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[Lets read] Dragon magazine - From the beginning

What can I say, I just like polls :)


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(un)reason

Making the Legend
Validated User
Dragon Issue 88: August 1984

part 1/4

103 pages. Oh man, more litigious crap. This is what happens when companies pick similar names. Avalon Hill has been sued by Monarch Avalon, whoever the hell they were. And the settlement they've come too looks bloody stupid. I do not approve. And to top it off they use this as an excuse to remind us that they'll sue our asses as well if they think we're getting too fresh with their intellectual property. It's a hard life, being a big company. You've got to keep people on your side without them thinking you're a pushover, or they'll just take and take until you've got nothing left. So what are we getting for our money this time?

In this issue:

Out on a limb: A letter asking if the people from TSR would really send an unsigned personal reply on normal paper. Kim replies that the answer to that is hell no, someone's trying to trick you. You were quite right to be suspicious.
Some nitpicks about the unarmed fighting system in issue 83. It's supposed to be a simpler variant. Putting extensive lists in it would spoil that.
A letter complaining about the lack of stats in the legacy of hortus article. I quite understand.
Some more questions, this time on the new magic items from issue 86
A question about dragon deities. Who the hell do neutral dragons worship? Kim encourages you to fill out the dragon pantheon yourself. The AD&D multiverse is a big place, and there's still huge wodges of it that need filling in.
And finally a question on if stuff in the magazine is official. Yes, most of it isn't, but what about all the stuff Gary trumpets as Official AD&D Material. Kim replies that while it may be more official than other stuff in the magazine, even that isn't truly tournament official stuff. You're still restricted to the three corebooks if you go to a convention and play a game there, which keeps everyone on a level playing field, no matter how much they've spent. )

The forum: Sam Chupp doesn't have a problem with high level characters. Once you get to that stage, you have to really start individualizing them, and creating plots and challenges customized to the character, instead of endlessly throwing bigger and badder dungeons at them. It's a big world out there, and you've gotta expand your scope to deal with it.
Kevin Deevey & Richard Emerich have some extensive thoughts on the nature of illusions and how to handle disbelief. This topic isn't going away any time soon, is it.
Adam Zar is entirely in favor of high level adventures where you take on gods and arch demons and things. Saying that you can't kill them because it'll upset the cosmic balance is like saying monsters don't exist to be overcome by the heroes. It's like saying the universe ought to suck, and you shouldn't even try and change that. Which frankly is both pessimistic and unambitious. These things were given stats so they could be beaten. So let's go and do epic heroey things. Hurrah!
Brian M Oglivie explains how the planes can work in simple terms, using some classic books as his sources. Expand your mind and get cosmic, man. Or better still, take it logically, and even the impossible can be rationalized. It's a tremendously useful human ability, (abeit one responsible for lots of stupid religious dogma. ) and so it should be used.
Chris Wayne puts his own spin on the Star law police force for his game. Any setting can be customized, and that does not imply that the canon setting is deficient.
James Brewer is shocked that the RPGA puts so little emphasis on the actual fun had when it comes to scoring tournament play. After all, it it's not fun, why play? It's not as if there are big cash prizes for winning AD&D tournaments.
Kevin Lawless thinks that the idea of dragon clerics, particularly worshipping beings as weedy as Bahamut and Tiamat, is a totally stupid idea. Both the idea of tithing and parishes are grossly inappropriate to their nature, and that's not even getting into the alignment problems with chaotic creatures worshipping lawful gods. Take that, Alan Zumwalt. Now someone hurry up and make a proper dragon pantheon, with gods you can really believe in.

Gods of the suel pantheon gives us Syrul, Fortubo and Wee Jas this month. Two long forgotten, one much less so. Syrul is the hag goddess of deceit, and a thoroughly nasty piece of work in general. She's certainly a good target for high level characters who want to try a little godslaying. Fortubo is essentially the lendore isle's dwarf god, as his portfolio covers mountains and metal. He's a bit dull really, being exactly what you would expect of someone with his portfolio to be. Wee Jas, of course, is another kettle of fish altogether. Somehow she manages to have not just one, but two really powerful portfolios, plus a bunch of minor associations as well. Ruthless, but not outright evil, clever but still beautiful, highly disciplined but with her chaotic bit on the side lover who she'd really rather wasn't mentioned in polite company, and with an interesting special benefit for her clerics, it's easy to see why she became so popular amongst a wide section of the population, both in and out of the game. She's far more three-dimensional than the majority of D&D gods, and in a pleasing way. And so we get to see D&D's implied setting build itself up some more, in it's slow and haphazard way. Take the best, leave the rest behind.
 

(un)reason

Making the Legend
Validated User
Dragon Issue 88: August 1984

part 2/4

Physics and falling damage: Oh great. Not this annoying issue again. Have we not established that trying to make D&D realistic is like trying to fit an elephant into a mini. Neither side ends up very happy, and even if you do somehow find a way to do it, the thing runs so slowly you might as well not have bothered. Give it up, embrace the gamism. Anyway, we get a detailed analysis of acceleration rates vs air resistance, and the curve that follows to get us to terminal velocity in the real world. And then the author introduces an enormous fudge factor so as not to change the game too much after all that. Which satisfies neither my gamist or my simulationist side. Bored now. Next please.

Kinetic energy is the key: Great. More falling physics pontification. Bzzzt. Epic fail. I said next please.

The ecology of the rust monster: Ahh, this is more like it. Now if ever a monster deserved an entry in this series, it's this one. The rust monster has been a D&D staple almost from the very beginning, and remains one of it's most iconic monsters. In fact, specifically because of it's exclusion from 4e, it's become the symbol for a certain kind of playstyle that the current designers no longer support, but many people still hanker for. Ed proves once again that he really likes his footnotes, providing us with a bunch of optional rules that clarify lots of points and make the creature even more scary in some ways. Crucially, it answers the questions, can you train them, and can you extract their rust inflicting power to use for your own ends. (yes, but not easily for both.) That'll make a lot of adventurers happy. Now they can put the screwage boot on the other foot. I certainly intend to make use of this article at some point, be it as player or GM. Like antipaladins, there was probably substantial prior demand for this article, and I hope you found it satisfying. I certainly have.

Off the shelf: The chaos weapon by Colin Kapp is a very epic bit of science fantasy, with disgustingly powerful heroes facing off against even more disgustingly powerful villains. It may not be that deep, but it's a fun story.
The paradoxicon by Nicholas Falletta is an examination of paradoxes in all their forms. How they work, why they are so annoyingly intractable, and the people who have struggled with them throughout history. It should give you plenty of inspiration on how to puzzle and frustrate your players.
The sword and the chain by Joel Rosenberg is the second book in the guardians of the flame series. Since it looks like they're stuck in a fantasy universe for the long haul, (or at least a trilogy) it's time for them to really find out what makes their characters work, and set goals for themselves. The meta conceits do not detract from the drama of the story.
Across the sea of suns by Gregory Benford gets a fairly negative review, as the primary narrative device of delayed lightspeed communications results in a confusing plot that gets bogged down by symbolism.
Salvage and destroy by Edward Llewellyn, on the other hand gets a very positive review. While there is a certain amount of the usual examination of humanities stupidity there is far more celebration of our positive aspects, and our ability to survive in the face of great odds. The aliens get a pretty cool treatment as well.
Neuromancer by William Gibson is of course the classic that was a huge inspiration on the cyberpunk genre. What seems like a techno-thriller at first turns into an almighty headfuck with a downer ending. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Beyond the dungeon part two: So, how do you make an exciting wilderness adventure, Mrs Kerr? It's not as if the great outdoors is short on features that are a real challenge to get through. You've just got to figure out how to fit it into the framework of the game. Once again, the need for a proper skill system becomes apparent, as stuff has to be handled with a combination of attribute checks and ad hoc bonuses based on what skills they ought to have. Which means difficulties will vary wildly from group to group, and the skill of the DM becomes paramount in judging how to run a situation. Game design has a long way to go in these respects.
Of course it's not all wilderness out there. Towns, fortresses and ruins also receive the attention of her expert eye. Once you get out of the dungeon, you have to pay more attention to how your locations are structured, and the relationships of the people and creatures living there. Once again, this advice may be familiar now, but it's never been covered in this much detail around here before. If it seems unimpressive at times in retrospect, it's simply because the lessons here have been taken on board and developed upon so much since then. That's the thing about progress. It makes things look dated. We'd really miss this stuff if it wasn't there.
 

(un)reason

Making the Legend
Validated User
Dragon Issue 88: August 1984

part 3/4

Games workshop gives us a big full colour ad for warhammer minis. It looks pretty good.

The indiana jones RPG. Another big licence to coincide with the new movie. I wonder how this one'll be handled in the magazine, as it's another TSR game. We shall see.

Limited edition 10th anniversary D&D collectors set. Pop it while its hot, pop it while it's hot. Get it while it's cheap, cos it'll be worth more later.

Elefant hunt: Another Tom Wham game. My, they are adding up over the years. How does he keep his imagination fresh? Well, in this case by stealing a real life situation wholesale and putting his own spin on it. Like the name says, you hunt elefants and other afercan game. If you're lucky you'll find their graveyard and can loot tons of ivory. A game that is fairly high on randomness, but still has more than enough tactical choices for you to consider, you're unlikely to see a consistent winner on this one. Still, it looks a good deal of fun, and by changing the score needed to win you can easily make this a long or short game, as you choose. It may not be very politically correct, but hey, this is a magazine where killing things and taking their stuff comes as standard. There's nothing wrong with enjoying imagining doing things you'd never consider doing in real life, right?

Jorune! Another familiar name gets it's first advert here. We are getting some interesting adverts this month.

Fiction: Key to Ramali by Ardath Mayhar. What, after your last three novels got viciously slated here, you send in some fiction to Dragon? Now that's gotta take some balls. I have to applaud that. Now I can see if your writing's really as bad as Chris Henderson says without having to spend any money.
And the answer is ......... meh. I've seen much worse. She does have a tendency towards florid prose and silliness. But it's certainly not as bad as, say, the Gord stuff. I can live with this.

Reviews: Rolemaster and it's supplements get a good looking over this issue. Well, I say supplements, but really, all 5 of these are needed to get the full rules for playing the game. And we complain that 3 books is too many for D&D.
Character law, despite being the most critical for actually playing a game, was the last part of the system produced. Characters start off with a certain level of baseline competence in the stats needed for their class, no matter how badly they rolled. There are a whole bunch of clever little ideas in the rules, some of which are good, some of which are clunky, and many of which have since been stolen and refined by other systems. Many of it's innovations seem obvious in retrospect, as really good inventions often do.
Spell law features spells up to 50th level, neatly arranged in themed spell lists. This gives them loads of room to put everything they can imagine, while making sure that spells for a particular level are fairly balanced. With lots of room for differentiation amongst the low power effects, it doesn't get out of hand as quickly as D&D spells do. There's also plenty of different varieties of spellcasters. As long as you're good at table flipping, it goes surprisingly smoothly. At least, the reviewer thinks so. If you're not keen on crunch, you may disagree with him.
Arms law, aka the big book of really gruesome critical hits, gives you the rules for weapons. Consult a different chart for each one, allowing them a tremendous amount of mechanical differentiation while still being able to resolve each round with a single roll.
Claw law does basically the same thing for animals. It focusses on their weaponry to the exclusion of any fluff. It also provides rules for martial arts, and generally seems like the least essential of the books.
Campaign law provides both plenty of world-building advice, and the start of a sample world, Vog mur. As ever, the economics has holes picked in it, as does the "realism". The density of crunch makes it rather tricky to houserule the game. (oh, you aint seen nothing yet) But still, as a primer on how to build good games, regardless of system, it's pretty helpful. Once again we see how things that seem obvious in retrospect really need to be taught.
 

(un)reason

Making the Legend
Validated User
Dragon Issue 88: August 1984

part 4/4

Before the dark years: Oooh. Jim ward finally decides to reveal the timeline of gamma world (and metamorphosis alpha, as he decides to officially make them occupy the same universe.) How did we get from the modern world to a postapocalyptic mess. As with a lot of timelines from a few decades ago, it already seems rather dated, as their predictions were wildly out. (Although it'd be rather more surprising and worrying if gamma world of all things did turn out to be prescient, but there you go. ) It also suffers from the "reality is rarely as cool as your imagination" problem. Sometimes the game works better if things are kept mysterious, at least from the players. Just look at dark sun. Are we any happier knowing that the reason Athas is so fucked up is because Rajaat was an angsty emo boy that nobody liked, so he had to get revenge on the world. Do not ask, for you may get answers. In other words, not only did we not need this article, but we were probably better off without it. I guess you can't know until its too late. Some things, you can't imagine being without once you know them, others you just wish you'd never seen. Such is life. Not much I can do about it now.

The marvel-phile: Ooh. Now this is a series I remember still being active when I started reading. I guess this means the marvel superheroes game'll be getting consistent coverage for quite a long time. Neat. Hello also to Jeff Grubb, another familiar name who's going to be doing a lot of great stuff in the future. We start off with stats for Thor, Loki and Ulik. Each has their powers packed into a remarkably small and self-explanatory package. Any superhero game has to be able to handle a ridiculous range of power and versatility in it's characters without breaking, and if FASERIP can handle god level creatures as smoothly as this, then that bodes well for it. Like the ecologies, I'm very pleased to see this series arrive, and look forward to seeing how it develops over the years.

The battle at ebony eyes: Star frontiers gets some more love with a new scenario. Fight the sathar around a pair of twin black holes. This means there are serious risks of falling in, and weird space-time distortions which add quite a lot of bookkeeping. So don't use this one unless you're already fairly good with the rules, and need a new challenge to keep you interested.

Yachts and privateers return: And we get another quick add-on for star frontiers in the form of 11 new ships. A single page packed full of easy to insert crunch. That's always welcome.

StarQuestions is passed back to Penny and looks at star frontiers again. Quite the round robin going on here.
How high can ability scores go (100. Higher breaks the system)
I want more info on van neumann machines and their creators. (They're not as good as you think. But as long as they're only facing animals and plants, they don't have to be. )
The planet Gollywog (no kidding) has Waaaaaaaay too much carbon dioxide for humans to survive there. (Oops. Errata time. )
You forgot to paint the outer reach counters properly (Once again, oops. You can paint them like that if you like. )
You also forgot to name the planets inside the sunbursts (So we did. Once again, I apologize profusely, and encourage you to fix the errors we made. )

Talanalan alliterates excessively. Wormy finally gets to do some wargaming. We finally find out what species snarf is.

Yet more signs that the hobby as a whole is changing in this one. So many new people pouring into the hobby, bringing their unique perspectives in with them. For some this is a great thing, while for others, this means gaming is stuck in an eternal september.
I've found this one of the less captivating issues of late. While technically, they're as good as ever, it has had more than it's fair share of seriously irritating articles. I guess that'll happen once in a while when they're covering a wide range of topics. Lets hope next issue's contents are more to my taste.
 

(un)reason

Making the Legend
Validated User
Dragon Issue 89: September 1984

part 1/4

96 pages. There really should be 20 more, but the absence of the creature catalog from the dragon magazine archive is well documented. If anyone could direct me to somewhere I could download the missing pages, I would be very grateful. Still, plenty more stuff I can tackle right now. Lets hope we can sort out these little omissions later.

In this issue:

Out on a limb: Another letter asking for a collection of covers, which they have to sadly deny, for legal reasons.
A letter from Merle Rasmussen talking about Operation Whiteout and the people who won it when it was used as a tournament adventure, plus lots of other cool tidbits.
Some questions on the rakshasa article in issue 84. They're a funny bunch. Not really prime material or outsiders, they're actually able to fit in all over the place.
An letter brutally picking apart the recent dragonquest article. This gets an exceedingly lengthy reply from it's original author defending it. Who do you believe? Are non-spellcasters inferior or not?
A question on how paladins handle dragonhelms. They're perceptive enough to realize they're being fucked with.
A letter asking for more scientific detail in the ecologies. Kim reminds them that they have to strike a balance between detail and not overdoing things. Balance balance, always with the balance. Go to the extreme for a change, it's much more interesting.

The forum: Bob Kindel thinks that high level campaigns aren't as much fun, and you ought to slow down advancement to keep players at the manageable stage. Also, anyone using deities powers cleverly ought to be able to beat even really high level characters. Those campaigns where god-killing happens are Doing It Wrong™.
Edgar W Francis IV (Oh, I say, old chap) also has thoughts on how to handle high level games, and transitioning from the old characters to some new ones. Just because you retire individual characters, doesn't mean the saga can't continue.
Katharine Kerr has a tremendously lengthy contribution on the idea of playing evil characters. Group pressure can lead to people doing horrifying things they'd never consider individually. It ends with the conclusion that even fantasizing about committing evil acts is mentally unhealthy. Great, another writer joins the morals brigade. There may have been good things about 2nd ed, but it's already clear who the drivers of the bad points are going to be.
David F Nalle finishes off this month's forum by talking about Ken Rolston, and his reviewing process. The things he calls out as flaws are sometimes intentional design choices, be it for aesthetic or financial reasons. You can't please everyone, I guess.

Survival is a group effort: Another bit of sociological pontification by Stephen Innis. This is pretty cool, going into population growth, and how creatures with short lifespans can out-survive ones with longer lifespans, but also longer times to reach maturity. Immortality is good from an individual perspective, but actually not that good in the long run for for a species. This is why elves and dwarves can wind up dying races against the goblinoids, despite massive individual superiority. He then gets even cooler, tackling the problems inherent in spawning undead and lycanthropes. What logical reason could there be for them not having overrun the game world already? Do they diliberately hold back to make sure they have prey in the future. Are they dumb enough that they prefer to kill rather than infect. Maybe there is none, and these creatures are new additions to the world that you'd better do something about or face extinction in a few generations. One of those cool articles that helps you build your own world better by gently stimulating your brain and directing your imagination. A strong start that definitely goes on my worldbuilder checklist.
 

BigJackBrass

Two Separate Gorillas
Validated User
Do not ask, for you may get answers.
Very true. For years I have wondered what Professor M.A.R. Barker's "big secret" of Tékumel will be, the reason that the world ended up in its own pocket universe; and all the while I've had a sneaking suspicion that I'd actually be much happier not knowing.
 

DMH

Master of Mutant Design
Validated User
Survival is a group effort: Another bit of sociological pontification by Stephen Innis.
I enjoy the article as well, but I wonder where did he come up with that formula. I have dug through old and new ecology texts and couldn't find anything like it. The population growth formulas in those were much more complex (and included mortality), so I understand why he would want to use something simple.

But saying that ecologists know that formula is bunk.
 

Dasharr

Adamant Skeptic
RPGnet Member
Validated User
Dragon Issue 87: July 1984
Freeze! Star law!: It's not easy enforcing the law properly out in Star Frontiers land. With such a huge area to cover, and much of the power in the hands of huge corporations who essentially are the government on many planets, a star law ranger's gotta be a pretty badass character, who can track a fugitive down over the light years, and get the job done by underhanded means and compromises if neccecary. Now that's a job custom suited for adventurer types, who even if they claim noble ends, often wind up using the most sociopathic of means to achieve them, and care nothing for collateral damage. You can even have a whole team of PC's working as a posse, and they actively encourage that, as well as drawing fun old west parallels in other ways. This is almost a textbook example of how to open up a new mileu of play and make it seem fun and inviting. (unless you don't like space exploration and cowboys, in which case you are dead to me :p ) The bureaucratic rules are handled with a light touch, and you have plenty of leeway to be a maverick and push their limits without being kicked out. I love this idea, and would very much like to play something in this style at some point.
I've just read this one, and it's very gameable - I especially liked how the legal powers of the Star Law (cheesy, cheesy name) are simple but seem just detailed enough for game use.

It's also very easy to steal for Star Wars gaming (which was what I read it for) - you could slot it into most SW eras with only a name change.
 
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