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

So, how am I doing so far?


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(un)reason

Making the Legend
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Novel Ideas



Novel ideas is a second column that ceases to be a regular going concern this issue. Not sure why, since if anything, the proportion of books they're publishing is still increasing. But despite not explicitly stating that, this still feels like a farewell of sorts, as it looks back over the early years of the book department. In it we discover exactly why our first two D&D books by messrs Norton and Holmes have been airbrushed from the company history. As they were released before the proper department was founded, quite possibly in conjunction with some other company, they aren't on the records in the same way. And we already know that their record-keeping in the early years of the company was a bit spotty. Its funny how the average gamer in the 90's, even those at the company itself, actually knew less about their 70's output than we do now. Anyway, it seems that their primary output in the early days wasn't novels, but interactive game books such as the Endless Quest line and all it's gimmicky spinoffs. Books aimed at younger readers, books aimed at girls, books aimed at transformers fans, :p they spent a lot of effort trying to diversify the market. But they only really started having bestsellers when they tied things in with AD&D, the Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms settings in particular. Curiously, they devote little time to that era, assuming we already know about it. (and we do know rather more, since that was after they started running previews in the magazine on a regular basis. ) This is actually rather interesting, showing there was plenty of stuff TSR got up too in the early days that never even got mentioned in the magazine, due to choice or department co-ordination issues. Just the thing to make obsessive collectors gnash their teeth and have more things to hunt down. Still, it's not all nostalgia. Endless Quest is coming back! A whole new generation get to pick a path. Course, now they have to compete with computer games a lot more. Good luck capturing kid's imaginations the way they did at first.
 

(un)reason

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Role-playing reviews



Adventure time again. Over the year, Rick has been doing quite a bit of playtesting of official modules. This means that while it may be a while after their release date, he does have more to go upon when reviewing than just his own opinion. And he's pretty harsh really. Even though these are supposedly the cream of the crop, none of them earn that coveted 5 star rating. I guess that makes sense, since the number and quality of them did seem to be declining around that period, pushed out by the bloat of splatbooks.

Dragon mountain is huge, impressively presented, and damn tricky. In fact, it may be a bit too huge and tricky, even for the levels of characters it's supposedly aimed at. The fact that a full third of the boxed set is devoted to the prelude is an issue to Rick, who thinks that's poor pacing. Since B2 took about the same proportion to get to the actual caves, and T1 devoted a good half of the module to the village, I am dubious that it's an inherently bad thing. It's more likely just the implementation in this case. The mountain itself has more than enough variety of encounters to maintain his interest through the difficulty level, although he's not sure about some of the goofier traps. I guess that kind of thing is a matter of taste. They're more serious than they were a couple of years ago, but whimsy and punnery is still a staple of the TSR writers even in serious supplements.

Shadows on the borderland is a rather good Runequest adventure from our other longtime reviewer Ken Rolston. The visuals aren't that impressive, but the plotting is, telling several good stories without railroading you into a fixed conclusion. Only the stabs of goofy humour again spoil the package. You know, a world where sentient ducks are a common PC race is never going to be able to maintain GRIMDARKness with a straight face for long.

Dorastor: Land of doom is another Runequest one. They've turned around their late 80's slump quite nicely. It seems to be as much an region supplement as it is an adventure, with plenty of info on the quirky creatures and dangers, but not a huge amount of plot.

The spectre king is a set of adventures for Pendragon. This is the one that wins top marks, with multiple adventures that fit together well, great writing, well researched historical detail, and interesting twists to the stories. That it wasn't even nominated for awards last year is shocking! Pendragon seems to garner nothing but praise, yet remain a very niche product with an unstable company history. It is a bit bemusing.

Honorable mentions this month go to GURPS Cyberpunk Adventures, Dragon Strike, Corporate Shadowfiles, and TWERPS. Two of them are notably simple and suited for introducing new players, while the other two are more sophisticated. None are perfect, but they all have something to recommend them to readers. He does tackle a pretty broad variety of games, although he seems to prefer slightly lighter systems. Well, I suppose they are easier to pick up and try on the spur of the moment, and then give a comprehensive assessment of. You always have to take practical considerations into account.


Social board games: Allen Varney follows Rick by contributing something that's about halfway between a review and a feature. So your game got abruptly cancelled, but there's plenty of people here. Let's get out a board game! But which one? Oh, the decisions. So here we have microreviews of 13 games, along with some general pontification about what makes a good multi-player competitive game. You ought to keep everyone involved most of the way through (by which criteria Monopoly is a failure) and allow for turnarounds at any point. Players need at least a moderate amount of personal agency, otherwise the game will soon grow tiresome. (again, snakes & ladders disproves that) I suppose this shows how detached serious gamers become from the mainstream, for although I've heard of some of these games, I don't own any of them, and the advice seems nice in theory, but not backed up by reality, where books like Twilight are huge commercial successes despite the obvious technical flaws in their writing and punk is popular precisely because of it's simplicity and sloppiness. Quality and commercial success seem to have a pretty low degree of positive correlation in actual situations. In the end, I am forced to simply shrug bemusedly at this article, as it doesn't seem to have much of use to me, and hope that maybe I'll get to try some of these games personally.
 

(un)reason

Making the Legend
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The dragon project



Star Wars gets a turn in this column, fresh from it's spate of reviews last issue. Now, as Star wars is basically the heroes journey IN SPAAAACE!!!!, having a dragon somewhere along the line would not be out of theme at all. In fact, one could say that the Death Star took on that role, as a massive, tremendously powerful monster with a tiny weak spot only a highly talented hero could exploit. And that's exactly the tack they take in this article, statting out a warship called the Galaxy Dragon, and it's commander & inhabitants. By no co-incidence at all, the average troops aboard are members of a reptilian race, while the boss is a former Moff who became an independent warlord after the Empire's defeat. It's certainly a fairly creative way of interpreting the remit of this column, and the stats are a lot crunchier and more detailed than previous instalments, but the writing isn't that enthralling. I guess it's just ok then. It'll make a good adversary for an adventure or so.
 

(un)reason

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Fiction: The best by Margaret Weis.



Another big name is pulled in to make sure this special stays so. It's set in Krynn, but not noticeably connected to the metaplot. The greatest heroes in the land are gathered together by a mysterious individual to kill a dragon. In most stories, this works fine. This time, it all goes horribly wrong, mainly because the dragon is the one doing the hiring, so the deck is horribly loaded against them right from the start. Although they aren't quite as machiavellian as Infyrana from Dragon mountain, but that would probably take a whole novel to play out, and we don't have the time even in this expanded issue. It's still an object lesson in proactivity as an adventurer. Mr Johnson will betray you sooner or later, so don't trust them an inch. They do regularly tell us to play dragons as smart and taking the long view as well, so this is good in that respect too. Don't fall for the hype though. It certainly isn't actually the best bit of fiction they've ever done though. Hell, with the wizards three in here, it's not even the best bit of fiction in this issue. But that doesn't mean it can't be both enjoyed and learned from.


Forum: Andres Zornosa spent time abroad, and is finding it's actually harder to get a new group together back in america, where most people have at least heard enough about gaming to develop a negative preconception. He's also encountering the issue that so many existing gamers have tired of D&D and moved on to other RPG's. It's almost like gaming is a disease, and the population is building up a resistance to one, while other variants still pass through the population. Very curious.

Joel Patton talks about the evolution of his gaming. He seems to have largely progressed beyond needing rules, changing them as needed for the storytelling to take precedence. We start in let's pretend, and that's where we end. It's almost zen-like, really.

S. D. Anderson has some more suggestions for helping out new players, following on from issue 194's article. Actually, he does a considerably better job than that, and in less space too. You have to learn to express your opinion succinctly here or get edited down, wheras they're more likely to pad it up via artwork and font size increases to fit the page count in articles.

Jeremiah Coleman is rather cross that gamers are so bad at returning books to the library. If you keep nicking them, they won't stock them, and that will remove one of the avenues for casual browsers to discover gaming. That is a real issue, and may be another reason why gaming has gone into decline. Stupid petty criminality.

Eric Burns thinks that lichdom is a dumb idea compared with using magic jar to bodyhop your way down the centuries. He presents a pretty good case too. I seem to recall that there are mechanical problems with that he's missed. I'm sure future forumites will point them out.

Jon Pickens suggests that you solve the tardy players problem by offering XP bonuses to those who show up on time. This little carrot worked quite well for him, although he did lose some players along the way. Well, substantial xp differences do present their own issues. This would wind up exacerbating that. One solution leads to another problem. I seem to remember us having flamewars about that on these forums.
 
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(un)reason

Making the Legend
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Elminster's notebook



A second regular column beginning along with the 2 ending this month? The issue becomes even more significant than it already seemed at the outset. Yet again it's made pretty obvious how popular and prolific Ed is, even though he isn't around as much as he used to be. Maybe that's going to change again, if this and the Wizards three remain regulars.

So we start off with a ghost story, Realms style. An old adventurer who's managed to reach the lordship stage, but then lost a lot of his enthusiasm when his sons were killed in Orc raids. Since then, he's become brooding and reclusive, and the castle is rumoured to be haunted by their ghosts. The truth is rather more complicated, as after all, we are in a place where magic is known to be real, and manipulated regularly on a professional basis. There is a haunting, but not the one you expect, and it doesn't seem to be particularly dangerous anyway. Certainly not to Elminster, who as ever, casually drops hints as to the many insanely powerful tricks he has at his disposal, and takes for granted his fame amongst the folk of the Realms. The artwork seems designed to add to the notebook feel, with a sketch that reiterates the important bits of the writing, and makes it a lot easier to remember than a straight wall of text would be. As an advancement in presentation, it's a success, and it also serves as an interesting demonstration of how real world legends become quite different once filtered through the Realms' cultural lens and laws of physics. It may not be quite as generic as it used to be, but it's still interesting and he's still got plenty of enthusiasm for trying new things while filling it in. I think once again, we have a winner here.
 

(un)reason

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The twilight empire is right in the middle of battle. The heroes seem to be losing.


Yamara has a rather more confusing and comical battle to contend with.


Dragonmirth runs the gamut of humours, from bloody to phlegmatic.


Snarfquest returns for an extra special full colour story. Not that we ever find out how he got there, as the plots left hanging four years ago when Larry had his breakdown are simply ignored. Instead, it's a full-colour standalone story full of goofy humour and silly voices. And lots of cheesecake outfits for Telerie. ChEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEsecake! I mean seriously. You call yourself an adventurer? A couple of precise rapier swishes and you'd be completely naked. Ok, so the vampire one is amusing and relevant to the plot, but the rest. :shakes head: Pure pandering. Enough!
 

(un)reason

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Through the looking glass



Robert consciously decides not to spoil our celebrations, but to give us the usual mixture of minis, plus a game review. Blood Berets is the game, a dark mix of sci-fi and fantasy that looks like it wants to muscle in on WH40k and Shadowrun's turfs. As with most of the reviewed games these days, it's simple enough to be picked up and played from cold in an evening. It doesn't seem to have done enough to merit expansions though.

On to the minis then. A whole bunch of floor areas for you to build your own dungeons with. A missile launcher and cannon designed to upgrade tanks with. A phoenix in the process of being reborn. Two more vampires, this time from the TORG crew. I wonder what unique statistical quirks they have. Two set of minis from Palladium. One of them gets the first result under 3 stars in aaaaaaaaaages from Robert, which means it must be pretty bad. Ral Partha have a whole bunch of mechanical thingies: two tanks, a battlemech, and a cyborg bear, of all things. And last, but certainly not least, there's a tie-in set of minis for the Dragon Mountain boxed set. This actually gets a better review than the adventure itself, with all the minis being of excellent quality. Only the dragon really disappoints, hardly having the stature of a proper D&D great wyrm. Who will make a dragon to really match the likes of Scorponok and Trypticon and properly menace our minis?


TSR Previews: Just about the only thing that isn't unusually large, next month sees things drop off as usual. Dragonlance gets a sourcebook and a novel. DLT2: Rook (sic) of lairs is another collection of small adventures to drop on your players. The swordsheath scroll completes the Dwarven nations trilogy. They still seem to be occupying a solid second place overall in terms of product numbers.

Ravenloft follows up on the recent van Richten's guide with RM4: Dark of the moon. Fight a werewolf. No further details are forthcoming, because it needs to be a surprise to the players. Raaaaar! Fooled you.

The complete series finally gets back to the classes, with PHBR11:The Complete ranger's handbook. Rick Swan shows you how to customise your wilderness lovin' guys even further. Not quite as broad as the complete bard's handbook, but not bad either.

And the Amazing engine gets AM5: Galactos Barrier. Swashbuckling space opera? Sounds like fun. Why did this have so many cool ideas, yet still die depressingly?
 

(un)reason

Making the Legend
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Conclusion



Well, as a special issue, this has not only hit the bullseye, but gone right through the target and out the other side. There's just so many great things going on here that it's hard to pick out one to praise above the others. I guess it's going to have to be Ed that gets the gold again, since he did score another hat trick. And yet, somehow, this isn't nearly as adventurous in it's topics as issue 100, or even 150 for that matter. There's a couple of token stabs at more war and boardgaming coverage, but those are pretty weak compared to something like Dragonchess. Instead, the expansion is more a matter of sheer volume, colour and spectacle than having cool new ideas to give us. And when you factor in the substantial decline in readership over the last year, it becomes pretty obvious that if ever there was a definite jump the shark point for the magazine, this is it. A game attempt at really going over the top to turn things around, that they would never again be able to replicate due to declining budgets and closing horizons. I dunno, maybe they'll top even this in issue 400 or 500 just to prove me wrong. :D But I do know that for the physical issues, it's all downhill from here in terms of size. (and no more holographic covers either. :p ) Which means I won't be facing any more monumental challenges like this. I suppose I should just kick back and see if I enjoy individual issues as they come. After all, we might be past the "classic" eras now, but there'll still be plenty of month by month fluctuations to come. Some of them are bound to throw up great articles.
 

(un)reason

Making the Legend
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Well, we've made it through another hundred issues. I think it's time for another few hours of meticulous hyperlinking so we have a neatly organised index. See you on the other side.


Dragon Issue 101: September 1985 part 1 part 2 part 3 part 4
Dragon Issue 102: October 1985 part 1 part 2 part 3 part 4
Dragon Issue 103: November 1985 part 1 part 2 part 3 part 4
Dragon Issue 104: December 1985 part 1 part 2 part 3 part 4
Dragon Issue 105: January 1986 part 1 part 2 part 3 part 4
Dragon Issue 106: February 1986 part 1 part 2 part 3 part 4
Dragon Issue 107: March 1986 part 1 part 2 part 3 part 4
Dragon Issue 108: April 1986 part 1 part 2 part 3 part 4
Dragon Issue 109: May 1986 part 1 part 2 part 3 part 4 part 5
Dragon Issue 110: June 1986 part 1 part 2 part 3 part 4 part 5
Dragon Issue 111: July 1986 part 1 part 2 part 3 part 4 part 5
Dragon Issue 112: August 1986 part 1 part 2 part 3 part 4 part 5
Dragon Issue 113: September 1986 part 1 part 2 part 3 part 4 part 5
Dragon Issue 114: October 1986 part 1 part 2 part 3 part 4 part 5
Dragon Issue 115: November 1986 part 1 part 2 part 3 part 4 part 5
Dragon Issue 116: December 1986 part 1 part 2 part 3 part 4 part 5
Dragon Issue 117: January 1987 part 1 part 2 part 3 part 4 part 5
Dragon Issue 118: February 1987 part 1 part 2 part 3 part 4 part 5
Dragon Issue 119: March 1987 part 1 part 2 part 3 part 4 part 5
Dragon Issue 120: April 1987 part pun part grue part triforce part quart in a pint mug part perfect sentai
Dragon Issue 121: May 1987 part 1 part 2 part 3 part 4 part 5
Dragon Issue 122: June 1987 part 1 part 2 part 3 part 4 part 5
Dragon Issue 123: July 1987 part 1 part 2 part 3 part 4 part 5
Dragon Issue 124: August 1987 part 1 part 2 part 3 part 4 part 5
Dragon Issue 125: September 1987 part 1 part 2 part 3 part 4 part 5
Dragon Issue 126: October 1987 part 1 part 2 part 3 part 4 part 5
Dragon Issue 127: November 1987 part 1 part 2 part 3 part 4 part 5
Dragon Magazine Issue 128: December 1987 part 1 part 2 part 3 part 4 part 5
Dragon Magazine Issue 129: January 1988 part 1 part 2 part 3 part 4 part 5
Dragon Magazine Issue 130: February 1988 part 1 part 2 part 3 part 4 part 5
Dragon Magazine Issue 131: March 1988 part 1 part 2 part 3 part 4 part 5
Dragon Magazine Issue 132: April 1988 part 1 part 2 part 3 part 4 part 5
Dragon Magazine Issue 133: May 1988 part 1 part 2 part 3 part 4 part 5
Dragon Magazine Issue 134: June 1988 part 1 part 2 part 3 part 4 part 5
Dragon Magazine Issue 135: July 1988 part 1 part 2 part 3 part 4 part 5
Dragon Magazine Issue 136: August 1988 part 1 part 2 part 3 part 4 part 5
Dragon Magazine Issue 137: September 1988 part 1 part 2 part 3 part 4 part 5
Dragon Magazine Issue 138: October 1988 part 1 part 2 part 3 part 4 part 5
Dragon Magazine Issue 139: November 1988 part 1 part 2 part 3 part 4 part 5
Dragon Magazine Issue 140: December 1988 part 1 part 2 part 3 part 4 part 5
Dragon Magazine Issue 141: January 1989 part 1 part 2 part 3 part 4 part 5
Dragon Magazine Issue 142: February 1989 part 1 part 2 part 3 part 4 part 5 part 6
Dragon Magazine Issue 143: March 1989 part 1 part 2 part 3 part 4 part 5
Dragon Magazine Issue 144: April 1989 part 1 part 2 part 3 part 4 part 5
Dragon Magazine Issue 145: May 1989 part 1 part 2 part 3 part 4 part 5
Dragon Magazine Issue 146: June 1989 part 1 part 2 part 3 part 4 part 5
Dragon Magazine Issue 147: July 1989 part 1 part 2 part 3 part 4 part 5
Dragon Magazine Issue 148: August 1989 part 1 part 2 part 3 part 4 part 5
Dragon Magazine Issue 149: September 1989 part 1 part 2 part 3 part 4 part 5
Dragon Magazine Issue 150: October 1989 part 1 part 2 part 3 part 4 part 5
 

(un)reason

Making the Legend
Validated User
Continued due to size. Hyperlinks take up a lot of text characters for their final result.

Dragon Magazine Issue 151: November 1989 part 1 part 2 part 3 part 4 part 5
Dragon Magazine Issue 152: December 1989 part 1 part 2 part 3 part 4 part 5
Dragon Magazine Issue 153: January 1990 part 1 part 2 part 3 part 4 part 5
Dragon Magazine Issue 154: February 1990 part 1 part 2 part 3 part 4 part 5
Dragon Magazine Issue 155: March 1990 part 1 part 2 part 3 part 4 part 5 part 6
Dragon Magazine Issue 156: April 1990 part 1 part 2 part 3 part 4 part 5 part 6
Dragon Magazine Issue 157: May 1990 part 1 part 2 part 3 part 4 part 5 part 6
Dragon Magazine Issue 158: June 1990 part 1 part 2 part 3 part 4 part 5 part 6
Dragon Magazine Issue 159: July 1990 part 1 part 2 part 3 part 4 part 5 part 6
Dragon Magazine Issue 160: August 1990 part 1 part 2 part 3 part 4 part 5 part 6
Dragon Magazine Issue 161: September 1990 part 1 part 2 part 3 part 4 part 5 part 6
Dragon Magazine Issue 162: October 1990 part 1 part 2 part 3 part 4 part 5 part 6
Dragon Magazine Issue 163: November 1990 part 1 part 2 part 3 part 4 part 5 part 6
Dragon Magazine Issue 164: December 1990 part 1 part 2 part 3 part 4 part 5 part 6
Dragon Magazine Issue 165: January 1991 part 1 part 2 part 3 part 4 part 5 part 6
Dragon Magazine Issue 166: February 1991 part 1 part 2 part 3 part 4 part 5 part 6
Dragon Magazine Issue 167: March 1991 part 1 part 2 part 3 part 4 part 5 part 6
Dragon Magazine Issue 168: April 1991 part 1 part 2 part 3 part 4 part 5 part 6
Dragon Magazine Issue 169: May 1991 part 1 part 2 part 3 part 4 part 5 part 6
Dragon Magazine Issue 170: June 1991 part 1 part 2 part 3 part 4 part 5 part 6
Dragon Magazine Issue 171: July 1991 part 1 part 2 part 3 part 4 part 5 part 6
Dragon Magazine Issue 172: August 1991 part 1 part 2 part 3 part 4 part 5 part 6
Dragon Magazine Issue 173: September 1991 part 1 part 2 part 3 part 4 part 5 part 6
Dragon Magazine Issue 174: October 1991 part 1 part 2 part 3 part 4 part 5 part 6
Dragon Magazine Issue 175: November 1991 part 1 part 2 part 3 part 4 part 5 part 6
Dragon Magazine Issue 176: December 1991 part 1 part 2 part 3 part 4 part 5 part 6
Dragon Magazine Issue 177: January 1992 part 1 part 2 part 3 part 4 part 5 part 6
Dragon Magazine Issue 178: February 1992 part 1 part 2 part 3 part 4 part 5 part 6
Dragon Magazine Issue 179: March 1992 part 1 part 2 part 3 part 4 part 5 part 6
Dragon Magazine Issue 180: April 1992 part 1 part 2 part 3 part 4 part 5 part 6
Dragon Magazine Issue 181: May 1992 part 1 part 2 part 3 part 4 part 5 part 6 part 7 part 8
Dragon Magazine Issue 182: June 1992 part 1 part 2 part 3 part 4 part 5 part 6 part 7 part 8
Dragon Magazine Issue 183: July 1992 part 1 part 2 part 3 part 4 part 5 part 6 part 7 part 8
Dragon Magazine Issue 184: August 1992 part 1 part 2 part 3 part 4 part 5 part 6 part 7 part 8
Dragon Magazine Issue 185: September 1992 part 1 part 2 part 3 part 4 part 5 part 6
Dragon Magazine Issue 186: October 1992 part 1 part 2 part 3 part 4 part 5 part 6
Dragon Magazine Issue 187: November 1992 part 1 part 2 part 3 part 4 part 5 part 6
Dragon Magazine Issue 188: December 1992 part 1 part 2 part 3 part 4 part 5 part 6
Dragon Magazine Issue 189: January 1993 part 1 part 2 part 3 part 4 part 5 part 6
Dragon Magazine Issue 190: February 1993 part 1 part 2 part 3 part 4 part 5 part 6
Dragon Magazine Issue 191: March 1993 part 1 part 2 part 3 part 4 part 5 part 6
Dragon Magazine Issue 192: April 1993 part 1 part 2 part 3 part 4 part 5 part 6
Dragon Magazine Issue 193: May 1993 part 1 part 2 part 3 part 4 part 5 part 6
Dragon Magazine Issue 194: June 1993 part 1 part 2 part 3 part 4 part 5 part 6
Dragon Magazine Issue 195: July 1993 part 1 part 2 part 3 part 4 part 5 part 6
Dragon Magazine Issue 196: August 1993 part 1 part 2 part 3 part 4 part 5 part 6
Dragon Magazine Issue 197: September 1993 part 1 part 2 part 3 part 4 part 5 part 6
Dragon Magazine Issue 198: October 1993 part 1 part 2 part 3 part 4 part 5 part 6
Dragon Magazine Issue 199: November 1993 part 1 part 2 part 3 part 4 part 5 part 6 part 7 part 8
Dragon Magazine Issue 200: December 1993
Introduction
Statement of Ownership
Editiorial
Magic from the gods
The Wizards Three
The color of magic
Familiar Faces
Bazaar of the Bizarre
Arcane Lore
The Whistling Skeleton
Santa's little Helpers
The known world Grimoire
Libram X
Making the most of a module
Centrefold
The Even more complete Psionicist
Minion Matters
Novel ideas
Role-playing Reviews
The Dragon Project
The Best
Elminster's Notebook
Comics
Through the Looking Glass
Conclusion



As before, a new thread will follow tomorrow. We're not out of the woods yet, so I hope you stick around for the last year or two of this journey. Thanks for your time.

Edit: Link to new thread
 
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