Dragon Reflections #5: Charting New Directions
  • Dragon Reflections #5: Charting New Directions


    The Dragon Issue 5 was published in March 1977. It is 32 pages long, with a cover price of $1.50. In this issue they start their move to be more than just a "house organ" for TSR games.


    Editor Tim Kask has some welcome news for readers. The Dragon has been so successful that they are expanding from six to eight issues per year! There is a downside, though, as the expansion was made possible because the magazine's sister publication, Little Wars (focused on miniatures gaming), is contracting from six to four issues per year. Indeed, Little Wars would soon cease publication altogether.
    Kask is looking to expand The Dragon in other ways as well:

    "I have extended invitations to a number of authors of fantasy and science fiction games, other than D&D and EPT, to write on their creations for these pages. While we recognize that D&D started the fantasy gaming genre, there are now a number of science fiction and fantasy games available that we feel should be treated in this magazine. I extend this invitation to non-authors (of games) to do this also. I’m looking for articles on STELLAR CONQUEST, THE YTHRI, WBRM, GODSFIRE, STARSHIP TROOPERS, OUTREACH, SORCERER, STARSOLDIER, GREEN PLANET TRILOGY, OGRE, MONSTERS-MONSTERS, VENERABLE DESTRUCTION and others. It’s time for THE DRAGON to expand its subject matter. I want to get into fantasy miniatures as well."


    This list provides a little snapshot of the more popular sci-fi/fantasy hobby games of the time. Of those listed, I believe only Steve Jackson's Ogre is still in print. It's interesting to see that Kask did not include Ken St Andre's Tunnels & Trolls, which was arguably the third RPG ever published, after D&D and Boot Hill, and which remains in print to this day.

    This issue of The Dragon has several pages of additional rules for Metamorphosis Alpha, a science fiction RPG written by Jim Ward which we introduced last column. Despite selling well, Metamorphosis Alpha fell out of print within two years, replaced by Ward's next game--the very popular Gamma World.

    Two pieces of fiction are contained in the issue, chapter 5 of Gygax's "The Gnome Cache," and another short story by Gardner Fox, "Beyond the Wizard Fog." Fiction was now flooding into Kask's office. There were many excellent submissions that he did not consider suitable for The Dragon, and he notes that that TSR is thinking about publishing a fiction anthology. Prescient words, as fiction was destined to be an essential part of TSR's future.


    There are several D&D articles, of course. These include an anonymous article on witchcraft, two new monsters (the ankheg and the witch), and a set of well-designed wizard research rules. The author of these rules, Charles Preston Goforth, Jr., seems to have published nothing else in the RPG field, although this article was reprinted in the Best of Dragon and some of his magic items were later included in the 2e Magic Encyclopedia. I did wonder if the name was a pseudonym for Kask or Gygax, but I can find no evidence of that.

    This issue also contains one of the more famous articles in Dragon magazine history, titled "Gandalf Was Only a Fifth Level Magic-User." The author, Bill Seligman, looks at every spell Gandalf cast in the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings and concludes that the highest is a mere third level, making Gandalf a level five magic-user. The article has provoked arguments all the way down to this day. It is surely one of the most referenced Dragon magazine pieces ever published!

    There is a funny little postscript to this. A few years ago, Bill Seligman (still a gamer) printed an explanation for the article, made necessary because he still receives regular mail about it. You can see what he has to say here.


    This was a solid and enjoyable issue, and it feels like the magazine is starting to hit its stride. The next issue sees an important science fiction game designer make his debut.

    M.T. Black is a game designer and DMs Guild Adept. Please follow him on twitter @mtblack2567 and sign up for his mailing list.
    Comments 17 Comments
    1. R_Chance's Avatar
      R_Chance -
      And the beginning of the whole "Gandalf was only a 5th level Magic User" trope Most people don't notice him shifting the question to the D&D magic system or Tolkien's "magic weak" world though. I found it interesting that he wandered if the spells needed to be adjusted or the experience levels.

      When I ran Gamma World it was still on the Starship Warden (the setting of Metamorphosis Alpha). For me it was just an updated MA with a new setting.

      And as for T&T, mostly we didn't take it "seriously". I have the original stapled together copy around and just didn't look at it as a real rival to D&D. The first fantasy RPG that really caught our attention (besides D&D) was Runequest.

      *sigh* Those were fun days...

      *edit* Additions...
    1. M.T. Black's Avatar
      M.T. Black -
      It's amazing how much this question has been revisited over the years! There are many reddit threads and forum articles, and folk often refer back to this Dragon article as a kind of authoritative word.
    1. R_Chance's Avatar
      R_Chance -
      Quote Originally Posted by M.T. Black View Post
      It's amazing how much this question has been revisited over the years! There are many reddit threads and forum articles, and folk often refer back to this Dragon article as a kind of authoritative word.
      I know. It's like a Vampire, it just keeps on coming back. At the time I remember thinking the scope / range of magic in Tolkein was far larger than in D&D. D&D magic was flashy and pretty much tactical. Sauron's control of the weather and driving his troops into a frenzy was strategic. It's a different system of magic, subtler and, I think, more powerful.
    1. JeffB's Avatar
      JeffB -
      FWIW- Monsters, Monsters is the flip side version of T&T (playing as monsters vs. the "heroes").

      I suspect T&T proper was not mentioned because Tim and Ken St. Andre in recent years have made it clear that Gary was not a fan- He felt it was quite the rip-off.
    1. M.T. Black's Avatar
      M.T. Black -
      Quote Originally Posted by R_Chance View Post
      I know. It's like a Vampire, it just keeps on coming back. At the time I remember thinking the scope / range of magic in Tolkein was far larger than in D&D. D&D magic was flashy and pretty much tactical. Sauron's control of the weather and driving his troops into a frenzy was strategic. It's a different system of magic, subtler and, I think, more powerful.
      I do like the "strategic" vs "tactical" analogy. There is also "implicit" vs "explicit" in a way. In LOTR you don't *learn* magic, you *are* magic.
    1. M.T. Black's Avatar
      M.T. Black -
      Quote Originally Posted by JeffB View Post
      I suspect T&T proper was not mentioned because Tim and Ken St. Andre in recent years have made it clear that Gary was not a fan- He felt it was quite the rip-off.
      I hadn't heard that EGG was negative about T&T. Do you have a link about that?
    1. R_Chance's Avatar
      R_Chance -
      Quote Originally Posted by M.T. Black View Post
      There is also "implicit" vs "explicit" in a way. In LOTR you don't *learn* magic, you *are* magic.
      Well put.
    1. R_Chance's Avatar
      R_Chance -
      Quote Originally Posted by M.T. Black View Post
      I hadn't heard that EGG was negative about T&T. Do you have a link about that?
      According to Ken St. Andre he was. St. Andre wrote an article on the origins of T&T and at one point he says Gygax took a dislike to him and T&T at a convention. The web address is below. I'm not certain he's correct, but it seemed to be generally understood that Gygax was not a fan of T&T.

      https://www.tunnelsandtrolls.com/the...dre-july-1997/
    1. JeffB's Avatar
      JeffB -
      Quote Originally Posted by M.T. Black View Post
      I hadn't heard that EGG was negative about T&T. Do you have a link about that?
      Quote Originally Posted by R_Chance View Post
      According to Ken St. Andre he was. St. Andre wrote an article on the origins of T&T and at one point he says Gygax took a dislike to him and T&T at a convention. The web address is below. I'm not certain he's correct, but it seemed to be generally understood that Gygax was not a fan of T&T.

      https://www.tunnelsandtrolls.com/the...dre-july-1997/
      Ken also has spoken about it on one of his video interviews on T&T.

      Tim spoke a little about it on one of his Curmudgeon in the Cellar episodes on youtube as well.

      Don't recall which interview/episodes specifically.

      Ken felt it necessary to remove his specific "thanks for the inspiration , D&D" messaging from the introduction in T&T post 1st edition, too..instead talking about "that other game" (paraphrasing)

      As R_Chance said, it's pretty well known Gary was not a fan.
    1. Ralif Redhammer's Avatar
      Ralif Redhammer -
      Tunnels & Trolls isn’t mentioned, but Monsters-Monsters (I assume he means Monsters! Monsters!), St. Andre’s reverse dungeon is listed. Generally speaking, I recognize less than half of that list of games.

      I do adore Tunnels & Trolls, in all its humor. And that it still looks a whole lot like its first edition, but for a few tweaks here and there.

      The “Gandalf was a 5th Level Magic-User” remains an article that generates discussion. I’d never seen the author’s follow-up, though. I have my thoughts on the matter, but I always thought the take-away point was that one could create epic adventures at all sorts of levels, that you weren’t stuck waiting until the higher levels.

      Quote Originally Posted by M.T. Black View Post
      I extend this invitation to non-authors (of games) to do this also. I’m looking for articles on STELLAR CONQUEST, THE YTHRI, WBRM, GODSFIRE, STARSHIP TROOPERS, OUTREACH, SORCERER, STARSOLDIER, GREEN PLANET TRILOGY, OGRE, MONSTERS-MONSTERS, VENERABLE DESTRUCTION and others. It’s time for THE DRAGON to expand its subject matter. I want to get into fantasy miniatures as well."
    1. ddaley's Avatar
      ddaley -
      Admittedly, I am not a big fan of LoTR. But, the title of that article should have been "Gandolf was at least a 5th level magic user." You can't say that he was 5th level because he never cast a spell that was higher than a 3rd level. That only proves that he was at least 5th level. I cannot list the spells that Gandolf cast in any of the movies, but did he account for the number of spells cast? A 5th level MU could only cast one 3rd level spell per day...
    1. M.T. Black's Avatar
      M.T. Black -
      Quote Originally Posted by Ralif Redhammer View Post
      I have my thoughts on the matter
      Please share them!
    1. AriochQ's Avatar
      AriochQ -
      I still have my copy of Starship Troopers on my shelf! I am surprised to see it on the list. It is a board game with a pretty straightforward rule set, I am not sure what contributions they expected. It does have pre-defined scenario's, so I guess people could have submitted new ones. Still, not sure there would have been a ton of user submitted content for that game.
    1. Ralif Redhammer's Avatar
      Ralif Redhammer -
      Since you asked...

      Tolkien wrote that "[The Istari] were forbidden to dominate the free peoples of Middle-earth or to match Sauron's power with power."

      Gandalf only used magic in an extreme of need, and most likely not the greatest of his magic, even then. That is to say, it is impossible to adjudicate his level based on the magic he used.

      A better measuring stick would be Saruman, who broke that rule. Using the OD&D spell list of the times, debatably the highest-level spell he uses is Mass Charm, an 8th level spell. I believe that puts him at 16th level. Gandalf would’ve started out below that, since he accords Saruman as being the more powerful wizard, but eventually levels up beyond him.

      Quote Originally Posted by M.T. Black View Post
      Please share them!
    1. evildmguy's Avatar
      evildmguy -
      Thank you for these! They are a great read and it's interesting to see them.
    1. Connorsrpg's Avatar
      Connorsrpg -
      I love revisiting old Dragon Mags. Are you going in order for these. I reckon a more random approach might be the go. We don't know what's coming next and you might hit people's favourites

      I certainly have a lot of favourite articles. Found a heap of really old photocopies (which are sitting on my desk right now actually ).
    1. M.T. Black's Avatar
      M.T. Black -
      Thanks for the suggestion, Connor! At this stage I'm going through them in order, as there are some unfolding narratives I want to cover as well. But I'll give some thought to your suggestion.
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