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

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Making the Legend
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Dragon Magazine Issue 131: March 1988

part 4/5

Sage advice: Will a monster join a party if asked (We had this one last time. As ever, proper application of common sense based on the monster's intelligence, personality, and situation will determine under what conditions it will do so, and if they will stick to any bargains they make. Smart adventurers should always be ready for treachery.)
Can you change a captured monsters alignment. (Possible, but not easy. Remember, you catch more flies with a little sugar than with a whole vatfull of vinegar. )
How do you determine effective HD of monsters with only hp listed (divide by 4.5, unless stated otherwise)
Where are psionics explained (In AD&D, not D&D. )
What weapons work on ochre jellies (none. You'll have to blast them. If you don't have a wizard, torches and flaming oil'll do the job as well. )
How do you determine if a gray ooze destroys your weapon (Roll to save vs acid )
What is a magical creature ( Complicated business. It's just an excuse so really powerfull creatures can't be beaten by some weak thing that's immune to nonmagical attacks. )
How do you fight a phase spider without magical aid (Win initiative, then hold your action. Smack it when it appears. Zelda is as ever, a good source of visual demonstration )
Do giants get strength bonuses. (Not normally. PC's are special, everyone else is just abstracted)
What missiles can giants catch (anything big and non pointy. )
Can monsters use magic items (That is so broad a question as to be meaningless. Some can, some can't)
Can monsters get weapon specialization (not unless they have class levels)
Can a spellcaster exceed their normal spell limit by eating obliviax. (Yes, if they make the save. There's a potentialy lucrative cultivation industry in there for enterprising adventurers. )
Do draconians count as persons, or giant class monsters (yes and no)
How many eggs do dragons lay at once (take the max number appearing, and subtract 2. Easy enough. )
What is the mind flayers mind blast (same as the psionic power)
Where is the info on 0 level demihumans (There are none. They might not have the same limits of advancement as humans, but their baseline of badass is considerably higher. )
Gold dragons can polymorph themselves without harm? (Oh yes. They are rather badass)
What does molecular attraction do (Oops. Our bad. That should be molecular agitation. Duergar are pyromaniacs, not cave climbing geckos. )

Mutations Unlimited: Gamma world actually gets 3rd ed specific material this time around, with (no shit sherlock) 16 new mutations for your PC's and NPC's to enjoy or suffer from. Would you like to pull a Jesus, with energy healing, light creation and water walking? Would you like to be a genius at figuring out social situations, with a perfect memory. A perfect assassin, with silence and darkness generation, 360 vision, disruption of electronic devices, and the ability to leave invisible plasma bombs lying around as traps. All these are options, purely using the powers here. Plenty of handy bits and pieces, in other words. Now, what are the odds of you getting nicely synergising suites like those with random rolls? Not likely. Still, that's the fault (or good point) of the system, not the article. In any case, the powers are useful, and the whole package is nicely presented and likably written. So it's another positive result overall here.

The game wizards: Doug Niles returns to give us some feedback on the reception of Top Secret/S.I . Choosing to make a redesign that big was a stressful decision, with a lot to lose. Thankfully for him, the number of people who've written in are 5 to 1 in favour of the changes, so it's sigh of relief time. This pretty good showing also means that they get to go ahead with a whole bunch of supplements, adding on lots more crunchy stuff, as is their wont. Guess we'll also be seeing articles around for another few years then. Another chirpily optimistic little article in this series then. Just how much of that optimism is real, and how much of it is a show to boost sales, on the other hand, is less certain. Should I be a little less suspicious? Better safe than sorry.

Role-playing reviews goes sci-fi. There's certainly been no shortage of sci-fi games, although they've never been a serious competitor for fantasy's supremacy. You have plenty of choice between hard sci-fi universes, and ones that are basically just fantasy with rayguns and spaceships instead of wands and dragons. It would make sense to review a wide spectrum of games, so people can make an informed choice as to what they want to buy. So that's exactly what they're going to do.
The star wars RPG by West End Games, as you would expect, falls firmly on the side of fast paced action. With a simple multiple action mechanic that allows high power heroes to do quite a few cool things in a single round, character templates that allow you to get through character generation and into the action quickly, and force points giving everyone the chance to push themselves for that extra edge in a pinch, it certainly seems to be aiming for fast paced cinematics like the movies, which is definitely a good thing. The work of familiar names Greg Costikyan and Bill Slavicsek, this is one that may be defunct, but still gets plenty of positive mentions on forums, which is definitely a good indicator of it's quality. Let's hear your tales of playing with this.
Traveller 2300, on the other hand, takes the opposite tack. It retains the same gritty atmosphere, with a well developed lengthy character generation process that really defines your past, but has no system for advancement beyond that; but puts it in a setting that's rather closer to home than the previous edition. Earth is just recovering from WWIII, and we're starting to extend out into space. The reviewer doesn't hesitate to point out the flaws in the system and presentation. The adventure guidelines are rather sketchy, not much help to novice GM's. Ship combat is exceedingly brutal, with one mistake spelling a TPK for the whole party. And of course, still no advancement system. No getting away from it. It may have been innovative a decade ago, but it's all starting to seem a bit dated now. You can see why they slid into obsolescence and went out of print for years.
Battletech is an interesting fish. It's basically a mech fighting boardgame, with the rules for roleplaying the pilots and doing human level stuff tacked on afterwards in a supplement. Unsurprisingly, it's very combat focussed, and also has plenty of focus on the stats needed to design, build and repair your mech, making support characters invaluable. Certainly seems distinctive, even if the ground level stuff doesn't quite hold up as a game in it's own right. Guess it depends if you like that kind of stuff.


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Yes, I believe so. It joins the Fighting Fantasy RPG and Maelstrom as the only others I know of, and it was the only one I know of published that way in the U.S.
The original version of Dragon Warriors and IIRC one edition of Tunnels and Trolls were published that way as well.


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The original version of Dragon Warriors and IIRC one edition of Tunnels and Trolls were published that way as well.
Yeah, you are correct. My defense on Dragon Warriors is that I've never actually seen those books in person, but I have no defense on T&T because I own those books. I plead insanity. :p
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Making the Legend
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Dragon Magazine Issue 131: March 1988

part 5/5

The role of computers: A rather snarky editorial here, as they defend their preferences for some computer systems over others. This isn't tribalism, it's rooted in years of playing with and reviewing games on all systems, and really getting to know their capabilities and idiosyncracies. Some of them are simply objectively better than others. And some are definitely, statistically more pirated than others. Don't presume you know better than us. Ahh, joy. I do love a good rant, and this is about as good as we've got from the official writers since Gary left. Don't be afraid to defend and justify your position in the face of criticism.
The legacy of the ancients is our main review. Engage in a world-hopping adventure to retrieve and eliminate a world destroying macguffin. Explore the galactic museum, and find the warp points to the various other worlds in the game, and then travel to them to get the things you need. Reminds me of Head over Heels :p As in many of these games, frequent saving is essential, and exploring everywhere and not taking the most obvious route to immediate benefit will result in greater long term profit. Learn new spells, find new weapons, and go delve those dungeons.
Lots of mini-reviews this month. Golf, Marble Madness, Basketball, Scrabble, RISK, Baseball, flight simulation, they give us brief synopses of all kinds of stuff. Hopefully there'll be at least something to your liking amid the dross.

The marvel-phile goes back to the short articles filling in a few characters. Can't have epic crossovers where someone dies every month, or the readers lose interest. This time, it's that boisterous trio of Asgardians: Hogan the grim, Fandral the dashing, and Volstag the enormous. The musketeers to Thor's D'arganan, they are generally on the same side (unless Loki's trickery and/or alcohol are involved), and will back him up in a fight. Which is good to know. Jeff makes the interesting point that Thor's alter ego gets much less attention than most of our other heroes. Increasingly, all his personal drama is based around his godly relationships, and his human guise is merely a disguise, rather than the costume being the disguise, as is more commonly the case. Interesting observation. One that has been deconstructed quite a bit in comics circles since then. Sometimes the man wears the mask, sometimes the man is the mask. Unfortunately, I don't have time for a detailed philosophical discourse on this matter, so I guess I'll have to return another fairly positive verdict on this one for being thought provoking, and revealing a few more comic tidbits I didn't know before.

Dragonmirth once again has ideas that would be distinctly disturbing if played straight. Snarf tries to get out of the canyon, but is thwarted at every turn. Wormy gets all flashbackeriffic.

Join America's greatest hero! Oooh. Sounds interesting. Who, who, who could it be? We're all agog, rushing to see! Buck Rogers?! Fuuuuuuuck. Looks like the bleeding off of the company by Lorrane Williams (dun dun dur, organ music, crash of thunder, etc etc, you know the drill) has already started. This sucks beavis. Change the channel.

Ahh, now this is more like it. Ravenloft, house of strahd. The expanded reworking of the best selling module ever (well, there are probably actually more copies of B1&2 and X1 in existence, but that's because they came free with the boxed sets) becomes the centrepiece of a whole new campaign world for AD&D 2nd edition. Face the dread vampire Strahd von Zarovich (dun dun dur, organ music, crash of thunder, etc etc, you know the drill ;) ) in his equally dread abode. Now that's a nice way to kick off the new, more story focussed edition. Have fun. Hang on, wait a minute, 2nd edition isn't out yet. And this doesn't come out until 1994. Tch. Looks like the person assembling the archive messed up. Well, 250 issues, you can't get it all perfect. Mutter mutter mutter grumble.

The roles are reversed this month, with an utterly awesome themed section that shines brightly both as reading material and stuff to play with. The rest of the issue is also reasonably good (apart from last month's leftovers), with plenty of variety, drama, and fun bits and pieces. This is easily the best issue since the start of Roger's run, and probably in the top 10 overall of issues so far. Is Roger finally starting to hit his stride, or will it be down again next month. In any case, this definitely raises my enthusiasm, knowing that they're willing to try new things like this, and experiment with the way they cover things. Keep it dramatic, folks.


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Dragon Magazine Issue 131: March 1988

part 5/5

Join America's greatest hero! Oooh. Sounds interesting. Who, who, who could it be? We're all agog, rushing to see! Buck Rogers?!

Ahh, now this is more like it. Ravenloft, house of strahd.
Hang on, wait a minute, 2nd edition isn't out yet. And this doesn't come out until 1994. Tch. Looks like the person assembling the archive messed up. Well, 250 issues, you can't get it all perfect. Mutter mutter mutter grumble.

In the hard copy, it was an ad for Dropships & Jumpships (Battletech) inside the back cover and an ad for Bally Midway's Dungeons & Dragons pinball machine on the back cover.


Making the Legend
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Dragon Magazine Issue 132: April 1988

part 1/5

116 pages. Snarf and co get to be on the cover, courtesy of Mr Elmore. Man, that's a lot of yellows and oranges. Deserts really need a better exterior design co-ordinator. Anyway, looks like they're continuing their recent policy of alternating serious april issues (84, 86) with ones with full on special features full of goofiness. And this year is serious face time. Not that this means it's going to be bad, but it certainly doesn't mean it's definitely going to be full of high quality material useful in your game either. What has Roger got lined up for us? And has he managed to get it properly lined up in terms of formatting? Good question, especially since he devotes the editorial to apologizing for his errors in recent issues. We discover by doing.

In this issue:

White dwarf has reached it's 100th issue. Pretty good. Unfortunately, not long now before it cuts off contact with RPG's and third party stuff and becomes a warhammer house organ. Peh. So it goes.

Letters: A little King's Table question, duely answered.
A letter from someone who is fining that the hobby is declining in their area, and fears for the future of it and the magazine. Please say D&D won't die. Roger gives no false comfort. It is the duty of each of you to seek out and create new players!
A letter from someone who has found his character's name appearing in Dragon. You have drawn from common sources. Plus true originality is tricky.

Forum: Daniel U Thibault recommends The Skeptical Enquirer magazine to anyone interested in real life supernatural phenomena. Many famous sci-fi authors write in it, and it has a very lively letters page. (I can guess) Anyone read this? Looks like like Dragon, it's still going online.
David Howery gives some expansions and corrections to his own article in issue 126. Always something you think of after sending it off, isn't there.
Mark R Shipley has some rather heated tactical advice on the battle of Scud and Allycia. If you play to the strengths of your opponent, of course you'll lose, and lose hard. What are you thinking, man?! And don't forget to metagame! Hmm. I suspect we have not seen the last of this one.
Bob James comments on a whole bunch of different things from issue 126. Proving rather controversial, that issue.
Craig Dudek thinks that good characters ought to be able to use nonlethal poisons that cause sleep or paralysis without it being an alignment violation. After all, winning an encounter without unneeded bloodshed is a good thing to do, right? Yes, but if you slit their throats after paralyzing them, then your claims of moral superiority go out the window again. Mercy to the helpless (even when it's only temporary) is one thing that they are pretty definite on.
Steve & Cynthia Higginbotham tell us Banded armour did exist! Roman legionaries wore it. So did the turks. And let's not forget the japanese. They just didn't call it that. Don't be so eurocentric.
Shaun DeMers is fed up of the OMG D&D is satanic!!1! crowd, and thinks a video would be a good way to prove it isn't. I don't think they're particularly interested in facts.
Rusty Ballinger gives us another reminder that real life is more complicated than the systems in the magazine, and one size does not fit all. This includes hiring military units.
Mike Montesano responds with amusement at the tuckers kobolds editorial. He's dealt with them too. Organized, tactically astute enemies are fun from both sides of the GM screen.
Craig Flescher has some tactics for dealing with said clever enemies. Turnaround is very much fair play here. Turn up the cleverness on both sides.
Richard Devens IV thinks that forcing you to have proficiencies for everything you want to do is a bad idea. you should be able to try cool tricks without specific training, and shields should count as cover rather than AC bonuses against missiles. I have no great objection to any of those statements.
Stephen Rasmussen introduces the idea of specializing not only in attacking with specific weapons, but also parrying and two-weapon fighting. Another good idea that can go wrong oh so very easily. Beware the twinks.
Michael A Costa doesn't have a problem with the majority of articles being AD&D specific. It's easier to strip stuff away to convert to D&D than going the other way would be. And it's not as if they're that different.


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Dragon Magazine Issue 132: April 1988

part 1/5

Forum: Daniel U Thibault recommends The Skeptical Enquirer magazine to anyone interested in real life supernatural phenomena. Many famous sci-fi authors write in it, and it has a very lively letters page. (I can guess) Anyone read this? Looks like like Dragon, it's still going online.
The last physical issue I bought in the bookstore was March/April 2009, so it's still going strong. It's far more entertaining than the much drier and more academic Skeptic magazine.


Making the Legend
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Dragon Magazine Issue 132: April 1988

part 2/5

Bazaar of the Bizarre: Our token comical contribution this year is another little article from Stewart Wieck. The chainsword! For when manual hack-and-slashing just doesn't have enough power. This is a curious article, going into plenty of detail about the inconveniences of making the item, maintaining it, and what happens when it goes wrong. For all the inherent goofiness of the premise and punniness of the flavour text, this is one that's not at all overpowered, entirely legal, and could be put into a serious campaign with only a little adaption. And of course, it would be perfect for an Exalted game. Ahh, the joys of magitech. He may be subverting the genre, but that still makes for fun games.

Role-playing reviews is also in a humorous mood, reviewing some of the more lightheated roleplaying games out there.
Paranoia is now on it's second edition. Which in the reviewers opinion, is a considerable improvement on the first one, the mechanics substantially simplified so the game can be as fast, furious and insane as it's supposed to be with less GM fudging. There's a pretty decent number of adventures out for it by now, and you should be able to get a clear idea of the distinctive tone of the game from this. Are you ready to betray everyone you know, deal with the most annoying bureaucracy ever, and die repeatedly for fun?
Ghostbusters is also a lighthearted game, but is much easier to turn into a serious one. With 4 basic stats, and highly streamlined skill, dramatic editing and motivation traits, it's another one that you can create characters quickly and easily for, and then play fun, highly dramatic games with. It's low on death, but high on goofy mishaps for your characters. And adventure designing is a breeze. It's another one that gets plenty of praise.
Teenagers from outer space takes the cartoon aesthetic even further, creating a game with no actual death, just a little bashed around (they'll be right as rain next scene, although their clothes may not be.) The rules aren't quite as solid as the previous two, but it's still hardly a bad game.

Beyond the gate of dreams: A decidedly weird new class, this is definitely cut from the mould of the bard and thief-acrobat in design. The Dreamer can be a split class like the ninja, or a single classed NPC. They get a whole bunch of divination and mind-affecting powers, most of which can only be used while asleep, so they won't be much more use than a normal member of their other class in combat, but can pull some pretty neat tricks given a bit of downtime. Like Rituals in 4E, this seems to be an attempt to separate out the plot device magic from the blasty magic. Which is a laudable goal, even if the power organization isn't the greatest. This is another one that's never going to cause problems the way a regular wizard getting all spell researchy will, so it's welcome in my game anytime, at least unless you wind up spending half an hour every sleep period doing solo adventure stuff, while the rest of the party gets bored.

Resourceful sorcery: Runequest gets another magical article in relatively quick succession. Interesting. This is a rather cool examination of the mechanics of learning magic. It seems that once you've learnt a certain amount, if you do so in the wrong order, you can wind up slowing your progression to a crawl, as you don't have enough free points to learn more without danger. But if you load up on familiars, magic storage batteries, an assistant, and make sure you have long-term buffs up while in danger, you can not only be more powerful in individual encounters, but continue your more linear upward progression between adventures. Ahh, the joys of gaming the system. That seems to be another thing that's on the up these days. Not sure if I should approve of that or not. Still definitely an intriguing little article here.

The second volume of the darksword trilogy is already out?! How fast do that pair write stuff? This is decidedly surprising.

With all the trappings: Muahahaha. Trap design. It's been a while. Whatever happened to Dastardly deeds and devious devices? It only got 4 columns before dying back in the day, while the Dragon's Bestiary and Bazaar of the Bizarre lasted ages, and are now back again. Guess people prefer facing monsters to devices. Still, they definitely have a place in adventures, and here's 3 1/2 pages of advice not only on creating them and placing them well, but the economic and societal ramifications of doing so. After all, complex technical devices require skilled labour, and that does not come cheap. Plus if the owner intends to access the place being guarded, they need to have a method of bypassing the traps without ruining them. With a whole mini-dungeon of interlinked example traps as well, this is a pretty cool little feature, full of instantly usable ideas, and sparkers for your own imagination. Definitely one to return too if you find yourself short of ideas for your latest megadungeon.


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Dragon Magazine Issue 132: April 1988

part 3/5

Sage advice is tiny this month. That's a relieving change.
Can woodland creatures charge in the woods (only as long as they aren't part of a unit.)
Will flying over the woods negate the sight penalties. (only with respect to other flying creatures. And the pope's big pointy hat. )
Do you need initiative to do a wrap-around (nope)
Can you do a wrap around if attacked from the rear (Muuuust resist making your mom jokes. So hard. (your mom makes me so hard) Damnitt! And I was so close. )
Can missiles be fired into melee (only if you don't mind hitting your allies as well)
How do you hit a tree (Shoot at it. Roll to hit normally. It'll probably be AC10, as trees don't move unless the grand druid (ie, celtic pope ;) ) asks them too.)
How fast will a forest burn. (Fairly slowly. Wind direction will play a big part in how it spreads. )
How do you calculate damage against creatures with different HD sizes. ( blah blah, average hit points, blah blah divide by 4.5, blah blah statistical gubbins. )

Let the good dice roll: Another attack of statistical analysis here, showing us the probabilities of getting various ability scores with the various rolling methods. All seems pretty familiar. Come on, there's plenty of other stuff to run the math on. We don't need this again. Next!

Fiction: Out of hand by Nina Kiriki Hoffman. Kids with uncontrolled powerful magic. Just one of the things that's common in fiction, that really doesn't work in D&D. (although a really good roll on the psionic wild talents tables could just about emulate it. ) Here's that trope mixed with another common one, that of pictures stepping off the paper and coming to life. And of course, events proceed from there as you'd expect. Some people want to keep her talent under wraps, while others want to exploit it. A rather formulaic entry really. Still, deserves credit for it's strong portrayal of the life of a craftsman and their dealings with the clergy. Holy blessings don't pay the bills, and a man's gotta keep working no matter how you curse him. Overall, I think this comes out about average.

The ecology of the Aurumvorax: Now this is a nice story. One of the monsters that demands ecological and social consequences to their existence gets them in spades. Greed, envy, use as a tracking device, material shortages, these guys definitely get the interest of adventurers of all stripes, trying to study or kill it. You can profit substantially if you can kill one, but you can potentially profit even more if you can manage the expensive process of raising one from a kitten. Of course, you'll have to watch out for envious people wanting a slice of the benefits without paying the costs. We see the trend for unreliable narrators turned up a notch in this one, keeping the "truth" back for the footnotes. And although there are less of those than in many of these, this is still a pretty enjoyable entry. There's definitely several extended and possibly convoluted adventures to be built using these ideas.

Orcwars: This month's centrepiece is another mildly humorous, but still entirely playable little complete game. Even more than Nibar's keep, this is easily integrated into an actual D&D game, and indeed, is set in the Known World. Unite the Orc hordes, and ravage the civilized lands. Whoza get ta be da warboss? Sound like fun? Certainly looks like fun, with multiple winning objectives, and plenty of tactical choices. Will you obey da code of ethnics? Will you primarily raid da hooman caravans, or beat up the the other tribes? Decisions, decisions. Ug tired of decisions, want to SMASH! As ever, if I get the chance to try this out, I will report back on how it turned out.

Arcane Lore: More druidic goodies in here this month. Want to be able to use animal tricks without completely transforming into one? Not a bad idea, and seems entirely within their thematic remit. So heres 6 new spells. Bat sonar, Deer speed, Lions claws, Oxen strength, bear hug, and vipers bite (with full power save or die poison, amazingly enough. ) That's some serious buffing, especially if you start combining them and developing your own animal power imitators. So a pretty cool idea, but one which may open the door to even greater feats of twinkery. Anyone who underestimates druids is a fool, as has been proven far too many times in the magazine.

The king of conventions: Looks like this year, they're definitely trying to promote con going more in the magazine. Gen Con and Origins have finally got over the bad blood that polarised people in the late 70's/early 80's, and are working together with the RPGA to make an even bigger and better experience for YOU! As they said a couple of months ago, mini's in particular are getting a big push, as they try once again to stem the decline in wargaming. Poor old guard, trying so hard, when we know in hindsight they are doomed to fail. So this is one that is somewhere between amusing and sobering, for it could well be us next. What are we to do? Move on quickly, before things get too morbid. :brrr:
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