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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.
 

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M.T. Black

M.T. Black

Ath-kethin

Elder Thing
That essay is recorded right here on EN World and has been for nearly 20 years:

http://www.enworld.org/forum/content.php?404-Ryan-Dancey-Acquiring-TSR

You can find more historical documents, posts, and essays here:

http://www.enworld.org/forum/showthread.php?333655-From-TSR-to-WotC-A-History-of-D-amp-D

I bet I read it for the first time here, back in the day, long before I registered as a member. I just remembered the general gist and did a Google search earlier.
 

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Shasarak

Banned
Banned
So I guess the difficult decision that Tim Kask faced with issue 3 was to cut the amount of fiction he was including. o_0
 

M.T. Black

Adventurer
So I guess the difficult decision that Tim Kask faced with issue 3 was to cut the amount of fiction he was including. o_0
Its true! It may not sound like much, but he really wrestled with it, and he still speaks about it nearly 40 years later. The fiction component was really important to him. And as this issue shows, without fiction, it was difficult to fill the column inches with quality content.
 


amethal

Adventurer
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.
The Dragonsfoot interview with Jim Ward is in the "History of D&D" section Morrus mentioned above. The relevant part :-

Jim Ward said:
again not wanting to bad mouth mr. Dancey, but his statement is ridiculous. The RPGA was created to pay attention to what the fans wanted. TSR had millions of consumer research cards telling us what they wanted and I bet I personally read over a million of them. I had my staff read them as well. The company sent out its designers and editors to fifty plus conventions a year to hear what the fans wanted. TSR paid over a million is scientific marketing studies on our consumers and I read every one of those reports. To say the company didn’t care about listening to the fans is preposterous. I always made sure I knew exactly who the fans were and what they wanted. . .
 

Koloth

First Post
Before folks pillory Len Lakofka's article, it was very reflective of the times when it was published. It was only a few years after Star Trek explored the shocking concept of a female serving as a bridge officer. Early versions of the D&D game had split stats for males vs females. Consider it a look back at the way things were rather then bad writing.

My gaming groups from that time, I started playing D&D in 79, usually had one or more women players.
 

kenmarable

Adventurer
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.

There’s certainly a mix of “product of their time” and “even sexist for back then.” For example, during that time period, I was still being taught in school that using only masculine pronouns was grammatically correct. So I wouldn’t fault them for that, it was unfortunately publishing standard still. But other stuff is certainly a painful blend of openly sexist and horribly executed attempts to reach out like this one that just faceplant instead.
 

Zarithar

Adventurer
I started playing D&D in 1979 and I believe the only remaining vestige of that Len Lafoka piece was that female characters had some stat limitations in the 1e PHB. Someone correct me if I am wrong, but I think they were unable (without magical means) to attain an 18/00 strength score... which at the time was the highest score you could roll starting out at level 1. I don't thin AD&D had any limitations beyond that. In my regular group of 6-8 players through junior high and highschool, girls were a minority, but we always did have 2-3 female players in the group. Those limitations were house-ruled out almost immediately with opposition from no one.
 

Zarithar

Adventurer
Just have to add it's pretty hilarious and terrible that one of the female thief level names is an actual, real-life, racial slur. Wonderful....
 

R_Chance

Adventurer
Just have to add it's pretty hilarious and terrible that one of the female thief level names is an actual, real-life, racial slur. Wonderful....

40 years ago, it wasn't considered a racial slur. If you said "Romani", no one would have known who you were talking about. The fact that the term is used as a level title for a Thief is telling about the ethnic / cultural prejudices of the day though.

I only knew one female gamer between when we started D&D in 1974 and... about 1980. Met several more about then although the hobby was still overwhelmingly male. We never made any adjustments to characteristics, classes etc. It just didn't seem necessary or fair.
 


Vanveen

Explorer
Just have to add it's pretty hilarious and terrible that one of the female thief level names is an actual, real-life, racial slur. Wonderful....

To clarify, yes, associating thievery with the Romani cultural group IS a slur. As written though, people might think that the *word* "Romani" is a slur, which it isn't. It is of course the preferred term to refer to the European ethnic and cultural group, a term the group's members use to refer to themselves. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Names_of_the_Romani_people

I also know personally that it's official Reuters and Bloomberg usage when making reference to this group. (My brother has covered them for a couple of decades in Eastern Europe.)
 

Vanveen

Explorer
Started playing in 1979. Women were vanishingly rare back then. This didn't really change until the 1990s and the introduction of Vampire: The Masquerade, a game that brought thousands of young women into the roleplaying fold.<br>And something to keep in mind was that most roleplaying that people cite took place publicly. Women did NOT hang out in crowded, stinky game stores full of neckbeards back then, and very few of them do now. For old-school conventions, multiply that unwillingness by ten. I suspect that most women roleplayers are "outside the scene," whatever that means. Playing and having a blast, just not at the epicenters of nerddom. My own group of five has four women. N., inspired by the game and Stranger Things, even bought a retro D &amp; D shirt from Target, kind of a huge move for her. But I think all four would jump out of a window before they set foot in a "game store."&nbsp; (Hell, lots of days I would too.)
 


R_Chance

Adventurer
To clarify, yes, associating thievery with the Romani cultural group IS a slur. As written though, people might think that the *word* "Romani" is a slur, which it isn't. It is of course the preferred term to refer to the European ethnic and cultural group, a term the group's members use to refer to themselves. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Names_of_the_Romani_people

I also know personally that it's official Reuters and Bloomberg usage when making reference to this group. (My brother has covered them for a couple of decades in Eastern Europe.)

The term used as a level title was "Gypsy".
 

Vanveen

Explorer
The Dragonsfoot interview with Jim Ward is in the "History of D&D" section Morrus mentioned above. The relevant part :-

I'm going with Dancey here. No offense, but in hindsight TSR was an appallingly amateur operation. "Customer comment cards" are exactly the kind of thing you do if you don't know how to do customer research. Spending a million dollars on "research" like that is just digging a hole deeper. Furthermore, it's not the feedback, it's what you choose to do about it to satisfy fans and the business, and that is *hard*. (I'm speaking as an insight professional and design researcher.)

Early TSR employees were incredibly passionate and natively intelligent. They were also provincial, undereducated, and generally possessed of little relevant experience. "It was a brand new field!" is the usual rejoinder. Except...it wasn't. A few MBAs, especially those with branding and creative management experience, might have turned TSR into the next Hasbro. Gygax would certainly have been nudged out at some point, but probably with far less acrimony (and probably would have been kept on to churn out content, which I suspect he would have been fine with doing). Lorraine Williams, who checks *every box* of a provincial mediocrity you shouldn't let *anywhere near* any vital portion of a business, would never have spent a day at TSR.

I'm not even going to speculate what changing the "Hey...you look cool!" hiring policy might have done, or moving the company even to someplace like Milwaukee.

Of course, WOTC had a similar moment when Hasbro bought them out.
 

Vanveen

Explorer
My mistake. Was looking at two posts, both of which did an admirable job of not using the "G-word," and didn't think to look at the table again. You're absolutely correct.
 

Vanveen

Explorer
There’s certainly a mix of “product of their time” and “even sexist for back then.” For example, during that time period, I was still being taught in school that using only masculine pronouns was grammatically correct. So I wouldn’t fault them for that, it was unfortunately publishing standard still. But other stuff is certainly a painful blend of openly sexist and horribly executed attempts to reach out like this one that just faceplant instead.

The big problem with the article is that Lakofka assumes "Beauty" is a stat that is for women alone and overrides/replaces "Charisma".

The issue here is that "Beauty" makes the character an object. It assumes that her value--and her actual power, btw, if you read the rules suggestions--depends on how she is perceived by others, not on anything she does. Lakofka is clearly defining women in terms of how men value them. Even if you open this up to other-gender kinds of attraction--something unthinkable to a provincial 70s neckbeard--it's still a HUGE problem.

It's also really %&$(&^ gaming. To put it another way--how about a Win stat? "Characters with a high Win stat, um, Win stuff more easily. Problems dissolve just when the character shows up! Monsters run, secret panels pop open, treasure spills out of the hidden nook, etc. It's because the character is so #winning."

Stuff like this makes me think that women are like elves: neckbeards think about them all the time and have never actually seen one.
 

R_Chance

Adventurer
The big problem with the article is that Lakofka assumes "Beauty" is a stat that is for women alone and overrides/replaces "Charisma".

The issue here is that "Beauty" makes the character an object. It assumes that her value--and her actual power, btw, if you read the rules suggestions--depends on how she is perceived by others, not on anything she does. Lakofka is clearly defining women in terms of how men value them. Even if you open this up to other-gender kinds of attraction--something unthinkable to a provincial 70s neckbeard--it's still a HUGE problem.

It's also really %&$(&^ gaming. To put it another way--how about a Win stat? "Characters with a high Win stat, um, Win stuff more easily. Problems dissolve just when the character shows up! Monsters run, secret panels pop open, treasure spills out of the hidden nook, etc. It's because the character is so #winning."

Stuff like this makes me think that women are like elves: neckbeards think about them all the time and have never actually seen one.

This same Dragon Magazine includes a add for Winter Fantasy 1 above and mentions Empire of the Petal Throne "adventures" (presumably run at the Con). In EPT (released in 1975) women could declare themselves "Aridani" and be legally (and socially) equal to a man with all the choices and responsibilities. Plural marriage was a thing and there were more than two genders recognized. Not everything in the 70s was that.... backward. Having said that girls in gaming were like Unicorns back then -- rare. My group had one, out of the dozen plus of us who gamed together from the early 70s to about 80.
 

griffon8

Explorer
I found out about this series of threads with issue 41 and have started going through them. Since I own a copy of the Dragon Magazine Archive, I thought it made it a good time to start at the beginning and go through them along with these threads.

One comment I have for this issue is the irony of Jennell Jaquays providing an illustration on the first page of the Notes on Women & Magic article.

The second one I want to make is that I overall love the fiction from Dragon. I agree that it's a shame that the likes of The Gnome Cache is what survived in this issue, but standouts like Gardner F. Fox's Niall of the Far Travels will forever be remembered fondly.
 
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