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Dragon Reflections #13 - How to win D&D!

The Dragon Issue 13 was published in April 1978. It is 32 pages long, with a cover price of $1.50. In this issue, Rob Kuntz talks Tolkien while Jim Ward tells us how to win D&D!


Editor Tim Kask is pleased to announce that this is the first of their monthly issues and also notes that it contains their third Gardner Fox story. He also encourages readers to check out a new gaming convention:

"You are all invited to attend our SPRING REVEL here in picturesque Lake Geneva on April Fool’s Day Weekend. See the ad on the preceding page for more details. These small cons are quite different in tone from GenCon, being far less commercially oriented and more playing oriented. For one thing, we on the staff get lots more time to play and judge than we would normally at GenCon."

I'm interested to know what happened to Spring Revel. A quick google suggests it made its way to my homeland, Australia, for a while. But I can't find any recent news.

The magazine includes a short piece by Brian Blume on bionic body parts in Metamorphosis Alpha and some rules corrections for the Warlord boardgame by Tim Kask. The rest of the articles are dedicated to D&D, and it's a good collection.

"How Heavy is my Giant" gives tables for calculating giant height and weight. This article later appeared in "Best of Dragon" and is still used by some gamers today. The author byline is "Shlump da Orc" which is probably either Tim Kask or Dave Sutherland.

Jon Pickens, who joined TSR as an editor later that year, contributes a set of tables for randomly generating demons. Although it does little else except create a cluster of abilities, it's nicely thought out. Jerome Arkenberg returns, this time giving stats for the Japanese mythos, including beings such as Amaterasu.

Rob Kuntz gives us another "From the Sorcerer's Scroll." It is, sadly, his last one. He addresses the perennial question of how to integrate Dungeons & Dragons with Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings." He starts by noting that:

"D & D was not written to recreate or in any collective way simulate Professor Tolkien’s world or beings. A few were included such as Balrogs, Orcs etc. for it was recognized that Tolkien made some impressions upon the Fantasy literary world which were worth including in D & D, but not to the extent of basing the game system around them. That is left up to separate judges — but in doing so they excommunicate themselves from the actual D & D system."

By his last sentence, I think he means that the more you try and "Tolkienize" D&D, the further you will get from the game as written.

Some readers, exposed only to the fantasy fiction of Tolkien, imagined that it served as the primary inspiration for the game. Kuntz is at pains to refute this idea:

"One must also remember that this system works with the worlds of R.E. Howard, Fritz Leiber, and L.S. de Camp and Fletcher Pratt much better than that of Tolkien. If one is to branch away from the D & D system, let’s say towards Tolkien’s world, he will be disappointed to find that most spells, characters, etc. do not function well within the epic world of Tolkien’s design... What I am saying is that for a role-playing, continuous adventuring world, Tolkien’s does not fit well within the D & D game style."

It was another six years before Middle Earth got its own roleplaying system (MERP from Iron Crown). And it was forty years before someone officially integrated Tolkien's world with the D&D game engine ("Adventures in Middle Earth" by Cubicle 7).

My favorite article in the issue is also the shortest. Written by Jim Ward, it is called "Notes from a semi-successful D&D player." Ward shares lots of good tricks that he has learned after several years of hard dungeoneering. For example:

"The polymorph spell can be one of the best double attack spells known if you use it right. For instance, if a cockatrice attacks and you succeed in turning it into a snail, you should capture the snail. Then, in the next battle, the snail is thrown in first with a dispell magic following it. The snail becomes a cockatrice, and if it survives the transformation, it fights your battle for you. If you do not want to bother with the keeping of your polymorphed creatures, I suggest you turn them into a goldfish so at least they die right away. We do not want those creatures coming around again later for revenge."​

Sure, few of these tips will surprise veteran players, but they must have been revolutionary 40 years ago. If nothing else, the article is a very entertaining read.

Next issue, Gary Gygax explains Basic vs. Advanced D&D, we have an interview with a rust monster, and we meet the famous Monty Haul for the first time!

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. We are always on the lookout for freelance columnists! If you have a pitch, please contact us!
 
M.T. Black

Comments

evildmguy

Explorer
Love these! Interesting how they felt DND should be played or what literature it could help them recreate. Thanks!
 

Matesamo

Villager
Some further notes on items I found interesting:

* The Spring Revel hours were listed as 8am-12pm Saturday and 8am-6pm Sunday. Hopefully they didn't shut down at noon on Saturday! Price was $2 a day, $3 for both days and NO pre-registration was allowed.

* There is a mention in the editorial for an ad on the fifth page for The Green Magician by Fletcher Pratt and L. Sprague De Camp. It is stated in the editorial that it is one of the "most highly recommended material that a DM could possibly hope to read" and that it would be published in two parts starting in #15. At 30,000 words I am interested to see if they actually went through with their plan as that would be a signifigant portion of those two issues.

* They published two pages of Dungeons & Dragons themed song lyrics set to classic standard songs including "D&D Monsters' Drinking Song #2" set to the tune of Farmer in the Dell and includes lyrics like: "The CLeric's name was Paul, He thought he'd seen it all, Bingh khlad di valiack, We hit him with a wall". It may not be high art but it does show that whimsical nature of these early issues.
 
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Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
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Mild curiosity -- this was 1978, and it was 1977 when Saul Zeantz sued TSR claiming D&D was a LotR derivative. TSR settled out of court and changed a lot of the Tolkien terminology, but I wonder if that ties in to this strenuous public denial that Tolkien was a primary influence?
 

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M.T. Black

Explorer
Yeah, I always thought the lawsuit must have influenced these columns (Gygax has a similar one coming up at some point).

I don't think Kuntz is disengenuous, though. I think D&D generally does play much more like something out of Howard, Leiber, de Camp, and Pratt. My young self was always aware that I couldn't make the game feel very Tolkien-like, and that always bothered me.
 

R_Chance

Explorer
I remember rolling my eyes at the Tolkien denial and assuming it was legally related. It was obvious there were a lot of influences besides but still... Oh, and the best thing about the article "How Heavy is my Giant" was the weights per cubic foot of different materials given at the end imho. I still reference that. It first came in handy when one of my PCs was turned to stone (Basilisk) and they wanted to haul him out of the dungeon. Hopefully it's accurate :)
 
I think D&D generally does play much more like something out of Howard, Leiber, de Camp, and Pratt.
I don't think that classic D&D plays much like REH's Conan. It emphasises party play. It emphasises preparation (equipment, spell loads outs) and caution (careful mapping, checking for traps, etc) and making sure you get the loot. Whereas REH's Conan emphasies the heroic individual (even when Conan is working with others, it is cooperation among heroic individuals, not interdependency), spontaneity and generosity.

Classic D&D plays more like a squad-level commando-type wargame! (Which is probably unsurprising.) I think more contemporary D&D, which reduces the importance of the prep and caution aspects, seems more superhero or "A-Team" style, with the interedependence of team members and the emphasis on fighting as the way to win.
 

M.T. Black

Explorer
I don't think that classic D&D plays much like REH's Conan.
I think you find a lot more Howard tropes in D&D than Tolkien tropes. Something like "Tower of the Elephant" could easily be translated into a D&D adventure, but I agree that's not the case for all Conan stories.
 

TregMallin

Villager
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Mild curiosity -- this was 1978, and it was 1977 when Saul Zeantz sued TSR claiming D&D was a LotR derivative. TSR settled out of court and changed a lot of the Tolkien terminology, but I wonder if that ties in to this strenuous public denial that Tolkien was a primary influence?
The same Saul Zeantz who threatened to sue John Fogerty for ripping off his own work with Credence Clearwater Revival (the rights to which were owned by Zeantz) in the song "The Old Man Down the Road". Fogerty wrote a song called "Zanz Kant Danz" as a dig against him. He threatened another lawsuit and eventually it became "Vanz Kant Danz".
 
I think you find a lot more Howard tropes in D&D than Tolkien tropes. Something like "Tower of the Elephant" could easily be translated into a D&D adventure, but I agree that's not the case for all Conan stories.
Well, Tower of the Elephant is about one adventurer encountering another during an adventure. I think that's not easily translated into D&D, which (i) doesn't really favour solo play except perhaps for high level wizards, and (ii) doesn't really favour "in media res" as a device for bringing the party together.

The other striking thing about Tower of the Elephant is that Conan sacrifices the possibility of wealth to do the right thing. D&D adventures are generally structured around becoming wealthy by doing the right thing.

It's true that the setting of Tower of the Elephant, and some of its colour, can easily be translated into D&D. But I think that's also true of much of LotR.
 

Connorsrpg

Adventurer
Thanks again MT. These are fun. For what it's worth, out group just got a copy of Adventures In Middle Earth 5E Player's Guide. :)

Having a read now :)
 
D&D is its own thing. In large parts because it is meant to work as a game.
Of course there are RPGs that work as games that are also far more likely than D&D to lead, in their play, to fictions that resemble REH Conan, or LotR.

But it draws from many sources.
It draws its colour and story elements from a range of sci-fi and fantasy sources. But its default game play is heavily influenced by a certain style of tactical wargaming - both in terms of win conditions, and also in terms of an understanding of what it is that game rules are supposed to do.

To get RPG play that results in fictions that more closely resemble D&D's literary sources requires changing one or both of those underpinnings.
 

Shasarak

Villager
I always thought that it odd to hear people claim that you could not win at DnD.

Thank you, Jim for those tips to help us win another game.
 

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