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Dragon Reflections #39

Dragon Publishing released The Dragon issue 39 in July 1980. It is 78 pages long and has a cover price of $3.00. In this issue, we have a Top Secret adventure, lots of new magic items, and a feature on women in gaming!

dragonmagazine39.jpg

Editor Jake Jaquet spends the editorial discussing some minor things: they are selling some back issues of the magazine, they have acquired a computer to start reviewing games, TSR has just opened a UK branch, etc. All very professional, but it makes me miss Tim Kask's curmudgeonly editorials, which were always opinionated and provocative!

This month's special feature is a Top Secret adventure called "The Missile Mission." It was written by Mike Carr, the wunderkind who created the best-selling WWI game Fight in the Skies (aka Dawn Patrol) while still a teenager. Carr joined TSR in 1975 and served as the editor on many early projects, most notably Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. The adventure presented here is a cold war heist, with the PCs racing Soviet and Chinese agents to steal missile plans from a warehouse.

Jean Wells and Kim Mohan join forces to give us "Women want equality: and why not?" It's an important article that deserves some attention. Wells spoke to a large number of female players while conducting her research and says that while some things are getting better, "...many instances of unfair and degrading treatment of women players--and their characters--remain to be corrected."

The article notes that women deal with a stigma within D&D circles because they are only about 10% of the community. They are considered "maverick" (in the sense of being weird) by male gamers. The authors suggest that the low participation rate may be due to D&D emerging from the (mostly male) wargaming community and because the game primarily sells through male-oriented hobby shops. They believe that exposing more women to the game would likely increase the female participation rate.

Women sent in various stories of being put in uncomfortable situations at the game table. One reader told how the men in the party forced her female dwarf "to seduce a small band of dwarves so the party could get the drop on them." On the other hand, some female players enjoyed the opportunity to have their characters flirt in a way that "they might be too shy or too afraid to display in real life." So, the desire was not necessarily to remove sex from the game but rather to ensure everyone was comfortable with what was happening at the table.

Many women were disturbed by the appearance of women in game art and miniature figures, most of which were in some degree of undress. The authors note:
"The attire of the figures does not reflect the reality of the game. Female fighters wear just as much body protection as their male counterparts. Female Magic-Users wear robes, carry backpacks and have lots of pockets for material components, just like males do. But such figures are few and far between on the shelves of stores."
As if to prove this point, page 6 features a miniature described as "the best female druid on the market." The figure is wielding a sickle, has a large cape blowing back off its shoulders, and is otherwise completely naked.

Many women complained about the Strength limitation on female characters in AD&D. One of the practical effects of this was that gamers generally underestimated female fighters and treated them as second-class compared to their male counterparts. Several solutions were offered to this problem, but the general thrust was that female characters should be equal to male characters.

Overall, this is a ground-breaking article. While some of the conclusions have not dated that well, it was far ahead of its time given the 1980 publication date. It's interesting to look at the problems they identified (exposure to the game/presentation in the art/equality of characters) and consider how the modern game has addressed them.

To other articles. In "Try this for Evil," George Laking and Tim Mesford present the Anti-Paladin for the first time in D&D, describing it as representing "everything that is mean, low and despicable in the human race." I recollect that this class gained some notoriety. Though written as an NPC class, everyone naturally wanted to play one. As a neophyte DM, I recall more than one smirking smart-alec asking if I allowed anti-paladins in the party! Mesford appears to have done no other game design, while Laking merely contributed a couple more articles to The Dragon. This lack of credits is surprising, given their evident talent.

"Next Time, Try a Cleric" by Tom Armstrong is a piece of gaming fiction about a party seeking to resurrect their thief in the Temple of Arioch. It's sadly prosaic. Bill Fawcett, founder of Mayfair Games, gives us something better in "Bows," which explains the historical context of these popular ranged weapons. In "Good hits and bad misses," Carl Parlagreco shares a critical hit and critical fumble table. This must be one of the first such tables defined for AD&D--it would not be the last.

In "Uniformity, conformity... or neither?" Karl Horak compares Chainmail, D&D, and AD&D and asks where it is all going. His unsurprising conclusion is that the game is becoming more complicated and that referees will need to decide how many of the new options they will include at their table. Assistant editor Bryce Knorr gives us "The Aliens from Beyond," a little fiction piece to accompany the cover from The Dragon #34. In "What are the odds?" William Keely shares an obvious (but useful) probability table for the roll of 3d6. "Research in Imperium" by Michael Crane proposes some optional rules for the Imperium board game.

There is plenty of material in the regular features this month. "Up on a Soap Box" gives us the views of Douglas P. Bachmann, who continues the debate about morality in fantasy. He states that since progress in D&D is measured solely in terms of power accumulation (hit points etc.), it can never model morality. In "Minarian Legends," Glenn Rahman tells us about the "Barbarian North."

Len Lakofka offers guidelines for starting a new D&D campaign in "Leonards Tiny Hut." It's a bit like a cheat sheet for the Player's Handbook. Tom Moldvay gives us statistics for two Norse heroes in "Giants in the Earth," Bodvar Bjarki and Egil Skallagrimson. "Sage Advice" is back with Jean Wells answering weird and wonderful questions, such as: "Can centaurs read scrolls?"

"The Electric Eye" is now a monthly column, and this issue features a glossary of basic computer terminology--things such as ASCII, CPU, and Memory. This sort of information is common knowledge now, but not in 1980. In "Dragon's Bestiary," Larry DiTillio describes the groundsquid. DiTillio was better known for his Call of Cthulhu work, so it is perhaps not surprising that he gives us a tentacled horror here. "Simulation Corner" by John Prados discusses graphic design in board games.

This month's "Bazaar of the Bizarre" is a real treat, with a cornucopia of new magic items. Roger E. Moore gives us Cloud Castles, while Ed Greenwood presents the Greenstone Amulet, the Mist of Rapture, and Laeral's Storm Armor. There are worthy contributions from other writers as well.

Finally, the "Dragon's Augury" has two reviews this month. Intruder by Task Force Games is a solitaire game involving the hunt for an alien aboard a space station. It is "a lot of fun." The Beastlord by Yaquinto Games is a fantasy wargame with different forces attempting to conquer a valley. It is "enjoyable and entertaining."

And that's it. It was a packed issue with a lot of great content. For me, the best articles were "Women in Gaming," "Bazaar of the Bizzare," and the "Try this for Evil." Next month, we have Awful Green Things from Outer Space, more magic items, and a Runequest article!

M.T. Black is a freelance game designer. Go to his website for a free, five-star adventure!
 

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M.T. Black

M.T. Black

basaipete

Explorer
I love these articles. This particular issue was more impactful to my high school gaming group than most. The Anti-Paladin and Good Hits and Bad Misses became staples in our games for years to come. I still have a photo-copy of the critical hit/fumble charts in my files for ready reference. It was not until the transition to 3e that we finally moved away from those charts in favor of the critical hit/fumble deck accessory that was released in the early 2000s.
 


"Women want equality: and why not?" is an important article in Dragon, because it shows that even in the early days, there was pushback against the misogyny in the hobby and in the books themselves.

The concept of NPC classes is an interesting one - but did the people coming up with them not expect players to want to use them? Especially with a Death Dealer-reminiscent illustration of the Anti-Paladin. We always stuck to the core classes back in the day, but I can certainly see the appeal of stuff like the Anti-Paladin, or White Dwarf's Necromancer.
 

Dire Bare

Legend
Supporter
They believe that exposing more women to the game would likely increase the female participation rate.
And, that's exactly what's happened! Female players are way more common today thanks to the increased exposure D&D has gotten in recent years, especially due to actual play streams like Critical Role.

I'm an old dude in his late 40s who remembers how male-dominated the hobby was back in the 80s, and the 90s . . . and even into the new millennium. I teach middle school, and just as many young women seem interested in the game as young men, and I love it! When I play in old-people games, they also are more diverse than the games of my youth, often with couples playing the game together. My last gaming group had three couples at the table.
 

Paragon Lost

Terminally Lost
Supporter
Fond memories, I really enjoyed that particular Dragon when it came out in the gaming stores. Quickly snagged and devoured it. Quite a few players in the handful of gaming stores in my area wanted to give the anti-paladin a shot as I recall. Good Hits and Bad Misses was in most groups games that I saw in Southern California at the time as an aside including my own.
 

R_Chance

Adventurer
"Women want equality: and why not?" is an important article in Dragon, because it shows that even in the early days, there was pushback against the misogyny in the hobby and in the books themselves.

The concept of NPC classes is an interesting one - but did the people coming up with them not expect players to want to use them? Especially with a Death Dealer-reminiscent illustration of the Anti-Paladin. We always stuck to the core classes back in the day, but I can certainly see the appeal of stuff like the Anti-Paladin, or White Dwarf's Necromancer.
I had a bear of a time finding female miniatures that were armored and equipped reasonably. At first we just glossed over the miniatures gender, plate mail being plate mail :) Over time you could find more and more of them.

Pretty much all the new classes in the Dragon after AD&D debuted ere presented as "NPC Classes" iirc. New / unofficial classes were not supposed to be a thing in AD&D. A lot of people tended to treat anything in the Dragon as "semi-official". We didn't, but some of them saw some use anyway. In original D&D we were encouraged to home brew and that carried over to our AD&D games. Not the Anti-Paladin though.

edit The Anti-Paladin just didn't seem like they could play well with others:)
 
Last edited:

R_Chance

Adventurer
And, that's exactly what's happened! Female players are way more common today thanks to the increased exposure D&D has gotten in recent years, especially due to actual play streams like Critical Role.

I'm an old dude in his late 40s who remembers how male-dominated the hobby was back in the 80s, and the 90s . . . and even into the new millennium. I teach middle school, and just as many young women seem interested in the game as young men, and I love it! When I play in old-people games, they also are more diverse than the games of my youth, often with couples playing the game together. My last gaming group had three couples at the table.
Ahh, to be in my late 40s again :D I'm 62 myself. Our original group (1974) were all male miniature wargamers. The first female in my games was the late 70s (1978-9?), about the time AD&D was taking over. I ignored the Strength limitations. It was corner case rare anyway and just seemed unfair.
 



TerraDave

5ever
This is definitely Dragon's golden age.

That anti-paladin article was published in one of the Best of Dragon's. It made a huge a impression on me, though I have hardly used the concept as a DM in the many years afterwords. You can certainly still see its influence in the game today.
 


talien

Community Supporter
This issue kicked off a series of "adventures" in which everyone played evil characters so that we could justify the anti-paladin's inclusion. Cue the assassins, backstabbing thieves, and necromancers. The characters would then just kill each other at a moment's notice over the slightest irritation, and then roll someone else up to get revenge on the killer. As a DM it was stressful to run, since we weren't really playing an adventure so much as an arena. I suspect as teenagers players we weren't alone in this.
 

Honestly, too, with some of the older minis, considering the limits to sculpting technology of the time, many minis were indistinct enough to be used for any gender. This is a mini I recently painted, but it was made in 1980:

1613153919294.png


I had a bear of a time finding female miniatures that were armored and equipped reasonably. At first we just glossed over the miniatures gender, plate mail being plate mail :) Over time you could find more and more of them.

Articles in Dragon did carry an aura of officialness in a way that, for me anyway, DMs Guild or homebrew content on D&D Beyond does not. If a player just showed up with a magic-user and said that they had a dagger that did d6 damage, I'd have likely said no. But if they showed up with a copy of the Dragon #140 and pointed to the cinquedea there, well, I probably would've said "okay" back then.

Pretty much all the new classes in the Dragon after AD&D debuted ere presented as "NPC Classes" iirc. New / unofficial classes were not supposed to be a thing in AD&D. A lot of people tended to treat anything in the Dragon as "semi-official". We didn't, but some of them saw some use anyway. In original D&D we were encouraged to home brew and that carried over to our AD&D games. Not the Anti-Paladin though.

edit The Anti-Paladin just didn't seem like they could play well with others:)
 


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