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Dragon Reflections #15 - Happy Third Birthday!

The Dragon Issue 15 was published in June 1978. It is 36 pages long, with a cover price of $1.50. In this issue we get a whole bunch of random tables, Monty Haul returns, and a legendary RPG designer makes his debut!


Editor Tim Kask celebrates another milestone while decrying some poor service:

"Welcome to the third printing year for THE DRAGON. I’m still amazed at how far we’ve come every time I look something up in an old STRATEGIC REVIEW. In the past year, we have met and overcome all obstacles in our path save one: the U.S. Post Offal. No matter how we try to get around their incompetence, they still manage to screw up nearly every single issue."

As a kind of reverse birthday gift, the issue includes a Dave Trampier illustrated backgammon board. It is a gorgeous image and very hard to get hold of these days - there is not even a good scan on the internet.

Kask is very pleased to include a reprint of an old fantasy story:

"Also in this issue, we are trebly pleased to present THE GREEN MAGICIAN, by Fletcher Pratt and L. Sprague deCamp. Before we secured the rights, I had spent almost two years searching for the magazine it appeared in, to no avail. I’m delighted to be publishing it now."

This story is the last one in the original "Harold Shea" sequence, an influential set of fantasy tales published in the 1940s and 1950s. This is more evidence of Kask's commitment to making The Dragon a publisher of important fantasy literature by important authors.

Jim Ward brings us another Monty Haul column, detailing a recent TSR gaming night. In this session, Jim and his friends are controlling a group of WWII German Tanks tasked with taking an old fortress. When they get there, they discover it is defended by orcs, manticores, trolls, mummies, ghouls, and various other fantastic monsters. Jim and his friends were defeated in the end "by a magical barrage that would have turned the tide for the Germans on D-day." But he enjoyed a few moral victories along the way!

Gygax gives us another Sorcerers Scroll, talking about some confusion that arose in original D&D between the notation used for feet and yards. What's interesting is a passing comment he makes about why this has suddenly become an issue:

"For about two years D&D was played without benefit of any visual aids by the majority of enthusiasts. They held literally that it was a paper and pencil game, and if some particular situation arose which demanded more than verbalization, they would draw or place dice as tokens in order to picture the conditions. In 1976 a movement began among D&Ders to portray characters with actual miniature figurines. Miniature figure manufacturers began. to provide more and more models aimed at the D&D market — characters, monsters, weapons, dungeon furnishings, etc. Availability sparked interest, and the obvious benefits of using figures became apparent: Distances could be pinned down, opponents were obvious, and a certain extra excitement was generated by use of painted castings of what players “saw”. Because of the return of miniatures to D&D, the game is tending to come full circle; back to tabletop battles not unlike those which were first fought with D&D’s parent, CHAINMAIL’s “Fantasy Supplement”, now occurring quite regularly."

I find this fascinating as common perception is that early D&D carried its wargaming legacy pretty firmly about with it. But it seems that "Theatre of the Mind" is how Gygax ran the original D&D games!

The issue also includes a whole lot of random tables, by various authors. There's a pit generator, a weather table, and random encounter tables for dungeons and also Boot Hill. But of most interest is an article called "Random Events Table for Settlements and/or Settled Areas". The table itself is well executed, but more notable is the author, a 24-year-old graphic artist and electronic technician named N. Robin Crossby. This article was his first RPG-related publication.

A few years after writing this article, Crossby published HârnWorld, a beautifully detailed and sophisticated fantasy setting that included a gorgeous map. Dozens of supplements followed, and Hârn gained a reputation as a sophisticated and mature fantasy world. Whenever I brushed up against Hârn in the 80s, I remember feeling a kind of reverent awe. But it also felt a bit overwhelming and impenetrable, and I never played in the setting.

Crossby died in 2008, the same year that took Gary Gygax, Bob Bledsaw (founder of Judges Guild), and Erick A. Wujcik (co-founder of Palladium). Death was no respecter of talent that year. Such is life.

Next issue, Eric Holmes hits back at critics, we learn why clerics and wizards can't use swords, and Gygax talks about realism in D&D!

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

Rune

Once A Fool
Good revue. I’ve been enjoying these.

However, I take issue with an interpretation you provide in the article:

You claim that “it seems that "Theatre of the Mind" is how Gygax ran the original D&D games!” But that isn’t at all what Gygax said in the excerpt. He said that “the majority of enthusiasts” played that way, but in no way did he include himself among that majority.

He may well have been part of it, but there is no evidence within the excerpt to confirm that possibility.

A minor quibble, perhaps, but one that leapt out as I read.
 
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R_Chance

Explorer
Good revue. I’ve been enjoying these.

However, I take issue with an interpretation you provide in the article:

You claim that “it seems that "Theatre of the Mind" is how Gygax ran the original D&D games!” But that isn’t what Gygax said in the excerpt, at all. He said that “the majority of enthusiasts” played that way, but in no way did he include himself among that majority.

He may well have been part of it, but there is no evidence within the excerpt to confirm that possibility.

A minor quibble, perhaps, but one that leapt out as I read.
Agreed. Gygax was a miniature gamer, I'd be surprised if he didn't use them in D&D. We always did, even if we didn't have the right miniature for everything, literally, that might show up in a game. I think as more non miniature gamers became D&D players / DMs theater of the mind became a thing. The growth of the miniature market for fantasy games was a response to demand by gamers and an expansion of the huge variety of historical miniatures already available. I'm pretty sure we were buying Minifigs LotR figures in... 1975? Not positive on the year. I know we had used historical figures before D&D became a thing, but Tolkein inspired several fantasy lines about that time, and D&D just added to the demand.

*edit* Enjoying the articles as usual. Now I have the urge to go plow through my old miniatures...
 

M.T. Black

Registered User
That's a good point, Rune. If I get the chance I might drop an email to Rob Kuntz and ask for clarification.
 

TerraDave

5ever
Its my understanding that EGG and others in the early games did not use miniatures for D&D, and neither did many OD&D fans.

Of course, experience at that time was wide ranging.
 

AriochQ

Explorer
EGG began using the Elastolin miniatures for his Chainmail game. Of course, he could have used Elastolin for Chainmail then abandoned them for D&D, but that would be surprising. He also picked up the plastic Kaiju figures for Chainmail (origin of Rust Monster and Bulette among others), so I would be surprised if they didn't also transition into his D&D game.
 

TerraDave

5ever
I found it!

This is from the long-running Q&A thread

http://www.enworld.org/forum/showthread.php?22566-Q-amp-A-with-Gary-Gygax/page171

So on minis...

Gygax said:
I played military miniatures for many years--ancients, medieval, ECW, Napoleonics, ACW, Victorian, and WW II to 1956. I personally had 40 mm pre-painted medieval figurines, a small contingent of Turkish 20 mm troops, Brunswick Napoleonic figurines that I painted, and a large number of US WW II men and AFVs, the latter including many conversions I did.

In addition I planned and refereed many games in various periods. Our WW Ii games would sometime last the whole weekend--about 20 hours of playing time.

Finally, i had a sand table that we would spend hours preparing for a game, so that the terrain and buildings, if any, looked great.

The spectacle added considerably to the enjoyment of the actual reason for playing--the exercise of strategic and tactical ability.

But then minis in D&D...

also Gygax said:
I don't usually employ miniatures in my RPG play. We ceased that when we moved from CHAINMAIL Fantasy to D&D.

I have nothing against the use of miniatures, but they are generally impractical for long and free-wheeling campaign play where the scene and opponents can vary wildly in the course of but an hour.

The GW folks use them a lot, but they are fighting set-piece battles as is usual with miniatures gaming.

I don't believe that fantasy miniatures are good or bad for FRPGs in general. If the GM sets up gaming sessions based on their use, the resulting play is great from my standpoint. It is mainly a matter of having the painted figures and a big tabletop to play on

Cheers,
Gary
 

M.T. Black

Registered User
Wow - that's a great and helpful quote. It suggests that Gygax NEVER really used miniatures for his RPG sessions. That surprises me!
 

Koloth

Villager
Maybe Gygax was good enough at describing the scene that minis were rarely needed. Not every GM can pull that off nor can all players. Sometimes for whatever reason, the picture the GM is trying to describe just won't form in the player's minds.
 
If we assume that the AD&D melee rules bear some connection to how Gygax actually played, then positioning in melee is not that important - all you need to know is how many attackers are on any given figure, so you can work out who might be attacking from the flank and/or rear (and hence entitled to bonuses). I use to do this all the time without needing figures or even sketches.

Compare this to 3E and 4e, which have extensive rules for positioning within melee, including consequences (OA) not only for disengaging from melee but for moving about within it. Suddenly tracking positioning becomes a whole lot more important.

It's a system thing, not just an aesthetic preference or GM skill thing.
 

R_Chance

Explorer
Oddly enough, the layout of the area in which combat (i.e. was it the infamous 10' wide corridor or a wide open area) occurred and the positions of PCs and NPCs always played a part in my games combat. Backstabbing was a Thief ability, attacking from the rear netted anyone a bonus to hit, and you needed to know who was covering different areas. If lightly armored characters were exposed to immediate attack that was a problem. The area a character could cover was based on his weapons (i.e. you needed 10' of space to wield a two handed sword and could, therefore, cover a 10' front with it). Which PCs could the Cleric touch / heal (typically from behind)? You could do this type of thing in your head, but we always used miniatures. That was easier.

The PCs established a marching order and changed it as they moved into different areas. We didn't lay out everything until combat occurred, but a basic marching order was a good thing to know. We also had them set up camp, establish who was standing watch, etc. in the wilderness. That was part of the fun of the game, and settled a lot of arguments about who was where etc. We were a tactical, somewhat paranoid lot :)

Still do it that way. Depending on your players and desire for detail you could do it totm. Ymmv.

*edit* And besides, you wanted to show off those painted minis :)
 

griffon8

Villager
As a kind of reverse birthday gift, the issue includes a Dave Trampier illustrated backgammon board. It is a gorgeous image and very hard to get hold of these days - there is not even a good scan on the internet.
I guess it wouldn't be surprising that this is hard to get a hold of, since it isn't even included in the PDF from the Dragon Magazine Archive. :mad:
 

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