Dragon Reflections #52

Dragon Publishing released Dragon issue 52 in August 1981. It is 84 pages long and has a cover price of $3.00. In this issue, we have a Gamma World scenario, bounty hunters, and the new D&D Basic Set!

Drmg052_Page_01 (002).jpg

PLEASE NOTE: This review was published out of order. We'll resume the Dragon chronology with issue #54.

The first of this month's two special attractions is an interview with Boris Vallejo, a significant fantasy artist known for illustrating Conan, Tarzan, and various Franklin Mint paraphernalia. One of his more notable pieces was the movie poster for National Lampoon's Vacation, which shows Chevy Chase in a Conan-style pose. Boris painted this month's beautiful cover, and it is telling that Dragon can now commission such noteworthy artists.

The other special attraction is "Cavern of the sub-train," a scenario for Gamma World by Gary "Jake" Jacquet, the often-forgotten co-author of Gamma World, and also head of Dragon Publishing. I believe this is the first Gamma World article they've published since issue 36--nearly 18 months ago. This neglect is pretty surprising, considering the game seems to have always been in print during this period.

We have a good collection of other features. First up are three articles relating to the cleric, a class that feels under-serviced in the magazine. "The role of the cleric" by Robert Plamondon discusses the part that clerics play in the D&D world. His central point is that the cleric "is not a meek priest; he is a warrior who... destroys the enemies of his god." Next, Douglass Loss brings us, "This land is my land," suggesting that clerical spells should be more potent in lands where their gods are more popular. Not an idea I like much. Loss also wrote "The sense of sacrifices," which discusses the sort of sacrifices a cleric might bring to their god to secure an extraordinary miracle. I liked this article quite a bit better!

TSR had just released the new D&D Basic Set, this one edited by Tom Moldvay. There are two articles about it, the first a mini-review by J. Eric Holmes, author of the original Basic Set, and then a short introduction to the rules by Moldvay himself. They are a nice pair of pieces, giving us a "where it's been and where it's going" perspective. The Moldvay Basic Set is what I learned to play D&D with, and I still love it!

Frequent contributor Paul Montgomery Crabaugh brings us "The undercover job guide" for Top Secret, which fleshes out an agent's "undercover profession" in the game. Meanwhile, "Knock, Knock!" by Michael Kluever is a helpful potted history of siege warfare. Kluever contributed several articles to Dragon about medieval weapons and armor.

In issue 46, the editors challenged readers to send in a D&D bounty hunter class, and in "Wanted: Bounty Hunters," they print the three best entries, by Scott Bennie, Tom Armstrong, and Robert L. Tussey & Kenneth Strunk. All of them are some variation of ranger/thief, and no one brings anything fresh to the table, though Scott Bennie’s entry was well well-regarded by some. Bennie went on to accumulate many RPG writing credits before moving into the video games industry.

On to the regular articles! Glen Rahman brings us yet another edition of "Minarian Legends," this time describing the nation of Shucassam. Next, in "Giants in the Earth," Katharine Kerr goes Shakespearean and presents D&D stats for Prospero, Ariel, and Caliban, along with stats for Homer's Circe. And in "Leoumnd's Tiny Hut," Len Lakofka gives us birth tables for Greyhawk, describing where a character was born and what languages they are likely to speak. It's rather detailed!

"Dragon's Bestiary" presents two new monsters for D&D. First is the rhaumbusun by Victor Selby and Ed Greenwood, which resembles a multi-legged alligator. And we also have the pelins by Lewis Pulsipher, an enormous, demon-headed beetle with rows of bat wings.

"Up on a Soapbox" has two articles this month. "To err is human, to repair divine" by Lewis Pulsipher examines several strategies for dealing with characters who have accidentally gotten too powerful. "The best DMs will look further than the book" by Tom Armstrong suggests DMs should vary monsters and magic items from the official sources to keep players on their toes.

"Simulation Corner" is back, and John Prados is kicking off a five-part series about how to create a wargame. Unfortunately, Prados does seem to be struggling for topics, and this column has just about run its course.

"Dragon's Augury" reviews three new games. Basic Roleplaying by Chaosium is "a truly universal introduction to the hobby—highly recommended." Timelag by Gameshop "possesses a minimum of long-lasting appeal." Finally, Dungeon Tiles by Task Force Games will be helpful to "DMs who need a little help in presenting the situation."

We have a new column! "Off the Shelf" by Chris Henderson is a collection of fiction book reviews. Let's run through them. Dream Park by Larry Niven & Steven Barnes is "much better than some of Niven's other recent efforts." Small praise! Dragonslayer by Wayland Drew is "a powerful book." Sunfall by C.J. Cherryh is "a fine collection" of stories. And Horseclans Odyssey by Robert Adams is "a welcome addition" to the Horseclan series.

Boris Vallejo painted this month's beautiful cover. Interior artist credits include Chris Conly, Roger Raupp, Jon Hageman, Erol Otus, Phil Foglio, Corinna Taylor, David Trampier, and L. Blankenship.

And that's a wrap! The highlights for me were the articles on the D&D Basic Set. Next month, we have monk options, Junta, and the Garden of Nefaron!
 

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M.T. Black

M.T. Black

GuyBoy

Hero
I remember this one well. I'd just left school, was awaiting A-level results and university and went off to hitch-hike round Europe with my best mate; the Dragon was waiting for me when I got back and it was a bit of a "rite of passage" commemorator.
 

Riley

Hero
We played this Gamma World scenario, in one of several failed attempts to get a GW campaign started. As with the other false starts, the adventure went off the rails almost immediately (sorry).

All I can recall is that someone was allowed a light saber, and was cutting through bulkheads with it. I'm guessing that was not in the original adventure as written.
 



univoxs

That's my dog, Walter
Supporter
Glad to have another reflections article. There are a few things in this issue I think I want to read. As someone interested in the evolution of rules and the philosophy therein, I want to read this issue's Simulation Corner for sure.

Whenever I see C.J. Cherryh's name I am gladdened as she is my favorite all time author. While plenty of works of hers have been forgotten we still see her sci-fi influence today with Shows\Books like The Expanse and video games like Stellaris. She is still writing today and is one of the remaining masters from that era still banging away.

It is a shame that her influence on fantasy is less impactful. Her system for magic in the Rusalka cycle is truly unique and terrifying. She was a contributor to the long fallow Thieves World, a wonderful fantasy shared universe I highly recommend. I have pined over the original box set for the game for years but, as for much of this old stuff, the prices are just insane now.
 

Paragon Lost

Terminally Lost
Glad to have another reflections article. There are a few things in this issue I think I want to read. As someone interested in the evolution of rules and the philosophy therein, I want to read this issue's Simulation Corner for sure.

Whenever I see C.J. Cherryh's name I am gladdened as she is my favorite all time author. While plenty of works of hers have been forgotten we still see her sci-fi influence today with Shows\Books like The Expanse and video games like Stellaris. She is still writing today and is one of the remaining masters from that era still banging away.

It is a shame that her influence on fantasy is less impactful. Her system for magic in the Rusalka cycle is truly unique and terrifying. She was a contributor to the long fallow Thieves World, a wonderful fantasy shared universe I highly recommend. I have pined over the original box set for the game for years but, as for much of this old stuff, the prices are just insane now.
Yup, a big fan of C.J Cherryh and i'll strongly agree with you that she should have more recognition than she does today. Also huge fan of Thieves' World box set and books. I had a long running campaign I ran with it from the time Chaosium released it until the late 1990s, first with Palladium Fantasy Rpg and then GURPS 1st edition in 1986 and then the next two editions.

Off and on I ponder starting up my ole Thieves' World campaign but using BRP this time around. :)
 

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Dire Bare

Legend
The cover is the best part of that issue, but then, that cover is great.
This was one of the issues I had to hide from my mother!

It is a great piece, from a great artist! But probably not a good choice for a game and magazine trying to appeal to a broad audience. You won't see covers like that on D&D products anymore! I have mixed feelings about that . . . .
 

Dire Bare

Legend
It is a shame that her influence on fantasy is less impactful. Her system for magic in the Rusalka cycle is truly unique and terrifying. She was a contributor to the long fallow Thieves World, a wonderful fantasy shared universe I highly recommend. I have pined over the original box set for the game for years but, as for much of this old stuff, the prices are just insane now.
I don't remember the Rusalka books very well, other than I really like them! I'll have to go back and check them out again!
 

univoxs

That's my dog, Walter
Supporter
I don't remember the Rusalka books very well, other than I really like them! I'll have to go back and check them out again!
Magic was simply done by wishing for things very hard but as stated in the book "If you wish for a rock to strike your enemy, beware the wind storm strong enough to make a rock fly." Magic happened through natural occurrence and manipulation of chance. A wizards spellbook was not lists of spells they could cast, they were lists of things that had been wished for, an ever evolving tangle of consequence. I am not sure how you would gamify that but I always thought it would be cool to see put to rules.
 

univoxs

That's my dog, Walter
Supporter
Yup, a big fan of C.J Cherryh and i'll strongly agree with you that she should have more recognition than she does today. Also huge fan of Thieves' World box set and books. I had a long running campaign I ran with it from the time Chaosium released it until the late 1990s, first with Palladium Fantasy Rpg and then GURPS 1st edition in 1986 and then the next two editions.

Off and on I ponder starting up my ole Thieves' World campaign but using BRP this time around. :)
I had stumbled upon a website claiming that Lynn Abbey, a great authour in her own right and wife to Robert Aspin who created Thieves World was going to be doing a kickstarter for a new game but that site was dated just before covid and now I can't find it.

As someone who has the box set, what do you think of it? How useful do you think it would be for adapting to another system? You say you would use BRP but do you think the original system holds up?
 

R_Chance

Adventurer
I had stumbled upon a website claiming that Lynn Abbey, a great authour in her own right and wife to Robert Aspin who created Thieves World was going to be doing a kickstarter for a new game but that site was dated just before covid and now I can't find it.

As someone who has the box set, what do you think of it? How useful do you think it would be for adapting to another system? You say you would use BRP but do you think the original system holds up?
There was no one system for it. Thieves World wasn't system agnostic either, it was multi-system. Much like the multiple fantasy authors involved in the books the boxed RPG set included many RPG authors. Even Traveller made it in courtesy of Marc Miller. The setting was very interesting, and the city of Sanctuary was really well done. The architecture was quite realistic.

I pulled my copy off the shelf (yes it was so good I still keep it handy) and it included "characters and notes" for AD&D, Adventures in Fantasy, Chivalry and Sorcery, DragonQuest, D&D, The Fantasy Trip, RuneQuest, Traveller and Tunnels and Trolls. The encounter tables were an outgrowth of Midkemia Press excellent City book (which I also keep on the shelf).

An outstanding product.
 

griffon8

Explorer
I still have my copy of Thieves' World. But the box is long gone. I originally bought it because it included Traveller! Though I had read some of the books, too.

I have an interesting story about the bounty hunters. Like many stories that are interesting, it is also a little embarrassing.

I took it upon myself to combine all three versions into one "superior" version. Naturally, this meant every ability any of them had went into my version. I don't recall for certain, but I probably went with the most generous xp table. And definitely the largest hit-die.

The worst part for me was typing it up. I used my mother's typewriter for the first time and didn't know the rules for typing. There are arguments now about whether to use one space or two after a period*? I didn't use any space. After all, the period (and comma) told you to stop (or pause); why add an unnecessary space?

Fortunately for all concerned, this "writing" was never seen by anyone else.

*It's one, BTW. Don't fight me on it.
 

Paragon Lost

Terminally Lost
I had stumbled upon a website claiming that Lynn Abbey, a great authour in her own right and wife to Robert Aspin who created Thieves World was going to be doing a kickstarter for a new game but that site was dated just before covid and now I can't find it.

As someone who has the box set, what do you think of it? How useful do you think it would be for adapting to another system? You say you would use BRP but do you think the original system holds up?
I loved it, it was years ahead of its time honestly. It proved very useful to me along with the book series as reference to set up my long campaign that I ran it with. Remember I was using Palladium Fantasy and then GURPS which the books didn't cover and I found it highly useful. I drew maps of the whole continent and filled in the other areas based on what I'd read from the books at the time.

The books and the later Companion did cover a lot of systems of course, so they were useful just to get an idea for what abilities you wanted the npcs to have even if you didn't have those systems. The books did cover quite a few systems of the time. :)
 

LoganRan

Explorer
We played this Gamma World scenario, in one of several failed attempts to get a GW campaign started. As with the other false starts, the adventure went off the rails almost immediately (sorry).

All I can recall is that someone was allowed a light saber, and was cutting through bulkheads with it. I'm guessing that was not in the original adventure as written.
I wonder how many groups ever had a long running Gamma World campaign.

GW was always a "let's take a one session break from D&D" game for our group. It never really felt like it would support a satisfying long term campaign. I'm sure that there must be someone out there who played GW in a long campaign...but I have never come across such an individual.
 

Richards

Legend
There are arguments now about whether to use one space or two after a period*? I didn't use any space. After all, the period (and comma) told you to stop (or pause); why add an unnecessary space?

Fortunately for all concerned, this "writing" was never seen by anyone else.

*It's one, BTW. Don't fight me on it.
Must...resist...urge....to fight...griffon8...on it!

Johnathan
 

Davies

Legend
In issue 46, the editors challenged readers to send in a D&D bounty hunter class, and in "Wanted: Bounty Hunters," they print the three best entries, by Scott Bennie, Tom Armstrong, and Robert L. Tussey & Kenneth Strunk. All of them are some variation of ranger/thief, and no one brings anything fresh to the table, though Scott Bennie’s entry was well well-regarded by some. Bennie went on to accumulate many RPG writing credits before moving into the video games industry.
He was still writing for RPGs as recently as 2014.
 

Tom B1

Explorer
I wonder how many groups ever had a long running Gamma World campaign.

GW was always a "let's take a one session break from D&D" game for our group. It never really felt like it would support a satisfying long term campaign. I'm sure that there must be someone out there who played GW in a long campaign...but I have never come across such an individual.
We managed some D&D campaigns that would run up to 12-15 months (and sometimes the 3-4 month ones were done at a very high frequency so had about the same amount of time involved. But a lot of the products of the time were short campaigns of a month or two (Traveller, Star Frontiers/Knight Hawks, Top Secret, Gangbusters, Champions, Twilight 2000) and there were others that were even shorter (FASA's Star Trek, FGU's Aftermath, Car Wars, Boot Hill, ndianna Jones, Marvel Super Heroes, Mercenaries Spies & Private Eyes, Battletech, Gamma World, Merc, Villains & Vigilantes, Morrow Project). I think the most fun campaigns were Traveller, D&D, Top Secret, Gangbusters, Boot Hill and Champions.

The problem with GW for longer term games was you didn't have the world support that D&D gave you (or even Gangbusters or Star Frontiers). The characters were interesting, but the tables were so random that your characters could be very, very odd to understand and thus to really give some depth to them. It lacked the capacity to imbue the characters with enough sense and purpose that D&D did so you just felt like characters were disposable and thin as far as why they were 2'4", had wings, and giant ears... ?

If they'd had a sort of thematic character building which would give a collection of related mutations and then the character could kind of feel more than a Frankenstein's monster and if you could have given a bit less caricatured groups and histories, you could have gotten a good basic campaign out of it for 4-6 months I imagine. But that wasn't likely as it arrived.

In Star Frontiers, if you had more than just the box set, you got conflicts, you have alien planets, you had multiple somewhat detailed races (Vrusk and Dralasite and Yazarian were distinct and didn't totally feel somehow derivative back then). There were options and you could build a character. Gamma World characters came off as some sort of flawed lab experiment (which could be playable, but only for one player likely... others should have different backgrounds).

In Top Secret, you got all the spy books and movies you'd ever seen for ideas to mine. And the world already had depth. (I hated Top Secret S.I. as it wen the way of Bond-esque fictional entities vs. real world stuff). Gangbusters gave you a city and genre gave you how usually different classes could relate and what themes would appear in the game. Boot Hill could lead to great campaigns (one group brought the railroad to the default town and fought range wars and added a spike line to their acreage. You could draw on all the cowboy movies and actual old west histories. (You just had to stop the players from killing one another in a bar fight that turned into a gunfight... because... gunfights!!!!!).

But Gamma World just never came with that free context and it didn't build enough of its own in depth and give the character builds enough thematic consistency to feel like a bioengineered race vs. just a random accident in the lab.

I think if you got most of the line of stuff from the FGU Aftermath, they had a good setting (two actually, one in Australia and one in the US). The rules were too crunchy... shot? roll on a table and determine you got hit, took x much damage, rotated clockwise 187 degrees, and were knocked down. No, I'm not making that up. The tables give you that, but it was clunky in play.

Gamma world needed more attention and a more focus development to make more than a 1 or 2 night diversion.
 

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