Thursday, September 7, 2017

This Old Dragon: Issue #74

It's June 1983.  I had just turned 14 so I took about two dozen friends to the movie to see "Octopussy" in the theatres on my birthday (remember when I said I was a huge Bond fan?) and it was great.  In the stores the new covers for the AD&D core books are out and yes I had to buy them.  Bond is in the theatres, new covers on the shelves, Naked Eyes on the radio and There's Always Something There to Remind Me in This Old Dragon Issue #74!

First up this issue is in REALLY good shape given the issues near it (CORRECTION, I have two of these. One is in good shape, the other with the Combat Computer is in terrible shape).  Yes, the combat computer (more on that later) is still there and still intact.  But let's talk about this cover first.   Nothing is more iconic D&D than a group of adventurers fighting a dragon. This cover is one of the more memorable ones.  I did not buy this issue when it was new, but people I gamed with had it and it was well used and well passed around.

The editorial also covers birthdays.  This is the seventh anniversary of Dragon.  Last week I covered the 9th anniversary and like that issue, this one has some dragons in it.  They mark the date in a very subdued fashion. That will change.

Gary is up first with an entry of From the Sorcerer's Scroll in Warhorses and Barding.  Exactly what it says. One might be tempted to pass up this article and flip on past the big James Bond ad, and ignore the second half.  That would be a mistake.  Gary lets us know that a line of official D&D 25mm miniatures are on the way.   We also learn of a script for the Dungeons and Dragons movie that "... is a remarkable piece of work, one which could well lead to a film as successful as STAR WARS or E.T. It will do a world of good for our hobby . . ."  Thankfully Jeremy Irons is really busy during this time and Thora Birch is only 1 year old.   Also on tap is something Gary and Marvel Productions are calling "THE DUNGEONS & DRAGONS CHILDRENS SHOW".  So reading in 1983 which one of these sounds like the better bet?  Yeah, I was wrong too.

In another long standing feature, Lenard Lakofka with Brad Nystul are both up in Leomund's Tiny Hut. This issue features the Bureaucrat class with the Politician sub-class.  I am not kidding.   It does read like a misplaced April Fools article, but there is too much seriousness in it.  Ok, now I am 100% certain that someone out there reading this now used these classes back in the AD&D1 days.  But come on, really??  Next time someone tells me how much better everything in the old Dragons used to be I will agree, but I will also show them this article.   Not every old is good and not every new is bad.

Ah, now this is the stuff I remember and wanted.  Ronald Hall is up with the Land Dragons.  I loved this article. It was original and it felt like a great addition to the game.  I can remember laying in bed reading this article. It was a great stuff.  With these and the new dragons in the Fiend Folio and the MMII I wanted to over run my world with all sorts of different dragons.

Not to be outdone, The Electrum Dragon by Ed Greenwood is next.  This one I didn't like as much.  Oh sure I liked having more dragons, but this seemed forced since electrum was (in theory for me at the time) electroplated silver with gold.  Later I opted to keep Electrum Dragons in the Realms and Steel Dragons in Greyhawk.

Ah, now here is a memory! Ed comes back with Elminster in tow for Seven Swords: Blades of the Realms.  Now this is a proper article for magical swords.  They have names and they have histories.  And Elminster is looking into them, tracking them down.  This is also great stuff.  Back then I was totally into just what were enough details to convince my DM to put them into our games.  Today I am much more interested in their tales.  Well done Ed. It took me long enough to get your point, but I finally got it.

The Ecology of the Bulette by Chris Elliott and Richard Edwards also does exactly what it is supposed to do.  It makes the "land shark" interesting.

Arlen P. Walker is up with an article I ignored then but am giddy over now.  I was also a fan of the Man from U.N.C.L.E., it was a great mix of James Bond (and even had Ian Flemming's fingerprints on it) and Sherlock Holmes.  Tracing THRUSH's nest. The place: London The time: 1894 is a GREAT article that I will steal for a Victorian game.  I love the idea of THRUSH being tied to Moriarty and Moran of the Holmes stories. This article expands on that.  The companion article, In trouble? Say UNCLE The date: New York City The time: now, is also fun.

Arlen P. Walker is up with a 3rd article with Spying on the spies, which details the research that went into the previous two articles and their sources.

Lewis Pulsipher is next with The Vicarious Participator which is some role-playing advice on how to mange the two predominant styles of role-playing at the time, the full immersion actor sort and the man-behind-the-curtain sort.  One IS their character, the other only tells what the character does in a 3rd person sort of way.

Here we go with the centerfold.  The (infamous) Combat Computer!
Over the years I have heard tales of love and tales of hate for this thing.  One thing you never hear though is that it was designed by Tracy and Laura Hickman.
I personally liked it, but by the time we started using it we had already started homebrewing stuff.  The first version of my Healer class was in play (and soon out of play, it didn't work) and my witch class was on the way.
Plus we had bigger plans back then...



(there is also a big Gen Con XVI program here. Yes you could fit it all inside Dragon)

D&D Beyond,
1985 Color Computer version
(transferred to 3.5 from 5.25 disks)
Which brings us to
Q: What do you get when you cross a Dungeon Master with a computer?
A: Programmed character creation without human hesitation!

This article and program by Joseph C. Spann was not a revolution for my group.  It was a factor, but by 1983 everyone I knew who played D&D was also in the Jr. High Computer club and computer classes together.  We all wrote bits of software to emulate various parts of D&D.  We had pages and pages of BASIC code for the good old TRS-80.  I had other friends that were just as active on their Apple II's and Commodores. My DM and I finally created a really perfect bit of software for the TRS-80 Color Computer.  It could store 10 characters (more on disk once we upgraded to that) and we put in every monster in the books.    This article captures that time really well.  The software itself though takes away the visceral joy of rolling characters, but we did not care.  In the 80s D&D and Computers were going to come together and soon.  Maybe even before the D&D movie.

So when I hear arguments or complaints of "we never used characters builders back in my day" I say BULLSHIT.  Not only did we use them, we wrote them.  We spent hours learning how to code to do exactly that.  Like the article says:
"It cannot be simply coincidental that there are so many roleplaying game enthusiasts among our nation's rapidly growing number of computer hackers. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say so many computer hackers among the ranks of RPG players, as evidenced by the presence of computer-oriented columns and information in gaming magazines like this one."
So maybe YOU didn't try out a character builder of your own but everyone I have ever gamed with from 1979 on has.

The trouble with code is it takes up a lot space. And let me tell you, typing all that in and getting an error. I am so glad I don't have to do that anymore.

Not many articles from this time get quoted or talked about much these days, A Player Character
and his Money by Lew Pulsipher is a notable exception.  I always found his discussion on moving to the silver standard very interesting.  I have often wanted to adopt it, but felt the hassle to correct the books and math constantly to make it not worth it.

Let's see, some listings of Sci-Fi conventions.

Tony Watson is up with The SF "universe" An in-depth examination of the STAR FRONTIERS game.  Something of an ad, something of an overview/preview and editorial.  It's long too. I really, really enjoyed Star Frontiers back in the day.  Two percentile dice, crazy races, giant-ass battery packs on your back to power your lasers. Though give me a gyrojet gun any day.

Off the Shelf has some books. No kidding right. Well, it has one book in particular. The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley. I have a long and complicated relationship with this book. More than I care to unpack now.  Sometimes nostalgia is about looking back and remembering something fondly. Sometimes it isn't.  I really loved this book back then and read it a few times.  I have some issues with it and the author now.

Ads..lots of them.

What's New does spies. Wormy does...what ever it is Wormy was doing.

Near the end an ad for the previously mentioned AD&D minis.

Landmark issue to be sure.  Full of nostalgia for the actual articles and less for the ads.

What are your memories? Did you use the Combat Computer? Write your D&D software?

Want to know what I was saying about White Dwarf from the same time?  Come back to the City of Irilian and check out White Dwarf Wednesday for Issue #42.

10 comments:

Sean Robert Meaney said...

I did create my own character generator program. I must learn python to update it.

That software label says AD&D Bard...not Beyond. If I recall Bard was a game?

Timothy Brannan said...

BARD was what we called our AD&D software back in 86 or so for the Color Computer.

D&D Beyond is WotC's new character/monster/DM software for D&D 5.

Alfons H. said...

You mean you didn't cut that bad boy [Combat Computer] out and start using it right away. That was the best thing they published for folks using Armor Class Adjustment for weapons. I know not many folks used it but we did, and it was great for quickly figuring out to hits before the advent of ThAC0.
More recently have moved away from that, but used to use it often.

grodog said...

I still use my combat computers (especially if I don't want to lug my screen around), but never used computer character generators or anything else for D&D BITD, except word processing (on our Commodore 128 :D ). I didn't remember that it was created by the Hickmans, though---interesting fact!

Thanks Tim!

@ Alfons: the combat computer was ~4 years after THAC0 appeared in the DMG (and it was used in tourney modules before that, IIRC).

Allan.

Alfons H. said...

@ Allan you're probably right about the timing but for some reason it didn't filter through to our group 'till a year or so after this issue came out, right about the time of UA.

Tim Emrick said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tim Emrick said...

I didn't have my own computer until several years later, when I started college. Otherwise, I probably would have used this issue's program.

I did, however, use the Combat Computer, at least briefly. I was SO glad when THAC0 became widespread a few years later. (I don't recall the timing of that, either, but I know I saw it used in Dragon for at least a couple years before 2nd Ed. made it a core rule.)

Lee said...

This may have been the first Dragon I bought from a store.

I copied that BASIC program on our old TI-99, but rarely used the Combat Computer. I still have mine, I just saw it last weekend.

I remember putting at least one of the Seven Swords in a game, but can no longer remember which one.

I was a huge Top Secret fan in 1983, but I don't think I used either article. I was never an UNCLE fan; it didn't make reruns in Columbus.

JB said...

I never got into computer programming for a simple reason...my family never owned (nor could afford) computers. It wasn't until late in high school that we got an Amiga500...something I could play games on and use to write term papers but had no method of programming or writing code. In later life (since age 30...about 2003) I've owned laptops. Besides being able to use the basics of Microsoft Office (which I learned at my job), I'm pretty damn hopeless with computers.

But I'm hella' good with RPGs.
; )

As a young kid in Middle School, I wanted to be a computer programmer. I just never had the access. And by the time I got to college, I'd given up that idea for other interests.

trollsmyth said...

OMG can't believe I missed that you did this one! My first and favorite issue of DRAGON.

Nope, never did the program (seemed more trouble than it was worth), never used the "combat computer" (at the time I considered AD&D to be expanded options for Moldvay/Cook and treated it as such), but Seven Swords completely transformed the way I played D&D. It went from being a board game on steroids to a full-on RPG. My worlds now had histories, my magic items acquired names, and my adventures included mysteries.

A few years later I'd have a second revolution in how I played D&D caused by playing with a DM I didn't train. But this was the first biggie, and I'll always be thankful to Greenwood for it.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...