Dragon Reflections #22
  • Dragon Reflections #22


    The Dragon Issue 22 was published in February 1979. It is 56 pages long, with a cover price of $2.00. In this issue, Little Wars meets The Dragon, we get a sneak preview of the upcoming Dungeon Masters Guide, and Gary Gygax talks about the future of D&D!


    Editor Tim Kask starts by informing us that this issue consists of two magazines, The Dragon and Little Wars, combined into one. Little Wars was another TSR publication, one focused on miniatures wargaming. Kask does not give much detail regarding why they are making the change, beyond hinting at the efficiencies involved and saying, "we think that we will become a more desirable magazine, covering all of wargaming inside the same cover."

    The editorial page includes subscriber numbers for both magazines, which they published periodically as required by law. These numbers suggest another reason for the merger. TSR was printing 8000 copies of The Dragon at this stage and selling most of them. By contrast, they were printing 3000 copies of Little Wars and only selling about 2000 of them. Little Wars was not meeting their sales expectations and rolling it into The Dragon was probably a more attractive option for TSR than cancelling it altogether.

    This issue dedicates a large portion of the page count to the historical articles that were the bread-and-butter of Little Wars. There is an overview of the real-life Order of Assassins, the first part of a series describing the Armies of the Renaissance, and an account of the Swiss Confederation alongside an article on polearms, both by Gary Gygax. The Little Wars content is rounded out with the description of a miniatures wargame called Stalemate at Kassala. It is good material, but it was not finding an audience.

    The remainder of the magazine consists of content more familiar to readers of The Dragon, including numerous reviews. Several board games are covered: Up-Scope by SPI is "very good"; Panzerkrieg by OSR is "every bit worth its $12.95 pricetag."; while 4th Dimension by TSR is "a fast-moving, exciting game that really tests strategic abilities." There is also a book review of The Face in the Frost by John Bellairs, a "well-written novel of strange hauntings, sorcerous conjurations, and outrageous humor."

    Gary Gygax reviews two amateur fantasy gaming magazines, Apprentice and Phoenix. He is merciless, and concludes, "APPRENTICE is certainly bad, but for one dollar it is value if you appreciate jokes. PHOENIX is worse, and no price is given. If it is free, you might wish to get it." He might have been kinder if he had known that the editor of Apprentice, David Berman, was just 15 years old!

    Gygax also responds to a review of the Player's Handbook written by SPI's Richard Berg. Gygax blasts SPI as "past masters of the rehash, artisans of the warmed-over WWII battle game, purveyors of the umpteenth version of the same, tired scenario." He dismisses Berg, saying he "has never himself authored or designed a game half so popular as D&D/AD&D." Gygax did not enjoy seeing his baby criticized!

    This issue also includes “Mapping the Dungeon,” a regular feature listing the names and addresses of Dungeon Masters who are looking for players. There are over 500 names in the list, mostly from the United States. This sort of list, clumsy as it is, is how gaming networks formed before the internet.

    There is a special treat for D&D fans: a nine-page sneak preview of the upcoming Dungeon Masters Guide. The preview includes magic items, attack matrices, and psionic rules. Some readers may have been impressed by the numerous, complicated tables shown. Others, less so!

    This brings us to the most important article in the issue. Written by Gary Gygax, it is titled “Dungeons & Dragons: What it is and Where it is Going.” Gygax starts by estimating the current player base of D&D at about 150,000 people and notes that the Basic Set sells 4,000 copies per month. After spending some time ruminating on the reasons for the popularity of the game, he gets to the heart of the matter, explaining the various D&D brands on the market.

    Gygax states that the game is moving in two directions, Original D&D and Advanced D&D. The Basic Set he describes as a separate entity that can act as a springboard into either stream. Interestingly, he sees only limited scope for future enhancements to the rules. Original D&D could benefit from a "careful reorganization and expansion to clarify things," while Advanced D&D will undergo "only minor expansions and some rules amending on a gradual, edition to edition." He then states, "I do not believe that hobbyists and casual players should be continually barraged with new rules, new systems, and new drains on their purses." It is a remarkable statement given where the hobby was heading.

    Having spoken about the need to cement the ruleset, Gygax finishes by urging his readers to submit articles to The Dragon detailing their own variant rules! How do you hold both ends of this article together? Gygax seems caught between the old wargaming approach of relentless modification and homebrewing, and the commercial desirability of a relatively stable ruleset. It's a tension he never fully resolves, and history shows us that the D&D production schedule would balloon over the coming years.

    Next issue, we have a random fiend generator, new psionic rules, and solo play with En Garde!

    This article was contributed by M.T. Black as part of EN World's Columnist (ENWC) program. M.T. Black is a game designer and DMs Guild Adept. Please follow him on Twitter @mtblack2567 and sign up to his mailing list. If you enjoy the daily news and articles from EN World, please consider contributing to our Patreon!
    Comments 18 Comments
    1. Hussar's Avatar
      Hussar -
      Great stuff as always. Thanks for this. Still a bit before my time, so, it's interesting to see the early days of the hobby.
    1. Ath-kethin's Avatar
      Ath-kethin -
      It's always fascinating to read the viewpoints various founding fathers have for the game. Gygax envisioned AD&D as the end-all-be-all of the rules, while Bruce Heard stuck by Basic and wrote off AD&D as being for people who couldn't improvise and needed a rule to cover every eventuality and wrinkle at the table.

      Gygax's own views fluctuated anyway, as the article here demonstrates. He vacillated between shouting down anyone who dared propose amendments or additions to his rule set and gleefully encouraging everyone to make up whatever material they needed to have the game work for them.

      Interesting perspectives.
    1. Bolongo -
      A little odd that the cover has a picture from some kind of LARP, but there seems to be no coverage of such in the magazine...
    1. EthanSental's Avatar
      EthanSental -
      Is that an early looking Warduke?
    1. Paragon Lost's Avatar
      Paragon Lost -
      Back in those days I found myself with torn emotions when it came to Gygax. Often I enjoyed reading things he said, but at other times he really annoyed because he came off as a egoistical, abusive sort. Basically, always a mixed bag. :/

      Looking forward to reading about GDW's En Garde, I had it back in the day and recall using it for a lot of gaming ideas. Fond memories, time really does fly.
    1. R_Chance's Avatar
      R_Chance -
      Quote Originally Posted by Bolongo View Post
      A little odd that the cover has a picture from some kind of LARP, but there seems to be no coverage of such in the magazine...
      In all probability the live action photo is the Society for Creative Anachronism. The SCA is about all things medieval (or pre gunpowder anyway) from crafts to combat. It was active then (and now). The combat system for Runequest drew directly on SCA experience by the writers. I guess you could call it a historical LARP as members take on a historical role. I would imagine that the photo related to the Little Wars side of this issue.

      *edit* Ahem, "photo" not "phot"
    1. Ed Laprade's Avatar
      Ed Laprade -
      Quote Originally Posted by R_Chance View Post
      In all probability the live action photo is the Society for Creative Anachronism. The SCA is about all things medieval (or pre gunpowder anyway) from crafts to combat. It was active then (and now). The combat system for Runequest drew directly on SCA experience by the writers. I guess you could call it a historical LARP as members take on a historical role. I would imagine that the photo related to the Little Wars side of this issue.

      *edit* Ahem, "photo" not "phot"
      Yep, that's a photo from an SCA event. This is one of the first issues I ever bought, and I recall that it was mentioned somewhere. (No doubt in the cover credits.)
    1. Wrathamon -
      This shows the side of Gygax I never appreciated. His petty bashing of others in print. He seemed very defensive.
    1. Wrathamon -
      I also never understood having two versions of D&D. It was very confusing for me growing up and to be honest I didn't know anyone who played original D&D after 81 except using the adventures as content. It was portrayed where I grew up as the not cool version or for beginners only. I only played it when I was younger.
    1. Zaukrie's Avatar
      Zaukrie -
      Man that cover is trying too hard! I too had a love/dislike relationship with Gygax's ability to handle criticism/write about the games he and others made.
    1. R_Chance's Avatar
      R_Chance -
      Quote Originally Posted by Wrathamon View Post
      I also never understood having two versions of D&D. It was very confusing for me growing up and to be honest I didn't know anyone who played original D&D after 81 except using the adventures as content. It was portrayed where I grew up as the not cool version or for beginners only. I only played it when I was younger.
      A lot of us continued to play original D&D adding what we liked from AD&D. And there were three brands of D&D. Original, B/X, and AD&D. See? Even more confusing

      I don't think I ever made a strong distinction between original and 1E (or later even 2E). I bought and read Basic / Expert but didn't like the combo of class and race that came later with it. I had friends who loved BECMI in its later incarnation, but my game was always a mix of original D&D and AD&D with more AD&D as we went, sliding on into 2E. The big change (which took a lot of work) was the shift from the mixed 2E I used to 3E.
    1. R_Chance's Avatar
      R_Chance -
      Quote Originally Posted by Wrathamon View Post
      This shows the side of Gygax I never appreciated. His petty bashing of others in print. He seemed very defensive.
      He had some reason for his bashing; he took quite a bit from others. Doesn't really excuse it, but it does give some context. Then too, it was a hobbyist niche, professionalism wasn't much of a factor then.
    1. Wrathamon -
      I always considered B/X and B/E+CMI to be the same. I know they aren't now because I never really played them. I incorrectly assumed they're were when I was 8-20s ... whitebox Original was homebrew D&D to be honest. ;p
    1. R_Chance's Avatar
      R_Chance -
      Quote Originally Posted by Wrathamon View Post
      I always considered B/X and B/E+CMI to be the same. I know they aren't now because I never really played them. I incorrectly assumed they're were when I was 8-20s ... whitebox Original was homebrew D&D to be honest. ;p
      The various incarnations of Basic / Expert / etc. are, imo, the evolution of that line. I never worried too much about it because original / advanced D&D was the basis of my game. And that's "woodprint" / whitebox for original D&D Still have one woodprint and one surviving whitebox set along with the supplements. And yep, homebrew was constant with it. We played Chainmail's fantasy appendix miniature battles / campaigns before D&D came out and we homebrewed that too. That was just gaming then. Fun, experimental and... undefined. We tried tons of things out, and d@mn it was fun

      *edit* Cleaning up the grammar...
    1. M.T. Black's Avatar
      M.T. Black -
      Yes, I started with B/X and later got the Companion set onwards. I wasn't really aware that there had been a shift in authorship and direction. I later started with 1e and that became my main game, although there were many rules we ignored. When 2e came out we bought all the books, though we never really saw it as a new edition.
    1. MNblockhead's Avatar
      MNblockhead -
      God I love these articles.

      Wonderful to see SCA on the cover of Dragon, the irony of Gygax's musings on the futures of the rules was delicious.

      Still a bit before I got into gaming, but it is starting to really feel like my "era."
    1. Whizbang Dustyboots's Avatar
      Whizbang Dustyboots -
      I always wonder how the old school designers would have responded to some of the modern game design ideas introduced in 3E and later.

      "Wait, all the numbers go the same direction, so higher rolls are always better? We don't need a chart to figure out results? MADNESS!"
    1. TarionzCousin's Avatar
      TarionzCousin -
      Quote Originally Posted by Whizbang Dustyboots View Post
      I always wonder how the old school designers would have responded to some of the modern game design ideas introduced in 3E and later.

      "Wait, all the numbers go the same direction, so higher rolls are always better? We don't need a chart to figure out results? MADNESS!"
      Ahem.

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