Dragon Reflections #66

Thieves' cant, illusions, and ElfQuest!

Dragon Publishing released Dragon issue 66 in October 1982. It is 84 pages long and has a cover price of $3.00. In this issue, we have fantasy philology, weapon specializations, and new illusionist spells!


This month's special attraction is "Thieves Cant: A Primer for the Language of Larceny" by Aurelio Locsin. Over the years, there have been many attempts to create a D&D thieves cant, but this is the first I recall seeing in Dragon Magazine. The author has defined an entire (if simple) language, which I think was the wrong approach. Who will take the time to learn and use it? Gaming cants are better when they simply create jargon for key terms (such as murder or burglary).

Several other language-related articles follow. "Language Rules Leave Lots of Room for Creativity in Your Campaign" by A. D. Rogan is a lengthy piece discussing the complexity of language in a roleplaying world, touching on topics like jargon and metalanguages. Rogan claims this detail can lead to "more realistic roleplaying," but I can't see the fun in it all.

Arthur Collins covers much of the same territory in "Fantasy Philology: Playing the Fluency Percentages." In this instance, he includes a simple system that determines how well creatures understand each other when they know related languages. He claims that "language differences can add a lot to the game" but doesn't back this up. Collins was a regular contributor to Dragon.

Rounding out the language section, Clyde Heaton overviews Old Dwarvish, including a grammar and sample dictionary. Heaton wrote one other article for Dragon on the structure of the Orcish language. It is clear that all of these articles were written by language enthusiasts, but not enough thought went into how D&D players could use this information at the table.

There are several other feature articles. In "Should they have an Edge?" a pair of gamers debate whether D&D spellcasters should be able to use forbidden weapons. John Sapienza believes the restrictions often don't make sense, such as when a cleric follows a sword-wielding god. His counterproposal is for weapon damage based on class rather than weapon type. Bruce Humphrey argues for the status quo and creates some rationalizations, such as the metal in a sword interfering with the casting of spells. I found Sapienza more persuasive, but the modern game has devised a reasonable solution to this issue via the carefully balanced weapon proficiency system.

In "ELFQUEST: Fantasy Comic Characters Fleshed out for AD&D Play," Karl Merris provides statistics for the main characters from the popular graphic novel. Merris previously contributed a winning dungeon to the International Dungeon Design Contest but appears to have done nothing else in the industry.

Tom Armstrong discusses illusions in "Is it Real?" with a focus on phantasmal force. He argues that saving throws should factor in the situation's plausibility, the intelligence of the targets, and the context. The article is too verbose for my taste but contains some valuable titbits. Armstrong was a regular contributor to Dragon.

In a similar article called "Familiarity factor prevents Illusionists from Stealing the Show," Gregory Quinn and Dale Young suggest additional bonuses to illusion saving throws based on how familiar the illusionist is with what they are attempting to duplicate, as well as various other factors. Though crunchy, this article is a more concise and well-considered rules variant than the last piece.

Roger E. Moore shares a scrap of flash fiction called "Friends in High Places." A group of adventurers in a tavern argue about who is most powerful but are cowed by a simple assertion from a woman in the corner. It is obvious but fun enough.

The final "feature" is an open letter from Gary Gygax to Rick Loomis of Flying Buffalo Games and is a response to a recent editorial in Wargamers Information criticizing TSR. Gygax defends his company and insults most of the industry along the way. This whole episode is very unedifying.

On to the regular offerings! "Sage Advice" returns with the usual collection of esoteric questions. This one caught my eye: "Why are elves unable to become rangers?" Here is the answer:
"Rangers developed among humanity as a response to the presence of the giant-class humanoids as direct competitors for food, living space, and power within the worlds governed by the laws of the AD&D™ game. The deities of humanity saw fit to encourage certain persons to take up roles of guardianship..."
While "the gods did it" is rarely a satisfactory explanation, the suggestion around survival competition with giants is intriguing, though perhaps hard to square with published settings.

"Featured Creatures" by Gary Gygax presents three new genies: the jann, dao, and marid. The latter two are game staples, but the jann (described as the weakest of all genies because it spends most of its time on the prime material plane) was dropped after D&D's third edition.

We get more Gygax in "From the Sorcerer's Scroll." This month, he presents a couple dozen new illusionist spells, including now-classics such as chromatic orb, alter self, and phantom steed. He also includes new weapon specialization rules that permit fighters to nominate a particular weapon and gain various bonuses when using it--including extra attacks.

"Leomund's Tiny Hut" by Lenard Lakofka describes many new creatures aimed at low-level parties, including capsule statistics for over a dozen miniature animals--small mammals created through magic and often found in isolated areas. They are more aggressive and tend to group together more than their larger counterparts. Examples include the miniature elephant and the miniature tiger.

In "Up On a Soapbox," Paul Crabaugh argues that individuals can significantly impact the course of history, and he cites several people (such as Abraham Lincoln) to bolster his case. His ultimate point is that heroic characters in fantasy literature and games, with their outsized impact on the world, are not as unrealistic as critics may claim. Crabaugh was a frequent contributor to Dragon.

"Off the Shelf" by Chris Henderson returns with capsule reviews of many recent genre fiction books. The Coming of the Horseclans by Robert Adams is "an excellent fantasy tale, setting the stage well for the seven novels which follow it." For fans of bizarre ideas, The Iron Dream by Norman Spinrad is "a powerful warning of how charisma, strength, and a sense of purpose can mask what may lie beneath them." Meanwhile, Mallworld by Somtow Sucharitkul offers a glimpse into "an interestingly deranged future" that is both "humorous and frightening, because of its believability." And The Earth Shaker by Lin Carter may be the "best" of his Zarkon novels.

In the realm of science fiction, Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan by Vonda N. McIntyre stands out as an adaptation that "enhances the movie, explains in detail many of the things only hinted at in the film, and fills in some gaps in the plot..." For those who appreciate anthologies, Bolo by Keith Laumer presents "the most inventive science-fiction land weapon ever put before the reading public," while Collected Fantasies by Avram Davidson is "pure fantasy, and a lot of fun." And Death, by Stuard David Schiff, is "the most interesting new collection on the market."

Erasmus Magister by Charles Sheffield showcases the author's "blending of real people, places, facts and events with his own brand of the unusual," resulting in a brilliantly executed historical fantasy. Black Easter and The Day After Judgement by James Blish provide a chilling exploration of black magic that is "all the more terrifying" due to Blish's careful attention to mechanical and magical technology. Lastly, Merchanter's Luck by C.J. Cherryh is "one of the most suspenseful pieces by Cherryh yet."

In "The Dragon's Augury," Tony Watson reviews Star Smuggler, a solitaire board game by Heritage. Players assume the role of Duke Springer, a stellar adventurer who must amass enough money to pay off his starship. The adventure unfolds in a unique way using event paragraphs, dice rolls, and player decisions. Despite some poor editing and the lack of a handy chart reference, it is a "fine game" and "just the thing for the player who has to play most of his games solitaire."

This month's cover painting is by Paul Sonju. Other artists include Ray Williams, Robert Allen, Roger Raupp, Wendy Pini, Phil Foglio, Jim Holloway, and David Trampier.

And that's a wrap! This issue contained a lot of filler, but my favorite article was the debate about weapon restrictions. Next issue, we have astral adventuring, Greyhawk deities, and new magic-user spells!

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M.T. Black

M.T. Black

This is one of only 2 Dragon Magazines print editions I don't own a physical copy of. I was "off subscription" at the time and had just moved away for graduate school (yes I'm that old). By the time I located a hobby shop it was sold out. I read a friend's later and I picked up the Dragon CD-Rom with issues 1-250 (plus the Strategic Review). I still don't have that "I remember this one" that I get with the other issues. Honestly, it's not like I went back and read / re-read issues again and again either. Well, sometimes :D Odd how memory works. Still, thanks for the re-cap, I'm going to go back and re-read it now :)

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