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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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(un)reason

Making the Legend
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Dragon Issue 127: November 1987

part 4/5

A menagerie of martial arts: Oriental adventures once again gets a new add-on, in the form of 20 new martial arts. That's way more than any one person could learn, let alone master. 12 animal styles, which are fairly common, because humans are a bunch of copycats, and animals turn up everywhere and seem to be fairly effective. And 8 specialist styles, which are somewhat harder to find teachers for. It doesn't actually introduce any new maneuvers though, so it feels a bit like running through the motions, squeezing every permutation out of the existing rules. Another bit of filler to make sure this issue really gives you your money's worth on the topic (because chances are, you aren't seeing any more fighter focussed stuff for a year or two. )

The ecology of the yeti: Hmm. Now this is a monster that might still be out there, in reality. A very suitable subject for an ecology. Course, as with neanderthals, D&D has to take a perfectly reasonable concept and put it's own weird touches in, like a metabolism that actually absorbs heat, hypnotic eyes, and the usual tendency towards unreasonable bloodthirstiness that distinguishes monsters from real animals and ensures adventurers get get to enjoy regular stand-up fights. Another ecology that lives and dies on the quality of it's banter this month, as a pair of settled down adventurers meet up again to deal with a threat to their new home, and find that the other still retains the same irritating traits. Can they figure out a way to exploit the yeti's weaknesses and kick it's ass? Hopefully, and in the process they give quite a few ideas that are good for players as well as DM's. Another fairly solid ecology, both in the fiction and footnotes sections. It fleshes out the creature nicely, giving you plenty of hooks to play with. Nice to see this part of the magazine is still chugging along smoothly.

It's the no sase ogre. Now that's a face that triggers the nostalgia. An amusing way of saying we expect you to incur all the expenses when submitting stuff, so there. Thank god for the internet, making that crap redundant. Course, in many cases your applications for things are still likely to be met with a resounding silence, but such is life.

DC heroes is still putting daily planet newsletters in the magazine. Nice of them to come up with a new one for each month.

Arcane Lore: Despite it being a fighter special, wizards continue to get their now regular dose of additional options. Well, actually it's illusionist's turn this time, which is mildly pleasing. Arthur Collins gives us 9 new tricks to mess around with people's perceptions. Making them see things in black and white, massively exaggerating echoes, masking the smell and taste of something, temporarily blocking their memory of memorized spells, this is a strongly focussed, and quite amusing set of tricks that could really mess up someone's day, or be used by inventive adventurers to provide benefits for themselves by selectively negating senses. Since this is the kind of stuff that encourages intelligent use of your powers, I definitely approve. Illusionists can be a fun class to play. Take advantage of that, because it's not long before they get rolled into wizards, and lose a big chunk of their uniqueness.

The dragon's bestiary is very much not in theme this month, choosing, for no obvious reasons, to give us two new oozes. Xador's Fluid oozes over your skin, and then hardens, turning you into a living statue which then suffocates, putting you in a good position to be digested. Delightful, eh? If you capture small amounts of it, you can apply it to only parts of your skin, you can use it as armour. Bloodsucking armour that is decidedly detrimental to your health in the long run. I'm sure that in the hands of inventive players, it has many other uses, possibly gross. I strongly approve, as I do of anything which encourages you to apply your own evil imagination.
Quagmires are somewhat less interesting, basically being your basic ambush predator that pretends to be a patch of swampy water, and then grabs you with a pseudopod if you get too close. Another gloopy death awaits you if not rescued. Ah, the joys of the old school.

The role of books: The paradise tree by Diana L Paxton mixes drug research, occultism, and some general sci-fi trappings, and then weaves them into a dreamlike book that holds the reviewers interest while reading, but slips away afterwards, and is tricky to analyze. This is a bit of a pain in the ass for a critic, but does not mean it's actually a bad book.
Sea of death by Gary Gygax is of course a Gord book. It does read very much like an actual campaign turned into a book, with authorial dice-rolling clearly detectable in many of the fight scenes. As a fast paced potboiler, and a guide to crafting good D&D adventures, it's useful, but it doesn't really succeed as a novel.
Dark walker on moonshae by Douglas Niles is another AD&D based book, but is much more plot-driven and setting building. While the reviewer isn't too keen on the narrative style, calling it a bit too eager to please, and over analyze itself, it's probably better as a novel. Still both demonstrate how differently you can interpret the D&D game. Other official novels should vary just as widely.
Issac asimov's robot city by Michael Kube-McDowell shows the venerable author opening up his robot universe for other writers to play in, just as Larry Niven was around this time with the Man-Kzin war series. This doesn't work too badly, with the writer managing a decent pastiche of Asimov's writing style, but losing focus and integration the more they introduce their own elements. The reviewer has their doubts about it's ability to sustain a 6 book series.
Dragonharper by Jody Lynn Nye is a strange fish. A multiple choice adventure book, set in Anne McCaffrey's world of Pern, more attention has been paid to the plotline and social conflicts than is usual in these kinds of books. It isn't that challenging as a gamebook, and you don't have that much ability to really change the overall outcome, but it's still interesting to explore the world, and see cameos from existing characters. This kind of licensing definitely has potential, especially if the authors themselves decide to experiment with this medium of storytelling.
The luck of Relian Kru by Paula Volsky displays a warped imagination befitting the most sadistic of DM's. Ingenious characters, strange plot twists, quirky magic, the author is having a good deal of fun writing this, and the reviewer enjoyed it as well, despite it not being the most highbrow of works. A bit of fun is much more interesting than another pretentious meandering pontification on the meaning of life and the tragedy of the human condition.
The romulan way by Diane Duane and Peter Morwood is of course a star trek novel. Starring Dr McCoy, he leaves behind Kirk and Spock to get himself in, and then out of some serious trouble on Romulus. It features big chunks of worldbuilding alternating with the plot, which slows things down a bit, but would be very useful for anyone planning to play in the trek universe. An interesting literary experiment.
The pig, the prince and the unicorn by Karen A Brush seems a typical save the world adventure, only the person destined to save it from the invasions of chaos happens to be a pig. An otherwise fairly normal pig, who has to figure out how to deal with the usual quests, chases, and, erm, romantic subplots without any hands. Drawing parallels to the narnia books, it gets a fairly positive review.
 
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(un)reason

Making the Legend
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Dragon Issue 127: November 1987

part 5/5

The role of computers: Maniac Mansion. Hee. I remember this. One of the more eccentric and in depth old adventure games gets mentioned here. However, the primary focus, once again, is not on the reviews, but this time on the licensing out of the AD&D brand to SSI, so they can create computer games based upon it. This is a complicated business, as you have to fit most of the rules from three books into a game disk, and adapt them to work in computer language (with the usual restrictions on your imagination. ) They are working closely with TSR to ensure the storyline is fully integrated with the forgotten realms, many of the 2nd ed rules are incorporated into the game, and you get to customize things quite a bit. This is very interesting stuff, once again revealing their attitude to multimedia products, and some cool tidbits about how programming worked in that era, but it does feel a little like they've been hijacked into doing a shill piece. Two issues in a row without full size reviews. They'd better get back to that next month.

Megatraveller! the updated game of battle in the shattered Imperium after 11,000 years of peace. Contrasts rather with the tone of fresh space exploration in Traveller 2300. I smell an edition war in the brewing, especially as this advertises itself as the First True Updated Edition. Way to split the fanbase dude.

The marvel-phile: The everlovin' blue eyed thing gets looked at this month, as Jeff ponders what could have been, if things had only turned out a little different for him. After all, he's actually a pretty smart guy. It's just that he hangs around people even smarter than him, and seems to have got out of the habit of using his head. What would happen if he fell out with the other FF, went back to the streets of new york, and started working his way up the underworld. What if he'd worked for tony stark instead of Reed Richards? Jeff may have struggled long and hard with this entry, but he's come up with some pretty cool ideas. Taking existing things and mixing them around a bit can be very effective, as it allows you to both get a quick emotional connection, and keep people guessing. It's the impetus behind a million reboots and alternate universe stories. And although it has been used badly quite a few times, hasn't everything? Another entertaining and thought-provoking delivery from Jeff.

Cyborg commando. Such a wonderful phrase. Gary Gygax's Cyborg Commando? Hmm. Okay then. Welcome to the new infinities of gaming. Where people have very hairy forearms. Dear oh dear. What are we to make of this?

The fury of dracula, a boardgame from games workshop for 2-4 players. This should have been in last issue. Delays lose sales people. Chop chop.

Dragonmirth actually uses a pun I haven't thought up before. Snarf fights, and people get hit on the head. Wormy proves once again that he's the brains around here, and the ogres are very much not.

A pretty good issue, overall. While there is some filler, there's also been an above average quotient of seriously kickass articles, going quite a way to redress the warrior/spellcaster balance. Definitely another one to bookmark and use stuff from for the campaign. Plus the reviews and adverts are also of above average quality and interest as well. They do seem to be scaling down the non D&D stuff even further, though. Is it that time already? Or will it do some more rising and falling before fading away for good. Similarly, just how dramatic will the sales fluctuations be before they go into freefall a decade from now? Plenty more gems, but also plenty more rocky territory to cover. So I've gotta keep on fighting.
 

Armitage

Registered User
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The marvel-phile: The everlovin' blue eyed thing gets looked at this month, as Jeff ponders what could have been, if things had only turned out a little different for him. After all, he's actually a pretty smart guy. It's just that he hangs around people even smarter than him, and seems to have got out of the habit of using his head. What would happen if he fell out with the other FF, went back to the streets of new york, and started working his way up the underworld. What if he'd worked for tony stark instead of Reed Richards? Jeff may have struggled long and hard with this entry, but he's come up with some pretty cool ideas. Taking existing things and mixing them around a bit can be very effective, as it allows you to both get a quick emotional connection, and keep people guessing. It's the impetus behind a million reboots and alternate universe stories. And although it has been used badly quite a few times, hasn't everything? Another entertaining and thought-provoking delivery from Jeff.
I have the TSR gamebook that these alternate Things come from, One Thing After Another, and it's an interesting story.
The Fantastic Four are infected with a lethal disease that feeds on the cosmic radiation in their systems, so the Watcher sends Ben through the dimensions to collect uninfected blood from alternate versions of himself to formulate an antidote.
 

(un)reason

Making the Legend
Validated User
Dragon Magazine Issue 128: December 1987

part 1/5

110 pages. Notice the name change? It may be small, but it's still very much there. Another step towards the magazine being the way I remember it. Curiously, after a year filled with them, they've decided not to have a particular theme for christmas. Hopefully that means they're only giving us the best they have in their reserves, whatever that may be, instead of putting in several filler articles to make up the numbers, but you never can tell. In any case, it definitely looks like we're getting another board game, which is interesting. Lets see if they can make this fun, despite it being just another year at the office for the writers.

In this issue:

Letters: Two more letters from people still fiddling around with Dragonchess. One has been trying to program it on the computer, while the other has been busy assembling the best minis for representing it.
Two letters on Clay-O-Rama. Despite it being an obvious joke game, they still have rules questions. Sometimes I dispair of you people.
A letter asking for more frequent board games. Quite a reasonable request, really. You may be in luck.

Cthulhu wishes all you puny mortals a merry christmas! Be happy, for tomorrow I may decide to eat you all. Rather missing the point there, methinks. When have cosmic entities cared about human naming conventions?

Forum: David Rudge talks about the mystic college rules from issue 123. Drawing from his own experience as a postgraduate, he picks holes in the amount of time you would reasonably expect faculty members to devote to teaching and their own researches. After all, wizards are an iconoclastic bunch, and if the terms of work aren't convenient for them, they are quite capable of going elsewhere.
David Carl Argall returns. He's also in favor of mystic colleges in principle, but picking holes in issue 123's article. In his case, this is on the grounds of economics. As written, it's near impossible to make a profit on running one. Given that real life schools often charge students (or their parents) obscene fees, and make up the rest from government subsidy, this seems pretty realistic to me. Most teachers do it because they want too, (or as the saying goes, because they can't do) not for the money. If you want to make a profit, you've should sell spells for commercial ends, using the apprentices to handle all the low level stuff, and only teaching them what they need to know.
Timothy J Cunningham thinks that the magazine shouldn't publish multiple different conflicting sets of new rules. It makes a mess out of the game, and no-one knows which ones to use.
Steve Shrewchuk points out a whole bunch of tricks even a low level magic-user can pull to make themselves highly effective. If they're multi-classed, as most elf and half elf ones will be, they can be even scarier, combing cantrips and mundane tricks to great aplomb. That's what high intelligence should involve, and that's how you get them to survive to higher levels.
K.B. LaBaw also thinks that the unsurvivability of magic-users at low level has been greatly exaggerated. This is why adventurers adventure in teams. A group of people with varied skills can accomplish what one on their own cannot. You should try and figure out why the designer made the rules the way they are, and what playstyle they intended to encourage with them, before simply saying they're crap and changing them.

Welcome to waterdeep: Ed delivers some Forgotten Realms goodies to kick off the issue with. Waterdeep is going to be one of the most important and well documented locations in the world. As usual, Ed has written far more than can fit in a reasonably sized sourcebook, but it's still kickass stuff they want to get out there, so the magazine gets the bonus material. A map detailing the region over a hundred miles in each direction, and 14 locations of note that your adventurers might want to visit. Quite a few of them are obvious adventure locations for the DM to use to challenge players with, which is definitely a good thing. Others are friendly, but still have plot hooks and distinctive flavours added which make them interesting places to visit. This is another volley of classic Ed material, full of ideas that could be extracted fairly easily and placed into your own campaign, but which tie together to create a greater whole in his. I could praise his skills all day, but I don't want to turn this into a sickly love-fest, so I won't. Lets just say it richly deserves it's place as our pole position christmas present and leave it at that.
 

(un)reason

Making the Legend
Validated User
Dragon Magazine Issue 128: December 1987

part 2/5

A nightmare on elm street game. Man, the number of board games has been increasing recently. Either more general toy companies know about D&D and are putting adverts in here, or their standards have dropped. Worth noting, in any case.

Matters of mystery: It's a book review, but not as we know it jim. Role-playing mastery by Gary Gygax (at least the magazine isn't trying to whitewash him out of history) gets special attention. However, as with the Gord novel last month, that attention is not particularly favourable. Particular criticism is given to the poor organization, unclear writing objectives and schizophrenic design, at some points aimed at new people, at others expecting you to already have a decent grounding in what he's talking about at the time. It also falls heavily into one-true-wayism, advocating the idea that gaming can only be truly appreciated by few elite masters of the artform (which of course includes him and his inner circle) Overall, it seems more likely to drive people away than bring them into the hobby. As with Gary's farewell message in issue 122, I'm not sure how much of this is the reviewer's real opinion, and how much editorial interference has taken place. But given things like the 1E DMG, the nature of the criticisms seem entirely plausible. Which makes them more likely to stick and be taken seriously, unfortunately. In any case, this is some very definite bad-mouthing. They don't want New Infinities to succeed and become a viable competitor. As ever, it'll be interesting seeing just how much of this stuff shows up over the next decade, until the company collapses, and he is welcomed back into the fold.

To believe or not to believe: Ahh, here's a subject they've complained about in the forum recently. Adjudicating illusions is a pain in the ass. It's no surprise someone'd send in a article on it. If anything, the surprise is that they don't have multiple. Guess they're already reconsidering last year's idea of deliberately presenting multiple conflicting options so you can choose, if the forum is anything to go by.
Anyway, specifics. Looks like it's time for a new exception based subsystem. Not my favourite thing, but if done well, they can be better than applying the same rule formulae to everything. The writer takes a fairly simple approach, cross referencing the caster's level and the victims wisdom, adding a few other basic modifiers, and then rolling a % die (which since all the modifiers are in increments of 5, would work just as well as a d20 roll) This shows a definite FASERIP influence, and seems easy enough to use. On the other hand, it completely leaves out that can of worms of figuring out when you're supposed to try and disbelieve, and how much of the onus should be on the players to figure this out from the DM's descriptions. So it falls into the servicable, but unexceptional box. Probably not one I'll bother to use.

Role-playing reviews: Empire of the petal throne gets the spotlight on it this month. God, we haven't seen anything on this in years. As Ken points out in the introduction, too much originality is actually a bad thing from a commercial point of view. You need a decent number of familiar reference points to orient from, otherwise you don't have the context to take new things in and really understand them. And Tekumel certainly has unfamiliar elements in spades, even after being around over a decade, and 3 different editions. Mechanically, it may be just a fairly close relation of D&D, but the setting is a tremendously idiosyncratic one, with most of it's derivations from mayan & aztec culture rather than the more common medieval or oriental ones. For a third time in a row, Ken examines the current edition in contrast with previous editions, and finds it wanting in some respects. I suspect he may be feeling the pull of grognardia, as this is becoming a definite pattern. Still, better a new edition than a cool game like this goes out of print and can't be played by new people anymore. Hopefully this turned a few of the magazine's newer readers onto the game back in the day.
Skyrealms of Jorune is another highly distinctive game that takes rather a lot of buy-in to really capture properly. This is another case where Ken is torn between loving many of the ideas, and being frustrated by the flaws in their presentation. Character generation in particular is a bit of a chore, with some unclear writing and quite a bit of errata. But if you can make it through that, you'll get to enjoy a clever, richly detailed sci-fantasy game, with well integrated magic, mechanical design that encourages the players to become responsible citizens rather than hack and slashing sociopaths, and a generally delightful setting. Even if you don't play it, it's well worth stealing ideas from.
 

g026r

I'm a boat
Validated User
Empire of the petal throne gets the spotlight on it this month. God, we haven't seen anything on this in years. As Ken points out in the introduction, too much originality is actually a bad thing from a commercial point of view. You need a decent number of familiar reference points to orient from, otherwise you don't have the context to take new things in and really understand them. And Tekumel certainly has unfamiliar elements in spades, even after being around over a decade, and 3 different editions. Mechanically, it may be just a fairly close relation of D&D, but the setting is a tremendously idiosyncratic one, with most of it's derivations from mayan & aztec culture rather than the more common medieval or oriental ones. For a third time in a row, Ken examines the current edition in contrast with previous editions, and finds it wanting in some respects. I suspect he may be feeling the pull of grognardia, as this is becoming a definite pattern. Still, better a new edition than a cool game like this goes out of print and can't be played by new people anymore. Hopefully this turned a few of the magazine's newer readers onto the game back in the day.
Given their treatment of Gygax's work post-departure, I can't help but wonder if we've got a bit of the same thing here— a "we no longer publish this, so don't heap too much praise on it" kind of thing.

Which isn't to say that I don't agree with some parts: no matter how interesting the setting may be, you need a common/understandable reference-point for the mass-market to latch onto if you want a game to be a commercial success.
 

lionrampant

Registered User
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Which isn't to say that I don't agree with some parts: no matter how interesting the setting may be, you need a common/understandable reference-point for the mass-market to latch onto if you want a game to be a commercial success.
This applies to just coming up with RPG campaigns, as well. Just try removing elves or dwarves from a setting and watch your players gather their pitchforks and torches with frightening speed... :eek:
 

(un)reason

Making the Legend
Validated User
Dragon Magazine Issue 128: December 1987

part 3/5

The game wizards: Jim Ward turns up to give a combination of advice and teasers this month. As ever, people are asking how you become a writer for TSR, and as ever, they are happy to provide their guidelines. Don't expect it to be easy getting in though, with competition as stiff as it is. Secondly, he gives us an overview of the big products coming next year. (which reminds me, what happened to TSR Previews? It's been AWOL for the last half a year. )

Castle Greyhawk (wacky edition with no input from Gygax ) will be out in January. Look forward to much humour, and much screwage. Sigh.

February features the first volume of the Gamers handbook of the Marvel Universe. So many preexisting characters that need covering, it's going to take a total of 1024 pages. It's a bit excessive, frankly.

March has quite a lot of stuff. Top Secret is getting a snazzy mega adventure boxed set, High Stakes Gamble. It's also getting two books. Well, two halves of books. They're releasing books with two stories in, one a Top Secret one, and one an Agent 13 one. This smells like a gimmicky attempt to boost sales for two product lines that aren't doing well enough individually to credit continued releases. Dragonlance is also getting a book, The legend of Huma.

April sees a new wargame, The hunt for Red October. Based on the novel, this is another attempt to bring in new players that's not going to turn around the decline.

May sees another wacky licenced experiment. The Rocky and Bullwinkle roleplaying game? Man what. Who's gonna want to play that? What exactly do you do in it?

June sees the 1989 forgotten realms calendar, 6 months early. Now that's one you definitely ought to have held back on a few months if you want to maximize sales. No-one thinks of buying calendars in June. Agent 13 gets a graphic novel, while greyhawk gets a solo adventure gamebook. Is is just me or is he deliberately not taking about actual D&D products.

July sees another double whammy of board games, with Dragonlance and Buck Rogers both getting one.

August sees Greyhawk get a new corebook, 5 years after the last big setting book for it. Just how will it have changed in the meantime? Given it's war torn history, they have plenty of leeway to mess with the political situation.

September gives us another art book. Like the Dragon best of's, money for recycled material is an economical way to go if you can get away with it.

October sees Oriental adventures rewarded for it's continued popularity with a big boxed set giving extensive details on the realms of Kara-Tur. Now that's more like it. And of course, this helps fill out the forgotten realms as well, so it should sell extra well.

November is all about the spies, and the Buck Rogers. Bleah. Lorraine (roll of thunder, stab of organ music) has wasted no time in figuring out how to draw extra money from her new company.

December sees Lords of darkness, a sourcebook for the undead; the 10th D&D gazetteer (which means plenty more are coming out next year, even though they didn't mention them earlier) and another Oriental module.

So there are some cool things coming our way, but it also looks like there's lots of dross as well. With the new edition planned for 89, and everyone well aware of that, they've probably seen a drop in AD&D sales, so they're concentrating on the settings and diversifying their product base. Another interesting one to draw on for a little historical perspective. And so we wind ever closer to the present.


Fiction: The spirit way by Leigh Anne Hussey. Ahh, initiation tests. For becoming is among the most dangerous aspects of our life, and so it is the one the greatest number of stories are about. This is typical teen insecurity stuff, set in a generic tribal backdrop. The lead character is the niece of the shaman, and she'd really rather like to live up to her family legacy. But so far, she seems pretty lacking in magical talent. Will she come back from the wilderness a hero, a nobody, or dead. As this is currently a fairly family friendly magazine, and likes to encourage the heroic ideal, I think you can guess which one it is. Weep not for her, but for the ones that don't get to have stories told about their exploits. This does actually have a few interesting twists, so it's not that bad. But the formula is very much there. Writers gotta make a living, and all that.
 
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