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

el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
I played a good amount of Star Frontiers and aside from using d% I can't really remember much of the crunch either. I am pretty sure we probably just ignored/forgot most of the modifiers.

What I would love to know is how others played the game, narrative and style-wise. I only had the module that came with the boxed set, so had to make everything else up from there.

I remember introducing a new kind of weapon (we called them "Pulsar weapons," I think) and the characters found out they had radiation poisoning and cancer from using them (I was a twisted middle schooler) and had a mission to find the inventor and hold the corporation who sold them to account. It was the 80s, corporate thrillers were the big thing!
 

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MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
It's funny, for a lot of the RPGs other than the big ones we played back in the day, I could barely tell you anything about the mechanics, but the lore, the stories we told, those stick in my mind.

looking at some of the mechanics, I think we either had a higher tolerance for crunch, or an easy hand with house-ruling things down to simpler formats.
It this it was also, for me, the fact that I--and a large group of friends--had a lot of free time, lived in walking/biking distance to each other, and were not crushed with heavily burdensome college prep work since middle school. It was a lot easier to spend a lot of time pouring over rule books. Also, as young players, we were much more comfortable with just starting to play a game even if we didn't fully understand the rules. Perhaps my good memories are also due to ignoring or being ignorant of much of the rules.
 

MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
I played a good amount of Star Frontiers and aside from using d% I can't really remember much of the crunch either. I am pretty sure we probably just ignored/forgot most of the modifiers.

What I would love to know is how others played the game, narrative and style-wise. I only had the module that came with the boxed set, so had to make everything else up from there.

I remember introducing a new kind of weapon (we called them "Pulsar weapons," I think) and the characters found out they had radiation poisoning and cancer from using them (I was a twisted middle schooler) and had a mission to find the inventor and hold the corporation who sold them to account. It was the 80s, corporate thrillers were the big thing!
I'll have to check with friends who have much better memory of our games back then. I don't know if it is because stopped gaming for a long time and a lot of those memories faded, but I have friends that will talk about whole campaigns I had run in the 80s that I have no memory of. I remember that our Star Frontier games were much more slap stick than who we played many other games. I don't recall space ship battles at all.

Basically I ran it where the party was a group of mercenaries with going on a variety of missions. Basically D&D except that dungeons were space ships and wilderness and settlements could be on different planets. Really, it seems a like we played it much how I've seen people play Paizo's Starfinder. I couldn't get into Starfinder, because it just felt like D&D in space, with space travel and battles seeming to not be a major part of adventures (in what little exposure I had to it shortly after it was released). I expect, therefore, that if I were to look at Star Frontiers with current eyes, I might not find it so compelling.

I just remember at the time really liking the character options, especially the races/species and how they were described in the books. Also, for some reason, I really though "credits" for money was cool. I don't know why that was such as compelling idea for me at the time, other than I was young and credit cards were not so ubiquitous in daily life--like a lot of grocery stores wouldn't even take credit cards at the time. Nobody had cells phones, etc. So now in 2023, in the era of ubiquitous credit and crypto currencies, the future has arrived. I am, however, still waiting to meet some Yazarian, Drasalite, or Vrusk friend to go off on adventures with. I'm getting, old, however. They better hurry up and discover Earth.
 

Mannahnin

Scion of Murgen (He/Him)
The very short form (one can spend ages tweaking this if desired):

Everywhere you see something priced in g.p., or g.p. in a treasure hoard, replace the "g" with an "s". Similarly reduce e.p. values (or drop e.p. entirely). Things currently priced in s.p. or c.p. stay largely as is. Whenever you see p.p., reduce it to g.p.

You still have g.p. in the game but they're nowhere near as common, and they're worth (relatively) more as they take the place of platinum. Actual platinum pieces become very rare and are each worth a lot. For example, a hoard that previously contained 500 of each coin type might now contain 500 c.p., 2500 s.p., 50 e.p., 50 g.p., and 5 p.p. (I haven't done the math to determine if these are equal or not, it's just an example); and the magic longsword you find would sell for 2000 s.p. instead of 2000 g.p.

End result: magic items and other big things become relatively less costly in relation to mundane gear, thus the divide between the mundane economy and the adventuring economy shrinks significantly.

Having said all that, I like gold as the base and still use it today in my games. My DM uses the silver-based system, hence my familiarity with it.

Thanks for taking the time to spell that out for me. Thank you!
I'm fond of this too, and also find that it creates a somewhat more realistic/historical feel. Dan Collins did a series of good posts on Delta's D&D Hotspot getting into the weeds on this too.

One thing to bear in mind if you're playing old-school dungeon crawls, however, is that doing just this reduces the encumbrance challenge of coins substantially. So if you want to maintain that logistical challenge, you'll want to a) include bulky art objects and trade goods to add that challenge back in, and/or b) add a new "bronze bits" or similar even smaller coin than copper pieces, to take their place in the treasure hordes while copper substitutes for silver pieces. Of course, for some folks, removing/seriously reducing the encumbrance burden of coinage is a feature rather than a bug. :)
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
I'm fond of this too, and also find that it creates a somewhat more realistic/historical feel. Dan Collins did a series of good posts on Delta's D&D Hotspot getting into the weeds on this too.

One thing to bear in mind if you're playing old-school dungeon crawls, however, is that doing just this reduces the encumbrance challenge of coins substantially. So if you want to maintain that logistical challenge, you'll want to a) include bulky art objects and trade goods to add that challenge back in, and/or b) add a new "bronze bits" or similar even smaller coin than copper pieces, to take their place in the treasure hordes while copper substitutes for silver pieces. Of course, for some folks, removing/seriously reducing the encumbrance burden of coinage is a feature rather than a bug. :)
Adding some smaller-than-c.p. coins makes sense from the perspective of commoners' everyday lives, otherwise it wold be the equivalent of having everything in our world priced in multiples of $10.

Think of pre-decimal England - the penny wasn't a small enough unit, so you had ha'pennies and farthings.

As for encumbrance, you could always make the new s.p. be the same size and weight as the old g.p. That said, 1e coins weigh far too much in any case, based on real-world examples (the Canadian "loonie" has always seemed like the perfect real-world model for a g.p.), so cutting their weight down somewhat isn't necessarily a bad thing.
 

el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
Adding some smaller-than-c.p. coins makes sense from the perspective of commoners' everyday lives,

When I ran with a silver standard, I did two things:

1. When buying starting equipment, treat everything in the book listed as costing gold as equivalent in silver, silver as copper and everything in copper as double copper. And then went back to the 1E equivalent of 20 cps = 1 sp. As I have said elsewhere, I see the starting prices in the PHB as just that starting prices and don't necessarily hold to those prices once the game starts and the characters are "in the world."

2. I did introduce brass pennies (20 of which were one [edit: I wrote "silver" originally, I meant. . .] copper) and old lead coins (colloquially referred to as "dead weight") whose only remaining value was melting them down as almost no one took them anymore.
 
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Voadam

Legend
This was one of the three I had in the 80s. I remember the swords article, I mostly remember the stories about them being neat but thinking the powers were fairly arbitrary. Albruin is the only name that really struck a chord.

I vaguely remember the dragons and the computer calculator. I never used the calculator.
 


griffon8

Explorer
That combat computer got a lot of use when I was in college. It was while using it that I realized the different 'to hit' vs. different armors actually made some sense, like piercing weapons being better against chain but worse against plate.
 


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