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[Lets read] Dragon magazine - From the beginning

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Sleeper

Red-eyed dust bunny
Validated User
Blueprint for a big game: Jim Dutton, the head of the new AD&D PbM game, talks about the creation of the structure for it. This is the kind of thing that causes substantial logistical hassles. You have to structure your world building in a very different way to tabletop, and build up a lot more before you start, because winging it when you have hundreds of parties wandering around a continent is a recepie for disaster. While this gives you lots of advice in how to build your own game in an organized fashion, it doesn't actually reveal that much about the setting of the PbM game (spoilers, blah blah), and the way it's written is rather dull. Someone is rather better at technical writing than fun fluff details. Anyway, did anyone play this back in the day? What was it like? Just how much did they have to change the rules to make the week-long turn cycles work.
A bit dry, but this article and its sequel had some good practical worldbuilding advice.
Fiction: Catacomb by Henry Melton. A rather meta tale of adventuring within a MMORPG text adventure game. (very interesting in itself from a historical perspective. How common was computer networking back then? ) And they already have gold farmers. How prophetic. The anachronism of it being text based aside, this really does feel like it could have been set today. The human drama side of the writing is pretty solid too. It's not quite a full-on classic, but I'm really rather impressed by this. Sometimes, they manage to get things spot-on. Have some kudos, if you're still around.
The internet had been around for a while, but it wasn't available for PCs and the cost and inaccessibility of mini and mainframes restricted it mostly to the government (military), universities, and good sized businesses. Dial-up services like CompuServ were spreading but they were still proprietary and didn't talk to each other. Bulletin boards systems like FidoNet had jumped to the PC world. A few years yet before most of the BBSes and the online services provided portals to the internet, and a few more years after that until the web appeared (everything was still text based). Usenet newsgroups were popular. IRC, an internet chat network that became popular in the early 1990s was a couple years away. I forget exactly when the first widespread commercial networking products for PCs became available, but Windows for Workgroups is half a dozen years away and we're still talking LANs not WANs.

Perhaps the most prescient piece of fiction in the history of the magazine. Decent story too, and the protagonist was easy to sympathize with.
 

Ayrk

Why is this man smiling?
Validated User
Dragon Issue 97: May 1985
Fiction: Catacomb by Henry Melton. A rather meta tale of adventuring within a MMORPG text adventure game. (very interesting in itself from a historical perspective. How common was computer networking back then? ) And they already have gold farmers. How prophetic. The anachronism of it being text based aside, this really does feel like it could have been set today. The human drama side of the writing is pretty solid too. It's not quite a full-on classic, but I'm really rather impressed by this. Sometimes, they manage to get things spot-on. Have some kudos, if you're still around.
This and The Gun That Shot Too Straight are my all time favorite Dragon fiction pieces.
 

(un)reason

Making the Legend
Validated User
Dragon Issue 97: May 1985

part 4/4

The ares section finally gets a colour cover. Guess they've proved themselves a valuable part of the team over the past year, so a little extra money is in order. Cool. Hopefully that means they're not doomed anytime soon.

Rogues of the galaxy: Ahh, traveller. Seems to be custom designed to allow for lots of expansion material. This time, it's the career criminal that gets an expanded lifepath especially for them. This is definitely a path many adventurers will want to follow. You can make lots of money, meet fascinating people, learn cool things, and visit exotic locations. But there are risks. You may find yourself mouldering in jail for several years, not actually learning very much. Them's the breaks. Thankfully, it'll still only take a few minutes to make another one. Welcome to the team. You'll make a valuable traveling companion as long as you don't start using your larcenous skills on the rest of the party.

Starquestions: Do you need skills to use a weapon. (Do you want to have a horrible accident? I suggest you learn.)
Shouldn't automatic rifles shoot more bullets than pistols ( it's not size, it's how you use it. )
Can you use a bullet belt on an automatic rifle. (only with expensive jury-rigging)
Do dralisite suffer two weapon penalties (yes)
Shouldn't dralasite be able to ooze under a wall (You can only compress so much. That's too much for them.)
How do you make encounters with pulsars, black holes and exploding stars (not easily. They're a bit too powerful for PC's to mess with. Instadeath for one failed roll sucks. )
How many rockets fit on a rack. (not enough.)
Can ordinary ships carry mines (no)
How often are new systems charted (As often as there are brave and bold adventurers willing to go boldly where no-one has gone before.)
Do the sathar fight deep-space battles (not often. They prefer subtlety)
Can you modify a starship to land in water (Only if you never want it to take off again.)

The marvel-phile goes canadian. Ed'll be so happy. We get the stats for Talisman, Box, and Guardian. Not particularly good names, but at least they're not as crappy racial stereotypes as certain other nationalities suffer. As usual, they have a weird and varied set of special powers, and equally varied backstories. One of them is dead, but whether that slows him down for long remains to be seen. Jeff is his usual efficient self, despite all the other stuff he's been up to lately. The artwork is pretty good this month as well. No complaints here.

New tools of the trade: Gamma world details yet more modern day equipment. Funny how that works. Pistols, rifles, plus some hypertech stuff developed in the future from now, but before then. This time there's a nice balance between the realistic and the advanced stuff. Not many actual tools though, as it's mostly weapons, the title's a bit of a misnomer. I guess for adventurers, It's not that important. But I would prefer weapons that can also be turned to uses other than killing. Turnabout is fair play, given the improvised weapon stuff and all.

Wormy goes into the airmail business, with limited success. Snarfquest has more romantic misadventures.

I.C.E bumps MERP off the back cover, but puts spacemaster on there instead.

While recent issues have been illustrating the changes in the hobby, this one feels curiously old skool, full off stuff you don't see anymore. Still, it's generally pretty cool stuff, so I'm not complaining. Add in the prophetic MMORPG fiction, and whole host of amusing touches in various articles, and we definitely have a pretty cool package. Seems like last month's spirit of humour has been retained. Lets hope they don't start taking their fantasies too seriously anytime soon.
 

(un)reason

Making the Legend
Validated User
Dragon Issue 98: June 1985

part 1/4

100 pages. So they've reached the ripe old age of 9. Not that significant a birthday. They're gonna save up the fireworks for the big one oh oh. Unfortunately, they've had to deal with rather a lot of complaints who didn't get the joke in their april issue, so they intend to scale back on that a bit. Boo. We are getting a special feature for gamma world, and lots of new tricks for dragons, so this is probably still salvageable. Is this going to be a decent warm-up party, or a damp squib? Only one way to find out.

In this issue:

Warhammer fantasy battle 2nd edition! Bright red advert! That makes everything look more amazing! Just count yourself lucky we're not using ALL CAPS as well!

Letters: Two letters quibbling over What good PC's are made of. Once you start multiclassing, there's too many combinations for one article to cover. You'll have to skip the random rolls and think stuff up yourself.
A letter asking how goristroi can use magic if they're so stupid. That's the advantage of being innately magical. You can just do it with a brief exercise of will, without spending years poring over scrolls learning ancient languages and precise sequences of actions. Don't you just envy them? Oh, wait, that's a sin. Just another way they have to lure you into damnation. Go on, introduce warlocks into your game. You know you want too.
A letter asking why halflings can't learn forgery. Because they can't become assassins, you dumbass.
A letter asking if solars have an AC of 9 or -9. The MM2 got it wrong. Gary will have to rant at his editor again.
A letter curious about who the person is reflected in the dragon's scales last issue. An excellent question, that they cannot answer.
Some quibbling about the new rules. All based around a basic misunderstanding. Again. :sigh:

Tailor made treasure: It's dragon special time! So, why exactly do dragons covet treasure, and how the hell do they get it transported and properly piled up to form a proper hoard? A very good question. Not all of them can be as lucky as Smaug and get a whole prepotted hoard in one foul swoop. This is definitely something that can be brutally picked apart with a little logic. Fortunately, there are quite a few solutions, from extorting the local countryside, to sniffing out veins of gold and ripping them from the ground with your own gigantic talons. This article basically boils down to another one of those encouragements to develop backstory, do some worldbuilding, and personalize stuff for your game, rather than just relying on the random tables. Fun stuff, but not exactly groundbreaking. You'll have to put in quite a bit of effort to find a spin that makes this trope fresh and coherent.

The magic of dragon teeth: Ahh, this old bit of wacky greek mythology makes it's way into D&D. Wanna take the teeth from a fallen dragon and use it to make your own army of devoted warriors? I'm afraid you'll need a wizard capable of casting 7th level spells to facilitate it. Like the dragonscale armor a few years ago, the results aren't objectively terrible, but they're certainly not worth the time and expense when you consider the other paths you have to obscenely powered stuff at that level. Personally, I'd ignore a big chunk of those requirements, to make the cool bits more accessable. So another article that has definite potential, but doesn't quite hit the button for me. Some people like fixer-uppers. Can't say I'm in the mood right now.

Dragon damage revised: And here we have another power-up for dragons. You know, they really ought to get more badass as they get older. A reasonable premise. However, it then makes a quite surprising assumption, that different sizes of dragons of the same colour are actually different species, rather than the same species at different stages of growth. So you have 3x3 matrixes with a certain degree of overlap. I'm more bemused by this than anything, as it's a case of having not even considered that someone could interpret the monster descriptions that way. Huh. Well, my mind is certainly expanded. Goes to show how you can be constrained by automatic assumptions without even realizing it. Interesting, if not in the way I expected.

The dragons of krynn: Ahh, now this is no surprise at all. I mean, their new setting has Dragon in the title. Of course they're going to do some stuff on it. So they talk about how krynnish dragons behave. Thanks to the influence of their gods, they associate a lot more closely with mortals than the usual dragon, with Takhisis in particular trying to make them an integral part of her world-conquering armies. We start to see the curious combination of epic storyline, at surprisingly low level that defines dragonlance, with becoming a dragonrider and having flying lance battles with your enemies an entirely achievable goal for a PC. A good reminder that many of the ideas that made up the setting were awesome, it was just the implementation (and the other, not so awesome ideas) that were the problem. There's definitely some salvagable material here, and it's also a good bit of promotion, making the setting seem full of possibilities. I'm quite positive about this one, and it's a solid finish to our themed section.
 

Sleeper

Red-eyed dust bunny
Validated User
Dragon damage revised: And here we have another power-up for dragons. You know, they really ought to get more badass as they get older. A reasonable premise. However, it then makes a quite surprising assumption, that different sizes of dragons of the same colour are actually different species, rather than the same species at different stages of growth. So you have 3x3 matrixes with a certain degree of overlap. I'm more bemused by this than anything, as it's a case of having not even considered that someone could interpret the monster descriptions that way. Huh. Well, my mind is certainly expanded. Goes to show how you can be constrained by automatic assumptions without even realizing it. Interesting, if not in the way I expected.
Species? Not what I remember....

*checks*

Yep. There's no mention of species. That seems like a rather creative interpretation on your part (which isn't a bad thing...). Remember, in first edition dragon age determined the number of hit points per hit die (an ancient dragon had 8 hp/die, while the youngest dragons had 1 hp/die). Size on the other hand determined the number of hit dice. A red dragon had 9–11 HD. That means the runt of the litter has 9 HD, the average run-of-the-mill variety has 10 HD, the and the pick of the litter has 11 HD. This is true when they're wyrmlings with only 9, 10, or 11 hp; and stays true as they age, until they reach 72/80/88 hp as ancient reds.
 
Last edited:

(un)reason

Making the Legend
Validated User
Species? Not what I remember....

*checks*

Yep. There's no mention of species. That seems like a rather creative interpretation on your part (which isn't a bad thing...). Remember, in first edition dragon age determined the number of hit points per hit die (an ancient dragon had 8 hp/die, while the youngest dragons had 1 hp/die). Size on the other hand determined the number of hit dice. A dragon had 9–11 HD. That means the runt of the litter has 9 HD, the average run-of-the-mill variety has 10 HD, the and the pick of the litter has 11 HD. This is true when they're wyrmlings with only 9, 10, or 11 hp; and stays true as they age, until they reach 72/80/88 hp as ancient reds.
That ..... would also make sense. I guess this is another case where having never had the 1st ed AD&D books results in missing silly minutinae like this. The rules may be superficially the same for all the pre 3rd ed editions, but there's all these little quirks. Right, that settles it, I'm buying them secondhand first chance I get.
 

Sleeper

Red-eyed dust bunny
Validated User
That ..... would also make sense. I guess this is another case where having never had the 1st ed AD&D books results in missing silly minutinae like this. The rules may be superficially the same for all the pre 3rd ed editions, but there's all these little quirks. Right, that settles it, I'm buying them secondhand first chance I get.
Dragons are one of the more extreme examples, being one of the few beasties completely rewritten between AD&D editions. The 2E version is as much based on BD&D (Companion Set) dragons with a touch of DragonLance as vanilla AD&D1 dragons.

But while previous editions are largely compatible at the stat block level and use the same basic mechanics (unlike 3E, which replaced them), there are actually significant differences, even between AD&D1 & 2. I'm not sure how much it's worth worrying about.
 

(un)reason

Making the Legend
Validated User
Dragon Issue 98: June 1985

part 2/4

Creative magic items: Blah blah, don't just rely on the items in the book, make your own, plenty of spells and monster powers to convert if you're short of ideas, blah blah, common sense, game balance, watch out for unexpected ramifications, make magic items hard to destroy, blah blah. Seen it all before, probably will do so again.

Detailing a fantasy world: Our PbP creator continues to chatter about his worldbuilding, giving us lots of familiar advice about the techniques you use to build a large setting, but being annoyingly vague about the world of Talara (spoilers, blah blah blah) that he actually created. This is a definite case where it's not that the article is bad, but it keeps on talking about the stuff that I already know, and evading the stuff I really want to hear about, like a political speech or something. Which is really rather frustrating. I guess you'd have to play the game to find that stuff out. Which obviously I can't do anymore. A whole world developed in great detail that never got published products, that has no net presence at all. (as I found when I tried to google it. ) Jim, and WotC people, if you're reading this, there are some people who would be interested in seeing the campaign notes for this released, if you still have them.

Wabbit Wampage! The game of bunnies with chainsaws, and whatever else they can get their paws on. Very amusing.

Reviews: Dragons of autumn twilight and winters night get a review specifically designed to assuage people's skepticism about buying them. It's great both as an epic fantasy plot, and as a representation of the AD&D universe and how parties actually interact. It goes from the personal to the epic, and has great poetry. Er, ok then. Sorry, you completely fail to remove my skepticism. If it was a product by another company, I'd be more receptive, but this feels too much like a disguised sales piece. I turn my nose up at you, pfaw.

Knowing what's in store: This is a strangely written but useful article. Mixing fiction with objective details, it tries to fill in what shopping would be like in a pseudomedieval setting for an adventurer. What is in different shops, (after all, no megamarts here. ) how are they likely to deal with people, and what you can expect to face if you try and steal from the places. The shifting of viewpoints keeps things more interesting than either would be on their own, and it's one of those ones you can refer too quickly to make sure you're not missing out some silly little detail. A good example of how to keep things fresh when imparting fairly mundane details, and how to make shopping fun. Why should all the action be in the dungeon? You can meet all sorts of interesting people and put plenty of plot hooks in while out looking for gear. And if you get into a fight, it's less likely to involve death. Very interesting indeed.

Auctions aren't forbidding: From one shopping themed article to another very different one, this is advice about how to do the auction house thing. One of those things that progress has changed dramatically, with the rise of ebay and online shopping in general. If you know the basic rules about how and when to bid to get the most for your money, this will all be familiar. Apart from finding out that old modules can already go for ridiculously inflated prices, I haven't found out much I didn't know before. This definitely has the feel of a quick filler article used to complete the page count.

The forum gets moved from the front to the middle. Another one of those little format changes that happens from time to time. Is it temporary or permanent? Guess we'll find out soon enough.
Paul F Culotta points out that Gary is only a mortal, the system isn't perfect, and even tournament games don't use ALL the official rules perfectly. The system ought to be revised to better fit the way most people actually play it.
Richard W Emerich shows up again, this time saying that no DM could enforce the game rules perfectly, all the time, and they probably shouldn't try. Most of the time, an approximation will do just fine.
Dennis E Jones Jr, on the other hand thinks that the closer you hew to the official rules, the fewer arguments there will be when multiple GM's interact, and players go from one campaign to another. Um yeah. That assumes that they like the rules in the first place. I regard your statement with bemusement.
Thomas W Gossard thinks that trying to hew too close to medieval settings in AD&D is silly (yes, you, Mrs Kerr) and you really ought to develop things based on the ramifications of the rules, rather than the real world. Ahh, one of the other great viewpoints that still crops up in debates today.
Todd Breneisner weighs in with his personal experience of multiple games, some of which adhered strictly to the official rules, but most didn't. Since AD&D was made in 1979, using refinements developed since then really isn't a bad idea.
Chip Myers also says that he's never seen a game where all the official rules are used. Frankly, the game wouldn't be as much fun if you did. Looks like the house-rulers are definitely in the majority.
Daniel J Birkholz thinks that alignment is stupid, and expecting people to stick strictly to one without any deviation makes for seriously inhuman acting characters. Make proper characters with their own likes, dislikes, personalities and flaws, not cardboard cutouts.
 

(un)reason

Making the Legend
Validated User
Ok, after raiding the OOP section of my FLGS (thank you very much, Area 51), I have fairly decent copies of the 1st ed PHB, DMG, Oriental adventures, Fiend folio, MM2, Deities and demigods, Wilderness survival guide and Manual of planes. I think that's a pretty good haul, even if I'm still missing a corebook. Will read them ASAP.
 

(un)reason

Making the Legend
Validated User
Dragon Issue 98: June 1985

part 3/4

Coming attractions has some damn big guns this month. AD&D is getting Unearthed Arcana, the great book of compiled twinkery that will change the face of the game. Meanwhile D&D is getting the master set. It may not be the end, as you thought earlier, but it's still another quantum leap in your overall power, plus a bunch of odds and ends for the lower levels as well. It's also getting B9: Castle Caldwell ;) and beyond. Guess some people are still back there starting up new characters and needing introductory stuff. And if that's not enough for you, there's the best of the dragon IV, which is good for both. Yet more recycling in an attempt to make more money fast and save the companies ass.
Tons more stuff as well. The SPI imprint gives us wargames for Julius Ceasar's conquests, and WWII. Large scale games for players who think big.
Marvel superheroes gets MHAC6: New york, New york. So good they made two little books on it.
Conan gets his piratical skills focussed on, in Conan the buccaneer. Will we get to go all the way through to his life as a king in future ones?
Star frontiers gets SFAD5: Bugs in the system. Venture into the upper atmosphere of a gas giant to fix a refining station. What could possibly be the cause. I'm guessing giant insects of some kind.
One-on-one adventures gives us it's second book, Battle for the ancient robot.
Endless Quest is right up to number 28, Mystery of the ancients. People do so love digging up the past, even when that's a bad idea.
And finally, the crimson crystal series has Renegades of Luntar, it's 3rd book. Set on mars, which seems appropriate.
Whew. That's certainly a lot of obscure game lines. It's no wonder they were having problems with that many things hardly anyone was buying. I wonder how long they'll keep making new ones in them.

Mutant manual: 12 pages of gamma world monsters make up this months centerpiece. Guess despite it not being popular enough for more modules to be published, there's still quite the holdout of people with lots of affection for it. We get 17 monsters: Aeroscpids (sic), Blade whales, Master Blossoms, Crusteans, Dracs, Encroaches, Flipps, Garrels, Harmony trees, Hogarts, Howlers, Jestes, Juggernauts, Marloks, Mountain men, Sifoners and Spitters. An array of bad puns, stuff stolen from books (including obvious conversions from D&D), exaggerated versions of normal animals, and really weird adapted plants, this is pretty quintessential gamma world material. You can fight them in the seas, you can fight them on the land, you can fight them in the sky, you can even fight them on the moon. (nice follow-up material there) Or you could play them as PC's, things like Dracs, Howlers and Sasquatches certainly seem suited to this. Despite the number of writers, this is a pretty consistent piece of work, that should be useful however you're playing the game.

Authentic agencies, part II: Guess this was too big to fit into a single article. Merle fills us in on the allied international agencies this time. Be they single country based or comprised of many like NATO, they're here, they're there, they're everywhere, and they're monitoring you! Or something. Once again, we have a long dry list which doesn't leave me with much to say about it. Will they cover the enemy agencies next month, or is this the end for this topic? We shall see.

Fiction: The forging of fear by Ardath Mayhar. Looks like the magazines most slated writer is back. This time she's delivering some medieval fantasy. And once again, I'm not sure which bits of it are funny intentionally, and which bits are funny simply due to the pretentious phrasing. She steals from a real english myth, and then follows up on it, before delivering a rather morally dubious ending. This is a definite case of something being entertaining because of the things that are technically wrong with it. Her works should be fine subjects for a little MST3King.

The volturnus connection: So modules in this era are generally rather sketchy on the matter of setting, context and character motivation. Star frontiers is no exception. So this is an attempt to build in some extra setting detail to the recent module series. Lots of historical and political exposition follows. Once again they do something they haven't done before, that I find a bit surprising. I guess this is the first precursor of the articles expanding on Paizo's adventure paths in the last years of Dragon. An intriguing development, that leaves me wondering if we'll see it again any time soon.
 
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