Dragon Reflections 001: A New Arrival
  • Dragon Reflections #1: A New Arrival


    I've played Dungeons & Dragons and other RPGs for most of my life, but it is only recently that I've developed a deep interest in the history of the hobby. It's been a lot of fun learning about these early years - fascinating characters and dramatic events abound!


    In this series of articles, I want to look closely at the most important periodical the RPG industry has ever produced, Dragon magazine. The premier issue (actually entitled The Dragon in this issue) was published in June 1976 by TSR, with a cover price of $1.50. The editor was Tim Kask, who was the first full-time employee of TSR and had edited a range of D&D supplements for the company. Kask explained the purpose of the new magazine like this:

    "This issue marks a major step for TSR Hobbies Inc. With it, we have bid farewell to the safe, secure world of the house organ, and have entered the arena of competitive magazine publishing. We have activated a new division of the corporation; TSR Periodicals. We are soliciting advertisers, and giving notice to the rest of the pack that we have arrived with a vengeance, with a mission to fulfill. That mission is to publish the best magazine devoted to Sword & Sorcery, Fantasy, Science Fiction and Role Playing gaming."





    For those unfamiliar with the term, a "house organ" is a magazine published by a company to promote its products and services. Preceding The Dragon was a house organ called The Strategic Review, which lasted only seven issues.

    TSR squeezed an impressive amount of content into The Dragon's thirty-two pages. For Dungeons & Dragons players, there are expanded rules for the illusionist class, a system for making attribute checks, statistics for science-fiction weapons, an essay on D&D languages, DM hints for wilderness adventures, a new monster (the bulette), and several new Tolkien-inspired elven sub-races.

    The magazine covers other games as well. There are rules for simulating the Battle of Five Armies using Chainmail, expanded rules for a Conan-inspired wargame called Royal Armies of the Hyborean Age, and new rules for the Dungeon! board game. Even though two of these games were published by TSR (Chainmail and Dungeon!), this reflects the editor's attempt to be a genuine cross-industry magazine.

    Perhaps surprisingly, there are three pieces of short fiction in The Dragon. Fritz Lieber shares an amusing story, wherein the author tries to explain wargaming to Fafhrd and the Mouser. This seems to be a promotional piece for Lieber's wargame "Lankhmar," published by TSR soon after. There is a story by future editor Jake Jaquet, which is little more than a dungeon crawl write-up. And there is also the first part of a serialized novel with the uninspiring title of "The Gnome Cache," written by Garrison Ernst (actually a pseudonym used by Gary Gygax).

    Production values are pretty crude, especially the somewhat infamous cover. The content is compelling, though, and includes some notable writers: Gary Gygax, James M. Ward, Scott Bizar (founder of Fantasy Games Unlimited), Lee Gold (editor of Alarums and Excursions), Fritz Lieber, and Lin Carter.


    And so The Dragon made its debut. But how would the fans respond? Had Kask hit on the right formula? And had the magazine really broken out of the "house organ" mold? Issue #2 would start to answer these questions.

    M.T. Black is a game designer and DMs Guild Adept. Please follow him on twitter @mtblack2567 and sign up for his mailing list.
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    Comments 20 Comments
    1. Bill Winski's Avatar
      Bill Winski -
      Hah... I had that issue! (and many, many more)
      It's cover date is 4 months prior to my first D&D experience!!!

      Bill W.
    1. TonyP's Avatar
      TonyP -
      What a delightful piece of history. Thanks MT - your tweets on the subject have been excellent. Looking forward to more!
    1. michaeljasper's Avatar
      michaeljasper -
      This is a great start to a new series! As someone who loved fantasy in the '80s but never played D&D until the past year(!), it's a nice look back.
    1. bromleylaerchenheim's Avatar
      bromleylaerchenheim -
      I wish, WotC would bring printed copies back. I precious my collection of Dragon and Dungeon mags and they are an inspiratoin still if I am in need for one. This is not comparable with online mags which you flip through and then forget...
    1. tmanbeaubien's Avatar
      tmanbeaubien -
      I'd love a way to buy a full run compilation of Dragon (and Dungeon too). While physical books are nice, digital sure is easy to store and search.
    1. Zarithar's Avatar
      Zarithar -
      This is great. Keep these type of articles coming!
    1. Trite Codger's Avatar
      Trite Codger -
      As a D&D fan that wasn't introduced to the hobby until 2003, I love reading all of this historical context for older content. There really should be a name for excavating and examining the origins of tabletop roleplaying. Maybe Dungeonturgy?
    1. The Monster's Avatar
      The Monster -
      I remember having that issue - it eventually had an unfortunate encounter with a high-level dog and was destroyed. All our other issues from those early years were destroyed in an apartment fire. Curse real-life random encounter tables!
    1. M.T. Black's Avatar
      M.T. Black -
      Thanks folks, these are encouraging comments! I've got a lot of history and lore to share with you in upcoming articles, so please keep reading!
    1. Invisible Stalker's Avatar
      Invisible Stalker -
      I'm looking forward to future installments.
    1. Vanveen's Avatar
      Vanveen -
      Quote Originally Posted by Invisible Stalker View Post
      I'm looking forward to future installments.
      Just not of "The Gnome Cache" if the gods are merciful...
    1. R_Chance's Avatar
      R_Chance -
      The last issue of the Strategic Review was really good (it focused on Empire of the Petal Throne) and was a full blown magazine to boot. The SR was originally a simple newletter. The first issue of The Dragon was underwhelming in comparison to the last SR. It wasn't bad it was just not as good. Of course that could just be my love of EPT shing through clouds of nostalgia

      Still I enjoyed The Dragon, later just Dragon Magazine, a lot. We (my brother and I) collected the print run of it although we missed a couple of later issues. There was a CD compilation of issues 1-250 along with the Strategic Review that came out later. It had some forgettable software front end on it, but the magazines were in PDF format. I didn't play 4E and never picked up the 4E digital run of it though. I believe they are re-releasing a lot of older issues on Drive Thru in PDF. The last time I checked they were working their way back through the 4E issues. When, if, they get back to older ones I might pick up PDFs of the run post #250.

      Nostalgia attack. *sigh*
    1. M.T. Black's Avatar
      M.T. Black -
      Quote Originally Posted by R_Chance View Post
      The last issue of the Strategic Review was really good (it focused on Empire of the Petal Throne) and was a full blown magazine to boot. The SR was originally a simple newletter. The first issue of The Dragon was underwhelming in comparison to the last SR. It wasn't bad it was just not as good. Of course that could just be my love of EPT shing through clouds of nostalgia
      You will enjoy issue #4 then!
    1. M.T. Black's Avatar
      M.T. Black -
      Quote Originally Posted by Vanveen View Post
      Just not of "The Gnome Cache" if the gods are merciful...
      There are a few more chapters to suffer through...
    1. R_Chance's Avatar
      R_Chance -
      Quote Originally Posted by M.T. Black View Post
      You will enjoy issue #4 then!
      Yes, I did. It was the first issue of TD I was thrilled for. I was hoping it was a trend that would continue but EPT content dropped off after that with just the occasional Tekumel article. I've picked up everything Tekumel related since then (up to the current Bethorm game and the Kurt Hills sourcebook). Something special about that setting.
    1. M.T. Black's Avatar
      M.T. Black -
      Quote Originally Posted by R_Chance View Post
      Yes, I did. It was the first issue of TD I was thrilled for. I was hoping it was a trend that would continue but EPT content dropped off after that with just the occasional Tekumel article. I've picked up everything Tekumel related since then (up to the current Bethorm game and the Kurt Hills sourcebook). Something special about that setting.
      What can you tell me about the current EPT "scene"? Are many people playing it? How do they keep in touch (facebook, google+, etc)? I know that James Maliszewski runs an EPT game that Dyson Logos plays in, but are there any other well known games out there?
    1. AriochQ's Avatar
      AriochQ -
      My first Dragon was #49 with a great cover by Tim Hildebrandt, so the covers did improve! I have fond memories of waiting for the mail so I could get the latest issue in the fancy envelope (and later in the plain brown sleeve).

      Alas, I sold my entire collection on eBay in the early 00's as I was sick of moving it each time I relocated and they had become available in digital format.

      I rarely look at Dragon+, not a fan of the digital format. If they restarted a monthly print publication, I would likely subscribe.
    1. R_Chance's Avatar
      R_Chance -
      Quote Originally Posted by M.T. Black View Post
      What can you tell me about the current EPT "scene"? Are many people playing it? How do they keep in touch (facebook, google+, etc)? I know that James Maliszewski runs an EPT game that Dyson Logos plays in, but are there any other well known games out there?
      I don't know how much communication there is really.

      Tekumel has had 4 official RPGs since EPT. The current is Bethorm by Unigames (Jeff Dee, who has done a lot of fantasy art, especially Tekumel). Tekumel has it's own podcast, The Hall of Blue Illumination with Maliszweski, Victor Raymond and others. There have been 22 episodes as of March 2018 iirc. In addition to the official games there have been a number of others over the years. In short, people play the setting using a number of rulesets, including the original. I understand that Maliszewski runs EPT as does Victor Raymond and other people, but its scattered and in terms of numbers not that large. There are several conventions with Tekumel tracks. I use a house ruled version of EPT, cleaned up a bit with additions when I run it. It's pretty much the only fantasy setting I run that isn't mine. I suppose you might term it a science fantasy setting given the science fiction origins of the planet Tekumel...

      There is an official Tekumel website as well, and the Tekumel Foundation was established to shepherd Professor Barker's IP (Victor Raymond is on the board) since his passing. They are keeping things in print and moving.

      *edit* Almost forgot the Tekumel Discussion Group on Yahoo.
    1. M.T. Black's Avatar
      M.T. Black -
      Thanks - that will be useful when I do the reflection on issue #4.
    1. Ralif Redhammer's Avatar
      Ralif Redhammer -
      Same. The youngest player at my open table didnít even know Dragon magazine ever existed at all.

      Finding issues of Dragon magazine at a local library played no small part in introducing me to the hobby. And years later, when I had been out of the hobby for a few years, it was an issue of Dragon magazine picked up from the magazine rack in a grocery store that helped pull me back. I suspect that the various gaming streams out there fill that particular niche these days, though.

      Quote Originally Posted by bromleylaerchenheim View Post
      I wish, WotC would bring printed copies back.
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