Sunday, August 9, 2015

Dragon by Dragon - October 1979

We're baking here in Vegas (heat wise - the medical marijuana isn't flowing yet), so perhaps a nice magazine from the fall of 1979 will put me into a cooler mindset.

I know - The Dragon #30! That's the ticket!

But, of course, October isn't about being cool. It's about being horrified. '79 was a good time for that, and not just because of the Carter administration. '79 was The Amityville Horror, Alien, Phantasm, The Brood, Nosferatu the Vampyre, Dracula ... and I never saw any of them. Frankly, not a horror movie fan. Let's get to the magazine.

First - the cover. What a great cover. I love covers with lots of little details, lots of things to get the brain ticking.

Dig this from the opening of Kask's editorial:

"As I am writing this (11 Sep), DUNGEONS & DRAGONS is getting the publicity that we used to just dream about, back when we were freezing in Gary’s basement in the beginning. If we had our ‘druthers’, it would not have happened in such a fashion. By now, as you read this, I hope the mystery surrounding the disappearance of James Egbert has been happily resolved. Whatever the circumstances of the incident, it has been a nightmare for his parents and family, as well as for TSR Hobbies, Inc. It has been speculated that James was involved in some sort of D&D game that went beyond the realm of pencil and paper roleplaying, and may have mutated into something tragic. D&D was seized upon as a possible connection to the disappearance, for a variety of reasons. First, James was an avid player. Indeed, I have met him at past conventions,
and he used to subscribe to TD."

And so it begins. In case you don't know, James Dallas Egbert III was a student at ... well, you can read about it at Wikipedia. This may have made D&D more famous, but it also started the backlash against it by morons everywhere dedicated to ruining innocent fun. Worst of all, it led to the TV movie Mazes & Monsters, starring a young Tom Hanks. Not all the Money Pit in the world can make up for that.

The Game's the Thing ... and I Used to Think GenCon Stood for General Confusion
by Kim Mohan

You might recognize Mohan's name. He was a the new kid at TSR when he wrote this review of GenCon XII. In short - he liked it.

Where the Orcs Are
by Steve Brown

This article features a bitchin' miniature diorama by Steve Brown. He wanted to enter it into the miniatures contest at GenCon XII, but it didn't fit into any categories. Nevertheless, it was awesome, and had to get some love, so ...

I'm going to assume the picture in the article doesn't do it justice. Actually, there are a dozen photos, and the underground orc castle looks incredible. Brown says it took him a year to do the thing, and it carried a price tag of $4000 at the con (which would be about $13,000 in todays dollars, proving that the geek community has never been all that swift with their time and money ... thank God).

Leomund's Tiny Hut: Good Evening
by Lenard Lakofka

This was the first of the Leomund's Tiny Hut's, which were usually interesting articles that covered all sorts of gaming topics. This one, appropriately enough, is about vampires. It digs into the AD&D vampire, going in depth on its abilities and answering questions gamers might have had about the monster. For example:

1) Once the vampire's hit points are calculated (it has 8+3 HD), they do not vary - i.e. you do not re-roll hit points when it regenerates in its coffin. Back in the day, there was an idea that adventurer's re-rolled their hit points for each adventure (an idea I actually kind of like - to represent when people are super on their game, and when they aren't).

2) Vampires don't want too many lesser vampires under their control - really no more than 4. It sounds like the vampire wants to make sure there are plenty of living people to feed on, so he has to take care. Like a shepherd and his flock. And lesser vampires don't create more lesser vampires.

3) Here's one that got me: "The Vampire's existence on the Negative Material Plane ..." Wow - dig the idea. Maybe it was widespread. A negative material plane, duplicate of our own in some ways - but probably a nightmarish version - inhabited by the undead who also have an existence in the positive material plane. Neat. And what a great place to set an epic adventure!

4) It takes 1-4 segments for a vampire to transform (a segment is a second, for those not steeped in the timekeeping of AD&D), but only 4 if the vampire is surprised. After one segment to adjust, it can be mobile. When a combat round was predicated on segment-by-segment actions, this would be valuable information.

5) It still takes a magic weapon to damage a vampire in bat form.

6) A vampire in gaseous form "scattered to the four winds" can reform in 1-100 segments (i.e. less than 2 minutes). Also - DM's should pre-set a hit point total at which a vampire will go gaseous.

He also gives some ideas about how to properly dispose of vampires, the spells they are immune to, details on regeneration, "lesser" vampires, summoning and charming, etc. It reminds me of the "Ecology of ..." articles they used to do.

Observer's Report: ORIGINS: Chaos With a Happy Ending
by Fantasysmith

To begin with, a note:

"This OBSERVER’S REPORT is written by the same person that does FANTASYSMITH’S NOTEBOOK. He prefers to do both under the pseudonym FANTASYSMITH, for reasons that he has made clear to us, and which we will honor."

I think I just realized that Fantasysmith was, in actuality, Richard Nixon! I have no proof yet, but I'm launching a new Kickstarter to raise $1 million to help me get to the truth.

And now, I have to quote the first line of the article:

"Fluid sugar draws bees, fluid filth draws flies, and fluid situations attract the chaotic. This last was the case at ORIGINS ’79."

Sheer poetry.

And now, an advert ...

Cool module. Cool art. And remember, "tell them you saw it in The Dragon".

From the Sorcerer's Scroll: New Setting for the Adventure
by Gary Gygax

Here, Gygax talks about the relationship between TSR and TSR Periodicals, and his relationship as publisher vs. Tim Kask as editor and ... yeah, I know. Who cares?

He then talks about the "Mugger" article from a couple issues back, and how it is both funny and great inspiration to look at different settings for games, in this case, the mean urban streets. Gary also gives us the lowdown on an adventure he's working on in which adventurers in a city in the World of Greyhawk delve under that city and somehow end up in a subway tunnel in the modern world. He gives these guides for the particulars:

- In the city setting, magic will work, although cleric spells above third level will not. Of course, firearms also work.

- The perils of the place — police, street gangs, muggers, criminals of other sorts, citizens with
karate training or able to box, those with guard dogs, etc. — will be numerous and different.

- Weapons aren’t difficult to rate according to damage. Electricity will be interesting — low-tension AC giving but 1d6 damage (4d6 if the party is well grounded), low-tension DC doing 1d6 each segment until the victim is freed, and high-tension DC doing 1d20 in the same manner.

- Cars will inflict 1d4 damage for each 10 mph of speed. Small trucks will get a d6, large ones a d8, and trains a d10 for each 10 mph.

- Each special character (guard, policeman, street tough, mugger, etc.) will be given a level roughly corresponding to those of AD& characters, although the type of dice used will be non-standard.

- If the adventurers survive and manage to return to their own place in the multiverse, they will have little in the way of treasure — at least in all probability. Firearms will not work in the World of Greyhawk, of course.

He ends by pointing out that Schick and Moldvay make some of the heroes in their Giants in the Earth series too powerful. Now's a good time for me to preview the way I'm rating fictional and real NPC's in GRIT & VIGOR - by the number of years they've been active:

The New, Improved Ninja
by Sheldon Price

This is a set of rules extensions for the ninja class, which was published at some point in the past - I don't remember the issue, and they don't mention it here.

This version of the ninja is based on the book NINJA: The Invisible Assassins by Andrew Adams, published in 1970 by O'Hara Publications, Inc. of Los Angeles, California. Yeah - you can get it at

The article starts out with weaponry. Here are some highlights:

In the hands of a ninja, the hankyu (short bow) fires at twice the normal rate.

There is a 5% chance per day of searching that a ninja can find 1d6 plants that work as caltrops.

It takes one week, and costs 2 sp, to make metal claws for the hands and feet.

Staves had small missiles attached to one end that could be thrown by flicking the staff.

Poison water guns have a range of 60', and produce a cone of water 10' wide at the base and 60' high. The main use is to blind eyes - it takes 1d12 rounds to clear the eyes.

The weird signs the ninja makes (called kuji-kiri) are not magical, but they restore his morale and entrance non-ninjas (saving throw allowed).

Ninjas have two kinds of sandals - essentially they can replace the soles. One gave better traction, the other a more silent step.

Ninja can wear up to chainmail, and they can pad it so it remains silent without adding encumbrance.

Ninja can foretell the weather in the short term. Which is nice, because when assassination just ain't paying, they can becomes TV weathermen.

They are also "earth aware" - can find good places for ambushes - and "man aware" - can manipulate people.

There is a huge list of special ninja equipment, from special torches to swimming flippers and rocket arrows.

There is a section on poison (the substance, not the metal band). Gyokuro is a poison that causes slow death - it kills the ill in a few days, and the healthy in 70. Wouldn't that be a fun way to end a PC's life. "Sorry Bill, you suddenly collapse dead in the street while haggling over that beaver tail soup. Turns out a ninja poisoned you a couple adventures back."

Ninjas can make laugh-inducing poisons at level 4, sleep-inducing poisons at level 6, and insanity-inducing poisons at level 8.

Ninjas also have healing abilities, mostly on themselves, but I would think they would work on others.

Basically, ninjas are awesome.

Lankhmar: The Formative Years of "Fafhrd" and "The Mouser"
by Dr. Franklin C. MacKnight

For those not in the know, Lankhmar is not only the setting of Fritz Leiber's stories of Fafhrd and the Mouser, but also a game. This article is written by a friend of his, and thus witnessed the birth of the Nehwon stories and the game. From the author:

"Lankhmar wasn’t just a game, it was an adventure. The pieces were not mere abstractions, but heroes with personalities with which one identified. It provided an esthetic thrill unequaled in my experience in any other game anywhere."

Starring Barry Gibb as Fafhrd
Add Lankhmar to the list of games I want to play. The article goes on to explain how the game was originally played (before it was turned into something more commercially viable in 1976 - see HERE).

We also get this tidbit about Harry Otto Fischer:

"Harry not only looked like Edgar Bergen’s Charlie McCarthy but had a similarly extroverted temperament and wit. The famous puppet could have been copied from him!"

The article is a must read for folks who love the stories. Great background stuff.

Design Forum: Boot Hill? Sure! But What Scale?
by Ralph Wagner

That title is such an artifact of its time. We don't live in a magazine world anymore, and whenever something passes from now to then to what, so many little things pass with it. I'm only 43 years old, but the then I was born into is rapidly becoming a what. I think my childhood and the childhood of people born in 1900 have more in common than my childhood and people born just 20 years later.

Oh - the article. It's about what scale miniatures to use with Boot Hill. Personally, I would have gone with these bad boys:

Found at Etsy ... already sold. Damn.
Designer's Notes: Flattop: A Long Game but a Strong Game
by S. Craig Taylor, Jr.

This is a discussion of Flattop, a game that covers the Coral Sea-Solomon Islands geography during 1942, specifically the three carrier-to-carrier battles of that year, Coral Sea, Eastern Solomons and Santa Cruz. Mr. Taylor was the game's designer and developer, and he has a few insights about it, in particular about victory points and the difficulty in writing a truly original game. Sounds like a pip. And a great cover, by the way.

Up on a Soap Box: Standardization vs. Playability
by Bob Bledsaw

He discusses the value of standardization in a game, but also its limitations. Wow - I'm sure you didn't see that coming. Mostly, he describes how he does his own campaigns - how he handles the races and technology and religion. Could be some useful stuff to the newbies - after all, at this point almost everyone playing the game was a newbie. By being a basic framework, D&D opened the doors to a whole new world, and everyone was feeling out what they could and couldn't do in that world.  What a great time.

And look at this little ad that popped up on page 21:

Things are about to get weird. If you are reading this and haven't heard of Arduin, look it up.

Armies of the Renaissance
by Nick Nascati

This is Part V, and covers the armies of Eastern Europe - Poland, Hungary, Russia and the Ottoman Empire. It's a good article - one page, two column, and covers the basic very nicely. What if we came up with a big d% table with 100 entries that determined a first level fighter's starting equipment, based on various historical warriors (and maybe Buck Rogers thrown in just for fun). Might have to do that for the blog.

Tournament Success in Six Steps
by Jon Pickens

Tournaments were such a big deal in the old days. I wasn't a con-goer then (or now, to be honest), so my only exposure to them at all was in some of the old AD&D modules I owned, which had a section on using the module in a tournament, with the points scores, etc.

Here a quick version of Jon's rules for success:

1) Get in - i.e. sign up for a game. If you don't get in the first round, sign up for the second.

2) Use magic to get rid of obstacles that would take too long to overcome the old fashioned way.

3) Have a plan (always a good idea).

4) Pay attention to the DM, and if something seems amiss, question him. He might only give out certain bits of information if the right questions are asked.

5) Don't waste time.

6) Never quit - avoid combat as much as possible, but if you have to do it, do it with extreme prejudice.

Finally, never argue with the DM. If you think he or she screwed up, bring it up politely.

Out on a Limb

Ah - letters to the editor time. Here's a dandy:

Q: "Something has been bothering me about the Druid class in DUNGEONS & DRAGONS. That is,
I know of a couple of people in Chapel Hill who don’t know each other, but they are both the ‘Great Druid’.

A: "The stricture regarding the number of high level Druids is on a per world basis."

He kindly didn't add, "dumbass".

Geek Rage of the Week:

"En garde, Master Rahman and those of you who defend such shoddy pieces of work such as Bakshi’s. (I’ll refrain from referring to it as the ‘Lord of the Rings’)."

Good Advice of the Week:

"It is my contention that all “good” referees should make it their duty to change large portions of the concepts presented in any given role-playing game."

Terrible Augury of the Future:

"As you may have noticed last month, Wormy has returned. Wormy’s creator got married and
moved to California, but he promises that Wormy is back to stay. As to more of Dave’s art, that is up to him and his job in CA. One can always hope . . ."

Cool ad for Dragon Tooth Fantasy Figures:

I haven't done a random encounter table based on a mini's ad in a while, so here goes:

1. Rogue or thief (roll 1d4 for level) in leather doublet with short sword, mounted on light warhorse. Wears cloak and floppy hat. Will do anything to steal your purse.

2. Sorcerer (roll 1d5 for level) in the middle of casting one of his highest level spells. Will be extremely cross if you mess it up.

3. Swordsman (roll 1d6 for level) armed with sword and spear.

4. Rictus, the Zombie King; zombie with 12 HD and the strength of a hill giant (+4 damage).

5. Swordsman Kane, a neutral evil 8th level fighter from the terrible north, escaping his love of a good woman who threatened to turn his heart to good. Has +1 scale mail and greatsword.

6. Sorceress (roll 1d8 for level); she holds the mystic Moon Staff of Myrmidor, which can cast all sorts of cool light spells, and confusion and which can cast hold monster, at will, against lycanthropes. She rides a light warhorse.

7. Cleric in mitre with mace. Roll 1d10 for level. He is suffering a crisis of conscience, as he caught mother superior stealing milk and didn't damn her.

8. Fool or jester, recently released from his master's service and very hungry. He is a 1st level assassin.

9. Bard or harpist (roll 1d12 for level) in puffy velvet clothes and a great hat. He carries a silver longsword and a golden lyre that charms fey, 4/day. He rides a dapple grey light warhorse. He is arrogant and good-natured.

10. Swordsman Roland (level 9 fighter), with scale mail, +2 shield (axes stick to it on a roll of 1-2 on 1d6) and a major chip on his shoulder towards paladins and rangers (they think they're so awesome).

Also, found this old issue of Popular Mechanics about painting Dragon Tooth miniatures.

Also, dig this 1978 catalog (which I've probably already posted at some point).

Giants in the Earth
by Lawrence Schick and Tom Moldvay

This edition of G in the E features Piers Anthony's Sol of All Weapons (LN 20th level fighter, 14th level monk), Tanith Lee's Zorayas (LE 23rd level magic-user) and Clark Ashton Smith's Maal Dweb (LE 20th level magic-user).

I dug the little advert for Cities, by Stephen Abrams. I did a search and found that he did a few versions of this book, including one for Runequest. I think I'm going to by myself one. I'm intrigued. If I do, I'll post a review.

The Dragon's Augury

The games reviewed in this issue are Spellmaker reviewed by Bruce Boegman, Black Hole reviewed by David Cook and Down Styphon reviewed by Kenneth Hulme.

Spellmaker (1978, by Eric Solomon) pits powerful wizards against one another, trying to transport a princess to their castle to win the game. The reviewer calls it a "rare gem", and I must admit, it sounds pretty cool. The spells are card-based, and I'd love to see a deck of them.

Black Hole (1978, by Robert A Taylor) pits two mining cartels against one another to capture a donut-shaped asteroid with a black hole tethered in the middle. The review is positive, so it might be a good con game for two.

Down Styphon! (1977, by Mike Gilbert) sounds pretty interesting. It is based on the book Lord Kalven of Otherwhen by H. Beam Piper, in which a Penn. State trooper is transported to a parallel earth where the secret of gunpowder is controlled by a bunch of priests. The trooper knows how to make gunpowder, better weapons and he knows something about the "future" of warfare. The game is a miniatures wargame in the musket and pike era. It is apparently a very playable game with only OK layout and some missing stats for artillery (which are provided in the review).

Bazaar of the Bizarre: Orlow's Inventions Can Liven Up Your Life
by William Fawcett

This article could be a great blog post - a random list of minor magic items that include spoons of stirring, brooms of sweeping, needles of sewing, amulets of caterpillar control, socks of dryness and matches of many lights. This stuff would be so great for putting in a wizard's tower. Just awesome - if you can find a copy of this issue, find it for this. I'd post the random table, but it's a little more than I'd be comfortable sharing considering the mag is copyrighted.

So, Different Worlds gaming mag. Never heard of this. I hunted down some descriptions, and apparently some issues you can still buy. I love the art in the ad, and would love to see a sample issue in PDF. There is so much buried treasure out there for gaming!

I also have to share this ad, for on heck of an artist for hire ...

... who is still out there working, thankfully.

Dig Tramp's minotaur in Wormy. So cool.

Dragon's Bestiary: The Curst
by Ed Greenwood

I'm not sure if this is the first thing in the magazine by Ed Greenwood or not. The curst are still roaming about in the Forgotten Realms setting. Humanoids (98% are human stock) that have been cursed and cannot die, they are chaotic neutral, retain their class abilities except psychic powers and magic, gain infravision 90' and apparently have no sense of smell. In modern parlance, they would be a "template".

Finieous Fingers shows us what failing a surprise roll looks like.

And that does it for The Dragon #30. A pretty good issue, overall, with lots of interesting artifacts of the old days of gaming that I love. Seriously - find a copy and check out the minor magic items article - well worth it.


  1. Iirc, Black Hole was a gimmicky little game where units including missiles reentered the board on the opposite side they exited. The "black hole" existed to explain why gravity let the missiles orbit, and why you couldn't just fire straight across the inner surface. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't nearly as much fun as OGRE or even Olympica (a game about a rebellion on Mars)

  2. "I think my childhood and the childhood of people born in 1900 have more in common than my childhood and people born just 20 years later."

    So, this was really weird. I could've sworn that said 1950, then the screen seemed to blink and it suddenly said 1900. Maybe I should get some sleep...

    You may be right about that being Greenwood's first Dragon contribution. His first article isn't until issue #34

  3. Good job. I still refer to Arduin regularly, did it last week.

  4. Just a small clarification - a segment is six seconds; there are 10 segments in a one-minute round :)

  5. Oops - my faulty memory to blame. It's been a long time since I delved into AD&D.


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