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Dragon Reflections #40

Dragon Publishing released The Dragon issue 40 in August 1980. It is 86 pages long and has a cover price of $3.00. In this issue, we have death rites, more Awful Green Things from Outer Space, and Dragon's first Runequest article!

dragon40.jpg
Editor Jake Jaquet reflects on Origins '80, attended by the entire editorial staff (Jake, Kim Mohan, and Bryce Knorr). He damns it with faint praise, calling it a "decent convention" that will likely be "forgotten tomorrow." Jaquet laments the small size of the convention space and suggests it is time for gaming conventions to move into professional convention facilities. He also ruefully congratulates The Journal of the Travellers Aid Society for taking out the "best magazine" award.

There are three special features this month. One of them is a comprehensive index of The Dragon and also The Strategic Review, the house organ that preceded The Dragon. The other two features are expansions to Tom Wham's perennially popular Awful Green Things from Outer Space boardgame. The Dragon published so many of these centerfold games that they eventually released a box set of them. In this instance, the games are complemented by an engaging interview with the designer.

There is a good selection of material in the regular columns. Bryan Breecher gives us two Squad Leader scenarios covering the battle for Warsaw. "Bazaar of the Bizarre" includes some strange magic items, such as the Crossbow of Multiplication and Nidus' Wand of Endless Repetition. In "The Electric Eye," Mark Herro teaches us how to program in the BASIC computer language, with the ultimate goal of using computers to automate some of the housekeeping associated with RPGs.

"Dragon's Bestiary" includes four creatures by various authors, including Ed Greenwood and EN World's own Lewis Pulsipher. Said monsters are the Fire-eye Lizard, the Flitte, the Wingless Wonder, and the Huntsmen. My favorite was the Huntsmen, magical constructs that hunt in groups, with the other members growing stronger each time one of them dies.

"The Dragon's Augury" reviews four products. Annihilator by Metagaming is a science fiction microgame that suffers from a "poorly developed" rationale and mechanics. High Guard by GDW expands the starship construction rules for Traveller and "works well." Swordquest by Task Force Games is a fantasy wargame "drawn heavily from Tolkien" that "seems to trade off personalization" in the name of game balance, leading to a slightly bland experience. The Drawing of the Dark by Tim Powers, a historical fantasy novel, is "by no means a great book, but it is a good one."

There is a typically eclectic mix of other features. "The Dueling Room" by Jeff Swycaffer describes a magically morphing arena for player vs. player D&D combat. There are some neat ideas here, but the utility of such a facility is pretty limited. Swycaffer later wrote a series of science fiction novels that were popular in some corners of the RPG community.

"Believe it or not, Fantasy has reality" is a lengthy and unusual article by Douglas Bachmann. It starts out arguing that the world of Faerie is an objective reality but is really about some new D&D mechanics to implement the "quest pattern" described by Joseph Campbell in The Hero with a Thousand Faces. I'm not quite sure what to make of it as an integrated whole, though I can see how various parts (such as Legends and Dooms) could be adapted to play. Bachmann seems to have disappeared off the RPG scene soon after this effort.

"Funerals and other deathly ideas" by George Laking is a delightful article that looks at how you can apply some historical death practices to your D&D game. One intriguing idea was of a weregild. This is a sum that the party pays to the deceased character's family to compensate them for their loss. I relish little articles like this that bring a fun new angle to a small part of the game. Laking had contributed several articles to The Dragon by this time, including the superb Anti-Paladin.

"Don't drink this cocktail" gives detailed rules for creating Molotov cocktails in D&D. The author, Robert Plamondon, later wrote Through Dungeons Deep: A Fantasy Gamers' Handbook, which is still available on Amazon and is well-regarded.

"The fatal flaws of Crane" by Mark Cummings is an extensive critique of Tribes of Crane, one of the first commercial play-by-mail games. "Giving the undead an even break" by Steve Melancon is an overly-earnest attempt to rebalance the cleric turning tables. "From Spy World to Sprechenhaltestelle" is another article about the creation of Top Secret. This time, Merle Rasmussen describes the game's early playtests and what they learned from each one. Fascinating content, especially for game designers.

"The Other Were? Right here!" by Roger E. Moore proposes several new lycanthropes, including the werelion, the wereram, and the weresloth! It's fun, short, and well written. Moore was a military psychologist on deployment to West Germany, and this was one of his first contributions to The Dragon. He joined TSR in 1983, was the inaugural editor of Dungeon Magazine, and later on the long-running editor-in-chief of Dragon Magazine. Moore's name appears on numerous D&D products in the 90s, and he finally left Wizards of the Coast in 2000. An illustrious game career, and I'm curious about how he has spent the last 20 years.

Finally, we have "Artifacts of Dragon Pass" by Jon Mattson. A few issues back, Jake Jaquet declared that The Dragon had never had a Runequest article submitted. Mattson took up the challenge and here presents us with six new magical artifacts for the game. I can't talk to the items' mechanics, but they are imaginative and seem integrated into Runequest lore. Mattson was a bit of an all-rounder, contributing articles to various magazines for various gaming systems. He eventually wrote a substantial supplement for the Champions game called Champions of the North before sliding out of the RPG industry.

And that's a wrap. It was not as good as some recent issues, but Laking's article on death rites was excellent, and I also enjoyed reading some early Roger E. Moore. Next month we have The Halls of Beoll-Dur, new rules for Melee, and a real-life cleric looks at D&D!
 
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M.T. Black

M.T. Black

The Huntsmen are presumably taken from The Chronicles of Prydain, by Lloyd Alexander. The Huntsmen of Annuvin appear from the second book onwards. I used my own version of them in one of my first 3E games: seven level 1 rangers became six level 2 rangers became five level 3 rangers and so on ... The PCs ran away when there were only four of the Huntsmen left. I was thinking about using them again only recently.
 

aco175

Legend
The Huntsmen are presumably taken from The Chronicles of Prydain, by Lloyd Alexander. The Huntsmen of Annuvin appear from the second book onwards. I used my own version of them in one of my first 3E games: seven level 1 rangers became six level 2 rangers became five level 3 rangers and so on ... The PCs ran away when there were only four of the Huntsmen left. I was thinking about using them again only recently.
I wonder how to make that happen simply for 5e. +1 to hit and damage for each one or two that dies, plus 10HP? When you get down to only 2 of them- they get multiattack and deal another die of damage? I like the idea.
 

JonM

Explorer
Jon Mattson here. Thanks for the kind words! I'm continually amazed and flattered that anyone is still interested in the stuff we did, way back when. That was, quite literally, a lifetime ago.

BTW, Awful Green Things was awesome. I still have it, although it is literally falling apart.

For those really interested in historical completion, my story is pretty clichéd: I slid out of the RPG industry, as you said, and into the computer game programming industry, which was just starting to be a thing, at that time (although I still helped with the creation of Superworld, for Chaosium, wrote Paragon for D&D 3E, and did a few other RPG tidbits). In fact, in some circles, I'm far better known for Commodore 64/128 stuff, especially through Loadstar (I actually wrote their C128 operating system, although that's less common knowledge). Honestly, this was mostly because it was much easier to make a living that way, at a point, when I was starting a family.

Anyway, while I kind of faded from the industry, I never gave up on the hobby. I've been gaming for about 45 years, now, and I'll probably die with dice in my hands. I still write stuff, now and then, but it's mostly specialized for local games and gamers (which, ironically, is how I got started with Dragon, all those decades ago). I also do a lot of board game variants and the like (Into the Spider-Verse for Marvel Champions, anyone?).

On the off chance anyone is interested (hey, who doesn't like freebies?), here are a couple of samples. First, a character creation expansion for 5E. Be warned: like a lot of my current stuff, it was created for a very specific type of game. Even if you don't want to try that cinematic style of play, however, you may find other uses for it. Your mileage may vary.

Roles in D&D 5E

Second, here's my current nod to the OSR. To be honest, despite my gaming pedigree, I'm not really all that into the OSR (unless you count Dungeon Crawl Classics). But I wanted something a bit old-schoolish and fairly straightforward, for reasons explained in the introduction, so I wrote this. Enjoy!

Barrows & Beasts
 

billd91

Hobbit on Quest
On the off chance anyone is interested (hey, who doesn't like freebies?), here are a couple of samples. First, a character creation expansion for 5E. Be warned: like a lot of my current stuff, it was created for a very specific type of game. Even if you don't want to try that cinematic style of play, however, you may find other uses for it. Your mileage may vary.

Roles in D&D 5E
Oooooo, that does look interesting. I'll be checking it out! Thanks. It's great to see people still involved in the hobby after so many years.

I became a fan of Dragon Magazine back in these days when it covered a variety of games and not just D&D. It opened my eyes to so many other games that were around at the time.
 

JonM

Explorer
Oooooo, that does look interesting. I'll be checking it out! Thanks. It's great to see people still involved in the hobby after so many years.

I became a fan of Dragon Magazine back in these days when it covered a variety of games and not just D&D. It opened my eyes to so many other games that were around at the time.
Yup, me too. It really was a great magazine, and it led me down so many interesting rabbit holes. I also "met" (in the correspondence sense) a lot of interesting people, connected to the industry, at the time, so that was cool. That was a great time to be neck-deep in the hobby.

Not to sound like a jerk, but I just can't get into Dragon Plus, the same way. Its okay, but I'm afraid it really isn't the spiritual successor. Way too limited.
 


JonM

Explorer
The pricing of these early Dragon magazines amazes me. In today's dollars, this is the equivalent of $9.58. So these were expensive magazines.
Cheaper, if you had a subscription.

But niche hobby magazines are always pricey. That hasn't actually changed much. Some of the art magazine and such that I glance at, these days, are $7 - 9. But, again, cheaper with a subscription.

Also, keep in mind that all rpg stuff was pricey, when it was harder to come by. Heck, my first d20, in the mid-70s was $1.25 US. That translates to... what? about $5.78, now.

And when we walked to the games club, it was uphill both ways. Ye young whippersnappers dunno how good ye got it...
 



On the issue itself: Great cover, and I wish more of these smaller fantasy animals were part of the game. The ripped-from-the-Hobbit black squirrels in Monster Manual 2 are always a favorite of mine for that reason -- they make the world more fantastical without necessarily upsetting the fantasy "realism" too much.

"Drawing of the Dark" is definitely one of Powers' earlier, lesser works, but I think it's much better than the reviewer did. It's a fantasy story that takes place in an under-utilized period of European history and the "dark" it revolves around is beer. Oh, and in addition to the Austrian-Hungarian setting, it also includes the return of King Arthur. More folks should check it out.

And is Awful Green Things from Outer Space in print today? If not, it really ought to be, rights allowing.
 


JonM

Explorer
And is Awful Green Things from Outer Space in print today? If not, it really ought to be, rights allowing.
Sadly, I don't think so. I believe Steve Jackson Games picked it up... very late 80s? Early 90s? But I'm pretty sure it has been out of print, for a while, now.

Having said that, there may still be a Pocket Box version, floating around. You'd have to check SJG for that.
 


Sadly, I don't think so. I believe Steve Jackson Games picked it up... very late 80s? Early 90s? But I'm pretty sure it has been out of print, for a while, now.

Having said that, there may still be a Pocket Box version, floating around. You'd have to check SJG for that.
There absolutely is! They dropped a Pocket Box version, updated and cleaned up, during their Kickstarter, "Pocket Box Games of the 80s." You can find AGTfOS here: Awful Green Things from Outer Space
 

JonM

Explorer
There absolutely is! They dropped a Pocket Box version, updated and cleaned up, during their Kickstarter, "Pocket Box Games of the 80s." You can find AGTfOS here: Awful Green Things from Outer Space
That's cool! Now, someone just has to pick up Snit's Revenge and Mertwig's Maze. I have all three of these, in original form, but they are in... shall we say... less than mint condition...

Hey, you can tell how loved a game is by how battered it is.
 


The Roger Moore years were such a high point in Dragon. And he's washed his hands so thoroughly of the RPG field that he will talk to no one about it now. I don't know what happened to sour him so, but it makes me sad.

"The Other Were? Right here!" by Roger E. Moore proposes several new lycanthropes, including the werelion, the wereram, and the weresloth! It's fun, short, and well written. Moore was a military psychologist on deployment to West Germany, and this was one of his first contributions to The Dragon. He joined TSR in 1983, was the inaugural editor of Dungeon Magazine, and later on the long-running editor-in-chief of Dragon Magazine. Moore's name appears on numerous D&D products in the 90s, and he finally left Wizards of the Coast in 2000. An illustrious game career, and I'm curious about how he has spent the last 20 years.
 


JonM

Explorer
The Roger Moore years were such a high point in Dragon. And he's washed his hands so thoroughly of the RPG field that he will talk to no one about it now. I don't know what happened to sour him so, but it makes me sad.
Although I still have some old Dragon-related correspondence, conducted with Roger, I never really knew him that well, since he was becoming more a fixture at TSR at around the same time that I was starting to write more for other magazines/companies. I do know that Hasbro let him go around.... end of 2000, I think? But, then, they were letting a lot of people go, around that time, and others were leaving, of their own accord, so that doesn't really mean much. I had no contact for with him, after that (or with WotC, either, for that matter), and he really seemed to have dropped off the map, RPG-wise. I wouldn't want to speculate or gossip, beyond that, but I do agree that his departure was a loss to the community. Hopefully, one day, he'll reappear.
 

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