Thursday, April 20, 2017

This Old Dragon: Issue #84

Let's go all the way back to April of 1984 to issue 84 (the only time that the year and the issue were the same) for an April issue I don't hate.  So put on a copy of Van Halen's "1984" cause it's April 1984 and this is "This Old Dragon"!

Dragon 84 is an interesting one for me.  It was almost my first Dragon.  I was going to go buy it at my local bookstore, but the agreement was I had to buy D&D books with my own money.  So instead of this I got something else. Can't remember what.  I wanted to go back and get it, but by then Dragon #85 was out so I got that one instead.  Yes, folks the very first Dragon I owned was issue 85. But more on that later.

Kim Mohan's editorial discusses the lack of "foolish" content in this issue.  He also discusses how this is the LAST issue with Phil & Dixie!  But it is also the first issue featuring the Ares Sci-Fi section, that is cool.

The first full article up is A cast of strange familiars by Stephen Inniss. Back then I tended to stick to more traditional familiars; owls, cats, bats and the like.  This was a great article since it expanded on the lists of potential animals and benefits for the Magic-User.   My own witch class was still a bit off from happening at this point.

An interesting ad appears on page 13. Riddle of the Ring claims to use names from an "uncopyrighted" work of J.R.R. Tolkien.  I wonder how that worked out for them in the long run?  Contrast that with a panel later in "What's New!"

Ed Greenwood and Elminster are back in Ecology of the Trapper.  Interesting article, but I always wanted them to do more interesting monsters.   We get that later in the issue.

Never the same thing twice: Filling out facts and figures on the rakshasa family by Scott Bennie is the sort of thing I was hoping for!  Rakshasas are really interesting and this article expands on that considerably.  I do remember making a Xerox copy of this article because I wanted to do something more with these guys.  I never did really, but I did end up adding them to the ranks of the devils for my own games.

Interesting ad for the Little Wars convention. I guess in 84 it used to be really close to where I live now. The Willow Brook Inn is no longer there, but Little Wars is still going strong.
There used to be so many cons. In April to June there are 25 listed here.

Ah.  Now a bit of history.
And then there were three is a "preview" by +Frank Mentzer of the new D&D Companion rules.  The article starts off with a bit of history on how the "Companion" rules were hinted at in 1980 (yeah we know!) and it was not till 1982 the go ahead was given to create it.  Reading the article you certainly get the feeling that Gary (oddly misspelled as "Garry" at one point) anoints Frank and hands him the UR-Tablets of D&D and tells him to spread the Gospel to his people. Or something like that.
Frank details the design and gameplay assumptions behind the Companion rules.   This includes more epic quests and even outer planar play.  The Masters and Immortal Sets are also teased here as well as the War Machine large-scale battle system.  What the four classes can do after 15th level is discussed with options such as the Druid, Paladin, and Magist.

The centerfold is Part 1 of a two-part RPGA adventure "The Twofold Talisman".  I ran this back in the mid 80s and had a good time with it, but the Star Wars puns in it felt old to me even then.   I thinkI'd like to run this again someday.

In the Reviews section by Ken Rolston, they cover some FRPG classics. A new edition of Chivalry and Sorcery, a game I always wanted to try, is first up.  The big one is a review of the Basic and Expert sets of D&D, the B and the E in BECMI.  I was not a fan of these editions, having firmly come off of the B/X versions before moving (at this time) to AD&D.  Of course, now I appreciate what was done here, but I should have read this review back then. I might have been a little less quick to judge these set unfairly.

Next is the Ares Science Fiction section, a new feature for Dragon and one I always enjoyed reading.  This section only gives us a taste really of what is to come.

First up is one of the articles I most associate with Ares; their series on detailing the Moon for all the major Sci-Fi systems out there.  It had everything I love. Science, RPGs, sci-fi and an obsessive compulsive need to do something to the Nth degree.  This first one covers the Moon for the Spae Opera RPG.  I always wanted to collect all of these and put them in a binder or something.

Ed Greenwood has another article this time it is The Zethra An NPC race for the STAR FRONTIERS game.  I get the feeling, reading this, that Elminster is out there somewhere in the Star Frontiers universe and Ed was just waiting for an excuse to use him in it.

No Marvel-Phile yet.  But there is a full page ad for the upcoming Marvel Superheroes Game!

Lots of really cool old ads.

So for the comics we have Snarf Quest #9, What's New? with Phil and Dixie, Talanlan, and Wormy all in the same issue.
We touched on this, but this is the last What's New until some special one-shots later on.  Phil & Dixie decide to finally find out WHY they can't do "Sex and D&D" and they get fired in the process. Still though, one of the funnier issue of this with plenty of cameos of Dragon and TSR employees.
This panel makes the Fellowship Games ad above look all the more odd.

We end with natually an ad for I.C.E.s Middle-Earth Roleplaying and a product that to many signified the end of old-school D&D.

I supposed I belong more the Silver Age than the Golden Age even though I had been playing for more than 4 years at this point.

1984 was a turning year for D&D.  We can see it here in the ads and the articles. We can see the turning in Dragon and in TSR in general with the publication of the BECMI sets, Dragonlance and Marvel Super Heroes.
At the time though it felt exciting, like we were entering a new age of gaming. It STILL feels like that's what it was. Sure we can read about how Gary was getting pushed out by this time and how in 85 the finacial toll was beginning to really harm TSR.   But as fans we never knew that. We never saw that side of things.  Dragon was our insight to the hobby and the sights were good.

What do you recall from this time?  How did you see all these changes?

Want to see what I Was saying about White Dwarf magazine from the same month? Check out White Dwarf Wednesday for issue #52.


Zudrak (Michael G.) said...

Right in my wheelhouse as I remember buying that copy from the comic book store. I went there for two things: Dragon Magazine and Groo the Wanderer. :)

As I said on an earlier blog of yours, I need to read these again. It is eerie now reading them, knowing what was going on behind the scenes leading up to late 1985. No cracks in TSR showed as of yet. As I was just 11 when this issue released, much of it went over my youthful head. I must have enjoyed reading it because I had started with #76 and never stopped buying them until issue 115 or so (except for the odd issue I would miss because it sold out before I was able to make the trip to the store).

As we began playing games in addition to AD&D (Marvel Superheroes, Gamma World 2e, Star Frontiers, Top Secret, Twilight 2000), we thought we were entering the golden age, not leaving it.

20/20 hindsight proves otherwise.

Unknown said...

Shortly after this issue went live, one of my players, "Thezbar the Thaumaturge" ended up with a KINKAJOU as a familiar!!!

tsw512 said...

I love these Dragon revisitations! My buddy and I have co-DM'd both parts of The Twofold Talisman at GaryCon the last couple of years. Always a blast!

Martin R. Thomas said...

You are hitting my sweet spot of Dragon. My first issue was a gift of #76 and then I went back and found #72 at a Walden Books. Then I got #79 somewhere along the way.

I distinctly remember getting #84 and #85 at a bookstore while on a summer road trip with my parents and devouring them in the backseat of the car, and loving the cover art of #84 especially.

It was only six more issues until my Grandma gave me a gift subscription for my birthday with #90, which lasted until the physical copy of Dragon ended with #359 I think.

trollsmyth said...

Wasn't crazy about the cover on this one, but it had a dungeon in the middle and a new race for Star Frontiers, so I had to have it.

I remember things were getting "slick" by this time, shiny and chrome in RPGs. More color, more graphic splendor, but not quite to the coffee-table books we'd see in six or so years. But definitely a precursor to the look-and-feel of 2e.

I don't remember that rakshasa article at all! I'm shocked, because I do remember the dungeon (too many jokes; was deeply disappointed) and the Zethra (pronounced by me and my crew as ZEE-thra for some reason) were a minor part of my SF adventures afterwards.

grodog said...


I was reading Inniss' familiars article in the Dragon Archive, and discovered that the final page of the familiar descriptions is screwed up. Can you please pull out your physical copy (mine's somewhere in my attic...), and look at page 17, to see if

1) the entry for the Toad has any text after "They eat insects, but larger" (last words in the PDF article column 1)
2) the entry for Weasel has any text after "feet in length, tail included, but they are"
3) and the final line of column 3 seems to be missing too; what we can read is "find themselves. For example, in the age of" but that connect with the text atop page 18.



My assumption is that the archive scanner