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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
Validated User
Dragon Magazine Issue 184: August 1992

part 5/8


The game wizards: Our second wave of trading cards this year gets it's obligatory promotion. It's zeb's turn on the mic again, bringing his customary Wahoo enthusiasm to the proceedings. New Artwork! Improved formats! More personality for characters! Customised and owned magical items! Course, it was not without it's problems in the making. Even within the TSR staff, there are substantial disagreements on what the rules actually say. Getting all the stuff you want on the back of cards requires some serious editing, and was sometimes impossible. And the rare cards required some awkward last minute switchings around. As with last time, this is statistics, but presented in a fun way, including a questionnaire and plenty of humour. They're getting to stretch their creativity a lot more than last time, and everyone is throwing in ideas and bouncing off each other in a healthy way. At least if you believe the ad copy. In any case, this is one of their more successful promotional columns.


Role-playing reviews: Having done some odd stuff in the last few reviews it is very literally back to the basics. Rick decides to see which introductory roleplaying products do their job best. After all, we always need new gamers, don't we. And christmas will be here before you know it. Perfect time to give them a free hit of your gateway drug of choice.

The new Dungeons and dragons boxed set scrapes in at 4+1/2 stars. It's a tight, well organised presentation, but the underlying rules are unchanged and starting to show their limitations. And alignment languages still give Rick a headache. We got rid of them in 2nd edition, why are they still here? Shrug. Once again it seems that the people in charge think the rules are good enough as they are.

Lord of the rings, on the other hand, strips things down quite substantially from full MERP, which is quite funny when you consider that's already streamlined Rolemaster. Rick likes this one as well, but I really didn't. Even at that age I felt patronised by it's oversimplification, although that's probably because I already owned MERP, and I was currently looking for more crunch, not less. Why would I want to start again?

Tunnels and trolls 5th edition is another one that has changed precious little save in presentation, and gets a mediocre result because of it. There is quite a bit to be picked apart in the rules, and it does have some silly elements. It does seem quite newbie friendly, but whether it'll keep them for long after this is debatable.

Toon deluxe edition is another one that gets much love, with a couple of little caveats. It's an absolutely brilliant game, providing you get the right GM. Yes, but palladium can be a brilliant game if you get the right GM. Still, I can see why that might make it not the perfect recommendation for an all new gaming group.


Rifts vampire kingdoms! Another setting gets in on the act, although with a rather different spin to the WoD or ravenloft.
 

(un)reason

Making the Legend
Validated User
Dragon Magazine Issue 184: August 1992

part 6/8


Forum: Ian Johnson is another person who thinks the solution to paying for games is to share the burden of GMing around. Different people buy and master different systems, and everyone enjoys the greater variety and less burnout. And it all balances out financially.

Jay Kirkman thinks the idea of being paid to GM is an abomination. It would suck all the integrity out of the people running and bring in people who run a game every night and cut corners on their designing to do so. Bleah.

Tracey Greathouse is another person shocked, shocked I say at the idea of paying the GM to run stuff. People might chip in to cover costs, but no-one expects to make any kind of money out of RPGing. Not even the writers. :p

Anonymous contributes for a second time in recent issues, this time about a soldier friend killed in the Gulf War. They fell out over an in game argument which now seems stupidly small. Thanks to this anonymous being a soldier as well, he didn't even get to go to his funeral. It all puts things in perspective in a rather sad way.

Maurice Sprague talks about the nerfs he's implemented on psionicists in his campaign for the sake of fairness. Unobtrusive mindfucking can go a bit far due to the complete lack of visible signs someone is using psionic powers.

Brad Allison also thinks psionicists are horribly overpowered because they get to pick the really cool powers right away and the usual checks and resistances don't apply. Well, of course they'll be a problem if you never use monsters adapted to them. And I must admit getting planar travel stuff that takes wizards levels in their teens does change the campaign quite a lot. I don't think they need that much nerfing.

Allen McMillan is not amused at Greg Detwiler's article nerfing wizards. Giving them allergies in particular is just cruel wankery. Just don't be over-generous with your players and everything'll be fine.

Alan Kellog points out what I realised straight away in issue 179. When you're at 25th level and many monsters have saves of 2 and magic resistance of 90%, you want to use the indirect stuff like rock to mud or earthquake. How you use powers is also just as important as what ones you have. Play them as smart as their int score suggests.

Arlo J. White also suggests much the same solution. Telekinetically drop rocks on them, confuzzle them with illusions, disintegrate the ground beneath them, summon badass monsters. You really are doing it wrong if your 25th level mage is sucking.


Fiction: How nemra added a line to the book of thieves by Dan Crawford. Sometimes even the most badass of characters lose. Sometimes, characters are talked up as badass, but still lose regularly as a way of demonstrating just how badass the enemy of the week is. So it proves here, in a little story that talks up how badass and mysterious it's protagonist is, only to have him stumped by an even nastier puzzle. Feels very much in the same vein as the more supernatural end of the Lankhmar series, with mysterious and rather scary, but all too present gods and characters who certainly aren't stupid, but aren't smart enough. Curious business. One of those ones that would benefit from being part of a series, but doesn't appear to be. Guess I'll just have to appreciate it as it is.
 

(un)reason

Making the Legend
Validated User
Dragon Magazine Issue 184: August 1992

part 7/8



Novel ideas: Troy Denning once again demonstrates why he's a pro writer and I'm not. You've gotta love the process if you're ever to become a prolific writer. And I still spend far too much of my writing time browsing the web and flicking from one program to another, nibbling at several different things at once to stave off boredom. I can't say I've ever been so engrossed in writing as to lose track of time or my surroundings. Anyway, this is quite an in-depth interview on him and his recent work, particularly the Dark Sun stuff. It's rather taken off, with people fascinated by Athas and wondering what will come next. There are still substantial mysteries in the setting, and the novelty of what's been done to the races and classes hasn't worn off yet. And that's a good thing, as people only really started to lose interest once all the big secrets were revealed. In hindsight, they should probably have covered more of Athas, included a wider range of environments and cultures, and not put all the Sorcerer-kings bunched up in one tiny corner of the world. Still, it's obvious that it has much to recommend it, and he has a good idea of what's coming up in the next couple of years. He's not just the writer for the novels, but an integral part of the world design team, which is definitely a good thing, as Dragonlance's freelance novels demonstrate. Once again the promotional stuff is a good deal more entertaining than usual this month, with plenty of detail that reveals where their heads are at. Funny how that happens.


Magic with an evil bite: Some nasty spelljammer stuff here that would fit in nicely with last issue's theme. The neogi, along with beholders and illithids are one of the primary bad guys of the setting. New toys that make them more scary, but which you could hopefully take and use after killing them would be very welcome, especially as the other two already have multiple articles dedicated to them.

Venom Bite lets you hit an enemy with the equivalent of a neogi bite, slowing and all. With a very fast casting time, it's an okish zappy spell to debuff your enemies with.

Spider Gout lets you spit venom. Since it's material component is neogi saliva, it isn't going to be much use to other wizards. Well, do you want to go collect some? :p

Arachnophobia makes thousands of illusory spiders crawl over you. This naturally tends to cause freakout, even if you suspect it isn't real. Since some will run while others will drop and roll, this is a good one for splitting up the enemy for further future sadism.

Identify Race allows the arrogant jackasses an easy way to figure out what your slaves are good for without the tedious business of actually talking to them or testing them to their limits the hard way.

Lethal Hatchling lets you infect someone with a baby neogi which rapidly eats it's way out. This allows them to replenish their numbers without the usual hassle and need to sacrifice their own and really wreak havoc in battle. Good luck turning said baby into a decent servant though. Nature has a definite edge over nurture here.

It's not just spells though. This article has a bunch of magic items for consideration too. Charms of Distraction give minor boosts to your AC, Saves and ability to paralyse stuff. All minor benefits, but they combine to make recurring villains more likely. See, this is just what the earlier article could have done with.

Bands of the Serpent let neogi go all thulsa doom on us. This'll also let them expand their range of slaves to less intelligent reptiles as well. Lead an army of crocodiles against your enemies! Perfect pulp win!

Bands of the Arachnid, on the other hand, get them in touch with the other half of their heritage. Turning into a spider may seem like a small change, but instadeath poison instead of slowing. Whooo boy. No competition really.

On top of that, we also get a monster. Not often you get this kind of variety in a single article. Undead umber Hulks may lack the confusing powers of their living relatives, but ironically the illustration captures the brain hurting power of their 4 eyes and jaw/mandible combo better than the regular MM one. It's like looking at those pictures that can be a vase or two silhouettes. Much kudos to Tom Baxa for pulling off that feat. Both a well presented and versatile article, this was a joy to read, changing subjects quick enough to avoid boredom while maintaining an overarching theme. Very strong.
 

(un)reason

Making the Legend
Validated User
Dragon Magazine Issue 184: August 1992

part 8/8


Audible Glamour: As usual as we near the end of an issue, it's time for the obligatory filler to ensure the page count lines up neatly. In this case it's one on making sure you describe rooms properly. Sight, sound, smell, touch. Hopefully not taste. If you do it right then you provide them with valuable clues as to what lies ahead, so they won't scream bloody murder when killed horribly by your latest deathtrap because the signs were there for them to avoid if they'd thought about it. Course, doing this for every room will multiply out your design time quite a bit, much of which will be wasted if the place is even slightly non-linear, which is why I've found myself actually doing this less in my most recent game. Quite frankly, I do not have the time. It's regrettable, but there you go. Perfectionism is for those who don't have constant deadlines breathing down their neck and a ton of other things they want to do with their life. And with that, I shall move on.


Son of pen power: Man, they really are pushing the survey stuff this year. This one is all about themes. What type of themed articles do you most want to see next year? Ones on our campaign worlds? Historical periods. Races, classes. Humour, undead, wilderness/dungeon/underground? Something new? Go on, suggest something new. Roger'll thank you for it. Once again we see the struggles trying to please their audience they have to deal with, especially after so long and covering so much already.


Dragonmirth is slightly more technologically advanced than usual. Ogrek is once again full of ideas that exasperate Yamara, but would probably actually work pretty well. The plot seriously thickens in Twilight empire.


Through the looking glass: Off to the conventions we go. This means this column is relatively uninteresting, but with the promise of cool new stuff next month, quite possibly from companies they don't normally get to cover. Just like gaming, there's a whole bunch of stuff that never gets into the standard distribution chains.

Plenty of variety in minis this month though. A nicely looming set of undead that demonstrate that 3mm can make quite a difference in minis scale. Two dragons and a hippogriff. Yet another demonstration of what happens if you get on the wrong side of wizards with polymorphing magic. A rather interesting Dragon powered zeppelin manned by dwarves, which seems like an awesome encounter idea. A mech for battletech. A street samurai for shadowrun. And three new ships for the Silent Death game. Mostly variations on familiar themes with the odd cool bit here and there.


Trading cards are certainly on the up at the moment. How long before they start making games specifically for them.


A pretty dull issue really. When the most interesting bits are the promotional articles and the editorial, something is a little amiss. I'm not sure if that's because too much is just very familiar, and I'm getting roleplaying advice fatigue again, or because there's an actual drop in quality. In any case, the buzz I got from reaching halfway is gone, and I am left very aware that I've probably got another couple of years of this to go. Hopefully the recent survey gives them the inspiration to find a few new topics and get enough articles to do them justice. Otherwise I may have to take a break for the sake of my sanity.
 

(un)reason

Making the Legend
Validated User
Dragon Magazine Issue 185: September 1992

part 1/6


124 pages. A nice dark sun cover adorns this months issue. By no co-incidence at all, this is also this month's special topic, exactly a year after it first got unleashed upon us. I wonder if they're going to try and make a regular thing of this. Surely not, when even the Forgotten Realms hasn't managed that kid of privilege. Maybe I'll be interestingly surprised, maybe not. In any case, let's see how the gameline has developed over the past year.


In this issue:


Letters: A letter asking why TSR don't release their games on Atari formats. Not profitable enough mate. Don't want to throw good money after bad by supporting a dead system.

A letter asking one new question and two old ones. Roger uses this as an opportunity to once again drop subtle hints to upper management that we are well overdue another best of. The demand is obviously there, why will you not authorise it? It's easy money for old rope.

A letter from a Rifts fanboy saying Dragon sucks for not covering palladium stuff, and their reviewers suck for being so harsh on it. Comedy gold, enabling Roger to give a level-headed yet sarcastic response. You keep your facts away from the froth. Let's not even mention what happened when White Wolf tried to cover their products in response to a similar letter.

A letter suggesting that maybe the time is now right for them to put a hologram on their cover. All the cool comics are doing it. Roger gives a cautious response. Maybe for issue 200. Maybe. Not making any promises. Don't send complaining letters if we don't.


Editorial: The annoying letters apparently continue at a rate high enough that Roger can't print all of them. He can however give them a good rebutting. Flying space whales are an entirely viable form of fantasy! Not every cover has to involve something badass staring at the camera going Raar. AD&D 2nd edition is not dumbed down! If anything, it takes even more effort to keep track of and incorporate everything. Similarly, 1st edition is not some perfect holy canon. The number of things left open or inconsistent is quite considerable, and we've filled in quite a few of those gaps in the meantime. And finally, gamers can be any age, race, religion, sexuality, political affiliation, etc that they like. As long as they can create a character and roll them bones, they can join in. Assuming other roles regularly should breed tolerance and empathy. Well, it seems that they still have their share of vitriolic lamers writing in. Don't sweat it. It shows that they're invested in the game, and also keeps you from getting complacent. Plus, comedy. It's much better than bland positive stuff.


The Arena Master's Arsenal: More weapons! More ingenious and often rather ugly weapons with special tricks beyond just inflicting damage. Another case where this may not catch fighters up with spellcasters in the amount of new crunch they've got, but certainly doesn't hurt. While intended for Dark Sun, I'm sure you can slip these into your exotic cultures on other worlds.

Bard's Friends are multipronged knife things that are easily used from concealment and make good parrying weapons. They look like each one is likely to be a bit different, customised to the hand of their maker and whatever sharp things they have to lash together.

Cahulaks are halfway between nunchuks and grappling hooks, and can be useful both in hand to hand and short range combat, for purposes of pain and grappling. As both a tool and a weapon, they definitely seem like a good one to carry around just in case, particularly for rogues.

Crushers take the principles of leverage and momentum and seriously exaggerate them. 25' long poles? Not getting that in many dungeons. On the other hand, in a wide open field, this can let you attack lots of things at once. Interesting idea though. I wonder how they came up with that one.

Datchi Clubs are huge spiky honeycombs of pain, the worst kind of phallic metaphor. Rotate them when attacking for extra larceration based agony. And you thought corncobs and pineapples were bad.

Dragon's paws have blades on both ends and the middle, like klingon batleths, only more practical. You can use the ends as protection from the sides while attacking to the front.

Gouges are big axe/polearms with shoulder straps to give you leverage and reduce the risk of disarming. You can also do flashy spin attacks for double damage if you have the space. Very PC'ish.

Master's whips have special barbs designed to contain poison. If you're really good, you can have a different one applied to each lash and control which one gets the enemy. I must admit that sounds both awesome and fairly plausible. The themed tricks you could pull would be quite considerable.

Tortoise blades are a good example of using what you can get. Take the shell and bones, and use them to make a two-in-one blade and shield combo that makes for great dual-wielding and parrying action. If anyone's going to have a chance against Drizzt, it's a gladiator from the big desert.

Weighted Pikes have a sharp bit on one end, and a spiky club on the other. They're most effective on large creatures, but their versatility of damage types means they're good as a primary weapon. After all, you never know what'll be resistant to one but not the other.

Widows Knives are double pronged nasties that can be spring-loaded and used with great precision both in hand to hand and ranged. Now there's one you'll need at least a little metal to craft. Still, it's a good end to an awesome collection.
 

DMH

Master of Mutant Design
Validated User
Note that 2-3 of these weapons show up in a 3.5 issue without credit to the original author.

I didn't own the box set until later but it was this issue that really drove home how alien Athas really is.
 

(un)reason

Making the Legend
Validated User
Dragon Magazine Issue 185: September 1992

part 2/6


Mastered, yet untamed: More Dark sun monsters, and official permission to use a few more from other settings as well here. This time, the theme is stuff that you can domesticate. Even in a place as hostile as Athas, people can learn to work together with various animals for mutual benefit. And then eat them when supplies get low. :p Just watch they don't get you first, for they're no pushovers.

Baazrag are one of the few Dark sun creatures that isn't big and scary. In fact, they're almost cute. They might be only 2' long, but in packs they can make surprisingly good draft animals, like huskies with armour plated heads.

Heavy Crodlu are considerably less cute than chocobos, but serve about the same role. The athasian equivalent of draft horses, they can be pretty nasty, with a full 5 attacks per round. Train them to fight and any bandits attacking your merchant train'll have a rough time of it.

Drik are enormous, foul-tempered, flat-shelled turtles. This means you can set up little structures on their back easily, but also makes them a serious hazard to their handlers. Everything has to be a little more badass in Athas, doesn't it.

Jalath'gak (bless you. Get well soon dear.) are enormous flying insects. They don't make that brilliant draft animals, but the thri-kreen obviously prefer them to the reptilian ones earlier. And they still can work perfectly fine as flying mounts for combat. 7 attacks? That could strafe a whole party effectively.

Ruktoi are basically silt-based crocodiles. They do the old ambush predator thing of floating just below the surface, then grabbing you and pulling you under to suffocate. The lack of water in athas certainly doesn't keep these nasty tricks from working. Another one you can theoretically domesticate, but good luck not becoming dinner if you slip up. Rather a recurring theme really.

Watroaches are simultaneously a giant beetle, and a ton of little beetles that form a hive. This is pretty interesting really. They can't be tamed, but hollowed out undead watroaches are another nasty mobile siege engine that can really make a mess of the enemy's defences, since building materials really struggle to keep up with the creatures around here. Everyone ought to move into bioorganics, because stone weapons just can't cut it against these creatures.


Twenty tricks for castle defense: An article that obviously springs from the recent forum debates. Not that there's anything wrong with that. Roger probably finds it quite nice when someone sends in something forum related that can be broken out and make a full article in itself. It provides a continuity to the magazine that just including whatever seems cool at the time lacks. Mixing magical and mundane tricks, this is primarily intended for the defender, but many of the tricks would work just as well from the other side too. Staying on top of things while keeping the enemy off guard and reacting to you is always a wise choice to make. Hitting them in the infrastructure, breaking morale and using assassins rather than head-on fights also seems more likely to win, and with less bloodshed for both sides too. (and people say paladins are the good ones. o_O ) This is a good one, compressing lots of useful stuff into a small package, while coming up with some of it's own ideas. Sun Tzu would be proud.


Fiction: Water and ashes by Allen Varney. The story of the founding of the Veiled alliance. Since Allen just wrote the sourcebook on that, this smells like cut material, as for whatever reason, the editors decided not to include a short story this time. Not that I blame them, as this isn't the most enthralling little bit of writing they've included. In fact, it all smells a bit anvilicious, with very little actual agency demonstrated by any of the main characters. The founding of the alliance comes to look like more of a quirky accident that was run with than a deliberate attempt by anyone to oppose the sorcerer-kings. And the way morality is handled is oh so very D&D and unnaturalistic. It looks like the skills needed to be a good game writer and reviewer, and fiction writer do not always correlate. So we have here a textbook example of bad gaming fiction. Don't like this at all.


The voyage of the princess ark: Bruce makes up for last month's laziness with quite a long and interesting adventure. Heading north, the Ark encounters the three very different nations of lizard people. Shazaks, Gurrash, and Cay-men. Haldemar gets captured, again, and is going to be sacrificed to the Gurrash's monstrosity. Which turns out to be a Neh-Thalggu, played for laughs as it suffers an attack of multiple personalities from it's contained brains. We get more hints as to the upcoming big metaplot events. Haldemar remains skeptical. Mystara, losing all it's magic? surely not. This would ruin Alphatia. Even if they're lying, it would probably be a good idea to investigate further.

Unsurprisingly, OOC, we have more history on the races of lizard men and stats that make them playable as PC's. Uplifted by the Herathians to serve as slaves, and then kicked out when they proved not useful, they've built their own little cultures in the swamps and forests. Not very impressive ones, mind, but a definite improvement on regular lizard men. They have rather interesting stats, with negative levels, intelligence that starts off really low and increases as they gain levels, and yet another different way of handling things if they become spellcasters. Bruce does seem to enjoy experimenting with these exception based race/class combos. And so once again we have some cool new stuff opened up for us to experiment with. He does seem to be doing that more and more frequently. Guess it's what the people want. You know, by this stage it would be simpler to have separate races and classes like AD&D.
 

(un)reason

Making the Legend
Validated User
Dragon Magazine Issue 185: September 1992

part 3/6


Magic in the evening: And then there were two wizards regularly visiting poor Ed. As part of the drive for increasing amounts of crossover between the worlds. Elminster invites Mordenkainen over for dinner, so they can discuss events, and exchange magical knowledge. Which means Ed gets to combine fiction with new game material in a manner quite different from Pages from the Mages. World spanning cosmic knowledge mixes with childlike glee at the culinary delights earth offers. Elminster has long ago put aside the fear of being underestimated or seen as immature. Mordenkainen is a little more cagey, but still has a sense of humour about recent events, and an appreciation of the finer things in life. Ed also uses this as an opportunity to comment on recent metaplot events in Toril, Krynn and Oerth. Lots of awesomeness, and more than a little silliness, and even he can't control it all. Not that they'd want to either. They both recognise that you need to keep minor bad guys around so the good guys have a target to healthily take out their aggressions on. (which neatly answers why he sets you quests that he could solve with a couple of judicious 9th level spells before breakfast)

Even more than PftM, the spells in here are both quirky and well integrated into the setting, showing signs of people who are familiar with previous generations of spells and designing their ones specifically to counter or one-up them. Curse of the grinning skull is just perfect. Spelldream is both effective and evocative. Thundaerl's universal taster is a handy utility effect of the kind we could do with more of, and moonweb gives you a justice field which can be very handy indeed. Both enjoyable and useful, this is classic Ed material. He's still got both the touch and the power.


Role-playing reviews I: The theme of this set of reviews is boxed sets. Another reminder how much more common they were back then. They're releasing enough on a regular basis that they can take them for granted, not every one is a big deal. If anything, they're about to reach their peak over the next year or two. We should be seeing this topic again.

Dark sun boxed set sees Rick once again give 4 +1/2 stars where most other reviewers would comfortably award 5. It's not that he doesn't like it, but he is aware of it's shortcomings. These are mostly in the areas it doesn't go far enough. They should have got rid of alignment, put a bit more emphasis on the ecological disaster spin, and included more adventure seeds and NPC's. A few supplements'll sort those second two right out. Course, you may not be happy with the answers they give.

Horror on the orient express is for Call of Cthulhu, and it DOES get 5 stars. It's as brutal on the investigators as a good CoC game should be, while maintaining a sense of fun about itself that should keep them from getting too pissed about their horrible deaths. If any game product can aspire to art, it's one like this.

Solaris VII is a regional sourcebox for Battletech and Mechwarrior. It seems slightly more aspected towards providing a good backdrop for the human level interactions, but with both frontier and city underworld stuff, there's plenty of excuses for both mech duels and proper political conflicts. Once again, Rick thinks it needs some more specific supplements to fill things in, but it is a massive improvement on their previous attempts at setting building. You'll just have to hope enough people buy this to make supplements worth their while.


The marvel-phile: Kree kree! Our second set of superpowered alien punching bags are back. And they've been copying other superheroes powers. Captain Atlas. Dr Minerva. Kordath the Pursuer. Shatterax. Supremor. And Ultimus. (methinks those last two are trying too hard) Most have energy manipulation abilities, and some degree of body armor, making them seem fairly standardised as antagonists go, but each has some trick that sets them apart from your run of the mill kree mook. They may be a genetically moribund race, but they're not dead yet by a longshot, no sir. This lot'll make good adversaries for a whole superhero team, and even if you beat them, you know there'll be more where they came from. More useful than some entries, this is nothertheless another rather dry collection of stats and histories I can't get too worked up about. Now what we need are a good bunch of Skrulls to put them up against. See you next month.
 
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