Dragon by Dragon – February 1982 (58)

The Clyde Caldwell cover to the February 1982 Dragon Magazine is chock-full of fantasy tropes. You have the warrior woman in weird, revealing armor and a gnome fighter mounted on a giant lizard. You also get a Clyde Caldwell trope, namely lots of feathers. That said, I adore Caldwell’s work, and consider it fundamental to 80’s D&D.

We’ll begin this rule with the editorial – which is rare for me. This one deals with “assassin” and “killer” games, and is written on the subject due to an incident in December 1981 in which a college student playing Assassin was shot by police. I bring it up because I played a game of TAG (The Assassination Game) in junior high school. Well – briefly. I managed to get assassinated while walking from first to second period, but remember that by lunch period we were informed that the school had put an end to it due to one idiot performing an assassination during class. I suppose these days the entire school district would be put on lockdown if some kids were playing “assassination”.  What odd memories we nerds have of youth.

The first big article this month is by Len Lakofka, who is “Beefing up the Cleric.” This article introduces a multitude of new cleric spells that will show up later in official AD&D product. They include ceremony, combine (a neat idea), magic stone, magic vestment, messenger, dust devil, enthrall and negative plane protection. One spell I didn’t immediately recognize – readers of this blog might have better memories than I – Death Prayer (2nd level). This spell reduces the likelihood of a corpse being animated at a later date.

The Dragon’s Bestiary includes the sull and beguiler by Ed Greenwood and Magenta’s cat by Roger E. Moore. These last monsters are the descendants of a cat familiar who was made psionic by its mistress, Magenta, and in the process freed from its obligations as a familiar. It went out and made babies, and they inherited the psionic powers. It’s a very cool idea – a psionic cat causing trouble in a village, trouble blamed on some legendary menace the adventurers try to hunt down.

Michael Parkinson offers up “Medusa’s Blood”. This article details the many creatures that were born from Medusa’s blood, including old fantasy favorites like Pegasus, the Lernaean hydra, the chimera, Cerberus and the Theban sphinx. Some new monsters from the lineage of Medusa include Geryon (the three-headed and three-bodied giant, not the demon lord), Echidna and the Blatant Beast.

The Medusa article is followed up by “Four Myths from Greece”, with stats for Atalanta the huntress (9th level fighter), Daedalus (sage/engineer), the Sybil of Cumae (16th level cleric) and Chiron (15th level centaur ranger).

Dragon 58 has a special section all about dwarves, featuring “The Dwarven Point of View”, “The Gods of the Dwarves”, “Sage Advice on Dwarves” and “Dwarven Magical Items”. Dragon did a few of these series, and elements of them became standard parts of Dungeons & Dragons in later days, especially the dwarven pantheon. Roger E. Moore’s “The Dwarven Point of View” is one of those articles that represents the inflection point of the original DIY days and the middle phase of “explain it all”. It’s a useful article for folks new to fantasy gaming, but I suppose some folks didn’t like the Dragon magazine doing articles that might tie their creative hands, what with it being “semi-official” in D&D world.

I liked this bit from “Sage Advice”:

“Why aren’t ettins mentioned among the bigger creatures which attack dwarves and gnomes at -4?

Ettins may be big and dumb, but they don’t suffer any penalty “to hit” against dwarves and gnomes because of the most obvious difference between ettins and other big humanoids: their two heads. In the words of the Monster Manual, “One of the ettin’s heads is always likely to be alert, so they are difficult to surprise.” And, presumably, also difficult to sneak up on in any other way.”

Now let’s be honest – the answer here is “crap, we forgot to include the ettin”.

Another question that struck me is one that shows a clash of mindsets that I’ve seen myself in our hobby. The question writer asks:

“What would be a reasonable spread of races and sub-races for adventurers and NPCs? For instance, what would be the chance of a PC dwarf being a mountain dwarf?”

An interesting question, and one that would be answerable in a particular campaign, or if there was really such a thing as dwarves and we have solid demographic data on  them. I appreciate the answer:

“The chance of a player character dwarf being a mountain dwarf is 100% — if the player wants to be one, and if no circumstances of the campaign prohibit such a choice.”

I’ve fielded a few similar questions from people reading my games, as though I had some special right to tell them what they could and could not do in their own homes. Some folks have the mindset that there is a “right and wrong” to these games we play, and they seek answers from “authorities”. This isn’t a dig against these folks – it’s just a way of looking at things that differs from mine that I find interesting.

On the topic of “The Gods of the Dwarves” – I really loved Moradin when I was a kid. The demi-human pantheon was another case for me, as a young man, of being amazed that you could make up pretend gods and goddesses for a game. This article also introduces a new undead monster – the rapper.

This issue of Dragon also has a bit of fiction from J. Eric Holmes called “The Bag”. It involves a character of his called Boinger. I haven’t read this one, but I’ll include the first couple paragraphs as a taste for those who might want to delve deeper:

“Perhaps the small master is looking for something special?”

The muscular young halfling put down the leather backpack he had been examining and looked at the person who had addressed him. He was worth looking at, Boinger decided. For one thing, his species was not one the adventurer had ever seen before. The creature was obviously not human; his complexion was slate grey and his face was covered with wrinkles so that it looked like a folded piece of linen with a long, pointy nose sticking out. He was shorter than Boinger himself. Some sort of gnome, the halfling thought, out of the north, I suppose. Shorter than a dwarf, taller than a Lilliputian …”

In Robert Barrow’s “Aiming for Realism in Archery: Longer Ranges, Truer Targets” you get another article trying to make the game more realistic. This one has a useful little table about archery accuracy derived from medieval tournament data:

This article is followed up by “Bowmanship Made More Meaningful” by Carl Parlagreco. This one introduced the idea of minimum strength scores for different bows – a 16 for composite longbows, for example, or 8 for short bows. Using a bow without having the strength required presents a -2 penalty to hit per point of strength deficiency. There’s more – so check it out if you like more realism in D&D.

David Nalle presents “Swords – Slicing Into a Sharp Topic”, which gets into the weeds on that fantasy staple, the sword. You get information on its history and construction. No game stats in this one, but good information for folks new to the topic.

There is also an article by Glenn Rahman on the Knights of Camelot Game. I’ve never played the game, so I cannot review the article, per se, but I love the bit on “Acts of Villainy”. These include:

  1. Distressing a Lady
  2. Imprisoning Persons
  3. Looting a Shrine
  4. Piracy
  5. Seizing a Castle by Storm
  6. Slaying a Good Knight
  7. Slaying a Goodly Hermit Man

This is a great checklist for Chaotic/Evil characters in any game – try to do three or four of these things in every game. The article also has two awesome little tables – the kind of random fun that screams old school gaming to me. The first deals with the merchant ships you might run into while being a pirate:

The second is a random table of dying curses from goodly hermits:

It is so hard to keep track of things like this, but I love the idea of using them during play.

Speaking of useful stuff, Jon Mattson’s “Anything But Human” is for Traveller, but could be useful to anyone. It is a collection of random tables for creating aliens. As always, my review of this article consists of using it – here’s my random alien:

It’s a mammal, feline, average of 67 inches tall, that has a bonus of +1 to education and a penalty of -1 to strength and social standing (which in D&D-esque games would be a bonus to intelligence and a penalty to strength and charisma). The creature has a -3 to their psionic rating. It has no special abilities.

“What’s New? – with Phil and Dixie” covers love magic in D&D. I had a crush on Dixie as a kid … and probably still do.

This issue also has cut-out counters of all the magic-user spells to aid magic-user players in keeping track of what they’re doing.

As always, I’ll leave you with Wormy …

Grandeur from Tramp

Dragon by Dragon – September 1978 (18)

Another week, another Dragon magazine. The last one was chock-full of stuff, how about this issue.

Traveller: The Strategy of Survival by Edward C. Cooper

As I was thinking, “I don’t remember any Traveller articles showing up before in The Dragon” I hit this line in the article, “I took advantage of the opportunity to observe the TRAVELLER phenomenon first hand” – ah – so this is at the dawn of Traveller.

I’ve never played Traveller, but I did create a character once (I was creating one character for every game I had a PDF of … though I skipped Exalted because after the first few steps I realized I just didn’t care enough to bother with it). This article appears to be about – well – keeping a character alive in Traveller. My favorite bit:

“Several other similar occurrences proved to me then that the success or failure of a character in most cases cannot be traced to “dice or chance” as often as it can to poor handling on the part of a player. I was both surprised and disappointed that some players even blamed a character or given situation for their own bad decisions. But then again, I was extremely excited, awed, by the skill some showed in manipulating their character’s life.”

That hits the spot for an old schooler – though it also shows that there were plenty of people back in the old days who were waiting for the new days with baited breath. Different strokes for different folks!

Reviews – Traveller, The Emerald Tablet, Imperium …

Well, imagine that! The reviewer appreciates that Traveller is not just D&D in space, but rather has its own “unique flavor and style”. The review is quite extensively, and I highly recommend it (yeah, I’m reviewing a review) for folks who don’t really know what Traveller is all about.

The Emerald Tablet is a set of fantasy wargame rules. The reviewer likes them, but admits he doesn’t know much about wargames. He likes that the magic system is based on ritual magic, which I know some people dig, but I always think it’s overrated. On the other hand – dig this sheet of Astral Force cards (click to enlarge … trust me, click it – click it now) I found at Boardgamegeek.com …

I don’t know what Phul does, but, hmm – anyways.

Imperium is another Game Designer’s Workshop product, a board game written by people who really love sci-fi literature. Apparently, Imperium is a game about the Terrans bumping up against the Imperium and the two sides fighting.

Pellic Quest is a computer moderated RPG (apparently a good thing, because computers are jerks like Dungeon Masters – see, the seeds of the new school were always there). Another sci-fi game, you start controlling a small planet in one of six roles (emperor, crusader, brigand, trader, droyds (robotic destroyers) or the zente (insect alien warriors). Each role needs different “winning points” and then go about making it happen.

Oh, and those zente …

Pretty sweet.

Cosmic Encounter is a sci-fi variation on draw poker.  Apparently it is simple and easy to learn, and, most importantly, fun, although the hype that one really has to get into the head of the alien race they control is wrong. The game combines several elements of classic, abstract games, and I want people who think they’re game designers to embrace this notion. Don’t begin with setting, begin with rules and get to know all sorts of old card games, board games, etc. Then apply setting to the game rules. This is how D&D was born and manages to remain so popular – it works as a game. Well, it used to, anyways.

INSANITY, or Why is My Character Eating Leaves? by Keven Thompson

A worthwhile article – insanity is tough to handle in games. Kevin Thompson devises first a saving throw vs. insanity (which makes sense given the time period). The saving throw is based on a matrix between Intelligence and Wisdom – find the number, add character level to it, and then try to roll 1d20 beneath that number. Neat idea (and I’ll be using it in a post this week).

If you fail the save, you roll d12 (always nice to see the d12) on an insanity chart.

INSANITY CHART

1. Nutty
2. Kleptomaniac
3. Perverse
4. Psychotic Hatred
5. Childlike Trusting
6. Schizoid
7. Severe Paranoia
8. Acute Paranoia
9. Gibbering
10. Suicidal
11. Violent
12. Catatonic

The good thing about this list is that it is more behavior based than clinical. It’s pretty easy to see how these “insanities” could impact actual play in a game.

New Spells in D&D! by Paul Suliin

(Love the use of the exclamation point)

This article introduces new spells created by an actual play group using the rules for spell research in Dragon #5. The editor chimes in with the admonition that every spell needs to have a loophole via which it can negated somehow.

The new spells include Nature Call, Magic Missile II, Moon Runes, Flamebolt, Mystic Rope, Pit of Flame, Word of Warding, Force Field, Extend I, Shatterray, Wall of Water, Extend II, Beam of Blasting, Conjure Djinn/Efreet, Density Control, Extend III, Combine I, Call Spirit, Rust Monster Touch and more.

Let’s convert a couple to Blood & Treasure

Magic Missile II
Level: Magic-User 2
Range: Medium (150 ft.)
Duration: Instantaneous

As magic missile, but this spell conjures either one +2 arrow or two +1 arrows, with a like amount added for every fifth level advanced beyond 3rd (i.e. two +2 arrows or four +1 arrows at 8th level, three +2 arrows or six +1 arrows at 13th level, etc.)

Density Control (which would also make a great power for Mystery Men!)
Level: Magic-User 6
Range: Personal
Duration: 3 minutes

The spellcaster can alter the density of his body from a gas to steel. Such changes alter the spellcaster’s Armor Class, so that at minimum density he is immune to physical weapons, and at maximum density he is AC 18 and his hands strike as swords (1d6 damage). Density may be altered throughout the duration of the spell, and items in contact with the spellcaster’s body when the spell is cast are altered along with him.

Magic: Governed by Laws of Theory by Thomas A. McCloud

Man, I used to roll my eyes at these when I was a kid – theory? dude, I want a new class, new race, new spells, new adventures, etc. But I’m an adult now, so … naw, I still think the same way.

This one attempts to draw inspiration on the how’s and why’s of magic in D&D by examining such sage tomes as the 1960 Encylcopedia Britannica and Frazer’s The Golden Bough. Dude – it’s a game. Of course magic is treated casually. Real estate is treated pretty casually in Monopoly because it’s also a game – move and countermove, risk taking, a random element. Don’t overthink it!

Let Your Town Have A Purpose, or, How To Design A Town In Boot Hill by Mike Crane

Sometimes I think Jay Ward wrote the titles of these articles (bonus Nod points to anyone who gets that reference). Mike covers the best scale (1″ = 20′) to draw the map, the need to think about why the town is there in terms of who settled it and what they do (dude, it’s there to give gunslingers a place to have gun fights), etc. To be completely honest, articles like this are a waste. A bunch of random tables for generating an Old West town would have been much more helpful, or just a suggestion of watching some old episodes of Bonanza. Sorry – guess I’m in a salty mood at the moment.

Reviews Continued … Alpha Omega

Okay, apparently we’re not done with reviews yet. Alpha Omega was Battleline’s first stab at a sci-fi game. The reviewer thinks it reminds him of Buck Rogers or Star Wars … and that’s not an endorsement, according to the reviewer. After all, if we can’t beat all the fun out of sci-fi and make it boring and cerebral, then what’s the f-ing point? (I am in a mood). Here’s a sample of the review …

Alpha Omega is billed as “A game of tactical combat in space,” a claim supported by the rules.

Okay then. Apparently, the art is superb on the counters, but they’re hard to read, and the scale (one hex equals one light second) and turn time (6 seconds) are weird for space fights. The game is also two-dimensional, rather than three-dimensional, although the reviewer doesn’t think three dimensions would have any bearing on the game, and thus might as well not be there. The game is really just naval combat on a board that looks like space. The weapons are not realistic (just names, really), so the game also lacks believability (a bugaboo that has never bothered me personally) – hell, they named a couple alien ships Akroid and Balushi – the bastards. Uggh – life’s too short for this. Game looks fun to me, and the cover is pretty cool.

The Chamber of the Godgame by Mick McAllister

The what of the what? It’s a short article describing a dungeon chamber based on a scene in John Fowles’ “grand metaphysical dungeon novel” The Magus. I won’t go into it – find the article or find the book.

Gamma World: Fire Report; Setting Up The Campaign by James M. Ward and Gary Jaquet

Neat little behind the scenes look at the why’s and wherefore’s of turning Metamorphosis Alpha into Gamma World.

Birth Tables – Boot Hill by Stephen Blair

This one’s a collection of random tables. Let’s roll on them and see what we get …

Social Class: Ranch Related (didn’t know that was a social class, but okay)

Profession of Father: Homesteader (ah, now I get it)

Birth Order: Bastard (makes sense)

Skills: Facility with numbers (this bastard can multiply!)

Initial Purse: $75

Size of Spread: 5,120 acres

Guidelines for Mixing Campaigns: Androids, Wizards, Several Mutants, and Liberal Doses of Imagination, Well Blended by James M. Ward

This article is a quick guide to converting D&D characters to MA characters. D&D characters get a radiation resistance of 3, and MA creatures get no save vs. magic. Magic armor completely disrupts protein and disruptor blasts (good to know). The shielding, metal and energy fields of the Warden stop crystal balls and helms of teleportation from working (it’s science, dude, deal with it). Good article – reminiscent of the treatment in the old DM’s Guide.

Monkish Weapons and Monk vs. Monk Combat by Garry Eckert

Apparently, Garry read a book about Japanese weapons and decided to apply what he learned to monks (who are drawn from Chinese fact and folklore, not Japanese – oi!). Skip it.

Effective Use of Poison by Bill Coburn

Quick article that defines poison as Class A, B or C.

Type A is in potion form, and includes Arsenic and Hemlock. It kills 80% of the time in 2d4 minutes and if it doesn’t kill, leaves a person stricken for 1 week (meaning half strength, dexterity, constitution and movement).

Type B is in the form of gas, darts, cobras and needles. A neurotoxin, it brings death 50% of the time in 4d4 days and leaves people stricken for 1d3 days after being unconscious 30 minutes after poisoning for 1d4 days.

Type C comes from monsters. A hemotoxin, is has a 10% chance of killing a character in 1d4 days, and leaves people stricken for 1d10 days after being unconscious 1 hour after poisoning for 2d4 days.

Armor in this scheme provides a bonus to save vs. poison (-2 penalty for no armor, no adjustment for leather, +1 for chainmail and +2 for platemail).

Not a bad little system, really.

Comics!

Finieous Fingers and his pals meet the evil wizard, and discover that a good initiative roll and a magic wand go a long way towards evening the score between fighters and magic-users.

In Wormy, the trolls make the mistake of breaking one of Wormy’s pool balls. Jeez I miss this comic. Who has the next Wormy in them?

The Childhood and Youth of the Gray Mouser by Harry O. Fischer

This is Harry’s version of the Gray Mouser’s youth, Harry having been a major help in creating all of the major characters of Nehwon back in the day. It begins …

“Mokker was the Prince of Pimps in the Street of Whores in Lankhmar. He could just as easily have been King. He was tastefully and expensively dressed, with massive gold and jeweled rings one or more to a finger. He was exceedingly complex; calculating, sometimes ruthless, vulnerable to fits of whimsy, possessing an almost perpetual erection (as it behooves a whore-master to have), and more. He was generous, and delighted in both the giving and getting of surprises. His whores loved him for this, in addition to the fact that he felt not the slightest hesitation about correcting or revenging a wrong to one of his, no matter how slight the transgression. Mokker was a thorough and practical rogue given to sudden impulses, possessing large eyes, a sensual mouth and plump cheeks; a merry companion and a deadly enemy. He was clever, aware of it, and arrogant.”

No, D&D wasn’t for kids just yet.

Next we have this …

Okay then.

Non-Player Character Statistics by ???

This is another quickie – random tables for determining NPC stats based on their personality. Kinda cool. I’ll roll one up – we’ll say a madame from Tremayne named Durla …

Pride (Ego): Little – =1-% greed, -1% work quality

Greed: Loans things, sells items for normal* prices

Quality of Work: Normal

Okay, well, now I know. I think I’ll stick to my method in Blood & Treasure (on sale now!)

And there you have it, along with some nice little comic panels from McLean. Lots of stuff packed into 34 pages, and not a bad read overall. The spells were fun, and I like the poison rules. The reviews got me to look up some old games I’d never heard of, and the insanity rules put an idea in my head I’ll explore more this week.

Have fun boys and girls, and don’t be the last geek on your block to get Blood & Treasure