Sunday, July 12, 2015

Dragon by Dragon - June 1979

Two years ago, I was writing a series of weekly blog posts on the old issues of Dragon magazine - something like reviews with a bit of crunch mixed in. And then I stopped. And I don't remember why.

Well, now I'm starting again. So ... journey back in time with me to June of 1979, when the Bee Gees were dominating the charts with Love You Inside Out ...

(Please find it in your heart to include this in a game as a weird chant of chaos cultists - your players will be stunned; and now I have to restrain myself from posting the Osmond Brother's Crazy Horses)

... and Americans are enjoying themselves at the movies with the recently released Alien and Phantasm (and Wanda Nevada, whatever the heck that is).

Oh - that's Wanda Nevada. Brooke Shields. Groovy.

Anyhow - into this golden age of entertainment comes Dragon Magazine, Volume III, No. 12 with a kickin' cover depicting some Napoleonic war game action, and of course much more. Let's dive right in.

The first thing we're greeted with is a great full-page Ral Partha advert, noting that "The Little Things Make a Noticeable Difference". If you're in my generation of gamers, Ral Partha is just branded into your brain. They were so prevalent in the pages of magazines, and had some great adverts. Honestly, I never messed with miniatures back in the day. I got into the Citadel stuff in late high school and through college, and bought a few Ral Partha minis then, but I really missed the companies hey day. Alas.

On the contents page, we are made aware that this issue marks the beginning of Gay Jaquet's reign as assistant editor, assisting T. J. Kask, that is. I note this only to point out that TSR appears to be growing.

Another ad now, for the Origins! 79 convention in Chester, Pennsylvania. Do you think the geeks that now trod those halls know the gaming history of the place? Probably not.

Looks like a cool college - love the brick work. I'm from Las Vegas - we live in a world of stucco and sandstone, so the brick stuff always impresses me. What can I say - I'm a cheap date.

Next, we have a status update on Gencon XII, and a notice that they're looking for judges and events for the con. We also get a full con schedule, some prices on back issues of The Dragon (back issues are $2.10 a pop, or $6.88 in today's dollars. Not a bad price).

Oh yeah - and a McLean cartoon involving the confusion between rocs and rocks. I love watching his art style grow in these early issues. There was some solid young talent in gaming back in the day. I wonder what they paid him per cartoon?

Now we reach the first article - "System 7 Napoleonics: Miniatures Meet Boards", by Kask. I'm not going to delve too deeply into the article itself, which reviews the game System 7 Napoleonics by GDW, which uses cardboard counters in place of miniatures, and is thus cheap compared to using the lead, but I will point this out:

"The problem with establishing a campaign in a college club, whether it be D&D; TRAVELER, or a Napoleonics, is one of continuity. Each semester, some of the stalwarts say goodbye and depart for “the real world.” This can be especially traumatic if one of those departing owns the French Army, or what passed for it in terms of collective club figures."

Funny to think how wrapped up the game used to be with issues like this. I suppose it still goes on to this day - maybe some college kids could chime in in the comments below and let us know if they still deal with this. Personally, I'm an old fart, and I do my gaming on G+ these days.

This article is followed up by another article on System 7, by Rich Banner (the designer), called "Necessity is the Mother of Innovation". If you were into this new game, this was your lucky month, because this article is followed up by a Q&A with Banner.

Speaking of GDW (or Game Designers' Workshop), we are now treated to a full page ad for their new expansion for Traveler, Imperium - Empires in Conflict: Worlds in the Balance. Great title.

From the Dungeon Hobby Shop in Lake Geneva (no longer there, I'm afraid), we have an ad for 4th Dimension, the Game of Time & Space, produced by TSR (sort of - click here for more). Apparently, you play a Time-Lord (does the hyphen grant immunity from BBC law suits?) commanding an army of Guardians, Rangers and Warriors in some sort of board game battle.

Next we get back into some D&D goodness, with "Giants in the Earth". Great series of articles, giving game stats to literary characters (why don't I do that in NOD?). This is a particular goody, because we get Jack Vance's Cugel the Clever (14th level thief, Str 15, Int 18 (56%), Wis 13, Dex 18 (93%), Con 15, Cha 16 - sounds like Vance was cheating on his dice rolls when he rolled up Cugel, and what's with the percentiles - I thought they only did that with Strength scores in AD&D?), Karl Edward Wagner's Kane (30th level fighter, 20th level magic-user, 14th level assassin - how many XP would that take?) and Talbot Mundy's Tros of Samothrace (15th level paladin). I love Cugel, I've heard of Kane (but never read him), but Tros was new to me.

Ah - this is included:

Note: For the game purposes of these heroes: Dexterity 18 (00) gives +4 on Reaction/Attacking, -5 Defensive adjustment and three attacks per round for high level fighters. Constitution 18 (00) gives fighters +4.5 per hit die bonus

Oh, and Judge's Guild (hallowed be their name) was hawking the Treasury of Archaic Names by Bill Owen. Struggle no longer for heroic character names!

Up next, "What of the Skinnies?" by James W. S. Marvin, a Starship Troopers variant. Not going to lie - caught a bit of the movie, never read the book, have never laid eyes on the game they're referencing here. This might be the greatest article on the topic ever, and I'll never know it. Moving on.

Edward C. Cooper gives some tips on "The Placement of Castles" in Lord and Wizard. Article aside, L&W sounds like a pretty cool game: "Mighty, magical holocausts, awe-inspiring Dragons, weird and terrible monsters, military battles on a grand scale. Which of the combatants, Order or Chaos, shall win? And can the forces of Neutrality maintain the precarious balance of power . . . An exciting, fast moving game of movement and combat in a fantastic world, where skill and strategy will decide the winner." Another board game - the RPG's are still in their infancy, after all, and at this point most RPG'ers have probably come to the game from board games and miniature war gaming. Makes sense.

Joe Curreri writes "35th Anniversary of D-Day Remembered". There were lots more veterans of that day alive at the time, and their kids were the ones playing all these silly games. The page also has an ad for Lyle's Hobby & Craft Center in Westmont, Illinois. Sadly, also no longer there.

In the Design Forum, James McMillan writes about "The Solo Berserker for William the Conqueror-1066". This article presents solitaire rules for the aforementioned game, with a little history on the berserkers. He includes the note that Eystein Orre, one of Harald Hadrada's men, was called "the Gorcock". If you're reading this and play a barbarian or berserker in some game, please consider renaming your character "the Gorcock". For me. For Eystein. For America.

Next up, David Sweet presents game stats for "Chinese Undead". We have stats for Lower Souls, Lost Souls, Vampire-Spectres, Sea Bonze, Celestial Stags and Goat Demons. Boy, stats were simple in those days:

Also this:

Look out!

Fantasy 15s has a full page ad for 15mm miniatures allowing you to "re-create the mass battles of Middle Earth - at prices you can afford!" I wonder if there's a source for cheap men-at-arms so fighter lords can do the same thing. The reproduction ain't great, but the art in the ad is pretty cool ...

The next article includes Boot Hill additions, revisions, and triva (!) by Michael Crane. The have a great "Fast Exact Hit Location Chart" that could be useful for duels, but also just combat in general (especially missile combat):

And, because it wouldn't be a real D&D mag from the old days ... "Another View of the Nine-Point Alignment Scheme" by Carl Parlagreco. This article tries to lay out what you can and cannot do with each alignment. Helping people is something Good characters do, apparently, while trusting in organizations is something for Lawfuls. Here are a couple samples:

Chaotic Good ... will keep their word to other of good alignment, will not attack an unarmed foe, will not use poison, will help those in need, prefers to work alone, responds poorly to higher authority, and is distrustful of organizations

Neutral Evil ... will not necessarily keep their word, would attack an unarmed foe, will use poison, will not help those in need, may work with others, is indifferent to higher authority, and is indifferent to organizations.

I think this is actually a much more useful way to look at alignment that getting philosophical with it, especially for people new to the game. Of course, you need a reward/penalty mechanism with alignment to make these strictures matter.

Next is Kevin Hendryx's "Deck of Fate", with illustrations by Grey Newberry. This is a great magical tarot card deck. Characters draw cards, and get magic results based on what they draw. For example:

II - Junon - The Goddess: No effect for non-clerics. For clerics, permanently boosts their Wisdom score to 18 and gains use of one spell of the next higher level.

In other words - it's a pretty powerful magic item - an artifact really. You could probably make one heck of a quest into a band of adventurers having to retrieve all of these magic cards.

Rick Krebs now provides "D&D Meets the Electronic Age". Boy, they had no idea. Dig it:

Over the years access to photocopiers and mimeograph machines have aided many Dungeon Masters in copying maps, charts and even publishing their own zines, all to the expansion of their campaign. But, the recent electronics explosion has now brought another tool to those DMs fortunate to have access to them: the micro-computer. We were one of those fortunate groups to gain the use of a 4K (4,000 bit) memory, BASIC speaking microcomputer.
Charles Sagui now writes "Hirelings Have Feelings Too". It's a short article that provides some guidelines for paying hirelings to keep them around. According to Charles, hirelings should be payed two years salary in advance, plus a share of the spoils - either an equal share, or a percentage. Non-humans, he says, will not hire on for salary alone - except orcs - but will also demand to be supplied with equipment and weapons to go into the dungeon. Elves, he says, don't like to go into dungeons as hirelings - they like fresh air and trees too much. They don't care much for gold, but they will demand a fine cut gem or magic item + 15% of treasure. Dwarves can be greedy at times - they want four years salary and 15% of treasure. And if you try to give a +3 returning warhammer to somebody else, there's a 65% chance the dwarf will try to steal it. Orcs will go in for one year salary and 2-5% of treasure, and will only work for chaotics. They are prone to run away when confronted with a difficult fight and have a bad habit of killing their employer in his sleep and stealing all his stuff. I guess turn-about it fair play in a dungeon.

Charles also says that hireling NPCs will only go into the dungeon once - after that, they retire to blow their hard-earned gold on "strong drink and their favorite vice." Once their money is gone, they might go back in with the PC's - and if the PC's paid well last time, they'll be more loyal. Loyalty ratings for hirelings aren't used much these days, but they were an important system in a time when hirelings and henchmen were the norm for D&D.

Michael Crane also contributes "Notes from a Very Successful D&D Moderator". This is a chance, he says, for the moderators (i.e. game masters) to share their tips and tricks after many players have shared ideas for beating dungeons. The article is pretty much about one-upmanship between the DM and the players. A nice historical piece, from when the game was (and was supposed to be) a competition between the DM and the players.

Gary Gygax now chimes in with his "From the Sorcerer's Scroll" with "D&D, AD&D and Gaming". The article discusses the origins of role-playing games, of fantasy war gaming, and of role-playing within fantasy war gaming. It's a nice retrospective, and Dave Arneson's innovation of giving players individual roles to play is mentioned. Gygax also takes pains to explain that AD&D is a different game than D&D - not an expansion or revision. As Gygax explains:

"Where D&D is a very loose, open framework around which highly imaginative Dungeon Masters can construct what amounts to a set of rules and game of their own choosing, AD&D is a much tighter and more structured game system."

Which also explains why I like D&D better than AD&D. I like my games loose and imaginative. The article lays out the future of AD&D. And then this towards the end:

"For those of you who wondered why I took certain amateur publishing efforts to task, it was because they were highly insulting to TSR, D&D, this magazine, and myself."

Nerd fights. They never end.

Kevin Hendryx now presents a variant game for D&D in the modern era called "Mugger!". Welcome to the 1970's. Technically, it is Mugger! The Game of Tactical Inter-City Combat, 1979. Each player plays a mugger, gaining experience for each successful mugging and gathering loot. The goal is to "... amass as large a horde of experience points as possible while carrying out one's crimes and eventually gain a seat in the U.S. Congress ..." The times, they ain't a changin' all that much, are they?

Random encounters include 1d2 cops on their beat, 1d3 roving squad cars, 1d6 tougher muggers, 1d8 street gangs, 1d20 Hare Krishna fanatics and 4d6 stray dogs.

Oh, and you pick up 1,000 XP for stealing 10 kg of plutonium.

Here's the level chart:

It's actually a pretty long article, and though tongue-in-cheek would probably be fun to play one night with some friends. It strikes me that the old city map from Marvel Super-Heroes would come in handy on this one.

Lots of articles in this issue. Next is "Birth Tables and Social Status" for Empire of the Petal Throne, by G. Arthur Rahman. EPT was still a major component in gaming in this period, and its generally featured in every issue of The Dragon. It provides a very long table for generating birth and social status, and this translates into skills, spells and the like for the character. Looks good to me.

Apparently, Grenadier was pushing their new line of licensed Gamma World miniatures with a full page ad. You can see some unpainted models HERE and some painted ones HERE.

Len Lakofka's "Bazaar of the Bizarre" is "Blueprint for a Lich" in this issue. This is an in-depth article on how high level magic-users and clerics become liches, including a recipe that involves 2 pinches of pure arsenic and 1 measure of fresh wyvern venom (under 60 days old). Don't mix this one up at home, kiddies.

The would-be lich then drinks the concoction and rolls the D%

1-10: No effect whatsoever, other than all body hair falling out
11-40: Come for 2-7 days - the potion works!
41-70: Feebleminded until dispelled by dispel magic. Each attempt to remove the feeblemind has a 10% chance to kill the drinker if it fails. The potion works!
71-90: Paralyzed for 4-14 days. 30% chance of permanent loss of 1d6 dexterity points. The potion works!
91-96: Permanently deaf, dumb or blind. Only a full wish can regain the sense. The potion works!
97-00: DEAD - star over ... if you can be resurrected.

First - I can actually use this in the online game I'm running.

Second - awesome random table for generating liches - they're either a bit paralyzed, could be blind or deaf, or maybe are completely normal. Side-effects are a good idea for major potions.

Gary Gygax now provides tables for "Putting Together a Party on the Spur of the Moment". This generates a PC party quickly, with tables and rules for generating quick ability scores, level, armor, weapons and magic items. I think this made it into the DM's Guide. Which DMG you ask - come on, there's really only one.

Thomas Holsinger provides a "Strength Comparison Table". He provides a strength table from 0 to 18/00, with monster equivalents, hit bonuses and damage bonuses. It's inspired by Dave Hargrave's Arduin Grimoire II. FYI - Leprechauns are stronger than Brownies, and Pixies are stronger than Leprechauns, just in case you were going to run an all-fey remake of Over the Top. (Google it!)

Jeff Neufeld now provides a review of a play-by-mail game called Tribes of Crane (which is mis-written as Tribes of Tome in the first sentence). We also have reviews of Ice War. (Soviet/US confrontation), Mercenary (a Traveller book), The Battle of Monmouth and Grenadier Figure Packs and a very long review of Battle Sphere with lots of cool illustrations.

The Dragon's Bestiary (formerly Featured Creature) presents the barghest, so you now know which decade to blame for those little bastards.

Next comes "The Adventures of Fineous Fingers, Fred & Charly".

Who says old school fantasy is all about scantily clad females?

Great article title by Rod Stephens - "The Thief: A Deadly Annoyance". Amen to that. He laments the misuse of thieves in dungeons, because they're really meant for urban environments, where they can steal from high-level NPC's and other players - because PC's have more money than just about anybody in the game. He isn't wrong.

We finish up with some full page ads for GenCon XII, TSR's new game Divine Right (notes that T.M. Reg. has been applied for - so don't try anything funny) and Space Gamer (subscribe to get a free game - Ogre, Chitin I, Melee, WarpWar or Rivets).

A packed issue, and a reminder that The Dragon was a full-bodied gaming magazine at the time, and not just TSR's house organ.

Hope you enjoyed the review - have a happy Sunday and a great week ahead.

Oh - and I couldn't resist ... your ear holes will not thank me!


  1. Good job. I remember the Chinese undead well. I'm going to use a version of Celestial Stag in Castle Triskelion.

  2. Good job. I remember the Chinese undead well. I'm going to use a version of Celestial Stag in Castle Triskelion.

  3. Fantastic! I was missing this feature.

  4. This was missed thanks for it, someone directed me to a PDF of #56 and I swear my eyes misted up a little!

  5. ... my god. It *HAS* been two years, hasn't it?... Yeesh.

    Still a big fan of all your hard work, and I always look forward to each new post.


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