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Dragon Reflections #18 – Gamers Behaving Badly

The Dragon Issue 18 was published in September 1978. It is 36 pages long, with a cover price of $1.50. In this issue, we have gamers behaving badly at Origins '78, lots of D&D homebrew rules, and an introduction to the Traveller RPG!

Tim Kask has recently returned from Origins '78, held in Michigan and run by Metro Detroit Gamers (MDG). The rivalry between GenCon and Origins is always simmering below the surface of these Origins reviews, and Kask spends a good chunk of time discussing the venue and organizational problems at the con, while limply praising MDG by saying they "did as good a job as could be expected under the circumstances."

His fiercest criticism was for the exhibitor party at the Marriott:

"One other low point stands out in my mind, in stark relief. It’s fortunate that this event was not open to the general public. I’m referring to the party at the Marriott Hotel on Friday night for the exhibitors, workers, etc. It started off as a nice party and ended up a disgusting spectacle. If the Marriott ever allows another wargaming-related event within its confines, I’d be very surprised. More than a few attendees left in disgust after watching some of the “captains” of our industry make drunken fools of themselves. As anyone that knows me can attest, I like to party with the best of them, and I’m certainly no teetotaler, but I left the party early. I stopped back sometime later and it was even worse."

But Kask does finish by saying, "Lest you think that I didn’t like Origins ‘78, let me assure you that I did, in spite of the bummers." He also wryly notes that anyone who attends cons must have a little bit of a masochistic streak.

Issue #18 is just crammed with content. There are a lot of little articles covering a wide range of topics. The table of contents groups things into five categories: Features, Variants, Reviews, Designers Forum, and Dragon Mirth (the comics). I usually ignore the comics in these retrospectives, but I'll briefly hit the other areas.

We'll start with Variants, which are basically homebrew rules submitted by readers. "The Effective Use of Poison" presents a more sophisticated poison subsystem than the "save or die" approach that was common in D&D at the time. In "Monkish Weapons & Monk vs. Monk Combat" we have (another) attempt to simulate eastern martial arts in a more realistic manner. These subsystems simply don't mesh that well with AD&D's abstract approach to combat. "NPC Statistics" adds the "Ego" and "Greed" attributes to merchants and shopkeepers, to help assess price and quality of work in retail dealings. In "Chamber of the God Game" we have a Russian roulette style puzzle, while "Insanity" presents a workable little system for player madness.

Perhaps the most amusing variant article is "New Spells in D&D," which Tim Kask has subtitled "Cure for an Ailing Campaign or Killer of A Healthy One?" before noting, "The following is an example of how one group handles the research of new spells. They are NOT recommended for general absorption into existing campaigns willy-nilly." I suspect the author may have been a little miffed when he finally saw his article in print!

The "Designers Forum" section also contains variant rules, though in this case by "pro" designers. "Magic: Governed by Laws of Theory" gives a theoretical underpinning to D&D magic based on five laws--Similarity, Contagion, Mana, Obscurity, and Harmony. It's nicely written though a bit abstract. It's a shame the author didn't work through and apply the whole theory to at least one actual spell.

There are two articles related to Boot Hill, one describing town design and the other a set of character origins tables (clearly influenced by Traveller - see below). In an article called "Guidelines for Mixing Campaigns: Androids, Wizards, Several Mutants, and Liberal Doses of Imagination, Well Blended," Jim Ward discusses the combination of game genres. As I've read these early issues of Dragon, it's become obvious how much genre-mixing the TSR folk used to do in their personal gaming. Given this, it's interesting how many of us were real "fantasy purists" back in the 80s.

There is another "From the Sorcerer's Scroll," this one written by Jim Ward and subtitled "GAMMA WORLD: First Report; Setting Up The Campaign." The article explains the various design decisions made for the new Gamma World game, only just released by TSR.

The issue contains six game reviews. Of the games mentioned, Pellic Quest, Alpha Omega, and The Emerald Tablet are largely forgotten today. By contrast, Imperium is fondly remembered, while Cosmic Encounter is a highly celebrated game which remains in print.

But the most important review was for the new science fiction RPG known as Traveller. Traveller was an instant success and went on to become recognized as one of the classic RPGs. Reviewer Tom Wham praises the game thoroughly, noting, "The wait, for those of us who had finally tired of trolls and treasures, was well worth it... TRAVELLER is a unique SF game and probably the best of the role-playing variety. It offers a colorful but consistent future for players to adventure in." This is lavish praise considering that TSR had two science fiction RPGs of their in the market at the time.

The Features section also mentions the new RPG. In "Traveller: The Strategy of Survival," the writer opens with the following lines:

"Recently, while attending a good sized gaming convention sponsored by the local wargaming club, I took advantage of the opportunity to observe the TRAVELLER phenomenon first hand. A full fledged campaign version was announced to the crowd. With a roar of approval, a throng of players squeezed themselves into the playing area, some leaving wide-eyed opponents still staring at now vacated wargames."​

He then gives some tips for navigating Traveller's famous character creation minigame. It's a fun article.
The second feature article is another story by Harry O. Fischer, this one called "The Childhood and Youth of The Gray Mouser." Although written with Fritz Leiber's apparent approval, it's one for hard-core fans only.

Next issue we look at competitive D&D, more Gamma World, and monsters of the Australian mythos!

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!

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M.T. Black

M.T. Black

This is the earliest Dragon magazine I currently have in my collection. The "Magic: Governed by Laws of Theory" article is an interesting read, and the kind of article that could have only occurred pre-James Dallas Eggbert, pre-Satanic Panic of the 80s. It’s an interesting exercise, but yeah, the lack of actual game application makes it feel more like an article in an anthropology journal.

In the article on Origins, there’s also a few other choice lines. One of which talks about the lack of air conditioning. Yeesh. Another section details the tournament; there’s an unfortunate bit along the lines of “Two members of the winning team were actually women, and they were even skilled at playing the game!”


Bad behavior at Cons from the beginning to now....yeah, no surprise there...

I travel regularly for work, and attend a few industry-specific conventions each year and it's the same thing: people tend to behave badly when away from home and outside their regular context and groups. Years ago, while at a professional conference in a large convention center, I witnessed drunken insurance actuaries (no kidding!) at their own convention, acting like fools before a band playing soft rock hits of the 80s. Were it not before the era of the smartphone I would have video to prove it.

It's not gamers; it's not gaming; it's people. I'll bet a morticians' conference would have similar cringe-worthy misbehavior.


I agree with @lyle.spade , my wife and I have each attended conferences in our respective fields and witnessed some seriously out of line behavior. I think some people tend to take the "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas" attitude whenever they engage in non-family related travel.


I agree with @lyle.spade , my wife and I have each attended conferences in our respective fields and witnessed some seriously out of line behavior. I think some people tend to take the "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas" attitude whenever they engage in non-family related travel.

Sad and true. This is why, when on business travel, I either check out a local attraction of some note, or indulge in NFL channel shows on hotel cable (we don't have cable or satellite at home). Or I work on session prep for my games.


First Post
Sometimes the Hotel doesn't do proper research on what a Con is. I went to an Okon in Tulsa OK in the 80s. It was held in one of the more upscale hotels as the long time host hotel had closed. The poor hotel staff had no clue how to deal with folks running around in full costume or lack thereof, wearing weapons, some real most fake, and doing LARP. Plus the standard drink to excess room parties. Needless to say, that was a one and done host hotel.

I have used down time at non-game conferences to get caught up on painting miniatures.


A mortician's convention? I can imagine the bad behavior would have to be quite grave to let people down and urn a negative rep, but we have to understand that such a business, with its stiff competition, can be quite stressful.


Conventions and bad behavior... pretty much a constant. I may recover from the puns in the near future, but it could be touch and go... I liked this issue then, and now. The magical theory article was fun and it was nice seeing Traveller and Boot Hill get coverage. That's why I liked The Dragon back in the day. It covered the games I played and presented a range of topics. And the cover art on this issue was one of my favorites in the early issues. Thanks for the article MT. And Henry, fewer puns per line! You were hitting overdose levels there :)


I hate that a comment I make here is to nitpick, but the "TW" at the end of the Traveller review is, according to the Contents, Tony Watson, not Tom Wham.

To make up for my negative feelings about pointing this out, here's what little I've been able to find on Tony Watson. This assumes, unfortunately with an unknown amount of uncertainty, that there is only one Tony Watson who has appeared in gaming. Given the consistency of what I found, it is likely true.

His name appears in the very first Dragon, the last name (alphabetically) in the Mapping the Dungeons feature, an attempt to provide contact information for players and DMs to find each other. Searching through my collection, I see his name pop up for reviews of many other game products, mostly science fiction, mostly Traveller, in Dragon, Different Worlds, and Space Gamer. There are two reviews of his quoted in the Designers & Dragons books from Evil Hat.

Based on his love of Traveller, we probably would have gotten along okay, if he lived near me and not (according to MtD) in Las Vegas.

One thing I'm sure of is that Tony Watson is NOT a pitcher for the Los Angeles Angels, since that Tony Watson was born in 1985.

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