and also most annoying modules they ever produced. Enter the hut of baba yaga. It may seem small from the outside, but inside is an enormous extradimensional mansion that defies logic, and has enough weird stuff inside it to baffle and challenge the most hardened adventurers. Hack and slashers will have a hard time even into the upper teens, while smart lower level characters will be able to negotiate with the inhabitants and possibly come out ahead. This is the kind of adventure that could become the centrepiece of an entire campaign, especially if the PC's wind up working for Baba Yaga for whatever reason. (cue all kinds of fairy tale weirdness in the quests set.) Not only could you explore it for ages and still get lost easily, it can connect to various other dimensions, and introduce all sorts of interesting crossovers. This is definitely one of Dragon magazine's high points, that they obviously had huge amounts of fun designing and running. While not suitable for every campaign, I'm sure many of you have had scarring experiences with this one as well. As ever, actual play experiences are welcome.
 

(un)reason

Making the Legend
Validated User
Dragon Issue 83: March 1984

part 3/4

How to finish fights faster: Roger gives another contribution in quick succession. Gary admits he's never been satisfied with the unarmed combat rules as presented in the DMG. So here's a quicker and easier version, which goes some way to making unarmed attacks more accessable, without sacrificing too many options. It's still pretty useless when up against anyone with real weapons and armour, but that's to be expected, really. At least now you can get into a bar brawl without it taking longer to resolve and involving more page flipping than a climactic boss battle. They are definitely producing more stuff that I could see myself using lately. Yet more evidence that properly patched AD&D v1.5 was quite a different beast to running the core rulebooks as written, and probably more fun, given the number of arcane oddities you needed to cut around.

A look at AOK's, old and new: Our token non-D&D article this month is another teaser for the Top Secret companion. And once again, they haven't chosen a very interesting way to present it. Five new areas of knowledge are introduced, bringing the total up to 42 (!) That's rather a lot of skills. Many designers these days actively avoid massive lists like that, as experience has shown that they are frequently actively detrimental to the fun factor of a game. And here they are engaging in lengthy pontification on exactly what you can do with each of them at different levels of skill as if that's something that will stoke people's enthusiasm for the game. Given the benefit of hindsight, I am forced to sigh and shake my head at this. Poor naive game designers, thinking that more is always better. Roger's realized this, but it'll take a while to catch on, and some people'll never get it. Ho hum.
 

(un)reason

Making the Legend
Validated User
Dragon Issue 83: March 1984

part 4/4

Reviews: The James Bond, 007 rpg and it's current supplements get the spotlight on them this issue. The basic book swiftly explains how the game works in the first few pages, and then gives you plenty of specifics. It seems we have an early occurance of a universal resolution mechanic, as virtually everything is done by determining the difficulty, and then rolling on the same table to see how well you did. This of course makes it much easier to learn than D&D with it's tons of exceptions. On the negative side, that does mean you have to narratively define exactly what your degree of success or failure in an action means, which may take some getting used too. Still, given the fairly freewheeling nature of the source material, that seems entirely appropriate. It certainly contrasts pleasantly with the high crunch approach taken by Top Secret in the preceding article.
The Q manual is of course the gadget supplement. It keeps up the fairly rules light approach of the corebook, but describes the various devices with a level of dry wit that not only makes for good reading, but should help spark your imagination for the unorthodox uses each can be adapted to. After all, you can't carry everything without spoiling the line of your suit, so sometimes you'll just have to use your laser pen to clean out a clogged drain. And of course, you can steal and adapt these gadgets to other games as "magical items" So it's all good.
The gamesmaster pack gives you a chunky chart full GM screen and lots of other little tactile aids which should help you represent action sequences and stuff. The kind of thing that you can take or leave, but certainly doesn't hurt.
And on top of that we already have several modules, with more supplements to come. Looks like they're doing pretty well at the moment.

Dragonmirth is a bit lopsided. Talanalan has a computer in his car. This is not as easy or useful as it would be these days. Wormy is wary of long-jawed mudsuckers, with good reason. What's new doesn't do sex in D&D because Phil wants to sleep. Typical. Snarfquest gets the treasure and the girl. Don't worry, things'll get complicated again for him soon.

A tricky issue to comment upon. One one hand, most of the articles in this issue are of very high quality, even the ones that aren't particularly to my taste. On the other hand, they seem to be going through one of their periods of advertising expansion, so the ratio of articles to adverts is not great, and I feel a bit unfulfilled, as if it was over too quickly. Then again, I still have hundreds of issues to go, so I guess I should be grateful that some of them are easy ones. And since from next month the average size will be increasing quite a bit, I expect there'll be quite a few ones that are a struggle to get through before we finish. So lets press onwards, see what strange new worlds ARES will bring to my attention. Once again 1984 is proving to be a very interesting and varied year for the people of TSR.
 

(un)reason

Making the Legend
Validated User
Dragon Issue 84: April 1984

part 1/4

100 pages. No april fools stuff this year. They are slacking rather. But then, with the serious changes they're making to the magazine, they just don't have the right mood, or the energy. The death of one of your sister magazines is not the kind of thing you laugh at. You never know when your own fortunes could decline suddenly and before you know it you're the next on the chopping block.

In this issue:

Out on a limb: A letter pointing out that the peryton in the MM is described as having claws, while the one in the Ecology article has hooves. They reply that they did that diliberately just to annoy pedants like him. :p They've learned from the gem dragon debacle. So canon be damned. Having hooves makes them even weirder, so why not.
A letter asking if the stuff from the dragonquest article could be adapted to D&D. They reply sure, you can convert anything from any system to another. Fundamental ideas generally retain their strength (or weakness) no matter what you do with them.
Some errata on sleep gas. It's still nasty, but less so now the error is removed.
A letter grumbling about how out on a limb ain't what it used ta be. Why make the forum? Things were fine before. grumble mutter grumble darn kids getoffa ma lawn.
Two letters pointing out errors in recent modules. Here we go again. An editors job is a thankless task. Ignored when you do things right, and yelled at when you do things wrong.

The forum: Edward R Masters pontificates about the nonsensibility of the various elemental planes. Oh, don't be such a pessimist. Yeah, if you change one bit of the physics, you have to keep changing other bits, until things all add up again. But that does not make them inherently unsolvable or unadventurable. Put a can do face on! And sing a happy song! You'll get nowhere if you never start because you think it'll always go wrong!
Peter Bregoli thinks the forum as it stands is all together too focused on grumbling about things that are wrong. We ought to talk about our cool ideas more. That's the spirit lad.
Ken Hughes thinks that the combat charts are unneccacary. We ought to just figure out what bonuses a character has, and roll against the enemy AC. Maybe we should even flip around the AC system so higher is always better, and the whole thing becomes more intuitive. Radical ideas man! They'll never catch on.
Bill Cavalier thinks Dragon ought to do more articles on the various conventions. They're the lifeblood of the hobby, after all. Yes, I do recall when they had extensive articles on the introduction of the giant modules to the conventions. Obviously, you can't innovate like that every year, but that doesn't stop you from talking about what it was like, the cool stuff you saw, and so forth. They've made interesting articles about that in the past, and they could do so again.
Jeff Naiman has some commentary and suggestions on the poison article from issue 81. What benefit is neutralize poison when the victim is dead straight away.

A cast of strange familiars: Yup, It's time for wizard's oft-neglected animal companions to get an article examining them. What creatures are suitable, how should they be statted out, what special powers and limitations should they have. We get a reiteration of the deadliness of housecats and other small animals in D&D, and an attempt to fix this. We also get a look at the problem of falling damage
for big and small creatures, and an attempt to fix that as well. In short this is an intelligent and considered article that would be dull if not for this wry eye toward the absurdities of the D&D system making it likable. It could definitely have done more to expand on the system, rather than just examining it, though. A rather mixed way to start off the issue.

The ecology of the trapper: Hmm, said Edward Greenwood. What shall I send in to Dragon this month? Time is a-passing, and Elminster hasn't shown up to disrupt things for a while. I know! Another ecology. That's always good for a sale, and I can whip them up in my sleep by now. Don't I just have the coolest job in the world. And so another of the strange creatures inhabiting D&D dungeons had it's lifecycle intimately probed in the name of Science! This of course involves questioning unsavory and cantankerous characters, as such monsters do not sit still to be investigated. But if he can wheedle usable information out of Elminster, everyone else should be child's play by comparison. ( I wonder if we will see an ecology of the doll golem at some point? ;) ) This is another well-written article from the master of worldbuilding, with plenty of detail in both the flavour and the game information sections. The amount of footnotes continues to grow, this time they actually cover more space than the fiction itself. This always happens, doesn't it. When someone has a good idea, it expands rapidly until it outgrows it's welcome, and then has to be shrunk back down again until it reaches a good balance with everything else again. Funny to think the series has only been around for a year, and is in some ways still finding it's feet like that. It already seems like one of the indispensable parts of the magazine. Now we just have to worry about running out of monsters to cover.
 

(un)reason

Making the Legend
Validated User
Dragon Issue 84: April 1984

part 2/4

Figure feature: This month's featured models are a bunch of atlantean guards, a sultan on a magic carpet, a naga, a bunch of orcs, Bast, a centaur, A knight riding a boar, a wizard riding a dragon, and some weird alien creatures. Nothing too out of the ordinary then.

Off the shelf: The sleeping dragon by Joel Rosenberg transports ordinary students into their own RPG game, where they have to master the skills of their characters if they want to survive. Not the most original idea, but executed well in this case.
The Aquiliad by Somtow Sucharitkul is another of his alternate history books. What would happen if rome conquered America? It probably wouldn't turn out quite like this, but it's still a punfully entertaining romp through all manner of fantastical occurrances. Caught between mad emperors, and an equally mad reality, the protagonist has to try and survive and carry out his mad orders, with a little help from his friends.
The war for eternity by Christopher Rowley is another "immortality drug is discovered, ugly resource wars happen" book. Moral issues are raised, humanity behaves in inhumane ways to itself and others, and the aliens get plenty of interesting characterization (which is probably more sympathetic than the humans get) as well.
The man in the tree by Damon Knight is a story of a man with the power to transport things from other dimensions, and how he reluctantly grows into the messiah he really doesn't want to be. Religion and social responsibility are funny things, and this looks at both of them with an insightful eye.
Escape Velocity by Christopher Stasheff is a prequel to his Warlock books. His tongue is firmly in cheek as his protagonists bounce from dimension to dimension, experiencing increasingly insane adventures.
The mirror of helen by Richard Purtill is a book about Helen of Troy. Sure, she might have been the most beautiful woman in ancient history, but what was the person behind the face like? This tells her story from the viewpoint of the people around her, throwing new angles on the myth in a way similar to Marion Zimmer Bradley's retelling of arthurian legend. Which is neither a bad idea, or badly done.
Alanna: the first adventure by Tamora Pierce is a kid friendly fantasy adventure obviously aimed at hooking younger readers (get 'em young, and they're yours for life, as the smoking companies say. ) In that role, it serves perfectly well, with a fast paced plot, and simple but well defined characters. Give it to your kids for christmas or something.
The dragon waiting by John M Ford gets our token slating this month. A retelling of the story of Richard III from different perspectives, it jumps between it's characters in an abrupt manner, and the pretty descriptions don't really add up to much plotwise. You've gotta have a purpose beyond just writing for writings sake.
The wild shore by Kim Stanley Robinson is a story of postapocalypic america. They managed to piss of the rest of the world enough that they got bombed into the dark ages, and are now watched and prevented from developing new infrastructure. My, how topical that would have seemed a few months ago. And it will probably seem so again sometime, since these things tend to come in cycles.

Never the same thing twice: Rakshasas. One of the scariest and most flavourfull monsters in the game, thanks to their brutal resistances and highly customisable powers. Scott Bennie looks at them, and their mythical inspirations. Obviously, D&D couldn't fit them all into a single monster, but it actually hasn't done too bad a job this time at converting them to a coherent gameable form. Like Lunars, their reputation as illusionists somewhat exceeds the reality, and is based largely on their ability to disguise themselves. Still, if you enjoyed deceiving people, that kind of misrepresentation and manipulation is exactly what you'd do as well. We also get a load of new crunch in the form of two variant high power rakshasas, and their god, Ravanna. Another of those cases where the game, and it's foibles are illuminated, while still providing some useful and interesting stuff. And more evidence of their ability to better balance fluff and crunch. Which is cool.

And then there were three: At last, the companion set. Frank Mentzer gives us a teaser for the players book of the high level. We also get the first mention of the fifth set to cover play beyond 36th level. Immortal level is on its way. Nice to see someone likes the idea of really high level play. Funny how BD&D ended up catering to that style so much better than AD&D. Anyway, he talks about settling down and building strongholds for the various classes, the new variant classes such as druids and paladins, and the interesting workaround demihumans get so they still improve after reaching maximum level, unarmed combat, and demihuman magic items. We see the odd mix of simplification, and putting his own spin on things from AD&D that these sets would contain. Like the top secret teasers, they definitely need to work on their selling technique. They're still a far cry from the well presented and paced reveals that the 3rd and 4th edition runups had.
 

Sleeper

Red-eyed dust bunny
Validated User
Never the same thing twice: Rakshasas. One of the scariest and most flavourfull monsters in the game, thanks to their brutal resistances and highly customisable powers. Scott Bennie looks at them, and their mythical inspirations. Obviously, D&D couldn't fit them all into a single monster, but it actually hasn't done too bad a job this time at converting them to a coherent gameable form. Like Lunars, their reputation as illusionists somewhat exceeds the reality, and is based largely on their ability to disguise themselves. Still, if you enjoyed deceiving people, that kind of misrepresentation and manipulation is exactly what you'd do as well. We also get a load of new crunch in the form of two variant high power rakshasas, and their god, Ravanna. Another of those cases where the game, and it's foibles are illuminated, while still providing some useful and interesting stuff. And more evidence of their ability to better balance fluff and crunch. Which is cool.
Like many other mythological creatures, the MM's rakshasha were only loosely based on the original sources. Also, they were one of the strangest beasts from a mechanical standpoint, especially with their susceptibility to blessed crossbow bolts and huge spell immunity. This was a good, solid article providing some of the mythology behind the classic Indian monster (anything that introduces 11 year olds to the Ramayana is a good thing), and a more reasonable (if not more flavorful) set of stats.
 
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