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!

Dragon by Dragon – April 1980 (36)

There will come a day when the April edition of The Dragon will be full of jokes. Based on the cover, I’d say that day was not in April of 1980.

The aforementioned cover is by Dean Morrissey, and it is inspired by that issue’s short story by Gardner Fox, “The Cube from Beyond”, a Niall of the Far Travels story. Mr. Morrissey is still a working artist – you can see some of his pieces HERE.

Let’s check out 10 cool things about issue #36 …


First and foremost, I’m always a sucker for a good sword & sorcery tale by Gardner Fox. Here’s a sample:

“Now Thavas Tomer was a doomed man. He had fled down the halls and corridors, seeking sanctuary—where no sanctuary was to be found. At his heels had come Niall, his great sword Blood-drinker in his hand, seeking to make an end to this magician-king who had slain and raped and robbed all those against whom he had sent his mercenaries.”

If somebody could figure out a way to make a random idea generator that plucked passages from fantasy stories, I bet it would be a great way to come up with adventures or campaigns. Three different passages from the same book might inspire three very different campaigns.


An interesting “Up on a Soap Box” by Larry DiTillio, regarding him running an adventure he normally ran for adults for some adults and teens at a convention. Here’s an excerpt:

“In the same game another incident occurred, again with that same Paladin player. This one involved a mysterious monk smoking a substance from a hookah which he offered to certain party members. My friends accepted somewhat overeagerly, while the Paladin again asked me that question. Was smoking a drug against his alignment? Now, I’m not a junkie, nor do I think drugs are of any benefit to teen-agers (no high is as good as your own natural openness to things at that age), but I have had a good deal of experience with a whole gamut of consciousness-altering substances and would be hard pressed to declare them categorically evil.”

The first incident involved a dungeon room where sex could be purchased. In both cases, the paladin inquires whether these acts are against his alignment. It’s a tricky question, and does get to a problem with alignment – i.e. the interpretation of what it means. No answers here, but an interesting problem, and an interesting article.


In this issue, Gygax chimes in with some stats for Conan. It’s funny, but I was actually searching for this article recently, looking for inspiration for maybe making some revisions to the barbarian class in Blood & Treasure.

In doing so, I found some comments on websites that this article was a mistake, in that the weird rules changes needed to simulate Conan showed the weakness of the D&D system. I disagree – D&D is a game. Conan was a character in stories. No random rolls there, no comparisons of hit rolls and Armor Class. That a game cannot simulate something in a story is not a condemnation of the game (which, in D&D’s case, was not designed specifically to simulate Conan stories in the first place).

So, how does Conan shake out? Well, which Conan. The piece actually presents Conan at different ages – 15, 20, 25, 30, 40, 50, 60 and 70. Neat idea. We also see how his fighter and thief levels change through his ages. His fighter level runs from a low of 4 at age 15 to a high of 24 at age 40 … and then back down to 12 by the time he’s 70.

How does a level drop? Well, there’s really no way to do it in the game, but I thought about using a rule that each year without adventuring might result in a character losing 10% of his earned XP. If you don’t stay in practice, you get rusty and, therefore, lose levels. Just a thought.

So, let’s look at Conan at age 25.

Conan, Human Fighter/Thief: Level 12/8; HP 132; AC 16; ATK attacks 5 times every 2 rounds; Str 18/00, Int 15, Wis 10, Dex 20, Con 18, Cha 15; AL Chaotic Neutral (good tendencies); Psionics–Latent–animal telepathy, detect magic, precognition, mind bar.

Conan gets the following special abilities:

  • When he rolls a total of “21” to hit, he scores double damage.
  • He is 75% undetectable in underbrush and woodlands.
  • He surprises opponents 50% of the time.
  • He is only surprised on a roll of 1 on 1d20.
  • He gets a +4 bonus on all saves.
  • Poison can knock him unconscious, but never kill him.
  • He regains hit points at double the normal rate, and regains hit points at the normal rate even without resting.
  • He has 25% magic resistance if he is aware that magic is being used against him.
  • His psionics are all latent – he does not know he has them, and cannot consciously choose to use them.
  • When wielding an off-hand weapon, he can parry one attack per round with it.
  • He can move at a trot all day without tiring.
  • His trails are 75% undetectable.
  • His vision and hearing are 50% better than normal.
  • When he pummels people, his opponents are treated as slowed; his fists are treated as mailed even when bare.
  • When grappling, his effective height is 7′, and his effective weight is 350 lb.
  • He gets a 15% bonus to overbearing attacks
  • He does unarmed damage as though armed with a club


In “Sage Advice” by Jean Wells …

“Question: Why can’t half-orcs be raised, especially if they are 90% human as the Players Handbook says?

Answer: The Players Handbook does not say that half-orcs are 90% human. It says that 10% of them (from which player characters are drawn) resemble humans enough to pass for one under most circumstances. Genetically, a true half-orc is always 50% human. Half-orcs cannot be raised simply because they do not have souls. I went right to the top for the answer to this one, and according to Gary Gygax himself, ‘Half-orcs cannot be raised-period.'”

It occurs to me that the inability to raise demi-humans was a balancing factor in old D&D for all of their special abilities.


Len Lakofka tries his hand at setting all those deity-killing PC’s right by setting down some truths about the gods. How many DM’s, I wonder, design their pantheon specifically for one day fighting high-level adventurers?

Here are Lakofka’s definitions for deity-hood:

1. Has 180 or more hit points
2. Can cast a spell or has a power at the 20th level of ability
3. Can fight or perform acts as a 20th level Lord or 20th level Thief

Those who cannot do this are not deities. This includes Jubilex, Ki-rins and Yeenoghu. Baal, Orcus, Tiamat and Bahamut, on the other hand, are deities.

He also states that deities get their special abilities from the Outer Planes, while lesser beings get their powers from the inner planes or from deities.

Much more here, including abilities from ability scores of 19 or higher (or 25+ for strength).

It looks like the blueprint used for the later Deities & Demigods / Legends & Lore books.


Now that’s a great illustration for selling a monster book. You can pick up the PDF HERE.


Turns out there was a prank hiding inside this issue after all – technically The Dragon #36 1/2.

We have articles about how to make the most out of your pet dragon, some new monsters (see below), keeping your players poor with the tax man, Bazaar of the Ordinary (web of cob), a random table (d30!) of things to say when you accidentally (or maybe not accidentally) summon Demogorgon, Leomund’s in a Rut (expanding character footwear options), this month’s module – a 10×10 room with nothing in it (map provided), and an add that includes Detailed Advanced D&D, the next step in fantasy gaming.

As for one of those new monsters:

The Keebler, Small Fey: HD 0; AC 13; ATK none; MV 40′; XP 50; AL N (good tendencies); Special-Magic resistance 60%, bake cookies (Will save at -4 or charmed); Spells-3/day-create water, purify food & drink, slow poison, create food & water, neutralize poison, locate object (edible substances) – as though by 7th level cleric.

7) The Mongols

Neat article by Michael Kluever on the history, weapons and tactics of the Mongols. Mongols done the way they were are probably pretty underused in fantasy gaming – they were a pretty fascinating group, and a campaign that includes a rapidly expanding Mongol Empire (wherein PC’s leave town, adventure in a dungeon, and come back to find the town razed or absorbed into the empire) would be pretty cool, especially if that expansion ends up being crucial to the game.

How was the typical Mongol warrior equipped:

Armor ranged from none to leather to scale armor, plus conical helms (leather for light cavalry, steel for heavy cavalry) and small, circular shields made of wicker covered with leather; they also wore silk undershirts that apparently helped to minimize damage from arrows when they had to be removed from wounds

Two composite bows, one for short range, one for long range; they used armor-piercing arrows, whistling arrows to signal and incendiary arrows (tipped with small grenades – apparently the Duke boys didn’t invent the idea); each warrior carried two quivers with 60 arrows in each

Heavy cavalry also carried a scimitar, battle axe OR horseman’s mace, a 12′ long lance with a hook for yanking warriors off their horses and a dagger

Light cavalry carried a lighter sword, two to three javelins and a dagger

8) Giants in the Earth

This edition, by Lawrence Schick and Tom Moldvay, includes:

Rafael Sabatini’s Captain Blood (17th level fighter, 10th level thief, 8th level cleric)

Lovecraft’s Richard Upton Pickman (King of the Ghouls, 9th level fighter)

Thomas Burnett Swann’s Silverbells (forest minotaur 15th level ranger, 13th level paladin)

The last one caught my attention, since I’d never heard of the author. The idea is that the original stock of minotaurs, termed forest minotaurs here, were neutral good defenders of the woodlands and the fey creatures who lived therein. You can find his books for sale at Amazon.

9) A New Way to Track XP

Experience points, like alignment, are a perennial sub-system people are trying to improve. In this version, XP are based on actual damage inflicted (modified by the strength of the opponents), and for deeds actually done. To whit:

For non-magical monsters, you get 5 XP per point of damage done, multiplied by the difference between the monster’s AC and 10

For magical monsters, 10 XP per point of damage done, same modifier.

For spellcasting in combat, 10 XP per level of spell

For spellcasting in a hostile situation, 5 XP per level of spell

Thieves get XP for gold stolen, maybe only if they grab a larger share than the other members of their party

Not a bad idea, really.

10) The Fastest Guns that Never Lived

This is a reprint, collection and expansion of articles I remember covering many reviews ago. Designed for Boot Hill, it’s a pretty fun article for fans of westerns, and a great opportunity for fan debates. If you think it’s bunk, you can blame Allen Hammack, Brian Blume, Gary Gygax and Tim Kask.

So, let’s get to the winners in each stat:

Fastest Gun in the West: (1) Clint Eastwood, (2) Bob Steele, (3) Paladin

Slowest: Pancho

Most Accurate Gun in the West: (1) Clint Eastwood, (2) Will Sonnet and Col. Tim McCoy, (3) Lone Ranger, The Rifleman, Paladin and Lee Van Cleef

Least: Hoss and Little Joe Cartwright

Bravest Gun in the West: Charles Bronson

Most Cowardly: Pancho

Strongest Gun in the West: Hoss Cartwright

Weakest: Will Sonnet

Somebody was in love with Clint Eastwood, huh?


Todd Lockwood (that one?) brings us the monster of the month, a race of warm-blooded flying reptile dudes. Here are the Blood & Treasure stats.

Krolli, Large Monstrous Humanoid: HD 2 to 6; AC 17; ATK 1 bite (1d6+1), rear claw (1d8+1), hand (1d8 or by weapon +4); MV 20′ (fly 40′); AL varies; XP 200 to 600; Special-High dexterity, multiple attacks, acute senses, surprised on 1 on 1d6, 25% magic resistance.

They are encountered in lairs, with 3d20 in lair, 25% females and young, with 2-3 and 1/2 HD each, and 1d8 7+2 HD chieftains. Encountered among men, they are usually mercenaries or slavers, and could be found as body guards or military officers.

They have high natural strength (20) and dexterity (23).

They may be of any class, though 95% are fighters. Of the remainder, 70% are clerics. They cannot wear armor, but often carry shields. They are almost never thieves or assassins.

Side note – I really loved Lockwood’s stuff for 3rd edition D&D – a very worthy artist to carry that torch, I think.

Hope you enjoyed this review … I leave you with Tramp

Dragon by Dragon – January 1980 (33)

“This is the ’80s and I’m down with the ladies.” – Tone-Loc

And so we bravely enter the 1980’s (though, again, not technically). The Dragon #33 (we haven’t dropped the “the” yet) welcomes the new decade with “Dragon’s Lair” by John Barnes. The painting won Best of Show and “Best Color Fantasy” awards at the Northwest Annual Science Fiction Festival in Seattle.

What goodies await us inside? Let us find out.

I. Gardner F. Fox

Known best for the Justice Society of America, Fox also wrote fantasy novels later in life, the Kothar the Barbarian series maybe the best known of them, but also Niall of the Far Travels.

Oh, and apparently Guy Gardner was named for him (not sure that was an honor or an insult).

This issue of The Dragon features a short Niall story – the character has appeared in the magazine before. This one is “The Eyes of Mavis Deval”. Here’s the opening:

“It was her eyes that drew his stare as he sat astride the high-peak saddle of his stallion, there on the edge of the huge slave market. They were a brilliant green, those eyes, and it seemed to Niall of the Far Travels as he looked, that there was a tiny flame glowing in each pupil.”

II. Painting Tips

I got into painting Warhammer miniatures back in college, because I had waaaaay too much money and really needed to drain lots of it away on hunks of lead that I don’t look at anymore. So, I know a little (very little) about painting them, and this …

… looks like a darn good idea to me. Presented by Fantasysmith – the person knows his or her stuff!

III. H. R. Lovins, bringin’ the prose

Dig the sprightly prose:

“My friend and I had taken our favorites: a Fighter with rippling muscles, a Cleric of somber colors and mood, a superstitious slinking Thief, and a couple of guardian Magic Users. Unfortunately, someone else was using the back way for a similar evasion. Our leaders turned a corner into a party of a half-dozen well-dressed besworded gents who, not caring to sidle past our group, began to comment acidly on our travel-worn condition, and wonder aloud whether an unpleasant odor was ours, or native to the alley.”

The article is pretty interesting, in the idea of giving NPC’s a Caution (Cau) score. The Caution score is used for two things:

1) The score must be exceeded on a d20 before rolling reaction dice. If not exceeded, the NPC just walks away – no interaction with the players. I kind of dig this – after all, when confronted by a group of murder-hobos, I think most normal folk would get the heck out of there, smiling and making excuses.

2) The Caution score is also used to determine whether an NPC will get involved with a PC – do they throw caution to the wind and take the plunge. Again, you roll d20 and try to exceed CAU. In the case of “woo pitching”, as the kids say, you add the NPC’s Libido score to the roll. Libido score, you say? What’s the Libido score?

IV. Gygax on Magic

“Magic, AD&D magic, is most certainly make-believe. If there are “Black Arts” and “Occult Sciences” which deal with real, working magic spells, I have yet to see them. Mildly put, I do not have any faith in the powers of magic, nor have I ever seen anyone who could perform anything approaching a mere first-level AD&D spell without props.”

Sounds like the religious nuts are already giving him trouble over the “occult” influences on AD&D.

V. Speaking of Magic …

Len Lakofka in this issue is looking at the shortcomings of some of the spells as written, and is making suggestions for improvement. Magic Missile, for example …

“Gary Gygax and I have gone around in a circle on this spell for some period of time. The controversy, in my opinion, lies around the fact that there is NO SAVING THROW and that the missile goes “unerringly” to its target. Why is this so annoying to me? It is unfair because it allows players to foil most opposing spells by putting a Magic Missile into the opposing spell caster, it allows Magic Missiles into melee regardless of the size difference and quantity of ‘friends’ in the melee, and it allows for shots that would amaze Robin Hood with their accuracy!

Gary says that a Magic-User can counter with a simple spell like Shield to prevent this damage. What he overlooks is that the opponent must take a round to cast the Shield and in that time the spell caster is beset by fighters, et al. I find it too unfair to “monsters” that a single FIRST-level spell can be this powerful. Therefore, I have modified the spell in the following ways:

1. There is still no saving throw if the target is surprised, immobile, walking or prone and is at least the size of a Kobold.

2. Figures in melee, figures running (except those running right at the spell caster), figures evading, behind (or moving behind) significant cover, or casting a spell obtain some type of saving throw. This saving throw is their normal one with modification as follows:

A figure casting a spell obtains a s.t., but at -4.

A figure in melee obtains a normal s.t. but adds +1 for every opponent above the first one he/she/it is fighting (unless the size differential is so significant that the opponents do not get in the way—i.e., 6 dwarves against a hill giant would allow the giant a normal s.t. Missiles that MISS their target might hit others in the melee! Select a figure and then give him/her/it a normal s.t. to see if the stray missile hits or misses. In the above example, the dwarves would not be hit. All saving throws are on a missile-by-missile basis. Missiles fire at a rate of 1 every 3 seconds. Thus, a figure moving behind a wall might not be hit by every missile in a barrage of Magic missiles.

A figure with over 50% cover (who then presents a target size of ½ a kobold) always obtains a s.t. of from 16 to 20 depending upon cover and his/her/its actions. This prevents firing through an arrow slit some hundred feet away to hit some poor guard. I have found it necessary to rule in this way to stop Magic-Users from Magic Missiling everything that walks because of the broad language of the spell text. Magic Missile, as written, is too powerful and must be toned down.”

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you rules bloat. The problem, of course, isn’t the DM making the rules he wants for his game. It’s in the opening paragraph:

“I felt that some spells leave a great deal unsaid (or they say too much), and thus individual rulings are often necessary to prevent abuses and to make the game fair and equitable for players and “monsters” alike.”

So what’s wrong with individual rulings?

Well, what was wrong was that the hobby had already grown into two camps. One was playing the game at home, and doing what they wanted with their campaigns. The other was either playing at conventions, and thus needed everybody on the same page, or was playing at home and still believed that everyone needed to be on the same page. I’m a libertarian, so you can guess which side I’m on in this argument.

In Lakofka’s defense, it’s not just about standardization or extra rules. It’s about players being creative with spells, and trying to turn every spell into “instant death”.

VI. No Swords for Clerics

I liked this bit from Lawrence Huss about why clerics may not use edged (or pointy) weapons:

“‘Why, ‘tis as plain as the forbidden pikestaff! The purpose and nature of all edged weapons (and what is a point but a section of an edge?) is to cut, release blood and kill, both in reality and symbolically.

‘The club, mace and flail are but growths of the staff, which stands for guidance and religious authority. Though the end result of the sword stroke and the well-aimed mace blow are the same, the symbolic intent differs. As the High Power judges our acts much from a viewpoint in which symbols supersede particulars, this symbolic difference in intent is of greatest importance, both to the performance of the specifically clerical functions and in the gaining of spiritual eminence.'”

In other words, spare the rod, spoil the bugbear.

Now, some might argue that symbolism is pointless – the enemy is dead. What does it matter that he was slashed or bludgeoned to death?

But we’re talking clerics. Priests. Symbolism is everything!

VII. Old Time Hockey Gaming, Coach!

Did you ever want to see a huge list of Game Masters operating in the U.S. in 1980? Great – this issue is for you. Let’s check out my stomping grounds, Las Vegas NV.

We have Bill Coburn, running D&D, Traveler, Metamorphosis Alpha and general board games, and David Whitney, running D&D, Traveler and general board games.

We’ve seen Bil Coburn in the pages of The Dragon before, writing on the effectiveness of poison back in September 1978. I couldn’t find him online, nor David Whitney. Alas.

VIII. Question of the Month

“QUESTION: There is this character (a Magic-User) being refereed by an inexperienced DM. Because of his lack of knowledge, he let the character advance in levels too quickly. He also has 86 magic items. By the time the character got to 34th level, the DM had learned from his mistakes and proceeded to try to kill the powerful character. He tried a Ring of Transference, and when that didn’t work he hit him with 2000 (100% magic resistant) thieves. Is it within the D&D or AD&D rules for a DM to deliberately try to kill a character?”


Runner up:

“QUESTION: Is an invisibility spell cancelled when you fall on your face from tripping either over your own feet or from someone else’s number 13’s?


IX. The Infancy of Home Computing

This issue has the inaugural article on “The Electrical Eye”, about gaming on computers. I thought the little guide to computer manufacturers was intresting:

Witness Apple corporate HQ just 35 years ago (I think … the actual street number doesn’t show up on GoogleEarth):

Oh, and yeah, they got the address wrong above. It was on Bandley Drive, as confirmed at this article showing the layout.

X. Frosts

The “Dragon’s Bestiary” this month is by Roger Moore – Rogar of Moria. I always like Roger in the pages of the later Dragon’s that I read.

Frosts are “snow pixies” – little buggers that pack a punch. Here’s an adaptation of the stats for Blood & Treasure

Size/Type: Tiny Fey
Hit Dice: 0
Armor Class: 15
Attacks: 1 attack (1d3)
Move: 20′ (Fly 60′)
Saves: F19 R12 W12
Intelligence: High
Alignment: Neutral (with good tendencies)
No. Appearing: 1d6

Frosts can turn invisible at will, but cannot attack while invisible. They can use cone of cold (3 dice) once per day and frost fingers (cold version of burning hands) 2/day – and can use frost fingers while invisible. One frost in six can use freezing sphere once per day. Frosts can also control temperatures within 10 feet.

I’ll leave you this fine Sunday morning with some Tramp

Dragon by Dragon – March 1979 (23)

I haven’t delved into an old Dragon for a while, so I thought tonight was as good a night as any to do a new “Dragon by Dragon”. What does March 1979 have in store for us?

I often like to start with an ad, and this one has a dandy for Fourth Dimension, the game of Time and Space. You get to play a Time Lord in this one, with an army of Guardians, Rangers and Warriors. No dice in this game – all about the strategy.

In terms of articles, the first one up is about playing EN GARDE! (love the days of capitalized game names) as a solitaire game. Folks might find a use in the Critical Hits table.

Die Roll. Result (Damage Points)
1-10. Light Leg Wound (Base 20 + 16-sided die roll)
11-20. Light Left Arm Wound (Base 20 + 16-sided die roll)
21-30. Light Right Arm Wound (Base 20 + 16-sided die roll)
31-40. Light Head Wound (Base 20 + 16-sided die roll)
41-50. Light Body Wound (Base 25 + 16-sided die roll)
51-60. Serious Leg Wound (Base 50 + 120-sided die roll)
61-70. Serious Left Arm Wound (Base 50 + 120-sided die roll)
71-80. Serious Right Arm Wound (Base 50 + 120-sided die roll)
81-90. Serious Head Wound (Base 50 + 120-sided die roll)
91-99. Serious Body Wound (Base 100 + 120-sided die roll)
00. DEAD

Love the 16-sided dice and 120-sided dice – not sure how that was accomplished, though I’m sure a dice whiz can inform us in the comments. If modifying for use in “traditional fantasy games”, you could maybe replace “Base 20 + 16-sided die roll” with 6 + 1d6 or something like that.

Next is some fantasy fiction by Gardner F. Fox – “The Thing from the Tomb”. The first paragraph goes thus …

“Niall of the Far Travels reined in his big grey stallion, lifting his right hand to halt the long column of riders who followed him across this corner of the Baklakanian Desert. In front of him, and far away, he could make out a dark blotch on the golden sands toward which he was

Jeff P. Swycaffer presents “Mind Wrestling”, a variation on psionic combat. To be honest, I still regret not throwing in a psionics appendix into Blood & Treasure. The idea here is that two people are attempting to push a cloud of power suspended between them into their opponent’s mind. The system uses a double track to represent the “field” of combat. Attackers secretly declare an outside or center attack, defenders secretly divide their Psionic Strength between outside and center defense, and then the attacker’s Psionic Strength (+40 or doubled, whichever is less) is compared to the defender’s strength. If a ratio of 2:1 is achieved, the marker is moved one space. If a ratio of 3:1 is achieved, it is moved two spaces. The attacker then has his psionic strength returned to normal and loses 3 points, and the defender loses twice as many points as his marker was pushed back. Simple system, and would probably be a fun game-within-a-game, especially for psionics-heavy campaigns.

Carl Hursh has rules and guidelines for water adventures on the Starship Warden. Lots of monster stats, including craboids and gupoids.

Michael Mornard presents notes on armor for fantasy games, maybe the first article to talk about how D&D armor and weapons is heavier than real armor and weapons.

Gygax’s Sorcerer’s Scroll presents the random generation of creatures from the lower planes – always a fun one, and I highly suggest people use it when sicing demons of various types on their players. You can either use it to generate additional “types” of demons, or use it to alter the appearance of existing types.

James M. Ward presents an article I’m excited about – Damage Permanency (or How Hrothgar One-Ear Got His Name). This system is used when a person is reduced to 1 or 2 hit points. When this happens, there is a 50% chance of no permanent damage, a 20% chance of needing magical healing to heal properly, and a 10% chance of being maimed unless wish or a 5th level or better clerical healing spell or device is used.

What follows are a number of tables – one to determine the area of the body damaged, and tables for each body location to determine what happens. Head damage, for example, is as follows:

1-12 Hearing Loss
13-24 Sight Loss
25-36 Speech Impaired
37-48 Charisma Impaired
49-60 Intelligence Impaired
61-72 Wisdom Impaired
73-88 Fighting Ability Impaired
89-100 Spell Ability Impaired

Of course, more detail follows. “Spell Ability Impaired” mean that the person loses one level of spell ability – i.e. a 3rd level magic-user would have the spells of a 2nd level magic-user.

The Design Forum features “Dungeons and Prisons” by Mark S. Day. Essentially, it covers the idea that dungeons should have some prison cells, and gives a few notions about how one might use them.

And that does it for Dragon in March 1979 – a useful little issue. One parting shot …

Ah – the good old days were just getting started in 1979!

Soon, I’ll review the latest adventure offering from Tim Shorts – Knowledge Illuminates!

Dragon by Dragon – April 1978 (13)

Niall armors up like a barbarian!

Dragon #13 is a mixed bag. Mostly good, a little wasted space (in my opinion of course, one man’s waste is another man’s … hmmm, that’s not going to sound right … skip it). Let’s take a look, shall we …

Tim Kask starts off with his editorial spiel, noting that this is the first of the monthly Dragons. It is also the April Fool’s edition, which we’ll regret a little later on. Gencon moves this year from the Playboy Resort in Lake Geneva (the what in where?) to the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Parkside in Kenosha – they needed more room. TSR Periodicals is also planning a move to a bigger building.

Shlump Da Orc (I’m guessing that’s a nom de plume) produces a surprisingly long article on figuring out how heavy giants are and how much they can lift. In fact, it is multiple efforts to answer this pressing question (one of the ones that suggests to me D&D was already beginning the process of moving from practice to theory with some folks). One formula explains that a 30-ft. tall giant should weigh 11.75 tons, have a 16′ 9″ chest and an 8′ long torso. Would you care for the semi-official weight formula?

Anyhow … the bit on how much a giant could pick up is a bit more interesting, if for no other reason than because of the following assumptions they use about the average human:

The average person can:

1) Carry his full weight on his back
2) Hold in his arms 3/4 of his weight – dead weight that is balanceable
3) With difficulty pick up half his body weight in dead weight
4) With difficulty pick up half his body weight in a struggling animal
5) With mild difficulty pick up 1/4 of his body weight a struggling animal with two hands
6) Fairly easily pick up 1/4 of his body weight in one hand of dead weight, balanced and somewhat symmetrical

Maybe these guidelines will prove useful to you one day.

The other useful bit is the weight (pounds per cubic foot) of various substances, such as:

Aluminum: 170 pounds
Brass, Forging: 525 pounds
Copper: 560 pounds
Iron, Malleable: 450 pounds
Gold: 1,205 pounds
Platinum: 1,340 pounds
Silver: 655 pounds
Steel, Cold Rolled: 500 pounds

Agate: 160 pounds
Beeswax: 60 pounds
Bone: 110 pounds
Diamond: 200 pounds


This one actually came in quite handy for something I was just writing for NOD, and definitely will be transcribed into an Excel document for future use in my writing. Thanks 30-year old Dragon!

Rob Kuntz now treads into dangerous territory with Tolkien in Dungeons & Dragons. I’m not sure if this was pre- or post-lawsuit. This one is an official pronouncement on the “position on D&D in conjunction with other worlds of fantasy which influenced it conception and specifically to clear up the fallacious beliefs regarding Tolkien’s fantasy as the only fantasy which inspired D&D”

The article mostly boils down to “D&D does not simulate Middle Earth, nor is it intended to, so please stop your nerd-whining”. This continues to be a problem in gaming, primarily in that many people forget that these are games, which by design are about allocating scarce resources to achieve victory (which, actually, is also what life is about), and not make-believe sessions in which whatever you want to happen does.

More interesting than this article is the inset by Brian Blume The Bionic Supplement for Metamorphosis Alpha. Bonzer! Random dice roll to replace your parts with bionic bits, and what those bits do. Totally worth reproducing in its entirety:

Jon Pickens is in next with an equally awesome article – D&D Option: Demon Generation. We begin with a kick-ass piece of art …

The article gives a way to generate additional “Types” of demons, with the following assumptions – all demons have Hit Dice and Gate ability appropriate to their level, all of Level III or less are vulnerable to normal weapons, the rest being vulnerable only to magical weapons, Magic Resistance 50% at Level I, increasing by 5% per level thereafter and special abilities based on the demon’s level. The powers are divided into 6 levels, and frankly, this looks like a blueprint for a demon class. I won’t reproduce it all, but worth checking out.

Jerome Arkenberg now presents the Japanese Mythos for D&D – again, very extensive article on the gods, goddesses, monsters and heroes of Japanese myth and legend, though the info on each god/demon/hero is pretty light. If you want a super rules-lite version of D&D, imagine if all you knew about a character was his Armor Class, Hit Points, Movement Rate, Magic Ability (i.e. level of magic-user or cleric), Fighter Ability and Psionic Ability.

Up next is the April Fool’s bit – a couple pages of song parodies. The less said the better.

Tim Kask now presents WARLORD: Correcting a Few Flaws. Since I know nothing about the game, I won’t comment on the article. Sounds like a fun game, though.

Gardner F. Fox now presents The Stolen Sacrifice, another adventure of Niall of the Far Travels (not to be confused with Niall of the Just Running to the Corner for Ice).

“The man moved silently through the shadows, keeping always to the darkest places. He moved as an animal might, his body poised for instant action, a big hand on the hilt of the longsword by his side. His eyes darted from a doorway to the far corner, where the wind blew a length of scarlet silk hanging from the wall. Caution was in his great body, for he knew that should he be seen this night, death would be his reward.”

Fineous Fingers finds out that just walking up to an evil wizard’s stronghold is stupid …

Yeah, you hate him, but DM’s love him. Meanwhile, Wormy introduces barbecued dwarf burgers.

We round it out with James Ward explaining a few tricks for adventurers – the kind of things that remind you that, at least back in the day, it really was a game, meant to be played and the rules exploited.

That’s it for #13. All in all a pretty useful issue, and especially good if you enjoy Gardner Fox.

Dragon by Dragon … March 1977 (5)

I dig this cover – this is what D&D games should look like!

Three months into the new year of a new game! Before I get into this issue, I’d like to direct folks over to White Dwarf Wednesdays at Tim Brannan’s blog.

What did the oldsters come up with for this issue? Let’s take a look …

A fantasy story by Gardner Fox shows up in this issue – it’s amazing how many “real authors” showed up in the pages of what was still a pretty new magazine that represented a very new hobby. Maybe these guys didn’t have many offers in the late 1970’s – the golden age of magazine stories and illustration had passed, but still, it’s pretty cool.

The big deal in this issue is the Witchcraft Supplement for Dungeons & Dragons – a title I’m sure served as ammunition for the anti-D&D crusade back in the day. What’s awesome about this article, right off the bat, is that they didn’t know who wrote it, but published it anyhow! Right under the title is a request that the real author please let them know who the heck he or she was.

The article starts off with a bit on how witches can show up on the wilderness encounter table. I always love this stuff – the idea that there is a single, unifying wilderness encounter table for all of D&D, and if we add witches to D&D we have to shoehorn them into the table. Reading these articles, you can’t help but love this weird, new world of gaming that was being grown back in the day.

The first thing you need to know about witchcraft is that witch spells do not affect djinn, efreet or clerics of any alignment. All witches have saves equal to warlocks (I love when they used level titles in place of the level number). Good (i.e. Lawful) witches can perform 7 spells per day, but there is a 4% chance that she is ancient, and is thus a Priestess who can cast 10 spells per day and 1 of her own special spells once per week. Why 4%? God only knows.

A few of the new Lawful witch spells are calm (which turned into calm emotions), summon elemental (12 HD) – which lasts while she concentrates, rejuvenation (reduces age by 5 years), dissipation (disperses elementals, clouds, mist and magic wall spells) and comfort. Priestesses get several new spells – youth, influence, banish any one creature, enchantment (produces any one magic ring, potion, misc. weapon, misc. magic item) and seek.

Black witchcraft includes pit, fire box, diminish plant/animal/men, plant entrapment, paralyzing pit (!), undead control, aging, circle of blindness, curse, poison touch and curtain wall. Many of these spells have modern versions – I don’t if they originated in this article or if it’s just a coincidence.

Now we get an explanation for the Secret Order witches … they were designed to challenge high level wizards and magic weapon-armed lords when traveling through the wilderness. Necessity is the mother of witches, apparently. They have some additional new spells and several special weapons. Lots of great material here – hornet cape, assassin’s eyes – find this issue and read away.

James M. Ward now chimes in with “Some Ideas Missed in Metamorphosis Alpha” – basically some things that should have been in the rulebook but were not. Kinda taking a mulligan here. He also adds “Tribal Society and Hierarchy on Board the Starship Warden”. Good stuff – apparently the dominant lifeforms on the Warden are the wolfoids and androids.

This issue’s Creature Feature is the ankheg. Again, the statblock is a bit chaotic. Since the ankheg is open content (and old as the hills), I’ll reproduce it below …

Number appearing: 1-6
Description: 10-20 feet long, brown chitin overall, pink underside
Armor class: 2 overall, underside class 4
Movement: 12/6 through ground
Hit die: 3-8 (8 sided die)
% in lair: 25%
Treasure: B2
Squirt acid for 1-6 die of damage according to size
Bite for 3-18 points damage
Magic resistance: none
Alignment: neutral

These babies can sure deal some damage!

Next is the letters section. My favorite bit is a guy describing his campaign world:

“Although it is not our own Earth, it is only about eleven light years from our world, and therefore most of the culture is a parallel of our ancient cultures.”

True scientific realism, indeed!

Gygax now chimes in with How Green Was My Mutant, with random tables on determining the appearance of humanoids in Metamorphosis Alpha. Naturally, I need to roll one up:

Skin/Hair Coloration: Brown
Skin Characteristic: Knobby
Color Pattern: Whorles
Head: Bulbous
Neck: Wattled
Body: Long
Facial Features: No nose
Hands and Feet: Wide
Fingers and Toes: Four of each
Arms: Normal
Legs: Thin

Damn – that’s one good looking fella! Best thing about the tables, to me, is that it’s almost impossible to roll anything like a normal looking human being, which is as it should be.

I won’t cover Fox’s tale Beyond the Wizard Fog, as Jamie Mal has done a fine job of that himself. (Google it, darlings)

Charles Preston Goforth, Jr. (fake name? has to be a fake name) provides new rules for magical research with one year of playtesting (real time) and nine years in game time!

Essentially, they give you 10 levels of spells with a percentage chance of success, time required and the gold piece investment.  The chance of success appears to always be 20% or 100%, depending on how much gold is spent. A 1st level spell, for example, costs you 2,000 gp for a 20% chance of success, or 10,000 gp for a 100% chance of success. 10th level spells (whatever the heck they are) cost 5.12 million gp for a 100% chance of success.

There are some restrictions on spells to permanently increase stats (including spell levels up to 18th). I pity the poor wizard who sunk several million gold pieces into increasing their intelligence when they could have waited a couple decades for 3rd edition and done it for free.

Armor and weapons can be enchanted up to +1 with 2 months of work and 2,000 gp. “Serious enchanting”, as he puts it, requires 10 months and 10,000 gp. I have a weird feeling this system would very quickly get out of hand!

Bill Seligman now gives us one of the classic articles of the old school – Gandalf Was Only a Fifth Level Magic-User. The best point of the article, to me, is to hopefully make people see just how incredible the average 1st level magic-user really would be in the “real world”. Still, Seligman was clearly an early model of Raggi in terms of bringing out the nerd rage.

Garrison Ernst now presents another installment of The Gnome Cache. No – I didn’t read this one either – too dang much writing to get done.

And that rounds up the first issue of 1977. The vitality in the early game, and the presence of so many gamer archetypes that linger to the modern day makes these magazines great fun to read.

Dragon by Dragon – August 1976 (2)

August of 1976 – A month after the bicentennial, and Marvelites were grooving to such titles as Planet of the Apes, The Champions and Black Goliath, the Seattle Seahawks were playing their first game, Big Ben breaks down in London, Viking 2 enters orbit around Mars, the Ramones make their first appearance at CBGB, and The Dragon’s second issue hits the stands. So what did the gaming geek of 1976 get for his money?

John M. Seaton devises a procedure for “monkish” promotional combat (i.e. knock off the master to assume his level). I love this kind of thing, and given the recent popularity of FlailSnails Jousting, I wonder if there isn’t a market for FlailSnails Monkish Combat.

The procedure would be similar – write up 6 rounds of combat, denoting your strike, kick, block or other maneuvers, and then we see where it goes.

Lots of fiction in this issue.

The second installment of Gygax’s Gnome Cache is in this issue. I’ll freely admit this here – I almost never read the fiction in Dragon. I probably missed out on something.

Speaking of fiction, Jake Jaquet gives us the conclusion to “Search for the Forbidden Chamber”. Didn’t read this either.

Gardner Fox (you might have heard of him) has a short story in this issue called Shadow of a Demon which is covered very capably at Grognardia.

Another installment of “Mapping the Dungeons”, wherein DM’s of the 1970’s try to hook up with players via The Dragon. St. Louis appears to have had a surplus of DM’s looking for players – 8 of them in this issue.

Some dude named Paul Jaquays was running the Spring Arbor College Dungeoning Society in Spring Arbor MI. Wonder if he ever amounted to anything.

Through the magic of Google, I found the following DM’s online:

Keith Abbott of Muskegon MI

Michael Dutton of Mountain View CA might have done some art for WOTC – could be a different guy

Bill Fawcett of Schofield WI kinda founded Mayfair Games

Karl Jones – could be this guy?

Drew Neumann – maybe a composer of film and television scores – he was at Wylie E. Groves High School in Detroit at the right time (Class of ’77). Could have known Ellen Sandweiss, who was in Evil Dead. Did music for Aeon Flux

Scott Rosenberg of Jamaica NY – has a couple issues of The Pocket Armenian floating around online.

Ed Whitchurch has achieved some level of DM’ing fame

Joe Fischer gives us more tips for D&D Judges. He covers interesting entrances for dungeons (i.e. under stuff you don’t expect them to be under) and “friendly” traps that aren’t necessarily harmful. He also provides a random table for treasure chests that are, 50% of the time, trapped thus …

D% Trap
0-30 – 1d4 spring-loaded daggers fire when chest is opened
31-50 – Same as above, but daggers are poisoned
51-65 – Poisoned gas released when chest is opened
66-75 – When opened, chest acts as mirror of life trapping
76-85 – When opened, chest explodes for 1d6+1 dice of damage (wow!)
86-90 – When opened, an enraged spectre comes out [which can be read a couple ways, either of them endlessly entertaining]
91-95 – All characters within 5 feet lose one level [after the first use of this trap, I guarantee everyone will give the thief plenty of space when opening chests]
96-98 – All characters within 5 feet lose one magic item
99-00 – Intelligent chest with abilities of 2nd – 9th level magic-user [nice!]

He also mentions intelligent gold pieces that scream when removed from a room, or replacing real gold pieces in a dragon’s horde with chocolate coins (though as valuable as chocolate was in the “olden days”, that might actually be a step up). He also brings up the idea of creatures with odd alignments (chaotic dwarves, for example).

A couple more spotlights (Joe Fischer rocks!)

Monster Gems are 500 gp gems that can be commanded to turn into monsters (per rolling a wandering monster) for one week – when the week is up, or they are killed, the gem is destroyed as well. It might be fun to rule that every gem worth 500 gp (exactly) is a monster gem.

Hobbit’s Pipe (by Marc Kurowski) – Clay pipe, when smoked, gives ability to blow multi-colored smoke rings (4 per turn, moving at 4” (40’) per turn – love the specificity). The pipe can be smoked 3/day. He also offers up five magic pipeweeds, a bag of infinite wealth, helm of forgetfulness, and ring of infravision.

Lynn Harpold give a long account of Quetzalcoatl and his cult in Central America.

Creature Features gives us the remorhaz. Love the “stat block”:

Move: 12”
Hit Dice: 6/10/14 (8 sided) dice
% in Lair: 20%
Type Treasure: F
Bite for 3-36 points
Breath for 3, 5, or 7 dice of fire damage
Magical Resistance: 75%
Low Intelligence
Number Appearing: 1 (1-4 if in lair)
Description: 30’ long. Blue Hued underneath, wings & head backed with red.
Armor Class: Underside: 4. Back: 0 plus special. Head: 2.

Apparently, the standardization bug had not yet bitten.

Jon Pickens presents the Alchemist, a new D&D class. They don’t label this one as an “NPC Class”, so I guess it is fair game for all you D&D-ers out there. I’ll roll one up quickly for FlailSnails:

Xander Wort, Neutral 1st level Alchemist (Student)
Str: 5; Int: 13; Wis: 16; Dex: 16; Con: 7; Cha: 10
HP: 2; Attack: As Cleric; Save: As Fighter (+2 vs. poison and non-magic paralyzation)

Max. AC is 5
Can use one-handed weapons (excluding magic swords)
Use poisons and magic items usable by all classes
Psionic ability as fighters (replace Body Weaponry with Molecular Agitation)

Special Abilities:
Detect Poison 20%
Neutralize Poison 10%
Neutralize Paralyzation 15%
Identify Potion 5%
Read Languages 80% (one attempt per week)
Prepare poisons (strength level equal to their level; costs 50 gp and 1 day per level) and drugs (as poisons, but knocks unconscious for 4 hours)
Prepare a potion of delusion

None – until 3rd level (Scribe)

His bit on poison is pretty cool. If the HD of the poisoner or level of poison is equal to or greater than the victim’s HD, they must save or die. If at least half their HD, they are slowed until a constitution check is passed, trying once per hour. If less than half, there is no effect, but the poison accumulates in the blood until it’s enough to slow or kill the person. A very nice system!

This is actually a very groovy class. The hit points are low, so I don’t know how long Xander would have to live, but he can wear some decent armor and load up on poisoned darts and a poisoned long sword and might just make it to 2nd level.

Jon Pickens also presents optional weapon damage, allowing fighters and thieves to gain mastery in different weapons, increasing the damage they deal with them (except with dwarf hammers, military picks, pikes, pole arms and arrows). Fighters master one weapon per three levels, thieves one weapon per four (and are limited to sword, dagger and sling). Those with a Dex of 13 or better can gain mastery with a combination of two weapons, gaining the ability to strike with both weapons per round or with one weapon and treat the other as a shield. Sword and sword or flail and morningstar combos require a Dex of 16 or better.

Another good system – very clean and simple to use.

All in all, a pretty good issue. Lots of neat rules ideas and some good pulp literature.