Dragon Reflections #19 – Battle of the Cons

The Dragon Issue 19 was published in October 1978. It is 36 pages long, with a cover price of $2.00. In this issue, GenCon and Origins battle it out for convention supremacy!

The issue includes lengthy editorials regarding GenCon XI (which wrapped on August 20th), especially in comparison to Origins 78. Gygax opens with the following statement:

"A few months ago in an exchange of letters between Don Greenwood [Avalon Hill game designer and founder of Origins] and me regarding the relative merits of Origins and GenCon... I said [words] to the effect that the fellows in the Detroit area — and the gals too, of course — were very well organized, and it was quite likely that they would put on a bigger Origins, and Origins bigger than past ones and larger than GenCon XI also. I am both happy and sad to tell you that I proved to be an oracle."

As it turned out, Origins had about 3500 attendees while GenCon managed only a disappointing 2000 - down on the previous year. Yet it was not just in attendance that Origins trumped GenCon:

"There is no question that MDG and Origins beat GenCon hands down in most categories in 1978. For those of you who might get the impression that we got a comeuppance, all I can say is that crow is not unpalatable when properly parboiled and baked in a humble pie and served with homily grits."

Tim Kask felt the need to walk back some of his commentary on Origins in the previous issue:

"I was a bit harsh on the MDG in the last Rumbles (Vol. III, No. 4) in TD #18, and wish to clarify matters now. Too many readers thought that I was rapping MDG by not talking about enough of the good aspects of the ‘con, which distresses me. Let me say for the record that that was not my intent; I felt that MDG did an outstanding job in the face of multiple adversities and deserves full credit for holding Origins together under the weight of so many attendees..."

Both Kask and Gygax promise that GenCon XII will be the greatest ever--and so the rivalry continues.

The issue also includes an extended write-up of the Origins '78 D&D tournament. Over three rounds, the players explored the strongholds of the hill giants, frost giants, and fire giants before a showdown with Snurre, the fire giant King. Most readers will recognize these as the famous G1-3 adventures. They went on sale at Origins immediately after they were played, and have been recognized as classics ever since. G1: Steading of the Hill Giant Chief was the first official D&D module ever published by TSR.

The tournament write-up was followed by a fascinating look at how the scoring methodology. The essential formula was: Victory Points = Giants killed + Rooms explored + Clues found

The accompanying discussion highlights the considerable challenges involved in scoring the game fairly, which I suspect is one of the reasons that competitive D&D went out of fashion.

There are some other bits of D&D goodness in the issue. Two articles are on treasure, one with a chart of treasure locations and the other describing some ideas for making treasure more interesting. There is an article with suggestions on handling wishes (a frequent topic of discussion back in those days), a spell determination chart for hostile magic-users, and another article suggesting a new way to categorize spells.

Of particular interest to me is a piece supplying D&D stats for creatures from the "Australian Mythos," drawn from aboriginal Dreamtime stories. Some of these creatures are relatively well known in Australia, such as the Rainbow Serpent and the Lightning Man. Others were new to me and made it a fascinating read. You can argue that giving statistics to such creatures is disrespectful to aboriginal people, many of whom still view the Dreamtime stories as a serious and important part of their culture.

Aside from the D&D material, we have a list of Boot Hill NPCs and no less than three articles about Gamma World. Gygax gives us a new collection of Gamma World "treasures" (mostly everyday items), future Dragon editor Gary Jaquet shares more of the setting history, while Robert Barger (editor of a Lankhmer fanzine) provides a review of the RPG. Barger tells us surprisingly little about the game itself, preferring to spend most of the review sharing his excitement at being able to use the Gamma World rules to introduce futuristic technology into existing fantasy RPGs. Still, it's a positive review.

One final thing worth noting. TSR switch to a new (and cheaper) printer this issue, and the results can be seen in the disastrous cover!

Next issue we have Witches and Witchcraft, Demonology made Easy, and a preview of the Lord of the Rings (animated) movie!

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


Victoria Rules
Huh. The picture's a dragon, eh.

I always thought the "head" was an abstract version of someone flying left-to-right with an arm outstretched ahead, with the dragon's "ears" being bits of a cloak flapping in the wind and the stuff below being tangled vegetation.

Ah, Rorshach.......

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