Sunday, March 24, 2013

Dragon by Dragon - April 1979

April of 1979 - those heady days of stuff that was happening and things and stuff. Okay, I'm too lazy at the moment to look up what was happening back then, but hey - who cares, right? We know the Dragon was happening, so let's focus on that.

What did the Dragon have to offer in 1979? More importantly, can we use any of this stuff now?

Lost Civilizations (A Fantasy Supplement for Source of the Nile) by J. Eric Holmes

When you see Dr. Holmes as the author, you know you've got some quality material in your hands. Hell, I've never even played Source of the Nile and I know this article has to have something useful in it. The article is all about adding some fantasy to the more realistic game of African exploration, specifically of the sort you might get in an H. Rider Haggard or E. R. Burroughs novel.

First up, I love the list of explorer types used in Source of the Nile: Missionaries, Doctors, Zoologists, Geologists and Adventurers. If you were doing an RPG of Victorian exploration, you have your class list right there.

His idea is that when you enter a completely uninhabited hex, there is a chance of it containing a lost city (a roll of 2-3 on 2d6). If in a desert, the city is uninhabited. Otherwise, it is inhabited by survivors of lost Atlantis. The people use bronze weapons and wear ornaments of gold and gemstones, and then you roll dice to determine the city's organization. Roll 1d6; on a 1-3 the city is ruled by a warrior-king with 1d6 x 1d6 x 1d6 + 10 warriors; if the roll is 4-6 it is ruled by an evil high priest and a white goddess who command 1d6 x 1d6 x 1d6 + 5 warriors. I include this bit because it could be adapted to almost any hex exploration style fantasy game.

When exploring an uninhabited desert city for treasure, you roll 1d6: 1-2 he discovers that the ancient gods still live, his expedition is destroyed and he escapes completely mad; 3-4 traps kill half his askaris and bearers, but he escapes with a bag of diamonds and rubies worth $500 and the secret passages are closed off forever; 5-6 he loots the city for $1000 worth of gems and $200 worth of gold.

This brings to mind something I once did for a game. I was starting with characters above 1st level, and they were from various places in my campaign world (Nod - you might have heard of it). For each character, I came up with one past adventure for each level, each adventure leading them from where they were born to where the adventure was to start. In this way, I gave each player a bit of knowledge about the campaign world and some cool tidbits about their characters. Something to consider.

Keeping the Magic-User In His Place by Ronald Pehr

A classic of old Dragon (hell, a classic of modern articles as well, in as much as it addresses the idea of "balance" between characters). Ronald includes a few ideas of controlling these damn wizards so they don't mess up the game. Interesting, because it introduces the idea of forced fairness to the game - i.e. I want the game to go one way, but the rules aren't allowing that to happen. Think of the article previous - the explorer explores a lost city and you roll a dice and that determines what happens - amazing wealth or complete insanity. That's it. Why? It's a game, and those are the rules, and playing the game is more important than winning. Or, to state it another way, winning or losing should be a product of the game experience, not a preconceived idea that the game play must support. Why not have wizards who "ruin" the game with fireballs and charm spells? Let everybody have their time to shine, and play it smart. A fireball is a tricky thing, and over reliance on them might be a wizard's undoing.

Chinese Dragons by David Sweet

One day, these fine monsters will appear in the Fiend Folio, and they were always pretty cool. In fact, it might be fun to do something similar with occidental dragons, replacing the red-blue-green-etc. dragons with ones based on the famous dragons of European myth.

Another Look at LYCANTHROPY by Jon Mattson

This article throws in the idea of different types of lycanthropes that a bitten character might turn into. They are as follows (in summary):

A. Turns completely into the lycanthrope that bit him; i.e. new alignment, etc.
B. Remains in human form, but takes on the mentality of the lycanthrope.
C. Character takes lycanthrope form, but retains his own mentality.
D. As A, but only changes under a full moon or great stress.
E. As B, but only changes under a full moon or great stress.
F. As C, but only ... well, you know.
G. Under full moon or great stress, changes into a hybrid of beast and man.

Under option G, he actually writes, "This may sound something like the “Incredible Hulk,” but that is the general idea." Love it.

There is also a percentage chance for figuring out the character's new alignment. The new lycanthrope has half the character's spells and abilities while in lycanthrope form and some modifiers to his ability scores.

Another great quote:

Note: To many people it may seem strange that a wolfs constitution would be better than that of say a bear, but remember that wolves often survive through incredible hardships such as hunger and cold, and I’ve yet to see a bear do as well.

What the?

Ultimately, this is a pretty cool article as it allows the chance that a PC can remain a PC and an interesting party member even after succumbing to lycanthropy.

Roman Military Organization, A Classic Warfare Update by Gary Gygax

An interesting article on the organization of the Roman army.

A Viking Campaign in the Caspian Sea by James E. Brunner

This is a nice history of an actual (well, I assume actual) Viking foray into the Caspian Sea for plunder. A sample:

"In the tenth century the Caspian Sea lay like a great pearl in an ocean of endless steppes and towering mountains. The prows that cut its placid waters belonged to poor fishermen and merchants from every land. Unlike the Black Sea that lay to the west, no northern pirate fleets had ravaged its shores and carried off its great wealth. To the north and the east lay the powerful Khazar Khanate whose capital, Itil, on the Volga Delta, controlled the major trade route to the north. Any merchant or pirate that sought wealth in the Muslim lands to the south had first to deal with the Khazar Khan, whose greed was legendary."

Primarily interesting to me as it reminds me of Howard's Vilayet Sea and the adventures had in and around it. When you find fantasy that interests you, take the time to find the reality that underlies it. You might find it even more inspirational.

The article also includes rules for fighting the Battle of Barda'a using Classic Warfare.

The Melee in D&D by Gary Gygax

Here, Mr. Gygax offers up some thoughts on how melee combat is supposed to work in D&D, specifically it seems to answer the complaints of folks who would like more realism in the system. A few important points:

- The game is mostly about creating fantasy personas and their adventures, and that means more than just fighting

- Hack and slash shouldn't be the first resort of characters

- The system isn't too unrealistic - it's built to ensure relative speed of resolution without bogging the ref down in paperwork or creating a high probability of character death

Here's a bit I found interesting:

"Don Turnbull stated that he envisioned that three sorts of attacks were continually taking place during melee:

1) attacks which had no chance of hitting, including feints, parries, and the like;

2) attacks which had a chance of doing damage but which missed as indicated by the die roll; and

3) attacks which were telling as indicated by the dice roll and subsequent damage determination.

This is a correct summation of what the D&D melee procedure subsumes. Note that the skill factor of higher level of higher level fighters — as well as natural abilities and/or speed of some monsters — allows more than one opportunity per melee round of scoring a telling attack as they are more able to take advantage of openings left by adversaries during the course of sparring. Similarly, zero level men, and monsters under one full hit die, are considered as being less able to defend; thus, opponents of two of more levels of hit dice are able to get in one telling blow for each such level or hit die."

An article well worth the read.

DUNGEON - More Variations on the Theme by George Laking

This is a collection of extra rules for the DUNGEON game. Since it's being published again, this might be a good article for folks who love it.

Armies of the Renaissance by Nick Nascati

This is the second part of an article from last issue (I think - too lazy to look at the moment). It covers The Swiss. I've long thought the Swiss would be an excellent folk on which to model dwarf armies.

Narcisstics by Darrel Plant and Jon Pitchford

Some monster humor of the disgruntled geek variety, statting up jocks and their female groupies as monsters. I'd convert them to B&T format, but the format in the article is hard to make out, and frankly they're not just worth it.

Psionics Revisited by Ronald Pehr

This variant takes some of the random chance out of the powers psychic characters receive, tying them more closely to their professions (or so the article says). It appears to divide the powers into two categories: Cognitive Powers and Kinetic Powers, adding a few new powers to the game.

Disease by Lenny Buettuer

This is a set of tables for determining how long it takes a disease to kill a person, and what symptoms are suffered in the meantime. The fatality interval goes from immediate to 10 months, based on a percentile dice roll. Another table determines how many symptoms are suffered and a third what those symptoms are. Honestly - a great idea and one I wish I'd thought of. After all, why do I care what the disease is called? All I want to know is how long the adventurer has to live (more on this below) and what happens to him until he can receive healing.

The other thing I got from this article is the point of diseases in the game. There are many ways to die in D&D, and each should offer up different challenges to the players. Disease in this case becomes a race to be cured.

Bergenhome '77: the CAT's Test of American Armor by Stanley Schriefer

If nothing else, this article presents an interesting moment in the history of the magazine. The article is about how well American armor (as in tanks) did in a NATO competition. No stats here. None. Not tied to any game. Just military news that might be interesting to wargamers.

The Return of Conan Maol by Paul Karlsson Johnstone

Weird little article about bagpipers and such.

Choir Practice at the First Church of Lawful Evil (Orthodox): The Ramifications of Alignment by Lawrence Schick

Another interesting article about the three-tier alignment system and their relationship to gods and the powers of those gods. It also divides the three alignments into several "sects" or versions of each alignment. Lawful, for example, is divided into the following:

(A) Absolute Order (High Law)
(B) Harmony/Goodness
(C) Justice/Vengeance
(D) Knowledge
(E) Evolution (Social Darwinism )
(F) War

It then gives information on each of these versions of alignment - its tenets, its practitioners, it's prime deity. Here's one example:

Law: JUSTICE/VENGEANCE (Monks, Paladins, Assassins)

Tenets: Good (Law) must be rewarded and Evil (Chaos) must be punished. All creatures are judged impartially by weighing their “good’ and “evil” deeds. Transgressors will be punished according to the depth of their depravity. Criminals must be diligently pursued until brought to justice. (Examples of this alignment’s enforcers might include Solomon Kane, The Shadow, Mr. A., and Javert.)

Prime Deity: MARLY
AC: -4 HP: 300 MOVE:24”
MAGIC: Standard plus See Past plus Detect Truth/Lie.

Honestly - one of the most usable alignment articles I've yet read. A great take on the subject, and quite usable. Bonus: Nice piece of art!

Naming People, Places and Things in Petal Throne by G. Arthur Rahman

This article provides a random table for generating the rather non-European names common to MAR Barker's campaign world.

Monty Haul and the Best of Freddie by James M. Ward

Another adventure in the annals of Monty Haul. A sample:

"The Bronze Dragon was of tremendous size for its breed, measuring over 80 hands long and able to rear to a height of more than half that. The creature had gleaming claws as sharp and damaging as scimitars; buffed with gold dust. Its fanged jaws were kept sharp by biting heavy platemail vests that were a part of its horde. Its massive scaled body rested regally on an altar made of its own gold and silver. Chalices of platinum and coffers of gems and jewels were all about, arranged to please the delicate sensibilities of the dragon. Its giant eyes, that had been but a moment before closed in dragonslumber, opened, aware of the tread of footsteps down the echoing marble corridor, designed for just that echoing effect."

In Defense of Extraordinary Characters by Rodford E. Smith

A very quick bit about why high level characters make sense, giving as examples from literature Odysseus, Daedalus, Hercules, John Carter, Conan and "everyone's favorite Kryptonian." So there you go.

The Society for Creative Anachronism by Allen Hammack

An overview of the society and their doings. These days, this would be what we term a "web page".

And there you have the April 1979 issue of The Dragon. Not a bad issue all told, with at least two or three articles that I think most folks would find useful.


  1. First up, I love the list of explorer types used in Source of the Nile: Missionaries, Doctors, Zoologists, Geologists and Adventurers. If you were doing an RPG of Victorian exploration, you have your class list right there.

    So, when will you be publishing this and will it use Action X and will it includes rules for combining it with Apocalypse 1989?

    1. What I'd like to do is include chapters in Action X for using it for Victorian settings, post-apocalypse settings, pulp future settings, gangster settings, cold war settings, etc. So, will I - yes. When - don't know, but I'm working on it.

  2. I really love the art in the old Dragons. Like the cartoons by that McLean guy for the melee article.


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