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[Let's read] Dragon magazine - Part two: Gimme some Moore

So, how am I doing so far?


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Blizzardborn

Hiding in a snowdrift
Validated User
Oyah. It's almost like the devil isn't content to stay in his place, and would rather chisel every advantage and erg of power he can get into his scorched hands.
 

(un)reason

Making the Legend
Validated User
Dragon Issue 111: July 1986

part 2/5

DUNGEON™. Adventures: Roger Moore talks about his new job, being the head editor of Dungeon magazine. A definite step up from running the Ares section. And what he wants from you guys who are thinking of sending in submissions. D&D modules only, no more than 16 pages, send a proposal first, typewriting and SASE essential, you must surrender all rights to us, we pay flat fees not royalties, absolutely NO greyhawk stuff will be considered (because Gary owns that, and we're currently in backstage wrangling with him, but we mustn't mention that) and tons of other regulations to wade through. The kind of deal that frankly, I wouldn't sign with an 11 foot pole unless it had the potential of making me millions, and in that case I'd be engaging in hardball negotiations to improve it. (plus if I could produce a legible signature writing with an 11 foot pole, I'd be using my amazing dexterity to other ends) Oh well, that was standard back then, and all I can do is try to avoid falling into the same trap. And I suppose money from any source is better than no money. You've gotta love the job to do it, because you're never getting rich from it. Man, I wonder why I bother sometimes. Sorry about the cynicism. Just another reminder that the underside of the creative process is an ugly business. Best just to enjoy the flowers produced instead of sniffing the manure it comes from.

No campaign ever fails: Monty Haulism gets tackled again, from another perspective. Absolute power is not so important as if that power is fairly earnt, and if the characters are facing challenges commensurate to that power. Even if things have got out of hand, it's entirely possible to change a few things around, and bring them back under your control again. If you use NPC's as trap-springing fodder, a rebellion is pretty likely. If one character starts getting out of hand, award the group an item they can't use. Be very cautious about letting in characters from other campaigns. And if equalizing upward doesn't work, don't be afraid to do a little draining. A fairly balanced tackling of a topic that's never going to go away. Meh.

GURPS! It's finally out! The most modular system ever, according to them. And they're probably not far off. Especially once you add on all the supplements over the years.

Microscopic monsters: Oh, this is nice. Stats for giant versions of microscopic organisms. We've already seen a relation of this for gamma world, so it's no surprise that someone has decided to do similar stuff for D&D.

Protision is a giant amoeba colony that has developed sentience through a communal hive mind. It is slowly growing, has learnt magical abilities, and wants to keep growing until it covers the entire world. What an awesome plot hook. Yoink.

Perdinium shoot little bolts from their pores to attack enemies. They can also produce bioluminescent flashes. If Beholders are related to anything from the real world, it's these guys.

Gonyaulax are tentacled, armored basketballs. In large groups they can really mess up your water supply. Only the tarrasque would drink stuff infested with them.

Ceratium has armor plating and a long saw-like appendage to attack with. Very interesting looking little creature, really.

Noctiluca can not only engulf you or strangle you, it can generate flashes of light with bioluminescence and dazzle you as well. Quite a effective set of hunting tricks there.

Euglena look like tiny squid with only a single tentacle.

Paramecium have lots of little sticky threads covering their exterior. Don't step on them, because they'll eat your foot. They might trap your weapon as well, which is always a pain in the ass.

You ought to know what Amoeba are. Blobby things that engulf their food. Merely gross when watched through a microscope, when they're big enough to consume you, it gets rather scarier. They're considerably less scary than things like ochre jelly and black pudding though. This writer does seem to be rather conservative with his statistics. Eh, slap pseudonatural, paragon and gargantua templates on it and that'll change pretty fast.

Elphidium are a combination of entrapping threads, and a shell-like central part. This means that they're much easier to escape from than they are to kill. They're mostly scavengers, so just steer clear and you won't have to worry too much.

Globigerina are like organic mines. They float around, and then entrap you in their spines. Don't go swimming at night. As if you didn't have enough hassle from bear-sharks.

Dictyostelium is one of those cases where reality is weirder than fiction. Comprised of lots of little mushroom like amoeba, when times get tough, they fuse into one big glutinous mass to migrate to a more suitable place. Like an organic spaceship, this allows them to travel further and protect themselves along the way. As they do so, they form specialist organs, blurring the line between many single celled organism's and one differentiated one. Isn't nature awesome? And the giant ones here are even moreso.

So we've not only got lots of new monsters, but I also know more about real world biology now as well. This is a great example of how reality can be stranger than fiction, and stealing from it is needed to make your stories better. The trick to seeming fresh is to not steal from the same sources as everyone else. And there's certainly plenty of weird corners of the microscopic phyla that don't turn up in fiction very often.
 

Sleeper

Red-eyed dust bunny
Validated User
So we've not only got lots of new monsters, but I also know more about real world biology now as well. This is a great example of how reality can be stranger than fiction, and stealing from it is needed to make your stories better. The trick to seeming fresh is to not steal from the same sources as everyone else. And there's certainly plenty of weird corners of the microscopic phyla that don't turn up in fiction very often.
That actually sounds pretty interesting, but unfortunately that's one of the few articles from that era I didn't pay a lot of attention to (whereas I loved Gamma World's microscopic monsters on the Moon, from a bit earlier). I think it's the terrible art and names. I find scientific names distracting and anachronistic in a faux-medieval fantasy setting. Even renaming them to something silly like "shooter blobs" and "giant slime colonies" would have helped. And the art looks like the doodles of a bored high school student in biology class.
 

DMH

Master of Mutant Design
Validated User
Noctiluca can not only engulf you or strangle you, it can generate flashes of light with bioluminescence and dazzle you as well. Quite a effective set of hunting tricks there.
PBS' The Triumph of Life mentions Noctiluca. One species is food for a shrimp but gains revenge after being eaten. It glows and, since the shrimp is transparent, draws the cuttlefish that eat the shrimp.
 

(un)reason

Making the Legend
Validated User
Dragon Issue 111: July 1986

part 3/5

The role of books: Magic kingdom for sale - sold! by Terry Brooks features his usual smug self-righteous writing style. This reviewer doesn't seem to consider that a dealbreaker, however. It makes good use of info from Brooks' original day job to create a twisty plot that seems to keep their interest.

The curse of Sagamore by Kara Dalkey is the amusing tale of a man who really doesn't want to be king, cursed to be so due to his ancestor's funniness. There's plenty of humour, both IC and OOC, and it should give you ideas on how to make your players lives miserable in an entertaining way.

Yonder comes the other end of time by Suzette Haden Elgin ties together magic and psionics, and also ties together her earlier novel series', which had previously been unconnected, into one larger universe. The reviewer is somewhat ambivalent about this shift towards epicness, enjoying it, but not sure if it's justifiable.

Witch blood by Will Shetterly is quite different from his previous book, being a story of witches and magical martial artists. What could become cheese easily, does not, as he creates a dark atmosphere, and a strong narrating voice for the protagonist.

The cross-time engineer by Leo Frankowski tells the tale of a modern day man thrown into 13th century poland, trying to industrialize it early to protect it from the mongols. What ramifications on history will his actions have? Keep reading, because it looks like another long book series ahead.

The unicorn quest by John Lee may not be about dragons (again) but the reviewer can't find anything much about it to recommend. Damn you, generic fantasy tropes. :shakes fist: I can see you coming a mile off.

Interstellar pig by William Sleator is an interestingly meta tale of a game of world destroying potential, and what happens when you're not sure if the key to saving your world is winning it or losing it. The various elements are juggled adroitly, in a thought provoking manner. Just what sci-fi should do. After all, silly ideas can allow you to comment on the world in a way that would be ignored or censored in a more serious product.

Death of an arch-mage: Looks like we're getting one last module in these pages before Dungeon fires up. And it's quite an impressive one, both in length (21 pages) and ambition. A murder mystery in D&D? Don't see those very often. Amusingly, the tournament pregens are just 1 level too low that they would be able to do some resurrecting, which is good thinking. On the other hand, 2 of them are illegal dual classed characters, which irritates me. It also puts a lot of onus on the DM to set the proper tone, and fill in spurious details to obscure the important bits, which may be problematic. With big chunks of their magical powers forbidden, they'll have to use mundane investigative powers, or choose to go maverick and risk spoiling the case. So yeah, this could be good, or it could be incredibly annoying, and go disastrously wrong very easily, it very much depends on having the right DM and players.

TSR previews is back to the right way around. Dragonlance is getting pole position this month, with DL13: Dragons of truth. Can they pass the nine tests of truth? Can they beat Takhisis? Considering the next module is called Dragons of Triumph, the odds seem good. It's also getting another calendar for 1987. Seems a bit early to release one now. Eh. Get a few months just looking at the pictures before you have to write on it.

AD&D is also getting REF2: the revised player character sheets. Unearthed Arcana made the previous ones redundant. Ahh, joy. Another excuse to sell you almost the same stuff again.

D&D gets IM1: The immortal storm. So you made it this far. Can your adventures as a god match up to the ones that came before? Well, at least they're trying to support it. We also get X11: Saga of the shadow lord. See, if you were the previous characters you could wipe out an army of undead no trouble. Oh well. Guess it's not heroism if it's not a struggle.

Our solo gamebooks get the Sorcerer's crown, book number 9. Our first one that follows on from a previous book. Will it involve further sequels? The dread hand of metaplot reaches into even here.

Marvel Superheroes gets MA1: Children of the atom. All about the mutants of the marvel universe, and adventures for them. As this is the advanced game, the supplements are bigger. Are they better. Wish I could tell you.

Amazing stories unleashes it's second anthology. Visions of other worlds. Containing stories from some of the biggest names in sci-fi. Have their prophecies been proved correct? Since this is a retrospective, I'm betting at least a few of them have.
 

(un)reason

Making the Legend
Validated User
Dragon Issue 111: July 1986

part 4/5

Profiles: Jeff Grubb is of course one of TSR's most awesome game designers. The son of a teacher man, he's always been pretty damn smart. (apart from maybe thinking playing D&D would be a great way to meet girls, but even that seems to have worked out for him. ) He's responsible for the gods of the Dragonlance setting, the name of the planet the Forgotten realms is set in, virtually the whole of the marvel superheroes RPG, and is now writing the manual of the planes. His contributions are pretty much inextricably linked with gaming as we know it. Go him.
Anne Gray McReady is one of our editors. She's completely normal, honest! Nothing to see here at all! Methinks the lady doth protest too much. Anyway, she's responsible for editing all 5 of the BECMI boxed sets, as well as writing the savage coast, so she has made some cool contributions to the D&D universe. Ah pity da foo who believes her lack of hype.

Pull the pin and throw: Grenades! We've seen quite a few questions on them show up in Spy's advices over the years. Guess they thought it merited a whole article. So we get three pages of dry stuff like how they're constructed, what they have in them, concussion radii, a scatter diagram, and the all important damage done. Will this settle those arguments, or just reignite them, in ever more fiddly nitpicking detail? Either way, I'm not very interested by this article. Another load of crunchy filler to keep up the page count with.

Fiction: File under B by Esther M Friesner. Oh dear oh dear. The buttoned up young librarian runs across a near-naked barbarian warrior transported into the library by the evil wizard he was fighting. My oh my :fans self: This can't possibly be happening. We must get him out of here before somebody sees. He can't really be from a fantasy world, surely? But if he is then maybe the index can help me get him back. Now, is it in fiction or nonfiction? And then they get back to his world, great acts of heroism are done, bosoms start heaving from the exertion, and it all has to be faded to black before the author starts typing one-handed. Ahh, fantasies. Isn't it great being able to sell them. This is cheesecake, but amusing cheesecake, obviously written by a woman, for women. Nice to see them tackling the problems mentioned in the letters page. Can they keep that up, or will the accusations of sexism be back again soon enough. At this stage, I'm gonna take the pessimistic view. Some people will always bitch, especially if you bend over backwards to accommodate them and they think they can get more stuff that way.

Dark phoenix gets on the cover of the ARES section. She then gets a good going over in their first article. How do you portray and play characters as ridiculously powerful as that in your game? You'll have to take things away from direct fights, and concentrate more on the emotional aspects and fallout of the drama. Or just make sure you have some characters with invulnerability or huge amounts of plot immunity. Remember, in comics, resurrection is always an option. Just don't do it too often and cheapen death completely. An interesting topic to cover.

Maxima: Villains and Vigilantes shows off it's own maxed out capabilities. Which are actually considerably less than FASERIP's, but there you go. Maxima is a geneticaly engineered superwoman from the future, with all stats at an obscene level (and a weight of 663lbs :D Is that a specific artifact of the system's tables? ) superspeed, regeneration, but no real powers that aren't just human potential+. We also get a little more advice on using a character like this in your games, particularly if the other PC's aren't as powerful as this. Pairing off groups so each character has a suitable opposite may seem cheesy, but it's an established genre trope, so you shouldn't feel guilty about using it. Everyone has weaknesses, and you shouldn't be afraid to use them either. Even with different power levels, everyone can get a chance to shine if you design adventures right.
 

Sleeper

Red-eyed dust bunny
Validated User
Maxima is a geneticaly engineered superwoman from the future, with all stats at an obscene level (and a weight of 663lbs :D Is that a specific artifact of the system's tables? )
Don't know, but it's definitely genre-consistent. According to Marvel, She-Hulk weights just 13 pounds less when she goes green.

I guess I liked this issue. Maxima and Quantum are good examples of high powered characters (Quantum's dynamic power levels are an interesting balancing mechanism, while Maxima had a strong background — though she desperately needs a makeover now that the 80s are over), and I always liked Phoenix and Supergirl. Despite the distracting biblical name, Malachi was a decent attempt at incorporating all the D&D tropes into a city, and while heavily flawed, the murder mystery at least tried to break out the standard dungeon crawl mode. The article on Monty Haulism was refreshing for it's contrarian viewpoint, I shamelessly stole spell focusing devices, and Friesner's story was fun.

I actually wrote up conversions of Maxima and Quantum for the Marvel Saga game a number of years ago, which, to bring it full circle, was written by the author of "Death of an Arch-Mage".
 
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(un)reason

Making the Legend
Validated User
Dragon Issue 111: July 1986

part 5/5

Supergirl: Well, this is nice. Our theme continues with a DC heroes article. I'm betting stats for Superman already appear in the corebook, but if you want to showcase obscene power of a kind PC's would expect to have, then supergirl is your next good bet. Despite her power, she's certainly got beaten around, mindfucked, romantically screwed over, and eventually killed with great glee. And as Jim Ward showed, way back in the monty haul days, it's entirely possible for a sadistic GM to follow that example, no matter how powerful you are. We get more advice on how to run high powered characters in general. When collateral damage is a constant threat, and you're the good guys, you really can't cut loose with your powers the way you'd like too. If they can travel miles in seconds, make them split their attention. If they can move planets, then they'd better get to use that power. Tailor the villains to the heroes, and put them through the wringer. Just like the real comic books. Remember, the more powerful and versatile the characters are, the less you have to play nice, because if they're using their brain, they can solve even problems that don't have a designated solution. (unless you're playing something like Armageddon or Aberrant, where damage scales faster than ability to absorb it, so characters paradoxically become more fragile against equal opponents at higher level. ) Another interesting article that once again puts a different spin on the same topic.

The marvel-phile: With a ton of supers stuff already and his own profile this month, Jeff's contribution gets heavily edited to fit on one page. Longshot, an alien stuntman with powers appropriate to his name. The switch to Advanced hasn't altered the formula of these entries significantly. As this is another character I've never heard of before, isn't that interesting, and will likely never see again, I can't muster much enthusiasm for this one. Hopefully having his writing butchered won't dull his enthusiasm though, because it would be a shame to see him lose it.

Quantum: Our final article tackles the same subject they've been tackling all through the section, only for a different system. Finally, it's Champions' turn to get some advice on how to handle characters of different power levels. This concentrates on scaling your characters, and scaling the opposition to them. It includes the eponymous character Quantum, who's power level fluctuates randomly due to some rather clever build tricks. She can challenge gods one day, and then get her ass kicked by a gang of thugs the next. Which is quite pleasing, both that the game can handle weirdness like this, and that there are plenty of people who have no problem with really high level games here. Plus the writeup and illustrations are pretty cool. This is quite a nice way to finish off the section, even if it is a bit galling that it's been comprised entirely of superhero articles. Still, at least they're trying with the themes, and the april fools jokes and stuff when the rest of the magazine isn't. That stuff sometimes gets excluded because of this is the price you pay. If it's good stuff it'll just show up a few issues later anyway.

The Snarfquest gang has to get away with the treasure they just found. Dragonmirth shows us a real monty haul dungeon. Wormy features more variscaled adventures.

Overall, a pretty good issue, if another one that was a real effort to get through. Still, in this case it was definitely worth it, with new developments in game design, lots of info on dungeon's start-up, and a good send-off for adventures; and a very interesting and well-focused Ares section. They're still probably not getting quite enough good material to justify their bigger size, but since so much of that is a matter of taste anyway, I'm not going to complain too much about that. And it looks like the spate of development and reorganization is going to continue into next issue, which seems promising. But that's a tale for another day. I'm not Schazerade, and I don't think always starting a new story before the night is over and finishing in the middle would suit the source material. Cliffhangers get tiresome after a while, so lets just leave it at this
 

(un)reason

Making the Legend
Validated User
Dragon Issue 112: August 1986

part 1/5

108 pages. Looks like their promise to change things wasn't a hollow one. Straight into the contents page, and the Ares section is conspicuous by it's absence. Well, I guess last month's one was as good a send-off as any, both in the sense of being a good, well focussed one, and also a demonstration of how thoroughly it had been hijacked from it's original purpose by superheroics. Some people aren't going to be happy about these changes, and indeed, Kim isn't too happy about all of them either. Some hard decisions had to be made here, and he's really hoping they were the right ones. Still, better to try something new than trudge along in the same old rut year in, year out. I guess now all he can do is wait for the vitriol to come in, see if more people approve or disapprove. And although my opinion obviously doesn't matter when it comes to the direction of the magazine, I'm pretty curious as well. So lets take a gander.

In this issue:

Letters: Michael Selinker sends in a bunch of revisions for Death of an Arch-Mage. Kim takes this fairly well, considering. I'm sure this didn't ruin the adventure for many people, since this is only a month later, and it takes time to finish off adventures and move onto the next one.
Dearie dearie me. The house in the frozen lands also gets a load of errata. More fixing needed. Oh, the horrors of being an editor on a monthly publication.
Some mathematical corrections about the volume of water. Tripped up by the basics again. Talk about calling attention to your mistakes.

The forum: James A Yates thinks that extremely big and strong people should be able to wield giant sized weapons, albeit maybe at a penalty. It's cool imagery, so yeah, I mostly agree with you there.
Margaret M Foy thinks that if TSR are going to be all edgy about putting christianity into D&D, they should show just as much respect to other religions as well. If they do that, the only pantheons they'll have are entirely self-made ones. Do you really want that? Definitely a case of can't please everyone.
Thomas M Kane disagrees with some of the corrections about radioactivity. According to his textbooks, his numbers are mostly right. Ahh, science. Remember, science is a method of thinking and acting, not a fixed set of facts. If you're just parroting what someone else says without testing it, you're not being very scientific.
Darcy Stratton is another person deeply annoyed by the sexism inherent in the AD&D game. These strength limits have knock-on effects on classes acessable and maximum level, especially to demihumans. (Why the hell are gnomes and dwarves even more dimorphic than humans? Realism is not a good justification there.) This degree of bigotry is unacceptable in my escapism! Amazing just how much of a deal a few points difference becomes when it's personal. Fraid you'll have to wait another 3 years for the new edition to fix that. Or play BD&D. They've never been sexist over there.

Dawn of a new age: Welcome to a new era. We've already seen a few of the new changes, but here Kim really talks about what he's up too. The people have spoken, and he's done his best to sort out the signal from the noise. Of course, one of the things they've spoken most clearly on is that there's too much sci-fi in Dragon. Buncha philistines. :shakes head: So the Ares section is gone, and we've cut our intended amount of sci-fi per issue in half. Hopefully that'll strike a balance between the people who like it, and the people who would rather see it eliminated entirely. Computer gaming is of course, on the up, and they intend to keep track of that, which I have no objection too at all. The trickier question, is of course, how they recapture the magic of the old issues, whatever the hell that was. The decision they've come to is to stop worrying so much about making sense and getting everything perfectly lined up, and publish articles more on the basis of them being interesting than if they have solid rules. That sounds like it has the potential to go oh so very wrong, and bring in a new glut of overpowered, poorly thought out optional stuff. Set your quality control filters to defcon 2. This does not look promising. I said you could have phrased your questions better.

Dinosaurs get another feature on them. This is one of those things that turns up again and again. They're really trying to go for a definitive take this time, with an epic 18 page article that hopefully will keep people satisfied at least until the next edition comes around. Taking a quite scientific approach to the subject this time, instead of listing tons of discrete species, they decide to give one set of basic stats for each genera, and then show you how to scale things up and down for a whole bunch of variants to challenge groups of various power levels with. Aetosaurs, Anklyosaurs, Carnosaurs, Ceratopsians, Giant sea turtles, Coelurosaurs, Crocodilians, Cynodonts, Deinonychusaurs, Dicynodont, Ichthyosaurs, Labyrinthodonts, Moasaurs, Nothosaurs, Ornithomimosaurs, Ormothpods, Phytosaurs, Placodonts, Pleiosaurs, Pliosaurs, Prosauropods, Proterosucians, Pseudosucians, Pterosaurs, Rhynchosaurs, Sauropods, Scelidosaurs and Stegosaurs. Whew. That ought to keep you going for quite some time, especially if you remember to include lots of variants on each body type as actually existed back then. It includes plenty of advice on how to run a game where dinosaurs feature, either tangentally, or playing a big part, along with lost world areas full of flora from their era as well. A very comprehensive article, that is both well researched, and keeps one eye firmly on making sure you produce a playable game with this stuff instead of getting bogged down in historical detail. While not quite as good as most of the planar articles in sheer epicness and imagination, it's just as good in terms of opening up a milieu further for play, and is in very much the same spirit. Which Is something I do like. Other eras and areas of the world can be almost as alien as other universes, and you can have fantastic adventures while barely traveling in a conventional sense. A very solid article indeed.
 
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