Updated on July 17, 2000

Dragon Magazine #274

Dawn of a New Era

Since August 1999, the D&D community has had very little in the way of real, official Dungeons & Dragons Third Edition material to read and enjoy. Sure, there have been short articles in Dragon Magazine, monsters and characters presented on the WotC website, and posts from game designers on various message boards and newsgroups. Recently, WotC released what I consider to be the first "real" Third Edition publication, the D&D Conversion Manual. But that booklet was more of a tease than anything -- there were tantalizing hints of what was to come but nothing of real substance.

Today, my mail carrier dropped off issue #274 of Dragon Magazine, and I can say without much exaggeration that a new era for Dungeons & Dragons has begun. This report will highlight some of the many, many fun 3E features you can find in (and with) this issue.

Lots of Extras

The August issue of Dragon comes bagged in plastic, and that bag contains not only the magazine itself, but several additional goodies.
  • CD-ROM: For many, this is the jewel of the crown, the CD-ROM that contains the D&D Character Generator demo program and an electronic user manual. Also on this disk are the D&D Conversion Manual (the same PDF you can download from the WotC site), movie trailers for Icewind Dale, Baldur's Gate 2, and Pool of Radiance II, and an unpublished 3E adventure from Dungeon Adventures magazine, "The Dead of Winter," by Keith Strohm.
    • "The Dead of Winter" is a long (19 pages), meaty adventure with a simple search-and-rescue story but lots of things to do. You'll find all sorts of useful pieces for a campaign: 3E stats for about 20 monsters and a dozen NPCs, details of a small fortified hamlet, and both wilderness and dungeon/cave encounters. This adventure is recommended for 2nd-level characters.
  • Living Greyhawk Journal #0: Just as the RPGA publishes Polyhedron magazine every other month, so will it now publish the Living Greyhawk Journal. This 12 page issue included with Dragon Magazine includes brief LG character creation guidelines, an overview of a group of Greyhawk NPCs known as the Circle of Eight, and "news" from around the world of Greyhawk. Here's a scan of LGJ's cover.
  • Poster Map: A large, two-sided color poster map (with "Robin Hood Country" on one side, and "Nottingham Castle" on the other) is included as part of Ian Malcomson's "Legends of Sherwood" articles inside the magazine. (BTW, Ian tells me it's "Malcomson" and not "Malcolmson" as printed throughout the magazine. D'oh!)
  • Funeral Card: A tribute to King Azoun of the Forgotten Realms, who will presumably be killed off in Death of the Dragon, an Ed Greenwood & Troy Denning novel set for an August release.

Dragon Make-Over

We've been told for some time that this issue of Dragon would sport a new look for the magazine, and it's true -- in some ways it's almost unrecognizable. A funky new font (the same one spelling out the magazine's name on the cover) is used frequently for titles. Things have been rearranged (the Convention Calendar and Dragon Mirth are toward the front now, and PC Portraits are in the back). Every page has color and texture to it. Well, that's not always true -- the articles themselves (those not part of a regular column) are relatively free of the blotchy backgrounds, leaving crisp text on white pages, but with colorful sidebars to draw attention to important details. However, things like the letters column (now called "Scale Mail"), Profiles, the Convention Calendar, Sage Advice, Silicon Sorcery, Dungeoncraft -- the regular columns -- are presented on pages so texturized that it's hard to tell at times where the "dark and edgy" advertising leaves off and the "dark and edgy" magazine content begins. We've been told that this issue would be "designed" by free-lancers, and that Dragon's new art director would be on board for next issue, so it will be interesting to see how the design evolves over the next few months.

Inside the Issue

Now for the good stuff: what's inside!

  • Editorial: Dave Gross gets things moving with an anecdote about a 3E playtest session that not only reveals some of the depth of the new rules but reminds us that playing D&D is about having a good time.
  • Gygax on a Soapbox: Nothing new here, though more advice than usual.
  • Profiles: Everything you wanted to know about D&D designer Jonathan Tweet.
  • Previews: Next month's Dragon includes articles about unusual race/class combos (by the inestimable James Wyatt -- go ahead, you just try to estimate him! ;), the Duelist prestige class, and new exotic weapons.
  • One Roll to Rule Them All: the D20 Core Game Mechanic: Jonathan Tweet lays down the mathematical and probability-related goods on the guts of the D&D rules system. Here's a quote for you: "A D&D character sheet has always been a whole mess of numbers. The point of the d20 mechanic is to make as many of those numbers as possible work on the same scale, so that a +5 on your attack roll means about the same thing as +5 on a saving throw or a +5 on a skill check."
  • Playtesting Confidential: Kim Mohan takes us through the macabre world of the 3E Playtest.
  • Class Acts: Create Your Own Prestige Classes: DMG author Monte Cook delves into the whys and hows of creating new prestige classes. The whys include adding definition to organizations already in your campaign world and describing your world's cultures. The hows include how to set the prestige class's requirements (both game mechanical ones and role-playing ones), designing the unique prestige class abilities, and creating unique spell lists for spellcasting prestige classes.
  • The Mystic: Monte Cook immediately shows us a finished prestige class, the Mystic. As rumored, only ten levels of prestige class abilities are described (this will apparently be true for all prestige classes). A table shows the attack bonus, saving throw bonuses, class abilities and spell accumulation by level. This particular prestige class excels at learning new languages and applying metamagic to spells.
  • The D&D Movie: Justin Whalin: An interview with one of the stars of the forthcoming movie.
  • Legends of Sherwood: Ian Malcomson offers up a series of interconnected articles that form the backbone of a 3E Robin Hood campaign.
    • Steal from the Rich: Sets up the historical and societal background of the Nottingham region, and includes details for running campaigns in purely historical (no magic), "legendary" (low-magic), and fantasy (typical magic) mode.
    • Wolfsheads: Adventures for Heroic Outlaws: Nuts and bolts info for running the Robin Hood campaign, including such things as a list of DCs for persuading peasants to help the outlaw PCs, discussion of what classes are most appropriate for such a campaign, four new ranged weapon feats (Ranged Disarm, Deflect Ranged Attack, Ranged Pin, and Ranged Sunder), tips for handling trick shots, and several adventure hooks.
    • The Great Greenwood: A Mini-Gazetteer of Robin Hood Country: This list of places is a companion to the poster map previously mentioned. Included is a stat block for a "Typical Saxon Village."
    • Rogues and Royal: Lots of NPCs for the Sherwood campaign, from "Typical Norman Soldier" to Robin, Friar Tuck, Maid Marian, and many more. All in 3E format of course.
  • General Articles: Some general articles on role-playing and creating adventures are presented. Nothing especially Third Edition-ish about them, though they're still good reads. We also get another installment of Ed Greenwood's "The Adventures of Volo" and Ray Winninger's "Dungeoncraft."
  • Fiction: "Power and Glory," a King Arthur story by Ben Bova.
  • The Bestiary: Beasts of the Pomarj: Four new monsters, 3E-style of course, and all of them low-power, suitable for dropping into a beginning-level campaign.
  • Role-Models: An introduction to preparing your miniatures for painting, along with some photos of the 3E mini line.
  • Sage Advice: Ah, this is more like it -- all sorts of technical Third Edition questions and answers. Sample questions:
    • "What's the use of the refocus action when you can ready an action and go at the highest person's initiative?"
    • "We're confused as to which skills you can take 10 and take 20 on. Can we take 10 or take 20 on a Hide check, for example?"
    • "Why do half-orcs suffer a net penalty of -2 to their initial ability rolls?"
  • Power Play: Scattered throughout the Forum and Sage Advice columns are sidebars by Sean Reynolds that highlight some of the min/max potential of Third Edition. Hey, at least this way DMs have a chance to see some of the extremes of the game and potentially turn these tricks into something that can be used against the PCs. Here's a sample:

Touch Attack Spells + Improved Unarmed Strike (+ Stunning Fist)

Trying to punch someone for damage while using a touch attack spell is harder than just making a touch attack, since doing so still provokes an attack of opportunity -- unless you have the Improved Unarmed Strike feat. With the feat, you get to attack with the spell, inflict punching damage, and don't suffer an attack of opportunity. This is especially good with
chill touch (which you can use multiple times per casting), inflict wound spells against the living or cure wound spells against undead (where you'll be inflicting two kinds of damage), shocking grasp (where you get an additional bonus to hit metal-armored targets), and vampiric touch (where you heal yourself when you hit). If you have Stunning Fist, you can include a stun attempt in addition to punching damage and the spell effect.

Conclusion: Buy It!

This issue is a milestone in many ways, and contains so many goodies, that you're doing yourself a disservice if you don't buy, beg or borrow a copy of Dragon #274.

Dungeons & Dragons, D&D 3E and AD&D are all property of Wizards of the Coast.