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Thread: Let's read the entire run
Friday, 29th August, 2008, 02:07 PM #1
Enchanter (Lvl 12)
Let's read the entire run
A while ago, I decided to read through and review the entire print run of Dragon from beginning to end. (at least, the physical issues, as I want to be able to complete this, not get stuck on an endless treadmill.) Five months later, I'm about a fifth of the way through, and have found out quite a lot of cool stuff about the early history of gaming. As this is a ridiculous amount of work, naturally I want to share my findings, and get other people's perspectives on the events in gaming's history. Hope you guys enjoy it.
So without further ado, lets get started, with the precursor to Dragon, The Strategic Review. This little newsletter ran for 7 issues over 1975-6, before being superceded as they expanded rapidly, and split their output into wargaming and RPG magazines. There's quite a bit of impenetrable stuff on long dead wargames in there, but that doesn't make it any less interesting to discover. Any info on those from people who lived through that period would be welcomed.
The strategic review 1: Spring 1975
So here we are, right back at the dawn of D&D periodicals. First impressions are that they tried to do it in a newspaper style, with a baroque heading and captioned sections. My second is on how short and succinct it is. Only 6 pages long, with no artwork, and obviously typewritten, it gets right to the point, explaining what they are trying to do with the zine (and apologizing for the lack of stuff, as its their first issue, and they don't have any letters or advertisers. )
The rest of the issue contains the following:
An advert for new editions of their wargames (3rd edition chainmail, now featuring the fighting men of the east! And people complain about the animeisation of games now. Says it all really.)
Mind flayers! Their first appearance. Still recogniseably the same basic monster, with almost impenetrable magic resistance, and quick kill brain eating, although they lack the later depth and descriptive detail. Their mind blast is a classic of idiosyncratic OD&D design, with a unique saving throw based off the victims intelligence, rather than level.
Edition change stuff for Tractics (which I've never heard of before, by by implication is another miniatures game, so people who already have the previous edition don't have to buy a whole new copy. How nice of them.
Gary Gygax talking about the underpoweredness of spears in Chainmail, saying people shouldn't complain about it because it is Historically Accurate , and also that they intend to introduce expanded details on polearms, rather than just having one generic entry for them. I think most of us know how that one pans out in the future. Oh yes.
2 pages of random dungeon generation tables, easily making up the biggest section. Shows where their priorities are. These are probably still usable today, as very little is system specific, and what is is easily convertible. Maybe I will use them at some point.
More adverts on the final page.
Funny how many of the things here would go on to be significant later on in the game. There is very little flavour text anywhere, and you are obviously expected to take things and make them your own. They also don't have the skill with layout and making things stand out that they would later develop. Despite its smallness, there is a tendency towards block of textiness. But It was still an entertaining and informative read, and the lack of padding could be seen as a benefit, because it does allow you to get right to the important stuff.
Friday, 29th August, 2008, 03:32 PM #2
Orcus on an Off-Day (Lvl 22)
Ah. Good times. I didn't get into gaming until 1980 but I have fond memories of Dragon Magazine. With the instant gratification of gaming forums like this one its easy to forget what it was like to wait a month to see forum posts and responses. Thor being killed with a push spell
I wonder if that cute little elven cavalier, Alycia and that human fighter are still fighting the good fight.
Friday, 29th August, 2008, 03:34 PM #3
Acolyte (Lvl 2)
FYI there is a thread in RPG.net that does exactly this. Perhaps you can look it up for a different perspective and inspiration.
Friday, 29th August, 2008, 03:49 PM #4
Time Agent (Lvl 24)
And a poster here has done this. He was up to about the early seventies IIRC. Gack, I loved reading them and I'm totally blanking on who did it.
Oho, go go Google.
The poster is Glyfair and here is his thread.
Friday, 29th August, 2008, 04:14 PM #5
Friday, 29th August, 2008, 04:33 PM #6
The Grand Druid (Lvl 20)
Dudes, you guys are freaking me out (cangerjoide and ExploderWizard). It's bad enough you guys have the same avatar, but you guys keep posting beside eachother. Stop it! You're driving me insane! I can't keep track of which of you is the "Good" guy and which is the "Evil" guy (and don't say both of you are the "Evil" one - Ha, beat you to it).
Really, I'm just joking. I just keep seeing your avatars together and then see your names and realize the posts aren't the same person. Cheers.
Friday, 29th August, 2008, 05:15 PM #7
Acolyte (Lvl 2)
Saturday, 30th August, 2008, 01:58 AM #8
Enchanter (Lvl 12)
The strategic review 2: Summer 1975
We're up to 8 pages in this one. They start off with an obituary for Donald Kaye, the forgotten third co-founder of TSR. Ironicaly, he was only around the same age as Gary Gygax, who of course went on another 32 years. Rather a shame, really. TSR's history would probably have developed quite differently if he'd been around. Already they seem a little more aware of what they are doing, and how to go about it. We get the disclaimer about unsolicited material, and adverts. There is the persistent sense of a company that is expanding as fast as they can create and print new stuff, and still building up the infrastructure needed to do it. There is also plenty of reminders that the 1970's were a slower age, with talk of distribution times and the like. The internet has enabled us to send things out across the whole world as soon as it is done, which is pretty cool. They also say that D&D is not intended to simulate reality but to primarily just be a fun game. Yeah, its pretty clear where the original designers intentions fall on the GNS model. We don't want none of those poncy narrativists or boring simulationists around here.
Errata for Cavaliers and Roundheads. Another historical period that seems to have fallen out of fashion.
Stuff on the upcoming conventions.
Lots of clarifications for D&D. I suppose this is the first ancestor of what would become Sage Advice. Very dry, point by point stuff, as you would expect. Already people were discontented with the spell memorisation system, but they stuck with it as the main option for another 25 years.
Ropers! Another new introduction that continues to annoy to this day, although they never became iconic like illithids. Very archaic sounding intro.
Rangers. The very first instance of a twinktastic new class being introduced in the magazine! They only go to level 13, and lack the rogue abilities and two weapon fighting that they would later get, but are deadly against giants, can track, and become pretty decent spellcasters in both wizard and cleric lists at high level. I certainly recognise the AD&D 1st ed ranger in these, but they are almost completely different to the 3.5 ranger. Once again we see an influx of fiddly social restrictions that have since disappeared, and a tendency towards static abilities with an arbitrary chance of success. Unified mechanics, where are you?
Some really primitive line art, little more than a napkin scribble. Still, the first issue had no art at all, so its progress I guess.
Polearms! A whole page on polearms! Getcha dozen varieties of polearms here. All of the names are familiar sounding, and I think this is most of the ones that would be a staple of both 1st and 2nd ed AD&D. Much pointless minutinae contained within.
Some bitching about printing and dice costs, and saying they may have to raise prices. Yeah, thats a familiar story whatever the era. This is a reminder that before D&D, dice other than 6 siders were exceedingly rare, and they had to get up a distribution chain to get a regular supply of them.
Expansion for Panzer warfare. Again, we don't see enough rules for playing with tanks these days. Damn narrativists and their focus on feelings. We want more tanks!
1st D&D supplement Greyhawk out now. Boot hill coming soon.
In some ways this is less familiar than the 1st issue, as it really points out how the organisation of gaming has changed with the internet. Still, I can see things are already developing, such as variable damage for weapons, power creep, and the start of the first D&D setting. And its certainly a much lighter read than modern stuff. I'm definitely enjoying things so far, and I can see why it took off so fast.
Saturday, 30th August, 2008, 02:05 AM #9
Enchanter (Lvl 12)
Saturday, 30th August, 2008, 06:59 AM #10
Waghalter (Lvl 7)
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This is a really neat idea, and I'm looking forward to following along!
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