Dragon Reflections #30

TSR Periodicals published The Dragon Issue 30 in October 1979. It is 48 pages long and has a cover price of $2.00. In this issue, TSR tackles the Satanic Panic, we have a new column by Len Lakofka, and Ed Greenwood makes his debut!

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Editor Tim Kask kicks off the issue by noting that, "DUNGEONS & DRAGONS is getting the publicity that we used to just dream about, back when we were freezing in Gary's basement..." Unfortunately, the publicity is not exactly positive. A few weeks back, a teenager named James Dallas Egbert III wrote a suicide note and went missing. Egbert was an ardent D&D player, and a media firestorm erupted, with many commentators linking his gaming to his disappearance.

Authorities found Egbert alive a few weeks later (sadly, he committed suicide about a year later), but this event instigated the so-called "Satanic Panic," with some parents, religious leaders, and educators raising grave concerns about the impact of D&D on children. Ironically, RPG historians say there is no doubt that this publicity led to a massive increase in D&D's popularity. That may have been the case, but a real shadow lay across the game for many years, and the idea that D&D was psychologically damaging and linked with dark spiritual powers was a very live idea when I started playing in the early-80s.

New recruit, Kim Mohan, reports on GenCon XII, which was his first convention. An extended and amusing essay called "The Game's the Thing" follows, with Mohan summarising his experience with, "I loved every minute." Occasional contributor Jon Pickens' "Tournament Success in Six Steps" is aimed at competitive D&D players. The tips are mostly common sense, but they are a good reminder of the days when convention play meant competitive play. As an aside, I played a competitive D&D adventure a few weeks ago at a convention and enjoyed it very much.

There is a new regular column called "Leomund's Tiny Hut," which is a platform for veteran gamer Len Lakofka to share some of his D&D wisdom. This inaugural piece concerns vampires, and Len dramatically expands the information in the Monster Manual with a bunch of ribbons and house rules. It is solid material.

Let's move on to the other regular features. "Giants in the Earth" includes statistics for Piers Anthony's Sol of All Weapons, Tannith Lee's Zorayas, and Clark Ashton Smith's Maal Dweb. You might rightly feel like we are starting to hit the second-tier characters already! In "From the Sorcerer's Scroll," Gygax gently chides "Giants in the Earth" for making the characters "more like gods than heroes." But he spends most of the column defending the editorial independence of The Dragon. I'm not sure what prompted this, but TSR was always sensitive to any suggestion that the magazine was just a house organ.

In "Bazaar of the Bizarre," Bill Fawcett (who later wrote for FASA) presents a bunch of small magic items supposedly devised by "Orlow the Indolent." These are the sorts of things we would consider "common" magic items in 5e. The entries are fun and clever.

The occasional column "Up on a Soap Box" returns with a contribution from Bob Bledsaw (founder of Judges Guild). The subtitle, "Standardization vs. Playability," does not communicate the content well. Bledsaw suggests that we can significantly increase narrative interest in our games by injecting elements that deviate from the "norm." For example, you should occasionally encounter very intelligent orcs, factions should permeate all significant religions, technology should vary from region to region, and the common tongue should have dialects that lead to amusing or dangerous misunderstandings. These ideas may seem obvious, but it seems to me they are only sporadically applied.

The last of the regular features is the "Dragon's Bestiary," and here we have a special treat. A 20-year-old Canadian named Ed Greenwood makes his publishing debut here with a creature called the "curst." Having looked at every article published in the first 30 issues of The Dragon, I can tell you that this one, while brief, is top shelf. The ideas are strong, the mechanics are tight, and the writing is clear. Admittedly, the bar is a bit low at this stage of the magazine (two issues ago we had the "Whiz-Bang Beetle" proposed in this same column). But I think it is not merely hindsight recognizing Greenwood's talents.

There are a couple of design variants and discussions presented in this issue. "The New, Improved Ninja" offers a collection of weapons, tools, and other miscellanea for ninja-style characters. There are some excellent ideas here, but the author doesn't always provide robust mechanics for them. "Boot Hill? Sure! But What Scale?" discusses various miniature options for the Boot Hill RPG. In "FLATTOP: A Long Game but a Strong Game," the creator of the FLATTOP wargame explains the design process.

Sadly, there are only a few reviews this issue. Spellmaker by Gametime Games is "an excellent game which provides fine entertainment." Black Hole, a tactical science fiction game by Metagamming, "plays very fast" and is a "fun game." Meanwhile, Down Styphon, a set of musket and pike miniatures rules by Fantasy Games Unlimited, is "very playable" though the presentation of the rules is merely "OK."

There are a couple of background articles. "Armies of the Renaissance" is the fifth installment of this seemingly never-ending series. More entertaining is "Lankhmar: The Formative Years of Fafhrd and The Mouser," which is a memoir by Franklin C. Macknight, who went to college with Fritz Leiber and Harry Fischer. He takes credit for introducing Leiber to the art of fencing and the writings of H.P. Lovecraft, which is something.

The letters page is back and contains more positive and intelligent contributions than we've seen in the past. The final item of note is a short column titled "Tell Us Your Fantasies!" in which the editor asks for article submissions. They want submissions that are "understandable, legible and enlightening and/or amusing which deal with the aspect(s) of gaming you know the most about." Regarding compensation, "We pay a minimum of 1¢ per word, very often substantially higher than that, and much more than that for top-flight material."

Overall, this is one of the better issues, with a tasty assortment of well-written articles. There is a definite feeling that The Dragon has "levelled up" recently. Next issue, we have jungle adventures, fiction by J. Eric Holmes, and the first installment of an iconic gaming column!
 
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M.T. Black

Comments

Warpiglet

Adventurer
I love these articles.

I may have played a time or two in the late 70s as a little kid! But the dragon was something I only got as a hand me down from my older next door neighbor as we really started playing some years later.

I missed a great deal despite playing AD&D (1st only!) into grad school! We occasionally would find an old beaten copy of dragon randomly and have an exciting treasure to apply many years post publication.

they were like old tomes thick with dust in a dungeon!

anyway, fun to get to get an opportunity to see these and often a 1st opportunity!
 
Before I had a subscription to Dragon magazine, I would go to the library to read them. I would photocopy the interesting bits, particularly the monsters. Looking back, so many of those monsters were designed by Ed Greenwood. They would be interesting and his writing brought them to life so!

The last of the regular features is the "Dragon's Bestiary," and here we have a special treat. A 20-year-old Canadian named Ed Greenwood makes his publishing debut here with a creature called the "curst." Having looked at every article published in the first 30 issues of The Dragon, I can tell you that this one, while brief, is top shelf. The ideas are strong, the mechanics are tight, and the writing is clear. Admittedly, the bar is a bit low at this stage of the magazine (two issues ago we had the "Whiz-Bang Beetle" proposed in this same column). But I think it is not merely hindsight recognizing Greenwood's talents.

Elrohir was the alias for Ken Rahman. Don't know much about him beyond that. He also did this amazing cover:

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Google search reveals the artist name to be Elladan Elrohir, who were the twin sons of Elrond. Would love to know more about this artist...

Maybe we can convince @Morrus to do a series on artists? (hint hint!)
 

M.T. Black

Explorer
Thank you for the kind words! It is a real pleasure to put these articles together. Some interesting articles coming up in The Dragon!
 

Wulffolk

Explorer
That cover of issue #34 was one of my favorites back in the day. I think that it was the very first issue that I ever bought. I think it was from February of '80, which was my 10th birthday. I had just discovered D&D from the other boys in my Boy Scout troop. Good times.
 

Scrivener of Doom

Adventurer
(snip) Elrohir was the alias for Ken Rahman. Don't know much about him beyond that. (snip)
Kenneth and Glenn Rahman were the creators of the board game Divine Right set in their world of Minaria and including the Eaters of Wisdom as a faction.

I daresay that there are a few gamers here of similar vintage to me that have fond memories of that game.

Edit: Wikipedia link.
 

MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
Interesting to see references to Satanic Panic in 1979. Was more of a mid-80s thing in my memory. Just checked the year that Monsters and Mazes cam out: 1982, which was earlier than I though. I guess it didn't really affect me until its height in the mid 80s. Gygax did his 60 Minutes interview in 85 which was a big event for me.
 

jacleg05

Explorer
Always enjoyed the Giants in the Earth column. I learned about a few books I had never heard of before reading it.
 

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