Dragon Reflections #56

Dragon Publishing released Dragon issue 56 in December 1981. It is 84 pages long and has a cover price of $3.00. In this issue, we have more Gygax on Greyhawk, a feature on bards, and a Top Secret adventure!

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This month's special attraction is "Mad Merc: The Alulu Island Mission," a Top Secret adventure by Merle M. Rasmussen and James Thompson. A mercenary group has invaded a pacific atoll, and it's up to our heroes to stop them. They encounter plenty of obstacles on the island itself, including a massive industrial facility worthy of the best James Bond films!

There are three articles dedicated to the bard. First, in "Singing a new tune," Jeff Goelz offers a variant class that leans into Welsh ideas. Next, we've got a dedicated "Sage Advice" column for the bard. Most of the answers boil down to, "Read the Player's Handbook!" Finally, in "Songs instead of spells," Bill Howell describes an alternate magic system for the class.

There are two more feature articles. William Hamblin's "Map hazard, not haphazard" recommends real-life topographical maps for your campaign world. Unfortunately, he does not really explain the benefits of doing this. And "The Doctor" is a piece of medical horror fiction by J. Robert Dunkle. I don't recall any horror fiction in Dragon before. It's creepy and nicely written.

On to the regular articles! Gygax returns with "From the Sorcerer's Scroll," presenting a short piece on protective circles and a longer one on the history of Iuz and the northern Flanaess. It is mostly battle reports and is probably one for fans only.

In "Minarian Legends," Glen Rahman details some legendary monsters from his setting, while John Prados brings us his final article on game design in "Simulation Corner."

"Dragon's Bestiary" presents three new monsters for D&D. First is the shroom by Lewis Pulsipher, an ursine humanoid with a fondness for ransom. Next is the colfel by Richard Lucas, a bug-like aberration from the Negative Material plane. Finally, there is the gem vars by Michael C. Reed, a humanoid construct made of gems.

"Dragon's Augury" reviews four games. Survival/The Barbarian is a double-pack by Task Force Games. The games are "easy and quick, but gamers after a real challenge should look elsewhere." Dawn of the Dead by SPI, based on the George Romero movie, is "fast-paced and a fair amount of fun." The Argon Gambit/Death Station is a pair of adventures produced by GDW which are "colorful and well-detailed." And while Fighting Ships, also by GDW, is "very interesting reading for those of us enamored with spaceships," the reviewer questions how valuable the content is for gamers.

I'm pleased to see that "Off the Shelf" has returned, with reviews by Chris Henderson. "Other Stories and... The Attack of the Giant Baby" by Kit Reed is "the best short story collection to be released this year." In "Sharra's Exile" by Marion Zimmer Bradley, we have a "complicated, devious, demanding tale," ultimately let down by a dull lead character. "Too Long a Sacrifice" by Mildred Downey Broxon "adds new dimensions to the fantasy genre," while "When Trouble Beckons" by Mike McQuay is a "fierce , hard-bitten travel through a gritty, weary future."

Phil Foglio painted this month's cover. Interior artists include Harry Quinn, Bruce Whitefield, Roger Raupp, David Trampier, Chuck Vadun, Alan Burton, and Mary Hanson-Roberts.

And that's a wrap! It felt like a thin issue, with the highlight being "Off the Shelf." Next month, we have modern monsters, a history of the shield, and a complete D&D adventure!
 
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M.T. Black

M.T. Black

Ath-kethin

Elder Thing
Read the rules? That is this, a game?

Actually, for all the jokes about how nobody reads the 5e DMG, it's funny to think that 40 years ago apparently nobody read the PH either.

I do really miss the old rule sets where it was easy to just swap in alternate systems for class features, though. The streamlined approach of WotC-era D&D definitely has its benefits, but also has a feel of overall same-iness that is just unfortunate.
 

Lidgar

Legend
I remember having a blast playing that Top Secret adventure.

Wasn’t that article on the bard the first time it appeared as a stand alone class? I seem to recall a conversation between a couple of orcs regarding how much “tastier”this version was…
 


Erdric Dragin

Adventurer
I do really miss the old rule sets where it was easy to just swap in alternate systems for class features, though. The streamlined approach of WotC-era D&D definitely has its benefits, but also has a feel of overall same-iness that is just unfortunate.
Which was why 3.5e was a perfect blend of both and that's long gone from ever getting the love and support it used to have.
 

Mannahnin

Scion of Murgen (He/Him)
I remember having a blast playing that Top Secret adventure.

Wasn’t that article on the bard the first time it appeared as a stand alone class? I seem to recall a conversation between a couple of orcs regarding how much “tastier”this version was…
That dialogue between the orc and half orc and the author has stuck in a lot of folks' memory. :) They complain about how 1E Bards are tougher than tanks, more or less. All those Hit Dice did tend to give them a ridiculous number of HP if you actually went all the way through the process!

The Bard first shows up as a standalone class for OD&D, in The Strategic Review Vol 2, #1 (Feb '76). Then you get the weird proto-prestige class version in the appendix to the AD&D PH in'78, and this more playable optional one in Dragon #56 in '81. Then the Rogue sub-class in 2nd ed, in '89.
 
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On to the regular articles! Gygax returns with "From the Sorcerer's Scroll," presenting a short piece on protective circles and a longer one on the history of Iuz and the northern Flanaess. It is mostly battle reports and is probably one for fans only.
I was an active gamer back when this one came out, and our group used Greyhawk as our campaign world, as it was the only published one around at the time. We followed EGG's updates in Dragon with great interest, and made use of them at times...
 

Riley

Hero
We got a lot of mileage out of this issue!

- The Top Secret adventure was a really fun one-off.

- I played one of these bards! I thought it was great, and I had a lot of fun with it. The 1e PHB bard wasn’t really an option in our years-long, low-level, no-xp-for-gp 1e campaign. (I did try to progress one of my characters into a 1e PHB bard. Even ignoring the ridiculous ability score requirements, I only made it as far as 5th level fighter and 4th or 5th level thief before a death-without-hope-of-raise-dead in a solo adventure. :()

- Our DM took "Map hazard, not haphazard" to heart, and photocopied the heck out of the library’s collection to lay out his non-dungeon adventures.

- Unfortunately, I still haven’t been able to un-read the horror of “The Doctor.” Eesh. After that, I didn’t think I’ve ever read another piece of Dragon fiction.
 
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As someone that actually did the full prestige class grind on a 1e bard, I so wish I had known that there was a standalone class back in the day. By the time I made official bard status, I was pretty much ready to move onto my next character.

- I played one of these bards! I thought it was great, and I had a lot of fun with it. The 1e PHB bard wasn’t really an option in our years-long, low-level, no-xp-for-gp 1e campaign. (I did try to progress one of my characters into a 1e PHB bard. Even ignoring the ridiculous ability score requirements, I only made it as far as 5th level fighter and 4th or 5th level thief before a death-without-hope-of-raise-dead in a solo adventure. :()
 

Riley

Hero
As someone that actually did the full prestige class grind on a 1e bard, I so wish I had known that there was a standalone class back in the day. By the time I made official bard status, I was pretty much ready to move onto my next character.

Yes, the Dragon 56 bard was a big improvement. It was what I’d want in a bard: a rogue with perform abilities, plus a few flavorful (druid and illusionist) spells. I only played mine a handful of sessions, though.

Kudos to you on doing the prestige class bard! I never came across one earned the hard way. (My dual-class character wasn’t intended to become a bard, I just discovered one day that I (almost) qualified to be one. And then I died.)
 

I think the only reason I was able to manage it was that I was a kid and I had all that time to game with. Trying that slog as an adult would be impossible.

Yes, the Dragon 56 bard was a big improvement. It was what I’d want in a bard: a rogue with perform abilities, plus a few flavorful (druid and illusionist) spells. I only played mine a handful of sessions, though.

Kudos to you on doing the prestige class bard! I never came across one earned the hard way. (My dual-class character wasn’t intended to become a bard, I just discovered one day that I (almost) qualified to be one. And then I died.)
 

griffon8

Explorer
Always thought is was a shame the old SSI Gold Box games didn't allow for bards. If you took a human ranger up to MU spell-casting level and then dual-class as an MU, you got to wear full armor and cast spells eventually. Would have been interesting to see a bard in the game.

That said, yeah, non-prestige class style, please.

Loved the cover, didn't play Top Secret at the time, but liked the adventure anyway.
 

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