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Dragon Reflections #33

TSR Periodicals published The Dragon Issue 33 in January 1980. It is 64 pages long and has a cover price of $2.50. In this issue, we talk about computer gaming, Gary Gygax defends the D&D magic system, and Roger E. Moore makes his debut!

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In the editorial, Tim Kask discusses the changing nature of his role. He now spends most of his time running TSR Periodicals, and his only significant involvement with the magazine is the budget meeting. Jake Jacquet and Kim Mohan now run the show, and the masthead will soon reflect that.

Gardner F. Fox is back with another story featuring his hero, Niall of the Far Travels. These sword and sorcery tales found enough of an audience to justify their eventual release in an anthology, but they are nothing exceptional. Even the Amazon product page unapologetically calls Niall a Conan clone!

There is another installment in the series by F.C. MacKnight describing how the Lankhmar board game came to be. These are getting tedious, and it is hard to believe they could not find better content.

Gygax is back with "The Sorcerer's Scroll," this time defending the magic system used by magic-users in Dungeons & Dragons, which he describes as "Vancian magic" after Jack Vance, author of the Dying Earth series. This system involves spellcasters memorizing the spells they plan to cast each morning, with the spells being "forgotten" upon casting. Gygax claims it is superior to a mana points system, which he believes leads to magic-users becoming too powerful. He does a good job explaining and defending the system, but it remained a frequently criticized aspect of the game.

In "Leomund's Tiny Hut," Len Lakofka shares some house rules and clarifications he has developed around various spells to prevent "abuses." And in "Bazaar of the Bizarre," we are presented with 100 magical oils; some of the ideas are good, but the mechanics are often a bit loose.

There is an interesting article called "Mapping the Dungeons," which is an international directory of game masters. There are over 1000 listed, including 21 from my homeland of Australia. I wonder how many of those listed here still play?

In “Sage Advice,” Jean Wells brings more answers to everyone's questions. Occasionally something interesting pops up, such as "What would happen if you hit a Lich with a Rod of Resurrection?" The answer? "The Lich would have to make a system shock roll... [if he succeeds] he is resurrected, and you now have a mad, very high-level, evil Magic-User facing you."

The “Dragon's Bestiary” brings us a special treat--the first-ever article by Roger E. Moore! His new monster is called a "Frost" and is a kind of snow pixie. The writing is tight, and the creature is notable for being a good monster--something quite rare in this column. Roger became a regular contributor to Dragon Magazine. He finally joined TSR in 1983 and was the inaugural editor of Dungeon Magazine when it debuted in 1986, as well as becoming Editor-in-Chief of Dragon Magazine.

This issue features a new semi-regular column called "The Electric Eye," which looks at the use of computers in gaming. The debut entry gives a run-down of computer basics (defining terms such as CPU and computer memory) and also recommends several computer manufacturers, including Apple, Atari, and Radio Shack. Given that personal computers were at this point just a couple of years old, it is a credit to The Dragon that they were on this so early.

There are two gaming variants. "A CAU for NPC's" gives us a system for resolving romantic encounters. The accompanying text has not aged well. "Clerics, take note: No Swords means No Swords!" expounds on the justification for clerics being forbidden edged weapons. It seems that the gods don't like you spilling blood, preferring you to bludgeon people to death with a blunt piece of iron instead.

And on to the reviews. Wizard by Metagaming is "an excellent game and well worth the purchase price." Many readers will know that Steve Jackson designed this game and recently republished it. Wizard's Quest by Avalon Hill is "a light gaming classic." Invasion of the Air Eaters by Metagaming "succeeds on all points."

For something a little different, Gary Gygax reviews two amateur gaming magazines. The Apprentice is "one of the better buys amongst amateur and semi-pro magazine offerings." Gamelog by James B. Lurvey is a "good looking amateur effort," which occasionally prints "something outstanding." Jim Lurvey remains active in the gaming community in 2020.

And that wraps up the issue. Next month, we have a whole bunch of articles on the Divine Right boardgame by TSR, a new column dedicated to traps, and "Doomkeep," a dungeon by Brian Blume!
 
M.T. Black

Comments

Blazestudios23

Explorer
I wonder what Gygax would think of 5e magic and Sorcerer points.

I’ve read the works he is referencing and the magic users in those works were no where near as powerful as what we think of as the norm today.
 

Gary Gygax was very concerned about making sure people played human fighters, it would seem. As much as I love 1e, arguably the parts that have aged the poorest are the ones that try to channel players and DMs into specific play styles.

Gygax is back with "The Sorcerer's Scroll," this time defending the magic system used by magic-users in Dungeons & Dragons, which he describes as "Vancian magic" after Jack Vance, author of the Dying Earth series. This system involves spellcasters memorizing the spells they plan to cast each morning, with the spells being "forgotten" upon casting. Gygax claims it is superior to a mana points system, which he believes leads to magic-users becoming too powerful. He does a good job explaining and defending the system, but it remained a frequently criticized aspect of the game.
Reading Roger Moore's pre-editor articles, it's no surprise that he eventually rose to that position. His articles are clear, creative, and entertaining. But I think my favorite thing he's ever written was the editorial titled "Legend" in Dragon #144:


The “Dragon's Bestiary” brings us a special treat--the first-ever article by Roger E. Moore! His new monster is called a "Frost" and is a kind of snow pixie. The writing is tight, and the creature is notable for being a good monster--something quite rare in this column. Roger became a regular contributor to Dragon Magazine. He finally joined TSR in 1983 and was the inaugural editor of Dungeon Magazine when it debuted in 1986, as well as becoming Editor-in-Chief of Dragon Magazine.
 

Ed_Laprade

Adventurer
Jean Wells was the best Sage Advice person they ever had, imo. I still dislike Vancian magic, especially the 1E variety. But you have to curb them MUs somehow, I suppose. Wizards (and its companion game Melee) were simple fun at its finest. A pity that Steve didn't get The Fantasy Trip out on time. He would have beaten 1E, and gaming might have been very different in that case.
 

dave2008

Legend
I wonder what Gygax would think of 5e magic and Sorcerer points.

I’ve read the works he is referencing and the magic users in those works were no where near as powerful as what we think of as the norm today.
Hmm. I didn't read them, but what I heard them made the magic-users of the Dying Earth seem insanely powerful.
 

R_Chance

Explorer
The only complaint I ever had about Vancian casting is the rather clumsy slot system. I always thought memorization based on a point system would have worked as well. It would provided the same limit in terms of having to prepare spells ahead of time while allowing a bit more flexibility in what spells you could prepare. The problem (if you consider it one) with "mana" systems is being allowed to pick on the fly. I've used point memorization a couple of times over the years and it seems to work fine. The points required for memorization of a given level of spell does need careful consideration, but if it's dialed in it works.
 

Warren Ellis

Explorer
This is more of a fluff issue but I always found it weird that wizards would literally forget a spell that logically they should've completely and easily memorized after multiple, mutiple uses of. After they used it.

Like if you know a particular phrase to cast a fireball and have done it hundreds of times, you shouldn't have to whip out your spellbook to relearn the words to cast a fireball again.
 

But it wasn't just remembering the words to the spell. Preparing a spell was in effect placing the "spell-rune" in your brain and as you increased in level you could store more of these "spell-runes" (call them what you will) in your brain. Saying the words (and making the proper somatic gestures, and maybe having the correct material components on hand, depending on the spell) were the trigger that released the spell energy stored in your brain. Saying them again wouldn't do anything until you took the time to "re-plant" the spell-rune in your brain again, and that was something you couldn't just do without referencing your spellbook.

It's kind of like why pulling a trigger on a gun won't continue to fire bullets if there's no more ammunition in the gun. Sure, you still know how to pull the trigger, but doing so gets you nothing. And re-preparing a spell wasn't so much just putting more bullets in the chamber, it was more like building them from scratch....

Johnathan
 

Ath-kethin

Adventurer
But it wasn't just remembering the words to the spell. Preparing a spell was in effect placing the "spell-rune" in your brain and as you increased in level you could store more of these "spell-runes" (call them what you will) in your brain. Saying the words (and making the proper somatic gestures, and maybe having the correct material components on hand, depending on the spell) were the trigger that released the spell energy stored in your brain. Saying them again wouldn't do anything until you took the time to "re-plant" the spell-rune in your brain again, and that was something you couldn't just do without referencing your spellbook.

It's kind of like why pulling a trigger on a gun won't continue to fire bullets if there's no more ammunition in the gun. Sure, you still know how to pull the trigger, but doing so gets you nothing. And re-preparing a spell wasn't so much just putting more bullets in the chamber, it was more like building them from scratch....

Johnathan
Absolutely. And the Dragonlance Chronicles and Legends did an excellent job of providing in-world rationales for the system too.
 

Warren Ellis

Explorer
Outside of D&D, is there any recent fiction with mages (urban fantasy, heroic fantasy, etc), that utilize this particular style of magic casting (where you forget a spell after you use it and have to rebuild it essentially)?

Not something try to pay homage to D&D I mean.
 

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