Dragon Reflections #74

Dragon Publishing released Dragon #74 in June 1983. It is 87 pages long and has a cover price of $3.00. In this issue, we have seven swords, the bulette, and the famous combat computer!

Dragon Publishing released Dragon #74 in June 1983. It is 87 pages long and has a cover price of $3.00. In this issue, we have seven swords, the bulette, and the famous combat computer!

dragon74.jpg

In the editorial, Kim Mohan notes that this is Dragon Magazine's seventh anniversary. He welcomes Mary Kirchoff to the editorial staff and announces that Roger Moore will join the team full-time. Moore eventually edited both Dungeon and Dragon magazines and contributed to numerous other products over a 14-year career with the company.

This month's special attraction is "The Dragon Magazine Combat Computer." It is an AD&D playing aid in the form of a volvelle, a slide chart consisting of two cardboard circles joined together by a pin. Using this device, you can quickly cross-reference the defender's armor class with the attacker's experience level or hit dice to determine the base "to hit" number. It also reveals the weapon vs. AC modifier, which is otherwise very cumbersome to apply. It's a clever tool that was prized back in the day.

We have a variety of other features. In "Landragons," Ronald Hall introduces several new monsters from the mythical land of Drogasia. While related to traditional dragons, these creatures are distinguished by stunted wing appendages and the inability to fly. The article details three species of landragon: the Arack, the Scintillating Dragon, and the Night Dragon, each with unique abilities and characteristics. It is a great idea with some strong detail, but it is a bit wordy, and parts of the execution could be better.

Ed Greenwood's "The Electrum Dragon" is more to my taste. These peaceful creatures are philosophical by nature and like to accumulate items of beauty, such as statues, tapestries, and jewelry. The article is only half a page long and provides gameable detail in a short word count.

Also from Ed Greenwood is "Seven Swords," which details the lore and characteristics of seven unique magical swords from the Forgotten Realms. They are:
  1. Adjatha, "The Drinker": This longsword has a black sapphire in its hilt, can drain magic from items it touches, and uses this energy to protect its bearer.
  2. Albruin: An intelligent broadsword that can detect invisible objects and neutralize poison. It communicates through speech.
  3. Ilbratha, "Mistress of Battle": A bronze shortsword set with bloodstones, it enables its bearer to jump, blink, or create mirror images.
  4. Namara, "The Sword That Never Sleeps": This longsword enables its bearer to cast silence at will.
  5. Shazzellim: A scimitar designed for slaying bards, it can detect magic and secret doors and heal its bearer.
  6. Susk, "The Silent Sword": This longsword is entirely silent when used and remains levitating in the air when released.
  7. Taragarth, "The Bloodbrand": A bastard sword offering protection from fire and spells, it is known for its role in the history of the Moonshae Isles.
"The Ecology of the Bulette" by Chris Elliott and Richard Edwards delves into the famous land shark, a magical, earth-swimming beast with a body covered in thick scales and a carapace on its back. Much of the article recounts a purported hunt for an enormous albino specimen.

There are two articles by Arlen P. Walker. "In trouble? Say U.N.C.L.E." provides some backstory on the famous, fictional counterespionage agency, while "Tracing THRUSH's Nest" details their primary adversary. These are presumably fodder for Top Secret games, though that is not made plain.

"The Vicarious Participator" by Lewis Pulsipher discusses the evolution of roleplaying styles in the hobby. Initially, players focused on power and violence, which led to a countermovement advocating deep, character-driven roleplaying. Pulsipher thought this latter style was predominant but marred by intolerance of other styles. He champions a balanced approach called "vicarious participation," where players immerse themselves in the game world as extensions of their own personalities. As an aside, Jon Peterson's The Elusive Shift spends dozens of pages on this topic.

The "Dungeon Master's Personnel Service" by Joseph C. Spann is a D&D character generator written in BASIC. Although countless generators like this are available on the web today, this was almost revolutionary in 1983. Spann published nothing else in the hobby.

Finally, we have another Lewis Pulsipher article. "A player character and his money..." addresses the massive accumulation of wealth that plagues games like D&D. Pulsipher suggests adopting a "silver standard" to make treasures more realistic, reduce spending power, and align with medieval economic standards. Additionally, he offers strategies for game masters to sensibly reduce characters' wealth through various in-game expenses like upkeep, henchmen, strongholds, religion, taxes, and magic research. It is a well-considered article.

Now, on to the regular offerings! In "From the Sorceror's Scroll," Gary Gygax explores the history and characteristics of warhorses and their armor, as well as armor for fantastic steeds like griffons. Gygax also mentions the upcoming line of TSR miniatures and the new D&D Saturday morning cartoon.

"Leomund's Tiny Hut" returns with two new NPC classes: the bureaucrat and the politician. The former has abilities such as "confuse" and "lose paperwork," while the latter has "stuff the ballot box" and "enthrall." If this were the April issue, I'd assume it was satire.

Chris Henderson's "Off the Shelf" is one of my favorite columns, as he reviews the latest sci-fi/fantasy fiction. D'Arc Tangent by Foglio & Freff is a quality comic novel, blending science fantasy with richly developed characters and top-tier artwork. Edward Llewellyn's Prelude to Chaos transports readers to a future America where anarchy reigns, offering a narrative rich in character depth. Mike Resnick's The Three-Legged Hootch Dancer focuses on the quirky escapades of a space-traveling carnival crew. Barbara Hambly's The Walls of Air is a standout fantasy marked by immersive world-building and dynamic characters. Poul Anderson's Orion Shall Rise presents a post-apocalyptic Earth with intricate political and ecological themes. Finally, Marion Zimmer Bradley's The Mists of Avalon revisits the Arthurian legend from a female perspective, weaving a tapestry rich in Druidic lore and complex characters.

This issue has just one game review, an in-depth examination of Star Frontiers by TSR. It is a science fiction roleplaying game that, unlike Gamma World, embraces SF elements like interstellar travel, strange aliens, and a myriad of adventurous worlds. The setting features a multicultural civilization formed by humans and three other starfaring races. Its focus is on action, and it has detailed rules for character creation, skill acquisition, and combat, which makes it an attractive option for newcomers. However, the game lacks in-depth spacecraft rules and background material on its universe. Tony Watson concludes, "While not without its weaknesses, it's certainly a contender in a competitive market and probably a good choice for newcomers to this facet of role-playing."

Jim Holloway designed this month's cover. Interior artists include Phil Foglio, Timothy Truman, Dave Trampier, and Roger Raupp.

And that's a wrap! This issue has some strong content, but my favorite has to be the combat computer. In the next issue, we have an aquatic adventure, the ecology of the mimic, and a guide to the Nine Hells!
 

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M.T. Black

M.T. Black


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el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
100% agree here. Silver is where it is at for so many reason. I know this is still very popular in old school circles, but I had no idea it went back to as far as 83 or longer. I first heard about it in around 2009 or so.

I used a silver standard in my long-running homebrew from 1989 to 2016. I got the idea from this article when it was republished in Best of Dragon IV.
 

Divine2021

Adventurer
100% agree here. Silver is where it is at for so many reason. I know this is still very popular in old school circles, but I had no idea it went back to as far as 83 or longer. I first heard about it in around 2009 or so.

@Lewis Pulsipher Any history you can share on this article and the popularity of the rule back in the day?
Excuse my ignorance, can you explain to me how this would work in game?
 

Ah, that Jim Holloway cover! I love how it combines his generally hapless adventurers with a dragon that has such a lively expression, with a sense of being in the middle of the action caught between the two.

I first encountered Ed Greenwood's Seven Swords when they were collected in The Magister. And they are an exceptional set in all ways, easily a gold standard for evocative D&D weapons. Looking at Greenwood's pre-FR grey box content in Dragon, it's no wonder TSR went to him when they needed a new setting.
 

Reef

Hero
I suppose I'll be called an old fogey, but I VERY MUCH miss my monthly fix of Dragon magazine and Dungeon magazine, especially given that WotC is only releasing a single D&D product once every few months.. It would be awesome to see these two publications return, even more so if they were available in print form with a free PDF to accompany the printed magazine (as is done with Pathfinder).
It’s not just you. When I was in high school (almost 40 years ago now…sigh), coming home from school to find out my Dragon magazine had come in the mail was one of the highlights of my month.

I’m enjoying these retrospectives very much!
 

I always loved the premise of Star Frontiers as well as the aesthetic (that Larry Elmore cover!) But I found the game itself a disappointment - weirdly crunchy in ways that weren't fun. I played the heck out of Star Wars d6 instead.

I didn't see Knight Hawks until many years later, and was surprised to find it was basically a war game for fleets of ships. I think "Zebulon's Guide to Frontier Space" was taking it in the right direction, but too little too late.
 

I suppose I'll be called an old fogey, but I VERY MUCH miss my monthly fix of Dragon magazine and Dungeon magazine, especially given that WotC is only releasing a single D&D product once every few months.. It would be awesome to see these two publications return, even more so if they were available in print form with a free PDF to accompany the printed magazine (as is done with Pathfinder).
There are many of us who would be delighted to subscribe to an official monthly D&D magazine. Dragon+ didn't hit the mark because it was so marketing oriented and was also weirdly hard to access.

At the same time, I can see how the economics have changed drastically, especially for a big company like WOTC. Back in the day, the sort of material in Dragon was like gold - you just couldn't get it anywhere else. These days, you can google up a free blog post on everything covered by the magazine.
 


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