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1E Dragon Reflections #31

TSR Periodicals published The Dragon Issue 31 in November 1979. It is 56 pages long and has a cover price of $2.00. In this issue, Gary Gygax tells us why you can't game in Middle Earth, Eric Holmes shares an excerpt from his new novel, and Sage Advice makes its debut!

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Editor Tim Kask states that the magazine is undergoing a gradual facelift, and so he has split his editorial column in two. In "Cover to Cover," Jake Jaquet will provide an overview of the magazine contents, while "Dragon Rumbles" will be Kask's platform to sound off about things that catch his eye. He promises that more changes are ahead as continued growth allows them to increase their professionalism.

There are two main feature articles. One is an excerpt from an upcoming fantasy novel by John Eric Holmes, the neurology professor who wrote the first D&D Basic Set. Featuring "Boinger the Halfling," it reads like slightly above-average D&D fan fiction, so I'm not surprised the novel was never published. Holmes did finally publish two novels, one set in Pellucidar and one featuring Buck Rogers, but the Basic Set remained his apex achievement in the field.

The other main feature is "Jungle Fever" by Kask and Jacquet, which provides several pages of information about using the jungle as a setting for your D&D campaign. It is mostly lore, with the only mechanical crunch coming with a bunch of creature stats lifted from the Monster Manual, such as the ape, boar, and jaguar.

This issue includes several of the regular features. In "Sorcerer's Scroll," Gygax discusses the relationship between games and books. Essentially, he claims that novels are a passive experience, while games offer an active experience. His (bizarre) conclusion is that "a truly excellent novel provides an inversely proportionate amount of good material for a game. The greater the detail and believability of the fantasy, the less room for creativity, speculation, or even alteration." His primary example is Lord of the Rings, which he praises for the quality of storytelling, but declares to be completely unsuitable as the basis of a game. Gygax always seemed to have a bee in his bonnet about Lord of the Rings.

"Leomund's Tiny Hut" offers a permanent injury table, which specifies the chance of your character becoming disfigured, etc. when you end combat with a low number of hit points. "Dragon's Bestiary" presents the ukuyatangi, which is a kind of green land octopus. None of the official books ever picked this creature up.

This issue introduces a new regular feature, one that has lasted (in one form or another) down to this day. The purpose of "Sage Advice" was to answer D&D questions from players and DMs. The inaugural sage was Jean Wells, who had just joined TSR as the first woman in the design department. Sadly, she had some bad experiences there and left within two years.

The very first published Sage Advice question is: "I have just bought the new DUNGEON MASTERS SCREEN, and it says that monks attack on the clerics table. But in the PLAYERS HANDBOOK it says that they fight on the thief's table. Which is it?" The answer? Monks attack on the cleric table. The designers changed their minds after the Players Handbook was published, leading to the discrepancy(!)

Jean brought a lot of humor to this column and enjoyed teasing over-serious gamers. In answer to the question, "how much damage do bows do?" she replied, "None. Bows do not do damage, arrows do. However, if you hit someone with a bow, I'd say it would probably do 1-4 points of damage." The column proved very popular.

This issue includes a few game variants, including a scenario for Alpha Omega, a new options table for Stellar Conquest, and a "surefire strategy" for Third Reich. There is also a new profession for Empire of the Petal Throne. There would only be one more EPT article after this published in The Dragon.

There is a whole swag of reviews, which is one of my favorite parts of the magazine. It really shows you how vibrant the tabletop gaming scene was in the late-70s. The Creature that Age Sheboygan by SPI is "a cleverly conceived, well-produced little game." Indian Ocean Adventure by GDW is "worthy of attention and recommendation" despite some flaws. 4th Dimension by TSR is "such a good game that once you've played it a few times you're hooked." Battle of Maiwand by Wargaming Magazine is "fast, smooth and evocative."

There are a bunch of "first impressions" as well, mostly based on what Tim Kask saw at GenCon XII. Imperium Romanum by West End Games "looks real good." Samurai by Heritage "shows promise." Korsun Pocket by People's Wargame Co. is a "massive, good looking East Front WWII game," while Medici from Polk's Model & Craft has "the most sumptuous graphics and production I have ever seen." Meanwhile, Yaquinto has just released Ultimatum, Beastlord, Battle, CV, Panzer, Time War, Ironclad, and Starfall, which is "most impressive set of releases that I have ever seen a single company make at once."

There are two background articles. "Armor of the Far East" describes the historical armor used by countries such as China, Korea, and Japan. "Lankhmar: The Original Game and What it Became" is a further memoir by Frederick MacKnight about his time at college with Fritz Leiber.

Three TSR ads caught my eye. One titled "Women Players: Lend Us Your Observations," asks for women to share their experiences with D&D. Jean Wells plans to use this information for an upcoming article. There is another ad pleading for new content submissions, and finally, two job advertisements, one for a Design/Production Staff Member and the other for a Staff Artist.

This issue was substantial, though no articles stood out. Next time, we have planar exploration with Gary Gygax, the winner of the International Dungeon Design Contest, and a new monster from Ed Greenwood!
 
M.T. Black

Comments

SMHWorlds

Explorer
I do not think that a setting or backdrop like Middle Earth is unsuitable for gaming; witness MERP and The One Ring. However, there is a comfort level for the DM/GM when it comes to the right kind of fan to play. If the players know more about the setting than the GM, it can become a struggle to overcome detail fatigue.
 


aco175

Hero
Wasn't D&D basically a rip off of Middle Earth, at least the original stuff. He had to change halflings from hobbits. Not that Middle Earth isn't a great setting to rip off, but come on. Maybe that explains the chip on his shoulder all these years.
 

AriochQ

Adventurer
Wasn't D&D basically a rip off of Middle Earth, at least the original stuff. He had to change halflings from hobbits. Not that Middle Earth isn't a great setting to rip off, but come on. Maybe that explains the chip on his shoulder all these years.
Not at all. It did borrow more content from Middle Earth than EGG was willing to admit, but if you look at the overall content of D&D, Gygax & Arneson drew most heavily from mythology and folklore and wargaming.
 

JeffB

Legend
Middle Earth is dfinitely unsuitable for D&D as written. I often wonder why people question Gygax so much on this. It does not fit Tolkien's world at all. Can you modify either to do so? Sure. But either as written? Complete clash.

His Elves are not Tolkien Elves in the least, and hobbits were added because he was seeking to capitalize on the surge in popularity of LoTR in college campuses across the country. He was not a fan of the Rings Trilogy. Instead he much preferred The Hobbit.

I think his fictional choices as inspiration for the game are crystal clear. He's never been shy to talk about what they were. One just has to read some of them and it's obvious.
 

So the poorer the novel, the better it is for gaming? :unsure:

I don't think we'll ever get tired of re-litigating the case of D&D vs. the influence of Lord of the Rings.

His (bizarre) conclusion is that "a truly excellent novel provides an inversely proportionate amount of good material for a game. The greater the detail and believability of the fantasy, the less room for creativity, speculation, or even alteration."
 

univoxs

That's my dog, Walter
Supporter
I thnk I understand Gary's sentiment in the context of the way a lot of people played D&D back then. As well as selling their own settings I think they really wanted people making their own worlds, sometimes on the fly, using their own imagination. I wonder what Gary would think of the world of nostalgia products we live in. How did he feel about MERP? I might be a little salty if my passion project was always compared to one of its many inspirations, inexorably linked by the fandom. At sci fi/fantasy author conventions, the round tables and panels still debate LotR and its influence, and it does not seem to me that creators care about trying to step out of that shadow as much as they used to. That is not to say there were no authors all aboard to ride Tolkien's success with unabashed knock offs and purposeful retreads. See, even I can't stop myself from going into it.
 




MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
What was the story with her exit? M.T. just cites "bad experiences."
She got in a bit of hot water for Palace of the Silver Princess module that she wrote, which was deemed inappropriate for children. After than, according to Wikipedia (citing a 2010 Save or Die interview): "Following the Silver Princess incident, Wells wanted to write another module, but in her words, 'nobody would touch my game ideas with a ten-foot pole.' When she realized her suggestions for new adventures and games were being ignored and she was only being given secretarial tasks instead of new design work, she left TSR."

Kotaku recently ran a good article about Jean Wells and other pioneering women of from the early TSR days:

 

R_Chance

Adventurer
I always liked the cover of this one. Only one Petal Throne article, and it could have used more given the jungle theme. The Adventurer for EPT by Glenn Rahman was interesting. It was a mix of the three core EPT classes. His explanation of it (a footloose socially independent rugged adventurer) struck me then, and now, as "wrong" for the setting. It didn't seem to fit well into the clan based social setting of Tekumel. I found it useful for one profession / clan (with some additions to the background / original skills tables), that of the tomb robber clans. Not exactly a "noble" bunch in Tekumel terms...

Thanks as always for the series, it's helped me dredge up a lot of material I used and haven't looked over in ages. Well, decades anyway :)
 
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Dire Bare

Legend
Supporter
Was it explicit or gratuitous in some way?
Very much so.
Opinions vary. It was, IMO, mildly sexual, which panicked the TSR brass who recalled and pulped the module in fears of an "angry mother" backlash, as TSR was already dealing with the "Satanic Panic". It was not the adventure itself, not the writing, but the artwork . . . . there is a scene depicted a woman tied up with her own hair and being tortured by demons. It can be interpreted as kinda rapey, although not everybody sees it that way.

The management oversight behind the module's production was poor, Wells didn't know "she done wrong" until AFTER the module was published. And then afterwards, she was "radioactive" at TSR, became frustrated (righteously so, IMO) and left for greener pastures.

Here's a good article from Wired about the module, with a somewhat click-baitey title:

 

jhingelshod

Explorer
Middle Earth is dfinitely unsuitable for D&D as written. I often wonder why people question Gygax so much on this. It does not fit Tolkien's world at all. Can you modify either to do so? Sure. But either as written? Complete clash.

His Elves are not Tolkien Elves in the least, and hobbits were added because he was seeking to capitalize on the surge in popularity of LoTR in college campuses across the country. He was not a fan of the Rings Trilogy. Instead he much preferred The Hobbit.

I think his fictional choices as inspiration for the game are crystal clear. He's never been shy to talk about what they were. One just has to read some of them and it's obvious.
That's not really the point that Gygax was making here though. He's making the more dubious argument that any novel's suitability as a setting for any RPG is inversely proportional to the depth of the world building.
I can see this point in that in a well developed setting there could be less wiggle room for player agency but, as history has shown, even in the most detailed settings there is plenty of room to flesh out an interesting campaign.
 

Hussar

Legend
OD&D elves aren't Tolkien elves? Really? Xenophobic fighter/magic users that live in forests? Sounds a lot like Tolkien elves to me. Hates dwarves - check. Better than humans - Check. Use Mithril - Check. Virtually immortal - Check.

In what way are D&D, particularly OD&D and AD&D (and Basic/Expert D&D) elves not Tolkien elves?
 

Warren Ellis

Explorer
Did Tolkien elves really hate dwarves beyond Legolas's people in The Hobbit?

Also I thought practically no one used mithril in the current era?
 

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