Dragon by Dragon – November 1981 (55)

Getting back on the blogging track means getting back into the Dragon by Dragon articles.

This week, I’m going to take a look at Dragon #55, from November 1981. This one has a really good beginning – a cover by Erol Otus. The best thing about the cover – I have no idea what that monstrous thing is. This, to me, lies at the heart of old school games – the freedom to invent something new every game, or to add all sorts of fun details to things old and well-known without the need to invent new mechanics.

I think one of the downfalls of 3rd edition D&D was the attempt to standardize fantasy. Standardization may be important for “branding”, but it’s terrible for creativity. I think many corporations these days are cutting their own throats by pushing “branding” over creativity.

On to the review …

First, a moment of righteous anger from the letters page:

“A lot of people seem to have a warped view of how to create a character. Some think you start off at 20th level with all the magic you can carry. Others have the strange notion that you get experience from taking damage. (A character in my world was nearly cut in half by a weapon hit and demanded he get experience for it: Why didn’t he just beat his head against a wall until he achieved godhood?)”

I enjoyed that bit – well said Greg Fox of Scotia, New York

Second, a note of the beginning of the end of Old School in Ed Greenwood’s review of the Fiend Folio

“The beauty of the AD&D rule system is its careful attention to detail, “serious” (i.e., treating monsters as creatures in a fantasy world, not as constructs in a fantasy game) tone, and consistency. The FIEND FOLIO Tome mars this beauty. In its pages this DM finds too much lack of detail, too many shifts in tone, and too many breaches of consistency.”

Here we see the cleaving of the playership – one side needing a “serious” imaginary world and the other just needing a fun place to play for a few hours. I’m in the latter group, and of course love the Fiend Folio. It’s probably not a surprise that I don’t much are for Mr. Greenwood’s Forgotten Realms setting – though I mean no disrespect to Mr. Greenwood. He’s a hell of a creator, and deserves great respect in the gaming world. It just sounds like we’re looking for different things from our gaming.

I’ll note one more line from the review:

“Perhaps it should have been a D&D® book, not one for the AD&D™ game.”

Guess that’s why I always liked the D&D rules better than the AD&D rules.

I will indulge my sense of humor for reviews one last time here, with this peach from a second review of the Fiend Folio.

“First, the names of the dragons are given in the wrong order. If you look in the Monster Manual under the entry indexed as “Dragon: White” you would see at the top of the description, “White Dragon (Draco Rigidus Frigidus).” The Latin name of the dragon is put in parentheses after the English name. But in the FIEND FOLIO under “Dragon, Oriental” a subtitle will read, “Li Lung (Earth Dragon),” with the Chinese name first and the English name in parentheses. Now, who is going to call this dragon “Li Lung” when “Earth Dragon” is much easier to remember? The names should have been given in reverse form (Oriental name last) for the sake of convenience, if nothing more.”

The joy of writing for nerds. At least the reviewer was focusing on the big picture, and not nitpicking.

Now to the feature articles:

Dinosaurs: New Theories for Old Monsters by Lawrence Schick raises the problem we still face with these creatures that we don’t face with fantasy monsters – we don’t know enough. We know more now than we did then, of course, which means we could well be revising monster stats for these beasts forever. This is why I prefer using dinosaurs in my games as though they were fantasy monsters based on what you got in old movies … with just a dash of what we now know (the potential for brilliant plummage, for example) to make them weird.

Gary Gygax has a nice article covering some of the peoples of Oerth. This was reprinted in the old Greyhawk boxed set, and I remember reading it there and thinking “Wow, I didn’t realize you could make this kind of thing up.” It was one of those “unknown unknowns” to me as a kid. I mean, the world is full of people, so I guess people in a D&D world will look like people in our own world, so you don’t really need to describe them. I had a lot to learn about the joys of fantasy.

Katherine Kerr has a nice piece on Robin Hood (he has a price of 200 gp on his head, you know). She makes him a 12th level fighter, Chaotic Good, with some pretty high ability scores. This brings up a thought – that D&D is actually better at depicting cruel reality than heroic fantasy in some ways. After all, when we try to model heroes of fantasy literature in D&D, we have to make them very high level and usually give them very high ability scores. Much of the “evolution” of D&D over the years seems to have been an effort to make it more amenable to fantasy heroes than the original game. Sounds funny to say this, given the presence of “heroes” and “super-heroes” in OD&D.

Oh – I should add that Will Scarlet is an 8th level thief, Little John a 10th level fighter, Friar Tuck a 7th level cleric and the evil Sheriff (lawful evil, to be precise) a 6th level fighter.

“It has been recorded, in the lost scrolls of Caractos the Scribe, of which only fragments now exist, that… from the ice-world of Northumbria, many ages ago, there came a youth named Niall, son of Thorkon the Mighty, who was destined to roam the world as he knew it, and to whom was to be given the appellation, the Far-Traveler…”

So begins another tale of Niall by Gardner Fox.This is good, old-fashioned pulp barbarian stuff, so worth a read for old school sorts like myself.

Speaking of old school, this issue has a Basic D&D adventure called The Creature of Rhyl by Kevin Knuth (could this be him?).

The adventure scores one old school point with reversed names – King Namreh (Herman) and Prince Laechim (Michael). It involves treking into the wilderness to hunt a giant monster and rescue the prince from an evil magician.

My only quibble with this dungeon is the presence of some pretty decent magic items on the upper level without too much guarding it. This may be because there are a couple tough monsters lurking in the lower levels that have to be dealt with. There is a nice puzzle room here, and overall it seems like a good rescue mission sort of adventure.

Pat Reinken (perhaps this fellow?) has a nice article on the tactics of escaping danger, mostly covering magic items that help you get away from danger in one piece.

The Dragon’s Bestiary features the Devil Spider with awesome Erol Otus artwork, which makes sense since Otus invented the monster. The monster is predicated on trying to escape from sticky webs, in such a manner as to make for an exciting fight. It’s a tough monster, so don’t play with it unless you’re high enough level not to end up spider food.

Jeff Brandt introduces the Surchur, which is quite a horrifying thing, humanoid with a mass of tentacles in place of a head. It’s a mid-level monster that doesn’t have many tricks up its sleeve, but which could still give a party lots of problems. Kind of a good Lovecraftian thug.

Ed Greenwood presents the dyll in this issue, essentially a swarm of flying leeches.

The final monster is Craig Stenseth‘s poltergeist, the spirit of chaotic gnomes from Limbo and Gladsheim sent to the Material Plane to spread chaos. Nice origin idea for them.

Speaking of monsters – the magazine reviews a cool miniature called the “gorillasaurus”, which is actually a hybrid of gorilla and rhinoceros (so maybe gorillaceros would have been a better name). The image is terrible in the magazine, but I found a good shot at the AD&D 2nd Edition Holdout blog that tells a good story about using it in-game.

For comic fans, this issue has an early Snarfquest, a nice Wormy entry and a What’s New?.

As always, I’ll leave you with some Tramp and his wonderful little tree trolls …

God bless – be kind to one another – and have some fun for crying out loud!

My Dinosaur Art Heroine!

Most small time rpg publishers like myself understand the importance of public domain art. Don’t get me wrong – I love commissioning artists. Most of the money I’ve made on NOD and my other products has gone to commissioning art, and if I made ten times as much money, I’d commission ten times as much art. But when your margins are especially tight, you can’t afford not to use the free stuff, especially when so much of the fantasy art produced pre-1923 is so dang good! Of course, your choices can be a bit limited, which is why the mother lode I recently found must be shared with the world!

Mariana Ruiz – who goes by the handle lady_of_hats on Wikimedia Commons has drawn quite a few groovy dinosaurs and released them into the public domain. God bless her! Check these beasties out …

Pretty groovy. If you want more, just go to Wikimedia Commons and do a search by her name. There are lots of other science illustrations (mostly technical) mixed in, as well as this kick ass image of a three-headed knight (I call dibs!)

And just for shits and giggles, a size chart (hey, got me lots of page views last time!) I threw in the three-headed knight for comparison purposes, assuming he’s the same size as a human being.

The size range in dinosaurs always astounds me.

On a side note – I finished writing Space Princess over the weekend … well, mostly. There are a few sci-fi monsters I want to add, but for all intents and purposes it is now in the editing stage. I added some vehicles for the game (hover cars, battle tanks, war walkers) and an additional class – the Space Ranger (maybe I’ll change it to Astro-Ranger or Cosmic Ranger to avoid any clashes with a certain space ranger that works for that very litigious mouse who resides in Anaheim).

When I publish Space Princess, I’m going to launch a new blog devoted to a community effort (well, assuming the community wants to do it) at populating a pulp sci-fi planet – Kepler-22B.

Details to come, but I’m hoping it will turn into a fun project and provide sci-fi buffs with a place to run adventures. Naturally, my first contribution will be a jungle sector teeming with dinosaurs and ruined Preserver Domes (whatever those are). Stay tuned!

Okay – you can actually check the blog out now. It’s called Strange New World.

Magical Prehistory Tour

Dinosaurs. Awesome, right? Lots of them, though – hard to keep track, especially when scientists keep changing their darn minds about them (they’re brontosauruses because that name is cooler, and triceratops are so a species of dinosaurs, so shut up scientist man). Here’s a handy dandy guide to basic forms and a few handy “mutations” to keep your players guessing.


Not scientific, but just a quick batch of stats for some basic dino types. And yes – I already know it doesn’t cover everything, just the stuff that pops up most often in old dinosaur movies and the Flintstones.

These are the fellows with the lovely head fringes and horns, like triceratops. Assume the basic ceratopsian is about 30 feet long.

CERATOPSIAN: HD 15; AC 0 [19] front, 5 [14] back; Atk 1 gore (4d8); Move 12; Save 3; CL/XP 15/2900; Special: None.

Technically not dinosaurs, but if they’re on the Flintstones, they’re close enough for me. These are the flyers. The basic pterosaur has a wingspan of about 15 feet and a length of about 5 feet.

PTEROSAUR: HD 5; AC 2 [17]; Atk 2 claws (1d4), 1 bite (2d8); Move 9 (Fly 24); Save 12; CL/XP 6/400; Special: None.

The big boys – quadrupeds with long necks who make little tremors when they walk. Assume that the basic sauropod is around 150 feet long.

SAUROPOD: HD 25; AC 6 [13]; Atk 1 stomp (4d10); Move 9; Save 3; CL/XP 25/5900; Special: None.

The therapods cover the bipedal carnivores, of which the T-Rex and Velociraptor are now the most famous. Assume that the basic therapod is huge in size (i.e. around 30 feet long). When a therapod bites prey, it grabs the victim in its jaws, shaking and chewing for automatic damage in subsequent rounds. Only victims with shells, bone frills, or spines can avoid the horrendous tearing damage.

THERAPOD: HD 18; AC 4 [15]; Atk 1 bite (4d8); Move 18; Save 3; CL/XP 19/2400; Special: Chews and tears.

These are the quadruped armored or spiked dinosaurs, like stegosaurus and ankylosaurus. Assume that the basic thyreopheran is about 20 feet long.

THYREOPHERAN: HD 15; AC 2 [17]; Atk 1 bite (1d8), 1 tail (4d6); Move 9; Save 3; CL/XP 15/2900; Special: None.

No more humdrum dinos for us, my friend. Let’s make them fabulous!

1-2 Small and quick – reduce HD by half (and modify saving throws accordingly) and double their speed. In addition, they get a bonus to initiative (how much depends on what you roll, +1 if d6, +2 if d10, +3 if d20; if you roll d8, you’re weird and I just can’t help you). Decrease damage by one dice size.

3 Big and beefy – increase HD by 50%, cut movement in half and if they are at least 60 feet in length they can cause an earthquake (as the spell) once per day in a 100-ft radius. Increase damage by one dice size.

4 Red scales – dinosaur is immune to fire.

5 Blue scales – dinosaur is immune to lightning.

6 White scales – dinosaur is immune to cold.

7 Gold scales – dinosaur is immune to non-magic weapons and +2 to save vs. magic.

8 Black scales – dinosaur surprises on 3 in 6 at night, has darkvision.

9 Woolly – dinosaur has fur. This gives it a +1 bonus to AC and resistance (50%) to cold.

10 Massive Brain – dinosaur has high intelligence and can use a psychic blast (30-ft cone, save or stunned for 1d4 rounds) three times per day.

11 Draconic – as small and quick, plus dinosaur has dragon wings and the flight speed and breath weapon of a random dragon; 1 = Black; 2 = Blue; 3 = Gold; 4 = Green; 5 = Red; 6 = White. Dino-dragons can never speak or cast magic spells.

12 Spitter – can spit poison (30-ft range; save or blinded and 1d6 damage) or belch acid (10-ft cone, 2d6 damage).

13 Leaper – can leap up to 20 feet forward or 10 feet backward. When leaping to attack, treat as a charge.

14 Gorgonoid – has metallic scales as a gorgon; increase AC by +4.

15-16 Horns – has two horns or two extra horns; gains an additional gore attack for 2d6 damage.

17 Manticoroid – has tail spikes that can be fired like those of a manticore for 1d6 points of damage.

18 Displacement – per the mirror image spell (4 additional images), can be used three times per day.

19 Blink – per the blink dog.

20-21 Camouflage – surprises on a roll of 1-3 on 1d6.

22 Stone Cold Awesome – has a petrifying bite, per the cockatrice. Dinosaur can swallow and ingest the stone if a carnivore.

23 Laser eyes – can fire searing beams from eyes three times per day. Range of 60 feet, 3d6 points of damage, ranged attack required.

24 Scream – per the shout spell, usable three times per day.

25 Rider – dinosaur is ridden by a caveman bounty hunter (per dwarf fighter level 1d4+4). Rider wears the equivalent of leather armor and carries a club and three throwing spears.

26 Trill – dinosaur can trill as a remorhaz.

27 Song – dinosaur produces a vibration that causes sleep (as the spell). Usable three times per day.

28 Song – dinosaur produces a vibration that causes a charm monster effect. Usable three times per day.

29 Song – dinosaur produces a vibration that causes a hold monster effect. Usable three times per day.

30 Construct – dinosaur is made of metal and gears. Increase AC by +5. There is a 5% chance it can change its shape to that of a stone giant (also made of metal and gears, AC +5). Constructs are immune to mind effecting spells, poison and disease and take half damage from fire and lightning.

Have any other ideas? Put them in the comments – let’s take this table to 100!

Image from Golden Age Comic Book Stories, by the great Charles Knight.