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[Lets read] Dragon magazine - From the beginning

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(un)reason

Making the Legend
Validated User
Dragon Issue 85: May 1984

part 2/4

Clerics must be deity-bound: Talking of roleplaying clerics of different gods appropriately. Here's a load of advice on just that. They are predictable. Thankfully this is a quick one that doesn't outstay it's welcome, and has plenty of important points. Gods of the same alignments can have very different portfolios, and gods with similar portfolios can be bitter rivals and enemies. Clerics can have various degrees of devotion to their gods ideals, ranging from fanatical devotion, to propitiation out of fear or self interest. Deity drama is another one of those bits of worldbuilding that's often left out, but adds quite a bit to your game if you include it. After all, legends like that can be turned into instant plot hooks. A nice way to finish of the themed section.

Figure feature is only a single page long this time. This month, we get the elfquest characters made into mini's, plus some various lizardy monsters and weird things. Rather a filler article really.

A new edition of starfire? Interesting. That's been one of their regular games to review. I wonder what they'll think about it this time.

Problems by mail: Scammers, flakes, neurotics, asshat twink players, rapid and expensive edition changes. Just a few of the ways that your PbM experience can be ruined, and you can wind up wasting substantial sums of money. Not that it's easy on the other end either. Processing all the info from hundreds of letters takes quite a bit of work. But that does not excuse unprofessionalism. You ought to do the research and get the resources before you get in the kitchen. So Rick Loomis is setting up an organization that will examine PBM companies, and make sure they're up to scratch in terms of professionalism. If you're scammed, complain to them, and they'll make sure word gets around. That way, the good can flourish, the bad can perish, and capitalism can continue on it's merry way. Hooray! Well, that's good to know, anyway. Hard to argue with the idea, although I know that the implementation of these things can become unpleasantly bureaucratic. Another interesting footnote in the history of gaming as a whole that I wonder if we'll hear any more about.

The ecology of the ixitachitl (I hope I spelled that right): Ed gives us another ecology, tackling the demogorgon worshipping manta rays. While intelligent, they do not think remotely like humanoids, given their drastically different environment, lifestyle, and physiology. And despite not having hands, their magical abilities and vampiric rulers make them quite capable of being allmighty pains in the ass to other undersea creatures. For a second time, the amount of footnotes exceeds the amount of actual description, and contains extensive rules clarifications and suggestions. And of course, a guide on how to pronounce their dreadfully annoying name. While the game information is exemplary, the fiction on this one is a bit dull, as if Ed was on cruise control when he wrote it. Still, even an average Ed article is well above the general average in terms of overall quality.

Fiction: Valkyrie settlement by Susan Shwartz. Honor and valor come in many forms. And as important as knowing when and how to fight is knowing when not to fight. Sometimes oaths have to be broken. Sometimes losing with style can be better for you in the long run than winning at any cost. In short, things aren't always black and white, even in a proud warrior culture. This is a pretty cool bit of fiction, that manages to incorporate historical and supernatural stuff, cool fight scenes, and gender politics. Amazing how much depth some people can fit into these little stories.

Three cheers for beowulf: Like they did for bounty hunters, they make another attempt at reminding us the D&D isn't all one true way by presenting us with three different versions of his stats. While always a fighter with ridiculously high strength, his level and other stats vary in their twinkedness between incarnations. As ever, he has powers PC's can't match, and may overshadow them if included in a game. As a thought exercise, and a demonstration of how different writers can interpret the same material, this is quite interesting. As something that's useful for an actual game, not so much. Like so much of the GitE material, this winds up leaving a bad taste in my mouth.

The twofold talisman part two: Another 10 pages finish off this module. The dreadful humour becomes even broader and more irritating in this installment. The screwage also continues, with quite a few annoying tricks that automatically work with no chance to resist. And a poorly done wizard of oz ending. Ugh. Once again, I reiterate, do not put this into a regular campaign. Most players will hate you for it. Definitely not one of the magazines high points.
 

(un)reason

Making the Legend
Validated User
Dragon Issue 85: May 1984

part 3/4

Ooh. New module submission guidelines. As with their general guidelines, these are a combination of the obvious, such as type it up properly, keep a copy for yourself, Spelling, punctuation, grammar are critical, stay in theme, don't rip off currently existing modules wholesale, and the specific, like don't send a module in to multiple companies at once, avoid railroading and deus ex machina (A rule you guys really ought to remember to stick to yourselves), keep the size between 8 and 16 pages, and stay out of Greyhawk. As ever, the details change, but the basic principles remain the same. Interesting that they are currently trying to avoid "unrealistic" and nonsensical dungeons. Also interesting is the avoidance of "family unfriendly" topics. They don't want to engage in any social commentary at all. Honestly, being controversial got you one of the biggest publicity boosts in your existence. Why would you want to avoid that? Still, I guess it leaves a big hole in the market open for White Wolf to exploit. And listening to media misrepresentation does get deeply tiresome.

Fiction: A stone's throw away by Roger Moore. Part two of our dragonlance teasers. Say hello to Tasslehoff Burrfoot. Bloody kender. If anything causes more irritation to both their friends and their enemies, I don't want to know about it. Especially when they have narrative protection as well as plenty of skill, so things always turn out all right for them. I mean, Demogorgon likes him. Admiral Crankypants himself. What chance do we have? As ever, Roger's writing is pretty good, even when it's subject matter and the implications it has for the game might not be. For now, they can keep their optimism.

Reviews: Warhammer FRP gets a fairly positive review from Ken. It is quite a bit better at presenting large scale fights than most RPG's on the market, and while the human scale stuff is rather simplistic, at least it's fast and easy to make new characters. They already have a supplement mill up and ready. It provides a nice middle ground between wargaming and full RPG's.
Reaper is the warhammer system's predecessor. Like OD&D, it requires substantial GM extrapolation and houseruling to make work. While it still has plenty of interesting elements, these days, it would probably be preferable to salvage the ideas and transplant them into a more robust system.
Lost worlds is a cleverly detailed combat system based around selecting maneuvers and going to the appropriate page on a little booklet. This does rather limit the range of character and creature types you can play within the system, and buying a booklet for each type will get expensive. This is the problem with that level of tactical detail. Every addition multiplies out the overall permutations and resulting complexity. But it does allow for an exceptional amount of transparency, ease of use and realism for the amount of detail covered.
Cry havoc is a fantasy wargame. Well presented, easy to learn, with plenty of interesting scenarios, it gets easily the most unreserved praise of the reviews here. Another of those cases where what gets good reviews at the time, and what survives longest bear little relation.
WHFRP also gets a second review by Katharine Kerr. This is rather less enthusiastic than the first one, calling out the absolutely terrible typing and editing. While the mass combat stuff may be a good game under the poor presentation, the human level stuff is lacking in basic abilities, and the random generation produces ridiculous results. In short, in her opinion it needs to seriously clean up it's act next edition if it wants to be a usable game on the individual scale. Like the fiend folio and call of cthulhu reviews, these varying perspectives are very interesting in hindsight. The different reviewers place different amounts of weight on the flaws of the product, and have different priorities in their gaming. Who's side are you on?

Are's section:

The federation guide to luna: Part two of our lunar series, and they turn their eye on the star trek universe. As this is pre TNG, (another instance where things seem very dated) this may not be compatible with future canon. As it's now pretty easy to get too and from (the waiting time at either end is way longer than the traveling time. ) and well settled, this is definitely not a place you boldly go where no man has gone before. More a place where you can engage in research and politicking without feeling in too much danger (at least, until someone accidentally destroys the universe again. ) Better than last issue's attempt (we already know the federation is a happy utopian culture, so there's no need to make a point of rubbing it in) this is still more than a little dull. Could you try and put some more adventure hooks in next time please.

Gamma hazards: Three new weird and disturbing monsters for gamma world here. Fungimals are rather creepy. They take the form of a harmless little herbivore, and then when eaten, infect the eater and transform them into a giant puffball which then releases more little harmless tasty looking creatures. And the circle of life continues. Not a good way to go.
Humbugs are one of those creatures based off a bad pun. They transform into mundane objects, and create illusions to make people think that they work. Much irritation ensues.
Jungle lurkers are psychic plants that drain life energy while creating illusions as a decoy. The closest to a straight up combat encounter here, they're still gonna be a pain in the ass to catch and defeat.
All in all, an imaginative and entertaining set of creatures. Unlike the last set, back in issue 75, the humour doesn't get in the way of their usefulness. And their core ideas could be adapted for other games with great relish. I can see myself deriving quite a bit of sadistic use from these.
 

g026r

I'm a boat
Validated User
Reviews: Warhammer FRP gets a fairly positive review from Ken. It is quite a bit better at presenting large scale fights than most RPG's on the market, and while the human scale stuff is rather simplistic, at least it's fast and easy to make new characters. They already have a supplement mill up and ready. It provides a nice middle ground between wargaming and full RPG's.

[...]

WHFRP also gets a second review by Katharine Kerr. This is rather less enthusiastic than the first one, calling out the absolutely terrible typing and editing. While the mass combat stuff may be a good game under the poor presentation, the human level stuff is lacking in basic abilities, and the random generation produces ridiculous results. In short, in her opinion it needs to seriously clean up it's act next edition if it wants to be a usable game on the individual scale. Like the fiend folio and call of cthulhu reviews, these varying perspectives are very interesting in hindsight. The different reviewers place different amounts of weight on the flaws of the product, and have different priorities in their gaming. Who's side are you on?
Just a note that, depiste the name they give in magazine, those reviews are actually for the first edition of the Warhammer miniature rules -- which at the time was subtitled "The Mass Combat Fantasy Role-Playing Game". WFRP actually won't be along for a few more years.
 

Littleredfox

Registered User
Validated User
Dragon Issue 84: April 1984

part 3/4
Is this typical of the game's attitude in general, or a flaw of this writer in particular?
Space Opera's Lunar Republic takes its early history from "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" but that was several hundred years ago and Terra is in SO's current time basically Earth from the original Star Trek. So I think the writer's biases are showing.
 

(un)reason

Making the Legend
Validated User
Dragon Issue 85: May 1984

part 4/4

Preventing complacency in Traveler gaming: Another fairly unexceptional "the stats don't tell you everything about a thing article. We've had them for alignment. We've had them for class. We've had them for sex and race. Now we have them for planets. Flesh out your planets beyond the basic infoblock, include ideas that you can't get by simply rolling, remember that what the galactic guidebook says may not be accurate for whatever reason. We've read articles like this before. We'll probably read many more of them in the future, for all kinds of games. The basic principles remain the same, and are as valid as ever. Doesn't stop this one from feeling like filler material.

Coming soon, the marvel super heroes RPG by TSR. Which means that it'll get plenty of representation in this magazine if it's popular.

Lions, tigers and superheroes: Ahh, animal stats. If a game doesn't include them, people'll complain until they get them (and if they do, chances are, they'll complain about them being unrealistic, but hey ho. ) This tackles that little topic in the Champions system. Which means lots of crunch packed into a small article. Given the effect based build, these are pretty logical and easy to understand. Dunno why people couldn't just build their own. Still, it's just the kind of thing this section should be providing, crunchwise. It could be more impressive, but it could also be a lot worse. Roger Raupp contributes some rather poorly proportioned art. I guess that's genre appropriate :p

Starquestions: Or Sage advice goes Sci-fi. This month, they're tackling Star frontiers, but they also intend to cover their other sci-fi properties such as Gamma world. (guess Boot hill and Gangbusters' rules questions will go unresolved though. ) As ever, lets see what inanity people present Penny & co.
Who created star frontiers (Dave Cook & Lawrence Schick. Read the credits in the books. )
Will we ever get to see the prepublication version of the game. (Nah. We rewrote it because it sucked. You wouldn't enjoy it anyway. )
What's the difference between regular Star Frontiers and Alpha Dawn (Marketing. It makes you do crazy things sometimes.)
Can you play star frontiers with D&D (No. Our friendliness to crossovers is currently declining. We'd never approve something like expedition to the barrier peaks these days.)
Can we use the new aliens from the modules as PC's (We do not recommend it, as they are not balanced in the slightest. )
Can a dralasite split in two. (no)
Can a dralasite ooze under a door (no)
Can a dralasite roll (yes, but it isn't the most efficient way of moving)
Can a Vrusk carry someone on their back (Yes, but with lots of complaining)
Can the PC races interbreed (Ick. No. Not even by artificial insemination )
Can you create a genetic superman. (Only as an NPC. Again, game balance, yah boo. )
Why isn't psionics in Star Frontiers (We didn't feel it fit in properly. Not every game needs a magic equivalent. )
How much do skills cost (new level x3, each level bought up individually. It's a bit more complicated than a level system, but you'll get used to it.)
Can I make a jack of all trades PSA ( :sigh: There's always one. Don't the current ones have enough versatility for you. )
Which cost is correct for the standard equipment pack (The cheaper one)
How do gas masks work for aliens (they need to have them specially made. This is particularly problematic for dralasites)
How much tornadium do you get for 50 credits (50 grams. The rest of the weight is protection. You don't want an explosive that unstable exposed to the air. )
Why don't grenades have masses. (because they're too light. You can carry as many as common sense dictates. Don't tell me you still haven't got some of that, when we've said you need it so many times.)
How do you handle vehicle mounted weapons ( Mechanically, fairly leniently. In terms of in game laws, expect trouble. )
What new modules are coming out (Not telling. :p Go to your local shop regularly, see what's in.)

Huh. TSR and GAMA have kissed and made up. What heart warming news. Now the whole hobby can work together to make better conventions. Whatever happened to GAMA, anyway. You never hear people talk about it anymore. Does it exist? Do the various companies still bother to pay dues. Or has it joined the great dustbin of history.

Wormy goes off on a random tangent again. Talanalan has some railroady GM'ing. Snarfquest blows stuff up and gets away.

Although they've had longer issues in terms of page count, this is possibly their biggest yet in terms of actual game content. Or at least, due to the proliferation of small articles, it's resulted in my longest review yet. :p I have to wonder just how I'll deal with their peak size 90's issues. My writing style's already changed quite a bit. Just what will several hundred more issues do to it? But I shouldn't digress. This is certainly not a bad issue overall, but it does have some annoying bits. At least the Ares section is a definite improvement on the first one, and it's not overloaded with adverts. But it doesn't have any real classic standout articles either. I guess we'll have to file this one under average.
 

(un)reason

Making the Legend
Validated User
Dragon Issue 86: June 1984

part 1/4

100 pages. Welcome to their 8th birthday. Too old for every one to feel significant, but not a big round number like 10 yet. They're still trying something special, with a full-on cut-out cardboard castle for you to construct yourself. Which is pretty ambitious, really. Plenty of other stuff too. They certainly won't run out of ideas any time soon. But the important question is, is it good? Very good question. As ever, gentle readers, I shall attempt to inform and entertain you.

In this issue:

Out on a limb: A letter asking if familiars can be raised (not easily)
A letter asking if lycanthropy caused by magical items is contagious (not normally ) These two feel more like sage advice questions than letter ones. What's up with that.
Now this is more like it. Eric Field points out a mistake in the poison article in issue 81, and then asks if they ever plan to do a listing of gamers again. They reply that with circulation in the hundreds of thousands, if they tried that these days it'd take up a whole issue. Not feasable or desirable.
A letter engaging in generalized complaints about how the magazine has gone downhill in the past year. Too many cartoons, too many adverts, not enough stuff from Gary & Len, etc etc. Kim replies, but doesn't seem very enthusiastic about it.
Some nitpicking on the nature of gemstones.
A letter asking how you get special rates for conventions. This of course varies considerably from convention to convention.

The forum: Mike Beeman has great difficulty comprehending the concept of multidimensional space. A universe can be unlimited in size in multiple dimensions, but still bounded in the others. And via the miracle of four dimensional folding, it can be infinite, but still have sections which border on other infinities. Is that so hard to comprehend. All it takes is a little advanced geometry knowledge. That you're finding it hard to understand does not make it inherently incomprehensible, merely that you haven't built the right mental model yet.
Jennifer Walker offers a possible rebuttal as to why Dragon doesn't promote Gen Con more.
Russell Thorp has some optional rules from keeping players from combining every herb at once to make a super-healing poltice. Can't have the nonmagical options overtaking the magical ones.
Jeff de Remer has some thoughts on alignment and the nature of paladinhood. Because the 9 alignments are equal, it ought to be no harder to follow any one than the others. But exemplars of an alignment still need to be held to higher standards than anyone else.
And finally, Kirk Everist thinks that the forum is a good idea, and the two types of letters sent to the magazine should stay separated. Well, of course you'd print one of those. ;)

The ecology of the slithering tracker: It was born in the strategic review. Now it's back in the magazine, courtesy of Ed Greenwood. It may not seem like the most threatening of creatures, but then, the really nasty ones rarely do. Before you know it you're turning into a giant puffball, being sucked dry of all your moisture, desperately trying to get that little squirming thing out of your urethra, or having your brain eaten from the inside because you listened at a door without using protection. The slithering tracker is unusual among oozes because it's really rather clever. Which is good for it, because otherwise it'd be doomed, as it doesn't have effective combat attacks, or proper manipulators. In a way, it's so helpless in the face of most other dungeon inhabitants that like kobolds, you're almost rooting for it to succeed despite the odds. As it is, it's the kind of monster that kills silently and unexpectedly, which rarely makes players happy. Because they're intelligent, you can invent all manner of tricks to lure the players into a false sense of security. Ed is his usual loquacious self in matters of their physiology and behavioral habits, inventing a whole bunch of cool little details beyond the basic monster description, most of which will be relevant in actual play. So it's just another masterful contribution from the king of setting depth then.
 
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DMH

Master of Mutant Design
Validated User
Gamma hazards: Three new weird and disturbing monsters for gamma world here. Fungimals
Humbugs
Jungle lurkers are psychic plants
I think I ignored this article because the names were so silly, but they are a great trio of monsters. And the lurkers are leaf insects, related to walking sticks. I wonder why the artist didn't bother including them?
 

BigJackBrass

Two Separate Gorillas
Validated User
Will we ever get to see the prepublication version of the game. (Nah. We rewrote it because it sucked. You wouldn't enjoy it anyway.)
Or, to quote Lawrence Schick:

"The systems were originally designed for players aged 14 and up, then heavily revised (without play-testing) for younger players, resulting in some very muddled rules."

Hmm... I wonder which version I trust more... :D
 

(un)reason

Making the Legend
Validated User
Dragon Issue 86: June 1984

part 2/4

Familiars with a special use: Stephen Inniss returns to the topic he covered in issue 84, albeit with a different slant. Last time, he examined the natural animals. This time he focusses on the magical creatures wizards can persuade to bond with them. Firstly, he asks why should lawful and chaotic evil wizards get the cool extraplanar servants, and provides analogous creatures for the other 7 alignments. Then he adds three more little magical beasties for those of you who would prefer more options in the pseudodragon mould. Obviously, there's a lot more new crunch in here than the last one, which means you're more likely to want to refer back to it in play. As with imps and quasits, these guys are substantially more powerful than their masters at low levels, and should be treated accordingly. Exercise caution with letting a 1st level PC get one. But they're no more broken than the existing examples (yeah, everyone loves instadeath poison), so I don't have a problem with them in the larger sense, and can happily add them to my list of cool things I'd like to use in a game sometime.

The warrior alternative: Dragonquest gets another article. They may have virtually stopped coverage on non-rpg's, but somehow this little fella has slipped through the cracks. At the moment, not taking a magical course makes you a strictly sub-optimal character, as there's nothing else for you to spend that time on. It's a persistent problem, wizards being more badass than everyone else. So why not allow the characters to train in nonmagical skills with that time and money. It still probably won't make you quite as scary as a high power wizard, but at least it's something. And bringing a game closer to being balanced is usually to be lauded. I quite approve.

Five new enchanted objects: One of those articles that does exactly what it says on the tin.
The staff of the coatl lets you summon one of the aforementioned goody goody snakey snakes, and gives you a bunch of their other powers if you're of an appropriate alignment.
The scepter of defense gives you L337 parrying skillz. This is of course only useful against the kind of attacks you can parry. So pick your enemies wisely. Or give it to a Duelist, and watch them win battles like no-ones business.
Rust dust also does what it says on the tin, affecting anything sprinkled with it as if it'd been hit by a rust monster. Which means you can ruin enemy stuff without having to constantly worry about the thing turning on you and trying to eat yours, barring sudden gusts of wind. Muahahahahaha, etc.
The necklace of alteration is one of those weird items that offers a random amount of benefit each time you activate it. This can be rather amusing, particularly if you're turned into salt.
And finally, Dragonhelms give you a load of dragon related bonuses, at the cost of starting to think like a dragon, and sucking up to them if you actually meet one. A clever example of an item with both benefits and drawbacks, where you'll have to make a genuine choice if it's worth it or not. A strong selection of items all round.

The suel pantheon: Len Lakofka gives us more greyhawk stuff, officially sanctioned by Gary. Lendor, god of time (and tedium, oh my sides are splitting) and Norebo, god of gambling. (and Wee Jas' lover, at that time. An episode of her history I suspect she'd rather retcon.) More to come in future months. I'd say I'd missed you, but unfortunately I haven't. There's still something about Len's writing style that I find rather unappealing. They're still refining the rules to distinguish speciality clerics while keeping them balanced overall though, which is good.

Dragons and their deities: Another godly article by another regular writer. Alan Zumwalt. How do you make dragons even scarier? By letting them gain clerical levels from worshipping their gods. Muahaha and all that. Well, they had to have something dragon related for their birthday as usual. Since they can't get that high a level as clerics, and dragons are already pretty scary combat wise, it's best to channel these extra spells into increasing their versatility, healing and utility powers. Another option for when you have players who are starting to take things for granted and need surprising by putting a different slant on a familiar creature. Secondary options are useful, even when they might be suboptimal, simply because you can confound people who plan around the tactically optimum path all the bloody time. You can't do that when you only have 2 or 3 power options.
 
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