Thursday, May 4, 2017

This Old Dragon: Issue #114

It is not an exaggeration to say that Dragon #114 was a watershed issue for me.  But before I get into all of that I want to quickly restate what I am doing here since I have gotten a few new readers.  So the background here is I had purchased a couple of large gaming collections over the last couple of years. My brother also gave me a box of Dragons in really bad shape.  After combining, keeping some, selling off others and tossing (yeah, had too) ones that were in terrible shape I was left with about 100 or so Dragons that were in pretty bad shape.  Most were missing covers, many are missing pages and maybe one or two are fully intact.  In This Old Dragon I am grabbing issue out at random and reviewing them.  I can only review what I have, so if it is missing I won't talk about it.  The only exception I make are the covers.  If I feel too much is missing or something important is missing I'll check my Dragon-Magazine CD-ROM.  Cool?

So,  Let's get into this issue!
Speaking of covers let's have a look at this rather infamous cover from David Martin. In future letters sections, there were plenty of complaints of the "Playboy" like cover. It is also one of the few covers I would love to have an art-print of in my game room.  I loved it then and I still do. I have never seen an art print of it though. A little more than a year later the cover was reused (with permission as I understand) for the cover of Angel Dust's "To Dust You Will Decay" album.

The Letters section covers questions about spending more than $100 on the next version of AD&D (2nd Edition).  Some things never change I guess. Some letters on Psionic in combat too.

Editor Roger Moore talks about someone impersonating him at Gen Con 19.  Don't know if the guy was ever caught.

Ok.  Let's jump in.
The Witch is the main feature of this issue.  And by main I mean I don't think I ever read anything else in the issue for many years.  I think it was 1990 before I ever looked at the Ecology article.  This article dominated the issue and the minds of many.  I know many of you reading this either knew of this article, read it or had a witch from it.   Chances are if you ran into someone playing a witch anytime after 1986 then they were using this class.  Interesting that it was designed as an NPC class.
It was another update to the venerable witch from Dragon Mags #5, #20 and #43.  While issue #43 had a great deal of information, Dragon #114 is known for the art. There was the controversial cover and also the use of Larry Elmore art as one of the witches.   It was this issue that set the desire in my mind to have Elmore art in one of my books one day.  I had made a witch class prior to this, back in July of 86.  But I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when I first made a character using this witch.  It was in study hall, October 25, 1986.  I was a senior in High school. I was in the larger study hall because the teach I normally had study hall with had just died. I was set to play Dr. Seward in my High School's production of Dracula.  I pulled out a sheet and rolled up my first witch.


Yes. That is my iconic witch Larina.  That binder is full of different versions of her for different games, but this is the first.

Moving into the article and class.  This witch is WAY overpowered.  It is easy to see that now, but back then I didn't care. Bonus spells, powers at nearly every level, High Secret Order Spells? Yikes. But yet I do love this witch so.  10 pages, lots of new spells.  That Elmore art.  Totally fell in love.  Limiting the witch to 8th level spells seems like a natural thing to me now.  Back then I never gave much thought.  These days I give WAY too much thought.  I have a huge Excel file filled with spells and levels to some up with the optimal levels of every spell and placement. It has informed all my writing for years.  8th level feels right.


I see the seeds of nearly every witch I have played in these pages.  Certainly, my own Witch class has been inspired by it.

After that everything else in the magazine is a little weak.  It's isn't, but it sure feels like it.

Grave Encounters is full of great random tables for monsters.  I made a copy of it and stuck into my Ravenloft boxed set.

Not to be outdone by Bill Muhlhausen, Chris Booth is up with The Elven Cavalier. In my mind, I always thought that there is someone out there that read this article and got the same joy out of it that I got from the Witch article.  It is a good article and when I finally sat down to read it in earnest I became convinced that this was someone's favorite article and class.  So much so that it later affected things I did with Larina.  At one point she became romantically involved with an elven cavalier and thus my other iconic witch Taryn, the half-elf was born.
I created a group of Elven Cavaliers called the "Moon Knights" (it was the 80s. I am allowed).

Were you that person out there that loved the Elven Cavalier?  I'd love to hear about it.

The Ecology of the Remorhaz took me till 1990 or so before I read it.  Not that it is a bad article, far from it, it always got eclipsed by the witch.

Robert Kelk is up with Combined Generation or another attempt to put all the tables needed for character generation in one place.  It's a good article in theory. In practice I can't say.  At the time I never needed it, by 86 I had been playing for 7 years and pretty much knew where everything was without thinking about it. Today, rereading it, I can't say since I am too far removed from those days.  I can say that if I ever play 1st ed again I will have these handy.

Class Struggles (yup, but let's be honest an obvious name) from Mark Kraatz details things characters can do between leveling up times.   Some good ideas here that can be easily ported over to any version of *D&D or OSR.

The next article was part of a rash of articles and products to "better define" D&D.  It's a hit-but where? by Alex Curylo is another hit-location article. There are lots of example creatures, including the Flumph, on random hit locations.  It's a level of detail I never cared for and when it came up in game we usually either hand waved it or decided where the hit must be depending on the damage caused.

Moving on to more modern games and sci-fi we have an article from Russell Droullard on creating adventures for Top Secret; A Recipe for Espionage.  I am sure it would for other spy games as well like James Bond.  Thomas Kane follows up with the legal process in Top Secret in Guilty as Charged.

The Marvel-Phile deals with some details that didn't quite make it into the Advanced version of the game and a DS al Coda of the Moon articles from Ares. The only hero I recognize here is Medusa.

Neat, full color ad for the Immortals set.

Role of Computers covers the game Wizard's Crown for the Apple II, Commodore 64 and Atari XL.  The screen shots look like the Atari version. It looks fun, in a retro sort of way.  I know by this time I Was feeling a left out on my little 16k Color Computer 2.  But no fear the 128k Color Computer 3 was coming out and I was going to be rocking!

Ad for the Palladium Fantasy RPG.  Really wanted to play that back in the day.

High-Tech Hijinks by Randal S, Doering covers adding technology to your FRPG and AD&D in particular.  I will be honest. I never read it. I don't mix tech and magic in my games. It's a thing.  Though rereading it now, I am sure I at least glanced at it. A lot of it feels familiar.

We end with Wormy (which was getting stranger all the time to me), Dragonmirth and SnarfQuest (which was totally about tech in D&D).

It is very difficult to classify this issue for me.  The Witch article drowns out everything else in my mind to the point that I think only of it.  Yet there is a lot of othr good things in this issue.
It is easily one of my top 5 issues. Maybe even my most favorite.

I know for a fact tht while I would have done the witch class, I would not have been able to do it as well had it not been for this.  If nothing else it gave me ideas to use, ideas to avoid and something to playtest against to see how it all works.  The roots of my own game design are right here.

The fruits of 30 years:

The Witch: For Basic-era games The Warlock for Swords & Wizardry


Which one is next?


8 comments:

Deadstop said...

My clearest memory of the Elven Cavalier article is that their version of the chivalric code read "Dissolution before dishonor" rather than "death." That had implications I liked, going along with the 1e idea that elves had spirits instead of souls and almost touching on the Tolkienian notion that different races are theologically distinct in terms of their ultimate fates. Helped bring across the idea that elves shouldn't just be pointy-eared humans.

Dr. Theda said...

A very good read !! and we do so enjoy "Anything" about Ravenloft !!!

Timothy Brannan said...

The spirits vs. souls thing stuck with me the most too. So much so that I ruled elves could not become vampires in my games.

Mike Stickler said...

9,18,18,17,16,18 (21) - Good thing that 9 is in there, otherwise I'd have suspicions about your "rolling" method.

Michael Gross said...

More good stuff, Tim. I particularly like your house rule about elves not becoming vampires in your comment above.

*yoinks house rule*

David Edward Martin said...

For those trying to sort "Which David Martin is Which?", the cover was by David Leslie Martin. It was one of a few he did for the magazine. Another was the earthtone cover of a shirtless Warrior-Jock fighting a harpy.
He signs his paintings with his first and last names. I initial mine "DEM".
I never could understand the puritanical streak in some gamers. Murder and mayhem is perfectly fine but a bare butt or (HORRORS!) sideboob?
On the other hand TSR was following the guidelines of the Comics Code Authority (even if comic book companies had abandoned them by this point). Thus overt nudity and any mention of s-e-x was verboten.

Timothy Brannan said...

Mike, those numbers are totally not legal! I used a programmable calculator with a program I wrote to generate ability scores. I knew it was weighted too high (got a 19 once!) but my DM was cool with it. After 30 years the statute of limitations is over.

Timothy Brannan said...

David, Thanks so much for that insight. I never understood that point of view either.

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