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Dragon Reflections 21

The Dragon Issue 21 was published in December 1978. It is 30 pages long, with a cover price of $2.00. In this issue, we have lots of board game reviews and the return of Monty Haul!

Editor Tim Kask acknowledges that this issue will be controversial due to the substantial article about the Rail Baron board game. To the fantasy purists, he responds that it is "no less a fantasy to become a railroad magnate than to fight monsters, or explore outer space."

Kask also notes that there has been another increase in the price of paper and that this has eaten up the magazine's margin. Management is exploring options. This price increase may explain why the current issue is only 30 pages long.

This issue is all about board games and begins with David Wesley's response to Gygax's review of his game, Search for the Nile, in The Dragon #20. Wesley and Gygax had known each other for years by this stage, so the tone of the response is conversational and constructive.

Next up is another Gygax board game review, this time of Rail Baron by Avalon Hill. Gygax takes the time to analyze the game in detail and proposes various strategies and variant rules. Gygax concludes, "we must all take our hats off to the publisher of RAIL BARON, Avalon Hill, for furnishing such a splendid game to the hobby!"

An article by Timothy Jones describes the optional rules used for the official Dungeon! Tournament at Gen Con XI; these included new character types, new treasure, and new monsters. Tim Jones has a design credit on White Plume Mountain in some databases, but I can't find any other information about him.

Rounding out the board game content are reviews for The Dragonlords by Fantasy Games Unlimited ("quite easy to learn and enjoyable to play"), Olympica by Metagaming Concepts ("a fine addition to the MicroGame line, though not as distinctive as games such as OGRE and WARP/WAR"), and King Arthur's Knights by Chaosium ("not a complex game, but it is fun and one which can easily be played solitaire or with the wife and kids").

There is a single book review in this issue, for The Silmarillion. The reviewer acknowledges the work will mostly please "serious" fans but concludes "In the Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien created a fascinating world; in The Silmarillion he gives us the legends and mythos of that world. It’s another triumph."

There is quite a bit of Dungeons & Dragons material, of course, but some of it feels distinctly second-string. Regular Dragon contributor, Mike Crane, shares an actual play report from his home campaign called "The Other Humorous Side of D&D." Now, we all know role-playing games are frequently hilarious, but it is unusual for an actual play report to preserve that humor. This one is no exception.

Brian Blume contributes a rare D&D article, a title generator that creates things like "The Captain General, His All Triumphant Magnificence, The Duke Rogor, The Colossal, Destroyer of Evil." It's fun, but not something you would use much in play. Another article promises to show you how to create variant monsters but then simply recommends you research real animals for ideas. A bit disappointing!

There is an article that suggests you can remove excess treasure from a party by introducing inflation into your campaign. Sounds fun! "Sensible Sorcery" gives some common sense rules around spell research, while "Prophet Proofing" describes some rather unsporting ways for a DM to thwart divination spells.

The issue includes is a two-page dungeon called "The Hall of Mystery" by Don Turnball. It has an interesting puzzle mechanic at the heart of it but suffers from undercooked encounters. Turnball, who would later be appointed Managing Director of TSR UK, was largely responsible for making the Fiend Folio happen, and was also the co-writer of the acclaimed "Saltmarsh" trilogy.

The best D&D article this issue is "Monty Strikes Back" by Jim Ward, which describes his regular campaign with Gary Gygax (Monty) as Dungeon Master. This is an example of an actual play report done well. It is amusing, partly because it doesn't try too hard to be funny, and partly because the adventures that Gygax creates are highly imaginative (though deadly). It's also fun to think that the principal designers and managers at TSR all got together regularly to play D&D together. Makes it feel like a golden era for the game.

Next issue, Little Wars invades The Dragon, we get a BIG sneak preview of the upcoming Dungeon Masters Guide, and Gary Gygax reveals the future of Dungeons & Dragons!

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


Paragon Lost

Terminally Lost
Appreciate these articles though they're bitter sweet since I no longer have all of the gaming stuff from that time frame. Also, I no longer have the "Silmarillion" that I got when it came out at that same time, (though I do have it on Kindle these days) after waiting in line for the hard back on release day. Time and memories. Anyhow thanks for the article on the old Dragon's Mr. Black. :)

M.T. Black

My pleasure guys - I took a couple of slots out to publish my articles on freelance gaming rates, but will look to resume normal schedule now.



Good timing on this. The semester is winding down (just finals to go) and I actually had time to read it. Without playing hooky :)


Heh. I feel like such a dunce. I never made the connection between Merric and MT Black. :). No wonder I like his DMs Guild stuff.


A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
Is it strange to feel nostalgic about issues of Dragon that were published before I got into the hobby?

Can't wait until we get to the 80s!


Thanks again MT. Huge congrats in contributing to Avernus. I have always loved the idea of adventuring in Hell :) Can't wait.

I'm an Aussie too, do I get to say, "I'm Merric... and so is my wife." :p


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