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Dragon Reflections #38

TSR Periodicals published The Dragon issue 38 in June 1980. It is 74 pages long and has a cover price of $3.00. In this issue, we have the secret history of Top Secret, a guide to the seven magical planets, and Gary Gygax explaining the concept of good!

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Astute readers will notice a change in the organization of the magazine. Throughout its history, The Dragon has experimented with different ways of categorizing the contents table. From this issue on, they have just three sections: "special attractions," "regular columns," and "other features." This three-fold categorization of material remained in place for several years.

Editor Jake Jacquet informs us that TSR Periodicals, the company that publishes The Dragon, is changing its name to Dragon Publishing (which remained a wholly owned subsidiary of TSR, Inc). One reason for the change was distinguishing themselves from TSR Hobbies (also owned by TSR, Inc.), the sister-company that published Dungeons & Dragons. Jacquet says,
"...we do not publish TSR Periodicals, we publish and distribute THE DRAGON; import and distribute WHITE DWARF and THE WARGAMER; we will be publishing and distributing an anthology of fantasy fiction... and a myriad of other publishing projects."
Jacquet also notes that Dawn Pekul has joined the accounts department, bringing the total number of employees up to 6.

This month's special attraction is a 10-page lift-out game called Ringside, and it is a boxing simulator written by TSR co-owner Brian Blume, who also wrote Boot Hill. The game is pretty simple. You move chits about a gridded ring and roll a percentage dice to hit when adjacent. On a success, you secretly select the punch you threw (uppercut, jab, etc.) while your opponent secretly selects the punch they are anticipating. If your opponent guesses correctly, it mutes the effect of the punch. The game had its fans and is currently rated 5.3 by Board Game Geek. It was republished in 1990 as part of the Best of Dragon Magazine Games boxed set.

On to the regular columns. In "Leomund's Tiny Hut," Len Lakofka buffs up dragons with additional magic. Arthur Rahman continues his "Minarian Legends" series in support of Divine Right, this time with a history of Mivior. "Simulation Corner" by John Prados presents a potted history of the Charles S. Roberts Award for excellence in the historical wargaming hobby. This article is a good read, and it taught me a lot about the early wargaming hobby.

"The Electric Eye" is disappointing this month, with Mark Herro publishing annotated screen dumps of the beloved Star Trek and Civil War computer games. I suppose it may have helped inform those who had never played the games before, but it felt lazy. In "Dragon's Bestiary," Kevin Readman gives us the Foliate, which is a flying tentacled monster that resembles a ball of light. It's a mildly interesting concept, though I don't believe anyone ever republished it.

"From the Sorcerer's Scroll" is typically fascinating, as Gary Gygax discusses the meaning of "good" in the D&D game world. He asserts that the game provides "pretty clear definitions" of good and evil. However, he says this is true "nominally" rather than "conceptually" - whatever he means by that! The longer the article goes on, the more relative his concept of good becomes, and perhaps it ultimately demonstrates how hard it is to model morality in games.

"The Dragon's Augury" has a single lengthy review this month, concerning Freedom in The Galaxy from SPI. Reviewer Tony Watson says it is an "impressive game" of "grand scope," and "one of the few of SPI's full-size SF games to really live up to expectations."

The issue includes an eclectic collection of other feature articles. The longest of these is Gardner Fox's "The Cup of Golden Death," the latest Niall of the Far Travels stories. This fiction found a small audience but is a pale shadow of the Conan stories it imitates. In "Tesseracts," Allen Wells describes how to create a tesseract-shaped dungeon.

Merle Rasmussen describes how he created the Top Secret RPG in "The Rasmussen Files." It's an amusing article written in the style of a confidential intelligence report. In "The Seven Magical Planets," Tom Moldvay shows how you can use the ancient idea of planetary correspondences ("as above so below") to add flavor to your campaign.

F.C. MacKnight concludes his series on Lankhmar with a challenging puzzle. This series has mainly been of interest to fans. "It's the little things that count" is a D&D story by Lewis Bryson, describing a short dungeon crawl. These sorts of stories rarely make for good reading, and this one is no exception. Bryson is known for contributing to Ysgarth around this time, a simulationist RPG renowned for its detail and complexity. Rounding things out, "Spelling out a strategy for hostile Magic-Users," by Jon Mattson presents a series of tables for randomly determining the spells used by enemy spellcasters. Mattson was a frequent contributor to The Dragon and later wrote an AD&D adventure for Judges Guild.

And that's a wrap! My favorite articles were "The Seven Magical Planets," which gave me several campaign ideas, and "Simulation Corner," which shared some fascinating history that I didn't know before. The next issue features women in gaming, a Top Secret module, and a new NPC—the Anti-Paladin!

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M.T. Black

M.T. Black


Thank you as always for sharing. I was never a subscriber back in the day, but I did pick up quite a few issues at my local hobby store. Your reviews really help me determine which ones an need to seek out and try to find a copy. Thanks!


"The Electric Eye" is disappointing this month, with Mark Herro publishing annotated screen dumps of the beloved Star Trek and Civil War computer games. I suppose it may have helped inform those who had never played the games before, but it felt lazy.

I think this is one of those cases where time has not been kind to the issue due to the advancement of technology - nowadays taking screen shots of a game or computer program is pretty easy. Back then, you would have had to set up a physical camera, and hope you took the photo at the right point in the CRT's refresh.

I've never played or even seen Divine Right, but I've really enjoyed reading the Minarian Legends articles and other content as I've come across it. The Divine Right world clearly has a rich tapestry of history, and much of it could easily be borrowed for inspiration.

Arthur Rahman continues his "Minarian Legends" series in support of Divine Right, this time with a history of Mivior.

We played a bunch of Top Secret back in the day, but we always played it less like real-world espionage and more like an 80s action movie.

I bought that issue at release. What a trip down memory lane. Divine Right was highly popular at the time, and I remember enjoying the article about Mivioir, one of the more powerful nations in the game and one I enjoyed playing.

Looking at the dates of these early issues always throws me for a loop. I was 10 when I bought this issue, and Dragon Magazine would have cost me more than my entire week’s allowance.


This was my first issue purchased. I asked my Mom to get it for me from the toy store in the mall. I believe she has regretted it ever since! ;)

This was the second issue I read and reread several times.

I always believed TSR could have gotten another game setting if they had done a Divine Right setting book for AD&D back in the day.


Solo Role Playing
They were. If you played D&D in 1980 there was a very high probability you also played Squad Leader, Kingmaker, Titan, and Divine Right.
I wouldn't say RPGs were wargames but they were very simulationists. Lots (too many!) of circumstantial modifiers and sub-rule systems.

I played all these games except Titan. Rules were written with numbered codes [01.2.1b].

Tyler Do'Urden

Soap Maker
I feel as though the wargamming and rpg were more closely related back then. Many RPGs amounting to an elaborate war game. Some still are just that.

TSR was a wargaming company before they ever published D&D, and continued to publish wargames until the early 90s, when CCGs and other collectible games emerged and they started chasing that market (very unsuccessfully) instead.

(It is interesting that the wargame-derived D&D and it's clones still lead the market, while no storytelling game has ever managed to emerge of the same strength. In the late 90s, it looked like Magic: The Gathering, the World of Darkness RPGs, and CRPGs were combining to kill off D&D and other combat-focused RPGs; they looked very passe at the time of TSRs bankruptcy. We can thank Peter Adkison's faith in the appeal of the old-fashioned dungeon crawl for restoring the game to health, and Ryan Dancey's inspiration from the software industry - both in it's "open source" form and the Microsoft "we'll sell the platform, you'll sell the hardware and applications" model - for making it dominate the market again. Though it's still rather interesting that this happened at all.)


Oooo, given that Top Secret was the first RPG I bought, ran, and played, I've got to go read that article!

[Edit] Short read, done now. Interesting to hear that it took about two years from TSR signifying they may be interested before they made the final choice and sent over a royalty contract. Also amusing that the box cover had to be changed to avoid US currency being on it, and that the FBI read some of the material and thought it was legit. And then there's "Tongue" listed as a weapon on the character sheet...
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We played the heck out of Top Secret back in the day. It was a wildly swingy - dare I say "broken" ? - system, but it was also a tremendous amount of fun.
Same here. We had a lot of fun with it. I remember the hand-to-hand combat was complex and for some reason “rabbit punch” was always the best choice.


My grandmother checked this issue out for me from the Lake Geneva Public Library, and my brother and I spent a glorious summer weekend playing ‘Ringside’ (and ’Omega Wars’ from Ares Mag.) instead of swimming or otherwise making proper use of the weather.
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I was jealous of kids who had access to Dragon from the library. We unsuccessfully lobbied our school library to get a subscription.

And not to derail the thread, but what was it like being a kid growing up playing D&D in Lake Geneva at that time? Did you go to the famous TSR store? Play in the cons? As a Canadian kid reading the Gen Con programs published in the Dragon in those days, Lake Geneva sounded like some kind of gaming Shangri-la.
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