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Dragon Reflections #17 -- Clockwork Monsters

The Dragon Issue 17 was published in August 1978. It is 40 pages long, with a cover price of $1.50. In this issue, we have dungeon dressing, tesseracts, and clockwork monsters!

The cover is notable not for the improbable bikini but for the armored figure on the left. The batwing style helmet suggests this is a precursor to Warduke, a TSR action figure released a few years later. Warduke made an appearance in the Shady Dragon Inn before becoming a noteworthy figure in the Greyhawk Wars.

Editor Tim Kask is pleased to present a 40-page magazine. He wants to maintain and even increase this size, but faces a big challenge:

"There is one major stumbling block, however, that could easily prevent that; more pages use more material. The simple addition of more pages, even though one or more are sold to advertisers, means we consume that much more material. At this very moment, TD is hurting for good quality material. All of you writers that have been stalling around had better get hot soon . . . especially those that are late on promised pieces."​

There is no definite theme this issue, more a potpourri of articles. In contrast with previous issues, this one covers several non-TSR games. For a start, we have a review of Dragonlord, a pretty but overly-complicated tactical fantasy game from Wee Warriors, and of WarpWar, a fast-playing microgame from Metagaming Concepts which seems to have been a precursor to the well-received Starfire wargame series.

There is also a piece-by-piece strategic commentary on OGRE, Steve Jackson's smash-hit microgame, and some expansion rules for Monsters! Monsters!, the third RPG published by Ken St. Andre. As far as I can see, Dragon never acknowledged the existence of St. Andre's first and more popular game, Tunnels & Trolls, which Gygax seemed to regard as a cheap knock-off.

And so we come to D&D itself, and we have no less than eleven articles! Future editor, Jon Pickens, updates Chainmail's jousting system for D&D. In "A Wizard With A Difference," we find a magic-user variant that somewhat anticipates the later design of the sorcerer. We also have two joke monsters, the munchkin and the scholar (the latter casts Power Word Stun using the incantation "Surprise Quiz Today").

"Vampires in the Dungeon" describes vampire tactics and how to counter them. It's not bad, though I think it could have used a little mechanical crunch. Another piece is called "A Short History of Adamanite." Check the name. I wonder when that material was renamed adamantine?

"Messengers of God: Angels in Dungeons and Dragons" fills a gap in the celestial hierarchy by giving us statistics for angels. As it happens, we would not get *official* angel statistics until the Monstrous Compendium for second edition in 1989. In "Boredom and the Average D&D Dungeon," Jim Ward suggests the DM spice things up by giving their dungeons historical themes, such as ancient Egypt or India. It's good advice for DMs who can't get past gray stone walls and 30-foot-square rooms.

Gary Gygax shares an actual-play piece called "Faceless Men & Clockwork Monsters," describing a recent D&D adventure aboard the Starship Warden from Metamorphosis Alpha. The DM was Jim Ward, while the players were Brian Blume, Gary, and his sons Luke and Ernie. Looks like a fun time and is more evidence (if required) of how gonzo a lot of Gygax's games were.

There are two above-average articles in the magazine. "Sights and Sounds in Dungeons and Dragons" anticipates the "Dungeon Dressing" tables of later years. The tables here are simple but well executed. I had some ideas just looking at them.

Finally, "Tesseracts or Making Meticulous Mapmakers Mad" describes a hypercube-shaped dungeon. This fiendish invention would be revisited many times by unscrupulous DMs over the years, but I believe this is where the idea originated. It seems that the writer, Gary Jordan, did not publish much else in the field. A shame.

Next issue, Gygax reports on Origins '78, Traveller gets a review, and we are given a sneak peek at Gamma World!

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!
M.T. Black

M.T. Black


IIRC, that Tesseracts article would make it into one of the Best of Dragon's, and, also, IIRC, became Baby Yaga's Dancing Hut. :D


Thanks for the article, as always. I remember thinking the cover was a step back, but the issue was interesting. The Angels article got me thinking about the counterparts of Demons. I ended up doing kind of mirror image angels vs. their demonic counterparts. This worked for me and has expanded since then. I wish I had the time now that I had then to work on / play the game :)


No, although it looks familiar in style. There is what I take to be the artists mark in the lower right hand corner though.

*edit* Wild guess, but maybe the same artist as #10 (Sullivan), with the cover cropped and only part of the "S" in the signature visible. Very colorful and "comic" style. I've seen it on other products... I'd have to plow through some really old stuff. If I find anything I'll post.
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