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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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Making the Legend
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Dragon Magazine Issue 166: February 1991

part 4/6

Arcane Lore: Another three tomes full of obscure magics this month. Manor's Manual of Sight was written by a blind wizard, and so it's obviously in a nonstandard form, printed on silver plates. It has three unique spells of increasing power that allow you to compensate for this lack of vision, eventually letting you cast your sight around, penetrating walls, magical deceptions, and darkness. Overcompensating in a world when all you need is a cleric capable of casting 2nd level spells to fix this little problem? Maybe. But they are still pretty useful to other adventurers as well.

Tymessul's Enchiridion of Travel is one of those ones who's theme is pretty self explanatory. Mostly standard movement spells of all levels, from levitate to astral spell, it also includes two exceedingly powerful custom spells. Tymessul's Cerulean Traverse lets you travel the planes and back with a bunch of companions by holding hands, and gives you some decent travel benefits while in other universes. Tymessul's Planar Pacifier deals with the incredibly irritating problem of magic items losing their powers when you go from one plane to another. They seem very attractive if you can make it that far. Since both are pretty expensive in terms of material components, you may want to make them permanent though. Course, if you've made it to 18th level, there's probably a lot of awesome things you want to make. Which is why some form of immortality should probably be your first priority.

Mylsibis' Codex of Contention is a somewhat less one-note tome, with two very different unique spells. Balance is a 1st level spell that lets you do things like tightrope-walking without a roll, stepping on thieves toes again. Mylsibis' Arcane Contention lets you fight a spectacular spell duel in classic novel style without hurting anyone, but only if you can cast 9th level spells. Since this involves summoning phantasmal giant monsters to fight each other there are definite shades of pokemon that make this a little more risible in retrospect than it was at the time. Still, once again, these spells seem pretty desirable. Let players know about these ones, and many of them will be quite happy to go on big adventures to hunt them down.

Sage advice has a litle striplight of color at the top, but is still shrinking. It's like working in a smoky office with the shutters closed, and a single lamp on the desk. How thematic.

What order do the monstrous compendia go in (However you see fit. That's why we made it loose leaf. Course, you won't be able to get it perfectly alphabetical, cause of the two monsters per sheet policy. We really shoulda thought about that a bit more)

What are the rules for emotions (see ravenloft. Otherwise player choice is preferable)

RA1's scales are all out of wack (oops. That should be measured in feet, not miles.)

Does a ring of free action remove armour penalties to thieving (chance'd be a fine thing. )

How powerfull bonds can knock break (it doesn't break them, it simply opens them. It's an opening spell, not a blast walls apart spell. )

Do dual classed characters get a full set of new proficiencies (No. And even though Skip definitely said they did back in the 1st ed days, Skip will pretend that never happened. )

Is there going to be a harpers trilogy (Skip will do some investigating. Hmm. Oh sweet mercifull jesus. Skip sees that our hacks are churning it out as we speak. People buy this rubbish? Um, Skip means yes. Available in all good hobby stores soon :teeth ting: :sweatdrop: )


RPGnet Member
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Tired of fighting the same old dragons, Try fifth cycle. I don't remember this one, but somehow it smells of fantasy heartbreaker. Any more info will as ever be welcomed.
I'm pretty sure I have a copy of this in my back room. I'll see if I can dig it up. I know it definitely got a review in the magazine at one point. I think by Lester Smith - he was the one who did lots of small press RPG reviews, wasn't he?


Making the Legend
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Dragon Magazine Issue 166: February 1991

part 5/6

Role-playing reviews: Welcome to the kitchen sink! :p Yes, this month's RPG's take the concept of strict adherence to genre and laugh at it, throwing in all manner of stuff, with room for further expansion and adding odd bits and pieces from nearly any source. Now that's definitely an amusing development. There are now several games taking that approach, competing for your gaming dollars. Let's see which one Jim prefers.

TORG gets a fairly good review. The conceit used to explain why the world has been turned into a multi-genre mash-up, and the PC's are superhuman (or at least, super lucky) is actually quite a clever one, allowing you tons of room to create your own plots, while also providing a theoretical overarching campaign goal that could be achieved eventually. The system is nicely open-ended in terms of power scaling, and handles large groups of creatures quickly and easily, while the Drama Deck and the dramatic editing (with neat IC explanation ) provides the cinematics. There are a few clunky bits, and the artwork could be better, but overall, it looks like a good deal of fun, that can be played in lots of different ways, or mined to create settings based on the individual genres incorporated. Which aspects would you like to emphasize?

Rifts gets a somewhat less positive review. The system is clunky and poorly explained, with little logic to how sections are ordered, and the enormous gap between regular creatures and things with Mega Damage causes some serious problems in terms of structuring fights. Looks like Palladium are already starting to fall behind in terms of design finesse. Still, they have many years of regionbooks and other stuff for this world to come, so it goes to show, system quality is not a huge indicator of success.

Novel ideas: A fairly formulaic entry here, as they inform us about the new novels they have coming up by talking about the people behind them. We've already seen stuff on Jeff Swycaffer and Mary Herbert, now say hello to L. Dean James, Michael C. Staudinger, Damaris Cole, and Robert B. Kelly. Course, since all 6 are crammed into less than 2 pages, to say there's not much depth would be an understatement. They do need to promote their standalone novels the most, but I'm not sure if this is the best way to sell people on them. Oh, if only I could think of a better way. But then, if I could, I'd be the one making millions. Sigh.

Forum: Christine Wellman contributes a long and fairly amusing letter which touches upon character stereotyping, the alignment system, and the sexual proclivities (or not) of halflings in idiosyncratic manner. This is indeed quite enjoyable to read about. Remember, individuals can have quirks that go against the bulk of their alignment without it tipping them all the way to another one.

Rob Williams talks about finding the optimum challenge level to keep players interested and enjoying the game. It's most fun when adventures are challenging, but the players eventually win, and feel they've actually achieved something. Similarly, resurrection is best used when the death was arbitrary and not the player's fault. If they were genuinely dumb, they should also reap the rewards of that and learn from the experience.

Jeremiah Lynch also talks about how hard he thinks you should make resurrection. Again, tricky, but possible if they really work at it seems to be the standard here.

Craig Hardie complains about the people who are overreliant on using the existing campaign worlds for their RPG's. Whatever happened to your creativity? Even if you do use existing stuff, adapt it, make it your own. Otherwise everyone who's read the book will know all the answers.

Jeremy Bargen thinks that the psychological changes a lich goes through thanks to undeath are more severe than Erik Martella does. I think this is one instance where I'd rather have it vary widely from individual to individual.

Alan Grimes reasserts his points against Dan Howarth's criticism. Computers are no-where near as good as real DM's for roleplaying against. So there. I suspect you may be talking at each other, rather than too.

Steven Zamboni picks holes in the astral taxi service in issue 159. Despite it's power, there are some quite substantial holes in their defenses, and githyanki are scary fast on the astral anyway, able to hit and run to wear them down quite effectively. And then there's the moral issue of using harvested brains as slaves to power your items. Even if they are evil, that isn't going to endear you to anyone. Hmm. Now I want to run actual combat simulations, see just how those ships actually fare against the various high level challenges mentioned. It'll definitely be interesting if this one is responded too by the original author.


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For the past two issues I've clearly remembered reading parts of the reviews section as a kid (I still to this day think, "Right, Torg is like Rifts only with a better system, I read that review comparing them in Dragon once" every time it's mentioned, and I'm pretty sure I read that Starflight 2 review), but the Princess Ark stuff was completely unfamiliar (I know that I've never actually read anything set in Thothia until just last year or so!) So, uh, that's weird.


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Fifth Cycle is a fantasy RPG which is set in a world where evil mages once ruled the world (this was "the third cycle"). Those mages were eventually thrown down in a massive war that devastated the world and saw many strange races created as troops. For three thousand years, society rebuilt itself, and magic was banned: practitioners were driven underground and hunted (this was "the fourth cycle"). About two hundred years ago, one of the Kings realised that wasn't working, and began to rehabilitate (but still monitor) magic-use in his realm (thus "the fifth cycle" begins). Part of this rehabilitation process is exploring dangerous third cycle ruins for lost knowledge and treasures. Enter the PCs.

For abillity scores, you rol 2d10 and consult a chart to see how many points you have to spread over the nine abilities. The lower your roll, the fewer points you will get, but the more "peaks" you are allowed (e.g. a low roll allows you to have two scores of 24, whereas a high roll gives you more points, but you might only be allowed one score of 23, and nothing else above 20). I think Dragonquest did something similar.

Ability scores don't generally have direct modifiers in the way they do in D&D. Instead, having a high score just makes it easier to learn skills that are based on that score. So having a high Strength reduces the cost of learning to hit things with an axe, for instance.

Races: Humans, Elves, Dwarves, Warrow (halflings) and Glynnda (winged humans - though there is some in game excuse to stop them using their wings indoors or underground and thus flying over any barriers they encounter there.). If you want to be a non-human, you have to make a roll to do so. The chance varies from about 50% (elf, dwarf) down to about 20% (Glynnda). If you miss the roll, you have to be human instead. If you choose to be human (i.e. don't roll to be nonhuman), you get a small ability score bonus that you don't if you make the roll and fail. Racial abilities are pretty much as you would expect, though elves are farmers, it seems.

Professions: You roll randomly for yiour family's profession, then choose your own. You can buy common skills, and skills related to your or your family's profession, at normal cost. Other skills are very expensive.

Magic: Is divided into two types (scholarly and physical - the latter is basically elemental/druidic). Each type has eight colleges within it. Mage types must choose a single college. They pay through the nose for spells from other colleges (like with non-profession skills). Each college has a series of spells that you can learn in a chain, with occasional branches off. The first couple of spells in each chain don't look very exciting, so being a mage is something you have to work at.

Combat: Weapons have D&D-level damage scores. Characters have HP spread across 10 hit locations (12 if they are glynna). A single hit from a sword to an unarmoured body part has a fair chance of crippling it, with the exception of the torso, where the chance is small from one hit, but high from two. Armour makes you easier to hit, but absorbs damage: a sword does d8 damage, for instance, and plate armour absorbs the first 4 points (for three hits to that location, then it only absorbs 2 until it can be repaired).

Some friends and I will probably try a one-shot of this sometime. We do that a lot with small press games (this week we're trying Principia Malefex).


Making the Legend
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Dragon Magazine Issue 166: February 1991

part 6/6

The navy wants You!: Looks like they're giving Top Secret some support in addition to all the sci-fi stuff this month. As the title indicates, this is about the navy's own espionage division. They've already given the army plenty of attention, so this only requires a few pages of adaptions, new skills, and a whole bunch of tables giving info on the various career paths. This seems very much like the Traveller articles that opened up a new job in terms of feel, which adds a bit of pleasing familiarity to it. Plus it looks like it has quite a bit of actual real world info. So overall, another pretty good article.

Everyone's a critic in dragonmirth. Except maybe the rust monster. Ogrek moves in with Yamara. And brings all his stuff. Twilight empire gives us some hot spring stylee fanservice.

Through the looking glass: A little less emphasis on the legal troubles with lead this month, and a bit more on this year's conventions. Seems a bit early to start, but then again, conventions actually happen all year round, not just the summer. And you know what tickets are like for selling out way before the event. Act now, before it's too late! The same applies for the legal campaigning. It's more likely to turn out alright if you take personal steps than if you just trust other people will get round to it. In fact, that's definitely useful advice for any endeavour. Against laziness and apathy, even the gods themselves struggle in vain, while those who exploit the apathy of other really rake it in.

Anyway, this month's reviews continue the spirit of fun that pervades this issue. A knight facing the wrath of a princess for trying to kill her dragon. A rabbit - OF DOOOOOOM!!!!! A pair of dragons fighting, based on the art of Denis Beauvais from this very magazine. A wizard talking to a hobbit. An Armoured Personnel Carrier. A big muscly monster from Talislanta, which seems pretty adaptable for any ogre type humanoid for other systems. And finally, a ton of ships from GHQ, which inspires Robert to launch into a couple of pages of discourse on the real life history of each ship, and give them all 5 star ratings. This has obviously hit an area of personal interest for him. He does seem to have a few surprises in his bag still.

The best issue of the decade so far, with highly readable articles, lots of non D&D stuff, and a far higher than usual sense of fun in general. It was so easy to review, it feels like it was over way too soon, which is definitely unusual in this era of large page counts. Let's hope the next one isn't an agonizing crawl to make up for it.


Making the Legend
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Dragon Magazine Issue 167: March 1991

part 1/6

116 pages. Out into the freezing wilderness again. Dungeon, wilderness and city, the great trifecta of adventuring. Ok, so they tack on weird otherdimensional stuff as well, but those are the ones that must be returned to again and again, to create a satisfying set of adventure choices. We're well past the point where I can expect regular innovations, so once again, I'll just have to wonder if this one'll have some new spins and cool ideas to add to our repertoire.

In this issue:

Letters: A rather snarky letter to Skip quibbling about Scale and Chain mail. Skip gives an equally snarky response, as befits the badass sage who puts the pages in the mages.

Another letter giving a bit of random information on something that they mentioned. This is the kind of thing googling deals with in a matter of seconds these days. Not so easy back then.

Two letters about submitting stuff to them. Roger gives them the usual freelancers spiel about getting the proper paperwork. You can't just give them your campaign world out of the blue and expect them to jizz themselves with excitement and publish it for you in perpetuity. Even if you were that good and prolific a writer, there are procedures that must be followed. They do have to crush the dreams of another wave of enthusiastic young wannabes with less skill than they think on a regular basis here. :(

Editorial: Roger reminisces about his army days again. There were many long, happy campaigns had with his fellow soldiers. But there was always the distinct possibility of them coming to a sudden end when real life intrudes, and people are posted to different locations, or even killed in action. But you should still stay in touch. It can be lonely out there, especially when no-one knows where you are or what you're doing. A good reminder that in reality, killing people and taking their stuff (because let's not forget the importance of oil in the Iraq wars ;) ) is a nasty business, with long periods of tedium followed by quick periods of terror and pain. We engage in these things in our imagination because doing them in reality is not feasible or desirable. ( Well, feasable anyway. Muahahahahaha!!!!! Ahem. ) PS: Support your troops! Yeah, this falls a little into moralizing lecture territory, which I'm not very keen on venturing too. But it does raise a lot of interesting and pertinent points. Roger's still a pretty good writer. If only he had time to produce more articles, instead of having to edit everyone else's and still write this.

See the pomarj and die: Hmm. A Greyhawk article? Not often you see those in here. This is an interesting development. Welcome to another of AD&D's wild frontiers. Full of fragmented human communities, beset by marauding humanoids, and of course, endangered by the ur-slavers of D&D mythology, as it's the canon location of modules A1-4. It'll take more than wild Bill Hickok to pacify this region. A mini supplement that goes into a surprising amount of demographic detail, and gives you plenty of adventure hooks that should keep players busy throughout the low/mid levels, but'll probably run out by the time we get to name levels (at which point you'll probably have made the info here pretty inaccurate. ) It could have been a good deal longer, possibly even a full supplement, but this is a pretty decent starter. Enjoy your killing and politicking.

Back to the age of mammals: The Cenozoic gets another article on it. Only 2 + 1/2 years since the last one too. Fortunately, since that was also on Roger's watch, and this is by the same author as well, there is no overlap whatsoever. Reality is pretty damn big, and you could easily fill entire books talking about this era. So here's 11 more creatures to squeeze into your campaign. Agriotherium, Amphicymon, Anancus, Andrewsarchus, (I'll bet that's named after someone specific) Giant humpless Camels, Dwarf Elephants, (so cute! I want one. ) Giant Hippos, Megalania, Metridiocherus, Pelorovis and Sarkastodon. (hee) Plus a few more that don't get full stats, being simply adjusted versions of existing creatures. Most are clearly related to modern day creatures, only bigger and with various miscellaneous quirks. The individual descriptions aren't that long, but you should know where to look if you want more ecological info. And so this milieu grows even more inviting to me. Since lost world regions are such a popular adventure location, I shall definitely have to create one.


Making the Legend
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Dragon Magazine Issue 167: March 1991

part 2/6

The ecology of the su-monster: Another excuse to ensure everyone knows about a newly updated monster here, including a reprint of it's stats. In this case, it's also a means of indirectly promoting the newly released Complete Psionics handbook. Gotta collect 'em all! That bit of suspicion aside, it's not a bad ecology in it's own right, spinning a rather grim tale of how creatures like this can be a threat to an entire community. Sometimes you don't need dozens of varieties of monster to make an interesting adventure, just one being numerous, devious and intractable. When they can also have various selected powers that differ from one individual to another, they can be pretty versatile even without class abilities. A strong revaluation of an underused creature. Tempting.

The dragon's bestiary decides to give us some more problematic plants to make your outdoor adventures a little more dangerous. Like underwater stuff, this isn't too common an option for writers, but there's tons of material to draw upon, so it still has plenty of room for adding surprising creations to your game.

Giant bladderwort pretends to be solid ground in marshy terrain, and then sucks you gloopily under for a good digestin'. Swamps are already one of the least glamourous locations for adventurers to tromp through. Stuff like this is why I try and get flying powers ASAP.

Giant butterwort also follow the ambush predator route. They'll stick to you like a fly in amber and wrap you up in their loving tendrils. They get nearly everywhere if you don't clear them out as well. Plants can grow surprisingly fast, remember.

Giant rainbow plants dazzle you with their pretty colours and lure you in, before dropping the act and suffocating you with their sticky leaves. Another one that probably has less ferocious relatives in real jungles.

Giant waterwheel plants are another way of making players deeply paranoid of going wading. They'll lurk below the water and digest you leg first.

Sword Grass is pretty self-explanatory. You try and step on it, it slices you to ribbons and uses your corpse to enrich it's soil. They're not hard to mow down, but will regrow unless you dig up the whole damn root system. Which means like goblinoids, they can keep showing up to challenge low level adventurers again and again.

Clubthorn are mobile holly bushes that'll beat you to a pulp. Since normal holly can do enough pain on it's own, that seems pretty decent grounds for paranoia. Something blackberry related would be even more tempting to lure us into a false sense of security.

Bloodflowers put you to sleep, and then drain you dry slowly. Now there's a pretty common archetype. Just the thing to be growing in a vampire's garden.

Helborn seem rather inspired by the Little Shop of Horrors, being sentient, semimobile creatures that can grow big enough to swallow a person, and have quite uncanny persuasive powers. Like Audrey II, they may try and deal with you, but that just puts you one lapse in feeding schedule away from being next on the menu. Still, anything intelligent can be played with variety, and I find the thought of using one of these as a crime lord and slave trader quite appealing. I can do a quite good impersonation of their signature line, and my players are the sort to appreciate that, so look out world. :devil: This lot definitely make good additions to your random encounter tables for various terrains.

Curses are Divine: Or more encouragement for your DM to be a sadistic, ironic, arbitrary bastard. Does anyone really need encouraging for that?! ;) Anyway, this is for those of you who'd like to put a bit of deific intervention in when your players loot, pillage, desecrate and slaughter the stuff of the wrong god, but aren't sure how to go about it. Chances of the god noticing and deciding to intervene in response to various actions, and a whole bunch of sample punishments. Under this one, it's a damn good idea to pick a team and stick with it, because gods generally don't mess with other god's sheep directly, but a free agent is free to be smitten from all sides. And a betrayer is trusted by no-one. The fantasy mafia in the sky are watching, and treading on the wrong turf without paying your dues may be ignored most of the time, but when response comes, it will be horribly disproportionate. One to be used with caution, depending on your assumptions about the nature of gods, their degree of omniscience, range of attention, degree of busyness and amount they care about their worshippers. Choice is yours, blah blah blah. Can't get up much passion for that.


Making the Legend
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Dragon Magazine Issue 167: March 1991

part 3/6

TSR Previews: The forgotten realms is double billing yet again. LC3: Nightwatch in the living city sees Ravens Bluff go mainstream. (I don't remember seeing LC 1 or 2 advertised here) Now you don't have to be part of the RPGA to do some heroic acts around here. Far to the west, Doug Niles finishes the Maztica Trilogy with Feathered Dragon. Didn't we just find one of those in the hollow world? Man, this stuff gets tricky to keep straight.

Greyhawk starts something a little bigger than a trilogy this year. WGS1: Five shall be one. Carl Sargent sends you on a macguffin hunt to retrieve a series of magical blades. This one any good?

Dragonlance also seems to have realised people are getting tired of trilogies. Instead, they're starting a sextet. The meetings series sees us go right back, prequeling the prequels, to when the heroes of the lance first met. Man, they're really milking the past in this setting. Next thing, we'll be having whole books on their childhoods. Flint, Tanis, and Laurana are first up, in Kindred Spirits.

Spelljammer gets a second Monstrous compendium appendix, MC9. There's a lot of weird stuff up there. Not that they're spoiling what they are exactly. This should be fun.

Lankhmar has a second anthology of short adventures. LNA3: Prince of Lankhmar. Set in the city itself, it sounds as if there may be interconnections between them. Again, could be fun.

And our standalone book this month is Sorcerer's Stone by L. Dean James. Not a very edifying title, but the synopsis doesn't seem too bad, if a bit stereotypical. Just another tiny piece of the endless wash of product these days.

Arcane lore: Yay for problemsolving! A few months ago, it was pointed out that Necromancers have some serious problems with spell selection at low level. Their favoured school, while useful, is not nearly as well exploited as it should be. So this is damn helpful article, with quite a few spells that would make it into future sourcebooks. (in particular, I think all of them were in the Complete Necromancer's Handbook. ) I quite approve.

Animate Dead Animals is ridiculously effective for it's level. Unless you need them to have hands, I'm not sure why anyone bothers with regular skeletons & zombies if they have this.

Spectral Ears & Eyes are cut-price versions of Clairvoyance and audience, since you need an undead creature to share the senses of. Spectral voice lets you speak through your minions, as well which is basically a crap version of ventriloquism. Still, remote control of your minions is not to be sneezed at, especially at 1st level. If you use these wisely, maybe you'll survive your first adventurer encounters and get to be a proper evil overlord.

Skeletal Hands also gives you useful remote manipulation abilities. Not hugely useful in combat, this'll give a wizard who's to lazy to get up from sitting in front of the crystal ball a decent alternative to unseen servant. (in case they can't access that)

Bone Knit lets you heal skeletons, or even give them regeneration. Now there's a visual that always makes players worry. Just how much effort are these undead going to take to put down? Sometimes, in the movies, no amount of hacking'll do the job. Kill it with fire or drop them in a pit instead.

Ghastly Hands lets you paralyze things with touch like a Ghast. This feels very much like a way of compensating for the fact that Hold Person is an Enchantment. If you have no hammer, then maybe a screwdriver will serve if you use a little cleverness.

Skull Trap is like Fire Trap, only more obvious, and using negative energy rather than fire. Another reason you should be very wary of any skulls just left lying around a dungeon. How many spells need a good skull to work?

Transmute Bone to Steel doesn't actually do that, just makes it as tough as, like those wood/iron transmutation spells druids got. This is fairly high level for a moderate buff to your undead minions. Still, it is reversible, which is exceedingly good for dealing with Iron Golems.

Undead Servants makes your rotting minions somewhat intelligent and programmable with complex instructions. This is pretty weak for it's level, and may actually be a nerf in disguise, since animate dead never strictly defined how much memory for complex instructions undead have in the first place. Since the low level ones are quite powerful for their level, this does make me wonder a bit. We really could do with better power benchmarks for spell levels than highly subjective eyeballing.


Red-eyed dust bunny
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... Andrewsarchus, (I'll bet that's named after someone specific) ...
Roy Chapman Andrews, actually. A flamboyant and popular fossil hunter, he was a marksman, a member of the Explorer's Club, the director of the American Museum of Natural History, and led a whole series of expeditions to China and Mongolia into the 1930s that resulted in some of the most important paleontological discoveries of the century, including the first known dinosaur eggs and Velociraptor.

So the giant hoofed wolf was named after Indiana Jones. Not entirely facetiously -- Andrews was apparently the main inspiration behind the character.
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