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1E Dragon Reflections #29

TSR Periodicals published The Dragon Issue 29 in September 1979. It is 56 pages long, with a cover price of $2.00. In this issue, a future legend joins the magazine, we talk about race in D&D, and we welcome back everyone's favorite comic strip dragon!

cover_dragon_29.jpg

Assistant editor Gary "Jake" Jacquet is seeking new writers, saying, "Well-researched historical background pieces, innovative designs and systems, reviews, variants, and occasional humor or satire are our prime need. Payment is 1¢ per word, minimum, payable within 30 days of publication." That's the equivalent of about 3.5¢ per word in today's dollars. And it is important to note that it was the minimum.

What is perhaps more interesting, from an editorial standpoint, is a new name in the magazine credits - Kim Mohan. Mohan had most recently worked for the Beloit Daily News, writing about everything from sport to state politics. He was freelancing news articles when he applied to TSR for a job. Kask later recounted that, in his interview, Mohan described himself as "not a wargamer looking to work on a game magazine, but rather a journalist that also played some boardgames once in a while." This self-description sold him to Kask!

Aside from a brief interruption from '86 to '88, Kim Mohan worked continuously as an editor with TSR, and later WOTC, up until his retirement in 2013 - much longer than the people who originally hired him! Following his "retirement," Mohan has worked on a bunch of 5e books, most recently "Eberron: Rising from the Last War." We don't often celebrate editors, but Mohan's contribution to D&D is immense.

There are seven feature articles in this issue. "Of the Gods" supplies a bunch of random tables to help you generate a pantheon of deities quickly. The tables are well-realized if a bit obvious in places. "Curses" gives some guidance to DMs looking to bestow a curse upon their players. The article would have been better with some more examples. It also suffers from the "DM vs. Player" mentality that was often a part of D&D in this era. The subtitle of the article is, "Never get even-get ahead!"

On to the regular features. "Fantasysmith's Notebook" describes the basics of figurine painting. "Giants in the Earth" gives us statistics for Roger Zelazny's Shadowjack, and Jack Vance's Iucounu, the Laughing Magician. Good choices! You could not do these columns today, with everyone much more protective of their intellectual property. "Bazaar of the Bizarre" describes the Ring of the Necromancer, which grants control over the undead, while "Dragon's Bestiary" includes the supremely forgettable Whiz-Bang Beetle.

This month "From the Sorcerer's Scroll" is written by Gary Gygax and is subtitled "The Half-Ogre, Smiting Him Hip and Thigh." Gygax states that a lot of people have been asking for a half-ogre player race. In typical Gygaxian fashion, he responds that the "character races in AD&D were selected with care," and that adding to them would be a bad idea and open a huge "can of worms."

He then turns around and gives statistics for a half-ogre player race anyway, which he also immediately describes as "a rather unappetizing and boring prospect for character play." What is really interesting is the postscript he gives to this whole discussion, which is so important that I will quote it in full:
"All of this will certainly lead to the question, why is it that the human race is so favored in AD&D? There is no question that human characters have an edge on all others in the long run—even considering the generally unlimited potential for non-human thieves. The bias was placed in the game on the assumption that the vast majority of campaign milieux would be based on human-dominated worlds. Therefore, humans must have some sort of edge. As human adaptability is undoubted, and human capabilities deemed vast by this writer, it seemed to follow that allowing them the full range of possibilities was the best answer. Thus, humans are found in all alignments, in all professions, and so on. The weakest are very weak, the strongest very strong. The human race plumbs the depths and soars to the heights. In AD&D, as in the real world, humankind will certainly attain greatness and domination if it doesn't destroy itself first through warfare and strife within its own race."
Many modern readers will feel uncomfortable with the idea of "racial superiority" being baked into the system, even if we are talking about pretend races. Some have even concluded that the D&D treatment of race is inherently problematic because of such things and that it needs to be torn down and rebuilt. This is a vast topic and one that I can't fully explore now, but the above quote is relevant to the discussion.

There are several rules variants in this issue, including minor tweaks for Avalon Hill's Source of the Nile and SPI's Air War. The rest of the variants are for D&D, including aging rules, variant damages for smaller than human-sized weapons, and another entry in the long-running mythos series, this one describing the gods of Oceania.

"Strain and Spell Casting" presents a fatigue mechanism for spellcasters, causing the editor to quip, "This is the first "spell point" system, or facsimile thereof, that I've ever liked; it makes M-U's even weaker than they already are." I've mentioned this before, but the whole "Magic-Users must be kept in their place" idea that you find in early issues of The Dragon both baffles and annoys me.

"Rewarding Heroism for D&D" caught my attention. The author proposes to encourage "heroic acts" by giving players a temporary power boost when they undertake them--in this case, doubling their level for a short time! It is a clumsy design solution, but the idea is one that would soon be picked up in other RPGs with things such as hero points and the like.

"Trained Animals in Dungeons & Dragons" is an example of a rule variant executed well. It includes a large amount of material that you can immediately use in your campaign--in this instance, training costs and statistics for creatures such as war dogs, ravens, wargs, and so on. "Inns and Taverns" is also pretty good, explaining how many such establishments you would find in a village or town, the cost of staying at them, and what's on the menu.

I am tempted to skip this article, but I should mention, "Non-player Characters have Feelings, Too." This presents a mini-system to "round out" the personality of NPCs. You roll on one table to determine the strength of feeling and another to determine the target of that feeling. So a roll of 2, 67 would mean the NPC "Loves Pets" while a roll of 3, 45 means they "Dislike Alcohol." It's not a bad system, but one of the target entries is "Beautiful Women," and another is "Ugly Females." Sigh. These are the sort of things that turned many women off the hobby back in the day.

There are a bunch of quick game reviews, including two games from Chaosium. Reich has "some serious design flaws," while Raiders and Traders has "many interesting facets and can be played on several levels." There are three games reviewed from Gamma Two Ltd. Last Spike is "intense and fun," Team is "an excellent beer-and-pretzels game," while Klondike is "highly recommended." Two games are reviewed from a new company called Task Force Games. Starfire is "a lot of fun to play," while Star Fleet Battles "holds a lot of promise." Finally, Circus Maximus from Heritage is "the best treatment of chariot racing" seen to date.

There is only one historical background article of the type that was rapidly disappearing from The Dragon. "Origins of the Norse Pantheon" is a rambling piece on Norse mythology with no central thread and limited applicability to gamers. Perhaps there is a reason these articles were disappearing!

One final note. I rarely mention the humor section in these columns (it's hard to know what to say), but it's worth noting that "Wormy" returned this issue. For those who don't know, "Wormy" was a fantasy comic strip about a wise-talking green dragon, written by artist Dave Trampier. A lot of old-timers regard the strip with a lot of respect and affection. Wormy had been absent from the pages of Dragon for almost a year--I'm not sure why.

Next issue, we have a new column by Len Lakofka, The Dragon tackles the Satanic Panic, and Ed Greenwood makes his debut!
 
M.T. Black

Comments


Barantor

Explorer
Just given the amount of work David Trampier was doing that year I can see why Wormy got a back seat.

From his wikipedia article
It also mentions: "In 1980, Trampier and Jason McAllister co-designed a "monster slugathon" wargame called Titan, for which Trampier also executed the artwork. "

Sounds like a lot of work!
 

I think a lot of us would say that Wormy was the best of the ongoing narrative comics featured in Dragon magazine.

1e's take on the human race and level limits on demihumans is an odd one in hindsight - it's like, just lift humans up, rather than push everyone else down! But hindsight and 20/20 and all that, I suppose. In actual play, I think we rarely hit the level limits anyway, and by the time we got close with a few characters, 2e came along and pushed most of the level limits back even further.
 




M.T. Black

Explorer
In actual play, I think we rarely hit the level limits anyway, and by the time we got close with a few characters, 2e came along and pushed most of the level limits back even further.
For my group playing 1e back in the day, everyone started out with a bunch of characters spanning a few different races. But this was whittled down as they leveled up, and the humans inevitably survived.
 


I've been looking at picking that up. :D

I had been thinking through an imagined argument with a DM about why I couldn't just play the same character as a half-orc, but being the half-human child of an ogre opens up a lot more possibilities, including the prospect that the ogres, in turn, were just the mooks in a giant's band (or even worse), which would make being the littlest and weakest in the band a pretty traumatic and unique way to grow up.
 


Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Something that has never really been examined in any depth anywhere that I know of*, and that the Half-Ogre brings to mind, is just what can breed with what in a D&D-type world; and how the genetics work.

* - or, if it has, where was it published?

In my own system, of the "core" races Ogres are most likely to be able to breed with Dwarves (not that either would ever want to!) and cannot breed with Humans at all.
 

Von Ether

Adventurer
Kask later recounted that, in his interview, Mohan described himself as "not a wargamer looking to work on a game magazine, but rather a journalist that also played some boardgames once in a while." This self-description sold him to Kask!
So there is already a switch from hiring hardcore gamers to professionals with some gaming experience.
 

M.T. Black

Explorer
So there is already a switch from hiring hardcore gamers to professionals with some gaming experience.
From what I can see, at this point TSR were very much trying to increase the professionalism of the whole operation. Having said that, they still hired a lot of folk out of college who were enthusiastic gamers, and (apparently) a lot of relatives of the owners.
 

R_Chance

Adventurer
Level limits were a theoretical counter balance to the advantages demi humans had. I ignored them in my original game campaign - Tolkien influence I suspect :) . I incorporated level limits later in 1E and afterwards with an in game reason (and those "limits" did go up and up). Idecided the "ancient" Elves were superior to their diminished descendants due to various historical / mythical events. I advanced my worlds timeline when i transitioned from original D&D to 1E AD&D. I don't have a problem with differences in fantasy races in any event. No differences for human ethnic groups or genders in races though. I did have Half Ogres and Centaurs as PC races in my game. My take on them was influenced (mechanically) by EPT. They were 2 and 3 hit die races (starting) who went up with level. They were "large" size, so you might say the two handed sword was the balancing mechanism, and stairs for Centaurs :) The use of level limits in non-humans is like the different experience progression charts for classes, a system attempting to "balance" unbalanced options. With mixed results.

Wormy, I could miss. It was OK, but not something I looked forward to Fineous Fingers was the only comic strip I ever liked in the Dragon.

And, as always, thanks for dredging up my memories / thoughts on topics. I mean it! Even if I did say "dredging" :D It's interesting looking back on the decisions I made then and seeing the changes in my game and in "the broader game" as it exists now.
 

SMHWorlds

Explorer
The Magic User hate was always strange to me. Especially as the solutions were there if designers wanted to try them. However, in sword & sorcery, magic is supposed to be powerful and dangerous. It was never an issue for me as a DM or player.
 

The Magic User hate was always strange to me. Especially as the solutions were there if designers wanted to try them. However, in sword & sorcery, magic is supposed to be powerful and dangerous. It was never an issue for me as a DM or player.
The early designers were both visionaries and not as good at game design as those who had the benefit of years of working with earlier game designs.

A lot of the things that seem obvious now -- the unified D20 mechanics being the most obvious -- weren't obvious when you were the people carving the very first path.
 

Same, though by the end of our original AD&D campaign (which, again, was 2e at that point), there was a human cleric (my character, when I got to play), half-elven fighter, an elven fighter/magic-user, and an elven ranger. Those folks liked elves, I guess.

For my group playing 1e back in the day, everyone started out with a bunch of characters spanning a few different races. But this was whittled down as they leveled up, and the humans inevitably survived.
 

Tsuga C

Explorer
Many modern readers will feel uncomfortable with the idea of "racial superiority" being baked into the system, even if we are talking about pretend races. Some have even concluded that the D&D treatment of race is inherently problematic because of such things and that it needs to be torn down and rebuilt. This is a vast topic and one that I can't fully explore now, but the above quote is relevant to the discussion.
Not me. The demi-humans had all kinds of inherent advantages at lower levels: infravision, multi-classing as opposed to dual-classing, special resistances and/or immunities, etc. We were humans playing in human-centric worlds, so it was only proper that AD&D gave us the edge of unlimited potential, otherwise humans wouldn't have stood much of a chance against the various demi-human species in any sort of head-to-head competition.

Forget the "race" crap as that word is undeniably loaded these days. The operative word is SPECIES.
 


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