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Let's read the entire run

(un)reason

Adventurer
A while ago, I decided to read through and review the entire print run of Dragon from beginning to end. (at least, the physical issues, as I want to be able to complete this, not get stuck on an endless treadmill.) Five months later, I'm about a fifth of the way through, and have found out quite a lot of cool stuff about the early history of gaming. As this is a ridiculous amount of work, naturally I want to share my findings, and get other people's perspectives on the events in gaming's history. Hope you guys enjoy it.

So without further ado, lets get started, with the precursor to Dragon, The Strategic Review. This little newsletter ran for 7 issues over 1975-6, before being superceded as they expanded rapidly, and split their output into wargaming and RPG magazines. There's quite a bit of impenetrable stuff on long dead wargames in there, but that doesn't make it any less interesting to discover. Any info on those from people who lived through that period would be welcomed.


The strategic review 1: Spring 1975

So here we are, right back at the dawn of D&D periodicals. First impressions are that they tried to do it in a newspaper style, with a baroque heading and captioned sections. My second is on how short and succinct it is. Only 6 pages long, with no artwork, and obviously typewritten, it gets right to the point, explaining what they are trying to do with the zine (and apologizing for the lack of stuff, as its their first issue, and they don't have any letters or advertisers. )

The rest of the issue contains the following:

An advert for new editions of their wargames (3rd edition chainmail, now featuring the fighting men of the east! And people complain about the animeisation of games now. Says it all really.)

Mind flayers! Their first appearance. Still recogniseably the same basic monster, with almost impenetrable magic resistance, and quick kill brain eating, although they lack the later depth and descriptive detail. Their mind blast is a classic of idiosyncratic OD&D design, with a unique saving throw based off the victims intelligence, rather than level.

Edition change stuff for Tractics (which I've never heard of before, by by implication is another miniatures game, so people who already have the previous edition don't have to buy a whole new copy. How nice of them.

Gary Gygax talking about the underpoweredness of spears in Chainmail, saying people shouldn't complain about it because it is Historically Accurate :D , and also that they intend to introduce expanded details on polearms, rather than just having one generic entry for them. I think most of us know how that one pans out in the future. Oh yes.

2 pages of random dungeon generation tables, easily making up the biggest section. Shows where their priorities are. These are probably still usable today, as very little is system specific, and what is is easily convertible. Maybe I will use them at some point.

More adverts on the final page.

Funny how many of the things here would go on to be significant later on in the game. There is very little flavour text anywhere, and you are obviously expected to take things and make them your own. They also don't have the skill with layout and making things stand out that they would later develop. Despite its smallness, there is a tendency towards block of textiness. But It was still an entertaining and informative read, and the lack of padding could be seen as a benefit, because it does allow you to get right to the important stuff.
 

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Ah. Good times. I didn't get into gaming until 1980 but I have fond memories of Dragon Magazine. With the instant gratification of gaming forums like this one its easy to forget what it was like to wait a month to see forum posts and responses. Thor being killed with a push spell :)

I wonder if that cute little elven cavalier, Alycia and that human fighter are still fighting the good fight.
 



DMH

First Post
FYI there is a thread in RPG.net that does exactly this. Perhaps you can look it up for a different perspective and inspiration.

Yes, (un)reason. He is reposting here for a different perspective and I laud it. Check out his sig for some other threads there along the same lines.
 

El Mahdi

Muad'Dib of the Anauroch
Dudes, you guys are freaking me out (cangerjoide and ExploderWizard). It's bad enough you guys have the same avatar, but you guys keep posting beside eachother. Stop it! You're driving me insane! I can't keep track of which of you is the "Good" guy and which is the "Evil" guy (and don't say both of you are the "Evil" one - Ha, beat you to it;)).

Really, I'm just joking. I just keep seeing your avatars together and then see your names and realize the posts aren't the same person.:blush: Cheers.:)

(Carry On):cool:
 

cangrejoide

First Post
Yes, (un)reason. He is reposting here for a different perspective and I laud it. Check out his sig for some other threads there along the same lines.

Duh!!

I totally missed that.

Oh well carry on, nothing to see.

Dudes, you guys are freaking me out (cangerjoide and ExploderWizard). It's bad enough you guys have the same avatar, but you guys keep posting beside eachother. Stop it! You're driving me insane! I can't keep track of which of you is the "Good" guy and which is the "Evil" guy (and don't say both of you are the "Evil" one - Ha, beat you to it;)).

Really, I'm just joking. I just keep seeing your avatars together and then see your names and realize the posts aren't the same person.:blush: Cheers.:)

(Carry On):cool:

What can I say ? Great Wormy fans think alike?
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
The strategic review 2: Summer 1975

We're up to 8 pages in this one. They start off with an obituary for Donald Kaye, the forgotten third co-founder of TSR. Ironicaly, he was only around the same age as Gary Gygax, who of course went on another 32 years. Rather a shame, really. TSR's history would probably have developed quite differently if he'd been around. Already they seem a little more aware of what they are doing, and how to go about it. We get the disclaimer about unsolicited material, and adverts. There is the persistent sense of a company that is expanding as fast as they can create and print new stuff, and still building up the infrastructure needed to do it. There is also plenty of reminders that the 1970's were a slower age, with talk of distribution times and the like. The internet has enabled us to send things out across the whole world as soon as it is done, which is pretty cool. They also say that D&D is not intended to simulate reality but to primarily just be a fun game. Yeah, its pretty clear where the original designers intentions fall on the GNS model. We don't want none of those poncy narrativists or boring simulationists around here.

Other stuff:

Errata for Cavaliers and Roundheads. Another historical period that seems to have fallen out of fashion.

Stuff on the upcoming conventions.

Lots of clarifications for D&D. I suppose this is the first ancestor of what would become Sage Advice. Very dry, point by point stuff, as you would expect. Already people were discontented with the spell memorisation system, but they stuck with it as the main option for another 25 years.

Ropers! Another new introduction that continues to annoy to this day, although they never became iconic like illithids. Very archaic sounding intro.

Rangers. The very first instance of a twinktastic new class being introduced in the magazine! They only go to level 13, and lack the rogue abilities and two weapon fighting that they would later get, but are deadly against giants, can track, and become pretty decent spellcasters in both wizard and cleric lists at high level. I certainly recognise the AD&D 1st ed ranger in these, but they are almost completely different to the 3.5 ranger. Once again we see an influx of fiddly social restrictions that have since disappeared, and a tendency towards static abilities with an arbitrary chance of success. Unified mechanics, where are you?

Some really primitive line art, little more than a napkin scribble. Still, the first issue had no art at all, so its progress I guess.

Polearms! A whole page on polearms! Getcha dozen varieties of polearms here. All of the names are familiar sounding, and I think this is most of the ones that would be a staple of both 1st and 2nd ed AD&D. Much pointless minutinae contained within.

Some bitching about printing and dice costs, and saying they may have to raise prices. Yeah, thats a familiar story whatever the era. This is a reminder that before D&D, dice other than 6 siders were exceedingly rare, and they had to get up a distribution chain to get a regular supply of them.

Expansion for Panzer warfare. Again, we don't see enough rules for playing with tanks these days. Damn narrativists and their focus on feelings. We want more tanks!

1st D&D supplement Greyhawk out now. Boot hill coming soon.

In some ways this is less familiar than the 1st issue, as it really points out how the organisation of gaming has changed with the internet. Still, I can see things are already developing, such as variable damage for weapons, power creep, and the start of the first D&D setting. And its certainly a much lighter read than modern stuff. I'm definitely enjoying things so far, and I can see why it took off so fast.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
And a poster here has done this. He was up to about the early seventies IIRC. Gack, I loved reading them and I'm totally blanking on who did it.

Oho, go go Google.

The poster is Glyfair and here is his thread.

http://www.enworld.org/showthread.php?t=165042

Cool. Always nice to get other perspectives. (also, usually pleasing to see I've already gotten further than previous attempters, but that's neither here nor there. ) Thanks for pointing that out.

Duh!!

I totally missed that.

Oh well carry on, nothing to see.
:D Do I have to have the same avatar as well as the same username for you to recognize me? The internet isn't that anonymous.
 

garyh

First Post
Gary Gygax talking about the underpoweredness of spears in Chainmail, saying people shouldn't complain about it because it is Historically Accurate :D , and also that they intend to introduce expanded details on polearms, rather than just having one generic entry for them. I think most of us know how that one pans out in the future. Oh yes.

Polearms! A whole page on polearms! Getcha dozen varieties of polearms here. All of the names are familiar sounding, and I think this is most of the ones that would be a staple of both 1st and 2nd ed AD&D. Much pointless minutinae contained within.


I came in with AD&D 2e, and I'll never forget the endless lists of glaives, guisarmes, glaive-guisarmes, guisarme-glaives, glaive-guisarme-glaives, glaive-glaive-guisarme-glaives, and glaive-guisarme-guisarme-glaive-glaives. ;)

This is a really neat idea, and I'm looking forward to following along!
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
The strategic review 3: Autumn 1975

Still only 8 pages long, but the typeface is smaller. We kick off with an editorial blasting an unfavourable reviewer and his flawed reviews, and asking the readers to send in reviews of his new games in return. We get a lovely mix of high-handedness and petty vindictiveness as Gary asks the enraged letter senders to put their money where their mouth is, while feigning impartiality himself. Yeah, this is all very familiar from the internet. Goes to show, people haven't really changed. This issue feels a lot more commercial than the last two, with more adverts, and an explicit focus on stuff for their shiny new supplements, and making you aware of them. We also see the first joke submissions here, starting the long tradition of poking fun at gamer stereotypes. Again, these have changed surprisingly little with the passing of time.

Stuff within:

9 monsters, all of which have survived to the modern day, including those soon to be classic annoyances the shrieker and piercer, and nagas, which are also recogniseably similar to their modern form. There is a definite emphasis on tricksy stuff, camouflage, aging, attacks from above, ethereality and other annoying stuff the players have to think about to counter. These would never make it into the current ruleset as they were.

Joke monsters based on gamer stereotypes as mentioned above, plus the mess they are wont to make, and hippys. Jokes about narrative combat abound. Could such a thing become reality. I think we know the answer to that.

The battle of the ebro river. More really primitive line art.

The Conan line of miniatures becomes the Sword and Sorcery line, as they learn about brand name stuff. (although this is not the last time they make that mistake, as the cthulhu stuff in deities and demigods showed. )

Stuff on the history of gunslinging for boot hill. Fanning is declaimed as flashy stuff that's not effective in a real combat. And we get a reminder from real life how dangerous the life of an adventurer would actually be. And a case of designer hubris, saying they would never have made Boot Hill if they listened to surveys, but they made it anyway, because they are their own market and know what they like. Um, yeah. Again, hindsight shows how that one turns out.

Our first case of joke poetry. Names involving geographic features and animals are so easy to parody. How they took it seriously 20 years later in W:tA I'll never know.

Fluff and a random generation table for deserted cities of mars, which is pretty cool.

Percentile dice sets are now available separately. I note that they don't have 10 sided dice yet, and instead use 20 siders numbered twice when they have too. I guess it'll take white wolf and their exclusive use of 10 siders to really make those non platonic interlopers take off.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
The strategic review 4: Winter 1975

Up to 12 pages now, and they open saying SR is moving from quarterly to bi-monthly next issue. The price also undergoes a 50% increase to 75 cents (shocking, shocking i say!) Yeah, they really are expanding fast. They talk about new employees, and there's quite a bit about gencon. The snark of last issue is followed up on, with them apologising that no-one has sent in any reviews. As these are expanding so fast, I doubt I'll be able to keep commenting on everything within each issue for long. We shall see.

We see that they are now getting lots of submissions. Which I guess means they can afford to pick and choose what actually gets published. And also that people apart from the core designers will start to diversify the tone and focus of the game. Which, as we know will have results both good and bad over the years.

Stuff in this issue:

More stuff on polearms. Gary really liked them, didn't he.

A case of someone trying to make oriental weapons nastier than their western equivalents. And this time the editors stop them. Hey, thats refreshing. :D How long can they keep the orientophiles at bay?

More impenetrable tables for Panzer Warfare, and errata for Tractics. I really must do some research on these old wargames so I can comment critically on them.

Illusionists! Yes, its the first more power by restricting their scope class. (as contrasted with rangers, which are fighters+, only with behavioural restrictions. ) Still only 13 levels long with 5th level spells the highest covered. ( was that the standard coverage limit in OD&D?) They manage to fit a list of 40 spells, 25 of which are new, onto a single page. Overall, I think they are probably better balanced than rangers were, but don't have as much flavour.

The first D&D comic. By a Marc Miller (I assume not that one, but I cant be certain) apparently. Pretty basic trope joke, if a dated one (who bothers spiking doors open these days?)

A name and pronunciation guide for tekumel. This is some seriously detailed stuff, with quite a bit of setting and personal history in with the tables. Definately a lot more setting depth and intricacy there than there was in early D&D, and its interesting to see them covering games by other creators.

Clay golems! IOUN STONES! (squee) With personal permission from Jack Vance himself. So already proper published authors were becoming aware of D&D.

A profile of "DOC" Holiday for boot hill. Pretty cool stuff that gives you a nice feel for the topic in a single page.

Supplement II Blackmoor now out. Still a slow progression compared to the several titles per month of their heyday, but the D&D train is definitely building speed. I also noted a little caption simply saying "the dragon is coming!" Looks like they had already realized the limitations of their current format, and were planning for its replacement.
 

Mustrum_Ridcully

Adventurer
I wonder if this wouldn't be better posted (or at least cross-posted) in a blog (on EN World). Thread have the unfortunate habit of disappearing among hundreds of others and moving to later pages...
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
I wonder if this wouldn't be better posted (or at least cross-posted) in a blog (on EN World). Thread have the unfortunate habit of disappearing among hundreds of others and moving to later pages...

I certainly considered it. When I'm close to completing this I'll definitely be looking to find a neat, properly indexed home for all the reviews. But at the moment, it amuses me to imagine myself playing the role of a barrow boy shouting to be heard in a bustling city street. B-) I wouldn't be doing this if I didn't want the challenge.
 
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el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
I can't wait until you get to issues I've read (and probably still own - I have two boxes in the closet I have not touched in 8 years). . . I'd guess my first was #60-something.

EDIT: And went and looked at covers online - looks like the first one I ever got was #87, but the oldest one I ever got my hands on was #55. :)
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
The strategic review 5: December 1975

Up to 16 pages, and we have a proper cover this time, plus a coming next at the end. Its starting to look more and more like the format that they would have for Dragon. More organisational bitching and corresponding price raises. Lankhmar is hinted at, (god, was it really that soon after D&D's release?) as is Gods, Demigods and Heroes. The art hasn't improved in quality that much, but there is considerably more of it. They're definitely still improving every issue at the moment.

This issue contains:

Biographies of the TSR staff. Interesting that Gary is noticeably older than the rest of them. Self depreciating humour abounds.

Crossover time: Nazis vs Necromancers. Not that surprising, really, given the topics they've been covering. If anything, I'm surprised they didn't do it sooner. This is primarily an actual play, but also tells you how to do it yourself with the existing games. The longest article longer article yet, at 4 pages long.

Robe of scintillating color. Prayer beads. More soon to be classic magical items. As ever, they are considerably less balanced than they would later become.

Commiserations on another magazine folding. I get the impression that they may be being sarcastic. Miniatures gaming was a cutthroat business ;)

The battle of the nile refought. Another increasingly detailed article. At this rate there might be more pages, but less interesting articles in this one.

More stats for tractics. If other people were getting as bored of this as I am, its no wonder they split the roleplaying stuff from the wargaming bits.

Another gunslinger profile for Boot Hill.

Rakshasas, Slithering trackers, Trappers. Less iconic monsters maybe, but still ones that I remember, and have survived in various incarnations to today. Rakshasas in particular have the same tremendously annoying traits that they retained all the way to 3rd edition.

The amount of padding and advertising is definitely increasing. Maybe it's just because I did these first five issues in a single day, and I'm flagging, but this one feels less interesting than the previous ones. If slithering trackers had been introcudced in the 1st issue, would they have become iconic in the way mind flayers did? Who can say. At this point I'm becoming interested in seeing things I don't remember, that got overlooked and might need reappraisal, because remember virtually everything I've seen so far making it into future books in various forms.
 

Ruslanchik

First Post
Thank you for doing this. I am a late-comer to the DnD party, but was introduced to the game with ODnD and 1E books (never actually played these) and am fascinated with the earlier editions. I'm sure I'll never look at these mags, so it is nice to get a summary here.
 

(un)reason

Adventurer
The Strategic Review 6: February 1976

For the first time, this issue remains almost the same in format to the previous one. However, but the matters within feel more significant somehow. Its the first issue that feels like business as usual, in a way. The organisational hassles of previous issues have become more manageable, which means they can actually get more stuff done. Much of this can probably be credited to their new member of staff Tim Kask, who takes over editing, leaving Gary to concentrate on the creative stuff. Good for them.

Contained within:

Alignment starts its change from the single law/chaos (with law strongly associcated with good and chaos with evil) axis, to the nuanced field of morals and ethics that we know and love (or in many cases hate ;) ) from every subsequent edition until the latest. (grumble mutter mutter) There's still some serious kinks in it. There's only 5 proper alignments, with true neutrality presented as rare, and primarily only inhabited by druids, animals, and other amoral creatures. Meanwhile, the other alignments get a more complex grading that never caught on, with 16 different ratings of good/evil and 22 of law/chaos that all have proper nouns rather than numbers, and allow you to move up and down gradually. Elysium is the plane of ultimate chaotic good, while Humanity in Gygax's mind is a largely lawful race, not the unaligned occupiers of every alignment equally or mostly neutral with a significant minority of other alignments (depending on who you listen to) they would later be presented as. As someone who takes great interest in questions of both game and real world ethical constructs, this is very interesting stuff indeed, worthy of a thread in itself. One of the reasons I started this was to find forgotten gems that show the alternate ways the game could have gone, and this system makes me want to run a campaign featuring it's quirks and the logical extensions of those quirks as strong features.

A review of fanzines. We get a shout-out to Games Workshop, still distributing RPG's themselves at this point, and another annoying rating system using titles rather than numbers, yet is still effectively a numerical rating system.

Our first piece of actual fiction. The quest for the vermillion volume by Rob Kuntz. We get a case of wizard that is aware of modern day earth pop culture via their plane scrying/hopping antics (something I seem to remember Ed Greenwood becoming very fond of in his Eliminster tales later on. ) In less than 2 pages it manages to be a fairly entertaining little story, in which an elf is very much not a mysterious uberbeing but instead gets outclassed and humiliated at every turn.

A piece pimping Fight in the skies, another wargame.

A list of DMs, to help people find a game. The kind of thing that would be handled by the internet now much faster and more conveniently. Makes me vaguely curious how many of these people are still alive, at the same address, and gaming. Not that I'm gonna get on a plane and try and find out, as that would just be creepy.

Bards! Oh yes, We're cooking with class bloat now. While they don't have the weird prerequisites to get into the class that they will in 1st ed AD&D, and the ability score requirements are less stringent and absolute, they are otherwise pretty similar in most respects, with about half strength thieving and magic-user (not druid, for some reason, despite their social connection being explicitly spelled out) abilities, decent fighting skills, plus their own lore and charm abilities, and the odd college system where they get a new title every 3 levels. Unlike the classes introduced in previous issues, they go all the way to 25th level, and get extensive detail on their followers. Like rangers, they probably are a bit overpowered, especially as they lack the strong behavioural restrictions rangers have to put up with. The various magical instruments that correspond with the colleges get introduced here as well, which is convenient.

Optional nerves rule for boot hill. Seems like another case of extra modifiers that would add realism at the expense of fun and speed of play.

Sage Advice gets its name, and becomes a formal column. Only small so far, and not in the answers to letters format that would become more familiar, but still fulfilling the same basic function.

Another familiar refrain, that that modern games are too big and complex for the casual gamer, and that their new game (Ancient conquest) cuts through all that and combines simplicity with emergent complexity. To which I am torn between smirking and sighing, knowing how much D&D will bloat over coming decades.

This is a lot more interesting than the last issue, and presents a lot of stuff that would have controversial reprecussions in the future. While still tiny, they're now making those tentative steps towards becoming a proper professional organization producing prolific amounts of product. (use a pop shield if saying that into a microphone :D ) Which is enjoyable to see.
 

Hussar

Legend
Optional nerves rule for boot hill.

Man, I think I gotta head to the eye doctor. I read that as "Optical nerves rules for boot hill" and thought, wow, they actually have mechanics for how your eyes work? Now that's just weird. :oops: :p
 

Mustrum_Ridcully

Adventurer
Man, I think I gotta head to the eye doctor. I read that as "Optical nerves rules for boot hill" and thought, wow, they actually have mechanics for how your eyes work? Now that's just weird. :oops: :p

Well, it could be one of the following:
- a cyberpunk or sci-fi game with cyberware (including cybernetic eyes and eye enhancements
- A game about a miniaturized submarine exploring a human body and defending it against viruses, bacteria and cancer...

;)
 

Halloween Horror For 5E

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