Thursday, April 19, 2018

This Old Dragon: Issue #109

You know how some issues don't grab you at first, but something about them keeps at you and makes you keep coming back to them?  They was me and this issue back in May 1986.  I did not buy this issue when it came out, my then regular DM did (more on that later) but I kept borrowing it. I kept coming back to it.  Today rereading it again after getting my own copy I am struck by how much of it stuck with me.  So let's set the way-back machine to May 1986, put on some Whitney Houston and see what we have in this Issue #109 of This Old Dragon!

The cover for this one is mixed for me.  I love the artist's (Daniel Horne) other works and this is objectively a good piece of work.  But there is something....I don't know.  I have never been able to come out say I like it or I hate it.  Strange.  No fault of the artist, but something with me I am sure.
Note: looking past the cover I see this is his first cover for Dragon.

Moving on!

While we are near the time of the special features and theme issues, we are not quite there yet in this one.  For example our center piece is a fold out poster and the Gen Con 19 Booklet.  Whomever owned this issue before had removed the book, but kept in a folder with all their Gen Con 19 registration materials and receipts for game tickets.  Very interesting stuff.  Heavy on AD&D.

That is not to say there are not some great features here.  Far, FAR from it.

Letters covers people noting that AD&D game seems to be growing rules-wise all the time and there is so much to keep track of.  Others discuss how Dragon is becoming the "house organ" of TSR.  Oh just wait buddy...and another asking if we will see more Gary classes he promised three years ago.  Sadly we did not know it then, but Gary was nearly out the door by this time and completely gone in less than 5 months.

Up first is an article that pretty much dominated my life for the next few years.  Paul Montgomery Crabaugh's famous Customized Classes article was for the D&D game, but could be adapted to AD&D.  I think most of us today know this article and many of the similar class customization tools you can find online or in books like the ACKS Player's Companion.   I used this to "check my numbers" for my first witch and healer classes, which were using modified XP tables based on the cleric.  I found my witch needed to be increased and the healer decreased.  The numbers I used today are based now more on playtest and some numbers I worked out in Excel.
My then DM, who owned this issue, went even further than me.  He created a whole new grouping of psychic based classes (we playing a pretty heavy Deryni-like game then were psychic were the outcasts in our world.  His classes, call Riddlemasters (based very, very loosely on the Riddle-masters of Hed) were psychic warriors that survived by making their psychic powers look like magic.   I remember coming over to play and he handed me a 25-page typed manuscript that explained them and how they worked.  They also needed something like 7,500 XP just to hit 2nd level.  Each level had different color robes with white for first level and black for 10th.  My character, Retsam, spent so long at 9th level (like a year) that in the game world and real world he gained the nickname "Retsam the Red".  He was a Bedouin-like human with dark skin and white hair and became one of my most favorite characters of all time.  But Riddlemasters were not for everyone.  He also created Shadowmasters and Beastermasters, which did basically what you think they might do.  I tried to adapt the Riddlemasters to 2nd ed AD&D and then again to 3rd Ed, but not with any success.
On a sad note this was Paul Montgomery Crabaugh's last article.  He had died in November of 1985 and never got to see it print or it's legacy online.

The Barbarian Cleric by Thomas Kane provides us with a different view of the cleric.  It is an interesting idea and one I think got great traction under the name "Shaman" for other publications/editions of the game.  I like the idea of defeating a spirit nemesis in theory, but not sure how it works in practice.  I do like it.  I like the idea that clerics all need to be different than each other.

James A. Yates has a nice long bit on mercenaries in Fighters for a price.  It's really long and has a lot of great advice and tables.  It should still work in the newest editions too.

Ahh, here is another one of those articles that stuck with me for years.
Question. Do dwarf women have beards?  Today it is not so much of a discussion, but back then? Wow.  Worth its weight in gold helps clear up some this mysteries and more by John Olson.  This article taught me to never trust a male dwarf that shaves.  It also answered for me, definitively, that dwarven women do have beards years before I met Violet of the Rat Queens.  Later when designing the Xothia tradition of dwarven witches I decided that what made these women different from others was they could not grow a beard at all.  If a dwarf woman can't grow a beard it is because she is a witch.

Bill Mickelson is next with one of my favorite Ecology articles, The Ecology of the Displacer Beast.

Role of books features the best of May 1986.  At this time I was moving away from fantasy into horror.  But I still read the second Dragonlance Trilogy (featured here) and thought it was better than the first.

Garry Spiegle covers some additions and clarifications to the War Machine rules found in the D&D companion set. I never used these rules really, or the BattleSystem for AD&D.  I wonder if there would have been more of this sort of rules if the two lines had adopted a signal use of the same rules.  I have talked to people over the years and I keep hear that War Machine is better than BattleSystem.

The Uncommon Tongue by Gregory Andersen helps provide some differences to your languages by using some old English to spice things up.

Have a couple of smaller articles next.

Locals aren't all yokels: In town, adventurers may not hold all the aces by Ralph Sizer covers unexpected NPCs in small towns.  I think back to Fred Gwynne's judge character in "My Cousin Vinnie" who got his degree from Harvard and lives in a little town.

Blades with personality by Sam Chupp discusses how to make mundane and slightly magical swords more interesting.  A name, a little history is what makes for your Excaliburs, Stormbringers and Mournblades.

Giant-sized weapons by Stephen Martin discusses weapon adjustments for large and larger creatures, something you can see in D&D now.

Ah, now this one was fun.  Hooves and green hair by Bennet Marks covers two new breeds for the AD&D game universe; the half-satyr and the half-dryad.  I remember that 4e had similar races too, but that is the only official ones I can think of.  Rereading it now I think they would make for some great race choices in a 1st ed or 5e game.

TSR Profiles covers Jeff Easley and Ruth M. Hoyer.
TSR Previews has the Dungeoneer's Survival Guide (wow, how much did this one change your game?) and the Marvel Superheroes Advanced game.

John J. Terra has some advice for Top Secret administrators.

Up next is Ares.  I loved the Ares section.

Stephan Jones is first with Combat Variations in Space Opera.  I still need to try this game out, it seemed so epic to me to be honest.

For Star Frontiers we get new material for cults in Patriots, Terrorists and Spies.  Great stuff.  I used to run with a cult of "Earth First" groups.

The Double-Helix Connection gives us some rules for running mutants in Traveller from Michael Brown.

The Second Annual Hero roster is up for Marvel Phile.

Sherri Gilbert has a great article on getting started with Sci-Fi games.  At three pages it is not everything, but it is a good start in the Keys to Good SF.

Small ads and classifieds.
Dragonmirth, SnarfQuest and what is likely one of the last Wormy's before Tramp and I move to the same town (unknow to me at the time).

So a fun issue, a useful issue and one I like coming back too.

Want to see what I was saying about White Dwarf from the same time? Or do you just want to pop over and see one of my favorite White Dwarf covers of all time?  Either way, check out White Dwarf Wednesday #77.

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