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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
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Dragon Issue 89: September 1984

part 2/4

Six very special shields: You can probably figure out just from the name that this is one of Ed's Elminster articles, wherein he pontificates on a bunch of magical items from the Realms. Reptar's wall. Thurbrand's protector. Hawkstone's bulwark. Dzance's guardian. Shoon's buckler. Grimjaw. (Guess Ed's theasaurus ran out of synonyms for shield ;) ) All have some surprising special ability beyond just deflecting blows, and most of them have a sting in the tail to their powers that can be inconvenient if you don't know how to operate them properly. (gee, what are the odds if you just find them on a treasure pile or take them from a dead enemy) By now I'm used enough to Ed's style that this doesn't have quite the impact it used too, but this is still a pretty cool article, that makes it's magical items seem properly magical, rather than just extra good utility items. As with the last article, this is showing you the way to build your stuff properly. Idiosyncracies are good. Nothing is identical in real life, and only abstraction and convenience makes it so in games.

Heroes Unlimited! The most comprehensive hero game on the market! By Kevin Siembida! Buy it now! Looks like the war for best superhero game is very much on. Bring it! We can handle it.

Gods of the suel pantheon: Len continues to provide a channel for Gary to get his material into the magazine during his unwilling exile. This month he's filling in the villainous side of the suel pantheon some more. Not even the sophisticated kind, but the ones that lurk in grotty places in the wilderness and'll get you you serious trouble if you're found worshipping them. Pyremius, Beltar, and Llerg. A fine bunch of reprobates to make your players lives miserable with. They shapeshift. They plot. They rage. They only grant mediocre special abilities to their clerics, including one clever little false benefit that makes suckers out of it's recipients. Once again, they also have to deal with errata. Gods are such a complication. And once again, this fails to enthrall me. So it goes.

Dragonlance, the epic novel trilogy, to tie in with the 12 part adventure series. Hello, Mr railroad, how will you force us to follow you, to get from the beginning to the end, without any choice of routes. Infinite draconians? What a wonderful idea. Where do they come from? Neveryoumind.

The many types of magic: Ah, yes, quibbling over exactly what the different schools of magic mean, and why certain spells are in one and not another. I knew this would come up at some point. And in many cases these are quite valid points. Why the hell is comprehend languages an alteration, or fear an illusion, when common sense would say they're a divination and a charm effect. What was their writer smoking at the time. Why is alteration used as a catchall. Why are there so few invocation effects, and what's the difference between an invocation and an evocation. Why does necromancy affect living things as well as dead ones. Why does magic jar get a category of it's own? Lots of questions are raised, and not nearly as many are answered. Lets hope that someone in the staff is paying attention and takes this stuff into account come next edition. Yet more evidence that despite their initial belief that AD&D was this great and perfect work that would need no change, an overhaul, or at least revision, is increasingly needed. A little cruft shedding never did any harm, and often makes you feel a lot better.

Time life books takes out a rather pretty full colour double page spread. Enter the magical world of myth and legend. Subscribe now! Oh, the cheese.

The role of books: Looks like they've decided to play around with their formats again. Lew is giving us another set of non-fiction reviews to help us in our worldbuilding. This time he's concentrating on the heart of the medieval experience, castles, and fighting. Two things adventurers love. And two things you can definitely do right or wrong, unlike all the fantastical elements. So what's hot and what's not in Pulsipher land?
The art of war in the middle ages by Charles W C Oman is one of the great old books on this subject. Originally published way back in 1898, it has gone through a number of revisions since then. It covers developments over more than a millenium in exhaustive detail, far more than you could ever need. The kind of thing you go to a reference library to look things up from, rather than buy.
Warfare in feudal europe by John Beeler covers a smaller period in less detail, but is far more accessable to the layman reader, with clear organisation, good synopses, and lots of analysis of the facts. If you want to get usable detail for your games without spending days poring over academic minutinae, get this one instead.
Medieval warfare by H W Koch gets a rather poor review. With poor writing and organization, this is one to avoid.
A history of fortification from 3000 BC to AD 1700 by Sydney Toy has tons of floor plans and photographs of various places that you can steal liberally, and adapt for your game, as well as plenty of detail about how they were built, lived in and developed over time. Another one you'll probably have to go to the reference libraries to find, and then photocopy bits from. Some things, the internet still doesn't really provide, at least not for free.
The medieval castle: Life in a fortress in peace and war by Philip Warner also covers castles, burt is focussed more on the people who lived in them, and how they changed their tactics based on new innovations in technology and attack styles. Why things developed the way they did is as important as the simple facts, and this fills that gap admirably.
 

DrewID

Registered User
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Dragon Issue 89: September 1984

part 2/4

A history of fortification from 3000 BC to AD 1700 by Sydney Toy has tons of floor plans and photographs of various places that you can steal liberally, and adapt for your game, as well as plenty of detail about how they were built, lived in and developed over time. Another one you'll probably have to go to the reference libraries to find, and then photocopy bits from. Some things, the internet still doesn't really provide, at least not for free.
The book by Toy is available from Dover books (http://store.doverpublications.com/0486248984.html). I've had it for years, and my only complaint is that the maps are too small.

DrewID
 

(un)reason

Making the Legend
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Dragon Issue 89: September 1984

part 3/4

A reversible hooded cape? Odd thing to advertise in here. Well, I suppose it is nearly halloween. Grim reaper is always a good costume choice.

Halt! Who goes there: Hmm. This is a class I don't remember anyone talking about. The sentinel, guardian of people and places against assassins and thieves. Of course, in D&D, magic can render those abilities redundant with depressing ease. And while they can foil invisibility and stealth, other tricks like ethereality, remote scrying and mind control are still going to bypass them. Still, they have lower XP requirements than fighters, and more special abilities, so their power problems are more those that all the fighting classes face when compared to the spellcasters than actual underpoweredness. Having one of these guys along would certainly be useful as a backup for your thief, not to mention a failsafe for if you can't trust him, and suspect he's conning the rest of the party. I quite like this, as they fill a niche that the regular classes don't, rather than just being a hybrid. There are a few silly OD&Disms, like forced alignment change, but those just add to the flavour of the whole package. This is definitely an underappreciated gem that I'm pleased to have unearthed and would like to put in a future game.

Beefing up the bureaus: Oh noes. Top secret isn't dramatic or cinematic enough. We must fix this. This is one of the most audaciously blatant power-ups I've seen. So much so that I can't really give my usual complaint about power creep, as there's nothing subtle about it. Which is cool, in a way. If your GM allows it, he knows exactly what he's getting himself into. I guess this is the kind of thing that would lead them to completely retool the game in Top Secret SI. In any case, it's a short article that gets right to the point, so I didn't have time to get bored either.

Learn magic by the month: Dragonquest continues to get a surprising amount of coverage. This time, they cover the topic of learning a new college of magic in play. How do you keep it balanced with other training options, while still allowing for interesting adventuring. The solution is to allow you to break up your training times, and fit them around your adventuring. The rest of the article is comprised of crunch that looks pretty solid to my untrained eye, not making things too easy or hard, and having a number of quirks that emulate the real world education process. Again, I quite approve. It's nice to see they're putting plenty of non-D&D stuff outside the ares section as well.

What is a monster worth: Ho hum. Another attempt to standardize the amount of XP different special powers are worth for monsters. The current rules don't differentiate between things like 5% and 100% magic resistance, and people may disagree about what counts as a significant special power. This needs fixing. How can we do this? For a start, everything not combat related is irrelevant. Hmm. Where will we hear that again? Snark aside, we get to see another bit of behind the scenes work, as they attempt to refine their design technology. One of those things which would definitely pay off in subsequent editions. But not particularly interesting to read about. Lists alone do not a fun article make, particularly when they remind you of what you're missing.

Fiction: Dunkle Zee by Troy Denning: Hey, what's Minnie Driver doing in the artwork. This is way before she got famous. ;) Anyway. Hmm. Looks like another writer who would go on to write plenty of books for D&D makes their first appearance here. This feels like an excerpt from a larger novel, as it refers to lots of terms that it doesn't properly explain, and then cuts itself off in an unsatisfactory way, leaving the plot hanging. I wouldn't mind, but it is well enough written that I really do want more. Which I suppose means he's done his job well. Is this expanded upon anywhere? He has my interest now, and If there is anything, I'd like to read it.
 

Sleeper

Red-eyed dust bunny
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(un)reason

Making the Legend
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Dragon Issue 89: September 1984

part 4/4

The mighty Mega-Corporations: Star frontiers continues to get plenty of setting detail. The corporation system, and how it first drove galactic expansion, before being torn apart due to corruption, resulting in corporate wars that left the human civilizations vulnerable to the sathar. An all too plausible situation, given the reprehensible behaviour of many big companies in the real world. The pursuit of profit can lead to shocking amounts of misery and death. But it also leads to lots of cool adventure opportunities in a game like this, so that's alright. It ends with a promise to follow up on this next month, talking about the specific megacorps some more. Seems like they're doing that quite frequently in the ares section. I guess with limited page count each month, they need to do this to get the compromise between depth and variety right. I suppose it's making the best of the situation. Works for me, anyway.

Luna, the empire and the stars: Our moon series turns it's eye to the Other Suns game in it's 6th installment. Once again, history has advanced to the point where the timeline in here seems a bit silly. (or depressing, given how many of us thought moonbases would be well established by now. ) Similarly, the long term deadliness of nuclear weapons is much exaggerated, given what we know now. But hey, artistic license is needed to make a good story. Worse things happen on TV.

Of grizzly bears and chimpanzees: Gamma world gets another little expansion this month. Mutant animals as currently written require a lot of GM fiat in determining stats. So here's a little bit of help to get everyone on the same page, at least. We recommend that you not allow characters to select their species after determining what mutations they have, as this makes twinking relatively easy. Despite it's old skoolness, this is another useful little resource for gamma world GM's to keep their players in check with. If that's a good thing or not depends on your opinion. I can't muster a strong one on this either way.

The marvel-phile: The marvel-phile proves itself admirably adept at alliteration. And then turns it's attention on Namor, the sub-mariner, and his enemy, Tiger shark. Some rather beefcakey photos here (Look at those eyebrows, hee. I bet he plucks them.) of our aquatic protagonists, and the usual potted history of their times and trials, divested of all the filler episodes. (of which I'm sure there were many, since this is comics we're talking about) Once again Jeff delivers a solid, noncontroversial entry that doesn't leave me with much to say about it.

A monster crossword. That's a new one for this magazine. Cool. That looks like a good time waster.

Dragonmirth gets limerickal. Talanalan goes all las vegas. Wormy catches a big one. Snarfquest fights the planetary cultural divide, with hilarious results.

Once again, I am left vaguely unsatisfied by this issue, despite there being plenty of good articles in it. Maybe I'm doing this too fast, and need a break. Maybe I'm just jaded. No matter how good things get, humans can adapt to it and wind up taking it for granted. Life is a funny thing. Instead of a conclusion, I'll leave you with a question. How do you think the history of the magazine and D&D would have been different if instead of increasing their page count in 1979, they had instead decided to go fortnightly, and eventually weekly. What effect would producing lots of short issues, instead of long monthly ones have had on their style, and our perspective of the magazine? Would this have been a good or bad thing overall to do.
 

(un)reason

Making the Legend
Validated User
Dragon Issue 90: October 1984

part 1/4

100 pages. So we've finally reached the quarter point of this insanely epic journey. A pretty significant point for me, as it shows that this is not an insurmountable task, merely a very long and exhausting one. Not that they knew that at the time. They're busy planning for issue 100, trying to figure out how to make that nicely spectacular instead. Still, there's tons of stuff in here, as is standard, including several things we haven't seen in quite some time. This certainly seems promising.

In this issue:

Out on a limb: We have a letter asking how you advance your NPC's. You don't have to play out all their adventures manually, that would be several steps toward realism too far. Just look at their XP table, figure out how active they are compared to the players, and progress them appropriately. Honestly, the things some people ask.
Two letters saying the gods are statistically inaccurate. They're gods dear. Breaking the rules is what they do. You should know that by now.
A letter asking what the real relationship between Norebo and Wee Jas is, since their descriptions contradict. :giggles: And the editor said let there be retcon, for he does not want to be smitten. Whether they are or aren't doing it doesn't matter. Unlike celebrities, gods tend to get revenge against people saying things they don't want personally, and with great irony.
A letter complaining that their store got copies of the magazine before their subscription arrived. Oh woe. We do send them out a day earlier. If they don't arrive earlier, it's the post office's fault, not ours. That extra day or two won't kill you. Now, if your copy gets lost in the post, that's a different matter altogether, and you are quite entitled to complain.
A pair of complaints about baba yaga, and the contradictions in her description. Have we not established now that they change these things on purpose to make clear that there is no true canon, and all stats are malleable. You, sirs, are being more pedantic than the original writers. I mock your pedantry. Mock, mock, mock. :p

The forum is unusually homogenous this month. Jeff Martin, Jim Tuttle, Jay D Glithero, Jonathan Heiles (all the J's, for some reason) and Ted van Horn all have a problem with the physics and falling damage article. Ouch. Rough, man. Poor Arn. First they get your gender wrong, now this unanimous slating. Hope it didn't crush his spirit too much. Jim Parks is the only dissenting voice, and he is more concerned with the long running debate about high powered characters and what to do with them. Surely the editors could pick out a better variety of letters to publish than this.

The enchanting incantrix: Hmm, said Edward Greenwood. My players are taking magic for granted, treating it like just another form of artillery. This is most crass and not conductive to good stories. That makes me do my sad face :( What can I do about that? I know! What I need is a new kind of spellcaster with abilities ordinary wizards can't duplicate! That'll confound and delight them! And then I'll make it based upon mysterious forces of destiny, so they can't join the class after encountering it, even if they want too. That way, it'll stay mysterious, plus I don't have to worry about balancing it with other classes. And then I can write books about the 7 special women who can wield it, and Elminster can score with them all like the ultimate mack daddy he is. Happy days are here again!
Um, yeah. This has been a very tricky article to review. On one hand, it's brimming with his usual cool ideas, with loads of neat tricks and new spells, and evocative writing. It goes quite a way towards putting the mystery back in magic, by creating a class that's light on the blasty abilities, but has lots of neat tricks up their sleeve. On the other, this is a definite hint towards the excesses he would slip into in later forgotten realms books, with spellfire, the seven sisters, mary-sue twatery, and all the problems that came with it. The irony, of course is that for all his insistence that these girls should be kept rare, and under no circumstances should a PC be allowed to be one; like the death master, they're not actually that overpowered really. No more than standard spellcasters who have a wide range of supplements to pick their spells from, anyway. Oh, Edward, Edward, Edward. Don't believe your own hype.
 

Sleeper

Red-eyed dust bunny
Validated User
The irony, of course is that for all his insistence that these girls should be kept rare, and under no circumstances should a PC be allowed to be one; like the death master, they're not actually that overpowered really. No more than standard spellcasters who have a wide range of supplements to pick their spells from, anyway. Oh, Edward, Edward, Edward. Don't believe your own hype.
Ye Olde Incantantrix was flavorful, mysterious, and not particularly unbalanced. No apparent relationship to the 3E version, which became the generic overpowered metamagician du jour.
 

(un)reason

Making the Legend
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Dragon Issue 90: October 1984

part 2/4

Palladium's weapon series is now up to 5 books. And I'm guesing that's Maryann Siembiedas maiden name on the book of contemporary weapons.

From the Sorceror's scroll: Gary returns to our pages for a running visit. Firstly, we have an expanded list of what exactly counts as a person for the purpose of charm and hold spells. Fair enough. I can see that many people would want that kind of thing. Then, it's time to inform us what he been up to during his absence from these pages. The D&D cartoon is getting renewed for another season. (Surprised we haven't seen that mentioned more, whether in praise or mockery. It's like they're diliberately avoiding discussing it. ) We have two film scripts ready. (but no-one wants to buy them. Whatever happened to these. Is there any chance we could get hold of them.) The Master set is nearly done. Temple of elemental evil is finally written.( now it's just up to poor little Frank Mentzer to edit it into a publishable form) We will revise the game sometime after that. But don't stop buying folks! Your company needs you! Complain to your local shop if you can't find our products to buy! And then he's off again. Busy busy busy. No time to waste. Those cocaine fueled all night orgies/writing sessions won't hold themselves, you know.

Bats that do more than bite: Ed also delivers one of his more quirky articles this month, courtesy of Elminster's rambling mind. Swords, shields, spellbooks ...... Bats? WTF! Thankfully, what seemed like madness is rapidly revealed to actually be genius, as we get an incredibly cool and varied set of new monsters that take the basic idea of bat, and run with it in all sorts of different directions. Azmyths are adorable little magical bats with stinger tails. If you can get one of these as a companion, DO IT! They'll pay for themselves many times over. Sinisters aren't quite as nice, but they also have a quirky set of powers, likes and dislikes that make them more than just another combat encounter. Gloomwings are the bad boys of the sentient bat world, serving both as steeds to powerful evil creatures, and plotters in their own right. Night hunters and Hundars are less interesting in terms of abilities, but still get plenty of interesting notes on their lifecycle and behaviour. And finally werebats are what you would expect. Infected by another werebat, their bloodthirst forces them to change shape at night and go on the hunt, yet unlike infected werewolves, they retain full awareness of what they are doing, and consequently, are filled with AAAangst. Just like actual vampires then. A great collection of nasties and potential allies that would make it into future forgotten realms books, and can be used to all kinds of cool ends. Me likey.

Gods of the suel pantheon: This month's deities detailed are Phyton, god of beauty and nature (the kind of portfolio you'd normally expect from a goddess, hmm. ) Xerbo, god of the sea, money and business (which is almost as annoying a portfolio as wee jas.) and Osprem, goddess of water voyages. Rather nuanced portfolios here, which I find interesting. They're definitely improving on the trick of balancing the bonus powers with appropriate restrictions and XP surcharges as well. They really should have kept that up in 2nd edition, instead of making many god's priests definitely more powerful than others.

Thieves guild 2nd edition. Woo. Buy it now, etc etc.

Playing the political game: In one of their bursts of appropriate positioning, they put this immediately after an advert for the Companion set. You don't have to do dungeon crawls all the time. Bringing politics into it can really spice things up, especially once a game's been running for a while, and you've built up a proper cast of NPC's. Suddenly, it's not all good guys and bad guys, and you kill the bad guys first chance you get anymore. You have to deal with resource management, alliances, treachery, territorial expansion, and all sorts of fun stuff that a single person, no matter how powerful, can't solve on their own. This can, of course be a daunting task to create scenarios for. So here's a nice bit of advice on the topic, including a couple of examples of actual play. You thought saving the world was tricky. Maintaining it's a lot harder. If you find you can't challenge your players by conventional means anymore, this is definitely a good way to go. Sure, they can make enough food to feed hundreds of people a day, and defeat a demon prince, but what happens when thousands all over the country are starving, and they have to choose who gets saved, or lycanthropy is spreading amongst the population faster than it can be cured. If you run it right, a truly epic adventure, that's what. As ever, I am very much in support of this playstyle.
 
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