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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 150: October 1989

part 1/5

108 pages. Larry Elmore gives us another character who looks very familiar. What diabolical plots does she have for that scarecrow? Since it's october, you can bet horror'll be involved. But there's plenty of different spins to be put on that idea. In 1980, they focussed more on the fiendish side of things. This time, it's mind flayers and other mind-bending alien horrors that'll be exerting their will on your players. Mmm. Mind control and tentacles. Two great tastes that taste great together, especially if you can't get girls the normal way :p Will it be well crafted oppressive tension and violation, or cheap schlocky scares? Let's crack open this particular musty tome from ages long gone.

In this issue:

Letters: A letter pointing out that the info for the vampire in the new MC is borked. Roger replies that they are already well aware of that, have fixed it in the new printing, and just to be extra generous, are also including this bit of errata later in this issue. Can't leave a monster as popular as that messed up.

A letter with a ton of questions, that require even more lengthy replies. Boiled down, they are Sorta, thanks, role of computers, no, no. Next!

Two rather astute suggestions on getting hold of stuff, and dealing with errata. Roger is suitably chastened, but that doesn't mean he's going to use them. We have our creative independence to consider.

Forum: The forum has both an unusually large number of contributors, and the individual letters are longer than usual. They also spread it over lots of pages throughout the magazine. Guess they had a load of awkwardly sized advertising that they needed to format around. That and the responses to the edition changes are starting to hit. This should be interesting.

David Cody & Ed Kramer writes in in their official role as runners of the Origins convention to rebutt Bryan A Walker's letter from issue 145. Your worries about cancellations and gaming being seen as a negative influence are unfounded. We provide both quality and quantity. Nice to see them paying attention to stuff said in here.

Toby Myers has yet more ideas on how a smartly played dragon could kick the ass of any party it likes, probably without ever even meeting them face-to-face. You know, even really smart bad guys have to sleep too. And a few years napping can really erode your trap setup and support network. Playing them as omniscient creatures with infinite resources and a contingency for everything that means you always play into some xanatos gambit and advance some other plan is just as unrealistic as the other extreme, and probably more unfun for players. As ever, balance please.

S. D. Anderson has some advice on just how common commercially available magic scrolls should be. Once wizards get to name level, they've got better ways to make lots of money than setting up a shop for any peons and adventurers that come along. That's where the cutoff should be.

Ted Collins rebutts S. D. Anderson's little piece on how untouchable characters with ridiculously buffed magic items are. Again, this boils down to how intelligently the characters are played to shift the statistics around. Mobs can beat a single character that is vastly more powerful, especially if they play it smart. So put the smart party against the smart dragon, and watch the fireworks fly. (albeit slowly, given the time both sides spend machinating and preparing their buffs and traps)

Stephen Jorgensen thinks much the same as Ted, and would also like to factor in realistic penalties that people facing multiple enemies at once suffer. Don't forget the fatigue rolls either. Even mook-mowers will start to fade after a few hours. And then you are in trouble. A nice reminder of how cinematic D&D can be, and how little some people like that fact.

Tom Foottit also thinks that S. D. is massively exaggerating how it would turn out in a real situation, rather than a white room simulation. You don't get to 5th level while thinking like a mook. This is going to be like Alycia and Scud all over again, isn't it.

Dennis Rudolph gives his own rather idiosyncratic take on the ideas of cheating and getting more XP for high ability scores. Or less, in his case. Very interesting and worth consideration.

Matt Foster freely admits that he's pretty messed up, and D&D is his main avenue of escape from the loneliness. Spare a thought for the people who don't actually get to play regularly.

Lee Loftis has players who are getting tired of the modules with plotlines, and just want to go back to delving dungeons, killing things and taking their stuff. Please make more modules like that, TSR. Good luck with that one.

Bill McCullough talks about his rather twinked current game, and how it was gradually forced into that state by player pressure, while he wanted something more down-to-earth, but players kept leaving. This is how power creep from edition to edition happens. You pursue the commercial agenda to keep your game from dying, and before you know it, you're a complete sellout.

Anthony N Emmel is also interested in the gradual evolution of the game, and thinks that you can have both hack and slashing and complex roleplaying in the same game, and it'll be all the more fun for the variety. He also points out that the Dragonlance Chronicles, one of the biggest D&D series ever, shows good and evil characters co-existing in the same party. If they can do it, you certainly can.


Making the Legend
Validated User
Dragon Magazine Issue 150: October 1989

part 2/5

Who will be the new gods of the forgotten realms? Buy the avatar trilogy to find out. Remember, all the events of the novels are canon, and change the game world accordingly. If you skip anything, you'll be confused when the world in future supplements is different. Welcome to the start of metaplot becoming a big issue, used to encourage you to buy everything for a line, and annoying people who don't want to or can't afford to do that. We'll be seeing loads more of this over the next decade. You have been warned.

Sage advice forgets to format properly this episode, Roger must have been too busy writing to edit properly.

Why haven't you answered my 1119 questions (because you asked 1119 questions. Skip only has a few pages a month to answer questions in, so he gets to choose his cases. You ain't a beautiful dame with a knack for getting Skip into trouble or a mysterious billionaire, so you get low priority.

Why are you still answering 1st ed questions (Because so many people haven't switched over yet. And because we genuinely care. We aren't some heartless machine on a constant battle to push the new and shiny at the expense of our previous product. :) :p )

How do you handle fighting a hydra. (it does involve quite a bit of bookkeeping, doesn't it. I'm sure you'll work out a way. )

What happens if a magic user tries to wield a sword (nonproficiency penalty. Thank god this isn't like that Craaaaazy last edition with it's magical weapon prohibition curses and alignment languages. )

What does sensory impairment do to your spellcasting. (Lets just say it aint pretty. This is why magic-users become liches. Going blind and deaf when your powers should be at their peak really gets on your nerves. )

What's with weapon speed factors (oh, no-one uses those. Don't worry your pretty little head. )

What about the to hit adjustment tables ( Again, you might as well ignore those. They'll just slow us down. Remember your encumbrance rules. Don't tell me you ignore those. Ok, now you've crossed the line. Skip is Not Down with ignoring encumbrance. Don't make me have to cap yo ass. )

What do polearms look like (What don't they look like. Those craaaazy medieval fighters, favoring ugly but effective over pretty instruments like swords. It's as if they were actually fighting for real, instead of to show off )

What's a morning star. (What skip shows the laydees the morning after. Yeeeeeaaaaah, baby. )

Why did unearthed arcana take shields away from assassins (I've already answered this one. Go away)

Does a girdle of giant strength let you throw a polearm (not effectively)

What does darkness do to combat. ( -4. Not just for normal invisibility.)

What's with space requirements for weapons (You don't want to hit your buddies, do you? )

Can you use an at will power and attack and move in the same round (Oh yes. This is one of the things that makes extraplanar monsters so badass)

Can magic-users move and cast as well (No. That's what you get for being human and meddling in forces you weren't born too. )

Can you back off from melee (slowly)

Can you attack more than one creature if you have multiple attacks (Yes.)

How long does paralyzation last (Generally a lot less than last edition. We're still not at the point where you get to save again every round though. We haven't completely pussified our game in response to all the wussy whiners yet. )

Is there any proficiency crossover between weapons (Still no. Not until the complete fighters handbook comes out. Then you can twink out to your hearts content. )

Does bastard sword's size and speed change when it's used one handed (no)

Do multipurpose weapons also grant proficiency in the weapons that make them up (no)

What does charging do (this one is clearly in the book. Why the hell are you wasting Skip's valuable time with this crap )

What does high dex do for initiative (nothing. zip. nada.)

Can missile weapons be used in melee. Can I shoot into melee without hitting my buds (more recycling? Have you people learned nothing from Skip. Does Skip struggle in vain? Is Skip's battle against ignorance and stupidity in the big city destined to be never-ending, concluding only when a particularly intractable case finally wears down the last of Skip's sanity. Look, Skip is already referring to Skip in the third person! Only mad people do that. )

Can you use a random object for nonlethal combat (Depends what it is)

How far can you throw improvised weapons (not very far, usually)

How do you handle gaze attacks ( See Lew Pulsipher's great article back in issue 50 :teeth ting: )

Do you suffer a penalty for attacking more than once in a round (if you attack two-handed)

Can vorpal weapons sever giant creatures heads ( depends on your position)
Does unholy water hurt paladins (yup. It burnsses)

Can you turn undead and attack (another reused question? The answer has not changed since last time, so bog off)

Can creatures that can hit magical creatures resist quivering palm automatically (no. That's some pretty torturous logic you're trying there. )

Can torches be used as melee or missile weapons (Oh yes. As the movies show, this is actually quite effective )

How quickly can you draw a weapon (fast enough for it to be irrelevant )

Why do you only get one attack a minute (our abstraction. Let us remind you of it)

How do you determine if a sap hits the enemies head properly (flip a coin. Then hit them on the head while they're watching it. )

Can you hit sleeping opponents automatically (no, just with a +4 bonus. Don't think you're likely to take them out in one hit)

Kakita Kojiro

IL-series Cylon
RPGnet Member
Validated User
What do polearms look like (What don't they look like. Those craaaazy medieval fighters, favoring ugly but effective over pretty instruments like swords. It's as if they were actually fighting for real, instead of to show off )
Good grief. I find it hard to fathom how anyone in the history of D&D would need to ask what polearms look like. I know they'd ousted EGG by now, but polearms have to be the most redundantly-covered topic in D&D, ever.
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Validated User
Good grief. I find it hard to fathom how anyone in the history of D&D would need to ask what polearms look like. I know they'd ousted EEG by now, but polearms have to be the most redundantly-covered topic in D&D, ever.
I never actually saw any pictures of polearms in an AD&D product until the 2nd Edition Arms and Equipment Guide. There aren't any in either Player's Handbook or DMG, not 1st or 2nd edition.


Sexy Drunkard
Validated User
Good grief. I find it hard to fathom how anyone in the history of D&D would need to ask what polearms look like. I know they'd ousted EEG by now, but polearms have to be the most redundantly-covered topic in D&D, ever.
Go back and look in any 1st ed product and the 2nd ed products that were out when the question was asked. Count all of the pics of pole arms you see. I'll wait.


Red-eyed dust bunny
Validated User
Unearthed Arcana came out four years before the issue, and has an entire appendix filled with illustrations of polearms (68). Until then, there were an awful lot of clerics swinging Lucerne hammers. While it was the the best selling product since the original core books, apparently not everyone had a copy. There were other more obscure examples (e.g. 1980's Dungeon Masters Adventure Log), but UA was the big one.


Sexy Drunkard
Validated User
Unearthed Arcana came out four years before the issue, and has an entire appendix filled with illustrations of polearms (68). Until then, there were an awful lot of clerics swinging Lucerne hammers. While it was the the best selling product since the original core books, apparently not everyone had a copy. There were other more obscure examples (e.g. 1980's Dungeon Masters Adventure Log), but UA was the big one.

I completely forgot that those were in there! Egg on my face and all that.

Kakita Kojiro

IL-series Cylon
RPGnet Member
Validated User
I completely forgot that those were in there! Egg on my face and all that.
EGG's obsession with obscure polearms is rather an in-joke about D&D. Once Gygax left/was ousted, the polearm fetish declined somewhat. But my knowledge of Lucerne hammers and Bohemian earspoons comes straight from D&D.


Making the Legend
Validated User
Dragon Magazine Issue 150: October 1989

part 3/5

The dragon's bestiary gives us tons of cool information on illithids and their relations. As creatures from another world, even when they've evolved to fill niches analogous to our own, the under the hood means of doing so and physiology is quite different. As well as talking about the existing monsters that are native to those lands, they give us a rough template to convert earthly creatures into their gruesome sunset analogues. So high level adventurers now have a whole new environment to venture too when mundane wilderness encounters no longer offer any challenge at all. This is very pleasing indeed. They've already had an ecology, but this really builds them up quite a bit more than the old one did. And they include a bunch of new monsters as well.

Cessrid are essentially Illithid dogs. They have hairless slimy bodies, webbed feet, and sharp beaks surrounded by tentacles, but the hunting principle is the same. They're as smart as the average person, so their tactics'll likely be pretty advanced as they stalk you and rip you up. They remember to reference the Gith dogs from issue 117 and their relationships, which adds to the awesome quotient another little bit.

Embrac are slow moving carnivorous trapper creatures. They may not actually be plants, but they definitely make me think of Audrey II. Like everything else here, they're smart and psionic enough that you have a chance of negotiating with them.

Kigrid are the illithid eqivalent of pigs, large omnivorous scavengers that'll rip you up and eat you, and probably much of your gear as well. They might be smarter than you, but their perpetual hunger means they don't get much time for philosophising or scheming.

Saltor are the illithids equivilent of baboons. Knuckle walking slimy skinned, tentacle mouthed monstrosities, they too like to eat brains if at all possible, and implant their young in your head. They can read minds and levitate. They'll also stoop to throwing rocks at you, and are often capable of dimensional travel, so don't think you can outmaneuver them easily and pick them off from a distance. Seems like you'll be challenged well into the teens if you venture to these realms.

The sunset world: Stephen Inniss continues what he started in the last article, extensively detailing a possible homeworld for the mind flayers and similar dungeon based abberations. Actually, it seems like he probably intended them to be the other way round, with this giving the elaborate descriptions, then that filling in more crunch, but so it goes. Silly Roger. He starts from a fairly solid scientific base, that of a tidally locked world orbiting an ancient red star, and then starts building up the fantastical elements, all the highly evolved and psionically capable creatures that are perfectly adapted to this brutal environment, and pretty effective when invading the underdark of your home world. They may not be able to stand the yellow sun, but with minds like theirs, you can bet they have some scheme to extend their dominance over the entire world, enslave us like they did the gith all those years ago. Only this time, they ain't gonna screw it up. Combining a fictional account with some complex and well thought out biological details, this has both useful information and drama in spades, massively surpassing their original ecology in depth and inventiveness, if not humour. Between the two articles, this is probably the best contribution he's ever made, avoiding the dryness he is often prone too, while retaining his skill at detail creation, and a classic pair who's influence is still seen in mind flayers today. If the rest of the issue can live up to these standards, it'll be another top tenner to celebrate.

Fangs alot: As they mentioned earlier, the proper revised vampire stats. Woo. Not much to say here. Extensive collection of powers and weaknesses, horribly unfair energy draining, eastern variant able to become invisible, you know the drill. Now let's chill for a bit. Or maybe not. We must be eternally vigilant against further errata attacks! Errata attacks, errata attacks. We must defeat those errata attacks. Great. That's going to be stuck in my head all day now.

Palladium fantasy takes us to the frozen northern wilderness

The well-rounded monster hunter: Call of Cthulhu once again makes an incursion into the magazine. Seems fitting, as illithids and their slowly dying world do have a definite lovecraftian influence. On the other hand, the subject isn't particularly connected, since it's just adding and clarifying a bunch of skills. Like far too many systems with lots of finely granulated skills, BRP is prone to having skills added in modules with little explanation, that would often seem to overlap with existing ones. The more of these are added, the less competent existing characters become, and the more scope for confusion, with characters being useless at something they really would need for their job, and some being simply better than others, because they picked the broader sounding names for their skills. Man, what a headache. There's also the problem that in roll-under systems, people tend to stick with the fixed difficulty level determined by the stat, rather than properly scaling the DC's. Both issues many more recent games successfuly avoid. With mathematical analyses and ideas to fix these problems, this is a quite well done, but not hugely interesting article. You'll need a bit more humour or genuine inventiveness to get above solid.


Making the Legend
Validated User
Dragon Magazine Issue 150: October 1989

part 4/5

TSR Previews: Our big release this month, slightly late, is the first campaign setting for 2nd edition. Spelljammer! Get up there, and get ready for crossovers.

D&D is also trying something new, with PC1: Tall tales of the wee folk. Orcs of Thar seems to have proved popular enough to create a spin-off line focussed on making various races available as PC's. Very neat. Will they be horribly unbalanced?

Confusingly, we have three books called Waterdeep this month. The avatar trilogy comes to an end, with Richard Awlinson completing this tale of gods losing their powers, dying, and being replaced. The module of the same events, FR3, also sees Midnight becoming the new god of magic, while you don't. Are you going to get off the train at this stop? And the trail map of the same name actually covers the whole of the western side of the Realms. Surely you can find somewhere nice to stay for a while until all the gods stop tromping around the place.

And finally, we have the Art of the AD&D fantasy game. Hello again Mr Rehash. Enjoy your time on the coffee table. So this is the first month where every single one of their products are directly D&D focussed. Curious that this should happen just after the edition change. Wonder who made that managemental decision.

Nobody lasts forever: Or do they? Superman and Batman certainly show no sign of dying for good, despite a few big plotlines putting them out of action temporarily. Even lesser superheroes have amazing capacities for making comebacks, through incredibly implausible plot twists. Any superhero RPG that wants to properly emulate it's source material needs to take account of that. This tackles that in a fairly oblique way though, trying to keep things purely in setting, rather than offering metagame manipulation methods. The way that they die, the things that happen if they do, and exactly how long people with enhanced lifespans live. Another solid bit of cataloguing, with a few amusing touches, but nothing that blows me away. Plus there's some more editing sloppiness that detracts a bit from it, although I can work out what's missing. Ho hum.

Fiction: the serpent of aledorn by John P Buentello. An evil wizard has cursed a village. The place needs a hero to save them! A typical scenario. But as is often the case, there is a twist. Two connected twists, in this case. The villagers are entirely deserving of their punishment, and the person called upon to rescue them figures this out and has some suitably ironic insurance to ensure their attempt to pull the same treachery on him gets what it deserves. Ok, so it's not quite in the same league as the pied piper of hamelin, but it's very much in the same spirit. Pretty neat, and another one with a strong scientific edge. They do seem to be doing that quite a bit this issue.

Role-playing reviews: Ken takes HARN to task over it's lengthy hesitation about publishing modules. As a busy writer, he wants his adventures ready to run. Just having loads of setting details without a direction is akin to the kind of GM who has hundreds of pages on their game world but never lets people play it, because it's "not ready yet" Oookay then :backs off: But anyway, they've finally caved to public pressure and produced published prefab modules for peons like you. And since despite his gripes, he does like the line, he's going to give them a good reviewing.

Araka-kalai is a fairly sketchy little book, halfway between an area supplement and a traditional D&D style module. Venture into the caverns of the spawner of monsters, and deal with the cult that worships him. With seven different scenarios in a 26 page book, it isn't going to win any awards for pure depth, but they do include plenty of background material applicable to all of them, and any other adventures set in the area you may concoct. And the adventures included do have some neat twists. Seems a fairly decent place to put a starting party in, their equivalent of keep on the borderlands.

100 bushels of rye is a rather more narrative focussed adventure. While the path of the adventure is fairly linear, the direction of the final resolution is very much in the players hands. Generic enough to be easily adaptable to other gritty medieval type systems, and the setting details can be used repeatedly. Once again, Ken recommends it.

The staff of fanon (now that would be a scary power. Making fanfics into official parts of the continuity. The horrors that you could inflict on literature. :D ) is a rather more high magic, fantastical adventure. Still, it doesn't skimp on the detail or the integration into the game world, and the strange things the players will encounter along the way do have a reason and rhyme to them.

The broken covenant of Calebais is an ARS Magica game. Mark Rein·Hagen's pretentious talk about roleplaying as art is already well in force, making Ken roll his eyes. But their talk about pushing the boundaries of gaming is more than backed up in the scenario, with the world, plot and character building being exemplary. On the other hand, the visual presentation, section organisation and editing are a bit slipshod. (no surprise there :p) Still, it's very distinctive indeed when compared to the current set of adventures. And we know what the future has in store for their ideas.

Flight 13 is a GURPS module, combining the horror and space supplements to create a goofy 1950's style retro-futuristic adventure in which the PC's are captured by creatures from beyond the stars and put through a bunch of weird tests. It can be used in any vaguely modern game, but take care, for it may disrupt the tone of some.
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