Dragon Reflections #3: Controversy Strikes!

The Dragon Issue #3 was published in October 1976, with a cover price of $1.50. The issue contained the usual mix of fiction (a bit too heavy on the fiction for some readers) and gaming material. One of the more controversial articles of the early years of The Dragon appeared in this issue.


In the editorial, Tim Kask gives an impassioned defense of his decision to include so much fiction in the first two issues: "I include fiction in TD so that the reader’s [games] will be better: fuller, more complete and better founded. Some of the fantasy campaigns now extant rely entirely upon the work of one author, or are centered around only one cycle or mythos. If that suits you, fine. As for myself, I’d rather play in a campaign that blends many cycles, mythos’ and authors’ work. It seems to have a richer flavor."


Kask conceded that this policy had been unpopular with fans and stated that there would be far less fiction in future issues. Issue #3 includes just one story, part 3 of "Search for the Gnome Cache," a serialized novel by Gary Gygax (writing as "Garrison Keller"). Given the first two issues contained stories by Fritz Lieber and Gardner Fox, it's a shame that this pedestrian piece is what survived the chopping block. "Gnome Cache" would finally peter out in issue #7.

The reduction in fiction meant that Kask needed more material to fill the magazine, and it seems that quality gaming articles were still scarce. To fill the column inches, he opted to publish a "plethora of obscure sub-classes," prefaced with this statement: "The authors of D & D have asked me to stress that none of the following are to be considered 'official.' I feel that the purpose of THE DRAGON is to provide new ideas and variants and have printed in the past and will probably print in the future things that I wouldn’t let in my own campaign; a great deal of them are superfluous and better handled by the DM. Be that as it may, I would like to urge caution and discretion in allowing the proliferation of weird sub-classes. All too often, they only make it harder for the DM, and are often too powerful to use as player characters. In the last TD, the alchemist was intended to be recommended as a non-player character, as are many of these."


This is hardly a ringing endorsement of the material! The subsequent pages detail the healer, scribe, samurai, berserker, idiot, and jester. The design quality varies enormously, and of the contributing authors, only Jon Pickens did any other substantial work in the industry.

This issue publishes reader letters for the first time, in a section called "Out on a Limb." Two writers, Garry Spiegle and Lewis Pulsipher, give detailed critiques of the early issues. Garry later worked for TSR before helping to form Pacesetter games. Lewis Pulsipher went on to design and publish several games, as well as writing many articles on the industry. In fact, he still writes a regular column for EN World—an excellent reminder of how young this hobby is!

There is one other noteworthy article. Indeed, it may be the most infamous article in Dragon magazine history. It is called "NOTES ON WOMEN & MAGIC” and is by Len Lakofka. Lakofka was a former president of the International Federation of Wargamers and a close friend of Gary Gygax. He was one of Gygax's original play testers and highly regarded as both a player and DM. Modern readers are probably familiar with his character Leomund, the creator of various spells.

Lakofka's article aimed to modify the D&D character classes to be more "female-friendly," but his suggestions most likely had the opposite effect. He started by limiting both the strength of female characters and their ability to progress in the fighter class. He also replaced the Charisma attribute with a Beauty attribute for women and included a bunch of new female-only spells, such as seduction and charm men. He also gave the female thief class some questionable level titles, such as Hag, Wench, and Succubus. All very offensive stuff.


Editor Tim Kask was about to get a short break from the arduous search for D&D articles. The next issue would be devoted to an entirely new game!

M.T. Black is a game designer and DMs Guild Adept. Please follow him on twitter @mtblack2567 and sign up for his mailing list.
 
M.T. Black

Comments

Ath-kethin

Explorer
I suppose it's a tribute to modern values that the rampant sexism upon which the game and the entire fantasy genre were founded are so shocking now. Sadly, such viewpoints are also all too common even now.

It's fascinating looking at the analysis of Dragon's development, and thank you for it. Even if you did skip the Strategic Review and the introduction of my all-time favorite D&D monster, the mind flayer.
 

Ralif Redhammer

Adventurer
Hah, somehow I missed ever hearing about the Idiot class before. Dare I ask more about it?

Interesting to read about Dragon magazine material not being official. I think by the time I came to the hobby, even if we didn’t use it, the material was pretty much regarded as having TSR’s stamp of approval, and if not as official as a published book, pretty close to it.

Ah, Len Lakofka’s article. Rough stuff, by today’s standard. Heck, even back then, he got called out on it. I guess he tried. It’s not like feminism was a new concept in the 70s. But it being around and people understanding it, that’s two different things. Even today.
 

Ralif Redhammer

Adventurer
In issue #18 of The Dragon (1978), there’s a single line in discussing the results of an Origins Game Fair D&D tournament that speaks volumes about the attitudes of the time:

“The winning team had two ladies on it, both of them capable players.”

I suppose it's a tribute to modern values that the rampant sexism upon which the game and the entire fantasy genre were founded are so shocking now. Sadly, such viewpoints are also all too common even now.
 

Flexor the Mighty!

18/100 Strength!
I'm guessing at the time it was a far more male-centric player base than now. I wonder if TSR did surveys that had that kind of info back then? I know back in the 80's I didn't run across that many female gamers. And the more "simulation" style of the old rules lead to things like STR max for female PC, which really doesn't work with a lot of fantasy fiction, especially today. Did those limitations survive into 2e? Glad they are gone in any event.

Those female thief names are just awful and sexist.

What does 18 sided die and 1 six sided die mean though?
 
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AriochQ

Explorer
Re: Women in gaming. From 1978 to 1986 I didn't know any female gamers, albeit it was a fairly small sample, basically my friends in high school. I had not attended any conventions or gamed with any outside groups. When I got to college in 1986, there were two regular female gamers that I recall. One of them out of college and worked for GDW and later went to work for TSR, and I think the other found her way into gaming through the college fantasy/sci-fi book group. Every so often someone would get their girlfriend or sister to play, but they tended not to stick around. I can only assume the fact that it was so skewed toward male players may have been uncomfortable (but that is only a guess based on the frequency of chainmail bikini artwork). Even by 1990, it was still rare to meet a female D&D player (or any minority for that matter).

Recently at D8 Summit and weekly LFGS, an informal look at the gaming tables averaged about 2 females out of every 6 or 7 players. IMHO, the atmosphere has improved but there is still lots of room for improvement.

Re: Dragon being considered 'official'. Groups I gamed with tended to allow anything in Dragon as it had a tacit stamp of approval. For instance, the Monk in issue 53 (1981) was far superior to the PHB monk and we used the Dragon monk almost exclusively throughout the 80s.
 
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AriochQ

Explorer
What does 18 sided die and 1 six sided die mean though?
It looks like a type and should be "1 8-sided die and 1 6-sided die" There is also a type in the average statement with two "NOT"'s. Plus the average is 7-9 using their wonky method, not 7-10 lol.

We have come a long way!
 
Did those limitations survive into 2e?
No. IIRC, AD&D 1st Ed was the only version of the game that included them - they weren't in OD&D, B/X, BECMI, or anything 2nd Ed or after.

(But note that I don't have direct experience of OD&D or B/X is extremely limited, so I stand ready to be corrected.)
 

Jer

Adventurer
No. IIRC, AD&D 1st Ed was the only version of the game that included them - they weren't in OD&D, B/X, BECMI, or anything 2nd Ed or after.

(But note that I don't have direct experience of OD&D or B/X is extremely limited, so I stand ready to be corrected.)
They definitely weren't in either Moldvay B/X or Metzger BECMI (it would have been odd if they were given how simplified the attributes were in B/X compared to AD&D 1e).

I don't know if they were in Holmes or not - I don't have direct experience with it so I'd have to go check the book.
 

Ath-kethin

Explorer
I wonder if TSR did surveys that had that kind of info back then?
I remember reading back in the late 90s or early 2000s an article - I think it was by Ryan Dancey or Peter Adkison - talking about how after WotC took over TSR, they were astounded to find that TSR had no marketing survey or customer base research of any kind. The company literally flew blind based on what the designers and/or editors and/or Lorraine Williams thought sounded cool, with no knowledge of or mind toward what customers actually wanted outside of informal anecdotes.

Explains a lot, if you think about it.

EDIT: found it! It was Ryan Dancey.

https://www.insaneangel.com/insaneangel/RPG/Dancey.html
 
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Flexor the Mighty!

18/100 Strength!
I remember reading back in the late 90s or early 200s an article - I think it was by Ryan Dancey or Peter Adkison - talking about how after WotC took over TSR, they were astounded to find that TSR had no marketing survey or customer base research of any kind. The company literally flew blind based on what the designers and/or editors and/or Lorraine Williams thought sounded cool, with no knowledge of or mind toward what customers actually wanted outside of informal anecdotes.

Explains a lot, if you think about it.

EDIT: found it! It was Ryan Dancey.

https://www.insaneangel.com/insaneangel/RPG/Dancey.html
Most definitely, thanks for the info!
 

M.T. Black

Explorer
The company literally flew blind based
To be fair, Jim Ward (who was VP of creative services near the end of TSR) strongly disputes Ryan Dancey's assessment. I'll have to find the link later.
 

gyor

Hero
I suppose it's a tribute to modern values that the rampant sexism upon which the game and the entire fantasy genre were founded are so shocking now. Sadly, such viewpoints are also all too common even now.

It's fascinating looking at the analysis of Dragon's development, and thank you for it. Even if you did skip the Strategic Review and the introduction of my all-time favorite D&D monster, the mind flayer.
Let's not over state things over one guys silly article, I got a good laugh out of it's absurbity, acknowledged he likely had good intentions and intended to be inclusive, and moved on.
 

Ath-kethin

Explorer
Let's not over state things over one guys silly article, I got a good laugh out of it's absurbity, acknowledged he likely had good intentions and intended to be inclusive, and moved on.
Umm . . .Gary Gygax openly mocked Women's Lib in early D&D products. I don't think it's an exaggeration to bring up the game's sexism.

Even the 2e-era "we're going to use the masculine pronoun for everything but really we're not trying to discriminate or anything ha ha everybody likes mostly-naked girls in the art, right?" approach didn't really help whole lot, not matter how much better the intentions might have been.

My intention is not to derail the thread here. But let's not pretend there was anything even imitating egalitarianism on the minds of the designers back in the day. It doesn't make them bad people - they were products of their environments the same as any of us. But it's a relief that the environment has changed.
 
Len Lakofka is still active posting in the AD&D Facebook group. The last post I saw by this ogre of exclusiveness was him arguing against the moderators who had deleted a link to the & rainbow t-shirt with the explanation of no real world causes (pro or against) in the group. The post was deleted but I read it before it was. That article gets brought up every once and a while and I think it was just a missed attempt at opening up D&D to women with changes he thought would make it better.

I guess someone can ask him, does not appear to be hard to find.

My original gaming group was all male, but it was fellow students and I went to an all male Jesuit HS, so I had a reasonable excuse. This would have been 1979 or 1980. I remember that in college there were a fair number of women that played. In HS we ended up with a rule of no girl friends or boy friends as we were teenagers and breakups were common and ended up cause issues within the game. That rule relaxed more and more as we got older. Purely by memory, the D&D crowd was like 1 in 5 women and when you expanded it to SF fans, it was close to 50/50.

One of the first house rules I made was to throw out strength limits for women. That one was easy, we were a bunch of scrawny guys and the women that played with us were easily as strong as we were.
 
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TerraDave

5ever
Most of those subclasses were reprinted in Best of Dragon 1, and the focus on more player crunch pointed the way to the future.

Sadly I do think the idiot was excluded in that reprinting.
 

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