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Dragon Reflections #49

Dragon Publishing released Dragon issue 49 in May 1981. It is 96 pages long and has a cover price of $3.00. In this issue, we have guidelines for wishes, the samurai class, and a new editor!

Drmg049_Page_01 (002).jpg

Jake Jacquet notes that he is now the Publisher of the magazine and that they have promoted Kim Mohan to Editor-in-Chief. "Publisher" is the title that TSR gave to the person in charge of the entire Dragon Publishing division, whereas the "Editor-in-Chief" actually ran Dragon magazine. Jake would still write the occasional editorial, but it was essentially Kim's magazine now and would remain so for the next five years.

This month's special attraction is a 12-page feature on the life and art of Tim Hildebrandt. He was a big deal in Fantasy fandom at the time due to his work (alongside brother Greg) on the Tolkien calendars in the late 70s. Bryce Knorr's interview is rather gushing but is interspersed with some of Hildebrandt's better pieces. Hildebrandt also gives something of a blow-by-blow account of how he paints, which this novice found informative.

This issue also includes a prominent feature on tournaments and conventions, with the most substantial part being a discussion about how to judge AD&D contests. The magazine offers several perspectives. This question came up repeatedly in the pages of Dragon, which reflects how important the competitive angle in RPGs was at the time.

In his only RPG credit, Anthony Salva presents a Samurai NPC class for D&D. This is the second time Dragon has published the Samurai, with a different implementation proposed way back in issue #3. There is the usual disclaimer attached to these "NPC" classes:

"In accordance with this magazine's policy, the Samurai is presented as a non-player character — a personality which the DM may use to provide players with variety and new challenges, but not one which the players themselves should be able to assume as a player character."

It's somewhat naive how they insisted on this point, even while telling you how many experience points are required to attain each level! The actual class is a little too similar to the Monk for my liking but has some fun color.

"Getting a world into shape" by Karl Horak proposes creating D&D worlds using polyhedral shapes rather than the usual flat or spherical shapes. It's a cute idea, and he presents a detailed discussion around how you would navigate such worlds, but it doesn't seem to add a lot to the play experience. This article was the last of Horak's three contributions to Dragon.

In "Historical names make for better games," G. Arthur Rahman presents a selection of historical names for your gaming use, drawn from such people groups as the Lombards, the Kievans, and the Merovingians. I thought these were terrific, and I've saved them for my use.

"Monster Mixing" by regular contributor, Jon Mattson, takes several D&D critters and converts them to the Chivalry & Sorcery RPG. The article includes classic monsters such as the displacer beast, the shambling mound, and the gelatinous cube.

"Best wishes" by Gary Snyder lists out ten principles for adjudicating wishes. Some may feel he nerfs wishes a bit too much, but the principles are generally well-thought-out and helpful, and earned this article a place in The Best of Dragon Volume 5. It's a shame Snyder never contributed anything else to the field of roleplaying games. Nicely complementing this article is a piece of fiction by Roger E. Moore called "Wishing Makes It So," in which a group of D&D gamers find a real-life ring of wishes. It's an excellent premise though the execution is a little plodding.

"Travel & threads for DragonQuest" by Paul Montgomery Crabaugh supplies an overland movement table for SPI's DragonQuest alongside some new clothing items. Crabaugh contributed many articles to Dragon, spanning nearly a dozen RPG systems.

Let's have a look at the regular columns. In "The Rasmussen Files," Merle Rasmussen describes several pieces of specialized ammunition for Top Secret. Meanwhile, in "Giants in the Earth," Roger E. Moore provides us with statistics for three characters from recent fantasy literature: Holger Carlsen and Hugi from "Three Hearts and Three Lions," and Ellide from "Women of the White Waste."

The "Dragon's Bestiary" has a single new monster this month, the lynx-like Nogra by Loren Kruse. In "Leomund's Tiny Hut," Len Lakofka presents us with yet another Alchemist NPC class. Dragon has published three or four alchemists by this point! And John Prados discusses the pros and cons of freelance game design in "Simulation Corner."

Bryan Beecher has another "Squad Leader Scenario," this time dealing with the fall of Budapest. Glenn Rahman tells us about the Eaters of Wisdom and the Invisible School of Thaumaturgy in "Minarian Legends." I'm growing more impressed with the creative depth of this world with every issue. "The Electric Eye" by Mark Herro shares a BASIC listing for a campaign timekeeping program. And in "Up on a Soapbox," Ed Greenwood makes a case for not explaining the game's rules to players.

"Dragon's Augury" presents four game reviews. The Hammer of Thor by Gameshop is "more interesting to read than to play." Assault on Leningrad by Simulations Games features "high-quality production and is very playable." World Campaigns, a play-by-mail game, gives you a "good deal of material and entertainment" for your money. Finally, Wohrom, an Italian game translated by International Team Games, is "beautiful" but not "worth the fifty dollars we must pay in the U.S.A."

Tim Hildebrandt painted the sumptuous cover. Interior artists include Jeff Dee, Jeff Lanners, Kenneth Rahman, Roger Raupp, Dave Trampier, Brad Parker, and J. D. Webster.

And that's it for another month! My favorite articles were "Best wishes" and "Historical names make for better games." Next issue, we have a special feature on dragons, the International Dungeon Design Contest winner, and a giant vampire frog!
 

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M.T. Black

M.T. Black





One of the things that's so great about the Hildebrandt Brothers' art is their use of light. What might look cartoony at first glance reveals an absolutely masterful understanding of light and shadow the more you look at it.

This month's special attraction is a 12-page feature on the life and art of Tim Hildebrandt. He was a big deal in Fantasy fandom at the time due to his work (alongside brother Greg) on the Tolkien calendars in the late 70s. Bryce Knorr's interview is rather gushing but is interspersed with some of Hildebrandt's better pieces. Hildebrandt also gives something of a blow-by-blow account of how he paints, which this novice found informative.

Peterson's The Elusive Shift also talks about the early debate on whether or not players should be kept in the dark regarding rules to further immersion. In a more free-form game like early D&D, I think there's some sense to it, but as things got more and more codified, the burden on the DM would've only grown and grown.

And in "Up on a Soapbox," Ed Greenwood makes a case for not explaining the game's rules to players.
 

Hussar

Legend
I remember having one of those Hildebrant calendars back in the day. Very young me loved the pictures and older me wishes that younger me had kept it. :D
 

CharlesWallace

Explorer
One of the things that's so great about the Hildebrandt Brothers' art is their use of light. What might look cartoony at first glance reveals an absolutely masterful understanding of light and shadow the more you look at it.



Peterson's The Elusive Shift also talks about the early debate on whether or not players should be kept in the dark regarding rules to further immersion. In a more free-form game like early D&D, I think there's some sense to it, but as things got more and more codified, the burden on the DM would've only grown and grown.
I used to own this set of hildebrandt trading cards back in the day: The Brothers Hildebrandt Collector Cards, cards #1-15 (1994)

I also had a bunch of frazetta cards too. And though I loved frazetta more, you’re absolutely right- the Hildebrandt art was just incredible when it came to lighting. Really cool stuff- I’d long since forgotten about those cards!
 

wicked cool

Adventurer
i still see white dwarf being sold at both my flgs and big comic/music stores. Not sure why a monthly magazine still couldnt be made. I bet if you divided some of the content with magic stuff it would sell.

I sat down yesterday and watched an interview with RA Slvatore on youtube by WOTC staff. Clearly theres an audience for this stuff
 

CharlesWallace

Explorer
i still see white dwarf being sold at both my flgs and big comic/music stores. Not sure why a monthly magazine still couldnt be made. I bet if you divided some of the content with magic stuff it would sell.

I sat down yesterday and watched an interview with RA Slvatore on youtube by WOTC staff. Clearly theres an audience for this stuff
I'm not knowledgeable in the space, but I wonder- maybe printing and paper and shipping and stuff all got too expensive compared to how cheap it is to throw something on youtube or into dragon+?

But man, I sure love the arcadia PDFs MCDM's been putting out. Much more interesting than the dragon+ content.
 

It's somewhat naive how they insisted on this point, even while telling you how many experience points are required to attain each level! The actual class is a little too similar to the Monk for my liking but has some fun color.

I never understood the NPC class concept. Why not just make a NPC "monster" instead?

I can only guess at the motivations:
  • Was it to ensure that a solo encounter was balanced?
  • A stealth method of introducing -- and field testing -- new PC classes before there was the concept of beta testing?
  • Was it the seemingly logical extension of the simulationism philosophy in gaming at the time? (Do you want 20th level commoners? Then this is how you get 20th level commoners.)
  • For spell casting NPCs did it seem that was the safest way to have GMs figure out how to use NPC spell slots?
More than likely, from what I have heard about game design back then, the answer was all of the above depending on which freelancer you hired that day.
 

Zaukrie

New Publisher
I never understood the NPC class concept. Why not just make a NPC "monster" instead?

I can only guess at the motivations:
  • Was it to ensure that a solo encounter was balanced?
  • A stealth method of introducing -- and field testing -- new PC classes before there was the concept of beta testing?
  • Was it the seemingly logical extension of the simulationism philosophy in gaming at the time? (Do you want 20th level commoners? Then this is how you get 20th level commoners.)
  • For spell casting NPCs did it seem that was the safest way to have GMs figure out how to use NPC spell slots?
More than likely, from what I have heard about game design back then, the answer was all of the above depending on which freelancer you hired that day.
I mean, I agree. But many players want humanoid NPCs to follow the same rules they do, even today. Hence, NPCs ....
 

I mean, I agree. But many players want humanoid NPCs to follow the same rules they do, even today. Hence, NPCs ....
Different beats, different drummers but I understand that less.

As a player, I wanted wizard classes that didn't use Vancian magic but that never motivated a GM I had to homebrew a new class or use any optional spell point system out there just for me. And as a GM, I get how spell slots are more convenient -- just as making a monster NPC is more convenient than making a PC the GM plays.

I say this while acknowledging that 3.X made it leveled NPCs a thing, and that just because my brain can't wrap my head around the "why" of it doesn't mean I disparage it. You game you.
 

R_Chance

Adventurer
I never understood the NPC class concept. Why not just make a NPC "monster" instead?

I can only guess at the motivations:
  • Was it to ensure that a solo encounter was balanced?
  • A stealth method of introducing -- and field testing -- new PC classes before there was the concept of beta testing?
  • Was it the seemingly logical extension of the simulationism philosophy in gaming at the time? (Do you want 20th level commoners? Then this is how you get 20th level commoners.)
  • For spell casting NPCs did it seem that was the safest way to have GMs figure out how to use NPC spell slots?
More than likely, from what I have heard about game design back then, the answer was all of the above depending on which freelancer you hired that day.
The concept of "balanced encounters" was, to be polite, limited in AD&D. That became a fetish in later editions (3+).
They didn't have a method of collecting information on Dragon material other than the letters to the editor column.
Simulationism was a bigger part of 3E than AD&D.
Really, NPCs had the spells DMs gave them.

AD&D didn't allow for "unofficial" PC classes. D&D was fine with new classes, for example the Ranger first appeared in The Strategic Review, the Dragon's predecessor. Gygax didn't like them for AD&D :D The only way to squeeze them into Dragon was as "NPC Classes". Not that most people paid close attention to the "NPC" label on them. I suspect most of us (including me) were homebrewing new classes and adopting them from Dragon and other sources.
 

M.T. Black

Adventurer
The concept of "balanced encounters" was, to be polite, limited in AD&D. That became a fetish in later editions (3+).
They didn't have a method of collecting information on Dragon material other than the letters to the editor column.
Simulationism was a bigger part of 3E than AD&D.
Really, NPCs had the spells DMs gave them.

AD&D didn't allow for "unofficial" PC classes. D&D was fine with new classes, for example the Ranger first appeared in The Strategic Review, the Dragon's predecessor. Gygax didn't like them for AD&D :D The only way to squeeze them into Dragon was as "NPC Classes". Not that most people paid close attention to the "NPC" label on them. I suspect most of us (including me) were homebrewing new classes and adopting them from Dragon and other sources.
I think this is true. Gygax strenuously argued against changes to AD&D on the grounds that it had been so very carefully structured and balanced. There was not really a place for new PC classes (except those from Gygax himself), no matter how unofficial.

For a parallel case, see Dragon #29 where Gygax argues that the PC races were selected and balanced so carefully that it's a bad idea to try and add to them.
 

Casimir Liber

Explorer
...see Dragon #29 where Gygax argues that the PC races were selected and balanced so carefully that it's a bad idea to try and add to them.

...except that the demihuman races patently weren't. In 1e they all had significant advantages over humans....but were then slammed with level limits, which left everyone frustrated. The classes were more balanced...until the 1e Unearthed Arcana fiasco....
 

M.T. Black

Adventurer
...except that the demihuman races patently weren't. In 1e they all had significant advantages over humans....but were then slammed with level limits, which left everyone frustrated. The classes were more balanced...until the 1e Unearthed Arcana fiasco....
I agree! I think Gygax pushed the "AD&D has been perfectly crafted and balanced" line way beyond plausibility.
 


Hussar

Legend
To be fair, "balanced" was a lot harder to achieve back then as well. It's not like they had a bajillion play hours across a bunch of tables to draw from. Nor, could they crib from other people's work, because, well, in 1976, there really wasn't anyone else's work. I might criticize AD&D for a lot of things, but, let's be fair and charitable here. It's easy enough to sit back now, fifty years later and think, "wow, THAT'S what you considered perfectly crafted and balanced", but, back then, it was more the "throw poop at the wall and see what sticks" approach to game design. Hell, even the idea of game design, in this sense, was still in its infancy.

Imagine trying to figure out balanced game design, when the field consists of games like Monopoly and games of that ilk or tabletop wargames. Yikes. They probably did a better job than expected really, all things considered.
 

R_Chance

Adventurer
...except that the demihuman races patently weren't. In 1e they all had significant advantages over humans....but were then slammed with level limits, which left everyone frustrated. The classes were more balanced...until the 1e Unearthed Arcana fiasco....
Those level limits were what made "human" a viable choice. Given all the perks of being demi-human (infravision, multi-classing, bonus to Thieves skills. various checks for secret doors etc.) there had to be a big downside. And those level limits rose from edition to edition, from Original, to 1E, to 2E., until they weren't so... limiting. I don.t think any of us made it much beyond about 12th level after years of playing. And for Demi-humans Thief was unlimited...
 

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