Thursday, March 15, 2018

This Old Dragon: Issue #65

Dragon Magazine #65 from September 1982 might, in fact, be the very first Dragon I had ever laid eyes on.  It is, without a doubt in my mind, one of the more pivotable issues in my gaming career.  Given that it is a perfect "first issue" of a NEW collection of Dragons sent to me by Eric Harshbarger. Eric contacted me a few weeks back to ask about some extras and gaps in my collection.  I mentioned that most of the Dragons I have are collected from larger lots of game materials I buy and most times they are in pretty sad shape. So he offered to send me some.  There are some duplicates with my collection, but these are in much better shape.  So if you can pop on over to his website.  Thanks, Eric! Now it is time for your contribution to This Old Dragon!

Ok. Where to start with this one? First, of course, is that cover.  It is great to see it here next to me instead of having to go to my CD-ROM to get the PDF (which is good since the PDF scan is not as good).  It is a wonderful, and surprisingly thigh-less, effort by Clyde Caldwell.   I always loved Caldwell's work and this cover is no exception. I love that Dragon sneaking down on the cross-eyed fighter.  Ok, he isn't cross-eyed, but it always looks like he is when I first look at it!  At least the dwarf sees it.  But my attention is focused on the witch in the background.  Is she a witch?  Well to me she is and she was one of the subconscious elements I would later use for my own witch character Larina.

Witch by Clyde Caldwell, Larina by Jacob Blackmon
So the red hair, purple dress with cloak and hood, the necklace (though different), the bangles on the wrists. Pretty archetypical image items really. But that image stuck with me.  I'd say it was Larina's mother, but I always pictured her as a blonde!  Maybe my little witch is having adventures I don't know about!  So this is what I can say when I have a cover to actually look at!

We are not quite at that "golden age" of Dragon that I think everyone is nostalgic about.  OR maybe we are.  When I say "Golden Age" maybe you all have a different picture in mind. Anyway.  This is the time before I started buying Dragon.  I have no doubt however that this is the first one I ever saw.

Out on a Limb covers some letters on Ed Greenwood's article on Firearms a few issues back. Everytime I pick up an older Dragon my mental timeline of Ed's involvement gets pushed back a little bit more.  I REALLY did not give this guy enough credit.

Gary is up next with his Guest Editorial. Ok...what to say about this.  It is basically a 3-page rant against GAMA and Origins.   I am happy to say that things are better between GenCon and Origins, and in about a decade from this original publication Gen Con and Origins will host a co-Con, but for now Gary is really irritated.  I don't know what is going on behind the scenes at this point. Back then I would have read this and been firmly on Gary's side, but today it seems like an old man yelling at clouds (and to be 100% fair here, Gary at this point is younger than I am right now!)  Ok. Moving on.

Blastoff! gives us all the information we need to know about the brand new Star Frontiers game.  We get to see that iconic Larry Elmore cover for what I think is the first time. We learn the about the new races (Vrusk, Yazirians, and Dralasites), a bit on the new character creation system and some of the in-universe background.  We also get some background on the game itself.  Design work began in 1979 by Dave Cook and  Lawerence Schick and spent the next two years in design, development and playtesting.  I guess there was a more "hard core" version of the game at one point.

Gary is back and this time with a classic.  From the Sorceror's Scroll covers Character Classes to Consider.  We learn that there will be an expansion volume to AD&D.  This book will eventually become Unearthered Arcana but until then he gives us a sneak peak.  We know now that all of these classes did not make it to that book.  Some would later go on to be rumored for the 2nd Edition of the AD&D game; or rather the 2nd Edition as penned by Gygax himself.  This is one of the main articles that +Joseph Bloch would later use to build his "what-if" version of a Gygax 2nd Edition in Adventures Dark and Deep.

Rob Kuntz is next with another installment of Greyhawk's World.  This covers Events of the Eastern and Southern Flanaess. I always enjoyed these articles. It made me feel like the World of Greyhawk was a living place, even though at this point I was still very much entrenched in the Known World of the D&D Basic and Expert sets.

Feel like I am dropping names left and right here, but after that we have Len Lakofka's Leomund's Tiny Hut.  This issue Len is focused on Keep(ing) Track of Quality.  Or how the quality of the goods affect the price, time to make and how that can play out for the player character.  This article covers mostly sheilds, armor, and some weapons.  A bit of converting for AC and you have a good article you can still use today.

Almost the counterpoint to weapon quality is character quality.  Christopher M. Townsend presents a new proficiency system for use in AD&D in Weapons Wear Out, Not Skills. This system is neither as complicated as the ones will later get nor as crunchy.  In fact, this system is light on the crunch and heavy on the role-playing aspects.  Or at least insofar as training in general in AD&D was a roleplaying aspect.  Now your training has some other purposes and can take longer.   Rereading it now I can see using this as a guideline in my D&D 3.x and D&D 5 games.

Gary is back again with some new creatures. These Featured Creatures are considered to be official AD&DTM monsters, so that takes care of that argument (but opens it up for the next batch!).  We get two good-aligned monsters, the Baku and the Phoenix.  Both of these monsters will appear in the Monster Manual II due out soon.  But that is not what grabbed me about them.  Flipping the page something burrowed deep, deep into my psyche.


To me, the Phoenix was a god-like creature.  They were the natural enemies of darkness and chaos.  The mere look of one could destroy a vampire.  They were not some giant bird to be hunted for their feathers and beaks, they were divine agents of rightous wrath.  In many ways they were the opposite of the Dragons.  Yes, we have good Dragons, but the Phoenix (capitalization is mine and for emphasis) opposed the evil Dragons more.  I remember reading this issue from friends (sometimes many, many times) and at one point I wrote down "It was a time of great chaos. It was the time of the Dragon and the Phoenix."  Yes, yes I know there is a Chinese dish of the same name, trust me, growing up in the deep mid-west in the 70s and 80s the only Chinese I ever saw was "Chop Suey".  I would only later the myths and stories behind it.  The Dragon and the Phoenix became something BIG in my games.  So big in fact that I would later take some of those ideas and adapt to my Buffy the Vampire Slayer game and run a campaign I called The Dragon and the Phoenix.  Those games would later be the basis of my Ghosts of Albion RPG.

Ok, speaking of those dragons.  Richard Alan Lloyd gives us The Missing Dragons. Based on the "color wheel theory" he decides that there must be more dragons, the Yellow, Orange, and Purple.  Now few articles were as controversial in my early days as this one!  There were people that hated the idea of more dragons. There were people that hated the idea of these colors for dragons (this group though usually let the Purples in) and there were those that liked them but would not include them since they were not "official" AD&D monsters.  And of courses there those that liked them and used them.  Myself, I liked the idea. I thought the logic was faulty. I mean are there Draconic Evolutionary theorists of the RGB sort versus the CMYK ones?  I did use the Purple dragons once or twice.  I used an orange one once and I said the yellow had all died out.  The biggest issue with this article is Tiamat.  She has five heads, not eight. If we limit it to five, then the green head needs to become yellow.  Now there are many, many (MANY) other dragons in D&D now and Tiamat is still just five-headed.  So maybe I need to bring these back to my games.

An ad for the RPGA.

Dropping more names Lew Pulsipher is next with a new NPC character class, Timelords. These are not your two-heart, regenerating Time Lords.  These are more like Time Protectors or Time Guardians.   They are fighters with some basic time manipulation magic that gets more powerful as they go up in level. When I first read it I hated it.  I also used to have a pretty hard core rule in my D&D games of "No Time Travel!"  I have loosened up a bit on that over the years.

Next is Monsters of the Midway, BUT I don't have it in my copy.  So the rules state I must move on.

Ah, here is something else that wormed it's way into my psyche.  Robin Emrys Atkinson presents the Tuatha De Danaan, A revised Celtic Mythos.  With amateur drunk day Saint Patrick's Day in a couple of days, this is another reason why this is a good choice. This is designed to replace and add to the section on Celtic myths in the Deities and Demigods book. And it is much better.  It was here that I went into a HUGE Celtic myths kick that I never really got out of.

And the hits keep comming!  Ed Greenwood (I feel like I am the MC of a Night of Thousand Stars) is next with Law of the Land. A six page article on the legal system and political systems of the AD&D world.  Or as I like to think of it, the PCs do not live in a vacuum. Also a great system-free article and something to help curb the influx of Murder-Hoboism in your games.

Lew Pulsipher is back again (!) and takes a D&D (not AD&D) perspective on War! and how it can give the characters reason to "live".  Again this is a very system free sort of article and covers the types of wars that PCs might find themselves in.  Very usuful stuff.

Some Top Secret information from James "Pong" Thompson. It covers recon and assassinations.

An editiorial of sorts from Lew Pulsipher in Up on a Soapbox. In this, he discusses the difference between the Classical Role-player and the Romantic.  Lew is coming from a solid Wargamer point of view here.  I don't get the feeling that either of these types are bad, just they have certain ways of playing.  More the point in a Wargame if you can identify their style you will know how to defeat them since you know what risks they are likely to take.

The Dragon's Augury has some reviews including one of the first Computer games I can recall being reviewed.  WIZARDRY costs a then princely sum of $49.95 and you will need an Apple II computer with 48k and DOS 3.3. 
Tom Watson reviews some books for Traveller while Gary Gygax himself reviews Empire Builder by Mayfair games (he loves it).

Comics are next.
Phil and Dixie talk about how much Fantasy and SciFi are alike.
Wormy is only one page.

An ad for Chaosium's Trollpak takes half of Dragon mirth's page.  I always wanted that. It looked cool. 

Back cover has an ad for Grenadier Models and flip over for Gang Busters.

Wow. What a packed issue.  Not just name after name of the whos who of the early RPG scenes, but great content as well.

Want to know what I thought of White Dwarf from the same time? Check out White Dwarf Wednesday #33.  It was also a good issue.

7 comments:

JB said...

The purple worm appears to have been the original purple ("or mottled") dragon. See Chainmail.
; )

Joseph Bloch said...

In my estimation, Dragon from the 50's through the 80's are the high water mark.

anarchist said...

The real question is why there aren't jale and ulfire dragons.

Timothy Brannan said...

@JB: Yeah, but I always thought of that as a different form of a black dragon.

@Joseph Bloch: Yes. So much great stuff. It had more of a DIY feel. Now I also happen to think the first year of the 3.0 era was also really good. I should throw one of those in just compare and contrast.

Timothy Brannan said...

@anarchist: Those colors were not available to Mid-West based printers in the 80s!

grodog said...

Another great issue. Greenwood's contributions to Dragon were generally quite good---his "Plan Before You Play" in #63 and the "Law of the Land" one in here were both pivotal for my campaign management/development skills as a teen.

My brother Phil ran a timelord PC in one of our Greyhawk campaigns, and I definitely leveraged the non-traditional dragons in my games (those from here, the gem dragons from TD#37, Greenwood's electrum dragon a few issues later, etc.). And, for the record, I allow Tiamat to have a variable # of heads, based on her whim/need: see http://www.canonfire.com/cf/modules.php?name=News&file=article&sid=215 ;)

Allan.

Dan Barton said...

I found "Monsters of the Midway" to be unplayable but it did inspire me to buy Strat-O-Matic Football.

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