Dragon Roots

It has been an odd year with Dungeons and Dragons. So much has changed with the cancelization of the two greatest gaming magazines and with the new edition looming on the horizon. There are some large empty areas in gaming that will be filled soon but it is nice to see a smaller company trying to fill the big shoes. Dragon Roots wants to replace Dragon magazine. It can’t do that. It has nothing to do with the quality of the material but in the sheer scope. Dragon Magazine was seen by tens of thousands of people and I routinely found it on new stands next to the New Yorker or Sport Illustrated. An upstart with out a lot of capital is not going to be able to do that. But what they can do is reach a small section of dedicated gamers and remind them of what Dragon Magazine was like twenty five years ago. They can set an example to the bigger companies and say that this is what we want and if the big companies are not going to do then it will be done by some one else. That is what I see as Dragon Roots’ possible legacy.

Dragon Roots is a new magazine from the writing desk of C. E Rocco. Looking down the list of credits this production so far is a one man job. That is a lot of hats for one person to wear and hopefully soon he will get some dedicated and talented people to help him out. This is not a small challenge he has set out to accomplish. But he has big dreams to replace Dragon and Dungeon Magazines. I would be lying to say he did it all alone. It does feature an artist Todd F. Jerde who has a few but spectacular pieces of art in the book. The maps were created by Mark Manders using Dunjinni an awesome mapping program I have yet to get a firm handle on. Daniel J Bishop also did one of the articles. The magazine is a little over seventy pages and I am reviewing the PDF version of it. It also comes in print for people who like something tangible in one’s hands. The PDF version does not have bookmarks and those could be useful. One suggestion as this grows an on line index of all the articles would be very helpful. Goodness knows looking back through piles of Dragons for the one article was never easy to do.

The magazine starts with editorials like many magazines have. First is a letter from the editor filled with what he is trying to do. And in the letter is a shocking yet very honest declaration that he thinks Piazo failed in making the magazine. That my friends takes a pair. Piazo’s version was very much loved and when they went away a huge out cry came about. But if one only reads that C.E. Rocco things they failed is not seeing the whole picture because from his point of view they did. The magazines grew and evolved and looking at one from 2006 and comparing it to one from 1984 will see some big changes. It used to be a great place for new talent and creative ideas. But that was a very risky business plan because while some of those old articles were brilliant many of them were not. Piazo played it a little safer and used more well known and trustworthy talent and gave the fans familiar but popular articles like class acts and others.

Of course that is not the only piece of information in the letters to and from the editor. The rest is a series of letters from him to him. I guess it is tough to have fans write a magazine that did not exist. Sure it can create a bit of a Catch 22 but he found a way out. The letters are a great way to convey important information a reader might like to know like how to subscribe and how to submit articles. It was a much more entertaining way to do it them to just have the information printed as normal. There is also a bit of Rocco’s sense of humor in the letters and responses. I liked that and hopefully more of his personality will come out in there.

Before I start on the specific articles I want to talk about the articles. Or more importantly what as a reader I am not looking for. I am not looking for someone to reinvent the wheel for me. Twenty five years ago the articles were new and original because very little in Dragon magazine had been done before. Now a days though with thousands of books and probably millions of pages of material there is a lot out there. I think at this point an article on orcs would be a waste of space. However, there are reasons to include things like this as one cannot assume the readers have a wealth of material on their bookcases and hard drives. What I would like is a little research done and similar topics mentioned and their sources. I am not expecting these sources to be reprinted but it would be very useful for someone who liked the topic to know what else they could acquire that has the same topic in it.

The first article is informative but hard to use in game. That is not the fault of the author but of the subject matter. It deals with social classes and one has to almost rewrite parts of a setting to make sure they fit in there. There are ten social classes including no class and a random table to determine what one is. Realistically or possible a bit low there is a fifty percent chance of being lower class. In a game like third edition Dungeons and Dragons that tries so hard to balance things social classes can disrupt that. A former slave and the son of a respected Duke are not equal and one will have plenty of more options and freedoms. There is a trade of though of responsibility and inherited the enemies of one’s father as well. Social classes can be a complicated issue and that’s one of the reasons I think it is hard to place well in a game. There are game mechanics to reflect one’s social standing. The article hands out more feats to first level classes and I am not sure that is the way I would have gone with it. I think a template might have been better but neither works perfectly.

The next article deals with alignments. It is written by Daniel J Bishop. It is a well thought out article on alignments and can be useful for people that have trouble understanding them. There is not a lot of new insight here so for some people it will be things they have already thought of or read elsewhere. Alignments while a good area for an article have also been discussed rather extensively on e-mail lists, char rooms, and message board forums. I found the article good and one I will pull out for players that have troubles.

There is an article on fourth edition with lots of information from wizards. I just think it is a little late in coming out. So much has been learned from Winter Fantasy that I did not notice anything in the article that was new. There is still good information here. It is just with the instant news that can be gained on the internet presenting it in a magazine is just going to be a bit slow. I do like that he was able to do this though.

Zero level characters have always been a cool concept to me. I really liked the piece in the back of Greyhawk Adventures back in the days of first edition. One nice thing he does is training times. No longer does the wizard take four times as long as the fighter to become first level. This seems to be the biggest change from the standard rules. I also like how there are no feats in this system and the writer rants a little about the sheer number of feats in the game. Like him I love the feat system and feel it is way over used.

The zero level rules then feed into a zero level adventure. It is a way for zero level character to earn training and become something more then an average citizen. There is some creativity there but also some of the obstacles and obstacle course come of a little dull. I cannot imagine writing for zero level characters is easy though.

Over all it is a bold attempt with some very big shoes to fill. Over the next year I imagine we will see if luck benefits the bold or if it was just to big for one person. Hopefully though there will be a pile of these in twenty years next to the pile of Dragon magazines.