This is a site for discussing roleplaying games. Have fun doing so, but there is one major rule: do not discuss political issues that aren't directly and uniquely related to the subject of the thread and about gaming. While this site is dedicated to free speech, the following will not be tolerated: devolving a thread into unrelated political discussion, sockpuppeting (using multiple and/or bogus accounts), disrupting topics without contributing to them, and posting images that could get someone fired in the workplace (an external link is OK, but clearly mark it as Not Safe For Work, or NSFW). If you receive a warning, please take it seriously and either move on to another topic or steer the discussion back to its original RPG-related theme.
The message boards have been upgraded. Please log in to your existing account by clicking here. It will ask twice, so that it can properly update your password and login information. If it has trouble recognizing your password, click the 'Forgot your password?' link to reset it with a new password sent to your email address on file.

Author Topic: Let's read Dragon Magazine - From the beginning  (Read 181514 times)

(un)reason

  • Forever making stuff
  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 1920
    • View Profile
    • http://www.myspace.com/weareyours
Let's read Dragon Magazine - From the beginning
« on: March 29, 2009, 07:02:44 am »
Hello everybody. If you've been reading other forums you may already know this, but for the past year I've been trying to read and review every single physical issue of Dragon Magazine. While still nowhere near finishing, I've come a long way, and learned a lot about the history of our hobby. And since it's so much work, obviously I want to share this with as many people as possible. So now it's your turn. I look forward to seeing what opinions and insights are generated here, free of the oppressive hand of no personal attacks moderation.


The strategic review 1: Spring 1975

So here we are, right back at the dawn of D&D periodicals. First impressions are that they tried to do it in a newspaper style, with a baroque heading and captioned sections. My second is on how short and succinct it is. Only 6 pages long, with a price of 50 cents, no artwork, and obviously typewritten, it gets right to the point, explaining what they are trying to do with the zine (and apologizing for the lack of stuff, as its their first issue, and they don't have any letters or advertisers. )

The rest of the issue contains the following:

 An advert for new editions of their wargames (3rd edition chainmail, now featuring the fighting men of the east! And people complain about the animeisation of games now. Says it all really.)

Mind flayers! Their first appearance. Still recogniseably the same basic monster, with almost impenetrable magic resistance, and quick kill brain eating, although they lack the later depth and descriptive detail. Their mind blast is a classic of idiosyncratic OD&D design, with a unique saving throw based off the victims intelligence, rather than level.

Edition change stuff for Tractics (which I've never heard of before, by by implication is another miniatures game, so people who already have the previous edition don't have to buy a whole new copy. How nice of them.

Gary Gygax talking about the underpoweredness of spears in Chainmail, saying people shouldn't complain about it because it is Historically Accurate :D , and also that they intend to introduce expanded details on polearms, rather than just having one generic entry for them. I think most of us know how that one pans out in the future. Oh yes.

2 pages of random dungeon generation tables, easily making up the biggest section. Shows where their priorities are. They would later be revised and expanded and appear in the AD&D 1st ed DMG. These are probably still usable today, as very little is system specific, and what is is easily convertible. Maybe I will use them at some point.

More adverts on the final page.

Funny how many of the things here would go on to be significant later on in the game. There is very little flavour text anywhere, and you are obviously expected to take things and make them your own. They also don't have the skill with layout and making things stand out that they would later develop. Despite its smallness, there is a tendency towards block of textiness. But It was still an entertaining and informative read, and the lack of padding could be seen as a benefit, because it does allow you to get right to the important stuff.

RandallS

  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 2182
    • View Profile
Let's read Dragon Magazine - From the beginning
« Reply #1 on: March 29, 2009, 08:36:40 am »
Quote from: (un)reason;293076
Mind flayers! Their first appearance. Still recogniseably the same basic monster, with almost impenetrable magic resistance, and quick kill brain eating, although they lack the later depth and descriptive detail.


I didn't really like them when they appeared here. Their revision in EW made them more usable for me, but even then I didn't use them all that much. I really did not like the way their Mind Blast worked.

Quote
I think most of us know how that one pans out in the future. Oh yes.


Yes indeed, Gary's obsession with pole arms just seemed to grow with time. I lrearned a lot about very obscure pole arms, however.

Quote
2 pages of random dungeon generation tables, easily making up the biggest section.


The best thing in the issue as far as I was concerned. I used these to start new levels or to randomly generate small dungeons during play.
Randall
Microlite20 Nexus: Home of Microlite20 and Other Rules-Lite Tabletop RPGs

mhensley

  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 1026
    • View Profile
Let's read Dragon Magazine - From the beginning
« Reply #2 on: March 29, 2009, 09:38:15 am »
Quote from: (un)reason;293076

2 pages of random dungeon generation tables, easily making up the biggest section. Shows where their priorities are. They would later be revised and expanded and appear in the AD&D 1st ed DMG. These are probably still usable today, as very little is system specific, and what is is easily convertible. Maybe I will use them at some point.


speaking of which I've automated these tables here-

http://www.hackslash.net/?page_id=437

Seanchai

  • BANNED
  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 5789
    • View Profile
    • http://www.myspace.com/seanchai0
Let's read Dragon Magazine - From the beginning
« Reply #3 on: March 29, 2009, 10:31:30 am »
I've been reading these on TBP. Thanks for them.

Seanchai
"Thus tens of children were left holding the bag. And it was a bag bereft of both Hellscream and allowance money."

MySpace Profile
Facebook Profile

Captain Rufus

  • Agent of Mota
  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 597
    • View Profile
    • http://wargamedork.blogspot.com
Let's read Dragon Magazine - From the beginning
« Reply #4 on: March 29, 2009, 03:45:49 pm »
I've enjoyed the hell out of your work reviewing these things.  Can't say I read every word (Mostly ignore the fiction reviews and whatever rules rulings that come up.), but its interesting and it must be a shitload of work.

I look forward to when you hit the 1988 era issues which is when I read the magazine first.

(un)reason

  • Forever making stuff
  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 1920
    • View Profile
    • http://www.myspace.com/weareyours
Let's read Dragon Magazine - From the beginning
« Reply #5 on: March 30, 2009, 05:51:55 am »
The strategic review 2: Summer 1975

We're up to 8 pages in this one. They start off with an obituary for Donald Kaye, the forgotten third co-founder of TSR. Ironicaly, he was only around the same age as Gary Gygax, who of course went on another 32 years. Rather a shame, really. TSR's history would probably have developed quite differently if he'd been around. Already they seem a little more aware of what they are doing, and how to go about it. We get the disclaimer about unsolicited material, and adverts. There is the persistent sense of a company that is expanding as fast as they can create and print new stuff, and still building up the infrastructure needed to do it. There is also plenty of reminders that the 1970's were a slower age, with talk of distribution times and the like. The internet has enabled us to send things out across the whole world as soon as it is done, which is pretty cool. They also say that D&D is not intended to simulate reality but to primarily just be a fun game. Yeah, its pretty clear where the original designers intentions fall on the GNS model.   We don't want none of those poncy narrativists or boring simulationists around here.

Other stuff:

Errata for Cavaliers and Roundheads. Another historical period that seems to have fallen out of fashion.

Stuff on the upcoming conventions.

Lots of clarifications for D&D. I suppose this is the first ancestor of what would become Sage Advice. Very dry, point by point stuff, as you would expect. Already people were discontented with the spell memorisation system, but they stuck with it as the main option for another 25 years.

Ropers! Another new introduction that continues to annoy to this day, although they never became iconic like illithids. Very archaic sounding intro.

Rangers. The very first instance of a twinktastic new class being introduced in the magazine! They only go to level 13, and lack the rogue abilities and two weapon fighting that they would later get, but are deadly against giants, can track, and become pretty decent spellcasters in both wizard and cleric lists at high level. I certainly recognise the AD&D 1st ed ranger in these, but they are almost completely different to the 4th ed ranger. Once again we see an influx of fiddly social restrictions that have since disappeared, and a tendency towards static abilities with an arbitrary chance of success. Unified mechanics, where are you?

Some really primitive line art, little more than a napkin scribble. Still, the first issue had no art at all, so its progress I guess.

Polearms! A whole page on polearms! Getcha dozen varieties of polearms here. All of the names are familiar sounding, and I think this is most of the ones that would be a staple of both 1st and 2nd ed AD&D. Much pointless minutinae contained within.

Some bitching about printing and dice costs, and saying they may have to raise prices. Yeah, thats a familiar story whatever the era. This is a reminder that before D&D, dice other than 6 siders were exceedingly rare, and they had to get up a distribution chain to get a regular supply of them.

Expansion for Panzer warfare. Again, we don't see enough rules for playing with tanks these days. Damn narrativists and their focus on feelings. We want more tanks!  

1st D&D supplement Greyhawk out now. Boot hill coming soon.

In some ways this is less familiar than the 1st issue, as it really points out how the organisation of gaming has changed with the internet. Still, I can see things are already developing, such as variable damage for weapons, power creep, and the start of the first D&D setting. And its certainly a much lighter read than modern stuff. I'm definitely enjoying things so far, and I can see why it took off so fast.

(un)reason

  • Forever making stuff
  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 1920
    • View Profile
    • http://www.myspace.com/weareyours
Let's read Dragon Magazine - From the beginning
« Reply #6 on: March 30, 2009, 05:54:12 am »
Quote from: mhensley;293089
speaking of which I've automated these tables here-

http://www.hackslash.net/?page_id=437

Ooh. Shiny. Bookmarked. Hopefully I'll get the chance to use this to speed along my dungeon creation at some point.

Captain Rufus

  • Agent of Mota
  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 597
    • View Profile
    • http://wargamedork.blogspot.com
Let's read Dragon Magazine - From the beginning
« Reply #7 on: March 30, 2009, 08:43:42 pm »
Quote from: (un)reason;293199

Expansion for Panzer warfare. Again, we don't see enough rules for playing with tanks these days. Damn narrativists and their focus on feelings. We want more tanks!  


Unless you are making the funny, this one is way not true.  Tanks are all over the place in gaming.  (Even if SJGames who has the the best hex and chit tank game ever (Ogre) is sitting on it because they can make more money with more cruddy Munchkin expansions.)

Heck, Flames of War is doing rather well and its all about 15mm tanks.  Warhammer 40K is tank heavy now to the point the newest edition made them REALLY viable as opposed to the easily killed by random luck things they were before.  AT 43 and Warmachine are both heavily using of tanks, though theirs usually have 2 feet as opposed to some nice realistic militarily viable treads.  

I myself am looking into Cold War Commander (Or Future War Commander so I can make use of all my Epic minis!) for 2mm (1/600 scale) so I can have lots of AH 64s and Hinds vs M1 Abrams and whatever tanks those Commies used that my Hellfires always took out in Gunship...

The love of tanky warfare has not gone away.  Its just generally not in the RPG sector.

Oh yeah, Ill be playing some Ogre/GEV tomorrow using the Deluxe maps and minis.  (I sometimes use Heroscape terrain but I am in a lazy mood and don't feel like setting up 100s of plastic hexes for a quick battle.)

TANKIN STILL LIVES!

(un)reason

  • Forever making stuff
  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 1920
    • View Profile
    • http://www.myspace.com/weareyours
Let's read Dragon Magazine - From the beginning
« Reply #8 on: March 31, 2009, 06:22:47 am »
The strategic review 3: Autumn 1975

Still only 8 pages long, but the typeface is smaller.  We kick off with an editorial blasting an unfavourable reviewer and his flawed reviews, and asking the readers to send in reviews of his new games in return. We get a lovely mix of high-handedness and petty vindictiveness as Gary asks the enraged letter senders to put their money where their mouth is, while feigning impartiality himself. Yeah, this is all very familiar from the internet. Goes to show, people haven't really changed. This issue feels a lot more commercial than the last two, with more adverts, and an explicit focus on stuff for their shiny new supplements, and making you aware of them. We also see the first joke submissions here, starting the long tradition of poking fun at gamer stereotypes. Again, these have changed surprisingly little with the passing of time.

Stuff within:

9 monsters, all of which have survived to the modern day, including those soon to be classic annoyances the shrieker and piercer, and nagas, which are also recogniseably similar to their modern form. There is a definite emphasis on tricksy stuff, camouflage, aging, attacks from above, ethereality and other annoying stuff the players have to think about to counter. These would never make it into the current ruleset as they were.

Joke monsters based on gamer stereotypes as mentioned above, plus the mess they are wont to make, and hippys. Jokes about narrative combat abound. Could such a thing become reality. I think we know the answer to that. Funny how things that start off as a parody can later go on to be things in their own right you're expected to take seriously.

The battle of the ebro river. More really primitive line art.

The Conan line of miniatures becomes the Sword and Sorcery line, as they learn about brand name stuff the hard way. (although this is not the last time they make that mistake, as the cthulhu stuff in deities and demigods showed. )

Stuff on the history of gunslinging for boot hill. Fanning is declaimed as flashy stuff that's not effective in a real combat. And we get a reminder from real life how dangerous the life of an adventurer would actually be. And a case of designer hubris, saying they would never have made Boot Hill if they listened to surveys, but they made it anyway, because they are their own market and know what they like. Um, yeah. Again, hindsight shows how that one turns out.

Our first case of joke poetry. Names involving geographic features and animals are so easy to parody. How they took it seriously 20 years later in W:tA I'll never know.

Fluff and a random generation table for deserted cities of mars, which is pretty cool.

Percentile dice sets are now available separately. I note that they don't have 10 sided dice yet, and instead use 20 siders numbered twice when they have too. I guess it'll take white wolf and their exclusive use of 10 siders to really make those non platonic interlopers take off.

(un)reason

  • Forever making stuff
  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 1920
    • View Profile
    • http://www.myspace.com/weareyours
Let's read Dragon Magazine - From the beginning
« Reply #9 on: March 31, 2009, 06:30:52 am »
Quote from: Captain Rufus;293320
Unless you are making the funny, this one is way not true.  Tanks are all over the place in gaming.  

The love of tanky warfare has not gone away.  Its just generally not in the RPG sector.

TANKIN STILL LIVES!
I guess this is sample selection. I've never really been into wargaming and minis, so I've missed all this stuff out. This is what I get for being a dirty narrativist myself a lot of the time, and buying games which don't focus on the guns and gear. :p :o  So it goes.

(un)reason

  • Forever making stuff
  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 1920
    • View Profile
    • http://www.myspace.com/weareyours
Let's read Dragon Magazine - From the beginning
« Reply #10 on: April 01, 2009, 03:52:10 am »
The strategic review 4: Winter 1975

Up to 12 pages now, and they open saying SR is moving from quarterly to bi-monthly next issue. The price also undergoes a 50% increase to 75 cents (shocking, shocking i say!) Yeah, they really are expanding fast. They talk about new employees, and there's quite a bit about gencon. The snark of last issue is followed up on, with them apologising that no-one has sent in any reviews.  As these are expanding so fast, I doubt I'll be able to keep commenting on everything within each issue for long. We shall see.

We see that they are now getting lots of submissions. Which I guess means they can afford to pick and choose what actually gets published. And also that people apart from the core designers will start to diversify the tone and focus of the game. Which, as we know will have results both good and bad over the years.

Stuff in this issue:

More stuff on polearms. Gary really liked them, didn't he.

A case of someone trying to make oriental weapons nastier than their western equivalents. And this time the editors stop them. Hey, thats refreshing. :D How long can they keep the orientophiles at bay?

More impenetrable tables for Panzer Warfare, and errata for Tractics. I really must do some research on these old wargames so I can comment critically on them.

Illusionists! Yes, its the first more power by restricting their scope class. (as contrasted with rangers, which are fighters+, only with behavioural restrictions. ) Still only 13 levels long with 5th level spells the highest covered. ( was that the standard coverage limit in OD&D?) They manage to fit a list of 40 spells, 25 of which are new, onto a single page. Overall, I think they are probably better balanced than rangers were, but don't have as much flavour.

The first D&D comic. By a Marc Miller (I assume not that one, but I cant be certain) apparently. Pretty basic trope joke, if a dated one (who bothers spiking doors open these days?)

A name and pronunciation guide for tekumel. This is some seriously detailed stuff, with quite a bit of setting and personal history in with the tables. Definately a lot more setting depth and intricacy there than there was in early D&D, and its interesting to see them covering games by other creators.  

Clay golems! IOUN STONES! (squee) With personal permission from Jack Vance himself. So already proper published authors were becoming aware of D&D. Another sign of how quickly the game actually spread through certain social circles, with people actively involving their friends in general with it rather more than they do so now.

A profile of "DOC" Holiday for boot hill. Pretty cool stuff that gives you a nice feel for the topic in a single page.

Supplement II Blackmoor now out. Still a slow progression compared to the several titles per month of their heyday, but the D&D train is definitely building speed. I also noted a little caption simply saying "the dragon is coming!" Looks like they had already realized the limitations of their current format, and were planning for its replacement.

The_Shadow

  • Upstanding Member
  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 1420
    • View Profile
Let's read Dragon Magazine - From the beginning
« Reply #11 on: April 01, 2009, 04:47:01 am »
Quote from: (un)reason;293596
The strategic review 4: Winter 1975


The first D&D comic. By a Marc Miller (I assume not that one, but I cant be certain)



The comic's author gives credit to noted future Traveller author Loren Wiseman. So my guess is it was indeed that Marc Miller.
You can shake your fists at the sky. You can do a rain dance. You can ignore the clouds completely. But none of them move the clouds.

- Dave "The Inexorable" Noonan solicits community feedback before 4e's release

(un)reason

  • Forever making stuff
  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 1920
    • View Profile
    • http://www.myspace.com/weareyours
Let's read Dragon Magazine - From the beginning
« Reply #12 on: April 01, 2009, 01:03:41 pm »
Quote from: The_Shadow;293599
The comic's author gives credit to noted future Traveller author Loren Wiseman. So my guess is it was indeed that Marc Miller.

Interesting. If he had personal contacts with the magazine staff even before it became a proper magazine, that would certainly help explain how Traveller become the non TSR gameline with the most coverage in the magazine.

Lawbag

  • Ghost of the Navigator
  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 1100
    • View Profile
    • http://m.1asphost.com/Lawbag/
Let's read Dragon Magazine - From the beginning
« Reply #13 on: April 01, 2009, 03:05:40 pm »
well done for attempting this, but I have a feeling my life is going to be empty when you come to the end...
« Last Edit: April 10, 2009, 08:12:39 am by Lawbag »
"See you on the Other Side"
 
Playing: Nothing
Running: Nothing
Planning: pathfinder amongst other things
 
Playing every Sunday in Bexleyheath, Kent, UK 6pm til late...

RandallS

  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 2182
    • View Profile
Let's read Dragon Magazine - From the beginning
« Reply #14 on: April 01, 2009, 05:41:24 pm »
Quote from: (un)reason;293199

Lots of clarifications for D&D. I suppose this is the first ancestor of what would become Sage Advice. Very dry, point by point stuff, as you would expect. Already people were discontented with the spell memorisation system, but they stuck with it as the main option for another 25 years.


Some people liked it, some didn't. Those who didn't wrote there own house rules for other systems of spell-casting. These was considered okay and quite normal at the time. The rules, after all, were just guidelines.

Ropers! Another new introduction that continues to annoy to this day, although they never became iconic like illithids. Very archaic sounding intro.

Quote
Once again we see an influx of fiddly social restrictions that have since disappeared, and a tendency towards static abilities with an arbitrary chance of success. Unified mechanics, where are you?


Thankfully absent. Unified mechanics are generally good, but some times a mechanic that exactly fits the need is better. I realize that unified mechanics are the current holy grail, but games work fine without them.

Quote
Much pointless minutinae contained within.


Unless one happens to be interested in polearms. Gary was.  It did get old for those of us who weren't.  However, this early in the game, it was just quirky.

Quote
Expansion for Panzer warfare. Again, we don't see enough rules for playing with tanks these days. Damn narrativists and their focus on feelings. We want more tanks!


Wargaming, both minis and boardgames was much more common back in the 1970s. Tractics was a decent minis game.  And its fans complained about all the effort and space TSR wasted on D&D. :)

Quote
Illusionists! Yes, its the first more power by restricting their scope class.


In play, OD&D Illusionists were weak, even with the additional spells added in TD #1. Few people played them as they were even harder than Magic-users to keep alive at low level and not as powerful at high level. I had an Illusionist who made it to 10th level -- which was considered amazing by just about everyone.
Randall
Microlite20 Nexus: Home of Microlite20 and Other Rules-Lite Tabletop RPGs